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Karen stormed through the big entrance doors of the hospital. Taylor's call had frightened her. She wanted nothing else than to pick her up and get her back to her apartment. Out of breath, she gasped to one of the nurses at the front desk, "I want to see Taylor Stuart."
The nurse looked at her and replied with a friendly smile, "Dr. Lewis is with her at the moment. Take the elevator to the second floor and then look for room 219."
"Thank you," Karen said and hurried off.
The nurse yelled after her, "Wait! The elevators are in the other direction!"
"That's quite alright. I'll take the stairs. It's quicker that way."
When Karen reached the room, she was greeted by a police officer with a dark expression on his face. He sat on a plastic chair in front of the room.
Liz' assistant didn't pay him too much attention. She went past him, entered the room and closed the door behind her.
Taylor sat there on one of the hospital beds, gently rubbing Tasilo's head that was resting on her leg.
Karen took one look at the soot smudges and red eyes from crying and knew that something terrible must have happened.
Dr. Lewis looked up from her notes and greeted the blonde was a handshake. "Hi. You must be Karen." She was a bit shorter than Karen, with shining brown eyes and brown hair with dark blonde highlights that reached her shoulders.
"That's correct. Please, tell me, what's wrong with Taylor?"
"She had a major shock."
Karen looked at the girl and felt a painful squeeze to her heart. "What happened?"
"Taylor was brought here by some police officers. There was an explosion at the harbor and she was an eye witness. The police said, her brother is still missing," the doctor explained.
The blonde paled as she heard that. "Good God..."
A small voice brought her out of her thoughts. "Karen?"
"I'm here, little one," she responded and sat down next to the teenager, placing an arm around the small shoulders. "Are you okay?"
"I want to go home. I'm cold," Taylor said and looked at her with red-rimmed eyes.
Karen glanced questioningly at the doctor. "Can I take her with me?"
Dr. Lewis nodded and smiled. "Of course."
"Is there something that needs special attention about her condition?"
"The feeling of cold that she has is an after-effect from the shock. Maybe, she could take a nice warm bath to help with that. Just don't leave her alone and make sure to not put any more stress on her until she has somewhat recovered."
Karen nodded. "Alright, thank you."
"You are welcome."
"Come on, sweetie. Let's go." She took one of Taylor's hands and Tasilo's leash in the other hand. "Thanks a lot, Dr. Lewis."
"No problem. Hey, Taylor? Don't get down. I'm sure they are going to find your brother and he will be fine."
The teenager felt her lower lip tremble and bit down on it, fighting hard to keep from bursting into tears once more. "Okay. Thanks," she managed to say.
Together they left the room and found themselves face to face with the grumpy police officer, who had stood guard in front of the room.
"Hey! Where are you going with the girl?" he demanded of Karen, unfriendly. "I have to ask her a few questions."
"Please, get out of our way. I need to bring her home. She can answer all your questions another time," Karen told the man, politely.
"I want a few answers and I want them now!" came the strict reply. "So, girl, tell me what you saw at the harbor."
Karen interrupted him furiously. The nerve of that man really irked her. "Leave her alone! Can't you see that she is completely distraught? She has enough to deal with."
The police officer turned to her and brandished his index finger wildly in front of her face. "Don't you dare ever yell at me again!" he shouted, his face turning red with anger. "I could always arrest you for impeding my investigation!"
The shouting match attracted looks from other people that walked along the corridor and finally Dr. Lewis stepped out of the room. "What's going on here? Would you please kindly lower your voices? This is a hospital! Would you please leave my patient alone? She is in shock and unable to tell you anything right now."
The police officer looked stunned and stuttered, "But... but... my investigation..."
"Will have to wait!" Karen grumbled. "She will tell you what she saw when she is ready. Good night. Come on, Taylor."
They left the officer standing there and he could do nothing else but stare at their retreating backs. Having reached Karen's car, they climbed inside and raced off into the night.
No more than a second after they had left, another ambulance came to a halt in front of the hospital. The doors opened to reveal Christopher and the man, who had rescued him; Norman Kent.
Dr. Lewis placed the stethoscope back around her neck. "Okay, Mr. Stuart. You were in luck that the man got you out of the water. It could have ended real bad."
