Episode Twenty One

Grady pulled up in the Ashford circular drive feeling a shudder rush over him at the thought of being at this place.  He’d spent his life hating the Ashfords and everything they stood for, but now as he looked to the mansion before him, he found himself feeling like a lamb being lead to slaughter as this was the last place he’d wanted to be.  Sure, he could think of a million and one reasons why being here was a disaster waiting to happen, but as Avery’s message haunted him, he realized that if Russ was in any kind of trouble at the hand of the Ashfords, then there would be hell to pay.  That much he was certain of.
Taking in a slow and steady breath, Grady left the safety of his car and approached the grandiose entrance to the Ashford fortress.  With a sigh spilling over his lips, he rang the bell hoping that he could find a way to get whatever he needed out of Avery about Russ so that he could be out the door and far away from this dreadful place.  He rang the bell once again impatiently as the front door began to open.  Half expecting one of the hired help to be standing before him, Grady put on his best professional face as he stood taller, but much to his surprise Avery answered looking like death warmed over.
“Where the hell have you been,” Avery snapped at him immediately as she threw the door open wider, “I called you hours ago.”
“I was out,” Grady explained simply offering not explanation to his brother’s ex, “Where’s Russ?”
“I don’t know,” Avery frowned deeply looking beyond him out at the media camp set up on the front lawn as she reached for his arm dragging him into the estate with her before closing the door abruptly.
“What do you mean you don’t know,” Grady demanded as she turned around to face him once again, apprehension coursing through her body.
“If I knew where Russ went to, then I wouldn’t have called you,” Avery pointed out with another scowl, “Grady, I’m worried about him.”
“Join the club,” Grady shook his head at her, “Ever since he’s returned to being caught up in your life again, he’s been getting in over his head.”
“I didn’t ask him to get involved,” Avery defended with a huff, “Grady, you know when Russ sets his mind on something, he’s going to do it anyways and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop him even if you wish you could.”
“Avery, you’ve been stringing him around for years and now with this Brant thing…” Grady gave her a disapproving look.
“Grady, look there’s a lot that you don’t know and I wouldn’t expect you to understand considering…” she started anxiety sweeping over her.
“I know you are playing with his mind, Avery,” Grady stated simply folding his arms in front of his chest, “I know about your night together.”
Avery’s face paled for a moment before she regained her composure and she tossed her hair behind her shoulders, “I kind of figured you might which is why I called you over here.”
“To talk about you and my brother sleeping together…” Grady gave her a sideways glance as she raised her finger to her lips.
“Lower your voice,” she stepped towards him her voice a hoarse whisper as she looked around the empty foyer, “Grady, I didn’t call you over here to talk about Russ and I making love.”
“Thank God because that’s not something I want to get in the middle of right now,” Grady let out a breath of relief, “Given the way you two are…”
“Grady, despite what you think about me, you know that I care about Russ,” Avery answered honestly, “I always cared about him and I wanted what was best for him.  You know that…”
“Despite my reservations about things,” Grady frowned back at her, “I know that.  Look, I’m sorry,” he felt a breath escape his lips, “it’s just I had a long night and even though it wasn’t stressful, I’m just tired.”
“Join the club,” Avery blurted out as a groan spilled over her lips, “I haven’t slept in almost three days here.”
“Well if you and Russ weren’t so…” he began stopping himself before he started, “never mind.”
“Look Grady, right now this isn’t about what is or isn’t going on with Russ and I.  It’s about what Brant and Russ are out doing with one another at this very moment.”
“Come again,” Grady blinked back at her in confusion.
“They left here together last night,” Avery continued in a frenzy, “Grady when Russ came over here, he thought that Brant kidnapped me and he was going to take me out of here, but then Brant came in and he hit Russ with a fire poker and all hell broke loose…”
“Brant hit him,” Grady’s voice rose with anger, “Where the hell is he…”
“It was a misunderstanding,” Avery explained nervously, “there was that newspaper article and then…”
“The one about you and Ashford being engaged which by the way I’d love for you to elaborate on that one seeing as you had no bones about shagging my brother during this so called engagement of yours.”
“That’s because I’m not engaged,” Avery hissed in response as her eyes narrowed up at him, “I never was engaged and I don’t plan on being engaged anytime soon.”
“Well that one I’d believe considering,” Grady shrugged his shoulders as a teasing smile formed upon his lips.
“Well thank you for that…I think,” she paused contemplating his words before shaking them off, “the point is that when Brant and I were on our trip, he gave me this ring because this creep we were doing business with kept making very explicit passes at me and Brant lied and told him that I was his fiancée.”
“Sounds like a typical Brant move,” Grady remarked offhandedly.
“Even so at the time it seemed to be the only way to get the loser to stop undressing me with his eyes,” Avery folded her arms in front of her chest, “so despite my many reservations about it--and I do stress many--I wore this ring that Brant gave me,” she flashed her finger at him, “and it opened up a whole world of trouble.”
“Clearly,” Grady nodded taking in her words, “and this effects Russell how?”
“As I said before he came over here and he was looking to rescue me, but then he and Brant got into a fight and things were looking pretty ugly…”
“I got that much Avery, but what I’m not getting is what happened next…” Grady interrupted.
“That’s what I’m getting to,” Avery took in a breath trying to still her pulsating heart as she reached for her hair once again, “Russ came here ready to whisk me away from Brant because he thought that Brant bullied me into being here, but what he didn’t know was that the only reason I’m here is because Brant saved my life…”
“Saved your life how?” Grady raised a skeptic brow as Avery reluctantly lifted her hair from her face and neck showing him the marks that remained.
“Bruce was waiting for me in my apartment after I left Russell’s house,” Avery answered a tremor rushing over her, “He thought that I’d spent the night with Brant because he put two and two together about my not being home all night and with the story about the ring…”
“Oh my God,” Grady reached out to her touching her neck as he inspected her wounds, “Does Russ know about this?”
Avery nodded tearfully, “He found out last night because he was ready to kill Brant thinking that Brant did this…”
“So let me get this straight,” Grady began to piece it together, “You and Ashford concocted some story about an engagement, then you and Russ spent the night together and after you left Russ, you went home and Bruce was waiting to launch his own form of revenge on you for what he felt was a betrayal?”
“That about sums it up,” Avery nodded in confession, “I couldn’t believe it when it happened, but Brant came in and he saved my life.  He pushed Bruce out of the apartment and…”
“And what?”  Grady watched her face closely, “Please tell me that he called the proper authorities in.”
Avery turned her eyes away from him, “I didn’t want to become a media frenzy more so than I already was.”
“Avery, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Grady frowned deeply, “So not only did Bruce attack you, but you didn’t contact the police and Russell found out about this which means my brother‘s got more than a chip on his shoulder and you can‘t find him right now.  Well that‘s just wonderful.”
“Look I never wanted things to happen this way,” Avery defended meeting his concerned eyes once again, “I just thought if I kept my mouth shut about everything that somehow it would all just go away.”
“Ignoring it won’t make it go away, Avery,” his voice softened a bit as he saw the tears behind her eyes, “You know that.”
“Yeah well you also know how I feel about being a victim,” Avery pointed out with a frown, “Grady, you and I are both very firm about keeping our demons caged within.  You know that the last thing I wanted was to drag anyone into this.  I wouldn’t have told Russ or Brant if I didn’t have to…”
“I know,” Grady nodded thinking about the weight of what his brother’s reaction to the news on Bruce could be as he looked to Avery once again, “So tell me again what happened last night.”
“I stopped Brant and Russ from fighting and then after I explained to Russ about Bruce, the two of them were both upset about my lack of action against Bruce.  They both agreed that Bruce shouldn’t be out there as they were both angry with him, but then their anger kind of returned to each other and I had a coughing fit trying to calm them down,” she shuddered at the memory, “I went into the bathroom for ten minutes tops to relax a bit and get my bearings back and then when I stepped out they were gone.  Annette told me that they’d left together and that they seemed rather civil both promising that they’d return to check in on me later, but that was hours ago and I’ve tried calling both Brant and Russ, but neither one is answering their cell phone and I’m really worried Grady.  This isn‘t like them to just up and leave like that--especially not together in the way they did.”
“No it’s not,” he agreed thinking of his brother’s hatred for Brant.  Still the only thing that could bring enemies together would be an even greater enemy and as Grady looked to Avery again a sudden notion passed over him as his thoughts lingered into the realm of the unthinkable.
Avery watched him closely seeing the glimmer of panic behind Grady’s eyes as she expelled a breath she’d been holding, “You think they went after him too, don’t you?”
“Knowing Russ and his temper anything is possible,” Grady sighed as he hoped his intuition about this was completely wrong.  The last thing he wanted was for his brother to lose control, but as Avery’s words began to sink in, Grady wondered just how far Russell would go in order to protect the woman he loved.  Grady knew how far he’d go in the same situation if the need arose, but now as Grady looked to Avery seeing the reminder of Bruce Mathis and his rage, he prayed that his brother didn’t cross over into the realm of stupidity in the name of love--especially with Brant Ashford walking around as his co-conspirator.


