“What are you doing, Seth,” Blake repeated her question as she looked to him with confused eyes. She’d thought she’d heard something in her brother’s room, but she’d never anticipated finding Seth--clad only in a towel tied loosely around his waist standing over by the dresser. She couldn’t help but stare as the tanned contours of his body were out in the open for her to admire. He was every bit as irresistible as she’d imagined him to be, but somehow the idea of him being in Kenneth’s room, seemed off.
“Blake,” he spoke her name, surprise evident behind his eyes as he threw a nervous smile out at her, “you’re probably thinking this looks a bit unsettling huh?”
“I don’t know if unsettling is the word I’d use for it,” she hesitated unable to find herself anything, but distracted by the muscular planes of his chest, “but truth be told, I don’t know what you could possibly be doing in here.”
“Honestly,” Seth drew in a nervous breath as he held up his camera, “I dropped this in the sink and I was afraid it would be water logged,” he lied half heartedly, “you know after the run in we had at the fountain I was starting to think I overdid it.”
“So you brought your camera into Kenny’s room,” she questioned disbelieving.
“Yeah,” he smiled at her as he held his camera before a thought crossed his mind, “but that’s not the only reason I’m standing right here. I mean I was hoping my camera would dry off as I moved around, but more so,” he motioned to Kenneth’s dresser, “the shirt you gave me, well,” he flexed his arms a bit as he offered up a goofy grin, “it’s a bit snug, so I just thought that I’d come in here and see if your brother had something more my size. I know I should’ve asked before taking it upon myself to go through this things, but…” he trailed off trying to read her expression as she stepped forward.
Blake remained silent as she approached him, her eyes darting over his nearly naked form as her gaze took him in hungrily. Despite her initial shock of finding him in Kenneth’s room, looking at him, his explanation seemed to make perfect sense. Clearly there was no denying that Ken was much smaller than Seth was in terms of height and in terms of the corded muscle that clearly accentuated Seth’s flawless features.
“It’s okay,” Blake finally managed to get out as she brushed past him, feeling the heat of the contact of his skin against hers as she opened the top drawer of her brother’s dresser and she pulled out a black t-shirt.
“This might work better,” she turned to face him finding
him standing right behind her as her pulse caused her breath to catch in her
throat at the nearness of him. His dark eyes penetrated her, reaching
down deep into that part of her that always seemed to melt around him.
He was everything she’d ever dreamt of and now, well now all she could think
about was the warmth of his body, just a whisper away from hers--about the
ways in which she’d love to run her hands over his soft skin, to feel every
savory inch of him holding her, but as thoughts of touching Seth burned her
to the core, all she could do was hold the shirt out to him hoping he couldn’t
read her mind.
“Thank you,” he replied, his fingers brushing casually against hers as he reached for the shirt.
“You’re very welcome,” she managed to get out as the faint flicker of his touch set her every synapse ablaze.
Seth smiled down at her, holding the t-shirt as a long, uncomfortable silence passed between them and he motioned towards the bathroom door, “I should probably go get dressed huh?”
“That might be a good idea,” she nodded nervously biting on her lower lip as he took a step towards the door.
“Then we can get to dinner,” he winked at her, “You’re still interested in dinner right?”
“I’m famished with this sudden hunger,” she blurted out unable fight the heat rising within her as she watched him framed in the doorway before her. Though she’d revealed her hunger, she was certain that this feeling taking control of her had nothing to do with food and everything to do with Seth.
“Then I’d better hurry up,” he decided as his gaze cast over her one last time before he shut the door to the bathroom and Blake let out a breath wondering how on Earth she was going to deal with the way Seth made her feel. Never before had she wanted anyone more and even now as she sank onto Kenneth’s bed sitting in silence as she watched the bathroom door imagining what he was doing on the other side, her heart thudded in her chest as she realized that with each passing moment, she was falling for Seth in ways she’d never imagined possible.
Caitlin sat down at the table as the host pulled out the chair for her. She smiled as she took her seat while Kenneth sat across the table from her. The host placed a wine selection list into Kenneth's hands before stepping away.
"I've never been here before," Caitlin admitted as she looked around the intimate yet ritzy restaurant. She tucked a wayward tress of hair behind her ear causing her sparkling sapphire earrings to glimmer in the light. The dangling gemstones matched the color of her dress as well as the illumination with her eyes.
Kenneth marveled at her beauty for a moment, taken aback that anyone could take his breath away. From the second he'd arrived at her apartment and laid eyes on her, he'd found it hard to speak. She sparkled as if she hadn't a care in the world despite the turmoil within her life. Perhaps it was that quality in itself which captured his attention, or perhaps it was her delicate beauty.
"Then perhaps this is the beginning of many visits," Kenneth smiled before he tore his eyes away from her and glanced over the wine selections, "Do you have any preference when it comes to wine?"
"Not at all," She replied as she glanced over a menu of food, "I'm pretty easy to please."
"Wow, easy to please," He smiled, "I didn't think anyone was easy to please anymore…well besides myself."
"Are you sure you're an Ashford?" Caitlin smiled as a waiter joined them.
He grinned before he ordered a bottle of wine before they each placed their food orders. When the waiter left the table, Kenneth looked back to his dinner companion, "So am I forgiven?"
"Hmm, I don't know. I'll have to wait until I've eaten to make that kind of decision," She smiled. The waiter returned to the table and poured them each a glass of wine. She lifted her glass and inhaled the spicy aroma of the wine before taking a sip. She smiled as she met Kenneth's eyes, "This is quite good."
"I'm glad you approve. I'm not much of a wine connoisseur," He admitted, "Brant could pick out a wine for each and every item that could possibly be ordered on a menu, but me," He shrugged as he leaned forward to make the conversation more comfortable, "I'm a simple guy. I like what I like, and I don't much care whether its proper for fish, chicken or beef."
"It's nice to know that you're not a snob," She chuckled as she placed her glass back upon the table.
"What about you? Got any pristine habits I should know about?" He asked with a slight smile.
"Not a one. I don't drink that often, but I have drank enough to know what I like. This I like," She smiled as she licked her lips gently, "It's a strong wine but with subtle undertones that make you want to taste more to figure out just exactly what they are."
"So you have insatiable curiosity," He surmised, "I suppose that's part of why journalism is your calling."
"That and I love to write."
"Purely factual or fictional as well?"
"I've spent my professional life dealing with facts, but I enjoy writing fiction. It's a hobby."
