Episode 108

Blake sat on her bed as tears of misery ran down her face. She couldn’t believe she’d just lost one the most important things in her life.  She wished things were different.  How could she have done that to Seth especially now.  She loved him, or did she?  She was so confused right now. As she sat there she heard a rustling noise behind her. She turned around to see Annie coming in with a basket of clothes and setting them down.

"Blake, what’s wrong?" Annie asked noticing the tears falling from her eyes.

"Seth and I just broke up, Annie," Blake said taking a deep sigh.

"Why, what happened?" she asked sitting down next to Blake.

"Well, today I got a call from Ken, he told me that Zack and Johanna are married, and I got upset," Blake said looking down.

"Well, what went wrong with you a Seth?" asked Annie putting her hand on Blake’s shoulder.

"Seth saw me crying and he believes that I am still in love with Zack. He told me that he loved me, but he didn’t want to be the second man in my life. But, he isn’t my second, at least I don’t think he is. I’m so confused, Annie," said Blake starting to cry harder.

"Who do you love?" asked Annie.

"I…I don’t know," said Blake confused.

"You see that’s what you have to do, you have to look deep down in your heart and see who you really love," said Annie.

"How can I tell, I care about them both," said Blake.

"See that’s the thing, while you care about the both of them, deep down I know you only love one of them.  Sure, on some level you might love them both, but when it comes to that forever kind of love, sometimes you have to look at who you would want to be with the rest of your life and who it is that makes you feel as though you‘re exactly where you were meant to be. Someone who is going to be there for you no matter what."

"See that’s the hard part, I can’t tell who wants to be with me and who I want to be with.  I mean Zack is married to Johanna, but we had something wonderful for a while and Seth, oh God Annie, I can‘t even begin to tell you how amazing he is."

"Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but recently you’ve been happier and I have to say that when I look at Seth, I can see the true love he has for you in his eyes, Blake.  You can tell he wants to be with you, that he’s in love with you.  If you truly love him, go find him before it’s to late.  With Zack I know he loves you as well regardless of what‘s happening with Johanna, and it’s not to late for you two either.  You have to choose with your heart, whom do you love more? If you make the wrong decision, you could be living your whole life with the wrong guy.  You’d be wishing that you picked the other one.  So make the choice if that’s what your heart is telling you.  It will guide you to what is right."

"I have an idea, but how do I know?"

"That’s something I can’t answer sweetheart, you have to find that yourself."

"I have to think, this is so hard."

"You can do that, just make sure that you decide what you want in your life before it’s to late."

"Thanks, Annie."
"No problem. If you need me you know where to find me," said Annie getting up and walking out of her room.

Blake sat there thinking about what Annie just said. She was right she had to find the right one before it was too late.  Blake had to think, she needed a push to help her along.  Then it popped in her mind, her mother’s diary.  Maybe something in her mother’s diary could help her along.  She got off the bed and went to her dresser.  She opened the second drawer and grabbed the diary.  She got back on the bed and took a deep breath.  She took a deep sigh and opened the cover ready to see if perhaps her mother could find a way to reach out to her once again and help her through this latest disaster in her life.