Seth’s arm curled around the warmth beside him as he slowly opened his eyes turning his attention to the blonde beauty in his arms.  Somehow he’d hoped the night would never end as he held Blake beside him, but as the dawn’s rays swept through the living room window, he realized that the morning had come again.  He let out a soft sigh kissing the top of Blake’s head as he held her close to him, trying to keep her comfortable as they lay upon the couch in one another’s arms.
“What’s this,” Jade’s voice interrupted his thoughts as he turned his attention to the center of the living room seeing his sister standing before him a brow lifted with curiosity.
“Jade,” Seth greeted her lazily as he motioned to Blake, “we had a late night.”
“Obviously,” she threw out a teasing wink before Blake shifted in his arms opening her eyes to find Jade standing beside them.  She smiled gently before letting out a tiny yawn, “Jade, hi.”
“Hi Blake,” Jade couldn’t help but laugh as she shook her head at them finding herself in far too good of a mood to get worked up about Seth having company over, “long night?”
“Something like that,” Blake stretched out, repositioning herself in Seth’s arms, “but it was wonderful.”
“I’m sure it was,” Jade gave her brother a knowing look, “although I don’t know how wonderful that lumpy sofa and Seth could feel right about now, but to each their own.”
“Seth’s rather comfortable,” Blake admitted leaning in against him for one last lingering moment before she began to sit up, “I hope we weren’t bothering you by my being out here.”
“Not at all,” Jade waved her hand in the air as she turned her attention to the small kitchen area, “Can I interest anyone in some juice or anything?”
“Sure, that sounds great,” Blake rose to her feet stretching out a bit as Seth slowly pulled himself up into a seated position.
“So what has you in such a chipper mood this morning,” Seth questioned running his fingers through his hair as he turned his attention to his sister.
“Can’t I simply be enjoying the morning,” Jade’s voice echoed with enthusiasm as she began to hum a soft tune to herself, “It’s a beautiful day and the world is just waiting for us to enjoy it.”
“Hmm, now I know you’ve done something to my sister,” Seth moved towards the kitchen leaning in the doorway as he eyed her intently, “Who are you and where’s Jade?”
“She’s right here and she’s very, very happy,” Jade closed the refrigerator door with her hip in one swift motion as she turned her attention to the stove before her, “Feel like breakfast?”
“You’re smiling and cooking,” Seth gave her a strange look, “now I know something’s wrong.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Jade conceded thinking of her night with Grady as yesterday had been one of the most incredible, wonderful, amazing moments of her life in finally making some ground with the man she’d waited so very long for, “Everything is absolutely right.”
“Jade…” Seth started as Blake approached the duo, gently nudging Seth before she turned her attention to Jade.
“I take it the guy you were with last night wasn’t anything like that jerk from the other night, huh,” Blake inquired sliding her way into the kitchen.
“Who said it was a guy,” Seth remarked as Blake threw a look over her shoulder at him.
“When a woman is this happy,” Blake stated matter of fact, “it’s always a guy.”
“Oh please,” Seth teased reaching out to pull Blake into his arms with one swift tug, “then why aren’t you beaming like she is?”
“That’s because I save my goofy grins for those few moments of girl talk when you’re not around,” Blake explained simply pushing her palm into the center of his chest, “which reminds me, if you want to get an early start on our day together, then you’re going to have to get moving before we’re running behind schedule…”
“I didn’t know we were on a schedule,” Seth gave her a strange look.
“We are now, so get moving,” Blake pushed him out of the kitchen with a tiny laugh before turning to Jade, “Need some help with that?”
“Sure,” Jade nodded in agreement, “know anything about eggs?”
“They’re one of the few things I’m half way decent at,” Blake confessed with a tiny laugh.
“Yeah well eggs aren’t exactly my forte either, but I feel inspired,” Jade sighed reaching for the bacon she’d pulled out of the refrigerator.
“Must’ve been some night,” Blake noted with a smile.
“It really was,” Jade thought back to the magical night with Grady, “it was just incredible…”
“So is it safe to assume you were with Grady Denton,” Blake questioned as Jade turned to her with surprised eyes and Blake decided to elaborate a bit, “I remember seeing the two of you at the hospital--you know when I was in full on bitch mode and I saw the way you two were together.  I saw how he took on Brant in the name of your honor, which by the way most men aren’t stupid enough to do unless it’s for an ego trip or for love and Grady Denton doesn’t strike me as the ego trip kind of guy…”
“Grady’s pretty extraordinary,” Jade sighed thinking of the way his lips felt over hers, the way his body seemed to make her melt upon contact.  Grady Denton was the kind of man that had haunted her dreams for months, but now as the chance to be with him hung over her, well a sudden rush of eagerness anticipation filled her waking hours.
“He seems like it,” Blake broke through her thoughts, “any man that could find a way to make you this happy seems to be worth his weight in gold.”
“And then some,” Jade laughed lightly as she looked over to Blake, “so what about you and my brother?”
“What about us,” Blake felt a blush rising over her features.
“It was a late night, huh?” Jade prodded for information.
Blake nodded in confession, “He took me to a carnival and then we spent most of the night down at this little café down near the coast line just talking about things.  I know it probably doesn’t sound like what you’d expect, but it was one of the best nights of my life.”
“It sounds like something Seth would do,” Jade thought it over before adding, “although not with just anyone.  I can’t think of him taking anyone to that café seeing as it was one of his favorite places growing up.”
“He told me that,” Blake nodded in response, “He even showed me the place where you and he carved your names into the wall.”
Jade laughed at the memory, “It seems like a lifetime ago.  We were just kids then.”
“It sounds like you had a wonderful time together,” Blake noted seeing the sparkle behind Jade’s eyes.
“Seth and I always tried to have good times even when life wasn’t the best, and somehow we survived,” Jade trailed off turning her attention to the bacon sizzling before her.
“You were both very lucky to have each other like that,” Blake offered after a moment’s hesitation, “I mean I’m close with my brothers, but we have our moments.  I mean Brant is so self absorbed half the time and with Kenneth, well he’s too good to be true, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.  I guess in my own way I’m very lucky as well.”
“Yes you are,” Jade nodded in agreement turning to Blake again, “I can honestly say that I haven’t seen Seth this happy in a long time either.  He’s not the greatest at getting enthusiastic about anything, but his camera and it seems that he’s spent more time thinking and talking about you than photography lately.”
“Photography means a lot to him, doesn’t it,” Blake questioned curiously.
Jade nodded, “It was the center of his life for a long time and he’s very gifted.  Truthfully there’s this art gala that goes on every year in New York City that’s put on for freelance photographers and each year I try to get Seth to submit his work, but he’s so stubborn about it.  I mean half the photographers that submit work don’t have half as much talent as he does, but he just kind of figures that since he doesn’t have a ritzy name to go along with his work, then there’s no need to even apply.”
“Really?” Blake’s eyes widened in surprise, “Well he should.  He’s got an eye for beautiful things and I can see that.”
“Well if you think you can coax him into it, I say go for it,” Jade encouraged her, “My brother is one of the best and I’d like to see something come of it for him.”
“So would I,” Blake thought it over as Seth reappeared at the doorway.
“Were you two talking about me again,” Seth teased with a chuckle.
“Don’t flatter yourself Seth,” Jade groaned shaking her head, “We wouldn’t waste our time gossiping about you when there are real men to be daunted upon.”
“I’ll give you real man,” he reached out to Jade tickling her as laughter spilled from her lips.
“Seth knock it off,” Jade swatted at him, “Seth, you’re going to cause me to burn breakfast.”
“So what would be different about that,” he teased as she punched him in the chest.  He turned to look at Blake raising a curious brow, “So are you going to spill her secrets or what?”
“Not a chance,” Blake chuckled in amusement, “It was girl talk.”
“Wait a second,” Seth looked between them before turning to his sister, “your corrupting my girlfriend now?”
“I’m just preparing her for what she might need to know in dealing with you,” Jade teased back before handing him a few plates, “Now go set the table so we can finish our conversation without your nosy ears stepping in and interrupting again.”
“That’s not fair,” Seth argued with her reluctantly taking the plates into the dining area as Blake and Jade shared a laugh enjoying the morning that was laid out before them.  Today was beginning to look like it was a beautiful day after all.


