Episode Twenty Four

Jade answered the door, expecting Cameron to come haunting her. Instead she was greeted with the site of a weary Grady. She instantly reached out to him to draw him inside, "You look like hell."

"Gee, nice to see you too, Jade," Grady replied with sarcasm as he stepped inside the apartment at her urging.

She led him directly to the sofa and sank down beside him, "What happened?"

"I haven't gotten to sleep yet."

"You what?" She questioned.

"After I brought you home last night, I went back to the house and needed to unwind a little, but I checked my messages and one of Russ' ex-girlfriends is having a crisis. So Russ is all tied up in a mess, and I may have to get him out of it," Grady groaned as he lay his head back on the sofa and closed his eyes, "I just want to smack him for being so stupid."

"What kind of mess has he gotten himself into?" Jade asked as she gently brushed her fingers through Grady's hair in a soothing manner.

"Avery Morrison…you know, BBK's watch dog…she and Russ were a hot item once upon a time. He even wanted to marry her, but she bolted out of his life. Now, he's got himself all tied up in that dream again and he thinks he's her protector. So her ex-boyfriend is dead, and I'm wondering just whether or not Russ had something to do with it."

"You…Russ? Come on, he's a teddy bear," She said with a disbelieving smile.

"He can be, but when his temper is red hot," He shrugged, "I'm worried about him. And with the news hitting every paper that Avery's engaged to Brant Ashford.."

"Wait, hold it. The Brant Ashford? That woman was one time involved with Russ? What happened to her taste in men?" Jade asked with disgust.

"Yeah well, I don't know all the ins and outs of the story, but Russ and Brant hate each other. Add that to the fact that they went out together last night and Avery calling me in a panic about where they could have gone," He shook his head, "I'm really worried."

"Grady, whatever was done is in the past. All you can do is think about protecting Russ in the future," She gently touched his cheek, "Have you eaten anything?"

"No, but to be honest, I'm not hungry. All I want to do is go to bed and sleep for about a week," He admitted with a heavy sigh. He looked to her and smiled as he met her eyes, "So tell me about your day. Tell me something to make me forget about Russ."

"You don't want to know about my day," She said, knowing that the last thing Grady needed was something else to worry about, "Why don't you let me fix you some soup or something light? Then you can go get in bed and get some sleep."

"Why do you put up with me?"

She smiled as she leaned forward and gently kissed him, "Because you're the man of my dreams. Haven't I told you that before?"

"Oh here we go with the flattery," He chuckled, "How about we just hold on with that soup bit and you can tuck me in."

"Are you getting fresh with me?" She teased.

"Not tonight I ain't," He said blandly, "I'm too damn tired to do either one of us any good."

Jade chuckled as she took his hand and drug him off the sofa, "Come on. Let's get you into bed," She said as she led him down the hall to her bedroom to put him in her bed. While she'd wanted him in her bed for a long time, this wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind.


