Chapter 12 - Strangers
“S-sir...we can’t find them anywhere...” the man’s weak voice echoed across the small room in which he had been held for two days now.
“You know I do not tolerate incompetence in my team,” Sebastian said through clenched teeth.
He raised his fist once more and aimed another punch at the man’s already bloody and swollen face.
“Please...g-give m-me another ch-chance...” he stammered.
“There’ll be no second chances. Not even for me when it comes to something this big. We’re all dead men,” he whispered.
He retrieved his gun and smiled as he aimed it directly between the terrified man’s eyes. He opened his mouth to beg for his life but Sebastian didn’t give him that chance.
He laughed as he fired.
November 15, 2013
The King’s Suite, Royalty (Nikos’ Hotel)
“Did Cassia confirm that she will come for dinner?” Nikos asked his personal assistant.
“Yes, sir. Mrs. Demakis confirmed that she will be attending dinner at 8pm, Le Bernardin restaurant. The whole restaurant is already reserved for both of you,” his efficient assistant told him.
“Good. And James? Have you ordered the flowers?”
“Yes sir. I have also called Cartier and asked for a selection of their most beautiful necklaces. I found a diamond and ruby necklace. Would that suffice?”
“Yes. I trust your choice. It’s always excellent,” Nikos complimented.
His assistant had been with him for over ten years now. He was more efficient than ever and for that, Nikos compensated him well. James pulled out his cell phone to confirm the purchase. Nikos’ would just drop by the store before dinner to pick it up. He glanced at his watch and it was only 4 pm. He still had to get a lot of work done before he could go to dinner with his wife.
“Have you finished the papers regarding the Higeshima deal?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. They are waiting at your desk.”
“Good. We have to get that finalized before I leave for Monaco next week.”
Nikos picked up the stack of papers on his desk and began to read. After the first few paragraphs, he became absorbed. It was as if the outer world ceased to exist and it was only him and his papers.
Work was the only thing that occupied his mind and tried to keep the nightmares at bay. So when he couldn’t sleep at night, he just poured more and more of himself into his work.
It felt like the blink of an eye but hours had passed and it was already time to leave.
He grabbed the keys to his Lamborghini Aventador and made a mental note to pick up the flowers and the jewelry. Today was his tenth wedding anniversary with Cassia.
He snorted at the thought for he really did not feel married.
But all of that was now going to change...
November 15, 2013 (Earlier that day)Cassia’s Penthouse Apartment
157 West 57th Street, New York City
Cassia placed her phone between her ear and her shoulder as she tried to organize a huge stack of papers neatly in an envelope. At the same time, she struggled into her high-heeled shoes.
“You’ve got the divorce papers?” the person on the other line asked.
“Yes, Hector. Got them.”
“And you know what to say already?”
“Ugh. Of course I do!” she shouted and Hector chuckled.
“All right then, good luck tonight princess. Break a leg. Bring home the bacon...all that jazz.”
This time, it was Cassia who laughed. “All right, then.”
“When this is done, we’ll go for that Bora Bora vacation I promised you. One week. And I won’t be bringing my cell phone or my laptop. I swear!”
“Mmm-hmm,” Cassia murmured in a disbelieving tone. “But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. If you bring any of that, I’ll throw it to the bottom of the ocean,” she warned
Hector’s deep chuckle echoed over the phone.
“Agreed, princess. I’m still in California. See you in two days for our celebratory dinner.”
“Yeah. Bye,” Cassia said with a smile.
She placed her phone in her bag and checked her desk for anything else she would need tonight. Then, she checked her reflection in the mirror. She placed light makeup only and wore a simple black dress with her high-heeled pumps. For her jewelry, there was a simple pearl necklace around her neck and the diamond-studded watch that Hector gave her around her wrist.
It was his first gift to her and he gave it after he made his first million-dollars. When he presented it to her, he told her it was his replacement for the watch that she gave him during her wedding day with Nikos. The value of her new watch was triple the value of the one she gave him.
To date, it was her most favorite jewelry piece ever.
