FIUR and VLAMME
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The door bell rang. Excited, Tasilo stormed forward, wanting to be the first to greet whoever was standing in front of the door. As Chris opened the door the big dog brushed past him and jumped at the unexpected visitor. It was Sara Jones.
The blonde man tried to get Tasilo to come back inside and after a minute of calling his name, the dog and Sara were in the entrance hall of the Stuart house.
"I'm sorry for that Ms. Jones," Christopher said and pointed at Tasilo that sat beside him and looked at Sara, his tail still thumping excitedly against the floor.
Sara bent down and stroked the German shepherd between his pointy ears. "My, what a good boy you are."
"You mean the dog, right?" Christopher threw in, trying to be his funny self.
The young photographer smiled at that and reached out to shake the man's hand. "Call me Sara."
"Fine, I'm Chris," he responded and shook her hand firmly.
"Actually, I wanted to see Taylor. Is she here?"
Chris shook his head. "I'm sorry, she isn’t. She is still at the airport. But, she should be here soon."
"Ah yes, now I remember. Your sister Elizabeth is coming back today. Taylor told me about it when we were at the cinema earlier. Will it be alright if I wait here until she comes home?"
"Uh... okay... I'm working on a sculpture in the garden and..."
Sara's eyes sparkled. "Really? I would love to see that."
Christopher led her into the garden.
"Wow!" Sara exclaimed, obviously excited about the sight. She drew closer and brushed her hand gently over the smooth, black marble of the statue. "This is a wonderful work."
Chris blushed a little bit. "Thank you. It is supposed to show the panther in all its grace."
Reaching into her bag Sara took out the always present camera. "Do you mind if I take a picture of it?"
"Always on duty, aren't you?" He replied, smiling.
"Oh please, just one shot, pleeeeeease?"
Her begging reminded him strangely of Taylor when she really wanted something and so he let her do it, making Sara happy.
Alexander and his lawyer Steven McLure came out of the police station and climbed into the limousine that sported dark windows.
Catherine was already sitting inside, taking small sips from a whiskey glass.
Alex grinned from one ear to the other and reached for the glass. "Hey Mom, great idea. I really could use a drink right now."
Catherine glared at him angrily and hissed, "Don't even think about it, Alexander! And leave me alone with your stupid jokes! I am not in the mood! It is only thanks to Steven and the bail I just paid for you that you can be here at all."
Rebuffed, Alex leaned back into the leather seat and mumbled, "I think it was much more fun in jail."
"Now you listen to me and listen to me well, son." Catherine growled, still furious about Alexander's behavior. "I will not stand by and watch how you ruin our family and the image of our company."
"Yes, mother," came the bored answer.
"You are under police observation, are you even aware of that?" The red-haired woman nearly screeched.
"Yes, mother," Alex said again in the bored tone, rolling his eyes. He knew it was a dangerous game to add fuel to the flames if his mother was already so upset, but he couldn't seem to help himself.
"We also have another problem," the lawyer said. "We have no idea of knowing what this Danielle Stiehl will tell everyone once she is released from the hospital."
Catherine's features hardened and in a cold voice she replied, "I guess then we have to make sure that this person never again leaves the hospital."
The limousine stopped in front of the lawyer's office building.
"You know, there is another thing we could do, Catherine," Steven announced. "We could try and get her shipped off to a psychiatric ward and from that she will never come back... with the right relations and if certain payments have the right amount of money..." He left it at that and climbed out of the car.
"I will think about it, Steven. Thank you, we will keep in touch," Catherine replied before the lawyer closed the car door behind him and disappeared into the building.
Alexander looked at his mother but her face didn't betray any emotion as the limousine started to move again.
Lost in thought, Jack was chewing on the end of his pencil, not realizing that Jonathan was trying to get his attention.
"Jack? Jack? Are you listening to me at all? JACK!"
The dark blonde man snapped out of it and looked at his boss with wide blue eyes. "Mhhh?"
"Where are you with your thoughts, Jack?" Jonathan asked kindly.
Running a hand through his half long hair, Jack smiled a bit embarrassed. "Oh, I was just wondering... uh... for how long have you known Ms. Jones?"
