Blake carefully closed the door behind her wanting to avoid the chaos
of her brother’s latest media field day as she sank onto her bed.
Thinking about the way Brant had managed to shake things up yet again for
the Ashford family, she didn’t know whether or not strangling him would
be to her benefit. Still as she reached for a pillow, she sank back
upon her mattress thinking to her quick getaway with Seth. A smile
touched over her lips as she began to recall the warmth of his arms around
her. Just the way he held her felt like magic as she’d realized even
with her brother’s wild exploits, he’d made the day something of a treasure
for their brief moments together.
Reaching for the phone on her nightstand, Blake dialed his number hoping to reach him as she looked to the time. After two rings, his voice sounded on the other end of the line and her heart thudded in her chest at the smooth, inflection in his tone. Something about Seth Alexander sent chills racing through her spine as she realized that he really had found a way to reach the heart of her. He said hello once again as Blake jolted back to reality struggling to keep her thoughts of Seth from overtaking her once again.
“Seth,” Blake broke through her silence, “hey it’s Blake.”
“Blake, hi,” his tone shifted sounding lighter as her smile widened, “I was just thinking about you.”
“You were?” she questioned a bit surprised as she wondered if perhaps he too was thinking the same things that had drifted over her mind.
“How could I not,” he confessed openly, “After the way we said good-bye earlier, well I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I hoped you’d made it to work alright as I hated leaving you.”
“Actually,” she paused looking around her room, “I didn’t quite get there.”
“Did something happen? Are you okay,” his voice rose with concern as she shook her head realizing he couldn’t see the movement.
“No, everything’s okay…well as okay as they can be considering that Brant once again decided to draw attention upon the family,” she groaned inwardly, “I was on my way to work after you left, but then I got a flat. Some driver stopped to help me with it and then I figured maybe I should just head on back to the mansion and figure out what’s going on.”
“I see, so you’re home now, huh?”
“Yeah,” Blake sighed thinking to the scene she’d walked in on, “though I have to wonder if coming home was the greatest idea there myself considering that there are still hordes of reporters lurking around the estate.”
“They just don’t know when to leave well enough alone, do they?”
“Unfortunately no,” she paused thinking about their non-breakfast, “About this morning. I feel as though I should apologize for…”
“No apology needed,” Seth interrupted, “I know that this was as much of a surprise to you as it was me. I mean certainly you had no idea that when we decided to make a breakfast date that it would wind up being you, me and the entire press club of Coral Valley.”
“Well you never know,” Blake teased gently, “we Ashfords tend to do things to the extreme sometimes.”
“So then should I trust that to mean that tonight when I take you out, it’ll be you, me and the Coral Valley Cardinals?” Seth joked back at her, “Because you know if that’s the case, I’ll have to brush up a bit on my football skills.”
“As tempting as it might be to tackle you,” Blake’s voice laced with innuendos, “I was thinking more along the lines of a one on one performance the next time we met up with one another.”
“So then I can keep the football gear at home then,” he laughed simply.
“This time you can,” she agreed with a smile, “though I don’t recall us talking about plans this evening.”
“Well, I guess I just assumed,” he hesitated for a moment, “you’re free, aren’t you?”
“That all depends,” she offered.
“On you,” she blurted out feeling excitement build in the pit of her stomach as she longed to see him once again, “Where is it that you plan on taking me?”
“I was thinking about whisking you away from Coral Valley for a while,” Seth confessed openly, “seeing as the press tends to spoil the mood, I was thinking about taking you to my own secret hideaway for the evening so that perhaps we could have that time together we’ve been talking about lately.”
“Hmm…secret hideaway,” Blake purred at the thought, “it does sound tempting.”
“You have no idea,” flirtation laced his tone.
“I must admit I’m intrigued,” she acknowledged.
“Then I must be making quite the impression,” laughter filled his voice.
“I’d say you’re working on it,” Blake conceded as a smile lifted over her beautiful features, “though the question is, are you willing to cross the campground of reporters expanding on my lawn in your attempts to whisk me away?”
“I’ll wear my armor and bring my swords with me,” Seth teased back, “and we’ll find a way to get away from them without causing a stir.”
“You haven’t faced an Ashford family situation before,” Blake laughed lightly.
“How am I doing so far?”
“It’s impressive,” she chuckled, “but you still haven’t seen the worst of it.”
“Then I’ll face that when it comes my way, but truth be told I’d face all that and more if it meant I’d get to have you in my arms before this night is over.”
“If you play your cards right, you might get your wish,” Blake decided excitement sweeping up over her as she thought to Seth’s protective embrace.
“Then I swear to be on my best behavior,” he promised.
“You don’t have to be too good,” she offered simply, “as I do enjoy a little touch of mystery.”
“Then prepare yourself for a night of mystery and romance Blake because I have a surprise planned for you,” Seth announced enthusiasm brewing in his tone, “and I’m certain that you’re going to love it.”
“I love every moment I spend with you,” she blurted out freely before she realized the words spilled from her lips. Suddenly she felt on edge as she bit her lower lip wondering if she’d said too much to him.
“Funny thing about that,” he answered after a moment’s hesitation, “I feel the same way about you. I’m starting to love everything there is about you Blake Ashford.”
“You are,” her eyes widened in surprise.
“More than I thought imaginable,” he admitted as she sensed an air of sentiment behind his tone, “You’re one of a kind Blake and I’m lucky to have found you when I did.”
“I’m the lucky one,” she smiled feeling a warmth spill over her.
“Until tonight,” Seth half questioned.
“Until tonight,” Blake agreed hanging up the phone as her thoughts returned to Seth and the magic that surrounded their time together. Somehow despite the chaos that followed being an Ashford, Seth was the one good thing in her life that was giving her hope to the future and suddenly all the wonders of romance and love surrounded her as she truly began to feel that he could be the one.
Caitlin sat in the basement of the Coral Courier with stacks of old newspapers on either side of her at the table where she sat. She had used a simple search string when looking for stories focused on her point of curiosity. Kenneth Ashford and relationship. Now she had more stories around her than she'd be able to read in a year. She had decided to start with the most recent stories and work her way backwards. If anything, she could perhaps figure out if he was different than his brother.
She turned the page on the newspaper and found the story about Kenneth on the second page of the newspaper. The story on the first page had been focused on Brant's love life while Kenneth's had been relegated to the second page. Perhaps that fact in itself said volumes about the difference in the brothers.
"Unlucky In Love - Kenneth Ashford Left Alone Again"
Caitlin frowned as she read the article. Kenneth's college sweetheart, Wendi Forbes, had left him to be closer to her family in New York. He had remained behind to hold the family together while Nicholas Ashford had fallen ill. According to the article, Wendi's mother had fallen ill around the same time. Both Wendi and Kenneth had been devoted to their families, and thus had to give up their relationship with each other.
Caitlin placed the newspaper aside and sighed. Kenneth had put his family first at the expense of his love life. If she had any doubts about the kind of man Kenneth was, they would have evaporated in that very moment.
She lifted another paper from the pile and glanced at another article about Kenneth and Wendi. It detailed their appearance at a gala for BBK and how they had wowed everyone in attendance. While Brant's date had impressed everyone with her beauty, Wendi had chatted up everyone in attendance and bowled them over with her intelligence and wit. It was even mentioned that Nicholas Ashford had boasted about who he hoped was his future daughter in law and doted on her during the evening.
Caitlin frowned as she placed the paper down and sank back in her chair. She ran her fingers through her hair and groaned. Could she even compare with the obviously outstanding Wendi? Would she even want to? One thing was for certain, she would have to speak with Blake and discuss the situation with her. Maybe Blake could shed some light on Kenneth's romantic past, and maybe give Caitlin some hope for the future.
Russell walked into the Pointe and directly to the front desk. He requested Heather's room number before making his way to the elevator and beginning the ride upstairs. If Heather thought she could get away with terrorizing innocent by-standers in Coral Valley in her quest to get Brant back, she was way off base. Then again, her behavior only proved that she was as big a brat as Brant was…in that way, they were perfect for each other.
He stepped off the elevator on the floor where Heather's room was located. He made his way down the hall and knocked upon the door. He heard some noises within the room before he spoke, "Heather, open this door before I get frustrated and bust it down."
Heather opened the door and nailed him with her unimpressed glare, "Did you finally decide that you wanted to keep Avery away from Brant?"
"Only if you think you can behave like a normal human being," He stated blandly as he pushed his way into her room. He crossed the room and glanced out the window to take in the view of the lake below, "Great view."
"I don't think you came here to see the view," She said curtly as she closed the door and stepped across the room towards him, "So why are you here?"
"To tell you that if you don't figure out how to behave like a lady, you can forget ever getting Brant back," He said as he turned to look at her once again.
"What is that suppose to mean?"
