Emily disappeared into Andresj's exuberant embrace. “This is a wonderful surprise,” the young man exclaimed. He pulled back and took a long look at his friend. The royal blue color of Emily's turtleneck sweater seemed to highlight the excitement that sparkled in her dark eyes.
“Nikolas told me what time you would be arriving.” She cast an uncertain glance Stefan's direction. “I hope that was alright?”
“Your presence is always a delight, Miss Quartermaine.”
“There. Now stop worrying.” Andresj' grabbed Emily's hand and began to lead her toward the exit where the Cassadine limousine sat idling. “I have so much to share with you,” he began. “The most wonderful thing has happened.” Awe and reverence were apparent in his voice.
“'Dre,” Emily hesitated, “I hadn't planned on going back to Wyndemere with you. You just got home. Beside, Reginald is waiting in the car for me.”
Andresj' stopped short. “Of course you will come home with me.” His brow rose imperiously. “I will send one of the servants to dismiss Reginald and that will be that.”
Emily glanced briefly at Stefan, who trailed a short distance behind them. “You sounded so much like your father just then,” she whispered.
“You think that is a bad thing?”
“No. I kinda like your father, when he's not being all formal and polite.”
Andresj' shrugged. “That is the Cassadine way. But I will make you this promise, Emily Bowen Quartermaine… When I have become stiff and formal – like generations of Cassadine men before me – you will always retain the right to present me with . . .” He searched for the correct words. “A reality check!”
“Where did you pick up that phrase?” Emily did not attempt to disguise her amusement.
“Sabrina, of course. It is something she threatens quite frequently where Papa and Alexis are concerned.”
Nikolas shook off the slight discomfort he felt and took a seat at his father's desk. As though she had been awaiting such an action on his part, Mrs. Landsbury, the Cassadine housekeeper, quietly placed a steaming cup of flavored coffee before him. It was a routine Nikolas had often seen the housekeeper engage in with his father, but it was only the first occasion for him.
“Good morning, Master Nikolas.” Mrs. Landsbury gave him a gentle smile that held just a hint of pride.
“Good morning. And thank you.”
Nikolas watched the housekeeper depart. He was grateful for her unassuming support. With a simple gesture the loyal Cassadine employee had shown that the servants were ready – and willing – to serve Nikolas when the time came for him to take the reins of family leadership.
It wasn't so long ago that Nikolas had fervently hoped the day would never come. But the last weeks had shown him another side of running the family. Yes, it was an endless sea of paperwork and red tape. But thanks to the constant lessons Stefan had taught him all throughout his life, Nikolas was truly beginning to understand how to delegate without surrendering his authority. He understood more clearly each passing day what it was to entrust the handling of things not requiring his attention into the hands of those who served him. It was all about maintaining focus.
Managing the family during Stefan's distraction had also taught Nikolas something about himself. He was, Nikolas reflected with pride, quite capable of leading the Cassadine family into the next era. With the burden of being the Cassadine Prince lifted from his shoulders, he no longer felt like an undeserving fraud that had been handed the keys to the castle simply because of a matter of birth. The leadership of the family was now a mantle Nikolas would earn through hard work and diligence.
Nikolas shook off his musings with a start. He looked at the stack of folders before him and opened the one on top. It was a request by the Board of General Hospital for additional funding in order to hire more staff.
It was a perfect task to begin with. General Hospital held a special place in his heart, and if there was anything Nikolas felt confident about, the particulars of the hospital's finances was it.
The black-suited chauffeur opened the rear door and stepped back, allowing Andresj' to assist Emily into the vehicle. She got as far as placing one leg inside the big vehicle before she hesitated and stepped back out. Curious, Andresj' looked around Emily and into the car's interior.
His pleased cry as she alit from the limousine brought a big smile to the tawny beauty's face. Until that moment she had not realized the full scope of how much she had missed Andresj'. His openness and lack of reserve where she was concerned was one of the things she treasured most. Such qualities were not common among Cassadine men. Or Cassadine women, for that matter.
“Welcome home.” Sabrina reached out and cupped Andresj's face within her hands. Painstakingly her eyes roamed his features.
“What are you doing, Sabrina?”