Seth felt a chill rush over him on this otherwise calm and quiet spring evening as he pushed his way through the door to Alexandria’s café.  While his first instinct had been to go home and get plastered after things had fallen so completely apart with Blake, he promised himself that he wouldn’t let himself fall down that dark and dangerous road as he was well aware how Grady’s alcoholism had caused his sister nothing but grief in the past.  So after he’d vetoed that thought, he’d contemplated just spending the night at home, but instead he kept on walking once he’d made his way to the apartment.
Sure, he could’ve gone upstairs, but with the thoughts that were spinning in his head, there was no way that he could pretend that he wasn’t lost in a fury.  He needed some space--needed a way to get outside of himself for a little while and walking seemed to do it.  Sure, he’d thought about calling Ben, but he figured that Ben would’ve been busy with Diane, doing the things that those in love would often do on a romantic night such as the one he’d felt slip away.  So while he was really feeling quite miserable, he couldn’t bring himself to ruin his best friend’s otherwise calm and quiet evening with the woman he loved.
Seth had also thought about going to the hospital as he’d passed it on the walk over to Alexandria’s, but alas that didn’t seem to pan out either as he didn’t want to upset things more than they had already been lately.  Of course then there was the whole issue of checking in on Jade he‘d still pondered, but Avery Denton had called and informed him of what was going on with Jade and Grady and he realized that he was no longer needed in that situation either for the time being, so the walk continued until finally Seth happened upon the small café that had certainly seen better days in the past.
Now as Seth looked around, he wasn’t quite sure he wanted anything at all as he took note of the wiry looking man standing upon the small stage set up in the corner of the room as he read what appeared to be his approach to modernistic poetry.  While Seth tried not to let it show, he couldn’t help but wonder if that guy too was off his rocker just a bit as the man seemed to have stepped out of a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon, which given Seth’s sour mood almost seemed appropriate as Seth made his way over to the bar area taking a seat on one of the stools pretending to have some kind of interest in what was taking place on stage.
Unfortunately for Seth the only thing going through his mind was the way in which he’d fought his every instinct to keep from running back to Blake and taking her back into his life with open arms.  What had he been thinking in letting her go like that when she was everything he’d ever dreamt about in his life?  How could he have just so impulsively thrown that away?
“Because she’s not in love with you like you love her,” he reminded himself poignantly thinking about Blake’s desperate reaction to learning that Zack had married Johanna.  While he’d tried to tell himself that he could be the better man--that somehow he could find a way to overlook the fact that she still cared so very deeply about a man whom Seth had grown to despise, it just wasn’t happening as the longer he held her listening to her tears over losing Zack, the more the knife seemed to plunge into his heart over and over again.  Okay, so maybe he’d known from the start that things weren’t ever going to be the way that he’d wanted them to be, but he wanted something more from Blake--something that would be able to stand the test of time--not something that she’d just opt to settle for once Zack had been otherwise unavailable.
Thinking back to the first time he and Blake made love with one another Seth couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps he’d been wrong about what they’d meant to one another.  He’d tried to force himself to forget that she’d just been hurt by Zack and for a little while it appeared that he’s been able to do so, but now he was back to square one wondering if a rebound guy was all he’d ever been since he and Blake had reconnected.  Clenching his fist on the top of the bar, he tried to keep from losing himself to the misery that had engulfed him since he’d done the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life in leaving the only woman he’d ever truly loved.
“Can I get you something,” the woman behind the counter questioned as Seth realized that he really hadn’t had anything in mind when he’d stepped into the place, just needing some kind of distraction from the world around him.
“What’s good?” he questioned realizing he hadn’t bothered to even take a look at the menu before him as he suddenly felt foolish for being so lost within himself.
“Truthfully, not much,” the woman confessed with a tiny smile, “but if I were going to take a guess at what you might enjoy, I’d say a Café Caramel might be right up your alley.  It’s rather yummy.”
Seth let out a tiny chuckle, “That’s exactly what my sister says about those things, so why not?  I’ll have one of those.”
“I’ll be right on it,” the woman nodded flashing him a playful grin as Seth turned his attention to the stage once again listening as the man he’d dubbed Boris was now spouting about the woes of love.  While sick and twisted, it began to be something that Seth could relate to in it’s own sardonic way as he turned to discover the waitress had brought his drink over to him.
“Thank you,” Seth smiled at her, “how much do I owe you?”
“Given how miserable you look tonight, it’s on me,” she offered up watching as he began to reach into his pocket to pull out some money.
“Oh no I insist,” Seth began again.
“Believe me anyone who pretends that he’s interested in what Trent has to say is in some serious self-loathing, so really it’s on me,” she pushed his hand away as he began to offer her the money for his drink, “Besides, you might hate the drink.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Seth offered up a half hearted smile, “as I’m sure it’s fine.”
“I’ll come back and check on you later and see if that still holds true,” she threw back at him going to attend to some new arrivals as Seth stared down at the drink before him.  It was topped off with whipped cream and shaved chocolate pieces and yet all he could think about was how it was something that Blake would probably enjoy.  He could see it now as she would gingerly tease her finger through the whipped cream to get a first taste of it before licking the sweet confection off of her finger and perhaps offering him a taste along the way that eventually would lead to a kiss.
“Enough,” Seth pushed the drink away standing up from the drink as he realized that this wasn’t helping anything either.
“Hey watch it,” a pinched cry rose from behind him as Seth realize he’d damn near ran over a petite woman who’d been approaching.
“I’m sorry,” Seth began to apologize noting the tears that had seemingly been falling down her features as she wiped at her face stubbornly ready to push past him, “Hey, are you okay?”
“Do I look okay,” she questioned sarcastically throwing out a glare as Seth wondered what had brought her to feeling so miserable on a night like this one--not that he wasn’t there himself, but still.
“No really, what’s wrong?  Don’t tell me it’s because of me or the bad poetry that you’re all worked up,” Seth started again attempting to make a light-hearted attempt at humor as the woman glared up at him, before throwing her hands in the air in defeat and storming out of the café. 
Feeling immediately worse than he had before, Seth chased after her hating to see someone as miserable as he was on a night when the rest of the world seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Even Trent was doing a bang up job of entertain himself and it didn’t seem fair for Seth and the new arrival to be the only miserable souls in the place, Seth reasoned reaching for his drink and exiting the small café.  Upon stepping onto the sidewalk, he noticed the girl he’d bumped into moments later slumped down on the pavement.
“Hey, I really didn’t mean to upset you this bad,” Seth offered up holding out the drink he’d been given a few minutes earlier, “Here, have this as a peace offering.  The waitress just gave it to me, but it‘s not really my idea of a good time, but you might like it.  I haven‘t tasted it yet or anything and if you‘re worried about my trying to pull some kind of line or something, then I just want you to know that isn‘t why I‘m out here as…”
“I know it’s not you,” she threw her hands in the air with another exaggerated groan, “It’s just…well, have you ever had one of those days where it felt like the whole world was against you?  Like everyone and everything was ready to just dish out their worst and make you feel like the smallest, most insignificant thing out there?”
“I think it’s safe to say I know the feeling,” Seth nodded watching her accept the drink as she waved it around with an animated motion.
“Yeah well try having a life like that,” she sighed inwardly wiping at her face as she flung the drink around again, “I mean first I fall in love which is supposed to be this completely natural, wonderful thing and everything felt so right, but no, could it stay that way?  Of course not as I find out that not only does the guy I’m so deeply head over heels in love with not love me back, but he’s gay!!  I mean all that time I thought he and I had something special, but in the end it turns out that he’s gay and I’m the one thing that helped him make his decision.  I mean sure okay lots of women have gay ex-boyfriends I think, but they don’t still spend their time pining over the gay ex-boyfriend that walked away.  They move on with their lives and they find other means of happiness, but not me.  I make a date with someone and he doesn‘t bother to show up.  I sat there like an idiot for over an hour hoping that this too good to be true guy will walk through the doors and does he?  Nope, not even close.  I mean hey, I’m not unattractive am I?”
“Of course you’re not,” Seth took a chance as he sat down beside her needing to find a way to do something other than sulk himself for a bit, “Not at all.”
“Then why does this keep happening to me?  I mean first with Guy and now with Hunt…” she groaned emphatically burying her face in her hands as another cry erupted from within.
“Maybe you’re just spending your time with the wrong men,” Seth suggested, “as if they were really worth your attention, then they wouldn’t be putting you second place in their life.  They wouldn’t make you feel like this and they certainly wouldn’t leave you in a position to be sharing coffee with a stranger on a night when you could be enjoying life.”
“Exactly, but hey, that isn’t what’s happening for me as I can’t find the guy who is going to give me that.  I can’t find anyone who cares enough to say hey, ‘Mindy, you’re a great gal, so why don’t we take the time to explore the possibilities between us?’”
“Maybe that’s because you are seeking out all the wrong men, Mindy,” he stated plainly as he thought about the situation she was laying out before him, “You said your ex was gay and yet you set yourself up for a heartbreak again with him.  Maybe the reason you were opening yourself up to feelings for the guy is because it was safe--because you knew what to expect and that ultimately you weren’t looking for a relationship.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she huffed in response, “that isn’t it at all.”
“Okay, maybe it’s not, but maybe I might be on to something.  You said you knew the guy was gay and you still decided to indulge in this notion that things would have a way of working themselves out.  Maybe fate is trying to tell you that there are bigger, better plans for you,” Seth added watching a mask of confusion and contemplation sweep over her features.
“I seriously doubt it,” she groaned lifting the cup of coffee up to her lips and taking a drink, “I mean really, I don’t think there’s anyone else as unlucky in love as I am.”
“I think we all feel that way at times,” Seth confessed thinking about Blake again, “I mean hey my girlfriend and I broke up tonight and up until I met you I was thinking that I’d hit rock bottom--that I didn’t have anything else to look forward to now that I’ve lost my heart and the woman I love.”
“What happened,” Mindy inquired curiously noting the sadness that crept in over his otherwise handsome features.
“Like your ex-boyfriend, she was unobtainable.  I thought that we had something special, but the truth to the matter is that she’s in love with someone else,” Seth sighed hating to admit the truth aloud as his head sunk down, “I tried to pretend that I wasn’t aware that she cared about the other guy, but the truth to the matter is that I haven’t come close to what he is to her.  I’m not what she wanted and now that I see that, well I can’t pretend any longer that I can live like that.”
“Is that what she told you?” Mindy questioned curiously, “That she loved another man?”
“She didn’t say it, but I sensed it for a long time,” Seth divulged, “and while I’ve tried to ignore it, that wasn’t doing anything, but giving me more time to fester over the situation.”
“So you just decided to call it quits like that huh,” Mindy eyed him intently.
“I didn’t feel like I had any other choices, but now, well now I’m wondering if I did the right thing.  I mean sure, I know that this will be for the best eventually, but right now it hurts so damned much…” he stopped himself shaking the thought, “but this isn’t really about me as I came out here to check on you.”
“I appreciate that and the coffee, but you really didn’t have to,” she paused giving him an ironic look, “You know I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Seth--Seth Alexander,” he offered his hand out to hers.

“Mindy Carmichael,” she accepted his handshake as a pathetic smile spread over her features.
“As in Judge Carmichael?” he arched a curious brow.  “Any relation?”
“She‘s my mother,” she nodded with a sigh, “but I really would rather not focus on that oh say for the rest of my adult years.”
“Fair enough,” Seth agreed watching her take another sip of the drink he’d given her, “So Mindy, tell me something.”
“What’s that?” she asked feeling her tears die down.
“How would you be interested in going back inside with me and listening to some really bad poetry?” he suggested with a soft smile, “I hear the food is awful in there, but maybe just maybe together we could find a way to pretend that we aren’t miserable tonight.”
“I am a little hungry since my date didn’t bother to show up before,” Mindy admitted with a nod.
“Great, though I will warn you the guy on stage might cause you to lose your appetite if you give him too much of your attention,” Seth rose up from the sidewalk offering his hand out to her, “So what do you say?”
“I think that’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Mindy confessed allowing him to help her out as she said a silent prayer that at least she didn’t have to spend the night alone and miserable like she’d planned on when she’d made the trip over to Alexandria’s.  Sure, she wasn’t looking on finding any company, but Seth seemed nice enough and maybe just maybe she could find the time to enjoy some good conversation for a while before she Donna arrived for her shift at the café.  Maybe things were looking up a little bit as she realized that perhaps there were other people out there going through some of the same situations that she’d been having lately.


