Episode Nineteen


"Do you ever eat at home?" Caitlin teased Kenneth after they'd ordered their dinner at Irvan's. She sat across from him in a booth near the back of the restaurant away from prying eyes.

"I do," He said with a grin, "And I even cook."

"Are you kidding me? A spoiled rich kid can cook?" She flashed him a grin.

"Rich kid, maybe, but spoiled? Nah," He said with a smile as their waitress brought drinks to the table, "I don't expect to be catered to. I can take care of myself when I absolutely have to."

"Have you had a lot of experience with that?"

"I did in college, and after Mom died," He shrugged, "I tried to pick up the slack. Annie did what she could for us, and she went above and beyond the call of duty more times than I can count. I tried to ease the strain on her by becoming more responsible."

"So you took care of your siblings?"

"I took care of Blake…at least as much as she'd let me. Brant was his own person, and he was much too determined to follow in our father's footsteps. I just wanted to be a part of a family…the way Mom always made us feel."

"You really loved your mother, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," Kenneth nodded with a smile as he thought of his mother, "She was gentle and kind, beautiful in every way. I still miss her from time to time."

Caitlin smiled in understanding, "Blake told me about her. She sounds like she was an amazing woman."

"She was. Why she ever got involved with my father…that I'll never know," He said before sipping his drink.

"Sometimes the heart leads us where our heads know we shouldn't go," She gently stirred her soda pop with a straw, "I've been there."

"So have I. Why is it we're always drawn to the things we know we should stay away from?"

"I have no idea," She shrugged as their food arrived. She glanced at the cheeseburger with fries in front of her and grinned, "As you clearly see, I can't avoid the very things I should stay away from."

"On the contrary, some things were meant to be savored," He said with a grin as he raised a cheese fry from his plate and offered it to her, "Come on, you know you want it."

"No, I don't," She said though a smile curled the corners of her lips.

"Yes you do," He said with a smile as he leaned towards her, "Come on. Just one. I won't tell."

"Kenneth, you are really tempting me…" She warned as he raised the fry towards her lips.

"Yes, I am," He said confidently as he fed her the first bite of the cheese fry, "Now tell me…honestly…wasn't that worth it?"

She chewed for a moment and pretended to ponder the thought, "Hmm…I just might have to have another bite to consider this one."

He smiled as he fed her another bite, "I think I could get used to this."

"Giving me all your food?" She teased as she gently covered her mouth, attempting to finish off the bite he'd fed her.

"Relaxing with you," He admitted, "It happens without even thinking about it. That hasn't happened for me in a very long time, and I owe that all to you."

She felt a blush staining her cheeks as she glanced away from him, "I…I don't know…if you can really…say that's because of me."

Kenneth slipped his fingertips under her chin to raise her eyes to his. He gazed into her eyes for a moment before he spoke, "I can say with certainty that you make me feel comfortable, and that comfort means more to me than you'll ever know."

Caitlin found a smile lighting her features, "You're giving me way too much credit. You're an extraordinary man, Kenneth Ashford, and you put way too much pressure on yourself."

He shook his head with a smile as he withdrew his hand and lifted a cheese fry for himself, "Are you going to tell me that I need to lighten up and relax? That's the party line with the Ashford clan."

"That's just the thing. I've seen you relaxed. Why don't you allow yourself that luxury more often?" She asked as she lifted a French fry from her plate and took a bite.

He shrugged, "I don't have the time. I have to hold everything together."

"Why? Who says you have to be the responsible one? Why can't you just let it all hang out and have some fun?"

"I do have fun," He said as if he were almost offended, "Haven't we had fun?"

"Of course we have," She said before her smile grew, "But I get the feeling that you don't have this kind of fun nearly often enough."

"Is that a standing invitation?" He teased with a smile.

"You know what I mean," She said with a roll of her eyes before she sipped her soda.

"Okay, yeah I do," He nodded before he gently raised and then lowered his straw back into his soda, "Someone has to think in our family. No one else is going to do it. So that responsibility falls to me."

"Does it really or do you put yourself in that situation?"

"I feel like I'm in a therapy session here."

"Therapy, huh? Go there often?" She asked with a teasing smile.

"Is it pick on Kenneth night here?" He asked with a grin as he shook his head, "Let's talk about something else. Anything else."

"Okay, fair enough. How'd you get out of the mansion without being mobbed by the press?" She asked before eating another fry.

"Trade secret," He said with a wink, "I used the bat cave."

"Okay, fine. Don't share," She laughed softly, "I'll just ask Blake."

"You and Blake…you guys really are close, huh?"

"Yeah, she's my best friend. She knows me better than anyone else in the world."

"So what dirty family secrets has she shared with you?" He asked before sipping his drink.

"Not a thing actually. She doesn't like to talk about your family," She announced, "I guess she likes to just get away from the Ashford reputation and just be herself when she's with me."

"I think I know exactly what that's like. I seem to do the same thing when I'm with you," He smiled as he reached across to take her hand. Kenneth lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to her soft skin, "You're a god send, Caitlin Vaughn. You're just what I needed."

Caitlin blushed profusely as she continued to meet his eyes, feeling her heart skip beats within her chest. The look in his eyes, the feel of his lips upon her skin, the soft way he held her fingers in his hand…it all made her pulse race and her breath stop someway in the middle of her chest. She knew what it all felt like, but she wasn't quite sure if she was ready for that kind of experience in her life. One thing was for sure…ready or not, she wasn't turning away from Kenneth nor would she turn away from herself. She would move forward with no worries.

If only she'd been aware of the camera snapping away pictures of the intimate moment between them…


Blake drew in a nervous breath as she looked out to the back yard of the Ashford estate.  While the sun was slowly starting to fall back into the horizon, she wondered what Seth had in mind exactly as he’s called her only a few short minutes earlier urging her to meet him out back.  By now the reporters had seemed to taper off a bit--no doubt opting to return early in the morning for their hot story on Brant, she reasoned as a soft breeze swept up over her.  She hugged her arms to her body as she noticed the faint luminance of headlights in the distance.  Hoping that this wasn’t just another rogue reporter dead set on crashing through the Ashford estate security, she stepped down a couple of steps making her way towards the light source.
As Blake reached the ground, she noticed a tanned pick up truck approaching her.  A frown touched over her lips as it’s muffler set off a dull roar indicating that the truck had seen better days.  Still as her thoughts to Seth’s cryptic phone message haunted her, she continued down the winding path behind her home.  A moment later, the horn honked at her as she noticed Seth behind the wheel.  A laugh spilled over her features as she rushed towards the truck curiosity sweeping over her.
“What’s this,” Blake questioned as she opened the door to the truck hopping inside.
“This was my way in and our way of getting out of here unnoticed,” Seth explained matter of fact leaning in to give her a quick kiss as a goofy grin swept over his features, “The truth is you were so concerned about the media that I figured if I brought this thing with me, well they’d just think I was a gardener and not be bothered with me.”
“You’re far too sexy to be our gardener, Seth,” Blake confessed bubbling over with laughter as she reached out to touch his cheek, “No one could ever mistake you for our gardener.”
“Even so,” he whispered touching her cheek gently, “I figured this would be our easy way out of here.  I also brought you this,” he reached into the back of the truck and withdrew a straw hat.
“What is that,” she wrinkled her nose in disgust, “You don’t really expect me to put that thing on, do you?”
“Hey now I’ll have you know that even if this thing is hideous,” he teased lightly, “you’ll never be.  In fact, I can assure you once you put this on, we’ll get through the gates undetected.”
“There’s still a lot of press people out there, huh,” she frowned again, “I’d just thought by now they would’ve given up on getting an exclusive with Brant and gone home to their families.”
“There’s about a dozen of them out there waiting,” Seth confessed thinking to the group he’d passed up on the way in to the estate, “A couple of news vans are trying to be inconspicuous but it’s not really working.”
“It never does,” Blake groaned as she reached for the oversized hat placing it down on the center of her head as Seth let out a hearty laugh, “Don’t you dare enjoy this.”
“I think you’re adorable,” Seth touched the tip of her nose, “absolutely beautiful and the hat certainly adds to your charm.”
“Just you wait,” she warned firmly, “when I get my hands on something utterly ridiculous then you’re going to wind up with it on your head.  That much I can promise you.”
“Well at least it’s not something that I’ll be forced to embarrass myself with,” he laughed simply turning the truck around as they headed towards the gates, “I can deal with a goofy hat every now and then.”
“Hmm, well then if you’re used to that kind of thing, I’ll have to find a more appropriate torture for you,” she folded her arms in front of her chest as she leaned to the side of the truck admiring his profile.
“You’d really want to torture me,” he threw her a casual expression as the corners of his mouth lifted in amusement.

