"What I don't understand," Skye said, "is why you need me. I haven't had much to do with ELQ since Jax and I had our first little misunderstanding, and now that it's been established that I'm not actually a Quartermaine "
"It's simple," Ned assured her. "You were the force behind the Berloni deal. And this guy bought out Berloni last month. Now he wants to renegotiate - and expand - the deal with ELQ."
"Yep. Really. He faxed us a bushel of papers yesterday and I was hoping you'd look them over and even be on hand for the meeting this afternoon."
"Ned, of course." She had denied to everyone - particularly herself - how much she missed being part of the action at ELQ. Not that she wanted to run things herself anymore. No, not while Kristina was so young and needed her, not to mention she still had the club to run. But on a consulting basis that might be ideal.
"I was hoping you'd say that." He handed her a sheaf of papers and opened the door to the office adjoining his. "I'll have some coffee and danish sent up "
Two hours later, they were discussing the deal together over more coffee. "So who is this guy?"
"He's Swiss, and he's supposed to be a comer, though I hadn't heard of him before his people contacted us. But I've asked around since then and they say he's the real thing."
"We could use a dose of real around here," Skye said with a smile.
Just then Ned's secretary buzzed to tell them "Mr. Caine is here."
Even though Ned and Alexis had not been close during the time Stavros Cassadine had been terrorizing Port Charles, most especially Ned's cousin and ex-wife Chloe, Ned had certainly read after the fact about his bizarre rise from 'death' - and the news stories had included photos.
The man who walked into Ned's office was a dead, if you'd excuse the expression, ringer for the twice-late Stavros Cassadine. "Mr. Ashton " He smiled charmingly as he extended his hand.
Ned took it, of course. "Mr. Caine. It's a pleasure to meet you, finally." He introduced Skye, who shook Lucien Caine's hand in turn. If she wondered about Ned's frozen expression and awkward gaze, she didn't show it. Her poise gave Ned an idea. "Actually, since Skye put together the original deal, I asked her to sit in today and she agreed. Maybe the two of you could " His voice drifted off.
"I'd be happy to brief Mr. Caine on the key clauses and how you see them," Skye said, catching on, even if she didn't know why. In minutes, she and Lucien Caine were comfortably ensconced in a conference room.
Ned dialed Alexis's number. "It's me no, this isn't about Kristina not directly. It's something else. Look, I know we're not exactly friends right now, but Alexis, this is important. It could be crucially important to you and your family, and that includes Kristina I think you need to get over here Why? Because a man named Lucien Caine just walked into my office at ELQ and he looks just like your brother No. The other one."
When Alexis arrived she had Stefan with her. There was no way, he had assured her, that she was going to view this man alone, let alone handle any potential confrontation.
"In other words, my years of legal experience, cross-examining, arguing, evaluating evidence, are totally useless here?" she asked him.
"If this is a true visitation from Stavros, if this is another one of Mother's bizarre challenges to natural and man-made law they may well be useless indeed."
"Wasn't Lucien Caine the alias he used when he was skulking around Port Charles?" How could it be a coincidence?
Stefan nodded as the elevator door opened.
"I hate owing you anything." Alexis said to Ned, who was waiting in the reception area.
"Where is he? And by the way, thank you."
"In Grandfather's conference room with Skye. And you're welcome."
They heard his voice before they knocked on the door; lightly accented, softer than Stavros's, different in a dozen little ways. Somehow, it was reassuring. Skye opened the door. "Ned, we were just - " She stopped and stared at the newcomers. "Alexis? What do you want?" Her voice was wary, not entirely hostile.
"We need to speak with Mr Caine."
The man in question stood up. "Do I know you?"
"I don't know. Do you?" Alexis looked at him. God, it was impossible. He looked as if he had just stepped forward, freshly defrosted, as if nothing at all had happened in the last two years. But how could it have happened again? Helena's underground lab was gone, her devilish technology lost, Helena herself, according to Luke Spencer, in permanent exile in Antarctica.
"I love riddles," he said with an engaging smile. "I am Lucien Caine."
"Are you really?" Alexis asked, ignoring Skye's aghast stare.
"I have been all my life. And you?"
"Alexis Davis. For not quite all my life. And this is my brother, Stefan Cassadine." Her eyes raked his face, examining every detail of expression.
The face Lucien Caine presented them was entirely appropriate. "I have heard of your family, of course. But I am still somewhat confused. Are you involved with ELQ?"
"No," Skye said. "They're not."
Stefan stepped forward slightly. "Mr. Caine, you will forgive our intrusion, but we were alerted to your presence only a few minutes ago. Are you aware that another man was using your name in this town two years ago?"