Chris sniffled. "Yeah, I know. If the explosion wouldn't have killed me, I could have drowned without Norman's help."
She pricked up her ears. "Explosion?"
"Yes. A yacht exploded at the harbor."
"You were there too?" the doctor asked in astonishment.
Christopher wrinkled his forehead. "What do you mean, 'too'?"
"Can it be that you are related to Taylor Stuart?"
His eyes widened. "That's my little sister! Is she here? Is she okay?"
Gillian gently pressed him back to the bed. "She has a shock, but is otherwise okay. Do you know Karen Miller?"
"She came to pick her up, so your sister is well taken care of."
He tried to rise once more. "I have to go to her immediately."
"I'm sorry, but you will have to stay here for a few hours of observation. Just to make sure. Besides, outside this door there is somebody waiting, who would like a few answers and maybe you could give them to him so that he won't pester your sister anymore."
As if on cue, the police officer with the grumpy face entered the room.
Norman, who had kept to the background, cleared his throat softly and announced, "I will go and get myself a coffee." He left the room together with the doctor and marched to the coffee machine. Norman put a bill into the slot and pressed a few buttons. Then he waited patiently until the plastic cup had been filled with the hot, brown liquid. "What a night. I never thought that someday I would save someone's life," he mumbled to himself and took the cup.
On his way back, he was looking at the cheap art, that hung on the walls and he crashed into a woman.
"Pay attention as to where you are going, you lout!" Catherine snapped at him.
"Oh... I'm s-sorry, Ma'am..."
"Just make sure it doesn't happen again!" She brushed past him.
A thought hit Norman all of a sudden. 'Oh my God! That was Catherine Parker! I have to get out of here as fast as possible.' He rushed towards the exit.
Catherine frowned. She had only been able to catch a small glimpse of the man's face, but somehow, it had seemed familiar. Shaking her head, she laughed about herself. "It's completely ridiculous. How would I know a homeless man?" She waved the thought aside and turned back to matters at hand.
After having taken a bath, Taylor was sitting with Karen on the couch in her living room. Tasilo had stretched out on the floor and was sleeping.
Taylor's head was resting against Karen's chest and the blonde was gently stroking her hair. "Are you still cold?"
The teenager shook her head. "Just why is this happening again and again?" she wanted to know.
"What do you mean, little one?"
"Just when one is thinking that everything is finally going to be okay, then always something happens to make the dream burst like a bubble. I find out that my big sister is alive... but then my big brother dies during an explosion..."
Karen blinked at her, dumbfounded. "Liz is alive? But how... how can you know?"
Taylor sniffled through her tears that seemed to be unstoppable. "I found her email."
"You mean the program from Peter and Jack worked? That's... that's absolutely fantastic!"
"I know, but Chris... Chris is..."
The telephone rang to interrupt the girl before she could voice the horrible thought.
Karen picked up the receiver. "Hello?" She listened for a while before holding out the receiver to the teenager with a huge grin on her face.
Taylor thought she could see a tear glisten in the corner of Karen's right eye.
"It's your brother! He's alive and he's okay."
Taylor practically tore the receiver from Karen's hand. "Chris! Are you really okay?"
"Hey, little one. Yes, I'm fine, don't worry. How are you doing?"
A little laugh of relief escaped her throat. "Now that I hear your voice, I'm just wonderful!"
After she got off the phone, she wrapped Karen up in a big bear hug. "Now everything is going to be fine. My brother is alive, my sister is alive and you and Chris will be together forever soon too."
Karen hugged her back, but didn't say aloud what was running through her mind. 'The last thing you mentioned is not going to happen. I'm so sorry, little one, but Chris already broke my heart twice and I will not let him do it a third time.' She couldn't voice that at the moment though, because Taylor seemed so happy.
***** THE NEXT DAY *****
Unseeingly, Sara stared out of the small window, while the plane was moving at a steady pace towards Australia.
Matthew was trying desperately to get his daughter to tell him the events that had occurred in the Parker house not so long ago, but Sara kept her silence. "Sweetheart, why don't you want to tell me what happened? I just want to help you. But, I can't do that if you won't tell me what's going on. What happened yesterday in Alexander's room?"