Every year, for their anniversary, Nikos sent her some jewelry. Or maybe his assistant did. She didn’t see him as the type who would bother by going to a jewelry store and selecting a piece himself.
His assistant was who she always spoke with whenever it was about attending company business, declining social invitations or returning the gifts. Cassia really made it a point to speak to James, Nikos’ assistant, and not to Nikos himself.
And always, she sent the gifts back just like she did with the wedding and engagement ring he gave her all those years ago. She mailed those back to him the moment she set foot in America.
Now, it was their tenth wedding anniversary. A great feat for most couples. But not for them. For they never were truly married. It was all a great sham. A big fat lie.
But all of that was now going to change...
November 15, 2013, 8:00pm
Le Bernardin Restaurant
New York City
A limousine picked Cassia up and drove her straight to one of the finest restaurants in New York City. She cringed at the lavishness of the limousine but it was arranged by Nikos’ assistant and she just went along with it. While the limousine made its way through the heavy traffic, she mused about the lifestyle Nikos was used to.
He was born a billionaire and pampered like a prince. To him, this type of extravagance was just normal. But to her, to someone who was born in a lower middle class family and who just now reaped the rewards of her hard work, this was a bit extravagant. And this extravagance reminded her of her grandfather’s ways.
As they got nearer to the restaurant, Cassia’s heart started to race. She opened her bag and sighed with relief when she saw the envelope that contained the divorce papers.
This was it.
The time had come. She was truly going to be free of Nikos Demakis. She was finally letting go of him, this sham of a marriage, her ties to her evil grandfather, and the money and status that came with her name.
She was finally saying goodbye to Cassia Andrade-Demakis and continuing her life as Cassia Adrasteia.
All she needed was to get through this night.
But why did this feel like it was the hardest thing she was about to do in her entire life?
She jerked back to reality when the driver opened the door and held it for her.
“Okay, show time,” Cassia whispered to herself.
She then schooled her features into the expressionless mask she always wore when dealing with people she didn’t particularly like. She was not the scared little girl anymore who meekly stood by in a corner while she was insulted by everyone. She had backbone now and she would not let herself be treated in any manner less than what she deserved.
Cassia entered the restaurant and saw that it was empty. The lights were dim and there were several candles that filled the room with a soft glow. It was elegant yet not too much. On the far side of the restaurant, a stage was set-up and a female singer softly crooned a beautiful love song.
Usually, on a night like this, the restaurant would be crowded. But now, it was reserved for just two people. It would have been a romantic gesture had it not been from someone like Nikos Demakis.
She felt a wave of regret cross her entire body. Nikos was not the sort of person who would organize this. Or maybe not for her but for his numerous other lovers.
For him, she was the evil one; the antagonist to his life story. The reason he was married at an early age.
And to her, he would always be her infatuation gone horribly wrong.
Nikos waited patiently at the restaurant. He arrived early with the flowers and the jewelry. As usual, his assistant did an excellent job. Well, he had lots of practice because he was always the one who chose Nikos’ gifts for his mistresses.
He sat at the only table that was lit and asked for a bottle of wine. He sipped the finest Le Bernardin as he pondered on how his life would change from this night forward. He also thought of how to tell Cassia that he now wanted to give their relationship a try.
Should he say it to her directly? Should he sugar-coat his words?
The door opened and Nikos’ head whipped towards the entrance of the restaurant.
Cassia walked in as the exact epitome of class and elegance. His breath caught and he felt his mouth run dry at the sight. She wore a simple black dress and matched it with a pearl necklace that just made her neck seem longer and added an ethereal glow to her face.
Oh how she had changed from the Cassia he knew before.
He watched as she glanced at her surroundings, as if she could not believe what she was seeing. Just like that, he was taken back ten years ago when he took her to different places after their engagement was announced.
She looked at things as though it was her first time seeing it. She enjoyed the little things the most, as though she’d never encountered them before!
All the while, he thought it was an act.
How could an heiress not have been to one of the finest art galleries in Greece? How could someone like her not know how to act in a five-star restaurant?
He immediately pinned it down as something like a ploy to look innocent. And he hated her for it.