"What sort of fiction do you write?"
"Mostly short stories, nothing novel worthy," She dismissed the notion quickly, "What about you? Do you have any hobbies?"
"I guess you could say that being an Ashford is my hobby."
"Care to explain that one?" She asked as she lifted her glass to her lips for another sip.
"I don't live my life as if I have all the money in the world or all the conveniences that money can buy. When I do indulge in those aspects of my life and my family's good fortune, I try to enjoy it to the fullest."
"So what's your idea of indulgence?"
Kenneth smiled, "You'll laugh when I tell you."
"Oh come on. Unless it's running naked down the strip in Vegas, I don't think I'm going to laugh," She teased.
"That would be more Brant's style," He chuckled, "My idea of indulgence is taking my boat out on the lake for a day and just relaxing away from everyone for a while. Drinking champagne and eating fillet mignon under starlight. That's indulgence."
"You do have a side that appreciates your wealth."
"I do," He agreed, "Sometimes I feel guilty though."
"Why?" She asked in confusion.
"Because I have so much when there are others who don't. Take the Hendersons for example. They only wanted to buy a home, start a family, and live the American dream. Now they're struggling just to make ends meet while the doctors run around trying to figure out if their son will live or not. Sometimes I feel as if I've been given a great gift that I don't deserve."
"Maybe it's for that very reason that you deserve it the most," Caitlin pointed out, "You don't think of yourself as being born with the entitlement to such great wealth. That alone makes you all the more worthy of riches."
"That's a very romantic way to look at it."
"I've been told I do have a romantic streak in me," She said with a smile, gently swirling her wine around her glass, "But I don't think so."
"Romantic thinking is one thing, but to actually live it," She shook her head, "That's something all together different."
"I know that feeling," Kenneth admitted, "It seems to me that romance takes a lot of work."
"I guess you have to ask yourself if all the work is really worth it."
"It has to be."
Caitlin looked at him with surprise, "Why do you say that?"
"I've seen people who are truly happy in their relationships, and their happiness is unmatched by anything else I've ever seen. The work they've put into making their relationship work had to be worth that kind of joy. Otherwise, how could any of us even dream of having that special someone in our lives?"
"Is that romanticism with a dash of realism thrown in?"
"Could be," He smiled as he sipped his wine glass.
"So how would you classify yourself? Romantic or realist?"
"Most people call me an idealist, and I suppose that would automatically make me a romantic," He paused as he placed his wine glass back upon the table and met her eyes, "But I'm realistic enough to know that you can't get something for nothing. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, and that means work, sweat, and tears. Maybe I'm somewhere in the middle."
Caitlin thought about his answer for a moment, "I think I'm more of a realist. I don't think I believe in all the starry eyed ideals of romance anymore."
"That's too bad. You never know what you could miss out on just by ceasing to believe."
She allowed a slight smile tickle her lips, "Is that some encouragement for me to hold my head high and keep an open mind?"
"It's just a fair warning," He replied with a smile, "You never know what opportunities await you just around the corner. It's been that way enough times in my life, god knows."
"Really? How so?"
"Well, it's not romantic in nature by any stretch of the imagination," He clarified before speaking again, "But the entire story of my partnership with Hart Steiner is based on one of those unexpected opportunities presenting itself."
"Now this is a story I want to hear. When I first heard that you were partners with Hart Steiner, I wasn't sure what to make of it. He doesn't exactly have a reputation for doing good deeds," She pointed out.
Kenneth grinned, "Hart definitely has some nasty habits, but that's only part of the equation. He does the wrong things for the right reasons."
"You're going to have to explain that one," She said with a grin.
"Hart believes in the causes he fights for so much so that sometimes he blurs the line of what is acceptable and what isn't. He and I met while arguing a case a few years ago. He represented the plaintiff, and I served as defense counsel. It was the absolute hardest case I've ever participate in. Hart kept me on my toes all the time, and I had to work every waking hour to figure out how to counter his every move. The judge levied a split decision which made us both to be winners and losers," He explained, "After it was all said and done, Hart invited me out for a drink, and we expressed our mutual admiration for one another. We discussed how we both wanted to proceed in the future, and the idea came along to join forces."
"And it doesn't bother you that he cuts corners?"
"I didn't say that," He reminded her, "Hart does what he has to do on his cases, and he doesn't interfere with my cases. If we want the other's help, we play by a strict set of rules that we put together. Otherwise, his cases are his and mine are mine."
Caitlin watched Kenneth closely before she smiled slightly, "It's still odd. Hart Steiner seems like the kind of man that is more your brother's speed than yours."
"He is," He admitted with a soft laugh, "Brant and Hart get along great if you count comparing their women and cars as getting along."
"You have to be the oddest man I've ever met."
Kenneth eyed her for a moment, "What's that mean?"
"You have all the money you could ever wish for, and yet you don't have the cars, clothes, jewels, and women that go with it. That's unheard of," She said with surprise, "I mean, rich people generally boast about the fact that they're rich. You act like it's some kind of burden."
"It is," He said as if it were evident, "I grew up in the Ashford household. If we had been poor, the name Ashford wouldn't have meant a thing to next door neighbors. They wouldn't have cared who we loved, hated, ripped off or saved. No one would care about our private lives. But with the money came this invasion of privacy. Everyone thinks they know us, but they don't. The media thinks that everything we do should be public record. I can't go buy a tux without everyone wondering what the big secret special occasion is," He said as he leaned back in his chair, "So yeah, being rich does come with a huge price tag attached. I enjoy the convenience of having money. It's the inconvenience of being intruded upon that I don't enjoy."
"I don't ever want you to think that I'm that kind of reporter. I would never pry into your personal life. That's no one's business but your own," She said quickly as she met his eyes, "I just want to tell about the good work that you do. That alone should speak as to who you are. I don't care how many cars you own, the vacations you've taken or what woman you have on your arm this week. All I care about is your work."
"I know that," Kenneth said softly, "And that makes you one in a million."
Caitlin felt a wave of bashfulness sweep over her as she turned her eyes away from her, warmth tingling within her cheeks, "I…"
"You're a good person, Caitlin. I've learned that much in just the short time I've known you, and I'm learning that more with every moment I spend with you."
She felt warmed by his compliment as she slowly raised her eyes to meet his, "Thank you for that, but I'm just who I am."