Russell collected Avery in his arms contemplating what had thrown him for a bigger loop--Avery’s fainting once again or Brooke Morrison’s arrival.  He was banking on the later of the two as he hugged Avery closer into his chest carefully carrying her towards one of the plush sofas in the Ashford living room.  Now as he gingerly lowered Avery down on the leather sofa before him, he could hear Brooke’s piercing tone cut through the air like nails on a chalkboard.
“What in the world is Russell Denton doing here,” she questioned her voice laced with obvious distaste as Russell nearly winced at the obvious loathing she still held for him.  He heard her grow nearer as her tone tapered off just a bit, “Is he part of the hired help around here these days?”
“Always the same pain in the ass, aren’t you Brooke?” Russell blurted out unable to contain himself as he looked over his shoulder at her, “Tell me what brings you to Coral Valley this time?  Your antagonistic need to kick Avery while she’s down or is it just the notion that perhaps maybe this time you can land yourself a piece of Brant’s fortune in the process?”
Brooke’s eyes widened with feigned insult as she glared down at him, “Just the very notion of seeing you this close to my daughter is enough to make me want to cringe and if I didn’t know better, well then I might be quite upset indeed by this picture before me, but given that I know my daughter’s taste in men has evolved,” she smiled at Brant reaching out to take his arm curtly, “well, it does give a mother hope.”
“As it should,” Brant nodded proudly, “Avery and I are very happy together and when she wakes up, I’m sure she’ll have no problem sharing that wonderful news with you.”
“When I’d heard about the engagement, I must confess that I was elated to see that my daughter had finally grown into her good senses,” Brooke flashed him a bright, white smile as she patted his arm, “I always knew it was a matter of time before Avery found a good man in her life that was worthy of all that she was,” she looked to Russell briefly her eyes shooting daggers at him, “Granted I love my daughter with all my heart, but she was known for scraping the bottom of the barrel from time to time.”
Russell fought the urge to give Brooke more of a piece of his mind, but as he looked back to Avery, he vowed to ignore her insults as he reached out to Avery touching her pale cheek.
“Don’t you touch her,” Brooke snapped down at him, “My daughter doesn’t want your hands on her--that much I’m certain of,” Brooke smiled up at Brant, “especially not when she has a loving fiancé to take care of her now.”
“Avery is very important to me,” Brant nodded in confession, “I must confess however, that your timing is impeccable with your arrival.  We’ve had a very long morning and I think it would be good for Avery to see a familiar, caring face.”
“Which is exactly why Brooke’s arrival is the last thing Avery needs right about now,” Russell blurted out unable to suppress the anger building up inside of him, “She doesn’t need any more harassment.”
“Harassment,” Brooke placed her hand upon her chest with an exaggerated gasp, “why I never…”
“Oh boy,” Kenneth murmured as he watched the scene unfolding before him and Caitlin, “This should be fun.”
“What’s going on?” Caitlin whispered feeling the tension lick over the atmosphere, she leaned into Kenneth.
“Brooke Morrison is one person I think we’d be best to just as soon avoid,” Kenneth confessed in a tight whisper, “Avery’s reaction to her is only a glimmer of what the rest of the world feels whenever she’s around.”
“In that case,” Caitlin pressed her fingers over his arm with a nudge, “I think that might be our cue to take an exit before things get ugly.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Kenneth decided realizing that while Russell might not be able to handle Brooke any more than he could, Brant would be sure to charm her one way or another.  With that thought in mind, he and Caitlin ducked out of sight, leaving Brant to work his magic on Avery’s impossible mother.
Now as the occupants of the room tapered down to Brant, Avery, Russell, and Brooke, Brant felt the tension coursing through the air bringing forth a curious observation as he noted the way Brooke glared at Russell.  So she too couldn’t stand Russell’s constant doting on Avery--perhaps her being here was a good thing--a very good thing indeed.
“So tell me,” Brooke broke through Brant’s thoughts, “Does my daughter make it a habit to collapse around here, or was it due to whatever ill-conceived notions he brought with him this morning,” she finished icily as she looked to Russell.
“Avery’s morning has been less than savory I must confess,” Brant offered with a sigh, “One of her ex-acquaintances was found in Lake Cardinal earlier this morning and the police paid us a visit.”
“Oh my,” Brooke feigned concern, “who was it?” her eyes narrowed down at Russell, “Since obviously I know who it wasn’t.”
“Bruce Mathis,” Brant explained simply seeing the agitation building behind Russell’s features as Brant threw him out a warning look.  Granted Russell wasn’t his favorite person, but given the lengths in which they’d gone to in order to protect Avery, he’d hoped Russell would keep himself under control.
“Avery’s doctor friend,” Brooke’s eyes widened in surprise, “Now that is a shock to say the least.”
“I’m sure you’re crushed about it,” Russell remarked offhandedly, “especially since you had such high hopes about having Bruce for a son in law.”
“Nonsense,” Brooke dismissed his comment, “I’ll have you know I never felt that man was good enough for my precious little girl.  He was lacking the character which Brant here clearly possesses,” she touched Brant’s arm once again, “Avery is very lucky to have found you in her life.”
“I’m the lucky one Mrs. Morrison,” Brant smiled back at her flashing her that winning grin that worked well with those he’d sought to make an impression with.
“Call me Brooke,” she fawned over him, “since we are practically family at this point.”
“Alright Brooke,” he nodded in response, “So tell me what brings you to Coral Valley?”
“Well truth be told when I’d heard the news about your and Avery’s engagement, I had to wonder why my little darling hadn’t called me to share this happiness,” Brooke began in a sickenly sweet tone, “considering that we tend to share everything with one another.”
“The engagement news was still rather fresh in the air and while Avery and I had planned on sharing it with our families, I’m afraid that the media decided to run with it before we really had a chance to do so ourselves.”
“They often tend to do that,” she thought it over, “but truth be told I’m glad that we’re all together now as I can’t wait to learn more about the man who’s turned my little girl’s world around.”
“And I look forward to learning more about her charming mother,” Brant lifted her hand to his lips kissing it politely, “as I’m sure there’s much to the story.”
“More than you know,” Brooke smiled brightly, “but I’m sure as time goes on, you’ll see that we’re all going to fit together beautifully as a family,” her eyes fell upon Russell once again, “most of us anyways…”
“As exciting as this is turning out to be,” Russell frowned deeply, “Perhaps I should take Avery upstairs to rest again.”
“I can do it,” Brant stepped forward unhooking Brooke’s arm from his shoulder, “since she is after all my fiancée.”
“I can see you’re busy entertaining,” Russell explained matter of fact as the very sight of Brooke sent a shudder rushing over him, “so I don’t mind doing it.”
“Actually I’m sure my daughter would be more comforted to know that her fiancé is tending to her,” Brooke piped in with a glare, “although I’m sure she’s appreciated whatever it is you’ve done for her--then again probably not…”
“I’m not leaving her especially not now,” Russell stated firmly as Brant stepped in beside him.
“It’s really not a problem, Russell,” Brant threw him a warning look, “I can take care of Avery.”
“But I left that thing upstairs…” Russell argued with him.
“And I’m sure you can come back and pick it up in the morning,” Brant argued with him, his voice growing agitated, “Avery won’t mind.”
“I’d rather get it now,” Russell countered as Avery began to stir on the sofa.
“Russ,” she breathed as her eyelashes fluttered up at him.  Instantly he turned back to her offering her his full attention as he touched her cheek gently.
“I’m right here,” he promised as she looked up to him with glazed brown eyes.
“Wh-where am I?” she questioned gently as her eyes focused on the room around her, “What’s going on?”
“You just fainted,” he explained gently, “but everything is going to be okay.”
“Honestly,” Avery questioned with a soft moan, “where’s Brant?”
“He’s here too,” Russell reluctantly turned toward Brant motioning for Brant to come closer.
“Hey beautiful,” Brant lowered himself beside Avery as he reached out to her touching her face, “how are you feeling?”
“Like hell,” she commented with an inward groan, “I had a nightmare--a horrible nightmare that not only were we dealing with Bruce’s death but…”
“Oh darling, mother’s here,” Brooke pushed herself into the thick of things moving her way in beside Avery on the sofa.  She reached for Avery’s hand, her voice laced with motherly concern that Avery felt was altogether foreign for the woman who’d given birth to her, “Everything is going to be alright.”
“I’ve died and gone to hell,” Avery groaned inwardly as she looked between the trio before her realizing that the only thing worse than this all being a nightmare was the fact that it was a reality.  With her mother in town things certainly were taking a turn for the worse.


“So much for a romantic evening together, huh,” Blake frowned slumping over in the passenger seat of Seth’s car as her eyes fell out upon the night sky, “I’m sure you didn’t plan on things turning out this way.”
“What way is that exactly,” Seth raised a curious brow noting that despite their talk back at the studio Blake was still feeling a sense of disarray and as he saw the sadness linger over her, he reached for her hand supportively, “hey, I happen to think you and I had a wonderful day together.  I mean not many women can get me working on my abs like that so early on in the relationship.”
“You thought it was awful,” she sighed turning her soft blue eyes in his direction, “You don’t have to pretend.”
“Blake, I’m not pretending,” Seth frowned in response realizing that some heavy duty reinforcements were in order as he pulled off the main road heading towards a special place that might help him ease Blake’s troubled thoughts, “In fact, I’d have to say that today by far was one of the greatest days of my life and that’s because it was spend with you.”
“Seth,” she felt a heat rise over her cheeks as she thought of their day together.  Sure spending time at the gym had been entertaining and then the beautiful picnic he’d planned for her at the studio, but still her thoughts trailed back to their failed attempt at making love.  How she wished she’d just kept her mouth shut and not told him the horrible truth.  Sure, she’d never really felt compelled that piece of herself with someone before, but now with Seth, she hated that she’d revealed so much.  If she’d just not gotten ahead of herself, she could be lost in his arms right now sharing one of the most intimate, wonderful experiences of her life, but no she just had to let herself get carried away and that in her opinion was just simply horrible.
“I hope you’re not too exhausted,” Seth’s harmonious voice rumbled through her thunderously depressing thoughts as she slowly turned her attention back to him, “because I do have one more surprise for us.”
“Really,” she questioned lightly trying to force a smile despite her sour mood, “are you sure that you don’t want to get rid of me?”
“Blake, you’re being too hard on yourself, but we’re going to change that,” Seth promised pulling into an empty parking lot as he looked over at her, “Tell me something, do you still think there’s a chance that I can make the most of this evening and still have your beautiful body in my arms?”
“Seth,” her face grew hot with images of what they’d been doing earlier.  Could it be that he’d changed his mind about making love or was it he felt pity on the poor little rich girl?  Frowning as the doubts spun a nasty web inside of her head, she felt his fingers caress over her silken skin.
“Blake, just trust me,” Seth beckoned her from her darkness as he stepped out of his car circling around to open her door for her.  Extending his arm out towards her, he helped her to her feet as he pulled her into his arms, “Blake Ashford, while you think tonight was some kind of disappointment in my eyes, the truth to the matter is that I couldn’t love you more than I do in this moment,” he leaned forward kissing her tenderly as his hand lifted to her cheek easing over her vulnerable flesh, “and when the time is right, I promise you that nothing will stop us from being together in every sense of the word.  Just the knowledge that you want to share something so wonderful and special with me gives me reason to want to prove myself to you--to show you that you have my heart completely,” his fingers slipped through blonde tresses feeling the warmth of her beneath his touch, “and I hope that you realize that tonight is only the beginning of happily ever after for us.”
“Oh Seth,” she felt tears pool in her blue eyes as the moonlight hung over the two of them, “I don’t know what to say.”
“Promise me that you won’t push me away knowing that I want you more than ever,” Seth’s lips teased over hers as he reached for her wrist drawing it up against the center of his chest over his heart, “Know that with each breath that I take, with each furious pounding beneath your touch, that my heart belongs to only you.”
“Seth, I…I don’t know that to say as I’m sure I don’t deserve this,” Blake felt a tear slip past her cheek.
“On the contrary, I’m the one who doesn’t deserve any of this, but now that I have the opportunity to show you a world of love, I want to savor every moment of it, starting now,” he lifted her off her toes squeezing her in against his chest, “Tell me Blake, have you ever taken a walk in the clouds before.”
“A walk in the clouds?” she repeated curiosity laced in her tone.
“That’s right,” he nodded in confession carrying her towards the building they’d stopped at.  His right arm snugly wrapped around her body, keeping her against him as he fumbled in his pocket for his keys.  Upon finding them, he eased the whining door open carrying Blake into the darkness.
“Seth, where are we exactly,” Blake questioned through the thick blackness surrounding them.
“You’ll see,” he promised setting her on her feet once again as she felt the warmth of him slip away from her.
“Seth?” she spoke his name extending her arms out to embrace the darkness as her pulse quickened.  The black world felt cold and foreign as Blake took a step forward debating whether or not she should continue to try to seek out Seth, but as the silence was replaced by a multihued hint of color, Blake looked to the ground seeing that there was smoke on the ground, covering the floor.  She kicked her foot around realizing that somehow despite the fact that she knew she was on some kind of wooden surface, the smoke gave the illusion of, well, clouds and suddenly she remembered Seth’s words.  She opened her mouth to speak as shades of indigo surrounded her completely.  Suddenly the darkness had transformed into something wonderful--something she couldn’t quite place into words and as a soft, Latin melody filled the atmosphere, she felt a pair of arms slip around her slender waist.
“I promised you a walk in the clouds,” Seth turned her in his arms drawing her body in against his as he collected her in an embrace, “I hope you don’t mind if we change it to a dance instead.”
“I don’t think a dance would be out of the question,” Blake smiled feeling the rhythm sweep them up in the feel of magic as the night was laced with promise of things to come as they held onto one another without a care in the world.