Kenneth sat on the back patio with a cup of coffee, enjoying the tranquility of the morning. He closed his eyes and lay his head back, soaking in the fresh morning sun.

"Kenneth Ashford…are you glowing?" Annie asked with a chuckle in her voice as she led Peanut onto the patio, "I think you'd levitate if gravity weren't holding you down."

"So I'm happy," He said with a grin, "Sue me."

"Am I to infer that your date with the young lady went well?" She asked as she sat beside Kenneth. She unhooked Peanut's leash before the dog bounded into the lawn.

"It went very well," He smiled, "Can I pour you a cup of coffee?" He asked as he nodded to the pot he'd brought out with him.

"Yes, thank you," She smiled as she watched him, "So give me details, Kenny. Tell me all about this date that made you so happy."

"It was just wonderful," He smiled as he poured her coffee. Once the cup was full, he placed the pot aside before presenting her with the cup, "Dinner, dancing, a little ice cream."

"Ice cream? You shared the ice cream parlor with her?" Annie asked with surprise, "Wow, you don't share that with just anyone."

"Well, the night took a turn towards the disastrous," He frowned, "Some tabloid reporter decided to ruin my date with his camera. I ripped out his memory card, but the tone of the evening was soured. So we went for ice cream."

"What'd she think of your little joint?"

"She was surprised to say the least," Kenneth grinned, "But I think she enjoyed it just the same."

"Any woman is a sucker for ice cream," Annie teased, "So, was that the end of the date?"

"No, we went down to the lake and danced by the lake side," He said as he thought about holding Caitlin in his arms, "And we kissed."

"Hmm," She smiled before sipping her coffee, "So that's what has you walking on air."

"It has something to do with it," He smiled, "Caitlin gives me hope that love really is out there, Annie."

"Then she sounds like someone very special," Annie patted his hand gently, "I'm glad you found her."

"She found me," He reminded her with a chuckle as he bent over in his chair and called Peanut to him. He lifted the little spaniel into his lap and stroked the dog's fur, "I'm a very lucky man."

"So, does this mean that Wendi is a distant memory?"

"Why does every conversation about my love life come back to Wendi?" He asked with a frown.

"Because you two were on the way to matrimony," She pointed out, "A relationship like that is very serious, and since it was the last real relationship you had, it will be the basis of comparison for your next."

"I don't want to compare any future relationship to what I had with Wendi," He said as he scratched behind Peanut's ears. He patted the dog gently before placing her back upon the ground watching her dart towards the lawn once again, "I'll never have another relationship like the one I had with Wendi."

"I didn't say you would," She said as she watched him, "Every relationship is different, Kenny."

"It has to be different, Annie."

"Why is the subject of Wendi such a sore one for you?" She asked as she leaned gently onto the table, "You two parted on good terms."

"Yes, I suppose we did, but I guess it was the ease of how we parted that really upsets me. If we really cared for each other as much as we said we did, how could we have walked away from one another so easily?"

"Because you both had other responsibilities that required your attention," Annie pointed out, "Your families meant the world to you."

"Exactly," He nodded as he turned to her, "But when both of our parents had passed on, we didn't seek one another out. We didn't try to get back together. Doesn't that tell the story?"

"Maybe," Annie agreed, "But why should it bother you so much?"

"Because everyone puts so much emphasis on how good we were together. Maybe we only looked that good together. I don't think we were really that wonderful at all."

"And you're bothered because people wonder about Wendi and your relationship?"

"Yes, I want to move on with my life and feel some real emotion. I want to know that I'm good with someone…not just her lip service."

"Do you think this Caitlin is that someone?"

"I don't know yet, Annie," Kenneth said honestly before a smile curled his lips, "But I'm sure looking forward to finding out," He said as he thought of Caitlin and how he felt when he was around her. If things progressed in the way they had thus far, she might prove to be that someone after all.