“Just what Brooke,” Judy questioned once again noticing the way in which the color seemed to drain from Brooke’s features as Brooke waved her hand around her face with an exaggerated motion.
“It’s so loud in here Judy that I really can’t hear what you’re saying,” Brooke insisted starting towards the direction of the exit as she prayed that she could pull Judy away from the impending revelation she was certain that Richard’s other woman would love to discover, “How about we take this outside?”
“How about we don’t and we just finish this right here as I’m very curious to see how it is a woman near her death bed is out and about at a country western bar on a night like this,” Judy’s eyes threw out a challenge as she placed her hands on her hips, “Does Rick have any idea you’re here?”
“Of course he does,” Brooke stood up taller not about to have someone like Judy take her down, “He’s well aware of my being here as he’s the one that suggested we come to this place tonight as a means of starting anew.  He wanted to take the time to celebrate our good fortune and what better way than to do it in rediscovering our youth.  However, had I known you’d have followed us here, then I wouldn’t have even indulged in his idea, but I can assure you that once he’s finished up in the rest room, I’ll see to it that we leave right away.”
“Don’t bother on my account,” Judy glared back at her looking wounded upon Brooke’s words.
“Oh believe me I wouldn’t dream of doing anything for your benefit,” Brooke hissed wanting nothing more than to wound Judy with her words as Hunt approached the two women, smiling as he held a drink out to Brooke.
“Your drink,” Hunt announced offering the glass over to Brooke as he was clearly oblivious to the situation taking place between her and Judy. 
As he stood beside Brooke, giving her an expectant look, she could see the way in which Judy’s eyes widened as if the day had been her lucky day as she’d seemingly caught Brooke in a trap she’d set for herself.  However there was no way in hell that Brooke would let Judy get the best of her.  Not tonight and not ever, she vowed to herself slowly turning her attention to Hunt as she lifted her glass from his hand before reaching into her pocket to hand him a quick flash of money.
“Thank you for being so prompt with the drinks as my husband and I are sure to enjoy them,” Brooke added quickly pushing the money into his hand as she snatched up his drink as well, “Here’s your tip.”
“What?” Hunt questioned in confusion giving her a strange look as he eyed her and Judy for a long moment before understanding set in upon him.  His face seemed to drop with disappointment as he took a step back nodding accordingly as he tucked the money into his pocket, “Don’t mention it.”
“Thanks again,” Brooke waved her hand at him dismissively praying that he didn’t give her away as he seemed to understand the silent message she was giving to him.
“Yeah sure, have a nice night,” he offered up turning around and walking away from the women as Judy watched him for a lingering moment wondering if there was something going on beneath the surface between Brooke and the waiter as their behavior had seemed tense.  Then again maybe it was Judy who was tense as the last thing she’d wanted to do on a night like tonight was see Brooke and Rick together again living it up.
“Well, is there anything else I can help you with Judy or have you finally decided to back off on being the home wrecker and stay the hell out of my marriage once and for all?” Brooke challenged in a menacing tone watching as Judy took a slow step back.
“The only one who caused the problems to your marriage was you Brooke, not me,” Judy answered flatly feeling her anger and frustrations mount as Deidra approached the two women.
“There you are.  I was starting to wonder where you drifted off to,” Deidra began as her eyes fell upon Brooke Morrison and instantly her smile faded, “Oh.”
“Yeah oh,” Brooke glared at Deidra as well, “It would seem that your mother was lost, but now that you’ve found her, I’m going to go collect my husband.  I’ll tell him you said hello Judy.”
“Go to hell Brooke,” Judy answered tightly watching as Brooke pranced on over to the restroom area leaving Judy feeling far worse than she had before Deidra had suggested they go out for the evening.
“Mom,” Deidra began not knowing what to say as she placed her hand on her mother’s shoulder.
“I don’t want to talk about it sweetheart,” Judy stated plainly fighting to contain the tears she felt burning inside over the thought of Rick reconnecting with Brooke in such a way after the things he’d said to her.  It just didn’t make sense even if Judy had pushed him away.  She’d hoped that despite her words things could work out for the two of them as she’d wished that she could finally have that happiness with Rick that had escaped them all those years ago, but tonight proved that there would never be any chance for that.
“Mom, are you sure that…” Deidra began again as Judy through her a desperate look.
“I think it’s time we head on home,” Judy got out feeling as if the walls were closing in around her as she headed back to the table that she and Deidra had been at earlier.  Quickly she collected her things as she found herself wanting nothing more than to push this night and the silly notions she’d had of having found a second chance with Rick out of her life forever.

Brooke felt a sigh of relief wash over her as she’d watched Judy and her daughter exit the bar.  While she hadn’t been planning on a confrontation with Judy, she couldn’t help but gloat about how well it had gone as she could just imagine the tears of misery that Judy would be sobbing to her daughter on the ride back to Coral Valley.  Not that the little witch deserved anything less than pain after the ways in which she’d warped Richard’s mind lately, but as she could see with Judy’s swift departure, she realized that things were finally falling into place as she was going to enjoy rubbing her newfound reunion with Richard in Judy’s face.  Things were working themselves out after all it seemed.