Shannon sat behind a desk she'd stolen from one of Dave's detectives. While the Coral Valley police department hadn't welcomed her, she'd made herself right at home in their station house. It was a routine she'd gotten used to since transferring to the Bureau. Local police didn't like feds entering their territory much less stealing an investigation out from under them. She wasn't going to let their dislike of her disrupt her investigation. She had a job to do, and she would do exactly what the job called for to the best of her ability.

She'd only been partially dishonest when speaking with Dave earlier. She was in Coral Valley to investigate the Mathis case because of the Ashfords, but it wasn't as cut and dry as all that. BBK Pharmaceuticals had been on the Bureau's radar for a while, especially while Nicholas Ashford had run things. When Brant took over the reigns, the Bureau had watched him carefully to see just how closely he would follow in his father's footsteps. With the death of his fiancée's former lover, the powers that be at the Bureau believed that Brant conducted business just as his father had.

Shannon had warned her bosses that there would be backlash in Coral Valley. While there would always be the locals versus the feds controversy, there was much more to the story this time around. The very fact that she and Brant had been lovers added more fuel to the fire. Her bosses had dismissed the notion and instead decided that her knowledge of Brant Ashford made her the perfect agent for the case. She wasn't sure she agreed with their assessment.

She opened the responding officer's report and began to read. This was the part of investigations she hated. She'd much rather be in the field, gathering evidence, and questioning witnesses to the tedium of reading the reports of police officers. All too often they were the same generic mumbo jumbo that all cadets learned at the police academy. The time the call was taken, the time the officer arrived, the basic look-see procedures…it was the same boring drivel every time in every report. Why couldn't police officers every learn to give a little description in their reports?

"You're still here?" Dave questioned from the doorway of the office, frowning as he noted that she had entrenched herself in the office. Her laptop sat upon the desk while two file boxes sat on the sofa nearby with white tape surrounding them with bold letters indicating they were federal property. It appeared she was going to be here for some time to come.

"Yes, I am," Shannon said flatly as she continued to read over the report, "Where is this Officer Gravely?"

"He's off duty. It is late, you know," He pointed out, "You can talk to him in the morning."

"First thing," She nodded as she closed the file, "Tell me something. How does a guy like Bruce Mathis attract the attention of someone capable of the kind of rage used to kill him?"

"Good question," He shrugged as he moved to take a seat on a barstool that propped the door open, "So what are your first impressions of this case?"

"Obviously this was someone who knew him."

"Obviously?" He asked.

"The kind of rage that was used here," She shook her head, "It's the kind that only someone personally involved can wield. Whoever the perp is, he was pissed off."

"You said he…why?"

"Because of the strength involved to beat him this way."

"It could have been a woman, you know," Dave pointed out, "The ME said that there was a weapon used. A woman can swing a bat just as hard as any man if she's pissed."

"Okay, granted," Shannon nodded, "So we need to start with family and friends."

"He doesn't have any family, and his friends are limited to people at the hospital. And then there's Avery…"

"Ah yes, Brant's new plaything," She nodded, "What's she like?"

"An attorney who works for BBK," Dave said with a grin.

"Another airhead from BBK?" She shook her head, "Will he never learn?"

"Avery's no airhead. She's highly intelligent, and she can argue with the best of them in a courtroom."

"So why is she interested in Brant?"

"Why were you?"

"That really has no bearing on this case."

"And neither does Avery's interest in Brant other than the fact that it exists."

Shannon nodded as she frowned, "Point taken."

"So I guess this means you're going to want to talk to Avery, huh?"

"Yes, I will. As soon as possible actually. So I'll speak with your officer then go to speak with her."

"You'll need to contact her attorney first. Kenneth Ashford, you'll find his office number in the yellow pages."

"Kenneth…what the hell is he doing involved in all of this?" Shannon asked as she put together pieces of the puzzle in her mind, "There's more to this than we're seeing."

"And how can you be so sure?"

"Because Kenneth doesn't get involved in just anything. If he's representing this woman, there must be a good reason."

"Yeah, she's going to be his sister-in-law. You know how Ken feels about family."

"Yes, I do, but I also know that if he thought for a minute that this woman had done something illegal, he'd urge her to turn herself in."

"Or maybe he thinks she didn't do something illegal and he's protecting her from whatever she did do."

"What the hell did you just say?" Shannon asked as she looked at him in utter confusion.

"Say that Avery did whack Bruce in self defense. Maybe Ken knows why and wants to protect her."

"Now that I could buy," She nodded, "But why go to all the trouble? Why not just admit that something happened and explain the circumstances? With Avery's newfound status in the Ashford household, the DA would be willing to accept her story."

