Episode Twenty Seven

Heather walked into the CVPD with her head held high. While her morning had been beyond miserable, she was determined to make her day much better. She could do that by speaking with Shannon Pryce. Of course, she and Shannon had never had a civil conversation, and that was a cause for caution. If she wanted to paint Avery in a bad light, she would have to give a picture perfect performance to Shannon.

She adjusted her skirt slightly as she spoke to the receptionist. The young lady at the desk nodded and made a quick call into the back before directing Heather towards Shannon's office. As she made her way through the various desks on her winding path towards her destination, she realized that every cheap police television show depicted the exact same office set up, and the CVPD was the living embodiment of such a scene.

She stopped outside Shannon's office and steeled herself for the meeting at hand. Timing was everything, and she knew that this meeting would mean a great deal to her future. She took a deep breath as she knocked lightly.

"Come in," Shannon called out, only looking up as the door opened. Immediately her demeanor shifted to arctic temperatures, "What are you doing here?"

"I have some information about the case you're investigating," Heather offered as she stepped into the office and closed the door behind her, "And I think it's something you should hear."

Shannon leaned back in her chair as she contemplated Heather for a moment. She'd never had much reason to like the model. After all, Heather had become Brant's fiancée in only a few short weeks after their breakup. Still, talking with Heather had never been for amusement. In fact, she'd only been close to homicidal in the wake of their every meeting.

Shannon tossed her pen upon her desk, "What could you possibly have to say that I would want to hear?"

"I know all about Avery Morrison's temper," Heather declared as she smoothed a pleat in her skirt as she sat down.

"What'd she do? Bitch slap you when she stole Brant?" Shannon asked with amusement.

"Look, this isn't about Brant. This is about Avery. That woman has a vile temper. I've seen her in action."

"And when would this have been?" Shannon asked in a less than enthusiastic tone.

"A few weeks ago," Heather noted, "Russell Denton and Brant were both there as well. Russell, poor dear, he was the recipient of her wrath. She decked him in a fit of rage."

Shannon looked to Heather after a moment, "And why would she do that?"

"He was only trying to give her a warning, and she just hit him. And then she got totally wasted on our plane trip back to Coral Valley. She tried to attack me in a drunken rage."

"I can't imagine why anyone would want to attack you, Heather," Shannon droned as she rolled her eyes, "But rest assured, I'll check this entire story out."

"Be sure you do," Heather instructed, "I wouldn't want Avery venting her rage on Brant as she's wont to do."

"Of course…that would be flushing your golden goose right down the toilet, wouldn't it?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh come on. We're both Brant's throw aways. So why don't you just be honest with me? Just say it outright that you want Avery Morrison gone."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Heather snorted in offense.

"Oh yes you do. You just want to prove to Brant that he shouldn't have pushed you aside for his new bed warmer."

"I'm trying to help you solve your case," Heather declared as she stood, "And I don't have to sit here and be insulted."

"The only thing you're trying to help is yourself to Brant's money," Shannon stated as she watched Heather open the door to her office.

Heather turned to glare at Shannon, "Don't act like it wouldn't give you great pleasure to give Brant a black eye with this case. You'd love the idea that someone Brant chose over you is getting shafted."

"You're right," Shannon nodded, "I'm enjoying watching you squirm for some recognition from Brant."

"If you let Avery Morrison get away with murder just because you're pissed off at me, you aren't the smart woman that I took you for," Heather proclaimed as left the office.

"And if you think I'm going to nail Avery just to make you happy, you're even dumber than the blond bimbo I took you for," Shannon mused to herself as she thought of the information Heather had attempted to impart to her. While she didn't trust the model as far as she could throw her, some of what she said bared further investigation, and she would make a note to do so in the future.


Caitlin closed the door behind her as she entered her apartment with two arm loads of groceries as well as her document bag weighing her down. She hurried over to the kitchen counter to dump the groceries before she carried her document bag to her desk and rested it over the back of her chair.

She'd decided to call it an early day and work on sorting through the mountains of research she'd obtained during the morning. She wanted her introductory article to be ready for this week's edition of the Courier, and she would need some peace and quiet in order to concentrate on the information at hand.

On her way back towards the kitchen, the ringing of her cordless telephone nabbed her attention. She plucked the handset from her coffee table as she kept walking towards the kitchen, "Hello?"

"Just who do you think you are going home early from work?" A teasing deep male voice sounded over the phone.

"Zack?" Caitlin asked with a smile forming upon her features, "Well, what is the meaning of this mid day telephone call buddy? Shouldn't you be up to your elbows in organs or something?" She teased after she'd recognized the rich voice of her brother, Zack.

Zack laughed softly, "I was this morning, but the afternoon has been fairly slow. I thought I'd give you a call to see how you're doing."

"I'm doing great," She said as she tucked the phone between her cheek and shoulder and began putting away her groceries, "I'm all settled in out here. I've reconnected with Blake, and my job is going so well you would not believe."

"Sounds like you finally found your own little corner of the world to be happy in."

"I'd like to think so," She grinned, "What about you? How's life out in Seattle?"

"Well…" He said as if contemplating his answer, "It's rainy."

Caitlin laughed as she folded up the empty grocery bags, "I told you that Seattle would make anyone depressed. It's only a good city if you're a shrink."

"I have been thinking about a change of scenery actually," He admitted, "And I got an offer this morning that I'm considering."

"Oh really? From where? Johns Hopkins? Cedar Sinai?" She questioned, eager to hear about her brother's newest career move.

"Coral County Regional."

"What?" Caitlin asked, hoping she hadn't heard him right.

"You heard me. They called me this morning, and they offered me pretty much whatever I wanted if I could start by Friday."

"What did you tell them?"

"I told them I'd give them an answer tomorrow morning. So tell me, sis, what's Coral Valley like?"

She frowned as she leaned onto the kitchen counter, "It's not the kind of place you'd enjoy, Zack."


"It's got a true small town feel to it. Everyone knows everyone, or they know someone who does. You're not into playing politics, and Coral Valley has its fair share."

"You seem to be doing okay. I haven't heard of you getting into any trouble out there."

"Well, no, but I don't usually start trouble, Zack. You have a track record of doing that very thing."

"I think I'm offended by that."

"More like you're flattered," She rolled her eyes, "Look, Zack, don't come out here. You won't like it."

"You don't want me out there for a reason. Who is he?"

"Who is who?" She responded quickly.

"The guy you're seeing."

"And why do you think I'm seeing a guy?"

"Because you're not into girls," He dead panned before elaborating, "More to the point, however, you like to be evasive when there's a man in your life. So why don't you just fess up and tell me who he is."

"Kenneth Ashford."

"Kenneth Ash…as in Blake Ashford?"

"Kenneth is Blake's brother."

"He's not the womanizer, is he?"

"No, he's not," Caitlin chuckled, "Kenneth is a good guy, and I think you'd like him. But that doesn't mean I think you should come out here."

"Give me a good reason why I wouldn't be happy or couldn't succeed in Coral Valley," Zack insisted.

"Because you like drama, Zack, and while there's plenty of drama here, you wouldn't be the center of it. It just wouldn't be your cup of tea."

"Now I really am intrigued."

"Does that mean you've already made up your mind about this offer? I get the feeling that this call is merely to torture me," She sank onto her sofa as she waited for an answer.

"Yeah, I'm going to take the offer. They've offered me my own lab so that I can do my research uninterrupted when I'm not on shift. It's a very cozy arrangement."

"So when will you be arriving?"

"Wednesday probably," Zack said softly, "Hey Catey…you're okay with this, aren't you?"

"Of course I'm okay with it. I might not like it a whole lot, but I'll deal."

"That's why you're my favorite sibling. You might not like a situation but you're still a trooper all the way through," He said softly, "I'll see you Wednesday."

"See you then," Caitlin replied as she hung up the phone. She rubbed the bridge of her nose as she placed the phone on the coffee table, "So much for getting away from the protective big brother," She mused to herself as she thought of how Zack might react to Kenneth. She hoped they'd get along famously, and then all of her dreams really would have come true.


