Episode Sixteen


Avery snuggled into the warmth beside her, feeling the strong arm curled around her, putting her at complete ease as the sun’s first rays tickled in over her body.  She felt a sigh spill over her lips as she pressed a kiss upon the center of the muscled chest before her and in that moment of complete familiarity and comfort, Avery opened her eyes feeling suddenly on edge.  She looked at the man beneath her, seeing him in his peaceful slumber as a sudden rush of guilt and anxiety swept over her.  Trying her best to keep him from awakening, she slowly lifted his arm to untangle herself from his warm embrace as she slid out of bed.
Avery stood frozen for a moment watching as Russell readjusted beneath the sheets reaching out to the pillow in her absence as a breath escaped her lips.   What had she been thinking, she silently cursed herself as she surveyed his bedroom looking at the scattered remains of their night of passion.  She’d promised herself that she wouldn’t fall back into the same routine with Russell Denton, yet here she was the morning after dealing with the same demons that always followed.  Their night together had been incredible and she was still very tempted to crawl back into bed beside him and enjoy the warmth of his arms a little while longer, but temptation always lead to trouble.  Last night should’ve been enough to show her that, she sighed as she turned in the direction of his bathroom remembering her scattered dress still waiting on the floor for her.
Tiptoeing away from Russell, Avery retrieved her dress realizing it was in too poor condition to leave in as she returned to his bedroom once again.  Her gaze cast over him momentarily as a breath caught in her throat.  He really was remarkable, she couldn’t help but admit to herself as she watched him lost in his dream world and as she reflected upon him, she realized that in some strange way last night had made perfect sense.  Russ was exactly what she needed and on some level everything she’d wanted, but at the same time an uneasiness settled in over her.  Now was not the time to be getting sentimental about Russ, Avery reminded herself as she opened up one of his dresser drawers.  Russ would just love that, she let out a tiny laugh thinking of how much he’d relish in the idea of her getting gushy about him after all of his prodding at her.  Just the idea of letting him even think that she could fall in love with him again would be enough to have Russell Denton stalking her every moment of the day for the rest of her life and that certainly wouldn’t do.
“It was just sex,” Avery tried to reason with herself pulling out an old pair of Russell’s jogging pants and a sweatshirt as she decided he wouldn’t mind her borrowing them after he’d ruined her dress.  She quickly slipped into his things hoping that he wouldn’t wake up and make this any more awkward than it was.  The last thing she wanted him to see was her in such a state of sheer and utter stupidity.  She’d known last night what she was getting herself into, yet even now she was starting to analyze things.  That had her on edge because analysis was more Russell’s thing.  She wasn’t going to give their night of pleasure any more importance than it had.  It was what it was, she tried to remind herself as she realized blowing it off as a night of great sex wasn’t entirely the truth either.  There had been something there…something that…
“Stop,” she whispered to herself as she looked into the mirror before her.
Avery tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she reminded herself to play things cool or else she’d be certain to have Russ waking up and begging her to stay.  In her frame of mind, she was half tempted to and that in itself was reason enough to get the hell out of there.  Still, as she looked over at him once again, she realized leaving like this didn’t feel right either.  Reaching into her purse, Avery pulled out the small notepad and the pen that she carried with her and she jotted down a quick note hoping to offer up some kind of consolation for her abrupt departure.  Finishing up the note swiftly, she stepped in beside the bed once again dropping the paper on the pillow before leaning down to kiss him on the forehead gently.
“Good-bye Russ,” she whispered giving him one last look before leaving his bedroom and making her way home before things became even more uncomfortable.


Heather held up her blonde hair while Kipp zipped up the new dress he'd had delivered for her early this morning. She smiled as she glanced to the dress in the mirror before her. Kipp had incredible taste in clothing.

"This is beautiful," She said as she turned to him and pressed a kiss to his cheek, "Thank you."

"A beautiful woman deserves a beautiful dress," He smiled as he took her hand and led her through his penthouse apartment. He led her to the breakfast nook and pulled out a chair for her, "Have a seat, and I'll get breakfast for us."

"Thank you," She said with a smile as bright as the sunlight that trickled into the room. Kipp left the room, and Heather glanced to the large windows that gave a spectacular view of Lake Cardinal. She smiled as she thought of how their evening had turned out. Despite the drawbacks at the restaurant, she had turned in a stellar performance and had no doubt that she would be Hollywood's next bright shining star.

She glanced across the table where a newspaper lay. Nothing in Coral Valley was interesting enough to read about, but she might as well be up to date on what people were talking about. She lifted the paper and gasped as she read the headline. She bolted out of her chair and raced across the room to gather her purse, "Kipp, something's come up. I have to go," She called out as she rushed out of the penthouse.

Kipp stepped out of the kitchen with a tray of fruit in hand, perplexed as to what could have been so important to cause Heather to leave in the blink of an eye.


Brant entered the kitchen and smiled as he spotted Annette already pouring his mug of coffee, "Good morning, Annie."

"Morning," She replied as he kissed her cheek and took his mug.

He looked around the room and spotted the newspaper lying upon the table, "Wow, the newspaper hasn't been touched. Ken go to the office early?"

"Actually, he didn't come in last night," Annie informed him before sipping her coffee.

"Really?" Brant grinned, "Good for him. It's about damn time he got laid. Maybe he'll stop being so uptight," He said as he walked to the table and glanced at the front page, "Oh boy."

"What is it?"

Brant lifted the paper from the table, "Nothing, I'm going to take my coffee and run, Annie. Have a good day," He said as he left the kitchen.

Annette watched the door close behind him and sighed. She hated being left out of the loop, but if something on the front page had gotten Brant's attention, odds were that she'd know more than she wanted to sooner or later.