Dave shook his head, "Yeah, but you saw the pictures of the body. That wasn't self defense."

She sank back in her chair and nodded, "You're right. It was much too violent for self defense."

"So we're back to square one."

"Maybe," She said as she tapped the end of her pencil against the desk, "Still, I want to talk to her."

"Call Ken first thing in the morning and set it up. We'll see how it goes from there."

Shannon nodded as Dave left the office. Opening the file containing the photos of the crime scene, she studied the area around the body at length. There had to be some piece of evidence just waiting to be found that would hang their killer. There always was. The trouble was it was almost never easy to find.


Heather groaned as she flipped channels. Cable television sure wasn't what it used to be. Infomercials, re-runs from a million years ago, and movies that everyone who's ever seen a VCR has watched a million times was the regular fare. Why couldn't these people come out with something new after all this time?

Luckily a knock at the door saved her from television boredom. She switched off the television before answering the door. Instantly, her hopes of being saved from boredom were dashed, "Hi Kipp."

"Heather, you look amazing," Kipp said with a big smile as he stepped forward and kissed her on the cheek, "I've brought cheese and wine. I thought we could just enjoy the night."

"How thoughtful," She droned as he proceeded across the room. She closed the door and wondered if her career was really worth spending time with such a nerd. He really was beneath her, but his father…now that's where all the brains were in the family. Why couldn't he have been in Coral Valley instead of Kipp?

"I also brought us a movie I thought you might enjoy," He said as he slipped the DVD out of his jacket pocket.

"You're really just too sweet. All of this…well…it's a nice change of pace to what my night was like," She said as she sank onto the sofa and watched him slip the corkscrew into the bottle. If only the voters could see her now, they'd be screaming Oscar winning performance.

"Sunday nights are always so boring, and when the Sopranos aren't on HBO…well, you can forget quality television," He said as he gathered two wine glass from behind the bar and poured them full of the lush red wine he'd brought with him, "I thought you might enjoy this wine. It comes from my father's private stock."

"Oh really?" Her curiosity soared, "Is your father a wine collector?"

"Yes, he is. He's been through dozens of vineyards in France, and almost every one you can imagine in the United States. He's a true connoisseur," Kipp smiled as he placed the glass in her hand and sat beside her, "Here's to us."

"To us," She agreed before sipping the wine, "This is quite good."

"Of course it is," He smiled proudly before opening the small basket he'd brought along with him and began preparing elegant cheese atop gourmet crackers, "And here you are."

"Thank you," Heather replied as she eyed the cheese, wondering if she could stomach eating the one thing that really didn't like her. If ever there was a food in the world with an agenda, it was cheese. If she managed to swallow the nasty substance, it would remind her of it all night and well into the morning. Could she risk its wrath just to please Kipp?

"This is also gourmet cheese from my father's brand."

"Your father's brand?"

"Yes, my father owns a gourmet food service and this is from his own creation. You see, my father loves to dabble in the kitchen."

"Oh," She said as she looked at the cheese laying atop the cracker, looking so innocent. She could feel her stomach already revolting, but she knew that if she didn't at least take a bite, she'd face questions from Kipp and it would look almost as if she were insulting him or worse his father. She couldn't allow that. She bit into the cracker and chewed for a moment before swallowing. She forced a smile before washing down the cheese with a hearty gulp of wine, "That's quite good."

"Then have some more," Kipp said quickly as he prepared another cracker.

Heather inwardly groaned. She was going to regret this in the morning, more than anything else she'd ever done for her career. She took another cracker with a slight smile while Kipp stood and approached the entertainment center, "What movie did you bring?"

"Valley of the Dolls," He said with a grin, "You're a doll, and you're destined to become a star. I thought it was kind of a movie that you might enjoy."

Great, just what Heather needed. Not only was her stomach churning already from the cheese, but it was beginning to revolt at the idea of watching Patty Duke play a dope head one more time. She sighed and wondered just what god she had wronged this time. Whichever one it was, she would have to find a way to make her penance…and fast.


