The small group huddled around the table. Emily Quartermaine and Diane Jennings watched intently for Andresj’s reaction. He, however, only had eyes for the object cradled reverently within his hands.
“Is this really…” Andresj’ cleared his voice and tried again. “Is this really her?”
“Yes.” Diane Jennings watched Nikolas Cassadine rise and circle the table to his younger brother’s side. “I drew your mother’s picture from memory, but I promise you that Alyse’s face is as clear in my mind as the day our friendship began.”
“She is very beautiful, little brother.”
“She is, isn’t she?” For the briefest of moments Andresj’ looked up at Nikolas with wonder-filled eyes before returning his hungry gaze to the portrait. It was a simple charcoal pencil drawing lovingly sketched on an 8 x 10 square of ecru art paper.
“From the moment that Alyse Dumonde was proven to be my mother, I have wondered so many things about her; what she was like, what it was to hear her laugh…” The young man was unaware that he had lapsed into his native Russian tongue. “I have wondered if I am anything like her, or if she would have liked the person that I am.”
Nikolas saw the curiosity on the faces of Emily and Diane about the unfamiliar words his younger brother spoke, but did not translate them. He was not completely sure that Andresj’ even remembered that there were others in the room. If he wished later to share his most personal feelings with either woman, he could. “All your questions wait to be answered,” Nikolas reminded his younger brother kindly, “if you will only remember to ask them in English.”
Through the sheer, delicate lace panels, the early morning sunlight bathed the room in soft light. Fingers of light streamed in, only to stop just short of the bed. It was as though the sunlight hesitated to disturb her comfort.
A discreet rustle from directly nearby interrupted her morning’s contemplation of various matters. Helena Cassadine extended a graceful hand and lifted a buttery croissant from a sterling platter held by her watchful manservant. She took a tiny bite of the exquisite pastry and made a small moue of distaste.
“Madam is displeased?”
Helena dropped the croissant back onto the tray and waved it away. Andreas smoothly removed the offending items from his employer’s sight.
“It is too provincial,” she stated bluntly.
“Yes, madam. The croissants are American, imported from Manhattan’s finest bakery. I am assured, however, that they are the best this continent has to offer,” Andreas assured Helena.
“Such a sad commentary on this country.” She frowned as Andreas approached with a new platter. “These are?”
“Strawberries flown fresh from the south and mangoes picked at dawn this morning from along the western coast of the United States.” When Helena made no move to try the succulent fruit, Andreas selected a plump, ripe strawberry and held it near his mistress’ lips. “I will guarantee Madam’s satisfaction with the fruit,” Andreas promised. “I have,” he explained sensually, “personally selected each one for your pleasure, Madam.”
Helena obliged her handsome young manservant. Just as Andreas had promised, a burst of sweet flavor exploded within her mouth. “Very well done, my darling.”
Despite her praise, the handsome manservant held no illusions that Helena’s displeasure with the pasty was forgotten. Andreas reverently opened the folds of Helena’s silken robe and ran the half-eaten strawberry lightly down the length of Helena’s body. “I have only begun,” he murmured, “to see to Madam’s pleasure.”
Andreas crossed to the foot of the bed and gently grasped his mistress’ ankle within his warm hands. He lowered his mouth until Helena could just feel the soft hiss of his breath upon her flesh. “Will it please Madam?” he asked. Andreas felt Helena’s almost imperceptible relaxation of her stern demeanor. It was the signal he awaited.
Like a big cat, Andreas proceeded to delicately lap the sweet fruit from his mistress’ porcelain skin.
“This was a wonderful gift.” Andresj’ embraced Diane Jennings.
“Most of the credit should go to Emily,” Diane countered. “She mentioned to me that you had not seen a picture of your mother. That is what led me to draw her picture.”
Andresj’ glanced at the framed photo he held clutched against his chest. “My thanks were for the afternoon you have spent sharing Alyse Dumonde with me. But if you,” he smiled at Emily, “are responsible for this wonderful thing I have been given, then by all means allow me to show my gratitude.” Andresj’ swept Emily into a warm embrace. As he held her near, he whispered into her ear. “You are so very special, Emily Quartermaine.”
