Plus 1 Welcomed

Andresj Cassadine nodded his permission for the waitstaff to replace his glass of champagne with one that had been freshly poured. The practice was not just good hosting; his father believed in vigilance where the family's safety was concerned. Regularly replacing their drinks removed the temptation for someone to alter the contents.

Andresj raised the glass to his lips, swallowing just enough of the vintage brut to wet his throat. Perhaps later he would imbibe enough to achieve a pleasant buzz, but for now he would have to content himself with just sipping. Despite the abundance of security, he chose to remain completely alert. For the first time in several years, Andresj observed the proceedings of his parents' annual celebration in solitude. He normally spent the occasion in the company of his cousin Gervaise. The two men shared their appreciation of the various women in attendance even as they almost surgically dissected the male guests and their probable motives for attending. Gervaise was not at the celebration this year and Andresj missed his presence greatly.

A smile curved the young royal's lips. He had not always felt an affection for his older cousin. Gervaise seemed to take every possible opportunity to anger three-year-old Andresj by ruffling the little boy's head of dark curls. But as time passed, Andresj realized that Gervaise was not that many years older than him and Nikolas. Their teenaged cousin was being groomed for a life in Swiss banking. The majority of his visits were spent in the company of the small circle of men with whom Stefan did business.

Like Gervaise, Stefan's trusted group of allies was not in attendance at the night's celebration. At dinner nearly 6 months ago, Papa had informed the family that this year's gathering would be a more intimate one than those that came before it. The guest list would be cut by more than half, and Stefan retained the final say in a guest's suitability to attend.

Those assembled received the announcement in curious silence until Andresj voiced the question that was on all their minds. Why ? In response, his mother reached over and rested her fingers lightly on his Papa's arm. She was, Faith informed them in a soft tone that brooked no further inquiry, exercising her right to have it be so.

Early in their union the family could tell when Mama and Papa were on opposite sides of an issue - their interchanges were polite, impersonal. But after hard-fought years of marriage, they now never failed to present a unified front where the family was concerned. That they were truly unified on this matter was crystal clear.

'The subject is closed.' Rare were the times that the family heard that thread of steel in her voice. Nikolas' ascension took that mantle of responsibility from Stefan and Faith and settled it firmly on his shoulders - his and Gia's. But in moments such as those, Nikolas had no difficulty conceding to Faith's wishes.

Nearby laughter drew Andresj from his thoughts. His Thea Sabrina stood a hair's breadth apart from her husband, laughing delightedly at something he'd murmured for her ears only. Beside them, his Thea Natasha and her husband Marcus Taggert mirrored the other couple's pose. Both Sabrina and Natasha delighted in the yearly celebration. The occasion was as much for them as it was for Stefan and Faith. Neither woman believed that a happy, successful marriage was in the cards for them. They were accomplished, successful, determined women with personalities to match. That they had found and married men such as Marcus Taggart and Jack Bauer was something at which to marvel. The two women felt blessed, no matter how many times their husbands attempted to reverse the claim.

Andresj grinned when Cousin Raisa interrupted the foursome in search of a dance partner. Both men took a step back, well aware that Raisa's preference of dance partners did not include either of them. To no one's surprise, Sabrina readily accepted the hand Raisa offered and allowed the Saville Row-suited young woman to lead her to the center of the dance floor.

A slender figure blocked Andresj's view of the dance floor. Nikolas' wife, Gia Campbell Cassadine stood beside the table, peering down at 'Dre with an amused smirk on her face. She was clad in a stylish emerald gown that respectfully showcased her svelte figure. Gia had never strayed by more than five pounds from her fashion model weight. The intense public scrutiny that came along with being married to a real live Prince was all the motivation she needed to continue the practice, she maintained.

"Your family is a trip," Gia teased.

Andresj responded with a playful rise of his left eyebrow. "I beg your pardon, Princess. I believe we are now your family as well."

The pair watched the guests in companionable silence. It had taken them a while to develop a relationship that was separate from their common bond of Nikolas. "Isn't it about time you brought a guest to this celebration?" Gia casually dropped the question into the silence. Too casually. "As much as you travel, there isn't anyone who has caught your eye?"

" No ." Even to his own ears the response sounded curt, abrupt. Andresj grimaced. "Forgive me, Princess. That is a question I have been asked far too much of late. I do believe Mama and Papa are ready to see me married and settled."

"That's understandable. They want you to have what we all have."

"As do I. It is no easy thing, year after year, to attend alone a celebration such as this." Despite his earlier intentions, Andresj drained his champagne glass. "While I am truly happy at my family's happiness," his gaze circled the room, "there are moments I envy you all."

Something about their body language must have signaled the mood of his conversation with Gia. Nikolas abandoned the pretense of not observing his wife's interaction with his younger brother and began to make his way across the spacious room. Andresj visibly shook off his melancholy. "Enough of that subject, Princess. It is hardly the time or place for it. I am confident that I will meet the woman meant for me when it is destined to happen."

"Yes, well, if it doesn't happen soon, I'm going to start arranging some dates for you. I've talked to your brother and he's all for the idea."


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