“Oh believe me I’m very good at torture when I want to be,” she teased further, “I’ll have you know that I can be downright wicked.”
“Blake Ashford, you don’t have a wicked bone in your body,” Seth laughed at the thought as her words tickled through him.
“I do so,” she answered simply, “as I am an Ashford you know.”
“An Ashford you may be, but a terror you are not,” Seth argued thinking of the Blake he’d grown to know in their short time together.
“You really think you know it all, don’t you,” Blake eyed him closely, “you think you know everything about me, but you’re not even close to seeing it all.”
“I’d like to,” Seth replied casting a look in her direction once again before reaching out to her and drawing her in closer to him, “come here.”
“What?” she questioned feeling him sweep her into his arms up against the warm, muscled contours of his chest as they approached the gates.  Seeing what he was attempting to do in shielding her from the press, she snuggled in against him closer taking in the sexy scent of leather and his spicy aftershave as his arm hugged her against him.  Oh Seth certainly had a way to capture her attention, she mused as she held onto him.  She’d give him credit for that.
“It looks like we’re safe,” Seth broke through her train of thoughts as she turned her blue eyes up towards him.
“I always feel that way in your arms,” she confided feeling a heat rise over her as she slowly tore herself away from him.  Feeling the blush in her features, she fought to keep her cool as she sat up straighter, “So where are you taking me tonight?”
“It’s a surprise,” Seth promised with a cryptic smile, “One that I’m certain you’ll enjoy.”
“As long as it’s far away from the press then I’m sure I will love it,” Blake admitted thinking to the day she’d left behind her at the mansion.
“Hmm, well in that case you’re going to be in heaven because where I’m taking you tonight, there won’t be any reminders of Coral Valley.  It’s just going to be a nice, quiet place for the two of us--that is if you can take being alone with me for an actual date without any interruptions like the ones we’ve been experiencing lately.”
“I don’t know,” she pretended to think it over, “interruptions tend to be the name of the game for us lately, don’t they?”
“It’s hard to imagine we’ll have a night without one,” he agreed casting a glance in her direction, “but I’m willing to hold out hope that perhaps tonight might be the night it happens.”
“I think anything can happen if we open ourselves up to the possibility of it,” she agreed sinking back into the chair as the old truck hummed it’s own soft melody to the impending evening between them.  Somehow she had a feeling that whatever Seth had in store for her, it would be well worth the wait as tonight was full of magic.  She could feel it.


Avery took a long look at her reflection in the mirror as a breath caught in her throat.  She’d attempted to put on enough makeup to give off the appearance of something other than pathetic, but there was no hiding the marks Bruce had left on her as a painful reminder of her letting him go.  She hated the way his anger would haunt her tonight as she reached for her concealer once again turning her attention to her neck.  She lifted the thick, goopy stick to her skin contemplating giving it another try at covering up the sickly purple and red that tattooed her tanned skin, but with a reluctant sigh, she set the concealer stick down and decided that there was no hiding what had happened from Brant.  She would just have to face the night as is and hope that neither one of them dwelled on what they’d experienced in the morning hours.
Sighing as she forced herself to try to have a good time, Avery reached for her brush running it through her dark, silken tresses as she felt butterflies in her stomach.  Somehow despite the fact she’d tried to downplay tonight, the very thought of having dinner with Brant in his home had started her down a journey of thinking she’d vowed to place aside for the time being.  Still, as she began to ponder their time together back in the hotel on their trip, she felt a heat rise through her.  Even now Brant’s touch haunted her, stirred up a longing inside of her as she could feel his kisses turning her inside out revealing her hidden desires to him.  Even now after everything that had happened, she knew there was no sense denying it.  Bruce had been right about one thing--She wanted Brant Ashford and she could no longer hide from that.  Sure, she’d vowed not to let what he did to her change things, but as she finished brushing her hair, she realized she was already changing.  She was feeling things that she was certain she shouldn’t be feeling about him especially now.
“Don’t get yourself into trouble,” she tried to reason with herself as she closed her eyes trying to will the knots in her stomach to keep from driving her crazy as she turned to the door.  Tonight will be about dinner, nothing more, nothing less, she repeated to herself over and over again stepping out of the guest room.
Slowly Avery made her way towards the long, winding staircase, her heart pounding wildly in her chest as the first hearty aromas seduced her senses from down below.  She stopped for a brief moment allowing the tantalizing fragrance to beckon her, to tempt her with what was yet to come before she continued down the staircase preparing herself for this dinner with Brant.
Drawing in a slow breath Avery continued down the stairs carefully descending towards the meal she knew Brant had waiting for her as her thoughts swirled inside of her.  She was almost near the bottom of the staircase as Brant appeared before her wearing a soft blue button down shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans.  The sight before her caused her heart to thud in her chest as it nearly took her breath away.  Just seeing him standing before her looking so casual, so laid back--so un-Brant-like, well it suddenly sent her notions about their dinner on a tailspin.
“Brant,” she questioned blinking back almost unsure what she was seeing was real as she continued down the stairs.
“Avery,” he smiled up at her extending out a single red rose as he reached for her.
Avery looked to the small budding flower as her face filled with a warmth at the tender gesture.  Reaching for the bud, she lifted it to her face taking in it’s sweet scent, “Brant, it’s beautiful.”
“No where near as beautiful as you are tonight,” Brant captured her hand dropping a tender kiss over the top of her palm.
“Brant, I look like hell and you know it,” she answered simply fighting the sentiment tearing away at her with his gesture, “Although I must confess I feel a tad overdressed now,” she motioned to the black slacks and white blouse she’d carefully selected for their evening together.
“I think you look incredible,” Brant raised his eyes towards her once again, “I hope you don’t mind that I kept things casual on my end.”
“Not at all,” Avery confessed with a soft smile, “Jeans are a new look for you, one that I never anticipated.”
“Well since you’d told me the other night that you appreciated my perfect butt,” he teased with a wink, “I thought I’d give you something to showcase it in.”
“Ha-ha,” she shot back struggling to keep her sarcastic wit about her as her pulse quickened at the sight of him.  Certainly the jeans were a nice touch indeed, but she sure as hell wouldn’t clue him in on that, “remember you promised to behave tonight,” she warned moving to the floor beside him.
“And I intend to keep my word on that,” he extended his arm out towards her, “which is why I shall be on my best behavior.”
“This I have to see,” Avery accepted his arm as he lead her towards the dining room.
“You really have a low opinion of me, don’t you,” Brant questioned glancing over at her casually every now and then.
“No, it’s not that,” Avery stopped mid-movement pulling her arm out of his reach, “It’s just that I…”
“That what?” he took a step back allowing his eyes to sweep over her once more.
“I just don’t know what to expect with you,” she finally admitted thinking to their turbulent relationship, “I mean just when I think I have a grasp on who you are, you go and do something like this,” she motioned towards his jeans finding her gaze lingering perhaps a moment longer than she’d intended as she found a smile over his lips, “and I don’t know what to expect.”
“Expect that you’re going to have a nice, relaxing evening with me,” Brant held his arm out to her once again, “I promised you nothing less and I intend to follow through on that with you.”
“I appreciate that,” she accepted his arm again allowing him to guide her towards the dining room, “although perhaps I should be saying thank you for more than this.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” Brant shook his head simply.
“I do in a way,” Avery stopped once again thinking of the morning behind her, “In a way you saved my life this morning.”
“Avery, I swore to you that I wouldn’t allow anyone to hurt you,” he reached out to touch her cheek gently, “Not Davies and certainly not Bruce.  You’re far too important to me for me to let go of you without a fight.”
“Brant, there’s a lot about me that you don’t know,” Avery argued with him.
“That’s why we have tonight,” Brant smiled sexily at her, “We can work on changing that.”
“Optimism and determination always were your strong points, weren‘t they,” she couldn’t help but smile as his charm washed over her.
“When I want something, I work towards making it mine,” Brant leaned in towards her, his fingers touching over her face gently, “and tonight is no exception.  I want you to see what I’m all about.”
“Are you sure you’re ready for that,” Avery questioned her smile fading as she thought of the things she knew of Brant.
“I’m ready for whatever it takes to prove to you that I’m not just a self centered millionaire playboy who likes to recklessly live life on the edge causing chaos wherever he goes.”
“Let me guess,” Avery couldn’t help but tease, “you’re a determined self centered millionaire playboy who likes to recklessly live life on the edge causing chaos wherever you go.”
“You really aren’t going to cut me any slack tonight, are you,” Brant tilted his head to the side trying to memorize every detail of her soft features.
“Would you expect any different from me,” Avery challenged a playful tone filling the air between them as a sexy smile played over her lips.
“Never,” Brant shook his head rewarded by the soft laughter that filled the space between them.  Her smile seemed to light up her eyes as he found himself more drawn to her than ever.  Seeing so much life behind her, he realized that he wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch her--to prove to her the weight of his words, but he reminded himself that pushing anything on her would only drive her away and he refused to let that happen.  Instead of taking her into his arms and going with the urge to kiss her mercilessly, he reached for her hand once again motioning to the dining room, “Dinner awaits.”
“Lead the way,” Avery replied with a soft nod ready to face whatever Brant Ashford had waiting for her as the night was already turning out to be one pleasant surprise after another.


