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Meanwhile, it had stopped raining in the jungle. Devastated, Liz looked out of the window, staring unseeingly at the trees and bushes in front of her.
Sam stood beside her and was unsure of what to do now. Something inside was screaming at her to take the blonde into her arms, to show her that she wasn't alone. But on the other side she held back, unsure if Liz would actually want to be held right now. In the blink of an eye the business woman's hopes to see her family again had been destroyed once more. The brunette inhaled sharply and began, "Uh...I guess you would like to be alone for a while... I will go with Shakira. We will be back before sundown." She turned to leave, but Liz took her hand. "No! Please, don't go."
"Sam, please. Don't leave me alone now."
The plea tugged strongly at the other woman's heart. "Okay, I won't."
They sat down on the floor and Liz leaned her head against Sam's shoulder. "I still can't believe it. From one minute to the next I have lost my family forever... and this time it really is forever..." she whispered and felt the now ever present sting of tears in her emerald eyes.
"I am so sorry," Sam responded, dismayed.
"Don't be. None of this is your fault, Sam."
"If it would be in my powers to bring you to your family I would do so."
Liz gave her a watery smile. "I know. I guess now I really have to come to terms with everything. I'm here and that means I have to live my life here. Here and now. Most of all, I know that I can do it, because you are here with me. Sam?" She waited until those beautiful sapphire eyes were looking at her before she asked, "Would you do me a favor?"
Sam nodded, sincere. "Whatever you want."
"Teach me everything I need to know to survive in the jungle."
That came as quite a shock and the brunette stared at her in disbelief. "Are you sure?"
The jungle beauty rose and patted her own thigh gently. That was the sign for the panther to come out of her corner and join her. "Alright, then we all go out now." She reached for the blonde's hand and Liz took it, firmly holding on to it. "Let's go hunting dinner," Sam announced.
Catherine was going feverishly through some files and documents as the door to her office opened to reveal Alexander. "Mom?" he asked hesitantly after seeing the chaos the head of the Parker Clan had caused in her office.
"Well, it's about time that you finally show up," she snapped, unable to keep the anger from her voice. She didn't mean to be so harsh with him but the words were out before she could stop herself. "Starting now you will take the place of Jack Carpenter. You know where his office is and if you have any questions the secretary will be happy to explain everything to you."
"But..." he tried, only to be cut off immediately.
"Alexander! I'm really not in the mood right now to argue with you!"
"Alright. Can you at least just tell me why the hell you are so mad?"
Catherine took a deep breath and her light blue eyes flashed dangerously. "I'll only say two words; Christopher Stuart."
Alexander's eyebrows rose. "He was here?"
"Yes," she hissed, still boiling inside. "Do you want to know what he did? That little bastard ripped our contract to shreds, right in front of my eyes. Somehow it happened that the Stuarts found themselves a noble contributor... I just can't figure out who it is."
A broad grin appeared on his features and he rubbed his beard.
"What?" his mother demanded to know.
"Oh, I believe I can help you with that particular question."
"Alex, now is not the time for one of your stupid jokes," Catherine warned him.
Her son continued smirking and said, "Sara."
She frowned. "I beg your pardon."
Alex crossed his arms and told her what Sara had told him not that long ago. "With the help of one of her Dad's buddies, Sara bought all the paintings of the dreamer."
Catherine was speechless. She just stood there blinking and Alex used the moment to drop the real big bomb. "You wanna know the absolute best? They are going to marry."
"WHAAAAT?" the red-haired woman exclaimed shrilly, reminding him strangely of his sister Victoria. "That can't be true. When is that supposed to happen?"
"Oh, if this would be only Sara's decision they probably would be on their way to Las Vegas to marry right this instant. She really thinks she's in love with him and that's why she's supporting him and his family all she can," Alex continued to explain.
"Is he in love with her too?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "I think you're asking the wrong person here with that."
