Episode Twenty Five

"I should be exhausted, but I'm not," Blake spoke almost in a singing voice. She curled into Seth's chest with a smile as he unlocked the door to his apartment.

"I should have my head examined," Seth said, garnering a confused look from Blake, "I kept you out all night when you should be getting your beauty sleep."

She chuckled as they entered the apartment, "I think I can miss one night here. Besides, it was entirely worth it because even if I had dreamt all night long, the dreams couldn't have compared to this," She said as she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him close as he fell back against the door.

He smiled as he raised a curious brow, "Do you always get this giddy without sleep?"

"No, I think that has everything to do with you," She said with a smile as she leaned forward and kissed him.

Seth smiled as he hugged her closer to him, lifting her into his arms as he spun around the living room with her. He was rewarded with the sound of silly giggles from Blake, but it felt as if he had won the lottery with her laughter.


Jade snuggled closer to the hard warmth beside her. Having Grady in her bed was simply amazing even if it was to simply sleep. She smiled, easing her hand across his chest as she relaxed into him. She smiled as his arms slinked around her and drew her closer to him.

"Good morning," Grady said softly, his voice slightly deeper than usual in the earlier morning.

"Good morning yourself," She said with a smile as she raised her head to meet his eyes, "How are you this morning?"

"Better than I have been in a very long time," He replied, gently sweeping her thick dark hair away from her face, "Thanks for letting me stay here last night. I really didn't want to be alone."

"I knew that," She nodded as she traced his jaw line, "Besides, any chance to get you in my bed has to be a good one."

"You are quite simply the most stubborn woman I've ever met," He said with a grin. He rolled her over to her back as he gazed down in her eyes, "Have you always been this stubborn?"

"I prefer to look at it as determined, thank you very much," She corrected with a soft laugh, "But the answer is yeah, pretty much. When I want something, I go after it."

"How the hell did I ever managed to get your attention?" He asked bluntly as he eased his fingers the delicate skin of her cheek.

"You're just too damn sexy to ignore," She stated boldly before she drew his lips to hers in a heated kiss.


"I should probably getting home. I'll have to explain to Kenny why I won't be going into work today," Blake said with a happy sigh as she melted against Seth.

"Will he be upset? I don't want to cause any problems between you and your family," He explained as he tipped her chin so he could meet her eyes.

"Nah, Kenny's a sweetheart," She replied with a smile, "He'll understand, and maybe he'll even be a little happy for me."

"In that case, why don't we have breakfast?" He asked with a smile, "We'll go get Jade out of bed, and she can join us. What do you say?"

"I say…okay," She smiled as he took her hand and led her down the hall towards Jade's bedroom.


Jade slipped her fingers through Grady's hair as their kisses continued. Kiss after luxurious kiss…she almost felt as if she were floating on air. If it hadn't been for his hard body covering her, she felt she might float away.

She eased her hand along his back, feeling the expanse of trim muscle beneath her touch. She sighed against his mouth as he continued to kiss her. His kisses were full of passion yet exploratory as if he were leisurely learning every secret she could teach him. And she was more than willing to give him access to whatever he wanted.

A gentle rap upon the door jolted Jade back to reality before she heard Seth's voice.

"Jade, are you…what the hell?" Seth froze as he stood at the entrance to Jade's room, staring at the sight before him.

Grady rolled to the side as Jade quickly sat up.

"Seth, what are you doing here?" Jade asked quickly.

"I live here, remember?" Seth spoke dryly as he eyed the man in bed with Jade, anger burning him through every vein, "Who the hell is this and what the hell is he doing in our house?"

"This is Grady," She declared as she rolled out of bed, pushing the blankets aside as she kicked out the kink in her pajama pants and slipping the strap of her tank top back upon her shoulder, "And you can just stop that anger you're building right now, Seth."

"Grady," He repeated the name as he eyed the man in Jade's bed, "I know this guy. I saw him at the bar."

"That's right," Grady nodded as he joined the conversation. He threw the blankets back on the bed and stepped out. He approached Seth and extended his hand to him, "I'm Grady Denton."

"You're about to be dead," Seth said angrily as he took an offensive stance.

"Whoa, hold on a minute," Blake shouted to get everyone's attention, "Let's just hold on here, and talk about this."

"There's nothing to talk about. He's taking advantage of my little sister, and I won't have it," Seth declared as he took a bold step forward.

"Like hell," Jade declared angrily as she stepped in Seth's path, "You're not going to do a damn thing here, Seth."

"And neither are you," Seth declared as he grabbed Jade's arms and pulled her out of the room.

"Hey, hold on just a damn minute," Grady demanded as he stepped out into the hall after Seth. He grabbed Seth's arm which allowed Jade to escape, "Don't manhandle her."

"She's my sister, pal," Seth said harshly as he got into Grady's face, "And I'll be damned if I'll let some loser like you ever take advantage of Jade again."

"Stop it!" Jade screamed as she shoved her brother away from Grady. She stepped in front of him and glared at her brother, "Don't you dare say something like that to Grady. He has been better to me than anyone I've ever known…except for you. Don't you start accusing him of things that other people have done," She said as tears built in her eyes.

Grady gently placed his hand upon Jade's shoulder, "I think I'll just get dressed and leave."

"No, Grady," Jade spun quickly to meet his eyes, terrified that Seth had scared him away again, "Please…"

"I think you and your brother have some things to talk about, and we'll talk later, okay?" He said as he touched her cheek. He flashed her a reassuring smile before walking back into her room.

Jade turned her anger back on Seth with blazing eyes, "If I've lost him now, I'll never forgive you!" She declared as Blake looked between the two of them.

Blake shifted from one foot to the other, suddenly very ill at ease. She knew all too well how these siblings fights could turn out, and she didn't want to be a casualty of war. She approached Seth and gently touched his forearm, "I think I'd better go too."

"You don't have to," Seth said softly as he continued to glare at his sister, "This will be over in just a minute."

"I think Grady's right. You two need to talk," Blake said as she looked back to Jade, knowing just what the young woman was feeling as she defended her right to love who she wanted to.

"Promise me you'll call me," He said as he finally turned his eyes to meet Blake's.

"I promise," She nodded before pecking him on the cheek and heading for the door.

Grady stepped out of the bedroom fully clothed and made his way towards the door. He looked at Seth and shook his head, "You really don't have a thing to worry about. I would never hurt Jade."

"That's what they all say," Seth scoffed as he glared at the older man.

Grady sighed as he looked back to Jade, "I'll see you at work."

"I'll be there," Jade agreed before Grady left the apartment. She turned her angry gaze back upon her brother, "Make a last request, Seth, because I'm going to kill you," She declared as she tightened her fists into balls, ready to pummel her brother for ruining a near perfect morning. In fact, as she thought about it, killing Seth was much too quick and easy. She wanted him to suffer, and right now she could think of about a million ways in which to torture him.


Kenneth adjusted his tie as he stepped into the dining room and spotted Annie seated the table nursing a cup of coffee. He frowned as he sat down across from her and poured his mug full of the steaming liquid, "Is it going to be one of those days?"

"Yes," Annie nodded, "After a day like yesterday, yes, it will most certainly be one of those days."

"You could have sugar coated it for me, Annie," He teased as he lightly shook his head. The ringing of his cell phone within his breast pocket spoiled his teasing mood, "Why do I have the distinct feeling that any call this early in the morning is bad news?"

"Cause it's the status quo, my boy," She replied as she patted him on the hand gently and stepped out of the room.

"Great," He inhaled a deep breath before answering the call, "Ashford."

"Hello Kenneth."

"Shannon?" Kenneth repeated in astonishment, never expecting to hear her voice again in his lifetime.

"So you do remember me," Shannon's smile radiated through her voice, "Good, I'm glad. That should make things easier."

"Easier for what?" He questioned, realizing that her tone held a ominous sound.

"I'm investigating the murder of Dr. Bruce Mathis, and I want to question Avery Morrison."

"You're investigating this? Why?" He asked.

"I'm with the Bureau now, and I've been assigned to this case. The idea that Avery is Brant's fiancée has alerted a few of our grand elected officials, and they want everything to be by the book without any conflict of interest on the part of the CVPD."

"Conflict of interest? They didn't think you being Brant's ex would make a huge conflict of interest?" He asked as he sipped his coffee.

"I really did try to get out of this case, Ken. I didn't want to bring up old feelings much less ever have to look Brant face to face again. That being said, I do have a job to do, and I want to speak with Avery as soon as possible."

"I'll have to check my schedule to see what we can arrange."

"How about now?" She asked as the doorbell rang throughout the house as echoing over the phone.

"Shannon, where are you?"

"Standing at the front door, Ken. I want to speak with Avery Morrison, and I'm not leaving until I do."

Kenneth frowned as he walked through the house and shook his head at Annie as she made her way towards the door, "I'll get that. It's for me," He said as he switched off his phone while opening the door, "Shannon."

"Kenneth," Shannon smiled as she stepped into the foyer, "This place hasn't changed a bit. Hi Annie."

"Shan…what are you doing here?" Annie asked as a frown darkened her motherly features.

"I'm here in an official capacity," Shannon replied as she removed her credentials from her pocket and flashed them at her welcoming committee, "Now, where can I wait for you and your client to join me?" She asked of Kenneth.

"How about the library? It should be quiet down there, and we won't be interrupted," Kenneth said as he began to escort her down the hall.

"I don't need an escort, Ken. I know the way," She said with a smile as she walked by him towards the library.

He turned to face Annie and frowned, "This is bad," He said before he started up the stairs to tell Avery of their guest.

"You're not kidding," Annie sighed as she crossed her arms and gazed down the hallway towards the library. There would definitely be fireworks today…just as soon as Brant and Shannon saw one another.


