Episode Twenty

“Denton,” Brant’s jaw dropped as Russell stood taller--his face now twisted in a rage at Brant‘s attack on him.
“Why don’t we try this again with me facing you instead of you attacking me with my back turned,” Russell lunged forward as Avery stood between them placing her hands between the both of them.
“Russ no,” Avery shook her head simply as she faced him once again.
“Avery, he just clubbed me…” Russell began as his eyes focused in on her features finally noticing the bruising up along the side of her face.  A gasp fell from his lips as he reached out to her urging her towards the light coming from the bathroom as anger bubbled over.  He turned his attention to Brant, ready to tear him apart limb from limb as all of this was beginning to make sense.  Brant had not only forced Avery into his home, but he’d hurt her in the process.  Russell looked to her again, feeling his heart sink as her bruises fueled the rage inside of him.
“You’re going to pay for this you son of a bitch,” Russell leapt out of Avery’s reach suddenly pounding on Brant as the two fell back onto the bed throwing punches wildly at one another as sounds of grunting and groaning prevailed through the room.
“Stop it!” Avery screamed not knowing what to do as the two men in her life were beating the hell out of one another.  She looked around the room not knowing how to stop them as her cries were ignored by the testosterone battle in the room.
“I’ve waited a long time to kick your ass, Denton,” Brant gained the upper hand punching Russell square in the chest, “so thank you for the opportunity.”
“The only ass kicking that’s going to be going on here, is me kicking your ass into oblivion,” Russ growled back at him throwing his fist in the air as a sudden wash of icy cold liquid flood over the both of them.
“Stop it both of you,” Avery cried out as the two men parted and she stood over them holding a vase in her hand.  Both men blinked up at her, taking in the sight of her standing barefoot on the mattress, her feet now planted firmly between them as she shook her head at the both of them, “I won’t let you kill each other…” she announced firmly giving them both warning looks.
“I’m not going to let Ashford hurt you,” Russell grumbled as his eyes darted back to Brant.
“He’s not going to break into my house and pull you out of here against your will and get away with it,” Brant declared firmly as Avery realized they weren’t about to listen to reason.
Throwing down the vase, Avery plopped herself down on the center of the bed placing herself between them before they could get a hold of one another again.  She placed her arms upon the center of their chests before speaking as evenly as possible.
“Neither one of you is going to do anything to the other,” she explained matter of fact as their water soaked shirts squished beneath her touch.  She looked between both men as a sigh escaped her lips, “I don’t want you killing each other.”
“Avery, he broke into my home and scared the hell out of you,” Brant argued with her.
“At least I didn’t tear her away from the life she was used to,” Russell sneered at him as his eyes fell upon Avery, “Avery, your face…” he turned his attention to Brant wiggling away from her as he tried to reach out to choke Brant once again.
“Russ no,” she pulled at his hand, uncurling his fingers from around Brant’s neck as she pushed the weight of her body into the center of his chest using all her strength to force him onto his back.
“Avery, he’s not going to get away with hurting you,” Russell argued with her, “Maybe you’re blind to what he is, but seeing what he’s done to your face…”
“Brant didn’t do this,” Avery climbed over him sitting on his chest as Brant let out a low growl.  She looked to him seeing the annoyance in his eyes as she kicked her leg out into the center of his chest keeping him firmly in position as a breath spilled over her lips.  There was no avoiding the truth now, she reasoned as both men struggled beneath her.  She pushed her foot further against Brant’s chest shooting him a scathing look, “Don’t move.”
“Avery,” Brant began to argue with her before a sigh escaped his lips and he threw his hands out in the air reluctantly before his fingers lingered over the top of her foot lethargically enjoying the contact despite the situation, “whatever you say.”
“Avery, I’m taking you out of here,” Russell announced as she pressed her weight in over his chest.
“Over my dead body,” Brant sneered in response.
“That can be arranged,” Russell promised a viscous smile sweeping over his lips as he wiggled beneath Avery.
“No it’s not going to happen,” Avery took in a breath as they both fidgeted beneath her.
“Avery, I know you’re not engaged to this jerk,” Russell began glaring at Brant.
“Jerk?” Brant repeated with a sarcastic laugh, “Oh you don’t know the half of it Denton.  The only jerk I see here is you considering you think you can throw your weight around and try to kidnap my fiancée when she and I were enjoying a nice romantic night together--one which I might add that she said blew away anything you two had together in your adolescence…”
“Like hell,” Russell growled shifting again as Avery leaned back further coaxing him to stay still.
“That’s right Denton,” Brant taunted him, “Avery and I are going to be married and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.  She doesn’t need you anymore.”
“Stop it Brant,” Avery glared at him unimpressed by his words, “Russ knows that the story was a hoax and you and I aren’t engaged so just stop while you’re ahead.”
“I knew it,” Russell felt a victorious smile tug over his lips, “Avery, I knew that you were smarter than that in giving this guy the time of day.”
“Russ, we need to talk,” Avery turned her head towards him as he reached out to her touching her face gently.
“Avery, I don’t care what he’s threatened you with, you can’t stay here with this piece of--” Russell began.
“Brant didn’t hurt me,” Avery blurted out simply, “he was trying to protect me.”
“That’s right and I was doing a great job of it until you came here, but don’t worry because I’ll have security remove you as soon as possible,” Brant added with a grumble, “and then we’ll talk to my pal Dave Warner about getting some breaking and entering charges thrown at you not to mention attempted kidnapping.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Avery shook her head at him, “Brant, just do me a favor and shut up,” she ground her toe into the center of his chest before turning to Russell again, “Brant was trying to help me…”
“By turning your face into his punching bag,” Russell attempted to sit up a bit to look at her, “Avery, this guy is a…”
“He didn’t do this,” she blurted out seeing the disbelief run rampant over his features, “Russ, please you have to believe me.  Brant didn’t do this.”
“Avery, I talked to Mrs. Miller and she told me about Brant showing up at your apartment this morning, about the fight and how he dragged you away…”
“Did she also mention that I saved her life, jackass,” Brant challenged lifting a curious brow, “that this time I was her hero and you weren’t needed.”
“As long as you keep bothering her, I’ll always be needed,” Russell cut back sharply, “especially after this…”
“Russ, it was Bruce,” Avery finally blurted out shamefully.
“What?” Russell looked to her again blinking at her words, “What did you just say?”
“Bruce was waiting for me in my apartment this morning,” Avery explained drawing in a nervous breath, “When I came home he was waiting for me.  I’d given him a key a while back and when he saw the article, well he came over to see me, but since I wasn’t there he took it upon himself to let himself in…” she trailed off.
“Oh Avery,” guilt tugged at Russell’s heart as he saw the sadness behind her eyes.
“He accused me of spending the night with Brant,” Avery’s dark eyes fell upon his once again, the weight of the moment lingering as flashes of their night together haunted her before she continued, “He’d thought I was off making love to Brant and when I wasn’t there in the morning…”
“Oh Avery,” Russ reached out to her lifting her hair from her features as he took in the marks on her neck, “I’m so sorry…”
“So am I,” she confessed tears burning behind her eyes as she thought back to her exchange with Bruce.  She felt Russell’s finger tips against her skin as she closed her eyes rehashing her tale, “I told him that I wasn’t with Brant last night, but he didn’t believe me…”
“And he did this to you,” Russ began to piece it together as his jaw clenched with anger.
“He’d thought I’d betrayed him,” she nodded simply.
“And he would’ve killed her if I hadn’t come in when I did,” Brant added massaging her foot gently in an attempt to soothe her as Avery’s tears struck a chord with him, “He was choking the life out of her when I broke the door down…”
“Then Bruce did this because he thought that last night you were…” Russell trailed off thinking about the article and how it had effected him even with knowing full well that the story was false.  Bruce had been upset before about Avery’s association with Brant, but for him to react to hateful and evil, “Where is he?”
“What?” Avery looked down to him seeing his face twisted in anger.
“Where the hell is Bruce?” Russell’s jaw flexed as he fought to keep his voice even.
“I don’t know,” Avery shook her head simply.
“What do you mean you don’t know,” his accusatory tone turned to Brant, “Where the hell did he go when you came in?”
“I threw him out,” Brant shrugged his shoulders.
“You what?” Russell blinked back at him incredulously.  “Why would you do something so stupid?”
“Hey, he was choking her.  She couldn’t breathe and I had to act fast,” Brant defended rising from the bed, “I did what I had to do.”
“By letting him get away,” Russell shook his head in dismay, “how stupid could you have been?”
“I was trying to save her life,” Brant snapped back at him, “All that mattered was getting Avery to safety as she was top priority.”
“Still Bruce shouldn’t be roaming free,” Russell took in a breath, “Tell me at least that the police are out looking for him.”
“She wouldn’t let me make the call,” Brant admitted as Russell looked to Avery again, discontent flooding over him.
“Why?” he frowned deeply.
“Because I hate being the victim,” Avery insisted shaking her head, “You know that.”
“I also know that any man who treats a woman like that doesn’t deserve to be roaming the streets,” Russell reminded her simply.
“Finally Denton and I agree on something,” Brant raised his voice in agreement, “I don’t want him doing this again.”
“He’s not going to do it again.  He was drunk and hurt and…” Avery began.
“Stop making excuses for him,” Russell shook his head, “there’s no way in hell that he’s going to get away with this.”
“Russ, I just want to forget it…”
“Forget it?” Russell repeated, “Like hell I’m going to forget it.  As long as he’s out there, you’re not safe.”
“She’s safe here with me,” Brant remarked simply, “She and I were doing just fine here considering that I have the best security there is to offer…”
“That’s why I got in here undetected,” Russell gave him a skeptical look as he reached out to Avery wrapping his arm around her, “Sweetie, as long as Bruce is out there, you’re not safe especially when he did this,” another wave of guilt rushed over him as his eyes fell upon her face, “Avery, I don’t want him thinking he’s going to get away with this.”
“He won’t get away with it,” Brant interrupted his anger elevating as he watched the ease at which Avery accepted Russell’s arm around her shoulders, “I’ll make sure of that.”
“Right, like you made sure he didn’t get away in the first place,” Russell glared at him, “A lot of help you turned out to be.  Hell if it wasn’t for you, then she wouldn’t be in this position to begin with.”
“If you would’ve just left us the hell alone on our vacation then this would’ve been avoided as well seeing as you have a habit of coming around when you’re least needed in Avery’s life.”
“Apparently if she’s here with you, I’m needed more than ever,” Russell constricted his hold on her, “which is why she’s going home with me.”
“Russ, now come on…” Avery started looking to him again.
“Avery, you’re not staying here with him.  Chances are if I got into the mansion, Bruce will follow eventually and when he does, I’m sure Brant’s fire poker won’t be enough to hold him back.”
“I don’t know, it seemed to work well on you,” Brant shot him a contemptuous look, “so I figure if it works on one loser, then perhaps there shouldn’t be a problem with the next…”
“And what if he shows up with a gun next time to finish the job since he feels you ruined his life,” Russell challenged, “what if he works his way in here and tries to kill the both of you?”
“It won’t happen,” Brant stated simply.
“You can’t promise that and besides while I could give a damn less what happens to you, I won’t let Avery be put in danger,” Russell sat up a bit as his hand still rested around her shoulders, “I refuse to sacrifice her.”
“I’m not sacrificing her,” Brant growled back at him sliding Avery’s foot aside as he rose up from the mattress, “I’m keeping her safe.”
“You’re keeping her locked up for yourself because you’re enjoying all of this,” Russell challenged, “you’re eating up the media coverage on this and the idea that you’re shaking up Avery’s world and pushing yourself upon her when you don’t know what she wants or needs…”
“Russ, stop it,” she began with a frown.
“Avery, it’s true,” he continued ignoring her protests before focusing on Brant again, “You don’t have the first clue what it takes to make Avery happy, but you’re using this story as means of keeping her captive in your home and I won’t allow it.”
“Won’t allow it,” Brant blinked back at him, “and just who the hell do you think you are that you can dictate every move Avery makes?”
“I’m someone who cares about her,” Russell explained matter of fact, “Not that it’s any of your business, but Avery and I…”
“Need to talk,” Avery blurted out as she rose up on her knees firmly pressing her arms out into the center of their chests as she realized both men were glaring at one another each waiting for the right moment to strike.
“So talk and then get the hell out of here Denton,” Brant insisted in a menacing tone, “You’re not wanted here.”
“I’m not leaving without Avery,” Russell stated firmly as both he and Brant moved forward ready to attack one another once again.
“Stop it both of you,” Avery demanded raising her voice with each word as they began to sink back into the animosity between them, “Please this isn’t helping any…” her words were interrupted as a sudden cough built up inside of her.  She started to speak up again, but instead a screeching noise fell from her lips as her coughs grew in intensity and she doubled over sucking for air unable to get it fast enough.
“Avery,” Brant turned his attention to her instantly forgetting about Russell as he placed his hand on her back attempting to assist her as her coughs continued.
“Avery, are you alright,” Russell began as she choked on the words she struggled to get out from her lips.
“Wa--,” she finally managed to get out as her wheezing continued.
“What in the world is going on here,” Annette’s voice roared as she stepped into the room seeing the sight before her as both men hovered over Avery on the bed, each at her side as Annette’s eyes widened in surprise.  She opened her mouth to speak again as Avery’s coughs continued.
“What Avery?” Brant reached out to her running his hand over her back as he tried to sooth her, “What is it?”
“Wa--” she began again as Annette rushed to her side holding a small plastic cup she‘d retrieved from the bathroom.
“Try this,” Annette reasoned watching as Avery gulped down the glass before her unable to take the water in fast enough as she tried to clear her throat.  She made a slow choking noise between sips as Annette pushed Brant aside, “It’s okay dear.”
“Annie, we were just talking to her,” Brant began as Annette shot him a glare.
“She should be resting,” she turned to look at Russell, “and you, well I don’t know what you’re doing here, but shame on you both.  You both should know better than to upset her,” Annette looked back to an obviously shaken Avery, “Come on dear.  Let’s get you fixed up,” she coaxed Avery off of the bed and towards the bathroom before she looked over her shoulder throwing them both a disapproving glance.  The door to the bathroom closed with a small slam as Brant and Russell found themselves alone in the bedroom.  The two men exchanged glares for a moment before the sound of Avery’s coughing continued from behind the bathroom door.
Unable to stay at ease as Avery’s sobs fell upon his ears, Russell rose from the bed running his fingers through his tousled hair.  Just the thought of her in pain set him wild with anger as he began to visualize her returning home to Bruce.  Damn him for not waking up and coaxing her into staying with him.  If only he’d asked her to stay…if only he’d…he shook the thought realizing if only wouldn’t change the way things are.  Turning his attention back to Brant he broke the silence.
“Mathis can’t get away with this,” Russell blurted out letting his thoughts reign free.
“No he can’t,” Brant agreed rising from the bed as well, “But Avery keeps fighting me every time I try to do something.”
“That’s Avery,” Russell sighed, “she’s not going to want to let the world see her vulnerable.  Just the idea of letting that show scares the hell out of her…”
“It’s not going to reflect poorly upon her that he did this,” Brant frowned in response, “there’s no excuse.”
“No, there’s not, but at the same time I know Avery enough to know she’s beating herself up over this,” Russell’s eyes returned to the closed bathroom door, “She’s placing all the blame on her shoulders because she chose to live her life and Bruce couldn’t deal with it.”
“He didn’t deserve a woman like her,” Brant thought to the pain he’d watched Avery experience through out the time since he’d found her at the apartment looking helpless, “He never should’ve touched her like that.”
“No he shouldn’t have and if I ever see him again…” Russell began simply.
“Stand in line,” Brant’s jaw tightened with anger, “because when I find him he’s a dead man.”
“Even that sounds too good for him,” Russell decided thinking about Avery’s devotion to Bruce all that time after she’d run away from him.  Just to think of someone lifting a finger to harm her in any way, it sent his blood to a boil.
“You’re right, it does,” Brant paused thinking things over for a moment, “though perhaps there’s something more we can do.”
“Such as?” Russ faced him again.
“Avery won’t let me call the police, but we both know the guy is still out there…”
“Right,” Russell nodded simply.
“And if we can’t call the police and our hands are tied, well maybe there’s something else we can do with this situation,” Brant paused an idea forming in his head, “Granted I can’t stand you Denton, but this time we both can agree on one thing.”
“Bruce Mathis has to pay,” Russell offered anger flaring behind his eyes.
“That he does,” Brant nodded as he realized he and Russell were in agreement on one thing.  Bruce Mathis was not going to get away with hurting Avery.