At that Jonathan waggled his eyebrows and grinned knowingly. "Oh, that is it, huh? Sara has turned your head, hm?"
Jack just looked at him questioningly.
"You will have to be careful that you don't bite off more than you can chew here," Jonathan explained. "I have known Sara since she was a baby, when Catherine and I were in Australia and we became friends with the Jones family."
"Ah, so she was born in Australia?"
Jonathan nodded. "Matthew T. Jones made all his millions with mining of opals and Sara is his only child.”
Jack snorted. "Now that explains something... typical case of spoiled only child."
"Yeah, she is quite a pigheaded woman and somewhat of a tomboy," Jonathan chuckled. "Can we now go back to our important project, please? It won't take long now and then you can go home."
"Of course." Jack said, willing his thoughts to stay off Sara and return to the matter at hand.
The phone rang at the Stuart house and Christopher picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Hey Chris, it's me again. I just wanted to tell you that I need to go to the Parkers... there is something I have to talk about with them."
"Okay... uh... Taylor..." That was all he managed to get out because his little sister had already hung up. He placed down the receiver and looked at Sara. "I'm sorry but I don't think you will get to meet with Taylor today," he apologized.
Sara's face fell. "Oh well, that can't be helped. Maybe another time then. I will drive back to the city now."
"Could you please take me with you? My jeep is out of gas."
"Of course, that's no problem."
They drove in Sara's Ferrari. On their way through the city, they had a nice conversation and were laughing quite a lot. At a red light they had to stop and Chris said, "You know, the next time we meet, we have to have a deeper conversation about unwanted and annoying suitors... of the male and the female kind."
Sara grinned, "Yeah, you and me are like two peas in a pod in that department, don't you think?"
While they were fooling around, Victoria was about to cross the street in order to get to the hotel "Four Seasons" on the other side to meet with Juan, who had invited her and was waiting for her. She saw Sara and Chris and was about to wave in the same moment as Chris saw her too. Acting quickly he pulled Sara into his arms and kissed her wildly.
Vicky stared at the scene in shock and her mouth fell open. Then she hurried away in direction of the hotel and disappeared inside.
Sara pushed Chris away, trying to come to terms with what just had happened. She was still a bit out of breath from the wild kissing and her thoughts were whirling. "Wow," was the first thing that left her mouth, but was quickly followed by, "You know, Chris, you are nice and all that... but I think you got the wrong idea here. I don't want to have a relationship, but..."
Chuckling, Christopher interrupted her, "No, no, no, don't worry. I just saw Victoria and I decided to have a little fun at her expense."
"Oh, if that was the case then it's alright... just please give me a little warning the next time." They both laughed and drove on as the traffic light switched to green.
In front of Christopher's gallery they stopped and stepped out of the car. They hugged friendly to say good bye and Sara couldn't believe it. In the huge windows she saw the other side of the street reflected and there was Jack, looking at some magazines and newspapers in front of a store. At that an evil thought came to her mind and she too decided to have some fun at the expense of her unwanted suitor. She took Christopher's hands and shouted at the top of her lungs, so that everyone present would hear it, "I LOVE YOU TOO, CHRIS!"
Sara threw a quick glance to the other side of the street and could see that it had worked. They had Jack's complete attention. She winked at Chris, embraced him like there was no tomorrow and screamed even louder, "YES, I WANT TO MARRY YOU!"
Chris also had seen Jack and knew that Sara was playing a little game. Quickly he announced, "Great. We will fly to Las Vegas next week and get that taken care of!" He pulled Sara into the gallery where they broke down with silly giggles behind the closed door.
"Now that was just fantastic," Chris gasped, after he had somewhat recovered from laughing so hard.
"Yeah, even better than in a movie," Sara agreed, holding her tummy, which had started to ache a bit from having so much fun. "His face was just priceless. I wish I could have taken a picture of that."
Chris tried to suppress a snort but it was too late and soon enough they were both laughing again until they had tears in their eyes.
Jonathan was sitting at the decorated table at home, waiting for his family for dinner. As Catherine and Alexander finally arrived, they were still fighting.
