Episode Twenty Two

Caitlin smiled as she stretched over the bench, basking in the sun's rays. She closed her eyes and felt the sunlight sweep over her as she relaxed into the soft cushions beneath her. A mechanical click gathered her attention as she turned towards the sound. She used her hand to shield her eyes from the sun as she spotted Kenneth with a camera in his hand.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" She asked pointedly.

"Taking a picture," Kenneth shrugged with a smile before he placed the camera back into the picnic basket.

"Why?" She asked as she turned on her side and braced herself with an elbow.

"Because you were too beautiful a site to pass up," He stated as he moved about the boat.

"Oh well, is that all?" She rolled her eyes, "I can't believe you just said that."

"Well, it's true," He assured her as he removed a fishing pole from a storage unit under a bench, "Ever been fishing?"

"You have got to be kidding me," She said as she sat up.

"What? Shocked that I know how to fish or that I do it of my own free will?" He teased with a smile as he prepared the fishing line.

"Both actually," She confessed, "I never would have pegged you as a fisherman."

"I haven't exactly fit your first impression of me at all, have I?"

"No, you really haven't. You don't act the part of the high class society type," She shook her head as she stood and joined him near the rear of the boat, "What exactly are you doing?"

"Getting the bait ready," He said as he glanced up from his work to catch a glimpse of her, "You've never been fishing?"

"No, I haven't," She looked at the fishing lure attached to the line, "I don't understand how that is suppose to catch anything."

"It will," He said confidently, "Well, it might. It depends on whether or not the fish are biting today."

"They don't bite all the time?" She questioned as she watched him wind the reel, preparing his lure for casting.

"No, sometimes they're finicky," He chuckled softly, "Today might be one of those days," He said before drawing the pole back and casting his lure into the water. He tightened the line gently before slowly beginning to drag the lure back towards the boat.

"How do you know when a fish is biting?" She questioned as she watched him.

"You'll know. Usually they tug on your line. They don't tug hard, but you definitely know something is on the other end and pulling against you," He informed her as he wound the line slowly.

"Do you fish every time you come out onto the lake?" She asked as she took a seat back upon a bench.

"Not every time, but I do this occasionally," He shrugged, "It's a quiet sport."

"Sport? You call fishing a sport?"

"Well, it is," He defended, "There are tournaments where fisherman compete for prizes into the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

"Why?" She asked as she shook her head, "I can understand going out to fish just for the fun of it, but why put that kind of money into it?"

"I don't know," He shrugged, "I guess they have nothing better to do."

"Now that's honesty," She chuckled.

"Come here," Kenneth said as he extended his hand and pulled her into his arms, "You try."


"You cast the lure and see if the fish you like you any better than me," He said as he put her hands around the rod, "All you have to do is pull back, press this button and swing the pole towards the water. When the line has stopped pulling out, you start slowly winding the reel to bring your lure back."

"You really think I'm going to do this?" She questioned as she looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

"Yes, and there's nothing to it. Here, I'll help you," He said as he kept his arms around her. He placed his hands over hers and drew the pole back with her and threw the lure into the water.

"I cannot believe you're making me fish," She said as he slipped his fingers over hers and helped her slowly wind the reel.

"It's not so bad, now is it?" He whispered softly near her ear.

Caitlin felt a shiver travel her body all the way to the tips of her toes. Being in his arms was nothing short of pure pleasure…even if he was making her learn how to fish. His warmth permeated her body and made her feel as if she would spontaneously combust from his proximity. She looked over her shoulder to him and smiled as she realized his eyes were fixed upon her.

"I don't think the fish are going to bite," She said softly as he continued to wind the reel.

"I think you're right," He admitted as he focused his attention upon her lips. Kissing her last night had only made him want to kiss her more often. She was a lovely woman with compassion, tenderness, and intelligence…all of the things he had wanted in his life for so very long.

Caitlin smiled as she slowly turned back towards the water to watch the lure came closer to the boat, "So what are we going to do about that?"

Kenneth finished recalling the lure before he dumped the pole onto the boat's deck. He turned her to face him as he slipped his arms around her waist, "I say we focus on other things."

"Such as?" She questioned as she eased her arms around his neck.

"Such as getting back to this whole fate giving us a break thing," He teased with a smile before easing his lips to hers.

Caitlin sighed softly against his lips, finally getting a taste of the very thing she had wanted since first being near him today. His kiss was magnetic, delicate, and tempestuous all at the same time. All she wanted to do was lose herself to the tenderness of his kisses forever…or for as long as fate would allow.


Seth waited patiently for Blake to return to him as he thought of their morning together.  She’d certainly put up one heck of a rigorous workout and during their time together exercising, he had to admit her stamina was impressive.  Blake certainly never gave up when she had her mind set on something--whether it be tossing in one last set or keeping him on his toes.  Now as he awaited her arrival, he thought to changing gears a bit.  As fun as this morning was, he’d wanted some time alone with her again.
“Ready,” Blake questioned popping out of the locker room as she smiled back at him brightly.
“I was born ready for this,” Seth reached out to her drawing her into his arms, “but I must confess that there’s going to be a change of plans.”
“Oh?” she lifted a curious brow, “How so?”
“Well you planned the beginning of the morning and I’m taking over the rest of the morning,” Seth explained simply, “as fun as this was, well I think we should slow down a bit or you’ll have me whipped by dinner time.”
“That was the general idea,” she teased lightly, “what’s wrong?  Can’t keep up?”
“Shamefully,” he laughed in response, “no, but that’s okay because I have plans for us.”
“Such as,” she watched him closely.
“Such as I have a surprise for you,” Seth looked around the gym, “One that won’t be nearly as physical as this one was, but hopefully it’ll be as enjoyable if not more…”
“Sounds tempting,” Blake confessed a smile lifting over her features, “do tell.”
“It’s a surprise,” he winked back at her, “You know how I do enjoy showering you with those kind of things.”
“I think you just like leaving me in suspense,” Blake teased thoughtfully as she leaned into his arms, “though I’m sure I could get used to this…”
“To being surprised?”
“To being with you just like this,” Blake confessed with a hint of a smile, “I mean it seems like even when the craziness of the Ashford family is hanging overhead, there you are always ready to make it better.”
“I’m glad I’m succeeding here,” Seth admitted thinking to his plans for the two of them, “I want you to forget about all those other things when we’re together.”
“I have been,” Blake nodded simply, “In fact I can’t even think about going back to that madhouse that’s waiting for me at the mansion.  I’m sure that Brant is playing ring leader to all the reporters out there by now.  Either he’s called in some serious security to bring about their removal--which is always ugly or there’s something more going on which usually means he’s bilking it for all it’s worth.  Either way, I’d much rather stay like this out of the media’s scrutinizing eye.”
“In that case I’m certain you’re going to love what’s next,” Seth reached for her hand, “Come on.  Let’s get going.”
“I can’t wait,” Blake announced thinking to the time she and Seth spent together.  Somehow he always knew the right thing to say and the more time they were spending with one another, the more she realized that having him around was exactly what she’d spent a lifetime waiting for.

