Episode Twenty Eight

Diane looked out the window at the afternoon slipping away without her.  Somehow being cooped up in the office didn’t seem quite fair considering that neither Brant nor Avery were up for appearances since the whole engagement scandal began.  Not that she was complaining as she always did enjoy her time to play while the boss was away, but considering that playing was as far as it got, there was that air of frustration hanging over her.  Now as she looked to her computer thinking about what she could use as her latest excuse to make contact with Ben, a frown touched over her lips.  What more did she have to do in order to get him to notice her?  Hadn’t she been assertive enough in her approach, she pondered as her frown deepened.  He had to be the most sadistic man in the entire universe, she reasoned plucking away at her keyboard as she typed in his e-mail address debating what the new message of the moment would be.
“Maybe I should try sending him a photo this time,” she thought aloud pondering the many different ways to get a rise out of Ben.  She was sure she could come up with something racy enough to capture his attention, but then again in doing so, knowing her luck, she’d wind up getting her lines crossed and send her naughty pic to Barry down in accounting.  The last time she’d tried that maneuver, it wound up making her the object of Boring Barry’s obsession as he still to this day followed her around pretending that he wasn’t gawking over her.  Shaking her head as a groan spilled from her lips, she sank back further into her seat.
“What can I do to get you motivated, Benny-boy,” Diane mumbled to herself nibbling on the pen she’d picked up off of her desk as she swiveled in her chair.
“Perhaps you could try the direct approach,” his voice rose through her thoughts as she spun around to find him standing beside her desk, that sexy smile sweeping over his handsome features.
She turned her eyes up towards his casually as a flirty smile swept over her features, “If I was any more direct, then we’d be right here naked about now,” she admitted perusing him as she leaned back in his chair.
“And here I thought that dinner sounded tempting,” Ben couldn’t help but smile down at her as he noted the sinful expression flooding over her.  Damn she was hard to resist, he thought to himself realizing that despite what he’d intended on doing here at BBK, there was no avoiding Diane as she was an irresistible force of nature.  Suddenly he thought about his decision to finally make a move with her.  With her declaration, dinner became an afterthought as he looked around the office for a brief moment imagining what it would be like to indulge in such a fantasy with her.
“I’m still up for dessert,” Diane leaned forward, her eyes wide with delight as she winked up at him, “that is if you’re going to use that good sense that God gave you and finally make that move you’ve been torturing yourself about.”
“Hmm, well I’d thought that stopping by your desk was a good start,” he admitted casually leaning up against the wall beside her, “I mean we could take another impromptu break.”
“I’m afraid my sweet tooth has changed a bit,” Diane confessed with a sigh, “I’m not in the mood for candy bars and little tide me overs right about now.”
“I wasn’t thinking about small snacks,” Ben admitted stepping in towards her, “I thought that perhaps we could go for something a bit more substantial…something that’s a bit more gratifying.”
“Now we’re talking,” Diane perked up at the seductive slur of his words, “What’s on your mind?”
“How about a change of scenery,” he suggested motioning to the nearly empty office, “There isn’t a lot of action around here tonight and perhaps we should go out and try to change that for the both of us.”
“Hmm, you’re suggesting we get buried in some action,” she teased lightly, “Okay who are you and what have you done to the real Ben Walters?”
“I think I’m offended,” Ben raised his hand to his chest in a mocking gesture, “Here I think I’m making progress before my e-mail gets flooded with lectures and now you’re ready to poke fun at me.  So much for making that move…”
“I’m not poking fun,” Diane insisted seeing his smile fade, “I just want to make sure that you’re for real about this for once.  I mean if this is just some let’s go to the vending machines on the fifth floor scenario, then I think I’ll pass.”
“I was thinking this was something more along the lines of let’s go to Irvan’s and see what the night holds in store for us kind of scenario, but if you’re not interested…” he tapered off.
“Are you for real,” she gave him a sideways glance.
“Does it look like that,” he smiled as he extended his hand out towards her, “What do you say Diane?  Ready to see what making that first move feels like?”
“Honey, I’ve been born ready,” she accepted his hand allowing him to help her up from her chair, “but I should probably warn you that there will be consequences for tonight.”
“Consequences,” he repeated giving her a strange look, “Suddenly that sounds like a threat.”
“On the contrary,” she reached for her purse flashing him a sexy smile in the process, “it’s more of a promise because I can assure you that after tonight, well your life is never going to be the same as I’m going to show you things that you never imagined.”
“Suddenly I find myself liking the sound of this,” Ben reached out to her pulling her in closer to him in a surprising gesture.
“You’re going to find there’s much more to appreciate with me,” she promised easing her fingers over the center of his chest as she bridged the distance between them tilting her eyes up towards his, “as I have a lot of surprises in store for you.”
“All good I would imagine,” Ben couldn’t help but smile as his fingers eased in over her waist.
“With all the waiting you had in store for me, I might be feeling a bit wicked,” she teased lightly, “but I suppose it’s a risk you’ll have to take.”
“One that I’m certain will give me a night I’ll never forget,” he replied escorting her to the elevators as he was certain that taking Diane out for dinner was one of the best decisions he’d made in a long time as tonight held an air of promise for the both of them.