"Don't sell yourself short. It's rare to meet a person who isn't above dishing the dirt to get ahead, and you have no idea how much I respect you for that," He informed her with sincerity.
Caitlin smiled as she met his warm eyes. Maybe she had been wrong. Maybe there were still good guys in the world, and she had been lucky enough, for once in her life, to meet one of her very own.
Russell stood inside Irvan's, tapping his fingers impatiently upon the counter. Patience was never his greatest virtue, but he had to get over to Avery's apartment. There was no way in hell he was going to let Brant Ashford take advantage of her condition. He'd sat in front of the apartment building long enough to watch Brant leave, but Russell didn't trust the snake not to return.
He looked around the grill and noticed that not many people were out and about this evening. It was just as well. Russell didn't feel like chatting with any one even for a brief moment. He wanted to get back to Avery's apartment and make sure she was safe for the evening. Thus his trip to the grill for coffee and sandwiches.
"And this is Irvan's which you already know," Jade announced as she stepped inside with a man Russell didn't recognize. In the instant he had heard Jade's voice, he'd expected to see someone closer to her age with her. Instead, the man accompanying her had set Russell's alarm off.
"Jade," Russell said her name as he stood taller, preparing himself for anything the man with her might say or do.
"Russ," Jade smiled as she approached him, "Hey, what are you doing out and about tonight? Looking for a story or something?"
"Just getting some coffee and sandwiches to help a friend nurse a hangover," He said as he looked to the man with Jade.
"Oh, silly me," She said quickly, "Russell Denton, this is Cameron Stone. He's new in town, and I'm giving him a ten cent tour."
"She's been a very informative tour guide," Cameron corrected as he shook Russell's hand, "Any relation to Grady Denton?"
"They're brothers," Jade announced as she looked at Russell seeing his face darken, "Russ, are you okay?"
"Not really," Russell said as he looked to Jade, "Can I talk to you for a second?"
"Sure," She said with confusion as she stepped aside with him, "What's wrong?"
"You tell me," He countered as he glanced back to Cameron, "Who is this guy and why are you out with him?"
"He's new to town, and we met here the other day at lunch. He wanted to be shown around town," She shrugged.
"Jade, you know exactly what I'm talking about. What about Grady?"
She looked away from Russell and sighed, "What about him?"
"What…Jade," He asked as he watched her closely, seeing her attempt to shy away from him, "Jade, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," She said as she looked back to him. She took a deep breath before speaking again, "I'm out with someone who wants to be with me. Why should that mean that anything is wrong?"
"What happened? What did Grady do?" He asked as he watched her avoid his question, "Jade, whatever happened, Grady didn't mean it."
"That's just it, Russ. I'm afraid he did," She said as she turned and walked back to join Cameron.
Russell took a deep breath as he walked back to the bar and took his order from the server. He walked out of Irvan's with a new target at which to direct his anger.
"What was that about?" Cameron asked as he glanced towards the closing door.
"Russ is just protective," Jade smiled, "Would you like some coffee or something?"
"Coffee is good," He agreed as they ordered before sitting at a table, "I've really enjoyed this evening."
"So have I," She replied truthfully, "It's been a while since I've been out and truly enjoyed myself. I need to thank you for that."
"No need," He smiled as their coffee arrived, "This entire evening has been worth it just to see you smile. Your smile has made the entire evening amazing."
"Now you're flattering me," She said with a grin as she gently stirred her coffee.
"I'm being sincere," He said softly, "You're beautiful, Jade, and you should be told so often."
"Cameron, that's very sweet of you, but.."
"I'm making you uncomfortable, aren't I?" He said as he gently touched her hand, "I'm sorry. That was never my intention."
"I'm moving too fast. I apologize," He said firmly as he withdrew his touch, "It's just that you're an amazing woman."
"Thank you," She said softly as she met his eyes, "I just…I don't think I'm ready for a relationship right now."
"That's okay," Cameron said softly as he placed his hand back upon hers in a warm motion, "The best things in life are worth waiting for," He said as he thought ahead to all his plans for Coral Valley and how Jade fit so intimately into those plans.
Brant unbuttoned his shirt as he stepped into his bedroom. He tugged the shirt from his trousers as he thought about Avery and what had happened or rather hadn't happened on their trip. The truly odd part of the entire trip was that he hadn't actually taken her to bed despite his chance to do so. He didn't quite understand the recent wave of sentimentality that had plagued him, but he knew he'd get over it eventually.
He kicked his shoes across the room before making his way toward the bed. It was then he noticed the trail of clothing along the floor. He raised a knowing eyebrow, "Heather?"
"I've been waiting for you," Heather purred in a sultry voice as she switched on the lamp beside the bed. She wiggled her finger at him in invitation, "Come to bed baby."
"How the hell did you get in here?" He asked as he put his hands on his hips.
"I have my ways," She said with a smile, "Come on baby. I know you're ready to forgive me."
"Forgive? I think not. Now get out of my bed," He demanded.
"Okay," She said as she tossed the sheet back and crawled out of bed, sauntering towards him wearing a lacy pink teddy, "Now we can have some fun together," She slipped her palms over his chest, "Wherever you'd like."
"Heather, what part of I hate you don't you understand?" He asked, unmoved by her actions as he stared down into her alluring eyes.
"You don't hate me, Brant. You say you do," She said as she eased her fingers over his skin, "But I know better," She whispered as she eased her lips towards his.
"Get out!" He demanded as he backed away from her, "I need my rest…not another headache from dealing with you."
"Brant, you can't run forever. You and I both know that this is just an infatuation with Avery Morrison. You just want her because she's the forbidden fruit. It's okay. I forgive you for that. Now let's move on."
"Forgive me? Heather," He said as he shook his head, "If you're not out of here in about two seconds, I'm calling the security guards to haul you out of here."
"Brant, why are you being so stubborn? Why can't you just let this go?"
"You just don't get it, do you?" He asked as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed, "I was going to marry you. I was ready to give you the world, and you threw it all away. And for what? For a cheap thrill and a career move that you didn't even need."
"Brant, I know I screwed up. I've admitted it. Why can't you forgive me?"
"Because you should have known better, and I'm sick and tired of your betrayals. Get out, Heather, or I'll have you thrown out. Believe me. You won't like the picture on the front page of the tabloids if my security guards throw you out naked."
Heather groaned as she moved about the room, picking up items of clothing and dressing as she went along, "Don't you love me?"