Silence surrounded Russ and Avery as Russ unlocked the door to their home allowing Avery access inside before he followed her in through the front door.  Making sure to take the time to lock the door behind them as he listened to Avery taking a brief look around their home, he couldn‘t help but feel himself fighting the feelings of conflict that were still eating away inside of him.  He let out a heavy sigh reaching inside to turn on the lights as he found his home just as they’d left it the day before when they’d rushed to the hospital fearing the worst about Grady, but now as they were home again with a whole different set of circumstances surrounding them.  He’d tried desperately not to let the situation get the best of him, but as he thought of what he was about to do, he felt his heart sinking as a sense of loss filled him up inside.
“Hey,” Avery reached out to him touching his shoulder gently as she could see him buried inside himself, “talk to me Russ.”
“What more is there say?  I mean what’s done is done, right?” he questioned poignantly wondering when he would be able to see his brother again after the plan that they’d concocted to get Cameron to slip up had come into play.
“This isn’t the end as we’re going to do what we can to prove that Grady is innocent Russ,” Avery urged him on again trying to keep him from sinking down to the despair that had seemingly overtaken him since he’d said his good-byes to his brother, “hey, this isn’t forever.”
“What if it is?  I mean what if this blows up in all of our faces?  What if Grady never gets the chance to reclaim his life and this is the only alternative we’re left with?” Russell questioned miserably, “then what Avery?”
“Russ, I swore to your brother that I was going to do everything in my power to make sure that we cleared his name and this doesn’t change that.  It only gives us more time to find the truth while Cameron has his guard down,” Avery tried to remind him seeing that this night wouldn’t be the night to get into how this could benefit their family in the long run as the wounds were still very raw now that Russ and Grady were forced to have yet another a distance between them again, “He’s going to pull through this you know.”
“I realize that, but after we almost lost him, well you’d just think that he’d be better off in Coral Valley with his family instead of heaven knows where while the world believes he’s dead,” Russell continued thinking of his talk with his brother.  “I mean I know what this is supposed to be like in theory, but in reality, it sucks.”
“I know it does, but had Grady stayed here, we both know that he’d be locked up in jail in no time.  The law wouldn’t protect him here in Coral Valley and he needs time to heal without fear that Cameron would step in and take away what progress he’s made thus far.”
“Even so, I hate how men like Cameron have the power to take so much away from us,” Russ found himself fuming as he thought of the last few months of his life, “First Bruce and now Cameron.  I’m just starting to feel like it’s never ending for us Avery.  I mean what next?”
“We find a way to clear your brother’s name and we work on getting back to where we’re supposed to be Russ,” she stated boldly making her way towards him as she reached out to cup his face in her hands while urging him to look down at her, “and that’s back to us Russ.  Things will blow over.”
“I always wanted to believe that, but now…” he admitted with a heavy sigh as Avery released him seeking out one of his hands and bringing it up over the beginnings of her newly rounded abdomen.
“Believe in this Russ,” she pleaded with him, determination brewing behind her dark eyes as she held his hand in place over the reminder of their unborn child, “believe in what promise we have for our future with one another.  There was a time when even this felt like an impossible dream, but now, well this speaks for itself.”
“I know it does,” he sighed in confession turning his attention to where she’d laced their fingers in one another over her stomach, “I guess that sometimes things just get so overwhelming that…”
“I know baby,” she stepped in towards him laying her head against his chest as his arms instinctively wrapped around her, “but we have to believe in the best that there is out there.  After all that’s what you have been saying all along and it won me over, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess in it’s own magical way it did,” he touched her cheek gently urging her dark eyes up towards his, “I love you Avery.  I know I probably haven’t said that enough lately, but I really do.  I don’t know what I’d do without you in my life.”
“That’s something that you’re never going to have to worry about Russ because you and I, well we’re like forces of nature bound and determined to find their way to one another and beat the odds,” she tipped up on her toes to steal a kiss from his lips, “and we will you know.”
“I know,” he murmured against her mouth taking the initiative to lift her up off of the ground into his arms fully before laying another exploratory kiss upon her soft, supple lips.
“See, now doesn’t this feel a little bit better,” she questioned hugging her arms around his shoulders as he continued to hold her.
“This feels amazing, but when I think about Grady,” he trailed off thinking about his brother’s words.
“He really worked a number on you tonight, didn’t he,” she couldn’t help but ask as she thought to the change in her husband after she’d given him and Grady some time alone with one another.
“He just reminded me all over again how much I needed him in my life,” he confessed earnestly as his eyes fell upon hers once again, “and about how much I needed you as well.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Avery promised him kissing him again as his arms dropped down over her spine squeezing her in against him gently.  “That’s why we’re both here daddy.”
“Daddy,” Russell repeated with a smile as his thoughts lingered to the child he and Avery had fought so very hard to make a reality for them.  Slowly setting her on the ground again, his gaze settled in over her abdomen, “speaking of which, how is my little one doing?”
“Why don’t you ask him or her?” Avery suggested feeling the mood lighten up a bit as she placed her own hands over her body as if trying to decipher the things that the baby was telling her in the moment, “Oh Russ, you should really listen to this as our baby has a lot to say.”
“Is that so,” he questioned arching a curious brow as he watched her nod eagerly.
“Oh yeah,” she giggled feeling something happening as she reached for his hand again, “come here.”
“What is it?” he questioned as she guided his hand up underneath her shirt to feel the tiny twitching that was going on beneath the surface.  While Avery still had a ways to go in terms of growing, Russ could feel the way in which her body had already adjusted to their child as he eased his fingers over the soft swell of her abdomen.
“Do you feel that,” she questioned eagerly suddenly struck with what felt like another movement from within.
“Where?” he asked again letting her guide him to the place where she’d felt some kind of reaction.
“Maybe we should sit down for this,” Avery suggested guiding him over to the couch as she leaned in against the cushion attempting to pinpoint the movement the baby was making inside of her.
“Here, let me help with this one,” he suggested popping open a few buttons at the bottom of her blouse taking a good, long look at her body as a smile tickled over his lips.  While he’d hated to admit he didn’t want to miss a thing with their child, just the sight of Avery took his breath away as she was far more beautiful than he’d ever remembered her being as she searched for some kind of movement with their baby.
“Right here,” she insisted with a tiny giggle clenching his hand in hers as she placed his fingers down decidedly over the center of her abdomen, “Do you feel that?”
Russell’s eyes lit up as there was no mistaking the movement coming from beneath the surface.  There was certainly something happening and as his green eyes returned to Avery’s a proud smile spread over his features, “Do I ever!”
“Isn’t that the most incredible thing you’ve ever experienced in your whole life,” Avery questioned unable to contain her tears of joy as the reality of the power of their love fell upon her in all it’s moment of wonder as their baby was quite adamant about making his or her presence known to the both of them.
“You’re the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced Avery,” he confessed leaning in to kiss her forehead gently before he collected her in his arms realizing that while he hated to let go of his brother at a time like this, Grady was right.  The things that mattered most were right before Russell as he held onto his wife and interacted with their unborn child and he knew in that instant that he was going to do everything in his power to hold onto them as his family was the very key to his survival.


After her tears died down, Blake thought about Annie’s words realizing that maybe there was more to the situation than she was allowing herself to see in her current state of mind.  Surely, there had to be more to life than just her mini-dramas about the men she was giving her heart to.  She was in no position to make any kind of decision even if she wanted to at this moment in time and now as she sat alone in her room, she wondered if that in itself was a sign of how horribly flighty she was.
“I wonder what the rest of my family would think of me now if they could see what a disaster I turned out to be,” Blake muttered aloud turning her attention to the journal that she’d kept out on the bed beside her. 
Now thinking about what she’d briefly read with Seth the other night about her mother’s private thoughts, Blake felt compelled to step out of her own world of misery for a little while and just focus elsewhere for a little while.  Reaching for her mother’s journal, she opened up the cover to take note of her mother’s pristine writing as it seemed as though her mother had taken great care in her writings.  Sure, she probably never imagined anyone having come upon her most private, inner thoughts, but at this moment in time Blake was desperately seeking out the comfort that only her mother could provide her at a time like this.  Pushing to the page where she’d left off the other night, Blake opened the book to read one of the entries written out in bright, blue ink.
“And here I sit tonight wondering if I’m making the right decision,” Blake read aloud as she sank back into her pillows to get more comfortable, “I love Nicholas with all that I am.  I truly do, but I’m not sure if I’m making the right choices anymore.  I thought I was sure, but then when he came to me…when he begged me to run away with him instead of staying in Coral Valley with Nicholas, I was almost tempted, but how could I be thinking such absurd thoughts?  Nicholas is to be my husband--to be the man I’ve spent my life waiting for.  He can provide a good home and a stable environment for our children in years to come.  He loves me and he’s been good to me and that is really what this all boils down to.  Nick is everything I’ve ever needed in my life and to throw that away on impulse is nothing short of insane.  No one would be able to understand if I left this life behind--no one would dare think it possible for me to be so foolish and yet I can’t seem to pull myself away from the hold he has on me.  When we’re together it feels as if time is irrelevant and it’s only him and I--where we belong…”
“Him and I,” Blake repeated biting on her lower lip as she wondered who her mother was talking about.  Skimming over the page, she flipped it quickly curious to learn more about this mystery man her mother was writing about, but alas all she could find were references to he and him--no name of the other man her mother was seemingly swept up in.
“Today I did the hardest thing imaginable.  I told him that we could never be together--that my heart was with Nick and as he stood before me, I could almost hear his heart breaking when I turned away.  I fought like hell not to run to him, to go back willingly to his open arms and pledge the truth in my heart, but I know that isn’t possible.  It will never be possible again as I’ve made my choice and I can’t look back.  I won’t look back!”
“Oh mom,” Blake sighed feeling her heart breaking with her mother’s words as she thought to her own situation realizing that perhaps she wasn‘t the only Ashford woman in a state of turmoil in her life, “what did you do?  Who did you leave behind and more importantly, why did we never know?” she questioned aloud realizing that she’d suddenly opened up a door that she was never meant to find into her mother’s past.  It seemed that the woman she’d heard a great deal about had a secret life--one that Blake couldn’t help but delve into as she fought to push her own problems aside in the name of discovering the woman her mother truly was.