A faint tapping on the door brought Avery back to reality as she drew in a nervous breath finishing up with her lip gloss as she stared back at her reflection.  A night with her parents and Brant, she thought to herself wondering if she could really handle this considering.  She’d tried to explain to Brant over lunch that going out at a time like this was probably not the best idea, but he’d been insistent upon showing her family a good time.  The sad truth was that he didn’t realize that when her parents were together, it was never a good time for anyone.  With that thought in mind, she returned her attention back to the rapping on the bedroom door as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before moving to open the door discovering Brant on the other side, smiling brightly.
“Good evening beautiful,” he offered with a hint of a smile extending a single red rose out towards her, “for you.”
“Brant,” she felt a heat rise over her features as she took note of his navy colored suit that hung perfectly over his toned body.  He was the picturesque version of GQ and he was hers for the taking as he reached for her hand pressing a delicate kiss on the top of her palm, “you shouldn’t have.”
“Of course I should,” Brant dismissed her notions as he rose to meet her gaze once again, “given the hell I’ve put you through lately, this is the least I could do.”
“No I mean you really shouldn’t have,” she shook her head dismissively, “the last thing you need to be doing is treating me like I’m some kind of princess when I’m anything but…”
“Avery, would you quit doing that,” Brant frowned in response.
“I’m just telling you the truth,” Avery sighed as she looked to the perfect rose he’d given her.  It’s crimson beauty swept through her as she thought to the romantic side of Brant Ashford she’d been witness to over the last couple of weeks.  Never in her mind did she imagine she’d ever entertain the notion of anything wonderful or intimate with him, but as she lingered upon their undeniable attraction, she realized that pretending he didn’t strike a chord in her would get her no where.  There was certainly something inside of her that wanted to reach out and touch Brant, but as she recalled that part of her that had fallen into bed with Russell, she withdrew from his touch feeling a surge of guilt sweep over her as she turned away.
“Avery, what is it,” Brant watched her place a distance between them as she crossed over the room, “You were going to tell me something this morning, but then we were interrupted…”
“Brant, it’s just…” she started with a sigh, “I mean you think you have me figured out, but I’m human and I’ve made some mistakes…”
“We all have,” Brant insisted noting the darkness that swept over her features, “I mean hey I’m the poster boy for making mistakes.”
“Still,” Avery frowned struggling for her words, “when I make up my mind about something, I’m pretty firm in my decisions.  I mean I don’t get caught up in emotion and feeling and I don’t let my impulses take control.  I like to stick to my guns about things…”
“I’ve noticed,” Brant nodded stepping further into the room as he took a seat on the edge of the bed watching her.
“Still, I haven’t been myself these last few weeks,” she sighed spinning around to face him, “Brant, I’ve gotten caught up in so many things and I’ve made so many impulsive decisions…”
“And what’s wrong with that exactly,” he raised a curious brow, “it’s called living you know.”
“Still,” Avery shook her head back at him, “there are choices I’ve made that could hurt so many people.  I mean look at what happened to Bruce…”
“Avery, the guy was a jerk and he got what he deserved,” Brant argued with her.
“He just wanted to love me,” Avery sighed bringing her fingers through her hair, “He just wanted me to be his wife and live my life with him.  That’s all he ever wanted.”
“And it wasn’t what you needed or wanted,” Brant reminded her simply, “so why dwell on the mistake you stopped yourself from making?”
“Because maybe if I ignored my heart he would still be alive right now.  You and Russ wouldn’t be in trouble or even fighting over me and I wouldn’t be standing here hating myself for causing so much chaos,” Avery blurted out shakily, “I mean if you think about this, despite what’s happened, this all lays on my shoulders.  I’m the one to blame for this and maybe Shannon Pryce is right in trying to pin this murder on me.  I mean in my own way I killed Bruce the day I walked out of his office and never looked back.”
“Avery stop this,” Brant rose from the bed approaching her as a frown touched over his lips, “this isn’t helping anything.”
“Even so, I can’t help but feel this way.  I mean first I screw up Bruce’s life, now you and Russ…”
“Avery, you didn’t screw up anything,” Brant reached out to her urging her to look at him as he touched her chin gently, “well other than our dinner reservations if you don’t smile and put this horrible ordeal behind us.”
“Brant, we really shouldn’t be doing this,” Avery frowned as she saw the eagerness behind his dark eyes, “I mean right now the FBI is chasing after us hoping to put me away for life or worse and the press has been hunting us down like criminals just because you made the mistake of being interested in me…”
“I can deal with the press,” Brant assured her, “and in case you seemed to have forgotten, I’m an Ashford which makes me perfectly capable of dealing with the FBI...not to mention that your father is practically on the President of the United States’ speed dial there.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Avery gave him a look.
“Avery, I know what kind of man your father is and despite the fact he hates me, Shannon doesn’t stand a chance in dealing with him,” Brant explained simply as he reached out to her, “Granted she thinks she’s coming into this to get on my fiancée’s case, but what she’s stepping into is a world of trouble in harassing Richard Morrison’s daughter.”
“I didn’t realize you’d been paying attention to my father’s career,” Avery gave him a strange look.
“I wasn’t until Kenneth brought him home,” Brant confessed with a hint of a frown touching over his features, “but now, well now that I know exactly who’s staying with us, well I realize that there’s a lot more than appearances we have to keep up with.”
“Brant, he’s just my father,” Avery explained noting the weary look behind his eyes, “You make him sound like he’s a force of nature.”
“Avery, we both know that tonight’s dinner will be the deciding factor in whether or not he feels I’m good enough for his little girl.”
“We already know his take on that,” Avery pointed out with a teasing smile, “but that doesn’t change things does it?”
“Not at all,” Brant flashed her a bright smile, “I mean hey, there isn’t a person I haven’t won over when I wanted to.”
“The verdict is still out on that,” Avery teased back feeling her confidence return to her as she reached for his arm, “but hey if you can take on my father and make something of it, then you can color me impressed.”
“Hmm, now that does sound like a challenge I’m more than ready to take on this evening,” Brant laced her arm in his, “I mean hey if I’m able to impress you, then it shows we’re making progress.”
“So it would seem,” Avery agreed vowing to forget her woes for the evening as she lost herself to the thought of having a night out with Brant and her parents.  If he could make it out of this disaster waiting to happen in one piece, there might be hope for him after all, she reasoned with a tiny smile as they headed out to dinner.


Jade sat in Grady’s living room, tucking her feet under her on the sofa. The day had been a roller coaster ride. Up and down and up again. Hopefully there wouldn’t be some huge down waiting for her just around the corner. She didn’t think she could take much more. Between Seth’s reaction to seeing Grady in her bed to Thea’s smug expression when she’d stepped into the office, Jade had had about as much as she could stand.

Grady began across the room towards her, stopping for a moment as he studied her profile. She was truly breathtaking. Her dark eyes seemed to sparkle in the light as she tucked her long brown hair behind her ear. She looked up and smiled as she caught him looking at her.

“See something you like?” She asked coyly as she wiggled a finger at him invitation.

“You,” He replied simply as he closed the distance between them and placed two cold bottles of water upon the coffee table. He sat beside her and turned to meet her eyes, “You never fail to amaze me.”


“I still can’t get over the way you reacted to Thea this morning.”

“Oh well…I can’t help it if I say what I think and mean every last word of it,” She shrugged.

“Still, you reacted…well, to put it gingerly, you acted a lot more civilized than most women in your situation would have,” He stated with a sigh.

“Grady, let me put this in a way that might make everything seem a little clearer for you,” She said as she readjusted her position and took his hand, “I want you no matter what’s happened in the past. The truth is that when Thea happened I was still chasing you and you hadn’t really decided to let me in yet. I could be upset, and to be honest, it’s not the kind of thing that I want to think about. But we all have pasts, and I don’t think anyone’s is particularly pretty. So we’ll just leave the past behind us, and move on with our future.”

“Our future,” Grady repeated. As he said the words, alarm bells clamored in his head reminding him of all the times he’d said those very words in reference to his life with his ex-wife. There had been more times than he could think of when he’d thought that a future with Susan had been possible, and yet all those dreams of future happiness had disintegrated in a very short period of time.

But Jade wasn’t Susan. Russ had reminded him of that often enough, and consciously he even knew it himself. Subconsciously, however, his mind was constantly comparing the two women and wondering how any relationship with Jade could play out differently than his relationship with Susan had.

It would play out differently, he had reasoned with himself, because he was different. He wasn’t the same bullheaded guy that got an idea and just went full force at it until he got what he wanted accomplished. He was older now, wiser, and a lot more willing to look at a problem from different angles. He’d learned to leave his enthusiasm at the door and confront life with a cool resolve. It wasn’t nearly as adventurous but it was a lot safer than the way he’d done things in the past.

“Hey,” Jade said softly as she reached out to touch his cheek, “You look a million miles away.”

“I’m not,” He apologized, “I was just thinking.”

“What about?” She asked curiously.

“You. Us. Me,” He ran his fingers through his short hair and scratched the back of his head before groaning, “I don’t know. Everything.”

“So what’s got you so perplexed, Grady? Fess up,” She ordered as she held his chin and directed his eyes towards hers.

“I’m just thinking about relationships. How you think they could work out so easily only for them to fall apart in the blink of an eye,” Grady focused his attention upon her.

“We’re not back to this again, are we? Don’t you dare start pushing me away again.”

“I’m not,” He assured her as he took her hands in his and gave them a gentle squeeze, “I was just thinking about how I’m not the man I once was, and you definitely are not like my ex-wife.”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” She informed him.

He chuckled, “As it was intended. I was just thinking that I made a lot of mistakes with my ex-wife that I refuse to make with you. I was stubborn and stupid and spontaneous.”

“Well two out of three ain’t bad,” Jade quipped.

“Hey,” He defended before pulling her into his arms and draping her across his lap as she burst into laughter, “Just promise me one thing.”

“I’d promise you anything, Grady,” She admitted as she met his eyes.

“Promise me that if I start to do something stupid or if you think I’m forgetting what’s important in my life solely for the sake of the job…promise me that you will remind me that nothing at work could be as important as us.”

“Does that mean you feel that way? I mean…right now, not just that you’re hoping it would be that way in the future?” She questioned as she searched his eyes.

“Why do you think I hesitated so long with you? Susan and I worked together, but we couldn’t hold everything together both at work and at home.”

“But you were pushing me away to preserve work. That’s the total opposite of what you’re saying now.”

“Well it’s not meant to be that way,” He sighed, “What I’m trying to say is that I kept pushing you away because I didn’t want to ruin our easy repoire. I didn’t want to take something that felt so good and ruin it by putting it under the strain of a personal relationship as well as a working one.”

“Now you’ve totally confused me, Grady. What’s more important to you? Work or us?”

“You,” He declared as he eased his fingertip along her cheek, “I don’t want to lose you. I was afraid that if you and I became something more then everything would fall apart for us, and you would end up hating me. I don’t want that to happen, Jade. I may not have shown it very much up to this point, but you mean a lot to me.”

Jade smiled as she eased her lips to his in a soft kiss, “Now that was worth waiting for. I’ve waited to hear you say something like that for what seems like forever.”

“Well I mean every word of it, Jade,” He reaffirmed as he kissed her once again, “You mean more to me than you ever should have. I wanted to protect you from what being involved with me entails, but you are so hard to get out of my head. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried, but you are persistent.”