“Tonight’s been incredible,” Blake confessed with a sigh resting her head against Seth’s shoulder as the lights of the carnival began to darken around them. Still lost in the warmth of his arms, she inhaled his sexy, spicy scent as she gave herself over to him.  Even now his words of love had sent sparks racing through her at the knowledge that he’d felt something for her just as she had for him.
“Being with you is incredible,” Seth whispered pressing a kiss over the top of her head as he held her, “even now, I don’t want to think about this night coming to an end.”
“Who says it ever has to,” Blake’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm, “We can find a way to make it last forever, can’t we?”
“I’d love to try,” he reached out to her cupping her face in his hands as he leaned forward catching her lips in a slow, sensual kiss.
“So would I,” Blake whispered against his lips as he squeezed her in closer against him.
“We’ll find a way to work on it then,” Seth promised as a security officer approached them clearing his throat in an exaggerated sound.
“The carnival is closing,” he stated matter of fact as Seth parted from Blake and that man’s eyes widened in surprise, “Seth?  Seth Alexander?”
“Yes,” Seth gave the man a sideways glance before a smile spread over his features, “Simon, is that you?”
“All gray now, but still the same guy underneath,” the man nodded eagerly, “I’d heard you’d moved out of these parts a while ago.”
“I’m in Coral Valley,” Seth explained simply wrapping his arm around Blake protectively, “But I thought I’d bring my friend here to see all the magic this place had to offer.”
“A very special friend indeed,” the man took one look at Blake as he extended his hand out towards her, “Simon Winston, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Like wise,” she smiled back accepting his hand, “I’m Blake…”
“She’s my fiancée,” Seth interrupted hugging her in his arms tighter.
“Wow, you are a lucky man indeed,” Simon’s eyes widened in surprised, “To have such a beautiful lady on your arm after all the trouble you got into as a child,” Simon’s laughter tickled over the two of them, “I’d have to say the heavens have been smiling down upon you.”
“I’d have to say you’re right,” Seth agreed turning his attention back to Blake, “I’m a lucky man.”
“I’m the lucky one,” Blake piped in leaning against Seth as she felt the warmth of him beneath her finger tips.
“How’s Jade doing,” Simon questioned softening his tone a bit as his smile faded, “How is she holding up these days?”
“She’s good,” Seth answered simply, “She’s all grown up now and working as a law clerk.”
“A law clerk,” Simon nodded in surprise, “that is quite a change.”
“She’s happy now and I’m happy for her,” Seth agreed with a polite smile.
“And I’m happy to hear it considering all that poor girl went through as a child,” Simon paused in recollection before looking to Blake once again, “this man beside you is a hero you know.”
“I’m no hero,” Seth argued with him.
“But you are,” Simon continued, “Years ago there was an incident here at the carnival and young Seth here, well he managed to climb up one of the old, rickety rides when a young girl was stuck on the top.  Despite the fact Seth here was knee high to a grasshopper himself, he was fearless as he helped the child to safety in the midst of all the chaos around here,” he paused turning his attention to Seth, “The owners were so proud of him that they made him an honorary employee the next summer…”
“I thought it sounded like the best idea considering I was given all access to the cotton candy machines on a regular basis and of course by then I’d gained a foot and a half in height so there weren’t so many limitations put on me,” Seth added thinking back to his time working at the carnival.
“He had no fear,” Simon noted fondly, “why even when the park would close down like it is now, Seth would always find a reason to stick around a little while longer--to get himself in a world of trouble of his own…”
“I never caused any harm,” Seth piped in, “and if I recall that kind of trouble is never the wrong kind.”
“Tell that to the owners,” Simon shook his head at him, “Do I take it that you’ll be attempting one of those pleasure cruises tonight with your lady love?”
“The thought hadn’t crossed my mind, but now that you mention it,” Seth turned his attention to Blake, “How do you feel about taking a journey down the tunnel of love?”
“The tunnel of love,” her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, “Just what is this tunnel of love?”
“A place where magical and wonderful things happen,” Seth explained before he looked back to Simon, “I think we’ll make our way over there before we leave.”
“In that case,” Simon winked at him, “I haven’t seen anything.”
“Of course not,” Seth chuckled watching the security guard head off in another direction before he turned his attention back to Blake again raising a teasing brow , “Think I can interest you in taking the journey with me?”
“I don’t know,” Blake smiled back at him, “that all depends.”
She nodded, “That’s right,” she leaned in closer to him, “You have to ask me nicely if I’d like to go on the ride with you.”
“It’ll be the ride of the lifetime,” Seth promised lifting her off the ground as he hugged her in his arms, “One that you’ll be sure never to forget,” he leaned forward whispering in her ear--the warmth of his breath tickling over her neck, “Did I also happen to mention that with the park closing it’ll be just the two of us?”
“Really,” she feigned surprise as she eyed him closely, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.  I mean with my being alone with you, well who knows what might transpire,” she murmured in a soft seductive tone, “I mean I wouldn’t want you to feel that you could take advantage of little old me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of taking advantage of you,” Seth pressed a kiss over the warmth of her soft skin, “unless of course you asked me to.”
“Hmm, well in that case,” Blake winked up at him hugging her arms tighter around his neck, “I might have to consider it if and only if this ride proves to be as romantic as you promise.”
“It’ll be all that and more,” Seth announced spinning her around in his arms just savoring the moments between them as Blake had found a way to turn his world upside down making everything feel wonderful at long last.  She inspired wishful thinking in him and that was something he’d never dreamt would come his way again.  Now as he held her, he looked forward to learning more about her as Blake was turning out to be the best thing that had happened to him in a very long time.