Avery settled in beneath the blankets of the guest room bed despite her many protests about the situation.  Brant and Russell had urged her to take some time to rest up, but now as she glared at her mother sitting on the edge of the bed, she knew that resting or taking it easy wouldn’t be possible in any sense of the word.  With an exaggerated sigh, she ran her fingers through her hair.
“What are you doing here, Brooke?” Avery questioned simply not wanting to have yet another battle with her egocentric mother.
“What am I doing here?  Avery, since when is it appropriate for you to withhold your engagement from your mother?  You’re about to be married to a remarkable man and yet you don’t call to tell your father and I the news?” Brooke shook her head at her clearly displeased with her daughter’s reluctance to have her around.
“Brooke, the last time I was going to get married, you saw fit to do everything in your power to keep me from making that walk down the isle,” Avery’s eyes shot daggers at her, “Why would I even think to inform you about any upcoming nuptials I might be having in the future after that?”
“Last time you were making a mistake,” Brooke reached out to her touching her shoulder gently, “We both know that now and while you hated me at the time, clearly you see that I was looking out for your best interest seeing as now you’ve met Brant and he’s a very charming man.”
“You and I know that how charming Brant is or isn’t is irrelevant to why you’re here, Brooke,” Avery snapped back at her, “My guess is you saw the story in the paper, read Ashford and hopped on the first flight out here.”
“Avery, I think I’m offended,” Brooke shook her head in strong disapproval, “to think so little of your mother…of the woman who nurtured you from childhood and beyond…it’s an absolute travesty and what’s with this ‘Brooke’ talk?  I laid in that hospital for eighteen hours in agony and nothing short of misery waiting for you to come into this world and for that I think I deserve some respect.”
“To have respect you have to earn it,” Avery shot back at her, “and insulting those that I care about and butting your nose in places that it doesn’t belong won’t get you any step closer to having it.”
“I haven’t said one malevolent word about Brant since my arrival because clearly your taste is improving darling,” Brooke tucked a strand of Avery’s hair behind her ear, “I always knew that you’d reach your potential one day and now seeing my daughter all grown up and ready to become Mrs. Brant Ashford, well it brings tears to my eyes.  I’ve never been more proud of you.”
“Of course you haven’t,” Avery pulled away from her, “Because it wasn’t enough for you when I worked my way through college and got my degree.  It didn’t matter that I was at the top of my class at Harvard or even for that I’m one of the top female lawyers out there because of all my hard work and dedication to my true passion in life.  All of the things that should matter to you, don’t, but suddenly you see a man gives me a ring that’s worth a small fortune and then and only then am I something of interest to you.  Why don’t you just spare me the line of crap and just leave?”
“Avery, I’m going to chalk this up as your not feeling well due to the nasty little spill you took earlier,” Brooke insisted with an icy smile, “because I know that when you get over this little tiff you seem to be having, you’re going to realize that you need your mother more than ever.  Planning a wedding is something that is very strenuous and time consuming, but with my connections, we can see to it that you and Brant have the wedding of the century--one that will be talked about for generations to come.”
“No,” Avery stated firmly, “I’m not going to let you waltz in here and start planning my life once again mother,” she finished with a hiss, “I’m not going to let you ruin me yet again.”
“Avery, I was saving you from yourself when you were dead set on marrying that awful blue collar man,” Brooke wrinkled her nose in strong disapproval, “He was nothing but a lifetime of misery and heartache waiting to happen.  His kind always is and he never, ever deserved you…”
“Leave Russell out of this,” Avery snapped back at her, “You don’t know the half about him and you never took the time to really see him for what he was.”
“He was the kind of boy I didn’t need screwing up my daughter’s life and if you have him lurking around again, I warn you that he’s going to do it to you all over and then you’re going to wind up miserable,” Brooke chastised her, “I told you time and time again that he was nothing, but trouble, yet you continued to defy me over and over again--for reasons which I’ll never understand.”
“That’s because you don’t know what acceptance means if the price isn’t right,” Avery threw back the blankets on the bed and she pulled herself to her feet swiftly, “You don’t want to see who people really are because you’re too busy turning your nose down at them.  Mother, I’m not like you and I don’t want to ever be like you.  How many times do I have to tell you that you’re not needed in my life?”
“Avery,” Brooke rose as well placing her hand over her chest, “you’re breaking my heart.  You are my daughter, my first child and you’re everything to me…”
“That’s a laugh.  You have to have a heart for it to break and besides the way I see it,” Avery rolled her eyes as she turned to the window, “you don’t know the first thing about me.”
“What I know is that you were destined for greatness and Brant Ashford is the first wise decision you’ve made,” Brooke insisted her voice laced with anger, “I could’ve made you a star--given you the world if you’d let me because heavens knows you could’ve had so much more, but now to spite me you’d rather throw insults in my direction than embrace the opportunity before you…”
“Mom you wanted me to be some mindless bimbo who wasted her life away in front of the camera’s eye.  From the moment I came into your life, all I was to you was some pawn you could use in your shameless attempts to get what you want and while you might’ve been content to have me as the face of Beholder Cosmetics while sporting a rich man on my arm who promised to take care of me and keep me pampered forever, that isn’t something I wanted.  It’s not who I am.”
“Avery, if you wouldn’t insist upon being so stubborn--”
“My stubborn side has nothing to do with how I feel about you and as for my situation with Brant,” Avery folded her arms in front of her chest, “It’s none of your business.”
“But nothing.  What Brant and I have together is for us to think about and deal with.  I don’t need your intrusions upon my life.  Is that understood?”
“Avery, I’m your mother,” Brooke’s dark eyes pleaded with her.
“You haven’t been one most of my adult life, so why start now,” Avery answered with a heavy sigh, “because I really don’t need this right now.”
“Avery, I…” Brooke began taking a step forward as there was a knock on the door.  A moment later Brant tipped his head inside and he looked to Avery.
“Everything alright in here?” Brant questioned his voice laced with apprehension.
Brooke stood taller clearing her throat as she flashed him a bright smile, “Avery was just telling me she needed her rest, but we will continue this in the morning,” Brooke turned her attention to Avery, “I hope you feel better soon.”
“I’m sure you do,” Avery watched her mother pull out all the stops in her ‘doting mother’ act.  Brooke stepped forward placing a kiss on Avery’s cheek before pulling back with a soft smile.
“Sweet dreams my darling daughter,” she whispered turning her focus to Brant once again, “Care to show me where my room will be?”
“Of course,” Brant nodded with a dashing smile as he held his arm out towards her, “it’s right this way.”
“Thank you,” Brooke glanced over at Avery once again, “I look forward to spending time with the both of you,” she finished as she stepped out of the room and Brant gave Avery one last longing look before leaving.
Unable to suppress the groan that had built up inside of her at her mother’s departure, Avery sank onto the mattress of the bed balling her hands up in fists as she began to assault the pillows beneath her.  When oh when would her mother ever just leave her alone, she screamed into the pillow’s plush surface as it muffled her cries.  Finally she sank back into the bed wishing the day away as the phone beside her rang.  She lifted it from it’s base, a sigh falling over her lips as she answered.
“House of hell,” she groaned as she closed her eyes.
“Brooke’s already throwing her weight around, huh,” Russell’s voice swept in over the line reaching over her as his friendly tone filled her inside with a comforting warmth.
“I’m ready to kill her,” Avery blurted out with a frown as she thought about her words.  With Bruce’s murder hanging over her mind, she found herself weary to say such things, “you know what I mean.”
“I know,” a pause followed before he spoke up again, “I kind of figured you might be a bit unsettled right about now.”
“Unsettled is putting it politely and believe me I’m feeling anything, but polite right now,” Avery confessed sadly, “I’m just ready to run away and forget it all.”
“Is that an invitation,” Russell questioned his voice filled with promise, “because I can dig out some rope and we can use it to have you shimmy your way out of the mansion…”
A laugh spilled over her lips as his words brought a smile to her face, “You were holding out on me the other night, huh,” Avery teased, “Here I was looking for handcuffs and it turns out you had rope all along.”
“I happened to think the tie was a nice touch,” Russell’s voice explained lightly, “though I do have a secret confession to make.”
“What’s that,” she sank in against her pillows.
“I’m wearing it right now, although it doesn’t have the same feel to it without you here,” his voice hinted at mischief as the memory of them together burned her to the core, “It misses you.”
“You still have my dress,” Avery pointed out her face hot at the memory, “perhaps you should let the tie cuddle up to that so it doesn’t feel so lonely.”
“I would do that, but then it might get ugly since I’m the one who’s taken to the dress,” Russell admitted in a low, sensual tone, “because it almost feels like I’m holding you right now with it beside me.”
“I wish I was still there in your arms,” Avery sighed letting the thought slip as she reopened her eyes suddenly thinking about her words.
“I wish you were too,” his voice held the same lazy tone as she heard the traces of sentiment carry over the phone line, “Although tonight I think I’d just settle for holding you close to me, to feel you in my arms knowing that I could bring you some peace for a little while.”
“It sounds like heaven,” Avery felt a wave of sentimentality sweep over her as a breath escaped her lips, “I should probably try to get some rest now though because I have a feeling Brooke isn’t going to let me be lazy in the morning.”
“Brooke needs to learn to lay off you,” a pause followed before he added, “Avery regardless of what she says just know that what’s really important is how you feel about you.  You’re an incredible, wonderful woman and while your mother might not make you feel that way, well, she’s pales in comparison to you.”
“Now you’re feeling full of flattery,” Avery smiled feeling a warmth spill over her, “You must be feeling truly sorry for me.”
“On the contrary, I’m looking forward to our morning ritual,” Russell confessed with a hint of laughter, “If you thought I was giving up just because you moved into the mansion, well you’re sadly mistaken.  I’ll be over with coffee and bear claws and maybe even some fresh sarcasm and wit for Brooke…”
“She’s going to make us all miserable you know,” Avery blurted out as her fingers curled over the phone cord, “She shouldn’t talk to you like she does.”
“Her insults I can handle,” Russell informed her simply, “but being away from you, well that’s an altogether different situation.”
“Russ,” Avery started thinking about the situations they’d found themselves in, “I don’t know if…”
“Avery, everything is going to be okay,” Russell promised her, “and considering that I’m your best friend in the world, well Brant’s made it known to anyone of interest that I’m going to be spending a lot of time with the two of you in the future…”
“Something I never imagined hearing from him, which begs the question once again of what really happened with you two last night,” Avery probed once again.
“Avery, there’s nothing to tell,” Russell replied simply, “Just know that the last thing either one of us wants is for you to be hurt in any way.”
“You’re both too good for me,” Avery sighed opting not to get into the discussion about his night with Brant as sleepiness began to stir inside of her, “Just promise me that everything will be okay.”
“Everything will be fine,” he answered gently, “Things have a way of working themselves out.”
“I used to believe that once upon a time,” she sighed snuggling in beneath the blankets, “but now…”
“Now you should try to rest,” his voice revealed the look of concern she was certain he had over his face on his end of the line.
“I’ll try,” Avery promised with a sigh, “but if it doesn’t work…”
“Then you can call me back and I’ll sing you a lullaby,” he offered with a hint of laughter, “though it might keep you awake at the sound of it considering…”
“I always enjoyed hearing you sing to me,” Avery admitted curling in beneath her blankets, “but I won’t ask you to do it right now.”
“I don’t mind if that’s what it takes to put you at ease.”
“Just tell me that everything is going to be normal again,” she asked of him.
“We’ll find a way to work it out,” he promised her.
“I hope so,” she yawned looking to the time, “good night Russell.”
“Sweet dreams Avery,” he replied his voice full of sentimentality as she reluctantly hung up the phone ready to put the day behind her.
Now settling in beneath the blankets, thoughts of Russell filled her head as she wondered what he and Brant had been up to with one another.  Fearing that they could be in some kind of trouble, she began to toss and turn realizing that somehow her mind had opened up to yet another world of dark and disastrous possibilities.  Add that to the thought that her mother was sleeping down the hall and she was ready to face a night of insomnia.  She looked to the phone contemplating calling Russell back when a knock at the door captured her attention.  She turned towards the sound seeing Brant look inside once again.
“You awake,” he asked gently.
“Unfortunately,” she nodded sitting up in her bed, “did the Ice Queen settle in?”
“The Ice Queen?” Brant gave her a strange look, “You mean Brooke?”
“That’s exactly who I mean,” she explained with a frown, “Brant, that woman is nothing but trouble.”
“That woman is your mother,” he reminded her taking a step towards her, “and that should mean something.”
“It doesn’t,” she shrugged her shoulders, “all it means to me is that it’s time to get myself into therapy again because whenever she shows up things get really ugly.”
“I find that hard to believe,” he sat on the foot of the bed watching her for a long moment, “She seems genuine in her concern for you.”
“It’s all an act,” Avery sighed drawing the blankets up around her body, “the longer you spend time around her, the more you’ll see it.”
“What I see is that she wants to connect with you,” Brant began reaching for her hand, “while I don’t know what happened between the two of you, maybe now is time for healing together.”
“Brant, believe me, there’s no healing the situation,” Avery shook her head at him, “and truth be told right now I don’t want to think about my mother, about what happened with Bruce or about how you and Russell worried me sick last night.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Brant apologized, “we never intended upon that.”
“Even so, where did you go,” she asked again a frown touching over her lips.
“We had a talk about things,” Brant explained with a sigh, “and while I hate to say it, I can see that Russell cares about you.  He seems like a good friend.”
“He’s a great guy,” Avery agreed with a smile.
“Even so, I still am not too happy with the way he burst in on us that night at the hotel,” Brant touched her face gently, “though maybe it was fate in it’s own way…”
“Fate?” she lifted a curious brow as his fingers caressed over her skin.
“That’s right,” he nodded in confession, “perhaps we were rushing things and maybe him interrupting just gave us time to figure this all out at our own pace.”
“You’re feeling philosophical,” Avery gave him a skeptic look, “Now I know the world is turning into a strange place.”
“What’s so wrong about my wanting to be with you,” Brant questioned softening his tone, “Does it really feel so foreign to you that I might be falling in love with you?”
“You and love don’t mix, remember?” she teased lightly.
“Not until now, but Avery maybe there was a reason for that,” Brant leaned in towards her, “maybe the reason I fought so hard against anything real was because the one real thing I was meant for is right beside me in this very moment.”
“Brant,” she opened her mouth in response as he leaned forward his lips brushing over hers in the faintest of kisses.  His mouth beckoned hers in a barely there, soft sweep before he drew back.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to prove to you that I’m in this for the long haul,” Brant confessed squeezing her hand gently, “I’m not looking for something tedious between us.  I want it all…”
“I don’t know if I’m ready to give anyone that just yet,” Avery admitted honestly feeling her stomach tied in knots as the taste of him lingered upon her lips.
“Even so, I’m willing to wait,” Brant promised leaning forward kissing her forehead gently before rising from the bed, “Rest up Avery.”
“I’ll try to,” she decided with a nod as she watched him walk away, “and Brant?”
“Yes?” he faced her once again, his eyes full of hope as the way he watched her sent tremors rushing over her spine.
“Thank you,” she smiled back at him.
“For what?”
“For everything,” Avery answered simply, “for saving my life and helping me find a way out of the darkness I was in.”
“Anytime,” his voice held an air of something Avery couldn’t quite place from him--perhaps more sentimentality as he gave her one last longing look, “Sweet dreams.”
“You too,” Avery watched him leave her room as she fell back into her pillows finding herself lost in the thoughts of the two men who’d managed to break through her walls and push their way back into her world again.  Somehow whatever happened next, she promised herself that she’d find the answers, but until then, she’d just lose herself to her exhaustion allowing her dreams to take her places that she’d never dare admit to in the waking hours.


