Episode Twenty Six

Lactose intolerance…a vicious nasty beast with no mercy. It reared its head slowly with distant rumbling that became a thunderous roar. It began by gently tapping its claws along its victim before attacking violently, tearing every last bit of stomach lining right out of whomever was lucky enough to suffer from its onslaught.

Heather just happened to be its unfortunate victim this morning. Why she had let Kipp ply her with cheese and wine to begin with was beyond her but she swore she'd never let it happen again. Oh who was she kidding? Of course she'd do it again if it meant she might get the chance to star in a Mahoney production.

She slowly shuffled out of the bathroom, dabbing a cool cloth against her forehead. She had gotten rid of Kipp last night by feigning sleep. She certainly hadn't wanted him around when her nasty visitor chose to pay her a visit. She would suffer through this alone…and curse herself for her stupidity for eating the cheese in the first place.

She slid her feet across the floor, afraid to jar her stomach with any sudden movements. She opened the door to retrieve the morning paper before she retreated to the sofa. She eased herself onto the cushions before letting out a pained breath. Why had she eaten the cheese?

Deciding to attempt to distract herself, she unfolded the newspaper and read over the front page. "Doctor Murdered, FBI Investigating." She read the first paragraphs of the article before hitting a very familiar name and reading aloud, "Mathis was involved with the current fiancée of Brant Ashford, one Avery Morrison."

A grin crept across her face, "Well, it seems little Miss Avery might not be an angelic as she appears after all," Heather grinned as she continued to read the article. Another familiar name caught her attention, "Special Agent Shannon Pryce has been assigned to the investigation by the Bureau of Investigation. Agent Pryce was once involved with Brant Ashford. When asked if such a fact would affect the investigation, the Bureau's spokesperson reiterated the agency's commitment to seeing justice done and stated that Agent Pryce was a consummate professional."

"Yeah right…if she's investigating Brant, she'll hand him his balls in a brown paper sack," Heather spoke to herself before she nibbled on her lip. Her eyes widened as an idea raced through her mind, "Oh Heather, you are a genius," She chuckled to herself as she considered her idea. Yes, it just might work…and if it did, Avery would be out of Brant's life forever and Heather would have her chance to get the man she loved back into hers.


Jade stepped into her office and put her purse in her desk. She sank into her chair and took a moment to compose herself. She needed to collect all her thoughts before going to speak with Grady. If only Seth hadn't been so pigheaded, she wouldn't have to explain so much to Grady.

She closed her eyes, thinking of how angry Seth had been. She'd never wanted to upset him. She only wanted to love Grady, and she'd almost had that opportunity. If only Seth had listened to reason. Instead, he had to remind her of her horrible painful past.

Grady wasn't like the men her father had been involved with. He was honorable, respectable, and trustworthy. He was all of the things her father would never be. And she loved him all the more for those reasons.

She decided that now was as good a time as any to face Grady. She hoped she wouldn't have to explain to him why Seth was so protective, but she would if it came down to it. She just hoped that Grady would be able to look over what had happened in the past.

She stepped down the hall and knocked lightly upon his door. Upon hearing his invitation inside, she opened the door and entered his office. In the instant their eyes met, Jade said a thousand thank yous that Grady was smiling. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.

"Hey," Jade said as she closed the door behind her and moved across the room to take a seat across the desk from him.

"Hey yourself," Grady smiled at her, "I see you emerged in once piece."

"Yeah, I almost always do from a fight with Seth. He's just very protective of me. I'm sorry he got so angry."

"It's okay. I know what it's like to be the protective big brother, remember?" He asked with a smile, "He loves you, and he doesn't want to see you hurt. That makes him a very loving brother."

"It makes him a pain in my behind," She corrected, "I never expected him to blow up like that. I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to apologize for. Seth doesn't even know me, and to find us in your bed...well, I'm sure that shook him up," Grady leaned onto his desk slightly, "I can't blame him a bit for being upset. Maybe once he gets to know me, he'll understand that the only one of us in danger from the other is me," He teased with a wink.

"The only thing you're in danger of is falling hopelessly in love with me," Jade pointed out with a grin, "So it's not like you're in danger of any real harm."

"That's cute," He said with a chuckle, "So really…how did things go after I left?"

"Seth tried to give me the protective big brother speech, and I told him that I didn't need protecting from you," She shrugged, "You know…the usual sibling three round gala."

"Did you two set things straight?"

"As straight as they can be for the time being. I just want him to let me live my own life. Is that really asking so much?"

"Of a big brother? Yeah, it's asking a lot," He nodded, "We tend to think it's our job to keep our siblings protected from any and all dangers of the world…no matter how many we get into ourselves."

"Is there anyway I can reason with him?"

"No," Grady admitted, "But we might try easing him into the idea of us being together instead of just springing it on my like this morning."

"What are you suggesting?"

"I saw Blake Ashford there. I'm guessing they're dating now?"

"Yeah, what's that got to do with anything?" Jade asked in confusion.

"We should all get together for dinner. That might help everyone get used to the situation."

"That's a great idea," She agreed, "I'm just getting to know Blake, and I think I might actually like her. It's a strange thing to say coming from me, I know, but still…she's not at all what I expected from an Ashford."

"Then this will be a chance for you and Blake to interact as well as for Seth to learn more about me," He shrugged, "Plus he gets to play chaperone for you, and that might make him feel a tad more secure as well."

Jade chuckled, "It might, but I wouldn't place any bets on it."

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. Grady invited the entrance of whomever had arrived.

Thea opened the door and stepped inside, delighted to see Jade was actually with Grady for her performance. She knew instantly that Cameron's plan was at least one step closer to being realized. She stepped across the room, "I'm so sorry to interrupt, Grady."

"Thea," Grady said her name in surprise as the blood drained from his face, "What are you doing here?"

"Oh…well I was on my way to Stone Corp, and I thought I'd drop off your cell phone. You left it at my place the other night, and I thought you might need it," Thea explained as she looked to Jade, "You're Jade, right?"

Jade eyed the woman carefully, "And you are?"

"Thea Valentine, I'm Cameron's personal assistant," She smiled brightly, "He says great things about you."

"I'm sure he does," Jade frowned.

Grady quickly made his way around the desk to accept the phone from Thea, "Thank you for bringing this by."

"No problem," Thea said softly as she eased a finger down his chest, "Do you have plans for this evening? Perhaps we could have dinner."

"I don't think so," Grady replied.

"Oh come on…it's just dinner," She urged as she met his eyes, "Everything else is just fringe benefits."

"A raveled fringe," Jade muttered under her breath.

Grady knew the situation was about to become nasty if he didn't do something decisive, "Thea, really, I appreciate the invitation, but…"

"But what?" Thea questioned with pouty lips.

"He's involved," Jade said boldly as she stood and slipped her arm around Grady, drawing him out of Thea's touch, "So if you don't mind…"

"But…" Thea looked between the two of them, "What about the other night?"

"It was a mistake," Jade informed her, "We all make mistakes, and unfortunately you were his. Thankfully for Grady's sake, he learns from his mistakes and doesn't repeat them. So if you don't mind…" She said as she motioned towards the door.