Brant smiled thinking to the day he had ahead of him as he vowed to show Avery and her mother a treat.  Given the week that they’d all seemed to have over their heads, he decided that another day from the office wouldn’t hurt anything.  He’d called in earlier and everything was business as usual, which was always quite promising indeed.  Granted he’d still have to work on finding a way to more than make up for the loss he’d taken in the Davies deal, but given Avery’s charm and the media’s coverage of the engagement, Brant had a feeling that despite the chaos the press had brought to the both of them, it had also given BBK some exposure that would perhaps give BBK more leverage in the future.  That in itself had Brant feeling optimistic as he whistled a tune to himself.
Now all Brant had to do was find a way to keep Brooke and Avery entertained and the day should go smoothly.  Perhaps tennis would be a good idea, he mused to himself.  Just the thought of Avery in a tiny, white tennis skirt sent a rush of sheer lust straight down his body as he imagined slinking his arm around her as they practiced her strokes.  Yes, tennis did sound like a nice adventure indeed…although he wasn’t quite sure how Brooke would fit into the plan.
Maybe Brant would send her on a shopping spree that would dissuade her from keeping Avery’s full attention for a few hours.  Yes, his curiosity had peaked with Brooke’s arrival, but more so there was something about her relationship with Avery that had spiked his interest.  Seeing the way Avery responded to her had Brant wondering just where their relationship had gone astray.  Sure Brooke seemed a bit overzealous, but then again Avery had her own moments there.  Brant smiled vowing to dive more into the mystery of Avery’s relationship with her mother as his cell phone rang breaking through his thoughts.
“Speak to me,” Brant’s voice beamed enthusiastically.
“We need to talk,” Hart’s impatient tone alerted Brant that things were not as carefree as he’d been hoping for, “I hope you’re ready for some major damage control starting now.”
“Hart, calm down,” Brant frowned slightly, “What could possibly have you this worked up this early in the day?”
“Have you checked the paper yet,” Hart demanded his voice tight with tension, “because I strongly suggest you go for the front page if you haven’t.”
“Spare me the read,” Brant rolled his eyes slightly, “What’s going on now?  The police decide to camp out on my front lawn with the reporters in the hopes that somehow the Ashford family will reveal the secret of where Jimmy Hoffa is buried?” Brant chortled reaching for the cup of coffee he’d carried with him.
“Worse,” Hart groaned, “Shannon Pryce is on Mathis Case now.”
“Come again,” Brant spat out the sip of coffee he’d taken, “What did you just say?”
“You heard me,” Hart’s voice continued laced with agitation.
“How is that possible?” Brant frowned in response, “I don’t see this as being a case for a federal marshal.”
“Well that being said as much as you’d rather leave the past behind, it seem that Shannon’s been one determined little lady as she’s worked her way into the Bureau.”
“Really,” Brant’s thoughts lingered back to his brief fling with Shannon Pryce, “Well that doesn’t really surprise me, but what does tend to leave a sour taste in my mouth is that she’s working her way back into my life.”
“That’s why I called,” Hart explained simply, “Given your rocky history with Shannon, I think it would be best if we got together to discuss strategy for this case.”
“There’s nothing to discuss,” Brant stated firmly, “My fiancée and I said all there is to say.”
“Brant, the Feds are getting worked up over this one,” Hart paused, “Look last night they kicked Jenna Carpenter out of the loop.”
“How is that possible,” Brant frowned deeply.
“Conflict of interest is the story they’re trying to sell, but I know better.  This wreaks of a setup and if there’s more to this story about Avery than you’re telling me, now would be a really good time to clear the air so that way we know what we’re dealing with especially with Shannon on the attack.”
“Shannon and I were civil when we parted ways,” Brant reminded Hart with a frown, “Granted we had our moments, but she did her thing and I did mine.”
“Doing yours wound up with your engagement to Heather a couple weeks after Shannon’s departure.  No woman appreciates that kind of send off,” Hart explained trying to keep his voice even, “If she’s back, she’s out for blood especially now that you’ve moved on and considering that Avery‘s the one up on the chopping block...”
“Alright,” Brant interrupted hastily realizing he needed to think things through.  If anyone found out about what happened between Avery and Bruce, then things could take an ugly turn for the worse.  That was simply unacceptable as he vowed he wouldn’t let anyone hurt Avery again.  Still if Shannon was out for blood, the last place Brant wanted her sniffing around was Avery.  With that thought in mind, he let out a reluctant breath, “Come on over when you get a chance and I’ll tell you what you need to know.  We can work on getting the upper hand in this situation before it becomes something it shouldn’t,” he finished realizing that the flames of the rumors and suspicions circulating needed to be put to an end immediately.
With that thought in mind, Brant turned to leave the library when suddenly he came face to face with the last person he’d anticipated ever seeing again--Shannon.


Kenneth made his way up the winding staircase trying to plan the proper strategy for this morning’s meeting with Shannon.  While she’d left him no room to prepare for the interview at hand, he just hoped that somehow he could get through to Avery in the hopes that maybe just maybe she was in one of her rare agreeable moods.  He tapped on the door to her room and a moment later she popped her head out a smile on her face.
“Ken, I wasn’t expecting to see you out here,” Avery opened the door wider inviting him inside her room, “I figured it would by Brant trying to tempt me into something or worse,” her nose wrinkled in disgust, “I thought it might be Brooke.”
“We have something other than Brant and Brooke to discuss this morning,” Kenneth’s voice was laced with apprehension.
“What is it?” she gave him a sideways glance, “Don’t tell me that the police are back for more.  When they smell the faintest hint of weakness, they don’t have any problems exploiting it, do they,” she balled her fists up in anger, “I already told them more than enough…”
“We’re dealing with a whole new ballgame here Avery,” Kenneth admitted with a sigh, “They brought in the FBI.”
“Come again?” Avery blinked back at him, “Why?”
“Given the nature of Bruce’s murder and Brant’s involvement with you, it raised interest,” Kenned answered honestly.
“Oh so because I’m with an Ashford instead of say someone who has a low profile and is of little interest to the rest of the papers out there, then suddenly I’m on the chopping block,” her voice rose with anger, “Where the hell does the FBI get off in showing up on your doorstep demanding answers out of me when I don’t have them.”
“Avery, they’re just doing their job…” he began to argue.
“By what?  Taking down some innocent victim when a monster like Bruce got what he deserved?” she snapped back at him her anger burning through her, “Had he killed me, what difference would it have made to the FBI?  I’m just Avery Morrison and that doesn’t mean anything, but because Bruce Mathis was my ex-boyfriend, suddenly it’s an open invitation to exploit my life.”
“She just has a few questions,” Kenneth tried to reason with her, “We agreed to cooperate.”
“To the police yes, but to the FBI absolutely not.  This is an infringement upon my rights based on pure prejudice against this family and I won’t stand for it.  On a typical murder case we both know that the Feds wouldn’t have blinked an eye and with all this business about withholding details of the murder, well that’s just asinine.  They act like it’s some serial murder or something more than what it was.  Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe Bruce just decided to use the wrong person for a punching bag?  That maybe his temper was the reason for his demise?” she hissed back at him, “I’m not going to any meeting with the FBI.”
“Avery, listen to me,” Kenneth frowned deeply, “you don’t have a choice in the matter.  If you refuse to meet with the agent downstairs, then…”
“Downstairs?” Avery blinked back at him, “What the hell is an FBI agent doing downstairs?”
“She blindsided me with a phone call,” Kenneth admitted freely, “I didn’t realize she was at the front porch when she’d called.”
“So not only have they infringed upon my rights to privacy in terms of my personal life, but now they’re breaking down the front door demanding a meeting,” Avery scowled back at him, “Well you can go straight downstairs and let the so called law enforcement agent know that she and her damned questions can kiss my…”
“Avery, it’s Shannon Pryce,” Kenneth admitted at long last as her eyes widened in surprise.
“Well, gee now why doesn’t that surprise me,” Avery groaned inwardly, “Is Heather Gibbons also going to be playing the part of her devoted side kick?”
“Avery, I’m being serious…”
“And so am I,” Avery shook her head bitterly, “this isn’t about Bruce’s murder case.  This is about the fact that Brant is now suddenly taken and this is Shannon’s pathetic attempt to weasel her way back into his life again.  I mean I thought Heather was the lowest of low, but Shannon now using the FBI in order to what?  Get some sick and twisted sense of retribution for Brant moving on with his life?  Then again maybe she and Heather are in on this together…”
“Avery, I don’t believe that’s why she’s here,” Kenneth’s frown deepened, “I don’t believe that for a second.”
“Then clearly you’re more gullible than I gave you credit for,” Avery hissed feeling her anger rising, “There is no way that the FBI would put one of Brant’s lovers on this case unless her sole purpose was to piss us all off.  My guess is she came over here hoping to cajole some kind of confession out of me, so she could slap the handcuffs on me and carry me out the door and out of Brant’s life forever, but mark my words--there is no way in hell that I’m going to allow that to happen, even if that means I…”
“Avery, you’re missing the point,” Kenneth interrupted her, “You’re being impossible right now and correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m your legal council which means I’m the one running the show about this interview.”
“This interview isn’t happening,” Avery argued further, “and if I have to I’ll call my father in on this.  He has connections at the FBI and I’ll see to it that Shannon gets stripped of her position with the FBI so fast that her head will spin…”
“Avery, this isn’t going to make you look innocent,” Kenneth tried to reason with her, “If you go down there ready for battle, then it’s only going to work against you…”
“I’m not going down there, so there’s nothing for you to worry about,” she flopped down on the bed, “It’s not going to happen.”
“Avery, think about this for a moment,” Kenneth suppressed the urge to chew her out as a sigh escaped his lips, “You and Bruce were a happy couple until the quake hit, then suddenly you’re engaged to Brant and Bruce winds up murdered.  That doesn’t make for a settling tale especially with the details missing…”
“There aren’t any details missing,” Avery huffed, “it’s just how it happened…”
“Except for the fact that the police don’t have any idea about what Bruce did to you…”
“And they aren’t going to either,” Avery argued with him, “If you think they’re out to hang me now, then knowing about Bruce trying to kill me is only the ammunition that they need to try to lock me up for life…”
“Avery, it’s not going to be like that,” Kenneth took a seat beside her, “Knowing what Bruce did to you, well it makes this situation take on a whole new light…”
“One that someone like Shannon would twist and turn to her advantage,” Avery felt a breath escape her lips, “The Feds aren’t looking for the truth, they’re just looking for a way to bury your family and me with it.”
“Avery, if we don’t tell her the truth about things, it will only hurt you in the long run…” Kenneth began again.
“Ken, no one wants the truth,” Avery shook her head fighting the angry tears burning inside of her, “No one wants to hear about how Bruce tried to kill me because no matter which way you look at it Bruce was the victim and I was just some slut who toyed with him leading him along for the ride while I moved onto greener pastures.  In the end, this will be my fault in the eyes of people like Shannon Pryce.  I’ll be the one who brought about his demise and after they drag my name through the mud exposing every aspect of my private life, well then there won’t be anything left for me to hold onto.  I refuse to be a victim and I won’t let Shannon Pryce or any other idiot with a badge come in here and put me in that position to be their target practice.”
“With her understanding what took place, then maybe they’ll see the truth about Bruce…”
“You could flash the truth before their eyes over and over again, but when it’s unsavory, the world refuses to see it,” Avery sighed feeling her throat tight with tension, “Ken, I know you want to believe that justice and the sense of right exists in this world, but the sad truth is that the world is an ugly place with people waiting around every corner hoping to break you and turn your world apart.”
“Avery, that cynicism isn’t going to help you,” he watched her closing down as he reached out to her, “You know that.”
“It’s that very cynicism that’s kept me alive all this time,” Avery offered a light smile squeezing his hand gently as she shifted once again, “If I offer myself up on the chopping block to the FBI, then justice won’t ever stand a chance at seeing the light of day.”
“If you hide in the shadows, then the truth won’t be able to set you free either,” Kenneth countered back at her.
“Either way it’s a losing battle,” she slumped her shoulders dreading the world outside this room.
“Even so, maybe it’s time for you to have a little faith in me,” Kenneth suggested, “I mean you did say I was one of the best lawyers out there…”
“I know you are, but Ken you’re all heart,” Avery shook her head at him, “I know you mean well, but given the way the game is played…”
“Hey we’ll make our own rules as we go,” Kenneth flashed her a tiny smile.
“Now you sound like Brant,” Avery couldn’t help but smile.
“I have my moments,” he teased back, “and if you let me do this my way, then I promise you no one will wind up being sacrificed in any of this…”
“I’m not saying a word about what happened with Bruce and me,” Avery added flatly, “That hasn’t changed.”
“I wish you’d reconsider,” he frowned, “but I know how you work.  However, if the need arises and I feel we need to tell the truth about that…”
“Kenneth, you said you wanted to help me,” Avery gave him a disapproving look.
“Helping you is something that I’d like to keep doing, but I don’t want to hurt you,” Kenneth explained drawing in a breath, “You’re my client and I’m going to do everything in my power to help you with this.”
“Even if it means going against my wishes about things,” Avery frowned.
“Avery, we have to do things the right way and then, well only then will the heat be off this case,” Kenneth promised her.
“As long as Bruce’s murderer is still out there, the authorities won’t rest until they find a scapegoat and I don’t want that to be someone I love,” Avery trailed off thinking to Brant and Russell as she prayed that they had nothing to do with Bruce’s demise.  Just the thought of losing either one of them was more than she would be willing to risk even if it meant placing herself in the hot seat a bit longer.  No one would ever find out about the last act of madness the Bruce Mathis inflicted upon her and she certainly wouldn’t allow anyone to take away her life.  While it wasn’t perfect, it was hers and she was going to hold on to it with all she had refusing to bend an inch just to appease those keeping a watchful, scrutinizing eye on her.