"You assaulted a friend of mind last night."
"Blondie? What'd she do, run to you to be her hero?" Heather rolled her eyes as she sat on her bed, "I guess she didn't tell you about the part where she threw a drink on me, did she?"
"You started it," He said firmly.
"She tell you that?" She snorted, "Of course she would. It'd help her little image, wouldn't it?"
"Why did you even approach her, Heather? Can't you stand it when someone else is enjoying themselves?"
"Why are you automatically taking her side?" Heather asked before shaking her head, "And why are we even talking about any of this? What you should be concerned about is Avery, Brant and their engagement."
Russell frowned as he sat in a chair in the corner of the room, "I realize that."
"So what are we going to do about it? I say we go straight over to the Ashford mansion and demand some answers."
"And you think they're going to give them to us?" He groaned as he glanced to the sunlight coming through the windows, "Not likely."
"Do you have a better idea?" She countered.
Russell remained quiet as he thought about Avery and the lies she'd told him during their night together. Why did he not see through those lies and call her on them? How had he been so easily fooled?
"Russell? Hello, are you still here with me, or did you go back to that out of this world goofiness you were in this morning?" Heather said as she waved to him to gather his attention, "Hi, back with us on planet Earth?"
"I don't know how we're going to get to them. Obviously with the press there, it wouldn't be a good idea to just go breaking down the door," He offered as he thought about the Ashford mansion, "There's got to be a way."
"You're part of the press. Why don't you just use that to get in?"
"Because they aren't going to talk to anyone much less me. Do you think Avery's going to just come out and be forthcoming to me in a time like this? She's probably in there with Brant trying to figure out how best to get rid of us permanently."
"We can't let this happen," Heather said as she tapped her foot impatiently upon the floor, "I've got it," She said as she shot off the bed, "I'll just call a press conference to announce I'm pregnant with Brant's baby."
"Uhm, Heather, there's just one little problem," He said as he looked at her pointedly, "You're not pregnant."
"The press doesn't know that," She said with enthusiasm, "And besides…it is within the realm of possibility. I can always say later that I've had a miscarriage."
"Heather, that's lying," He shook his head.
"It's a little white lie. Who's it going to hurt?" She said as a smile swept over her lips, "And it's the perfect way to gain leverage against Brant. I'll show him that no one dumps on me and gets away with it. And then I'll get him back with me where he belongs," Heather said proudly.
Russell watched her gain enthusiasm and shook his head in disbelief. He had a bad feeling that things were going to get a lot more complicated before they became better for everyone.
Avery sank into the center of the bed embracing the silence as she looked
around the guest room in the Ashford mansion. As her life began to
flash before her eyes, she realized that this was the last place she’d
ever imagined herself being in as she thought to the last twenty four hours
of her life. A sudden guilt swept over her as she thought of the
mess she’d made of things.
Avery’s gaze traveled over to the phone beside the bed and her thoughts lingered back to Russ. By now he’d certainly had to have heard the news about her so called engagement with Brant and knowing Russ, he would be fuming and on the warpath. That in itself made her uneasy as she remembered Bruce’s attack on her. Given that Bruce Mathis was wild with rage and once claimed to love her, she feared for what Russell might be feeling as their love making was still fresh in her mind. Granted Russell was far too level headed to ever sink to Bruce’s level, but he’d be hurt nonetheless especially after she lied about the ring. Reaching for the phone, she picked up the headset beginning to dial his number in the hopes of giving him some kind of warning, but as she found herself at a loss for words, she realized nothing she could say in this moment would make the situation any better as she hung up the phone.
With a sigh Avery sank back against the mattress closing her eyes as she struggled to ignore the ache creeping in over her tired limbs. The last day had overextended her in ways that clearly left her vulnerable for Bruce’s assault on her, but now as she thought of the anger and rage exploding within his otherwise calm demeanor. The more she lingered upon the morning’s disaster with Bruce, the more she realized that she didn’t know him at all and the thought that she’d spent so much time with someone so volatile scared the hell out of her.
A tapping at the door interrupted her thoughts as Annette popped her head inside offering a concerned look, “Avery, honey I don’t mean to intrude, but I brought you up some herbal tea. You looked like you could use some right about now,” she explained stepping into the room carrying a tray with her.
“Annette, you didn’t have to do this,” Avery turned around to face her rising from the bed as she reached for the tray in an attempt to help Annette with it.
“Of course I didn’t,” she smiled back at Avery worry present in her eyes, “but I wanted to.”
“I appreciate that,” Avery offered a soft smile as she set the tray down carefully on the night stand, “but you really didn’t have to Annette…”
“Avery, honey it’s always been Annie,” Annette offered supportively, “there’s no need for formalities at a time like this. You know you’re one of the family here.”
“Thanks,” Avery nodded politely, “Annie.”
Annette looked her over for a moment before opting to take a seat beside her. She reached for Avery’s hand giving her a long, scrutinizing look before speaking up again, “How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine,” Avery shrugged her shoulders as Annette’s gaze carried through her and she sighed, “I’m terrible, but admitting it doesn’t make it any easier.”
“I didn’t imagine it would, but at the same time, I thought maybe you might want to talk about it,” Annette offered simply squeezing Avery’s hand gently, “You’ve been so strong for all of the kids during one of the hardest times in their lives and I think it’s important that you realize we’re here for you now.”
“I appreciate that,” Avery sighed as her thoughts lingered to the situation she was in, “but I don’t want to be a burden.”
“Avery, honey you were never a burden,” Annette watched as Avery stepped across the room, “though some would argue that you took quite a load on your shoulders in stepping up to help Brant like you did when Nicholas died.”
“I couldn’t abandon him,” Avery stepped in front of the window looking out over the estate below, “I mean after all if I’d not held it together during that time, what kind of person would that have made me?”
“It would’ve made you human,” Annette reminded her, “Something that I think you are too hard on yourself about. Avery, I know that whatever lead you to this moment in your life must’ve been horrible, but at the same time I hope you realize that you’re not alone.”
“The only horrible thing that happened here was that I was careless,” Avery sighed closing her eyes as she thought to the reporters bustling outside the Ashford mansion waiting for their big story, “I wasn’t thinking and in a moment of weakness, I screwed up. Bruce was so angry when he saw that article and he was so hurt. I know that he and I never had the best relationship in our time together, but I never thought that he‘d be like that. I never imagined that the media would pervert something so private and exploit it like they did…”
“Avery, that press is always hounding you all at the company. It’s a wonder that they didn’t start something sooner with the way things have been. You’re always the voice of reason and that leaves you and Brant wide open to public scrutiny.”
“Still, I should’ve known,” Avery sighed inwardly, “I should’ve thought about things….I should’ve just…” she trailed off turning around to face Annette again, “Oh who am I kidding? Life is just one big waking nightmare that you just can’t escape from. I mean maybe what happened this morning was my fault. If only I’d been honest with myself, honest about what was happening and if I kept from running away from things…”
“I don’t see you as a person to run away from things,” Annette stated simply, “You’ve been very responsible and dependable in the way you carry yourself.”
“I’ve neglected the things that should matter. In a way I brought this all on by myself,” Avery confessed sadly as she raised her fingers to her throat feeling the ache remaining long after Bruce’s attack, “I should’ve been more aware…”
“Awareness or lack there of it, isn’t what spurned this disarray,” Annette reminded her gently.
“No, it’s not,” Avery agreed with a slight frown, “but I never imagined wanting to find a little slice of happiness would escalate into something like this either. I mean I gave up on the idea of love a long time ago because I knew better than to buy into everything that society is trying to tell us about having that happily ever after. I knew better than to invest myself emotionally in something that would wind up leading me down a path of misery, but then like an idiot, I just fell back into those old romantic notions. I mean I knew that I’d been passing my time in my life, just going through the motions before this all happened, but now,” she groaned as her life began to overwhelm her, “I mean why is it that men feel that women aren’t capable of making their own decisions? Why is it that every move a woman makes has to be done in such a way that she doesn’t step on any toes? I mean where is the justice in that…”
“There isn’t,” Annie agreed, “but at the same time, you do realize that men are the ones who tend to need the guidance in terms of romance…”
“I wasn’t even looking for romance or anything even remotely close to it,” Avery confessed bringing her fingers up through her hair, “All I wanted was to live my life without being tangled up in knots. I just wanted to be able to enjoy myself and to find something rewarding, but instead I wound up being more confused than ever. With the two of them pulling me in opposite directions, both of them wanting something from me that I wasn’t ready to give, I just…I was so lost…fighting them with every twist and turn. Even now I know that whatever happens next, well, someone is going to be hurting--hell, they’re hurting now and it’s all my fault. All of this, it’s just because I couldn’t stick to my guns about things. I had to let my head get stuck up in the clouds and now…” she trailed off sinking down onto the bed once again, “I’m a mess and I hate it.”