“And here I thought you weren’t paying attention,” She teased as she gently eased her fingers over the buttons of his shirt, “I thought I was going to have to resort to desperate measures.”

“Such as?” He asked with a curious grin.

“Oh no,” She chuckled before meeting his eyes, her mischief sparkling within her own, “I can’t tell you now. I may still have to resort to those measures if you become distracted.”

“I don’t think that’s possible at this point,” He said as he squeezed her tightly to him, “You have my full attention.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” She said as she kissed him lovingly.

After a moment of indulging in her sweet kisses, he reluctantly brought them back to the present, “We do have one obstacle standing in our way though.”

“Such as?” She asked while meeting his eyes.

“Your brother’s animosity for me.”

“Oh boy,” Jade groaned, “Can’t we just forget about that for now?”

“No, we can’t. Seth means a lot to you, Jade, and I could tell by his actions this morning that the feeling is mutual. I just want him to be okay with us being together. He doesn’t have to be my best friend, but hey, if he can at least curb the desire to beat me to a pulp, that would be progress.”

“Seth is a hot head,” She shrugged, “He’ll get over it eventually, and then everything will be okay.”

“We’re not going to just ignore this, Jade. I don’t want you to have any trouble with Seth. He’s your family, and I would never forgive myself if somehow I caused problems for you.”

“Grady, you are not the problem. Seth’s problem is that he’s a hot headed jerk who’s living in the past. If he would just wake up and see that I’m an adult who can make her own decisions, everything would be just fine.”

“Then let’s make him see that.”

“He’s not going to see that I’m an adult,” She rolled her eyes.

“I think he will if we give him the chance,” He began, “We need to plan this dinner party and have him over. I think if he sees us together he could adjust.”

“Seth…adjusting…that’s a little like Russ committing a crime…the two just don’t go together,” She met his eyes with a shrug, “I’m telling you he’s not going to understand our relationship.”

“He can. He might not like it at first, and that’s a big brother’s prerogative. However, I truly believe that we can start working on changing his mind,” Grady assured her as he eased his lips to hers.
Jade melted into his kiss, knowing that changing Seth’s mind about anything would be difficult but for now…well for now, she would just focus on enjoying being with Grady and to hell with what Seth thought about it.


Caitlin sat on the sofa while Kenneth placed the bottle of wine they’d started on the coffee table and sat beside her. They each held their wine glasses casually, having just finished dinner and put the remainder of their meal away.

“So tell me about your brother. What’s he like?” Kenneth asked as he turned to look towards her.

“Zack is his own person,” She smiled, “He likes to make his own path and more often than not, when he does it he steps on a lot of toes.”

“Trouble maker, huh?” He asked with a teasing wink.

“He really is,” She admitted, “He likes to be at the center of every drama. I told him he probably wouldn’t like it here because he wouldn’t be the center of attention.”

“Yeah, that spot is already taken by my brother.”

She chuckled softly, “Still, Zack is a good guy. At least he tries to be. He’s bold, and he has a way about him that turns a lot of people against him.”

“How’s that?”

“He can be the most arrogant person you’ve ever met, and when he’s right about something, he’ll never let you forget it.”

“You seem to be very close to him though.”

“I am,” Caitlin smiled, “Zack and I are the closest in age of my siblings. I was just far enough behind him in age to have fun with him when he got the perks of being older. For example, when he got his driver’s license, I was just starting high school, and I was probably a big pain in the backside. Zack didn’t care though. He’d take me right along with him. We’d ride around town from the time school let out until curfew. I guess I was just kind of another one of the guys.”

“Sounds like good memories.”

“They are. I can’t remember a time in my life when I wanted to kill Zack…my other siblings, well, I can think of plenty, but Zack and I always just clicked.”

“Brant and I used to be that way. At least we were until we became teens. At that point, we hated each other, mostly due to my father’s influence, but now we get along. We’re not best friends by any means, but we can talk to one another. It must be nice to not just be related but to also like one another.”

“Don’t you and Blake have that kind of relationship?” Caitlin questioned.

“We did, but I think she wants to be her own person now without any of the Ashford influences lingering over head. That part would include me.”

“She still loves you though.”

“I don’t doubt that. It’s just that we’ve grown apart over the years. We still work together, but that’s completely different from having an actual family type relationship.”

“I can’t imagine working with any of my family. Luckily, Zack is in medicine so I don’t have to worry about that.”

“What’s his specialty?” Kenneth asked as he took a sip of wine.

“He’s a surgeon through and through. Although he’s doing some kind of research on some sort of new drug. He’s been saying for years that he wants to find the cure for cancer, but he concedes that he doesn’t have the kind of money it would take to do that. Instead he just works on new treatments and follows every new study that comes out about it.”

“Why cancer?” When she looked at him with confusion, he clarified, “What I mean is…that usually pet projects such at that stem from some sort of personal experience with a disease. Is there some story there for him?”

“Sort of,” She conceded as she tucked her hair behind her ear, “Zack’s best friend in high school died of a lymphoma, but really even before that, Zack wanted to fight cancer. I just think that kind of put a face on the disease for him.”

“It must have been tough for him.”

“It was. I’ve never seen my brother seem so fragile. Zack’s always been strong and tough as nails, but when Derek died,” She sighed as the memories of the high school tragedy came to her, “Zack was just decimated. He got through it with some time, and a lot of help from his little sister,” She smiled.

“I think his coming here will be good for you,” He said softly as he took her free hand in his, “It’s always good to have those that love you around.”

“You sound like that concept is almost foreign to you,” Caitlin observed, “I don’t understand how that’s even possible when you have your siblings living with you.”

“That old saying…so near and yet so far,” Kenneth said while nodding, “That was a saying created for the Ashford clan. We all live under the same roof, and I’m fairly certain that we would go to the wall for each other. But if we have the preference, we’d rather not be around each other. I could spend all the time in the world with Blake because she’s open minded. Brant, on the other hand, is so rigid about how he perceives the world.”

“How did things really get so bad between you and Brant? I’ve always heard that twins share the closest bond imaginable.”

“We did when we were kids. You couldn’t separate us, but then when we became teens, Dad decided that he wanted to groom us for the company, but he pitted Brant and I against one another to see who would be the strongest CEO. After a while, I figured out that the fight was pointless. Dad wanted someone as ruthless as he was, and he thought he had that in Brant. Brant would do anything to gain Dad’s approval, but me,” He shook his head, “I kept hearing the voice of our mother whispering in my ear and telling me that what Dad wanted us to do was wrong. So I quit the business completely. I didn’t want any part of it, and so I chose to go away to college and forge my own path.”

“You still own stock in BBK though, right? Don’t all of you share in the ownership?”

“Yes, we do, but I’m mostly a silent partner.”

“Do you ever regret leaving the family business?”

“Not for a minute,” He confessed with a smile, “I’ve never enjoyed corporate life very much. I prefer getting out in the trenches and meeting real people.”

“Real people?” She asked with a slight smile.

“People who aren’t just after the almighty dollar and would do absolutely anything to get it. In corporate boardrooms, the person across the table will smile at you but really they want to tear your heart out. I prefer the direct approach, and that’s why I’m better suited to law.”

“And now you’re going to be defending Avery, huh?” Caitlin shook her head, “The way she looked,” She paused as she contemplated the wine in her glass, “Who could blame anyone for defending themselves under those circumstances?”

“I don’t think anyone could, but Avery doesn’t want anyone to know about her attack,” Kenneth shook his head, “Despite my best efforts to convince her to speak with Shannon, she’s determined not to share that with the world.”

“Who’s Shannon?”

“Shannon Pryce. She’s the investigator for the FBI, and as an added bonus, she’s Brant’s ex.”

“And she’s investigating this? That’s a conflict of interest, isn’t it?”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” He sighed, “But she says she’s here to avoid that very kind of thing. I don’t believe it for a minute, but at this point, all I can do is look out for Avery’s best interests and abide by her wishes.”

“I can’t blame Avery for not wanting to tell anyone about what happened. It’s a horrible tragedy when someone you thought you could trust violates that trust in such a violent way.”