But now...he was slowly rethinking his judgment. She had not seen him yet but she took note of her surroundings as though the sights were the most fascinating things in the world. He also noticed the look of regret in her eyes before it was replaced by something like anger.
Her searching gaze finally found him and her features hardened. Gone was the awe in her eyes and now coldness took its place. She took quick steps towards him and before she was able to reach the table, he stood and held out the chair for her.
“Nikos,” she greeted.
“Happy anniversary,” he told her and handed her the huge bouquet of flowers.
“How thoughtful,” she said with a hint of sarcasm, fully aware that it was James who chose it.
But Nikos was unaware of her sarcasm. She glanced at the huge bouquet of roses and sniffed the elegant blooms. She couldn’t help it and a smile touched her lips at its beauty.
A waiter approached to take the bouquet and she gave it to him.
Nikos waved his hand and another waiter approached them and handed them menus.
“Have you been here before?” Nikos asked in order to start a conversation.
“No. Not yet. But I have heard of this place,” Cassia replied distractedly as she perused the menu.
“Then, let me order for you. The lady will have the Crab Salad. And I will have the Kindai Maguro,” Nikos told the waiter.
“Excellent choice sir. And for dessert? Or shall I ask again later?”
“Later will be fine.”
“Err…wait. Cancel the crab salad and I’ll just have the Kobe Beef, please,” she said with a smile.
“Excellent choice also, madam,” the waiter grinned.
“Their crab salad is the best,” Nikos pointed out with a frown after the waiter disappeared
He was used to ordering for his female companions and they always loved what he chose for them. Today, he chose the crab salad for Cassia because it was one of their best dishes. Also, he took in the fact that women usually were very conscious of their weight and tended to eat less.
“I can order for myself, thank you very much. Plus, I can’t eat that because I’m allergic to crabs,” Cassia said in a flat tone.
Once again, Nikos was struck with the realization that he knew nothing about the woman he was married to for ten years now.
“I apologize. I’ll keep that in mind.”
For a long while, there was silence between the two of them. They had nothing in common and they did not know each other at all. This was how their past dinners were.
The waiter came to their table and poured some white wine. Cassia took hers and sipped it slowly as she stared around the beautiful interior of the restaurant.
“So how’s your business?” Nikos asked.
“It’s going great. I’m opening a new shop in California soon.”
“You should put some in my malls too. I’ll check for open slots and I could give you a call,” he offered.
“That’s nice of you. But I think I have more than I can handle right now.”
“Alright, just tell me if you need anything.”
“Alright,” Cassia replied.
But what she said inside her head was ‘I’ll ask Nikos Demakis for help when hell freezes over.’
Over the years, she learned to be self-sufficient.
Whatever happened, she was never going to ask Nikos or her grandfather for any help.
She’d rather suffer than beg.
Once more, silence reigned between them.
Cassia took a deep breath and then exhaled. She tossed back the entire content of her wine to boost her courage.
“Cassia. I have something—“ they both said at the same time.
“Uhh...you go ahead,” Cassia told him.
“Thank you. I was just thinking. It’s our tenth year anniversary and we barely know anything about each other. To each other, we are practically strangers,” Nikos began.
Cassia resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
“I know we didn’t start out at the correct footing. But past is past and I think it’s the perfect time to move on.”
At his words, Cassia grinned.
Could it be that he was now thinking about the divorce too? Then it would be perfect! He would just need to sign the papers today and she would be filing it tomorrow. Within a short span of time they would both be free!
“I know exactly what you mean,” she agreed.
“And in order for us to start our lives together...I suggest, we start getting to know each other, build a good relationship between the two of us and start living together as a wedded couple. I have decided to cut down on my traveling and spend more time in Greece. I will be giving you the choice of which house I own that we would turn into our permanent home.”
Cassia’s jaw almost hit the floor at his words.
This guy truly had some nerve! How dare he think that he could just say some words and they’d act like a true wedded couple?
At the same time, a sense of impending doom along with a giant burst of anger filled her.
