Along the docks, three sets of eyes watched Justus' car leave.
"Why are we out here?" Marcus Taggert sighed. "Stefan Cassadine doesn't need any help from the PCPD. He's got his own little army assembled for tonight. And wasn't Justus Ward just here? That means there'll be Mob protection on top of everything else."
"I don't want to take any chances, Taggert," Commissioner Mac Scorpio insisted, not bothering to point out that Justus reportedly no longer worked for the Port Charles Mob. He continued to peer through his binoculars. "Beside, I am not suggesting that we play security for tonight's event. Just keep an eye open, okay?"
"Mac, we both know that any danger the Cassadines might face is gonna come from inside their own family. I say let them destroy each other." The handsome, bald detective shook his head in disgust. He felt an active dislike for the wealthy. It was a prejudice he could not get past. From the time of his childhood, his idol and mentor Deke had drilled into him just how different the rich really were.
"Wipe them out, all of them!" the Commissioner intoned in a deep voice.
"That's a line from the new Star Wars movie the kids and I saw. Do you have any idea what goes on outside the station?" Mac did not wait for an answer. "Anyway, I don't think you really want to get rid of all the Cassadines."
Taggert scowled. He knew what Mac was implying. Lately, Alexis Davis had been a thorn in his side as he attempted to wipe out the criminal element in Port Charles. Every charge brought against the likes of Corinthos or Morgan was effortlessly negated with one quick call to their high-priced lawyer.
Marcus wasn't sure if he was more disgusted at Alexis for providing such a service, or at himself for being attracted to her anyway.
Soulful eyes shadowed by long lashes occupied a face highlighted by lips women often fantasized about. At the moment, however, those eyes were shaded with concern. Nikolas Cassadine leaned against the oaken desk and waited for the party on the other end of the phone to respond. His pose was like something from a fashion magazine, and anyone walking into the room would have believed himself to be caught in a photo shoot.
The black tux was a tailor-made designer original; the white shirt spun from the finest silk available. But for all its fine credentials, the clothing served only to compliment its wearer. Broad shoulders filled the tuxedo jacket, hinting at hidden strength. The shirt's pliant silk conformed itself to the well-developed chest, following its curves with the gentleness of a lover's caress. A pair of muscled thighs, achieved by years of horseback riding, was showcased by black pants momentarily stretched taut across them.
Often described as a handsome, sensitive young man, Nikolas Cassadine was unaware of the attention his looks garnered. In years past, the description ‘sensitive man' was often a negative one, applied to someone lacking manliness. No more. There was nothing lacking in the one-time Cassadine Prince.
Nikolas stood slowly. Shaking his head, he returned the phone to its base.
"Is something wrong?" Alexis asked as she entered the study.
"No, not really. I was just trying to locate Father. Arman says he took the launch nearly an hour ago."
"He probably wanted to check everything once more before the guests begin arriving." She smiled at him. "You know how Stefan is."
"You're right," Nikolas laughed, his dusky skin accentuating his even, white teeth. "He won't be able to relax until the celebration is over and all the guests have gone home."
"Speaking of guests," Alexis reminded him, "they have begun to arrive. Shall we go and greet them?"
"So you just handed the letter to Stefan and left? Without waiting to see what it said?" Keesha stared at her cousin in frustration.
"Well, I had an irate woman waiting for me. I thought it was the wisest thing to do."
"Ha-ha, funny. Did Miss Jennings at least give you a clue about what was in the letter?"
"I don't think Diane knows. The letter was sealed. And that's about all the details I can give you, Keesha. I don't know anything else," Justus said as he hurried toward the shower. "But I am sure we will find out tonight."
"I hope that letter makes Andresj's birthday one that he will never forget," Keesha wished aloud. "And he'll have you to thank for it. You did good." The brilliant smile she gave him made Justus feel a warmth he'd long forgotten.
She walked toward the door. "Don't be too late, okay?"
"You're gonna leave me?"
"I promised Andresj' I would be a little early. So I'll see you there."
Dearest Stefan, Writing this letter is the second most difficult thing I have done in my life. The first is not telling you that we share a son . . .
"What manner of fraud is this?" Stefan asked angrily. "I did not know Ariana in that way! We met only once in passing." His eyes jumped to the next page, scanning its length. When he reached the bottom he did a double-take. The letter was not signed as he'd expected.
"Alyse? Who is . . ." A strange weight began to press against Stefan's chest, causing him to inhale shallow breaths. Quickly, he returned to the letter's beginning. Unaware that he spoke aloud, Stefan began to read.
I never wanted you to find out this way. It was always my intention to tell you the wonderful news in person. But the fact that you're reading this means that something, or someone, has prevented me from doing so.
I confirmed that I was pregnant with your child two weeks before that day in Paris when you ended our relationship. Your decision wasn't unexpected. You see, I knew that you would not want to be away from the son you had with your brother's wife.
Yes, I knew you were the father of her child. You unknowingly gave me so many clues that I couldn't help but know. So I understood when you wanted to end our arrangement. In fact, it helped me decide to keep my pregnancy from you.
I didn't keep your son a secret to punish you, Stefan. You must believe that. I was selfish enough to want our son to have the best of his father, not just what was left over from his big brother. He deserved more than you could have given him at the time. We both know it's true.
In the end, it wasn't that difficult to keep you unaware. You were so preoccupied with your firstborn that nothing else mattered. I feel no bitterness about that. After all, it gave me the chance to prepare a life for me and our son.