“Grady, we’re wasting time just standing here,” Avery frowned watching as Grady tried Russell’s cell phone once again, “I told you already that he wasn’t answering his phone.”
“Even so, he usually is good about picking up when I need him,” Grady explained matter of fact thinking to what his younger brother could be getting himself into at this very moment.”
“Almost too good if you ask me,” Avery remarked offhandedly thinking to the time she and Russell had been getting in over their heads at her apartment in the midst of one of their many fights.  Feeling a heat rise over her features, she turned away from Grady.
“What did you just say,” he looked to her with curious eyes.
“Nothing,” Avery gulped forcing the image out of her mind as she looked to Grady again, “tell me you got more than just the voice mail.”
“Nothing,” Grady shook his head in response a frown sweeping over his otherwise handsome features, “What’s Ashford’s cell phone number?”
“Grady, I already told you it’s not going to work.  Brant certainly isn’t going to answer to you of all people,” she stated simply, “and if he’s not taking my calls then…” her words were interrupted as the front door opened and she turned towards the source of the sound watching as Brant and Russell stepped into the foyer, both carrying bags in hand.
“Good morning,” Brant announced brightly as he saw Avery standing across the foyer.
“How are you feeling beautiful,” Russell piped in as his gaze swept over his brother and his smile faded, “Grady, what are you doing here?”
“You both scared the hell out of me last night when you left,” Avery chastised them raising her voice with anger as she marched towards the new arrivals, “Where were you?”
“Annie said you needed time to relax and rest up,” Brant began simply as he shrugged out of his jacket.
“And we thought we should give you the peace you needed,” Russell continued with a nod as he held the brown bag he was holding out towards her, “For you.”
“What is this?” Avery eyed the bag wearily not knowing what to expect as he nudged towards her once again, “Russell, what’s in that bag?”
“Breakfast,” he winked at her, “you didn’t really think I’d forget about our morning ritual, did you?”
“And I have some cappuccino for you,” Brant stepped between them a sexy smile spilling over his features, “I thought you could use a good pick me up considering that last night Russ and I were both less than what you needed.”
“I don’t understand,” Avery blinked back at the both of them accepting the tokens they’d brought home for her.
“Neither do I,” Grady added walking towards them as he took in the moment between Brant, Avery and Russell sensing something was off, “Russ, could I have a word with you for a second?”
“Of course,” Russell nodded politely before reaching out to touch Avery’s shoulder, “I’ll be right back.”
“But…” Avery began in confusion as Brant reached out to her cheek gently.
“How are you feeling this morning,” his dark eyes inspected her face before he urged her to let him take a look at her neck, “How are you healing?”
“I would’ve been healing much better if you didn’t disappear on me,” Avery scowled up at him, “What were you thinking?”
“You missed me, huh,” he flashed her a sexy smile as he placed his palm over his heart, “I think I’m touched.”
“Touched is the last thing you’re going to be if you don’t start talking about what you and Russell were up to last night,” Avery warned with a hiss, “Why did you leave like that?”
“I told you,” Brant sighed, “we wanted to give you some rest.  Annie was right about you needing that.”
“Brant, don’t lie to me,” Avery grumbled up at him, “I know that you didn’t leave to give me a piece of mind and you certainly didn’t go out to shoot the breeze with Russ, so what gives?”
“Avery,” he made a tsking sound as his fingers lifted to her face again, “such little faith in me.  I can see we have a lot of work ahead of us, but that’ll change.  I really believe that.”
“What I believe is that you’re lying to me Brant and I want to know now, what were you doing out all night with Russell,” Avery glared back at him her patience running thin, “if you don’t start talking, then things are going to get ugly.”
“Avery, look,” Brant lowered his voice before dropping his hand, “I know that Russell Denton is one of your best friends and despite the fact that I think the guy is nothing short of a pain in the butt, I decided for your sake that I should try to make amends…”
“With Russ?” Avery raised a skeptic brow, “As in the both of you trying to get along?”
“That’s right,” Brant nodded simply, “I know despite the fact that he’s been stalking us and spending his time with Heather trying to make us miserable that he’s one of your closest friends and I wouldn’t want you to feel that you couldn’t maintain that friendship because I think the guy is a loser.”
“So let me get this straight,” Avery thought it over for a moment, “You took it upon yourself to take Russ out all night because you know he’s one of my best friends and you felt compelled to prove to me that you were going to ‘allow’ me to maintain my friendship with Russell even though you personally feel he’s not someone worth my time.”
“Pretty much,” Brant nodded with a hint of a smile, “now you’re catching on.”
“First of all Brant Ashford,” Avery stood taller anger brewing behind her eyes, “if I did believe that lame ass excuse for one second, which I don’t by the way, then I’d be furious with you for thinking that you had any impact what so ever on my friendships as they aren’t of your concern.  I will see who I want when I want and there isn’t a damn thing you can do or say to change that…”
“I understand that,” Brant nodded appropriately, “which is why I was trying to make things work smoothly for the three of us…”
“Brant, I know you better than that and as I said, I don’t believe you took Russell out to have a guy’s night out or any other kind of male macho bonding session for that matter.  You two would’ve tore each other apart last night if I wasn’t here to stop you…”
“Which is exactly why I felt it was vital for us to alleviate those feelings of hostility with one another in an upstanding mature fashion before we caused you any more grief,” Brant explained simply, “That way we didn’t put you in a rough spot as I said before…”
“Brant, even if I believed you, which I don’t, I know Russell would never in a million years even consider hearing you out.”
“You’d be surprised at just how well Russell and I got along last night,” Brant glanced over in the direction Russell and Grady had drifted off to, “You could say it was kismet--as if we had a common purpose in mind and that in itself brought us closer together to reach an understanding if you will,” he looked back to Avery, “If you’d just stop worrying for five minutes, you’d see that really there is nothing to worry about--well, except for the fact that your cappuccino is getting cold along with those things that Russell picked up for you at the bakery.  He said you didn’t like eating them after that fresh feel faded away, so maybe we should work on getting some food in you.”
“Feeding me won’t shut me up and it won’t make me stop demanding answers if that’s what you’re working for,” Avery explained with a huff as he reached for the bag in her hand.
“Even so, I’m hungry and I’d much rather continue this discussion on something other than an empty stomach,” Brant walked away from her as Avery’s eyes lingered over to Grady and Russell and she hoped that somehow Grady was getting more truth out of Russell than she was out of Brant as somehow she had a feeling that there was something more to this tale of them spending the night out together and she was determined to get to the heart of the matter before curiosity and concern killed her.


Heather observed her appearance in the mirror before her and smiled. She really was beautiful, and that wasn't just her agent's press talking. She took a step back and studied the deep blue summer dress she'd chosen to wear for her brunch with Cameron. When he'd called, she'd been surprised, but then again, who wouldn't want to spend more time with her?

The surprise had been in that she'd actually accepted his invitation. What could he possibly do for her? She was already busy with Kipp and with her quest to get Brant back. She really didn't know why she'd agreed to spend time with such a handsome man...even if he did positively reek of money.

She plucked her earrings from the vanity and began to gingerly slip them into her lobes. Having a drink with a stranger who happened to have a name was one thing, but to accept an invitation to brunch? Well, it was something she just didn't do…not without some assurance that he could do something for her career. So far, Cameron hadn't proven that he was anything other than a pretty face, but he had promised to change that if she'd eat with him. She only hoped that he could live up to his promise.

A tap at the door alerted her to her escort. She checked her appearance one last time before lifting her purse from the edge of the bed and making her way to the door. She opened the door and smiled as she met Cameron's eyes, "Punctual, I see."

"Always," Cameron said as he extended his hand to her, "Shall we?"

"Of course," She said as she took his hand and stepped out of the hotel room.

"I'm glad you accepted my invitation to brunch. There are some things we need to discuss," He said as he escorted her into the elevator.

"Really? Such as?" She asked as the elevator doors closed.

"I believe we can help one another, Heather," He said as he turned to face her, "We both have set goals for ourselves, and I think we can help one another attain those goals."

"And just what is it you think you could help me with?" She asked as she crossed her arms and watched him carefully.

"Getting Brant Ashford back in your bed," Cameron stated boldly, "I think we both know that you want him, and you're not going to give up until you have him."

"What would you get out of it?"

Cameron grinned, "You're very distrustful of me, aren't you?"

"I'm distrustful of anyone who pitches a good line without backing it up," She countered.

"Fair enough," He said as the elevator doors opened, "Let's find ourselves a table and discuss this more in depth."