"I thought I did. I guess I was wrong," He said simply as he watched her.
"And Avery? You think you love her?"
"I don't know yet, but I damn sure care about her more than you," He said with a chilling smile.
"How can you be so cold hearted? I love you, Brant. I'll do anything," She said as she sank to her knees in front of him, "Anything to get you back."
Brant searched her face for a moment before he leaned forward and whispered, "There's nothing you could ever do that would make me do something so stupid."
Heather's eyes snapped up to meet his, "Damn you!" She screamed at him as she rose to her feet. She stomped towards the door but stopped to shout one last volley towards him, "I'm not giving up on you, Brant. You may not give a damn about your happiness, but I do. We will be together," She declared with determination as she slammed out of the room.
"Like hell we will," Brant sighed as he finished undressing and slipped into bed. He switched off the bedside lamp and sank back into his pillow with only one woman on his mind. Avery.
“Close your eyes,” Seth urged as he pulled his car to
a stop just short of the destination he’d had in mind.
Blake looked around the empty highway giving him a sideways glance as the darkness hung over the tired sky. Despite the summer heat, she could feel a chill racing over her as she focused her attention on Seth. He offered a strange look at Blake tossed her hair over her shoulder eyeing him intently.
“You want me to close my eyes,” she repeated after a long moment of silence, “I thought that we’d be headed to some place like the Pavilion or something, but considering that is in the other direction, I have to wonder what you have up your sleeve.”
“The only way you’re ever going to find out is if you trust me enough to close your eyes,” Seth paused seeing the curiosity sweep over her features, “you do trust me, don’t you Blake?”
“More than I probably should,” she confessed as he reached out to her touching her cheek gently as a tiny shiver raced over her.
“You’re safe with me,” he promised leaning forward, his breath cascading over her soft features as his lips whispered over hers in a seductive sweep, kissing her gently.
“I know,” she murmured as his savory kiss ended, “deep down I think I believe that.”
“Good,” Seth smiled drawing his thick fingers gently through her blonde hair as the weight of the moment hung over him and he savored the way she looked beneath the moonlight. Her eyelashes fluttered faintly as she closed her lids turning herself over to him completely as he kissed her forehead tenderly.
“You won’t regret this,” he assured her as he reached into the back seat of Jade’s compact car and he pulled a blue, silken scarf out of the side of his camera case. Drawing it’s sheer material between his finger tips, he turned his attention to Blake seeing the vulnerability behind her beautiful features as he leaned forward caressing her soft skin with the scarf. She shuddered against his touch as he lifted the scarf over her eyes, blindfolding her loosely with the scarf.
“Seth, what are you doing,” she questioned shifting nervously as the heat of his breath pressed in over against her earlobe. She opened her eyes seeing the deep indigo shade filling her vision as his lips grazed her skin gently.
“Keeping you in suspense just a few minutes more,” his lips cascaded over her excited skin, the warmth of him intensifying the sensations rushing over her as his voice took on a more cryptic tone, “Just trust me, Blake.”
“Alright,” she nodded leaning back into the seat as she felt Seth pull away from her and the roaring of the car’s engine hummed once again. She curled her fingers into the seat beneath her as her heart thudded in her chest.
Now with the blindfold over her eyes, Blake was more aware of the sound of Seth’s breath on the other side of the car, of the rugged scent of his cologne, of the way her pulse was racing out of control at the very thought of him taking her to the ends of the earth with his mystery and she found herself exhilarated by the very thought of giving in to him in every way imaginable. Shifting on the seat nervously, she thought back to the image that had been imprinted in her mind back at the mansion when she’d seen him standing in her brother’s room wearing next to nothing. He was beautiful, everything a woman could want in a man and now as the seductive scent of him washed over her, she realized that he was hers. He was here with her and in his own way he was making all her dreams of romance and seduction a very vivid, exciting reality.
“We’re almost there,” his voice promised as Blake felt his fingers press over her knee in the faintest of brushes against her bare skin. The sizzle he’d stirred inside of her with that touch continued to burn her as he’d pulled his hand away from her. Somehow the more he touched her, the more she wanted him, wanted to feel her world turn upside down and inside out as Seth’s presence was a breath of life to her.
“Not much further,” he broke through her thoughts once again as Blake listened to the engine’s soft rumbling fade away alerting her that Seth had stopped the car. She strained to figure out where he’d taken her as she heard the distinct sound of the driver’s side door opening and in an instant, she knew she was alone. Feeling her heart sink a bit as she waited less than patiently in the car, she wondered what Seth was up to as she eagerly anticipated his return. Moment’s later, she felt a breeze sweep in over her as the passenger side door opened and Seth’s palm pressed in over her shoulder.
“We’re here,” he announced reaching in to unfasten her seat belt as he leaned over her, his body just a few inches away from her, well within her reach as a smile touched over her lips.
“And just where is here,” she questioned in a soft, teasing tone as he captured her hand in his urging her out of the car.
“You tell me,” he teased as he pulled her out of Jade’s car and into his arms. She tripped forward a bit stumbling into his chest as a smile crept over his features, “Careful,” he spoke soothingly as he cupped her face between his strong hands, “we wouldn’t want you to fall now, would we?”
“Of course not,” she leaned into his touch feeling excitement race over her every synapse as her fingers fanned out over the warm, inviting muscles of his chest, “can I take the blindfold off now?”
“Not yet,” he explained releasing her.
“Seth,” Blake felt a chill rush over her as he’d moved away. She extended her fingers out to him wanting nothing more than to hold him as the blindfold she’d been wearing had left her vulnerable to the world around her. She had no idea of where he’d taken her, though she could still feel the night air hang over her, tempting her skin with the promise of anticipation as she contemplated removing the blindfold. She parted her lips, ready to call out to Seth, when she felt a brush up against her leg.
“Seth,” she gasped surprised by the warmth that surrounded her as his lips cast over her shapely calf in tender, moist kisses. A shot of electricity rushed over her as his kisses tapered off over her ankle, raising her foot from the ground she stood over. She leaned back into the car, feeling herself unsteady as his powerful touch gently massaged her ankle as his fingers unbuckled her sandal, “what are you doing?”
“You’ll see,” his voice offered a hint of promise as he plucked away her sandal tossing it back into the car before he pressed one final kiss over the top of her foot.