“Am I interrupting?”
The group’s attention swung around behind them. Stefan Cassadine had entered the room unnoticed during the displays of affection between his younger son and the two women.
“I was thanking my guests for their magnificent surprise,” Andresj’ explained to his father. “Because of Emily and Miss Jennings, I have spent the afternoon learning about my mother.” Andresj’ offered Stefan the framed photo. “Look.”
Stefan accepted the charcoal sketch that Diane had done. The moment he looked at the startling likeness, the memory of Alyse’s face went from blurred haze to almost lifelike clarity. Bits and pieces of dusty memories darted through Stefan’s mind.
“You have captured her loveliness,” Stefan complimented Diane Jennings quietly. “But the simple black and white of the charcoal does no justice to the beauty of her eyes.”
“Then you remember her?”
“Alyse was not a woman easily forgotten,” Stefan answered his son.
“These facilities are the only things this hotel has gotten correct.”
Helena stood before the endless bathroom mirror and adjusted a single errant strand of her finely coifed hair. She was fresh from a leisurely soak in the sunken tub behind her. Andreas’ meticulous attention to her pleasure had left her energized, and had improved her mood.
She returned to the room designed to serve as the hotel suite’s living room. It was nearly the same size as the average servants’ quarters aboard Helena’s yacht, The Hera.
The thought of The Hera thinned Helena’s mouth into a narrow line. Her beautiful yacht lay in pieces at the bottom of the waters just off the Port Charles docks. Stefan, her weakling son, had chosen to destroy The Hera in a fit of pique over Helena’s actions – or lack thereof – so many years ago.
Stefan had also chosen to drain Helena’s many bank accounts in one fell swoop. With that bold move, he had relegated his mother to momentarily dining on domestic foods and wines. No handmade Belgian chocolates created daily for her approval and flown in on a private jet. No Tuscan grapes handpicked and individually washed for her perusal. Only thousand dollar bottles of French champagne where priceless aged vintages once were poured.
Helena considered her current situation to be merely a test of wills between mother and son to see just how far the other would go before breaking. And though she considered her younger son an ineffectual weakling, Helena did not discount his intelligence. She was well aware that Stefan sat patiently waiting for his mother to begin accessing whatever hidden accounts she might possess.
Rumors of hidden money had persisted among the family since the moment Mikkos Cassadine died. Many saw the destruction of Helena’s yacht as perhaps the family’s singular opportunity to finally discover the truth about her finances. What the family – and Stefan – did not realize was that Helena still possessed a wealth of untapped resources they could not begin to imagine.
‘Alyse was not a woman easily forgotten.’
Stefan’s response should have been a prelude to the sharing of his memories. But the head of the Cassadine family offered no other conversation on the subject.
Andresj’ took his cue from his father’s silence. He did not bother to press Stefan to elaborate. Andresj’ knew from his father’s polite expression that the older man would not discuss the subject of Andresj’ paternity in front of their guests.
“If you will excuse us,” Andresj’ said, “we were just on our way to the launch. I would like to see Emily and Miss Jennings safely home.”
“Of course.” Stefan readily acquiesced. Though he was certain that Andresj’ realized his unwillingness to discuss Alyse Dumonde before their guests, Stefan was also aware of the questions swirling about in his younger son’s eyes. He was thankful for the moments of solitude Andresj’s errand would bring. It would grant Stefan time to organize his thoughts on the subject. “I will have the car brought around to the docks.”
Diane tried to wave off the action. “That is not necessary, Mr. Cassadine. Emily and I came in my car.”
“A servant will drive it safely home for you,” Andresj’ replied firmly. “Do not argue. Emily will tell you that it does no good with a Cassadine man.”
Emily’s eyes darted to Stefan. Her voice lowered to a soft whisper. “They definitely like to have their own way.”
“There you have it.” Andresj’ headed for the door. “Now, shall we go?”