Jade paused as she looked out at clear expanse of lake before her. She took a deep breath and felt the damp air moisten her skin. She smiled as she turned to see Grady placing down the picnic dinner they'd picked up along the way, "This is beautiful. How do you know about this place?"

"It's a little off the beaten path…best place to take girls," He said with a wicked grin as he spread a blanket and placed the food upon the blanket.

"Oh really?" She said as she turned and walked back to join him, "And just how many of these girls did you bring here?"

"No comment," He said with a chuckle before he sat on the blanket and patted the ground beside him, "Come on and have a seat."

"You think you can just bring me out here and all this fresh air will go to my head, don't you?" She teased as she neared him, "Well guess again, Buster. I'm not that easy."

"Shouldn't that be my line?" He asked as he reached out and grabbed her wrist. He pulled her down into his lap as she burst into laughter.

She looked up into his eyes as she lay against him, "God you're gorgeous."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," He said with a smile as he turned and reached over her to open the picnic basket and remove some food, "Are you hungry?"

She nodded as she felt his strong body all around her. She felt the heat radiating from him and penetrating her skin. She eased her hand over his chest and braced herself by holding onto his shoulder as she readjusted her position slightly.

He looked down into her eyes and grinned as her eyes gazed back at him, brimming with desire. If she only knew just how that look affected him…but he wasn't going to let her know. Not quite yet, anyway. He enjoyed watching her get worked up too much to dispense with all his retreats.

He reached over her to open a bag of chips, "Want a chip?"

"No, I want you," She whispered as she pressed a kiss to his Adam's apple.

"Uhm…Jade…" He protested as she continued to press kisses to his throat.

"Hmmm?" She purred as she unbuttoned his shirt and parted the cloth with her hands, fanning her fingers across his chest. She pushed the material from his shoulders and gently drug the shirt down his arms. She dropped the garment onto the blanket before allowing her eyes to caress the muscular planes of his chest.

"You're getting distracted," He pointed out as he allowed her to press his back to the blanket.

She smiled, "I'm not distracted at all. I'm very focused on what's in front of me," She said with a grin as she moved over him with feline grace.

He put his hands behind his head and looked up to her, "Should I just get comfortable here and let you dally?"

"Dally? Is that what you call it?" She chuckled as she straddled his mid-section and lifted her tee shirt over her head before tossing it aside.

He watched her discard the shirt and felt his pulse quicken at the sight of her skin. She smiled as she watched his eyes travel over her body, "See anything you like?"

"Now you're trying to distract me," He pointed out as he attempted to retain his composure.

"I'm going to succeed too," She declared boldly as she lowered her hands to the fastening on his blue jeans, "I want you out of these pants…right now."

Grady grinned as he watched her pluck at the button of his jeans with determination, "Demanding, aren't you?"

"Haven't you figured that out by now?" Jade asked as she lowered the zipper of his jeans and glanced back to him, "Now are you going to help me get these off of you or just lay there?"

"You seem to be doing a fine job on your own," He said as his amusement grew.

"Oh..," She huffed as she lowered her lips to his and kissed him passionately. She licked at his lips, dipping her tongue within his mouth to savor his hearty taste. She murmured her approval as he wrapped his arms around her and drew her body closer to his. He rolled over so that his body lay atop hers. Jade eased her palms down her back to nudge his jeans over his hips.

Grady pulled away from her to shed his jeans. Wearing only his swimming trunks, he moved beside her and easily unsnapped the fastening of her shorts. He drew them down her shapely legs, caressing every inch of her skin with his hungry eyes. He tossed her shorts to join his jeans before he extended his hand to her, "Come here."

Jade gladly complied and went willingly into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck, "Grady…" She breathed his name as she lowered her lips to his for another earth shattering kiss.

"Hmm…there's something missing here," He whispered softly against her lips.

"I can't imagine what that is," She said softly as she met his hypnotic eyes.

"I can," He said as he quickly swept her into his arms and carried her to the lake. He walked into the water. Just as Jade began to question his actions, Grady released her abruptly, dropping her into the water.

Jade emerged quickly, throwing her hair out of her face as she squealed, "What the hell was that for?"

"We came here to cool off," He said as he looked to her with a grin, "So cool off."

"Oh you!" Jade screeched as she shoved him backward into the water. When he emerged, he burst into laughter. She met his laughing eyes and couldn't help but laugh in return. No matter what she'd had planned for their evening together, Grady was prepared to have fun, and that was more than welcomed by Jade. She wanted nothing more than to throw caution to the wind and enjoy her time with the man she'd wanted for longer than she could remember.


Russell parked his car on the curb and rushed into the building where Avery lived. Her message on his machine had brought his anxiety to a fevered pitch. If he'd been worried about her situation before, he was downright frightened now. It wasn't like Avery not to know what to say…she always seemed to have a witty comeback or quick retort to anything he'd throw her way. The idea that she was at a loss for words meant that they needed to talk more than ever.

He'd known something was off with the entire engagement story. He knew better than anyone that Avery didn't commit easily, but when she was committed she would never stray. If she had been engaged to Brant Ashford, she never would have spent the night with him. The very fact that she had felt the need to lie about the ring meant that there was more to the story, and he needed to know the entire story.

As soon as the message had ended, Russell had grabbed his keys and left to see Avery. He could tell by the sound of her voice that she needed to speak with him as badly as he needed to see her.

He stepped out of the stairwell and glanced down the hall to Avery's apartment. He frowned as he glanced at the door. The molding around the door appeared damaged with splinters protruding around the door's edge. A new door knob complete with deadbolt above appeared out of place on the old door.

Russell frowned before he knocked upon the door. He waited a very brief moment before knocking again, "Avery…Avery, come on. Talk to me," He called out as he pounded upon the door.

"She's not at home," Mrs. Miller said as she peaked out of her apartment, "She left this morning with a young man after all the commotion."

"Commotion? What happened?" He asked quickly as he moved to speak with Avery's neighbor.

"There was some shouting, and then a loud crash came along afterward. It sounded like some kind of fighting before everything got quiet again. I peaked out, you know," She said sheepishly, "I just want to be sure all my neighbors are safe. So I just looked out. The door looked like it had been kicked open," She said before glancing down the hall, "Then this guy showed up to fix the door. That was right before the reporters got here."

"Where did Avery go?"

"Well, she and the man left here with a suitcase. My guess is they went somewhere to get away from the reporters," Mrs. Miller said.

"Thank you," Russell frowned as he turned and walked down the hall. He began descending the stairs as he thought of Brant Ashford. If he'd hurt Avery or bullied her in any way, he'd kill him, and then the reporters would get their final headline out of the miserable wretch.