“Seth I don’t understand,” she began as he delicately lowered her toes to the ground once again. She opened her mouth to speak once more, when she felt the grainy texture beneath her toes. Unable to resist the urge, she wiggled her toes over the ground feeling it move beneath her as Seth turned his attention to the remaining sandal. It was then that the hum of water filled her ears and her eyes lit up from behind the blindfold.
“We’re at the water, aren’t we,” Blake deducted as Seth rose to his feet once again, a smile touching over his handsome features.
“Oh you are good, Blake Ashford,” his voice sounded pleased as he reached out to her lacing their fingers with one another, “and here I thought I could pull the wool over your eyes.”
“I grew up by the water,” Blake confessed a blush rising over her features, “and I’d recognize the sand and the sounds anywhere.”
“Well then I guess my surprise won’t be a complete surprise,” Seth decided with a smile as the winds picked up a bit surrounding them, “though I’m trying…”
“You’re doing great,” Blake replied squeezing his fingers as her smile widened, “I love the water.”
“Good, because that’s a start,” he decided dipping his arms around her waist as he hoisted her up off of the ground squeezing her close to him, “now just hold on.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Blake admitted in a soft whisper snuggling into his chest as he carried her in his arms leading her towards the sound of the water as she wondered just what Seth had up his sleeve.
Feeling at perfect ease in his arms, Blake wondered what it would be like in the future when they were reminiscing about their first date. Would their relationship be a success through out and would they find that love was something that would guide them through the years with one another? As he held her, she was starting to believe in all of those things she’d pushed away for so many years. Meeting Seth had changed her life and somehow he’d made her happy once again. He’d shown her a whole new world she’d never imagined possible.
“Here we are,” Seth explained as he slowly released her from his protective hold and she found herself on the sand once again, “Don’t move,” he instructed stepping away as Blake smiled inwardly knowing that wild horse couldn’t drag her away from him.
A moment later, the soft sounds of a cool jazz piece brushed through the night, drumming up an air of romance and seduction as Blake felt Seth’s palm upon her hip. The warmth of him filled the emptiness floating behind her as his lips grazed her exposed shoulder blade affectionately while his fingers tugged on the blindfold working the knot free. Blake took in a slow, anticipatory breath as her eyes were finally given a glimpse of the magic Seth had prepared for her.
Blake’s gaze wandered out over the water as she looked to the lake before her. They were at Lake Cardinal no doubt as she sank into Seth’s arms feeling him hold her securely. The night sky had started to fill with stars as Seth’s fingers tapered off over her flat abdomen with gentle ease. The night was beautiful, the moment was divine as Blake turned her eyes towards him.
“Do you like it,” he asked as she smiled up at him.
“I love it,” Blake turned fully in his arms, tipping up on her toes to kiss him when she noticed something behind him. Curiously, she untangled herself from his arms as she stepped around him seeing the small table for two set up. Her eyes widened as she looked back at him in surprise, “Seth…”
“I promised you dinner,” he explained moving in beside her, “and well, while it’s not the Pavilion well, it’s my own taste of paradise,” he paused clearing his throat as she approached the table inspecting it closely, “It’s not your strawberry shortcake and I’ll admit that my culinary talents are no where near on the level with yours, but I dug out a few of my mother’s recipes and I thought I’d give some of her home cooking a try,” he explained as a tiny laugh bubbled over him, “Of course after I almost blew up the kitchen and feared Jade was going to murder me for damn near burning down the apartment, I decided that maybe the whole Pavilion idea wasn’t so bad,” he finished with a smile as he reached out to her, “so while dinner was on my mind as I wanted to do something special for you, I’m afraid the cooking isn’t my own. Though I’m sure it’s a blessing in disguise.”
“Seth, it’s wonderful. It’s absolutely amazing,” she threw her arms around him savoring the night she shared with this amazing man before her.
“I was hoping you’d like it,” he hugged her gently holding her for a moment before taking a small step back and he held out a chair for her.
“Thank you,” she smiled politely taking a seat as she watched him circle around the table reaching for the bottle of champagne that had been chilling on ice.
“Only the best tonight,” he smiled showing her the bottle before opening it.
“Seth, you really didn’t have to do all this,” she began mesmerized by him as a smile swept over her features, “but I’m glad that you did.”
“I was hoping you might enjoy some time away from the rest of the world,” he admitted pouring her a glass of champagne. He handed it over to her before filling his own glass, “After our dip in the fountain, I had a feeling you might appreciate the water.”
“I do,” Blake nodded admiringly as she looked out onto the lake, “I used to spend time here with my mother when I was a child. She and I would decide to have a girl‘s day and we‘d leave the men back at the mansion,” she hesitated thinking back, “of course at the time I thought it was just our special time and that it was entirely meant for us. I didn’t realize she was avoiding my father and his latest act of indiscretion,” she paused as she looked down to the spot on the beach where she and her mother spent so much time with one another, “I just felt like those times were meant for only me. I loved being with her you know.”
“She sounds like an incredible woman,” Seth noted seeing a sadness behind her features as he reached out to touch her hand gently.
“She was,” Blake turned to face him, her eyes swelled with tears as she tried to still her emotions, “She was the best mother I could’ve imagined and I lost her too soon. I hated letting go of her, but every now and then,” she cast her eyes out over the ocean, “I’d come down here and I feel she’s with me--that somehow despite the fact she was taken from this world before I could share my life with her, that she’d still be here when I needed her. Kind of guiding me along…”
“I’m sure she is,” Seth softened his tone hating to see the sadness in her as he squeezed her hand gently, “She’d be so very proud of you if she could see you now.”
“Oh I don’t know about that,” Blake confessed a heat rising over her features, “She might not appreciate some of the things I’ve done. I always wanted to follow in her footsteps. She was so good and noble…I mean it’s like she was on this level…an angel if you will. I see a lot of her in Kenneth,” Blake felt a nervousness spill over her, “you don’t want to hear this.”
“No, please go on,” he encouraged, “I don’t mind at all.”
“I guess it’s just well, it seems silly getting worked up about it now,” she closed her eyes trying to still the memories that flooded over her as she spoke candidly about her mother, “She and I we just, well we didn’t have much time that’s all. When she died, well we were out in Los Angeles visiting her sister. At the time I figured it would be just another shopping adventure in Beverly Hills,” Blake paused her voice full of emotion as she let out a tiny smile, “She and I did that from time to time and by age five I think everyone on Rodeo Drive knew me by name,” she shook her head at the memory, “I really thought I was something, you know?”