"I have to do something before it all ends in a major catastrophe," Catherine declared, her mind already going over different scenarios.
"Alright, I will go to my new office then." He turned to leave, but then another thought came to him. "Where is Dad?"
"Yeah, that's actually something I would like to know too," his mother grumbled in answer.
By now the cat was circling his legs and Jonathan bent down to pick her up. "Hey, now you are one cuddly, little pussycat, aren't you?"
The cat purred and rubbed her head gently against his bearded cheek. "Well, I guess I don't need to have another look around. It's obvious that you will be the right companion for my Michiru." He turned to go and suddenly a little sad "meow" rang out behind him. Jonathan looked over his shoulder and there sat a tiny black and light brown cat. The little one stared up to the red cat, who jumped from his arms. Jonathan looked on with a smile as the two cats walked to each other, rubbed noses and then cuddled up, while the little one was hiding her face at the throat of the red cat and started to purr. The man grinned. "I'll go down to tell Mrs. Webster that I made my decision while you say goodbye to each other." He went down the stairs and the store owner smiled at him friendly. "Well? How did it go? Could you make a decision?"
Jonathan laughed, "Frankly, I'd say it was the cat that made the decision."
"Good, let's see then."
They went back upstairs and Jonathan pointed at the red cat." This one. I think it would be the right one for my girlfriend."
"Oh... I'm sorry... I guess there will be a little problem," Mrs. Webster said.
"Well... either you choose another cat or you will have to take two."
Jonathan wrinkled his forehead. "What? Why?"
Mrs. Webster pointed at the two cats that were still cuddling. "Because it is impossible to separate these two."
"Two at once?"
She nodded. "Both of them together or another cat."
He thought about it for a moment and then said, "Okay, I'll take them both."
"Wonderful," Mrs. Webster exclaimed, happily smiling. "Bombalurina, Demeter, come here, my sweets."
Jonathan's eyebrows rose in astonishment. "Bombalurina? Demeter? Quite unusual names for cats, I'd say."
"Oh no, the names fit their personalities very well."
"Ah... How old are they?"
"Bombalurina is 1 year and Demeter is 4 months old." Mrs. Webster bent down and picked up both cats, who instantly started to purr again.
"Oh, and I think I need all the stuff that goes with having a cat... you know, toys, litter box and so on," Jonathan mentioned, while the 4 of them were headed downstairs.
Mrs. Webster nodded. "That is no problem at all."
Downstairs, both cats got a collar and were put in a huge box for the transport. The store owner also helped the man with picking out everything else he would need when it came to taking care of the cats. After he had everything put in the trunk of his car, he went back inside the store to pick up the felines.
Mrs. Webster gave him a DVD. "Here, a special gift because you bought two cats. Watch it together with your girlfriend. I'm sure you'll like it and maybe it will help in understanding the nature of cats."
"Thank you very much," Jonathan replied gratefully.
"You are welcome."
He took the big box from which two different purring noises were heard.
Mrs. Webster pulled out a little card and gave it to him also. "Here are my phone numbers. Please contact me if there are any problems or questions."
"Thanks. We will do that." He smiled at her one last time and then left the store with his precious cargo. "Bye, Mrs. Webster."
"Have a great day, Sir. I hope they bring lots of joy and happiness to your life."
Victoria sat on her bed in her room. Her blonde head was covered by curlers. She was in the process of painting her fingernails a screaming bright red as her cell phone rang. The model rolled her eyes, clearly irritated. "Tsk... who is disturbing me now?" She picked up and snapped, "What is it?"
On the other end of the line Sara couldn't suppress a wild grin that the other woman wouldn't be able to see. "Hello Victoria. How is it going?"
"Sara? What do you want?"
"Oh, just to talk with you a little bit."
"Now that's something new. I don't buy that for a second!" Victoria retorted, strongly. "Stop fooling me and tell me what you really want."