An ache vibrated through the right side of Avery’s head leading it’s way down her neck over her right shoulder as a groan spilled over her lips.  The pain was almost unbearable as her eyes fluttered open and she took in the darkness surrounding her.  Suddenly lost in the silence, the throbbing that filled her seemed to evaporate just a bit as a soft caress swept over her cheek.  Turning in the direction of the touch, her fluttering eyelashes fell upon the man beside her and a soft smile touched over her soft lips.  She extended her arm up to him, her grin widening as a sigh escaped her mouth.
“Oh Russ,” she breathed seeing him hovering over her as her palm pressed in against his cheek lazily.  He drew his hand up over hers covering it in a simple yet tender gesture as she continued, “I had the worst dream.  I woke up this morning and I left only to walk into nothing short of a nightmare, but now seeing you here…” the corners of her mouth lifted, “I’m glad that’s all it was because clearly the dream was a sign that I was about to make a horrible…”
“Avery,” another sound filled her ears as she turned her head away from Russell finding Brant beside her.
Blinking back in confusion Avery looked at him for a long moment before turning to Russell again.  His green eyes were penetrating her as she slowly rose into a seated position on the bed.  She still held on to him questions behind her eyes as she felt Brant’s touch upon her shoulder.
“You should rest,” Brant instructed as his eyes darted over towards Russell.
“Everything is going to be okay,” Russell promised reaching out to touch her simply, “You should just take it easy.”
“But I…” she looked between both men once again as reality hung over her bringing her back to the images that had haunted her before now, “It wasn’t a dream, was it?”
“I wish it were,” Russell sighed as he glanced over at Brant, “but I’m afraid it isn’t.”
“Then Bruce, he’s…” she found herself at a loss as the words refused to fall from her lips.
“Not your concern anymore,” Brant explained reaching out to take her other hand as he urged her to look at him once again, “Right now you need to focus on feeling better and that means that you should take this time to rest up.  Forget about everything else that’s going on and try to take it easy.”
“Brant, how do you expect me to take it easy when I just found out that Bruce is dead,” she blinked back at him in confusion, “That’s like asking me not to breathe.  You can’t just forget that someone you once cared about is dead.”
“Avery, as upsetting as this situation is,” Russell added simply, “Bruce gave up his place in your life the moment he attacked you.  The man you knew no longer existed and this, well this is just something that we’ll have to deal with.”
“Russ, how can you say that so calmly,” Avery gave him a sideways glance, “I mean this isn’t something to be so relaxed about…”
“Karma has a way of finding those who work against it,” Russell pointed out emotionlessly, “The day Bruce attacked you, he was already dead in his own way.”
“And that’s putting it nicely,” Brant added in response, “The guy never deserved you and I’m not about to let him hurt you again even in death.”
“Brant, look I know that Bruce did something horrible, but no one deserves that,” she drew in a breath closing her eyes once again as the pulsating ache swept through her temple making her want to cry out in agony, “No one should ever have to experience something like that…”
“Everyone dies Avery,” Brant shrugged his shoulders as he reached out to her, “and maybe it was just Bruce’s time to go.”
“Unless someone played a hand in his demise,” her eyelids fluttered open as she looked between both men, “Please tell me that neither one of you had any idea about this--that you didn‘t know this morning that Bruce was dead.”
“Avery, you should rest,” Russell interrupted placing his hand on her shoulder, “You took a nasty spill downstairs and I’m worried about you.”
“He’s not the only one,” Brant agreed sliding his palm over the center of her spine, “You’ve had a rough couple of days and in between the media and the police, well I think it’s time for you to take a time out.”
“I need to face this,” Avery argued with him, “I need to know what happened to Bruce.”
“The police will do their job,” Brant explained simply as he touched her face gently, “and you need to focus on keeping a low profile.”
“Brant I…” Avery opened her mouth in protest as Russell spoke up again.
“Avery, you said it yourself that you don’t want those guys downstairs to know what happened to you the other day,” Russell stated matter of fact, “and Brant and I are going to see to it that it stays that way.  What Bruce did was wrong and he deserved to have justice put upon him for his actions, but since that’s no longer possible, the last thing you need is for the past to work up any kind of suspicions from the men downstairs.  The police aren’t exactly open to the truth before them…”
“Russ, you’re not making any sense,” she gave him a strange look, “How can it hurt anything if they know about what happened with me and Bruce?”
“Avery, you said it yourself that the media will leap on this one,” Brant reminded her, “and if you go down there with the bruises and marks on your neck, well who knows where they’ll head with this?  The last thing you need is harassment by the police or anyone else.  Avery, look at this as our respecting your right to privacy and keeping your life where it belongs--between close friends.”
“Brant’s right,” Russell offered a nod as he reached out to her once again, “Despite the fact I never thought I’d say that in million years, it’s really best for you to stay out of the public eye right now.  The gossips around town will be itching for a story and if they know about what’s been happening in your personal life, they’ll try to exploit it and use it against you.  As much as I’ve tried to say that the press isn’t that way, I know not everyone is as open minded as I am.  If you really feel that you need to make a public statement, I’ll run something in the Courier when things blow over a bit and we’ll leave it at that.”
“Russ, I can’t ask you to…” Avery started as he touched her face gently.
“You didn’t,” Russell reminded her, “but if you want to do something to make me happy, then listen to what Brant and I are saying.  Just take this time to collect yourself, to rest up and then we’ll worry about what happens next tomorrow.”
“You make it sound so easy,” she threw out a light smile looking between the both of them, “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say that you’ll lay down for a bit and try to put this day behind you,” Brant encouraged her, “Russ and I will deal with what’s downstairs and then maybe later the three of us can sit down to a relaxing dinner or something.”
“Now that sounds like an impossible feat,” Avery half chuckled thinking to rivalry between the two men in her life, “It sounds almost too good to be true.”
“If it makes you happy, then we’ll work on making it a reality,” Russell decided as he squeezed her hand gently.
“We both want you to be happy, you know,” Brant leaned forward giving her a quick kiss on the forehead.
“If I hadn’t already hit my head on the way down before, I’d have to wonder what was wrong with this picture,” Avery confessed a bit skeptical, “but whatever the reasoning is, I think I might be able to handle this.  It does have a strange sort of irony about it seeing as it took something like this to get us all to be civil to one another, but in a way maybe this is a sign of things to come…”
“Maybe,” Russell pressed a tender kiss upon her cheek before rising off the mattress.
“Annie is going to bring you something to help you unwind in a little while,” Brant promised as he too took a step back, “So take advantage of it.”
“I’ll think about it,” Avery nodded in response watching the two men leave the room as she wondered what was really going on between them.
Avery’s smile faded a bit as she looked around the room and she rose from the bed.  She walked over towards the window seeing the police cars outside the mansion and a frown touched over her lips.  Sure Brant and Russ really thought they’d had her fooled, but as she thought to Dave’s words about Bruce, she realized that there was something they were hiding from her--something that she would have to find out sooner or later.  She just hoped that somehow whatever it was, that it wouldn’t be the very thing that could destroy them all.  Sure Brant and Russell were trying hard to keep her from questioning them, but as she looked around the Ashford guest suite, she realized that this latest chain of events had opened up a door to something, she feared she might not be able to handle.  With Bruce being dead and Brant and Russell’s mysterious truce, she wondered if perhaps she’d started something that could quite possibly shake up the world around her in more ways than she’d ever imagined.