"Let me tell you something, my son. You will only get an inheritance if your marriage with Elizabeth Stuart takes place," Catherine seethed, her light blue eyes piercing the dark brown ones of Alex. "You will not dare to make another mistake!" She left him standing and disappeared upstairs.
Jonathan placed a hand on his shoulder. "I think it's time to have one of our
Somebody cleared their throat behind them. "Excuse me, Mr. Parker, Sir." It was their butler, Isaac.
Jonathan turned around. "Yes, Isaac? What is it?"
"The young Ms. Taylor Stuart is waiting in the entrance hall and wishes to speak with Mrs. Parker."
In the lobby of the "Four Seasons" Karen met an upset Victoria. "What are you doing here, Karen?" the blonde model snapped.
Karen was taken aback by the tone, but she answered calmly, "I don't know since when I have to explain myself to you, Ms. Parker. But since you are so burning with curiosity... I was meeting a new partner of the Stuarts' movie company."
Vicky was completely distraught. She also had forgotten about Juan, but the scene she had witnessed involving Christopher and Sara Jones had hurt her deeply and was repeating itself again and again before her mind's eye. "I'm sorry, so sorry," she whimpered. "You have to help me."
Karen was undecided, because she really wanted to go to the hospital and look after Danielle.
Victoria then grabbed her arm and dragged her to the hotel bar. "It's a matter of life and death!" She exclaimed in the most theatrical voice she could muster up.
Karen was now listening.
Victoria ordered 2 Manhattans and began to unburden her soul to Karen, making it appear as if she was leading the most horrible and saddest life a human being can have. After a few more cocktails, she finally told her the real reason for being so upset. "Ohhhhhh, Christopher. MY Christopher! He has another woman."
Karen looked astonished and gave Vicky a tissue. "How do you know that?"
"I just saw them... embracing and kissing so wildly..." the model sobbed. "Ohh... this evil... nasty... backstabbing bitch Sara! She stole him from me!"
"Sara Jones, the photographer?"
"Yes!" Victoria whined. "That's exactly the one. But that... that brat is going to pay for that!" She dabbed the last tears from her eyes and turned around to the bar tender to order another drink.
Karen intercepted her. "I really think you have had enough for today. Come on Ms. Parker, I will drive you home."
Disastrous smoke rose from the plane wreck as Elizabeth awoke with a tremendous headache. "Where am I?" she mumbled to herself and then the memories from the storm and the plane crash came rushing back at once.
She was still bound to the seat by the seatbelt. Because her hands were trembling so hard it took her a while to get free from it. She rose on wobbly legs and stumbled to the cockpit. "Bobby?"
He lay bent over the consoles. Dried blood from a severe head wound was all over the place.
Her eyes widened as she realized that the pilot was dead. She fought the bile that rose in her throat and as quickly as she could she left the cockpit.
A weird smell caught her attention. Liz knew she had to get out of the wreck because it was leaking fuel. Without giving it another thought she grabbed her briefcase and climbed clumsily out of the crashed plane.
The shock of what she saw now nearly drove her back inside the wreck. There she was in her black, elegant, business suit with the knee long skirt and new, expensive pumps, surrounded by high grass. Holding the briefcase tightly to her chest, as if it would be able to give her protection of what was yet to come, she made her way through the grass.
"I have to find a hill or something that's higher than anything else here, so that I can get an idea of where the hell I actually am."
After a while she came upon an abyss that opened wide and most of all deep in front of her. "That cannot be," she exclaimed as she looked at miles and miles of undisturbed jungle. She closed her eyes in the hopes that when she opened them again she would be free from this nightmare. But her wish didn't come true.
The jungle was still everywhere her emerald eyes could see. "That just cannot be! HELP!!!"
Then she remembered something. "My cell phone!" Liz took it out of her briefcase and switched it on. Before she could check if she had a signal at all the low battery announced its last beep and it went out again. "No, no, no! Is everything against me today?" Frustrated she threw the cell phone down on the harsh, rocky ground and it burst into pieces.
Taylor was angry beyond everything. After a time of waiting the butler led her to Catherine's study. The head of the Parker family was sitting behind her desk, on the phone with somebody.