Heather watched him from the corner of her eye as she stepped off the elevator and followed him to the restaurant. Once they were seated and had ordered their selections, she nailed him with a pointed look, "I want to know what it is you're going to get out of this arrangement if I give you the time of day."

He chuckled to himself as their drinks arrived. He removed the stalk of celery from his Bloody Mary before he spoke, "Brant has something I want."

"And that is?"

"It's not important right now, but we'll get to that in due course."

"We'll get to it now," She said as she eyed him, "I'm not going to simply agree to anything you say, pal."

"You're a very bold woman," He said as he sat up in his chair and surveyed her, "I suppose you do deserve an answer. It's the ring on his current fiancée's finger."

"What do you want with it?"

"It belongs to me."

"It seems to belong to Brant," She pointed out coolly before sipping her Screwdriver.

"He stole it from me, and I want it back."

"Brant doesn't have to steal anything from anyone," She defended.

"You think not? He stole his current lady love from her lover, did he not?" Cameron asked before sipping his drink.

"You know, I think this was all a mistake," Heather said as she stood.

He matched her action and blocked her path, "Hear me out. I think you'll find my proposal one that you can't refuse."

"I don't know. Right now, I'm having a hard time wondering why I'd ever accept any proposal from you," She said harshly.

"Please, have a seat and listen to what I have to say," He said as he urged her to sit.

She took a deep breath before sitting back in her chair, "Okay, make your pitch."

"What is it about Brant's fiancée do you think he finds most attractive?"

She huffed, "I'm not going to sit here and discuss Avery."

"No, I'm serious. What is it about her that attracts him?"

"He thinks she's a goodie goodie that is beyond his reach. The minute he gets her he'll lose interest."

"A good girl, huh?" Cameron grinned, "I have evidence to suggest otherwise."

"Such as?"

"Such as enough evidence to taint her image in Brant's eyes," He offered with a smile, "Interested?"

Heather's smile grew, "I'm listening. And what is it you want me to do for you in exchange for this…evidence?"

"I want the ring on Avery Morrison's finger. It belongs to me, and the sooner it's back in my hands the better," He informed her, "All you have to do is get the ring for me."

"That's all?" She snorted, "Why don't I just rope the moon while I'm at it? Avery's not going to give me that ring."

"I don't care how you get the ring, Heather, but if you want to get Avery away from Brant for good, you'll get that ring for me. This can only make us both happier people," He pointed out as he raised his glass, "Deal?"

Heather eyed him for a moment before raising her glass in agreement, "Deal," She said, sealing the deal with a toast and knowing that evidence to destroy Avery in Brant's eyes was worth anything she would have to do for Cameron.


Jade moved around the apartment, tidying up the various signs of weekly living in the home. She danced to the sexy songs of Depeche Mode from the stereo as she dropped old magazines into the trash. She felt on top of the world today and not even doing chores would bring her down.

A knock at the door interrupted her as she grooved to the door and opened it, "Diane!" Jade said happily as she grabbed her friend's hand and drug her into the apartment.

"Whoa, what is this about?" Diane chuckled as Jade closed the door behind her.

"I'm happy," Jade declared as she made her way to the stereo to turn down the volume, "Come in. Have a seat."

"Okay, yesterday when I saw you, you were a basket case about Cameron. What changed?" Diane asked as she sat on the sofa and watched Jade leap onto the cushions beside her.

"Everything," Jade said with a bright smile.

"Spill already," Diane urged.

"Well yesterday I really was worried about Cameron, and so I went over to Grady's to tell him what had happened. As soon as he opened the door, everything changed."


"We talked, and he held me. And he kissed me. And then we went swimming and oh god we were so close to making love and then…"

"And? And?!?" Diane demanded with a large smile.

"And this park ranger butted in and interrupted everything," Jade groaned, "But Diane…oh my god…when he touched me, I thought I was going to faint. I'm so not kidding at all."

"Well that certainly turned out a lot better than you thought it would, huh?" Diane smiled, "Good, it's about time that man opened his eyes and saw what he had waiting for him."

"It was like a dream, and I'm still not sure I'm awake," Jade laughed softly as she leaned onto the back of the sofa.

"You certainly look very dreamy. Now why can't I have an experience like that?"

"Ben still giving you the brush off?"

"I don't know what he's giving me. He's so adorable, Jade, and I want him to just ask me out already."

"That works both ways, Diane. You could drag him out to dinner."

"Is it so wrong that I want a traditional romance for once?"

"Diane, you are so not a traditional woman. You're liberated, and all you have to do is go after what you want."

"I guess you're telling me to take a cue from you, huh?" Diane sighed, "I just don't want to be rejected, Jade. I don't think I could take it."

"He's not going to say no. He wants you just as badly as you want him. So just go for it."

"If he wanted me as badly as I want him, he'd have already asked me out," Diane frowned as she folded her arms.

"Hey," Jade said as she reached for her friend's shoulder, "Just go for it. You might be surprised. He may sweep you off your feet if you take the first step towards him."

"God I hate it when you get all romantic," Diane teased as she thought about Jade's words.

Jade chuckled, "Oh bite me. I'm feeling very romantic, and I only want you to be able to share the experience with me," She said, thinking about Grady and their time together. If only Diane could enjoy the same kind of feelings Jade had experienced over the last twenty four hours, then the two friends would definitely have happiness ahead of them.