Russell stood in the center of his kitchen looking at the disaster waiting for his immediate attention.  While the food fight had been a fun and tempting idea with Avery the previous night, this clean up was something he wasn’t looking forward to.  Still, as he thought back to waking up upon hearing the front door close, he realized that perhaps this time alone was exactly what he needed.  Sure last night had been incredible, but he could see that Avery was already starting to panic.  Her leaving proved that and maybe in it’s own way, this time would be therapeutic.  Still as he thought to the note she’d left him, there was still a glimmer of hope for the future.  Maybe she wasn’t going to push as hard as before after he’d showed her what they could have between them.  Unable to resist the urge to let the memory of her hang over him a few moments longer, he reached into his pocket pulling out the small note she’d left for him.
“You still owe me dinner, Russ.  Don’t think you’re getting out of it that easily.  Love, Avery,” he read aloud unable to suppress the grin that had been building up inside of him.  Even now, he was still feeling the after effects of last night.  Sure, he was a little sore from Avery’s enthusiastic scratches, but her note left him hope.  She did enjoy his company, he mused with a proud smile as he reached for the mop ready to absorb himself in the work laid out before him and in the wild and wonderful memories he and Avery had created together last night.
“She’ll be back,” Russell chuckled in amusement as the disaster in the kitchen sprung forth a cheery feeling in his heart as he began to whistle a tune to himself.  Life was getting good, he mused as he heard a pounding at his front door.  Looking up, he set the mop aside as a smile filled his features.
“Back so soon huh,” Russell beamed ready to tease Avery mercilessly for believing that she could walk away this morning without being tempted to stay.  Oh she was tempted alright, he reminded himself as he slowly made his way to the front door and maybe after a few minutes teasing, they could pick up exactly where they left off before.  Yes, that certainly sounded like a good idea, he decided thinking of all the ways to enjoy breakfast with Avery as he opened the door greeting her with a bright smile.
“Good morning, beautiful.  Miss me already,” his voice bellowed cheerfully as the blue-green eyes before him looked less than impressed.
“Only in your dreams,” Heather shoved him out of the way as she pushed herself into his living room, “where the hell were you last night?”
“Excuse me,” Russell turned around to see her making her way into his living room.
“I told that little twerp at your office to have you call me immediately after you got out of your meeting with Blondie,” Heather’s eyes narrowed at him with anger.
“Look Heather,” Russell sighed closing the door as he realized she clearly had no intentions of leaving.
“No you look buddy,” Heather’s voice rose with anger, “while you were off playing whatever the hell kind of games you were playing last night, we were blindsided by disaster.”
“Now you’re being overly dramatic,” Russell shook his head as a tiny laugh spilled from his lips and he headed towards his kitchen, “Heather, I think you’re worrying about nothing.  Care for some coffee?”
“Now is certainly not a time for coffee,” Heather grumbled stalking after him as he disappeared into his kitchen.
“Well fine then, suit yourself,” his voice echoed back at her, “but I’m in the mood for a good cup of java myself.”
“Russell, have you even looked at the paper this morning,” Heather’s voice questioned in an accusatory tone as her eyes fell upon the disaster that lingered in his kitchen, “What the hell happened here?”
“Paradise,” Russell quipped as a secret smile touched over his lips.
“Looks more like a tornado ripped through here,” she frowned shaking her head in strong disapproval, “This place is a mess.”
“Yes, yes it is,” he agreed taking another slow sip of his coffee, “but it’s incredible, isn’t it?”
“What are you on this morning,” Heather eyed him skeptically, “please tell me that you’re not hung over or on some kind of medication.”
“I’m just high on life,” Russell leaned in against the counter top his finger sinking into a dried pile of chocolate as he lifted his hand, “well that and chocolate…” he chuckled as he reached for a paper towel.
Heather watched him for a long moment finding herself a bit distracted by his odd behavior as she reminded herself of her reason for stopping by.  Reaching for her purse, she chastised him.
“Look I don’t know what in the world has gotten into you, but you’d better knock it off because we have a problem,” Heather spat back at him, “A serious problem that we need to take care of right away.”
“Heather,” he shook his head seeing the scowl upon her features, “you really should lighten up.  In fact, why don’t you just have some coffee and then we can talk about this in a more relaxed setting.  I’m sure whatever Brant has done now, well, I’m sure it can be worked through because I have a really good feeling about things.”
“Then you’re the one who’s delusional now,” Heather insisted watching him sip his coffee, “because according to this, we’re worse off than before,” she held the paper up before him showing him the headline as Russell’s eyes widened in surprise and he spat out his coffee, sending his coffee mug crashing to the floor.
“What the hell…” he stammered ripping the paper out of her hands as he shook his head, “no, it can’t be…”
“It damn sure is,” Heather announced angrily, “and now that I have your attention, what are we going to do about it?”


A yawn spilled over Avery’s lips as she quickly unlocked her apartment door thinking about drowning herself in a hot shower before taking a long nap.  Well, maybe she’d make it a bubble bath, she reasoned as thoughts of her shower escapade with Russell still remained fresh on her mind.  Last night had proved to be quite exhausting and all she really felt up to doing was curling up in her own bed and resting instead of analyzing anything else that had taken place with Russell.  Now stepping into her apartment, she locked the door behind her ready to lose herself in the warmth and relaxation of her bathtub as a sound rose from her apartment catching her off guard.
“Rough night,” a low, throaty masculine voice captured her attention as she turned her eyes towards the source of the sound only to discover Bruce seated in one of the chairs at the far corner of the room.  His face was masked with shadows as she placed her hand over her chest trying to still the pounding of her heart.
“Bruce, you scared the hell out of me,” she gasped for air as he remained seated, his features hidden from her as she noticed the long neck of the bottle in his hand.
“Hmm, imagine that,” he offered cryptically as she watched him raise the bottle to his lips leaving her to her confusion as she slowly stepped further into her apartment.
“What are you doing here,” she questioned wearily as she discarded her purse on the coffee table.
“Have a late night, Avery?” Bruce’s voice challenged, a hint of darkness in his tone as he rose from the chair he’d been seated in.
“Bruce, I don’t really think you should be here right now,” Avery started after a moment’s hesitance.
“Maybe not,” he shrugged his shoulders as he dropped the bottle he’d been holding.  Avery watched it roll across the apartment floor as it was now empty, “but then again when you gave me a key, I’d just assumed that meant you’d want to be seeing more of me in the future.”
“Bruce, about that…” she started uneasily as she ran her fingers through her dark hair, “about us…”
“You know I waited for you to call,” Bruce stepped into the light, his face a shadow of disappointment and ire as his dark eyes fixed upon her, “I thought you’d come to your senses about things after you left my office.  I thought that if you’d just cool down a bit, you’d see I was right, but then again, I guess in all of my assumptions,” he let out a dry, hollow laugh, “you just managed to make an ass out of me, didn’t you?”
“Bruce, look I never…” she started as he reached out to her seizing her wrist tightly.
“Tell me Avery,” he clenched his fingers around her wrist digging into her skin, “were you with him last night?  Is that why you’re sneaking in this morning?”
“Let go of me,” Avery tried to pull herself out of his grasp as his other arm slipped around her tugging on her hair causing her to cry out as his voice roared with anger.
“All of those nights I thought you were so dedicated to your work--all of those moments when I believed your words about your loyalty to your job--all of your promises,” he shook his head as he tugged on her hair forcing her head back as her frightened eyes gazed up at him, “it was nothing but lies.  All you ever did was sell me lies, didn’t you?”
“Bruce, stop it,” Avery cried out as his fingers started to dig into her skin breaking through the surface.  She pushed her arm into the center of his chest shoving him away from her the best she could as he yanked at her hair, “Bruce, you’re hurting me.”
“Just like you’ve hurt me,” his voice seethed with anger as he shoved her away from him, “Time and time again you played me for a fool and I just sat there eating it up while you and Brant Ashford were laughing in my face…”
“Bruce, that’s not true,” Avery shook her head fighting the tears building behind her eyes as she stumbled backward, “I never…”
“Liar,” he interrupted shaking his head in disbelief, “all those nights I waited for you--when you wouldn’t touch me--wouldn’t let me touch you, it was all because you were with him.  The two of you were making a fool of me and this whole damn town knew.”
“Bruce, that’s not true,” Avery explained desperately as his eyes narrowed down at her.
“You were with him last night,” Bruce blurted out stepping forward as he reached out for her dragging her in close to him.  His hand clamped over her neck squeezing as she struggled to push him away, “I can smell him on you, Avery.”
“Bruce no,” she shook her head as tears filled her dark eyes, “that’s not true.  I wasn’t with Brant…I wasn’t…”
“Liar,” he roared slapping her with a ferocity Avery never anticipated from Bruce as pain ripped through the side of her face causing her to fall back onto the couch.
Pain vibrated through the left side of Avery’s face as tears stung in her eyes.  She found herself paralyzed with fear as she felt Bruce move in over her, the weight of his body pinning her down on the couch as his fingers wrenched for her hand pulling it towards him.
“Is this what it took to make you Ashford’s whore,” he demanded tugging at the ring on her finger as Avery tried to stop the ache rushing over from rendering her powerless.  She struggled beneath him bringing her knee up hard into his groin as Bruce doubled over upon her in agony.
“You bitch,” he lashed out at her again striking her with a doubled force as his eyes filled with revulsion, “after everything I did for you…after all the times I tried to make you happy…”
“Bruce, please,” Avery cried out struggling beneath him as his hand clamped over the base of her throat once again.
“Please,” he let out a hollow laugh watching the tears fall freely down her face, “that’s all you have to say to me for the heartache you put me through.  No apology for betraying my trust and abusing my love,” his grip tightened as Avery sucked in a sharp breath.
“Bruce, I’m sorry…I’m so…so...sorry,” she wheezed her tears stinging her eyes as her vision blurred, “please…”
“You’re sorry,” Bruce echoed her words rage passing through him as his fingers curled around her neck compressing harder, “you’re going to be sorry…”
“Bruce stop,” she clawed at his chest trying to get him off of her as the pressure increased and she cried out, “help!”
“Who are you looking for to save you?” Bruce challenged his voice a menacing tone as his eyes were wild with hatred, “Your lover?”
“Bruce….I can’t breathe…” Avery coughed struggling to get him to ease up on her as he leaned forward his mouth hovering over hers.
“Now you know how I felt when I saw the article,” he spat back at her squeezing harder as Avery attempted to scream again feeling her head spinning as Bruce mouthed down at her, “There’s no way in hell that I’ll let Ashford have you.”
Avery kicked at him again feeling lightheaded as a sound crashed through her apartment.  She strained to see as Bruce’s hold on her was stealing her breath away.  Tears spilled down her face as a sudden rumble filled her eardrums.
“Get your damn hands off of her,” a voice growled as Avery felt Bruce release her and she gasped for air, tumbling to the floor as he’d been lifted from her.  She knelt on the ground sucking in air unable to get it in fast enough as more crashing erupted from beyond her.  She turned her eyes towards the sound, but as her salty tears carried over her, she focused on breathing--struggling to find enough air in her lungs as a silence filled the room.
“Avery,” Brant’s voice called out to her as she felt his arms around her.  He pulled her up off of the floor, his eyes filled with concern as she coughed.
“Bruce…he…he…” she stammered her voice raspy and tight as she fought for air.
“I know,” he touched her cheek gently, “Avery, just breathe.”
“He’s…he thought…” she sobbed as held her close to him cradling her against his chest.
“He‘s gone now.  He won‘t hurt you,” Brant promised feeling an ache surge through him as she buried her head in his chest lost in the weight of the moment.
“He’s never been like that,” Avery cried harder as she sank into him feeling completely helpless, “he thought…”
“Avery, I should take you to the hospital,” Brant began feeling her trembling in his arms as he had no idea just what damage Bruce had caused.
“No,” she cried out tugging on his shirt, “no please Brant.  I don’t want to go there.  I can’t not when Bruce…”
“Okay,” Brant agreed squeezing her in his arms and holding her despite his concerns.  She shivered in his arms, more fragile than he’d ever imagined her being as her tears burned through his shirt.
“I just don’t understand…” she sobbed holding onto him as if she’d never let go as her confusion and exhaustion poured out of her.
“I’m sorry,” Brant’s voice echoed through her as her sobs continued, “I’m so sorry…” he repeated keeping her in his arms as he silently cursed himself for not arriving sooner.  Bruce’s attack on her could’ve been avoided, he realized as he thought to the newspaper article damning himself for ever opening the door to such misery in Avery’s life.  Now as she broke down in his arms, he vowed to do anything and everything in his power to keep her from hurting like this ever again.  As for Bruce Mathis, well, Brant vowed his days were numbered as no one hurt Avery and got away with it.  That much he was certain of.