Russell stepped into the newsroom finding the hustling and bustling before him to be almost comforting as he realized that at least one thing was still running smoothly.  At the paper it was business as usual and despite the many setbacks that had come upon him in other aspects of his life as of late, well it was always refreshing to know that the paper was still going strong.  He made his way to his office opting to return a couple of phone calls he was certain would be waiting for him before he headed out to see Avery.  Just the thought of her made him smile as he decided he’d be brief with returning those calls after all.
Now as Russell passed by Caitlin’s work area, a sudden thought passed through his mind as he tipped his head in to see her working away at her computer.  He leaned up against the empty desk beside her casually and offered her a small smile, “Good morning.”
“Morning,” she replied looking up at him briefly before finishing up a couple of keystrokes on her computer.
“I’m surprised to see you here so early,” Russell noted raising a curious brow, “You shouldn’t be here for at least another half an hour.”
“You could say I felt inspired,” she turned her attention to him once again, “but then again that shouldn’t surprise you considering…”
“No and it doesn’t,” Russell confessed with a nod, “although I was hoping that perhaps you and I could have a word with one another in my office.”
“Right now,” she half questioned noting the expression on his face, “Just give me a second to finish this up.”
“Take your time,” he smiled back at her before standing up once again, “I’ll be in my office.”
“Alright,” Caitlin replied turning her attention back to the piece before her as she typed out a few more notes.  Finally satisfied with the start she’d made, she saved her file before heading to Russell’s office.  She knocked on the door stepping inside to find him seated at his desk with the phone to his ear.  He raised his finger at her motioning for her to take a seat while he finished with his call and she did as instructed.  She watched him for a moment before turning her attention to the various articles tacked up on the wall behind him.  Granted things were quite hectic in Coral Valley lately, but as she perused the headlines of the Courier’s past issues, she felt that same twinge of accomplishment rush over her as the very thought of working for something that brought forth real honesty and truth in the world of journalism was quite an accomplishment in itself.
“Sorry about that,” Russell broke through her thoughts as she turned her attention back to him, “I guess taking time off does come at a price,” he motioned to the phone messages before him.
“It seems everything does,” Caitlin nodded in response.
“Yes, but it doesn’t hurt to indulge every now and then,” Russell confessed leaning back further in his chair as he smiled back at her, “So how are you holding up this morning?”
“Holding up?” she repeated giving him a strange look.
“Yeah after the fireworks at the mansion there,” a frown touched over his lips, “I’m sure you’re not used to seeing things like what happened in the madhouse over there everyday.”
“Well, it wasn’t on my list of top ten things to be doing, but it was what it was I suppose,” she shrugged her shoulders thinking back, “I just feel for Avery.  To have to deal with what she’s been dealing with on top of everything else…”
“Avery’s a fighter,” Russell answered proudly, “She always has been and I know that she always will be.  She won’t let what happened with Bruce break her down.”
“Good for her,” Caitlin nibbled on her lower lip for a moment thinking back the way in which Avery had been shaken when Caitlin had talked with her.
“Actually,” Russell began again, “that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.”
He nodded, “Listen not a lot of people know about what happened with Avery.  You know about her face and…”
“I’m not going to say a word,” Caitlin interrupted honestly, “I hadn’t planned on it.”
“I knew you wouldn’t,” Russell assured her as he leaned back in his chair once again, “but you see with Avery, she’s full of pride and just the idea that she let Bruce do something like that…”
“I understand her need for privacy in the matter and I respect her desire to keep it to herself,” Caitlin stated firmly, “No woman should have to face such an ordeal and when it happens, well it’s best to let her handle it in her own way,” she shifted on her chair a bit uneasily at the thought.
“No man should ever put a woman in that kind of position,” Russell declared firmly.
“No he shouldn’t,” Caitlin agreed with a nod, “but sometimes things happen and there’s nothing you can do to change them even if you want to.  Sometimes the only escape is to bury that part of your life and hope that no one gets a glimpse of that horrible secret,” her voice tapered off lost in somewhere beyond the situation with Avery.
“Which is why it’s best to keep a lid on this,” Russell watched her for a long moment, “Yesterday effected you, didn’t it?”
“Why do you say that,” Caitlin snapped back to the present silently cursing herself for allowing her thoughts to lead her astray in front of Russell.
“I could see it in your eyes,” he answered with a slight frown, “and after the attack on you the other night…”
“Russell, I told you I’m fine,” Caitlin argued with him feeling an uneasiness rush over her once again.
“Still, I don’t like the idea that you were hurt like that here at work.  Just the idea of some lunatic running around, well, it’s rather unsettling and if you think for a minute that it could have something to do with the story you’re working on…” his concern laced over his words.
“Russell, I already told you that this story is going to be great.  Kenneth taking on Midlands is exactly the kind of tale that the Courier was meant to cover.  The world needs to know about the injustices that the Hendersons faced at the hands of that tyrant corporation.”
“I just don’t want it at your expense,” Russell admitted with a sigh, “You’re a damn good reporter Caitlin and a wonderful person.  I’d hate to have you in the line of fire because of this story…”
“We have a job to do and sometimes it involves taking risks,” Caitlin added determined, “and given the suffering that Randy Henderson has been exposed to, well, the only real suffering that could happen is my not doing the story because then their voices would never truly be heard in the proper lighting.  They need to be able to let the world see their side of things.”
“And you’re going to be the one to do that,” a smile touched over Russell’s lips at her determination, “You know, I have to hand it to you Caitlin.  You’re one in a million.”
“And don’t you forget it,” she teased back at him with a wink, “This is going to be the story that puts the Coral Courier on the map and on top of that it’s going to help the Hendersons find some retribution after all of their suffering.  That in itself is the greatest reward.”
“You’re just the person to make that happen for them,” Russell smiled at her before looking around his desk, “and with that thought in mind, I think I’m going to get ready to call it a day.  You sound like you have everything in order and you’re running with it…”
“I’d like to think so,” she offered with a smile, “So what’s on your agenda today if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all,” he flashed her a bright grin, “I have a breakfast date over at the mansion with Avery.”
“With Avery?” Caitlin raised a curious brow, “Really?”
“That’s right,” Russell nodded in response, “we have this morning ritual together and I figured that there’s no need to stop now that she’s staying there.”
“I see,” Caitlin fought the urge to question him further on the issue as she nodded politely, “Well tell them all I said good morning.”
“I’ll do that,” Russell nodded seeing the curiosity behind her eyes, “Okay, what is it?”
“What is what,” she asked giving him a sideways glance.
“The question on the tip of your tongue,” he stated simply, “what’s on your mind?”
“Nothing,” she shook her head as he gave her a disbelieving look, “Oh alright.  I was just thinking about you and Avery.”
“What about?”
“When she passed out yesterday--even before that well, the two of you…” she shook her head as she rose from her chair, “It’s none of my business.  I should probably get going.”
“No wait,” Russell frowned watching her walk away, “I don’t mind you asking.  I mean hey you know most of the story already and considering that my brother thinks I’m crazy, maybe well maybe telling you won’t be so horrible…”
“Russell, I’m sorry I asked.  You don’t owe me any kind of explanations about your personal life.  It’s personal and it’s yours,” Caitlin began apologetically, “I was just following that reporter’s curiosity and as you can see it tends to get me into trouble from time to time.”
“In this case, it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was,” he drew in a breath, “I’m sure you’ll hear the rumors floating around soon since Avery’s now the center of media attention in Coral Valley.  She and I were engaged once upon a time,” a hint of a smile pressed over his lips, “We almost were married and well, despite the hand fate dealt us, we’re still pretty close.”
“I see,” she nodded accordingly.
“She’s my best friend in this world and I hate seeing her suffering like this,” Russell added with a sigh, “Seeing her in any kind of pain, well it breaks my heart and just the idea that anyone could hold her responsible for anything that jerk Bruce did to her…”
“It wasn’t her fault,” Caitlin added thinking back to the terror she’d recognized behind Avery’s sad eyes, “She’ll see that.”
“I hope you’re right, but even with the fact Avery’s a fighter, she tends to close herself down during moments like these,” he frowned as his thoughts lingered back to the previous days events, “though I do have to say whatever you said to her, it did something.  I mean the way you helped her when you were with her…”
“It was nothing,” Caitlin stated simply.
“Caitlin, you didn’t see the spark in her eyes when she came down to face the police,” Russell thought back, “whatever you did up there, it helped her and I feel like I should thank you for that.”
“I was just doing what any woman would,” she answered again.
“Still, considering Avery’s mother is in town, I don’t know how well this situation is going to fly over,” he paused contemplating his words, “Granted I’ll be doing my best to get over and see Avery, but if I can’t…”
“I’m sure Brant will be there for her,” Caitlin offered.
“Even so,” Russell frowned thinking about Avery being alone with Brant, “I was wondering if ever you’re over there with Kenneth, could you just kind of check in on her every now and then?”
“Are you asking me to spy on her,” Caitlin’s eyes widened in surprise.
“No, nothing like that,” Russell answered quickly, “All I’m asking is if you see things are getting tense around that place for her, could you just let her know she’s not alone?  That she always has someone here for her?”
“Of course,” Caitlin nodded simply, “though somehow I get the feeling she already knows what an incredible friend she has in you.”
“Sometimes I think she questions things between us,” Russell’s voice hinted at something Caitlin couldn’t quite place before he returned his attention to her offering one last smile, “but I think you’ll be good for her.  You’re not like most and you have a way of making those around you feel better.”
“Flattery at it’s finest,” Caitlin teased back at him, “I already told you that this story is going to be great.”
“Can I help it if I’m proud of my soon to be star reporter,” Russell winked back at her, “It’s very inspiring.”
“Well good,” Caitlin grinned in response, “but just you wait until the story is ready for print.  Then you can remind me how great you think I am.”
“I’ll make a mental note of it,” Russell agreed with a tiny laugh, “but for now, get back to work seeing as the story is out there waiting for you to sink your heels into it and make it yours.”
“It’s already mine,” Caitlin promised eagerly, “now I’ve just have to show the world just what the truth is.”
“If anyone can do it, I’m confident it’s you Caitlin,” Russell offered one last thoughtful smile in her direction as she left his office.  With that thought in mind, he put his phone messages aside deciding it was time to make his trip down to the bakery as his morning ritual with Avery was the one thing on his mind and wild horses couldn’t keep him from away.  Okay so Brooke Morrison might give it a try he realized with a frown, but hell or high water Russell would find a way to see Avery one way or another.


