Julian Luna flicked away a tiny speck of lint from the lapel of his perfectly fitted suit. Almost fastidiously he ran his fingers across the dark suit and smoothed the fabric. He was a man whose attire and appearance were as important to him as his character. Julian was blessed with dark, handsome features which he did not hesitate to put to his advantage. His good looks were equaled only by his charm, a quality he had diligently refined over the course of his life.
He did not expect that charm to be of much use during his upcoming encounter. Past experience had painfully demonstrated that while Helena Cassadine was not immune to the charms of a handsome younger man, she was single-minded in regards to the family and its business.
She stepped into the doorway as though Julian's thoughts had summoned her there. As she crossed the empty dining room, he stood respectfully and pulled a chair from beneath the table. “Good morning. Thank you for coming.”
Helena Cassadine accepted the gesture gracefully. “I had no other plans for the morning.” She settled into her seat and waited as Julian resumed his.
“I thought that with Stefan and his son on their way back to Port Charles, you might have been bound to travel soon yourself.”
“My resources are quite far-reaching,” Helena replied in subtle warning. “There is no need for me to rush back to New York. I am quite capable of handling matters from here.” She placed a graceful hand atop the table.
Julian's eyes were immediately drawn to her ring finger, on which a rare and priceless demantoid garnet rested. Called the Cassadine stone by the men known to have worn it, it was a tangible symbol of the status and power of its wearer. No woman in the family's long and fabled lineage had ever worn one. Until Helena.
Julian understood that the wearing of such a stone was no empty gesture for the woman seated across the table from him. Lest there was any doubt otherwise, Helena sought to remind each of the Cassadine family members that she was a force to be reckoned with.
Beneath the table Julian relaxed his clenched fist. Someday he, too, would wear a Cassadine stone upon his finger. But for now, he had to be patient and cultivate powerful ties. Starting with Helena.
“It is no secret,” Julian began carefully after tearing his eyes away from her ring, “that you are currently the only power to rival Stefan's. If there is any hope to alter the direction he has chosen to take the family, it rests with you.” He tried to gauge the effect his words had on Helena. “I believe that you feel as I do, Helena. It is why I come to you now...” Julian's voice trailed off as Helena lazily lifted a slender hand.
“There will be time to discuss business once breakfast is through,” she said. “ Only then.”
Keesha rolled over and peered at her alarm clock for the third time in twenty minutes. Any moment now it would go off. She should just reach out and turn off the alarm. Perversely, though, Keesha lay there and waited for the strident tones to sound. To disengage the alarm would mean that she had decided not to go. At least this way, Keesha rationalized, her options remained open.
The alarm went off as expected. Still, Keesha was not prepared for it. Was she going to go, or wasn't she? She rolled over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. A part of her wanted to go to the Port Charles Airport and meet Andresj' Cassadine's flight from Europe. The young man had worked tirelessly for and with the kids at Ward House. He had been extremely helpful to Keesha as well. Despite his royal upbringing, Andresj' never hesitated to pitch in when there was a heavy or dirty job to do. It was one of the reasons Keesha admired him so. From the very beginning, Andresj' was not at all what she expected.
A rustle of clothing alerted Keesha to the presence of someone else in the room. She hastily finished the job at hand by scribbling her signature on the various forms before her.
“Yes?” She looked up into the handsome visage of an impeccably clad stranger. Keesha was grateful that she had not planned to say more. She seriously doubted that the words would have come.
The man standing before her was so very handsome. His features were keen and noble. His head was covered with thick, silky dark locks. He was probably no more than a year or so older than she, Keesha guessed. Clad in a tailored black suit, the stranger had ‘entrepreneur' written all over him. Perhaps he was one of the young tycoons becoming much more apparent in today's world of technology and opportunity.
The faint grin which tugged at the corner of his mouth alerted Keesha that the stranger had noticed her head-to-toe perusal. A warm flush flooded her cheeks. Keesha was grateful that her coloring disguised her embarrassed reaction.
“Good afternoon,” he greeted her quietly. His voice held a melodic little lilt that she could not identify. He was European, though. That much she would bet on.
She smiled encouragingly and stuck out her hand. “Keesha.”
“Keesha.” Her name rolled off his tongue. “It is a lovely name.”
She watched in shock as the handsome stranger raised her hand to his lips and pressed them briefly against her knuckles. The gesture, which would have seemed pretentious on anyone else, nonetheless seemed right for him.
“I am Andresj' Cassadine,” he introduced himself. “It is my pleasure to meet you.”
The world was narrowed down to the dull hum of wind rushing over his helmet and the seemingly unchanging scenery all around him. The curious looks of the country's residents did not even register for Jason Morgan; he was not aware what an unusual picture he presented for the simple people of the area.
Most had never seen the kind of transportation he sported. Other than the dilapidated motor scooter ridden by the local missionary, there was nothing else to compare to the powerful motorcycle which vibrated so powerfully beneath Jason.