"Daddy, please, leave me alone. I don't want to talk about it, okay? I just want to go home."
"Sara, I just want to know what..."
"Please, please, stop pushing me," she said, firmly.
He took one of her hands. "You are everything I have. To see you so unhappy and sad, it's hurting me deep in my soul. Alright, I will not ask you anymore. But, when the time comes that you want to talk about it, then you know that I am always here for you."
Sara nodded and responded, gratefully, "Yes, Daddy, I do know that."
After a pause he added, "I'm so glad that you are coming home for a while. I think it will be very good for you to get some distance from the crazy hustle-bustle-city-life."
"I think so too. I've missed you, Daddy."
"I know, Sweetheart. I missed you too. Oh, and at home there will be three others waiting, who have missed you horribly and are very excited about your homecoming."
A small smile graced Sara's far too pale features.
"Ahh, there it is. The first happy expression in a long time." Matthew laughed. "I'm sure you know whom I meant when I was talking about the three others?"
Sara's smile widened and became a big grin. "Oh yeah, I can definitely guess. I can barely wait to give them a big hug."
The guitars were screaming wildly and it seemed as if the whole house was vibrating from the bass and the drums. It was 9 o'clock in the morning. Alexander sat at the kitchen table, having a small breakfast, consisting of toast and coffee. His head moved to the rhythm of the heavy metal music, while he was reading some article in the newspaper. He looked up and straight into the stern face of his mother, who stood there in her pink robe and matching, fuzzy bedroom slippers.
"GOOD MORNING!" he greeted her happily.
"SHUT OFF THIS NOISE!" she demanded, putting her hands on her hips and tapping one foot.
"WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU, THE MUSIC IS SOOO LOUD!"
Catherine went to the CD-player and pressed the stop button. "Music? You call this music? It's horrible noise!" She pressed another button so that the CD would change and turned the volume down a few notches. Soft violin sounds were drifting from the speakers. "That, my dear son, that is music."
Alex made a face, showing his disapproval. "I liked the other lots more."
"Because you don't know anything about good music. Damn it, Alex! Do you really have to act like a teenager? You are 35 years old. When are you going to grow up? What would your fiancée say to that?"
At the word 'fiancée' his coffee went down the wrong pipe, causing Alexander to cough strongly. "Since you just mentioned it, I wanted to talk with you," he croaked and cleared his throat a few more times.
Catherine's eyebrows rose questioningly. "About Lizzy?"
"Yes. I think we should give up."
"That's out of question," she thundered.
"But, she's been missing now nearly half a year. We have to accept the fact that she is dead. This search is costing us a fortune and there are no results whatsoever," he explained.
"The search will continue, is that understood? I don't care at all how long it will take or much it will cost. Either we find Lizzy, or her corpse, that doesn't matter. But, as long as we don't have one or the other, we will not stop the search!" Catherine declared fiercely.
"But what if the plane crashed into the sea and..."
Her eyes flashed furiously. "This discussion is finished! And I wish that you never mention it again!" She left the kitchen
"Oh, how I love our conversations," Alex fumed, grumpy. "We should do that more often!"
Carefully, but unfortunately not soundlessly, Liz, armed with bow and arrows, was slowly creeping up to the small jungle deer. "This time it has to work," she mumbled under her breath. "I just hope there is not a damn baboon close by that will chase away the prey with its nasty screaming." Alert, her eyes scanned the tops of the nearby trees, but she couldn't discover anything. Now, she had a clear view of the soon-to-be-meal. "Okay, I told Sam that I could do it, so I can do it. It took me over two hours to get her to not go hunting. One really has to wrap their minds around that one. She can barely breathe without pain, but still, she's stubborn as hell and insisting on wanting to go hunting, even though she's wounded." The blonde stopped her mumbling and slowly draw a bit closer to the small deer that was peacefully munching on some succulent grass. She pulled back the bow's string and took aim.
Abruptly, the animal turned around and Liz felt as if its huge, brown eyes would look right into her soul.
Her hands began to shake and she let go of the string. The arrow shot forward and buried it's metal tip into the hard bark of a nearby tree.
Quickly, the small deer disappeared into the green depths of the jungle.