"Well…I never," Thea turned on her heel and stalked from the room, slamming the door behind her.

Grady stared at Jade with amusement sweeping over his features as she turned to look at him.

"What?" Jade asked bluntly.

"You…you certainly have a way with words," He said with a grin.

"Yeah well, don't smile so big pal cause we have a few things to talk about ourselves. But right now I have work to do, and so do you. After work, we're going to have a nice long talk. Understand?" She questioned firmly.

"Of course," Grady agreed before Jade smiled at him and left his office. He chuckled to himself as he thought of Jade's way of dealing with Thea. She had turned the situation around in the blink of an eye, and he had never been more impressed by her bold nature than in that moment. If there was one thing he could count on from Jade it was bold almost brutal honesty, and it was one thing he adored about her.


Avery lead Russell out onto the deck out back feeling the cool morning air rush over her soft skin as she took a look around the peaceful garden area seeing that they were alone at last.  Thinking of her mother’s actions, she turned to face him concern evident in her eyes, “Are you alright?”
“Brooke didn’t dish out anything I couldn’t handle,” he promised her, a sexy smile sweeping in over his features, “although there is something that has been bothering me since I got here.”
“What’s that?” she questioned watching him set down the bag of goodies he brought for her before his arm stretched towards her curling around her waist as he pulled her in against his chest.
Feeling her breath escape her lips as he held her, Russell’s grin widened as he pressed his palm against Avery’s cheek tenderly.  He leaned in towards her, feeling the warmth of her breath mingle with his as he spoke in a low, sensual tone, “This,” he whispered brushing his lips against hers in the faintest hints of a kiss despite the fire he’d felt burning inside of him.
Gently nibbling on her lower lip, Russell tasted traces of vanilla lingering over her as he felt a sense of pride rush over him as her responsiveness to him was a good indicator of the way she too was feeling about him.  She slid her arm around his waist as he held her against his body, her tongue tasting and teasing his as his fingers slipped into her dark hair drinking up her soft moans.  His arm dropped leisurely around her waist clutching her tighter beside him while offering a gentle squeeze over her pert bottom as she shifted against him.
“Wait,” Avery broke away from the kiss finding herself breathless as her eyes scanned the private area they’d found themselves in, “Are you insane?”
“Insanity isn’t the half of it,” Russell teased with a wink, “After having faced the wrath of Brooke, I’d have to say that kissing you like that was without a doubt worth the lashing I took back there.”
“It’ll be nothing in comparison to the one you’ll get if she sees us like this,” Avery untangled herself from his arms suddenly on edge as she looked around the garden beyond the patio, “Given that half the world is camped out on the front lawn, not to mention that the FBI is here questioning my relationship with Brant, well, we shouldn’t be doing this now…”
“As long as we can be doing this later,” he reached out to her placing his hand upon the small of her waist, “I won’t complain.”
“Russell, this is serious,” Avery spun around to face him again her eyes burning with anger, “Bruce was just murdered and now Brant’s psychotic ex-girlfriend was assigned the case and she’s bent on making my life a living hell.”
“What?” Russell questioned in confusion, “Back up a minute.  Brant’s ex-girlfriend?”
“Shannon Pryce,” Avery nodded bitterly, “She and Brant were pretty hot and heavy a few years ago--only then she was a Federal Marshall.”
“Brant’s Federal Marshall is investigating the case?” Russell’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You’ve heard about her?” Avery raised a curious brow as she eased out of his embrace and made her way towards the lavish patio set.  Sliding out one of the chairs, she took a seat and reached for Russell’s bag of goodies eager to lose herself in their sinful promises of pleasure.
“Here and there,” Russell nodded following her over to the table as he took a seat across from her, “though I don’t understand why a Federal Marshall would be here.”
“She’s with the FBI and to make a long story short, I think she’s got a hidden agenda of her own,” Avery frowned simply, “I think she and Heather Gibbons are on the same wavelength if you catch my drift…”
“She wants Brant?”
Avery nodded, “And I get the distinct vibe that she wants to bury me or worse in order to make it happen.  When she interrogated me before, she was leading up to questions about my relationship with Brant.  Somehow I had a feeling that was what this witch hunt was all about.  It’s not about Bruce, but more so about this woman’s obsession with Brant.”
“Avery, I realize that he drives women crazy, but are you sure that’s her only agenda,” Russell inquired thinking about the FBI stepping in on the murder investigation.
“I don’t know,” Avery sighed, “she asked me a few questions about Bruce--probably hoping that I’d hand her over a signed confession admitting that I was the one who killed him.”
“Avery, only an idiot would believe you could do such a thing,” Russell reached for her hand across the table.
“And Shannon’s just the idiot whose willing to put me away for life for the fun of it,” Avery groaned inwardly thinking about the disastrous interview.  She tore off a piece of the bear claw attempting to savor it’s seduction on her taste buds, but still Shannon Pryce was putting a serious damper on her mood.
“Like hell she will,” Brant’s voice interrupted as Avery looked up to see him standing in the doorway.  He stepped out onto the patio shaking his head in disagreement, “Though I have to admit she’s one hell of a lunatic.”
“Hmm, sounds like there’s not a shortage of that going around here these days,” Russell noted thinking back to his less than savory encounter with Brooke as Brant pulled up a seat at the table.
“I’m starting to wish I never got involved with that woman to begin with,” Brant groaned as he looked over at Avery throwing out a bright smile, “Clearly I was an idiot before I fell in love with you.”
“Clearly,” Avery teased back nibbling on her bear claw as her thoughts lingered back to her interview with Shannon, “So what happened?”
“Someone spilled the story about the dispute Grady and I had the night of the quake,” Brant’s eyes turned towards Russell.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Russell shook his head simply as he shrugged his shoulders, “I wouldn’t say anything about that night as it wasn’t the most exciting evening…” his gaze drifted over towards Avery, “though it did have it’s memorable moments.”
Avery ignored the secret hint of innuendos in his tone as she turned her attention to Brant hoping he didn’t pick up on it, “So what about that night?  Nothing happened.  You and Grady fought and then you left.”
“According to the story Shannon is spouting out about, Bruce was the one that broke up my altercation,” Brant mocked Shannon’s tone, “with Grady.  He swept in and played the hero and somehow I was attacking Bruce.”
“That’s a lie,” Avery gasped as a frown touched over her lips.
“Even so, it’s something Shannon’s running with,” Brant slumped his shoulders in response.
“So we all were there,” Russell reminded him as he snatched a piece of Avery’s pastry and popped it into his mouth as she gave him a scathing look, “Anyone who was there knows that Avery and I are what stopped that ill-timed, distasteful display you chose to dish out at my brother.”
“Your brother was asking for it that night,” Brant reached across the table tearing off a piece of Avery’s bear claw for himself before dropping it into his mouth.  He cast a glance over in Russell’s direction noting the stains that ran up and down the front of his shirt, “What the hell happened to you?”
“Brooke happened,” Russell remarked with a frown, “If you want to talk about lunatics…”
“I think she’s somewhat charming,” Brant quipped with a tiny grin as he turned to Avery giving her a knowing look, “and very insightful on a few things.”
“Oh God, what has she done now,” Avery groaned inwardly.
“She showed me a picture from your,” Brant’s grin widened, “modeling days.  Why Avery, how is it that you never shared that part of your life with me?”
“It could be because I’d just as soon bury it in the past,” she groaned thinking to her mother’s obsession during her teen years, “and besides if word of my modeling career got out now, well certainly Shannon would really think she’s found herself a bimbo to barbeque,” she finished with a groan.
“You were never a bimbo,” Russell offered reaching for another bite of her breakfast, “and anyone who thinks like that is clearly a fool.”