Kenneth held Caitlin in his arms as they sat on the boat's edge, dangling their feet into the cool water of the lake. He rested his chin upon her shoulder as they glanced their reflection in the water.

"I can just hear Blake now," Caitlin said with a soft laugh, "She'd be talking about how this is a very romantic picture."

"And so it is," He smiled as he gently squeezed her against him, "I don't think there's anything wrong with romance."

"The only thing wrong with romance is that there isn't enough of it in the world," She sighed as she melted back against him, "The world would be a much better place if more people took their time and relaxed. Then romance would come easily to a relationship."

"Yeah it probably would, but when does the world allow us the luxury to relax?" He asked rhetorically as he laced his fingers with hers, "It seems like there's always something nipping at our heels for our attention."

"Yes it does," She nodded, "And that sucks."

He laughed softly, "Yeah, it does. I whole heartedly agree," He said as the soft ring tones of a cell phone interrupted their solitude.

"What is that?" She asked as she looked over her shoulder at him.

"My cell phone," He closed his eyes with disappointment, "I always carry it with me in case there's an emergency with my clients or my family. Just once, I'd like not to worry about any of them."

"Then you wouldn't be the great man that you are," She said as she patted his knee gently, "You'd better get that."

"I don't think I like it that you're encouraging this responsible side of me," He teased as he slipped out from behind her and moved across the boat to lift his cell phone from the picnic basket, "Ashford."

"Kenny, good, I was about to get worried that you were out of range," Annie said softly, "You'd better come home. I think we're about to have trouble."

"What has Brant done now?" Kenneth groaned.

"I don't know that he's done anything, Kenny, and neither do you. Be that as it may, however, Dave is here. It seems Avery's ex was found dead this morning," Annie explained.

"Oh that is not good," He replied, "Look, tell Brant not to say anything to anybody until I get there. I'll call Hart and have him meet me at the mansion."

"Okay," Annie agreed, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, Kenny."

"It's okay. At this point in my life, I'm used to it," He frowned before switching off his phone, "I've got to go."

"What's happened?" Caitlin asked in concern as she joined him near the boat's controls.

"BBK's in house counsel, Avery Morrison, was on the front page yesterday. To protect her from the media, Brant brought her to the mansion. It just so happens that this morning Avery's ex was found dead," Kenneth frowned, "I swear…if my brother has been playing God again, I just may kill him."

"Kenneth," She spoke his name softly as she placed her hand upon his forearm, "I'm sure everything will be just fine. Maybe it was all just an accident."

Kenneth frowned as he started the boat's engine, "Somehow, I don't think I could get that lucky," He said as he turned the boat back towards the main body of the lake to end his peaceful day off.


Jade flipped channels on television, passing through westerns, cartoons, and religious programming. In her current frame of mind, only a good romantic tale would be worth watching. She turned to the classic movie channel and smiled as she saw Doris Day and Rock Hudson upon the screen. Romance was certain.

The telephone's loud ring broke her concentration from Doris and Rock's funny conversation. Jade cursed under her breath as she reached for the cordless phone and sank back into the sofa cushions, "Hello?"

"Jade, just the lovely voice I wanted to hear."

Jade froze as she recognized Cameron's voice. She didn't like to even think about him any more, but now to hear his voice invading her home, she trembled at the very thought. Mustering all of her confidence, she took a deep breath and spoke, "Cameron."

"I was hoping to catch you at home. I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner tonight."

"Cameron, I don't think that's such a good idea," She said quickly.

"I don't take no for an answer, Jade. You know this already," He said with cool arrogance.

She thought quickly and decided that if Grady lost Cameron's business, well, that would just have to be too bad, "You're going to have to take no for an answer, Cameron. I'm unavailable."

"The only way you're unavailable is if you're married or dead. I don't think either one applies so I'll send a car for you at six."

"You can send a car all day long, but I'm not going, Cameron. I tried to be nice about this, but you're not giving me much of a choice," She said firmly, "I'm involved with someone, and I will not go to dinner with you."

"Who is he?"

"I don't think that's important."

"Of course it's important," Cameron began, "I want to know who it is that is stringing you along. I can give you everything you've ever desired and more, Jade. No one else can do that."