Caitlin sat in the passenger seat of Kenneth's car and stared out at the night sky. She'd had such a great time…up until the tabloid reporter had interrupted them. She'd been so close to losing herself in a fantasy with Kenneth, but the harshness of reality had slammed her back to Earth. Why did she suddenly feel so cold and alone?

Kenneth drove through the city streets towards Caitlin's apartment. Why had he been stupid enough to go out in public tonight of all nights? Why had he thought that he would be safe from Brant's reputation? Why had he thought he would be immune to the Ashford curse? Why had he thought that he and Caitlin might be able to enjoy themselves without a magazine plastering it on the front page?

While stopped at a traffic light, he looked over to Caitlin and frowned, "I'm sorry about all of this. I'm really sorry."

"It wasn't your fault, Kenneth," She said softly as she continued to look out the window.

"But I should have known this would happen. With Brant on the front page, I was bound to be a target," He sighed as the light turned green. He eased the vehicle forward before he continued, "I'm so sorry about that. You don't deserve to be treated that way and…"

"Kenneth," Caitlin said his name to garner his attention, "This was not your fault. You don't deserve to be treated this way either. You shouldn't have to suffer because your brother enjoys publicity."

"Yes, but I've lived with this all my life. I know what draws their attention, and I guess I just thought I could thumb my nose at them," He frowned, "But they found us anyway."

"Hey," She said as she turned towards him. She placed her hand upon his shoulder, "Don't you dare blame yourself for this. They're the ones who are intent on invading your privacy. You shouldn't have to live in fear that even your most private moments will be caught by some camera. The paparazzi are the ones to blame. Not you."

"But tonight…" He sighed as he stopped at another traffic light, "Tonight was so special until…"

"I know," She agreed as she met his eyes, "I know."

"So…" He paused as he again moved the car down the road, "Where do we go from here?"

"I don't know," She sighed, "I really don't. Things didn't turn out the way I thought they would tonight."

"They didn't for me either," Kenneth admitted as he turned down another road, "I just don't want this night to end on such a sour ending."

"Me either. Think we can do anything to turn this night around?"

"I have a few ideas still up my sleeve," He said with a grin, "In fact, how would you like an ice cream?"

"Ice cream?" She asked with a smile.

"Yeah, I know…it's juvenile, but ice cream just seems to fix anything," He teased with a laugh before he pulled into a shopping center parking lot.

"Everything looks closed," She said as she looked around.

"It is," He replied as he parked in front of an ice cream parlor, "This place, however," He placed the car in park and switched off the engine, "Well, I own this."

"You what?"

"Yeah, I own it," He said as he looked over to her and caught her surprised look, "Now you're wondering why a rich boy would own an ice cream parlor, right?"

"The thought had crossed my mind," She agreed.

He smiled as they got out of the car. He locked the doors as they made their way towards the door of the ice cream parlor, "My mother used to bring us here when we were kids. She'd bring us here, buy us a banana split and then we'd all share it," He said as he slipped his key into the lock and quickly opened the door, "A few years ago, the original owner fell ill and opted to sell the place to help pay his medical expenses. I bought it from him but asked him to keep running the business. He agreed, and we've been in business together for about four years."