“Avery, can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” Avery nodded turning her attention to the kind woman before her.
“Why do you feel that you have to punish yourself like this when it seems to me that you’re looking for something to hold onto? Something real in your life?”
“I should’ve just followed the path I’d set for myself,” Avery explained simply, “I should’ve just ignored what was going on inside of me and fought harder. I should’ve avoided any sentimentality that I was feeling and kept down the path that was before me. If I hadn’t given in to this crazy feeling…”
“Brant can be persuasive,” Annette noted reaching out to take her hand, “He’s a very stubborn man and when he’s determined about something…”
“He finds a way to get what he wants,” Avery finished with a sigh, “I know the drill. Believe me I know all about Brant and I thought I was ready to put an end to this before it began, but now…”
“Now things have taken a turn,” Annette nodded accordingly, “You’re in a situation where you’re facing something you weren’t ready to walk into and as it stands you’re afraid of being the cause of someone else’s misery.”
“Exactly,” Avery nodded, “the last thing I wanted was to hurt him…” she trailed off as her thoughts lingered to the men in her life, “They’ve both been so wonderful and I really thought if I could fight this feeling inside of me--if I could push them away, then I could continue to play it safe--I could avoid ever being in this position, but now--now I’m worse off than when I started all because I couldn’t keep it together just a little while longer. I just--I just wanted to be happy and with Brant, well he just did things--made me feel things that I kept locked away inside. He got inside my head--forced me to think about things in ways I didn‘t want to even fathom and then when he…” her thoughts lingered to her night with Russell, to the feel of his arms wrapped around her, the way making love to him had brought a breath of life to her again, “I wanted to feel again and maybe on some level I wanted to be a part of all of this. Maybe I wanted to know passion and all those obnoxious notions that go along with it now that I know that they both feel something. I thought I could figure out my heart, but now...”
“There’s nothing wrong with following your heart,” Annette reminded her simply.
“There is when my heart is torn,” Avery felt tears stinging in her eyes, “How can someone feel something so incredibly wonderful for all the right reasons at all the wrong times and ever be truly satisfied?”
“That’s a mystery we’re all trying to figure out,” Annette sighed offering up a Kleenex to her, “but somehow in time things have a way of working themselves out.”
“That article opened a door to so many things I’m not ready to face--so many decisions I’m not ready to make,” Avery let out an ironic laugh, “but I know when my mother sees it, well, if she has her way she’s going to be on the first flight out here congratulating me on landing Brant. She has no idea what it really is between Brant and I or how it could be without people interfering with things…”
“Maybe you should call her and tell her what the real story is,” Annette paused searching Avery’s features.
“Believe me my mother would be the last person I’d call even if I knew what the real story was. She could care less about me or what I‘m going through as long as it benefits her somehow,” Avery confessed painfully, “The last time she took an interest in my life was when she thought it could work in her favor.”
“Surely your mother would want to be here for you at a time like this,” Annette began again, “When a child is in need…”
“The only needs my mother’s concerned with are her own,” Avery thought back to her tumultuous relationship with her mother, “She has it in her head that she can live vicariously through me--that she can have my life the way she wants it to be and this thing with Brant, well she won’t see Brant. All she’ll see is the Ashford name and it’ll draw her in. Anything that I’m feeling, anything that’s bothering me, won’t matter because my mother never cared about my heart. It wouldn’t matter that I was torn, that I was confused because all that is important to her is everything that I loathe about the world. She doesn’t know Brant--doesn’t know who he is or what it is about him that brought us closer. She doesn’t realize that now more than ever, I want to do the right thing, but my heart is just so…“ she trailed off. “When she sees the headline about the ring, disaster is going to follow and I won’t be able to stop it,” Avery sighed as she turned her eyes to the ring on her finger, “How can something so beautiful be so disastrous?”
“Avery, do you really want to know what I think?”
“Of course,” Avery nodded turning her attention back to Annette.
“I think you should take this time to focus on yourself. Stop trying to think about what would be best for the world around you, and just focus on what you need to get through this. The rest will come to you in time and given that destiny takes it’s course, the answers you’re seeking will be with you when the time is right.”
“What if the time is never right,” Avery sighed closing her eyes, “what if love leads me down another dead end road to misery?”
“It’s a risk we all have to take, but if it’s meant to be,” Annette spoke encouragingly, “then it will find a way.”
“I wish I could believe that,” Avery blurted out as she thought of Brant waiting downstairs and about Russell as she’d left him back at his home, “but I’m afraid my heart doesn’t know what it needs anymore. It’s just a big ball of confusion and all that’s following is misfortune.”
“In time the knots will become untangled,” Annette offered supportively, “It’ll all start to fall into place.”
“I wish I had your confidence,” Avery choked up at the tears pooled in her eyes, “I wish I was half the woman you were because you make it all sound so simple.”
“Believe me dear, nothing worth having is ever easy,” Annette embraced her feeling Avery give in to her sadness and confusion as Annette tried to sooth her tears, “but when it’s real, you’ll know it and only then will this seem like nothing more than a bad memory. This day will pass and with tomorrow brings the promise of that happiness you so richly deserve.”
“That’s just it,” Avery sniffled, “I don’t think I deserve any of it anymore.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Annette smoothed at Avery’s hair, “we all deserve a little happiness in our lives,” she finished trying to soothe Avery’s confusion as the day had taken it’s toll on the household in more ways than she’d imagined.
“Look I don’t care what you have to do in order to make it happen,”
Brant spoke firmly as his finger clenched around the phone, “but I want
it done. You know damn well the Ashford family donates quite a considerable
amount of funds there and I’d hate to think that you didn’t take my requests
seriously,” Brant paused a pleased expression washing over his handsome
features as a smile lifted over his lips, “Excellent. I trust you’ll
take care of this in a neat and orderly fashion. Thanks again,” he
hung up the phone confident that this was only the first step in his plan
to destroy Bruce Mathis.
“Brant, who were you talking to,” Kenneth frowned catching the tail end of the conversation.
“I was getting the job done in regard to dealing with that son of a bitch,” Brant pointed out matter of fact, “He’s not going to think he can get away with hurting Avery.”
“Brant, you can’t take matters into your own hands,” Ken frowned slightly, “you and I both know that it always winds up making matters worse.”
“That man attacked Avery. You saw what he did to her face and I refuse to let him think he can damn near kill her and think that he won’t pay for his actions,” Brant stated firmly, “I won’t let any man hurt the woman I love…”
“Brant, you can’t just,” Kenneth paused eyeing his brother with confusion, “What did you just say?”
“I said I won’t let anyone hurt Avery and get away with it. It’s not going to happen,” Brant replied matter of fact.
“No, that’s not what you said,” Kenneth stepped in closer to him, “Brant, you referred to her as the woman you love. You said you won’t let any man hurt the woman you love.”
“I didn’t say that,” Brant shook his head.
“Yes, you did,” Kenneth argued with him, “you referred to her as the woman you love.”
“So what if I did,” Brant shrugged his shoulders, “whatever I said it doesn’t change what should be happening…”
“Brant, what is happening,” Kenneth questioned softening his tone a bit, “I mean you and I both know this engagement story is bogus, but with that ring. Brant, why did you give her that ring?”
“I gave it to her because I wanted Davies to know she was off limits,” Brant blurted out standing taller, “no one takes what’s mine and gets away with it.”
“But Avery’s not yours,” Kenneth reasoned, “you might be interested in her, but you and she aren’t…”
“We could be,” Brant frowned slightly, “back at the hotel we were making progress. She and I were really getting to know one another, but damned Russell Denton and Heather…”
“Brant, Avery isn’t like your typical playmate,” Kenneth pointed out again seeing the strange look cross over his brother’s features, “She’s not going to be impressed by the money or the ring or the media watching her every move.”
“Don’t you think I know that,” Brant groaned in response as he faced his brother, “Ken, I know that Avery’s nothing like any woman I’ve ever met before, but that’s why I’m drawn to her. There’s just something about her…something that…” he shook his head, “never mind.”
“No go on,” Kenneth probed further, “you brought the tabloids into this, so why not clue in your twin brother? I mean hey if you’re starting to talk about love and…”
“I don’t know if love is the right word for it,” Brant crossed the room heading to the bar, “I don’t know what to call it.”
“She’s really worked a number on your head, hasn’t she?” Kenneth paused watching Brant mix himself a martini.
“She’s impossible and remarkable all at the same time,” Brant confessed taking in a breath as he thought to the night he and Avery almost made love, “She’s always so willing to fight me on everything, but when it matters, well suddenly she’s there and she’s at my side and it’s as if everything feels fine--like nothing else matters, but being with her,” he felt a smile touch over his features, “Even the other night on the way home from our trip, well, Avery had been drinking…” he let out an ironic laugh, “She had more than her fill and then when I was taking her home…”
“Brant, please tell me that you didn’t take advantage of the situation,” worry touched over Kenneth’s features.