“You were beautiful,” Brant added honestly, “You still are, but I must say that Temptation ad was breathtaking…”
“Brooke brought the Temptation ad with her?” Russell’s brow arched with interest.
Brant nodded reaching into his pocket withdrawing the photo, “She gave me the copy she had.”
“It was a great ad,” Russell took a look at the photograph thinking back to that time in his and Avery’s life together, “Granted I know you hated doing the shoot, but Avery even I have to confess this one is a keeper.  I still have my copy in this in the scrapbook next to prom…”
“Even so,” Avery interrupted snatching the photograph away from the both of them, “if my mother starts flaunting around that damned Temptation ad, then I’ll surely get the stories circulating around about me being the poster child for an Ashford babe…”
“They’re as notorious as the Bond Girls,” Brant teased receiving a scathing look from her, “Hey it’s a joke.”
“Well it’s not funny,” Avery glared back at him, “The last thing I need is anyone diving into my past.  It’s bad enough that my ex-lover has been murdered and the FBI thinks I’m the one behind it, but now…”
“Actually,” Brant shifted uneasily in his seat, “I was going to mention this earlier, but then we kind of got carried away with the picture and…” he trailed off.
“And what?” Avery looked to him concern evident behind her eyes.
“Well Shannon kind of cornered me,” Brant cleared his throat.
“And?” Russell looked to him, “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” Brant explained simply, “I stuck to the story that the last time I’d seen Bruce was the night of the quake.”
“So what’s the problem with that?” Avery questioned with a frown, “I didn’t say anything about what happened at my apartment.”
“Which is good because I know Shannon is itching for a reason to strike,” he continued with a frown.
“Well as long as we all stick to our stories about the night in question, then there shouldn’t be reason for any of us to be suspect,” Russell reminded the both of them as he lowered his voice, “I mean we were all together officially.”
“Of course, but if there’s reason for us to be worried,” Avery looked between the both of them, “I know you’re not telling me something…”
“Avery, that’s not important,” Brant dissuaded her questioning eyes, “What is important is that Shannon knows about my having Bruce fired from the hospital.”
“You what?” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Avery, I was upset,” Brant explained noting her look of displeasure, “When he tried to kill you and you wouldn’t let me call the police, well I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands.”
“So you had him fired?” Avery repeated stunned by the thoughts.
“It was better than killing him,” Brant insisted as a long moment of uneasy silence fell over the trio.
“So what now?” Russell questioned breaking the tension in the air between them.
“We find a way to get the upper hand of this situation,” Brant leaned back in his chair, “Together we can come up with something.”
“Brant, knowing that you did that,” Avery shook her head, “What were you thinking?”
“The man tried to kill you,” Brant pointed out, “I was thinking that I wasn’t going to give him a chance to do it again.”
“But having him fired?” she groaned again, “Do you have any idea how bad that looks right about now?”
“It only looks bad if we let it look bad,” Brant replied trying to think a way out of this situation, “Hart stopped the interview with her before it turned into something more than it was…”
“Still, she’s going to want to know why you had Bruce fired.  What did you tell her?” Avery questioned with a frown.
“I told her it was irrelevant,” Brant answered flatly, “What I do is none of her concern.”
“It is when she’s trying to bury someone for Bruce’s demise,” Avery added with a huff, “How could you do something like this?”
“Avery, I was trying to protect you,” Brant pleaded with her, “I never thought that the FBI would send Shannon nosing around…”
“This can be fixed,” Russell decided contemplating the news that had been tossed upon them, “We can find a way to make what you did seem like a typical Brant Ashford move without it looking like more than what it was.”
“How so?” Brant questioned turning his attention to Russell.
“When you asked to have Bruce fired, did you specify why you wanted him gone?” Russell inquired the wheels turning in his head as he began to put together a reasonable explanation for the turn of events.
“Of course I didn’t.  I knew that Avery didn’t want anyone to know about what happened, so I just said if Bruce wasn’t fired, then it would result in the loss of some Ashford funds at the hospital…”
“Wonderful,” Avery rolled her eyes as she sank back into her chair, “Just wonderful.”
“Avery, just give me a second here,” Russell raised his finger in the air, “So let me get all of this straight.  Shannon knows about your fight with Grady and she also believes that Bruce stepped in and broke up the fight.  Clearly we all know what happened, but given how you like to fly off the handle,” Russell paused noting the look on Brant’s face, “Just hear me out…”
“I’m listening,” Brant warned irritation heavy in his tone.
“Well, that night Blake and Jade were going back and forth about who would see Jade’s brother first,” Russell pointed out.
“Right,” Avery nodded, “and then you and I were called in when Brant and Grady were arguing…”
“And then Bruce kicked everyone out,” Russell nodded further, “and while we all had to leave, Bruce was in a very sour mood that could’ve very well transpired into Brant’s feeling that Bruce was being hard on his sister…”
“Wait a second,” Brant gave Russell a sideways glance, “Are you trying to tell me that I’m going to say my reasoning for getting Bruce fired was Blake?  Because if you are, I’m not dragging her into this…”
“You aren’t dragging her into this,” Russell explained simply, “It was just a case of you weren’t happy with how things went down with your sister.  You didn’t like that she was allowed to be harassed by Grady and Jade like she was…”
“And he blamed Bruce for that?” Avery finished giving him a sideways glance.
“Well it sounds like a typical Brant move,” Russell shrugged his shoulders, “I mean he gets angry, takes it out on some poor schmuck who decided to annoy him and the man gets fired…”
“And the guy never really sees it coming,” Avery piped in as an idea formed in her head, “Brant’s done it a few times in the past, so in him attempting to get Bruce fired…”
“It doesn’t look like anything more than a typical ‘Brant’s a bastard’ move,” Russell nodded.
“Um, excuse me I’m still here,” Brant waved his hands out in front of the both of them.
“Of course you are,” Avery shook her hand at him dismissively.
“This could work,” Russell offered unable to believe he’d come up with such a thought.
“There’s only one problem,” Avery frowned after a moment.
“What’s that?” Brant turned to her.
“Bruce is the only man that Brant had fired that wound up dead,” she blurted out with a sigh.
“Even so, that could be chalked up as Bruce was just down on his luck,” Russell suggested thinking it over, “Bruce could’ve gone off somewhere to drown himself in his miseries and then he could’ve wound up ticking off the wrong person and that’s how this all came about.”
“The good doctor gets canned and then he gets toasted,” Brant thought it over, “I could see that.”
“Still if Shannon’s leading this investigation,” Avery offered once again.
“Avery, listen to me,” Brant turned to her, “Nothing is going to happen.  Everything is going to be fine.”
“You keep saying that, but every time I ask the both of you about that night, you both avoid my questions,” she looked between the two of them, “How am I not supposed to think the worst when the idea of losing either one of you terrifies the hell out of me?”
“Avery, you aren’t going to lose us,” Russell promised reaching out across the table for her hand, “We’re not going anywhere.”
“Russ is right,” Brant collected her other hand, “Sooner or later Shannon will see she’s barking up the wrong tree and this too shall pass…”
“And when it does, everything is going to go back to normal,” Russell added offering up a supportive squeeze.
“That’s right,” Brant smiled at her, “and until then, we don’t lose our cool in front of anyone.  The world may be looking for a story right now, but there’s nothing to tell.  There won’t ever be anything to tell.”
“I hope you’re right,” Avery sighed looking between them as she wondered what the future held for all of them.  Somehow she wasn’t buying into their ‘everything will be just fine’ act and while they tried to convince her life was going to be normal again, the very thought of Shannon Pryce lurking around looking for a reason to start something was more than enough to leave her worried about what twists of fate the future held in store for them.