“Tell me again why we’re doing this,” Heather felt a frown spill upon her lips as she looked to Kipp less than enthused about their meeting than she’d imagined.  When he’d picked her up, he’d presented her with a garment bag and she’d hoped that it was yet another elegant gown like the one he’d given her the previous time they’d been together, but this time, well it seemed that this date had a catch--one that clearly she hadn’t anticipated as she looked down to the hideous white thing he’d brought for her.
“George Lucas is an idol of mine,” Kipp explained enthusiastically reaching for her hand as he coaxed her out of the limousine, “and when I heard that they were doing a Star Wars convention here in Coral Valley, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
“I thought we were going to talk about the role you’d discussed on the phone,” Heather tugged on his hand reluctant to leave the safety of the limousine as the horrid hairdo Kipp had insisted on with her was a fashion tragedy that never should’ve happened in the first place.  She curled her fingers around his hand reluctantly as she urged him back towards the limo, “Wouldn’t you rather get changed and go to dinner to discuss this?”
“Are you kidding,” he blinked back at her, “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he drew her into his arms as his eyes lit up with excitement, “I can’t wait to tell my father that we were here.  Why this is almost as exciting as the time George Lucas was at my tenth birthday party and I was given my very own Luke Skywalker replica light saber from the movie,” he turned his hip towards her, “which by the way I wouldn’t dream of leaving at home now that I’m going to be Han Solo today with my beautiful Princess Leia.”
“I don’t feel very beautiful in this getup,” she frowned slightly as his arm slid around her waist possessively.
“Honestly I’d hoped to get that slave girl costume that they’d had for Leia from Return of the Jedi, but I figured we’d just save that for another fantasy down the road,” he leaned in towards her, his eyes full of mischief as he touched her cheek gently, “So what do you say?  Ready to feel the force?”
“I’d rather not,” Heather groaned inwardly as he turned away.
“What did you say,” he turned to her again.
“I said it sounds totally hot,” she forced a fake smile as he lead her into the convention.
Once inside, Heather took a long look around realizing that as pathetic as she felt, well that was nothing in comparison to the other losers that had shown up at the event.  As Heather looked over the other patrons, she felt a bit more at ease realizing that none of these pathetic idiots would dare run in the same circles with her, so she was safe for now.  She looked to the clock hanging on the wall as she wondered how long she’d have to fake it this time with Kipp.
“Look,” he pointed to a strange looking space craft before them, “It’s a pod racer.”
“Oh joy,” she rolled her eyes as he tugged her along towards the lone craft.
“I always wanted one of these,” Kipp continued oblivious to her disinterest as he lead her from one exhibit to the next babbling away like a moron about how this and that particular Star Wars gimmick had shaped his youth.  She could already feel this was turning into a long night as she tugged on his arm once again.
“So about that movie you’re father’s doing,” Heather began sweetly as she stopped him mid-motion, turning him to face her once again, “What ever did you two talk about?”
“Well I’d told him about our dinner,” Kipp confessed smiling up at her as his arms slid around her waist in an intimate gesture, “and that you were even more incredible than I’d imagined you to be,” he paused his grin widening as he released her, “which is why I wanted to give you something.”
“You have something for me,” Heather’s eyes widened as he reached into his pocket, “oh and what might that be?”
“Well in keeping with the theme tonight,” he held a box out towards her.  She noticed the bright, red bow on it as her smile widened.
“Kipp, you shouldn’t have,” Heather began tearing at the package as she opened it expecting some expensive jewel, but as she cast a gaze over the token he’d gotten her, she realized it was just a hunk of rusted metal.  She turned her eyes up to him again, “What’s this?”
“It’s an exact replica of Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi's Lightsaber,” he answered proudly, “and I thought you might like to keep it as a reminder of this evening we’ve shared together.”
“Oh Kipp,” she feigned enthusiasm as she made a mental note to toss the hunk of junk in the garbage later, “It’s incredible.”
“I knew you’d love it,” he leaned forward offering a quick kiss as her arms wrapped around his shoulders.
“I do, but you know what I would love even more,” she lowered her voice to a seductive purr.
“An exclusive tour inside the Millennium Falcon,” he arched an excited brow as her fingers tapered off over the center of the vest he was wearing.
“Well that might be nice too,” she shook her head, “but no I was thinking more along the lines of you and I heading back to your apartment again and maybe we could discuss the intimate details of your talk with your father,” she slid her palms down the center of his body, “you know more one on one…”
“Hmm,” his gaze swept over her seeing the wicked temptation she was offering as a grin touched over his features, “that does sound nice.”
“I thought it might,” Heather leaned forward dropping a teasing kiss over his mouth as she slid her tongue moistly over his bottom lip nibbling gently, “We did have oh so much fun the other night together.”
“Oh yeah we did,” Kipp squeezed her closer to him, his hands traveling over her bottom as he crushed her against his desire laced body.
“So what do you say,” she ran her fingers through his dark hair, “No more Star Wars for tonight?”
“I’ve got a better idea,” Kipp murmured against her mouth as his tongue plundered into her mouth excitedly.
“Oh?” she lifted a curious brow as teased her fingers down his spine leisurely.
“That’s right,” he nodded enthusiastically, “I was thinking…do you remember that scene in Episode IV when Darth Vader has Leia held captive on his ship…you know when he comes in demanding answers from her about her planet?”
“Vaguely,” she dropped kisses over his neck hoping to tempt him away from the nerd convention.
“Well, I remember there was always that rescue scene where Luke came in and pulled her out of harm’s way,” Kipp confessed in with a sharp hiss as her hands robbed him of rational thought.
“Uh huh,” she breathed against his skin striking him with the heat of her determination as she nibbled on his ear lobe.
“Well I was always thinking it would’ve made quite a scene had Han Solo been the one to get there first,” he cupped her bottom with his palms massaging her gently, “I mean they had such raw sexual tension between them from the start and had Han been the one who’d encountered the imprisoned princess, well perhaps he would’ve found another way to get her to appeal to him for her release…given that he was a scoundrel and all…”
“That he was,” Heather agreed deciding the mention of Harrison Ford’s character might be enough for her to pluck up enthusiasm for the idea of another night with him.  Sure, she’d always hated Star Wars, but Harrison Ford was always sexy enough to spark any woman’s fire and while Kipp was clearly no Harrison Ford, well hey she could pretend.  Then again if she was going to go over the top, she’d give him another persona back at his apartment.  Perhaps he’d be Brant and she’d teach him not to be so naughty with her.  Now that might prove interesting, she mused as Kipp’s words passed over her--falling upon deaf ears.
“So what do you say,” Kipp questioned his dark eyes penetrating hers as she nodded eagerly.
“Definitely,” she nodded in agreement wanting to get the hell out of the convention as he tugged on her arm once again leading her away from the exit.  Frowning she pulled at his arm, giving him a confused look, “Kipp, what are you doing?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Kipp smiled wickedly, “I’m sure we can find a way to keep from being distracted tonight.”
“Kipp, it’s just…” she paused as her eyes fell upon the huge spaceship replica build up before them.
“Give me a second,” Kipp released her rushing over to the security guard that stood outside the entrance.  Heather watched in confusion as Kipp and the man exchanged a few words before shaking hands.  Frowning slightly, she watched Kipp return to her as the security guard put up a sign at the exhibit’s entrance alerting the public that the exhibit was closed down for the duration of the evening.
“Gee, it looks like our time is going to be cut short since we can’t go in that one,” Heather manufactured an air disappointment as she turned towards the exit.
“Oh no you don’t,” Kipp dragged her back to him as his eyes lit up with a strange look of enthusiasm and confidence as he pulled her closure to him, “We’re not going anywhere.”
“We’re not,” Heather gulped as she felt ready to leap out of her skin.
“No we’re not,” he motioned towards the space craft exhibit before them, “not by a long shot.  In fact, Vader’s ship is all ours tonight baby,” he lead her towards the entrance to the exhibit.
“But it says it’s closed,” Heather argued with him seeing that the security guard had drifted off.
“Only to the public,” Kipp promised encouragingly, “but don’t worry because tonight not only will you realize that the force is with you when we reenact Princess Leia’s coaxing Han into saving her, but the guard also told me that they have a room in there that’s exactly like the Death Star,” his grin widened as he pulled her into his arms fully as he lowered his voice to a husky tone, “Ever make love in the Death Star, baby?”
“It wasn’t on the top of my list lately,” Heather fought the urge to bolt out of his arms as he laid a sloppy kiss on her.
“Tonight you’re going to feel the force full throttle,” Kipp promised dipping her in his arms before leading her towards the exhibit as Heather wondered what in the hell she was getting into.  One thing was for damned certain.  She’d better be the lead role in this upcoming Mahoney Film or else heads would roll. That much she was certain of as she took in a breath and turned herself over to Kipp’s adolescent fantasies for the evening.  As he snuck the two of them into Vader‘s ship, a sudden idea flashed through her.
“You’re not pregnant,” Russell’s words rung through her head as she looked to Kipp with a slight frown.  Sure, he was no Brant Ashford and the idea of being stuck to him for life sent tremors rushing through her as the very idea in itself was repulsive, although…she thought it over.  He wasn’t exactly chopped liver even if he was clueless and given that he was so very clueless and ready to give her whatever it was she’d wanted, perhaps he could prove useful after all.  Not only would Kipp give her the career she’d wanted, but maybe just maybe he could give her the extra leverage she’d needed with Brant.  With that thought in mind, she stopped him mid-motion throwing her arms around his shoulders as she kissed him wildly.
“Take me to the Moon of Endor, Kipp,” Heather purred enthusiastically wrapping herself around him as tonight she vowed to get everything she deserved in her life one way or the other.

Caitlin took a long drink of her ice cold water before exhaling with satisfaction. She looked to the man standing beside her and felt her temperature rise much higher than the temperature around her. Kenneth Ashford was more than he appeared to be. When he wasn't focused on being an upright respectable attorney, he could be funny, charming, and he was quite a good dancer. He was, in short, a man that any girl would kill to spend time with.

Kenneth leaned against the bar and smiled as he reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind Caitlin's ear. His eyes caressed her face before he spoke, "Are you having fun?"

Her smile grew, "Can't you tell?" She asked with a smile as she turned and placed her bottle of water upon the bar, "I have had the most amazing time tonight. Who knew a lawyer could dance?" She teased.

"I do have some hidden talents," He replied with a grin, glancing out onto the dance floor as the music changed, "Think you're ready to dance once again?"

"Where do you get all your energy?" She asked with a laugh, "I'd have thought that your work would take a lot."

"It would," He shrugged before his grin grew, "But I saved some especially for dancing. Come on. It's a slow song. I'll take it easy on you this time," He teased as he took her hand.

Caitlin chuckled as she allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. She felt his arm slip around her waist, drawing her close to him while she draped an arm over his shoulder. She placed her hand in his as he drew their hands to his chest and held her hand to his body as they began to move to the music of Gloria Estefan's "Coming Out Of The Dark".