"Wow," Caitlin said in awe as Kenneth removed his jacket and draped it on the back of a stool.

He moved around the counter and switched on the lights. Once the parlor was illuminated, he moved behind the counter and glanced into the display case, "See anything you'd like?"

"You're going to serve me?" She chuckled, "You just keep surprising me, Kenneth."

"I'm a man full of surprises," He said with a grin as he grabbed an ice cream dish from the back counter and opened a drawer to remove a dipper, "Got a favorite or should I just improvise?"

"Hmm…surprise me. You seem to be doing a good job with that," She said as she leaned onto the counter.

"Okay, just remember you said that," He teased as he began to dip ice cream scoops into the dish. He picked up a can of whipped cream and placed dollops along side the scoops before dropping a cherry in the top of the cream. He placed the dish in front of Caitlin along with a spoon, "Enjoy."

"So what kind of ice cream did you give me here?" She asked as she lifted her spoon and began to inspect the ice cream.

"A scoop of mint chocolate chip, a scoop of double fudge, and a scoop of vanilla."

"That's kind of eclectic, isn't it?" She asked with a laugh.

"I suppose so, but hey…the vanilla will balance everything out," He teased as he plopped a cherry onto his sundae. He closed the freezer case before joining her at the counter.

"So what's yours?"

"Butter pecan, black walnut, and chocolate."

"Nut lover, huh?"

"In my family…it's a pre-requisite," He teased before taking a bite of the ice cream.

She laughed softly in response to his joke, "You're a lot more than you seem."

"Isn't everyone?" He asked as he used his spoon to shape his ice cream.

"I suppose so, but some people have more layers than others," She noted before taking a bite of her dessert.

"So which are you? A few layers or a lot?" He asked.

She placed her spoon down before using a napkin to dab at her lips, "I'd hope that I'd be a lot of layers, but I feel like I have very few."

"Are you kidding me? Since I've gotten to know you, I can tell there are layers to you."

"Oh really?" She asked with a chuckle, "Such as?"

"You're a serious reporter with focus, but you allow yourself to have fun with your work. You don't want to be anyone's victim, but you're no predator yourself. You're have some trouble accepting compliments, but I get the real feeling that they make you feel good about yourself despite your reluctance to accept them."

"Have you been analyzing me or what?" She teased.

"I like to study people, and I must tell you I really enjoy studying you."


"Because you're an outstanding woman," He admitted as he looked to her, "And I really enjoy spending time with you. I haven't met anyone I've felt so comfortable with in a very long time."

"I feel that very same way," She smiled as she met his eyes.

"So I guess that means we just have something here, don't we?"

"Yeah, I suppose it does mean that," She said as she glanced to her ice cream.


"Yes?" She asked as she looked back up to him.

"I don't want this night to end," He admitted as he touched her hand and lifted it to his lips. He kissed her hand and smiled at her, "I've got an idea."

"What kind of idea?" She asked as she saw a spark in his eyes.

"Just trust me."

"I do," Caitlin said, surprising even herself.

"Then we'll have ourselves the night we should have had uninterrupted," Kenneth promised her as he kissed her hand once again, knowing that they had defeated one obstacle in their growing relationship and that alone meant there was hope for them yet.


Jade watched the city lights pass them by as Grady drove her home. The day had been utterly amazing. Just when she thought her life was on the verge of falling apart because of Cameron, Grady had wrapped his arms around her and made all those pessimistic thoughts fade away.

She turned to look at him and smiled as she saw the shadows dance across his profile. He was the absolute most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on. He didn't seem to realize how handsome he was, but she certainly knew every aspect of his handsome features. She'd spent hours watching him, studying his strong jaw line, his sexy green eyes, and his full lush lips. It only made her want more of him.

She gently reached over and eased her fingertips over his cheek, "Grady, what are you thinking about?"

"About you actually," He said as he took her hand and kissed her soft skin. He held her hand in his as he continued to drive with his other hand, "We need to talk about this thing we have between us."

"Why do you have such a hard time calling our relationship a relationship?" She asked as she looked at him.

"My history of relationships speaks for itself, Jade. I don't want to lump what we have in with that chaotic mess," He answered.

"So what is it you want to talk about?" She asked as Grady pulled into a parking space in front of her building.

He switched off the car before he turned to focus his attention on her, "We're moving too fast."

"Too fast? Are you kidding me? I've wanted you for months, and I've been trying to get your attention almost as long. How the hell is that moving too fast?" She asked with a shocked look upon her face.

"Because Jade, we work together, and we have a great working relationship. I think we need just get to know each other outside of work before we leap into something serious."

"Would you quit being so practical for a minute and just feel?" She challenged him.

"I am feeling," He said as he gently traced a pattern upon her skin, "I know what I feel for you, Jade, but every time in my life that I've acted impulsively things have fallen apart. I don't want that. Not with this," He said as he met her eyes, "Not with you."

"Are you really afraid that something will happen like that, Grady?" She asked, "Or are you just afraid of wanting me?"

"I'm not afraid of wanting you," He said before he squeezed his eyes closed and then looked away, "I know I shouldn't for a lot of reasons, but I do want you. There are nights when I can't think about anything else."

"Then what is the problem?" She asked as she reached out to caress his cheek, "Why can't we just give in to what we're feeling?"

"Because we need to know it's real, Jade. I won't take you to bed only for you to look back and see me as some huge mistake that you made."

"Grady, that could never happen," She attempted to argue.

"Yes, it could," He said as he took both of her hands in his and held them to his chest, "I don't want you to just blindly be with me for the sake of lust. I need more than that."

Jade saw the seriousness in his eyes and paused for a moment, "I want to give you more than that."

"Then let's take our time," He suggested as he caressed her cheek, "I'm not going anywhere, Jade, and I'm not running anymore. I want you, and I'm not going to hide from that anymore. We will be together, and you can count on that."

Jade closed her eyes as she savored his touch. She took a deep breath and smiled, "Promise me…"

Grady leaned forward and captured her lips in a soft and loving kiss, "I promise," He whispered.

She opened her eyes and met his with a smile, "Okay, then we'll do this your way, but you might need to know one thing."

"What's that?" He asked as his eyes caressed her face.

"Patience is not one of my virtues," She said with a slight laugh.

"I think I'm aware of that," He said with a laugh before he kissed her once again, "I think we should call it a night here."

"Probably a good idea…before my lack of patience decides to change my mind," She teased before kissing him once more, "Good night, Grady."

"Good night, Jade," Grady said as he kissed her again.

Jade climbed out of the car and watched as Grady started the engine and drove the car out of the parking space. She wrapped her arms around herself as a smile enveloped her. She watched his car disappear around the corner before she turned to go inside, knowing that the thing she'd wanted most of all in her life was now within reach and was still worth waiting for.


Avery took a long look at her reflection in the mirror hating the way she felt as her throat ached.  Now thinking about the past few days, she was starting to wonder why her life was growing far more complicated than it had ever been.  It never failed that when things seemed to get better in one aspect of her life, the rest of it fell apart before her very eyes.  First, the realization that she was having some kind of feelings for Brant, then her breaking up with Bruce, to making love with Russell, to the damned article about the ring Brant had given her, along with Bruce’s attack on her and now as her dark eyes reflected in the mirror before her, she thought to the two men waiting for her in the bedroom.  The last thing she wanted to do was walk out of the bathroom and return to the situation she’d walked away from, but at the same time, the longer she was in the bathroom, the more time Brant and Russ had to talk and that given the current state of things was nothing short of dangerous.
Drawing in a breath, Avery placed her hand over her abdomen trying to still the butterflies in her stomach as the thought back to the dispute that had taken place between them.  Somehow she’d never imagined that Russell would have shown up in an attempt to ‘rescue’ her from Brant, but then again, she’d never thought that she’d be staying at the Ashford mansion spending any significant amount of time with Brant.  Then again, tonight had been significant in itself.