“Of course I didn’t,” Brant scowled at him bringing his martini glass to touch his lips as he took a slow sip, “but she wanted me to. There she was telling me what she felt about me, about how much she wanted me and that she wasn’t going to fight it. She was right there and well within my reach and lord knows I wanted her. Hell, if it had been six months ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the situation. Avery wanted me and that in itself was a good enough reason for me to just go with it,” he drank another swallow of his drink as a sigh spilled over his lips, “but I couldn’t.”
“Thank God,” Kenneth felt a breath escape his lips, “at least it shows that you do have a conscience buried in there.”
“Gee, thanks for being the ever supportive one,” Brant rolled his eyes at his brother’s words, “and here I figured I could talk to you about this. What the hell was I thinking?”
“Brant, that’s not what I meant,” Kenneth frowned seeing the look of what almost seemed like hurt behind his brother’s expression, “It’s just I know the score with you. I know how these infatuations work with you.”
“Avery’s more than an infatuation,” Brant confessed with a soft smile, “she’s inspiration.”
“Oh boy,” Kenneth fought the urge to groan at his brother’s sudden poetic side.
“When I’m with her, she makes me feel something,” Brant continued oblivious to his brother’s words, “When I’m with Avery, it’s like I’m alive--really alive and I don’t need the thrill rides that come alone with living on the edge. I mean sure it’s been great. I’ve loved being reckless and pushing the limits, but with Avery, there’s this thrill associated with it that I could never reach doing all those things I’ve done. I mean just being around her makes me want to do things, to experience things that I thought were only silly notions for people like, well…” a frown touched over his lips, “you.”
“Gee thanks,” Kenneth frowned in response.
“No Ken, what I’m saying is that romance is just a plain foolish idea. Growing up you bought into that line of bull, into that whole nonsense about settling down and having the family--you know being loyal and dedicated to one woman the rest of your days and well I’d rather have my eyes poked out with an ice pick, but you kept believing in all that. You still believe that there’s someone out there who was meant for only you and that romance and true love will find a way,” Brant paused finishing off his martini, “and while I’m not completely sold on the idea just yet, well with Avery, she makes me wonder just what settling down would be like. She makes me think about love and all those foolish things that I promised never to let enter my path which is why protecting her is so important to me.”
“Which is why you should convince her to talk to Dave,” Kenneth urged once again, “You and I both know that if she goes to the authorities then this can all be cleared up in a legal fashion.”
“Avery doesn’t want the police involved,” Brant interrupted with a frown, “and if that’s what she wants, then I’m going to respect that.”
“Well that’s a noble gesture and all, but Brant bringing down Bruce on your own isn’t going to make any of this go away. Talking about killing him and making him pay in your quest for retribution is only going to make things worse. You and I both know that the media would love to get their hands on this and…”
“That’s exactly why I’m respecting Avery’s right to privacy,” Brant insisted, “You and I both know the moment we get the police involved she’ll get her name dragged through the mud and things about her life that are private and personal will be out in the open. She’ll be hurt by taking that route and she’ll be reliving the horror over and over again and I won’t do that to her if she doesn’t want that.”
“So what? You’re just going to seek out Bruce on your own and what? Kill him?”
“If that’s what it takes,” Brant stated firmly, “I won’t let him get away with this.”
“Brant, if you do anything stupid, it’s going to hurt Avery far more than your calling the police would’ve.”
“I’m not going to do it,” Brant shook his head, “There’s no way in hell that I’m going to go against her wishes. I won’t do that to her.”
“You’d be doing it for her and I know that Dave can keep a lid on this…” Kenneth insisted firmly.
“What universe are you lost in Ken?” Brant shook his head at his brother, “Obviously getting laid has put your head up in the clouds as always. I would’ve thought it might’ve brought you back to the reality of the world around you, but you’re still lost in sentiment.”
“Excuse me,” Kenneth blinked back at him, “What did you just say?”
“I said I was hoping that your getting laid last night would’ve woke you up a bit and made you think like a normal rational adult rather than an idealistic loser…”
“Go to hell, Brant,” Kenneth shook his head fighting to suppress the anger inside of him, “and if you ever talk about Caitlin that way again…”
“Caitlin,” Brant repeated curiously, “you mean the hot little reporter at the hospital? Well now I must say that your behavior is quite a shock here then. I would’ve thought after a night with her, you’d be beaming instead of trying to give me a lecture as usual…”
“Caitlin is a good, honorable woman with values and a heart of gold,” Kenneth shot back at him, “Something that’s a foreign concept to someone like you, but I won’t sit back and let you speak that way about her when you don’t know the first damn thing about my relationship with her.”
“Feisty,” Brant chuckled seeing the anger flash behind his brother’s eyes, “She must be something special. You haven’t gotten that worked up since Wendi,” Brant shrugged his shoulders, “so I trust Caitlin is something extraordinary indeed.”
“I’d rather not discuss Caitlin with you,” Kenneth frowned in response.
“Now wait a second here,” Brant feigned disappointment, “I just poured my heart out to you about Avery and now when I want to open up the lines of communication for a friendly brotherly chat, you’re ready to close down.”
“Brant, you’re just trying to turn the focus off of you and your screw up with your pretending to care about what’s happening in my life,” Kenneth shook his head in strong disapproval, “It doesn’t really matter what I have to say because it’s always about you. It’s always been about you.”
“Now that’s not fair,” Brant frowned deeper, “I’m not asking to be the center of things all the time.”
“Somehow you always wind up being there and when you are, it’s wide open for the media to move in and embrace the moment with you.”
“I didn’t ask for this,” Brant glared at him, “I never asked to be the one that the media follows.”
“But you sure love eating it up, don’t you,” Kenneth snapped at him, “You never think about what you do and what you say because you can do it all without consequence. When you decide you want something, whole world be damned because reason and consequence are of no importance because what Brant Ashford wants, he’ll find a way to get. You don‘t ever think about how your actions effect the rest of us.”
“I never asked you to take the brunt of my life. I don’t make apologies for myself and I damn sure didn’t ask you to,” Brant snapped in response, “Just because you are too afraid to go out on a limb and have a good time, doesn’t make me the bad guy. I can’t help it that you want to stay down the path of the straight and narrow and hide from the world around you. You did this because you wanted to Ken, not because Blake or I asked it of you. No one wanted you to give up your life and be the one who takes on all the weight of the Ashford family name.”
“I don’t have much of a choice when you carry on like you do,” Kenneth reminded him harshly, “With a flock of reporters camping out on our yard, who do you think is going to be the one to deal with this situation?”
“I said I’d take care of it,” Brant grumbled back at him.
“How? By killing Bruce and hanging his rotting corpse up on the front lawn to show any other man out there what happens when Brant Ashford starts seeking out retribution for those who’ve wronged against us?”
“If that’s what it takes,” Brant nodded simply, “I’ll do what needs to be done.”
“What you should be working on is convincing Avery to call Dave. You should do this through the proper channels so when the backlash hits us, we will be ready for it, instead of your renegade actions.”
“Look, I didn’t hire a hit on him before if that’s what you’re worried about,” Brant sighed in response, “I just called the hospital…”
“And said what?”
“I told them that it would be in the board’s best interest to see to it that Bruce Mathis no longer practices medicine in their facility,” Brant answered casually, “I figure that is a good starting point in dealing with him.”
“You had the man fired?” Kenneth blinked back at him in horror, “And you think this is going to make things better for Avery, how?”
“I’m working on it and I’ll find a way to deal with this,” Brant promised, “and when the time is right, it’ll be taken care of.”
“Brant, you’re going to make things worse in the long run,” Kenneth sighed wondering if his brother would ever learn.
“Not this time,” Brant argued as he thought vowed he’d find a way to make everything right for Avery once and for all.
Grady accepted the boxes from the delivery boy and tipped him generously before turning and making his way through the house. He stepped out onto the back porch and spotted Jade placing their cold drinks on the wooden table at the end. He placed the boxes upon the table as he watched her place paper plates at each their seats.
"So what exactly did you order here?" He asked as he opened one of the pizza boxes to peak inside.
"One meat lovers pizza and one vegetarian pizza. I also ordered some buffalo wings, and that," Jade said with a grin as she plucked a small box from the top, "Is my garlic bread."
"Your garlic bread? Well, I like that," He teased as he slipped a slice of the meat covered pizza free and placed it upon the plate, "Should I guess that this vegetarian one is for you?"