Kenneth looked out his office window thinking about how impossible Avery was proving to be after her interview with Shannon.  Even now as he made his way down to his office opting to focus on some of his other important clients like the Hendersons, his concerns of his family still lingered as a sigh escaped his lips.  Hearing a knock at his door, he turned around to find Hart eyeing him curiously.
“Got a minute,” Hart asked scanning Kenneth’s office.
“Of course,” Kenneth nodded motioning for Hart to step inside, “What’s on your mind?”
“That was one hell of a morning back at your place, huh,” Hart sank into the seat across from Kenneth’s desk, “and somehow I get the feeling that the battle lines are no where near what they will be…”
“Shannon returning does add an edge to things,” Kenneth frowned thinking to Avery’s reaction to Shannon’s questioning.
“So what’s her story,” Hart questioned with a slight frown, “Should I be filing some kind of motion with my federal contacts to get her away from this investigation considering her history with Brant?”
“I don’t think Shannon’s going to have a biased opinion,” Kenneth answered after a moment’s contemplation, “Granted she and Brant didn’t leave off with one another and the best of terms.”
“Gee, considering that Brant decided to move onto Heather as soon as Shannon made her exit,” Hart remarked with a tiny laugh, “I mean hey, I have to give Brant credit--he at least had the next one lined up before Shannon drove him crazy.”
“I think that was part of the attraction,” Kenneth thought back to his brother’s wild and reckless love affair with Shannon, “From the start I think he enjoyed the fact that he couldn’t stand her.  They seemed to both get excited by the obvious distaste they had for one another…”
“Hence some of the stories,” Hart felt a smile tug over his lips, “Oh what I wouldn’t have given to have been Brant back in those days.  From what I heard Shannon was a real wild cat.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Kenneth shifted in his chair uneasily, “She was nice enough, and smart enough not to be involved with Brant--much like Avery.”
“Which begs the question of what exactly Brant and Avery are doing together,” Hart paused, “Is this the real deal or am I missing something from this picture?”
“Hey he’s your client,” Kenneth replied with a shrug, “Don’t expect to be getting any information out of me.  If you want to know what’s going through his head, then talk to Brant.”
“Still, what about Avery?” Hart asked further, “Is she a threat?”
“A threat,” Kenneth suppressed the urge to laugh at the very idea, “Avery’s something else.”
“Think she did it?” Hart probed further, “That she had Bruce Mathis knocked off?”
“She’s my client,” Kenneth reminded him simply.
“Which means you think she’s innocent because you refuse to take on situations where you feel anything but…”
“I plan to give Avery the best representation possible,” Kenneth nodded thinking to some of the phone calls he’d made earlier in the day, “Beyond that she’s a good friend.”
“That’s right you two went to college together,” Hart noted as he thought about the morning’s disaster, “Is she worth the world of trouble that comes along with her?”
“Isn’t that something you should be asking my brother,” Kenneth countered noting the strange expression on Hart’s face, “What are you getting at?”
“Brant had Bruce fired,” Hart explained with a frown, “Shannon popped that one on us before the interview concluded this morning.  Did you know about that?”
“That’s not what you want to ask me,” Kenneth replied seeing the curiosity burning behind Hart’s eyes.
“No,” Hart confessed with a frown, “it’s not.”
“Then what’s the real question?”
“Why did Brant do it?  Why get the guy fired when he already has Avery?” Hart asked after a moment’s contemplation.
“Hey, who are you working for,” Kenneth gave Hart a strange look, “Brant or Shannon?”
“Your brother asked me the same question earlier today,” Hart let out an amused chuckle, “It’s nice to see that I can still make you both wonder.”
“You always have me wondering what your next move is, but then again I also make it a strict policy not to ask,” Kenneth reminded him simply.
“Good choice,” Hart chuckled lightly, “However that being said, I have a feeling Shannon’s going to somehow turn this around on Brant and I’d like to be prepared for whatever she’ll toss out of him as there’s nothing worse than a woman scorned.”
“I don’t really think…” Kenneth began again.
“Avery’s wearing that five million dollar engagement ring that passed Shannon by not once, but twice,” Hart interrupted, “if nothing else I know women and that one has a score to settle.  Even with her credentials she’s out for blood which means that I have to be one step ahead of her.  She’s clearly looking for a way to help the FBI bury your family and if we don’t work on preventing that, then there’s no telling what line of crap she’ll throw out in the name of justice.”
“You’re a good lawyer,” Kenneth shrugged his shoulders thinking about Hart’s assessment, “You’ll do what it takes to keep Brant out of trouble even if that means stepping on a few toes.  That’s what you do best.”
“It’s one of my finer talents,” Hart answered thoughtfully as a smile pressed over his features, “I’d just like to see Brant not going out of his way to irritate Shannon for now.”
“Considering he’s with Avery, I’m sure the likelihood of that will be less than it might’ve been before considering Shannon and Brant thought that type of behavior to be foreplay,” Kenneth groaned thinking back to his brother’s disastrous relationship with Shannon.
“Well if Avery’s everything he makes her out to be, then I don’t see how Shannon could strike a chord in him,” Hart contemplated it for a moment, “Maybe I’m just getting worked up for nothing.”
“Oh there’s plenty to be worked up about,” Kenneth watched Hart rise from the chair to exit, “But then again that’s always your favorite part of the job.”
“Damn straight,” Hart winked back at him leaving the office as Kenneth thought to his own situation with Avery.  Her silence about the situation with Bruce could be something that might work against them in the long run, but still he knew she was stubborn as hell and without reinforcement, well, it might be next to impossible to keep Avery out of trouble.  With that thought in mind, Kenneth realized he was going to need all the help he could get as the phone on his desk rang.
“Ashford,” he answered immediately feeling his luck changing as the voice on the other end of the line seemed to be the answer to his prayers, “When did you get in?  Alright,” Kenneth looked to the time, “I’ll send a car down to pick you up in about half an hour,” he contemplated the notion, “On second thought, I’ll be there myself as soon as possible,” he finished his conversation feeling a wave of hope rush over him as his phone call was a very pleasant surprise indeed.