At Taylor's entry she quit the conversation and turned to the girl, a smile firmly fixed on her face that didn't reach her eyes. "Oh Taylor, sweetheart. What can I do for you?"
Seething, the young girl threw a newspaper at Catherine's desk. In it was everything about Alexander's arrest and affair with Danielle Stiehl. "Stop the 'sweetheart' crap. I would like a few answers concerning this NICE story in here," Taylor ordered, pointing at the "Yellow Press".
"Ah sweethe... uh... I mean, Taylor. You know how those press people are and how they like to create untrue stories and make a mountain out of a mole hill."
But Taylor wasn't about to back down. "I don't think it's an untrue story, the article says you were giving them an interview. What has Alex got to do with drugs?!"
Catherine took a deep breath trying to keep her cool while faced with the angry girl, who was the sister of Alexander's future wife. "I'd say that somehow he got dragged into that mess by that unsuccessful actress Danielle Stiehl. Just as she jumped at him whenever she had the opportunity and tried to seduce him. Well, now she got what she deserved."
"How dare you say something like that? Danielle is a friend of my sister and she would never do something like that."
Catherine smirked. "Can you be so sure of that? Maybe it's time that your sister finds herself some new friends?
Taylor glared at the older woman. "Of course. And the start of all that would be to marry your wonderful son, right? Who, damn it, gives you the right to interfere like that with my sister's life? How dare you treat Liz as if you own her and send her off to New Zealand just like that?" The teenager was on a roll, but Catherine still sat there with the smirk on her face. "I will tell you something now, Mrs. Parker. Keep your nasty games and little schemes away from our family and company!!!" With that she grabbed the newspaper again, stormed out of the room and down the stairs.
In the entrance hall she happened upon Alex. "Hey, Taylor. How is my beautiful fiancée doing? Is she already back from 'the land of the rising sun'?"
The teenager just scowled at him and fought the urge to slap the arrogant grin from his face. "Bastard," she hissed under her breath and opened the front door to get out.
Victoria staggered toward the big entrance door of the Parker house, while Karen supported her as much as she could. In her intoxicated state the blonde model missed the keyhole a few times as she tried to unlock the door. "Oh... damn it, why do they have to make those things so tiny?" she slurred.
Karen, who was one step behind her and holding her hands out to catch Vicky should she fall, was having trouble to fight a grin that wanted to desperately appear on her face. She was a bit amused seeing the bitchy diva like this.
Finally Victoria had fumbled for the door knob and turned it.
At the same time the door was pulled open from the inside and Taylor came storming out, crashing right into Vicky in her haste to get out of the house. "Hey... what... uh... Taylor?"
"Just leave me all alone!" the teenager demanded and pushed Victoria out of her way. Still seething she passed by Karen, whom she didn't even notice in her anger. She stepped into her car and raced home.
Victoria stumbled inside the house where she saw her father and immediately ran to him, threw her arms around him and hugged him as hard as she could. "Ohhhhhh, Daddy!!! Everybody hates me! Nobody likes me at all!" she whimpered and sobbed hysterically into his shoulder.
Jonathan was a bit surprised at this outburst of emotion. He guided his crying daughter into the living room, where he made her sit down on the couch. "Thank you for bringing her home, Ms. Miller," Jonathan said to Karen, while he rubbed Vicky's shoulder gently to calm her.
Karen smiled briefly and answered, "No problem, Mr. Parker. Have a great evening." With that she left the house and went to her car. The encounter with Taylor was still on her mind. Something horrible must have happened because she never had seen Elizabeth's little sister like that.
Christopher was in the middle of showing Sara the gallery as his cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and flipped the lid open. "Yes?...Hey, Karen....yes, I'm at the gallery... What?!... yeah, okay, but you have to come and get me... okay, till later." He pressed a key, closed the lid and slipped the cell phone back into his pocket, before he turned to Sara. "I'm sorry, Sara, but I'm needed at home. Something is wrong with Taylor."
"Did something happen?" she asked concerned. "Is she hurt?"