After a mindless hour of skimming through the countryside, Jason pulled his bike over to the side of the road and cut the engine. As the powerful motor rumbled into silence, Jason stared blindly at the countryside before him. It was time to think about going home. Jason was tired of traveling, tired of being surrounded by strangers day after day. He missed the familiar faces of those he loved back in Port Charles.
Usually a quick call to his little sister Emily was sufficient to relieve his loneliness and strengthen his resolve to stay away from Port Charles a little longer. She would prattle endlessly about the latest happenings within the family and about the town. The details about the crazy goings-on at the Quartermaine mansion reminded him anew just why he needed to keep his distance from Port Charles.
But the last conversation they had held had not eased the growing ache Jason had inside. He wanted to see Emily and Lila. And Sonny and Carly and Justus. Jason was even ready to see Michael again.
Was the little boy ready to see him? When Jason left, Michael was at a delicate point in his recovery. His nephew - and that is what Jason reminded himself to call him - was skittish in his presence. The little boy's mind was unable to disassociate Jason from all the violence that had been done to him. Michael's fear confirmed for Jason just what he had guiltily confessed to an injured Michael moments after everything happened.
It was all his fault.
To Julian it seemed as though Helena were deliberately prolonging her meal. Each bite of food she placed into her mouth was chewed with care before swallowing delicately. If Helena was aware of Julian's intense scrutiny, it did not show. She partook of her meal as though she dined at the table alone.
A resentful admiration filled Julian. What he was observing was power in its purest form. Though he had issued the breakfast invitation and arranged the setting, it was Helena who called the shots. She knew that Julian needed her cooperation in order to further his own agenda. What arrogance it took to toy with him when Helena knew that ultimately she would only assist him in those things that would further strengthen her own position in the family!
“There are whispers,” he said into the quiet, “that you find yourself in the midst of financial difficulty.” Julian knew that he risked Helena's ire by disregarding her edict concerning their conversation. But it was time for him to show his fangs. If Helena was under the mistaken belief that she dealt with one of the other spineless members of the Cassadine clan, she would soon discover otherwise.
“It is rumored that you are in disfavor with The Regent.” Deliberately Julian referred to Stefan by his title. He had a good idea how much it undoubtedly galled Helena to see her least favorite son in a position of such authority within the family. “In the face of such disfavor, some among the family question the wisdom of displaying support for you.”
Delicately Helena put down her coffee cup and touched a fine linen napkin to her lips. “ Some among the family?” she queried.
Helena recognized the grain of truth in Julian's words. Still, she knew that no one in the family would dare express such sentiment aloud, no matter how deeply they might agree with it. The struggle for power within the Cassadine hierarchy was a constant thing. Alliances and allegiances were fluid conditions that changed with the frequency of thought. The ally depended upon yesterday could easily be the enemy of today. As a result, the pivotal figures in the quest for family leadership had learned early to keep their own private counsel.
“I am willing to assist you, if you desire,” Julian offered, ignoring her query.
“At what price?”
Julian did not play coy. “Your support when I publicly declare my intention to claim the position of family Regent.”
The icy smile Helena wore came as no surprise to the elegantly clad financier. Julian would have been more surprised had she seriously considered his demand. It was just a ploy, an opening gambit in the inevitable skirmish between them. “In lieu of that,” he countered, “I will accept instead your lack of opposition.”
Helena immediately recognized the implications of what seemed like a simple distinction. Refraining from voicing opposition to Julian's drive for control would be, in the eyes of many, tantamount to supporting his cause. Helena was not certain whether she was more amused or insulted by Julian Luna's amateurish strategy.
“I will forego your offer of assistance,” she said.
“You find my terms unreasonable?”
Helena beckoned for a waiting servant to refill her coffee cup. “My dear Julian,” she smiled, “your terms are of no consequence to me. Believe me when I say I am in need of no one's assistance."
The decision was no longer in her hands, Keesha realized with a start. The alarm clock displayed nearly an hour later than the time when it had gone off. After a night of tossing and turning, she must have fallen back asleep. There would be no meeting Andresj' at the airport today.
Keesha could not say that she was totally sorry about the turn of events. The thought of being under the watchful eye of Andresj's father made her nauseous. Stefan Cassadine had always been unfailingly polite toward her. But Keesha just knew that beneath the cordial veneer he wore, the head of the Cassadine family was filled with disapproval.
Not that there was anything to disapprove of. Her relationship with Andresj' was a pleasant one, based on their respective positions. Keesha was a Ward House representative and Andresj' one of its volunteers. If the young man believed that they were anything else, well.... That wasn't her fault. Despite the spark of attraction she had felt upon their initial meeting, any interest in Andresj' Cassadine evaporated upon learning his true age.
Keesha shook her head. She still had difficulty reconciling the fact that such a polished, mature young man was several years her junior. If only-
She hastily cut the thought off. Andresj' was off-limits to her. And there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*