“Good morning handsome,” Blake announced making her way to the small corner booth Seth had picked out for the two of them.  She looked down at him seeing him reading the newspaper as his eyes drifted up towards her.
“Why hello,” Seth grinned brightly rising from his seat to offer a quick kiss, “I was hoping you didn’t change your mind.”
“I was running behind,” Blake confessed with a soft smile, “there were a few reporters at the mansion for some strange reason and I was trying to duck out as quietly as possible.”
“Reporters?” Seth lifted a curious brow, “why?”
“I didn’t stay around long enough to ask,” she confessed sliding into the booth across from him, “I figure if they’re searching for any kind of story, it’s not because of me.”
“Does that happen a lot at your end of town,” Seth questioned curiously as he saw the groan building behind her lips.
“More than I’d care to admit,” she shrugged her shoulders, “though usually it’s someone chasing after Brant for a story instead of me or Kenneth.  Kenny gets the brunt of it more than I do since he and Brant are twins.”
“Twins huh,” Seth paused thinking it over, “does that mean they share the same demeanor?”
“No,” she shook her head simply, “Ken’s much more laid back.  You two would get along pretty well I’d imagine.  Don’t get me wrong I love both of my brothers, but Ken is more personable.  He‘s a good guy and easy to get along with.”
“Sounds like it,” Seth offered a light smile before reaching out to take her hand, “I must confess though I was surprised to see you and Jade getting along last night.  Considering the stories I heard about the hospital…”
“Jade seems like a nice person,” Blake noted thinking back to the encounter she’d helped Jade with, “How is she doing this morning?”
“I didn’t see her,” Seth raised a curious brow, “Should I have checked in on her?”
“No, I mean not really,” she shrugged her shoulders, “I was just wondering how her evening with you went after I left.  She mentioned you might play twenty questions with her asking about what we’d talked about…”
“I didn’t get the chance,” he confessed, “she was in bed by the time I got back inside.  I figured I’d grill you this morning instead.”
“Hmm, well in that case, there’s nothing to tell,” she winked back at him, “although I am starving.  What are you in the mood for?”
“How about another kiss,” he suggested reaching out to touch her hand gently, his fingers brushing over her skin.
“As tempting as that sounds,” Blake curled her finger around his, “how about some strawberry waffles?”
“Hmm…strawberries and Blake,” he laughed lightly, “sounds like my kind of morning.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” she chuckled leaning in closer to him as there was a sudden flash of a camera from across the small restaurant.  Looking up towards the source of the light, she noticed a reporter approaching them with a cameraman at his side.
“Ms. Ashford,” the man called out to her, “Ms. Ashford…what are your thoughts on your brother’s latest…”  The reporters words were interrupted as Seth rose from his seat looking to the much smaller man.
“We’re trying to have a quiet breakfast,” Seth pointed out with a frown, “and we don’t need you or your cameraman getting in the way of that.”
“I’d just like to ask Ms. Ashford a few questions about her brother’s engagement.”
“My brother’s what,” Blake blinked back at the man as her gaze suddenly drifted to the newspaper Seth had been reading.  She grabbed it realizing it was just the sport’s section as she turned her eyes to Seth, “Seth, where is the rest of the paper?”
“Over there,” he motioned to the seat beside where he’d been.
Blake lifted the paper noticing the headline staring back at her in bold face print and a frown touched over her lips, “Oh no…”
“Ms. Ashford…” the man began again as Seth gave him a slight shove.
“Back off,” Seth growled at him before turning to Blake seeing the surprise over her features, “Blake?”
“I have to get to work,” she explained as she rose from the booth, “Seth, I have to get out of here.”
“That might be a bit of a challenge,” Seth replied seeing other reporters flocking into the restaurant behind the intrusive man before him.
“There’s a back door,” Blake announced sliding in behind him as the cameras filled the room surrounding them.
“Alright,” he reached out behind to take her hand, “go on.  I’ll hold them back.”
“Okay,” she nodded as the various reporters called out to her asking her thoughts on Brant, about the man having breakfast with her and all the other personal questions that generally followed any move her family made.  She quickly rushed out of the small restaurant seeing Seth coming behind her as he stepped out into the alley way.
“My car is over in the parking garage,” Seth explained taking her hand and leading her with him, “come on.”
“Okay,” she agreed as they raced to the parking garage and she hoped to avoid the expectant demands of the press.
Once they’d ducked out of eyesight, Seth lead her over to his rental car and he opened the door for her allowing her to slip inside.  A moment later he entered the car sitting behind the steering wheel as he looked to her again.
“I take it this happens a lot huh?” he asked simply.
“Too much for my liking,” she nodded with an exaggerated sigh, “though I swear we were just lucky this didn’t happen the night of the quake when I told the world we were engaged.”
“That would’ve generated press, huh?” Seth lifted a curious brow.
“More than you would believe,” she nodded in confession, “I think we lucked out though because the quake was more of a breaking story than the tales of the Ashford family romances,” she looked out into the parking garage as a groan swept over her, “I just wish for once the media would just leave well enough alone.”
“Blake, I’m sure this will pass.  Whatever happened with your brother…”
“It’s not just my brother,” she groaned trying to shake the irritation that always followed moments like these, “I mean just because we have the name Ashford, that shouldn’t be an open call for the lunatics of the world.  It’s bad enough having to have half this town hate you, but then to have the press add to it…”
“I’m sorry,” he reached out to her pulling her into an embrace, “Blake, I really wish that they weren’t like that.”
“You and me both,” she sighed sinking into the warmth and protection of his arms, “but I’m afraid this is what goes with the territory for me.”
“So what exactly did your brother do to peek the interest of the media this time?”
“Apparently he’s found a new love interest,” she blurted out thinking to the headline, “which means we’re about to become the center of attention yet again.  Last time he thought about settling down, I couldn’t make a move without the press stalking me…”
“So this happens a lot?”
She gave him a slight frown as he nodded.
“Okay, I get it,” he hugged her in against him, “well you can always hide out here with me for a while.  I don’t have anywhere to be.”
“I wish I could,” she snuggled in against him, “believe me there’s nothing I could want more than to just stay like this, but I know that at work Kenny will be getting the brunt of this and he needs my support.”
“I’m sure he can handle himself,” Seth offered with a teasing grin, “I mean if he’s got any of your spirit in him…”
“I’m sure he could, but at times like these, well it’s best to stay close just in the event something happens,” she sighed turning her eyes up towards him, “are you sure you still want to see me?”
“And miss out on all of this,” he teased as he touched her cheek gently, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Even with knowing my life is open to the public’s scrutiny,” she asked softening her tone, “It can get ugly.”
“I can take ugly,” Seth replied touching her soft blonde hair, “what I can’t take is not being with you.”
“I don’t think I could live with that either,” she blurted out raising up in his arms as her lips hovered just over his, “I’d miss you too much.”
“Blake, I know we haven’t known each other very long, but the way you make me feel,” he searched her crystal blue eyes, “I’d do anything to protect you, to keep you safe.”
“I feel safe in your arms,” she whispered against his mouth before leaning in to brush her lips against his in a barely there kiss.
“I always want you to feel that way,” he murmured threading his fingers through her silken tresses as he pulled her into his lap savoring the sweet, sexy taste of her luscious lips.
“With you I have no doubt in my mind that I always will,” she breathed feeling her pulse zipping and her stomach tied in knots as his kisses scorched her down to the tips of her toes.  She hovered over him, straddling his lap as his hands roamed over her slender waist holding her against his hardened body.  His touch excited her as their kisses deepened in intensity until they’d parted and she found herself breathless.  Her pulse was racing, her heart fluttering as his finger tip traced over her kiss swollen lips.
“Blake,” he breathed her name memorizing her beauty as he cradled her in his arms.
“Seth,” she pressed her palm into his chest feeling his heart pounding beneath her touch as she wanted nothing more than to lose herself in the magic of him.  He was by far the most remarkable man she’d ever met and as he held her, she found herself wanting more.  The thought of staying in his arms forever haunted her as the reality of the situation her family was facing lingered over her.  She felt a reluctant breath spill over her lips as she shifted in his arms, “I should really get going to work.”
“So soon,” his lips curled into a pout.
“I don’t want to, but if I don’t…”
“I know,” he nodded in resignation as she crawled over to the passenger side of the car, “at least let me drive you to your car so that if the press are still waiting I can get rid of them.”
“I doubt they’ll still be hanging around as I parked over by the dry cleaners,” she thought it over as she straightened out her dress while trying to still the furious rhythm of her heart, “but I would appreciate a ride over there.”
“Your wish is my command,” he offered as Blake sank back into the passenger seat thinking of how lucky she’d been to find a man like Seth in her life.  Even when chaos surrounded her, he always found a way to make things right and that was something she’d never had before.  The more time she was spending with Seth, the more she was seeing that he was truly what she’d been waiting for.  Somehow fate had given her something wonderful in her life and she intended to hold onto it with all that she had.