“Say that again...” she said in a whisper thinking she just heard him incorrectly.
“Well...I’d say it’s past time we set aside our differences. We are married after all and we should start acting like a married couple. Maybe even start a family someday. We’re not getting any younger and I think that this is the perfect time in our lives for this. Personally, I am ready to settle down,” Nikos said in a tone that stated he meant business.
Acting like a married couple? Starting a family? Settle down?
Was she going crazy or did she actually hear him right?
A bubble of hysterical laughter welled up inside her. She then leaned across the table and released everything. Her stomach cramped and she had difficult time breathing as she was consumed by her fits of laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Nikos asked.
She saw that he was scowling and that his hand was holding his wine glass very tightly that his knuckles already turned white.
“You. You make me laugh, Nikos. You think you can just invite me to dinner after everything that’s happened, after all the pain and the humiliation. And after ten years! You think you have the right to waltz into my life and announce that you are ready to settle down. And it follows that I must drop everything and run to you with tears of joy in my eyes? Is that how you envisioned this to be? It’s absurd!” she ranted and then laughed once more.
“Which part of this do you not like, Cassia? This is what you wanted right from the start isn’t it?” Nikos wore a frown as he asked her this.
He leaned forward and placed his arms on the table. He regarded his wife with a confused expression.
“Hell no, you arrogant bastard!” Cassia shouted loud enough that it shocked the waiters hovering around the place.
Nikos stood up and glared at her.
“Calm down,” he ordered.
“No! This is preposterous!” she threw her napkin down and stood.
“What?!” Nikos hissed.
“You—You—“ she stammered as she tried to find the words in the middle of her rage. “Ten years and you’ve not changed one bit!” She threw her hands up in exasperation. It was better than her doing what she really wanted to do at the moment: to beat the arrogance out of Nikos Demakis.
“What? Isn’t this what you want? Isn’t this what you asked your grandfather for ten years ago?” Nikos repeated in a condescending tone.
Cassia shook her head and laughed hysterically.
“And like what happened all those years ago, you’re still wrong Nikos. I never wanted to marry you in the first place. It was my grandfather who arranged it. I blindly went along with his wishes because I thought you wanted me. On the day of our marriage, I found out that he forced you. What I planned was to marry you and then get our marriage dissolved the next day so that you would have your company back and my evil grandfather would have nothing, like I told you all those years ago. But I think you know what happened next.”
“You lied to me and caused a scene!” Nikos exclaimed.
“No, Nikos. You did. You started that by going to your own wedding drunk. But I let all that pass because I would be having my revenge on my grandfather the very next day. I took the humiliation thinking that when morning came, I would be free of it all. And that was why I came to you and your mistress’ room. That was what I wanted to talk to you about. Looking back on it now, it was a pretty stupid thing to do.”
Cassia laughed once more. But this time, it was a bitter kind of laugh.
Nikos’ entire body became taut with tension.
How dare she lie again? Did she think he was a fool to believe the words coming out of her mouth?
Yes. That was what all of her words were. Lies. Nothing but lies. After ten years, she still decided to stick with that story. Was he wrong about thinking she changed at all?
“You will cease speaking nonsense this instant!” Nikos commanded.
“No. You cease that nonsense. Ten years is quite enough, thank you very much. Now let me tell you why I actually agreed to this dinner.”
She reached for her bag and pulled out the envelope. Angrily, she ripped it off and slammed the stack of papers down the table.
“I am done with this. Nikos, I want a divorce.”
Cassia took a deep breath and then continued, “I don’t care about the company. You can have it for all I care! I won’t ask for any money from you and you can keep everything we own together. Just sign the damned papers and let’s get this farce over with.”
This time, it was Nikos jaw that almost dropped to the floor.
After he got over his initial shock, a muscle ticked in his jaw because of the anger he was feeling. Several emotions churned through him at the moment but only one word repeated inside his head like an endless loop: divorce.
Seeing that Nikos was momentarily incapacitated, Cassia continued:
“And I agree with what you said earlier. We are in the best time of our lives to settle down. And I, myself, am ready to settle down. Just not with you.”