The silence hung thick in the air as Jade and Seth stared one another down. He held her gaze as he stood firm in his determination to protect her…even from her own mistakes. She glared at him, her anger growing with every moment as she thought of what he'd done to push Grady from her arms.

"How could you, Seth?!" Jade shouted at him as she planted her hands upon her hips, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Wrong with me?" He rolled his eyes, "I'm trying to protect you, Jade."

"From what? From getting what I want most in the world?" She shrieked.

"From getting yourself in over your head," He said as he attempted to level his tone of voice, fighting his tendency to let his anger get the best of him, "You can't just trust every man you meet."

"I don't," She groaned, "I've been working with Grady for a while now, Seth. I know him backwards and forwards. I know that I can trust him."

"Do you really? How do you know that he's so trustworthy, Jade?"

"Because he's never once done anything to hurt me," She said firmly, "Not even a hurtful word. He's done his best to ignore the attraction between us for fear of hurting me."

"Apparently his best wasn't good enough," He stated as he crossed his arms, "Jade, you can't just go chasing after older men because you have a daddy complex."

She gasped audibly as his words stung her, "How can you say that to me?" She asked as tears pooled in her eyes, "You know that the last thing I want in my life is anything that even remotely has to do with our father."

"What about someone else's father? You have a thing for older men, Jade, and it's going to burn you."

"Don't you dare lecture me about my choice in men," She stiffened her spine as she flipped her hair from her shoulder, "Or should I point out that Blake is an Ashford yet again? You do remember why we hate them, don't you? You do remember just what happened? You haven't forgotten, have you?"

"Of course I haven't forgotten, or we wouldn't be having this conversation," He pointed out, "Jade, I'm just trying to prevent the same thing from happening again."

"You don't have to worry about that with Grady. He's an honorable man…nothing like…" She trailed off, "He would never do anything like what you're thinking."

"It sure didn't look like it," Seth said simply, "If I hadn't interrupted when I did, then what would have happened? He would have.."

"No!" She shouted as she glared at him, "He would never violate me. I want him, and he wants me. Why can't you just let me move on with my life instead of bringing me back to that moment over and over again?" She asked as she broke down in tears.

"Jade," He said her name softly as he reached out to her. She slapped his hands away as she backed up. He sighed as he withdrew his touch and slipped his hands into his pockets, "I just don't want to see you hurt like that ever again."

"Then let me move on," She pled with him as she sobbed, "Let me put my past behind me and finally move on to an adult relationship."

"With a man old enough to be your father?"

"Damn you. Why can't you just understand that Grady is a good man? Forget his age, forget his profession, and just focus on him. He's a good man, and he wouldn't hurt me."

"You have a lot of faith in him, Jade. It's those people you place faith in that burn you the most."

"Like you and Blake?" She questioned as she watched him wince from her words, "Don't think that everyone has an agenda like you do, Seth."

"There are extenuating circumstances there, Jade. It's not the same thing."

"I'm sure Blake would disagree," Jade shook her head as she turned away, "Just forget it, Seth. I don't want to talk to you."

"Hold it. You're not going anywhere until we talk this through," He said as he followed her down the hallway.

"Wrong," She said as she turned back to face him, "You don't really want to listen to what I have to say because you've already made up your mind. Well so have I. I want to be with Grady, and I will be…the only thing you can do is get used to the idea," She said firmly before walking into her bedroom and slamming the door in his face.

Seth considered knocking but knew his sister would never hear him out. He would have to find a way to get through to her before she got hurt. This time, no man would harm his sister. He would make sure of that.


"Hi Brant," Shannon said simply as she looked him over. He certainly hadn't changed…except to get even sexier. She was sure however that with the grow of his sex appeal so had his ego enlarged. His ego was certain to ruin whatever sex appeal he had, therefore he was just as useless to her as he had been when they parted ways. She looked at him for a moment before breaking a smile, "What? You have nothing to say?"

"What the hell are you doing here?" Brant blurted out as he frowned.

She chuckled softly as she brushed by him, taking a look around the library to remember its layout, "I'm investigating the Mathis murder, and I'm here to speak with your fiancée."

"Like hell you are," He said boldly as he turned to meet her eyes, "I'm not going to let you start in on Avery just because we don't get along."

"Brant, get over yourself you big ego maniac," She rolled her eyes, "Not everything is about you. This is about the murder, and I'm only interested in finding the killer."

"You won't find him in this house," He said firmly, "The best thing you can do for everyone is just leave."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," She said as she sat in one of the fine leather chairs, "Kenneth's gone to get his client, and we're going to have a chat…whether you like it or not."

"Look, just because you're with the Bureau now doesn't mean you can boss around anyone in this household."

