Part Forty-Four

The atmosphere in the dining room was a bit stilted, but not altogether unpleasant. Hushed conversations took place among the dinner guests, most of them made inaudible to the Prince by the shuffle of servants removing dinnerware and serving the various dessert choices. Stavros was not disturbed by his inability to hear the various exchanges. Time would eventually uncover whatever bargains or plans that had been made that night.

His gaze drifted about the table and came to rest upon his son Nikolas and Nikolas' latest dalliance Gia Campbell. The two young people were huddled together at the far end of the tables like a pair of gazelle in the midst of a lion pride. Their bravado was a poor cover for their discomfort and uncertainty.

Stavros felt his anger grow. It was a personal affront to him that a child of his creation could be anything less than supremely confident in any circumstance. Obviously the years in Stefan's care had molded Nikolas into a weak, spoiled, pampered child.

Something of his mood must have transmitted itself to the far end of the dinner table. Gia looked up, saw Nikolas' father glowering at them and unceremoniously elbowed Nikolas in the side.

Nikolas glanced up, pulled his fiancée to her feet and glared defiantly back at Stavros. “We are going to say goodnight,” he announced to the others. His attitude was as sullen as it had been when he and Gia arrived at Wyndemere earlier that evening.

“Very well,” Stavros replied equably. “I shall escort you both to the launch.”

The Prince was mildly amused by all the wary glances that were exchanged among the dinner guests. “My absence, Princess,” he addressed his wife, “will allow you a few private moments with your brother before he departs.” He waved an imperious hand Stefan's way. “Stefan will remain at your side and escort you to our suite when you are done.”

Next, Stavros addressed Faith Ward. “My sister-to-be, are you also in need of escort to the launch? Or have you chosen to spend the night here in my brother's bed?”

“I won't be using the launch tonight.” Faith's response was calm and unruffled, as Stavros knew it would be. He had worded his inquiry to provoke Faith, but she had gracefully chosen not to react. Stavros admired Stefan's intended. Not for the first time he wondered exactly what it was that drew such a fiery woman to the side of his most unremarkable younger brother. “As you wish.”

Stavros headed for the door. “I shall,” he threw back over his shoulder just before exiting, “return in thirty minutes.”