The dinner Avery had shared with Brant had been nothing short of remarkable and that kiss--well, though she’d tried to play it off, there was no denying how amazing it felt to have his lips upon her.  Even now she felt a heat rise over her features as she thought to the earth-shattering way he’d kissed her.  There was no way to ignore the sizzling sensations he’d always sent stirring up inside of her.  If there was a case of lust at it’s finest, that was exactly what Brant seemed to inspire in her.  Still, the way he’d gone out of his way to make her comfortable--the way he’d sworn that he wanted to know more about her--opening himself up to her questions by showing her a new side of him, well that had caused her to doubt her initial beliefs about Brant.  He seemed to be struggling to prove himself with her.  First with what happened back at the hotel when he’d torn up the Davies contract and second when he’d saved her life after Bruce’s uninvited visit.  Brant Ashford was showing her that there was more than met the eye with him and she found herself intrigued.  Very intrigued indeed, she thought to herself as a smile pressed over her soft lips.
Avery felt a slow breath escape from her mouth as she tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear hoping to clean herself up a bit as her thoughts lingered from Brant to Russell.  Stopping for a moment, her smile faded as she thought to Russell Denton.  Him showing up tonight was the last thing she’d expected, but when he’d stepped out of the shadows, kissing her with that comforting, familiar touch, it set her soul at ease.  Just being near to him always seemed to soothe her in ways she’d never freely admit to him as that would be too much for either one of them to face.  Still with making love to him fresh on her mind, she couldn’t help but feel her heart stir at the vivid memories of being with him--touching him and sharing a part of herself with him in ways she’d never be able to verbalize.  Despite the way she’d left and the way that things had been between them, their night together had felt right and so very wonderful.  Even now, the thought of his strong arms wrapped around her made Avery want to lose herself completely in him again and again.  Russ was the one thing in her life that truly put her at ease, yet in the same breath he could push her buttons and drive her mad with rage and desire all at once.  It was nothing short of insanity between them, yet she wanted to welcome it with open arms, to embrace him and let him keep her safe from harm.  She needed him on so many levels that the thought of letting him see just how much he meant to her scared the hell out of her.  She wouldn’t dare admit that to herself and certainly not to Russell as the passion behind his protective side was something that could very well destroy them both should they dare speak of what was still there between them.
“Stop this,” she chastised herself refusing to lose herself to the idea of Russell or Brant for that matter as she stood alone in the private bathroom.  Sure both men were incredible, far more handsome than should be allowed and oh so very frustrating, but at the same time so very irresistible in their own way.  She could easily lose herself in either one of them if they’d asked her to and that in itself terrified her--more than facing up to the fact that her incident with Bruce had shaken her world apart.  She couldn’t lose her head, but with her heart tugging at her, it made her world all the more complicated.  Still, the longer she stood back in contemplation leaving Russ and Brant alone together, the more she stood to lose.  She couldn’t let her confusion be revealed to Brant or Russell as at this point in the game she would be risking it all.
With that thought in mind, Avery stood taller opening the bathroom door as she returned to the bedroom ready to give both men a piece of her mind for behaving in such a juvenile fashion, but as her eyes fell upon the empty bedroom, her jaw dropped in surprise.
“Brant?” she questioned blinking again, “Russ?” her words were met by silence as she noticed the bedroom door was opened just a crack.
Frowning, Avery stalked out of the guest room wondering if Brant and Russell had taken their dispute outside as their levels of testosterone overload seemed to be dictating their behavior for the evening.  If they even thought that violence would be the solution to their problems, well then Avery would be sure to give them both a piece of her mind.  Right now the press getting wind of any of this was the last thing Avery wanted and if they thought that being childish was helping in any way, then they had another think coming because…
“Avery,” Annette’s voice caught her by surprise as she turned to find the kindly older woman walking up the stairs with a tray in hand, “What are you doing out of your room?”
“I was looking for Brant and Russell,” Avery explained with a scowl, “Please tell me they aren’t duking it out on the front lawn in front of the reporters.”
“Oh no,” Annette shook her head simply, “After they got you so upset before, I suggested that they both call it a night and they left.”
“What do you mean they left?” Avery gave her a sideways glance, “Did Brant send Russ out of here?”
“On the contrary,” Annette explained with a confused expression, “they both apologized for their behavior and then they left together.”
“Come again,” Avery blinked back at her, “You mean as they went out with one another--like together, together?”
“Yes,” Annette nodded simply, “it was a rather surprising turn about, but they both walked out and left in Mr. Denton’s car so that the press wouldn’t notice their departure.”
“Brant and Russ are together,” Avery thought it over as a sudden fear rushed over her, “Did they say where they were going?”
“I’m afraid not,” Annette answered shaking her head simply.

“Did they tell you where they were heading to,” Avery questioned again thinking back to the display that had taken place between them in the bedroom.
“Brant said something about some unfinished business with Mr. Denton,” Annette explained stepping towards her, “Avery, darling are you feeling alright?  You’re as white as a ghost.”
“I have to find them,” Avery announced stepping forward as she headed towards the top of the stairs, “How long ago did they leave?”
“A few minutes ago,” Annette thought it over, “but you can’t go chasing after them.”
“I need to find them before they do anything stupid to each other or to anyone else,” Avery’s words lingered off as she thought to the news she’d shared with Russell about Bruce’s attack on her.  Knowing Russell, he was going to do something reckless and with Brant adding fuel to his fire, there was plenty of reason to worry.
“Avery, I’m sure they will be fine,” Annette tried to dissuade her concerns, “After all they both agreed they would stop by later to check in on you in the hopes that you’d had time to rest.”
“They’re leaving together and coming back together,” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise, “Something feels wrong about this.”
“Perhaps they’re trying to be civilized for a change,” Annette shrugged her shoulders, “After all Brant has been trying to make amends with different aspects of his life…”
“Not with Russ and Russ wouldn’t just go shoot back a couple of beers with Brant--not after what just took place between the three of us,” Avery paused as she began to piece together the strange turn of events, “They were both furious with each other and in general and if they aren’t going to be beating the hell out of each other, then…” a gasp fell from her lips, “Oh no.”
“Avery, what is it?” Annette reached out to touch her.
“I can’t talk right now,” Avery explained quickly as she turned back towards the bedroom.
“Avery, are you sure that…” Annette watched Avery disappear into the bedroom again as she shook her head wondering if things around this household would ever be normal again.
Avery barely heard Annette’s words as she quickly closed the door behind her, reaching for the phone that was in the room.  She looked to the time hating to disrupt the person on the other end of the line, but desperate times called for desperate measures.  Her fingers were shaking as she dialed the numbers knowing that there would be no way to explain this, but she hoped that somehow she’d get the help she needed as the voice mail message picked up.
“Grady,” Avery drew in a nervous breath, “listen it’s Avery.  I need to talk to you as soon as you get this message.  I’m at the Ashford mansion and if you have any way of getting over here to see me anytime soon, well I’d really appreciate it as it’s urgent.  It’s about Russ…” she hesitated contemplating her words, “He and Brant are together right now and I don’t know where they are, but I’m afraid they’re going to do something stupid.  Something horrible happened tonight and once Russ found out about it, well, Grady, you’re one of the few people I know can help me.  I’m worried about Russ and Brant and if I don’t find them soon…” she heard the beeping sound of his voice mail clicking off as she hung up the phone looking around the room hoping that her concerns were for nothing, but somehow as the thought of Brant and Russ alone together swirled over her, she knew that nothing short of trouble was bound to follow and that scared her in more ways than she could imagine.