“Daddy, I can’t believe you’re here,” Avery confessed looking up at her father with amazed eyes, “I mean I never thought…”
“That what?  That I wouldn’t drop everything just to see my little girl,” Richard winked down at her touching her cheek gently, “Avery, princess you know me better than that.  Considering that you’ve got quite a commotion surrounding you, I knew that there was no place in this world that was more important than being with my little girl.”
“It’s so good to see you,” Avery hugged him once again before looking over to Kenneth, “I can’t believe you did this.”
“Well, considering that you were ready to give me a hard time earlier,” he teased back at her, “I figured this might be a good way to lighten up the situation a bit.”
“Thank you,” Avery smiled at him once again before turning to her father, “When did you get in?”
“Just a short while ago, but Kenneth was filling me in on the fact that your mother is already here,” Richard frowned slightly touching her shoulder, “I hope she isn’t hassling you already.”
“I can hold my own,” Avery confessed her eyes lighting up with hope now that her father had come to Coral Valley, “Of course I did have a little help in keeping my sanity,” she motioned over towards Russell and Brant who’d both been standing a few feet away taking in the exchange between Avery and her father.
“So I heard,” Richard’s face lit up with an enthusiastic grin as he stepped forward to shake Russell’s hand, “Russ, hey how’s it going?  Long time no see, huh?”
“You can say that again,” Russell shook Richard’s hand firmly, “though I wish we were meeting up again under better circumstances.”
“So do I,” Richard nodded in agreement, “though I’m certain that this will pass for Avery soon enough and when it does, I do believe I owe you an interview,” Richard noted the surprise on Russell’s face at the mention of it, “You didn’t think I forgot, did you?”
“Well, no of course not, but I never imagined,” enthusiasm lit up in Russell’s features, “I mean what I’m trying to say is that I’m honored that you would consider doing an interview for the Courier…”
“Anything for someone who was almost a part of the family,” Richard smiled back at him, “but I do have one request.”
“What’s that?” Russell questioned eagerly.
“You’re the one who’s running the interview,” Richard winked back at him, “Given the lengths that you’ve gone to in order to make my daughter happy over the years, well I’m certain there isn’t anyone more qualified for the interview than you are Russ.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Russell began again surprised by Richard’s warm welcome.
“I think this is where you’re supposed to say yes,” Avery piped in with a smile, “because we all know you’re the best Russ and he wouldn’t be asking if you weren’t…”
“In that case I’d be honored to,” Russell replied eagerly shaking Richard’s hand once again.
“Excellent as I’m certain that the Courier is exactly the kind of place where I’d like to share my views on things,” Richard continued proudly, “Why just last week they’d asked me to speak with the Senate and I came up with some thoughts that we might touch upon during our interview--kind of a public awareness issue…”
“It sounds like a great idea and I’m sure we can set something up,” Russell nodded encouraged by Richard’s words.
“Excellent,” Richard remarked turning his attention to his daughter, “and maybe you can join me while we’re doing the interview.  Maybe make a lunch of it with the three of us like we used to do.”
“I think that could be fun,” Avery nodded in agreement as her eyes turned to Brant and she noted his surprising silence, “Daddy, there’s someone else I’d like you to meet.  Dad, this is Brant Ashford.  Brant this is my father, Richard Morrison.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you sir,” Brant held his hand out toward Richard, “Avery’s told me a great deal about you.”
“I’ve heard quite a bit about you as well,” Richard accepted Brant’s hand shaking it politely as his smile faded.
“I can assure you that half of it’s completely untrue,” Brant offered with a teasing laugh feeling the weight of Richard Morrison’s glare as he cleared his throat, “I’m glad to see you’re on Coral Valley to share this time with Avery and I.”
“I was less than enthused to hear that you’d drawn her into one of your less than savory headlines,” Richard frowned deeply shaking his head in strong disapproval, “The last thing my daughter needs is harassment from the FBI because she’s tied to your company.”
“Daddy, the FBI isn’t harassing me because of Brant,” Avery argued with him, “It’s because Bruce died…”
“I’m well aware of what happened to Bruce,” Richard nodded simply, “but I’m also well aware of the media coverage on your fiancé here,” his voice trailed off cryptically before he turned toward Brant, “Of course Kenneth here however was filling me in on the fact that the media does tend to take stories of your nature and exaggerate them a bit.”
“Unfortunately that does happen quite a lot out this place,” Brant sighed thinking to the media frenzy that had followed him and Avery over the last few days.
“You should see to it that it stops,” Richard added in a warning tone, “After all I would hate to see my daughter’s name spread out before the world in a bad light when she’s worked so hard to become a respectable lawyer.”
“Yes sir,” Brant nodded forcing a polite smile as Richard’s sudden scrutinizing eye set Brant on edge.  He adjusted his tie a bit as he looked to Avery seeing how she seemed to light up upon the knowledge of her father’s arrival.  Still if he’d hoped to make a future for himself with Avery, he realized Richard Morrison would be the key to making that happen much to his dismay.
“Well as much as I’d like to stick around and chat,” Kenneth interrupted, “I should really head on out as I have some things to look into this afternoon.”
“Actually,” Russell began amused with Richard’s introductions with Brant.  Somehow seeing the tension in the air, he had a feeling Avery would be in good hands with her father’s protective eye.  That in itself made his day feel lighter and easier as he thought to the paper once again, “I should probably head back to the office myself especially now that I’ve got to prepare myself for this interview.”
“Don’t work too hard on it otherwise you might make me nervous,” Richard teased back with a hearty laugh, “I don’t know how well I might do in the hot seat there.”
“I think I’m the one who’ll be worried about that as you always did find a way of turning these things around,” Russell reminded him as his gaze lingered towards Avery, “and you.  If you need anything…”
“I know your number,” Avery detangled herself from her father’s arm as she stepped over to Russell hugging him, “thanks for stopping by.”
“I’ll be back soon,” he whispered in her ear embracing her tightly, “and if you don’t hear from me tonight, expect me for breakfast.”
“I’ll be waiting,” she smiled back at him taking a step back as Russell looked to Kenneth.
“I’ll walk you out,” Kenneth announced as the two men left the trio on the patio.
“So,” Brant cleared his throat, “Richard, what kind of work were you doing over at the Senate?”
“We were discussing some environmental issues,” Richard answered simply, “things that some special interest groups have brought to the front ground once again with the issues of global warming and the industrial pollution surrounding the conglomerate business arena,” he continued arching a curious brow, “Are you keeping up on those issues yourself?”
“That’s more Ken’s cup of tea,” Brant answered simply with a shrug of his shoulders, “but it sounds very interesting.”
“It’s a very important topic indeed,” Richard corrected with a firm tone, “one that shouldn’t be overlooked by those who tend to forget the important things in this world--unlike the Insider headlines that seem to follow you around.”
“Daddy,” Avery frowned stepping in beside Brant, “Brant’s done great things over at BBK.  Why right now he’s working to put a new drug on the market for those cancer patients that were otherwise left without hope…”
“Really?” Richard arched a curious brow, “And am I to assume that this new miracle drug of yours will be one that is available to the general public or is it going to be something for the elite like the last wonder drug that BBK produced?  Of course when I think about that particular BBK scandal, not only was it a party favor for those fortunate souls who could afford the luxury of it’s more cosmetic and social functions.”
“Daddy,” Avery threw him a warning look, “that was before Brant’s time with the company and you know that.”
“Still, I don’t want my little girl working in a situation where there is a lack of good ethics circulating,” Richard added firmly, “as you deserve to be in a place where it’s reputation will only enhance yours.”
“Avery is brilliant,” Brant offered reaching out to wrap his arm around Avery’s shoulders, “She’s the best lawyer that BBK has ever had and she’s vital to the company.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Richard replied giving him a skeptic look, “however I must say that I was quite puzzled about the headline that was brought to my attention about your engagement as I was under the impression that my Avery wasn’t quite ready to settle down just yet especially not with someone of your,” he searched for the word, “less than savory reputation.”
“Avery and I hadn’t planned on rushing things Sir, but the media forced the issue for us well before we were ready for the news to spread.”
“Another case of careless decisions on the spur of the moment?” Richard questioned as Avery stepped towards him.
“Daddy, Brant is a wonderful man,” Avery defended Brant to her father, “In fact I’m so glad that you’re here because I’m certain you two are going to love each other if you don‘t keep that chip on your shoulder,” she curled her lip in a pout playing her hand over his shoulder as if to dust off the invisible chip.
“Princess, there’s no chip.  Really,” he conceded with a tiny sigh, “I must admit however that I was less than thrilled to discover that my little girl was being harassed by the FBI about a murder that I know she had absolutely nothing to do with.”
“It’s just a huge misunderstanding and the FBI, well, I don’t know where they’re coming from…” Avery frowned thinking about Shannon’s intrusion on her life.
“Actually,” Richard turned his attention to Brant, “if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a few minutes alone with my daughter.”
“Of course,” Brant nodded, “I’ll go work on getting some drinks together and maybe I’ll find Brooke so she can join us.”
“You do that,” Richard forced an icy smile, “I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to know we’re all together again.”
Avery threw out an apologetic look as she watched Brant retreat from the patio.  Somehow she’d never seen Brant look so nervous, so quiet and so unsure of himself as she had with her father.  Granted Richard Morrison was an intimidating man to the outsider, but still Brant Ashford never seemed to have bowed down to any form of intimidation.  As soon as Brant stepped into the estate Avery turned to her father with a disapproving look.
“Why did you do that?” Avery questioned with a huff.
“What?” Richard shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Daddy, you practically threw him back into the house,” Avery’s lip curled into a frown, “I don’t know what you’ve heard about Brant, but he’s not the man you think he is…”
“Avery, you know it’s not wise to lie to your father.  I’ve heard the stories,” Richard reminded her with a shake of his head, “Half of which have come from your lips.”
“That was a long time ago,” Avery took a step away from him, “Brant’s not the same guy he used to be.”
“Clearly, or else you wouldn’t be engaged to him,” he paused contemplating his words, “which is something that has been on my mind.”
“Daddy, please don’t bother with asking,” Avery sighed running her fingers through her hair, “I know how this goes with you.”
“Avery, I just don’t see how you could even consider marrying someone like that.  Every time you’ve thought about getting serious, you’ve made sure that there was someone responsible and dependable that you invested your time with…”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but when Russ and I announced that we were engaged, you had a fit as well,” Avery gave him a pointed look, “The about face you gave here this morning was quite a surprise.”
“I never had anything against Russell,” Richard pointed out simply, “That was your mother’s doing, not mine.”
“Still, you weren’t keen on the idea of my getting married back then either,” Avery insisted.
“I told you to follow your heart and ultimately your heart told you that you weren’t ready,” Richard stepped towards her, “Can I help it if I feel no man is good enough for my little girl?”
Avery’s frown faded as her father gave her that same look he’d done most of her life when he’d tried to cure her of her woes.  “I’m not four years old anymore.”
“Even so,” he hugged her once again, “you’ll always be my little Avery.”
“And you’ll always be the best father in the world,” she admitted with a sigh, “I’m so glad that you’re here.”
“When Kenneth told me about Bruce, I was worried,” his voice was laced with concern, “I asked Kenneth about the situation, but he was rather vague about the details which lead me to believe that there was more reason for him inviting me here other than the FBI harassing you.”
“Why would you say that,” Avery looked up at him.
“Avery, what’s really going on?” Richard questioned getting to the point, “Is there something more to this story that has the FBI lurking around you and Brant?”
“Nothing more than I told them,” Avery lied biting on her lower lip as she thought of her last encounter with Bruce.
“Avery, you should know better than to lie to your father,” he gave her a pointed look, “It never worked when you were a child and it certainly isn’t working now.”
“Daddy,” Avery began to argue before she felt the tears build behind her eyes.  While she’d been so hell bent on keeping her horror with Bruce to herself, Kenneth had pushed and prodded at her and now as he’d brought in her father, she felt the strength she’d pulled together crumbling as tears filled her eyes.
“Avery, what happened,” he softened his tone as he reached out to her.
“I never thought it would be like it was,” Avery confessed her lower lip trembling as Bruce’s attack flooded through her mind, “I never thought that I’d ever let myself be put in that kind of position, but now…I never wanted this…”
“It’s okay,” Richard reached for her feeling her tremble in his arms as his daughter began to break down.  He said nothing trying to soothe her soft sobs as he vowed to do whatever it took to keep his daughter safe.  One way or another, he’d find a way to make things right for her and he wouldn’t stop until he did just that.  Whatever was troubling Avery would be taken care of as soon as possible…that much he was sure of.


