~ Required Knowledge ~
"...And the task I asked you to handle for tomorrow?"
The housekeeper, Mrs. Landsbury, gave Nikolas a look. Prince or not, she was unaccustomed to her efficiency being questioned. She excused the affront, crediting the overwhelming responsibilities Nikolas was learning to juggle alone. "The items you requested to be sent will be prepared in the morning and delivered still warm to the young ladies." She anticipated his next question. "Tonight's dinner will be ready 30 minutes after your guest arrives."
Nikolas nodded absently. "Thank you Mrs. Landsbury. That will be all."
The young head of the Cassadine family resumed his examination of the mountain of invoices requiring his signature. Since his uncle's death they seem to multiply each day. Nikolas had been training all his life to take over the leadership role of his wealthy, fractured family and diverse financial holdings. But all the training in the world was no preparation for reality.
Nicholas wondered if Stefan had been this weary at the end of each day after dealing with the minute details of the "Empire" and the strident demands of the family. Not a day went by that one or the other did not cross Nikolas' desk, demanding his full - and immediate - attention. A tiny voice reminded the young prince of just why he was forced to navigate these dangerous new waters all alone. Resolutely, Nikolas clamped down on the disturbing thoughts and signed the last of that day's invoices. More time had passed than he realized. Sam would soon be arriving by launch for their informal family gathering.
A weary Nikolas retired to his suite of rooms for a quick shower and change of clothes. He eschewed the tailored suits he donned each day as Prince and opted instead for an aubergine-colored turtleneck and charcoal gray slacks. The rich deep hue of the turtleneck accentuated Nikolas' handsome features, which were just a bit thinner since his added responsibilities.
"Miss Samantha is on the launch." A stocky, compact guard met Nikolas just outside his door. "They will begin crossing as we speak."
"Thank you, Yegor."
Nikolas went to meet his recently discovered cousin. He wanted anyone observing the comings and goings to know that Samantha McCall was a welcome guest on Spoon Island. Nikolas was aware that his grandmother had eyes and ears among the staff at Wyndemere. The message was for her as well. Without Stefan's presence there, Nikolas knew it was only a matter of time before she began to attempt to use her influence with those in his sphere to manipulate and maneuver him.
The launch was bumping gently against the landing when Nikolas arrived. The launch's pilot, Ruslan, stepped forward to assist Sam from the sleek but sturdy vessel. Nikolas dismissed the Russian sentry and held out a hand for Sam to steady herself. She ignored his offer and instead leapt lightly onto the landing. "I've worked on a couple of boats before. I even ran my own salvage boat for awhile. But it was old and the onboard equipment outdated."
"You ran a salvage operation?" Nikolas posed the question more as a conversation starter than any need for information. His detective, Capinger, had given the young prince a preliminary report on Samantha a day after she'd made her claim of kinship to the Cassadine family. A lifetime as a con artist had been laid out for Nikolas year by year. It hadn't been flattering to Samantha but Nikolas reminded himself that she had not had the benefits of growing up Cassadine.
"I'm actually pretty good at salvaging," Sam replied. She climbed determinedly up the launch steps ahead of Nikolas. He did not yet know her well enough to decide if her actions were due to lack of knowledge of the protocols involved, or a determination to serve notice that she was reclaiming all that she believed should have been hers by birth. It was, in all likeliness, a bit of both. "I'd like to own a new salvage boat. That's what I wanted to talk to you and Mom about the other day."
"I'm afraid that it will be just the three of us at dinner tonight. Alexis' treatment has sapped her strength. She has already retired for the evening. Kristina is eagerly awaiting your arrival, however."
Nikolas did not miss the tightening of Sam's jaw when he informed her that Alexis would not be attending their first informal family dinner that night due to a particularly grueling bout of chemotherapy. He knew that Sam was frustrated at the lack of progress she and Alexis had made toward becoming mother and daughter. To be honest, so was Nikolas. He was confused by his aunt's reticence. Alexis knew firsthand the damage that an emotionally estranged parent could cause. Her early relationship with her own father Mikkos had left scars that were visible to this day.
Nikolas himself was no stranger to parental issues. His mother, Laura Spencer, had set the pattern for their relationship when she walked away from him shortly after birth. Her excuse was that though she'd fled her 'captors' on that island in Greece, she had left Nikolas behind because she knew he would be cared for. He had never fully understood how a situation so unbearable for her was still somehow fine for her helpless infant son. That she had been proven right about the level of care he'd received growing up had nothing to do with her decision-making and everything to do with his Uncle's love for him.
"Alexis has retired for the evening...at my command," Nikolas explained gently. Even though his aunt had counseled Nikolas to defer any desire to show financial support to Sam, there was no reason Nikolas could not begin familiarizing his new cousin to the ways of their family. Her first lesson was that, as head of the family, his word was law.
Samantha's second lesson was that, as foreign a concept as it seemed to her, everything began and ended with Nikolas' comfort. He watched stoically as Sam glared at Yegor, who stood blocking the closed entrance to Wyndemere. Nikolas allowed the standoff to continue for several seconds before directing with a quiet nod of his head for the guard to open the door. "Yegor is unaccustomed," Nikolas explained as he pointedly entered Wyndemere before Sam, "to anyone proceeding before the prince. It isn't protocol."
"I didn't know."
"Don't worry," Nikolas nodded. "We will all help you learn."
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