"What kinda bug crawled up your butt, huh?" Sara asked innocently.
"Don't act stupid! You know exactly what's going on!" The model was about to lose her patience and it wouldn't be long before she either exploded, threw a fit or would slip into another of her notorious drama queen modes.
Sara though had fun playing with her and continued, "Ah, that means you have heard the news."
"Yes, I have. But I doubt that this wedding will ever take place."
"Always so pessimistic, aren't you, Vicky? Let me tell you something though... I have Christopher's ring on my finger and in a few weeks from now I'm going to be his wife."
Completely red-faced from anger, Victoria wasn't able to say a thing.
"Actually, I wanted to ask you if you would like to be my bridesmaid?"
Victoria's eyes widened and her fury rose another notch. Her throat had closed up and she was still unable to talk.
"Vicky? Have you fainted in happiness over there?... From your silence I gather that at the moment you are just too overwhelmed to talk with me. Oh well, I will call you back later. Bye." Sara hung up.
Furiously, Victoria flung her cell phone across the room where it hit the wall and came to rest in the corner. "THAT FUCKING BITCH!!!" she screamed outraged and started to pace the pink carpet of her room. "If she really thinks I'm going to her wedding and be her damn bridesmaid, she'll have another thing coming!" She went back to her bed and sat down once more. "There is no way in hell that I'm going to just stand by and look on how she takes away the man that I love. I'm sure I will come up with something to prevent that from happening. But first, I'll have to take care of Taylor. Bad luck for you, Sara. Soon, Taylor will be my best friend. I swear, Sara Jones, you will lose everything that you hold dear. Everything!" An evil smile appeared on her lips and there was also a nasty gleam in her usually so innocent looking doe-brown eyes.
Taylor was at the cemetery and placed a bunch of red roses on the grave. Tears filled her eyes and blurred her view as she looked at the tombstone. She blinked them quickly away. In big, golden, ornate letters it said there:
Here rest Colin and Mary-Ann Stuart.
They were taken from our lives but in our hearts they will live on forever.
Below that were the dates when they had lived.
Taylor pulled a tissue out of her pants' pocket and used it to wipe some dirt and cobwebs off the photographs that had been put into the tombstone. "Hi Mommy, hi Daddy," the teenager forced through her tight throat. "It's... it's still very hard for me to come here... I miss you so much... I know, I never got to meet you, Mommy, but after everything I was told from Daddy, Chris, Liz and Uncle Will I know that you were a great Mom. You loved me so much that you gave your life to save mine..." Taylor paused and a tear spilled over, running down her soft cheek. "I really wish you wouldn't have died during my birth, but I cannot change fate, no matter how much I want to." She stood there a while and then she said, "Liz is still missing. Chris thinks that she's not coming back but I cannot and I don't want to accept that. As long as they don't show me her body I will not declare my sister dead. She is somewhere out there, I can feel it. And she is alive... she has to be alive..." Overcome by tears once more, Taylor put her right index and middle finger against her lips. After that she put them on the cold, black marble stone. "I love you... and you'll always be in my heart. Rest in peace." She sniffled and hastily wiped away her tears, before she went on her way home.
Excited but also a bit nervous, Jack punched in the number of Danielle's parents. It rang about 4 times before somebody picked up at the other end. "Hello?"
"Yes, hello Mrs. Stiehl, it's Jack Carpenter. I'm calling you about your daughter Danielle."
The woman inhaled sharply before she said in a small voice, "Please, don't tell me that she is dead..."
"Actually, I wanted to tell you that your daughter came out of the coma."
"Seriously? That is great news. How is she?"
"So far, so well," Jack replied, gathering his strength to say what he had to say next. "She needs her family."
It took a few seconds before Mrs. Stiehl responded, "I know, but I can't."
"My husband, he wouldn't allow it."
Jack became angry. "This is about YOUR daughter, damn it! Can you really be that ice-cold?"
