Story-line: More often than not, life doesn't go as planned. Fate throws several twists and turns your way and the path you choose will determine your future. Serena finds this out when her baby niece is tragically orphaned. On top of that, the baby's fraternal uncle also wants custody of her and is determined to go to any length to get what he wants. Even marriage.
"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust..."
The priest's voice droned on but Serena Carter ignored him. She was staring, numb at the coffin which was being lowered into the hole in the ground. Her sister's grave. Mina.
Mina and her husband Andrew Refatalki had died a month before in a car accident when they were hurrying to get to the hospital in time for their baby to be born, whose birth was imminent in a few more minutes. Well, they did get to the hospital, and before the baby was born, just not in the way they had intended. The car had skidded on a patch of ice and ploughed into the steep ditch which was on the side of the road.
Mina hadn't died immediately. She had made it to the hospital where her baby girl was born. She had held Diana in her arms, kissed her cheek, looked at her face. And then, weakened from the loss of blood and the news of her husband's death, she had succumbed to her own death.
"Serena, we have to get going."
Luna's voice broke in through Serena's thoughts and she turned to stare at her friend. Luna gestured around and Serena noticed that they were the only ones standing at the graveside. Everyone had already left, who knew how long ago.
Luna took hold of her arm and with a sympathetic smile, said, "We should go home. Diana's probably missing you by now."
This brought a weak smile to Serena's tried and haggard face. Diana. The only ray of light in her life right now. That little angel had taken to Serena as if she was her own mother. And Serena intended to be just that. Diana wasn't going to feel the loss of her mother and father. Not one bit.
Walking with Luna to her car, Serena frowned as the back of her neck tingled. She looked around until she spotted him. Darien Refatalki. Andrew's brother... not that anyone would have been able to tell from their appearances. Or even their personalities. Andrew had been an open, warm, caring guy and Darien… Well, they were both very different. Had been very different. Serena needed to get used to thinking of Mina and Andrew in the past tense.
Swallowing, she turned her attention back to where she was going. She sighed as she felt the onslaught of tears and momentarily closed her eyes
Luna smiled encouragingly at Serena again as they reached the car. It was going to be okay if Serena pulled all her wits together. Everything would be okay.
It was a month from the day of the funeral. Serena had just finished feeding and putting Diana to bed when the doorbell rang. She ignored it since it was probably Artemis. Luna's special friend. God and Luna were the only ones who knew how Artemis's 'courtship' as he put it, was going. Serena didn't think Artemis had a chance. One reason being their differences.
Not just physical differences but personality dissimilarities as well. Luna was serious to the point that her motto in life was 'work hard and then work harder'. Artemis on the other hand, well, he knew how to have fun. He worked hard but played even harder. While Luna liked to spend her free time at home, reading, taking walks, Artemis liked to socialise... a lot. His typical weekly schedule was a date with a companion on Friday (now with Luna), a party on Saturday, a small get-together on Sunday, brunch with friends on Monday, a dinner date with another companion on Tuesday (now with Luna), beer in a bar with friends on Wednesday and so on. But, to be honest, who knew. After all, some people did say that opposites attracted. And weirder things had happened.
Serena ran a comb through her silvery blonde hair as she viewed herself in the mirror. She hadn't wanted to go anywhere today but Seiya had insisted that she needed to get out of the house.
So now she was dressed in a black evening dress which reached her knees. It was sleeveless but a choker was attached to it to hold the dress up. There was also a gold hooped belt going around her waist and falling to the hem of the dress on one side. The casual part was done. Now for the smart. Serena grabbed the suit jacket and put it on. The light blue brought out the colour of her eyes, but did it look a little too planned…? She looked into the mirror and then shrugged. It would have to do.
She was supposed to be going out for a business dinner with some colleagues from work and Seiya Granger. Seiya. She unconsciously smiled as she thought of him. They had previously gone out but had decided that it didn't suit them to be involved in a romantic relationship. So now they were just friends.
Luna called up to her that she had a visitor and thinking that it was Seiya, a genuine smile came over her face and she hurried downstairs.
It wasn't Seiya. Boy, it wasn't. Serena stood there, frozen in amazement, even when he went over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a drink as Luna must have asked him to do. And Luna, where was she?