"You're wrong, Cameron. The man I love has already done that."

"Obviously not or you'd be married."

"Cameron, look, I really don't want to be rude, but I'm involved and I don't think we need to discuss this matter any further."

"Oh we'll discuss it further, Jade. I want you, and I always get what I want. I will not let some man you think you love keep me from you."

"Okay that's it. You're just not getting it. It's not any man keeping me from you. It's me. I choose not to be with you, got it?"

"You'll change your mind, Jade."

"What is it with you?" She groaned, "Do you not understand simple English?"

"I understand perfectly, and I think you should as well. You'll change your mind, Jade. They always change their minds."

"I don't know who it is you're referring to, but I'll just tell you now that I will not be changing my mind any time soon. So just forget any notions you had about me."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Jade. You are a very important part of what I want in Coral Valley, and I won't stop until I have you."

"Then let me put it this way," She declared, feeling her anger burning within her veins, "I'm not above slapping a restraining order against you. Got it?"

"I think you're fighting the inevitable, Jade. You'll come to see that you will want to be with me, and then all of this will have been moot," Cameron said before hanging up the phone.

Jade screamed in frustration before hanging up the phone, "Guess again, buster. There's only one man I will ever want to be with, and you definitely are not him," She declared in earnest as she slammed the cordless phone into the sofa cushions and turned back to the television. Great…not only had Cameron managed to interrupt her movie, but he'd ruined her good mood. She switched off the television with a dark scowl hanging over her beautiful features. Cameron Stone was going to be more trouble than she'd ever bargained for, and that was becoming more clear every single day.


“Welcome to my world,” Seth announced opening the door to the studio as he urged Blake inside, “You said you wanted to learn a little more about what I did, so I thought I’d bring you in here first hand to see how things are.”
“You mean when you’re actually working,” Blake teased back at him gently.
“Well you know, seeing as a certain beautiful blonde has been taking up a great many hours of my time there, I haven’t gotten much work done, but maybe together we can work on bringing some inspiration to life.”
“Oh really?” Blake raised a curious brow.
“That’s right,” he reached for her hand leading her towards the back of the studio, “I want to show you something.”
“What’s that?” Blake questioned following him as curiosity spilled over her.
“Well that time we spent together in the fountain,” he glanced in her direction as a heat rose over her features, “I got the film developed and the photos turned out great.”
“Oh God, I don’t even want to think about them,” Blake groaned inwardly, “I was a complete and total mess there.”
“No, you weren’t,” Seth stepped aside opening one of the doors off to the left before motioning for her to follow, “You were amazing,” he urged her towards him, “Come and see for yourself.”
“Seth,” she began as her eyes fell upon the wall before her.  A breath caught in her throat as the various images before her sprung to life.  In the center of the wall were a few of the photos he’d taken at the fountain the other day, but as she looked around, she could see other images that truly captured her attention.  He had an eye for art--Jade was certainly right about that and as she stepped forward inspecting the photos more clearly, she was in awe of the talent he’d kept from her until now, “Are these all yours?”
“They’re some of my favorites,” he nodded in confession, “I know they aren’t much, but in their own way they all speak to me.”
“Seth, they’re beautiful,” Blake reached out to touch the tip of one that was framed behind glass.  It was of a woman with the most caring brown eyes she’d ever seen.  She had the face of an angel and as her smile filled the room, she seemed to have a peace about her that Blake found herself envious of.  The woman looked truly remarkable and at harmony with herself in ways Blake could only dream about.
“She’s so beautiful,” Blake noted as Seth stepped in behind her wrapping his arms around her slender waist.
“She always was,” Seth whispered against the back of her neck as he placed a kiss against her soft skin, “That was one of my first photos I must confess and though my mother was a reluctant model, much like you are, I’d say it was nothing short of magnificent.”
“To put it mildly,” Blake agreed simply, “She looks so happy…”
“Despite the hell my father put her through, she was happy in her own way,” Seth noted thinking back to his mother, “She never let us see how miserable he made her, but Jade and I knew it.  She kept asking us to believe in faith and love and the future even though we saw where those notions lead her to.”
“That’s so sad,” Blake sighed searching the eyes of the woman before her.  In the image she appeared to not have a care in the world--as though she was free from the concerns most of the world were plagued with, but as she thought of Seth’s tale of his past, she felt her heart ache for the woman in the photo, “To give yourself over to love only to have it work to destroy you.  I couldn’t ever imagine living like that.”
“She wanted to believe,” Seth sighed thinking back to his childhood.
“I can understand that, but just the idea of putting all of your faith in a man who’d betray and hurt you like that,” Blake shuddered at the thought, “I mean I knew that romance was nothing but lies that were fed to you--at least that’s what I believed before you,” she turned around to face him, “I mean even in hearing about your mother or thinking about mine--they were both beautiful, wonderful women burned by love--by the very men who vowed to share their lives with them.  They both wanted something wonderful and it only blew up in their faces…”
“Not all love works that way,” Seth touched her cheek seeing the sadness behind her eyes, “I used to believe that love wasn’t possible, but you changed that…”
“Now you’re flattering me,” Blake felt a heat rise over her features.
“It’s the truth,” Seth admitted with a sigh, “For so long I just kind of closed myself off to the world around me refusing to get involved, but then when I least expected it, you walked into my life and it changed everything.  Blake, you have no idea what being with you means to me…”
“Seth,” a smile touched over her lips, “You make me happy--happier than I’ve been in a long time…”
“I want to always make you happy,” he cupped her face in his hands, “which is why I don’t want us to fall into that destructive pattern that the rest of the world succumbs to.  I want you to know that I care about you and that my heart is in the right place,” he lifted her palm to his chest as his fingers tapered off into her blonde tresses, “I want you to trust my love for you come what may…”
“Seth, you know how I feel about you,” she searched his eyes, “don’t you?”
“I just want you to know that I feel it too,” he lowered his lips to hers kissing her tenderly.
“I feel it,” she wrapped her arms around his neck squeezing him closer to her as he lifted her up off her toes.
Hugging her close to him, Seth lavished her with kiss after tender kiss wanting to lose himself completely to the wonderful woman in his arms.  Slowly, he carried her through the studio holding her in his arms completely before his lips reluctantly tore away from hers.  His dark eyes memorized her every soft feature as his heart pounded in his chest.  There was just something about Blake Ashford that made life worth living, he thought to himself as he motioned to the far wall behind them.
“Where would you like to have a picnic,” he questioned gingerly lowering her to the ground to the blanket laid out beneath her.  She looked up at him with curious eyes as she noted the picnic basket before her.
“What’s this?” Blake asked her fingers tapering over the picnic basket.
“Your surprise,” Seth explained simply, “I wanted to take you far away from Coral Valley, but since a trip around the world isn’t exactly in my budget for the time being, I thought that maybe I could bring the wonders of the world to you,” he walked across the room, turning on a projector as the Eiffel tower spread across the screen
behind her.  “How about Paris?  Or Egypt?” he suggested as the screen changed, “or maybe even Venice?”
“Seth,” she couldn’t help but smile as he flipped through various projections, “just being here with you is all that I need.  I feel like I’m a princess being spoiled like this,” she laughed lightly as she poked into the picnic basket skimming over it’s contents.  Her eyes widened as she noticed the strawberry shortcake within.  Unable to resist the urge, she pulled it out brightly.
“I thought we might try something I know you loved,” Seth explained an idea forming through his head as he fumbled with the photo slides once again, “though I’m certain it’s not nearly as good as yours was.”
“I love it,” Blake beamed as she opened up the container in her hands, “I love all of it.”
“I love you,” Seth announced returning to the blanket with her as he leaned in to kiss her gently.
“I love you,” she whispered against his lips as they slowly parted.
“I wanted today to be magic because when I’m with you, that’s what this is--nothing short of magic,” he motioned towards the screen, “which is why I thought the princess might like to have lunch with her prince outside the walls of the castle.”
Blake’s eyes followed the direction of his and she noticed Cinderella’s castle before her as her smile widened.  She turned to Seth reaching out to him as her heart filled with love for him.
“This is the most amazing picnic I’ve ever been on,” she confided leaning in to kiss him, “This is perfect.”
“This is only beginning,” he promised ready to spend the day with his beautiful princess as they savored a moment away from the rest of the world as all that mattered was the two of them together enjoying the simple pleasures life had to offer.


