The Path to Power

Chapter Twenty Eight




Penny groans as she reads the last of the papers Stefan had given to her. Someone probably did the research for him. She hopes so since it would be hell to think this had been off the top of his head.

"What is it?"

"Your uncle." Penny flips over the last page. "It I were a suspicious woman..."

"Do you think he is trying to mislead you?"

"Oh no!" Penny shakes her head. "He is just being thorough. Very thorough. To the point of scaring the hell out of me."

"You already had a head start." Nikolas reminds wryly. He reaches across the table at the Port Charles Grille. "Do you..."

"Go ahead." Penny shoves the papers toward him. "The way he explained it to me, I don't have to worry about the whole amount-- just use that as principle. I'd heard that before so that part made sense. Then he tells me that it would generate a..." Penny looks both ways and drops her voice low. "... a million dollars a year and that is what I should plan on managing. A million like it was chump change!"

"It's just a suggestion." Nikolas smiles at his companion. "If you want you could spend the whole thing in the first year."

"Ha!" Penny still can't picture it.

"Nikolas? Nikolas Cassadine?! How... unexpected." A polished woman walks up to the table angling herself so she is speaking directly at Nikolas and has her back toward Penny. "It's Lydia. Lydia Karinen. We met back on your island."

"I don't think she means Spoon." Penny says wryly. "You two seem to know each other and I need to get over to Ms. Jensen's. I'll talk to you later, Nikolas. Thanks for bringing me this." Penny collects her paperwork and tucks it into her shoulder bag. She pushes back from the chair.

Nikolas rises to his feet. "Penny..."

Penny pats the bag and says forgivingly. "It's going to take awhile-- you two catch up."

"I'll meet you over there and give you a ride back to the summer house. Don't leave without me."

"Sure." Penny nods. Penny doesn't bother saying goodbye to the woman who is still totally focused on Nikolas. She just shakes her head and walks out of the hotel and toward Dara Jensen's office.

Lydia makes a discreet clearing of her throat. Nikolas comes around and seats her at the table, politely. "It's been..."

"Fifteen years or more." Lydia laughs. She push back her shoulder length hair and angles her head significantly. "May I say... you've changed."

Nikolas sighs. "Lydia, you're in Port Charles, New York. I think we can drop the surprised to see me element."

"As you wish." Lydia shrugs. She has more than one trick in her bag and obtuse has never been her strong suit.

"Why are you here?" Nik asks bluntly.

"I need a husband and a little birdy told me you're available."

"Says whom?!"

"Every tabloid, American television-- your Grandmother to my Grandfather just before he died."


"You've been fodder for the paparazzi recently since they've been laying off Prince Charles son's until they've had a chance to... mature. You know how the game is played."

"No, when did you see my Grandmother." Nikolas demands pulling out his cell phone.

Lydia frowns and considers her answer. "Two months ago. At my Grandfather's estate. I was visiting for the weekend and she was there. She was there when I left. She wasn't at the funeral, that was a month ago."

"Nice?" Nikolas tries to remember where the Karinen estate is.

"For the last few years, Grandfather has been staying at the apartment in Monaco." Lydia is casual in her mention of the five plus room apartment that took up two floors of a luxury building within walking distance of the casino, yacht harbor and with a clear view of the palace. "The weather was better there for him."

Nikolas dials a preset number that connects him immediately with his uncle. "Helena was in Monaco as of two months ago, staying with Georges Karenin. I am at the Grille. Penny has an appointment with Dara." Nikolas disconnects that call. "So my Grandmother talked to you about me?"

"No. She talked to my Grandfather." Lydia says bitterly. "Resulting in a particularly nasty codicil to his will. If I'm not married by this time next year all of the Karenin monies go to a trust-- a very tightfisted trust run by men who wouldn't know a good time if it bit them in the-- men with no sense of humor what so ever."

"And if you're married?"

"A more generous trust with a say in the disposition of funds. An income comparable to what I was receiving when Grandfather was alive rather than an annual income which will barely cover what I normally spend for shoes... in a month. I'd love to know what your Grandmother said to him while my Grandfather was on his deathbed, I really would. The Cassadines weren't mentioned by name in the will but your family was mentioned in the video tape he left for me."

Nikolas asks wryly. "Was your Grandfather on his death bed before the visit from my Grandmother-- or after?" He is already dialing another number on the phone. "Faith? Nikolas Cassadine. Helena, my Grandmother, was spotted in Monaco two months ago. Nothing more recent but my uncle now has a fresher trail with this sighting. Will you let Ned know?" Nikolas keeps up the polite fiction that Ned would know what to do if confronted with Helena then realizes there is another piece of information that might be useful to his niece's stepmother... "Oh and Faith-- Grandmother prefers Madeira to sherry."