Hunt sat outside in the parking lot next to the bar wondering why he hadn’t just gotten inside his sedan and driven off as is seemed that the only company he’d had worth keeping was the night sky above.  Even with the crisp spring breeze and the millions of stars above, he was beginning to feel as if was the only soul in the universe destined to have been put in such a disastrous position as the scene with Brooke replayed in his mind again and again. 
How could he have thought that she’d truly be ready and willing to finally come out of the shadows and be true to her word on her intentions where their relationship was concerned?  How could he have been so stupid to think that there was actually a future between them for that matter when it was painfully obvious that Brooke wasn’t going to ever take what they had with one another seriously.  Tonight when she’d suggested the country western bar, he’d thought that she’d finally been willing to take a chance, but when he’d happened upon her with that other woman, well that pretty much summed up how naïve Hunt had been about things changing for them.
Now as Hunt sat alone on the hood of his car leaning back against the windshield, he could smell the faint aromas of stale beer and fried foods in the air as the laughter continued inside the bar, but they were a mere blip on his internal radar as he thought to what a fool he’d been lately when it came to Brooke.  Sure, it had started out innocent enough as they’d had a flirtation with one another that gradually grew into more.  Brooke had been the first woman to actually treat him as if he was someone of great interest--someone of value and as he’d learned so many useful things from her, he’d found himself falling harder for the woman who’d been the ultimate representation of what he’d needed in his life.  She was charming, beautiful, full of character and had given him an opportunity to jump into a life he hadn’t known to be possible until they’d crossed paths.
Of course, in retrospect Hunt could think of a few names that they’d give to a man in his position as it seemed that sex and seedy meetings between him and Brooke were all that remained of a relationship that had once felt like the one thing he’d waited a lifetime to happen upon.  Here he’d had high hopes that he’d had a future with Brooke, but his gut had been telling him for months that this wasn’t where he was meant to be in his life--that this relationship was heading nowhere, but until tonight he’d been avoiding that inevitable truth as the fact remained that Brooke wasn’t ever going to be leaving her husband--not now, not ever.
“There you are,” Brooke’s voice beckoned him through the darkness as he could hear the sounds of her footsteps over the pavement.  While he’d tried to ignore the all to familiar scent of her perfume, he could feel the warmth of her presence beside him as he kept his eyes up to the sky.  “I was starting to think I’d lost you.”
“You can’t lose what you’ve never really had Brooke,” Hunt offered up in a pensive tone as he brought his arms up behind his head to support him a bit better while he maintained his gaze over the nearly cloudless sky.
“What is that supposed to mean,” she questioned with obvious distain as he felt her manicured fingers taper off over his abdomen in a teasing fashion, “Hunt, come on.  Don’t be angry with me.  Look at me.”
“What good will that do Brooke?” he questioned forcing himself to eye her as a frown pressed over his lips, “Honestly, what will any of what you have to say accomplish?”
“I know that what happened back there wasn’t something that you’d imagined having to deal with, but…” Brooke began desperately, sliding her palm down over the center of his body teasing her fingers in over the front of his belt before he pushed her hand away.
“But nothing,” he grumbled reaching into his pocket and throwing the money she’d given him back in her face as he pushed himself off of the hood of his car, “I’m not your personal whore, Brooke.”
“I never said you were,” Brooke exclaimed watching him circle around the car, “it’s just that things are complicated and…”
“And what you did to me tonight just reminded me all over again why I’ve been making the biggest mistake of my life in trying to pretend that you could actually give a damn about me.  You’re not ready to face what our relationship means, nor do I really think that it holds any kind of value to you.  I mean, this is just one of those flings for you before you go rushing back to Richard, right?”
“Hunt, that is never what I intended on it being for us and I still don’t, but you have to understand that woman has tried to ruin my life repeatedly.  I couldn’t very well have her running back to Richard and telling him about you.  If she had done that…” she started desperately reaching out to touch him again as he backed off rather suddenly.
“Then what?  Then he’d know that you’ve found someone else who makes you happy?  Someone who gives you what you’ve been missing out on and needing in your life or were those just lines, Brooke?” he questioned painfully shaking his head dismissively, “Though it doesn’t really matter what they were because it’s over Brooke.”
“Over,” she repeated with a gasp, “oh Hunt, you can’t possibly mean that.”
“I do,” he folded his arms in front of his chest vowing to be firm about the decision he’d made since he’d walked out of the bar ready to throw his fist into something to take away from the anger and foolishness he’d been feeling.  However, he’d opted to use his better judgment for the first time in what felt like two years as he was starting to see what a fool he’d been.
“Hunt, you can’t just be willing to give up what we have with one another,” she started stepping in towards him once again.
“And what is that exactly Brooke?” he challenged with a frown, “What is it that you think we have together?”
“Something very special and if you’d stop and think for a second, you’d see that you really don’t want to end this.  We both have so very much invested in our relationship and…” she reached for him again this time touching his hand as she tried to rekindle some kind of connection between them.
“Brooke, you only want to be with me when you’re certain that no one you know is looking at us.  You haven’t told your family or more importantly your husband about what’s going on between us and the more I think about this, the more I see it’s going absolutely no where,” he snapped in response feeling the reality of what he’d willingly put himself into setting in.
“Hunt, I’m trying to do what’s right by this relationship, but you have no idea what kind of pressures I’m under.  If I just up and walk away from everything now, I lose it all.  I’ll lose my company and the reputation that I’ve spent the last thirty years trying to build for myself.  Richard will see that he takes away everything that I’ve spent my life working on and I can’t let that happen,” she continued squeezing his hand urgently, “Hunt, you know how much my company means to me.”
“That’s funny,” he let out an ironic laugh, “because at one time I thought I knew how much I meant to you, but I suppose those days have long gone.”
“You mean a great deal to me, but you have to understand that I need time,” Brooke pleaded with him, “if you can’t give me that, then…”
“Then we really have no choice but to end it now before we realize that we’ve only been fooling ourselves into thinking that this was real,” Hunt finished with a heavy sigh.
“Hunt, we don’t have to do this.  We can find a way to just…” she began again as he shook his head at her.
“We’ll only be fooling ourselves if we do Brooke,” he sighed again feeling his heart shatter into a million pieces, “but for what it’s worth, I think it’s for the best.”
“Well I don’t.  I don’t think this is going to benefit either one of us as I can’t imagine my life without you,” Brooke admitted tearfully reaching out to the center of his shirt and clinging to him, “Hunt, I do love you--more than I thought I’d be capable of after the nightmare of a marriage I’ve had with Richard, but you have to see where I’m coming from.”
“Brooke, I’ve tried to do that, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard for you.  Your children are grown up and you have established yourself in the fashion world.  You won’t have to worry about not having that to carry with you and as for money, well I’ll do what I can to keep us in the kind of life you’ve grown accustomed to.  I know I might not have much now, but one day…”
“Hunt, I can’t burden you with that kind of responsibility,” she pressed her finger to his lips to silence him, “not now after all you’ve done for me.  You deserve more--we deserve more and soon I promise you we’re going to have that.  I’ll find myself a good divorce lawyer and then, well then we can be free to be together.  I promise you that.”
“Brooke, I wish I could trust that, but…” he started again as she pulled him into a desperate kiss.
“Believe in me Hunt,” she mouthed against his lips holding him tighter than before, “I’ll find a way to make your dreams for us a reality.  I’ll prove to you that I can be what you need if you just give me another chance…”
“Brooke, I can’t keep going through this again and again,” he began to argue as she cut him off with another kiss.
“This time it will be different.  I promise you that this time things are going to change for us.  In fact, I was waiting until later tonight, but I suppose now is as good a time as any,” Brooke parted from him, grinning eagerly, “The loan for your company has been approved.  I did a little speaking with a few of my investors and they were very interested in putting forth the finances to get the ball rolling on your vision for the world of interior design.”
“You mean?” his eyes widened in surprise as she’d found a whole new way to shock him.
“You’re about to be running the show instead of being the guy who has to follow the rules that are beneath him,” she nodded encouragingly, “Hunt, you’re about to have that company that you’ve always dreamt about owning and when it takes off like I’m certain it will, then I promise you that we’ll work out everything between us.  Things will be as you want them to be.”
“Brooke, I…I don’t know what to say as you’d mentioned that your investors were reluctant to enter such a risky venture, but now…” he trailed off at a loss.
“I managed to persuade them into seeing just what a hot item you truly are,” she informed him proudly, “now the rest is up to you.  They want to meet with you in New York sometime next week and then we’ll get the ball rolling.”
“I don’t believe this.  I mean I do, but well I just never thought,” his anger was replaced by enthusiasm as he threw his arms around her kissing her excitedly, “Oh Brooke, this is amazing.  I mean I just know that you’re not going to regret taking a chance on me as I’ll show you that I can do this--that I can really make something of this…”
“I know you can and for the record I have never regretted a moment of the time I’ve spent with you as you’ve been the first person in my life to ever truly get me Hunt,” she offered up batting her eyelashes at him as her fingers fanned out over his chest, “When you’re with me, you don’t see all the other things that the world sees and you love me for me.”
“How could I not Brooke as you’re by far one of the most wonderful women I’ve ever known,” he confessed melting as he touched her cheek tenderly thinking about all she’d done for him in their short time together.  As he thought to the risk she’d taken to make his dreams a reality, he realized that perhaps he’d been hasty in his decision to end things.
“Does this mean I’ll get another chance now?” she questioned coyly tugging on his shirt to pull him in closer to her.
“I think we can work on making that one happen,” he whispered kissing her gently as Brooke threw her arms around him proud of herself for having avoided two would be disasters in one evening.  Clearly she was getting back on her game again.  She continued to kiss Hunt, she was full of ideas on how she would work on repairing all the other problems that had arisen within her family as it was only a matter of time before she had things exactly as they should be once and for all.


