Chapter 32

“Hello, Carly.”

The quiet greeting startled the young woman out of her reverie. She looked up from her plate to see Michael ‘Sonny' Corinthos standing before her. He was dressed, as always, in a dark tailored suit. The kind, Carly thought, that befitted a mobster trying to appear legitimate. “Sonny.”

He did not miss the cool greeting. “How have you been? I haven't seen you around Port Charles very much.”

“Yeah, well,” she responded, not meeting his eyes, “it's not like we move in the same circles anymore. Now do we?”

Patiently, Sonny tried again. “You look good. I'm glad to see that the Q's haven't gotten the best of you,” he teased her gently.

“They're okay.” An awkward silence followed her response. “How is Jason?” Carly finally asked.

“I don't know. Nobody has heard from him.” The reputed mobster did not bother to hide the frown which creased his face. “I was sure he would have at least gotten in touch with you.”

Carly's head flew up, ready to respond to what she thought was a sarcastic dig on Sonny's part. But the concern so evident on his face stilled her anger. “No, Jase hasn't called,” she replied quietly. “And I am beginning to get worried.”

Sonny admitted, “Me, too.”

“Well, Stefan, it seems you have managed yet again to enlarge the already substantial slice of Cassadine fortune you claim. Congratulations!”

“Julian.” Stefan eyed his cousin from head to toe. The handsome European financier was clad neatly in a dark Helmut Lang suit. Hand tailored, it showcased Julian's broad shoulders and dark good looks. “You do not appear wanting,” Stefan observed.

“Due in large part to my own business acumen,” Julian responded brusquely. “If I depended upon the small stipend you allot our family's rightful heirs, I would no doubt be a pauper.”

A tiny smile played about Stefan's lips. “Still prone to exaggeration, Cousin?” He extended his right hand to the other man.

Julian Luna shook Stefan's hand firmly. “Still humorless as ever, I see, Cousin .”

The two men were an interesting contrast. Roughly the same age, Stefan and Julian had experienced very different childhoods. Because Stefan was graced with the Cassadine name, he had reaped every benefit synonymous with its royal heritage. He was reared as a member of the ruling class and treated with all the deference shown the crown princes of England. It did not matter that Stefan's brother Stavros was the heir to the title, or that the title was void a kingdom. Anyone bearing the Cassadine name was royalty.

Not so with the cousins lacking the family moniker. Of no less royal blood than Stefan or Stavros, Julian lacked the one thing he desired most – the last name of Cassadine. Through much hard work and shrewd business tactics, Julian had built the Luna name into one respected all throughout Europe. But mere respect was not enough. He wanted the fawning deference afforded Stefan and his sons. It was Julian's birthright as well, and he meant to claim it.

“The family is awash with the news of the changes you seek to make.” Julian poured himself a drink from the decanter which sat on the small table between them. “Wagers are being taken whether your tenure as family Regent will survive this latest move of yours.”

Stefan considered his cousin's carefully worded warning. So, there was to be opposition to his decision to declare Andresj' his natural heir. “Such wagers did not exist when I arranged a similar action involving Nikolas.”

“True,” Julian acknowledged. “But your declaration of Nikolas' paternity did not lessen each share of the family fortune. On the contrary. It opened the door to many who have eyed control of the family coffers. By removing Nikolas from the direct line of inheritance, you also removed the greatest obstacle facing any that would challenge you. Or Helena.”

Julian's words came as no surprise to Stefan. But hearing them so bluntly stated gave him a moment's pause. While it was true that his actions would ensure that Andresj' received his rightful due, they would also strengthen his mother's position. If Stefan were not careful, he would succeed in securing victory for Helena.

Grudgingly Carly invited Sonny to join her at the small table she occupied near the bar of the Port Charles Hotel. The establishment, owned by the Quartermaines, served a decent enough meal. But more importantly to Carly, virtually none of her circle of acquaintances ever dined there. So she was able to slip into the restaurant, dally over her meal and go hours at a time without running into anyone she knew.

Perhaps that was why she found Sonny's presence in the restaurant all the more upsetting. He sat across the table from her, seemingly content to nurse a single drink. His dark eyes stayed fixed upon her as she attempted to consume her lunch with a nonchalance she did not feel.

“How is Michael?”