“I agree, and it makes for one hell of a reason that she might kill Bruce in self defense. It would at least shatter the notion that Bruce Mathis was a wonderful guy who did no wrong. Avery won’t hear of it though.”

“Ken, she’s doing what she feels is right, and I think that’s what is truly important. She needs to feel secure and if keeping such a secret makes her feel safe, then that’s her decision to make.”

“You’re very understanding about this,” Kenneth said before smiling, “And when you went to speak with her the other day, it really touched her. You are an outstanding woman, Caitlin Vaughn.”

She smiled slightly, “I’m just okay,” She said as she placed her wine glass on the coffee table and sank back into the sofa cushions, “I wonder if there’s anything on television.”

“It’s worth a shot, but if I start snoring, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” He teased.

Caitlin chuckled as she picked up the remote control and switched on the television. She slid down the sofa and settled in against Kenneth as she settled on a movie channel for their viewing pleasure. She relaxed against him as they watched the movie play out on the screen, thinking that for the first time in a very long time, she felt as safe as she could ever imagine. She only hoped that Avery would be able to find the same kind of safety in her own life, and with Ken defending her, Caitlin was sure that safety would be within reach very soon.


“Brant how ever did you find this place,” Brooke questioned reaching out to touch his arm as a bright grin swept over her features, “It’s absolutely darling.”
“I’m glad you approve,” Brant smiled politely turning his attention to Avery’s mother as he put out all the Ashford charms, “After all I want nothing but the best for my mother-in-law to be.”
“I’m sure that’s exactly what we’ll have tonight as I’m sure that my daughter will have nothing but the greatest things that life has to offer with a man like you,” Brooke’s eyes devoured him as she leaned in closer to him, “as you certainly are more than she could’ve ever hoped for.”
“Mother,” Avery frowned watching her mother’s shameless display as she stepped in closer to Brant, “Could you quit pawing my fiancé?”
“That’s right Brooke,” Richard scowled down at her, “Give the man room to breathe seeing as he took the liberties of taking us to what could be labeled as the most stuffy, ridiculous French restaurant I’ve ever set foot in.”
“Daddy it’s not so bad,” Avery piped in turning her attention to her father, “In fact I happen to enjoy this place.”
“Sure you do,” her father gave her a disapproving look, “Just show me where the bar is and I’m sure we’ll find a way to salvage this dinner.”
“Only if I get there first,” Brooke piped in pushing Brant aside as she seemed to be eager to race Richard towards the bar, both of them ready to drown themselves in the alcoholic sedative it took for them to feign ease in each other’s company.
“Are you sure you want to do this,” Avery frowned turning her attention to Brant once again, “This is a nightmare waiting to happen.”
“I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Brant promised as his gaze cast over the crowded restaurant, “Just let me see if our table is ready.”
“Tell me does this place come with tranquilizer guns as well because we might need this once they get going,” Avery confessed with a groan as she felt a hand upon her shoulder.  She spun around to see her father standing there upon his return from the bar, “Daddy…”
“Avery, I’m not going to let the way I feel about your mother spoil our evening,” he motioned to his empty hand as he nodded towards the bar, “Let her drown herself in martinis.  I, on the other hand, am not going to let her drive me to drinking again.  I want to be here for you and that’s exactly what I’m going to do tonight.”
“Thank you daddy,” Avery embraced him letting out a breath of relief as she was thankful that one of her parents was willing to put her before the misery their marriage inspired.
“Anything for my little girl,” he whispered squeezing her gently as his eyes darted over towards Brant, “Of course I still have my own thoughts about a place like this, but…”
“I’m working on getting our table,” Brant promised turning his attention to the hostess before him, “Um excuse me I have reservations for Ashford tonight…”
“Let me see,” she looked down at the book before her for a brief moment before her green eyes leapt up towards him growing wide with surprise, “Brant?”
“Kimberly,” he blinked back at the auburn haired hostess before him immediately recognizing her beautiful features.
“Oh my God, I never thought I’d see you again after that weekend in Rio,” she began excitedly as her eyes traveled over him, “but here you are looking as handsome as ever.  I can’t believe the way that karma brought you here tonight.”
“Neither can I,” Brant admitted uneasily as he noted Avery’s father perked up upon Kimberly’s words.
“I mean sure I’d thought we’d cross paths sooner after that hot weekend we spent on the beach together.  You remember, don’t you?  You know that night when we both got a little crazy and you asked me to do that thing with…”
“Kimberly,” Brant interrupted as Avery’s father stepped forward.
“Is there a problem here, Brant?” Richard questioned curiously as his scrutinizing eye fell upon the perky hostess before them.
“No problem,” Brant offered shaking his head in response, “I was just telling Kimberly that we were waiting for our table since tonight was a very important night for Avery and I since we were sharing the news of our engagement with her parents,” he stressed the words turning his attention to the hostess once again praying that she didn’t say something to put him down further on Richard Morrison’s hit list.
“Your engagement,” she repeated curiously, “Now that is quite an occasion.”
“Indeed it is,” Brant agreed with an eager nod, “and I trust that our table is almost ready.”
“I’ll look into it,” Kimberly offered taking a step away from the men as she went to seek out a table for the dinner party.
“So you’re acquainted with her,” Richard lifted a curious brow as Brant faced him once again.
“We were associates once upon a time,” Brant nodded nervously as he realized Avery was conspicuously absent, “Where’s Avery?”
“She’s collecting her lush of a mother,” Richard replied with a shrug of his shoulders, “but this is a good opportunity for you and I to get to know one another without any interruptions or misconceptions, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Look Mr. Morrison…” Brant stammered nervously as he motioned towards the place where Kimberly had been standing, “what you’re thinking about this is…”
“I’ll be straight to the point,” Richard remarked simply as his tone darkened, “I’m well aware of your reputation just as I’m aware of my daughter’s heart and why she chose to settle down with someone like you is beyond me, but Avery is my little princess and I’ll respect her decision as ill conceived as it might be.  That being said, don’t think for one second that I approve of this engagement nor will I stand here pretending that I’m eager to have you as my son-in-law.  Furthermore, if I find one reason to prove that you aren’t the man for my little girl…if you slip up in any way from this moment on, I can promise you that I’ll find a way to make sure that this wedding never happens because I can assure you that the last thing I ever want to see is my daughter with a broken heart.  Are we clear on that?”
“Crystal,” Brant nodded simply realizing that there was no way of winning Richard over as Avery returned to them with Brooke chasing behind her.
“I found her,” Avery groaned inwardly as she tried to ignore her mother’s bickering from behind her, “and it would seem she’s already diving into the martinis.”
“I’m just taking in the atmosphere and I was loving it until you dragged me back to that,” Brooke wrinkled her nose in disgust at Richard, “I really don’t see why we had to bring him along tonight since he should be off in Europe right about now instead of putting a damper on the mood.”
“Just your being here is enough to set Avery back the years of therapy she had to go through with you,” Richard glared at his wife.
“Daddy, I’d really rather not get into this,” Avery began uneasily as Kimberly returned to the group smiling brightly.
“Your table’s ready,” she announced interrupting the beginnings of a Morrison family debate as Brant extended his arm out towards Avery sliding his hand around her waist.
“Come on darling,” he urged protectively hoping to show the Morrisons and Kimberly that he was very devoted to Avery.  He gave her a tiny squeeze as he leaned in towards her whispering in her ear gently, “It’s almost over.”
“It’s only beginning,” Avery confessed in a tight whisper, “this is just asking for trouble in having them together.  We might land in jail by the time this night is over.”
“We’ll see that it doesn’t happen,” Brant promised as Kimberly lead them to a table in the back of the restaurant next to the kitchen.  Brant looked down to the noisy area with a frown realizing this was not what he’d had in mind for the evening out with Avery’s parents as he spoke up, “Um, I’d requested non-smoking and something with a view of the water.”
“Too bad,” Kimberly glared back at him, “This is all we have tonight Mr. Ashford, so you can take it or leave it,” she placed her hands on her hips impatiently, “You know you aren’t the only customer around here tonight so if you don’t want the table…”
“We’ll take it,” Avery blurted out watching her parents starting to bicker behind them.
“Good choice,” Kimberly noted with a sarcastic quip, “Too bad your taste in men is lousy.”
“What?” Brooke questioned eyeing the redhead as she walked away, “What did she just say?”
“She said we should enjoy our evening,” Brant pulled a chair out for Brooke, “and I intend for us to do just that.”
“Well this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind considering that you are a man who accepts nothing less than the best,” she wrinkled her nose as she looked around their surroundings, “I mean with your clout, we should have the best table in this place.”
“Mother it’s fine,” Avery slipped around the table into her chair as Brooke continued to spout off.
“I’m just saying that given Brant’s reputation for him to have to tolerate this kind of behavior out of a woman that makes, what six fifty an hour at best, it’s just shameful,” Brooke continued sipping at her martini.
“Would you just put a sock in it,” Richard growled at her as he slid into his seat across from her, “The last thing anyone wants to hear is what you think about the situation.”