“Checking to see if the little cousin I love has been replaced with a stuffy Cassadine male. Like Great Uncle Konstantin.” She tugged playfully at his hair. “You cut all your beautiful hair off!”
Andresj' grimaced. “Papa insisted.” He turned and looked at Emily, who stood patiently waiting beside him. “But some people did not even notice.”
“I did! I just-”
“Well, you two can fight about it in private,” Sabrina interrupted with a tight smile. “I have asked Reginald to follow us to Wyndemere. That way you and Emily can talk while I catch up on things with your father.”
From the pointed glare Sabrina directed over his left shoulder, Andresj' assumed that his father had finally exited the terminal and stood somewhere behind him. “Come on, Emily.” He took her hand and led her toward the Quartermaine limo. “Let's go.”
Alexis stood just outside the doorway to Stefan's study and watched her nephew in action. Nikolas sat with his back toward her, so he did not know she observed him. “That is unacceptable,” she heard him declare to the unknown party he conversed with on the phone. “Rectify the situation today !”
His quiet command rang with authority. At that moment Alexis could easily see just what it was that continued to convince her brother Stefan that Nikolas was indeed what the family needed in order to grow and prosper.
“If you aren't careful,” she said, “you will be a man to give even your father a run for his money.”
Nikolas whirled around. His handsome face held a trace of embarrassment at having been caught unaware. “Thea Alexis! I did not realize you were standing there.”
“I know.” Alexis stepped into the study and laid her briefcase on the desk. “I don't think I have ever heard you speak to anyone that way. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Thank you, no. Our business associates have grown far too accustomed to dealing with Father,” Nikolas explained. “A few have been reluctant to accept me in his stead.”
Nikolas did not miss the way his aunt stiffened in outrage. He shook his head and smiled wryly. The single dimple which resulted gave his handsome features a rakish appearance. “Oh, no!” he teased his aunt. “I will not have both you and Father fighting my battles for me. If I am to lead this family some day, it will be because the others have learned to respect the man I am.”
“Very well,” Alexis allowed. “But promise me that if you do ever need a few well-placed words…”
“I will come to you.”
Aunt and nephew smiled fondly at one another. Alexis was grateful for the opportunity to strengthen their relationship. Far too soon Nikolas would take the reins of the Cassadine Empire. With his younger brother Andresj' beside him, much as she had done with Stefan, Nikolas would begin a lifestyle that would leave very little room for Alexis Davis the attorney. That fact made their personal relationship all the more important to her.
A longsuffering sigh broke the silence inside the limousine. Pointedly Stefan shifted on the supple leather backseat and addressed his cousin. “Your jaw is set so tightly that I am afraid for the safety of your teeth. Exactly what new offense am I to be castigated for, Sabryn?”
Sabrina turned a stony face his way. “You made him cut his hair.”
“Yes,” Stefan replied calmly. “I commissioned several portraits of Andresj' which will be hung in the Great Hall along with those of Nikolas and myself. Such portraits required a more formal appearance.”
“ You…made…Andresj'…cut…his…hair .” Each word was uttered through clenched teeth. “Other than his monthly trim to keep him from having hair longer than mine, you have never made ‘Dre cut his hair!”
Stefan fought to keep his temper under control. Which, with Sabrina, was never an easy thing. “Once more you have blown a singular event out of proportion. Andresj' had no objection to my request that he adapt a more mature hairstyle. Why, then, must you?”
Sabrina threw her hands in the air. “Because you keep making the same mistake over and over, Stefan! If you keep changing him and trying to remake him into something more Cassadine, you are going to lose him. ‘Cause pretty soon, he's going to get the message you are sending.”
“Exactly which message would that be, Sabrina?” Stefan's voice was dangerously soft. He knew exactly what her reply would be. It seemed to be all he had heard from his young cousin lately.
“Andresj' will think back to the exact moment when you began changing him into something he's not. The moment those blood tests came back positive. The moment he became your ‘true son' .” The young woman spat Stefan's words back at him with venom.
“I will not bother to deny your accusations again. Andresj' is my son . . . as he has always been.” Stefan's gaze locked with Sabrina's. His eyes were icy and matched the seeming temperature drop within the limousine. “Andresj' is my son ,” he repeated. “You would do well to remember that.”
*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*