The question hung in the silence that stretched out interminably. What had previously been merely a strained encounter took on an entirely different atmosphere. Sonny felt, more than saw, the startling change in Carly's demeanor.

“Michael is fine,” she responded sullenly, unwilling to discuss her son's condition with the man he called ‘Uncle Sonny'. “A.J. and I are taking care of our son.” Carly knew that the inclusion into the conversation of Michael's biological father would provoke a rise from Sonny.

“A.J.,” he snorted derisively.

Uncharacteristically, Carly leapt to the defense of the man she had sought to destroy in so many ways. “That's right, A.J.. He loves his son. And Michael loves him.” Angrily Carly sought to remove the look of scorn on Sonny's face. “ Finally ,” she stressed the word, “Michael has a father he can rely on.”

Sonny swallowed the angry retort that sprang to his lips. He had never figured out why, but Caroline Spencer was able to rile him far more easily than he liked. Mere moments in her presence inevitably led to sharp remarks and angry accusations. “Carly,” he reminded her, “ you made the decision to cut your ties to me. Remember?”

“How could I forget?” Carly retorted. “It was either leave, or lose Michael for good the next time you failed to protect us.” With satisfaction she watched the color drain from Sonny's face. Her remark cut him deeply, as she had known it would. Somewhere deep inside, Carly had not forgiven Sonny for just letting her take Michael and walk away.

Wordlessly, Sonny Corinthos rose from the table and headed for the door. Carly pushed her half-eaten meal away. Gone was her appetite, as well as any pleasure she'd felt in hurting him.

The large room was decorated in dark, muted tones. Heavy drapes framed window panes so polished that a second glance was often needed just to ascertain their existence. Through them a brilliant sun shone into the room, yet the shadows which lurked in every corner were barely dispelled.

Julian watched as Dimitri, the oldest Cassadine retainer, approached with a sterling silver tray in hand. All throughout the meal he had watched as uniformed staff jumped to anticipate Stefan's every whim. His cousin, with an ease that had developed from years of experience, accepted their service like a sovereign holding court.

Without a single glance Julian's way, the longtime servant eased smoothly past him and came to a polished stop before the place where Stefan sat waiting. Mutely the dignified old man presented the vast array of exotic fruit for Stefan's perusal, only to have the Cassadine Regent shake his head gently. For just a split second the old man's disappointment at his employer's refusal to partake of his offering was evident. But Dimitri straightened and gracefully moved to Julian's side and presented the tray before him.

Ignoring the bone china saucer the servant produced, Julian insolently speared a chunk of pineapple from the tray and placed it within his mouth. Lazily, he began to chew. Though he realized his behavior was childish, Julian was piqued at the servant's slight. For several moments he chewed in silence and allowed Dimitri to stand waiting before him.

Stefan gestured casually and the servant bowed and then retreated to the kitchens. “Dimitri should not receive the anger you wish to direct at me,” he chided Julian.

The bile that suddenly filled him soured the taste of the succulent fruit within Julian's mouth. Once again he had allowed his jealousy of Stefan to seep past the veneer of nonchalance he wore. “What did you expect of someone from the ‘lesser' half of the family?"

“I have never considered you thus, Julian. Nor have my sons been reared with the old prejudices,” Stefan said, stiffly. “You are as much a Cassadine as any of us. Name or no.”

After years of resentment toward the man sitting opposite him, Julian could not bring himself to accept the overture of friendship Stefan once again offered. “Yes, Nikolas and Andresj' are different,” he began mildly. “Your casual rearing methods has ensured that.” Julian watched his cousin's eyes narrow. “They are fortunate enough to bear the family name, yet Nikolas and Andresj' behave as commoners. Really Stefan, did you think it seemly to allow your younger son to be paraded before his bodyguard's family like some circus creature?” He did not wait for a response. “People like that exist for the pleasure of the family. Not the other way around.”

“Careful,” Stefan warned Julian. “You have crossed the boundary of what I will allow between us.” His voice was icy.

Julian met Stefan's gaze boldly. "I do not speak anything the others in the family have not thought. Because you believe you will control the family fortune forever, you have little regard for the eventuality of your removal as Regent." Julian's eyes shone with intensity. "You have allowed the line between our family and those beneath us to become blurred.” Julian slid forward in his chair and uttered fiercely, “Rest assured, when I am Regent, there will be no such confusion.”

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*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*