Kenneth escorted Caitlin into the Ashford mansion, opting to save time by bringing her along with him instead of dropping her off at home. They approached the den together seeing Dave standing with Brant, Russell, and Grady.

"Where's Avery?" Kenneth asked as he looked between the men in the room.

"She's upstairs with Annie," Brant replied, "She didn't take the news too well."

"Understandable," Kenneth nodded.

"Which room is she in? Maybe I can see how she's doing and sit with her," Caitlin offered.

"In the guest room just down the hall from the stairs. Third door on your left," Brant explained.

Caitlin excused herself while Russell watched her leave.

"She'll be good for Avery," Russell commented, "She's got a real gentle way with people."

"I've noticed," Kenneth said with a smile before he stepped further into the room to gather details of the situation.


Caitlin tapped lightly upon the dark wooden door before her before gently turning the door knob and peaking inside, "Avery?"

Annie met with Caitlin and smiled, "She's in here. Why don't you come on in and speak with her? I think she's been mothered a bit long," She said with a wink before stepping out of the room.

Caitlin spotted Avery sitting in the window seat, staring blankly out the window. She knew that look all too well. She'd been there too many times to count. Wondering if she could have done anything differently, if her actions had led to this, if she alone had caused all the pain now plaguing those around her.

"Avery?" Caitlin spoke in a soft tone of voice as she stepped slowly towards her, "I'm Caitlin…a friend of Russell's. We met at the Courier. Do you remember?"

Avery slowly looked to the source of the voice, her tear stained cheeks glimmering in the light.

"Oh Avery," Caitlin said in sympathy as she knelt down beside the window seat. She gently placed her hand upon Avery's arm, "Would you like some water?"

"No," Avery said as tears slipped down her cheeks, "How did this happen? How did my entire life come crashing down around me?"

"Avery, it's not as bad as all that," Caitlin assured her, "Yes, the world seems dark right now, but it's not as bad as you think."

"Yes it is," Avery sniffled as she pulled back the collar of her shirt to expose her bruises, "It's this bad."

Caitlin took Avery's hand in her own, "I know where you're at right now, Avery, but it'll get better. I promise you. The bruises will heal. Your heart will hurt for a long time, but no one has to know that but you."

"How can I believe that anything will get any better? Everything is falling apart," Avery broke down into violent sobs.

"Come on. Let's get you straightened up," Caitlin urged as she helped Avery out of her seat and led her to the mirror, "Stand here for just a second."

"What are you doing? I don't want to be straightened up. I just want to crawl in bed and never show my face again," Avery cried.

"I know," Caitlin said softly as she stepped into the bathroom. She removed a wash cloth from a linen cabinet before switching on the water in the sink. As cold water began to pour into the sink, she looked up into the mirror.

She could see the terror within. She could see the cold harsh fingers gripping her, ripping the very air from her lungs. Her throat constricted, her eyes burned, her thoughts screeched to a halt. Darkness threatened to overwhelm her senses.

A sound from the other room brought Caitlin back to the present. She closed her eyes for a moment, willing the past to stay in the past. When she opened her eyes again, she soaked the wash cloth in cold water before squeezing out the excess. She stepped back into the bedroom and approached Avery, "This is going to be cold, but you'll welcome it after a moment," She said as she lay the cold cloth upon Avery's bruises.

Avery winced in momentary shock before she looked to Caitlin, "Why are you helping me?"

"Everyone needs a helping hand every now and then," Caitlin explained simply before stepping back into the bathroom. She glanced around for a moment before gathering several items and returning to the bedroom.

"What are you doing now?" Avery asked as she swept tears from her cheeks.

"I'm going to help mend those bruises, and I'll show you how to cover them until they are healed," Caitlin said as she sorted through the items before her, "Is that cloth still cold?"

"No, it's getting warm," Avery admitted as she took the cloth from her neck and extended it to Caitlin, "I don't understand this at all."

"There's nothing to understand about the situation," Caitlin said as she took the cloth to cool it down once again.

"No, that's not what I mean," Avery clarified before Caitlin returned, "This…how do you know what to do."

