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Chance Encounters: 1971

New York City bustled with energy. People of every hue moved briskly down its sidewalks, spilling onto the streets. Smells varying from delicious to disgusting drifted in the air of the humid June afternoon. Trapped in his family's entourage, fourteen-year-old Stefan absorbed everything. His inquisitive gaze lingered on the mountainous skyscrapers that loomed overhead to stare in wide-eyed wonder at the countless number of street vendors peddling their wares on the street. Never would Athens hold the title of his favorite place on earth. Not while this wondrous city continued to exist.

Up ahead, his parents, Mikkos and Helena, and his older brother, Stavros entered the Empire State Building. He lagged behind, more interested in what the street had to offer than some huge building.

"Stefan!"

His father called him and he responded by moving quickly to join them. "Sorry, Father," he said, his expression contrite.

Mikkos didn't respond. His mouth set into a grim, hard line and he strode to the waiting elevator car. Stefan lowered his head and followed. He hated disappointing his father. Nothing he did was ever good enough for his mother, but his relationship was much different with Mikkos. He hoped that before the day was over, he'd be in his father's good graces again.

Moving over to the corner, Stefan raised his head. Just then, a slender hand shot inside the car and a body squeezed in between the closing doors. The Cassadine guards moved to prevent entry, but with a slight gesture of his hand, Mikkos ordered them to stop.

The door closed and the elevator car ascended in silence. Stefan used this time to steal a peek at the latest impromptu addition to their fold. From the corner of his eye, he saw a girl who appeared to be his age. She was a few inches shorter than he and her body had the slight curves of beginning womanhood. Her skin reminded him of creamy milk chocolate and the halo of curls that encircled her head brought to mind an angel. She turned towards him and smiled and his heart skipped a beat. She was beautiful.

"Hi."

Blood rushed to his face in embarrassment. Stavros snickered behind him and Stefan suddenly became angry. Holding his head high, he looked at her and returned her greeting. "Hello."

"The elevation makes my ears pop, but bubble gum helps." She reached inside her purse and pulled out a small package. "Would you like some?"

"I don't think I should…" he faltered. He wanted to sample her offering, but wasn't sure if he should. He glanced at his father and Mikkos nodded his consent, but still he hesitated.

"It's okay. I have plenty." She handed it to him. "It's not a jawbreaker. My little sister took those and I didn't have time to stop at the store."

Her constant chatter was engaging. Stefan liked the soft, husky quality of her voice and her friendliness made him feel warm all over. He accepted the gum and watched her closely as she unwrapped a piece and slid it inside her mouth. While she chewed, her eyes danced as if she tasted the sweetest concoction. He quickly repeated her movements and discovered that the gun was indeed sweet and the consistency was interesting.

"Do you like it? If not, I have a different flavor," she offered.

"No, no," he replied. "This is quite pleasing. Thank you."

She smiled. "You're welcome. My name is Carrie, by the way. Actually, it's Carlotta. Carlotta Jensen."

"It has been my pleasure to meet you, Miss Jensen. My name is Stefan Cassadine."

"Nice to meet you, too." She glanced at the lit numbers over the elevator car and sighed. "My stop is coming up. The 86th floor Observatory. Are you stopping here or going to the 102nd?"

"Our journey will take us to the Floor Tower," Stefan answered, feeling a twinge of sadness. He'd much rather join her than remain with his family, but he knew that to do so was impossible.

Her dark brown eyes mirrored his dismay. She gave him a faint smile. "Enjoy yourself."

The elevator came a stop on the 86th floor. The car doors opened and she looked at him one last time. "Bye, Stefan."

"Good-bye, Carlotta," he said softly.

Chance Encounters: 1981

The trip to Paris should have been soothing for the young man who moved sightlessly through the L'Ouvre. Stefan often traveled to Paris and its many museums to find solace when the chaotic machinations of his family became too much for him. Usually, during the brief sojourns the beauty and the peacefulness of the city's artistic offerings would consume him.