Nausea. Stone cold sobering waves of nausea. They were all Grady could feel as consciousness began to stir him from the coma like sleep he'd be in. He kept his eyes closed as his mind waged war with his revolting stomach. He took a deep breath and inhaled the sweet scent of perfume.

He blinked his eyes against the bright light of the room in an attempt to find the source of the perfume. He struggled against the light for a moment before he could open his eyes fully and observe his surroundings.

He was in a bed at least, a warm bed with a softly flowered comforter lying over his frame. He was vaguely aware of the feel of soft cotton sheets against his skin, but it was the feel of something else that garnered his attention.

He raised himself onto his elbows and saw the thick auburn hair draped across the pillow beside him. He felt her hand on his chest slip to his abdomen as he'd sat up, but to see her lying there made the entire situation suddenly all the more real.

Where was he? And who was this woman? Most importantly, how did he get here?

The entire night before was a blur. Well, not the entire night. He remembered vividly the moment Jade had left his office to join Cameron Stone at dinner. He'd gone out drinking afterward to put her out of his head, and he'd been lucky enough to have the companionship of Thea Valentine. He remembered dancing with her and even going to dinner with her. But how did they end up wherever they were?

Grady closed his eyes and sank back into his pillow. It had been years since he'd drank enough alcohol to black out. It had been years since he'd woke up in the bed of a strange woman with no recollection of how they'd gotten there. It had been years since he'd let the demon Alcohol defeat him. But it was obvious that this time, the demon had won.

He took a deep breath, feeling another wave of nausea slipping over him. The last thing he needed right now was the physical aspect of a hangover. He was already deep in the throes of a psychological hangover. But that was the beauty of giving yourself over to alcohol…the demon loved to kick you when you were down.

Grady rolled out of Thea's reach and sat up on the edge of the bed. Had he really had sex with her? She was a lovely woman, but there had been only one woman who had driven him to distraction lately. She had been the only woman he'd even noticed sexually in months. So why had he ended up in the bed of another woman?

Alcohol. That same tired old companion which never failed to make a bad situation worse. The best part of alcohol was that if you were lucky you wouldn't remember how stupid you had been when fully intoxicated. It would also make you forget any shred of ethics you may have thought you actually possessed.

He groaned as he thought of what he must have done. How could be so stupid? After giving a speech to Cameron Stone about having an affair with a client, he'd slept with Cameron's assistant. That would probably go over real well with Cameron.