"This? Oh…well…you know," Caitlin shrugged.

"No…I mean…I wouldn't…I didn't," Avery corrected her statement, "Know where to begin with this. How did you know?"

"I…I've…" Caitlin stammered for a moment before she picked up a bottle of vitamins, "I…I mean…"

"Yes?" Avery questioned with her eyes.

"I've spent time in women's shelters," Caitlin began as she broke open a capsule and gently dabbed the oozing vitamin upon Avery's skin, "I was….doing research…you know," She said as she focused upon the task before her, "For a story," She said as she lightly spread the vitamin upon Avery's bruises.

"And you learned this?" Avery asked as she watched her.

"Yes," Caitlin said, keeping the truth of the matter to herself as she finished covering the bruised area with vitamin oil. She tossed the empty capsule into a waste basket before opening a talcum tin. She gently swept the puff from the container before patting it over the area, "Now do you have any concealer make up?"

"Yes," Avery said as she pointed to the vanity.

Caitlin lifted the makeup tube from the vanity and returned to Avery. She dabbed the makeup over the bruises before using a makeup pad to smooth the area, "There you go. You look as good as new," She said as she stepped away, "Go ahead. Take a look."

Avery stepped in front of the mirror and glanced at her neck. She turned slightly in the light and raised her fingers to the area, "How…I mean…" She sniffled slightly, "Thank you."

Caitlin looked away from her, "No thanks are necessary. I don't take pleasure in knowing how to cover bruises. In fact, I hate the very idea that I know how," She said as she carried the things back into the bathroom. When she returned to the bedroom, she looked at Avery with a soft smile, "Why don't you take a few minutes for yourself before you come downstairs?"

"Caitlin," Avery said as she watched Caitlin near the door, "Thank you for this."

"Don't mention it," Caitlin said before she stepped out of the room. She stood outside the door and took a deep breath. She wished she didn't know how to help Avery. She wished that all of the signs of violence were foreign to her. Instead, she knew them all too well.


Grady tugged his brother aside out of Ashford earshot with a scowl embedded in his features. He hadn't appreciated being called to the Ashford estate by Avery, but he appreciated even less the idea that Russell had been up to something mysterious with Brant.

"What is wrong with you?" Russell asked of his brother as they stood in the far corner of the room, away from the police and the Ashford brothers.

"What's wrong with me?" Grady asked in surprise, "That's a question better directed at you. What the hell have you let Avery get you involved in this time?"

"Avery had nothing to do with this. She was a victim of Bruce's, not his attacker," Russell defended quickly.

"Oh so I guess you and Ashford over there decided to take the law into your own hands, huh?" Grady's scowl deepened as he rubbed the tense muscles of his neck, "This is quite a fix you've gotten yourself into this time."

"Why do you always jump to the worst conclusion possible where Avery is concerned?" Russell asked defensively.

"Because I've seen her break you before, Russ. She always gets you in over your head, and you let her," Grady shook his head before spotting Dave Warner approaching them, "Well, it looks like the police have taken an interest in you. I can't imagine why," He said sarcastically before he raised his hand to stop Dave in his tracks, "Hold it right there, Warner. Russell doesn't have anything to say to you."

"I'm trying to get to the bottom of all of this. Was Avery having problems with Bruce?" Dave questioned as he looked to Russell, "I know you two are still friendly. So help me out here, Russ."

"Dave, I'm only interested in helping Avery. She's been through a rough couple of days here, and I just want her to be safe and sound. If that means protecting her from you, then that's the way it'll have to be," Russell said softly.

"Why would Avery need protecting?" Dave questioned.

"Did you not see the hordes of media on the front lawn?" Russell asked as he crossed his arms, "Right now, they're hungry for a story, and Avery is the feast."

"There's more to this story that you're not telling me," Dave concluded as he looked between Russell and Grady.

"If you're going to start looking for clues everywhere, this is where I become Russ's attorney instead of his brother," Grady said as he spoke up, "He's not going to help you any more with an accusatory tone to your questions."

Dave shook his head in dismay as he walked away from the brothers. Russell turned to Grady, "Thanks."

"Don't thank me yet. I'm not done giving you hell yet, but I'll take a time out until Dave Warner isn't around," Grady said with a frown as he glanced at the Ashford brothers. Whatever Avery had gotten him tied up in this time was bad news with capital letters.