“Our big plans for the day were working out at the health club,” Seth gave Blake a strange look as she stepped towards him, her luscious curves revealed to him in the skimpy hot pink spandex outfit she’d changed into.  She held her water bottle in one hand as a smile pressed over her features.
“I have a very vigorous workout schedule,” she explained with a teasing wink, “one that romance can’t interfere with.”
“So that’s what this is about huh,” he reached out to her, drawing his arms around her exposed midriff, “Your routine workout schedule?”
“That and I kind of like the idea of seeing you sweat,” she teased trailing her index finger over the center of his chest.
“We could’ve come up with much more entertaining ways to work up a sweat with one another perhaps in a more intimate setting,” his finger tips teased over the curve of her spine as she pressed up on the tips of her toes offering a quick kiss.
“Hmm, as tempting as that sounds, I don’t think doing that, would help me maintain my figure or burn the excess calories I’ve taken in over the last few days,” Blake nibbled on his lower lip as his hold on her constricted pulling her feet up off of the floor.
“The way I do it, well, it could be classified as an aerobic workout and then some,” Seth murmured against her mouth as her fingers curled over his shoulders squeezing the tensile muscle beneath her touch.
“As sinful as that promise of passion is,” Blake reluctantly tore her mouth away from his, “I say you’ve got to prove yourself before we get naked together.”
“Get naked together?” he lifted a curious brow as her eyes sparkled with mischief, “My you have thought about this quite extensively, haven’t you?”
“In more ways than you can imagine,” Blake nodded in confession.
“Believe me the boundaries of my imaginations are endless,” Seth whispered heatedly against her creamy flesh.
“I may have to put you to the test later,” Blake pressed her fingers into his chest before bouncing her way out of his arms enthusiastically, “but now you’re going to have to prove yourself to me in other ways.”
“Why do I get the sudden feeling that you’re going to whip my body into shape before this day is over,” Seth laughed heartily as Blake’s eyes perused him with a hint of hunger behind them.
“Seth, I don’t think whipping you into shape is going to be on the agenda as you’re more than perfect in all the right places,” Blake purred curling her finger out towards him, “Now come here so that we can get started.”
“Right here?” Seth took a baby step forward as she motioned to him once again.
“Right here,” she pointed to a spot before her as her eyes lit up with enthusiasm, “Come on you.”
“Here you say,” he moved a fraction of an inch towards her as she reached forward tugging on the center of his shirt drawing him in against her with one swift tug.  Circling his arms around her body, he noted the smile upon her beautiful features.
“Here seems about right,” Blake admitted with a giggle as Seth leaned down towards her ready to offer up one more teasing kiss when a voice interrupted the two of them.
“Seth Alexander?”  Seth looked up to see his old pal Ben Walters standing before them with a smile on his face.
“Ben, hey long time, no see,” Seth greeted him brightly.
“Tell me about it,” Ben’s gaze traveled to the lady on Seth’s arm as his eyes widened in surprise, “Blake, hey girl, how’s it going?”
“It’s going great,” Blake rushed over to him embracing him for a brief moment, “How are you?”
“Never better and you,” he asked motioning towards Seth, “You’re spending time with this clown, huh?”
“You could say that,” Blake laughed lightly as Seth stepped forward.
“Hey, I object to that,” Seth placed his arm around Blake’s shoulders, “So how do you two know each other?”
“Well other than the fact that Ben here took it upon himself to break my favorite Strawberry Shortcake jungle gym when we were children, he happens to be like family,” Blake offered with a tiny laugh, “His Aunt Annie happens to be one of the greatest people alive…you met her the other day,” she motioned to Seth before turning her attention to Ben, “but how do you two know each other?”
“Seth and I played football together in high school,” Ben explained proudly, “and he was almost half as good as I was.”
“In your dreams Walters,” Seth argued with him, “I could leave you in the dust anytime, any day.”
“Oh no, not this,” Blake rolled her eyes, “I can feel the testosterone ready to head into full throttle shortly.”
“Oh come on, Ben knows who the better man was,” Seth teased lightly.
“Yeah me,” Ben laughed in response turning his attention to Blake, “You know you never told me how you wound up with a numbskull like this.”
“Seth saved my life,” Blake boasted proudly, “When the quake hit, he was there to be my hero and since then,” she laughed lightly, “I thought he might be worth keeping around.”
“I hope I’m worth more than that,” Seth prodded at her as Blake giggled in response curling into his arm as her eyes cut across the gym and she noticed her personal trainer in the distance.
“Oh boy,” Blake groaned inwardly, “Dwight’s here.”
“Uh oh,” Ben shook his head at her words, “Please tell me that you aren’t training with him.  He’s ruthless.  I pulled a hamstring last month in a charity football game for the company and you‘d have thought he‘d had it out to break me completely.”
“Tell me about it,” Blake hissed in frustration, “When I took my vacation to Bermuda he had me on work overload the moment I got back.  Even now I can see he’s about to lecture me on slacking off,” she turned her attention to Seth, “I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” he gave her a quick kiss watching her rush off to deal with her eccentric trainer.
“She’s quite a number, isn’t she,” Ben laughed lightly watching Blake work her magic on Dwight before he turned his attention to Seth.

“Yes, she is, but I think it’s positively adorable,” Seth agreed, “So what brings you here?”
“Other than the obvious,” Ben looked around for a moment motioning to the workout equipment.
“Well yeah,” Seth chuckled, “I mean it’s been a while since I saw you.”
“I’ve been busy over at BBK,” Ben explained after a moment, “It’s not as glamorous and laid back as some rumors make it out to be.”
“You’re working for Brant Ashford?” Seth’s eyes widened in surprise, “How can you tolerate that ass?”
“Actually,” Ben informed him simply, “I’m working for Avery Morrison, Brant’s in house council and she’s great.  Sure there’s a lot of high drama, but the place has it’s perks.”
“What in the form of Brant’s secretary,” Seth inquired thinking of Jade’s pal that worked with BBK.
“Diane Stevens does happen to make the work day go by much easier,” Ben noted with a smile, “I mean she’s a great woman.”
“So I’ve seen,” Seth noted, “She and Jade are pretty close.”
“Really,” Ben’s eyes widened in surprise, “Now that’s something I wasn’t aware of.  If that’s the case, maybe I should be stopping by to see you more often.”
“Let me guess,” Seth teased, “Still using basketball to enhance your love life?”
“Hey Diane isn’t just any woman you know,” Ben pointed out thinking to his favorite distraction, “She’s just…well, she’s amazing.  I mean when I first started working at BBK, it was just part of the job--part of what I had to do in order to get things done, but now…” Ben shook his head trying to keep Diane out of his head, “She’s just this amazing woman and I can’t seem to stop thinking about her even though I know it’s wrong for me to get so attached when the job says otherwise…”
“I’m sure Brant Ashford isn’t going to have a fit if you and Diane are seeing each other,” Seth stated simply, “and even if he does, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s put his nose where it doesn’t belong.  You should’ve seen him the other night when I went to see Blake.  Man, the guy has some issues.”
“Yeah so I’m seeing,” Ben turned his attention over to Blake once again, “Though he’s always had a soft spot for his sister.  She’s one of the few things that seem to matter to him.”
“Blake’s a wonderful person,” Seth agreed thinking about his own protective side towards Jade, “and I guess in a way I can’t blame him for wanting to keep her safe.”
“That seems to be the name of the game,” Ben frowned as his thoughts lingered back to Diane, “but sometimes I wonder if playing it safe is really the way it’s supposed to be.”
“Something tells me we’re not talking about Blake anymore,” Seth noted eyeing his friend curiously, “Care to talk about it?”
“Believe me it would take longer to talk about it than for Blake to finish up with Dwight over there,” Ben groaned inwardly as Seth glanced over at Blake and Dwight interacting.
“Try me,” Seth urged deciding to reacquaint himself with an old friend in Blake’s absence.