Seth watched her as her blue eyes clouded over with sadness and she withdrew from his touch turning her eyes to the lake again.
“On our last trip, we were going out there again for a shopping spree that I’d insisted upon for my seventh birthday. My father was busy with business and Brant and Kenny were in school, so it was just us girls again. She wanted to wait a week until Brant and Kenny were home again, but I’d begged her--pleaded with her to take this trip just us girls and like always, she agreed. We were supposed to meet up with my Aunt Penny once we’d checked into the hotel, but we never made it there,” Blake trailed off a shiver running over her as she rubbed her hands over her arms as if to erase the emptiness inside of her, “We were in the cab on the way to the hotel when the quake hit…” her voice broke up at tears fell down her face.
“Oh Blake,” Seth reached out to her as she wiped at her tears pulling herself out of the chair.
“I’m sorry,” she turned away from him looking out onto the ocean as she thought back to the last time she’d seen her mother’s face twisted and tangled in the wreckage.
“Blake,” Seth spoke her name, his hand on her shoulder as she broke into tiny sobs.
“I told myself that she couldn’t be gone,” Blake’s voice sounded empty as her eyes remained on the water, “that I wasn’t really seeing my mom…that somehow she’d get up and everything would be okay, but it never happened. She never came back to me and…” she trailed off unable to complete her sentence as she turned to face him again, tears streaming down her face as she looked to him, “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Seth offered his heart breaking at the sight of her in so much pain as he reached out to her pulling her into an embrace. Guilt tugged at him as she sobbed into his chest lost in the past as he thought back to their meeting at the auto shop. Now knowing about her mother, about her fear, he began to see he’d misjudged Blake completely in their first meeting. She wasn’t viewing the quake as a paranoid, pampered woman, but through the eyes of a lost little girl who’d witnessed the death of her mother in such destruction. Now as he held her guilt tugged at him and he vowed to himself that he’d protect her with all that he had by any means necessary. Hearing her cries, he swore never to let her feel this kind of pain again as he would find a way to make things right for her--for everyone as she deserved more than life as an Ashford had given her.
Despite the rumors and speculation about Blake’s family, Seth could see now that Blake Ashford was anything but the spoiled princess the world saw her as. She was vulnerable, and trusting--beautiful and innocent and as Seth held her, he realized that he had to cut his ties with Cameron before it was too late. Now that he saw Blake, saw the heart of her, he wanted nothing more than to be the kind of man she could trust, the kind of man she could fall in love with and he swore to himself that from this moment on, whatever it took, he wouldn’t risk Blake at any cost. She meant far too much for him to allow that to happen and he refused to let her go--not for the world and certainly not to appease Cameron Stone‘s sick and twisted interest in her family. One way or another, he was going to find a way out and he‘d save Blake any misery Cameron was capable of inflicting upon her in the process.
"I cannot believe you talked me into this," Caitlin said as she looked to Kenneth.
He smiled as he held out a spoon to her, "I think you've more than earned it."
She exhaled with a smile as she took the spoon and looked at the chocolate cake with perfect white scoops of vanilla ice cream on either side covered in a decadent chocolate sauce. She shook her head as she slithered her spoon through the chocolate before spooning up ice cream. She eased the cold sweet into her mouth before she closed her eyes, "Hmmm."
"Now that's worth the price of admission, isn't it?" He teased as he watched her enjoy the dessert he'd ordered to split between them. Watching her face illuminate as she enjoyed the sinfully delicious sweet made him feel as if he'd accomplished something wonderful.
"That is heaven," She admitted as she opened her eyes to look at him. She smiled softly as she enjoyed the look of quiet satisfaction upon his features. Something about the way he looked at her appealed to her infinitely more than the dessert.
"I'm glad you like it. Blake and I always order one of these and split it between us when we come here. Brant always grumbles that it's undignified, but you know what…I like being undignified," Kenneth said with a smile before he took a bite of the sweet for himself.
"Here's to being undignified," She agreed as she spooned more of the chocolate into her mouth. She savored the rich flavor before licking her lips, "I haven't had something that wonderful since I was a little girl."
"Well, now that you know it's here, you can make a treat of it every now and again," He said as a waiter returned to their table with a cup of coffee for each of them. When the waiter retreated, Kenneth spoke again, "So are you a chocolate or vanilla kind of girl?"
"I like them both."
"That's a cop out answer," He clucked his tongue, "You have to have a favorite."
"In ice cream? Or flavors in general?" She countered with a smile.
"In general," He decided as he focused on the dessert.
"Well, I like vanilla in my coffee, but mostly I'm a chocolate lover."
He smiled, "Do you wonder if anyone ever says vanilla? I mean everyone you meet says that chocolate is their favorite when compared to vanilla."
"I think it's because chocolate just seems so sinful," She said with a smile as she took another bite, "And people just can't seem to resist sin."
"It does seem that way, doesn't it?" Kenneth mused before he sipped his coffee, "So what's your worst habit?"
"Oh boy," She said with an amused roll of the eyes as she dabbed her lips, "Do I have to answer that one?"
"Now I'm curious," He said with a smile, "Would it help if I tell you mine first?"
"It might," She smiled.
"Okay," He said as he observed her closely with a teasing smile, "I think I can probably trust you," He said before giving a chuckle, "At this point, I'd better," He took his time as he gathered another spoonful of ice cream, "My worst habit is that I bite my pencils…horrendously. I used to bite my nails as a kid, and my father hit the roof. He even sent me to a shrink to perform hypnosis to make me break the habit. Well, I don't bite my nails anymore, but I bite pencils instead."
"I still bite my nails," Caitlin admitted as she looked at her fingers, "Which is really kind of nasty, but when I'm nervous it's the first thing I go for."
"So is that your worst habit?" He asked before taking a sip of coffee.
"No," She frowned, "My worst habit is apologizing for everyone else's mistakes. I don't know why but I feel like everything in the world is my fault."
"You definitely are not to blame for all the injustice in the world," He pointed out.
"I know that. Deep down in my heart of hearts, I know that," She admitted, "But somehow in practice, I feel so guilty. Like if I was somehow a better person or a smarter person, things wouldn't happen the way they do."
"Caitlin," He said softly as he reached across the table and lightly placed his hand upon hers, "You're a wonderful person. Things happen the way they happen. You can't control them," He assured her.