Blake tiptoed into the house hoping to keep her presence from being detected as right now all she wanted to do was crawl into bed and dream about her night with Seth.  She’d had the best day of her life with him and now, well now she wanted to savor the magic he’d made her feel as she turned towards the staircase ready to head up to her room.
“I thought I heard someone come in,” Annie’s voice interrupted as Blake stood motionless realizing she’d been spotted.
Turning around Blake smiled at Annette before offering a wave, “Hi Annie.”
“Just getting in,” Annie asked casually trying to keep her concern to a minimum.
Blake nodded feeling a blush rise over her features, “I figured with the fireworks happening around here, it would be best if I stayed away for a while.”
“And am I to assume that you were with your handsome gentleman?” Annie raised a curious brow.
Blake nodded again, “I was with Seth last night, yes.”
“It sounds pretty serious,” Annie noted taking a long look at Blake, “you look tired.”
“We were up all night,” Blake started before taking in a breath, “and it was wonderful.”
“Hmm…this isn’t the first time you and Seth lost track of time with one another,” Annette teased her, “Am I to assume that things are getting that serious already?”
“I think, well,” Blake felt a smile touch over her lips, “I know he’s the one.”
“The one?” Annette nodded in response, “Well that’s something I heard once before.”
“Oh Annie,” Blake seated herself upon a stair feeling the warmth of her face rise as she thought of Seth, “Last night was so magical.  We spent the day together and then he had this picnic for me at the studio he worked at and then…” she trailed off her face suddenly serious, “Annie, can I ask you a question.”
“Of course you can,” Annette situated her skirt as she took a seat beside Blake, “You can always ask me anything.”
“This is going to sound silly,” Blake felt a flush spill over her features.
“Nothing is ever silly,” Annette reached out to her hand, “well unless of course we want it to be silly, but somehow I don’t think we’re about to have one of those chats, are we?”
“Not this time,” Blake shook her head offering up a light smile, “Actually this time I was hoping that maybe we could have a talk--you know woman to woman.  I mean obviously there really isn’t anyone else that I could talk to about this since Brant and Kenny aren’t exactly, well women.”
“Thank heavens for that,” Annette teased with a wink, “otherwise there might be even more questions raised around here.”
Blake felt a tiny laugh spill over her lips as she leaned into Annette, “Annie how do you know when it’s real?  When love is really meant to be?”
“Well I think that the heart and mind can lead you to feel a certain way and with time you begin to know,” Annette began as she reached out to Blake stroking her hair gently as Blake nestled in against her in a childlike motion.
“I already know that much,” Blake explained with a giddy grin, “but I mean how do you know when experiencing love in it’s every amazing aspect is meant to be.  I mean when you find yourself sharing everything with someone else--with the person you love, how can you be sure that it’s right?”
“Blake,” Annette watched her closely thinking about their long chats in her younger years as Blake pondered romance.  Seeing her now brought forth the same familiar feelings as Annette stroked her hair, “when it’s the right time, you’ll know.”
“Part of me already does,” Blake closed her eyes thinking about Seth, “Last night was so incredible and in just being near him, well, he makes my heart soar and I feel alive--truly alive.  My stomach is all tied in knots, it’s hard to breath as my heart feels like it’s soaring out of control, but when I’m with him, I don’t ever want that feeling to end.  When I’m away from him, I can’t help but think about wanting to be near him once again and when he holds me--oh Annie I could lose myself in his arms for hours and his kisses…” a warmth touched over her, “there aren’t any words to explain just how wonderful he makes me feel.”
“It sounds like he’s made quite an impression indeed,” Annette smoothed her blonde hair.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I want to spend my life with him,” Blake’s blue eyes turned up towards Annette, “When I’m with him, I know in my heart that he’s everything I ever dreamed about and while I didn’t want to believe that real love could exist, Annie, he’s it for me.  I know that…”
“Blake, I know that you’re feeling excited about what’s happening as it’s been a while since you’ve found someone who raised interest in you…”
“No Annie, this is more than just an infatuation,” Blake insisted eyes wide with innocence, “Last night when we were together, well I knew then that I wanted to be with him--really be with him in every sense of the word…”
“Blake, honey are you saying that you and Seth,” Annette’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Made love?” Blake felt the words nearly fall upon Annette’s lips as she shook her head in response, “No, we didn’t make love…yet, but I know in my heart that he’s the one.”
“You’re really determined about this, aren’t you,” Annette eyed her closely, “I know how you feel on this issue and now…”
“Now I know why I waited,” Blake explained further, “and Seth knows about my decision and he still wants to be with me.”
“Of course he wants to be with you,” Annette reached out to touch her cheek, “You’re a beautiful young woman with a lot of love to give.  Any man would be very lucky to share his time with you.”
“It’s more than that,” Blake insisted thinking back to her day with Seth, “When we were together, I told him the truth--that I’d waited for the right man and I was so afraid.  I thought he’d turn me away because he wouldn’t want me, but then he took me out dancing--to take a walk in the clouds with him and oh Annie I fell for him all over again.  I love him and he loves me too.”
“Then if he’s as good as you believe him to be, then when the moment happens for you both, if you’re really sure about things…”
“I’m sure,” Blake nodded eagerly, “I know that I want to spend my life with him.  He’s the one and I know now that there won’t be anyone else who ever makes me feel the way he does.”
“Then it will all have a way of working itself out,” Annette promised thinking of Blake’s fragile young heart, “Just be sure that you’re certain about Seth before you make any decisions.  I know how your heart holds onto those near and dear to you, but just promise me that while you’re certain now that the certainty you have in your heart is in your head as well.”
“It is,” Blake sighed as her thoughts lingered to Seth, “He’s everything I’ve ever wanted and now I feel like the luckiest girl alive because I have the love of the most wonderful man in the world,” Blake continued as Annette hugged her hoping that Blake’s heart wouldn’t lead her astray with this new man who’d walked into her life.  After the years of Blake’s heartbreak, Annette hoped that this time things were turning around for her.


Shannon stepped out of her car and activated the alarm. She walked around the car to step onto the curb, glancing up to the apartment building before her. She glanced to her watch and tapped her foot impatiently. She and Dave were suppose to search the apartment of Bruce Mathis. She was punctual, but he was not. It figured. Men never had any sense of time unless they thought they were going to get lucky.

A dark blue sedan pulled in and parked behind Shannon's rental. The car had no markings, but she knew it was Dave. No one drove a car that looked so much like a cop car unless they were a cop.

Dave stepped out of his car before locking the doors and approaching her, "Sorry I'm late. The DA wanted a word with me."

"About this case?" She questioned as he joined her, and they began towards the apartment building.

"She just wanted to be sure that we were still going to have the prosecution in this case. She doesn't want some hot shot US Attorney stealing the case from her," He shrugged, "I can't say I blame her at all."