Jenna looked up from the corner booth she’d been seated in as Hart slid in across from her.  Her eyes scanned the small café wearily as she frowned back at him impatiently, “You’re late.”
“I encountered traffic,” Hart confessed with a hint of a smile, “though I must confess if I knew you were this eager to see me, I might’ve found a way to get her sooner.”
“Believe me my eagerness has nothing to do with you what so ever,” she stated simply looking around once again, “I just don’t like the idea of anyone finding us together considering that…”
“Would you relax,” Hart tried to assure her with a confident smile, “We’re far enough from Coral Valley that we don’t have to question anyone in this place,” he lowered his voice as he threw out a teasing laugh, “and besides, no one who knows me would even dream of me ending up in a place like this.”
“That’s because this place is more of a refuge to people with less than flawed character,” Jenna scowled back at him.
“Which doesn’t explain how you’d feel at ease in such a place considering your record,” Hart quipped in response.
“My record would be flawless if it wasn’t for the ridiculous charges you and your jerk of a client brought against me when I was clearly the victim,” Jenna argued with him.
“Victim is such a subjective word,” Hart countered with a shrug, “and considering what you did to the poor man…”
“The poor man?” Jenna repeated in horror, “Given the levels he went out of his way to terrorize me in not taking no for an answer, I’d have to say that justice was anything but served in that particular case…”
“Jenna, look we’re not here to argue about what’s already done,” Hart blurted out seeing the anger behind her eyes, “I thought we’d agreed to put the past behind us.”
“For now, but don’t think once we’re finished getting to the heart of this scandal that’s pulled me out of my morgue, then we’ll get back to the way things are…”
“Fair enough,” Hart agreed, “but until then, you and I are on the same team and it would be best for you to remember that if you want to get back to where you feel you belong.”
“For now,” she nodded in response, “but only if you tell me you brought good news for me.”
“I’m working on it,” Hart confessed simply, “I spoke with my contacts at the FBI and they’re working to get me answers.”
“Answers,” she frowned in response, “In other words this meeting was just a waste of time because we’re back where we began.”
“Not necessarily,” Hart reached out across the table seeing she was eager to walk away, “there are still some things we can help each other with.”
“Such as?” Jenna raised a curious brow.
“Well for starters, you’re one of the only people in Coral Valley other than the authorities that has been able to see the body.”
“And what?  Do you honestly believe I’m going to start offering you details of my examination so that you can throw it out against me in the future since I’m sure that’s where this association is headed,” she stated flatly.
“Look Jenna,” he sighed, “I know you don’t have any reason to trust me because I haven’t exactly earned that kind of trust from you.  However, I do know that we both have a vested interest in this.”
“You could care less about me getting back to my job.  Admit it Hart.”
“Fine, I’ll admit it’s not my top priority, but then again I would much rather attempt trying to get through to you than some guy who could be doing heaven knows what to shake up this case and make my client look like the guilty party.”
“So this is about the preservation of Brant Ashford,” she offered a knowing nod, “I should’ve seen this coming…”
“This is about saving my client and his fiancée, who by the way is well, your friend--at least I was under that assumption,” Hart challenged with a frown, “While Shannon Pryce may have a score to settle with Brant, the fact that he’s with Avery makes her an open target for the FBI as well.  You said it yourself that you don’t believe she played a hand in this murder, so it would be in her best interest if you and I worked on this together.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re a lawyer and your job is to see to it that your client doesn’t wind up in jail.  That’s your only concern, isn’t it?”
“My concern is getting the FBI out of Coral Valley and out of the Ashford family’s life,” Hart explained with a huff, “and since Brant has taken Avery on as a part of that family business, then I’m making it my business to see to it that Avery stays out of trouble as well.”
Jenna gave him a disbelieving look before frowning further.
“Look, I don’t have to be telling you this, but Agent Pryce was over at the mansion questioning Avery and I think she’s going to continue in that direction with this investigation.  She’s also come upon knowledge that Brant had Bruce fired which is something I don’t have to be telling you considering and I have the distinct feeling that Shannon’s leading to something with this.  I think that she believes she knows something about this murder that she’s holding over everyone and you’re the only person who could shed some light on this.  If we know what happened to Bruce, then I can go about my business of proving that this was something that neither Brant nor Avery had anything to do with.”
“Hart as much as I’d like to help you, I can’t just…”
“Jenna, the FBI had you thrown off the case because you’re Avery’s friend, yet they allowed Brant’s ex-flame to take charge of this investigation.  You do the math.  Something isn’t adding up about this and if we just sit back and do nothing, I have a feeling that the FBI is going to alter the outcome of this investigation for their own purposes.”
“Hmm, you know if I wasn’t aware of exactly who we were talking about right now, I’d say you were offering up a very accurate description of yourself,” Jenna remarked turning her attention to the steaming mug before her.
“Jenna, come on,” Hart pleaded with her, “Look I already said I was sorry about before…”
“Actually no, no you didn’t, but if you’re willing to offer up an apology, well then I’m more than interested in hearing it,” Jenna confessed her eyes narrowing back at him, “In fact, the more I think about it, the more a public apology sounds like a wonderful idea.”
“Jenna, you know that I can’t…”
“Tell me you thought that Patrick was the victim--that when you took on that case, you felt that you were doing the right thing--that somehow you could sleep at night after it all,” Jenna challenged giving him a sideways glance.
“Of course I could sleep at night,” he shook his head back at her, “that wasn’t an issue.”
“Of course it wasn’t,” she huffed, “Yet you want me to believe you’re willing to help my best friend in a time of need because you’ve suddenly turned a new leaf?  That you’re feeling that sudden plight to fight for justice?”
Hart’s brow wrinkled as a scowl formed over his lips, “Where the hell is this coming from?  I told you the other night that I’d help you, if you helped me, so why can’t you just stay focused?”
“Because you haven’t given me anything more than what I had before,” Jenna pointed out smugly, “If I’m getting back in my lab, I know damn well you aren’t going to play a hand in doing it since it was your fault that I was on shaky ground in the first place.”
“Jenna, come on,” Hart shook his head back at her, “Are you always this damned impossible or is it just because you like me so much?”
“Like you,” she chuckled in mild amusement, “Hart, I wouldn’t like you if you were the last man on the planet and I certainly wouldn’t find it in my heart to help you either.”
“Then why did you agree to meet me here today,” he questioned curiously, “Why go through the trouble of driving all the way out here just to shut me down?”
“Maybe I was curious to see what kind of line you were trying to feed me about your interests,” Jenna lifted her coffee mug from the table top slowly sipping the warm, soothing liquid.
“I don’t buy that,” Hart watched her closely, “You could’ve easily told me nothing on the phone.  You didn’t have to agree for us to meet out here.”
“Maybe I wanted to give you half the grief you’ve given me,” she answered flatly as her gaze traveled across the small café, “although I must confess this isn’t nearly as enjoyable as I’d thought it to be.”
“Jenna,” Hart began again as he noted the direction her gaze was in.  Opting to give it one more attempt, he reached out to her, “I’m sorry.”
“Not nearly as sorry as I’m going to be,” Jenna lowered her voice as she looked down to the piece of paper beside her on the table top.  She drew in a slow breath before sliding it across the table towards him, “This is the least you owe me for wasting my time,” she finished rising from her seat as she stepped out of the café.
Hart turned to watch her leave a scowl upon his lips as he noticed a man get up from a table across the café following out after Jenna.  Hart’s attention turned out into the parking lot where Jenna had gotten into her car, but as she drove off, it was the man who’d posed of interest to him.  As the man settled into the very nondescript blue sedan, Hart turned his attention back to the bill before him.
“Just wonderful,” he muttered realizing he was back to square one as he noticed the scrawling over the bill.  Looking closer he realized it was a note from Jenna and as he looked out into the parking lot, he watched the blue sedan follow off after Jenna.  So the FBI wasn’t taking any chances, Hart realized suddenly making sense of his exchange with Jenna as he tucked the piece of paper into his pocket.  He rose from the booth dropping a few dollar bills on the table top before he flagged down a waitress.
“Excuse me,” Hart began flashing her one of his million dollar smiles, “Do you have a pay phone around here?  My cell seems to be in need of charging.”
“It’s over there sugar,” she winked at him offering a flirty smile as Hart reciprocated the gesture.
“Thanks,” he nodded before turning towards the back of the small café.  Looking around the quiet café, he approached the phone reaching out to the phone book as Jenna instructed in her note to him.  Thumbing through it, he found a small envelope and Hart quickly tucked it into his pocket before making a quick call to check his messages at the office.  Finally, he left the café heading to the safety of his car and after a moment, he pulled open the envelope realizing Jenna had left him a copy of her report.  A smile touched over his lips as he realized she’d proven useful after all.  He’d have to find a way to thank her somehow, but first, well first he had to work on finding a way to get the FBI off Brant’s back once and for all.