“You sure about this place,” Brant questioned doubtful as he slumped over in the passenger seat of Russell’s Toyota Camry grudgingly watching the rambunctious bar patrons flood in and out of the hopping night spot before them, “I mean there are plenty of places around here that he could easily…”
“This will be the place,” Russell’s jaw tightened in anger as his fingers clenched around the steering column digging deeper, “It’s just far enough out of Coral Valley to get him loaded with a false sense of security and besides it’s a hot spot for egotistical MD’s with false bravados leading them around.”
“Hmm, funny, it just looked like a low class joint to me,” Brant shrugged his shoulders simply as he looked around the interior of Russell’s car wrinkling his nose in disgust, “Speaking of low class, where did you pick up this piece of junk?”
“Junk,” Russell glared at him, “Just because my car is dependable and doesn’t carry around the stigma of being an overpriced fiberglass death trap that’s only purpose is to attract mindless bimbos ready to bow down before the color of your money in a pathetic attempt to wax poetic upon your ego--not to mention that this isn’t a sheer representation of an attempt at overcompensation in Freudian theory for that which a man like yourself is clearly lacking in character,” Russell shot back with biting words, “doesn’t mean that my car could even remotely be considered a piece of junk.  It‘s practical, tasteful and with purpose…”
“It’s pathetic,” Brant rolled his eyes back at him before turning his attention to the nightclub before them, “much like you are, so I guess in a way it fits you Denton.”
“I think a man’s car speaks volumes about his character and I’ll have you know that this is something Avery and I are in agreement upon,” Russell challenged simply before turning his attention to the club once again.
“That’s the closest you’ll get to having Avery take your side on anything,” Brant shot back sarcastically, “as the dopey loser type isn’t what she’s into--practical car or not.”
“There’s a lot about Avery that you don’t and won’t ever know,” Russell glared at him before letting out a sarcastic laugh, “Even with the treasures you wave out before her, she’s never going to be yours.  Avery doesn’t bend to a man who’s trying to wow her with materialistic things.  She’s not shallow enough to buy into your god complex.”
“Avery and I have a great relationship,” Brant stated simply, “She and I have something that you couldn’t come close to in your years together.  Clearly she was missing something when she was with you or else she’d still be with you now, wouldn’t she?”
Russell opened his mouth to speak again before stopping himself from losing control of his words.  He slowly drew in a breath, letting the air circulate through him as he concentrated channeling his rage on the appropriate source for the evening.  Beating the life out of Brant would have to wait until another day.
“This is an enormous waste of time,” Brant grumbled breaking through Russell’s thoughts, “He’s not going to show up at this place.”
“Trust me,” Russell broke his numbing silence, “he will.”
“And just what reason do you have to believe any of this other than you think this is where tacky MD’s spend their time?” Brant challenged glaring back at him,  “What could possibly make you think Bruce would show up here?”
“Because this is where he and Avery met,” Russell confessed with a growl, “This is where he picked her up the first time.”
“Really,” Brant’s eyes widened in surprise as he turned his attention back to the bar before him once again.  He shifted in the seat as a new picture was painted before him.  Just the idea of Avery in such a place, it was almost unreal as he tried to imagine her stepping out into this with someone like Bruce Mathis, “Are you sure about that?”
“Unfortunately,” Russell nodded in confession as his knuckles grew white with the flash of realization, “She was feeling very vulnerable at the time and he took advantage of that.”
“Avery isn’t vulnerable too often,” Brant frowned at the thought.
“She’s more vulnerable than you realize,” Russell sighed trying to ease the tension coursing through his spine, “and at that time, well, she was confused.”
“Still even with confusion,” Brant ran his fingers through his hair, “what would possibly drive her to a man like Bruce Mathis?”
“She was facing internal conflict,” Russell offered thoughtlessly, “She was on the threshold of experiencing something new and it terrified her.”
“What would terrify her to that extreme that she’d wind up in a place like this,” Brant noted two blonde women hanging on a man as they spilled out of the bar staggering into the street with him in their obvious drunkenness.
“Marriage,” Russell sighed closing his eyes as he thought back to that time in his life.
“Avery was married,” Brant’s eyes widened in surprise as he looked to Russell with curiosity brewing over him.
“Almost,” Russell shook the thought as he forced his emotions to stay buried within, “but it was a lifetime ago.”
“So let me get this straight,” Brant reasoned, “Avery was about to get married to some loser, so she ran off to get involved with another one that she met in this hell hole?”
“He wasn’t a loser,” Russell defended thinking back to that moment in time when their paths lead them down different roads, “Her mother convinced her that settling down would ruin her life and she bought into it for the first time in her life.  She really believed that finding love would be the end of her, so she ran from it.”
“That says a lot,” Brant pondered the thought of Avery’s reluctance to allow anyone to really see beyond the ferocious lawyer side of her.  As he thought to how hard she fought him each time he tried to get closer to her, he started to realize that things with Avery were finally making sense.  She was afraid of what could happen should the right man come along and make her believe in love.  She fought him so hard because she was afraid to face how she felt.
“Still, I won’t let her make the same mistake again,” Russell vowed to himself more so than Brant, “I won’t let her run away from the best thing in her life.”
“I won’t let her make that mistake with me,” Brant swore to himself thinking of his own plans for Avery.
“Come again,” Russell blinked back at him suddenly snapping back into the moment, “Brant, the best thing you can do for Avery is walk away and leave her be.”
“This coming from you,” Brant hissed back at him, “Avery’s problems stemmed from the fact that you won’t leave her alone.  You keep pushing your way into her life when she’s made it painfully obvious she doesn’t want you in it.”
“Avery doesn’t know what she wants half the time,” Russell stated matter of fact.
“Yes she does and she wants me,” Brant declared boldly as he sat up straighter in his seat, “and the sooner you get that through your head, the better things will be.”
“Avery is looking for an escape,” Russell cut back sharply, “She did it with Bruce knowing full well that she didn’t care about him.  She never loved him and she knew in her heart she never would because he’s safe.  He didn’t pose any challenge to her life and he certainly didn’t give her what she needed.”
“There we are in agreement,” Brant shrugged his shoulders as he turned his attention to the door again, “but soon I’ll give her what she needs.”
“By tearing her world apart?  By concocting a lie about her being engaged to you so that Bruce had the ammunition to attack her,” Russell growled back at him, “What the hell kind of thing is that?”
“I didn’t know about the article,” Brant stated with a frown thinking back to what he’d walked in on, “If I’d known that the press was going to jump on this one…”
“You could have refuted the story,” Russell pointed out.
“I could’ve, but what difference would it have made?  The media are like vultures always seeking out a way to turn other people’s lives into profit,” Brant grumbled at him, “You should know as you’re one of them.”
“I only speak the truth and when people like you are involved, unfortunately the truth can be quite ugly, Brant.”
“You wouldn’t know the truth if it stood right up in your face,” Brant threw out in an accusatory tone, “You know nothing about me or about my relationship with Avery, yet you presume to make your own conclusions on my character.”
“Your reputation speaks for itself,” Russell piped back at him, “and given the lengths you’ve gone to in order to destroy any woman who cared about you, well that also says a lot about you.”
“Let me guess,” Brant rolled his eyes, “You got all of your ‘truths’ from Heather, right?  If she‘s been the one feeding all your stories, well then you‘re going to find that anything that comes out of her mouth is quite simply a lie.  The woman is a head case and she‘s got it in her mind that if she annoys me enough that I‘d consider taking her back, which is never going to happen by the way and you can quote me on that…”
“Heather didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know about you and your kind,” Russell’s eyes narrowed in a rage, “A beautiful woman to you isn’t something to be cherished or loved.  It’s just another piece you can add to your collection before you trade them in for another, newer model.”
“It’s not like that with Avery,” Brant began before stopping himself, “on second thought, go to hell.”
“Being stuck here with you is starting to feel like I’m on my way there,” Russell quipped in response.
“Yeah well maybe we can work on fixing that,” Brant reached for the door starting to open it, “I’m going in there.”
“Brant, you can’t just yet.  At least not until we’re sure that…” Russell’s words trailed off as he noticed the man stumbling out of the bar before them.

Russell strained to see him clearly through the darkness as he watched the man slump over black car across the street from where they‘d parked.  The man reached into his pocket, fishing out what appeared to be keys before dropping into the driver’s side of the car, “Brant, it’s him.”
“Where?” Brant closed the door as Russell started the ignition, “Where is he?”
“Over there,” Russell explained nodding towards Bruce’s car as Bruce started out of the parking spot heading towards the highway.
“Well what are you waiting for,” Brant insisted keeping his gaze on road ahead of them, “Don’t let him get away.”
“I don’t plan on it,” Russell decided turning out of the parking lot as both men were in agreement that before this night was over Bruce Mathis was going to pay in ways he never imagined.