Jade. She was the real live wire. When she found out about this, she would explode…not to mention never forgive him. How would he ever be able to explain to Jade what had happened? He could always explain his dysfunctional relationship with alcohol to her, but then he'd also have to explain that his demons were exactly what he wanted to protect her from.

"Hmmm," Thea stretched lightly, interrupting Grady's thoughts. She reached out to touch his bare back and smiled, "Good morning."

"Morning," Grady replied without facing her. He didn't want to think about what he'd done, didn't want to remember why he'd done it, or why he'd even let himself get near the situation to begin with. All he wanted to do was get the hell out of here so he could kick his ass all the way home.

"Last night was amazing," She purred as she curled up to his back, wrapping her arms around his torso as she pressed her breasts against his back, "I didn't know Coral Valley had world class lovers, but you sure made that point very clear," She said with a glowing voice as she pressed a kiss to his shoulder. She lay her cheek upon his shoulder as she rested against him, "What do you say we spend the day together?"

"I…" He struggled for words. The morning after a drunken sexcapade was perhaps the most awkward situation any person could be in, and Grady had plenty of practice in such a situation. It still didn't make it any easier, "I can't. I have some things I have to do."

"Awww," She whined softly, "Maybe we could have dinner then."

"I don't know," He said as he gently dislodged himself from her grasp and began to find his clothes throughout the room, "I had a lot on my plate last night."

"Grady," She spoke his name as she crawled across the bed to untie his tie from the bedpost and hand it to him, "Did I do something wrong?"

"Not at all," He assured her, "I…I'm just a very screwed up man, Thea. The last thing you need is a guy like me making your life a living hell."

"You did anything but," She smiled as she gently trailed a fingertip down the center of his chest, "In fact, you actually took me to heaven."

"Thea," Grady sighed as he tugged his trousers on and fastened them at his waist, "Trust me on this. I'm bad news."

"You were very good news last night," She said as she slipped out of bed, watching him gather his shirt, "Grady," She spoke his name as she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed herself against his chest, "Stay for a while."

Grady met her eyes and sighed, "I can't. I really do have to go. I'm sorry," He said as he quickly tugged on his shirt. He stepped out of her bedroom and plucked his jacket from the arm of the sofa on his way out of the apartment.

Thea grinned as she stepped back into her bedroom. She slipped into her robe and grinned as she spotted his cell phone lying upon the floor. She lifted the device into her fingers and gently caressed the lines of the phone, "Not as sorry as you're going to be…I can promise you," She grinned as she tossed the phone onto the bed and went to her closet to get dressed. She had some good news to deliver to Cameron, and she had no doubt he would be pleased to hear what she had to say.


Caitlin smiled as she inhaled the inviting aroma of freshly brewed coffee. She rolled onto her back and enjoyed the scent for a moment, simply allowing the fragrance to dance through her senses.

Kenneth stood at the door with a smile. He'd hoped the coffee would reach her, and he hadn't been disappointed. He stepped across the room and placed the tray he'd brought with him upon the chest at the end of her bed before moving beside her bed. He gently sat on the mattress beside her and watched her lay peacefully in the morning light.

In the short time he'd known her, Caitlin had been able to reach Kenneth in ways he simply hadn't imagined possible anymore. She'd made him laugh, challenged his intelligence, and even brought out the protective nature that Blake needled him about. Somehow, the beautiful blond laying wrapped up in blankets beside him had given him hope for the future once again. He gently reached out to touch her arm, barely whispering over her in a soft touch, "Good morning."

Caitlin's eyes snapped open before her smile grew, "Well…good morning to you too."

"For the record, you didn't bore me to sleep."

She chuckled at his reminder of their evening before. She sat up and slid back against her pillows, "Well thank goodness. I mean what would that say about my companionship?"

"I'm just horrible," He shook his head with a light smile, "You put me on a comfortable sofa in front of a TV, and it's pretty much an instant sedative for me."

"Well then, no more TV for you," She said with a laugh.

He grinned, "And since you were nice enough to let me just sleep there for the night," He said as he moved to the end of the bed to retrieve the tray, "I thought I could be nice enough to bring you breakfast in bed."

"Oh my," Caitlin said with a smile that touched her every feature. She watched as he gently sat the tray over her lap and made sure it was level upon the bed before he sat back beside her, "How…where…I don't…"

"Shhh," He said as he plucked a strawberry from the tray and offered it to her lips, "Don't worry about it. Sometimes I can weave a little Ashford magic in my favor," He teased as he fed her the strawberry.

She ate the strawberry willingly, every moment watching his eyes as he fed her the delicate fruit. What was it about him that put her at ease and yet put her every nerve ending on red alert? He took a napkin from the tray and wiped some pink juice from his fingers as she finished the berry and spoke, "How'd you know strawberries are my favorite?"

"I didn't," He answered with a soft smile, "But I decided to take the chance," He said as he took a coffee cup from the tray.

"I can't believe you did all of this," She said in awe as she inspected the bowl of fresh berries surrounded by two fluffy croissants and joined by a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. She shook her head as she tried to repress a giggle that threatened to spill from deep inside, "Kenneth Ashford, you certainly know how to flatter a girl."

He smiled, "Well thank you. It's nice to see a simple gesture be so appreciated," He said before sipping his coffee.

"Simple? Is that what you call this?" She smiled as she lifted the lid on a small jar near the croissants, "Whipped cream? Oh, now I know I died and went to heaven."

Kenneth chuckled, "You really are easy to please. That's so rare."

"Well, let's not spread that nasty rumor around. You know…women are supposed to be complicated and mysterious," She teased as she sank a spoon into the whipped cream to place a dollop upon the fruit. She took the remnants into her mouth and closed her eyes as she savored the sweetness of the confection, "If I'm dreaming, please don't wake me up."

He grinned as he placed his coffee cup on her bedside table. He leaned over to gently sweep his thumb across her bottom lip. Caitlin opened her eyes and watched him as he tenderly caressed her lip with his thumb. Slowly he withdrew his finger and showed it to her, "Just a bit of cream there. I couldn't resist," He said as he sucked the cream from his finger before gently wiping his hands upon the napkin.

Caitlin felt her heart thudding within her chest. She'd never been so turned on in all her life as she was in this moment, and she hadn't even kissed the man yet! Was she losing her mind? Or was it something all together more risky and rewarding than that? And could she trust herself to move forward when the past was still so terrifying? Sitting here with Kenneth, she found herself thinking that the future might be worth investigating after all.