“Oh and I suppose that anything you could add to the table would be worth listening to, right?” Brooke shot back icily, “Because hey lets face it Richard, there hasn’t been one word uttered out of your mouth in the last twenty years that’s been worth a damn.”
“Funny, that’s usually something that I’ve heard about you, Brooke,” he scuffed as the waiter arrived at the table taking their drink orders.
“I’ll take a scotch on the rocks,” Richard answered the waiter struggling to keep his irritation level down as Brooke offered up a haughty laugh.
“So much for taking the moral high ground tonight, huh Dick?” she sneered back at him.
“It would be impossible for a saint to tolerate being in the same room with you,” he hissed back at her as Avery threw her napkin down on the table top.
“What is wrong with you people?” she questioned angrily, “Why can’t we just have one meal together without the two of you doing this?”
“He started it,” Brooke finished off her martini before circling her finger at the waiter, “Keep these coming throughout dinner because I’m going to need them.”
“No you aren’t,” Avery glared at her, “and daddy you don’t need a scotch.  You two are bad enough without alcohol making it worse.”
“You’re right,” Richard agreed with a reluctant sigh, “I’ll just have some of your imported water.”
“Excellent sir,” the waiter nodded finishing up with their drink orders as Avery drew in a breath trying to find a common ground to keep the evening from getting out of hand, but as she struggled for the words, she found herself at a loss.
“So Brant, tell me again what’s happening over at BBK these days,” Richard broke through the silence, “What has my little girl been doing over there to help you change the world?”
“Well Avery and I have been…” Brant started as Brooke interrupted.
“What does that matter,” Brooke slurred at her husband, “Brant isn’t going to want to talk business when we have a wedding to plan.  I mean after the wedding clearly the happenings in that office won’t be of Avery’s concern anymore considering she won’t be working there.”
“Come again,” Avery turned her attention to her mother.
“Well darling I know that you like to play lawyer, but when you’re Brant’s wife, you’ll have a husband to keep happy and given the hours that a lawyer keeps, I’m sure you’d much rather stop dabbling in the law.  It’s been nothing but disaster for you anyways…”
“Mother I am not giving up my career to be married,” Avery argued with her, “Not now and not ever.”
“Avery, all I’m saying is that a woman of your potential really has no place in that kind of world when you should be playing up your assets.  Why in being Brant Ashford’s wife you could be on the cover of so many magazines and with this new line my company is launching you could be the face that speaks to women everywhere.  Together we could turn Beholder into something more than either one of us imagined.”
“You have to be kidding me,” Avery shook her head in disbelief.
“Your mother is just blowing smoke at you,” Richard added with a frown, “She doesn’t honestly expect you to give up your career to please a man and I would trust that Brant would agree with that decision.”
“Well I can’t imagine BBK without Avery at it considering she’s an asset to the company and,” Brant began watching the display between the Morrisons.
“Exactly, which is why Brooke you should really learn to keep your opinions to yourself on the matter as the last thing Avery wants is to be tangled up with you and your nightmare of a company.  I mean my God the last thing I would want for our daughter is to be associated with the glitter and nonsense that comes from your company.”
“It is anything but nonsense, but just because you’d rather complain about the world rather than embrace the beauty it has to offer, you refuse to see it that way,” Brooke retorted her eyes ignited with fire, “You don’t know a thing about passion or perfection because you’ve been lacking it most of your adult life.  Just because you have no interest in desire doesn’t mean that the other men of the world share your flaccid side as well.”
“I’ll show you flaccid,” Richard’s fists clenched in anger as Avery rose from her chair.
“That’s it,” she announced with an exasperated groan, “I told you this was a mistake, Brant,” she finished stepping away from the table rushing off to the ladies room as Brooke and Richard watched her retreat in silence.
“This is all your fault,” Brooke blurted out, “You just have to ruin everything for our daughter, don’t you?”
“I have to ruin everything?  Brooke your sole purpose in being here is to upset Avery so that you can have your way with…” he answered sharply as Brant rose from his chair.
“Excuse me,” Brant blurted out politely, “I’m going to go check on Avery, so you two can just do…well I’ll be right back,” he finished excusing himself as he headed off in the direction of the ladies room wishing that things would’ve turned out differently.
Now as Brant made his way to the ladies room, he realized that not only did Avery have the pressures of Bruce’s murder hanging over her, but with her parents, she was bound to have a breakdown.  Clearly he should’ve listened to her in her wanting to cancel dinner, but now it was too late for that, he thought to himself as he took in a breath.  He’d make this up to her.  Somehow he’d find a way, he reasoned as he turned down the hall leading to the rest rooms.
“There you are,” a voice beckoned him as Brant spun around to see Kimberly standing behind him her eyes wild with anger, “Did you really think you could just sneak away without so much as a good-bye?”
“Kimberly, I’m….” Brant began at a loss as he turned his eyes towards the direction of the ladies room.
“You what?  You sorry son of a bitch,” she stepped towards him tossing her hair back over her shoulders, “You think that you can just drop out of someone’s life and not bother to give them so much as a warning and then show up out of the blue engaged to someone else and expect them to be happy about it.”
“Kimberly, I had no idea that you were working here,” Brant started nervously as he took a step back.
“Of course you didn’t,” she offered a biting laugh as her eyes narrowed at him, “I mean hey it was just the most incredible weekend of my life.  The way we were together.  God, Brant do you think you can just give someone the single most satisfying sexual experience of their life and then not give them a second thought?  I mean the things I did with you…hell I’ve never been that uninhibited with a man, and I thought you felt it too, but…”
“Kimberly, it was a long time ago,” Brant raised his hands out in the air defensively as she stepped towards him, “I was another man back then…”
“Oh no you weren’t,” she answered determined as she approached him, “I mean sure you might say that you’ve changed, but men like you never change.  Hell, what gets me the most is that even when you ignored me and blew me off, I still couldn’t stop thinking about you.  Even now, well now there’s nothing I want more than to make you suffer.  I want to show you again and again just how much your ignoring me hurt.”
“Kimberly, I’m sorry…” he began uneasily as he looked towards the ladies room once again, “I really didn’t mean for us to…”
“Oh I’ll show you Brant,” Kimberly reached out to him seizing his tie as she pulled him towards him, “I’ll show you agony,” she hissed throwing her arms around his neck as she claimed his mouth in a heated kiss wrapping herself around him, “after I show you another world of pleasure.”
Brant gulped as she tangled herself around his torso throwing her weight upon him as he crashed back against the door behind him.  He tried to pull away from her as her insistent lips tried to eat him alive.  “Kimberly,” he breathed her name trying to push her away as they plundered into the room behind them, “Kimberly stop…”
“I can’t stop,” she confessed heatedly tangling her fingers in his hair as he fell back onto the counter behind him, “I could never stop where you’re concerned Brant.”
“Kimberly, don’t do this,” he pleaded with her trying to shake her off of him as she began to tear at his jacket.
“Just one more time for old time’s sake,” she pleaded with him, her kisses demanding him to give in to her as he struggled to get away from her.
“Kimberly stop.  I’m engaged…” Brant blurted out shifting beneath her as she tugged on his tie drawing him towards her once again.
“Your point?” she gave him a skeptic look, “that never stopped you before…”
“Kimberly I…” Brant began as she slammed him down on the counter top climbing over him in a frenzy attempting to make him hers all over again.
“Maybe you didn’t hear him correctly.  He‘s taken,” a voice broke through the moment as Brant turned his head to find Avery standing before them, her eyes dark with anger as she placed her hands on her hips impatiently.
“Who the hell are you,” Kimberly scowled up at Avery as she tore her lips away from Brant.
“I’m his fiancée,” Avery answered matter of fact as she took a step forward, “and you might’ve seen that earlier if you hadn’t been planning this pathetic seduction on him from the moment you laid eyes upon him.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to,” Kimberly pushed away from Brant, “It’s just…well…”
“Go away,” Avery hissed back at her, “I don’t know what you thought you were trying to accomplish, or what you were hoping for, but I’m warning you now, if you don’t walk out of here right now, you’re going to regret placing your lips on my fiancé.  If I have to I’ll make a point to have a word with your boss as I’m sure that this is less than appropriate on the job behavior.  Is that clear enough for you?”
“He was the one who brought me in here,” Kimberly spat back at her, “He’s the one who wanted to take a trip down memory lane.  I didn’t realize he was taken…”
“Of course you didn’t,” Avery glared at her as Kimberly adjusted her dress clearing her throat.
“Look, I was just,” Kimberly started feeling a shiver race over her at Avery’s glare, “It’s just I was…never mind,” she huffed making her way to the door before throwing a look back at Brant and mouthing the words call me before leaving.
Brant stared in silence before collecting himself and adjusting his tie as he rose from the counter top too stunned for words.
“One of your golden oldies,” Avery questioned less than impressed as she pushed past him.
“Avery, it’s not what you’re thinking,” Brant began stammering a bit as he reached out to her.
“No?  Then you weren’t just about to have sex with that hostess back there?” she lifted a disbelieving brow, “In the ladies room no less?”