Penny strolls into Dara's office; she's early for her appointment. She gets comfortable in one of the chairs in the outer office and pulls out the sheaf of papers, putting them back in order and carefully reading them again. Stefan is taking the barter of swimming lessons for money management lessons seriously, and he's definitely an old style task master-- for every hour of lecture there is two hours of homework. But it is excellent bedtime reading, made you really wonder how the Cassadines could ever be a family of insomniacs.
Stefan also seemed to realize early on she is a creature of careful budgets. It had been tough to budget from her work at Kelly's because tips varied which was why she'd always made sure that her wages would cover her expenses and never created an expense that couldn't be covered by her wages... like a car, when a bus pass worked perfectly fine. She'd never had to buy a health club membership because she'd always been willing to pull a lifeguard shift when needed. Tips had been carefully saved for planned expenses like the heat in her apartment. Even after all these years in upstate New York heat is something she is not frugal with. If it ever came down to a choice between her thermostat set at seventy instead of sixty five or food-- well then she'd have taken her meal at Kelly's To Go. Luckily it had never come to that.

"Hey! I didn't know you were here." Gia comes out of the library where she'd been doing some research for Dara while putting away Alexis' books on the shelves. It made the research go more slowly but at least if you had to look for something again it was on a nice orderly shelf rather than in the bottom box stacked five high and deep.

"I'm early."

"Dara called from the courthouse. She's going to be cutting it close for your appointment. But all the information came in from the accountant, all the accounts are set up. You need to decide which plan you're going for... so it's just a matter of going down to Albany and having your picture taken with that ceremonial check and authorizing the wire transfer. So what are you going to do first? Buy a house?"

"Can you believe its actually been cheaper for me to live now than it was before I won the lottery?" Penny shakes her head. "I gave up my apartment. Everything is in storage. I'm staying at the Cassadine Summer house. I have no expenses. They won't take any rent."

Gia snorts. "I wouldn't have even offered!"

"Still I can't keep up with that. They've already been so kind."

"Kind?!" Both of Gia's brows go up at that. "The Cassadines were being kind. Okay, Nikolas that plays--but you said they. And as a rule Cassadine and kind does not compute unless there is an angle. You cannot tell me that Stefan is being kind."

"I'm giving his sister swimming lessons and in return he's giving me a crash course on excessive money management."

"Nope, that isn't it." Gia disagrees. "He would have taken the swimming lessons in exchange for having you stay at the summer house. Stefan is getting something else out of this crash course... maybe it's a refresher for Nikolas. Maybe it's a way of making sure you don't start looking at the Cassadine gravy train... there is some other angle."

Dara comes in, in time to hear the last two comments. "Gia has a point-- but I think you have to figure in who can be trusted around Alex... Tasha. The Cassadines seem to have made that their focus. As it should be."

"Oh yeah, no doubt." Gia agrees with an emphatic nod. "I'm not disagreeing there. It's not what their focus is. It's how they focus."

"You ready?" Dara asks Penny to change the subject.

"Sure." Penny takes a deep breath and gathering her papers rises to her feet. "Let's get to it."





Faith stuffs her cell phone back into her red leather clutch right next to the 9mm. She doesn't check her firearm but instead makes sure she had a the spare clip in the bag as well. Only once she has done that does she close her purse. Looking over at the bartender of Club 101, "Do you have any Madeira?"

The bartender shrugs. "Don't have many calls for it, but yeah-- there is some in the cellar."

"Keep it up by the bar." Faith demands. "At least until after the big party." She waits until the bartender leaves to get the fortified wine from the cellar and contemplates her next move. I won't be setting foot in this place after the fundraiser. Hell! I should never have been involved with this in the first place. She unclasps her purse again and pulls out her phone. "Alice. Heads up. The baby's psycho granny, no not mother, grandmother has been spotted. Tell all the guys. I'll send Bruno back as soon as he and Dillon get back from the Florist's." Faith hangs up before Alice gets a word in edgewise. Faith starts when she hears the sound of the door opening above her up at street level. She relaxes when it's Bruno and Dillon coming in both of them with their hands full.

"This is the last of it." Bruno announces as he slides the boxes onto a table right besides Dillon's.

"I need you to head back to the house, shut it down tight." Faith says flatly.

That gets both Dillon's and Bruno's attention. Bruno steps away from Dillon and toward the staircase. He isn't surprised when Faith moves with him. "What's up? Who is making a move?" He asks in a low hiss.

"Cassadine. Might be nothing but that old broad who has her son and grandson seeing boogie men coming out of the walls was spotted, and is on the move. Nikolas gave me a heads up. It's old news but newer than anything we've had so far. So play it tight. If she makes a move here in Port Charles it will be on the kid."

And job one is to protect the kid. Bruno nods. "Got it." He starts up the stairs but stops at Faith's hand on his arm. "Yeah?"