Unlike the rest of his family, he didn't thrive on the power of the Cassadine name or control of his family's holdings. As the second son born to Russian royalty, he would lay no claim to the title of Prince or the possessions that accompanied it. His older brother Stavros was the Prince and that pleased Stefan just fine. He could pursue his love of literature and poetry free of the close scrutiny and disapproving eyes of his family.

But none of that mattered to Stefan on this particular trip. His interest in literature and poetry waned in light of recent events. His father was dead and his uncle imprisoned. In the pursuit of ultimate power, Mikkos Cassadine lost sight of reason and allowed his passion for a weather-controlling machine to rule his mind and ultimately lost his life at the hands of Luke Spencer.

Stefan mourned the loss of his father. His surviving parent, Helena, had a mind that worked beyond the constraints of reason. She hated him all of his life and with his father dead, would no longer attempt to conceal it. His older brother took possession of his birthright, as well as a new bride.

He had yet to meet the young lady in question, yet, his stomach turned at the thought of any woman being possessed by his brother. The idea was too sickening to fathom. Over the years, Stavros began to cling to the darker side of their family's traits. Obsession, control, dominance. Those were the things that drove Stavros. The seduction of power produced a cruel man. Stefan vowed he would never succumb to that affliction. There were more important things in life than domination.

Stefan inhaled a sharp breath. He came to Paris to forget about his family for awhile. Dwelling on them made the trip moot. Slowly exhaling, he turned and walked straight into a young woman.

His hands shot out to steady her. "Please, excuse me. I did not see you there."

Lively brown eyes sparkled with life. Full, berry colored lips curved into a wide smile and the richness of her mocha skin made Stefan think of Swiss chocolate. His stomach growled and his manhood stiffened. Such an immediate arousal for such a casual moment? His face became hot with embarrassment and he tried to move past her. Her slender fingers closed around his lower arm and he met her questioning stare.

"Do I know you?"

The slight caress sent electrodes of heat through him. He swallowed hard, hoping she wouldn't notice how strongly he affected her. Stefan shook his head. "No, mademoiselle."

"Are you sure?" she questioned. "I could have sworn I've seen you before. Do you come here often?"

Her hand released him, and he felt the loss of her touch instantly. He shrugged. "'Tis possible. I visit the museum every time I'm in Paris."

She frowned, chewing on her bottom lip. "Hmm… I suppose it is. When was the last time you were here?"

Stefan bit back a smile. Her forwardness charmed him. "My last visit was approximately two years ago."

"Two years?" she asked with a smile. "No, I haven't been here that long. But I'm sure I've seen you before. What about New York? Have you ever been there?"

"I've been to New York," he replied, "but that hasn't been for quite some time."

"How long?" she persisted.

Stefan laughed outright. "Am I being interrogated for some crime? I assure you. I am not the culprit."

Her laughter, soft and delightful, joined his. "I'm sorry. I'm usually not this pushy, but I felt that I knew you or something. I'm sorry-"

She turned to leave. He moved quickly, hopping in front of her to stop her. "There's no need for apology. This game of question and answer is engaging. Let's continue to play." He extended his hand. "My name is Stefan. What's yours?"

"Carrie," she replied, accepting his hand in a warm shake. As she released it, she added, "Well, actually, my name is-"

"Carlotta," he said quickly as he remembered their elevator ride ten years ago. "You gave me gum."

"At the Empire State Building!" Her face lit up with pleasure, and Stefan felt it was just the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

Weeks passed and Stefan's friendship with Carrie, or Carlotta as he preferred to call her, blossomed. He shared a part of himself that he always kept hidden. Art, literature, and music. She enjoyed his interest and encouraged it. They went to gallery showings, poetry readings, and concerts. Stefan had never enjoyed Paris more.

Their discussions included more than the arts. At the mention of his father's death, Carlotta revealed she suffered a similar loss. Her father was killed during the Civil Rights Movement. It happened before her family moved to New York, but she remembered it vividly. As they shared their pain, Stefan felt the weight of grief lift from his shoulders. It was a debt he would never be able to repay.