"I'm not bossing around anyone…yet," She shrugged, "I'm here to do my job, and if you don't like it…that's tough."

Brant started to speak again before Kenneth stepped into the room.

"I don't know what he's said, but the best thing for you to do, Brant, is keep your mouth shut until your attorney arrives," Kenneth advised before Avery stepped into the room, "Brant, you need to go while we have a talk with Shannon."

"I'm not going anywhere. Shannon's only going to want Avery's head on a platter," Brant argued.

"The only head I want on a platter is that of the guilty party," Shannon spoke up, "I'm not interested in persecuting anyone. I just want to do my job and get the hell out of here," She said as she looked to Avery and Kenneth, "As long as you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about."

"That's every cop's mantra," Brant shook his head, "This is absurd."

"The only thing absurd about this is that you're being a total ass," Shannon spoke plainly, "The sooner you get out of here and let us conduct this interview, the sooner this will be over," She said as she looked to Kenneth, "Can't you do something with him?"

"No, I've been trying since we were born," Kenneth said flatly as he looked to his brother, "Come on, Brant. Let us get this done."

"What's going on?" Brooke asked as she joined the commotion.

"Oh brother," Avery sighed as she turned away, ready to strangle the next person who caused a scene…whoever it turned out to be.

"We're conducting an interview here, and it'll be over very soon," Shannon said as she approached Brant and Brooke, "Do you two mind?" She questioned as she took them each by the arm and led them to the door. She pushed them outside before closing the door and locking it, "He never changes."

"And neither do you," Kenneth chuckled, "You're just as bossy as always."

"A woman in my position has to be," She said with a smile, "Come on. Let's sit down and talk."

"Talk? You make this sound like a social call," Avery said blandly as she and Kenneth sat on the sofa while Shannon took a seat back in the high back leather chairs.

"I wish," Shannon replied as she removed a small tape recorder from her jacket, "You don't mind if I record this, do you?"

"This is an interview, Shannon, not an interrogation. When you have us down at the station house you can record the conversation all you'd like, but not in this house," Kenneth said as he watched her carefully.

"Okay," Shannon shrugged as she dropped the recorder back into her pocket. She removed a note pad and pen to take notes as she looked back up to Avery, "I need to go through all the formalities here to protect myself as well as inform you, you understand. This is not an interrogation. This is simply an interview to gain facts which may be pertinent to the investigation. You can refuse to answer any of my questions at any time during this interview, and you may also end the interview at any time. However, if you do so and I deem it necessary, I can get a material witness warrant and arrest you until you do decide to speak with me," She looked between Kenneth and Avery, "Do you understand?"

"Of course I understand," Avery rolled her eyes, "I'm an attorney, not some airhead."

Shannon almost grinned at her suspect's choice of words, "Fair enough. When was the last time you saw Bruce Mathis?"

"He came by my apartment a few days ago," Avery replied, "We had broken up, and he was just returning a few of my things along with my spare key."

"How would you describe his mood during your encounter?" Shannon asked as she made notes.

"He…well…it's always difficult breaking up with someone, isn't it?" Avery asked as she looked towards Shannon, "There are always bound to be a few residual feelings that make things uncomfortable."

"Why did the two of you break up?" Shannon asked as she looked up.

"Why is that relevant?" Kenneth asked, cutting in before Avery could speak.

Shannon crossed her wrists in her lap, "Because whoever murdered Bruce Mathis did so in a rage. This was not a premeditated murder, but it was a crime of intense passion. If they broke up on a sour note…"

"Isn't that how people break up anyway? On a sour note?" Avery snorted.

"So things were bad between you and Dr. Mathis?" Shannon asked quickly.

"Bruce and I broke up, but I never would want anything like this to happen to him. Despite our differences I truly cared about him," Avery defended before Kenneth placed his hand upon her arm to silence her.

"Why don't you just get to the point already?" Kenneth instructed.

"When did you become engaged to Brant?" Shannon asked as she continued to make notes.

"I knew it!" Avery raised her voice, quickly rising to her feet, "I knew that this was just a witch hunt to try to get some dirt on us. Well, guess again, lady," She said with disdain, "I'm not going to explain my relationship with Brant to you, Heather, or anyone else for that matter."

"You're very sensitive about the subject," Shannon pointed out as she looked up to Avery.

Avery sneered, "If you want to talk to me again, you'll have to arrest me," She said quickly before turning on her heel and marching out of the room.

Kenneth rose from his position on the couch and smoothed his jacket, "I think this interview is over."

"Feisty, isn't she?" Shannon grinned as she stood, "I think Brant has met his match and then some."

"I'm sure he'll be glad to hear you think so," Kenneth said simply, "Shall I escort you out?"

"No, I want to speak with Brant…officially," She clarified.

"Should I stick around to clean up the blood bath?" He asked blandly.

"Nah," Shannon grinned, "I'll go easy on him. Scouts honor," She teased with a smile, ready to spring her trap on Brant.