"I don't think anyone wants to steal the prosecution from you," She said as they entered the apartment building, "Unless Brant's guilty then you may have more federal involvement than you know what to do with."

"What exactly is going on here, Shannon? Why are the feds investigating a case where the victim is a virtual nobody?"

"Because he was once involved with someone involved with a somebody," She pointed out as she knocked on the door of the landlord, "When the name Ashford came up, this became a totally new ballgame with very high class players," She said before the door opened and an older gentleman answered.

"Can I help you?" The man asked as he looked between Dave and Shannon.

"I'm Special Agent Shannon Pryce. This is Coral Valley Chief of Police Dave Warner," She said as she flashed her badge and Dave did the same. She produced a slip of paper with her other hand, "We have a warrant to search the apartment of Bruce Mathis. This is a copy of the warrant for your records," She said as she placed the paper in his hand, "We'll need you to unlock his apartment and give us entrance."

"Okay, just hold on," The old man said as he stepped back into his apartment to get his keys. When he returned, he led the investigators to the stairway and towards the second floor.

"Sir, may I have your name for my records?" She asked as she dug her notepad from her pocket.

"Buck Stringer," He answered as he stepped onto the second floor, "I was floored when I heard about Dr. Mathis. He was a good boy and a dream tenant. I never got any complaints from the neighbors, and he always paid his rent on time. It was a perfect arrangement. I'll never find another tenant that good," He explained as he approached the apartment door. He slipped the key into the lock and unlocked the door, "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No, sir. When we leave, we'll be sealing the apartment as evidence. No one else should be allowed inside unless they are a police officer or accompanied by one," Shannon advised.

"Okay," Buck replied as he flashed them a helpful smile and walked back down the stairs.

"You're really a stickler for details, aren't you?" Dave asked as he removed a pair of latex gloves from his jacket pocket.

"I'm a federal agent. What do you think?" She snorted as she slipped on her own set of latex gloves. She pushed open the door and stepped inside. She whistled as she looked over the furnishings, "I should have been a doctor."

"Your bedside manner would have sucked," He said bluntly as he stepped into the apartment.

"You're no joy ride yourself," She rolled her eyes before she moved to the desk at the corner of the room. She sat at the desk and looked over the papers upon the blotter, "This guy was anal, wasn't he?"

"Bruce was known for being a really good guy with a real devotion to his career," He explained as he opened the door to the bedroom. He flipped on the lights before stepping inside.

Shannon sorted through messages on Bruce's desk before she opened the desk drawer. She sorted through some more slips of paper before she withdrew a key. She turned over the key chain and frowned, "Dave…"

"Yeah?" Dave asked as he emerged from the bedroom with a shoebox.

"How much do you know about Avery Morrison?"

"She's a damn good attorney," He shrugged, "She works for BBK, and apparently she's involved with Brant. I don't know a whole lot more."

"Does she have a reputation for being honest?"

"Yeah, I think so. Why?"

"She told me this morning that Bruce had gone to her apartment to return some of her things and to return her spare key," Shannon dangled the key in front of her, "This key, however, has her name on it. I'll bet you that this fits her door," She frowned as she took an evidence bag from her pocket and slipped the key inside.

"I guess this means we're going to pay a visit to Avery's apartment too, huh?"

"Just as soon as I get a warrant," She nodded before signing her initials on the bag.

"Well I found something else."

"Such as?"

Dave opened the box and pushed it towards her, "I think Bruce was a little obsessed with the idea that Avery could have been having an affair with Brant."

"Well now," Shannon's brow lifted as she removed pictures of Brant and Avery from the box. She sorted through several pictures of Brant and Avery at meetings, at BBK, and in court. She looked up to Dave, "Do you get the feeling that their break up had a whole lot to do with Brant?"

"Yeah, I do," Dave agreed, "And since Brant and Avery are engaged now…"

"Dr. Mathis must have been right in his suspicions," She concluded, "I think we need to check this key first. And then I'm going to arrange another meeting with Avery Morrison."

"Do you really think Avery killed Bruce?" Dave asked in disbelief.

"Right now, I'm not sure what I believe, but I do know I've been lied to. And there is nothing I hate worse than being lied to," Shannon declared as she glanced at the key in the evidence bag, hoping to finally have some ammunition with which to corner Avery.


Seth poured himself a cup of coffee as his mind was still on the sight before him when he’d walked in on Jade and Grady together.  Just the idea that Jade would think of ruining her life with that man set Seth’s every synapse on fire with anger and then with her damned stubborn side.  Why couldn’t she see that Grady was only going to hurt her? Why couldn’t she just let go of her father complex after the horrors that she faced and more so why couldn’t he just find a way to get through to her?  Frowning as his mind replayed the horrors of the past, he realized that he had to find a way to stop her from ruining her life with Grady.  It was bad enough that Cameron was holding the past over his head using Jade as a pawn, but now, well now he feared for what could happen to her if she gave her heart over to another bastard who would use and abuse her.
“I can’t let you ruin your life,” Seth vowed thinking of his sister as the phone rang interrupting his thoughts.  He reached for the phone wondering if Jade was calling to listen to reason.  With that thought in mind, he spoke to the caller, “Hello.”
“There you are,” Cameron’s voice broke though his thoughts as a hint of darkness flooded over the line, “Where the hell have you been?”
“I’ve been busy,” Seth answered sharply, “Not that it’s any of your concern.”
“It’s very well my concern when I’m paying you to do a job for me--one that should’ve been taken care of already as I’m well aware of the fact that Thea dropped off your next assignment.”
“I’m not interested,” Seth’s eyes darted to the envelope that Thea had dropped off the other day.
“You don’t have a choice and I thought I’d made that painfully obvious,” Cameron began again, “Unless of course you’d like me to take your lack of quality out on say Jade or perhaps Blake.  I’m sure she’d like to know all about the man who’s won over her heart.  Could you imagine the pain that would rip through her knowing that your intentions for her were less than noble….”
“You wouldn’t…” Seth growled back at him.
“I will if it’s what is needed to keep you in line,” Cameron warned with a low growl, “I have made a simple request of you and you’re being paid more than enough compensation for the task at hand.  I don’t like to be put off and I won’t allow for you to ignore my demands any longer.  This job must be done.”
“I haven’t even looked at it,” Seth admitted with a frown.
“Then see to it that you do,” Cameron grumbled in response, “as I would hate to have to make a trip to see you myself considering that right now you aren’t on the top of my list of favorite employees.  Granted I think you and I have a very promising working relationship should you choose to get over this insubordination of yours.  Given the rewards and perks you’ve been given of this job, it would be best not to cross me as I would hate for your father’s mistakes to destroy your sister, wouldn’t you?”
Seth reluctantly pulled the envelope from the desktop opening it up to find the photographs he’d taken not so long ago in his hands.  A scowl crossed over his features as he spoke up once again, “There isn’t anything here, but the photographs I took for you.”
“That’s because you’re going to get into the mansion and get me what I want,” Cameron explained simply.
“I can’t just walk into the mansion and take the painting,” Seth argued with him, “It’s not going to be something that they won’t notice if I tuck it under my arm and leave.”
“It’s not the painting that I want,” Cameron’s voice rose with agitation, “It’s what is inside the painting that is of interest to me.  What I want from you is for you to get what is mine from the painting…”
“And what might that be?”
“Somewhere in the back of the painting is an envelope,” Cameron explained coolly, “and in that envelope should be some microfilm.  It’s of the utmost importance that the microfilm isn’t damaged in your retrieval.”
“What is on the microfilm?” Seth questioned in confusion.
“That’s none of your concern, but what is of concern to you is getting that microfilm to me as soon as possible or else I may have to see to it that Brant Ashford won’t be the only one in the headlines as the scandal of young Blake’s heart breaking might be the new lead…unless of course the tale of Jade’s demise takes the front page from Blake’s misery.”
“I’ll get you the damned film,” Seth grumbled feeling his anger rise at the mention of Jade and Blake.
“Good, I knew you’d see it my way,” Cameron’s voice echoed with enthusiasm before the line went dead and Seth hung up the phone realizing that he had to find a way to get Cameron what he wanted or else life as he knew it was about to fall apart at the seams.