All too soon, Stefan's sojourn in Paris came to an end. He didn't want to leave Carlotta to return to Greece, but the summons couldn't be ignored. If he didn't go back, Stavros or Helena would come for him. It would better just to give in to their demands. This last time.

At the airport, Carlotta's voice trembled with tears. "I'm sorry. I know you have to go, and here I am crying like a baby. This is so silly."

"No, it isn't." His heart swelled with agony. He didn't want to leave any more than she wanted him to. His arms closed around her. He squeezed her to his chest. As he released her, his mouth parted to say more, but before he could blink, her lips were his.

The kiss rocked him. It wasn't that it was overly passionate. It wasn't. The taste of her lips was delicate and sweet, and altogether much too fleeting. She pulled away before he could deepen it. No, the kiss' affect on him was deeper than mere lust for he felt the heady emotion of love in it. And it was something he'd never experienced before. Carlotta loved him, and that gave him much to think about during his flight home.

And that's all he did while en route to Greece. Flashes of time spent with Carlotta Jensen kept returning to him and bringing a smile to his face. It was then that he realized how much she made him smile. And he wondered if perhaps the sentiment of love was mutual.

Chance Encounters: 1981 cont'd

The flaxen-haired beauty with the melancholy blue eyes captivated Stefan from the first moment he met her. Of course, he tried to deny the attraction. She was his brother's wife. Falling in love with her was a certain road to destruction. If Stravos even suspected how deeply Stefan cared for Laura, he would become obsessed with making Stefan's life a living hell.

Stefan tried everything to distract himself from Laura's presence. He focused on his work, a book of poetry he started during his years at Oxford University. Every poem he wrote revolved around a blonde tucked away inside an ivory tower. Even pretending otherwise, he couldn't get away from her, so he stopped trying.

Laura welcomed his attention with shyness at first. Over time, her guard lowered. She relaxed around him and seemed to enjoy his company. Their conversations centered on topics that Stavros or Helena would consider of no consequence. The clear, cool waves of the Aegean Sea, the calling seagulls overhead, and the jagged edges of cliffs. She appreciated nature and commented on its freedom to be or do whatever it desired. As she said the words, Stefan knew she spoke of herself, and he realized then that they were kindred spirits.

It wasn't long after that they became lovers. Neither of them intended for it to happen. They vowed never again. But that soon became a lie. They lost themselves in the other person's arms. Together, they found tenderness and acceptance. Something that was sorely lacking in other areas of their lives. A few weeks later, Laura informed him of her impending motherhood. Stefan's heart soared with joy. She cautioned that the child could be Stavros', but Stefan didn't care. No matter who fathered the child, Stefan would love the infant simply because Lasha was the child's mother.

Months passed, she grew larger with the child and Stavros announced that she needed a new wardrobe. One that would hide her swelling abdomen. Stefan winced at the slight dig and glanced at Laura. She displayed no outward show of emotion, but one look into her eyes, he saw her sadness and disappointment.

His brother went on to say that a prominent fashion designer was having a show in Athens. He told Laura to be ready for travel the following morning. In an absent-minded way, he invited Stefan to come along.

At the show, Stavros seated them at a table very close to the runway. While he left to chat with the boorish Earl of Nordiquay, Stefan turned to Laura. "I must apologize for Stavros. He speaks without thinking."

Laura's mouth curved into a tight smile. "You shouldn't apologize for him. Stavros knows exactly what he's doing." She shrugged and rubbed her hands over her growing womb. "His words don't really have the power to hurt me. You shouldn't let him bother you."

"He does," Stefan said, "whether I want him to or not. I hate the way he treats you. You are such a loving person, and he looks upon as only a possession. If you were mine--"

"Ssh. Don't say it. I'm not yours."

"Maybe not now," he said, "but one day."

She smiled the smile that made his heart pound and his flesh tingle. "Now, that's a day I long for."

Stavros returned and soon after, the show began. Countless razor thin models glided down the rectangular stage. Stefan found their bodies too gaunt to be attractive, but from his brother's comments, he knew his feelings weren't shared.