Brant held Avery feeling her break down completely in his arms long after he sank onto the couch cushions keeping her safe in his strong embrace.  He hated to see her hurting and never in his life had he wanted to experience this.  Just the idea of her tears sent an ache through him--one he’d certainly never wished upon anyone as her soft sniffles cut him down to the core.  His fingers gently massaged her spine keeping her close to him as she snuggled into him curled up in a ball.
“Why would he do this,” Avery murmured as her tears began to diminish, “Bruce would never…”
“Bruce is a son of a bitch,” Brant explained tightly as his hold on her constricted, “He didn’t deserve you, Avery.”
“Wh-what happened,” she questioned her lower lip trembling as she looked up to him with sad eyes, “what did you do with him once you found us?”
“I came over here to talk to you and I heard you screaming,” Brant offered simply, “I had a feeling you were in some kind of trouble, so I kicked the door in and when I saw Bruce,” his jaw clenched with tension, “I couldn’t let him hurt you.”
“I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t come in when you did,” Avery confided thinking of the wild intensity behind Bruce’s eyes, “He was drunk and…”
“Avery, drunk or not, he had no right to hurt you,” his fingers pressed in against her cheek bone noting the bruising beginning as she nearly leapt out of his arms with a pained cry.  He pulled his hand away seeing the wince that had carried over her as he tried to take a look at her neck.
“He saw me coming in this morning and then he started accusing me of being with you…of making a fool out of him with you…” she thought back trying to make sense of the moment as it replayed in her mind.
“Avery, I’m sorry about that.  As soon as I found out about the article…”
“What article,” Avery shook her head in confusion as the color drained from his face and suddenly she felt her breath catch in her throat, “Brant, what article?”
“Avery, you were right about someone at the press being at the Davies party,” he sighed feeling her pull away from him, “Someone leaked word to the press about the ring and…”
“No,” she gasped her eyes widening in horror as she pushed herself out of his arms, “don’t say it…”
“Avery, I’m sorry…” he apologized seeing the strange combination of emotions wash over her bruised features.
“You mean the world thinks we’re…” she looked down to the ring on her finger thinking of Bruce trying to tear it from her, “Oh God.  Bruce thought that you and I were…”
“Engaged,” Brant nodded simply, “Avery, I had no idea that the media would get a hold of this one and…”
“The world thinks we’re engaged,” she gulped as her fingers swept up around her neck remembering the hold Bruce had on her, “Bruce thought that we were engaged and he came here to confront me on that.”
“From the looks of things, he came here to kill you,” Brant reminded her with a scowl, “Avery, that man is dangerous…”
“He thought I betrayed him and in his eyes I did betray him long before he and I broke up,” Avery began to piece it together as she could still feel the sting of Bruce’s hold on her sucking her life away from her.  Suddenly she felt a panic attack coming on as she tumbled back over to the opposite end of the couch.
“Avery,” Brant reached out to her.
“Don’t touch me!” she shouted back at him tears burning behind her eyes as the disaster played out in her mind again, “Don’t you ever touch me.”
“Avery, I didn’t want it to be like this,” Brant explained trying to calm her down, “when I gave you a five million dollar ring, I didn’t think that the press would…”
“Brant, how could you do this to me,” Avery demanded tears spilling down her cheeks as she struggled to pull herself up off of the couch, finding herself too shaken to move, “You knew that the press would leap on this…”
“Avery, I was trying to protect you from Davies,” Brant offered rising from the couch as her knees wobbled beneath her in her attempts to walk away.  He reached out to her catching her as she started to fall, “I didn’t think…”
“You never think,” she threw her fists into his chest trying to muster enough strength to push him away from her, to push him out of her life as her anger transformed into exhaustion, “you never once thought about what this could to do me…”
“Avery, I didn’t know this would happen,” he defended feeling her collapse against him as her tears overcame her once again, “I never wanted this…”
“Brant, why wouldn’t you just leave me alone,” she sobbed harder hitting at his chest in an effortless move once again, “Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone?”
“I care about you, Avery,” he blurted out holding her securely as her frustrated eyes turned up towards his.
“You don’t even know me, Brant,” Avery sniffled her anger weighing down upon her as regret filled her heart, “You don’t know the first thing about who I really am.”
“I want to know,” Brant explained as he touched her face gently careful not to touch the places Bruce had hurt her, “I want to know everything about you…”
“I never wanted you to see me like this,” Avery answered sharply as her lashes fluttered and she looked away from him, “I never wanted you to know this--never wanted to be in this position…”
“Avery, Bruce did this and he’s going to pay for what he’s done,” Brant promised refusing to let go of her as she still felt so fragile in his arms.
“He thought I betrayed him,” she sniffled as flashes of her night with Russell swept over her bringing forth a new level of guilt as Brant held her.
“Betrayal or not, he was out of line,” Brant answered simply, “he had no right to hurt you and he won’t do it ever again.  I won’t let him near you.”
“Brant, you don’t understand,” Avery began thinking of the Bruce she’d once cared about, “this wasn’t like him…”
“Avery, he could’ve killed you and I couldn’t bear the thought of that,” he admitted his voice softening, “I still can’t, which is why you’re coming home with me.”
“What?” she blinked back at him, “No way.”
“Avery, the guy can clearly get into your apartment and if he’s able to do that, then you’re not safe,” he reminded her simply as she pulled together enough strength to push out of his arms.
“No way,” she repeated firmly, “I’m not going anywhere with you especially now when half this town thinks that we’re getting married, which by the way we need to put an end to that rumor right away.”
“Avery, it’s too late for that,” Brant sighed running his fingers through his hair, “once the wheels are in action…”
“Put an end to it,” Avery demanded, “I don’t care who you have to contact, but set them straight.  Tell them that it’s a lie.”
“Avery, I can’t do that,” Brant shook his head in resignation, “it’ll only make matters worse and with the way the press is,” he paused for a long moment, “you have to come with me.  By this afternoon your place will be flooded with the media and given that I broke your door coming in here…”
“I’m not going anywhere with you, Brant,” she argued with him, “If you thought Bruce lost control before, then…”
“Avery, you don’t have a choice,” Brant interrupted firmly, “the way I see it, the longer you’re here, the worse it’s going to be.”
“So what?  I’m just supposed to leave my life behind because you’ve painted some fairy tale dream world for us as a blissful couple?”
“Avery, I’m upset about this too,” Brant defended.
“No, I don’t think you are.  I don’t think you have the first clue as to what I am going through right now and I don’t think you care.  It’s just all a matter of Brant Ashford getting what he wants and given that my ex-boyfriend tried to kill me, it would seem that you’ve finally gotten your wish…”
“Avery, that’s not fair and you know it.”
“What I know is that my world was fine before you decided you wanted me,” Avery spat back at him, “My life was quiet and boring and while I might not have enjoyed it nearly as much as I could’ve, it was mine to deal with.”
“Avery, you weren’t living,” Brant piped in with a frown, “You were just going through the motions until I walked into your life.”
“If this is what you call living,” Avery motioned to her face and neck feeling the numbness still lingering over her, “then I’d rather be back in a state of denial.”
“Bruce did this once and knowing his kind, he’ll do it again if you let him,” he argued with her as a sigh spilled over his lips, “Avery, you have to believe me when I tell you that this isn’t about my wanting you or how I feel about you.  This is about what happens next.  The media is relentless and I know this first hand because I’ve lived with it my whole life…”
“You’ve been eating up all the bad press that comes your way and this is no different,” Avery let out a sarcastic laugh, “I know this has to have your ego up a few pegs since you can sweep down and rescue the wounded sparrow waiting in the wings.”
“Avery, you’re not a wounded sparrow.  You’re a strong and beautiful woman and I care about you,” Brant shook his head hating her stubborn side, “why can’t you see that this is what it all amounts to?”
“Brant if you truly cared about me, you’d call whoever printed up this garbage and you’d tell them that this story is completely false,” Avery hissed at him.
“Avery, we both know it’s too late for that and if I did, then the reporters would still hound you,” he paused taking in a breath, “and then what?  Do you want them to see what happened here?  Do you want them to know what Bruce did?”
“I don’t want you to know,” Avery closed her eyes as she fought the tears that threatened her.
“It’s too late for that,” Brant sighed as he saw the pain wash over her, “but we can take steps to prevent this from happening again.  Ken is buddies with the chief of police and…”
“No,” Avery opened her eyes with a start, “no one can know about this.”
“Avery, Bruce is still out there,” Brant reminded her, “I kicked him out of the apartment, but we need to take legal action.”
“No I can’t do that,” Avery shook her head in refusal, “I won’t do it.”
“He tried to kill you.”
“I don’t care,” she argued with him, “I can’t let anyone know…”
“If this is about pride…”
“Brant, look at me,” Avery sighed as she ran her fingers through her tangled hair, “Do you think I’m up to answering questions at a police station?  To telling strangers about how the man who claimed to love me once almost killed me?”
“Avery, Dave can help.  He’s a decent guy and,” Brant started again.
“No,” she stated firmly, “I don’t want anyone to ever know about this.  This didn’t happen.”
“Avery, take a good look at yourself,” he stepped forward, “Bruce tried to take you from this world tonight…”
“Maybe I deserved it for how I hurt him,” Avery blurted out shamefully, “I did betray him long before I ended things.”
“Avery, you were just trying to do the right thing,” he reached out to touch her shoulder gently, “I know that you wouldn’t hurt him on purpose.  You were just trying to make it work.”
“A whole hell of a lot of good it did,” she grumbled desperately needing some aspirin as she looked around the wreckage of her apartment, “I don’t want to think about this anymore.”
“Fine, then come home with me,” Brant urged again, “you can rest up at the mansion--maybe take a shower and relax a while.”
“Brant, I’m not going home with you,” she argued once again, “I can’t uproot myself because of this.”
“Fine, then I’ll stay here,” he announced boldly, “I’ll work on getting the door fixed and we can stay here together.”
“Brant, no,” she argued with him thinking about the headlines.  If word spread around Coral Valley that she was about to become Mrs. Brant Ashford, then the headline would become national soon enough.  Just the idea of her family finding out about this lie sent a shiver racing through her.  The last thing she wanted was to talk to her mother about this.  Anything, but dealing with her mother especially now.
“Avery, I’m not taking no for an answer,” Brant stated firmly as he broke through her thoughts, “you have one of two choices.  Either we stay here together or you come back to the mansion with me.  It’s as simple as that.”
“And if I refuse,” she challenged forcing herself to find the strength inside of her to fight him.
“Then it’s going to be a long morning because I’m not giving you a chance to be alone while Bruce is out there.  As long as that man is running free and angry, then you’re stuck with me and that’s all there is to it,” Brant stated firmly vowing not to let Bruce have another opportunity to hurt Avery as he promised himself he’d do whatever it took to keep her safe.