“She came on to me,” Brant began tugging on her arm, “She threw herself at me as soon as I came looking for you.”
“Ah I see and her tongue just happened to work it’s way down your throat by sheer force, right?” Avery grumbled as her frown deepened, “I mean you were completely innocent here as women throw themselves at you all the time, right?”
“Well, now that you mention it, that does have a tendency to happen,” he shrugged his shoulders before shaking the thought, “but Avery that’s not how it was.”
“Of course it wasn’t,” Avery folded her arms in front of his chest, “Just like this farce of an engagement isn’t how things really are either,” she shot back in disgust as she turned away from him.
“Avery, come on,” he pulled her towards him once again, “You know me better than this.”
“Brant, I know you have a history that keeps coming up at all the wrong times and if I wasn’t already beyond fed up with my parents, then maybe I’d get worked up about this, but the truth is that we aren’t engaged,” she motioned between them, “we’re not even dating, so I don’t really give a damn what you do or who you’re doing it with.  In fact, the way I see it, if you just set the media in the right direction, then I can be on my way back to a normal life again…”
“Avery, don’t do this,” Brant pleaded with her as she attempted to walk away from him, “Don’t make this into something it’s not.”
“Brant, hey you don’t owe me anything,” she began simply, “I mean none of this is real and we aren’t together so if you want to go off and have sex with the next woman that throws herself at you, then power to you.  Who am I to stand in your way?”
“Avery, you know what you mean to me,” Brant began with a frown, “You know how I feel about you…”
“I know what you think you feel about me, but it’s not real,” she let out an ironic laugh, “None of this is real and the longer we keep living this lie, the worse it’s going to be.  I mean hell by now my parents are probably well on their way to killing one another and with you and your latest bimbette…”
“Avery, it wasn’t like that.  I mean yes your parents are fighting, but when I came this way, I didn’t intend to fall into the ladies room with Kimberly.  Yes, once upon a time she and I had a fling…that’s all it was, but right now the only woman on my mind is the one standing before me…”
“Walk out of the ladies room and I’m sure that’ll change,” Avery pointed out sarcastically, “You’re not a one woman man Brant Ashford and you won’t ever conform to that.”
“Avery, why don’t you believe me,” Brant frowned searching her features, “Why don’t you think that you’re the only one I want?”
“Because we both know better than that.  We both know that you want me because you can’t have me, but when you do, well then I’ll just be another woman to add to the list of Brant Ashford’s quick flings,” Avery explained in a huff, “and that’s a position that I don’t want to ever be in.  We have a great working relationship, flirting aside and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Well I don’t want to,” Brant rose up collecting her in his arms, “I want more than that.”
“You can want all you like, but it’s never going to be anything more.  We’re never going to be anything more because all of this is a joke.  It’s nothing more than a lie based on this ridiculous, irrational attraction that I have to you, but in time that too shall pass,” she lowered her eyes as his arms caged her in against the wall.  She pressed her fingers into his chest firmly, “Brant, let me go.  Just let me leave.”
“No,” he shook his head at her seeing the sadness behind her eyes as he pressed her further into the wall, “I’m not going to do that.”
“What don’t you get about this?  I don’t love you.  I’m never going to fall in love with you and we’re never, ever going to be together,” Avery explained tears pooling behind her eyes as she tried to turn out of his touch only to have him place his hand along side of her, “Brant please…”
“Avery, I know you’re scared and confused right now,” Brant offered simply, “but I refuse to let you walk away from what we have with one another.  You might want to keep lying to yourself about the way you feel for me, but the truth is that you do feel something and your running away isn’t going to change that…”
“Brant, I can’t do this,” Avery pleaded with him a tear slipping down her face as his thumb brushed over her cheekbone.
“Yes you can,” he insisted leaning in towards her, “Avery I know you can…”
“Brant, we have to stop this before it destroys us,” she pleaded with him feeling his lips over hers, the warmth of his breath striking down upon her as his fingers eased down to her sides dropping down closer towards her.
“The only thing that’s going to destroy us is your running away,” he confessed capturing her mouth in a heated kiss, “Don’t run away from me, Avery,” he pleaded devouring her with his soft, sensual lips, drinking from her with the fire behind his kiss as Avery trembled beneath his touch.  His arms wrapped her up, crushing her against him as he braced her up against the wall.  Feeling her reluctance to allow him to reach her, he eased his palm over her waist, sliding over her hip as the kiss deepened with each whimper she offered in response.
“Brant no,” Avery breathed against his mouth as she pressed her hands over his shoulders attempting to place a distance between them.
“Avery, don’t fight me,” he urged again wiping at her tears as he held her, “Not when we both want this so very much.  Not when you know that this is where we’re meant to be.”
“You don’t understand,” she offered with tiny sobs as he captured her lips again with hungry urgency.
“Make me understand,” he hoisted her up in his arms, carrying her over towards the sofa across from them as he eased her back onto the plush velvety material.  The saltiness of her tears hung over his lips as he slid in over her caressing the contours of her body with tender ease as his lips coaxed hers into submission, “This is so right between us.  Can’t you see that you’re the only woman I want?” his touch grazed up over her thigh, easing the material of her skirt up over her body as the warmth of her filled his touch, “the only woman I’ll ever need…” he breathed dropping kisses over the curve of her neck as she curled her fingers into his shoulder.
“Brant…” she spoke his name feeling his lips work their magic over her, seducing her senses as he touched her, forcing her to face the undeniable chemistry between them.  As much as she was fighting what was between them, he was using it against her, torturing her with his touch as his kisses burned her straight to the core.  She threw her arms around him devouring his mouth as her own rage and frustration plummeted her into his arms.  Feeling his determination, she was spellbound losing herself to his impromptu seductions until a shriek brought her back to reality.
“Oh my,” a woman’s voice rose above the moment as Avery found a distinguished looking woman who appeared close to her mother’s age looking down at the both of them in disbelief.  The woman shook her head at the both of them letting out one more yelp before turning out of the ladies room.
“Brant,” Avery pressed her palms into his shoulders feeling her breath catching in her throat as he looked to her a devilish grin forming over his handsome features, “do you have any idea what she must be thinking?”
“That I’m set on loving you and I’m not ashamed to let the world know it,” he collected her lips in a gentle kiss before drawing back ever so reluctantly, “though I suppose this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for us the first time we made love.”
“We were not about to make love,” Avery argued with him, sitting up on the sofa as she shook her head at him disbelieving what they were doing as she adjusted her skirt trying to keep the embarrassment from flooding over her.
“We most certainly were,” Brant wiped at his lower lip, a proud smile sweeping over him as he extended his hand out towards her, “and it would’ve been damn good location withstanding that is.”
“Oh we were so not going to do that,” Avery argued with him quickly scurrying to her feet again as his dizzying kisses still lingered over her.
“Why must you torture yourself this way,” Brant reached out to her pulling her into his arms as his lips dropped kisses over the back of her neck, still feeling her tingling against his touch.
“You’re the one who’s torturing yourself,” Avery sighed closing her eyes, “You’re a fool to think I’m going to be like every other woman that’s crossed paths with you.”
“That’s the beauty of it,” Brant whispered nibbling on her ear as he hugged her against him, “I know you’re not like any other woman I’ve been with before.”
“All the more reason for you to stop this nonsense,” Avery hissed back at him feeling the warmth of his touch surrounding her.
“And let the best thing that ever walked into my life get away,” Brant shook his head at her words, “Not a chance, Avery.”
“You’re only setting yourself up for heartbreak.  I hope you realize that,” Avery declared turning her eyes back over her shoulder at him.
“You know the sooner you get over this notion that you’ve got a chance of walking away from this situation without falling in love with me, the better off you’ll be,” Brant answered casually as he turned her in his arms a look of determination sweeping over him as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, “Because that’s what’s happening.  You are falling in love with me and nothing is going to change that.”
“And you’re as delusional as ever,” Avery huffed throwing her hair back as she stood her ground.
“Am I?” he searched her eyes, “Because I’m willing to bet that by the time this rouse is over, it won’t be a rouse anymore.  You will be my fiancée and we will be well on our road to happily ever after.”
“See now that’s where you’re mistaken,” Avery argued with him untangling herself from his arms, “I don’t believe in happily ever after.  Now if you’ll excuse me, my parents are waiting for me to break up their latest disagreement,” Avery spun on her heel leaving him alone in the ladies room watching her hasty retreat.
Brant shook his head thinking of her words as a determined smile built upon his features.  Sure she might not believe in happily ever after, but he was about to change that for her.  That much he was sure of, “You’ll see,” he vowed taking one look in the mirror as an air of confidence swept over him, “She loves me and soon she’ll see that,” he chuckled in amusement taking one last look at the sofa before heading out to face the disaster waiting for him back at the table.