"You don't understand..." Mrs. Stiehl tried to explain, but the computer specialist didn't let her finish.
"That's right! I really don't understand how somebody can abandon their own flesh and blood just like that. It's really great how you are supporting Dani! Have a great day and I'm sorry to have bothered you!" Furiously he slammed the receiver down. "Bitch!" he hissed and grinded his teeth in frustration. "I said from the beginning that it would be useless." He decided to go back to Danielle. On his way to her room, he passed by another room where the door had been left open. He glanced inside.
There was a young man with long dark hair and beard, who sat at the bed of a little boy and was telling him a story. The boy was smiling brightly while the man made wild hand movements and changed his voice to fit the characters of the tale to make them come alive.
Jack was sure that it was the boy's father. 'Now Dani, you would need a father just like that, who would be here for you and help you to get better. Well, if your family won't take care of you then I will do it.' His thoughts were interrupted as Dr. Gordon hurried towards him. "Ah, Mr. Carpenter. Ms. Stiehl has been asking for you."
"I'm on my way."
"Were you able to get in contact with the parents?"
Jack's face darkened. "No comment," he grumbled and went to Danielle.
Night had fallen over the jungle and wrapped the trees, bushes and plants into a dark cloak. Sam turned over on her other side. No matter how hard she tried she just couldn't go to sleep.
Shakira was laying on her back, all four paws up in the air and snored softly. Once in a while one of her legs would twitch and Sam grinned in the darkness because it looked so adorable. After a few moments of observing the panther, she turned over once more.
Soft moonlight fell through the window and illuminated Liz's delicate features.
Carefully and gently, Sam reached out and brushed some blonde strands from her forehead. Fascinated, she stared at the face with the peaceful expression. "She really looks like an angel." Sam whispered into the silence of the tree house and a memory rose before her mind's eye.
Emily was sitting on her rocking chair in her hut. Sam, merely 6 years old, was sitting on her lap, arms and legs wrapped around the elderly nun. Big tears slid down the girl's cheeks and her small frame shuddered from the force of her sobs.
"There, there, my dear," Emily cooed and rubbed her back gently, trying everything to calm down the upset child. "What happened, little one?"
"They do not want to play with me," Sam sobbed. "They say I am different."
"Who says such things, dear?"
"The other children. Why am I different?"
Emily smiled and wiped tenderly at the girl's tears that were slowing and coming to a stop. "You are not different. You are very special."
Sam lower lip trembled. "But I am always alone," she announced forlornly.
"Listen, sweetheart. You are not alone." The nun pointed at herself. "I am here. Then there is God, our Lord. He sees everything that goes on down here on earth from his place up in the high heavens and you can be sure that he is always there for you. There is also somebody else, who is watching over you."
With interested, big blue eyes Sam looked at the woman. "Who?"
"Your Guardian Angel," Emily explained, smiling.
The girl wrinkled her forehead. "What is a Guardian Angel?"
The nun reached for a big, heavy book, which lay on a table close by.
Sam loosened the tight grip she had on her and turned around. She now was sitting on Emily's lap with her back resting against the old woman's front.
Emily opened the book and showed Samantha some pictures from men and women in white clothes and wings, with long blonde hair and gentle, lovely faces.
The child's eyes widened. "Oh, they look pretty." She pointed at a picture of a male Angel. "Is that my Guardian Angel?"
The nun shook her head. "No, no. This one is Lucifer. He once was an Angel, but then he was seduced by sin and was cast from heaven to live in hell."
"He was evil?" Sam asked.
"Yes, very evil. But, look here. I believe your Guardian Angel would look something like that," Emily explained and pointed at pictures of Gabriel and Michael.
"And they are nice?"
"Yes, sweetheart. They are very nice."
Sam's whole face was beaming in happiness as she declared, "I think you are nice too. I love you." With that she pressed a tiny kiss to the nun's wrinkled cheek.