"Nothing like that, but she was at the Parkers' house and whatever happened there made her very angry. I think she probably got into a heavy word fight with Alexander again. No wonder, this guy manages to drive everyone crazy with his attitude. Anyway, I don't want to be rude, but I really need to go."
Sara nodded, "That's okay. Would you please tell Taylor something from me?"
"Would you tell her to come to my boat tomorrow morning when she has time? I want to show her something."
"Yes, I'll do that. And what do you want to show her?"
Sara just grinned, "It's a surprise."
Chris laughed at that, "Did you know that Taylor is very impatient? It will drive her crazy when I tell her that and she will be up all night trying to figure out what it could be."
The young photographer shrugged her shoulders. "Well, if I would tell her then it wouldn't be a surprise anymore, would it?" She went to the door, waved goodbye and said, "Have a great evening. Until soon."
Karen stopped her car in front of the gallery and watched as Sara climbed into her car and drove away. Chris stepped out of the store, closed and locked the door. He also closed the security metal gate and made sure that the alarm system was switched on.
Whistling, he walked to her car and slid into the passenger seat. "Hey, Karen."
"Hello Chris," the blonde greeted him friendly. "I'm sorry that I had to interrupt your rendezvous."
Christopher was puzzled and drew his eyebrows together in question. "Rendezvous?"
"You know what I mean."
"No, I have no idea what you are talking about."
Karen sighed and explained, "Victoria saw you together."
"With whom?" he so loved teasing her.
"She saw you with Sara Jones and how you hugged and kissed."
"Oh that." Chris chuckled and looked at her, waggling his eyebrows. "And why is that of interest to you?"
"It is not!" Karen snapped back impatiently.
Chris leaned over in the seat and whispered into her ear. "Are you jealous?"
She shuddered slightly as his warm breath tickled the sensitive skin on her ear and blushed. "Yes."
"Don't be," he said and patted her hand, which rested on the gearshift. "I want to tell you something, but you have to keep it to yourself, okay?"
"Okay," Karen replied quickly, her eyes never leaving the traffic in front of her.
"Sara and I are friends and nothing more. Both of us have an unwanted suitor that we can keep away if we continue with this little charade..."
Karen snorted in laughter. "Vicky is already convinced. You have to be careful though. I'm sure she is already cooking up some mean, nasty plans in her little, crazy brain to get vengeance."
"Which brings us to the damn Parker family," Christopher growled. "Let's drive home to find out what made my little sister so upset. Do you by any chance have any news from Liz?"
Karen shook her head. "No. She is not with the Parkers and I also did not see her with Taylor. I tried calling her cell phone but she doesn't pick up."
Chris leaned back in the seat and crossed his arms. "The whole situation is so weird. Just where can she be?"
Bravely, holding on tightly to her briefcase, Liz was fighting her way through the jungle. She had taken off the jacket and had rolled up the sleeves of her silk blouse. The wet heat was unbearable and her long, blonde hair stuck sweat-soaked to her head. After having stumbled for what seemed a thousand times she had taken off her pumps to be able to walk better. Her heels were covered in blisters and her expensive skirt had seen better times. The mosquitoes were a real plague and her stomach had started to growl loudly a few hours ago and now it was constantly grumbling, voicing its neglect. She sat down on a fallen tree and scanned the interior of her briefcase. "Let's see what we have in here. There has to be a chocolate bar or something like that." Liz went over everything and through each pocket but only found business papers, a hairbrush, her laptop, an mp3 player and to top it all off a deodorant roll-on. "Oh, that is just wonderful," she exclaimed sarcastically. "I'm stuck in this stupid primeval forest... as far as I can see there is no Tarzan or Mowgli to save me... I don't have anything to eat but I have deodorant and a hairbrush!" Her eyes fell on the laptop, but try as she might she couldn't get it to power up. Annoyed she put it back into her briefcase. She needed to think. Liz felt as if she was in a bad movie. She did not know whether to laugh or to cry because the whole situation was completely ridiculous. In the meantime, she felt the slow stirrings of desperation and tears began to well up in her emerald eyes.
From somewhere she could hear the screeching cries of monkeys and the permanent jungle noises were starting to give her a big headache.