Liz lowered the bow and supported herself on it. "It's hopeless." Frustrated, she ran one hand through her long, blonde hair. "I just can't do it. Well, I guess it will be fish and fruits once more. And Sam will be mighty disappointed." She hung her head and her shoulders sagged, as she slowly made her way back to the tree house, dejected.
The door bell rang and Karen opened.
Christopher felt his heart beating faster and immediately a gentle smile spread across his face.
When she saw him standing there like that, she couldn't help herself, and she hugged him tightly.
He was a bit surprised, because he definitely had not counted on such a reaction. Of course, he wouldn't complain and just wrapped his arms tightly around her waist. It felt so good to be holding her again, and he didn't want to let go.
After a few seconds, Karen realized what exactly it was she was doing. She quickly freed her herself from Christopher's embrace.
"Karen..." That was all he managed to say, since one moment later Tasilo jumped at him, and he saw Taylor leaning against the door frame, beaming with happiness.
This little distraction was all the blonde needed to get her composure back. "Hi, Chris," she greeted him and let him in. Her voice was cold, holding nothing of the warmth he had just felt in her embrace.
"There you are, Chris! Man, you gave us such a fright yesterday. Did you find the man, who saved your life?" Taylor wanted to know.
"No, not yet. But I thought about taking a trip down to the harbor to try there." His eyes flickered again and again to Karen, who acted suddenly as if he was not present. "Taylor, could you please leave us a moment? I would like to talk with Karen."
The teenager grinned. "No problem. I'll go on a little walk with Tasilo. Come on, boy."
As soon as she had left, Chris started to say something, but Karen cut him off with a quick hand motion. "There is nothing that we need to talk about," she hissed. "I want you to go, right now!"
"NO! Everything has been said. Now, go!"
Christopher sighed and turned around. During that, he noticed 2 packed suitcases in the hall. "Are you planning to go on a trip?" He frowned. But then another thought hit him hard, one that was quite painful. "You can't leave!"
"Oh yeah? Are you intending to stop me?" She really couldn't take much more of this.
"I know, I've hurt you, but that's no reason..."
"I really can't believe your nerve!" she exclaimed. "Do you think you are the center of the whole universe?!"
"I didn't say that," he defended himself.
"Chris, I don't care about you at all! But, I care about what's going to happen with the company and I do care about Liz and Taylor. That's the reason I'm staying. At least as long until Liz is found and back here."
That stung. Chris though didn't want to admit it and changed the subject. "Please, can Taylor stay a bit longer with you... until I found the man that saved my life last night.
"Yes, of course."
"I'm not doing it for you," she grumbled and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
"Okay, I can see when I'm unwanted," he replied.
"Yes," she retorted sarcastically, "I can tell."
Chris left the apartment and Karen fought tears of anger. "I'm not going to cry. Never again will I cry because of Christopher Stuart."
Ten minutes later, Taylor returned with Tasilo. "Is something wrong, Karen?"
"No, I just got something in my eye."
The teenager snorted. "Yeah, right. Couldn't come up with a better explanation, could you?"
Karen didn't answer, just went on to better things. "Alright then. What would you like to do for fun?"
Liz couldn't believe her eyes as she returned from her unsuccessful hunt.
Together with Shakira, Sam was sitting next to a burning fire. A small jungle deer was frying there and its delicious smell drifted through the air.
The blonde could feel her tummy rumbling, loudly voicing its desire to have something of that.
A big smile spread across Sam's features as she saw the other woman. Using a big leaf as plate, she filled it with some pieces of fruit and fried meat.
The business woman was a bit angry. "Sam! Have you totally lost your mind? How could you have gone hunting with your wounds?"
Sam just smiled and motioned for Liz to sit down beside her. "I was not hunting," she explained, calmly. "Shakira managed to capture the deer for us." She looked at her with big blue eyes. "You were gone for quite a long time. I was worried. Is everything alright?"
"Besides the fact that I'm a complete loser everything is fine," she grumbled, furious about herself. Liz took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. But the thought that you would go hunting with your wounds..."
"It's okay," Sam interrupted her gently.
"No, it's not! You saved my life, not only once but twice, and I can do nothing to add something to our life together here. I can't even shoot at a damn deer!"