“What’s going on in there,” Brooke questioned unable to quell the concern rushing over her upon hearing the news of the FBI’s arrival.  The last thing she wanted was for the FBI nosing around at a time in her daughter’s life when Brooke was banking on so very much for Avery.
“Nothing I hope,” Brant gulped thinking about the idea of Shannon and Avery alone together in the room--well sure Kenneth was there, but that was still enough to make Brant hate being shut out of what was happening.
“Why on earth would that dreadful FBI woman need to speak with my Avery,” Brooke’s voice held an emphasis on the word dreadful, “Clearly any fool could see that Avery doesn’t have the heart to commit that kind of crime that is being investigated.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Brant turned his attention towards Brooke, “but you know how the law officials are,” he shook his head in disgust, “They never get anything right.”
“Still, this leaves me very unsettled,” Brooke placed her hand to her chest in mock-shock.  “The last thing my daughter needs is harassment from those beneath her.”
“This will end soon,” Brant tried to assure her, “I promise you that.”
“Given your reputation, I should hope that will be the case,” Brooke looked to the closed door before her once again, “Although you did say that your brother could hold his own in there, yes?”
“If my brother can’t do it, Avery can,” Brant shrugged his shoulders trying to get over the uneasiness working over the pit of his stomach as he thought about Avery and Shannon together.  Trying to keep his thoughts even, he turned to Brooke flashing her a confident smile, “Can I interest you in a drink?  Say a martini?”
“Hmm, well I really shouldn’t,” Brooke placed her hand out on his arm leisurely, “but then again if my future son-in-law is willing to pamper me, then I suppose it would seem an insult for me to refuse.”
“That it would be,” Brant wrapped his arm around hers leading her away from the library doors as he tried to focus on the drinks at hand.
“This does give us an opportunity to get to know one another,” Brooke curled her fingers over his muscled arm, “I want to hear all about how you and my Avery found one another and fell into romance.”
“It’s quite a tale,” Brant admitted with a smile as he lead Brooke towards the bar.
“All the more reason to share it,” she patted at his arm in a playful fashion, “Go on.  Tell me.”
“Well, truth be told,” Brant stepped out of her reach heading over towards the bar ready to mix up some martinis, “it was love at first sight…for me at least.”
“Really,” Brooke took a seat in one of the plush chairs as she crossed her legs casually.  Her eyes fell upon the handsome man her daughter had finally chosen to settle down with and a proud smile curled over her lips as she realized not only was Brant charming and very rich, but he was quite a specimen of man.  As her gaze lingered over his muscular form, she noted the outline of his firm bottom as a smile spilled over her features.  Brant Ashford was quite the man indeed, she noted her hungry eyes taking him in.  Why if she was a few years younger…she shook the thought as she flashed him a bright smile reaching out to accept the martini he’d mixed up for her.
“There you are,” he eased the glass into her hand as she flashed him a seductive smile.
“Thank you,” she patted the seat beside her motioning for him to join her, “so now where were we?  Ah yes, we were discussing your courtship with Avery…”
“Of course,” he nodded simply taking a seat beside her, “As I said before, it was love at first sight as your daughter is a very beautiful woman.”
“She has me to thank for that,” Brooke offered shamelessly.
“That I can clearly see,” Brant nodded in response flashing her one of his million dollar grins, “and her spirit, well she’s quiet feisty when she wants to be…”
“Another trait she picked up from yours truly,” Brooke reached out across the arm of the chair brushing her finger tips against his, “Avery did always take after my finer points, even if she chose to fight me every step of the way.  She can be next to impossible some of the time, but when it gets down to it, she has great potential, wouldn‘t you agree?”
“Avery takes her time getting to the heart of the matter, but once she felt it too, well the rest is history.  Our falling love took us both by surprise and when the moment was right, we both quit fighting the inevitable with one another,” Brant offered brightly thinking of Avery, “As you know she’s been working with me for quite some time…”
“Yes as your lawyer which is a position that I should hope you’d try to talk her out of once you two are married,” Brooke wrinkled her nose in disgust, “My daughter means well and she is clearly ambitious, but her energies are all focused in the wrong areas.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that what she does over at your company is very important, but behind every successful marriage is a woman whose top priority is  pleasing her man…” her fingers tapered off up over his arm, “and I trust Avery does just that?  Given that she‘s my daughter, that should be something she would clearly excel in.”
Brant’s eyes widened at her obvious flirtations and he cleared his throat struggling to keep his voice even, “Avery’s irresistible indeed and also indispensable to me at the company.  She‘s brilliant and I‘d be lost without her if she wasn‘t there to keep me in line,” Brant offered in a nonchalant fashion before adding, “and besides the way I see it, us spending as much time together as possible could only be a good thing.  After all being the boss and having my beautiful bride to be with me does tend to make the work environment all the more enjoyable.”
“A man who’s ready to marry and pamper Avery,” Brooke nodded accordingly, “which already makes you much better than the others she chose to annoy her father and I with.  We‘d always had such high hopes of her meeting the right man and finding romance, but she was always so stubborn and careless.  She never did see the good thing that was before her eyes, well until now that is,” she finished with a catlike grin.
“Avery is very special to me and from the moment she walked into my life, I knew it would never be the same again.  She taught me what love is and that is something that I could never lose sight of,” Brant eased away from her touch before going to the bar once again retrieving a refill on his drink, “You said you wanted to hear the tale of our romance, did you not?”
“I’m always interested in hearing about my daughter,” Brooke sighed leaning back in the chair a bit, “but then again, what really piqued my curiosity was the man right before me.  Given how my daughter is, I must say I was pleasantly surprised to see that she’d finally stopped scraping the bottom of the barrel and found herself a man of character.”
“I appreciate your saying that about me,” Brant returned to his seat beside her, “as your approval means a lot to me.”
“I know that you’re going to treat my daughter right.  I can see that about you Brant.  Somehow with Avery, I always knew from the moment she came into this world that she was destined for greatness and for the first time in a long time, she’s ceased to disappoint me,” Brooke explained a sigh spilling over her lips as she sipped her martini, “though I do have a confession to make with you.  Avery might not be appreciative of my saying this, but as your soon to be mother-in-law, I feel it is my place to keep you informed about the things you’ll need to protect Avery from you see…”
“Such as?” Brant lifted a curious brow.
“That dreadful Russell Denton,” Brooke’s mouth curled in dismay, “Every time he steps into Avery’s life, nothing but trouble follows you see.  Time and time again, he’s tried to ruin her life and for some reason unbeknown to me, my daughter seems to take pity on his miserable existence and as a result she tends to ruin everything good in her life.”
“I’m well aware of the fact that she and Russell are friends,” Brant shrugged his shoulders as he sipped his martini, “and I can assure you that he’s not going to be a problem for us.”
“Just having him around is asking for trouble,” Brooke noted a fire behind her eyes, “He makes Avery do things--behave in such ways that are destined to ruin her reputation.  Granted I understand my daughter has a bit of a bleeding heart, but where that man is concerned, he takes full advantage of her each time he’s around her.  Knowing that my daughter is blissful in love with you, well it’s bound to have him thinking up ways to destroy your happiness with my daughter.  That’s how his kind works you see,” she took a sip of her martini once again, “He pretends that he’s playing the role of your friend, but his jealousy and bitterness over what you have will shine through the surface and soon he’ll be pulling out all the stops in order to make you and Avery miserable.”
“Brooke, I can assure you that he won’t be a problem for Avery and I,” Brant began again seeing the determination behind her eyes.
“Brant, I realize that it might seem out of place with my telling you this, but he put my daughter in a very precarious position in her younger years and should anything along those lines come about again, well I fear that I might not be able to protect her.  However, with you being the man she loves, I’m certain that you can find a way to dissuade her from letting that Denton boy interfere with the course that destiny has planned for the both of you.”
“Brooke, I’ll take your words into consideration,” Brant nodded accordingly as he began to wonder about her warning.  Granted he knew about Russell’s disapproval of Avery’s relationship with him, but would Russell prove to be more trouble than he was worth?  Already he’d made himself a pain in Brant’s ass, but then again, Brant was the one posing as Avery’s fiancé--the man she was contemplating romance with.  Russell was just a friend--a very overzealous, annoying friend indeed, but clearly Avery wouldn’t let Russell’s opinions cloud her judgment, would she?  Shaking the thought, Brant smiled down at Brooke once again.
“I should hope you do take heed in my warning,” Brooke added extending her well manicured fingers over the sleeve of his jacket, “because I’m well aware of the ways in which your being with my daughter will enhance her life.  Avery’s needed a husband that could bring out the best in her and I have no doubt in my mind that you’re the man for the job.  Her father would be proud.”
“Speaking of which, where is Mr. Morrison,” Brant inquired, “I would have thought he’d be accompanying you on this trip to Coral Valley to share the news.”
“Dick--um Richard,” her words bit icily, “is in Europe right now and while I was in the middle of launching my new face campaign for Beholder Cosmetics, I thought a little vacation wouldn’t hurt.  Besides, I was hoping that perhaps I could coax my daughter into modeling for me once again given that she is quite a media attraction.  Did Avery tell you of her years in the fashion industry?”
“Avery was a model,” Brant’s eyes widened in surprise, “Really?”
“Yes, she had a very promising career ahead of her,” Brooke nodded in confession, a proud smile sweeping over her features.  “She’d gotten started as a child you see as from the first moment the agency I was with at the time took note of her, they said she was sensational.  She’d done her first national advertisement spot by the age of six months,” Brooke boasted proudly.
“I never knew,” Brant leaned forward suddenly curious to hear about this other side of Avery.
“She wouldn’t dare dream of admitting it, but when she’d landed that role, they’d said she was just the cutest little darling they’d ever had in one of their baby food commercials,” Brooke confessed thoughtfully, “After that she’d done some random commercials here and there, but despite the praise and promise of her future, her father insisted upon her going to one of those tawdry private schools that he’d felt was good for developing character.  Granted I would’ve much preferred to have my daughter home schooled, but Richard twisted my arm and Avery’s modeling career was put on hold.”
“I see,” Brant nodded curiously.
“Of course after a while, I’d decided to get her back into the fashion scene as it would‘ve been a sin to keep her far from it as it‘s in her blood you know,” Brooke continued lost in the vivid memory of her dreams for Avery, “In fact,” she reached into her pocket, withdrawing her date book, “I believe I have one of her photos with me.”
“Really?” Brant leaned in closer watching as Brooke pulled out a small black and white photograph and she handed it towards him.
“This was one of the last jobs Avery did,” Brooke explained with a sigh, “It was for our Temptation Line--which to this day is one of our best selling cosmetics series based on that photo.”
“She’s radiant,” Brant touched the picture in his hand as a breath caught in his throat.  Even though the photograph was clearly taken at a younger age, Avery seemed to have that natural beauty and charisma that radiated through her even then.  Brant couldn’t help but be taken by her as she was an absolute vision--with the kind of extraordinary splendor that dreams were made of.
“She was seventeen at the time,” Brooke explained further, “and she had a very promising future ahead of her.  They wanted her in Paris, Milan, London and more to do all the shows, but unfortunately she chose to throw it all away.”
“How so,” Brant’s gaze lifted to her once again as he held the photo.
“She was so hell bent on fighting me and her flourishing career,” Brooke frowned deeply at the memory, “She let that horrible Denton boy get her into trouble and she gave up on herself completely.  She was in all sorts of disarray and then to spite me, she ran off to college.  It’s a wonder that she made her way through Harvard with the ways in which she fought me and my guidance.  Of course her father was in heaven to have her being a legal bore, but still when I think of what she threw away…” Brooke looked to the photograph, “She could’ve been so much more…”
“I think your daughter is nothing short of exceptional,” Brant offered encouragingly as he looked to the photograph, “I mean she’s honestly got the perfect balance of beauty and wisdom and her wit--well it’s what really made me take notice of her.  She’s more than a pretty face and while this is amazing,” he held the photo out towards her, “the woman she turned out to be takes my breath away completely.”
“You really do love her, don’t you,” Brooke’s eyes widened in surprise as she eyed him closely.
“With all of my heart,” Brant nodded in confession as he held the picture out towards her once again, “here you are.”
“Keep it,” Brooke smiled up at him, “I can see you enjoyed it and besides I have other copies as she is the face that took my company off the ground once upon a time.”
“Thank you,” Brant replied hearing the ringing of the doorbell as he remembered his talk with Hart, “If you’ll excuse me for a moment…”
“Of course,” she nodded watching his retreat as she sank back in the chair finishing off her martini as she vowed not to let her daughter screw up her life once again.  Brant Ashford and his millions was exactly what Avery needed and one way or another Brooke would make sure that this upcoming wedding would be planned and carried out without a hitch.  That much she was certain of, she beamed with a smile realizing that her estranged daughter would be the key to getting what she wanted out of life once and for all.


Caitlin knocked lightly on the door before stepping inside, "Can I come in?" She asked as she spotted Kelly Henderson waving for her to join her.

"Please do," Kelly smiled as she moved to invite the journalist inside.

"How are you?" Caitlin asked with a smile as she shook Kelly's hand.

"I'm good. Randy's doing better, and they say they might discharge him at the end of the week," The proud mother smiled as she looked to her son lying in bed.

"Caitlin!" Randy shouted her name with excitement as he looked up from his video game, "Why don't you come over here and play my game with me?"

"Now that's tempting," Caitlin smiled, "But I want to talk to your mom for just a little bit, and then I have a surprise for you."

"For me? What is it? What is it?" He asked with wide eyes.

"I can't tell you, or it won't be a surprise. So you just hold down the fort there, and let me talk with your mom for a little while."

"Okay, but you're not leaving until I get my surprise," He warned before he focused his attention back upon the game in front of him.

Caitlin chuckled softly as she looked to Kelly, "He certainly appears to have a lot of energy."

"Yeah, he does…at least he does this early in the day," Kelly said with a smile as she looked back to him. She watched him for a moment before she looked back to Caitlin, "Why don't we have a seat over here?" She advised as she led her visitor to the cot which served as a sofa, "Kenneth told us about the attack, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Caitlin smiled, "It was very disturbing at the time, but I'm okay," She said as she met Kelly's eyes, "It's very sweet of you to be concerned when you have so much on your plate already."

"I just hate that anything so violent happens," Kelly explained.