"My name? To what purpose?" He seemed sincerely shocked.
"To evil purpose," Stefan said. "The man was my older brother and you look almost exactly like him."
"I look like a man in his fifties? Given that I am but thirty-four, that is not exactly flattering." He smiled wryly, and it was so like Stavros that Alexis thought it might be a good idea to have a paper bag handy.
"He didn't look his age," she said, determined not to lose control, especially in front of Skye and Ned, who had come in behind them. "Not even close."
"I still do not understand why it was so important to meet me that you interrupted a business meeting Surely if there are dealings between us, they could be gone into at another time."
"You are almost identical to a man who once controlled a vast fortune - and who used your name as an alias in this town two years ago," Stefan said. "This is of no interest to you?"
"It is of interest to me, yes. But without proper questions to answer or a certain goal in view, I am disinclined to pursue it with you at this moment."
"Here's a proper question for you," Alexis said. "Where are you from and who are your people?"
"I was born in Zurich, Switzerland. My mother, Lucia, was Italian Swiss, with English on her father's side."
"And your father?"
"I did not know him "
Suddenly, Stefan said, "You are right, Mr. Caine. This is not the time for this. Would you consent to a proper meeting at a more suitable time?"
Lucien Caine cocked his head slightly. "All right. I will admit that I am a little curious. As long as things are done properly yes. Why not? I am staying at the Port Charles Hotel and will be there for at least the rest of the week."
"Good. We will call you." Before Alexis could protest, and to Skye's amusement, Stefan escorted Alexis out the door.
"Wh - what was that about? I mean, apart from cutting my legs out from under me?"
"That is not Stavros. The odds were against it from the beginning."
"But there's something going on, Stefan. The name being the same, the resemblance "
"I always wondered where Stavros got that alias from " They got into the elevator. "Alexis there was a scandal when Stavros was in school in Switzerland. Father hushed it up, I do not know how. Perhaps he paid off the girl or her family "
"You think this man could be Stavros's son?" Stefan nodded. "And Stavros knew about him?"
"That I do not know. Perhaps he remembered the girl fondly, or as affectionately as Stavros could. If he knew it is hard to believe he would not have made contact. Or perhaps he did. There is much we do not know." Another pause. "Including how this will affect Nikolas."
"According to the Laws of Succession, he can't challenge Nikolas for the Estate. Only a legitimate son can be Prince, legitimate within a marriage blessed by the Greek Orthodox church, as Stavros's was with Laura."
"Yes, blessed indeed," Stefan said ironically. "Clearly there is much we need to learn, both from Mr. Caine and on our own. Shall we start over lunch?"
Alexis sighed. "Yes, all right." Inside she was trembling. What would he be like, this man who had Stavros's face stamped across his own? What would the roiling blood inside of him claim, if indeed it was Cassadine blood? And how could it not be? If biology was destiny how would his presence affect all their destinies?
In the conference room, Lucien looked at Skye and Ned. "What was that all about?"
"It's a long story," Ned said.
"They probably think you're a claimant to their throne," Skye said, with a note of bitterness in her voice.
"I have a personal fortune that is sufficient to my needs, and I quite enjoyed earning it myself," he assured her.
Skye shook her head. "You don't know they'll tell you that you might be one of them, and they'll make you jump through all kinds of hoops to prove it, and it will turn your world upside down and then, just as whatever you think you want is within reach it'll all be a terrible mistake, or a cosmic joke."
Lucien stared at her, not even seeing Ned's look of compassion. But she returned his gaze steadily. "What if I am not interested?" he asked.
"Then you're a man in a million."
He smiled. "I tell myself that I am," he said lightly.
"Tell you what," Skye said, managing a smile "I think our rhythm's been thrown off for now. Why don't we break for lunch - my treat - and Ned and I will brief you on everything we know about the Cassadines and their particular brand of madness."
"I can think of little I would like better," Lucien said, "except that you allow me to treat you."
Ned wasn't sure about sitting through lunch with a man who looked exactly like Chloe's murderer. "Why don't you two go and we'll pick up business when you get back?"
Skye and Lucien agreed. "The Grille?" she suggested.
"That will be fine. Perhaps a bottle of wine?"
"I don't drink," she said as they started out the door.
"Then we will drink sparkling water "
The door closed and Ned leaned against the conference table. He and Alexis were a train wreck, before during and after. Nothing good could come out of feeling sorry for her - look at what had happened the last time his heart had gone out to her - but how could he not respond to the fear and weariness in her eyes? Especially since he'd been the one to bring Lucien Caine to Port Charles
He had a feeling the next train wreck might be right around the corner.