Kenneth met her eyes as he led her in the dance, holding her close as they danced to the music. He smiled, "Now see…isn't this nice?"

"It's better than that," She admitted as she gazed into his eyes. His soft embrace put her at ease as she melted into him, "This has been such a fun night. I don't know how I'm ever going to repay you."

"I'm not interested in being paid back," He said softly as he led her to the music, "I've had a wonderful time tonight, and that's all because of you."

"You really have got to stop saying that," She said with a slight smile, "You're giving me too much credit."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because I'm not that much fun," She said as she allowed her eyes to drift away from him.

Kenneth lowered his lips to hover just along side her ear, "Yes, you are. I don't know who made you have such a low opinion of yourself, Caitlin, but they were wrong. You've made my life better simply by being in it."

Caitlin closed her eyes as she listened to his soft words. He seemed to know just the right thing to say even if she didn't want to hear it. She slowly allowed her eyes to find their ways back to meet his. She saw hope, light, and happiness within his seductive eyes. More than anything, she saw endless possibilities.

He gently eased her closer to him, increasing the tension of their intimate circumstance. He hadn't been this attracted to a woman in a very long time. It seemed like forever that he had been able to spend time with a woman when he didn't have to question their intentions. Brant's reputation had soured many a relationship for Kenneth as too many people believed that their relationship as twins meant they shared more than just their looks. He had no interest in partaking in Brant's outrageous affairs, but instead wanted a nice woman who wanted nothing more than what he had to offer in his heart instead the dollar signs his Ashford name provided him.

Caitlin relaxed completely against him, following his lead as if she knew his movements before he did. Was she really feeling so wonderful? It had been so long since she'd felt good about herself that she couldn't quite recall what it felt like. However, the slight quivering within her stomach and the rapid pace of heart felt very familiar. Looking into Kenneth's eyes swept her away into a dreamlike state that she hadn't experienced in years.

Kenneth caressed her every soft feature with his gaze. She was beautiful in every way he could think of. Her every feature appealed to him, and he had never thought of any woman as perfect until now. Yet, Caitlin's beauty scrambled his ability to reason and left him in a chaotic state. He'd always been the thinker in the family, but at this moment, all he could think of was how beautiful the woman in his arms happened to be.

"What are you thinking about?" Caitlin asked as she saw a slight look of surprise cross his features.

"Nothing," He said, trying to talk his way out of his own thoughts.

"It had to be something. You almost looked surprised," She said before he broke a slight smile.

"I was."

"What about?" She asked with a welcoming smile.

"How much I enjoy being with you," He admitted honestly, "I don't think about my family, my work, or any of the Ashford nonsense. All I can think about…" He paused as he eased his fingers to her cheek, "Is you."

Caitlin felt her heart leap within her chest at his announcement. Had he been reading her mind? It seemed that her every thought was of him, and she didn't want to change that pattern. He was amazing, and the very idea that they could enjoy being with each other so much astounded her. She'd never had a connection with a man as she seemed to with Kenneth, but she was sure that this was the very kind of connection she had always longed for.

Kenneth eased his fingers into the fringes of her hair as his eyes caressed her lips. He wondered if kissing her would be nearly as wonderful as holding her in his arms. The moment he'd slipped his arm around her, he'd known that she would haunt his dreams for a long time to come. Her soft form, her sweet scent, and her alluring eyes drew him in and wrapped him in a romantic dream he wished to get lost in.

She saw his intentions and felt her pulse race at an even greater pace. Was he going to kiss her? Was he really going to cross that line and bring their budding relationship to a new level? And if he was…what the hell was he waiting for? The anticipation was killing her, but at the same time, the anticipation was also what made this worth waiting for. She had no doubt that his kiss would ignite a fire within her that she'd be lucky to ever extinguish. It was only a matter of his lips connecting to hers.

Kenneth eased his lips towards hers, swallowing a lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. Why was he so nervous about kissing her? Hadn't he kissed plenty of women before? What made her so different? He knew exactly what made her different…this was Caitlin, and she was no ordinary woman. She was pleasure personified…from the caring look in her eye to the elegant melody of her laugh to the gentleness of her touch. Everything about her screamed that she wasn't like other women…she was all heart, and he wanted to be a part of that.

Caitlin raised her fingers to his cheek, gently guiding his lips towards hers. This man had freed her from bonds that other men had placed upon her. While she couldn't quite understand how he'd done it, he'd somehow allowed her to feel things that she didn't even know were still possible. He'd allowed her to be herself without belittling her for any of her thoughts or opinions. He'd instead embraced that aspect of her personality with fervor and encouraged her to feel free with him. Now she wanted to know more freedom with him, and his kiss would be the key.

Kenneth's lips whispered over Caitlin's just as the flash from a camera began to rage at them. One, two, three flashes in succession.

"What the hell?" Kenneth shouted as he quickly turned towards the source of the intrusion.

"Keith Stancil for Inside Track magazine…care to tell us about your new lady love, Kenneth?" The man asked as he snapped a few more pictures.

"I swear to god," Kenneth raged as he tore the camera from the man's neck and tore out the memory card from the digital camera, "Get your own life!"

"Whoa…touchy…So who are you?" Keith asked of Caitlin, "Gonna get some Ashford millions?"

"Go to hell," Kenneth groaned as he shoved the paparazzi away and escorted Caitlin from the dance club. What had been a promising evening with the hope of new beginnings had turned into a complete nightmare…all thanks to an intrusive reporter who wanted a part of the Ashford fanfare.