The jungle woman blinked. "So what? That's not bad. You can do other things."
"Oh really?" Liz commented sarcastically. "Please, why don't you enlighten me about my great deeds."
"You catch fish, you collect fruits and you made a new sleeping mattress for Shakira. Your mere presence let's me feel that I'm not alone. Just what happened that you are suddenly so unfair to yourself? Did I say or do something that..."
Liz shook her head and placed her hand on Sam's knee. "No, you did nothing wrong, Sam. I'm sorry for going off like that. I was just angry about myself, because I'm not used to failing at anything." Her tummy chose this moment to voice its neglect once more. Both women had to chuckle. "I guess you should eat before it gets cold," Sam mentioned matter-of-factly and grinned.
Alexander had just sat down at Jack's desk and booted up the computer. He still hated it that he had to work as long as the other man was in New York. Nobody knew what exactly Jack was doing there. Catherine had said it would be alright and Alex wanted to keep out of it, since he had his plate already full, trying to fulfill the tasks that Jack usually would do. He searched for a pencil in the drawer and looked up at the screen again where a message was flashing that Jack had some new mail. Alexander looked it up and his eyebrows rose in surprise. "That's interesting. Jack's getting emails from Taylor Stuart? Hmmm, let's see what they are talking about..." he opened the file and began to read. With each sentence his eyes widened more and more. "Unbelievable. Liz is supposed to be still alive? And what is that?" he clicked on the attachment and another program opened up. It seemed as if it was checking and processing whatever information was in the attachment until at the end, it showed him some numbers. "Interesting. If I'm not completely mistaken this looks like coordinates... That is where Liz is at the moment? I better check that." There was a bookcase in the office and Alexander didn't need to search for long until he had found the atlas with maps from all over the world. "Bingo. It's a real good thing that Jack has stuff like that laying around." He thumbed through it and checked for the coordinates. "Vanuatu? Liz is supposed to be somewhere on this group of islands? I have to get to the bottom of this." Alexander scribbled the coordinates on a small sheet of paper and put it in the pocket of his pants. "I better not leave any traces." That said, he deleted the email. "Elizabeth, my precious darling, be ready. Your noble knight is hurrying to your rescue!" He laughed. "Well, it will make Mom happy and I finally get some peace." Alexander left the office and went home to tell Catherine the news.
Danielle returned from a session with Elias Lunaris. She had not been sure in the beginning if it would do her any good. The thought of going to a 'shrink' made her feel very uncomfortable. By now though, she had gotten to know him and it wasn't bad at all to talk with him.
She knocked at the door to Jack's room.
"Come in," he called out from inside.
Danielle entered the room and was greeted by Jack's bright smile. Sometimes she really asked herself what had happened that it did not work between them, when they had been together.
"Hey, there you are. How did it go? Did some memories pop up?"
Sighing deeply, she fell on the couch. "No, not really."
"Don't hang your head. It's going to be okay, you'll see," he responded, trying to cheer her up and lift her spirits.
The TV was running in the background, showing MTV. In that moment, Mariah Carey was howling in the highest heights that her voice could muster.
Danielle rubbed her temples. "Could you please turn that off? This bimbo is giving me a headache."
Jack grinned. "I know, it was a test."
Danielle looked at him, wrinkling her forehead.
"Well, you always thought she sucked," he explained. "Congratulations to another memory."
She laughed. "You are so funny."
He nodded. "Yep, I'd say that's true too. Boy, those memories are really coming back with a vengeance, huh?" After a pause, he asked, "What did Dr. Lunaris say as to how to continue?"
"His opinion is that we should fly back to L.A. He thinks that my memories will come back quicker in that environment."
"Really? That's great! When do you want to go back?"
Danielle grew thoughtful. "I don't know, Jack. I really don't like the idea much to be in a strange city surrounded by strange people. The whole thing scares me."
Jack tried to find words of encouragement. "It is your decision. Take your time and think about it. Nobody will force you to do anything that you don't want. Just know that I will be there for you, and I will back you up. I am your friend, Dani. You can count on me. I will never abandon you."
She embraced him, gratefully. "Thank you, Jack. It really means a lot to me that you are supporting me, no matter what."