Caitlin slipped her key into the deadbolt and opened the door to her apartment. She switched on the light as she and Kenneth entered her den, "So how do you think things are going back at the mansion?"

"Well, there are a lot of strong personalities in that house right now. They're probably doing battle," Kenneth replied as he moved into the apartment with her.

She kicked off her shoes before plopping onto the couch, "This has certainly been a day."

"Yes it has," He agreed as he sat down beside her and gently reached out to brush his fingertips along her cheek, "Tell me you're okay."

She glanced to him in confusion, "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Earlier you were upset," He said softly before sweeping his fingers into her hair, "I just want you to be all right."

"I am," She said softly with a smile as she met his eyes, "Things today just got next to me."

"I noticed that," He nodded, "You were very upset. I just hated seeing you in so much pain especially when I don't even know what upset you to begin with."

"I don't know," She said as she sat up, "I guess…everything just weighed on me today."

"I think it was more than that," He suggested as he took her hand in his, "Caitlin, you can trust me."

"I do," She admitted as she met his eyes.

"Then tell me what it is that upset you," He urged, "Let me help you."

"You are helping, Kenneth, more than you know."


Caitlin reached out to him and gently touched his cheek, "By just being so sweet to me."

"It's not enough," He said as he searched her eyes, "Obviously something really bothered you today. Let me help you with it…whatever it is."

"There really is nothing you can do. I'm just very emotional. That's all," She shrugged.

"You really don't have to hide anything from me," He reminded her as he gently touched her cheek.