“So what do you think,” Seth asked turning to look at Blake as the smell of popcorn and caramel apples rose through the evening air.  Even with the sounds of laughter and children surrounding them, he could see the excitement behind Blake’s eyes as she tore off a bite of her cotton candy and lifted it to her lips eagerly.
“This was an awesome idea,” Blake muttered in between taking bites of the sugary sweet treat Seth had picked up for her.  She tore off another piece lifting it to his mouth as he accepted the bite eagerly, “I haven’t been to a carnival in years.”
“Really?” he replied lifting a curious brow as she nodded eagerly.
“Really,” she confessed, “my father felt that they were very undignified and totally uncharacteristic of the Ashford family.  He refused to let any of us near them, but there was a time when I did sneak out to go,” she giggled thinking back to her youth, “Our housekeeper Ana and her children used to make a family day together going to the carnivals when I was a little girl.  I’d loved spending time with Ana and her daughter Maria, so one weekend when my father was out of town on business, I begged Ana to take me along with her for a trip to the carnival.  As I said before, my father drilled it into my head that it wasn’t the kind of thing that an Ashford would do, but I didn’t really care what my father had to say.  I was determined to go, so I did.  After I’d coaxed Ana into taking me, we went to this carnival and it was the greatest thing I’d ever experienced,” Blake plucked away at her cotton candy once again, “I mean here we were in this small little place where everything was wild and exciting and we could run around doing whatever we wanted.  I never felt so alive…so free…”
“It sounds like you had a wonderful time,” Seth moved in behind her wrapping his arms around her slender waist as he held her against him.  Bending down he dropped a tender kiss over the back of her neck as she sank into the warmth of his arms.
“It was,” she thought back to the experience, “I never wanted the day to end.  In fact I still remember what it was like being in that Ferris wheel.  I think I rode it half the day once I’d discovered it.  When I was on top, I felt like I was soaring over the world like a bird and it was the most exhilarating feeling,” she trailed off snuggling in closer to him as he held her wrapping her up in a newfound sense of ease, “I remember when the park was closing, I didn’t want to leave, so I charmed the guy running the ride into letting me go on it one last time and for a short while, I was able to savor that piece of heaven and take it with me long after that day passed me by.  Even now, I can almost feel the wind whipping through my hair, the sounds of the world below lost in their own wonderland.  It was amazing,” she trailed off lifting another piece of cotton candy to his lips.
“And here I thought you might think that this was a corny idea,” Seth mused as his breath struck against her soft skin, “I was hoping that this might be a distraction to what you’ve been through today.”
“It is,” she nodded with a soft smile, “it’s more than I’d imagined.”
“I’m so glad to hear it,” he nuzzled her neck as he motioned to the grand Ferris wheel before them, “Tell me something Blake, are you ready to feel free again?”
“Oh I don’t know,” her eyes lit up as she turned to the Ferris wheel, “I mean as much as I loved it, there was just something about…”
“Blake, you can soar up to the heavens once again,” he promised squeezing her in his arms as his voice fell to a whisper, “anything you want can be yours if you’re willing to take the chance,” his lips teased over her shoulder causing soft tremors to race through her as she drew in a nervous breath.
“I want that,” she confessed noticing the orange and red lights of the Ferris wheel tempting her toward taking another ride to freedom, “I want to do it again and again.”
“Then we’ll do just that,” Seth promised taking her hand in his leading her over towards the Ferris wheel as a burst of laughter fell from Blake’s lips and she found herself truly enjoying this time with Seth.
Seth spoke with the man at the side of the Ferris wheel for a moment before he turned to Blake again reaching for her hand as he helped her into the seat.  As he slid in beside her, Blake felt the warmth of his thigh brushing up against hers as a breath caught in her throat.  Just the feel of him so close to her sent her on sensory overload as she longed to touch him.  Unable to resist the urge sweeping over her, she placed her palm over his thigh in a casual motion as the Ferris wheel began to move.
“Blake,” Seth reached out to her touching her cheek tenderly as he urged her to meet his dark, penetrating eyes.  Slowly, as they began to rise into the evening with the Ferris wheel, he leaned forward coaxing her into a slow, sensual kiss.
The winds picked up around them as Seth held her, seducing her every synapse as his lips suckled, savored, teased hers with every feathery motion his mouth made over hers.  Had she been on the ground, she was certain she’d be floating by now as Seth had truly reached a part of her she’d buried so deep within.  His kisses scorched her down to the core, leaving no mistaking about just how much she’d wanted him.  Feeling his fingers brush up against her silky smooth thigh revealed to him from beneath the hem of her skirt, she parted her lips wider a moan spilling from within as she squeezed his leg smoothly.
“Seth, we’re flying,” Blake murmured against his mouth as his kisses left her breathless.
“We’re on top of the world,” he agreed not bothering to take in the rest of the carnival as the vision before him was one that he’d waited a lifetime to experience.  Blake was beautiful, breathtaking and as his eyes swept over her, he realized he’d never be able to have enough of her.  She was something that men waited an eternity to find and now that he was with her, he never wanted this feeling to end.  Slowly, he brushed the pad of his thumb against her naked thigh feeling the goose bumps rush over her excited skin as he massaged her curves gingerly.  A soft sigh escaped through her parted lips as his fingers caressed her, creating a trail of pleasure over her body with each movement he made upon her tender flesh.
“Seth,” she whispered his name heatedly desire heavy behind her crystal blue eyes as her hand pressed in over his lacing their fingers together.  She stilled his hand as their eyes connected once again and the ride came to a stop.  Suddenly her gaze brushed past him for the first time since the ride began, “we stopped.”
“Only for a moment,” he whispered leaning forward to kiss her gently as the wind tickled over the two of them now that they were at the top of the ride.
“Is that all,” she questioned a seductive smile rising over her flushed features as she guided his hand in beneath the hem of her skirt, leading to the warmth between her thighs.
“Blake,” his eyes widened in surprise as he touched her, feeling the boldness behind her movement as his other hand pressed up against her cheek, “are you sure that you want me to be…”
“I’m sure,” she nodded nibbling on her lower lip as his fingers brushed over her moist center through the cotton fabric of her panties.
“You’re so beautiful,” Seth whispered cupping her face in his hand as he stroked her leisurely, his thumb skimming in over the lacy edge of her panties as a gasp fell from her lips.
Blake turned her face into his palm burying her lips in the center of his hand as she pressed a kiss against his skin as another cry erupted from within.  She reached for his hand drawing it to her mouth as she nibbled on the tip of his index finger feeling him caressing her soft folds as pleasure surged through her.  She traced her tongue over his finger tip drawing it further into her mouth as his fingers slid in beneath the soft fabric causing her to gasp at the heat of his touch over her.  She shifted positions suckling on his finger as low, moans erupted within her at the feel of his heavenly caresses.
“Seth,” she blurted out unable to contain herself as she dropped her head against his shoulder closing her eyes.  She was swept up in a whirlwind of pleasure as Seth’s skilled touch caressed her, seeking out her every sensual response to him as her pulse quickened.  A shallow breath filled her lungs as she writhed her hips up against his touch wanting to lose herself completely to the pleasures he’d provided her with as they hung over the world with one another lost in the magic of the moment.  His lips brushed over hers in the faintest of movements, grounding her as her body soared to new heights with him.  Her sounds of pleasure were drown out by his erotic mouth as a tremor of convulsions swept over her causing her to whimper against him.
“Shhh…” his words vibrated against her lips as her world burst into ecstasy carrying her over to a whirlwind of desire as his words melted over her body.
“Seth,” she cried out losing herself completely as explosions washed over her carrying her to new heights as Seth touched her.  Slowly she drifted down from the heavenly placed he’d taken her to as she sank in against him, her breath returning to her as her eyes remained closed focusing only on the way it felt in being this close to him.
Seth kissed the top of her head gently thinking of the way her angelic features had twisted into an exquisite mask of desire as she’d lost herself to his touch.  If there had ever been any doubts about him wanting Blake, this moment had sealed it as she shivered in against his chest, glowing as he held her.  She was everything he’d ever wanted and as his body responded to the nearness of her, he closed his eyes savoring in the sweet, exotic scent of her as he held her.
“I love you, Blake Ashford,” he blurted out unable to resist the feeling that had hung over him as he looked down at her soft features.  He touched her cheek gently wanting nothing more than to lose himself in her completely as he held her.
“I love you,” she whispered snuggling in against him as the ride continued and she realized she’d found herself the man of her dreams and he felt it too.  His words filled her with a warmth that completed her as Seth was already a vital part of her life.  As she looked up at him, feeling the softest of kisses he’d offered her, she realized that from this moment on, she never intended upon letting him go.  Not now or ever.


Grady smiled as he built a small fire on the lake shore. The evening had certainly been interesting enough. Jade had finally lightened up and enjoyed the relief from the summer heat by relaxing in the lake. Of course, he'd had to force her to do so, but after that gentle nudge, she'd taken to the water easy enough.

He sat beside the fire and gazed out at her as she emerged from the water and shook droplets from her long dark hair. She certainly was a fantasy come to life. Her curves could drive any man to distraction, but the real appeal was in those soft luscious lips that he'd recently become acquainted with.

Acquainted…obsessed with was more like it. Ever since he'd kissed her on impulse at the office, he'd had visions of those full lips and dreamt of them endlessly. While he wasn't about to admit to Jade, she'd been the subject of many of his dreams over the last few months. She fed his fantasies with her come ons and sexy attire, but the fantasies had really kicked into high gear when he'd kissed her.

Now, it was her lips that drew his eyes and caused him to stare at her. It was those lips he craved. It was those lips that he had warned himself were forbidden. It was those very lips that he knew he would lose himself in at the first opportunity.

Jade noticed his quiet perusal of her and stopped in her approach. She raised her brow in question, "What are you looking at?"

"Isn't that obvious?" He asked before extending his hand to her, "Come here."

"Again? Last time, you dumped me in the lake," She pointed out.

"I promise I won't do the same this time. I have completely different intentions."

"And those would be?" She questioned.

"Why don't you come over here and find out?"

"Hmm…I don't know. I'm not sure I want to go headfirst back in the lake."

"And here I thought you had nerves of steel," He said with a grin, "Come. Here."

Jade placed her hand in his and sat down beside him. She looked to him, "Going to declare your intentions now or later?"

"Actually, you haven't eaten, and I was getting a little worried about you," He said as he lifted a box and opened it, "Eat."

"Ugh," She groaned, "What are you…my mother?"

"Well, someone needs to take care of you," He declared.

"Now wait just a second…I can.." She was stopped by a French fry being shoved into her mouth.

"Yes, I know. I've heard it a hundred times from you. You can take care of yourself," He said as he fed her another French fry, all the while having daggers shot at him from her fiery eyes.

Jade allowed him to feed her while glaring at him. Truthfully, it was taking every ounce of her resolve not to smile at him. He was pampering her and she was going to enjoy it...but she wasn't going to let him know she was enjoying it. He'd gotten much too comfortable with her always chasing him. It was high time he started carrying his weight in their race towards one another.

Grady offered her a chicken finger as he smiled slightly, "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Now why would you ever think something like that?" She said as she took the chicken from him and began to eat.

"Because you're being quiet. That either means you're plotting something, or you're taking a moment to enjoy this," He pointed out as he opened the basket and withdrew a bottle of water for her.

"You make it sound like I'm up to something," She frowned as she accepted the bottle of water.

"You're always up to something," He shrugged before opening another container which held fruit.

"I think I resent that," She frowned as she plucked a grape from his hand and met his eyes, "Hey…do you really think that about me?"

Grady grinned as he met her eyes, "I think that when you want something you'll think of every way in the world to get it."

"If you're implying something…"

"I'm saying that you've done everything in the world to get me where you want me. It's been interesting to say the least, but you had to think ahead and plot out how exactly you were going to get me," He took her hand and raised the grape to his mouth. He sucked on her fingers gently as he took the grape from her hand, "So…was it worth the trouble?"

"I don't know yet," She said as she felt him drop a kiss to her wrist, "I'm sure when I get the chance to inspect the entire package I'll be able to tell you."

