Greek's Pride

By: Helen Bianchin

‘Georg is asleep, Mr Stefanos.’

Her curt dismissing revelation was greeted with ominous silence, and she unconsciously held her breath, willing him to go away.

‘Asleep or awake, Miss Anderson, it makes little difference.’

Alyse closed her eyes and released her breath in one drawn-out sigh of frustration. Without doubt, Aleksi Stefanos possessed sufficient steel-willed determination to be incredibly persistent. If she refused to let him see Georg tonight, he’d insist on a suitable time tomorrow. Either way, he would eventually succeed in his objective.

Without releasing the safety chain, she opened the door a fraction, noticing idly that he had exchanged his formal suit for light grey trousers and a sweater in fine dark wool. Even from within the protection of her home, he presented a disturbing factor she could only view with disfavour.

‘Will you give me your word that you won’t try to abduct Georg?’ she asked him.

His eyes flared, then became hard and implacable, his facial muscles reassembling over sculptured bone to present a mask of silent anger.

‘It isn’t in my interests to resort to abduction,’ he warned inflexibly. ‘Perhaps you should be reminded that your failure to co-operate will be taken into consideration and assuredly used against you.’

The temptation to tell him precisely what he could do with his legal advisers was almost impossible to ignore, but common sense reared its logical head just in time, and Alyse released the safety chain, then stood back to permit him entry.

‘Thank you.’

His cynicism was not lost on her, and it took considerable effort to remain civil. ‘Georg’s room is at the rear of the house.’

Without even glancing at him, she led the way, aware that he followed close behind her. She didn’t consciously hurry, but her footsteps were quick, and consequently she felt slightly breathless when she reached the end of the hallway.

Carefully she opened the door, swinging it wide so the shaft of light illuminated the room. Large and airy, it had been converted to a nursery months before Georg’s birth, the fresh white paint with its water-colour murals on each wall the perfect foil for various items of nursery furniture, and a number of colourful mobiles hung suspended from the ceiling.

Fiercely protective, Alyse glanced towards the man opposite for any sign that he might disturb her charge, and saw there was no visible change in his expression.

What had she expected? A softening of that hard exterior? Instead there was a curious bleakness, a sense of purpose that Alyse found distinctly chilling.

Almost as if Georg sensed he was the object of a silent battle, he stirred, moving his arms as he wriggled on to his back, his tiny legs kicking at the blanket until, with a faint murmur, he settled again.

Alyse wanted to cry out that Georg was hers, and nothing, no one, was going to take him away from her.

Perhaps some of her resolve showed in her expressive features, for she glimpsed a muscle tighten at the edge of Aleksi Stefanos’s powerful jaw an instant before he moved back from the cot, and she followed him from the room, carefully closing the door behind her.

It appeared he was in no hurry to leave, for he entered the lounge without asking, and stood, a hand thrust into each trouser pocket.

‘Perhaps we could talk?’ he suggested, subjecting her to an analytical scrutiny which in no way enhanced her temper.

‘I was under the impression we covered just about everything this morning.’

Chillingly bleak eyes riveted hers, trapping her in his gaze, and Alyse was prompted to comment, ‘It’s a pity Georgiou himself didn’t accord his son’s existence such reverent importance.’

‘There were, I think you will have to agree, extenuating circumstances.’

‘If he really did love my sister,’ she stressed, ‘he would have seen to it that someone—even you—answered any one of her letters. He had a responsibility which was ignored, no matter how bravely he grappled with his own disabilities.’

His gaze didn’t waver. ‘I imagine he was tortured by the thought of Antonia bearing a child he would never see.’

‘The only bonus to come out of the entire débâcle is Georg.’

He looked at her hard and long before he finally spoke. ‘You must understand, he cannot be raised other than as a Stefanos.’

Alyse saw the grim resolve apparent, and suddenly felt afraid. ‘Why?’ she queried baldly. ‘A man without a wife could only offer the services of a nanny, which, even if it were a full-time live-in employment, can’t compare with my love and attention.’

His shoulders shifted imperceptibly, almost as if he were reassembling a troublesome burden, and his features assumed an inscrutability she had no hope of penetrating.

‘You too employ the part-time services of a nanny in the guise of babysitter. Is this not so?’ An eyebrow slanted in silent query. ‘By your own admission, you operate a successful business. With each subsequent month, my nephew will become more active, sleep less, and demand more attention. While you delegate, in part, your business duties, you will also be delegating the amount of time you can spend with Georg. I fail to see a significant difference between your brand of caring and mine.’