The last segment of the show began. The designer allowed his assistant to display her line of maternity wear. The clothing was stylishly designed and very flattering. He glanced at Laura and saw that she was intrigued. She whispered something to Stavros and he nodded. Stefan assumed she asked for an outfit or two and Stavros obliged. Later, she told him his assumption was correct.

At the end of the show, the designer and his assistant came down the runway. Stefan's eyes widened in surprise. Carlotta Jensen was the designer's assistant! As she drew closer, their gazes connected. She stumbled but quickly regained her footing. Stefan smiled and after a brief hesitation, she returned the gesture.

Once the show was over, Stavros carted off Laura away to show off to his friends. Stefan lagged behind, hoping for another glimpse of his dear friend. He hadn't spoken with her since his return to Greece. There was no excuse for such deplorable behavior. He hoped she would forgive him and they could resume their friendship.

"Stefan," Carlotta said, appearing at his side. "I was hoping I'd see you here."

He smiled and pulled her into a hug, which reminded him of their last embrace. She loved him, and he knew that he deeply cared for her. He hoped that in the time since they last saw each other, her feelings had changed. The hug ended. She held onto his hands. He looked down into her shining brown eyes and knew she still felt the same.

"Was that your family I saw with you?"

Stefan nodded. "I came with my brother and his wife. She approved of your designs. I believe you have secured a new patron."

"That's good to hear," she said. "Yves took a huge risk when he decided to show my designs during his show."

"I do not think it was a risk for him. He saw your talent and knew your work would be appreciated."

"Those are kind words to say, Stefan. Do you really mean them?"

"Of course," he answered. "I would never give a compliment where one is not due."

"What about friendship?" she countered. "I ask because I was surprised that you never called, and your response to my letters seemed distant and stiff. Have I done something to offend you?"

"No!" He placed his hand at the small of her back and led her to a secluded table. They sat, and he took her hand. "My life has changed. I'm not the same man you knew in Paris."

"You seem the same to me." She tugged her hand free. "I suppose this means we aren't friends anymore."

"No, I enjoy your friendship. It means a great deal to me."

"But?" she prompted. "There's more, but you're not saying." Stefan hesitated and she continued. "I suppose you figured out how I feel about you. I don't think I should apologize for being in love with you, but I should admit that I was a fool to think you felt the same."

"You're not a fool," he said "I love you, too, but as a friend. Can't we continue on as friends?"

Tears glistened in her eyes. She stood. "No, that would be more than I can bear. I'd better go now. Goodbye, Stefan."

Chance Encounters: 2001

Stefan attended the fashion show despite the doubts he held. She wouldn't want him there. She'd already made that quite clear yet he couldn't stay away. For some reason, he was drawn to Chloe Morgan like a moth to a flame.

Suddenly, the object of his affection appeared in the lobby of the Hardy Brewer Auditorium where the show was being held. Her sparkling sequin gown clung to her like a second skin. He would have preferred that her curves were a smidgen fuller. Otherwise, she was perfect just the way she was. Well, except for her obvious distaste for him. Where did he go wrong? They had grown so close on the Island.

"You just don't get it, do you?" she said, storming across the room to face him. Her eyes flashed with ire. Her hands gestured wildly with each word. "I want you gone, Stefan!"

"Chloe, if you would just hear me out--"

"NO!" The few early guests of her show gave them strange looks. Chloe lowered her voice to cold hiss. "There is nothing you can say that will change the fact that you used me! You lied to me. Everything that happened between us on that island was joke! And quite frankly, I don't find any of it funny."

"Neither do I," he said, his voice low and gravelly. "My intentions were not to treat you so ill. It was a matter of life and death."

"Stefan, please." She released a long, weary sigh. "No more. Leave now before I have security throw you out."

Chloe planted her hands on her slim hips. Stefan realized that pleading his case or attempting to do so would be a waste of time. He left without saying another word to her.

The Hardy Brewer Auditorium housed a coffee shop, and Stefan went there to think. He wasn't a sociable man. Normally, he would have gone home to Wyndemere, but not this time. Nikolas had moved out and with only Mrs. Lansbury there, the huge, sprawling mansion was unbearably lonely.