“Okay, so tonight hasn’t been a complete disaster,” Mindy finally admitted unable to contain her laughter as she turned to Seth seeing the way in which he’d somehow had her on the edge of her seat as he’d spent most of his time finding flaws in the dark poets that had taken to the stage at Alexandria’s earlier in the evening.  Now as the café had started to get near closing time, she realized that she and Seth were one of the few couples still seated inside enjoying the late night perks the coffee house had to offer.  Of course the live entertainment had been replaced by some long-cancelled reruns of a police themed show on television, but it was still far more comforting than Mindy had imagined it being for her.
“No it hasn’t,” Seth nodded in agreement as he lifted his half empty coffee mug to his lips again, “though I must confess that I was pretty much planning on spending the night miserable and alone.”
“Funny thing,” Mindy flashed him a quick smile, “so did I, but apparently fate had other plans.”
“Which didn’t involve us drowning our sorrows in our vices,” Seth added motioning to the bag she’d carried with her, “Now aren’t you glad you didn’t drown yourself in the Metal Bands of the 80s CD you said you’d purchases?”
“I knew that was a mistake in showing you that one,” she shook her head while fighting to suppress the groan she’d felt building inside of her as she thought back to when she and Seth had started pondering who was more pathetic on a night like tonight.
“It’s okay,” Seth couldn’t help but laugh lightly, “I probably would’ve turned on my sister’s Air Supply CD and got drunk thinking about how horrible things ended up with Blake.”
“Blake,” she repeated arching a curious brow, “as in Blake Ashford?”
“You know her,” Seth questioned noticing the expression that crossed over Mindy’s features.
“I know of her although…” Mindy paused eyeing him intently before a gasp fell from her lips, “Oh my God.  I knew I’d seen you before.  You’re the guy in the tabloids with her--the one who did that really racy photo shoot…”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Seth covered his face in mock shame.
“Why not?  It was a rather eye opening expose if I do say so myself,” Mindy added thinking back to the headline that had captured her attention at the grocery store, “although I must admit it probably could’ve been so much better if you and I had met a few weeks earlier.”
“Is that right?” Seth lifted his head up to look at her once again.
“That’s right,” she nodded confidently, “as the paper that I work for would’ve been far more classy about it.”
“So the truth finally comes out,” Seth remarked curiously, “You’re a reporter.”
“A reporter in training,” Mindy nodded eagerly, “and while I’m still gunning for my big break sooner or later it’s going to happen.”
“Hopefully not in the form of the story about Blake’s latest ex,” Seth threw out a warning glance.
“I think you didn’t understand that part I’d said before about the paper I work for being classy,” Mindy pointed out with a small huff, “Maybe you’ve heard of it.  It’s the Coral Courier.”
“Oh I’ve heard of it,” Seth nodded quickly, “as my sister’s boyfriend’s brother runs it.” he paused thinking about what he’d said as a tiny laugh fell upon him, “Wow, that’s a mouthful.”
“I’ll say although that would mean,” Mindy thought about it for a long moment, “Your sister is dating Grady then.”
“Yeah, she is,” Seth answered thinking about what that mere fact had brought to his sister’s life as it seemed that nothing but problems had come from their relationship.  Still he couldn’t quite blame Grady for all of that as it seemed that Cameron Stone had his own agenda where Jade’s happiness was concerned.  Frowning as Seth thought to his sister, he wondered where she could be at a time like this and about what she might be doing.
“Speak of the devil,” Mindy noted breaking through his thoughts as her eyes were glued to the television screen above them.  “Seth, have you taken a look at this?”
“At what,” he questioned in confusion watching as the news story on the screen spoke of Grady’s ‘death’ while rehashing all the horrible, torrid details of his arrest leading up to the stabbing that ultimately stole his life from him.
“Oh my God.  Grady’s dead,” Mindy gasped in horror feeling as if the wind had been knocked out of her as she turned to Seth, “This is horrible.  I mean for Russ to lose his brother and for your sister to lose the man she loves.  I can’t even begin to imagine what she’s going through right now--what any of them are going through and now, well now I feel pretty stupid for feeling bad about my date not bothering to show up tonight when the Dentons are truly experiencing a loss.  I never thought that Grady would die…that he could ever be in a position to wind up a victim of such evil…”
“So you know about the dark forces in town, huh?” Seth questioned, his tone darkening as he thought of the man that threatened to take away the only peace Seth had ever known in his life with his manipulations.
“You mean Cameron Stone,” Mindy blurted out seeing the acknowledgement in Seth’s weary eyes, “Yeah, I’ve heard all about the nasty stuff he’s done and I don’t doubt for a second that he’s behind all of the things happening in town.  The police say that there’s no way that he could be, but I think the police are idiots about a lot of things--especially that.  I’ve been doing research on the guy for Russ and he’s bad news.”
“You’re telling me,” Seth let out an ironic sigh as he turned his eyes to the television again saying a silent prayer that whatever the future held in store for his family that it wouldn’t result in Cameron destroying Jade’s life completely as that was far too great of a price to pay to a man who deserved nothing less than a taste of his own medicine.  Now as Seth reflected upon the phone call he’d received from Avery, he just hoped that Jade knew what she was doing as it seemed that no one was safe as long as Cameron was still calling the shots in Coral Valley.