It was late afternoon and Alexander was preparing for his departure. He was busy putting clothes and other stuff, which he thought would be useful, into suitcases.
Catherine was sitting in an armchair, observing what he was doing. She had a satisfied smile on her face. "See, I told you from the very beginning that eventually we would find a trace of Lizzy. Just this morning, you wanted to give up and now, you know nearly exactly where she is. Are you not happy that you listened to me?"
Alex rolled his eyes and grumbled, "Yes, Mom. You were right, like always."
"Yes, you should listen to me more often. What do you think, how long it will take until you found Lizzy and bring her home?"
"I haven't the slightest idea. I think one or two weeks... depends on how good the search party is that you chose."
"I'm sure all of them are very competent," Catherine assured him.
Alexander nodded. "I sure hope so."
"Shouldn't we tell the Stuarts about it?" she asked, matter-of-factly. "This is another example just how incapable they are. They can't even find a member of their own family."
"No!" he exclaimed. "We will not tell them just yet."
Catherine frowned. "Why not? You said the source where you got the information from is very reliable."
"Yes, but there is still a chance that it may be wrong. And what if that is the case? Then I will look like the biggest fool. No, we will wait until I really found Liz. I can't wait to see the looks on their faces once I come back with her." He waggled his eyebrows and grinned widely.
Catherine smirked, complacently. "Oooh, I really like that."
Alexander closed the last suitcase. "Alright, all my things are packed. I will drive to the airport now to meet with the search troop. I will contact you as soon as we are there."
She got up and hugged him tightly to her chest. "My son, please, be careful and take good care of yourself. Also, come back safely with your fiancée."
Christopher wandered around the harbor area, searching for the mysterious man that had saved his life. "This is going to take forever," the blonde artist mumbled to himself. "I don't even know his surname. Why did he disappear so suddenly? He said, he would go and get himself some coffee, and since then, he has kinda vanished. I wonder if Norman is even his real name. Well, what do I know about the life of a homeless? Oh God, I'm sure it must be horrible if one doesn't know where to sleep or where to get the next meal. Maybe I can help in making his life a little better. He saved mine and I would like to express my gratitude in whatever way I can. But, to do that I need to find him first." He took another look around and found a rag-covered person, who was searching for something in a dumpster.
He hurried over to them and inquired, "Excuse me? Could you please help me?"
The woman turned around and eyed him suspiciously. "What do you want?" she croaked in a very husky voice.
"I'm looking for Norman." Inwardly, he prayed that his search would finally reveal some results.
"Why?" She still wasn't sure if he was trustworthy.
"He saved my life last night. Without his help I might have drowned."
The woman cocked her head and sized him up. "So, so. He did, did he? Norman hates rich people like you. They are the reason, he's now living on the streets."
"Please, Ma'am. If you know where he is then please, tell me. It's really very important."
"At the end of the harbor there is a run-down building, which should have been taken down a long time ago. Sometimes he sleeps there. You could try."
Chris nodded. "Thank you." He pulled out his wallet and gave her a hundred dollar bill, before sprinting off.
The woman watched him go with a big smile on her face and the bill in her hand. "Well, what do you know. There are good people around after all."
As Jonathan came home from work, Catherine was impatiently waiting for him. "Finally, there you are. I really have to tell you something," she blurted as soon as she saw him. "I came up with something as to how we can make the Stuarts..." She stopped and frowned as she caught a glimpse of his face. "Why are you grinning like that?"
"I have a surprise for you," he announced.
Catherine was stunned. "A surprise? For me? Why? Is there a special day today?"
"Do I need a special reason to give my wife a present?"
Her eyes became tiny slits, and she asked suspiciously, "Did you get another speeding ticket?"
"No. I told you there is no special reason. Just because I felt like it. Wait here, I will get it from the car."
A few minutes later he returned, in each arm holding a poodle puppy, one of them black, the other white.
Catherine was enraptured. "Awww, how cute," she gushed.
Jonathan beamed. "I couldn't decide which one to take so I bought them both."
She walked over to him, took his face in both hands and kissed him soundly on the lips. "Thank you. Aside from our wonderful children this is the most beautiful gift that you ever gave me." She took the dogs from his arms and cuddled them. "So, my sweeties, tell me, do you have names already?"