"Stop and pick up some Madeira on the way home make sure it's out where I can find it in a hurry."

Bruno shudders but then nods. "I'll take care of it. What about that one?" He nods in Dillon's direction. Dillon is straining to hear the conversation between the two of him and flushes when he is caught at it. He digs into the boxes and starts unloading them.

"I'll keep an eye on him." Faith says with a small smirk.

Dillon remembers the story that Faith told him about prohibition back in Chicago and the way the cart florist had used their carts as camouflage for delivering beer. He blurts out. "If there is trouble maybe Bruno should take the Lincoln; we've got the florist van until tomorrow."

Faith is about to slap Dillon down for interrupting but then her eyes narrow as she considers what he said. "Take the Lincoln." Faith states flatly. She turns away from Bruno, knowing he will follow her orders, and heads back to the prep table where Dillon is unloading the last of the supplies. She runs a hand over Dillon's shoulder. "I do like the way you think. It was a good suggestion. Now lets get this place ready. Skye and Junior have a party to throw tonight."

"Faith..." Dillon hesitates. "If there is a problem I would just as soon know about it than step in it."

Faith studies Dillon for awhile, so long that it has him shifting uneasily from one foot to the other. "Okay." She digs into her purse and pulls out a folded picture. Faith hands it to Dillon. "I told you that Ned and I had pissed off a lot of people. Well the kid's mother did her share of it as well before she went off to lala land. Cassadines think the old lady is gonna be coming after the kid."

Dillon unfolds the picture and studies the older woman. The intersection of the folds leave a point right between her eyes. He doesn't think it's an accident. "If I see her, what do you want me to do?"

"Get out of my way."





Nik makes the walk up to Dara's office with leaden feet. Anything not Helena related had flown from his brain, but that hadn't include Penny. After hanging up with Faith it had occurred to him that this was the worst possible time for the Cassadines to be trying to make friends-- worst possible time for the friends. The last thing he wants is for Penny to end up like Chloe or Katherine.
Penny would have tonight, the Ward House Fundraiser but then tomorrow he would cut all ties to her-- for her own good. Lydia is a good excuse; set the groundwork for that tonight, make sure she is at the fundraiser, give her just a shade too much attention. Lydia couldn't be trusted on the island, not around Natasha and now with her ties to Helena but she could be a diversion-- not only for Helena but also Penny. But now the first gauntlet. "Gia."

"Nikolas." Gia says coolly.

"Penny still in with Dara?"

"Why don't you have a seat." Gia suggests, not answering the question while she answers the question.

"Are you going to the fundraiser tonight?" Nikolas decides to make conversation. It is really pitiful that he can barely talk to the woman he'd once been engaged to, planned to spend his whole life with.

"Nope." Gia pulls one of her books toward her.

"How have you been doing?" Nikolas asks awkwardly.



"Look-- we have nothing to talk about, Nikolas. No hard feeling, no feelings at all. We never had anything in common but really hot sex and I finally figured out that wasn't enough to put the rest of my life on hold."

"Gia, that isn't true."

Both of Gia's brows go up at that. "Well we certainly didn't have trust. I hope you treat Penny better, are more... honest with her, rather than keeping her in the dark. Things didn't work out for us. I think you're a great guy with a huge chip and I want you to be happy. I really do. But the only way that is going to happen is if you actually learned something from everything that happened with us.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Gia's laugh is abrupt and without humor. "She told me that Stefan is being kind, Nikolas. What a load of crap. Something is going on and you'd better play it straight with her, and not leave her swinging the way you did with me and Lucien Caine." Gia sees Nikolas wince and the way he looks away. "What happened?! What's going on?! Is it Stavros? Back from the dead again. No, Stefan was being nice. Something is up there."

"My uncle can be nice." Nikolas says defensively.

"Ha!" Gia's eyes narrow. "Psycho granny. It's psycho granny isn't it? What has Helena done now?"

Dara's office door opens in time to hear Gia's comments. She looks toward Nikolas for an answer. "I thought Helena was in jail."

Gia waves a dismissive hand. "Right. Lets just say someone is serving Helena's time. The old bat would never stay long where she couldn't get a manicure or access to her plastic surgeon."

"Gia." Nik says in a low growl.

"What? Am I saying anything that isn't true?" Gia demands.

"Penny, if you're ready I'll give you a lift." Nik says flatly.

"Sure." Penny looks from Gia to Dara to Nikolas.





"What the hell is going on?!" Ned demands as he makes his way into the cabin. Dillon is kicking on the couch. Faith is upstairs getting ready for the fundraiser. "I've seen less security outside of The White House."

Dillon looks upstairs and then makes a motion toward the kitchen. "Did they frisk you on the way into the house?"

"No. But they did take the car apart." Ned says disgruntled as he follows Dillon into the kitchen.