She met his eyes as tears threatened to invade her own, "But…"
"No," He shook his head, "I don't know who has been feeding you a horrendous pack of lies, but you aren't to blame for every little thing that goes wrong with the world. Things happen. You can't control them. You are a good person, and I know that you wouldn't wish harm on anyone."
"You don't know me, Kenneth. You don't know all of who I am."
"I know enough about you to know that I trust you, and that I'd like to get to know you better."
"Are you serious?" She questioned with surprise.
"Why wouldn't I be serious?" He asked, "Has no one ever told you they wanted to get to know you?"
"Well…no…I…" She stammered.
"Let me be the first then. I really do want to get to know you better. I'm intrigued with a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. No one has ever had the guts to challenge me once I start threatening restraining orders but then there you go…trapping me in an elevator," He said with a grin.
Caitlin looked away bashfully.
"And you saved my life by doing that. I think all in all that makes you someone I definitely have to get better acquainted with," Kenneth said as he lifted her hand gently and pressed a soft kiss upon her skin, "So give me that chance. Say you'll have dinner with me again."
"But…I…" She stuttered for a moment before she met his eyes, "I...I haven't even forgiven you yet."
"You will," He said with a smile, "I don't think you have it in you to hold a grudge."
"You think you know me, but you don't," She warned softly.
"Then enlighten me, Caitlin. Show me who you really are," Kenneth challenged with a soft smile.
"Okay, but just remember…you asked for it," Caitlin agreed as she tore her eyes away from his eyes once again. There was something in his eyes which drew her in, caused her heart to flutter and her head to spin. There was a hint of some uncharted but safe territory which she might be able to flee to, but Caitlin dared not venture that far. She wouldn't endanger anyone else in her chaotic misery, but somehow Kenneth had managed to get past her outer defenses. Maybe there was a way to find out if he really was too good to be true without risking too much of herself in the process.
Grady listened to the suffocating sounds of silence as
the scene with Jade replayed over and over again in his mind. Despite
the drinks he’d lost himself in--the stale taste of alcohol still lingering
on his breath, he couldn’t lose the memory of her. Her every curve haunted
him as the feel of her still remained on all of his senses. He’d wanted
her--more than anything he’d wanted to give in, to just be with her in every
way imaginable, but damn him. He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t
cross that line. As much as he’d wanted to, he just couldn’t bring himself
to go into that uncharted territory with Jade despite the gnawing feeling
building up inside of him about her spending time with Cameron Stone--or any
other man for that matter. The sad reality was he’d had no place in
telling her how to run her life and he knew that. He knew that he wouldn’t
be able to give her what she’d wanted and in giving in--if only for a brief
moment, he’d given her some kind of hope and that was wrong. That was
the last thing he’d wanted to give her as he knew he’d never be able to provide
her with what she was looking for. Not after he’d been burned by love.
Now as Grady lost himself to the misery of his own company, he heard furious pounding coming from his front door as he pulled himself out of his chair. He set the half empty glass of bourbon down as he counter top as his unexpected guest continued their assault on Grady’s front door. With a frown crossing over his already pensive features, Grady noticed Russell standing on the other side of the now abused door as he opened it after a moment’s contemplation.
“What the hell is wrong with you,” Russell chastised pushing his way into Grady’s home as his voice rose with anger, “Grady, how can you be so blatantly stupid?”
“Well hello to you too,” Grady sighed closing the door behind his brother as he realized his night had taken a turn for the worse, “What’s wrong with you? Avery piss you off again?”
“Avery isn’t why I’m here,” Russell turned around to face him with an accusatory tone, “What are you thinking with Jade?”
“Russ, look I don’t want to talk about it,” Grady frowned stepping aside as he made his way back to the living room, back to the half emptied bottle of bourbon waiting for him.
“Too damn bad,” Russell followed him determined, “you’re going to listen to everything I have to say because someone has to help you get your priorities straight.”
“I know what my priorities are,” Grady sank into his chair once again reaching for his glass.
“I don’t think you do,” Russell frowned down at him, “Care to tell me what happened with Jade?”
“Nope,” Grady raised the glass to his lips taking a swig of the burning liquid as Russell approached him.
“Grady, I saw her tonight,” Russell explained simply, “She was out at Irvan’s with some loser on her arm.”
“Cameron Stone,” Grady piped in taking another gulp of his drink finishing off the glass.
“I don’t care who he is,” Russell frowned simply as he reached for the bottle of bourbon, “Grady, is this what you’re going to depend on to keep you warm at night? Did Susan cut your lifeline off so much that you’re going to turn away the one good thing in your life?”
“Russ, you’re in no position to lecture me about letting a good thing slip away,” Grady grumbled at him, “You wouldn’t know the first thing about what it takes to be successful in a marriage or a relationship…”
“I’m not talking about marriage,” Russell quipped bitterly, “I’m talking about a beautiful woman who is interested in you. Jade’s made no bones about letting you on to the fact that she wants you, yet you’re willing to let her slip through your fingers just because of your wounded pride. Damn it Grady. Can’t you see what a mistake you’re making? If you let her walk away from you, you’re going to be hating yourself down the road. You’re always going to be wondering why you didn’t fight for her--why you didn’t just tell her how much you cared about her and how you wanted to make things work. She’s just going to be on the arm of some other jerk who will use and abuse her all because you weren’t man enough to just tell her how you felt.”
“Russ, look at me,” Grady turned his attention up to his brother, “You know what happened to me when I opened myself up to the possibility…”
“Susan was a disaster,” Russ noted with a sigh as he took a seat on his brother’s sofa, “but she isn’t Jade. They are two very different women and if you’re going to hide from what it is that Jade does to make you feel alive, then what’s the point of living? I mean honestly if you’re walking around half dead already…”
“I’m not good for her,” Grady shrugged his shoulders, “At least I’m man enough to admit that.”
“What you’re not good for is yourself,” Russell sighed, “Grady, if you’re going to lay down and die because you got burned, then what is the point? Why are you sitting here drinking yourself into a stupor if you aren’t feeling something for Jade?”
“It doesn’t matter what I feel about her,” Grady snapped back at him, “I already told you…”
“So you’re afraid,” Russell interrupted, “We’re all afraid from time to time, but if we wait too long…if we don’t act when the window of opportunity is there, then you’ll spend the rest of your days wishing you’d just given in to the feeling.”
“I gave in,” Grady snapped at him.