Russell lay on his side for a long time watching his wife as she was lost in the inner peace that her dreams seemed to provide her with while life had given them far too many obstacles to deal with.  However, as Avery slept beside him, Russ couldn’t help but smile as he thought to how beautiful she truly was.  She was his heart and soul and his one true destiny and as he thought of how far they’d come with one another in their relationship, he realized that he’d never felt as fortunate as he did in this moment in time knowing that they’d beat the odds with one another.  They truly had an epic romance and as Russ reflected on just how far they’d come with one another over the years, he found himself desperately praying that things would continue to keep going down a positive path leading them closer to exploring all of their dreams with one another as their family had given them a new hope for the future.
On the outside it appeared that Russ had it all with Avery in his life and in a great many ways he was certain that he’d now been complete for the first time in a long time, but as he looked around their bedroom thinking about how easily that serenity had been penetrated by a man like Bruce Mathis or even Cameron Stone.  In fact, the longer he stewed over the situation, the more it felt as though those threats were still very strong and alive outside the walls that surrounded them.  He’d tried to pretend that he could forget for a few hours, but now as the evening settled in he found himself drifting back to those same worries that had been hanging over him since the chaos began.  Sure he was home with Avery away from it all, but he couldn’t quite ignore the nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach as he thought of the things that were happening in the world around him.
With that thought in mind, Russ sat up in bed, carefully slipping out from beneath the thin, white sheet that he’d been covered in seconds earlier.  Turning around to take one last long look at Avery, he found himself remembering all the more reasons why his urgency to make some kind of move against those forces couldn’t wait.  There were dangers lurking and if for no other reason than to keep his family protected, Russell had to act upon getting to eliminating the source them one way or another. 
Tiptoeing out of the bedroom and carefully closed the door behind him, Russell made his way into the living room with quite motions as he hoped to keep from awakening Avery.  Once he’d entered the darkened living room, he moved over to his desk area reaching out for the small lamp to turn it on and give himself a little light as he prepared to make the next step towards securing his future with his family.  Sitting down in his desk chair, Russell opened the top desk drawer, finding the piece of paper he’d tucked inside in the far left corner just before he and Avery had gone to bed. 
While Russ had made no attempts at telling Avery the extent of his conversation with Avery at the hospital, the truth to the matter was that Grady had gotten Russ thinking.  The two brothers had both agreed that Cameron was trouble and with Bruce lurking in the shadows ready to make a move to hurt Avery again, Grady had been aware of the double threat that his brother had been caught up in.  Russ had tried to reassure him that he could take care of himself, but in true brother form, Grady had insisted upon Russ getting someone to aid in Russell’s quest to beat Bruce at his own game before it was too late.  At the time Russ had tried to blow of his brother’s words of warning, but now as Russ found himself remembering what Bruce had done the last time he’d come around the Denton home, Russ couldn’t help but be concerned about what would happen next.
With that thought in mind, Russ unfolded the tiny piece of paper taking note of the number on the page before reaching for the phone and dialing.  He heard the phone ring once, twice, three times and on the forth Russ was ready to call it a night, but just before he opted to make that decision a gruff sounding voice carried over the line.
“Hello…” the man seemingly yawned as Russell took in a slow breath.
“Kyle,” Russ spoke his name simply, “is this Kyle Houston?”
“Who wants to know,” the man questioned sharply as if he too was weary of Russell’s intentions.
“Someone who used to know you a long time ago,” Russell continued exhaling a slow breath, “It’s Russ.  Russ Denton.”
“Russ,” Kyle’s voice changed as it seemed that the abrasiveness in Kyle’s tone evaporated upon recognition of the caller on the other end of the line, “How the hell are you?”
“I wish I could say great, but that’s not really the case,” Russell confessed with a heavy sigh, “though I really would rather not get into the details over the phone if you don’t mind.”
“Why do I somehow get the feeling this isn’t a social call,” Kyle questioned after a moment of silence.
“I wish it was, but there’s something I need you to do for me.  Grady gave me your number and…” Russ began.
“Grady,” Kyle repeated cutting him off, “how’s he doing?  Still spinning his old war stories about how he let me save his butt in the All Star football game back in college?”
“Every chance he gets,” Russ couldn’t help but laugh thinking about his brother’s long time college buddy, “but right now, well Grady’s not spouting much of anything as he’s…”
“He’s what,” Kyle questioned sensing the hesitance in Russell’s tone, “Russ, what’s going on?  What aren’t you telling me about Grady?”
“Look Kyle, how about we do this in person?  Grady mentioned that you were staying close to Coral Valley…that you’d gotten a place just outside of town and I was wondering if I could talk you into coming in sometime this weekend as I have a job for you.”   
“Any hints on what it’s about?” Kyle questioned curiously.
“It’s about things that have been going on with my family.  There’s this guy that has been harassing Avery and he’s, well he’s a lunatic and when I say that I mean it in the purest sense of the word,” Russ paused thinking about the weight of the situation with Bruce.
“Avery huh,” Kyle spoke her name in a contemplative tone, “I take it then she’s not on the top ten hit list anymore, huh?”
“She never was Kyle.  That was Grady, not me and just to let you know, she’s my wife now,” Russell continued to explain realizing that it had been quite a while since he’d spoken with Kyle.
“Well hot damn, it’s about time,” Kyle replied enthusiastically, “I knew that sooner or later you’d get the opportunity to finally get that girl to settle down.”
“Easier said than done, but when it happened, well it was one of those moments that Hollywood movies dream about making magic with,” Russ confessed poetically thinking about his fantasy wedding.
“I’m sure I’ll hear all of the details over lunch on say Sunday?” Kyle suggested quickly.
“Sunday would be great as long as that works for you,” Russell agreed eagerly.
“I’m actually doing a job in Coral Valley currently, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem at all,” Kyle divulged with an air of mystery to his tone.
“Alright, then how about Irvan’s say about one?” Russ suggested thinking about the necessity in seeking out Kyle’s help.
“That sounds great kid and hey, give your wife a kiss for me,” Kyle teased him with a tiny chuckle.
“Oh I’ll be kissing my wife, but I can assure you that it won’t have anything to do with you,” Russell offered up in response as Kyle couldn’t help but laugh at him.
“Yep, you’re still whipped,” Kyle’s voice resonated with laughter before the two men said their goodbyes, “See you Sunday Russ.”
“Sunday it is,” Russ agreed hanging up the phone as he thought to the meeting he was having with Kyle.  While he’d wished it was under more social circumstances, he knew that it would be vital to his future to have Kyle working for him as Bruce Mathis was one threat that couldn’t be ignored.
“There you are,” Avery’s voice rose through the darkness as Russell spun around in his chair to discover her standing in the hallway, leaning up against the wall as she had one hand up over the front of her robe holding it together loosely, “I was wondering where you drifted off to.”
“There was something that I needed to do,” he admitted honestly tucking the paper back inside the drawer as his eyes returned to her once again.  Watching as she strode across the room, he couldn’t help but be mesmerized by her as her robe followed her every movement painting her with moonlight from the sky outside as she seemed to glide over to him.  She was truly a beauty and the fact that she was his wife added all the more to her mesmerizing quality as she stood before him.
“And it couldn’t wait until morning,” she questioned doubtful as she arched a brow down at him, “Russ, what’s going on?”
“Nothing, nothing’s going on,” he shrugged as he reached out to her pulling her down into his lap as his lips collided with hers, “except for my thinking about returning to bed to hold my beautiful wife for the rest of the night.”
“Very smooth,” she murmured breaking away from the kiss, “but I’m not buying it.  There’s more to the story than you want to tell me.”
“You’re right.  There is, but tonight, well the truth to the matter is that I don’t want to talk about it,” he confessed with a sigh.
“Because you don’t trust me with the information you’re playing around with or because you yourself can’t be trusted?” she questioned in her best professional tone as Russell suddenly felt as if he’d stepped into the middle of an interrogation.   
“Avery, it’s just not worth getting into.  It’s late and with everything that’s happened today, well I was hoping we could put it off until tomorrow,” he offered up in response.
“The question is will you be anymore compelled to share it with me tomorrow than you are tonight since it‘s rather obvious the secret you‘re harboring must be something you‘re working very hard to keep hidden if it involves your sneaking around in the middle of night so that I won‘t notice,” she added with a pointed look.
“Avery, I swear to you it’s nothing,” he began again catching her look of displeasure.   
“Russ, don’t start lying to me now as you were never good at it and it only winds up getting you in trouble,” she huffed curling her lip in a pout as she curled her arms around his neck.
“Just like your curiosity tends to do for you,” he countered catching her unimpressed glare.
“Russ, you’re not winning any points here,” she pointed out with a scowl.
“And you’re not getting any information from me other than what I’m doing, I’m doing because of us--because I love you and I don’t want to lose you ever again,” he swore to her hugging her body in over his, “You do trust me on that, don’t you Avery?”
“Of course I trust you, but I hate the idea of your feeling you can’t tell me things now Russ?  I mean after all we’ve been through you’d think we could have anything be open territory,” she pointed out once again attempting to get him to crack as her finger tips pressed in over his bare chest.
“I’ll tell you, but not tonight,” he let out a frustrated sigh feeling her working her charms over him as he squeezed her closer, “because right now all I want to think about is how much I love you.”
“I love you too,” she tipped down to kiss him gingerly, “and if you promise me that tomorrow you’ll clue me in on what’s brewing behind those sexy green eyes of yours, I’ll let you off the hook temporarily.”
“In that case, it’s a deal,” Russell murmured in agreement shifting restlessly beneath her.
“One that perhaps we should seal with a kiss,” she suggested cupping his face in her hands as her lips devoured his once again.
“I was thinking that it may take more than just a kiss to distract you tonight,” Russell whispered moving his mouth in over her neck as he listened to the familiar rush of breath that spilled over her lips when he’d teased his mouth over her hidden hotspot.
“Somehow I get the feeling you’re trying to work overtime to put me off tonight,” Avery deduced with another soft sigh.
“I was thinking more along the lines of turning you on since we haven’t had much time for that lately,” he confessed pulling away just enough for their eyes to reconnect long enough for him to reveal his growing hunger for her.
“Are you sure you’re up for that tonight considering everything that we’ve been through with Grady,” she questioned taking note of the vibrancy in the depths of emerald colored eyes.
“What do you think,” he replied boldly capturing her mouth with an intense expression of his emotions as he rose up from the chair carrying her down the hallway leading to their bedroom as he vowed to devote the rest of the evening to loving his wife as he was quite certain he was doing exactly what his brother had asked him to do in living in the moment.