"It wouldn't hurt you to eat some of it to, you know," She chided as she offered her plate to him, "Give me a slice of the meaty one. I happen to like meat, but when I'm eating vegetables, I want them unadulterated."
"A purist…what's that about?" He asked as he sat across from her and sipped his soda.
"It's not that I'm a purist. It's just that some things are meant to be enjoyed without something else muddling the flavors."
"So explain the vanilla latte thing to me then," He said with a teasing grin before taking a bite of his pizza.
"What should be so wrong with a vanilla latte?" She countered.
"Vanilla and coffee…that's just wrong."
"It's not wrong at all. A vanilla latte is subtle and yummy. You might enjoy it if you could loosen up a bit," She said as she nudged his shin with her foot under the table, "Some experiences in life are worth taking a risk for."
Grady shook his head as he looked across the table at her, "You are a walking talking risk."
"And I'm worth taking the risk for," She said with a beaming smile, "I've told you this a thousand times, Grady."
"Yes, you have, and I've been reluctant to let you get to me," He paused, "Because my bad habits seem to override my responsible side more often than not. I have a hard time protecting the people I care about from that part of myself. Just take last night for example…"
"Last night was a mistake on both of our parts. I never should have gone near Cameron, and you…well, you should have kept me from going near Cameron," She said with a wink.
"I damn well should have," He agreed, "I don't think we can take him on as a client given the circumstances."
"Grady, we need him as a client. The amount of money he would bring to the firm would help out so much, and besides, I know you're always itching for a way to get at the Ashfords. You can't turn all of that down just because of this," She said as she sipped her soda.
"Jade, I won't let him think he can bully you or buy his way into your…"
"Bed? Believe me…last night, he wasn't trying to buy his way there. I think bullying applied in that scenario too," She said as a shiver traveled her spine at the very thought of Cameron's eyes sweeping over her, "He scared the hell out of me, Grady."
"That's the very reason I don't want to take his case. If we do take his case, Jade, we're going to have to work with the man, and I don't want him thinking that he has any rights to you whatsoever."
"We need the case, Grady. Please don't make a decision like that just because of me," She urged, "Please just think about things before you do this."
"I am thinking about everything. You shouldn't have to worry about our client's intentions towards you, and I don't want to worry about him trying to weasel his way around you."
"Grady, take the case. I'm a big girl. I can handle myself."
"And last night…could you have handled yourself then as well?"
"Well it didn't get to a point where I had to, but yeah, I can hold my own," She replied, "We have to take this case."
"We don't have to do anything where Cameron Stone is involved."
"Grady," Jade spoke his name in warning, "Please don't let a prestigious opportunity like this pass you by because of me."
"Jade, if I take this case, we're going to have to work closely with him," He reminded her as he thought back to Thea, "And I don't relish the idea of getting that closely involved with his inner sanctum."
"Then we only get as close as we need to for the case and not an inch closer."
"How can you be so reasonable about this? I thought he scared you."
"He terrifies me," Jade declared as she met Grady's eyes, "But I'll be damned if I'll let him control our lives just because he can't have his way."
Grady studied her for a moment before he nodded, "Okay, fair enough. We'll take the case."
"So what are we going to do about Cameron's wishes?"
"We're going to make it very clear to him that you're unavailable," Grady said as he reached over and took her hand, "He'll know that when you said you were in love, you weren't lying, and then he'll know that I'll be damned if I'll let any man invade our space together," He said as he lifted her hand to gently kiss her skin.
Jade felt her heart leap within her chest at his very bold and possessive statement. Maybe last night had been a disaster but today was off to a roaring success.
Caitlin stepped into her apartment with copies of articles she'd found about Kenneth and Wendi. She had promised herself she'd stop reading after just two, but somehow the story sucked her in and she wanted to know absolutely everything there was to know about their relationship. Was Kenneth really in love with Wendi? Was he still in love with her? Would he really be ready to move on with his life?
She groaned as she dropped the papers into a recliner and shrugged off her cardigan. She picked up her cordless phone and dialed Blake's number, hoping that the media storm hadn't overwhelmed her friend.
"Hello?" Blake answered with a dreamy voice.
"Wishing I was Seth, huh?" Caitlin teased.
"Caitlin!" Blake said her name in a sing song voice, "And just how are you today?"
"Obviously not as good as you. What's got you so happy? I would have thought with the media blitz going on you'd be safely tucked away somewhere."
"I'm in the confines of my room," Blake informed her, "Which is about as safe as it gets when the sharks are hungry," She groaned as she referred to the press, "What are you up to today?"
"I went into work for a little while after Kenneth left."
"Ah yes…and just how did things go with my big brother last night?" Blake asked, a smile evident in her voice.
Caitlin smiled at her friend's enthusiasm, "Actually, your other brother's ex dumped a drink on me, and then Kenneth brought me home. We had to have dinner here, but that was okay with us. We got to talk and then we watched a Hitchcock movie."
"And what? Don't start asking for explicit details," Caitlin teased, "It's not like there are any."
"What do you mean?"
"Kenneth fell asleep on my sofa. I draped a throw blanket over him and went to bed myself. Though I must say…he does have the most marvelous way of waking a person up."
"How? How? How?" Blake asked, her excitement unrestrained.
"He brought me breakfast in bed. It was very sweet," Caitlin smiled, "But then Brant's headline kind of ruined the morning. How's that going by the way?"
"Well once they smell blood, the sharks will circle for days," Blake said as she rolled her eyes, "It's really kind of disgusting how they want to feed on every details of our private lives. Just this morning, Seth and I were trying to have breakfast when the reporters started hounding me. I swear…at this point, I really don't think that Seth and I will ever be able to hook up uninterrupted."
"Oh ye of little faith," Caitlin warned, "You and Seth have a strange relationship, but hey…I say that any guy who saved you from disaster during an earthquake and has you grinning like an idiot has to be worth waiting for."
"Caitlin," Blake chuckled, "I do not grin like an idiot."
"Have you looked in the mirror lately, Goofy?" Caitlin teased, "But hey…goofy grins seem to suit you. I like it that you're happy."
"Well, I want you to be happy too."
"I don't know if that's going to be possible."
"What? What are you talking about? I thought you and Ken were getting along great…especially after last night."
"We are. I just…I don't want to be in the media's lens. It's the last thing I need in my life, Blake. You know how hard I've worked to disappear from certain people. I don't need them to find me again."
"That will never happen. The media don't focus on Ken the way they do with Brant."
"I have an entire stack of articles here that disagree with you. Granted Brant gets a lot more press coverage, but it seems that Kenneth's last lady love garnered the attention of the press."
"Wendi? Yeah well, sometimes people get over excited about people."
"Did he love her?"
"What?" Blake asked in slight surprise.
"Kenneth…did he love Wendi?"
Blake thought for a moment before she replied, "Yeah, I think he did, but that's when Dad got sick and Wendi's mom was sick too. They loved their families more than each other so they went their separate ways. After Dad died, I guess time had passed and Kenneth was ready to move on with his life."
"Does that mean he's over her?"
"He's been over her for a long time, Caitlin. And if I had any doubts about that, well, this morning would have cleared them up. When Kenny came in, he was practically glowing. I haven't ever seen my brother that happy in my entire life, and that's saying something."
Caitlin smiled as she thought about Kenneth, "So I shouldn't give up on him, huh?"
"Hell no," Blake declared boldly, "In fact, I think you two should definitely get together again…Soon!"
Caitlin chuckled, "I love it when you have a pet project, but I'm not sure if I love being a part of it."
"Caitlin, I'm telling you that you and Kenneth just make sense."
"We've been to dinner twice. How can you possibly make up your mind about something like that?"
"Because I know you both very well," Blake said with determination, "And I know a good thing when I see it."
"Okay, I guess I'll just have to take your word for it. You try to stay away from the sharks there, kiddo," Caitlin said with a grin.
"I'll do my best," Blake said as they ended their phone call.
Caitlin placed her phone back upon the end table and lay back on her sofa. She stretched slightly and smiled as she thought of breakfast in bed once again. A more romantic gesture she'd never seen, and it had certainly touched her in places she thought long closed off. Perhaps it would be worth giving a relationship with Kenneth a chance…even if there was the risk of her past coming back to haunt her.
“Thanks for letting me work in here a bit, Mike,” Seth called out to
his pal from the back of the studio.
“Not a problem,” Mike answered simply, “Just be sure to lock up when you’re finished.”
“You’ve got it,” Seth waved before disappearing into the dark room ready to finish with the photos he’d had on his mind all day long. Now as he buried himself in his work ready to absorb himself completely in Blake, a smile touched over his lips. The photos began to develop before him as he was mesmerized by her beauty thinking about the fountain and the time they’d spent together. She was truly remarkable--his own angel as her blue eyes looked up from the picture before him.