“So if this everything you’d imagined dinner out on the town to be,” Ben questioned playfully as he eyed Diane across the table seeing the smile that lit up her features.
“Well so far so good,” Diane teased lightly as she flashed him a flirty smile, “but the night is still young.”
“And full of promise,” Ben added playing along with her as he realized that finally making the commitment to go to dinner with her was turning out to be far more entertaining than he’d imagined it would be.  Oh who was he kidding?  This was Diane and she was by far one of the most interesting women he’d encountered since his return to Coral Valley.
“I guess this brings us into a whole different ballgame without Brant hovering over us barking out orders,” Diane broke through his thoughts as he turned his full attention upon her.
“Somehow I get the distinct feeling that you enjoy keeping Brant on his toes--like grating on his nerves and pushing his limits are only perks of the job.”
“Given who I’m working for,” Diane pointed out, “It damn well better be.  I mean he can lecture me all he wants on what’s going on in my personal life at work, but he doesn’t have room to talk as his couch in his office has probably seen more action than most.”
“So I’ve been told,” Ben nodded casually, “Still I can’t believe this situation with him and Avery.  It just doesn’t seem right.”
“I told you Ben.  They have this undeniable sexual attraction to one another and it was just a matter of time before they tossed work ethics aside and just ripped each other’s clothes off,” Diane offered simply.
“Spoken from experience?” Ben lifted a curious brow.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Diane teased with a hint of a smile, “and for the record while Brant seems to be a major ladies man, he’s not even worth getting a rise out of me.”
“That’s good to know,” Ben winked at her, “otherwise I might be jealous.”
“Oh right,” Diane shook her head back at him, “I mean it’s not like you aren’t all gaga over working for Avery.  It’s not every day that a woman like her hires a man like you to be her assistant.”
“No?” Ben shrugged his shoulders, “And what exactly is a man like me anyways?  Since I’m just making sure I fit into this classification you’ve got going.”
“Well you know the type,” Diane’s gaze lingered over him appreciatively, “Smart, sexy, a hell of a good time,” Diane mused with a smile, “A lot of women would love to have a man like you working for her.”
“Funny thing I happen to enjoy working for Avery,” Ben stated simply.
“Of course you do,” Diane’s lip curled in a pout as she noted the expression over his handsome features, “I mean she’s sexy, sassy and a hell of a mystery to men, but remember she’s taken at the moment.”
“Taken,” he repeated as a tiny laugh bubbled over him, “Oh Diane, I don’t believe this.  Do you think I’m interested in Avery?”
“Well no of course not.  I mean why would you want her considering that she’s…” Diane paused thinking over his words, “you don’t, right?”
“As much as I’d love teasing you on this, the answer is no.  Don‘t get me wrong Avery Morrison is one hell of a woman,” Ben
 “but more so I find myself distracted by those inner office memos that keep finding their way to my desk every now and then.”
“And what memos might those be,” Diane questioned with a coy expression.
“You know the ones,” Ben leaned in towards her, “and those racy messages that seem to overheat my computer every now and then.”
“I’m certain I don’t have a clue at what you’re talking about,” she feigned innocence as a hint of a smile tugged on the corners of her mouth.
“No?” he lifted a curious brow, “Because you know I think I’m not the only one who’s been receiving them.  I hear that Barry down in…”
“Don’t you dare go there,” Diane groaned inwardly, “That was one time.  One big, stupid e-mail flub that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“To this day I don’t think he’s ever going to let go of it,” Ben teased her further, “though I must confess that I’m really curious to know exactly what it was that hit his mailbox there.  He refuses to fess up with the details…”
“That’s because that image was for your eyes only,” Diane felt a blush rise over her features as he reached out across the table brushing his finger tips against her hand gingerly.
“So tell me about it,” he suggested, “I mean if I was the intended recipient, then it’s only fair that I should hear of what I was missing out on.”
“If you play your cards right, then you won’t have to hear about it,” Diane offered seductively as her index finger circled over the center of his palm and she brushed her leg up against his under the table, “I’ll just show you first hand.”
“Really?” Ben’s eyes widened in surprise before he forced himself to keep cool speaking to her in a casual tone, “And just what exactly should I expect in this private showing?”
“Something hot,” Diane revealed in a low, sultry tone, brushing her toes up against his leg in a shamelessly sexy movement, “erotic, perhaps a dose of sensuality to the extreme and…” she trailed off mysteriously as she brushed up against his outer thigh, her smile growing with confidence as she lowered her voice.
“Yes?” Ben inched in towards her eager to hear the words as she batted her eyelashes at him seductively allowing the lingering moment to put him on edge as her leg caressed his.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this now,” she pulled away from him with a tiny laugh, “after all it’s not for public consumption really.”
“No?” Ben watched her shamelessly turn away from him as he shook his head at her, “You’re quite a tease.  You know that, don’t you?”
“A tease implies that I’m only torturing you for the sheer sport of it,” Diane shook her head at him as she reached for her glass taking a slow sip.
“That tends to be what’s going on tonight, isn’t it,” Ben raised a curious brow.
“On the contrary,” she answered simply lowering her glass to the table again, “unlike the tease, I have full intention of following through on every one of my sinful promises and showing you a world of pleasure that you’ve never known,” Diane stated firmly as her leg brushed up against his once again, “and if you play nice, maybe just maybe we’ll have to get started on that part about my rocking your world over dessert.”
“Well now,” Ben felt himself hot under the collar as Diane’s blatant come ons were enough to have him ready to reach out across the table and claim her in this very instant.  Suddenly hot, lusty images of them together naked at his apartment flooded over him and he realized that Diane had succeeded in tempting him in more ways than he’d ever vowed to allow her to.  Just the thought of her being near him, of her throwing her desire out on him like that brought tremors rushing over him as he realized he’d never wanted any woman like he wanted Diane Stevens.  Now as he glanced over at their waiter, he’d wished they’d picked something up as he wanted nothing more than to take her back to his apartment and show her a world of pleasure, but as his thoughts traveled into the realm of the triple X, he felt a vibrating at his hip putting a damper on the mood between them.
Diane noticed the change in his features as he raised his finger in the air.
“Hold that thought,” Ben urged looking to his pager as the call brought him back to reality faster than a cold shower, “I have to make a call.”
“Right now?” Diane frowned watching him rise up from the chair he was in.
“Unfortunately,” Ben grumbled giving her one last look as he wanted nothing more than to lose himself in her for the evening.
As he walked off, Diane let out a groan as she sank back into her chair bringing her arms up on the table top.  This was just her luck.  She’d finally gotten Ben out of the office and into her world of seduction when he gets a mystery page.  Who could possibly be so damned important that he’d walk away from dinner?  Clearly it wasn’t work as Brant and Avery were well into their own world of romance outside the office for a change.  With that thought in mind, Diane turned her attention to her glass before her as she let out another groan of frustration.
“Is everything alright,” the waiter questioned returning to her side as Diane plucked away at the dinner roll before her.
“Not really,” she shook her head tearing up the roll as she looked to the direction that Ben had drifted off to in order to return his page.
“Is there something I can do for you,” the waiter asked again.
“Got a pair of handcuffs,” Diane questioned with a huff as the waiter gave her a strange look.
“Excuse me?” he blinked back at her.
“Never mind,” she shook her head turning her attention back to her glass, “Some more wine would be great.”
“I’ll get right on it,” he promised leaving her alone once again as Diane thought to how long she’d waited to get Ben all to herself.  One way or another she’d find a way to get him just where she wanted him before this night is over.  That much she was sure of, she decided as she awaited his return taking this time to herself as she planned to lay out an offer to Ben he wouldn’t be able to refuse.