"I know that," She said as she met his eyes, "I really do. You're a trustworthy man with a good heart, and I would trust you with anything I could."

"But you're not going to tell me about what's bothering you, are you?" He asked, seeing the pain within her eyes.

She eased her thumb over his cheek, "There's nothing to tell."

He sighed in resignation, realizing that she wasn't about to divulge any information to him. He pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly, "I just don't want to see you in so much pain."

She hugged him in return, feeling his tenderness radiate into her. She smiled slightly as she closed her eyes and held onto him, "Thank you for being so good to me. Thank you for everything you've done for me. You're such a sweetheart, and I don't know what I ever did to deserve getting to know you much less spend so much time with you."

Kenneth eased himself away from her to meet her eyes. He eased his fingertips over her cheek before easing his lips to hers. He kissed her tenderly, caressing her lips with a whispering kiss. When their lips parted, he cupped her cheeks and met her eyes, "You are an amazing woman, Caitlin Vaughn."

"You make me want to believe that," She whispered as she met his eyes.

"We'll find a way to make you believe it…together," He assured her as he pressed a soft kiss to her lips, "Promise me you'll get some rest."

"I will," She smiled, kissing him once more.

"Then I should be going," He said as he stood and held her hand as they walked to the door. He turned at the door and met her eyes, "Sweet dreams."

"You too," She smiled before he kissed her once again. Caitlin watched as he made his way down the hall to the stairwell. She smiled as she watched him turn back towards her and flash her a smile. His smile touched her to the tips of her toes before they broke their gaze and turned their separate ways. She closed the door to her apartment and locked the deadbolt as a smile wrapped itself around her. The way he made her feel…her past almost seemed like a bad dream, but she knew the nightmare was all too real. If Kenneth ever found out…she couldn't let him know the truth. He could never know what had happened to her, and she would do everything in her power to make sure the secrets of her past didn't ruin her future with Kenneth.

Jenna stepped out of her car looking to the nearly empty parking lot as the buzzing over the overhead lantern did it’s best to add some light to the lot.  Despite the fact that she was certain she should be at home resting for the morning ahead of her, she couldn’t stop from thinking about the morning at the Ashford mansion.  Something about Bruce’s murder just didn’t feel right and for the police to be looking at Avery as a suspect, well then clearly something didn’t add up.  Needing to figure out what it was, she walked through the nearly empty parking lot hearing her heels click on the sidewalk in their steady rhythm as her heart quickened with each step.  Sure she wasn’t afraid of being alone at night as she was quite used to it, but somehow tonight held an eerie feel to it.  She looked around the lot seeing nothing out of the ordinary as she eyed the building before her.  Noting the lights through the windows, she realized that there was never time for death to take a vacation.  Come morning or night fall it was always there--always lingering.
Jenna sighed as she made her way to the door noting that the night security had drifted off.  Just as well as she wasn’t in the mood to be explaining anything about her arrival just yet.  It was always easier to get in and out on her own without all the hassles along the way.  With that thought in mind, Jenna headed down to the morgue ready to begin another review of Bruce’s remains.  Somehow she’d have to find something that she overlooked the first time around.  Surely there was something just waiting for her to notice it.  With that thought in mind, she stepped onto the elevator ready to immerse herself in work when a hand pressed in through the elevator doors stopping them from opening.
Jenna’s eyes widened in surprise as the doors opened once again and Hart Steiner stepped into the elevator with her--standing too close for comfort.  She stepped back as she threw out an accusatory glare, “What are you doing here?”
“Following you around,” Hart stated with a shrug of his shoulders as he gave her a perusal, “I was hoping we could come to some kind of arrangement.”
“And just what would make me want to do something like that with you of all people?” Jenna folded her arms in front of her chest.
“I can make it worth your while,” Hart shrugged his shoulders simply, “truth be told I was rather curious about your arrival at the Ashford mansion this morning and while the police are ready to harass my client and his fiancée, you could say that I was suddenly very interested in what you have to say or should I say what you aren’t saying.”
“The police are keeping a lid on the details,” Jenna stated firmly, “which means I’m not giving you anymore information than what you already have.”
“Jenna, we both know the police keeping a lid on this is only their means of further harassment down the road,” Hart shook his head disapprovingly, “granted they think that bully tactics work in the investigation, but in the courtroom, it’s only going to work against them.”
“Hart, let’s say for a moment that I actually considered your proposal,” Jenna began taking in a slow breath, “which of course I’m not because personally I think you are the lowest bottom feeder to ever hit the face of the earth, but that’s an altogether obvious discussion, well then why would I risk my career in order to help you or your client?”
“Because you like helping people,” Hart noted with a grin, “and beyond that you’re Avery Morrison’s best friend which means that you know something about this case that you want someone else to know as well so that it clears the heat off of Avery.”
“The police will find the guilty party eventually,” Jenna looked away from him.
“Funny hearing that from you since you clearly have a strong disdain for the boys in blue,” Hart chortled thinking back to the case that had brought him head to head with Jenna Carpenter to begin with.  Sure, he’d known that Patrick had been guilty as sin, but winning was winning and even if he’d stepped on Jenna’s toes, he couldn’t be held accountable for doing his job.
“As much as I have little to no faith in them, I have even less in you,” Jenna interrupted his line of thing, “In fact to say that I detest you isn’t powerful enough of terms to explain the way you bother me,” the elevator doors opened and she stepped out into the hallway towards the morgue.
“Jenna, admit it,” Hart chased after her, “even you think something is strange about the way the police are handling this.  With the body, you weren’t able to take a look at it until nearly six hours had passed since it‘s retrieval.  Now correct me if I’m wrong, but that isn’t typical in cases like these…”
“How do you know that…” she faced him again seeing he was seeking out answers from her as she forced the emotion from her face, “I already told you there’s nothing more for me to say to you.”
“Jenna, all I’m asking for are a few details about this.  Just so I know where I stand in terms of the case that the police think they have against Brant’s fiancée.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you aren’t representing Avery.  Kenneth is.”
“Even so, I want to know…” Hart demanded.
“Because you’re the nosiest son of a bitch I’ve ever met on top of the most infuriating which clearly are two warning signals that should clue you in to the fact that you aren’t getting anything from me on this case, nor would I give you the time of day if you asked for it,” Jenna’s eyes narrowed back at him, “As far as I’m concerned you can just go away for all I care.”
“I’m not leaving until I change your mind,” Hart explained flashing her a bright grin.
“Hmm, well in that case, it’ll be a cold day in hell before that has a chance of happening,” she turned towards the morgue finding herself surprised as two burly looking guards stood at the door.
“Is there a problem here,” one of them questioned as he looked to her.
“Mr. Steiner was just leaving,” Jenna flashed her identification to the man, “and I was coming in to work on a case.”
“I’m afraid you can’t go in there Dr. Carpenter,” the man shook his head in response.
“Excuse me?” she blinked back at him.  “I work in there.”
“Even so, tonight the morgue is off limits.  All cases have been turned over to Dr. O'Neil.”
“Come again,” Jenna’s eyes widened in disbelief, “He has no jurisdiction here when I’m the chief medical examiner.”
“I’m afraid this decision was made by the higher ups,” the other guard broke his eerie silence, “We were told to keep any and all outsiders from coming into the lab for the time being.”
“Wait a second,” Jenna’s voice rose with anger, “Robert O'Neil has no business just taking my workload from me.  I want to speak with him right now…”
“Dr. Carpenter it’s not allowed.  However if you’d like to come back in the morning, I’m sure you can speak with the FBI as they’re running the show here.”
“I don’t give a damn who’s running the show,” Jenna’s anger flared, “this is my morgue and I’m going in there and there isn’t a damn thing you can do to stop me…” she marched forward a step as Hart slipped his arms around her waist pulling her off her feet.
“Darling it’s been a long day,” he flashed both men a knowing grin, “you know how the little woman tends to get when she’s had a long day,” he turned his attention back to Jenna offering a bright smile, “While I knew you wanted to get back to work, it can wait until morning.”
“Let go of me,” she warned sharply.
“Jenna darling, you don’t want to have to talk with Dave Warner again so soon considering how you love the police station,” Hart gave her a sideways glance before motioning to the guards once again, “Women,” he threw them a glance as both offered a nod and as he turned to Jenna again, he hoisted her up over his shoulder before offering an apologetic look to the others, “we’ll just get going on our way.”
“Put me down,” Jenna demanded harshly as he carried her back to the elevator.  Once inside he set her on her feet again and her eyes shot daggers up at him, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m the man who’s going to get you back in that lab again,” Hart boasted proudly, “when you help me with what I need.”
“I was doing just fine on my own,” Jenna huffed as she glared at him.
“You were, were you?  Were you aware that the man you were ready to assault was one of the men who happens to be drinking buddies with Patrick Sharpe?”
“Your point,” Jenna hissed up at him.
“If he called in the authorities you’d be violating that restraining order…” Hart pointed out simply.
“Oh you mean the restraining order that never should’ve been in the first place after that Neanderthal assaulted me?” Jenna growled back at him.  “You do realize there wouldn’t be a restraining order if you would’ve just left well enough alone and not taken that case.”
“Look Jenna, now is not the time to argue with me about Patrick Sharpe.  What’s done is done and with that being said, I have to know what you learned in your examination earlier…”
“I’m not telling you a damn thing and as soon as you get out of his elevator I’m going straight back down there to get inside…”
“Jenna, did you not hear what they were saying?  The FBI stepped in on this one which means they are going to hound you until you’re blue in the face because they live to harass others,” Hart frowned simply.
“Hmm, see there might’ve been a very lucrative career for you,” Jenna remarked offhandedly, “but then again the way I see it, I could care less about the FBI.  I’m not going to have anyone take me from my work without good reason.”
“Your being Avery Morrison’s best friend might be reason enough to the FBI,” Hart pointed out much to her dismay.
“Even so I’ve always been objective in terms of the job.  I don’t let emotions get in the way,” Jenna frowned thinking about the possibilities of that being grounds for her removal.
“See now there you might’ve made one hell of a lawyer,” he quipped seeing how unimpressed she was with him before he shrugged again, “the point is, maybe we can work together on this.”
“You wish,” she laughed heartily, “even if I considered the notion, which I haven’t, you’re a lawyer and of no help to me.”
“Did I mention I have some contacts in the FBI that might help me get you back on this case again,” Hart lifted a tempting brow, “because if you’re willing to scratch my back so to speak, I’d be more than willing to go out on a limb for you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of touching anything of yours,” she piped in stubbornly, “I’ll do this my own way.”
“Your way tends to get you into trouble,” Hart pointed out with a frown, “but together we could really make something work.”
“What do you really want out of this?” Jenna questioned doubtful.
“The truth,” he shrugged once again.
“If you were in it for the truth, then you never would’ve helped a jerk like Patrick Sharpe.”
“Hey that was a lifetime ago and besides I did you a favor,” Hart stated simply, “Now you don’t have to see the guy again.”
“Oh so I’m supposed to thank you for you trying to ruin my reputation, which by the way hasn’t fully recovered after your slanderous attack on me.”
“We’ll work on fixing that,” Hart promised, “starting with your return to the Mathis case.  If you agree to help me, then I’ll see to it that you’re back on this case ASAP.”
“And if I don’t?” she raised a skeptic brow.
“Then I’ll keep harassing you until you agree,” he threw out a bright smile, “the choice is yours, but one way or the other you’re going to help me.  That much I can promise you,” Hart finished as Jenna felt a sigh spill over her lips as she realized that suddenly she was in a world she was certain she was all together unprepared to be leaping into if she was suddenly considering a compromise with Hart Steiner.  Clearly something was wrong in Coral Valley, but now as she thought of being shut out of her morgue, she wondered what would be the bigger demon to face.  Hart or the wrath of the FBI.  Either way she realized she was on the losing end of this battle forced to compromise and that was something she never enjoyed doing--especially not with a man like Hart.