She gathered all her courage, took a deep breath and told herself, "Alright, don't panic. It will be okay… somehow. The most important thing now is to find a safe place before some wild animal starts thinking of me as an appetizer and I need to find some food and water too. The best would be finding some kind of civilization..." An ugly thought crossed her mind as she remembered some documentation she once saw. "As long as they are no cannibals I will be fine." Liz rose, grabbed her briefcase and fought her way through the thick vegetation, unaware of two figures that were following her.
The loud sounds of a Martial-Arts-game were greeting Christopher and Karen as they entered the house. In the living room Tasilo was stretched out on the leather couch, while Taylor sat in front of the TV. Her fingers were a blur as they moved over the controlpad of the Playstation. She didn't notice that her brother and Karen were there, only as Chris pulled the power plug of the game console and switched on the light in the otherwise dark room.
"Okay, little one," the blonde man said and sat down beside his sister on the white, fuzzy carpet. "Tell me, what happened at the Parkers' place?"
"Do you know where Liz is?"
Chris shook his head.
Taylor nodded at that. "I do. Mrs. Catherine Parker has sent her off to New Zealand to check out the location for their next movie!" the teenager growled.
Both, Karen and Christopher looked at her in disbelief. "What?!"
"Yeah. Wasn't that nice of her?" came the sarcastic reply.
Chris was getting angry as well. "How dare that woman... how... what..." He was still trying to wrap his mind around what his sister just told him. "I can't believe the nerve of that..."
"Doesn't she know that Liz has enough to do with Stuart Films?" Karen chimed in.
"As if she would care," Taylor snorted in disgust. "Whatever pleases her has to be done, you know how she is. But the absolute best is this." She grabbed the "Yellow Press" from the nearby table and gave it to her brother. "Catherine gave an interview to this paper, but read for yourself. It makes for a great bedtime story."
Chris and Karen read the article and both were shocked.
Karen shook her head. "I just can't believe this! They make it appear as if everything was just Danielle's fault."
"Did you think that Catherine would admit that her beloved son is an asshole? I don't think so." Chris replied, "We have to do something though. We will not allow her to ruin the life of Liz' friend."
Taylor cleared her throat and said a bit forlornly, "I still couldn't get hold of Liz."
"If she is on her way to New Zealand, she's probably still on the plane... and then there is the time difference to think of. I'm sure she will call soon though," Karen responded and smiled, trying to cheer the girl up a bit.
Frustrated Chris ran a hand through his long blonde hair. "You know what else this means? If Catherine managed to get Liz to do this job for her it is almost sure that the deal with Japan didn't work out and that the meeting with Mr. Tomoe was good for nothing."
"I know, but at the moment we can do nothing except wait until Liz calls or gets back." Karen said, patting Christopher's shoulder gently to calm him.
"I feel helpless and that's what had me so upset." Taylor mumbled and Chris pulled her into a gentle hug. "Don't worry, little one. Everything is going to be okay. We will get through this together like we always do."
"Yeah, you are right, big brother."
"Okay then, it is quite late and I have to go," Karen announced.
Chris and Taylor rose from the floor to lead her to the door for the final goodbyes. Each shared a hug with the blonde woman. Every member of the Stuart family treasured Karen greatly. She was already out of the door when she remembered something, "Hey, and let me know as soon as Liz gets in touch with either of you, okay?"
The Stuart siblings nodded and told her that she should do the same. They watched as Karen climbed into her car and raced away.
Back inside, Chris plugged in the Playstation again and reached for the second controller. "How about it, Taylor? Are you in the mood for a little match?"
Taylor sat down beside him and took her own controlpad. "You don't have to ask me twice. I can show you this neat new combo I found on my favorite character. It is so awesome. Wait and see."
Tasilo yawned, stretched and finally jumped off the couch to slowly walk in direction of his food bowl.
Chris and Taylor played for some time until a character glad in a cat costume whirled over the screen and reminded Chris of something. He pressed a button and the game paused. Rising, he took his sister's hand and dragged her with him. "Come on, I have to show you something in the garden."
Once outside Taylor's eyes widened as she saw the panther sculpture. "Oh wow, Chris! Now this looks absolutely beautiful."