“So as you can clearly see,” Blake motioned over towards Seth, “I’ve got the routine covered today.”
“Still, I really don’t feel comfortable with you taking on another trainer, Blake,” Dwight placed his hands on his hips offering up that disapproving glare, “It takes years to build up the kind of rapport we have with one another.”
“And you’re still going to be my main trainer, but today, I can assure you that I’m in good hands with Seth,” Blake let out an exasperate sigh, “although we’re not going to cover much ground if you keep arguing with me on this issue.”
“Well, he does seem to have some sense of balance with him, and his overall form does generally give off the good vibes,” Dwight began to access Seth’s appearance from afar, “Clearly he’s done some strength training over the years…”
“And conditioning with football,” Blake added hoping to get a break with Dwight for once.
“A jock huh,” Dwight made a tsking sound, “They do tend to have egos the size of the Middle East, but then again, I could see how the muscle bound men might have their appeal,” he leaned in towards her, “As they do tend to be my preference and all even if they are dumb as dirt.”
“Believe me Seth isn’t dumb by any means,” Blake chuckled fighting to suppress her amusement at Dwight’s assessment of her boyfriend, “and he’s very taken.”
“It’s a damn shame too,” Dwight returned his attention to her, “but if he’s half as good as you say he is, I suppose it would be okay if you worked out with him today while you’re ditching me…”
“I’m not ditching you,” Blake placed her hand over his arm patting it gently, “you’re still the very best there is.”
“Don’t you ever forget it,” he answered proudly as his gaze lingered across the gym to a woman struggling with the workout machine before her, “Oh disaster calls.  I must intervene.”
“Good luck Dwight,” Blake waved watching him leave as she let out a tiny laugh.  He’d always been good for that and for dishing out gossip as well, she reasoned as she turned her attention back to Seth ready to return to their day together.
“Blake,” someone called out her name as she turned to find Kipp standing behind her, “I thought it was you.”
“Kipp,” Blake smiled back at him.
“Funny meeting you here,” he approached her a white smile pressing over his features, “I didn’t realize you worked out here as well.”
“Well it is one of the best places in Coral Valley,” she nodded in response, “So how are you?”
“Good,” Kipp answered, “and the tire?”
“It’s being worked on as we speak,” she confessed with a soft smile, “Thank you for the help the other day.  I really appreciated it.”
“You’re welcome,” he nodded in response, “and you know if you ever need anything, well then all you have to do is ask and I’ll see what I can do.”
“That’s so sweet.”
“Sweet’s my middle name,” he added with a goofy grin, “Well not really, but you get the point…”
“Yeah I do,” she smiled politely, “Well I should probably get going.”
“So soon?” he reached out towards her as if to touch her before drawing back, “I mean I was about to go over to the smoothie bar and if you were interested, well I could buy you that drink we’d talked about before…”
“Kipp, I appreciate the offer, but I have to get back to my workout as I haven’t even really started it yet,” Blake began taking a step back.
“Well, I could run a few sets with you and then we could get to that smoothie,” he suggested brightly, “That way we could get a chance to get to know one another better as it’s always refreshing to see a friendly face in town.”
“Normally I would, but I’m kind of well with someone,” she motioned in Seth’s direction.
Kipp’s gaze followed as he immediately recognized Seth.  He tried to keep his thoughts contained as he remembered Cameron’s words, “Well hey, maybe another time then.”
“Maybe,” she nodded throwing out a wave before heading towards Seth, “It was nice seeing you again.”
“Likewise,” he watched as she returned over towards Seth and he decided that now was the time perhaps to put the heat onto Seth Alexander.  Cameron wanted the situation taken care of and as Kipp watched Blake throw her arms around Seth in an embrace, Kipp realized there was something else in Coral Valley that had perked his interest other than Heather Gibbons.  Sure Heather was his dream girl. He’d set his sights on making her his completely in every sense of the word as he had plans for her to become Mrs. Kipp Mahoney, which he was certain would only be a matter of time, but until then there was no law against him having any fun and the way he saw it, Blake Ashford was exactly the kind of fun he needed in his life and he intended to get just that from her one way or another.


"Back at the lake," Caitlin smiled as she stepped out of Kenneth's car and looked around at the light shimmering off the water, "What are we doing here?"

"We're going out on the lake for some fun," Kenneth smiled as he removed a picnic basket from the car before locking the doors, "My boat is just this way."

"Boat? Are you kidding me?" She asked in apprehension.

"Are you afraid of boats?" He asked with a challenge in his tone.

"No, I've just never…well, I've never quite gotten out on them very much," She stammered for a moment.

"Trust me. I won't let anything happen to you," He said with a smile as he offered his hand to her, "Come on."

She took a moment before she took his hand and followed him down the path to a dock which led out to several boats being housed at the marina. He led her down to a boat the dock's end and helped her on board before following suit. He placed the picnic basket in a cargo hold and secured it before he released the boat from the docks. He fished in his pockets for the keys.

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," She sighed as she sat down in the captain's chair.

"Why?" He asked as he slipped the key into the ignition.

"I don't know. I've only been out in a boat one time before, and it wasn't an experience I care to remember."

"Then we'll have to change that," Kenneth smiled as he started the boat's engines. He eased the boat away from the dock and into the open water.

"Do you come out here very often?" Caitlin called out over the engine's roar.

"Yeah, I do. It's one place in the world you can bring yourself where you don't have to worry about intruders. Sure there's the occasional boat that passes by, but mostly you're on your own out here," He replied as he increased their speed and took off across the water.

Caitlin closed her eyes as she felt the wind whip through her hair. The cool mist from the lake barely dampened her skin while the sun's bright yellow rays warmed her. She felt as if she were flying with the speed of the boat and the weightlessness she felt.

Kenneth smiled as he looked over at her, hoping he could show her a good time. While she didn't immediately like the idea of a day on the boat, he could tell she was already warming up to the notion.

"Hey," He called out to get her attention, "Want to give it a try?" He asked, motioning towards the boat's steering wheel.

"Oh no," She shook her head, "You're lucky you got me on the boat, but to drive one? I don't think so."

"Maybe next time. I'll teach you to like getting out on the lake like this," He said with a wink as he slowed the boat and turned it into a inlet.

"Uh oh…does that mean you plan to get me out here a lot?" She teased as she looked around the scenery.

"Yeah, I think it does," He teased in reply before he cut the boat's engines and turned to look at her as she adjusted to the silence, "See what I mean about solitude?"

She took a deep breath as she looked around before smiling, "Is there such a thing as heaven on Earth?"

"If there is, this is what I like to think is my slice of it," He teased as he moved to take a seat on one of the boat's bench seats, "Want to go swimming?"

"I don't think so," She said as she moved to take a seat beside him, "This is all a little new to me. Let me get used to the idea of just being on a boat before I venture into diving off the side of one, okay?" She teased with a grin.

"That's okay. I thought we might just enjoy the morning anyway," He admitted as he looked to her, "I have to tell you…I really enjoyed last night…even with the reporter being nosy."

Caitlin smiled, "I had a really great time too. It's been a long time since I've felt free, and I guess it's going to take some getting used to."

"Why would you not feel free?"

"Oh I don't know," She shrugged as she looked out into the lake, "You know how it gets with life. You feel like you're tied down from every angle in some way or another."

"That's a feeling I'm definitely familiar with," He said with a smile, "My family always seems to keep me tied down."

"Is that because of them or because of you?" She asked as she slipped out of her loafers and stretched her feet in front of her.

"Probably because of me, but also because of them," He said as he bent to lift her feet into his lap. He gently began massaging one of her feet as he continued to speak, "I take on more responsibility than I should, but if they would pick up some slack, I wouldn't have to take on so much."

"Hmmm, that feels so good," She sighed as she leaned onto the bench's back and closed her eyes, "Do you ever wonder what they would do without you?"

"I do," He nodded as he continued to massage her foot, "A lot actually. Blake would manage. She always seems to," He said with a fond smile before his smile faded, "But Brant…we're not even going to get into that one."

"So all the rumors that he's pure trouble are true, huh?" She asked as she looked up to him.

"Multiply them by about a hundred," He nodded, "Brant doesn't know how to keep himself out of trouble."

"So how did you turn out to be so wonderful?" She asked bluntly with a smile curling her lips.

"Just luck, I suppose," Kenneth replied with a smile as he continued to massage her feet, enjoying a lazy Sunday with good company and good conversation.


Brooke Morrison sat behind her desk looking over models for her most recent ad campaign. While she had children to dote on, Beholder Cosmetics was truly her child to groom and mold as she wanted. She was a perfectionist, never settling for merely good enough. She wanted the absolute best and nothing less. She had demanded that from everyone in her life…but only gotten it from her company which she alone controlled.

She sighed as she put down the photographs and frowned. None of the models suited her newest line of cosmetics, but she would find someone who could do the line justice. She wouldn't stop until she did.

