Part Thirteen


“My brother seems taken with his young bride,” Stefan answered carefully. He closed the heavy wooden door behind him, effectively shutting out any curious listeners.

“That's a good thing, isn't it?”

Stefan paused before answering his fiancée. “For anyone else I would say ‘yes'. But...” He sat down on the bed beside her and took a moment to gather his thoughts.

Faith Ward had never seen her beloved at such a loss for words. Vocal communication had never been a problem for a man privately tutored and groomed from the age of three. Stefan spoke at least five languages fluently, and his vocabulary was vast.

“From the time we were children, Stavros has possessed a cruel streak. It is a thing he has, all his life, embraced joyfully.” Stefan's green eyes were unfocused and he stared blindly ahead. “Some of my earliest memories are of an eight-year old Stavros pinning me down and holding a pillow over my face until my brain swam and I verged on unconsciousness. Then he would laughingly allow me to recover only long enough to begin again.”

“Subsequent weeks were spent in efforts to avoid him. But my brother was taken with the pleasure my fear of him provided and spared no energy in finding new cruelties with which to torture me.”

Faith instinctively slipped her hand into Stefan's, offering him the comfort of her presence. He seemed lost in the past and she was not sure he even remembered she was there beside him.

The warmth of her skin against his own shook Stefan from his thoughts. He gave Faith a smile of reassurance and squeezed her slender fingers gently. “I have been where Alexandra is now.”

He thought briefly of the way the young woman's demeanor so radically changed when Stavros arrived for breakfast. Up until that point, she had been somewhat reserved, but friendly. “It is a fate I would not wish on anyone.”

“So what will we do?”

Stefan smiled at Faith's use of the word ‘we'. In her he had finally met his life's partner. “We first discover what power it is that Stavros holds over Alexandra.”

“And then?” Faith asked.

“And then . . . we remove it.”