"I love you too, little one."
Samantha's mind turned back to the present and she whispered, "I think you were wrong, Emily. I know now what my Angel looks like." She tenderly traced the soft skin of Liz's cheek with her index finger. "My Angel looks exactly like this and she came to me." She looked at the sleeping blonde for a while longer until the tiredness conquered her body and sleep welcomed her in its arms.
During the night their hands found each other and their fingers intertwined.
Catherine was pacing in her office. She couldn't believe it was possible but her anger and fury had just grown again. It wasn't the fact that her husband had just called her to tell her that he wouldn't be home this evening. No, that was not it at all. What really had her climbing the walls was the news she had heard from Alexander. "I just don't understand it! First, the dreamy-eyed brush swinger tells Sara that he has no interest in her and then all of a sudden he asks for her hand in marriage. There is something seriously wrong. I bet he's only marrying her because of the money. There is no other explanation than that! God, poor Sara. It will break her heart when she gets to know the harsh truth. I have to prevent the wedding somehow. And I'm not going to let the Stuarts' company slip through my fingers either. I will find a way, something will come to me, I'm sure. But first, I have to hold Sara back from making the biggest mistake of her young life. I already know, who will be able to help me with that."
She went to the phone and quickly dialed a number, which she knew by heart. Catherine didn't have to wait long until her call was taken. "Hello Matthew, yes, it's Catherine Parker... oh, I'm doing fine... How are you, old friend?..."
After their romantic candle light dinner, Chris and Sara were sitting in the living room of the yacht, having a cup of tea.
"I still can't believe that somebody bought all my paintings," the blonde artist said.
"I told you that you have great talent, didn't I? There just had to be somebody found, who would see it," Sara replied, smiling.
"Thank you. Thank you so much for believing in me."
"Chris, I love you," the photographer confessed again and followed it with a gentle kiss. "You had to leave so quickly earlier. Is everything okay with Taylor?"
Christopher sighed. "I worry about her."
"Liz is still missing and we might have to face the fact that she won't come back. But Taylor... she just can't accept it and I'm scared that once more she will leave reality behind to retreat into a fantasy world."
"What do you mean, once more?"
"Taylor had just turned 7 years old when our Dad died," Chris explained, "and then it happened. She retreated into herself and one day she just stopped talking. Only Liz was able to get through to her..." He broke up and tried to suppress the tears that welled up.
Sara reached out and gently stroked his arm. "It's okay, let it all out."
"God, I don't want this to happen again. I already lost so much and I don't want to lose my little sister too."
She pulled him into her arms. "Oh Chris, I'm so sorry about everything. But together we can conquer everything. We will make it, you'll see."
Chris felt safe and decided now would be the right time to tell his future wife everything. "You know, the day when Dad came home with Taylor from the hospital was the greatest and most horrible day at the same time..."
Christopher, 11 years old, Liz, 9 years old, and their Uncle William sat together in the living room of the Stuart house.
"So? Are you excited that you'll get a little brother or sister soon?"
Both nodded and at the same time the door bell rang.
"They are here! They are here!" Liz exclaimed happily and stormed out of the room to open the front door.
Colin entered, holding a baby in his arms. He had tears in his eyes but managed to force a smile on his face for his children.
"Hello Princess. How are you all doing?"
Chris frowned. "Dad? Where is Mom?"
"Yes, where is Mommy?" Liz wanted to know too.
Colin looked at his brother and shook his head softly as he saw William's questioning gaze. "Mommy is still in the hospital... hey, I would like to introduce you to someone. Say hello to your little sister, Taylor."
Chris smiled. "I want to hold her. May I, please, Dad?"
"Me too, me too," Liz chimed in, and barely managed to keep from jumping up and down in her excitement.
Colin knelt down and placed the baby into Christopher's waiting arms. "Here you go. Please be very careful with her head, okay?" Then he turned to his brother. "We have to talk, Will."