“What?” Russ blinked back in surprise.
“I kissed her,” Grady confessed running his fingers through his dark hair, “in her office it happened. We were talking about her going on a date with Cameron and it just...well, it just happened…”
“And nothing,” Grady shrugged his shoulders as he let out a heavy sigh, “I told her it was a mistake.”
“Grady, why would you do that?” Russ groaned, “I know you care about her, so why are you pushing her into the arms of someone who is completely wrong for her?”
“Because who’s to say I’d be any better,” Grady looked over to his brother, “You know my history and if I cross anymore lines with Jade,” he trailed off lost in the memory of their heated kiss, “I already took it too far.”
“Grady, you’re making a mistake,” Russell insisted anger evident in his voice, “She doesn’t want this other guy. She wants you and if you’re not willing to step up and prove to her that she means something to you, well then you’re going to lose her. As much as you hate what happened with Susan and you have your regrets, well, they’re going to suffer in comparison to the regret you feel in letting Jade slip away. Women like her are once in a lifetime and if you…”
“Russ, would you just listen to yourself,” Grady groaned refusing to hear his brother out, “all this talk about once in a lifetime is going to lead you no where. I thought that with Susan and look where it took me…”
“Grady, get over it,” Russell finally shot back at him, “Susan’s moved on with her life and it’s about damn time for you to do the same. Your chance at happiness is right before you and you’re blowing it. Jade’s not going to wait forever.”
“I wouldn’t want her to,” Grady shrugged his shoulders as he looked to the floor, “She shouldn’t have to.”
“No she shouldn’t and she wouldn’t have to if you’d just get your priorities in order,” Russell finished with a groan, “Grady, I saw her tonight and despite the smile she had on her face, I could see she was miserable. She’s upset that you won’t let her in and if you keep pushing her away, then you’ll wake up wondering where the time went. You’ll want the chance to hold her, to take her in your arms and tell her how you feel about her, but you won’t be able to because she’ll be gone. You won’t get a second chance again.”
“Russ, just stop,” Grady raised his hand in the air dismissively, “I don’t need to hear it.”
“Yes, you do,” Russell insisted, “Grady if you let her slip away, you’ll spend the rest of your day regretting it in ways you never thought possible. If you let her go without telling her how much she meant to you, how much you truly cared or how your fears are really what’s keeping you at a distance…Grady if you don’t tell her how you feel now and show her what she means to you, then she’ll never know how much you felt for her…how much you loved her…”
“Russ,” Grady grumbled looking up at him, “is this really about me or about you and Avery?”
“This is about Jade,” Russ argued with him in frustration, “and if it wasn’t for you and your damned stubbornness I might be with Avery right now working out my own issues…”
“See, here in lies the problem,” Grady challenged, “you and Avery had another fight, which I assume was probably over Brant Ashford’s interest in her and you’re here taking it out on me. All this talk about once in a lifetime and losing the woman you love isn‘t to help me, but more so it‘s you beating yourself up about the fact that you‘re still not over Avery despite the fact you‘ve told me time and time again that you two were wrong for each other. You‘re the one who‘s living in a constant pool of regret at letting the right woman slip out of your fingers. That‘s what this really amounts to.”
“Grady, what this amounts to is that I’m trying to help you before it’s too late,” Russell groaned inwardly, “but obviously you’d rather drown yourself in your misery instead of taking a chance.”
“What chances have you taken?” Grady challenged raising a curious brow, “Avery walked out on you when you were ready to share the rest of your life her, but instead of finding her and chasing her down, you let her go. You let her walk out of your life, yet now that she’s free again, you say you want to protect her, but we both know it’s more than that. We both know that you’re upset with her interest in Brant because if you had your way you and Avery would be together right now.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Russell shook his head, “you’re deflecting on me now and it’s not going to work.”
“Admit it Russ, you’re still hung up on Avery and the fact that she’s with someone else still burns you,” Grady challenged rising from his chair, “especially if she’s with a guy like Ashford.”
“She’s not with Ashford and she’s not going to be,” Russell vowed as anger ignited behind his eyes, “Avery’s going to see that he’s all wrong for her.”
“And if she doesn’t, then what? Are you going to run to her and tell her how you feel? Are you going to lay it on the line in the name of love and show her what she means to you,” Grady eyed his brother skeptically, “or is it just another stakeout in front of Avery’s apartment as you play her superman from the shadows?”
Russell looked to Grady, hearing the thick air of sarcasm behind his words as Russell struggled with the anger burning inside of him. He opened his mouth to speak, opting to remain silent as he took a step back struggling to keep from striking Grady at his ignorance.
“Look I came over here tonight to help you,” Russell began behind a strained voice.
“I don’t need your help,” Grady snapped back at him, “I didn’t ask for it and I don’t want it.”
“You’re making a mistake, Grady,” Russell frowned shaking his head in strong disapproval, “and if you let Jade walk away, then you’re a bigger jackass than I gave you credit for being.”
“Russ,” Grady opened his mouth to sling out some harsh words of protest, but ultimately he resigned himself to his usual mode of escape in silence. He looked to his brother seeing the disapproval run over his features as Grady sank further into the chair, “You’re right.”
“Of course I’m right,” Russell agreed with a sigh slumping into the sofa once again, “and on some level you’re right. I’m upset about the last twenty four hours of my life. I feel like I’m trapped in some kind of nightmare and with every turn, it just keeps getting more frustrating.”
“Join the club,” Grady lifted his empty glass to his lips again before motioning to the bottle Russell was still holding.
Russell reluctantly handed it over to his brother as Grady filled his own glass before offering Russell back the bottle. Russell accepted watching as Grady lifted his glass in a mock toast.
“To making stupid mistakes and learning from them,” Grady offered with a sigh as Russell raised the bottle.
“To stopping yourself from taking the path of most destruction and to finally doing what makes you happy,” Russell added with a clink of the bottle in his hand.
“I can’t,” Grady frowned lowering his glass, “at least not at Jade’s expense.”
“Grady, she’s miserable from your pushing her away,” Russell replied seeing the doubts and concerns weighing over his brother, “if you care about her, even a little bit, you can’t wait on this. You have to tell her how you feel and you have to show her what she means to you.”
“I know,” Grady sighed as his thoughts lingered to Jade and he wondered if he’d be able to be honest with her and more so could he be honest with himself and face his fears at long last now knowing what he stood to lose if he let Jade slip through his fingers.