"Oh yes," Jonathan answered. "The black one is called Nepomuk and the white one's name is Nicodemus."
"How cute. They sound so noble."
"Of course they are pedigree and have an excellent family tree. But now, tell me, how was your day, honey?"
"Very exciting! Just imagine that. Alexander found out that Lizzy is still alive and also where she is. As we speak, he is on his way to bring her home."
Jonathan smiled, opened his tie some and sat down in an armchair. "That's really great news. I will bet that Lizzy's siblings will be very happy about that."
Catherine wrinkled her nose. "Indeed. But, I've come up with something how we can repay them for what they did to Sara."
In that moment, Jonathan was reminded of the conversation he had with Taylor not that long ago. "Catherine, I really think you should leave the Stuarts alone."
She was taken aback. "WHAT? Why?"
Jonathan sighed, inaudibly. He knew what would come next.
Sure enough, the red-haired woman began to rant and rave. "Sara nearly committed suicide because of the damn Christopher! Who knows what would have happened if Vicky had not interfered! Do you really want to let them get away with that? They have to pay for that! Which side are you taking here?!"
"None at all. I just think that enough has happened. Let's keep it at that. We live our life, let them live theirs. Leave them alone." With that said, he rose from the armchair. "Please, excuse me now. I have to go to play some tennis."
Her face darkened considerably while he left the room. "I know you are keeping something from me," she muttered under her breath. "I will get to the bottom of your little secret and also why you are suddenly defending the Stuarts."
Alexander stood before the search troop and held his prepared speech. "Just so that it is clear to everyone..." he paused for dramatic effect before he continued, "Finding my fiancée, Miss Elizabeth Stuart, is top priority. Anything else is unimportant. We know in all probability that she is on Vanuatu. This place consists of a whole lot smaller islands that will all have to be searched. It is of no matter how long that will take. Each trace, no matter how small it is, is to be followed. Anything that you find will be reported immediately to me. I'm sure that there are a lot of dangerous and wild animals around on Vanuatu. Do not hesitate to shoot at anything that could threaten our mission or our lives. We will not give up unless we found my fiancée or evidence of her death." He looked at the men. "Are there any questions?"
They shook their heads.
A huge grin appeared on his face and there was a gleam to his dark brown eyes. "Alright, then we can get started with our adventure!"
***** THE NEXT DAY *****
The black limousine came to a halt in front of the ranch. Matthew T. Jones, followed by his daughter, stepped out of it.
The housekeeper, Rose Jefferson and the ranch caretaker, Richard Thornton gave them a warm welcome. "Oh Sara, my poor dear!" Rose started immediately, after having taken one look at the young photographer. She was a lady close to her 50's and the best word to describe her would be 'mother hen'. Her black hair showed the first traces of becoming gray and a few wrinkles had appeared on her face too since the last time Sara had been home. Rose wrapped her into a quick embrace, before holding her away from her body to take another good look at the young woman. "What happened? You are so pale and... did you lose weight? Don't worry, you will get that back. One week with my excellent cuisine and you will look and feel as good as new. I will start right away to prepare your favorite dish." Giving her another brief squeeze, Rose hurried back inside to get busy in the kitchen.
Sara hugged Richard, a man that was like a big brother to her. He was tall and muscled, due to the hard work on the ranch. Like always his hair was completely disheveled and his dark brown eyes were shining with happiness. "It's so good to see you again," she said.
"It's good to see you too," he replied and smiled. "We all have missed you very much."
"I missed you all too."
"So, tell me, how is life in the big city?" he inquired curiously.
"Let me put it like this... it definitely wouldn't be something for you. Everywhere noise, buildings, far too many people and far too little nature," she explained. A shadow flickered over her face and for a second he thought, he could see pain in her eyes before she continued, "But the worst is when you think you have found somebody whom you can trust or look at as a friend... it's better not to count on that. Because, it's most likely that that would change in the blink of an eye."
"Is that why you came back home?"
Sara didn't get to answer.
A loud, happy "Meow" sounded and her tomcat came racing out of the house, jumping into her arms.
"Hello my sweet Tugger Baby. It seems that you have missed me too," she said and laughed.