Jade slid into a booth at Irvan's while Grady chatted with a few people he knew on the way in. It had been Grady's idea to leave work early and just enjoy a day together. It was odd for him not to be so single mindedly focused about work, but she was learning that there was a lot about him that she hadn't known before.

Grady finished his small talk and joined her with a smile, "Sorry about that, but when I see people I know, I kind of can't help but stop and say hello."

"That's one of the things I like about you. You are the same every time you see someone. You don't try to hide away from knowing them or whatever. You say hello, and that's a great trait to have," She smiled.

"Well, my dad always said that if you treat someone right, they'll do the same for you in return. That's never failed to prove true for me, and I've enjoyed a lot of benefits through connections I've made. It's amazing the people you can become friendly with just by shaking hands and acknowledging their existence."

"Your dad, huh? I've never met your parents. I've seen the photos in your office so I'm guessing you have a good relationship with them."

"I do," He nodded, "Sometimes I think I disappoint them, but I think we get along very well."

"What are your parents like?" She asked as she leaned upon the table.

"Your typical American working class couple," He shrugged with a smile, "Dad's semi-retired now. He still owns his own business, but he pretty much leaves the work to his manager. Mom works part-time with a vet's office since she loves animals."

"Where do they live?"

"Upstate. I think they wanted to get out to the country for retirement, and I can't say I blame them too much."

"Do you go to see them very much?"

"I haven't been in a while, but I call them at least once a week. I like to talk to my dad. He's smarter than anyone I've ever met."

"I wish I knew what it was like to have a close relationship with my parents. My mom died so long ago, and my father," She shivered noticeably, "I'm lucky that he's out of my life."

"From his reaction this morning, I'm guessing that Seth took over the role of the parent in your life," Grady spoke as a waitress arrived with two menus. After taking their drink orders, she left, allowing Jade the opportunity to answer.

"Yes, he did. Seth's been so good to me. He's given up so much just to take care of me, and I don't think I'll ever be able to repay him for that. I'm an adult now though, but it seems like he's not ready to give up being my protector."

"He's only trying to look out for your best interests, and that's a good thing. He just wants to keep you safe."

"I know that. I really do, and I could understand if it were Cameron he was trying to protect me from. But you are nothing like Cameron, and he should respect that and give me some leeway."

"Leeway is good," Grady nodded, "But he did find us in bed together, and that would make any protective brother a little crazy…especially when he hadn't even met me yet."

"I just hope that when he does get to know you he'll see the same wonderful man I see," Jade said softly as she reached out to take his hand, "I don't want anything or anyone coming between us. I've fought too long and hard to get to you, and I'm not going to have that just swept under the carpet."

"I don't think I've ever met anyone more determined," He teased as he kissed the back of her hand. Their waitress returned with their drinks and took their food orders before retreating once more. He adjusted the straw in his soda before glancing at Jade, "I think you shocked Thea with your reaction this morning. You certainly surprised me."

"Why? Because I just told her how it was?" She shrugged, "Sometimes you just have to be blunt."

"And you certainly did that," He grinned, "I admire that about you."

"Wow, you're admitting that there's something about me you like. Will wonders never cease?" She teased with a wink.

"Hey, you know that there's a hell of a lot I like about you," He pointed out, "I know I haven't been very forthcoming with everything I feel, but I've been burned in the past. I don't ever want to feel that way again."

"Your ex-wife?" She questioned as she met his eyes.

"Yeah," He nodded, "Susan was a true piece of work, but I really thought we had a shot at making our relationship work out. We'd been a good team in law for a long time. Our personal relationship was out of control though. We burned hot for a long time, and then it just died."

"And that's why you're so reluctant to get involved with me?"

He nodded, "I just don't want to be hurt again. It's not even that I'm worried you might hurt me. I don't want to hurt you either. It's just that when you want something so badly it can turn out to be your greatest disappointment."

"The problem with that rationale is that you have to believe that what you want is perfect. I know you're not perfect, Grady. Hell, none of us are. But I think you're the best man I've ever met, and that alone sets you way apart from the rest. It makes you the man I want to be with."

"I really don't understand how you can be so determined about me…especially after the whole situation with Thea."

"She was a mistake, just like I said. As long as that's your past, I can live with it. Besides, we weren't committed to one another so really, what right do I have to be upset?"

"A helluva lot. I'm telling you not to get involved with Cameron, and then I go out to get screwed myself. Why aren't you pissed?"

"There's a difference there. You'd met Cameron, and you immediately knew that something was off with him. You were looking out for me. On the other hand, I hadn't met Thea, and she wasn't chasing you around the way that Cameron is with me. She was a one night stand that is in the past. So let's leave her there."

"We still have to deal with Cameron."

"And we will. I really gave him a piece of my mind yesterday, and I'm sure that after our little meeting with Thea this morning she's bound to tell him that we're involved. I really don't think he'll be a problem for much longer."

"So you're suddenly sure that Cameron will give up?"

"He doesn't have a choice," Jade declared as she reached out to take his hand, "I'm not available, and there's nothing he can do about that," She said firmly, meeting Grady's eyes with the assurance that nothing would keep them apart anymore and Cameron would have to learn to live with those facts.


"I cannot believe I'm being given this run around just to get a warrant," Shannon complained as she sat in an interview room at the Coral County District Attorney's office. She stretched out her legs and groaned, "I've never been given such a hard time to get one warrant…and all I want to do is try one key in a lock."

"You're trying to get to the Ashfords. A lot of people in power don't like it when you start pressing on the rich people in town," Dave pointed out as he moved to a counter with bottles of water offered to those visiting. He took a bottle and opened it as he turned back to look at his federal counterpart, "When you start picking on the big dogs, other big dogs bite back."

"Oh spare me," She rolled her eyes, "Why should anyone want to protect the Ashfords?"

"It's not the Ashfords I'm trying to protect. It's my own ass I worry about," A woman said from the doorway.

"And you are?" Shannon asked as she stood from her chair.

"Agent Shannon Pryce, this is District Attorney Isabella Chavez," Dave introduced the two women.

"So you're the DA," Shannon spoke as she shook Isabella's hand, "Why did you block my request for a warrant?"

"I want to know everything in the investigation up to this point. When I take someone to trial for this murder, I don't want their attorney jumping up and down with knowledge of some bias on your part," Isabella explained, "I'm not doubting your abilities, but you do have a past with Brant Ashford. That alone puts your investigation in a curious light."

"So I'm going to have to jump through every hoop even just to get a simple search warrant?" Shannon asked, "Would you be this interested in this case if the Chief of Police were investigating on his own?"

"Yes, I would," Isabella nodded, "The Ashfords have enough money and clout to bury this county under a mountain of litigation. I'm not willing to put myself in that kind of position unless I'm sure that every I is dotted and every T is crossed."

"Well can I get my warrant now that we've had this little conversation?"

"Not yet. I want to know about your probable cause for this warrant."

Shannon rolled her eyes, "I put it all in the affidavit. Read it," She said as she sank back into the chair she'd previously occupied.

Isabella frowned, "I read your affidavit, but what makes you think that any judge is going to grant this warrant?"

"Because it's based on probable cause. The suspect…"

"Whoa, hold it," Dave said quickly, "Are we officially classifying Avery as a suspect?"

"Yes, we are," Shannon affirmed, "She lied to be about her last meeting with Bruce, and she's very argumentative towards law enforcement."

"She may think you're a threat to her relationship with Brant," He pointed out.

"That's not it at all. She doesn't want me to know anything about Bruce Mathis, but I will find out. And since she told me that Dr. Mathis had visited her apartment to return her key," Shannon began before holding the evidence bag out for all to see, "And this key found in Dr. Mathis' apartment has the name Avery on it. I need to try this key in Avery Morrison's apartment door to see if it works. If it does, then I have proof that Avery has lied to me, and I can get her into my interrogation room where I can really turn up the heat."

"And if it doesn't?" Isabella questioned.

"Then I'll be curious as to what this key really does fit. Why would he have a key with the name Avery written on the side of the key chain? What could he possibly have with her that needs a key?" Shannon asked.

"That's a good question," Dave agreed, "One which we may have to answer."

"But first I need the warrant to try this key," Shannon said as she looked back to Isabella, "Now can I go see the judge?"

Isabella nodded, "Just be sure that you keep this investigation clean. The last thing we need is the Ashford lawyers jumping all over us for one misstep."

"Don't worry. I fully intend to do everything by the book," Shannon declared before stepping out of the room.

Isabella looked towards Dave, "Is she telling the truth? Will she really do everything by the book?"

"As far as I've seen, yeah, she will," Dave nodded, "I also believe that she'll stop at nothing to catch the killer."

"Let's just hope that it doesn't lead her to the Ashfords. I do not enjoy the idea of tussling with them in court."

"Neither do I. I'd better go to the courthouse. I'll need to be there when she tries that key," Dave said before leaving the office as well.

Isabella sighed as she rubbed her temple, vaguely aware of a migraine beginning within her skull. She didn't want to fight with the Ashfords, didn't want to deal with anything remotely involving the Ashfords, but she got the distinctly sickening feeling that she would have to do battle with the Ashford clan as the investigation progressed.


Caitlin opened the door to her apartment with a smile, "I see you're taking up my standing invitation."

Kenneth grinned, "I didn't think you'd mind."

"I don't. Come on in. I was actually about to make myself an early dinner. Why don't you join me?" She said as she made her way back into the kitchen.

"I'd love to," He smiled as he stepped into the apartment and closed the door behind her, "So what are you making?"