Relishing the girl's praises, he grinned, "Still think that my artwork is boring?"
"I said the artwork at your gallery is boring. Now this... this is great. It looks as if it will come to life any second soon. What are you going to name it?"
He rubbed his chin for a moment thinking hard and then announced smiling, "How does "Queen Of The Jungle" sound to you?"
Not only was she lost in the jungle, but Liz had also lost track of time. After another while of walking she came upon a little spring where she quenched her thirst. She also had found some bananas and mangos to take care of her rumbling tummy. The heat became more and more unbearable and spontaneously she decided to have a quick bath. Nobody would be able to see her at this somewhat secluded little pond and so she took off her clothes, folded them and placed them in a pile ashore. She waded into the water. "Oh, this feels wonderful," she moaned in satisfaction as the liquid cooled her heated skin. "I just hope that there are no leeches inside here." She was so engrossed in relishing her bath that she didn't notice the gathering of big dark clouds on the sky above her.
Two gold-brown eyes observed the calm water surface. At lightning speed a big, black paw dove into the water and impaled a fish with sharp claws. The female panther hurried away with her prey. Gracefully, she climbed up a near tree and stretched out on a bough. She held out the fish in her mouth as if she was offering it as a gift.
But her present was ignored because the deep blue eyes did not turn to her. In fact, they did not stray for one tiny second from the little person with the golden hair. They were fixed on the human in utter fascination.
The panther shoved her head into the view of the blue eyes.
"Shakira, stop it!" was hissed at her.
She placed her head on a muscled, naked thigh and closed her eyes. A tanned hand reached out and started to gently stroke the head and back of the huge, black cat. The fish was still hanging out of the animal's mouth, forgotten.
***** THE NEXT DAY *****
At the house of the Parker family the phone rang. Alexander answered it and called for his sister, "Hey, Vicky! It's for you!"
"Who is it?" the hung-over model asked, rubbing her temples to get some relief from the headache that was pounding there.
"It's Juan," Alex answered, waggling his eyebrows.
"Oh, now I remember. I was supposed to meet with him yesterday evening."
"What," Alex exclaimed in pretended horror, "You stood up Mr. Latin-Lover-Boy-Superstar?"
"Just shut up and give me the receiver," Victoria grumbled. "At least he has lots of charm compared to somebody like you."
"Hey! I have so much charm I can knock the girls practically out," Alex replied harshly.
Vicky snorted at that. "Yes, just like you knocked out Danielle Stiehl, right?"
Her brother glared at her and retorted, "You just take care of your lovey-dovey crooner and keep your stupid comments to yourself in my presence, okay?" He shoved the receiver roughly into Victoria's hands and strode to the living room.
The blonde model watched him leave, pure hatred sparkling in her eyes and then she remembered that Juan was on the phone to talk with her. "Juan?... Yes... I really am very sorry. I had such a horrible headache yesterday evening..."
Jack Carpenter entered the hospital, carrying a bouquet of flowers in his hand. He walked to the nurse that was behind the front desk, giving her a warm smile.
She returned it and asked, "Good morning, Sir. What can I do for you?"
"I would like to visit Ms. Danielle Stiehl."
The nurse looked at her computer screen and replied, "Then you better hurry, she is going to be transferred in about 30 minutes."
Jack was surprised. "What? Transferred? Where to?"
"To a private clinic, Sir."
He wrinkled his forehead. "Who arranged for that?"
"The parents of Ms. Stiehl. Her mother was here not long ago and arranged for it."
Jack was now completely confused. "Her mother was here? But how can that be if Danielle has not been having any contact with her family for years now?"
The nurse shrugged her shoulders. "I can only tell you what I know, Sir."
"Yes, of course. But now Ms. Stiehl is still here and I can go visit her, right?"
"Yes, Sir. She is in room 314. Have a great day," the nurse responded and turned back to her computer.
"Have a great day too," Jack mumbled and walked to the elevator.
As he had reached Danielle's room and was about to enter, the door opened and Karen came out.
"Hey, Karen," Jack said and shook her hand in greeting. "What's this about Dani getting transferred?"
