Chapter 3


Shadows had begun to fall on the papers spread across the study's large desk. Stefan and Alexis were deep in conversation about their contents. A sizeable portion of the Cassadine empire was represented by the data the papers contained, and Stefan was diligent about supervising every detail of Nikolas' birthright.

"I'll be home later, Papa," Andresj' announced from the doorway. Stefan looked up from the document he was examining and motioned for Andresj' to enter the room. "One moment! You have completed your studies for today?"

"Yes!" Andresj' replied a little impatiently. "You can ask Monsieur."

"Where are you off to?"

"I am meeting Nikolas at his mother's. Then we are going to the Outback." Andresj' turned to leave.

"Arman and Anton will be with you," Stefan said quietly.

His statement brought Andresj' back toward his father in protest. "That isn't necessary, Papa! Nikolas will already have his guards."

"This isn't a discussion." Stefan's tone brooked no argument.

Andresj' teeth clenched in frustration. He knew from his father's tone that there would be no further discussion of the matter. "As you wish, Father," he ground out. "Good night, Alexis."

"I don't believe Andresj' is too happy with you right now," Alexis said, with a small smile.

"He isn't," Stefan agreed. "My son only addresses me as 'Father' when we are in public, or when he wishes to express his displeasure with me." He began to gather up the papers from the desk. "No matter. He will get over his anger. I cannot afford to ease my vigilance where his safety is concerned."

"I was surprised you allowed him to go to Laura's so easily. You know that Luke will try to take advantage of the opportunity his visit presents."

"I have no doubt he will try," Stefan agreed, as he placed the paperwork into the safe.

"You are remarkably calm about that."

"Why shouldn't I be? Luke can pull no stunts while I am there to protect my sons. Now, do you require a ride to your apartment?"

Rising, Alexis shook her head. "No, I have my car. But I will ride to the docks with you."

"Let us go, then."

The docks were fairly quiet. Stefan's guards had checked the area before he would allow Alexis to leave the limousine. And still he walked her to her car.

Alexis slid behind the wheel of her dark-blue Mercedes sedan and allowed Stefan to close the door. She lowered the window, looked out at him and said, "Be careful, Stefan. My three favorite men will all be in one place."

"Do not worry so, Alexis. Though my anger at Spencer is great, my first - and only - priority is the safety of my sons." He bent down toward her. "Why do you smile?"

"You are such a proud papa, Stefan," Alexis answered, as she shook her head. "Hearing you say my sons with such pride . . . I can only imagine how ill it must make Helena to see you so secure as not only the head of the Cassadine family but your own."

"I will forgive you your amusement at my expense, Little One." Stefan used his childhood name for her to show his affection. "But only because of the truth you speak."

The doorbell rang, interrupting the laughter of the people within the small room. "That's probably Andresj' now," said Nikolas, rising. "I will get it." He opened the door and stepped back to allow his younger brother entrance into the room. "Come on in. I was just telling Laura and Lesley about our trip to the mall last week."

"I am sure no one wanted to hear that story. Good evening, Mrs. Spencer, Mrs. Webber," Andresj' said somberly. He then crouched down to speak to the little girl sitting on the couch next to Laura. A shy smile softened his face. "Hello, Lesley Lu." She rewarded him with a smile as he stood.

"It was a very funny story. Good evening, Andresj'," Laura said. "You look very handsome."

Dressed in black slacks and a plum-colored turtleneck shirt that accentuated his well-toned physique, he could have easily been mistaken for some young media star. Dark, curly hair helped emphasize his finely chiseled features. "Thank you," Andresj' replied.

"Nikolas tells me that the two of you are dining at the Outback tonight." Laura attempted to put the young man at ease.

"Yes, ma'am."

When it became obvious that Andresj' had nothing more to add to his response, Nikolas spoke. "You'll have to excuse my little brother, Laura. He isn't a big talker. I think he inherited that from our father." He rose, and gathered his jacket from the couch. "Well, we had better be going. Our reservation is for seven."