Brooke's assistant, Carla, stepped into the room carrying a newspaper and mug of herbal tea. Brooke was nothing if not demanding, and Carla couldn't remember the last time she'd had a full weekend off. Now, as she delivered the Sunday morning paper and Brooke's designer herbal tea, all she wanted was a day off…any day would do.

"Your tea," Carla announced as she placed the mug upon a coaster on Brooke's solid oak desk, "And this morning's newspaper."

"I could care less about the newspaper. I have real trouble on my hands," Brooke frowned as she attempted to brush the paper aside.

"You might want to take a look at it. Your daughter is on the front page with a gentleman."

"She's what?" Brooke asked before unfolding the paper and glancing over the story on the front, "Brant Ashford's fiancée and in house counsel, Avery Morrison, has moved into the Ashford mansion with him," She read before smiling, "Well finally, my girl shows some of my genetics."

"Pardon me?" Carla asked as Brooke stood.

Brooke made her way around the desk with a bright smile, "My daughter is finally moving up in the world instead of slumming it with blue collar trash. It's about time she got involved with someone upstanding."

"I'd hardly call Brant Ashford upstanding. He's been on the cover of the Inside Track for the last year," Carla informed her boss.

"Perhaps, but I guarantee you the man knows the value of his money and where it can get him. Hopefully, so does Avery," Brooke smiled, knowing that she would have to pay her daughter a visit and find out all the details about her future son in law.


Grady watched Avery and Brant’s exchange feeling his own frustration mounting and mimicking what he could see in Avery as he turned his attention to his brother once again realizing that Russell was being stubborn as usual.  Lowering his voice a bit and letting his serious side spill through, he questioned Russell once again.
“Russ, what were you doing out all night with a snake like Ashford?” Grady grumbled trying to keep his concerns from taking control.
“It wasn’t an illicit affair if that’s what you’re worried about,” Russell teased back at him with a hint of sarcasm, “You know I’m not into that type…”
“Russ, I’m not joking around,” Grady glared at him unamused by his brother’s pathetic attempt at humor, “What’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on,” Russell shook his head simply, “I don’t know why Avery even bothered calling you.  Everything was under control here.”
“You breaking in to ‘rescue’ Avery from Brant once again doesn’t sound like the situation was under control,” Grady raised a skeptic brow, “You know she told me about what transpired between you and Brant.  Russ, what were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t going to let him bully her around,” Russell confessed a frown touching over his lips, “I know that Ashford likes to throw his weight around, but I wasn’t going to let him do that with Avery.”
“Which is exactly why I know that you and Brant spending the night out on the town isn’t a social endeavor,” Grady reminded him sharply, “Look Russ, Avery told me about what happened between her and Bruce.”
“Oh,” Russell managed to offer as Grady searched his eyes trying to read the emotionless expression before him.
“Russ, I know that it happened after you and Avery were together,” Grady continued on, “which means I know that had to make you twice as angry as it would’ve to begin with.”
“I don’t think there’s any way to make me any angrier with Bruce Mathis,” Russell admitted honestly, “what that man did to Avery was unforgivable and if I had it my way…”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Grady interrupted as he realized Brant returned to the foyer once again, “Was that what you and Brant were doing last night?  Having your way at things?”
“Grady, what are you trying to say,” Russell challenged, “What are you getting at?”
“Did you and Ashford decide to take matters into your own hands?” Grady questioned matter of fact, “Is that what this sudden kinship is about?”
“Look, we both upset Avery last night and I hated to see her hurting,” Russell explained after a moment’s hesitation, “Just the idea that Bruce attacked her after she was with me and there was nothing that I could do to protect her--nothing I could do to take the pain away, well yeah it bothered me.  I came over here thinking Ashford was the worst of the worst, but I was wrong.  Clearly there was more to the story as I thought there might be and then when I found out,” his words trailed off, “Listen Grady, I don’t know what Avery told you, but when she was hurting--when she started getting worked up over what Brant and I were doing to her, we decided to give her a break.  I didn’t want to see her in pain because of something I did or said and I agreed to take it outside the mansion.”
“So you and Brant what?  Just went to a bar to taunt each other senseless about Avery?” Grady gave him a disbelieving look.
“No, it wasn’t like that,” Russell shook his head as he looked over across the way at Avery and Brant, “It’s just that we needed to step outside the situation for Avery’s sake and we did.”
“You expect me to believe that you spend a significant amount of time with Ashford in the name of sparing Avery the grief of you two fighting,” Grady questioned doubtful.
“That’s right,” Russell nodded simply, “and I’d do anything to keep her from hurting even if it meant spending time with him.  You know what she means to me…”
“Yes, I do which is why I know that there’s something to this story that you’re not telling me,” Grady began again frustration spilling over into his words, “Given the lengths at which Bruce went to in order to make her suffer, I know you well enough to know that you wouldn’t take it lying down especially knowing that she didn’t call the police…”
“Grady, I…” Russell began as the doorbell rang out breaking through their conversation.  Suddenly Russell’s eyes shifted in the direction of the door as he and Brant exchanged glances.
Brant shook his head for a moment before painting on a pleasant smile and stepping towards the door.  Opening it casually, he greeted the person on the other side as his voice was calm and collected.
“Good morning Dave,” Brant opened the door wider, allowing the Police Chief to enter his estate, “to what do we owe the honor of your presence this morning?”
“I heard Avery was staying here,” Dave’s expression was grim as he looked around the foyer, “and I was wondering if I could have a word with her if she was up to it.”
“It is rather early,” Brant began as Russell and Grady approached the two men.
“Very early for a house call,” Russell added turning his attention to Dave, “What brings you here?”
“Russell Denton,” Dave gave him a strange look as he saw Grady as well, “What are you two doing here?”
“We were just leaving,” Grady began simply not wanting to get tangled up in whatever the Chief of Police had to take care of at the Ashford mansion.
“Not yet we aren’t,” Russell argued with him, “We were about to have breakfast with Brant and Avery, isn’t that right?”
“That’s right,” Brant nodded in response turning to Dave, “Would you care to join us?”
“Brant,” Dave hesitated as he noticed Avery joining the group, “this is official police business.”
“What about,” Avery questioned stepping forward as she looked between Russell and Brant suddenly feeling a rush of anger pass over her as it suddenly dawned in on her what the two men had been doing out together the previous night.  Suddenly a sense of betrayal flooded through her as her anger mounted and her lips transformed to a scowl, “Did they put you up to coming here?” she motioned between Russell and Brant, “Because I told them not to bother you considering that…”
“Avery, there’s no easy way to put this,” Dave drew in a breath as he’d always hated this part of his job, “Maybe you should sit down.”
“Why would I need to sit down,” she questioned in confusion, “If these two idiots called you here to annoy me…”
“Avery, it’s about Bruce Mathis,” Dave blurted out as the weight of the moment lingered over them, “There’s been an accident.”
“What kind of accident?” Grady questioned feeling a sinking feeling in the pit of his as he thought to Brant and Russell’s mysterious evening out together.
“Bruce Mathis is dead,” Dave explained as the world stood still for a long moment.
“What?” Avery questioned her eyes wide with surprise, “No, that’s impossible.  He can’t be…”
“Avery,” Brant reached out to touch her shoulder as Russell stood beside her protectively.
“They pulled his body out of Lake Cardinal this morning around dawn,” Dave continued as Avery felt her breath catch in her throat.  Her eyes turned up towards Brant, then to Russell as a sudden sense of horror rushed over her and the world around her began spinning before everything faded to black.

...to be continued...