Serena looked behind her and sure enough, Luna was creeping upstairs and when she caught Serena's eye, she winked. Serena scowled back at her and turned around. She was disconcerted to find Darien Refatalki's eyes on her. They slid from the top of her head to the tip of her polished blue court shoes, pausing in between to… study the more womanly attributes of her figure.
Serena seethed inwardly. How dare he look at her in such a brazen way?
"Well, Mr Refatalki, what brings you here? This is the last place I would expect you to visit." Her anger put an extra bite in her voice.
Darien Refatalki's jaw clenched and he continued to stare at Serena. "Ms Carter. My quarrel is with people, not with places."
She exhaled loudly and smiled. "Really? You strike me as a man who would start an argument with anyone over everything."
He inclined his head mockingly and through half closed eyes, surveyed her again. "And you strike me as a woman who loves making trouble wherever she goes. Any kind of trouble."
Serena opened her mouth to retort, say something which would firmly put him in his place, but before she could say anything, he continued. "Enough! I haven't come here to be insulted and to insult in return, even though what I've said about you is true."
Serena caught her lower lip between her teeth. That man was an arrogant jerk, even though he was a very handsome jerk, who didn't have anything better to do than go around beckoning with his little finger expecting everybody to-
"- and so I regret to inform you that we are at a crossroads over Diana unless we can come to an agreeable arrangement."
That brought Serena's attention back to him and she realised that he had been talking all this time. Talking nonsense. Diana was staying with Serena and there was no crossroads or disagreement about it. "Pardon? I don't understand what you're saying."
He sighed. "It's not difficult to understand. Andrew's will clearly states that unless we compromise and come to an agreement where we both keep Diana, we can't both be her legal guardians separately."
Serena stared at him and he stared back. Andrew had written that in his will? What wrong had she ever done to him? "But- but there has to be some mistake. I'm not sharing Diana with you. You don't deserve her after what you did to Andrew and Mina." After all, what kind of a man threw his brother and his wife out into the streets?
"You don't have to share her. You can give her to me. I've talked to my lawyers and I've been advised that as long as I have your written agreement, I can keep Diana."
Serena nodded and asked him, "So I can keep her as long as I have your agreement."
His dark head lowered in a nod. "Yes but unfortunately for you, I don't agree with the fact that you should be the one to take care of Diana. So, now all I need is your signature on a piece of paper stating that you are happy with me keeping Diana, and we can be on our way."
Arrogantly, he reached inside his jacket's pocket, and took out a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, he slid it across to Serena and taking out a gold studded pen, rolled that over to Serena too.
Serena stared at him open-mouthed. Of all the arrogant, narrow-minded, inhumane-
"Now, if you can just sign on that bottom line, I have to get going for a business dinner that I can't be late for."
"You know, I've always heard that men like you don't really care what others think. They don't care what happens to other people as long as they get their own way. I never believed that any human could be that uncaring, that unfeeling but now, you've sure convinced me."
Darien Refatalki raised an eyebrow and looked at Serena. "You're right. It means nothing to me what you think as long as you sign the document. I've already told you that I'm going to be late for a business dinner."
"Well we wouldn't want that now would we?" She sent a sympathetic smile his way. "But I really don't care either. You can be early or late for it, it doesn't matter to me. I'm not signing any document which has something to do with you."
He sighed impatiently. "I don't think you understand Ms Carter. There are only two choices. Either we look after Diana together or I look after her separately, while you agree not to see her."
Serena shook her head. "I think you're the one who doesn't understand Mr Refatalki. We have three choices. Look after her together, you look after her or I look after her."
"I'm afraid that's impossible. Diana is a Refatalki and she is going to stay one. It's her right to stay with her family."
"Family!" Serena stared at him and shook her head in disbelief. "Family mattered nothing to you did it when you disowned Andrew? He was more of a Refatalki than Diana and yet you forbad him any contact with his family."
He froze and set his mouth in a thin, stern line. "Don't start an argument of which you know nothing about, Ms Carter. The disowning is a private matter between the Refatalkis."
"Yeah?" Serena raised her brows. " Well I think you don't have any right for privacy after the way my sister was involved in your 'private matter'." Serena stopped and then added heatedly. "You didn't think Mina was good enough for Andrew did you? You and your family-"
Darien glanced at his watch and then interrupted her impatiently. "Nothing like that was ever said Ms Carter and now-"
Serena shook her head. "It wasn't said but it was implied Mr Refatalki. You of all people should know-"
"Ms Carter, we are getting off track here."