“What is the problem,” Brant demanded turning his attention to Dave, “I told you already that Avery’s not feeling well and the last thing she needs is you losers hanging around making things worse.”
“I just wanted to have a word with her,” Dave explained politely, “I realize she’s taking this hard, but still…”
“Still nothing,” Brant argued with him, “Avery and Bruce broke up a while ago.  She hasn’t seen him in quite some time, so why bother with harassing her?  Shouldn’t you be out at the donut shop or solving your next big mystery seeing as there isn’t anything here to work on?  Clearly Bruce drown or hey maybe he realized that he was truly pathetic and he decided to kill himself,” Brant shrugged his shoulders simply, “Either way it doesn’t give you an excuse to bother Avery.”
“Brant,” Kenneth reached out to his brother trying to calm the fire burning behind Brant’s eyes, “Dave is just doing his job.”
“Yeah well he can do it somewhere else because he’s not welcome here,” Brant glared back at Dave, “I realize you’re Ken’s pal and I respect that, but Bruce Mathis dying isn’t a good enough reason for you to open up your squad room in our living room.  We’ve said all there is to say…”
“Look Brant, I just wanted to talk to Avery since…” Dave began apologetically.
“Since nothing,” Brant cut him off, “She’s been hounded by the press long enough, so why are you guys starting as well?  She doesn’t know anything about Bruce’s motivation for doing what he’s done, so why bother her?”
“According to one of her neighbors, Bruce paid Avery a visit a couple of days ago and I was hoping she could shed some light upon why he would do something like this,” Dave explained simply, “it’s all very routine.”
“Look, if the guy couldn’t handle the fact that Avery moved on with her life, it’s his problem, not hers…” Brant stared once again as Kenneth cleared his throat.
“Could you excuse us for a moment,” Kenneth looked to Dave before pulling Brant aside.  He gave Brant a stern look before lowering his voice a bit, “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to restore peace and order in my home,” Brant stated simply, “This isn’t the police station, so I want them all to leave.”
“Brant, Dave is just doing his job and trying to piece things together,” Kenneth began with a frown.
“There’s nothing to piece together,” Brant shook his head dismissively.
“A man is dead,” Kenneth’s voice was just above a whisper, “and there might be reason for the police to question it.”
“So let them question it elsewhere,” Brant gave his brother a firm look, “They don’t need to stay here.”
“Brant,” Kenneth drew in a breath not knowing how to make this situation any easier, “Listen, if you can keep your mouth shut for five minutes, then I’ll call Hart.  I’ll have him come over just in case…”
“In case what,” Brant gave his brother a sideways glance, “What are you worried about?”
“Brant, I know what we talked about when you brought Avery home,” Kenneth’s eyes reminded him, “I know how you felt about things…”
“Even so that doesn’t mean anything and I won’t let them exploit what happened to Avery under any circumstances,” Brant continued with a frown, “She wants her private life to stay private and I intend to keep it that way.”
“Brant, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea considering that…”
“Ken, listen to me.  Think about this for a moment,” Brant threw out at him, “I heard about when Caitlin was attacked outside her work and I also heard about your calling Dave in afterwards.  She was furious with you for stepping in on her toes and it almost cost you a relationship, did it not?”
“Excuse me,” Kenneth blinked back surprised.
“Look the walls have ears around here,” Brant shook his head simply, “Listen this isn’t about anything more than preserving our right to privacy and Avery’s right as well.  Clearly because we’re Ashfords the world feels they have a right to know everything about our personal lives and this time, well, this time they’ve gone too far and I don’t want anyone sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong…especially not with Avery.”
“Brant,” Kenneth began before sighing in resignation, “Alright I’ll call Hart, but I’m warning you not another word.”
“Fine,” Brant shrugged his shoulders, “Whatever you say.”
“If only it was that easy,” Kenneth muttered under his breath going off to call his partner as Brant looked around the room hating the uninvited guests that filled the mansion.  The last thing he wanted was a crowd and as he looked over to Russell Denton, the two exchanged glances as they were both in agreement about one thing.  The last place any heat should be directed was on Avery and both men would be sure to keep it from falling that way.  That much was a given.