"And I hate that such a promising family to be upset the way yours has," Caitlin said softly as she reached into her purse, "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions and record the interview?"

"Record it? Why?" Kelly asked with concern.

"It's just to provide a solid record which I can refer to when I'm writing my article. It's just to make sure I don't misquote you," Caitlin clarified, "No one will ever hear this but me."

"Okay," Kelly agreed.

Caitlin switched on the recorder and placed it on the cot beside her, "I just want to ask a few questions that will help introduce you to my readers, okay?" She smiled as Kelly nodded, "Let's start at the beginning. How long have you and Jay been married and how old was Randy when you bought your house?"

"Jay and I have been married for seven years," Kelly smiled as she thought about her husband, "We had only been married about six months when I found out I was pregnant with Randy. I was so excited to be having a baby," She looked to the bed and her smile radiated motherly pride, "And he's everything I hoped and so much more. By the time he was nine months old and crawling all over our little apartment, we decided that we needed a house so he would have room to move around. We started looking around, and we moved into the new house on Randy's first birthday."

"How long were you in your new home before you began noticing Randy's symptoms?"

"Eight months. At his eighteen month checkup, his pediatrician began noticing certain abnormalities in his growth. Then, Randy began to have stomach problems. It seems he was never able to keep anything down. He was admitted to the hospital several times for dehydration. DFACS even investigated us to see if we were neglecting Randy. It was determined we weren't, of course, but I felt like such a failure as a mother. We'd been to a dozen pediatricians looking for someone who could cure Randy of his problems. Finally we found Dr. Caruso, and he diagnosed Randy's condition of radiation sickness. We wondered how that could possibly be true, but then Dr. Caruso called the EPA. They came out to the house and ran tests on the water and soil. They found abnormally high levels of radioactivity. That confirmed Dr. Caruso's diagnosis."

"How did you find out that your house was located on a former waste disposal site?"

"We asked our realtor about it, and she said that she had no knowledge of the situation. So we asked her to run an investigation. She found out the original owner of the property before it was turned over to the real estate agency. We tracked it back to Midlands and discovered its use by researching zoning records."

"Did you contact Midlands?"

"We tried, but they refused to acknowledge our problem. They repeated their mantra…they had done everything possible to clean up the area, and it was suitable for residential use. Obviously it wasn't or Randy never would have become sick."

Caitlin nodded, "How did you find Kenneth?"

"After Midlands blew us off over two dozen times, we decided that it was time to look for legal counsel. We went to legal aid, and a lawyer there suggested we look into retaining Kenneth for our case. We looked up some of his old cases in the newspapers, and we were impressed. So we began writing him letters, and eventually he came to meet with us," Kelly explained.

Caitlin smiled in response before switching off her tape recorder, "I think that's a wonderful beginning. I can use this and the basic facts I've already gathered about Midlands to write my first installment of the article," She explained before tucking her tape recorder away, "I really think Midlands has no other choice but to pay for the wrongs they've done."

"I sincerely hope that's true," Kelly agreed.

"Okay, now where's my surprise?" Randy demanded from the bed with a grin.

"Hey…didn't anyone ever tell you that patience is a virtue?" Caitlin asked as she moved to sit on the side of the bed and face him.

"Yeah, but I don't care. What's my surprise?" He asked anxiously.

"Gotta love your honesty, kid," She chuckled before she withdrew a box from her pocket, "Here."

"What is it?" He asked with excitement as he tore open the box and gasped, "Oh my god! Jungle Raiders! That is too awesome!" He leapt from his position on the bed and hugged Caitlin tightly, "Thank you. Thank you."

Caitlin smiled as she returned his hug, "I thought you could use another game to play besides the one Kenneth brought you. This way you can't get bored."

"You are too awesome, Caitlin," Randy said happily before kissing her cheek, "Thank you so much."

"You're very welcome," Caitlin beamed with happiness as Randy picked up his video game from the bed and switched games. He began to play and burst into laughter as he enjoyed his new game. She watched him with a smile as she hoped that somehow her story would help him grow up to be the fine young man he showed promise to be.


Brant swiftly answered the door pulling Hart inside as a frown swept over his handsome features, “Took you long enough, didn’t it?”
“Hey you were the one who sounded less than eager to talk about this,” Hart reminded him with a scowl, “What changed?”
“She’s here,” Brant’s eyes narrowed as he motioned towards the other end of the hall, “She’s in the library with Avery right now.”
“Just the two of them?” Hart’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Of course not,” Brant shook his head, “How stupid do I look?  Kenneth is in there, but still the idea that Shannon is in my house sniffing around, well it’s very unsettling.”
“So then let’s work on getting rid of her,” Hart stated simply, “That shouldn’t be hard to do.”
“Easier said than done,” Brant frowned, “She’s set on harassing Avery about that damned murder.”
“Speaking of which, we should probably start talking about what it is that you aren’t telling me about this situation,” Hart motioned for them to take their conversation into another room.  Brant lead him out of the hall into one of the empty studies down the hall.
“Ok what do you want to know,” Brant frowned closing the doors behind them as he lowered his voice a bit.
“Avery,” Hart replied simply, “What’s the real story?”
“I already told you the real story.  She and I are engaged and…”
“Brant, I know there’s more to it than what the press is spinning a tale of and if you know something about this murder, well you have to be honest with me now so that we can take the next course of action,” Hart replied with a frown, “Given that the authorities seem to be settling in on your fiancée, then perhaps it’s time you start talking about your relationship with the victim.”
“Bruce was no victim,” Brant scowled in response, “He never deserved Avery.”
“Okay bias aside, would there be any reason other than the fact that Avery was once involved with him that would make her a suspect or worse that would have her put you in a bad light?”
“Avery wouldn’t put me in a bad light,” Brant frowned back at him.
“Brant, look I know you’re not into self sacrifice there when it comes to women, but if you and Avery are on the road to matrimony, well it could make you stupid.”
“Hart, I’m paying you good money to keep me and my fiancée out of this ridiculous murder investigation and I intend for your services to live up to what you’re getting out of this,” Brant scowled back at him, “I’m not going to let some nobody like Bruce Mathis get in the way of my future with Avery.  Is that understood?”
“Fine, then what about this wedding?” Hart began again, “How long are you and Avery willing to wait on this?”
“Why is that of any relevance,” Brant frowned giving him a strange look.
“Because if she’s a murderer, you might want to think twice about this decision of yours, or worse if she prompted anything stupid out of you, you might need to marry her in order to keep her silent so that she doesn’t screw things up for you,” Hart shook his head in strong disapproval, “Already there are rumors flying around town about you and Bruce Mathis.”
“Such as?” Brant raised a curious brow.
“The two of you had an altercation with one another the night of the quake,” Hart recalled the story that had come his way, “Something about the two of you getting physical with one another in a room full of witnesses.”
“The night of the quake, he kicked me out of the hospital, but only because Grady Denton was causing a stir,” Brant answered casually, “That had nothing to do with Bruce, but he felt the need to come in and throw his weight around in the hopes that it would make him look important.  However, I can assure you that I never laid a finger on the man.”
“But you managed to put a ring on his girlfriend’s finger, yes?”
“Hey who are you working for,” Brant grumbled back at him, “You’re supposed to be finding ways to help me get rid of Shannon, remember?”
“Brant I’m trying to help here, but I’d like to know the whole picture,” Hart explained coolly, “The way I see if, if the FBI are putting their noses into this, somehow they’re looking at more than Avery’s relationship with Bruce.  This whole investigation seems to be just means of getting all access to the Ashford family and I’d like to know why.”
“That’s the question of the hour, isn’t it,” Brant sighed running his fingers through his hair, “Look the truth is that I didn’t think much of Bruce Mathis, and I always felt that Avery could do better.  Beyond that, he never really crossed my mind until yesterday morning when I heard he was dead.  Other than that, I could’ve given a care less about him.”
“Brant, are you sure there’s nothing more to this story?” Hart questioned again, “There isn’t anything Shannon could toss out at you that might pose a problem.”
“Shannon can toss anything out that she likes, but as far as Bruce Mathis is concerned, he’s dead and I can’t say that I’ll miss him or that after this ridiculous inquisition is over that he’ll cross my mind again.  I would just like to have a day in my home without the press or anyone else jumping in and creating chaos.  All I’m asking for is some peace and quiet and I think I’ve more than earned it.”
“Alright,” Hart paused thinking things over for a moment before motioning towards the chair, “take a seat and we’ll come up with the best way to get rid of Shannon then.”
“Now we’re talking,” Brant agreed readily eager to put this mess with the police, Shannon and Bruce behind him.  Now was time for thinking to the future and not drudging up the past.  Sure there was plenty he could say about Bruce Mathis, but given that he swore to Avery her secret would remain just that, he realized that all that was important was finding a way to get Hart to do the job he was paid to do so that life could move forward without any complications.