"We're going to make some beef stir fry with fried rice," She said as she slipped a wine bottle from a cabinet. She placed a bottle in his hand along with a cork screw, "You open and pour. I'll get started on chopping the fresh vegetables."

"Bossy, aren't you?" He teased as he took the items from her and began opening the wine.

"I'm just feeling good. My brother called today," She shrugged as she began slicing a green pepper, "Apparently, he's coming to Coral Valley."

"Really? For a visit?" Kenneth asked as he began pouring the wine into the glasses.

"No, actually, the hospital offered him a job, and he's accepted," She informed him as she finely chopped the slices of pepper.

"Well that's good. It's nice to have family around."

"I don't know about that," She doubted as she used her knife to slide the peppers into a small bowl before she took a red pepper and began to repeat the process, "Zack is the protective big brother. Don't get me wrong. I love him, and I'm really closer to him than any other member of my family. He can just be…well, Zack."

"So Zack," He spoke as he placed a glass in her hand, "Does he have a place to stay?"

"I don't know. He didn't really give me any details," She shrugged as she took a sip of the wine.

"Maybe we could check into that for him. So when is he coming in?" Kenneth asked as he stood beside her as she began chopping once again.

"Wednesday," Caitlin paused as she looked to him, "You don't seem nervous about his arrival at all. That's good."

"Should I be nervous?" He asked as he watched her smile, "No, I'm serious. Is he going to think I'm completely wrong for you or…"

"Ken," She stopped him as she placed her fingertips upon his lips, "He's going to think you are a great man, and I think he'll approve of you."

"Wait," He paused as he gently took her fingers in his hand and met her eyes, "Did you just call me Ken? You've been so formal with me this entire time," He smiled, "Does that mean we've overcome some kind of boundary here?"

"I think maybe we have," She smiled as she returned her attention to chopping mushrooms.

"Wow," He said with a smile.

"Wow is right," She grinned as she turned to him and fed him a slice of mushroom, "When Zack called today I was a little worried about him coming here. Zack never liked any of my boyfriends, but I think he's going to like you."

"Boyfriend?" Kenneth grinned, "Does that mean…wow, I am just…floored here."

"It's okay," Caitlin smiled as she leaned into him and pressed a kiss to his lips, "Things have been kind of crazy over the last few days, and we haven't really been able to connect…just the two of us."

"And I guess that's what we're suppose to be doing here?" He asked as he searched her eyes.

"I think it's the perfect time," She said before ripping apart broccoli florets from a bulky stalk, "And we'll just have a little dinner, and tonight will be about us."

"I think I can handle that," He said as he stood behind her and slipped his arms around her as she continued her work, "Just as long as you promise to tell me about your family later. I want to know everything I can about you, and since you're already visited the inner sanctum of the Ashford clan without running scared, I think that says you can handle anything we have in our closet."

"You sure you want to hear about my family? Compared to yours, it'll be boring. You just might fall asleep on me again," She teased.

"I promise I won't," He said as he gently dropped a kiss upon her neck, sending shivers throughout her body, "I'll be very attentive."

Caitlin smiled, "Then I think tonight should be very interesting," She said as she glanced over her shoulder at him, "And informative," She agreed as she turned and met his eyes. She wrapped her arms around his neck, "I think you and I are…really starting something special here."

"I couldn't agree more," Kenneth smiled, "Because I think you are so very special," He said as he lowered his lips to hers in a soulful kiss, promising that their evening would be nothing short of amazing.


“There you are,” Brooke announced rushing down the hallway towards Brant as he emerged from the kitchen after putting on some coffee, “I’ve been searching for you for quite some time.  Where have you been?”
“Out back with Avery,” Brant answered giving her a sideways glance, “Is everything alright?”
“Now that I know you’ve found Avery, yes everything is fine,” she held her hand to her chest as she let out a breath of relief, “That dreadful Russell Denton was here this morning and I was hoping that you could find a reason to persuade him to be on his way.”
“Actually,” Brant couldn’t help but smile as he thought of Brooke’s take on Russell.  Somehow she seemed to be much more agreeable in terms of which man was the better one for Avery.  Still as he thought to Richard’s less than enthusiastic greeting, he realized he still had quite a bit of work to do in order to make this engagement with Avery turn into something real.
“What?” Brooke questioned her eyes wide with curiosity as Brant snapped out of his train of thoughts.
“Russell left a short while ago,” Brant continued with a hint of a smile.
“Thank heavens for small miracles,” Brooke let out a breath of relief, “The day is getting better after all it would seem.”
“Indeed it appears to be,” Brant nodded in response, “and I was just looking for you for that matter.”
“Well in that case,” she leaned forward patting her hand into the center of his chest in a flirty fashion, “it’s a good thing we bumped into one another, isn’t it?”
“I’d have to say so,” Brant agreed with a proud smile, “and now that I have found you, we can go out back to meet up with Avery and her father…”
“That sounds like a lovely--” Brooke’s words tapered off as she eyed him strangely, “What did you just say?”
“My brother Kenneth thought he’d surprise Avery by calling Richard here,” Brant explained simply, “Knowing that Avery was going through a rough period, well Ken took it upon himself to invite him to the mansion so that we…”
“That moron,” Brooke cursed as a scowl touched over her crimson colored lips, “The last thing I need his him lurking around screwing things up…”
“Excuse me,” Brant blinked back at her, “Is everything okay?”
“Everything is fine,” Brooke covered forcing a smile, “It’s just when Richard is around, well he’s very protective of Avery and he starts putting ideas in her head.”
“I’ve noticed,” Brant confessed with a sigh, “He wasn’t exactly thrilled to meet me this morning.”
“Dick hasn’t been thrilled about anything in quite a few years,” Brooke scuffed bitterly, “Take my word on that.”
“Actually Brooke,” a voice interrupted as Brant turned around to find Avery’s father standing in the doorway, “I’d have to say that after living with you all these years, there isn’t any room for anything but excitement,” he stepped forward giving Brant a long look before nodding in his direction, “Avery’s still out back, but I think she wouldn’t mind seeing you right about now, Brant.”
“Then I guess I should go check on her,” Brant nodded accordingly feeling the tension in the air between the Morrisons, “I’ll tell her that you two will be joining us in a little while.”
“Thank you Brant,” Richard offered a polite smile as Brant exited the room.  As the tension hung heavy in the air surrounding Richard, he turned to glare down at his wife, his expression less than impressed as she scowled up at him.
“What the hell are you doing here,” Brooke growled immediately.
“Stopping you from ruining our daughter’s life,” Richard explained simply, “which is clearly the one and only reason you’re in Coral Valley right now because that‘s the only time you even consider putting on the false motherly instincts.”
“What would you know about my motherly instincts,” she grumbled back at him, “It’s not as if you’re around long enough to see how I feel about my children.”
“If you were capable of feelings, then I might say you have some validity in that argument you’re starting, but considering that I know you’re as cold as they come with your heart of ice, then I can say with a clear conscience that the only thing on your mind is bettering yourself.”
“That’s entirely not true,” Brooke’s eyes shot daggers up at him, “though I must say I’m surprised you’re off your quest to save the world about now.  I was hoping I wouldn’t have to see you for another three weeks or more.”
“And give you the pleasure,” he chuckled back at her harshly, “I wouldn’t dream of making you that happy, Brooke.”
“And I wouldn’t give you the luxury of making me that miserable either, Dick,” she seethed with anger.
“Misery follows you without question so I wouldn’t dream of taking it’s place since it’s the thing that keeps your warm at night,” he remarked dryly.
“At least something does because I’m quite aware of what doesn’t,” she piped in giving him a once over.
“Look Brooke, this isn’t about us,” Richard warned her sharply, “or the fact that I can’t even bear to be on the same continent with you, much less in the same room.  That being said, however, I am telling you right now whatever you have planned for Avery, well you can forget about it because it isn’t happening so whatever it is that drew you in to Coral Valley, you‘d best put the notion out of your head starting now because your hassling is the last thing our daughter needs.”
“What would you know about what our daughter needs?” Brooke argued with him, “She ran away from the both of us, remember?  It wasn’t just me that drove her away.”
“I wasn’t the one who tried to dictate her life,” Richard reminded her as his eyes grew wild with anger, “and if you recall, she still talks with me without my having to hunt her down and force her to carry a conversation.”
“Avery loves me,” Brooke argued with him as she stood taller, “She just doesn’t see that I’m trying to help her reach her full potential, but soon she will.”
“By forcing her to marry someone like Brant Ashford you aren’t helping our daughter,” Richard grumbled as Brooke stepped away from him.  He watched her prance around the room in her catlike motions as he fought the urge to shout at her, “A man who shows no loyalty or ethics is not the man for our daughter regardless of how much money he has.”
“I didn’t force her hand,” Brooke reminded him simply, “She did all of this on her own and I am merely here to share in this joyous occasion with her.”
“I highly doubt that,” Richard eyed her intently, “You have an agenda and I’ll figure it out eventually.”
“You think you know it all, don’t you,” Brooke scowled back at him, “Just because she chose to follow your dreadful path of righteousness makes you think you know everything about our daughter.”
“As much as you complain about my so called path of righteousness, it’s that path that’s given you the lifestyle that you’ve grown so accustomed to, now hasn’t it?”
“I have my own company that gives me far more satisfaction than you ever did,” her eyes narrowed darkly at him, “I don’t need you like I used to.”
“Ah that’s right because you headed straight into the bank account the moment we said I do and you’ve been clearing it out ever since,” he retorted snidely, “Now you’re hoping that Avery will marry Brant so that you can find another source of income since I’m not bending to your every whim anymore.”
“The worst mistake of my life was marrying you,” Brooke shot back at him bitterly, “and if I had it all to do over again…”
“You’d still find a way to get your hands on my money,” Richard interrupted fueled by rage, “as that’s all you’ve ever wanted.  Having Avery was just your way of sealing the deal with my trust fund.  It didn’t have a thing to do with love or devotion and now you’re trying to wish that same kind of life on our daughter.”
“Brant is twice the man you were,” Brooke stepped towards the mini-bar looking for something to drink as Richard was giving her a headache.
“And I’ll just bet you’re waiting to test that theory out all on your own,” he answered sharply, “You have no shame, so maybe that’s what this is all about.  Seducing Avery’s poor, naïve fiancé and robbing him blind as well, hence your lack of motherly concern for our daughter.”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes, “I wouldn’t dare think of hurting our daughter like that.  She needs someone she can depend on--someone who can help her through these times.”
“Which is why I’m here so that you don’t screw things up for her,” Richard stated firmly, “and mark my words Brooke, if you even think about making her miserable like you’ve made me for the last thirty years.”