“Tonight’s going to be perfect,” Seth mused turning to the negatives before him as a wicked laugh spoke from behind him.
“You have no idea,” the voice beamed as Seth spun around to find a pair of dark eyes fixed upon him. As she stepped out of shadows, he noticed the beautiful face before him, but her beauty was only a mask as Seth knew quite clearly what she was capable of.
“So what are we working on tonight,” Thea questioned pushing past him as she lifted a curious brow, “My now isn’t this special.”
“Don’t touch that,” Seth snatched the photo away from her as he spoke sharply.
“She’s very beautiful and innocent,” Thea turned to face him bringing her fingers up over the center of his chest, “Hardly the type that could keep a man like yourself interested. Someone like you seems to need something more--something a bit more reckless.”
“And how is it that you think you know what I need,” Seth lifted a brow as she teased her fingers over the center of his chest.
“I tend to pride myself on being an expert on men,” her fingers fanned out over his muscled abdomen as he stepped away from her as though her touch had scalded him.
“Not on me, you aren’t,” Seth argued with her turning away, “You shouldn’t be here.”
“I couldn’t help myself,” Thea smiled wickedly as she brushed up behind him pressing her curves against his body in a leisurely fashion, “Cameron was looking for you, so I thought I’d make the trip for him personally.”
“I’m finished working with Cameron,” Seth answered tightly as he stepped away from her, his body filled with revulsion as he recalled their first meeting, “I told him I was through.”
“Oh Seth,” she made a tsking sound, “I thought you were smarter than that,” Thea dipped her finger in over one of the photographs, “I’ll bet she thinks you’re smarter than that too.”
“Leave her out of this,” Seth sneered at her tearing the photo out of her hands, “She has nothing to do with this.”
“She has everything to do with this,” Thea’s eyes narrowed at him, “and if you don’t learn to play nice, well then you’re going to find that I can be downright nasty,” she pressed her palm into his chest once again pinching at him, “because when Cameron wants something, Cameron gets it. Is that understood?”
“I already spoke with Cameron,” Seth spoke smoothly straining to keep his voice even as her nails pressed in against the fabric of his shirt digging into his body.
“As did I and he’s got another job for you,” Thea smiled sweetly despite her fierce grasp on him, “He expects you perform this task with the same efficiency and quality as the last or else…”
“Tell me something,” Seth drew in a breath, “how is it a woman like yourself could work for Cameron?”
“Cameron and I are good for each other,” Thea rubbed up against him a smile touching over her lips as she leaned up on her toes, “Cameron seeks pleasure from the finer things in life and I,” she lowered her voice to a menacing tone, “seek out pleasures in the pains that come along with acquiring what Cameron wants,” she finished her nails pinching in through the material of Seth’s shirt.
“Look Ms. Valentine,” Seth began uneasily.
“Thea,” she purred as her hold on him eased up a bit.
“Thea, I don’t like doing this,” Seth offered simply, “Cameron hasn’t told me why he’s doing this…”
“As he shouldn’t,” Thea remarked with a shrug taking a step back, “but what you should know is that you’re the best and I like you. It isn’t often Cameron finds someone that interests me as you do Seth,” she leaned back against one of the tables tossing her dark hair over her shoulders, “I think if you give up this reluctance you have about joining us, you might find that there are great rewards in working for Cameron,” she trailed her finger tip over the neckline of her blouse, “A great many pleasures you would be unable to obtain otherwise could be yours for the taking if you only open yourself up to what Cameron is offering you.”
“I know what Cameron is all about and the sooner this is over, the better off I’ll be,” Seth hissed back at her uneasy as he stepped towards the door to the darkroom.
Thea lunged forward pressing her arm up against the door blocking his exit as she pushed him forward burying his face in the door. Her fingers laced through his hair tightly as she gave him a rough shove.
“Seth, this attitude will certainly have to go,” she warned seeking out his arm as she pinned it behind his back roughly, “This isn’t tolerated by Cameron and it won’t be tolerated by me either. You’ll do what’s asked of you and you’ll play nice,” her voice tapered off as she slid her fingers over his inner thigh seeking out the source of his masculinity as a wicked smile pressed over his lips, “very nice for that matter.”
“Thea,” Seth breathed her name feeling her grasp him tentatively as she whispered behind his ear.
“Do what’s expected of you and we won’t have any problems, Seth,” she pressed a hot, wet kiss over the back of his neck, giving him a quick squeeze before releasing him harshly. She adjusted her jacket a bit as Seth turned around to face her again. Her smile rose over her features as she gave him a quick once over and she winked at him, “I knew we’d find a way to see eye to eye on this,” she brushed past him opening the darkroom door before turning to face him one last time, “oh and have a nice evening tonight, Seth,” she finished leaving him alone as Seth let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding as suddenly thoughts of Thea Valentine had him more on edge than ever. It seemed there was no way out to this situation with Cameron and that scared the hell out of him.
“This is going to be so good,” Heather beamed reaching for the phone
as her plan begin to come to life in her mind. A deliciously wicked
smile touched over her lips as she began to dial a number ready to offer
up her exclusive.
“You’re not going to call anyone, Heather,” Russell snatched the phone from her grasp hanging it up simply.
“Like hell I’m not,” she reached for the phone once again as he seized her wrist stopping her mid-motion.
“No, you aren’t,” he spoke sternly as their eyes met, “I won’t let you do that.”
“You haven’t come up with any better ideas and I know that this one will get Brant exactly where I want him.”
“Heather, the guy isn’t interested,” Russell shook his head at her, “When are you going to see that?”
“You don’t know Brant like I do,” Heather scuffed back at him pulling out of his reach, “You don’t know what it takes to get that man’s attention. You have to go to the extreme because in the end the rewards are so much better.”
“Heather, I’m not going to let you lie about being pregnant,” Russell shot her a disapproving look, “No one is going to believe that especially knowing how you are.”
“What is that supposed to mean,” She placed her hands on her hips indignantly.
“It means with your flourishing career, the last thing you’re going to want is a child on the way to interfere,” Russell reminded her simply.
“I don’t mind being pregnant,” she shrugged her shoulders, “All the supermodels go through it eventually and when the time comes it can be a media frenzy especially if the father of the child is someone as important as Brant is.”
“Brant isn’t the father because there is no child,” Russell argued with her, “and as much as I hate Brant Ashford, I won’t let you lie about that.”
“You don’t have a choice Russell,” she snapped in response, “I do what I want to do when I want to do it because it’s what I want.”
“If you even think about calling the press on this, I swear to you Heather that you’ll be front page at the Coral Courier and I’ll call you on your lies. I’ll tell the world all about your twisted ploy to win Brant over again and I’ll even go a step further…”
“You wouldn’t dream of it,” Heather challenged firmly, “You don’t have the balls to take me on and even if you did, no one would believe it.”
“Avery would,” Russell stated simply, “and as upset as I am about this situation, I swear to you Heather if you even utter one word about this silly notion of yours, I’ll be the first man speaking to Avery and Brant about your deceptions.”
“Brant wouldn’t listen to a word you have to say,” Heather argued, “in case you haven’t noticed, you’re not exactly on the top of his list there either.”
“Even so, Avery is one of my best friends and I’ve never lied to her--not about something this important,” he pointed out trying to ignore his own feelings on the current situation, “She won’t question me on this and she’ll see to it that Brant believes what I’m saying.”
Heather watched him for a long moment contemplating his words as she wondered if he was bluffing. She could feel the possibility of being with Brant well within her reach and this story could be the push in the right direction she needed, but as Russell threatened to expose her, she wondered if he could really do it. He didn’t seem bossy or that much of a man with a backbone, but there was a firmness behind his eyes.
“You don’t know I’m not pregnant,” Heather placed her hand to her chest feigning hurt as she let out an exaggerated breath, “You have no idea what things with Brant and I have been like lately.”
“Spare me the sob story. I saw all I needed to see the other night on the ride home,” Russell rolled his eyes back at her.
“I don’t think you did,” Heather challenged with a haughty laugh, “You didn’t follow Brant around after you dropped me off, did you?”
“Heather, don’t be ridiculous,” Russell groaned thinking to how he’d spent half of the evening sitting outside Avery’s apartment watching it like a hawk before his talk with Grady, “I wouldn’t have to follow him in order to know that he’s not around you.”
“He was with me,” Heather stated matter of fact, “I was at the mansion after you dropped me off…in his bed no less and he and I had a very,” a smile touched over her lips, “heated exchange.”
“Heather, I believe that about as much as I believe Brant and Avery are on their way down the isle together,” he rolled his eyes wondering why he put up with this as Heather gave him a strange look.
“It’s true. Brant and I were together and whether you want to believe it or not, that‘s how it was,” she paused searching his features, “but somehow I get the feeling you know something that you’re not telling me. What do you know that I don‘t about this?”