The soft sounds of music filled the leisurely ride that proceeded through the Tunnel of Love ride.  In the darkness, Blake found herself seated next to Seth leaning in closer to him as simulated fireworks exploded overhead in the shapes of hearts and stars in various shades of crimson, ivory and the faintest of blues.  Her eyes widened at the magic of it all as Seth’s arm curled around her protectively.  She placed her palm into the center of his chest as she lay her head against him just enjoying the moments of silence between them.
“This is incredible,” she confessed her voice just above a whisper as she held onto him.
“You’re incredible Blake,” Seth lifted her chin urging her to meet his eyes as a smile curled over the tips of his lips, “You’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met and I can’t believe that we’re here right now sharing this.  Even now when I think about our first meeting and how I could’ve lost you…”
“Lost me,” she blinked back at him, “Seth, you were the one who put your life on the line to protect me.  You were the one who could’ve lost it all…”
“Blake, saving you was the only thing that mattered,” Seth paused thinking about the current situation he’d found himself in, “It still is.”
“I’m safe when I’m with you,” she climbed up over him leaning in to kiss him tenderly, “I know that now.”
“Blake,” he broke away from the kiss, guilt tugging inside of him as he thought of the danger Cameron could have ahead for her, “there’s something I need to tell you--something you should know…”
“I know all there is to know when I’m with you,” Blake curled her arms around his neck brightly, “You make me feel alive Seth Alexander and that’s something that I haven’t felt in a very long time.”
“Blake, you bring me to life as well,” his finger tip brushed over her cheekbone memorizing her features, “but there are some things that I need to tell you--things that you should know…”
“Did I do something wrong,” her lip curled in a pout as the seriousness behind his eyes struck a chord with her even through the shadows surrounding them.
“No,” he shook his head simply, “that’s not it at all.  Blake, you haven’t done anything except be absolutely wonderful, but well, the truth is it’s me…”
“You?” she gave him a confused look as he lowered his arms releasing her.  She watched him ease away from her as her heart suddenly sank.  Thinking back to the moment they’d shared on the Ferris wheel, she suddenly found herself on edge, “Seth, I thought that…”
“Blake, I care about you,” he reached for her hand, “I honestly care about you more than I ever thought possible…”
“Then where is this coming from,” she accepted his fingers in hers as his sudden mood shift concerned her.  “If this is about what happened before, Seth, I just want you to know that I don’t normally do things like that.  When we…”
“Blake, it’s not about that,” he interrupted cupping her face in his hands, “That was beautiful.  When you opened yourself up to me, that was just amazing…”
“Then why the change,” Blake questioned in confusion, “A few minutes ago you were all about romance, but now this feels different…”
“That’s because it is different,” Seth sighed hating that his conscious kicked in at a time like this, “This is about who I am.”
“I know who you are,” Blake reminded him, “You’re an incredible man with a heart of gold.”
“No,” he shook his head in response, “Blake I’m not all those things.  My family…” he trailed off drawing in a nervous breath, “Blake there’s a lot that I haven’t told you about me…” he dropped his gaze as her heart sank with sudden worry.
“Oh God, you’re married aren’t you,” Blake gasped in a panic, “that’s what you aren’t telling me, isn’t it?”
“Married,” he repeated giving her a strange look, “heavens no.  Blake, that’s not it at all.”
“Then what?” she questioned eyeing him closely.
“Blake, it’s just…” he paused trying to find a way to approach things, “Blake, remember when Simon told you about my working here as a child?”
“Yeah what of it,” she asked simply.
“Well that was part of the story,” he shifted uneasily beside her, “I mean yes they gave me a job here because of the rescue, but more so I stayed working here because I didn’t want to go home.”
“Well who would want to when you have all this,” Blake looked around the tunnel they were in, “It’s amazing.”
“Yes it is,” he nodded in agreement, “but that’s not the only reason why Jade and I became carnival brats.”
“Oh?” she turned to him again.
He nodded simply, “You see my family isn’t exactly one to write home about,” he hesitated contemplating his words, “You see our mother died when Jade was very young…”
“Oh my,” Blake gasped thinking about her own loss, “Poor Jade.  I know how hard that must’ve been on her and you considering…”
“My mother was a wonderful woman,” Seth explained proudly, “She’d immigrated to this country at a young age with her family and she struggled to make it in this new place she’d found herself in.  Her family was very hard working and that kind of carried over into my mother’s adult life.  Most of the time she was working two or more jobs just to get ends to meet,” Seth stopped himself wondering if he could tell Blake everything.
“I’m sorry,” Blake reached for his hand holding it encouraging him on, “I hate that you had to live with that.”
“It wasn’t so much the poverty that was the worst of it,” Seth blurted out, “I could live with that, but it was everything else that kept Jade and I away from home.  You see my mother met my father when she was very young.  He presented himself as an established business man to her family and he’d managed to win over their hearts and my mother’s hand in marriage.  Of course it didn’t take long for my mother to figure out that he misrepresented himself to her.  To make a long story short, my father turned out to be nothing more than a conman with his own agendas and before I was old enough to know better, he’d walked out on my mother leaving her to fend for Jade and I on her own.  Sure, she never complained about it, but we knew it broke her heart because to her marriage was something that was supposed to last forever and she continually held onto the belief that God would bring back the man she’d pledged her heart to,” Seth’s jaw clenched in anger at the memory, “but he never returned, though I really could’ve cared less about seeing him again.  My mom, Jade and I were fine on our own.  We didn’t need him or the threats that carried over with him into our lives.”
“I can’t say I blame you,” Blake added simply.
“I could’ve dealt with never seeing him again, but with Jade it was a bit different,” Seth sighed turning towards her as Blake looked in his eyes and realized he was lost somewhere in the past, “She still wanted to hold onto the hope like my mother did.  She really prayed that he’d become this father that she’d always dreamt about---especially after my mother grew sick.  I was eighteen when my mother lost her battle with cancer,” his voice trembled with emotion, “No one tried to challenge my position in the household as I’d been the man of the house for years, so I took a place as Jade’s guardian so to speak…”
“Which explains her loyalty to you and how protective you are of each other,” Blake thought back to her interactions with Jade at the hospital, “She loves you very much and you mean the world to her.”
“And she to me,” Seth confessed, “My sister is the only family I have left in this world and I can’t bear to see her hurt.”
“I feel the same way about my family and Seth if this is about Jade and I not getting along, then I swear to you that I’ll try to…” she began.
“No, that’s not it,” he lifted her hand to his lips placing a tender kiss upon it, “That’s not where I’m heading with this.”
“Then what is it,” she asked faintly.
“It’s just after my mother died, Jade was left vulnerable to the world around her.  I tried really hard to help her through things--even gave up a football scholarship I had to Penn State in order to stay with her--to be the parental figure in her life, but it wasn’t enough,” he closed his eyes taking in a breath, “Against my better wishes, well, Jade sought out my father again hoping to form a connection with him and...”
“And?” Blake watched his face twist in emotions that she couldn’t quite place as his eyes opened once again and he looked to her.
“It damn near destroyed her,” Seth answered simply, “My father was a horrible, horrible man and he hurt her…hurt her in ways that no woman should ever have to experience because of his gambling and his cons and since then, well I have to make sure she’s not hurt like that again you see.  I couldn‘t bear the thought of my sister experiencing that kind of pain again…”
“Oh Seth,” Blake embraced him as he trembled beneath her touch.
“Because of my father I’ve had to do things,” Seth hugged her tightly, “Things I swear I wouldn’t have done otherwise, but I had to help Jade.  I had to keep her safe…”
“I know you did,” Blake squeezed him in her arms.
“I wish things hadn’t happened like they did, but I didn’t have a choice,” he whispered hoarsely against her shoulder, “I wish it was different, but I had to do things--things that I’m not proud of…”
“Seth none of that matters,” her blue eyes reached into him as she touched his face, “I don’t care what happened in the past.  I don’t care what your father’s actions made you have to do, but what I do care about is you.  Seth, I love you and I don’t care what you had to do to in order to protect your sister.  You’re a good man with a kind heart and that makes you a wonderful brother,” Blake touched his chest gently, “It doesn’t matter to me what happened in the past because that’s all it is.  It doesn’t change who you are or what we have together.”
“Blake, I just don’t want to hurt you because of what’s happened…” he started again as she placed a finger to his lips in an attempt to silence him.
“Your loving me won’t hurt me and now that I know about your father, well I understand,” Blake whispered soothingly, “I know that life hasn’t been easy for you, but maybe we can work on that together.  Maybe we can find a way to make things right now that we’ve found one another.  In fact maybe that’s why we happened upon each other like we did,” she decided, “Seth, when we met, I was headed down a really horrible path.  I was so self absorbed and ready to condemn the world around me, but you forced me to look at myself--to take a long, hard look at what I was becoming in those moments we shared together and it was then when I saw that there was more for me in this world than the trivial things that ruled my days.  When I thought I could lose you after you saved me, Seth it tore me apart and it made me feel things about life--about the world around me and now, well now I don’t ever want to go back to what I was before.  I don’t want to be Blake Ashford, bitchy rich girl with a sense of cynicism to the world around her.  I want to be the Blake I am when I’m with you--the girl who wants to love and be loved.  With you, I’m better than what I was…”
“You’ve turned my world around Blake and I don’t think I can ever go back,” Seth confessed holding her closer to him.
“You don’t ever have to,” Blake promised kissing him gently, “because from this moment on, we can hold onto each other and in doing that, I know in my heart that will make everything right again.  I really believe that.”
“I want to believe that,” Seth admitted keeping her close to him as he wondered if love could really give them the strength he needed to fight the demons that Cameron Stone had over him.  Would he be able to fight the battle ahead of him and still be with Blake at the end of the road?  He certainly hoped so.