"It is the weirdest thing," Karen answered and rubbed her face tiredly. "Her mother was here not so long ago, brandished some money around and insisted that Dani gets transferred to some private clinic in New York."
"Let me tell you, something smells quite rotten here," Jack responded. "I know Danielle's parents and believe me when I say that they don't have the money to send her to some private clinic."
Karen sighed. She was confused as to what was going on. At first the parents didn't want to have anything at all to do with Danielle and now this. "Just what is going on?"
"I have no idea," Jack said, shaking his head slightly. "But we will find out."
Sara and Taylor were sitting in the living room of the yacht.
"Chris told me that you wanted to show me something." Taylor said, trying to look and sound excited, but her mind was elsewhere. The fateful Tuesday had arrived and an important meeting was on her agenda later today.
Smiling brightly, Sara took a black folder off the table and placed it next to Taylor on the couch."Yes. The pictures I took of you during your training session are ready and I thought that maybe you would like to see them?"
The other girl was staring off into space, apparently not having listened to her at all and one sneaker-covered foot was constantly tapping the floor.
"Taylor? You seem distant today, is something wrong?"
"Oh, it's nothing, really. I'm just a bit nervous," the figure skater explained with a slightly embarrassed grin on her face.
"Why are you nervous? What's up?"
"Later today I will meet my new choreographer. Her name is Michiru Kasawaki."
Sara raised both eyebrows. "Wow. That sounds quite interesting."
Taylor took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I really hope that my coach thinks so too. Until now she always found something wrong with all the choreographers. Nobody was ever good enough."
Alexander had just come back from a training session at the gym. After a shower and a change of clothes he lay down on the couch, took the remote control and started zapping through the TV channels. "I can't believe it. Even if one has pay TV and a thousand different channels there's always only stupid shit on." His ranting was interrupted as his cell phone rang. "Hello?... You stupid idiot! I told you to not call me at all!... NO!... I don't give a fuck that you have wonderful new stuff for me to try!...No! The police is breathing down my neck as it is. They are watching every step I take and they are probably also listening to each phone conversation I have. The best would be if you would disappear for awhile without letting anybody know where you are... before they find out that the stuff that sent Danielle Stiehl into a coma came from you."
The door bell sounded in that moment.
"I have to stop. And don't call me again, understand?... Yes, I'll call you as soon as everybody has calmed down again. Bye." Alexander stuffed the cell phone back into his pocket and opened the front door. It was the family lawyer.
"Steven, come in. Any news?"
"I'm here to talk with you about our strategy for the upcoming hearing."
Unable to suppress an outburst of sarcasm Alex just mumbled, "Great, what joy that brings to my life."
After her refreshing bath, Elizabeth put her clothes back on. Again she took out the laptop, placed it on her lap and tried to power it up. The screen flickered a few times and then it went black again. Frustrated she closed it and put it back into her briefcase. She looked around and sighed. "At least it cannot get any worse and all the jungle animals seem to have shut up too for a minute."
After those words left her mouth she became aware how quiet it actually was. Unnaturally quiet.
She directed her eyes to the overcast sky. "Uh oh, that's not looking good at all." Out of nowhere all hell broke loose, right on top of the lost business woman. The wind rose, it started to rain heavily and bright lightning bolts flashed across the sky. Thunder rumbled loudly and Liz became scared. Holding her briefcase tightly to her chest, she began to run as fast as she could barefooted, searching for a place where she would be safe from the downpour. In her haste to get away, she stumbled over some branches, which lay around, and fell. As she was about to scramble up, her eyes caught something, and she froze on the spot.
Directly in front of her a panther came out of the undergrowth. Two gold-brown eyes nearly pierced her as the huge, black cat came closer and closer towards her.
Her chest rising quickly from her harsh breaths and her heart pounding strongly, Liz lay there, her limbs paralyzed from fear. "This is the end," echoed through her mind again and again.
Another lightning bolt illuminated Elizabeth's field of vision and was reflected by a metal spear tip that a person, who stood behind the panther, held in their hand.
Faced with these arrivals Liz reacted promptly. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT EPISODE...
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