Caitlin sat in the records department of Coral Valley city hall. She had decided that she needed to find out more about Midlands as well as the area where the dump site had been. Her story needed to be informative of both the Hendersons' circumstances but also of Midlands' business practices.

She had pulled every newspaper article that mentioned Midlands, but now she was looking through deeds and corporate registration documents. It was important to know who owned what and when they took control of the area. Proving that Midlands knew the dangers of the area when they put it on the market was imperative to winning the case for the Hendersons.

She moved her stack of copies to the end of the table and opened a binder which held corporate registration documents. She flipped pages in the binder before stopping at a registration page. She raised a brow as she read over the document.

"Majority stock holder…Cameron Stone, CEO Stone Corp."

Caitlin paused as she sat back in her chair. Stone Corp. She'd heard tales of the gigantic conglomerate, and if they had a stake in Midlands, that could only mean trouble for the Hendersons' case. She needed to speak with Kenneth and ask how he ever hoped to win a case against a giant like Stone Corp.


Grady knocked lightly upon the door before entering Jade's office, "Are you busy?"

"Not anymore," Jade smiled as she put her pen down upon the desk, "Come on in."

He closed the door behind him and approached her desk, "Things are not that hectic today so I thought we could talk."

"Eager, aren't you?" She teased.

"For this, yeah, I think I am," He said as he extended his hand to her, "Come on. Let's sit on the sofa to talk."

"Wow…getting up close and personal…I really am impressed," She chuckled softly as she took his hand and allowed him to lead her to the sofa.

As they sat down, he kept her hand in his, "I think we need to set some ground rules for us."

"Yeah, that might be a good idea. We don't want a repeat of this morning, do we?" She asked softly, "Anywhere you'd like to start?"

"We've already talked about taking things slow."

"Yes, and this morning seemed to negate that."

"Yes, it did," He nodded, "I want to take things so just to be sure that neither one of us gets hurt. At the same time, it's hard to go slow because I want you so badly."

"The feeling is very mutual," She assured him.

Grady grinned, "Despite that, we need to keep this moving slow. I don't want there to be any misconceptions about what we feel."

"Okay," She agreed, "And my brother…" She sighed, "It's probably a good idea that we don't spend time at my place for the foreseeable future. We don't want Seth to go ballistic."

"Of course."

"And there's one more thing we need to talk about."

"And that is?" He asked as he met her eyes.

"I don't want another Thea on our hands, Grady. Don't turn to alcohol when you could turn to me," Jade advised as she caressed his cheek, "The next time you get the urge to go for that drink, just remember that you can come to me instead and I won't give you a hangover."

"I'm so sorry about Thea, Jade. I never wanted anything of that to happen. It was just like you said…a stupid mistake."

"Just as long as it's a one time mistake, it can be forgotten," She said with a soft smile, "And we can start building our relationship together."

"You really are determined about this, aren't you? Even with all my faults and screw ups," He said in awe.

"Grady, I adore the entire package that is you. I don't want just a part of you. I want it all, and that means accepting everything that you are."

"You're more mature than any other person I've ever known. If I'd been that mature when I was young…hell if I was that mature now…"

"Grady, don't sell yourself short. I think that's part of your problem. You don't see how wonderful you are, and you even doubt that part of yourself which is inherently good. I don't have that doubt and I see the good in you very clearly."

"And you are such a great flatterer," He teased as he lifted her hand to his lips to gently kiss her skin, "I want this to work out for us, Jade…more than anything in the world."

"I believe it can," Jade assured him with a smile, "We just have to be honest and forthcoming with one another."

"I think we can manage that," Grady agreed as he gazed into her eyes, hoping that he could overcome the demons of his past by building his relationship with Jade on a solid foundation.