“Nothing,” he shrugged his shoulders trying to hide his confusion about the situation as he looked to her, “except that I know you aren’t going to be lying about a pregnancy because it’ll be the very thing that destroys you Heather.”
“It’s the best damn plan we’ve come up with,” she challenged as she stepped forward scrutinizing him, “Unless of course you’ve come up with something on your own--something that you’re holding out on me with.”
“Heather, believe me there’s nothing that I’m holding out on you, but if you continue to keep going down this path, then I won’t have any problems exposing each and every one of your little white lies,” Russell turned the focus back on her, “I’m not going to sink to that level not now, not ever.”
“Not even to protect your precious Avery,” she arched a curious brow, “I mean Russell, from the moment we crossed paths, you’ve been itching to get her away from Brant as much as I want him away from her. You’ve been so absorbed in this that I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t back me up on this plan.”
“I’m not going to lie,” he shook his head firmly, “That’s Brant’s game, not mine. If I’m going to save Avery from herself, then I’m going to do it with honesty and with integrity.”
“And you wonder why we’re not making any progress,” she rolled her eyes slightly, “It’s a wonder you’ve done as much as you have in the name of saving her because clearly you’ve got the loser’s attitude.”
“The loser is the person who isn’t clever enough to find a way to get what they want without hurting someone else,” Russell faced her once again, “I won’t hurt Avery in this just because you think lying is the right way to go.”
“Avery, Avery, Avery,” Heather threw her hands in the air, “What the hell is it with that woman? Why would someone like you or Brant even bother with that little twit?”
“She’s not a twit,” Russell frowned in response.
“Like hell she isn’t,” Heather glared back at him, “She’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, yet you both want to put her up on this pedestal and worship her feet. That I don’t understand considering what she is. She’s not a good person and she’s certainly no saint.”
“I never said she was,” Russell defended as he folded his arms in front of his chest, “but in the same respect I won’t go against everything I stand for in an attempt to prove to the world that Brant Ashford is no good for her and while we’re on the subject, he’s really done a number over on you as well. You could do so much better than Brant considering that he’s turned you into a lying, scheming, manipulative…”
“Brant brings out the best in me,” Heather interrupted tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder with a huff.
“Then I’d hate to see the worst,” Russell muttered under his breath.
“He seems to see the real me and he loves me regardless and I him,” she ignored his remark as she continued, “We were meant to be together and I won’t let some little lawyer get in the way of that.”
“You’re not going to fake a pregnancy,” Russell argued with her.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to…” Heather started as the phone began to ring. She looked over at the phone wondering who would be calling as Russell opened his mouth again to argue with her. She waved her hand dismissively at him before picking up the phone and answering sweetly, “Hello.”
“Heather,” Kipp beamed on the other end of the line, “I was hoping I’d catch you in.”
“Kipp,” Heather sank onto the bed as she glanced over at Russell casually, “Now is not a good time.”
“That’s too bad,” disappointment lingered in his voice, “because I was hoping we’d be able to have some dinner tonight. I missed you already and I was hoping that we could get together and maybe talk about my father’s upcoming project. He called me this morning and well, we were discussing the role…”
“Really,” her eyes lit up with enthusiasm, “and what did he say?”
“Well I told him that I thought I found his leading lady, but if you’re too busy…” he trailed off after a moment.
“No I’m not too busy,” Heather decided feeling a rush of enthusiasm wash over her, “I was in the middle of an interview with a really tacky reporter,” she threw a scathing look in Russell’s direction, “but it appears that dinner should work out great.”
“Excellent,” Kipp answered brightly, “Then how about I pick you up around six?”
“Six it is,” Heather agreed quickly, “That should be perfect.”
“Alright, then I’ll see you at six,” Kipp agreed enthusiastically, “until tonight.”
“Of course,” Heather hung up the phone as Russell shot a glare at her.
“Who was that?” he demanded.
“It was business,” Heather offered simply, “business that can’t wait.”
“Dinner with someone named Kipp,” Russell remarked dryly, “Sounds like pleasure more than business.”
“Pleasure will be my getting Avery far away from Brant as soon as possible,” Heather threw out icily, “and if you aren’t going to help me do it, I’ll do it on my own.”
“Heather, I’m warning you,” Russell issued as she stepped towards the hotel door holding it open in an attempt to get him to leave.
“Don’t tell me what to do Russell,” Heather warned sharply, “because I don’t work well with being bullied around.”
“I’m not bullying you around, but I swear if I hear one hint of a headline about you and a pregnancy,” Russell began simply, “then it’s over for you. Got it?”
“Get lost Russell,” she shoved him out of the door closing it swiftly as she was alone again and she vowed to find a way to get Brant back in her arms again. It was only a matter of time before she had everything she wanted.
Russell shook his head as he stood in the hallway outside Heather’s hotel room. She was trouble waiting to happen and he couldn’t afford to have that right now, he reasoned as he thought back to his situation. There had to be a way to find the truth…there had to be a way to get into contact with Avery without the chaos that Heather suggested, but how? As he headed towards the elevators, he thought to his talk with Caitlin. Somehow she’d been convinced that the Ashfords weren’t a threat to the world around them, but he knew better. She seemed to think that Kenneth was one of the good guys, but anyone that close to Brant might not be so trustworthy, however… If Avery was staying at the mansion and Caitlin was spending more time around there, perhaps Caitlin might be able to help him more than he realized. With that thought in mind, Russell pushed his frustrating exchange with Heather out of his mind as he vowed to find his own way of penetrating the Ashford compound and gaining access to the truth.
Avery stepped back into the bedroom, feeling the silence wrap her up
in a soft comfort as she began to towel dry her hair. While her talk
with Annette had been something to get her mind pointed in the right direction,
she realized that nothing short of a shower would work on the aches that
consumed her. Now as she stood in the center of the room wrapped
up in her favorite robe, she looked to her reflection thinking about the
twists and turns her life had taken over the last couple of days.
Somehow she’d been swept up in a world of chaos and nothing made sense
anymore. Too many problems had arisen from her breaking up with Bruce
and if she wasn’t careful a whole world of misery would follow her.
With that thought in mind, Avery’s gaze drifted over to the telephone once again. Somehow Avery had to find a way to make things right, even if it might not happen right away. With a sigh, she reluctantly turned to the phone dialing Russell’s house as she waited nervously for him to answer the phone. She wasn’t quite sure what she’d say or how she’d approach this situation with him, but he had a right to hear things from her before the article tangled up things even more. Much to her relief the answering machine picked up on the forth ring and she listened to his cheery voice message. The beep followed and she took in an anxious breath.
“Russ, hey it’s me…” she began feeling like an idiot as she was at a loss, “Look we need to talk. There’s something I want to tell you…something that…it’s just I need…I need you…I want you to…to just…” she trailed off not knowing what to say as a sigh escaped her lips, “We just need to talk soon. I hope by the time you get this message you’ll just hear me out because if I lost you too…” the beep followed alerting her that her time was up and she hung up the phone realizing that maybe calling him wasn’t a good idea because now she’d felt worse than before. There was a faint tapping at the door as Avery turned around to see Brant peeking into the room.
“Up for company,” he questioned lightly as he looked to her.
“Do I have a choice,” she countered rising from the bed.
“Avery, look I’m sorry about what happened,” he began apologetically as his eyes fell over her once again, “I didn’t want any of this to escalate like it did.”
“I know,” she nodded with a sigh, “I think this kind of took on a life of it’s own with the media getting involved.”
“I never wanted that,” he paused taking in her soft features despite the bruising over her otherwise flawless skin, “I wanted to show you that being with me wouldn’t be filled with reporters and gossip stories that would shake your world upside down.”
“Brant we both knew better than that,” Avery offered a soft smile despite the situation, “I knew what kind of trouble came with being associated with the Ashford family, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to get involved.”
“Still, I feel as if I should do something to make up for this--as if I should find a way to counteract what happened,” Brant stepped forward extending his hand out towards her touching her cheek gently, “Tonight when I’d planned on dinner for us, I was hoping we’d have a quiet romantic evening out on the town where you could see the real me and not the me that the media chases around like it’s their sole purpose in life.”
“Brant, you love them chasing you,” Avery teased gently, “It gives you something to brag about.”
“I’d rather avoid them tonight,” he caressed the side of her face brushing the pad of his thumb over her skin tenderly.
“You and me both,” she sighed leaning into his contact as she closed her eyes feeling the ease of him touching her.
“We still have a date you know,” he reminded her easing his finger into the dark tendrils of her damp hair, “That is if you’re feeling up to it.”
“Brant, I don’t want to go out on the town especially not now,” Avery reopened her eyes as a sigh escaped her lips, “not like this.”