“Avery needs me more than ever and I intend to help my daughter realize her path to greatness without your interference,” Brooke stated simply.
“In that case as long as you think you’re going to be sticking around, just know that I’ll be here every step of the way watching your every move,” Richard moved in towards her narrowing his gaze upon her, “and when you screw up because I know you will, then I’m going to see to it that you won’t be a problem for Avery any longer.”
“You have far too much time on your hands,” Brooke frowned up at him, “because the way I see it, I certainly don’t need you in my life anymore and the sooner you just let our daughter realize her potential, the sooner she’ll see that you are nothing more than a bother--a useless washed up has been who really has no place in the life she’s about to step into,” she finished spinning on her heel as she marched up the winding staircase to her room ready to rid herself from Richard’s insufferable presence once and for all.
As Richard watched her walk away, he shook his head in strong disapproval opting to find himself at home at the mini bar as well as he reached for a bottle of scotch.  Being around Brooke again was going to be nothing short of a nightmare, but as he thought about Avery breaking down in his arms, he realized that protecting his daughter was worth enduring Brooke’s hassles for the time being.  He’d find a way to help Avery find her happiness in her life once again and once this little problem with the authorities was taken care of, well Richard would find a way in dealing with Brooke as well.  That much he was sure of.


Avery stood on the edge of the deck looking out at the gardens before her.  Seeing their beautifully, well placed rainbow of color soaking up the sun, she felt a smile touch over her otherwise troubled lips.  Somehow the flowers seemed to beam with life and joy despite the ways in which the world had crumbled down around her.  Now as she thought of breaking down in her father’s arms, she cursed the day that she allowed things to get so out of hand with Bruce.  Why didn’t she just break things off earlier before it turned out this way?  What had possessed her to keep holding on with all that she had even when she knew he’d be better off with someone else--someone who appreciated him in all his goodness.  Then again, as Avery pondered the thought of his fingers curled tightly around her neck, taking her life from her with each strained breath she made, she felt a tremor rush over her.  Somehow the man she’d known for those years had died in an instant and regretfully he’d tried to take her with him.
Now as the sun struck down upon her, Avery forced herself to feel more than sadness when Bruce came to mind.  While she’d been with him so very long, the word of his death had spun out a fear--one that she hadn’t anticipated.  While she could’ve said she was horrified that he’d been taken from this world, the sad truth was that the only thing that really scared her aside from the fact of how little she’d felt about the loss, was the very thought that Brant and Russ could be behind Bruce’s demise.  The last thing she’d ever wanted was for either one of them to wind up in trouble because of her and now as the thought of them risking themselves to protect her flooded over her, she just prayed that there wouldn’t be anything for Shannon Pryce to hold over their heads.  While it seemed Avery was the suspect of the moment, she feared what could happen should Shannon sniff around to the mystery Brant and Russ laid out before Avery.  She just prayed that no one would ever discover the secret they carried together about Bruce’s actions upon her.
“You look a million miles away,” Brant’s voice beckoned her from her mind’s lingering as she felt him step in behind her--the warmth of his body radiating over hers.
“If I were, well I don’t think we’d have to endure half of what’s been happening lately,” she sighed forcing a soft smile as she turned to face him.
“Hey,” he reached out to her touching her cheek gently, “everything is going to be okay now.  I’m sure of it.”
“I wish I had your confidence,” she threw out what she was certain was nothing more than a pathetic attempt at a smile as she turned to the garden once again, “I just feel so lost right now--like nothing is making sense.”
“It is in it’s own way,” Brant watched her seeing the weight of her introspection filling her up inside as he reached out to her placing his hand on top of hers as she held onto the railing of the desk, “This thing with the FBI will blow over.”
“My father said the same thing,” Avery forced a smile thinking about her moments with her father.
“If he says it to be true, then I’m sure it’ll be that way,” Brant offered supportively, “I mean hey if Ken thought to bring him in…”
“That was really thoughtful of him,” Avery lingered to the gesture, “Somehow your brother has always been very perceptive on things.”
“Ken’s known for his perceptions,” Brant added with a sigh, “He’s always been the one who pulls through in the tough times--always knowing the right thing to do or say when I’ve just been the one causing more chaos than imagined.  I mean I try in my own way, but Ken, well Ken’s the kind of guy that makes things happen…”
“You make things happen,” Avery gave him a strange look seeing the distance behind his eyes, “and anyone who says anything to the contrary, well they obviously don’t know much about you.”
“And those who do, don’t think much of me, do they?” he asked tilting his head to give her a sideways glance.
“Brant, where is this coming from,” she frowned back at him as she turned to lean into the railing on the balcony, “This isn’t like you.”
“I know,” Brant sighed bringing his fingers through his hair, “and I hate it.  I really do because you’re right.  I’m not like this.”
“Then what’s the problem,” she inquired sensing his hesitation, “Well?”
“Your father hates me,” he blurted out with a frown.
“He does not,” Avery argued with him.
“Avery, are you kidding me?  The man decided from the moment he arrived that I was all wrong for his daughter…”
“Well that’s because you are,” Avery couldn’t help but tease back, “and you know that yourself.”
“Well yes, but knowing it and having him think it are two very different things,” Brant’s frown deepened, “I mean it’s bad enough that I have to prove myself to you about my sincerity, but now with your father…”
“Brant Ashford, are you afraid you bit off more than you can chew?” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise, “Are you telling me that you don’t think you’re up to this challenge you’ve presented yourself with?”
“No it’s not that, it’s just…” he shook the thought, “I guess I just want to know what I’m up against.”
“Hmm, well in that case, I suppose I should give you some warning,” Avery stood taller unable to suppress the smile forming upon her lips as she realized Brant was nervous for perhaps the first time in his life--at least the first time since she’d been around him.
“Oh?” he arched a curious brow as she leaned forward motioning for him to inch towards her.
“The truth is,” Avery lowered her voice to a whisper, “if my father doesn’t like you, well…” she paused with obvious hesitation, “maybe I shouldn’t be saying this…”
“What?” Brant questioned his voice revealing a hint of panic as he looked to her, “What is it?”
“Well, I really shouldn’t tell you about what happened with my boyfriends that he didn’t like in the past.  I mean granted you and I aren’t really engaged, but since my father thinks we are,” Avery winced as her lips curled in a scowl, “No, I promised I wouldn’t ever bring this up again.  Not after the last time when…”
“When what?” Brant’s voice rose a bit as he saw the darkness build behind her eyes.
“I just can’t say anything.  I mean it‘s really horrible and…never mind…”
“No go on,” he coaxed further as she started to turn away.  He curled his fingers around her waist as he pulled her in closer to him, “Avery, come on.”
“Well,” she softened her tone, “if he doesn’t like you, then he’s probably bound to,” she leaned up on her toes bracing her weight against him as her hand placed on his shoulder.  She leaned in towards his ear, her breath striking upon his skin as she mouthed the words faintly.
“What?” Brant questioned turning towards her mouth as she blew faint whispers into his ear once again, “What did you say?”
“I said,” Avery felt her smirk building as a laugh uprooted from deep inside of her, “He’s not going to do anything because I simply won‘t allow it,” she finished with wicked delight as laughter surrounded her.
“You mean,” Brant saw the teasing behind her eyes as her smile widened, “Why you…” Brant reached out to her curling his arm around her waist as he hugged her body against his.
“I can’t believe you were worried,” Avery chuckled in sheer delight, “if you could see the look on your face right now.  Oh how I wish I had a camera…”
“You think you’re cute now, don’t you,” Brant poked at her sides as Avery’s laughter continued.
“I know I am,” she bowled over with laughter as Brant squeezed her in his arms vowing revenge.
“Why you,” he tickled at her sides causing her laughter to rise as he caged her in his arms.
“Brant no,” Avery squealed feeling tears come to her eyes as he pressed her in against the railing of the deck, “Brant please…”
“Please what?” his fingers tortured her sides relentlessly as she swatted at him.  “Do I sense an apology coming on for the teasing?”
“Not on your life,” Avery shook her head refusing to budge an inch as he continued to tickle at her.  She pushed her hands into his chest feeling his touch send a bolt of heat straight through her as the earth suddenly moved beneath her with the cracking sound of the wooden railing as the two of them toppled back into plush, green grass.
Now winded, Brant took a moment to catch his breath as he lay over Avery feeling the warmth of her beneath him as her soft curves crushed into his muscular torso.  Her eyelashes fluttered up at him with surprise as his fingers pressed in against her cheek gently, “Are you okay,” he questioned in a light whisper.
“You sure know how to knock a girl off her feet,” Avery teased back easing against his touch as she closed her eyes savoring the moment between them.
Brant leaned forward feeling the warmth of her breath rush up against him as his focus was drawn to her soft, supple, ever so kissable lips.  Even now as she lay beneath him, just the vivid impression of the memory of kissing her struck a chord in him as he longed to devour her--to drink of her completely as they lay amidst the flowers and the sparkling green grass.