I could not have done it without Piotr. Don't be angry with him or feel he has betrayed you. He will explain to you that I left him no choice. Instead, thank him for caring for us the way that he has. Thank him for how he protected us this past year. Thank him for ensuring that our son is now with his father. If not for Piotr, we would have been at the mercy of
Stefan flipped quickly to the second page.
am sorry that you have . . .
"No!" Fingering the sheets, Stefan tried repeatedly to separate what had to have been two pages stuck together. When he could not, he accepted that a section of the letter was missing, and continued reading.
am sorry that you have missed his first year. We have had a wonderful first year, your son and I. I have named him Andresj' Mikhail and he is beautiful. And happy. And healthy.
Do not think too harshly of me. When you have heard Piotr's story and proven the truth of Andresj's paternity, remember that it was never my intention to keep him from you. Only to keep him safe. You will have to protect Andresj' now. Piotr will help you. Put aside your anger and let him. He has been as loyal to you as any man could. Your son is the proof.
When Andresj' is old enough to speak, and asks about his mother, speak kindly of me. Tell our son I loved him more than life itself.
With sickening clarity, it all made sense. If true, then Andresj' was his child. Such a simple statement, but it explained so much; Helena's acceptance, Piotr's insistence. Stefan's mind raced with the possibility of it all . . .How had such a feat been accomplished? The letter hadn't given many details. The answers he needed could well be found on that missing page.
"Mr. Cassadine? Mr. Cassadine!" Stefan's bodyguard finally broke through the seeming daze his employer had fallen into. "Is something wrong, sir?" he asked, concerned about the sudden unusual behavior.
With visible effort, Stefan gathered his composure. "Nothing. Let us go. Now."
"To where, sir?"
"The Port Charles Hotel."
"Hello, Laura. You look very nice," Nikolas remarked. "Thank you for coming."
"Yes," Alexis repeated, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. "Thank you for coming."
"Well, Andresj' was kind enough to invite me, so here I am. I came a little early, in case there was some way I could help."
Nikolas shook his head. "Thank you, but Father and I have taken care of all the details."
"Speaking of your father," Laura frowned, "I am sure that it was Stefan who got into the limousine that was leaving as I arrived. He seemed in a hurry. I hope nothing's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong, Laura," Alexis stated. "Stefan was probably just attending to some last minute details." She shared a look with Nikolas. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go and greet the other guests."
Diane was awakened by an insistent knocking on the door. Sitting up quickly, she looked around the room and tried to remember where she was. Her eyes fell on the room service cart and instantly she remembered. She must have fallen asleep on the room's luxurious couch.
"Yes, one moment!" Diane called out in order to stop the knocking. "Who is it?"
Diane opened the door only wide enough to peer around its edge. Stefan Cassadine stood there, accompanied by another very stern-looking man.
"I must speak with you," he said without preface. Following her gaze, he introduced the man beside him. "Ivan is my bodyguard. He will remain outside."
Warily, Diane waved him into the lavish suite. Before she could invite him to sit, Stefan demanded, "What have you done with the remainder of this letter?" He thrust it at her in accusation.
"You have gotten my attention, Miss Jennings." Stefan's eyes were as cold as his tone. "Name your terms."
Diane stared at him in astonishment. This was the man Justus claimed was a living example of ‘old world manners'? "Mr. Cassadine," she said, beginning to get angry, "I don't have any idea what you are talking about!"
"Very well, I will humor you. This letter which you gave me is missing a page or pages. But I suspect you know that. So, I ask again, what are the terms of your compensation?"
"I have been extremely patient with you, Mr. Cassadine, because I realize that my reasons for coming here are a bit unusual. You, on the other hand, have gone out of your way to be insulting. Is this how you've reared Andresj'?"
Stefan moved quickly toward her. "My son is not your concern."
Diane refused to be intimidated. "The only reason I am here is because of your son, and his mother. Alyse was my best friend. She counted on me to carry out her wishes. And not even you will stop me from doing that." Diane shook her head. "Where is the man Alyse wrote about? Has time changed you so much?"
A stillness came over Stefan when he realized the implication of her last comments. "Alyse wrote to you also. May I see your letter?"
"I don't think so," Diane replied.
"Miss Jennings,- Diane, I am not a man who apologizes easily. There are reasons for my behavior, though it does not excuse me. Your letter may hold answers to a question that is all-important to not only Andresj' but myself."
"Mr. Cassadine," Diane emphasized her formality, "like you, I suspect ulterior motives behind your request. You'll understand if I refuse. Now, would you please leave?"
After a long moment, Stefan complied. "We will speak again, Miss Jennings."
Even as the door closed firmly behind him, Stefan removed his cell phone and began dialing.
The unassuming little brick house was surrounded by flowers of every kind growing quite haphazardly, it seemed. The shades were drawn, but there was no sign of movement inside. It had been that way for several days now, though the men watching it could only attest to that day's activity. Or lack thereof.
Inside the car, the southern heat was sweltering. Only the out-of-town visitor noticed, though. The others had long become accustomed to the high humidity that characterized weather in the south. Over the past few years, warm weather tended to last well into the fall.
The men, all locals, had stared at him when he'd first arrived; dark suit with a starched white shirt, and a modest tie done neatly in a modified four-in-hand. He'd stared back, allowing himself to feel a superiority over these . . . hicks, who didn't have enough sense to dress less casually and make a better first impression. T-shirts and light slacks, both pressed, was their uniform of the day.
After several hours of the oppressive heat, his sense of superiority had all but vanished. The locals, seemingly unaffected by the heat, sat quietly. The only movement within the car was a quick, silent communication among them every time he removed another item of clothing.
Mercifully, the phone rang. "Yes...yes...yes." Addressing the men, he said, "It's a go. Search the house and get out. No mistakes."
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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.*