“So what are we going to do about this,” Heather demanded as Russell stood before her, his jaw gaping as his eyes skimmed the article before them.

“Avery is not engaged to him,” Russell shook his head in denial as he crumbled the newspaper up in his hand tossing it across his kitchen, “that isn’t possible.”
“Oh it’s very possible and very real much to my dismay,” Heather grumbled her anger surging through her as Russell stepped across his kitchen trying to make sense with what the headline had told them, “The way I see it, this just proves that I was right about that woman.  You wanted to believe that she was little Miss Innocent and you wouldn’t hear me out, but all this time that tramp was after Brant and she was doing everything in her power to land that five million dollar ring on her finger.  Why when I think of Brant wasting that much money on that little slut…”
“What did you just say?” he turned around to face her again as something in her words haunted him.
“I told you that the woman was trash, but you were in a strong state of denial, Russell,” she hissed back at him, “I warned you that she was clearly no good, but you kept preaching the woes of poor and helpless Avery when I knew that she was…”
“No, not that,” he pushed her aside as he reached for the discarded newspaper, “the part about the ring.”
“Oh that,” she shook her head in heavy disapproval, “Brant never just does anything simple.  He has to outshine everyone and I thought when he gave me my engagement ring that he was going above and beyond the call of duty for a husband to be, but by going off and getting that bitch a natural red diamond like that…”
“A red diamond,” he looked up at Heather holding out the newspaper, “where did you see that?”
“Page two,” Heather frowned in response as she thought of all the ways she wanted to tear Avery Morrison apart limb for limb after Avery had moved in upon her man.  It would be a cold day in hell before that woman would get her hooks into Brant.  That much Heather was certain of as Avery would never make it to be Mrs. Brant Ashford.
Heather continued to spout off about all the ways in which she was going to kill Avery as her words were just noise to Russell’s ears as he skimmed the newspaper.  Opening it up to page two, he felt as though he’d been tackled and the wind was kicked out of him as his eyes fell upon an exact replica of the ring he’d asked Avery about.  There before him in black and white was a very detailed image and description of the rare red diamond that Brant Ashford had acquired for his latest lady love.
As Russell read the words anger rushed over him as he thought of his night with Avery.  Had this been only a game to her?  Was she just playing with him as means of having a quiet before the storm?  Even so, why lie about the ring unless of course her thoughts about marriage and avoiding it at all costs were nothing, but lies she’d spun in order to keep him at ease during their night together.
“I’ll just bet that last night that little twerp was at the mansion snuggling up to Brant and thinking to herself that she’d found a way to take what was mine, but…”
“Heather,” Russell turned his attention back to her, “just be quiet for a minute here.”
“How can I be quiet when the love of my life is making the worst mistake possible with that low class piece of…”
“Enough,” he snapped back at her trying to control the raging emotions inside of him as he thought to his night with Avery.  There had to be something missing from this as he looked to the image before him again.  Family heirloom, he frowned thinking of her words and her playful temptations.  Was it all an act?  Was she toying with him in order to build him up to the big laugh she and Brant would be having at his expense?  Would she be so cold and calculating, he wondered as he shook the thought knowing that Avery wouldn’t do something like that.  Despite what he was hit with in this article, she’d never used him that way.  The way she touched him, the way she felt in his arms, it wasn’t just a game.  There was more to their making love than that, yet as he looked to the article, his doubts came flooding back to him.
“So what are we going to do,” Heather interrupted his thoughts once again, “This can’t go on and the longer we sit back doing nothing…”
“It’s not happening,” Russell announced firmly as he crumbled the page in his hand once again, “Avery isn’t going to marry Brant.”
“Now we’re talking,” Heather smiled back at him her eyes ignited with an eagerness, “So what’s on the agenda?”
“I don’t know yet,” Russell admitted thinking it over for a long moment, “I have to talk to Avery.”
“To hell with talking to Avery,” she interrupted, “I say we go over to the mansion and you let me get that chance at taking her out.  You can distract Brant and I’ll teach her a lesson she’s certain not to forget as no one messes with my man and gets away with it.”
“Heather…” Russell began not quite sure on how to approach this situation as his cell phone started to ring, “hold that thought.”
“Russell, this can’t wait,” she whined back at him as her lip curled into a pout, “Look what happened the last time you blew me off.”
“It could be Avery,” Russell explained simply thinking to Avery’s hasty morning retreat.
“Oh right,” she rolled her eyes, “Like the little bitch is going to be calling you when she’s probably bilking Brant for all he’s worth back at the mansion.  I can just see that smirk on her face now that she’s got that ring…”
“Heather,” Russell looked to the caller id as his frown deepened, “It’s my brother.”
“Good, then let him wait,” Heather reached for the cell phone snatching it up from his hands, “We have an engagement to end.”
“Heather, give me the phone,” he demanded reaching for it as she pulled it out of his reach.  He let out a groan as he slipped his arm around her waist pulling her in against him in one swift motion as her eyes widened in surprise.  He looked at her for a moment catching a whiff of her perfume and the anger that lit up her blue eyes as he reached for his phone once again before releasing her.
“Why I never,” she huffed as she shoved her aside and he answered the phone quickly.
“Grady, what’s up,” Russell began turning away from Heather as he drew in a breath.
“I need to talk to you,” Grady’s voice echoed with something unfamiliar as Russell looked over his shoulder at Heather once again.  She was picking at the piece of cake that collected on her shoe as Russell looked in the opposite direction.
“Now really isn’t a good time,” Russell confessed thinking about the bombshell that had been dropped in his lap.
“Russ, look I wouldn’t be calling right now if it wasn’t important,” desperation hung over Grady’s voice and instantly Russ recognized the tone remembering darker days for his brother as shadows of that tone haunted him.
Russell took in a slow breath struggling to keep his thoughts of the latest disaster out of his mind as he tried to be there for his brother, “When do you want to meet?”
“My place as soon as possible,” Grady offered simply as Russell turned to face Heather once again.
“I’ll be there,” Russell sighed hanging up the phone as he looked to Heather, “I need to go.”
“Russell, you can’t keep putting me off especially not now.  Tell your brother that you’re just busy,” Heather demanded with a stomp of her heel, “Let him know that he’s going to wait because this can’t…”
“It’s going to have to,” Russell explained scooting her out of his kitchen as he collected a jacket from the coat rack, “and you’re going to have to leave.”
“Russell, we have to work damage control,” she insisted again.
“We will,” he reached for her arm dragging her with him to the front door, “but right now I have to take care of some personal business.”
“What could be more important than this,” she frowned once again as she stood beside him on his porch, her eyes demanding answers that he refused to provide her with.
“It’s personal,” Russell stated simply as he stepped towards her, “and it’s none of your business,” he finished heading in the direction of his car leaving her standing on his porch as she called out to him.
“You can’t put me off forever Russell because the longer we wait, the harder this is going to get for the both of us.  I won’t lose Brant just because you keep ignoring the obvious.  I will find a way to break him away from that lady lawyer and when I do, well you’d better be ready to back me up…”
“I’ll be more than ready to do what it takes to see to it that Brant and Avery never walk down that isle,” Russell threw out at her giving her one last look before sliding into the front seat of his car ready to face whatever demons were waiting for him at Grady’s house.  Whatever the day brought for him, one thing was for certain.  He wasn’t going to take this news lying down about Avery and as soon as possible he was going to get to the bottom of this one way or another.