“Brant,” Avery spoke his name as the sound of her voice mesmerized him, drawing him closer to her with every passing second.  Just feeling her beneath him wrapped up in his arms brought forth so many wicked and wonderful fantasies of the two of them together as he longed to just give in to the way she’d made him feel.  His lips hovered over hers, a mere breath away as Avery let out a squeal.
“Brant, I’m all wet,” Avery cried out as Brant’s eyes widened shocked by her outburst.
“What did you just say?” Brant gave her a strange look as he suddenly felt the wild spray associated with the hiss that rose behind them.  Somehow it seemed that the sprinklers were sending an icy blast of reality to the both of them as they chose this particular moment to spring into action.  A pity, Brant frowned inwardly realizing his body had the very same reaction upon contact with Avery’s savory curves.
“The sprinklers,” Avery squealed shifting beneath him as Brant quickly rose to his feet extending an arm out to help her up as he looked to the deck behind them.
“So much for quality work,” he frowned realizing that the wood had completely rotted out where he and Avery had been standing moments earlier.
“It seems to be par for the course,” she grumbled as she hopped out of the sprinkler’s vicious attack and back onto the deck, “so much for taking it easy…”
“Hey the fun doesn’t have to end just because of a few minor flubs,” Brant curled his lip in a pout as he followed her back onto the deck.
“Yes,” she nodded in confession, “in this case it does.”
“Why?” he questioned stepping towards her, “because we were finally enjoying ourselves?”
“Because my parents are inside and we have things to think about, like getting rid of Shannon,” Avery pointed out a seriousness behind her eyes once again.
“Avery, you said it yourself that your father was going to find a way to fix this and as for Shannon,” he waved his hand in the air, “She’s harmless.”
“If she’s so harmless, then why is she still sniffing around the mansion.  She thinks that I had something to do with what happened to Bruce,” she paused her fears rushing over her, “or worse, she believes you had something to do with it.”
“Avery, she can believe what she wants, but the truth is that Shannon isn’t going to find anything that she’s not meant to find,” Brant promised her.
“Still, when I think about the other night,” Avery hesitated biting on her lower lip before speaking up again, “Brant, what’s the real story of what happened with you and Russell the other night?”
“I could ask you the same question,” Brant challenged giving her a pointed look as Avery felt a heat rise over her features.
“What?” she blinked back at him too shocked for words as images of her night with Russell flashed before her eyes.  How could Brant have known that she and Russell were together?  For him to ask, it could only mean that Russell said something about their making love or worse…  A panic rushed over her as she struggled for words trying to find some way to explain how she and Russell had fallen into passion again, but as the words vibrated through her mind, Brant spoke up.
“I mean with your mother urging me to get rid of him every time he’s around,” Brant continued clearly oblivious to Avery’s wayward thoughts, “there must be some kind of story about the past that has her so wound up at the very mention of him.”
“Well my mother’s very uptight about things,” Avery offered with a breath of relief, “She’s always hated Russell considering that…”
“You don’t have to say it,” Brant raised his hand in the air, “You already told me about your, um,” he wrinkled his nose, “history with one another, so I guess that gives me my own answer to the question.”
“She just didn’t want me giving my heart away at such a young age,” Avery turned away from him certain that her face would give her away as she took in a slow breath.  “She’s never liked any of my boyfriends.”
“Lucky for me your mother’s changed her views where I’m concerned,” Brant reached out to touch her shoulder gently, “Now if we can only work on your father…”
“Brant, you aren’t my boyfriend,” Avery pointed out turning to face him once again.
“No, of course not,” he flashed her a sexy smile, “I’m your fiancé which is a hell of a lot more.”
“We aren’t engaged,” Avery shook her head back at him, “Even with this ring and this charade we have going, we both know the truth.”
“The truth is that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win you over Avery,” Brant’s fingers swept in over her cheek, “and if that means playing by your rules to find my way in your heart, then so be it.  I’ll do anything that’s required of me as long as somewhere down the line we can get to the point where all of this isn’t merely a charade.”
“Brant, I don’t think,” Avery started as he leaned forward capturing her lips in a seductive kiss.  The taste of him caught her off guard as his mouth plundered hers offering a hint of the intensity she’d felt back in her office with him.  His arms held her snugly against his body presenting the unmistakable desire he’d felt for her as sensations erupted throughout her body setting her on fire with his tongue’s every determined caress until finally he pulled away from her leaving her breathless and visibly shaken by his kiss.
“Don’t even try to tell me that there’s anything close to pretend in that,” Brant brushed his thumb over her bottom lip gingerly, “because the truth is we both know better.”
“What I know is that right now I’m confused,” Avery answered honestly as her heart tugged at her, “I don’t know what I want…”
“Yes you do,” Brant insisted leaning forward to kiss her gently, “but you’re fighting it with all you have even though you know the answer is right in front of you.”
“Brant, the last man who wanted me to be his wife is dead,” Avery sighed pulling away from him, “and now, well now you’re in a world of trouble because of me.”
“Avery, this isn’t your fault,” Brant reminded her.
“Then why do I feel like whatever choice I make it’s going to be the wrong one?  Why do I feel like I’m only making things worse by being here,” Avery sighed turning away from him, “Brant, I need to clear my head before we get back into this.”
“Avery, you can’t keep running away from me,” Brant pleaded with her, “You can’t keep hiding from what we have together.  I know you feel it too.”
“Why me?” Avery questioned glancing over her shoulder at him, “Why am I this important to you?  You could have Heather back in your life or a world of women just waiting for you to dote on them?  Why did you decide I was the one you wanted?”
“Avery, how can you even begin to ask that question,” Brant frowned feeling her building a wall between them, “I told you before and I’ll say it again.  You make me want to be a better person.  When I’m with you I feel things--things I swore to myself I wouldn’t feel…things that could only be, well that they could only mean that I’m falling in…”
“Don’t say it,” Avery spun around to face him bringing her finger to his lips to silence him, “please don’t say it.”
“But Avery, it’s how I feel…” Brant began again.
“I don’t deserve this Brant,” she shook her head in protest, “Not from you--not from anyone.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” he argued with her, “You deserve more than I could ever give you, but I’m willing to try if you’ll let me…”
“Brant, I just…” Avery saw something flash behind his eyes as her breath caught in her throat.  Just being able to share this moment with him, to be this close to him and have him look at her the way his brown eyes were reaching out to her, well it melted her heart--made her want to believe, but then as the reality of the situation they’d all found themselves in at her hand remained, she found herself at a loss as she turned away from him, “I’m nothing but trouble and the sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.”
“Avery, where is this coming from,” Brant frowned trying to decipher this change in her, “A moment ago you were laughing and now…”
“Brant, I just don’t want you to get hurt,” Avery confessed with a sigh, “You look at me with so much admiration and the hint of something more, but if you knew me--really knew me, then I couldn’t bear to have you look at me with that other look that comes with that emotion.  I couldn’t live with the thought of the hatred in your eyes that Bruce offered up that night he attacked me.”
“Avery I could never hate you.  If you could think for one second that I would ever feel that way…” Brant reached out to her, “Look at me.”
“Brant, I can’t,” Avery shook her head in response, “I just can’t do this now not when you’re believing that I’m this wonderful person--that I’m flawless when the sad truth is that I’m not anything close to what you imagine me to be.”
“Avery, now you’re being too hard on yourself,” Brant argued with her as a guilt tugged over her.
“Brant you don’t understand.  I can’t do this with you because I can’t give my heart completely because I’m torn,” Avery drew in a breath realizing that there would be no avoiding the issue any longer as she spoke up again, “You see as much as I feel for you, well there’s a piece of me that also cares about…”
“About what?” Brant urged as she trailed off, “Avery, what is it?”
“Brant, there’s something you need to know.  I can’t give myself completely to anyone at the moment because well I’m at this tug of war inside despite the fact that I swore I’d never be like this.  You see the other night, well I didn’t plan on it, but I was wit…” she started as the doors to the patio opened and her father emerged a smile on his face.
“Sorry about the delay,” Richard greeted them as he held a glass in hand, “and I hope you don’t mind that I helped myself to the bar.”
“Not at all,” Brant answered shaking his head as he looked to Avery wishing that Richard would’ve given them a few more minutes alone together as something was clearly troubling her, “Where’s Brooke?”
“She needed some time to rest,” Richard shrugged his shoulders, “but I hope that doesn’t change our plans for lunch together.”
“Not at all,” Brant agreed forcing a smile.
“You okay Princess,” Richard questioned eyeing Avery closely.
“I’m fine daddy,” she nodded quickly, “I think I just need a moment to collect myself and get cleaned up, so if you’ll excuse me,” she brushed past him into the estate as Brant watched her leave wondering why Avery was fighting him so hard when he knew that she felt it too.  As he thought of the words he and Russell shared the other night about Avery, he vowed to find a way to prove to her that love could find a way--that somehow they would be able to find something wonderful together if only she opened her heart up to the possibilities that love had to offer.