Jade stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a over sized towel. She walked into her bed room and sat in front of her vanity. She brushed out her freshly washed hair as she thought about the day she'd spent with Grady. She had never thought that going to his house this morning would mean that she would get closer to him. If anything, she had expected him to be upset with her because of the date with Cameron, but instead he had shown her a side of himself she hadn't expected.

While the idea that Grady had slept with another woman the night before had hurt, it was the honesty in which he'd told her that really affected Jade. She'd never known that he had problems with alcohol, but he had been honest with her and even admitted that he hadn't wanted to hurt her because of his problems. In that moment, he had shown her more of his heart than he'd ever dared to before.

She smiled as she tossed her towel into a hamper and dressed in her pajamas. After dressing, she sat upon her bed and thought about Grady's kiss. His kiss had given her the stuff dreams were made of. She would dream about him for days to come, she was sure.


Grady stood on his back porch, listening to the sound of crickets singing their nightly song. He felt more relaxed in this moment than he'd felt in years. Normally such relaxation required some alcohol, but now, the only thing he'd needed in his life was Jade.

Her smile, her touch, her kiss…Jade had completely captivated his every thought. Somehow, she'd found a way to reach inside him and touch his heart. That cold hardened organ hadn't allowed him to enjoy himself in a long time without nasty side effects. The only side effect he was experiencing from his day with Jade was a smile that seemed unwilling to leave his face.

He realized that he had a stupid grin on his face as he walked into his living room. He saw the light flashing on his phone alerting him to a voice message waiting for him. It seemed he always had messages waiting for him. He picked up his phone and dialed in his personal code before Avery's message played. He frowned as he listened to her, wondering what on earth his brother was getting himself into now. He took a deep breath as he grabbed his keys and headed out of his house, hoping that his night wasn't about to take a turn for the worst.


"Lake Cardinal," Caitlin said as she recognized the area, "Now this I certainly didn't expect."

"See, I told you I'm full of surprises," Kenneth smiled as he pulled into the campsite area. He parked the car and switched off the engine. He turned the key to switch on the radio and headlights, "Come on."

"Where are we going?" She asked before getting out of the car.

He put the windows down before turning up the radio and joining her. He extended his hand to her, "Let's dance."

"I love this song," Caitlin smiled as she listened to the opening notes of Taylor Dayne's "Send Me A Lover".

"Well, how's that for fate?" He chuckled with a smile as he drew her into his arms. He slipped his arm around her waist and met her eyes as he began to lead her in a dance.

"Do you think fate is somehow working in our favor tonight after all?" She asked as she touched his cheek gently, "There for a minute I thought our night was ruined."

"So did I," He admitted, "Somehow we've been able to salvage it after all."

"Yes we have," She agreed with a smile as she gently swept her fingers through the fringes of his hair, "How do you manage to make everything seem okay even when it's not?"

"Funny, I was thinking of asking you the same question," He smiled.

"I didn't have anything to do with it," She attempted to argue.

"Yes, you did. Can't you see that?" He asked in slight surprise, "You were understanding after the tabloid photographer interrupted us. That alone made the entire situation better."

"I don't know why," She said as she eased her hands around his neck and melted into the dance, "All I did was tell you that you didn't deserve to have your privacy interrupted."

"But the very fact that you didn't run away screaming is a good sign," He pointed out, "That means you're one in a million."

"It might mean I'm a little crazy," She teased, "Think you can handle that?"

"I'm a master of handling crazy," He teased in reply as he gathered her closer as their dance continued.

Caitlin chuckled softly as she lay her head upon his shoulder and followed his every step to the music. Despite how things had happened at the night club, the night had been turned around, and she was now at peace with Kenneth.

Kenneth smiled as he gently lay his cheek upon Caitlin's hair, holding her close as they danced. She had showed him that she wasn't going to be afraid of a little publicity, but she also wasn't going to bask in the limelight either. She had shown him bravery, and he would find a way to reward her for that.

Caitlin raised her head after a moment and met his eyes. Though only barely illuminated from the lights of the car, she could see a warmth within him that drew her in and made her want more. He was more than she'd bargained for, but everything about him made her feel as if she was lucky to have met him.

He lifted his fingers to ease a wisp of hair from her cheek. She was so lovely, and yet, she seemed so delicate. She appeared to be strong with her actions, but something subtle appeared in her words and her eyes.

"God, you're beautiful," Kenneth spoke as his thoughts spilled out.

She felt a blush beginning to burn her cheeks as she met his eyes. She couldn't tear her eyes away from his as his gaze seemed to touch all the way to her toes.

He slipped his fingers into her hair before easing his lips towards hers. He'd wanted to kiss her so badly earlier before they'd been so rudely interrupted. Now, they were alone in an isolated area where there would be no interruptions short of a natural disaster.

Caitlin felt her heart rate increase exponentially as she noticed his intentions. She wanted nothing more than to taste his kiss, to finish what they had begun earlier. She eased her fingers to his cheek as she lifted her lips towards his in anticipation of his kiss.

When Kenneth gently whispered his lips across hers, he could almost feel a spark arcing between them. If he didn't know better, he'd really thought there were a real electricity between them. He eased his lips over hers as he began to crave the kiss even more than he had before.

Caitlin held her breath for an instant as she anticipated the full pressure of his lips upon hers. Would it really happen this time? Would there be a real kiss?

The answer was an resounding yes. She sighed gently against his lips as she accepted his kiss and returned it in kind. She eased her fingers through his hair as their kiss became magic.

He eased her closer to him as he gently deepened their kiss. He didn't want to frighten her away by being too bold as their dates had been tentative at best. But as he softly tasted her sweet mouth, he wondered why he hadn't kissed her sooner.

Caitlin murmured softly as he shifted his mouth over hers. He had to be the most tender kisser she'd ever had the pleasure of kissing. She was going to compliment him as soon as she got the chance…if she could still think after his kiss. Right now, the only thing she could think about was how wonderful it was to kiss him.

As their lips gently parted, Kenneth whispered, "Wow."

"Wow," Caitlin repeated as she continued to hold him close. She looked up into his eyes and smiled, "That was…"

"Yes?" He questioned as he met her eyes.

"Definitely worth the wait," She said with a smile as she began to draw his lips back to hers for another kiss.

As their lips began to brush against each other, drops of rain gently pelted them from the sky. They both looked up as a summer rain shower began to pour down upon them.

Caitlin laughed out loud as she and Kenneth looked at one another for a moment, "Maybe fate gave us a momentary break?"

"Must have," Kenneth laughed before they ran back to the car to get out of the rain.

No matter how many interruptions had been thrown at them, they were still moving toward one another. Their relationship with fate was an odd one, but they were learning that maybe, just maybe, fate was their ally.


Heather sat down at the bar and groaned as she looked towards the bartender, "Cosmopolitan please," She said as she tucked her hair behind her ear. Having finally ditched Kipp, she had shed the awful hair piece he'd insisted she wear and found a nice place to ditch the costume as well…the trash.

The drink arrived, and she quickly paid for the alcohol. She downed half the drink before she let out a heavy sigh. The things she had to do in order to advance her career. Not to mention things she had to do in order to get Brant back. She finished the remainder of her drink before ordering another. If she'd ever needed to get drunk, this was certainly the time.

"Scotch and soda," Cameron ordered as he sat beside Heather, "What a day this has been."

"Tell me about it," Heather groaned as she glanced to the sexy man sitting beside her, "My day couldn't possibly get any worse."

"Then what do you say we try to improve it together? I hate to drink alone," He said as he extended his hand to her, "Cameron Stone."

"Heather Gibbons," She said as she accepted his hand in a gentle handshake, "I don't particularly like to drink alone either."

"Then it appears fate smiled on us by bringing us together here," He said with a smile as his drink arrived, "Here's to fate smiling on us."

"Here's to fate continuing to smile on us," Heather corrected with a smile as she raised her drink for the toast before taking a sip. If fate really were smiling on her, she'd have her chance to get Brant back sooner rather than later.

Cameron smiled as he took a sip of his drink. Heather Gibbons…one more person he could use in his quest to destroy the Ashfords.

...to be continued...