His brother nodded and followed him to the bedroom while the children went to the living room, where they sat down on the couch.
"Hi, little Taylor. I'm your big brother Chris."
Liz held her index finger out to the baby and waited until the little hand had closed around it. "And I am your big sister Liz."
The baby looked at them with big eyes and finally gave them a bright, toothless smile.
Liz was enraptured. "Ooooh, she is soooooo cute," she gushed. "I wanna hug and squeeze her all day."
"Did you hear that, Taylor? Don't be scared, I will protect you so that she doesn't squeeze you to death," Chris replied, grinning wildly.
That comment promptly earned him a slap in the stomach. "Hey!"
Suddenly, the muffled voices from the bedroom rose in volume.
"I CAN'T WILLIAM! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?"
"THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!"
Chris and Liz looked at each other.
Taylor felt that something was wrong and started crying.
Chris placed the pacifier in her mouth and started to rock her.
"Why do you think they are fighting?" Liz asked her brother, who could only shrug his shoulders.
"IF YOU WON'T TELL THEM THEN I WILL!" William shouted.
That was enough. The kids marched to the bedroom and opened the door. "Dad? Could you please fight a little bit quieter? It makes Taylor upset and us too," Chris said bravely.
Colin looked from his children to his brother and then back to his kids. "William, would you please give me and the kids a moment alone?"
The older man nodded and announced, "I'll be in the living room." He left and closed the door behind him.
"Daddy? Why are you fighting?" Liz wanted to know.
Colin sighed and ran a hand through his short, blonde hair. He patted the bed he was sitting on. "Come here and sit with me. There is something I have to tell you."
Chris sat down on one side, Liz on the other and Colin took Taylor into his arms. "It's about... it's about Mommy..."
"What about Mom?" Chris asked.
"Yes, when is Mommy coming home? I miss her horribly," Liz chimed in.
"That's right, I miss her too," her brother confirmed.
"Mommy... Mommy won't come back..." Colin responded haltingly.
The kids looked at each other, completely confused. "What? Why not?"
"What is with Mommy?"
Colin placed Taylor on his lap so that he could hug his son and other daughter to him. Tears were running down his cheeks as he explained, "Mommy died..."
Sara held the sobbing Christopher tightly pressed against her chest. One hand was rubbing his back while the other gently ran through his long, blonde hair."I'm so sorry, Chris. For everything you and your family had to go through..."
After he had calmed down some he pulled out of the tight embrace. "I have to go now. It's really late. We will see each other again tomorrow, okay?"
"That will be great," Sara replied and smiled.
"Good. And then we will talk about fun and happy things like our wedding, okay?"
Her smile grew even brighter. "Alright, I'll be looking forward to it."
They said goodbye with another gentle kiss and then Chris left the boat.
Juan took a deep breath and then entered the bar. Ever since he had met Jack Carpenter, his feelings had been in a chaotic whirl. His brown eyes scanned his surroundings, checking out the present people. "A hot night with a hot lady is all that I need." He needed to prove to himself that he was not attracted to men. His searching glance found its aim. There at the bar was a very beautiful blonde.
Karen was sitting on a stool and stared sadly into her drink.
Juan sat down next to her. "Hello beautiful. So alone? Do you mind if I sit here next to you?"
Karen sighed. "Please, don't get upset but I really am not in the mood for company tonight."
"Did something bad happen?" Juan asked concerned.
"My boyfriend left me for another," came the grumbled reply.
"Oh, sorry to hear that. If he didn't know what he had with you then you are better off without him."
"But I love him!" Karen insisted and tears welled up in her eyes. "Again and again he hurt me and I just cannot stop loving him. Maybe it's all my fault."
Juan wrinkled his forehead. "What do you mean?"
"Maybe I'm not attractive to him anymore."