Stefan ordered a cappuccino and while he waited for its arrival, he pondered his life. When he was a young boy, he often dreamed that by this time, he would be married with a family of his own. Never had he imagined that this far down the line, he would be alone and friendless. What a sorry mess his life turned out to be. Not even his own son would have anything to do with him. His soul ached and there was nothing that could soothe it.

The waiter returned with the coffee. Stefan sipped and the steaming brew filled his body with warmth. His insides became warm, but the rest of him was chilled and sad. He succumbed to a long, sorrow-filled sigh.

"Stefan Cassadine?"

The voice sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. He glanced up and a pair of kind, brown eyes stared down at him. "Carlotta Jensen."

"I'm surprised you remember."

"I doubt if I could ever forget you." He stood, took her hand and raised it to his lips. He kissed her briefly, but it was enough to stir something deep inside him. A blush heated his cheeks. He released her hand. "Won't you join me?"

"Yes," she said. "Thank you."

He held the chair out for her. After she sat, he returned to his seat. Almost on the brink of rudeness, he perused her from head to toe.

Carlotta Jensen was still as beautiful as he remembered, but her beauty had matured. Gone was the naivete of youth with its full cheeks and even fuller ideals. Twenty years had produced a woman who could stop traffic with a glance. Her mocha skin was flawless. Her lips were full and appeared to be kissably soft. The black strapless gown revealed enough of her creamy flesh without being distasteful. In fact, the velvet material clung to her ripe curves in such a way that Stefan felt an urgent need to see what lay underneath.

On second thought, Carlotta Jensen was more beautiful than he remembered.

"Are you done?" Her eyes danced with amusement. "If so, it's my turn."

Her gaze raked over him boldly. Sensuous heat flowed through Stefan from head to toe. If just a look could cause this reaction in him, he wondered what her touch could do. When she finished looking him over, she leaned back. A faint smile curved her mouth.

"Do I pass muster?" he asked, one eyebrow arched.

"You'll do."

The waiter came and took her order. After he left, Stefan said, "I am surprised to see you here tonight. You are not what I expected."

"I don't think I ever am," she said. "We seem to meet like two ships passing in the night at the oddest intervals of our lives. I'm surprised to see you, too, but I shouldn't be."

He frowned. "Why is that?"

"I'm on the threshold of another odd interval," she replied. "My divorce papers came in the mail today."

"I'm sorry."

She smiled. "Don't be. It was long overdue. Noah and I should never have married. The paperwork just finalized something that happened a long time ago."

Stefan's heart constricted. So, she married. There was no reason why that should hurt. He turned his back on her love twenty years ago in favor of a dream that never came true.

"Noah?" he asked.

"Doctor Noah Drake," she said. "He's a surgeon, and don't you forget it!"

"I don't believe I shall." The waiter arrived with her cafe mocha. He waited until the man left before he added, "Tell me more of your life during these past twenty years."

"You mean you haven't heard of me?" she asked with a soft chuckle. "Shame on me for believing my own press."

"You're that Carlotta Drake?"

"The one and only," she said. "I'm here tonight to view the Chloe Morgan Collection. I would rather not attend the showing, but that would be poor business. We're in negotiations to design a women's line together."

"The show will begin shortly," he said with disappointment. "It would seem this is another chance encounter for us."

"It doesn't have to be," she said. "I'm staying at the Port Charles Hotel. I'd like to see you again."

"After my poor treatment of you, I wouldn't think you would."

"We were young," she said. "You were in love with someone else. You never said, but I could tell. Your rejection was the best thing to happen to me."

"Because you met the surgeon?"

She smiled. "Partly. Noah and I were good for a short time, and he did give me a beautiful daughter. But that wasn't really what I was referring to. I focused my attention on my career and it helped me to become the woman I am today. Rejection isn't pleasant, but it can be useful."

Stefan considered his recent conversation with Chloe and how her rejection led him to the coffeehouse and subsequently Carlotta. He smiled.

"Quite useful."

The End

General Hospital ŠABC
Chance Encounters and all original characters 2001-2002Šniklovr
All Rights Reserved.

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