Kenneth placed the tray upon the kitchen counter and began to tidy the area while Caitlin dressed. He smiled as he thought about the sparkle in her eyes and the way her entire face had illuminated with the sight of breakfast being served to her. She enjoyed being pampered even though he got the feeling that she hadn't been pampered very often in her past. That was certainly something he'd have to change in the future.

"God…with a morning like this, I think I could be at the top of my game every day," Caitlin teased with a laugh as she stepped out of her bedroom. A plop sounded outside her apartment door and she groaned, "I hate that delivery boy. He always drops it like he's burdened by the entire world," She said as she opened her door and retrieved the morning newspaper. She closed the door behind her as she turned and walked towards the kitchen. She glanced over the front page and raised an intrigued eyebrow.

"What's got your attention?" He asked as he finished the last of the clean up from breakfast.

"Your brother," She said as she turned the newspaper to show Kenneth the headline, "Is it always so public when he decides to do something?"

He groaned openly as he rolled his eyes, "Unfortunately with Brant, yes, it's always that public. Why can't he ever do anything quietly?" He grumbled as he dried his hands on a hand towel, "If this has hit the newspapers, it's a pretty safe bet that I'm going to be followed by the press for a while until they figure out that they're dogging the wrong twin. It happens every single time."

"I guess that means you're leaving?" She questioned as she watched him pick up his tie from the table and stuff it into his jacket pocket.

"Yeah, I think I'd better. In times like these, the Ashfords have to rally the war wagons," He said with regret as he met her eyes, "I really don't want to go."

Caitlin smiled, "You're always welcome back, you know."

"Now that's an invitation I just might have to accept," Kenneth smiled before he kissed her forehead and left her apartment.

Caitlin spun in a circle before sinking onto the sofa with a euphoric smile spread over her features. How could such a great guy have a twin who was such a polar opposite? Or were they really so different? If the press couldn't tell the difference, was it because they were more alike than they liked to admit? She suddenly frowned as she thought about the headline proclaiming Brant's latest romantic exploit in bold type. Would a new woman in Kenneth's life gain such attention? She didn't know the answer, but with her past haunting her, she couldn't risk it. She'd have to ask Blake if she could trust herself in Kenneth's life, or if she'd only be inviting the past back for another round of pain.


Thea smiled as she walked through Cameron's new mansion. His taste was always exquisite, and the décor reflected that aspect of his personality. It also showcased his desire to have the very best of everything as the dining room's marble floors created an echo with each landing of her heel upon the stone. She smiled as she slid open the Japanese style doors leading to the breakfast nook, finding Cameron seated at the table with a newspaper in hand.

"Good morning," She said with a smile. She took a seat across from him and met his dark seductive eyes.

"Would you like some breakfast? A Bloody Mary perhaps?" Cameron asked as he picked up his own to sip the beverage.

"Yes, actually, I believe I would," She said as she adjusted the hem of her skirt.

"Franklin, Thea will be joining me for breakfast," He told his butler who listened from the doorway before nodding and leaving them in privacy, "So, how was last night?"

Thea smiled, "Successful," She said before Franklin placed a Bloody Mary on the table for her. Once the butler had left again, she adjusted the celery stem within her glass, "And you?"

"Apparently not as successful as you," Cameron said he leaned forward, "Did you sleep with him?"

She sighed, "No, but I did sleep beside him," She said with a grin, "But he doesn't know the difference."

"I see," He said with a satisfied smile

"Not that I would have minded actually sleeping with him. He's quite the specimen," She said before sipping her drink.

"Is that regret I hear?" He asked with a grin.

"I don't have regrets," She reminded him as Franklin delivered her a breakfast plate. Once he'd left again, she leaned onto the table and smiled, "So what about you? What happened on your end last night?"

"It wasn't quite as pleasant as I would have liked, but I think I made my point quite clear," He mused.

"Well," Thea smiled as she looked across at him, "It appears that everything is falling into place…just as you wanted."

"Hmm, but it also appears that something else has come up," Cameron said as he passed the newspaper towards her, "Recognize that?"

"Is this…" She gasped as she glanced back to him.

"Yes, the very same," He said coldly as he swirled the remnants of his Bloody Mary, "And I want it."

"But on the bright side, you now know it's exact location," She said before placing the newspaper upon the table beside them, "Is that your next move against the Ashfords?"

"No," Cameron said with a grin, "I actually have a new angle where the Ashfords are concerned," He said confidently as he sat back in his chair, "And I'm sure it will yield positive results very soon."


Blake shrieked in dismay as she stared at the flat tire on her car. Could her luck get any worse? Her beautiful car had been wrecked in the quake, she'd missed a date with Seth last night, Brant's love life had drug her heels first into the spotlight yet again, and now a flat tire was making her late for work. She looked to the heavens and wondered just what she had done wrong to deserve such horrible luck. Had she really upset the Fates in such a horrible way? Could it get any worse?

"Hello there."

Blake turned to see a man approaching her from his car parked behind her own. She eyed him quickly, wondering what he was about.

"I saw that you have a flat," He spoke softly, "Can I help you out here?"

"Could you ever?" She said with a relieved sigh.

"I'd love to," He said with a smile as he extended his hand to her, "I'm Kipp Mahoney, and it's my pleasure to help a beautiful woman," He said as he looked to the flat and knew that he'd found his way to help Cameron further his plans in Coral Valley.

...to be continued...