"Oh really?" He asked with a smile as he placed another kiss to her skin, slowly working his way up her arm, "Well, I'll be waiting to hear your thoughts on that one."

"I'm sure you will," Jade said before she slipped her fingers into his hair and drew his lips to hers.

Grady eased his fingers into her wet hair as he caressed her lips with his. He squeezed her closer to him as he lowered her back to the blanket. His fingers fanned out over her back, pressing her soft form against him.

Jade murmured against his lips as her fingertips danced over his strong back. She could feel every chord of muscle at her fingertips as Grady covered her body with his own. She eased her hands to his chest, gently learning every inch of his body.

Grady focused on Jade's lips as his mind had driven him to do for so long. He tasted her lips, savoring her taste like that of a fine wine. He drank of her at length, wanting nothing more than to kiss her just like this…forever. Her taste was intoxicating, drawing him further into her web.

She melted against him, pressing her body closer to his. She had dreamt of this very thing for longer than she could remember, but no dream could ever compare with the reality of Grady's kiss. He robbed her of the ability to think. All she could do was feel, and feeling Grady's body pressed to hers was the experience of a life time.

Grady reluctantly abandoned her mouth to taste her skin, slowly easing his lips over her cheek to begin down her neck. His tongue danced over her skin, learning her skin kiss by kiss.

Jade moaned softly as her fingers slid through his hair, urging him to continue. She arched to his body, wanting more of his touch, of his kisses. She could feel every cell in her body reacting to his nearness, and she wanted more.

Grady eased his fingers to the ties on her bathing suit and gently tugged the knot loose. He drew a tie down her shoulder before placing a kiss to her shoulder. Jade hummed to his attentions before he once again sealed his lips to hers.

Jade wrapped her arms tightly around Grady, giving herself to him in every way. He hugged her body to him before dropping his lips to her throat again.

"Park Ranger!"

Grady looked up quickly as Jade tugged her bathing suit ties into place. She awkwardly hid under his body.

"Can I help you?" Grady asked as he looked up to the ranger.

The park ranger focused his flashlight on Grady and adjusted his hat, "Oh I'm sorry sir. I thought you two were teenagers out here. They're all the time using this place for a screw ground," The man shook his head.

Grady snickered as he tried not to laugh. Jade poked him in the ribs from under him, laughter rippling through her. He recovered after a moment, "Should we be leaving?"

"You might want to, sir," The park ranger said as he adjusted his hat nervously, "It's getting mighty late."

"Yes it is," Grady agreed.

"Good night," The park ranger tipped his hat before hurrying back to his truck.

Grady looked down into Jade's eyes as she laughed openly, "Are you always going to get me into trouble?"

"You were the one who suggested we come here. That wasn't my idea," Jade chuckled, "Though I must admit…it's certainly been…eye opening."

"Eye opening," He repeated before kissing her once again. As their lips parted he met her eyes again, "That it has."

"So shall we take this elsewhere?" She asked, dragging her fingertip down his chest.

"I think we should," Grady smiled before helping Jade off the blanket. While they gathered the remnants of their evening at the lake, Grady watched Jade closely. She had captured his attention and maybe…just maybe…his heart.


“And there he was--our Brant in the middle of the lobby, naked as a jay bird except for that flag he’d donned himself in while singing the star spangled banner all in order to prove to Nicholas Ashford that he believed in patriotism,” Annette confessed fondly as Avery felt a laugh escape her lips as the bright crimson shade filled Brant’s features.
“And here I thought this was going to be a quiet evening,” Brant teased back swirling at the chocolate lingering in the bowl before him, “I didn’t realize it was ‘Tell all Brant’s secrets’ night.”
“Honey, I wouldn’t dream of sharing all your secrets,” Annette chuckled lightly patting him on the shoulder, “I wouldn’t want to scare Avery away from us this soon.”
“Believe me,” Avery remarked a laugh erupting from her lips as she finished off the last bite of chocolate dessert Annette had made for them, “fear isn’t what I’m experiencing right now.  I think I’m more intrigued than anything.”
“In that case,” Annette rose from her chair offering a playful wink, “I hope you’ll be staying around as there is plenty more to tell.”
“I might just have to do that,” Avery agreed cheerfully as Annette politely excused herself giving Brant a quick pat on the top of the head before she gave him a stern look.