Shannon chewed on her pencil as she read over the preliminary reports and reviewed photographs again. She had looked over everything the local police had about a dozen times, but she would keep looking over everything she could until she caught the killer.

She dropped the pencil upon the desk and frowned as she lifted her luke warm coffee to take a sip. Nothing in the evidence before her was pointing to any specific person yet. She could only hope that once she began speaking to witnesses clues would emerge.

"Agent Pryce," A young officer stuck his head inside the office door, "There's a call on line two. The guy says he has information on the Mathis case."

"Thanks," Shannon nodded before picking up the phone, "This is Agent Pryce. With whom am I speaking?"

"I prefer to remain anonymous," He said softly, "In this town, it's not smart to piss off the Ashfords."

She immediately understood the man's predicament, "Very well, what information do you have for me?"

"Brant Ashford…he's your killer."

"And how do you know that?" She asked as she doodled on her legal pad with the pencil she'd been nibbling on all night.

"He's hell bent on making Bruce's life hell. He had him fired from the hospital."

"He did?" She questioned as she began taking notes.

"Yes, just the yesterday," He said quickly, "He warned that Bruce had to lose his job or the Ashfords would throw their weight around and take away some of the hospital's funding."

"Couldn't Mr. Ashford simply have been concerned about Dr. Mathis' care of the patients?"

"No, he demanded Bruce be fired, and he didn't care what the reason was for having it done. He was quite irrational about the situation."

"And how do you know this?"

"I can't tell you that, but if you look around you'll see that Brant Ashford wanted Bruce Mathis to suffer. Apparently he made sure of that in a permanent fashion."

"Are you sure you won't leave your name?" Shannon frowned as the phone suddenly went dead. She looked to the receiver for a moment before placing it back upon the cradle, "Damn it, Brant. What have you done now?" She questioned as she took a deep breath, knowing that the case was about to get very ugly.


Cameron smiled as he placed his cordless phone upon the nightstand beside his bed. Thea curled up along side him with a smile.

"Brant Ashford is about to have an even worse week than before," He grinned.

"I love it when you're inspired like this," She purred as she pressed a kiss to the center of his chest.

"So do I," Cameron grinned decadently as he eased his fingertips along Thea's spine. Things were finally looking up for him, and progress would be made in just a short matter of time.

...to be continued...