Jenna Carpenter reached for the pair of sunglasses she knew she’d had hidden beneath the visor of her Jeep Cherokee hoping to find a way to keep the sun’s invasive rays from making this day any worse than it already had started off to be.  Sure in her line of work death was a part of the business…about as normal as liposuction was to the typical plastic surgeon, but this time, well this time it had a different feel to it.  Sure, she was used to the late night calls--even the early morning calls didn’t tend to bother her as they were part of the job, but this time, well this time all the rules had changed as this time she was dealing with the death of someone her best friend had been seeing for quite some time.  That in itself made this that much harder.
Sure, the job wasn’t exactly the kind that you’d write home about and brag to over family dinner, but Jenna enjoyed what she did.  The dead seemed to hold so much more appeal over the living…well, at least for the most part, but when she’d come to find Bruce Mathis earlier this morning, it innerved her.  Certainly her colleagues would say something about this strange feeling setting in the pit of her stomach--that was if they’d known about her queasiness, but being that she was Coral Valley’s best, it would be guaranteed that no one would ask anything other than what she felt about the case before her.  She’d seen things like this plenty of times--enough to not allow personal feelings to get the best of her, but as she looked to the newspaper in the passenger seat beside her, a frown touched over her lips.
“What had Avery been thinking,” Jenna thought aloud to herself seeing the headline smeared out on the front page for all the world to see.  It was bad enough that Bruce was dead, but now with Avery moving into the Ashford mansion, well, Jenna realized she clearly hadn’t been doing her duties as a best friend if things had changed that dramatically for Avery.  Sure Avery had told her tales of Brant and his shameless flirtations, but to find out that Avery was engaged to the man, well that was in a word--mind boggling and something that Jenna would be sure to talk to her about--that is when this part of the job was over with.
Now as Jenna turned off the main street and headed up the hill towards the Ashford mansion, she prepared herself to face Dave Warner and his crew.  If he’d just kept his damned cell phone on, then she wouldn’t have had to bother with this trip, but upon making the call to the police station, she got the message that Dave wanted the results of her examination of the body right away.  While she was in a good frame of mind to tell Dave Warner and the others where they could stick it, she realized that she was treading on thin ice after she’d had a less than savory experience with one of the Coral Valley’s finest.
A shudder passed through her as she thought to her brief dating experience with Lieutenant Patrick Sharpe.  Sure, she’d been fooled by his good looks and sexy smile in the course of their brief time working together, but she’d always been smart enough to keep her personal and professional life separate.  Still when she looked back upon the experience, she wondered what had possessed her to think that a night out with one of the CVPD’s notorious ladies men would be a good thing.  After one date, she’d realized that the dead had much more to offer and she’d tried to cut it off.  Unfortunately Patrick didn’t take a hint easily and she’d wound up dealing with a lawsuit on her hands after he’d thought that ‘no’ wasn’t a sufficient enough answer and he’d earned the honor of a very intimate meeting with her knee to his groin and her fist to his face.  She’d chalked it up as negative reinforcement, while he’d considered it brutality on her part.  He’d even gone so far as to take the case to court saying that she’d overstepped her boundaries in assaulting him while he was on duty, which of course was a lie as he’d gotten off his shift and was harassing her at work, but still in the eyes of the court he was the law and anyone who messed with the law was just asking for it which meant she spent most of her time paying for that act of boldness on her part.  Still, if he hadn’t had damned Hart Steiner representing him, then she wouldn’t have to be kissing Dave Warner’s ass right about now.
Oh the nerve of that man, Jenna groaned inwardly as she thought back to the smug expression on Hart Steiner’s face as he and Patrick managed to rake her through the coals getting her up on charges of sexual harassment against Patrick.  To believe Patrick had been the victim was just another case of how the system didn’t work when there was enough money to spare and a lawyer who didn’t mind blurring the edges now and then.  Hart’s speech about how it would be against his ethical beliefs to let the injustice she’d caused against one of Coral Valley’s great protectors go unpunished was enough to make her want to vomit as the idea of a lawyer with any sense of ethics was enough to make her lose herself to laughter.  If there was indeed such a lawyer, Hart Steiner was not that man.  Okay, so Avery wasn’t the typical kind of lawyer, she reasoned thinking back to her best friend, but then again Avery wasn’t a man who thought that the world revolved around him and his ability to wax poetic in all the worst ways.  Still stressing about what was said and done wasn’t going to change what she had to do this morning…
Jenna turned her attention back to the job at hand as she thought to what she had to tell Dave.  That in itself made her on edge as she’d once again be proving that the police were wrong with their initial thoughts on things.  They never did seem to get anything right these days and if it wasn’t for her, she was certain that they’d be facing a great many lawsuits of their own.  Then again perhaps that was why the courts had been so generous with her after Hart’s character assassination upon her.  Still, knowing that she had to do her job and do it better than anyone else, she forced herself to think about what she’d had to share with Dave.
Pulling her car into the circular drive of the Ashford mansion, she looked to the marked squad cars before her as a breath spilled over her lips.  Here goes nothing, she thought to herself as she marched up to the door ready to present Dave Warner with her findings.
“Well look what the cat dragged in,” a voice beckoned her as Jenna spun around to find Hart Steiner coming up the walk away, “I didn’t think the medical examiner made house calls.”
“Drop dead,” Jenna spat back at him turning her attention back to the door before her.  She rang the bell vowing not to lose her temper with Hart beside her.
“I can see you’re feeling chipper as usual,” Hart quipped eyeing her closely, “and seeing that you’re here, I suppose that says something about the Mathis case, huh?”
“It says it’s none of your business,” Jenna faced him boldly her eyes seething with distain for him, “I’m here to see Chief Warner.”
“Which means that there is more to the story than the police are letting on,” Hart pressed further, “So what’s the scoop, Jenna?  Are we to assume you‘re here to tell us all that the accident was no accident?”
“Do you honestly believe if there was something to tell that I’d share it with you,” Jenna remarked dryly, “because if you believe that, then you’re even more ignorant than I took you to be.”
“I think you don’t give me near enough credit,” Hart threw out one of his dashing smiles that Jenna was certain he’d used to somehow charm most of the poor, unfortunate women who happened to cross his path, but she was smarter than most.  She knew very well what a viper he was and she was certain to watch her step with him.
“So come on,” Hart leaned in towards her, “Tell me what you know.”
“I know that you’re a jackass,” Jenna threw out an icy smile, “but then again that was always a case of public record anyways,” she turned her attention away from him as the door opened to the mansion and Kenneth stood before the both of them giving them both a look.
“Dr. Carpenter,” Kenneth gave her a sideways glance, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see Dave Warner,” Jenna explained matter of fact before motioning to Hart, “and I presume he’s here for you.”
“Sure, he’s inside.  Come on in.  Did you two arrive together,” Kenneth asked shakily as he looked to his partner.
“Are you kidding,” Hart let out a chortle as Jenna pushed her way past the two of them, “How dumb do I look?  However, her being here tells me that there’s more to this story than what you gave me over the phone.”
“I’m not sure of that yet,” Kenneth frowned in response as he motioned over towards Brant, “but just in case, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have added support.”
“In that case, I’m glad to oblige,” Hart’s gazed traveled over to Jenna and Dave as they spoke with one another, “Have the police said anything?”
“Nothing more than what I told you over the phone,” Kenneth answered simply, “but given the amount of time they’re spending here, I’m starting to wonder…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hart boasted proudly, “Give me five minutes and they’ll be gone.”
“I think they would’ve been gone earlier if Brant would’ve just learned how to shut up,” Kenneth frowned as he looked back to his brother, “He’s so bent on keeping Avery out of this that he’s doing his usual…”
“Hey, you don’t need to explain,” Hart shook his head simply, “this is harassment and if they’ve come here to talk about the drowning, well they’ve said what’s needed to be said and I think they should go find a donut shop to congregate to instead of bringing more media onto the front lawn.”
“They still haven’t gone away, huh,” Kenneth frowned again.
“Afraid not, but hey media isn’t always a bad thing,” Hart offered encouragingly, “if the police refuse to leave we could always use that in our favor.”
“I really don’t think that’s a…” Kenneth began as Brant stepped forward.
“Hart, glad you were prompt in getting here,” Brant announced with smile, “My fiancée is upstairs in bed and doesn’t need this kind of interruption in her life.  The press camped out on the lawn is enough and I’d like to get rid of them,” he motioned towards the police, “Ken here is afraid I’ll do something that he might regret, so he figured you being here might ease things along a bit.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Hart promised turning his attention to the crowd as he noticed the Denton brothers across the way, “What are they doing here?”
“Long story,” Brant piped in, “but worry about them later.  Right now I want them gone,” Brant waved his finger at the uniformed officers.
“I’ll get right on it,” Hart agreed heading towards Dave as he planted on a confident smile, “Dave, hey how’s it going?”
“Hart,” Dave greeted him with a nod, “what are you doing here?”
“Oh you know Ken and I are partners and I was in the neighborhood,” Hart shrugged his shoulders as he looked towards the officers, “So what’s seems to be the problem this morning?”
“We’re conducting a murder investigation it seems,” Dave explained with a frown as he motioned towards Jenna, “at least that’s what I’ve been told.  You‘re sure about it not being an accident?”
“Dave, I told you this ten times already,” Jenna’s eyes darted towards Hart, “but I’d rather not talk about this in front of him.”
“We’re all among friends,” Hart smiled sweetly, “I don’t mind.”
Jenna opened her mouth to speak before stopping herself.  She looked to Dave again, “Bruce Mathis was dead long before his body wound up in the lake.”
“What did you say,” Kenneth stepped forward upon hearing her words.
“I said that clearly Bruce Mathis had anything but an accident,” Jenna explained reluctantly as all eyes in the room fell upon her, “What happened last night was nothing short of murder, that much I’m certain of,” she finished as a silence filled the room and Kenneth looked to his brother wondering if perhaps Brant had been playing God with other people’s lives once again.  He just hoped that wasn’t the case as now hearing that Bruce was murdered it opened up a whole world of problems--problems that Kenneth was afraid even the Ashfords might not be able to fix.

...to be continued...