“I’m going to bed, but you behave now.”
“I’ll do my best,” Brant promised watching as Annette left the dining room giving them some alone time as Avery’s eyes couldn’t help but fall over Brant as their dinner had turned out to be anything but expected.  He turned his eyes towards her seeing the curious expression wash over her features as he smiled at her, “What?”
“Nothing,” she shrugged her shoulders playing with the traced of chocolate lingering on the plate before her.
“Don’t give me nothing,” Brant shook his head at her, “there’s certainly something brewing behind those eyes of yours.  I can see it happening.”
“There’s nothing,” she chuckled in amusement as he gave her a disbelieving expression, “Okay so maybe there’s something.”
“I thought so,” a smile tickled over his features, “so are you going to share your thoughts with me or is this more of the ‘Let’s torture Brant’ session you and Annie started.”
“I wouldn’t call what you went through torture,” Avery teased back at him.
“You’re right, it was worse than that,” he joked taking in the way her eyes lit up when she smiled, “Actually it was pretty wonderful being with two amazing women.”
“It was nice,” Avery agreed thinking to her notions about Brant getting her to dinner, “When you’d said you were going to invite Annie, I figured you were only saying that as a means of getting me to accept.”
“It was an added bonus,” Brant confessed reaching across the table to take her hand gently, “but I also told you that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to gain your trust and I thought this was a step in the right direction.”
“It was a great step,” Avery conceded thinking to the delightful dinner conversation she, Brant and Annette had engaged in as Annette spun off tales of Brant’s youthful determination.  Despite the stories she’d read about Brant, Avery was suddenly seeing Brant in a new light as the tales his nanny had offered warmed her heart to the man before her.  He was suddenly human and wonderful all at the same time as his arrogance had taken a back seat to the respect he’d harbored for the woman who’d nurtured him all these years.
“I’m glad you approved,” Brant caressed the top of her hand with his index finger half expecting her to pull away as she remained beneath his touch.  Her soft smile filled his heart causing a warmth to rush over him as she returned the gesture brushing her finger up against his hand reciprocating his move.
“I more than approved,” she offered with a flutter of her eyelashes as a soft color rose over her features, “It was one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had in my life.”
“Now you’re flattering me,” Brant teased squeezing her hand briefly, “but go on, I’m enjoying it.”
“In that case,” she withdrew her hand, “I’ll stop while I’m ahead.”
Brant chuckled in mild amusement, “Oh come on Avery, cut me a little slack since Annette just told you one of my most shameful escapades.”
“I tend to think you’ve done a lot worse than standing up to your father with reckless rebellion over his lack of patriotism,” Avery gave him a pointed look as her gaze swept over him imagining him taking a stand against his father on that level as her face grew hot at the memory of seeing Brant naked for a few brief moments back in his office.
“I could handle all the other exploits, but the ones with my father,” he shook his head as a sigh escaped his lips, “Those were pretty ugly.  He almost threatened to revoke my position at BBK for that one.”
“Because you took it upon yourself to take a stand,” Avery frowned in response, “Brant, I’ve been telling you for a long time that taking a stand against your father’s legacy is what you need to do.”
“Easier said than done,” Brant let out an ironic laugh, “You didn’t know Nicholas Ashford at his finest,” he waved his hand out in the air mimicking his father’s motions, “No son of mine will dare make a fool of me, not now--not ever.”
“I’d hardly consider you making a fool of him,” Avery saw a flicker of sadness cross over his features as he rose from his chair.
“You didn’t know him like I did,” he motioned towards the bar, “can I get you a drink?”
“I better not,” she shook her head thinking to her drunken disaster she’d put upon them on the return flight from their trip.
“Ah yes,” he smiled at the memory of her attempting to seducing him, “Alcohol and Avery don’t mix or is it that they mix a little too well?”
“More than I’d care to admit,” she followed him across the room as he began mixing up some martinis, “so tell me, what was it like growing up Brant Ashford?”
“Pitiful,” he threw out a sexy smile, “that what you’re looking for?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of the truth,” Avery challenged lifting a curious brow, “the jeans and Annette painted a very different portrait tonight and I’d like to know what lies behind the cool exterior that I’m used to.  I want to know who the real Brant is.”
“Tell me about the real Avery,” he countered filling a martini glass before turning to look at her, “Tell me something about you, something that no one else knows.”
“You first,” she urged leaning back against the side of the bar.
“Alright, what do you want to know?” he sighed sipping his martini as his eyes swept over her seeing the intensity of the way she was watching him.
“How is it you became one of the most competitive son of a bitches I know,” Avery blurted out simply.
“You don’t get out much, do you,” he teased with a wink before sipping his martini once again, “okay, I’ll give you an answer to that,” he paused seeking out the right words, “After my mother died, all we had was my father.  As you’ve seen first hand and heard through the grapevine, he wasn’t in the running for the parent of the year.  To make a long story short, he knew about business and being ruthless.  That’s what he strived to excel at as it was all he ever knew.  His father and his father before that bred him to be nothing less than the best and that’s what he expected from his children.”
“Hence your quest to rule it all,” Avery tilted her head to the side as if she was sizing him up with each passing moment.
“Something along those lines,” he took another swig of his martini, “though I guess it was just in the cards that I would be his protégé.  I mean Kenneth was too much like my mother and Blake, well she was never bred for the plans my father had.  Sure, he adored her as she was the beauty of the family, but he wouldn’t dream of pushing his world upon her.  Kenneth snubbed his nose at my father’s ways early on, so it was up to me,” he took another sip of his martini, “He wanted someone to be lost in the glory, so I took it as a means of getting close to my father.”
“So you wanted him to approve of you,” Avery half questioned, “You did all you’ve done to gain his approval?”
“His respect,” Brant corrected with a hint of a smile, “and to get a rise out of him every now and then.  He loathed all my exploits, but it kept him on his toes.  I fit into the role of an Ashford great and in the end he’d felt he’d had me where he wanted me to be.”
“But is it where you want to be?” Avery inquired after a moment’s contemplation, “Is all of this what you wanted?”
“Avery, it’s my turn to be asking the questions,” Brant dissuaded feeling a bit uncomfortable with her line of questioning as he leaned up against the bar.
“I wasn’t finished with my examination,” Avery pointed out a pout curling over her lip as he stepped in towards her.
“I think it’s time to begin my cross examination,” he stated simply, “how about we begin with something that’s been on my mind for a while?”
“I don’t know,” she teased back at him, “I may be well within my rights to plead the fifth if your question isn’t up to my liking.”
“Avery, I answered your questions,” he reached out to touch her cheek gently, “now it’s your turn to play nice.”
“I don’t know if you’ve warmed me up to that just yet,” Avery’s face flushed at the contact he’d made.
“Hmm, and here I thought I was making progress,” a playful tone fell from his lips as he set his martini glass down and he reached out to cup her face in his hands, “though how about I work on warming you up,” he suggested leaning forward, dropping a slow, barely there kiss upon her soft supple lips.
Avery felt the brush of his mouth over hers catching her by surprise as he held her close to him, his lips coaxing her into submission as his kiss flared in intensity.  His thumbs fanned out over her cheekbones rubbing delicately as he coaxed her lips further apart as his tongue slipped between her lips tasting the hint of chocolate lingering inside her.  His tongue flicked against hers in slow and deliberate motions as a soft sigh escaped her lips and her fingers curled over his shoulder bunching up the fabric of his shirt.
Slowly Brant withdrew from the kiss, his brown eyes laced with passion as he traced the hollow of her cheekbone, “How was that for warming things up?”
“That was,” she found herself at a loss as her pulse raged wildly still feeling his mouth over hers awakening a whole new world of desire she’d suppressed over and over again until now.  Suddenly aware of her body’s response to him as his arm wrapped snugly around her waist, she released his shirt drawing in a breath, “something.”
“I’ll say it was,” Brant agreed taking a step back as he fought to control the raging emotions burning inside of him.  Despite the fact he’d wanted Avery now more than ever, he vowed not to push it.  She was slowly coming around, but if he pushed the envelope, he knew it would work against him as he tried to still the rapid beating of his heart.
“Brant,” she breathed involuntarily lifting her fingers to her kiss swelled lips as if to lock in the memory of him as she struggled to find the right words.
“Maybe we’ve done enough revealing tonight,” Brant offered surprising her as he reached for her hand lifting it to his lips in a gentlemanly gesture as he placed a kiss on top of her hand.
“Maybe you’re right,” she agreed struggling to keep her voice even as she eyed him intently, “It’s getting late.”
“We can continue this in the morning,” he gave her a way out as his dark eyes peered into hers seeking something from within as Avery nodded taking a step back.
“That sounds nice,” she smiled back at him giving him one last look before turning out of the dining room towards the staircase as Brant watched her retreat realizing that tonight had been more than he’d hoped for as he’d seen something in Avery that he hadn’t noticed before.
“Oh Avery,” Brant sighed to himself thinking of how he longed to hold her, to assure her that things would work out for them--that he was sincere in his quest to win her heart, but as he forced himself to allow her the space she needed, he reached for the pitcher of martinis he’d mixed up earlier.  He poured himself another drink vowing that one way or the other he’d win her heart.  It was only a matter of time, he reasoned as he sipped his martini savoring the moment as he fought to quell the desire Avery had stirred inside of him with that kiss.  Tonight was only the beginning, he promised himself thinking of all the ways he’d look forward to winning Avery’s heart.


Avery stepped into the bathroom attached to the guest suite she was staying in and even now as the dim light shined down upon her from the overhead fixture, she could feel her face burning with desire at the thought of Brant’s kiss.  She lifted her index finger to the center of her lips, feeling the impression he’d left lingering over her.  A wave of pleasure surged through her down to the tips of her toes as she noticed the goofy grin that had caught her off guard.  Something about being with Brant tonight, well it was nothing short of amazing, wonderful in it’s own way and as she began to remove the makeup she’d applied for dinner, she started to let her thoughts drift back to the man she’d been fighting for so very long.  Could she have been wrong about Brant’s intentions?  Had he truly intended to romance her in every sense of the word and more so would she actually allow herself to fall for him this time without reservation?  She was starting to wonder as she took a long look in the mirror at her tired expression.
Reality set in as Avery touched the purple bruise on the side of her face.  A shudder ran through her as she thought to the last time she’d followed her heart.  She’d wound up in a world of trouble and she’d hurt so many people.  Maybe now wasn’t the time for thinking about romance and dreaming about what might be as she had a long road ahead of her.  With that thought in mind, she reached for the small hand towel beside her patting her face dry when a sound came from the room beyond the bathroom door.
Avery stood motionless listening for a long moment as rustling filled her ears from the other room.  Suddenly her nerves were on edge as her eyes scanned the bathroom reaching for her brush.  She wasn’t sure if she was just paranoid after finding Bruce back in her apartment as there was no way he’d wind up inside Brant’s home, but still…  She took in a breath realizing even if Brant had decided not to call it a night and he’d come back with some quirky, lame excuse to try to seduce her, well she’d be ready for that too.  Squeezing her brush in her right hand, she reached for the door opening it gingerly as she noticed her suitcase spread out on the center of the bed.
“What the…” Avery opened the door further taking a step out into the dimly lit room as she felt the heat of a hand clamping down upon her shoulder from behind.  Her mouth opened in a scream as the arm tugged at her and she began to struggle crying out for help.
“Avery,” the voice began as she continued to cry out throwing her brush out at the phantom shadows as her unexpected guest struggled to step out of harm’s way with each one of her threatening blows.  Her screams grew louder as he slinked an arm around her waist, turning her back towards the dimly lit bathroom as he fought to find a way to get her quiet before anyone knew of his arrival.
“Don’t touch me you,” Avery shouted as her words were cut short by the feel of his lips over hers kissing away her screams.  She fought the hold the intruder had on her feeling his lips move over hers as the sudden awareness of his aftershave--the familiarity of his touch filled her capturing her complete responsiveness and putting her at ease as her screams died down to a low whimper.
“Shh,” he breathed against her lips touching her cheek tenderly in an attempt to soothe her, “I’m here to get you out of this place.”
“Russ,” her eyes fixed up on him as she recognized his concerned features.
“You’re safe now,” he promised from behind the shadows as he brushed the pad of his thumb over her lower lip gingerly, “Everything is going to be okay now.”
“Russ…” she started feeling her pulse racing in her chest as the light flickered on in the bedroom causing her to jump as a sudden crashing sound filled the room.  With the blink of an eye, she heard the sound of Russell’s groan before he fell forward into the wall beside her as Brant’s eyes filled with a rage.
“Get your hands off of her you son of a bitch,” Brant shouted raising the fire poker he’d brought with him ready to assault Avery’s surprise arrival once again as a panic swept over Avery.  She stepped forward reaching out towards the fire poker before Brant could lash at Russell again.
“Brant no,” she blurted out hoping to get through to him as his eyes met hers with a sudden confusion.
“But Avery…” Brant gave her a strange look as Russell began to get his bearings back again.
“It’s not Bruce,” Avery explained her eyes pleading with him, before she turned over her shoulder to look at Russell reaching out to him as she saw a thin line of blood running over his forehead as she helped him to his feet again, “Russ, are you okay?”
“Avery, I’m fine, but he’s not going to be,” Russell growled up at Brant as Avery noticed the flash of anger flaring behind Russell’s green eyes and it was in that moment, she realized if she didn’t do something soon, things were about to get ugly.  Very ugly!

...to be continued...