“So this is home for a while,” Jade thought aloud closing the curtain before turning to Grady to offer up a tired smile.
“Apparently so, although you know you could’ve easily just stayed back in Coral Valley as I’m sure that you would’ve been better off if you’d…” Grady began feeling the weight of his injuries bringing their toll upon him as he remained in the bed wondering just how things had gotten so far out of the realm of normal for him.
“And be without you?” Jade questioned with wide eyes moving in closer to be near him, “Not a chance as the only place I’m meant to be is with you.”
“I’m glad that you’re here and don’t think that I don’t appreciate the gesture, but if Cameron ever finds out that I’m alive and he comes after you,” he began with worry evident in his tone.
“Grady, Cameron’s not going to know anything until we’re ready to let him know the truth.  We’re going to take him down and prove that you never shot Kipp Mahoney.  I have complete faith in Russ and Avery and I know this is only temporary,” Jade’s gaze lingered down over his bandages as a tiny shiver raced over her body, “and besides, you’re going to need someone to help take care of those for you.”
“Dave will no doubt have someone checking in on me as I’m not exactly free and clear here,” Grady pointed out sensing the apprehension that Jade still carried with her, “if you’d rather go back home…”
“No, that’s not what I want at all,” Jade shook her head adamantly, “I love you Grady Denton and with you is where I want to be even if that means being in a place like this.”
“It’s not exactly as charming as I would’ve liked for our first romantic trip out of town together to be,” Grady offered up a sheepish grin as Jade couldn’t help but be tickled with laughter.
“Maybe not, but I’m sure we can find a way to work some kind of romantic theme into the atmosphere around this place,” Jade suggested as her eyes skimmed the small cabin they’d been transported to, “It has some potential I would imagine.”
“But not enough to be what I was hoping for when I’d finally gotten the chance to sweep you off of your feet and out of Coral Valley as I was thinking about something tropical and full of sunshine.  You know the kind of place where we could lay in the beach all day drinking frozen drinks and we’d be there with my admiring you in that sexy bikini I just know you have tucked away for such an occasion.  Of course there would be a time when I’d get the opportunity to help you with the suntan oil in between our making love with one another…”
“In a hammock,” Jade added enthusiastically settling in beside him as she carefully draped her arm around him snuggling in closer to his warmth, “and it would be there that we’d watch the sunsets together dreaming about our future while planning out our next skinny dipping adventure the next morning.”
“Somehow I get the feeling you’ve put a lot of thought into this fantasy as well,” Grady couldn’t help but tease as he looked down at her.
“Maybe just a little,” she answered sheepishly bringing her fingers up in a tiny pinching motion to emphasize her words, “but truth be told when I thought I was going to lose you, I just prayed for another opportunity to be able to hold you like this.  I didn’t care where we were just as long as at the end of it all, we were together.  It could’ve been on an island paradise, in a snowstorm in an igloo or in the middle of your backyard, just as long as we were together.”
“All I could think about was returning to you as I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you without letting you know how much it was that you mean to me,” he carefully tucked his finger underneath her chin lifting her eyes up towards his as a smile touched over his lips, “I do love you Jade Alexander.”
“I love you too Grady Denton and that’s why I know that things are going to work out for us.  We’ll find a way to make it and together we won’t let anything destroy what we have--especially not a man like Cameron,” she sighed snuggling in closer to him as Grady kissed the top of her head praying that one day her words would hold true as it seemed that they had a long road ahead of them before that day would come.

...to be continued...