Russell stepped up to the front porch of the Ashford mansion feeling an ironic smile touching over the corners of his mouth.  While he’d never imagined in a million years that he’d be returning to this place to make a social call, let alone having a breakfast date with Avery, he realized that in some ways her being here would just be means to an end as soon this murder investigation would be over and by the time the press died down with the rumors of Brant and Avery’s upcoming wedding, well then he’d have spent enough time with her at this place to show her that the mansion and Brant were the last thing she wanted or needed in her life.  In fact, after last night’s phone conversation, he felt more confident than ever that things were headed in the right direction between them.
Smiling as Avery’s words sent a warmth flooding over him, Russell rang the doorbell ready to see her beautiful face and hey if it just so happened that Brant wasn’t around watching her like a hawk--hell, even if he was, maybe he’d add a morning kiss for Avery on his to do list.  There was just an added thrill that sparked inside of him at the thought of kissing her again.  Just the idea of holding her once again spilled hope through him as he vowed to get her alone for a few minutes now determined to get his morning kiss from her.  As he began to drift off into the fantasy spinning to life in his head, the door opened and much to his dismay Brooke stood on the other side of the door.
“What the hell are you doing here,” she frowned deeply glaring up at him while making no attempt to invite him inside.
“Good morning to you too, Brooke,” he replied icily as he flashed her what he was certain was one of the fakest smiles he could muster up as he looked beyond her.
“You’re not welcome here,” Brooke glared back at him as she stood taller.
“Last time I checked,” Russell eased his way into the mansion carefully maneuvering himself around her, “this wasn’t your home.”
“It’s my daughter’s home,” Brooke spun around watching him as he walked further into the hallway, “Her home with her soon to be husband and the last thing that they need is you bothering either one of them.”
“Avery and I have a breakfast date,” Russell answered with a simple shrug of his shoulders as he turned to face her again, “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“It is my business when you’re set on destroying my daughter’s life,” Brooke marched towards him, “Avery doesn’t need you or your cheap, bargain brand coffee,” she swatted at the tray in his hand sending it flying across the room as her eyes shot daggers at him, “especially when she can have all the gourmet coffee she wants here with the man she’s going to marry.”
“What the hell is your problem, Brooke?” Russell glared at her as his eyes fell upon his now coffee stained shirt.  When she’d swatted the tray, it hurt like hell when the coffee sprayed at him, but he wouldn’t dare let her think she’d effected him in any way.  Now as his fingers curled around the bag in his other hand he realized that he’d easily find himself ready to knock the arrogant smirk off her face if it wasn’t for his strict no violence policy against women--although Brooke was certainly no woman that could qualify for that kind of charitable restraint.
“You’re my problem,” she huffed back at him, “You think you can just come here with your pathetic little attempts at weaving your way into my daughter’s life when she’s made it painfully obvious that she doesn’t need you.  She never needed you or your intrusions upon her life.  All you are for her is trouble and I won’t allow you to bring that to her life again…”
“All I ever did was love Avery,” Russell argued with her, his anger rising with his voice as he shook his head, “I’d give her the world, but because my name doesn’t have the Ashford stigma tacked onto it, it’ll never be good enough for you, will it Brooke?”
“My daughter never needed you in her life,” Brooke shouted back at him, “You were nothing more than a low class loser who would never strive to be anything even remotely close to what my daughter needed, but still you continued to play with her mind--you forced her to rebel and do things that she wouldn’t have done on her own all for your perverse pleasures…”
“Is it so hard for you to accept that your daughter was in love with me,” Russell challenged harshly, “that she’d evolved past you and turned into a woman of character?  A woman that didn’t wear the same blinders of prejudice where a man’s sole worth was based on his bank account?”
“It’s more than your lack of a fortune that made you completely wrong for my daughter,” Brooke’s eyes narrowed back at him, “You didn’t care about Avery.”
“Didn’t care about Avery?” Russell blinked back at her, “I loved her with everything I had and if you hadn’t stepped in, she and I would be happy together right now living out our lives the way it should’ve been as husband and wife.”
“Thank heavens I kept her from that horrible tragedy,” Brooke gasped in horror, “My daughter lowering herself to be with a pathetic excuse for a man like you would’ve been the greatest horror in her life.  Your kind knows nothing of love or loyalty--just how to go through this life doing as little as possible and resenting those in the world like Brant who strive for excellence.”
“Brooke, you don’t have the first clue about what I’ve done with my life because you refuse to look at me and see what Avery sees,” Russell answered sharply, “When she’s with me, she doesn’t care about the things that matter to you.  She doesn’t need the fancy home, the expensive cars or even the pathetic attempts at bravado that comes along with money to burn, she sees someone that she can relate to--someone who understands her and cares about her general well being.”
“If you ever cared for my daughter, then you’d turn around and get the hell out of her life starting now,” Brooke challenged, “If you love her like you claim to, then you’ll go away and never come back.  You’ll let her and Brant find the happiness they’re so close to having with one another and you’ll disappear forever.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he sneered.
“You’re damn right I would,” Brooke’s tone grew menacing, “It would be doing the world a favor if you were no longer a part of it.  It’s a pity that poor Dr. Mathis was the one whose life expired when there was a much better candidate for that twist of fate standing before me…”
“That’s enough mother,” Avery’s voice shouted from the top of the stairs as she looked down to the woman before her, her eyes seething with anger.
“Avery,” Brooke gasped in surprise taking a step back from Russell.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” Avery questioned sharply as she turned her eyes towards Russell seeing the coffee stains on his shirt, “What has she done now?”
“She was just giving me her usual run around about how happy she was to see me,” he forced a light smile as Avery rushed over to his side, her eyes drifting to the spilled cups of coffee on the floor.
“I was just explaining to Russell that we have company here this morning and his presence was unnecessary,” Brooke lied seeing the anger building behind her daughter’s features, “Avery, you know it’s best not to lose your cool with the FBI prancing around this place.”
“The FBI is here?” Russell questioned immediately forgetting about his anger with Brooke as he reached out to Avery, “Is everything okay?”
“Everything is fine,” Avery glanced back at her mother, “On second thought, no everything is not fine, but we can get into that later.”
“Avery…” Brooke stepped forward a frown spilling over her features.
“Save it mother,” Avery warned turning her attention to Russell once again, “Why don’t you come upstairs with me and we’ll get you something of Brant’s to put on?”
“I think I’d much rather keep my shirt on,” Russell frowned in response.
“That’s right,” Brooke added with a hiss, “Russell wouldn’t know how to deal with wearing the finer things in life as cheap and tawdry are more his taste.”
“Oh…” Avery grumbled feeling the urge to deck her mother taking over as she felt Russell’s hand on her arm.
“How about we take breakfast out back?” Russell suggested seeing the way Brooke’s nostrils flared at the mere idea.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Avery motioned to the floor, “though I should probably get this cleaned up.”
“Brooke offered to do that right before you came down,” Russell flashed her a wicked smile, “She was just saying how clumsy she’s been feeling lately and when she spilled the coffee…”
“I said no such thing you…you…” Brooke’s voice rose in intensity.
“Mother hush,” Avery warned shaking her finger at her, “things are tense enough around here without you adding to it.”
“Avery, I’m just…” Brooke began again.
“Tell Brant we’re out back if you see him,” Avery insisted turning her attention to Russell, “I need some air.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” he laced her arm in his as they headed down the hallway.
“Just where do you think you’re going,” Brooke demanded chasing after them.
“I’m going to enjoy breakfast,” Avery stated simply, “without you.”
“But I…” Brooke’s eyes darkened with rage.
“But nothing,” Avery interrupted once again as she fought to keep her voice even, “Brant should be popping up soon, so please let him know we’re outside waiting for him if you should see him,” Avery finished dismissively as Russell offered up a tiny grin.
“Later Brooke,” he nodded simply, “As always it’s been a pleasure.”
Brooke watched the two of them walking away out into the yard as her anger mounted.  Why must her daughter be so damned impossible, she thought to herself realizing that Avery was bound to screw everything up if she kept insisting on spending her free time with that dreadful man.  Now Brooke had to find a way to work damage control before she found herself once again living with the remains of her daughter’s horrible decisions.  She wouldn’t let her daughter give up the promise of a bright future with someone like Brant Ashford.  The day Russell Denton would cloud Avery’s judgment completely would be over her dead body.  One way or another Avery would marry Brant and when she did, Brooke was certain that she’d find a way to rid Avery of Russell Denton forever.  That much she was counting on as she looked around the mansion determined to find out where Brant had disappeared to.


"Now remember," Hart began as he and Brant walked down the hall towards the library, "Don't let her bait you. Let me do the talking."

"That's impossible for him, Mr. Steiner," Shannon said as she smiled in greeting from the door of the library, "Join me. I want to get this over with as soon as possible."

"That's one thing we can agree on," Brant said blandly as he stepped into the room.

"We're not going to stand for any sort of harassment, Agent Pryce," Hart warned.

"And I'm not going to stand for being lied to," She replied as she looked to Brant, "Now…let's get down to it. When was the last time you saw Bruce Mathis?"

"I guess that would be the night of the earthquake," Brant replied, "We were all at the hospital."

"And was there any sort of altercation between you two at that time?"


"No?" Shannon repeated, "You were arguing with Grady Denton, and Dr. Mathis had to separate you two, didn't he?"

"It wasn't an altercation really. Grady and I were having it out sure, but Bruce just stuck his nose in to show what a big man he was," Brant shrugged, "I didn't think anything of it."

"Really?" She asked with a smile.

"Yes really," Brant replied.

"Where are you going with this?" Hart asked, untrusting Shannon's tone.

"Where I'm going is to the fact that Brant had Dr. Mathis fired without cause from the hospital," Shannon said bluntly before turning her gaze back upon her former lover, "So…care to share what reason you had for that?"

"It's not important," Brant shrugged.

"I'll decide what's important here," She reminded him.

"I think this interview has gone far enough," Hart stepped in quickly.

"I could always arrest him, and then I'll take the interview even further," She threatened.

"Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you? Slapping the cuffs on me for old times sake, Shannon?" Brant teased.

"Don't tempt me, Brant, or I'd be more than happy to show you the true meaning of excessive force," Shannon challenged.

"That's it. We're done," Hart said as he quickly drug Brant from the room.

"Like hell we are," Shannon spoke boldly to only herself, "In fact, I think we're only getting started," She declared as she gathered her note pad and left the library, knowing that there was much more to the story than she was being told by anyone in the Ashford mansion. But one way or another, she would find the answers she was looking for and arrest whoever the clues pointed to.

...to be continued...