The tomcat gently tapped her cheek with one paw. Then he rubbed his head against her chin and began to purr.
Richard reached out one hand and patted his back. "He caused quite a lot of trouble while you were gone. And he's not listening to anybody at all."
Sara nodded, smiling. "I bet. But, you know, what's a true Tugger only does what he wants. Like is said in that song from the musical, right, my sweet?"
The cat meowed again in agreement.
Danielle knocked at the door of Dr. Elias Lunaris' office.
She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her.
"Ah. Hello Miss Stiehl. So? Have you been thinking about my suggestion?" he wanted to know, looking at her expectantly.
Danielle nodded before she admitted hesitatingly, "Yes, I did."
"To which conclusion did you come?"
"I will return to Los Angeles tomorrow. It really is time for me to get my memories back."
Elias smiled. "I think that's a very good idea." With one look at her face though he knew that she wasn't so sure and that the whole situation made her very uncomfortable. "There is no need to be scared. I will accompany you and I know that Mr. Carpenter will be there for you as your friend, not leaving your side for one second."
A brief smile graced her features. "Yes, he is always there for me."
Holding her cat in her arms, Sara stood in front of the huge patio window in the living room, staring at the landscape that spread out in front of her.
Her father joined her. "Rose is whirling in the kitchen like crazy," he chuckled. "I think, she is very happy that you are back. Now she has someone again that she can smother and mother with all her love 24 hours a day for 7 days a week."
Sara snorted. "Yeah."
"So, my dear. What are your plans? What do you think you'd like to do the coming days?"
The young photographer continued to stroke Tugger's soft fur and answered melancholy, "I will not go away again, Daddy."
He was surprised. "I don't know if that should make me happy or if I need to be concerned? It was your one and only wish to experience all the world has to offer and not wither away here with us in the outback."
"I really am sorry for what I said back then. Can you please forgive me?"
Matthew drew her into his arms and placed a tender kiss on her forehead. "It's already forgotten."
"I really was so unfair to all of you."
"Don't worry, my little angel. The main concern now is that you can leave all the pain behind."
Silence fell, until Sara admitted in a small voice, "I swore to myself that I will never fall in love again. Never again. I realized that the most beautiful place on earth is right here."
Matthew tried to distract his daughter from the sadness that burdened her soul so heavily. "Richard, or Ray as you call him, needs to check the fences. What do you think? Would you like to go with him for a little ride?"
She beamed with happiness. "What kinda question is that? Of course I want to! I'll go and change clothes." She hugged her father quickly, then raced out of the room and past Rose, who was about to enter, in order to announce that dinner was ready. A small noise of surprise escaped her as Sara stormed past her. "But... dinner..."
Sara called back, "Later, I'll be going on a ride with Ray!"
Matthew placed a hand on the housekeeper's shoulder. "Let her go, Rose. This will help her to get over the sadness."
Rose though was skeptical. "I'd call that repression instead of working things out."
***** THE NEXT DAY *****
Jack opened the door and motioned to his guests to enter. "Well, we have arrived. Welcome to my humble shack." He grinned.
"And you are sure it will be okay if I stay here?" Danielle wanted to know.
"Of course. You can stay here as long as you want. I know that you are scared of being alone in your apartment. Really, it is no problem."
She released a big sigh of relief. "Thank you. I really mean that from the bottom of my heart."
He smiled at her tenderly. "You are welcome. Also, Elias can stay here too."
"I think I should stay at a hotel, Jack," the doctor replied.
"But there is no need for that," the computer specialist pointed out. "This old house has enough rooms and I would feel better if you would always be around for Dani."
Elias thought about it for a moment and then relented.
"Alright. While you two are getting your things unpacked, I'm going to call Karen to tell her that we are back."
An hour later they all met at the sun deck and Jack reported that Karen and Taylor wanted to come over to greet Danielle.
Dani looked very scared and so Jack squatted in front of her, taking her small, sweaty hands in his, trying to calm her. "Don't worry, Dani. I promise you, these two are real nice friends. Besides, Elias and I are going to be here the whole time. It's going to be okay."
A tiny smile traveled quickly over Dani's face but she still was very nervous about the whole thing.
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