Russell felt a spring in his step as he though to his upcoming interview with Richard Morrison.  It would be exactly the kind of piece that he’d had in mind when he’d started the Courier.  Now to see Avery’s father playing such a willing participant in his drama, well it gave him hope for the future of the paper, not to mention it sprung forth thoughts about what this could mean to his future with Avery.  That in itself was a positive spin after the attack Brooke had launched at him.  Now as he’d returned to the office after doing a quick change at home, he was ready to give his all to this upcoming interview with Richard.  Life was getting good and despite the twists and turns that had come his way, Russell was feeling quite positive about what could come his way.
Russell began to whistle a tune thinking of the week before him as he notice Heather slumped over in a chair outside his office tapping her foot impatiently as she looked up at him with a scowl, her eyes filled with discontent as she rose to her feet.
“Where the hell have you been?” Heather demanded, “I’ve been trying to call you over and over again, but you aren’t around.”
“I’ve been busy,” he shrugged his shoulders making his way into his office as she followed at his heels.
“Too busy to help me get Brant and Avery apart,” she hissed back at him with a growl, “I highly doubt that you have anything in your life that could be that important for you to ignore me.”
“As I said before, there is more in this world than breaking apart Brant and Avery,” Russell shrugged his shoulders simply as he made his way over to his desk taking a seat, “and besides, the last time we saw one another you seemed more than willing to rid yourself of me once I promised I’d blow the whistle on your latest nefarious ploy to get Brant’s attention.”
“You were quite aggravating,” Heather scowled back at him.
“But I was clear with my point as I see you haven’t stirred up any headlines lately,” he teased with a wink leaning back in his chair, “which means you’re either ready to give up on the quest or you’ve come here to offer up yet another not so brilliant plan…”
“For your information while you were off goofing around, I was making some progress for us,” Heather huffed tossing her blonde hair behind her shoulder as she stood taller.
“Now why do I seriously doubt that one,” he gave her a look before letting out a sigh, “alright, lay it on me.”
“Well,” she eased herself into the seat across from him crossing her legs as she smiled icily, “while you were so insistent upon my not using my past with Brant to get into his good graces, which by the way I haven’t said anything yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t…”
“Heather, we both know you aren’t pregnant,” Russell frowned back at her.
“I could be,” she shook her head at him dismissively, “but that’s not what I want to get into with you.”
“Fine, then what now because if you haven’t noticed I have a paper to run here,” he motioned to the others working readily outside his office.
“Since when did you care more about that petty business when we have an engagement to put an end to,” Heather scowled back at him, “Russell, you really are proving to be a disappointment lately and I’m not liking that.”
“Oh,” he raised his hands in the air feigning injury, “you don’t like me.  Life as I know it has come to an end…”
“Do you think you’re funny?” Heather glared across the desk, “Because you most certainly aren’t and as I was saying before, I was thinking about a new idea, but then it would seem that Snow White there wound up getting herself in a world of trouble all on her own.  The way I see it, she’ll be behind bars before she ever makes it down the isle with Brant considering she clearly murdered her ex-boyfriend there.”
“Avery didn’t murder anyone,” Russell frowned at her comment.
“How do you know that?” Heather lifted a well sculpted brow, “The last time the four of us were together, she assaulted you repeatedly and then on the plane she tried to kill me.”
“Heather, we busted into her hotel room in the middle of the night,” Russell began with a groan.
“Thus keeping her and Brant from sealing the deal,” Heather piped in eagerly, “which was a smart move on our part seeing as they were already well on their way to the nasty notions she’s been harboring for Brant all this time,” she wrinkled her nose, “I mean my God to think that he’d actually want to be with some frigid tease like her when he had everything in me…”
“Heather I don’t want to talk about this,” Russell interrupted feeling himself on edge as he shifted in his seat, “I have work to do…”
“That’s right.  You have to work with me to get Avery’s butt out of the mansion so that I can be with my fiancé again.  She has my ring on her finger and I want it,” Heather demanded her eyes filled with determination as she thought to the proposal Cameron had laid out for her. “I know Avery’s not pure as snow and the world is starting to see that.  First the FBI and then Brant…”
“Wait just a minute,” Russell groaned as he shook his head, “For starters, I think we need to clear one thing up.  Avery didn’t have anything to do with Bruce’s murder.”
“Oh Russell, how can you be so blind?  That little bitch is just oozing with rage and now that the FBI knows about her less than savory behaviors, it’ll only be a matter of time before she’s put away for life, which in a strange way is not only going to help Brant, but you as well considering that she had no problem decking you,” Heather thought it over for a moment, “and when Agent Pryce asks you about it, then you can tell her all about the night Avery lost control in vivid detail.”
“Wait a second,” he eyed her closely, “Why would Agent Pryce know anything about that night?”
“Well because I told her of course.  You didn’t really expect me not to say anything about Avery’s obvious issues when a good man like Bruce Mathis is dead.  Why to think of the wicked ways she tore that man’s life apart…”
“Avery is the victim here,” Russell grumbled back at her shaking his head in strong disapproval, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?” Heather repeated with a huff as she saw the anger building behind his eyes, “I asked you to help me with Brant and Avery, but you were the one who took the moral high ground and walked away from me.  Now you’re going to lecture me on all the ways in which Avery,” she rolled her eyes at the word, “is a victim when that woman is clearly a menace to society.  It was my moral duty to let Agent Pryce know what kind of character Avery had and if you were in my shoes you’d have done the same thing.”
“No, I wouldn’t have because Avery did not murder anyone,” Russell stated anger evident in his tone.
“She attacked you,” Heather blinked back at him in confusion, “That woman had no problem assaulting you, yet you stand here and defend her when she’s been nothing but dreadful to you.  Why is that Russell?  Why do you feel you have to be Avery’s defender all of the sudden when clearly she’s not worth the effort?”
“Avery is my friend--not that you’d understand the concept, but I care about her and I don’t want to see her get hurt,” Russell took in a slow, shallow breath reminding himself not to lose his cool around Heather, “and while I admit that yes the idea of keeping her away from Brant was appealing, I was doing it for all the right reasons.  I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone or manipulate someone into doing my bidding.  I was trying to look out for a friend.”
“And I was trying to look out for Brant’s safety.  If that viper murdered her last boyfriend, then there is no doubt in my mind that she’ll turn on Brant just like she turned on you.”
“Avery isn’t turning on anyone,” Russell argued with her, “but I on the other hand am finished with this.  This conversation is over Heather.”
“But Russell….” she argued with him as he stepped around his desk moving towards the door, “You can’t just give up on what we’re working towards.  You can’t stop now when we’re so close…”
“Heather if Brant and Avery are going to fall apart, it’s not going to be because you decided to lead the FBI on a wild goose chase.  Eventually Brant will screw up on his own and Avery will open her eyes and if we could’ve played a hand in making that happen, well then hell yes I was up for it, but now knowing that all you did was cause more trouble for Avery by bringing the FBI into this, well that’s where I draw the line.  Now as I said before this conversation is over.”
“Russell, how can you be like this,” she watched him confused by his responses to her as he appeared to be so angry, so rigid and strange in his own way--at least above the usual demeanor he’d had in their working together, “Why are you trying to throw me out when I’m doing what was needed in order to get one step closer to ending this insanity between Brant and Avery?”
“Heather,” Russell drew in a breath as he struggled to find the right words, “if you really want to help yourself, then the best thing you can do is forget about Brant Ashford.  You’re better than what you think you are and if you’d stop playing all these games in order to capture Brant’s attention, then you might find you’re much happier.”
“Russell, you know how I feel about Brant,” Heather argued with him, “I’m not letting go of him.”
“Heather, I know how Brant feels about Avery and despite the fact that I hate it completely, I can assure you that leading Agent Pryce in Avery’s direction is only going to make Brant resent you even more.  He’s not going to feel anything more than hatred if he sees you’re the person who puts the final nail in Avery’s coffin.”
“I’m doing what needs to be done to survive because that’s what I am.  I’m a survivor Russell and I won’t stop until I get Brant back,” Heather declared proudly as their eyes connected in this sudden standoff.
“Then if that’s really how you feel, you’re going to have to do it without me because I won’t take part in this,” he opened the door wider motioning for her to leave, “Now I think it would be best if you were on your way.”
“You’re making a mistake, Russell,” Heather warned as she approached him with a look of displeasure, “You’re going to need my help sooner or later because we both know that together we have more of a chance at getting what we want out of this.”
“If I kept playing by your rules, then I stand more to lose than I ever imagined,” he sighed in response giving her one last look.
“You might want to think this over, because in the future, I might not be so inclined to let you in on things,” she added before reluctantly walking out of his office and he found himself wondering what kind of trouble Heather had opened the door to by going to Shannon Pryce.  With everything else going on, Heather’s eagerness to win Brant over might have been the key to everyone’s undoing as Russell realized there was more at stake than he’d ever imagined.  No one could learn the horrible truth.


Shannon stood at the door to Avery's apartment and frowned. She dangled the evidence bag in her hand as she looked at the perfectly shined brass hardware on the door. She exhaled as she glanced back to the bag.

"What's wrong now?" Dave asked as he approached her from the stairwell, "Key didn't fit and ruined your perfect plan to nail Avery?"

"Bite me," She replied as she pointed to the hardware, "Anything look strange to you?

He glanced at the hardware before he glanced at the other apartments on the hall, "That's a new lock."

"Exactly," She sighed, "This key isn't going to work even if it was the key to her apartment."

"I'll call the local locksmiths to see who replaced this lock and how long ago it was done," He replied as he made a note for himself in a pocket pad.

"It was done a few days ago," Mrs. Miller said from her doorway, "After all the commotion."

"Commotion?" Shannon asked as she approached Mrs. Miller. She flashed her badge, "What happened here?"

"I'm really not certain, but there was a commotion and some shouting. Then I heard a crashing noise. Afterward a locksmith arrived, and Avery left with her young man," Mrs. Miller explained.

"Brant Ashford?" Dave asked.

"Yes," Mrs. Miller nodded, "They left together, and she hasn't been back since."

"Thank you for being so helpful," Shannon smiled before she and Dave stepped into the stairwell. She stopped Dave before speaking, "What do you think really happened here? Somehow I don't think it was as simple as Dr. Mathis returning Avery Morrison's things."

"As much as I hate to admit it, I think you're right," Dave frowned, "I guess it's time to call Kenneth and invite Avery down to the station for a more formal interview."

"Yes it is, and this time, she doesn't get to say when it's over," Shannon declared, "I do," She announced before making her way down the stairs, looking forward to interrogating Avery and finding some answers to the mounting unanswered questions in the death of Bruce Mathis.

...to be continued...