"Are you celebrating something?" Lesley inquired.

"I'll be seventeen next month," Andresj' answered politely.

"He's trying to find out if I've bought his gift yet," Nikolas smiled. "Goodnight, Laura, Lesley. And goodnight to you, Lulu."

"Yes, goodnight," Andresj' added.

"Thank you both for coming by," Laura said, with a smile. "You know, Andresj', you are welcome here anytime. With or without Nikolas."

"That is very kind of you, Mrs. Spencer."

"Well, enjoy your evening."

The sound of the limousine's departure broke the silence that had reigned since the two young men's exit from the room. "He is a beautiful young man, isn't he?" Lesley Webber asked her daughter. "And his mannerisms are just like Stefan."

"Yes, they are." A fleeting expression of bemusement crossed Laura's face. "Nikolas has said before that Andresj' is more like his father than he. I see now what he meant. He is a carbon copy of Stefan."

"And Andresj' and Nikolas are obviously very close. That's good."

"Yes, it is, Mother." Laura rose from the couch and crossed the room to the mantel where pictures of her children stood. "I am glad Nikolas had another child in his life," she said, running her finger across the framed photo of her eldest child. "You know I always worried that he would grow up alone in that big estate and never have a childhood. Oh, I knew that Stefan would give him the love he needed to be a secure young man. I just didn't know if he could give him enough time to be a child."

Softly, Lesley said, "Laura, Nikolas had a very happy childhood."

Laura quickly turned away from the mantel. "How do you know that?" she demanded.

"He told me," Lesley said simply. "Nikolas said that Stefan fought to make sure that he and Andresj' were allowed to be children. He refused to discourage their interests. They were allowed as many childhood experiences as Stefan could safely provide for them." She paused. "Didn't you know any of this?"

"Nikolas never talks to me about his childhood. And I can't blame him," Laura's voice wavered. "After all, I am the mother who deserted him."

"You are trying too hard, Laura. Give Nikolas time to learn to trust you again."

The chauffeur shut the limousine's door, effectively silencing the outside sounds. Bulletproof and designed for comfort, it smoothly pulled away from the Spencer house. Two bodyguards rode inside while another two followed in a large, black sport utility.

Andresj' broke the silence. "Does she know?" he asked, looking out into the darkness.

"Laura?" Nikolas frowned. "I don't think so. I didn't tell her, if that is what you are asking."

"I know you didn't tell her. You gave me your word you wouldn't. I just wondered if Luke would have told her."

"Why are you asking? Because of that invitation she gave you?"


Nikolas reached over and flipped on the car's interior light. He wanted to gauge Andresj's mood, and needed to see him to do so. In times of emotional crisis, Andresj' had learned to adopt a stoic, unyielding demeanor that was almost unreadable. It amazed Nikolas how completely like their father Andresj could be. "Laura wouldn't invite you there for Luke's sake. She wouldn't let him use you that way."

"The way she let you think she was dead because Luke said so?" Andresj' asked quietly. "I'm sorry, Nik. I know that you are trying to work past that with Laura. And if you choose to trust her, then I support you all the way. But I am not going to put myself on the line that way. I know in my heart that Luke Spencer would only see my visits to that house as an opportunity to turn me against Papa. Every visit would just be another chance for Luke to bad-mouth him." The anger Andresj' felt was evident from the rapid rise and fall of his chest. "I don't want Luke Spencer anywhere in my life."

"'Dre, you can handle Luke. I do."

"It isn't the same," Andresj' argued. "You are living proof of Laura's ties to the Cassadines. Luke doesn't want to be in the same room with you. That isn't true for me. 'Cause no matter what Luke Spencer says, I know that he sees me as a weapon against you and Papa."

"That's his problem. Father and I know the kind of man Luke Spencer is. Just as surely as we know that you would never turn against us." Silence. "We are family, 'Dre. Nothing, and nobody can change that."