Greek's Pride

By: Helen Bianchin

Now for the call to Hugh Mannering.

‘Can I lose Georg?’ Alyse queried with stark disregard for the conversational niceties.

‘Any permanent resolution will take considerable time,’ the solicitor stressed carefully. ‘Technically, the Family Services Department investigates each applicant’s capability to adequately care for the child, and ultimately a decision is made.’

‘Off the record,’ she persisted, ‘who has the best chance?’

‘It’s impossible to ignore facts, Alyse. I’ve studied indisputable records documenting Aleksi Stefanos’s financial status, and the man has an impressive list of assets.’

A chill finger slithered the length of her spine, and she suppressed the desire to shiver. ‘Assets which far outstrip mine, I imagine?’

‘My dear, you are fortunate to enjoy financial security of a kind that would be the envy of most young women your age. However, it is only a small percentage in comparison.’

‘Damn him!’ The oath fell from her lips in husky condemnation.

‘The child’s welfare is of prime importance,’ the solicitor reminded her quietly. ‘I’ll have the application ready for your signature tomorrow.’

The inclination to have a snack instead of preparing herself a meal was all too tempting, and Alyse settled for an omelette with an accompanying salad, then followed it with fresh fruit.

She should make an effort to do some sewing—at least attempt to hand-finish a number of tiny smocked dresses which had been delivered to the house by one of her outworkers this morning. Certainly the boutique could do with the extra supplies.

The dishes done and the washing folded, Alyse collected a bundle of garments from its enveloping plastic and settled herself comfortably in the lounge with her sewing basket. Working diligently, she applied neat stitches with precise care, clipped thread, then deftly rethreaded the needle and began on the next garment.

Damn! The soft curse disrupted the stillness of the room. The third in an hour, and no less vicious simply because it was quietly voiced.

Alyse looked at the tiny prick of blood the latest needle stab had wrought, and raised her eyes heavenward in mute supplication.

Just this one garment, and she’d pack it all away for the evening, she pleaded in a silent deal with her favourite saint. Although it would prove less vexing if she cast aside hand-finishing for the evening and relaxed in front of the television with a reviving cup of coffee. Yet tonight she needed to immerse herself totally in her work in an attempt to alleviate the build-up of nervous tension.

Specialising in exquisitely embroidered babywear sold under her own label, Alyse, she had by dint of hard work, she reflected, changed a successful hobby into a thriving business. Now there was a boutique in a modern upmarket shopping centre catering for babies and young children’s clothes featuring her own exclusive label among several imported lines.

Five minutes later Alyse breathed a sigh of relief as the tiny garment was completed. Stretching her arms high, she flexed her shoulders in a bid to ease the knot of muscular tension.

Georg’s wakening cry sounded loud in the stillness of the house, and she quickly heated his bottle, fed him, then settled him down for the night.

In the hallway she momentarily caught sight of her mirrored reflection, and paused, aware that it was hardly surprising that the combination of grief and lack of appetite had reduced her petite form to positive slenderness. There were dark smudges beneath solemn blue eyes, and the angles of her facial bone-structure appeared delicate and more clearly defined.

Minutes later she sank into a chair in the lounge nursing a mug of hot coffee, longing not for the first time for someone in whom she could confide.

If her parents were still alive, it might be different, she brooded, but both had died within months of each other only a year after she had finished school, and she had been too busy establishing a niche in the workforce as well as guiding Antonia through a vulnerable puberty to enjoy too close an empathy with friends.

The sudden peal of the doorbell shattered the quietness of the room, and she hurried quickly to answer it, vaguely apprehensive yet partly curious as to who could possibly be calling at this time of the evening.

Checking that the safety chain was in place, she queried cautiously, ‘Who is it?’

‘Aleksi Stefanos.’

Stefanos. The name seemed etched in her brain with the clarity of diamond-engraved marble, and she closed her eyes in a purely reflex action as undisguised anger replaced initial shock.

‘How did you get my address?’ she wanted to know.

‘The telephone directory.’ His voice held an infinite degree of cynicism.

‘How dare you come here?’ Alyse demanded, trying her best to ignore the prickle of fear steadily creating havoc with her nervous system.

‘Surely eight-thirty isn’t unacceptably late?’ his drawling voice enquired through the thick wood-panelled door, and she drew in a deep angry breath, then released it slowly.

‘I have absolutely nothing to say to you.’

‘May I remind you that I have every right to visit my nephew?’

For some inexplicable reason his dry mocking tones sent an icy chill feathering the length of her spine. Damn him! Who did he think he was, for heaven’s sake?