Dillon keeps his voice low. "Faith got a call from one of the Cassadines. Somebody named Helena was spotted in Europe a couple of months ago so now all of a sudden everyone is getting a heads up. Faith says you two are still going to that fundraiser thingee to make AJ look good but everything is going to be tight around here. Bruno is staying here rather than driving you."

"If it's so dangerous then we aren't going anywhere." Ned says flatly.

"It's intel that's a couple months old, Ned." Dillon reminds sounding decades older than he is, probably repeating what some of the guys had said. "It could be nothing. Faith just wants all the bases covered."

Ned's starts shaking his head. "Dillon... Dillon." Ned bites his tongue and shakes his head again.

"Faith told me about this upfront, Ned." Dillon insists earnestly. "That things were crazy here what with Kristina's mother being a Cassadine and going wacko then Fowler dying and everything. She said it would be fine if I wanted to go stay at the mansion with Grandmother and Grandfather. But I really don't see what staying at the mansion is going to make anything better. Hell I think it will make things worse. As soon as I move into the mansion you know Mom is going to show up."

Ned groans and covers his eyes with one hand. That hadn't occurred to him but now that Dillon said it, it made perfect sense.

"I haven't told Faith about Mom, not really, just a little. She knows if Mom shows up that she'll probably go after ELQ again." Dillon admits studying his big brother's nonverbal cues. "I know enough to know I really don't want them to meet."

"Me neither." Ned sighs. He pulls up a chair at the small dining room table. "This isn't what I was expecting for your next visit, bro." Ned says apologetically.

"It's not like it was a planned visit and it's not like you planned having Grandfather burn down your house." Dillon says wryly as he takes a seat across from Ned. He is distracted by a movement in the doorway. "Whoa. Wow. You look great."

"I look like a whiskey billboard." Faith says bitchily as she slides her hands down the black velvet dress. The dress has no back and is slit practically up to her crotch but the material itself makes the statement. That and the diamonds at her ears, neck. The antique ring on her right hand is a departure from the glitter. "Ned, your new tux is hanging upstairs. She runs the back of one hand over his cheek. You might want to shave unless you want me showing up to this fundraiser with razor burn in interesting places."

Fearing that Faith might be even more blunt, Ned gets to his feet. "I'll be ready to go in... twenty minutes." He loosens his tie and starts toward the stairs.

Faith comes around to Dillon's side of the table and opens up one fist showing a diamond bracelet. "Help me with this."

Dillon takes the bracelet from Faith and bending over her wrist carefully fastens it. "There."

"Thanks. She runs a hand over the base of Dillon's jaw tilting his head back so he's looking up at her. "Do you know what to do?"

"I won't let you down."

"I don't like surprises, baby." Faith says softly.

"I know."




Penny smoothes down the silk of the strapless dress. It's a beautiful abstract hand painted fabric in rich colors. The dress itself is very plain, very simple, just a column of fabric. The design is everything, well that and the undergarments that provided enough lift to keep the dress up. When they'd gotten back from Port Charles there had been a selection of dresses waiting for her. She'd thought that she'd have to go shopping at Wyndams, it's a good thing that somebody had been planning ahead because it was like Nikolas was on autopilot all the way back to the summer house. Penny knocks on the door to the room that Nikolas is using to get ready.

"Come in." Nikolas calls out. He is looking in the mirror and fastening the black tie that goes along with the tux.

"Don't you feel like you're going to strangle in that?" Penny asks.

"Yes. As a matter of fact I do." Nik starts untying the tie and tosses it aside and then undoes the top button. "Thank you."

Penny sits down on the bed. "Are you ready to tell me what happened back in Dara's office?"

"You know about me and Gia."

"Yes, and that wasn't what it was about. Although I'm sure it... amplified whatever the hell was going on."

Nik turns around and sits down on a nearby chair. "I was going to ask you to leave the Summer house tomorrow and then cut all ties between you and my family."

"Wow drinks with Lydia. She must be particularly potent."

"No. My Grandmother is lethal and a firm believer in collateral damage. Lydia brought news that my Grandmother is... stirring things up."

Penny nods consideringly. "Okay."

"Okay?! That's all you have to say?!"

"What did you expect me to say?" Penny says softly. "I already knew that your grandmother is lethal and how did you put it... a firm believer in collateral damage. I worked for Bobbie, Nikolas. I've lived in Port Charles as long as you have."

"Between winning the lottery and our... association, you are scarcely anonymous anymore, Penny. You are a target."

"Would I be less of a target if I were to stay away?"

Nik's frustration comes thru. "I don't know. I thought so. Now I'm not sure." A thought occurs to him. "I want you to move to Spoon Island."

"Excuse me? One second you're telling me you're dumping me and then next you're asking me to move in?!"

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