"Now that is rubbish." He rose and went to the band that was playing in the background. Juan whispered something into the man's ear that played the guitar and took the microphone. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to sing a song. A beautiful song for a beautiful woman." The whole time he was staring at Karen and undressing her with his eyes while he sang "Pretty Woman" from Roy Orbison.
After the first few chords Karen fled the bar. "What an idiot! What was he thinking?" She decided to get home as fast as she could.
Juan was about to run after her as a dark haired woman stepped into his way. Her eyes were practically glowing with desire. "Hi," she purred in the most sensuous voice she could muster. "I've been observing you since you entered the bar."
He smiled. "Is that so?"
The woman bent forward and whispered something into his ear.
Juan's eyes widened and he had to swallow hard but in the end he asked her, "Your place or mine?"
She just took his hand and dragged him with her.
"You've got mail," it sounded tinny from the running computer, but Taylor didn't react. Clad in her pajamas, she hung in a weird position on her chair in front of the pc and had fallen asleep.
Christopher came up the stairs and carefully opened the door to her room a crack to peer inside. "Taylor? Little one? Are you still awake?"
Tasilo came towards him, wagging his tail furiously as always, but he didn't bark.
Chris patted him on the head before he went to his sister. He lifted her from the chair.
Drowsily, Taylor murmured, "Please Liz... come home..."
The artist placed her on the bed and covered her with the blanket. He brushed some strands off her forehead.
"Shhhh... go back to sleep..."
He switched off the computer, not seeing the email sign.
Tasilo curled up in front of the bed and Chris left the room to go into his own. Once there, he lowered his tired body to the edge of his bed. "Hard times are coming now, but we are going to make it. Somehow we will make it."
***** THE NEXT DAY *****
Victoria was busily eating her morning yogurt as Alexander entered the kitchen. Not exactly a cheery morning person, he grumbled to himself while Catherine placed fried eggs, bacon and toast on a plate for him.
The model eyed her brother's breakfast and commented, "I really don't understand how you can eat something like that. It's full of fat! Do you have any idea what you are doing to your poor body with that?"
Alexander scowled at her. "You know, maybe you should eat something like that more often yourself. Then you would actually have some meat on your bones."
"My body is just right," she snapped back.
"Yeah, for a girl with anorexia."
"Stop it!" Catherine intervened. "Do you already have to fight at breakfast?"
"But Mom," Vicky whined, "I'm just concerned about his health."
"Thanks a lot, take care of your own!" Alex shot back.
Catherine just sighed and shook her head. "You two are incorrigible. I have to go now. Alex, I will see you later at the company." With that she grabbed her briefcase and left.
The man rolled his eyes. "I so hate working!"
Instead of giving him a sarcastic remark, Victoria asked, "Say, Alex, what do you know about Taylor?"
"Taylor? Taylor who?
"I mean Taylor Stuart," the model said.
While chewing, he rattled off what he knew. "She is 18, sister of Christopher and Elizabeth Stuart, she has a German shepherd and she hates me. Is that enough?"
Victoria sighed in exasperation. "I know all that! I meant what does she like? What are her hobbies?"
"Why the hell should I know that?"
"Oh come on. I'm sure that Liz must have told you bits and pieces about her here and there."
Alex frowned and asked suspiciously, "Why are you suddenly so interested in Taylor?"
Vicky gave him an innocent look. "I'm forging family ties. If you marry her sister the little one will be my sister-in-law too."
He laughed. "Yeah right. And I'm the Emperor of China. You've got to be kidding me."
"I don't know what you mean," she responded.
Alex stared at her, hoping to make her squirm. "You have something on your mind. What are you planning?"
"Phhh, as if I would tell you. Do you know something about Taylor's interests? Why am I even asking you? I'm sure I can figure it out on my own."
"Alright," he gave in. "She likes figure skating, riding, Playstation stuff and fantasy things."
Victoria smiled. "Thanks, dear brother. You really helped me a lot. I have to go now to the photo shooting. It's better for you to get going to." She rose and turned to leave before she threw back over her shoulder, " If you're late Mom will be mad."