“So now that we’ve got the drama out of the way, I think it’s about time to get to the heart of the matter here,” Brant announced breaking through the silence that surrounded him, Avery and Russell.
“And what might that be,” Avery questioned lounging back a bit as she eyed the last bite of pastry before her.  She watched Russell reach out to it and she swatted at his hand throwing him a contemptuous look, “That’s mine,” she growled popping the piece into her mouth before sticking her tongue out at him.
“You,” Russell shook his head at her feeling a smile touch over his lips as he turned his attention to Brant, “So what’s on your mind, Brant-o.”
“Brant-o?” Brant gave him a sideways glance, “What the hell is that?”
“Since we’re all about to be one big happy group of friends here, I figure maybe we should work on the nicknames,” Russell laughed lightly, “Isn’t that right…” he turned to Avery.
“Don’t you dare,” Avery threw him a warning glance, “Don’t you dare say it?”
“Say what?” Russell’s eyes lit up with mischief as he feigned innocence, “I don’t know what you could possibly be talking about,” he paused a smirk spreading over his features, “Honey Bear.”
“Russell,” Avery’s face grew hot with embarrassment as Brant looked over to her.  She raised her hand to her face trying to ignore the way his words affected her as she turned to Brant, “Clearly Russell has had too much sun.”
“What?” Russell teased, “You don’t want Brant to know all about our nicknames for each other?”
“Honey Bear was a long time ago,” Avery frowned deeply throwing out an apologetic look at Brant, “Russell has a tendency to open his mouth when he’s not supposed to…”
“Clearly,” Brant’s eyes darkened with rage as he turned his attention to Russell.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Russell confessed unable to suppress the laugh building up inside of him as he turned to Avery, “Come on Avery.  We’re among friends, aren’t we?”
“I don’t like either one of you that much to recount my tales of horror,” Avery groaned inwardly.
“Oh now I’m interested,” Brant looked to Russell, “do go on.”
“It was some stupid story from when I was a kid,” Avery piped in wrinkling her nose in disgust, “One that Russell was sworn to secrecy about.”
“Hey, if you’re willing to let the world believe you’re going to marry Brant,” he threw a look back at her, “then I don’t see the problem in my opening up about your noble intentions.”
“Russell Denton,” she squealed as she kicked at him from underneath the table.
“Now you have no choice, but to share the tale,” Brant probed leaning forward a bit, “Tell me all about…” he turned his eyes towards Avery wiggling his brow at her, “Honey Bear.”
“Oh,” she threw her hands up on the air ready to cover her ears as Russell explained.
“When Avery and I were younger, our parents used to send us away to the same summer camp for two weeks each year.  Avery was the little leader even back then and stubborn as hell,” Russell’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm as he recounted the tale, “One night we were playing truth or dare and though Avery seemed too much of a snob to participate most of the time I cajoled her into it…”
“I wasn’t too much of a snob,” Avery objected shaking her head at him, “I just had the good sense not to think like an idiot.”
“Even so,” Russell laughed heartily, “That night I managed to tempt her into showing her true colors.”
“I never back down from a dare when it’s good enough,” Avery explained solemnly, “and while that one was stupid as ever, there was a lot riding on my following through.”
“So what was the dare,” Brant questioned casually as he noted the color flooding over her features.
“There was some mascot on top of the flagpole that was the sacred totem at the camp,” Avery rolled her eyes at the memory, “They wanted me to climb up to retrieve the stupid mascot, but on the way up I got stuck in a tree and wound up not only falling flat on my ass, but taking down a very agitated bee hive on the way down…”
“Hence her being dubbed Honey Bear,” Russell laughed heartily.
“Thus my sole motivation for loathing you completely,” Avery grumbled back at him shaking her head as she turned to Brant, “So what were you saying before Russell opened his mouth and lodged his foot in it?”
“Hey, I thought that was cute,” Brant replied with a smile, “though I hate hearing about your fall there,” he reached out to touch her hand gently, “If I was there, unlike Russell I would’ve caught you and broke your fall.”
“Oh he broke my fall,” Avery laughed at the memory, “when the tree branch knocked him out.”
“And then I had bee stings as an after shock,” Russell frowned at the memory.
“Hey you brought it up,” Avery shrugged her shoulders, “If you’re ready to tell Brant all my dirty little secrets, I can easily bring yours to the table.”
“Are you sure you want to bring up all of my dirty secrets,” he arched a curious brow as she looked away from him.
“So really, what’s on your mind,” she focused her attention on Brant as she kicked her leg out under the table connecting with Russell’s shin once again.
“Well, catching up is always fun I suppose, but…,” Brant noted the pained expression on Russell’s face, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Russell nodded in response as he let out a slow breath.
“Alright, then I was thinking about our engagement party,” Brant reached for Avery’s hand drawing it up to his lips and offering a tender caress of his lips.
“What about?” Avery gulped feeling his thumb sweep over her palm sending a pool of sensation rushing through her.
“I think we should have one soon,” Brant confessed casually, “Considering that the world knows how much we feel for each other, it would seem very un-Ashford-like for us not to throw a party.”
“Over my dead body,” Russell remarked with a frown, “There’s no need for a party since there’s no real engagement.”
“On the contrary,” Brant threw Russell an icy glare, “Why else would the three of us be spending so much time together if not for my upcoming nuptials with Avery?  I mean clearly we’re working on planning this party so that the world can see how much Avery and I care about each other.”
“The engagement is nothing but a lie fabricated on that overpriced ring you gave her,” Russell argued with him, “Anyone who knows Avery knows that she isn’t going to marry you--not even in your wildest dreams.”
“See there’s where you’re in denial Denton,” Brant grumbled back at him, “Avery and I will have a future together and when she’s my wife, well then you’ll see just how wrong you are.”
“How wrong I am?” Russell’s voice rose in anger.
“You’re damn right you are,” Brant stood from his chair, “You have a problem with my saying that?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” Russell leapt from his chair as well now standing face to face with Brant.
“Well then what are you going to do about it,” Brant taunted as Avery jumped towards the two of them placing herself between them before things got ugly.
“Nothing,” Avery shouted at the both of them, “Neither one of you is going to do anything to the other one because the last thing we need is the FBI hearing about the two of you tearing each other apart.  If we thought we had problems before, well then this will only make matters worse…”
“He’s not going to tell me the way things are when clearly he doesn’t have the first clue about us,” Brant answered sharply.
“You’re the one who’s clueless, Brant,” Russell sneered in response.
“You’re both treading thin ice with me,” Avery groaned, “and this macho bull isn’t impressing me in the least, so knock it off,” she shoved them away from each other as she shook her head in strong disapproval, “Brant, right now we need to worry about Shannon and everyone else trying to pin what happened to Bruce in this direction…”
“Which is exactly why we need to have a party,” Brant explained simply, “That way when the world sees how happy we are together, then they won’t question the situation with Bruce because an Ashford gala always brings about the media seeking out a story and our engagement, well that one will be a headline for sure…”
“And look what kind of response it made in the first round,” Russell snapped in response folding his arms in front of his chest, “It’s a bad idea.”
“Not entirely,” Avery argued with him, “Brant might have a point…”
“Avery, you’re just asking for your life to be invaded upon if you open yourself up to this,” Russell argued with her, “If you have a party, then who knows what else could happen?”
“Do you have a better idea?” Avery challenged folding her arms in front of her chest.
“As a matter of fact,” he began as the doors to the patio opened and Kenneth stepped out to look at the trio.
“Well, this is a surprise,” Kenneth noted looking between the group, “Although I must confess I never thought I’d live to see the day that I’d find the three of you out here together…again…”
“Ken,” Avery directed her attention to him grateful to find herself surrounded by at least one sane individual as she brushed past Brant and Russell, “What are you doing here?”
“I have a surprise for you,” Kenneth explained simply as he gave Brant a curious look.  He no doubt stepped into something intense, but given the circumstances, he wasn’t about to ask.
“Please don’t tell me Shannon is back again with a warrant for my arrest,” Avery groaned in response, “because I really don’t think I can deal with that right now.”
“Actually as much as I’m sure Shannon wanted another crack at you, there was someone else who’d much rather take at an interrogation with you.”
“Oh God, what now,” Avery groaned fearing the newest person to tear her world apart as Kenneth stepped aside and much to her surprise a familiar face stood before her.  Her eyes widened in surprise as her jaw dropped, “Daddy?”
“Princess,” Richard Morrison embraced her as she threw her arms around him excitedly.
“Daddy, what are you doing here,” Avery asked hugging him as a sense of relief began to wash over her, “Brooke said you were in Europe and…”
“Plans changed,” he promised looking down to his daughter with a proud smile, “Kenneth called and told me that my baby girl was having a few problems, but now that I’m here you don’t have to worry about that anymore,” he assured her hugging her tightly as he vowed not to let anything or anyone hurt his little girl again.
“What the…” Brant gave his brother a strange look as Kenneth stepped in closer to him.  “How did you…”
“I thought Avery could use some extra support,” Kenneth explained proudly, “and I knew just the man to help her through this situation.”
“If anyone can do it, he can,” Russell added as they all watched the exchange between father and daughter as Russell realized with Richard Morrison in Coral Valley, things were about to take a turn for the better as there was no way Shannon Pryce or the FBI had a chance of taking on the great Richard Morrison and gaining the upper hand.

...to be continued...