“Who says we have to leave the mansion,” Brant smiled down at her gently, “We can have a quiet dinner here just the two of us in the privacy of my home.”
“You realize if I didn’t know better, I’d think you arranged for things to work out this way,” Avery felt a soft smile tug on the corners of her lips, “considering how hard you’ve been working to try to coax me into coming here for dinner with you.”
“As much as I’d like to take credit for getting you alone here,” Brant sighed as his gaze fell upon the marks over her, “This wasn’t how I wanted it to be.”
“Neither did I,” she confessed thinking back to Bruce’s attack on her. Guilt tugged at her as she thought of how Bruce had found her coming in her apartment the morning after her night with Russell. What should’ve been a simple dinner had turned into something that she hadn’t been ready to deal with--hadn’t been ready to face again, but now as Brant offered her a dinner, she felt a tremor rush over her. Could she just fall into dinner with Brant tonight as she had with Russell the night before? Would one thing lead to another as they had with Russell? The very thought terrified her as she feared giving in to what she’d been dreaming about for quite some time. Last night she’d allowed her feelings to take control and she’s wound up in over her head. Brant had promised they’d take things slow, but in the same respect she’d promised herself she wouldn’t sleep with Russell. Confusion swept over her as she took a step back out of his reach.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Avery turned away from him avoiding his eyes as she wrapped her arms around her torso, “I should probably rest.”
“Avery, it’s just dinner,” Brant pleaded with her.
“It’s never just dinner,” she let out an ironic laugh, “and I’d be a fool to think it could be.”
“Avery, I swear it,” Brant reached out to her once again, “We’ll have a nice quiet dinner together. I’ll even invite Annette to join us if you’re worried about what could happen. I told you before and I’ll say it again, I don’t want to blow things with you and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to prove that to you,” he was met by a silence as she maintained the distance between them, “After what happened this morning, I swear to you that I would never, ever take advantage of the situation…”
“Brant,” she spun around to face him once again tears swelling in her eyes as his finger brushed over her bottom lip in a soothing gesture.
“Avery please,” he leaned in towards her cupping her face in his hands as he lifted her eyes to his, “just dinner.”
“Brant, I don’t know…” she debated the idea within herself. There were so many things going wrong in her life and chancing it would prove to be yet another risk…one she wasn’t certain she should be taking.
“Have dinner with me,” Brant smiled down at her, “I mean you have to eat, right?”
“Well yes, but,” she saw the glimmer of warmth behind his dark eyes as it sent a surge of something wonderful straight through her down to the tips of her toes. His smile always seemed to do that, she reminded herself as he leaned towards her and she found herself tilting up to meet his mouth as he dropped a soft kiss upon her lips.
“I promise it’ll be very relaxing and wonderful,” he whispered against her lips parting from her as he reached for her hand offering a light squeeze. He lifted her palm to his lips and he pressed a tender kiss over her skin, “and if at any time you change your mind, well your room isn’t that far away.”
“Alright,” she finally agreed realizing that maybe dinner with Brant would be the one thing she needed to keep her mind from lingering on the things that had been bothering her. The world could wait another day or so because tonight would be about taking a moment to embrace the place she found herself in--something Avery seldom took the time to do before this week.
Caitlin dumped the articles she'd brought home with her into the garbage, having decided that Kenneth's past relationships didn't matter just as hers didn't. What was happening between them was in the present and it was that fact she needed to focus on. She stepped across the room to her laptop and opened the computer. She opened her word processing program and began to type about her observations regarding Kenneth Ashford. Something told her that any idea she might have had about being objective with her story about Kenneth battling Midlands had just leapt right out the window.
She smiled as she sat back in her chair and glanced at the computer screen. She couldn't share everything she'd learned about Kenneth with her readers…and there was actually quite a bit that she didn't want to share. He was an amazing man who never failed to bring a smile to her face with his thoughtful actions. How had she of all people been lucky enough to gain his attention?
The ringing of her telephone interrupted her musings. She moved to the sofa and picked up the telephone, "Hello?"
"Now that's a friendly voice to hear."
Caitlin beamed as she heard Kenneth's voice, "I could say the same thing about yours. How are you holding up?"
"I'd like to beat my brother to a pulp, but what else is new?" He sighed, "Please tell me that your day is going better than mine."
"It's had its ups and downs, but right now things are looking up."
Kenneth smiled, "I hope I can make it even better."
"How's that?" She asked as she tucked her feet under her.
"How about we go out for dinner and dancing? We could go to Irvan's for some casual dinner before heading over to the Gables to dance the night away."
"Won't that put you under the media's spotlight?"
"Nah, I'm too boring for them," He teased, "Actually they might be interested for about ten minutes, but they'll flock back to the mansion as soon as they figure out I'm not Brant."
"You sure you want to go dancing with me?" She said as she smiled, "You might not be able to keep up with me."
"A woman with energy…I knew I liked you for a reason," He teased in reply, "I think I can handle anything you can dish out."
"Brave words," She grinned, "We'll just have to see if you can live up to them."
"I'll stake my reputation on it," He said proudly, "Seven o'clock good for you?"
"It's perfect," Caitlin smiled, "I can't wait."
"Neither can I," Kenneth smiled before ending their phone call. Despite the media's current curiosity with the Ashford clan, he was going to make the most of the night.
Jade sat on the porch swing on Grady's front porch, enjoying the cool breeze and the soft shade. She swung gently as Grady held her hand. He lifted her hand to his lips and gently pressed his lips to her skin.
She smiled as she looked over to him, "How did this happen?"
"You're going to question that?" He asked with a grin as he met her eyes, "You were the persistent one after all."
"Well yeah I know that part," She chuckled as she turned on the swing to focus all her attention on him, "But what I mean is…how did we have this breakthrough?"
"We went out to dinner…with other people."
Jade nudged Grady's ribs, "That's not funny."
"No, but it's true," He said as he captured her hand and drew her into his lap. He held her in his arms as he met her eyes, "I really don't want to lose you."
"As if you ever could," She said as she gently eased her fingertips across his cheek, "You are the only man I could ever want, Grady," She assured him as she met his eyes, "All I want to do is be with you."
"I don't understand why," He admitted as he gazed into her smoldering eyes, "You could have any man you wanted. Why me?"
"Because you're everything that I could ever want in my life. You're steadfast. You're dependable. You're intelligent, funny, compassionate," She paused as she lowered her eyes to his lips, "You always know just what to say or do to make me smile. You can read me," She said as she looked back up to his eyes, "You know the real me inside, and I am amazed at how easily that seems to come to you."
"But I'm a man with a lot of baggage, Jade. I come with a lot of complications."
"Complications I can handle," She said as her fingertips whispered over his lips, "It's living without you that I can't bare."
Grady gently covered her hand with his and drew her palm to his lips for a kiss, "You are better than I deserve."
She grinned as she leaned forward and whispered, "Don't you forget it," She pressed her lips to his in a tender kiss.
He returned her kiss and sighed gently, "God it's hot out here."
"Hmm…it's hot anywhere you happen to be," She said as she eased her fingertips along his shirt collar.
"And you are just too hot to handle," He replied with a grin, "I say we cool down."
"How so?" She asked as she met his eyes.
"Let's go swimming. I know a private little place down on the lake. We could pick up some food at Irvan's and just spend the evening down there."
"I don't have a swim suit with me," She said as she met his eyes.
"We'll go to your place for you to pick one up. Then we'll enjoy the night."
"Now that sounds like a plan," She said with a smile as she slipped out of his lap and tugged him off the swing, "Come on, Grady. Let's go have some fun."
"Oh boy…what have I gotten myself into?" Grady chuckled as Jade pulled him into the house.
Sitting in his air conditioned car down the street, Cameron frowned as he lowered his binoculars, "This is not making me happy."
"Looks like your plan might have backfired," Thea said on the seat facing him. She raised an eyebrow as she caught Cameron's less than friendly glare, "Well…you declare your intentions to her, and Grady wakes up in the bed of another woman. Them being together was certainly the last thing you thought would happen at this point, isn't it?"
"Thea, I really don't need your optimism right now," Cameron said as he glanced back out the tinted window.
"So what's your next move?" She asked as she adjusted the hem of her mini skirt.
"Monday morning…you have a gift for Grady, don't you?" He asked as he slowly looked back to her.
"Yes I do," She nodded.
"Then you'll just have to make a special delivery to Mr. Denton…just be sure that Jade knows you're there," Cameron smiled, "And then we'll make another move against the Ashfords. I'm not going to be defeated by anyone or anything in this town. Coral Valley will know that I always get what I want," He declared firmly, glancing back at the house where Grady and Jade were defying his wishes. They might be enjoying themselves now, but he's make sure they'd regret ever crossing him and he would have Jade for his own by eliminating every obstacle in his way.