"I know that!" he snapped and waited until she was out of sight. "Women. Always find something to nag about," he grumbled darkly and wolfed down the rest of his meal.
Chris was going over some papers, as Sara stepped into the gallery and walked towards him, happily smiling.
"Sweetheart, what are you doing here?" he greeted her.
"I just couldn't take it any longer to be away from you," she admitted. "I needed to see you."
The artist kissed her tenderly. "So? Does that mean you missed me?"
"Very much. I had some time to kill so I started already with the preparations for our wedding. I got my guest list ready. Whom do you want to invite?"
"To tell you the truth I have not thought about it." He became sad. "I wish Liz could be there but I guess that will be wishful thinking."
"What about your uncle?" Sara asked. "Have you told him that we are going to get married?"
"Uncle William? No, he doesn't know anything. We had a little argument shortly before he went back to Scotland and since then we have not talked."
"Invite him. I'm sure, he'll be happy to come."
"I doubt that," Chris mumbled. "I said some not so nice things to him."
"But if you don't do it you will always ask yourself how he would have reacted. Call him," Sara suggested.
"Alright, I will think about it."
"Hey, how would you like having dinner with us tonight? I bet Taylor will be happy to see you."
The photographer nodded. "Yes, I'd like that. What will we have?"
"Oh, I'm sure I can cook up something rrrrrreally delicious."
"Hmmm, I'll be looking forward to it." She glanced at her watch. "Sorry, but I gotta go. Till this evening then."
"Yeah, till then," he called after her and watched her leave. Then he opened a drawer and pulled out a black and white picture of Karen. It was a wonderful shot of her and showed her with an irresistible smile. "I wish it could have been different. Goodbye, Karen." He couldn't rip the picture apart or throw it away, so he put it back in the drawer and shoved it underneath some stuff that was in there.
The water was reaching up to her knees while Sam bent down her head and listened carefully about 5 inches above the lake's surface.
Shakira lay at the shore and sunned her black fur.
Suddenly, Sam's hands shot out and she plunged them into the water. A mere second later, she brought out a thick fish that squirmed desperately in her grip. "Ha, I got you!" she yelled out her triumph. Then she threw it to the panther that caught it and began to eat it. Sam caught two more fish and was about to head back to the tree house when Liz came staggering and stumbling sleepily towards her. "Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
The business woman rubbed her eyes, stretched and yawned. "Yeah, that was the best I had in a long time. Now, I'm in desperate need for bath." She went to the lake and slowly waddled into the cold water. "Ahhhh, that feels so nice and is so good for the mosquito bites. That damn buggers made a meal out of me last night again."
The brunette smiled as she saw how Liz was relishing her bath. Then she busied herself with cutting up the fish into filets.
"Are we going hunting this evening again?"
"If you would like to."
"Hopefully we will catch something this time. I'm starting to get sick of 3 times fish a day."
Sam grinned. "You were the one, who didn't want me to kill the little jungle deer."
"I know." Liz sighed. "But really, when it looked at me with this huge brown eyes I couldn't imagine wanting to eat it anymore. Maybe you should go hunting by yourself again. I'm just too soft-hearted for that."
"I will leave it up to you if you want to accompany me or not," the brunette replied.
"Okay, I will think about it."
Sam put the filets on the hot stones that circled their campfire and let them fry.
Liz came out of the water and joined Shakira. "Hey, how are you doing this morning, pussycat?"
As an answer the panther pressed her head against Liz's belly and let herself get rubbed and stroked.
Sam looked at them with a tender expression of affection. She could hear Emily's distant voice echoing through her mind. 'Someday, Samantha. Someday, you will find somebody who will love you unconditionally and accept you the way you are.'
A small smile formed on her features. "Finally, I'm not alone anymore," she mumbled softly to herself.
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