Serena ground her teeth in anger. "The way I see it, we haven't got a track to get off of. Diana is staying with me. What're you going to do with her while you go off on all your business meetings? Take her with you and keep the buggy in your office while you do whatever you do? I don't think so."
"I am very busy yes. But you also have to work and I don't see your boss letting you bring the child to work with you everyday."
Serena took a deep breath and rubbed her forehead. God, she had such a headache. "I, Mr Refatalki, can work from home, and I have Luna to look after Diana during the odd times that I can't-"
"- whereas with me Diana will have a normal routine. She will have a nanny, a nurse, and a helper with her. She will be well taken care of and will grow up to be-"
"- a spoilt little rich girl all ready to step into the shoes of a rich man's wife and hostess. Love doesn't enter into your equation does it?"
Darien stared at her with irritation. "Love has nothing to do-"
"Yes it does." Serena argued back heatedly. "More than anything else and you-"
"We can provide more things for her than you can Ms Carter. She will be happy and contented-"
"- all the while not knowing the happiness to be a part of a close knit family." Serena finished for him.
She shook her head and her silver hair flowed behind her. The light caught it and Serena noticed Darien staring at her. She frowned. What was he looking at? He seemed to shake himself out of his entrancement when he saw Serena scowling at him. The air seemed heavier and it became a little difficult to breathe in. Licking her lips, she rubbed the sides of her forehead with her fingers again. She swallowed to relieve the dryness of her throat.
She needed to finish this meeting soon and send this man on his way. He'd taken up enough of her time. And where in the world was Seiya? "Money isn't everything and I have enough. I know I might not be able to provide for Diana as well as you but-"
"- there's no might about it-" He broke in.
Serena spoke over him "- but as I said I can give her love and-"
"Look, it seems as if neither of us is prepared to give Diana up."
Serena let out a little exasperated huff. "You think?"
There was silence between them as Darien let out a little sigh. Serena stared down at her fingers. As if it wasn't enough that both Andrew and Mina had died and left her. Oh no. Apparently that wasn't enough for her to deal without adding this man to the equation as well. What was she going to do?
After a pause, Serena lifted her head and hopefully tried to lift her spirits. "Isn't there anyway you can overrule the will so that I can take keep Diana?"
Without looking at Serena he smiled grimly. "You mean so that I can keep Diana." Holding out a hand when Serena opened her mouth to protest, he continued. "No. I'm afraid not. That's why it's taken me a month to approach you about this dilemma. The only thing my lawyers have been able to come up with is the compromise that you aren't agreeing to."
Serena sighed quietly and gazed out at the street. She noticed a limo parked outside the house. Darien Refatalki sure knew how to live in style. While she wasn't poor, she couldn't afford to travel in limos everyday. She sighed again. She was attempting to push her problems out of her mind by thinking about things that were irrelevant at the moment. That was only going to make the problems worse.
Turning back towards the man who was causing her this worry, she was taken aback to find him studying her. Again. Hot colour rose in her face as she saw that the skirt of her dress had ridden up too high and was now displaying a lot of leg. A bit more higher and she'd show him that she was wearing black lace underwear.
Uneasily, she tugged the hem of her skirt back down. She didn't like the way her heart had perked up in anticipation instead of dismay at the thought that Darien Refatalki might see her underwear. Serena wasn't a prude but neither was she an exhibitionist. But still, this funny feeling... She was just going to have to keep her mind on business and only on business. Nothing else. Nothing.
"So what are we-" She cleared her throat and tried to make her voice go normal again instead of the low pitched husky sound it had emerged as.
A slight smile curled the edges of Darien's lips.
She determinedly ignored the smug look on his face. "What are we going to do?"
Darien shrugged indulgently. "We haven't got much choice have we but to look after Diana together."
"Excuse me?" She stared at him, not sure she'd heard right.
"We will have to look after Diana together."
This time, she let out an unbelieving little huff. "And pray tell me how we're going to do that with you living in Greece, me in London and basically us hating each other's guts?"
"I don't hate you Ms Carter." He smiled. "That would be feeling too much for you." Serena stiffened. He pretended not to notice. "There's only one solution to this problem."
"And that would be...?" Serena spread her hands in a wide arc. She would do anything to keep Diana. Anything.
"We'll have to get married."