Cameron knocked gently upon the office door before turning the delicately polished brass knob and stepping inside. He cast a seductive smile towards Thea as she held up a finger to put him off for a moment in order to complete her phone call. He nodded in understanding before making his way to large windows which offered a breathtaking view of Lake Cardinal.

Things had to begin working in his favor soon. Of course, there was the matter of the demise of Dr. Mathis which seemed to be proceeding according to his wishes if tabloid scuttlebutt were to be believed. But there were still too many wild cards at play. Would Seth follow through on his mission to fetch the microfilm from the Ashford estate? Could Jade be dissuaded from her stance to reject him? And how long was it going to take to get Denton to file his lawsuit already?

“Sorry about that,” Thea spoke up as she hung up the phone, “I was clearing up a few matters in the New York office.”

“Nothing wrong, I hope,” He spoke as he turned to face her.
“Nothing that I couldn’t handle,” She said with a smile, “So what’s on your mind?”

“How did it go today at Denton Legal Services? Did you return his phone?”

“I did, but it didn’t go the way you would have hoped,” She admitted as she sank back in her chair, “Jade was not upset by my presence neither did she seem put out by the idea that Grady had been in my bed.”

“What is with this woman?” Cameron frowned, “Did she have any reaction to you at all?”

“She didn’t seem upset at all, but Grady was very nervous.”

“Perhaps he’s where we should focus our attentions,” He sat down across from her, “Let’s find out everything we can about Grady Denton. I know everything I’ll ever need to know about Jade, but Grady is a bit of a mystery to me. You know how I hate mysteries.”

“Yes, I do, but you do love to create them,” Thea smiled, “The murder of Dr. Mathis for instance.”

“I didn’t create that mess. I just fixed it,” He clarified, “And speaking of the Ashfords, how’s the situation with Seth?”

“Do you want me to press him?” She asked, “I do need to get rid of some aggression.”

He grinned, “As fun as that sounds, I think I want your aggression focused on him if he fails to bring the microfilm to me.”

“You sure know how to ruin a good time.”

“That’s what I’m hoping to do for Seth,” Cameron smiled, “If he doesn’t do exactly what I’ve employed him to do, I will break him in half.”

“Meaning that you’ll destroy his relationship with Miss Ashford, correct?”

“That’s the idea.”

“And what of Kipp?”

“What about him?”
“Have you spoken to him about Blake Ashford lately?”

“No, why?” Cameron asked with a frown, “Is there something I should know?”

“Let’s just say that I don’t think he’s really interested in pursuing her. I think Heather Gibbons has distracted him,” Thea informed him.

“Then I’ll just have to find a way to separate Kipp and Heather,” He said with contempt in his voice, “Because she has a job to do as well.”

“Do you really think she can get that ring?”

“I think she can do anything she sets out to do, and if she thinks that she might find a way back into Brant Ashford’s good graces, she’ll be even more intent to do what’s asked of her.”

“So where do you want to focus your attentions first?”

“I’ll deal with Grady Denton and the lawsuit,” Cameron spoke as he silently plotted mayhem, “You, in the meantime, focus on Seth. See if you can’t light a fire under him. And Heather…well…you just leave that little model to me.”

“You’re the boss,” Thea said with a grin, enjoying every last moment of Cameron’s plots and knowing that there would be plenty of rewards once the work was done.


Jade sighed softly as she lay her head upon Grady’s shoulder and closed her eyes, “Why didn’t you let me do this with you sooner?”

“Excuse me?” Grady asked as he cocked his head to the side to glance down at her.

“If you hadn’t been so stubborn all this time, we could have been enjoying all this time with one another. Instead you’ve denied us all this relaxation time,” She said softly as she eased her fingers along his chest, feeling the warmth of his skin through his clothing.

“So this is what I’ve been saving myself from, huh? That just proves I was right.”

Jade raised her head and nailed him with a nasty stare.

Grady lost his composure and broke into soft laughter, “I mean…hey, being this laid back could spoil a guy.”

“Oh you!” She groaned as she began poking him in the ribs.

He wrestled her hands into his embrace and caged her within his arms, “Gotcha.”

“Yes, you do,” She grinned as she eased her lips towards his.

“Hmm,” He mused as he pulled his lips away from her slightly to avoid her kiss, “Are you sure that sort of thing is allowed with this kind of…relaxation?”

“Oh it’s more than allowed. It’s highly recommended,” She assured him as she attempted to kiss him again.

Grady eased his lips to hers before a knock at the door delayed their kiss once again. He frowned as he glanced towards the door, “Who is it?” He shouted at his visitor.

“Who do you think it is? I’m the only visitor you ever have,” Russell replied as he opened the door and stepped inside. He stopped immediately upon seeing Jade, “Well maybe not the only visitor.”

“Hi Russ,” Jade grinned as she waved at him, “Come on in.”

“I see that you’re a little busy here,” Russell replied as he stuffed his hands into his pockets and rocked nervously upon his feet, “Maybe I should go.”

“Nonsense,” She declared and pointed to a recliner, “Sit down and talk to your brother. It’s late, and I should probably be going anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Grady asked, drawing her eyes back to his.

“Yeah. If I stay here, you’ll probably get uncomfortable with the idea that we’re moving too fast again, or Seth will come over here with homicidal intentions. Neither thought is too pretty,” She said as she gently patted his cheek, “So I’m going to go.”

“Okay, but only if you’re sure,” Grady frowned.

“I’m sure,” Jade smiled before easing her lips to his in a tender kiss. When their lips parted, she met his eyes, “I’ll see you at work tomorrow,” She said before slipping out of his arms and plucking her purse from the end table. She waved at Russ, “Good night,” Before she left the Denton brothers to themselves.

“Well,” Russell spoke with wide eyes before a large smile spread over his features, “It looks like things are finally working out for you two.”

“Yes they are,” Grady stretched his legs out in front of him and smiled, “Sit,” He said as he pointed to the same recliner Jade had offered him earlier, “What brings you by this time of night?”

“I’m just concerned about this investigation into Bruce’s death,” Russell admitted as he sank into the recliner.

“Why?” Grady groaned as he turned on the sofa and studied his brother.

“Brant’s ex is on the case, and she’s really pressing on the Avery angle.”

“His ex?” Grady thought for a moment before smiling with a crooked grin, “Shannon?”

“Yeah, why are you grinning like that?”

“Because I know Shannon, you moron,” Grady chuckled, “She’s a very rational and down to Earth woman. She’ll get all the facts before making a decision about anyone’s guilt or innocence.”

“You know her? How?” Russell asked, “And why did I not know anything about it?”

“Because not every aspect of my life was interesting to you. You know, back when you were chasing Avery around like a lost puppy dog,” Grady teased, “I actually met her through work.”

“Were you defending someone she was trying to nail?”

“No, I was giving a lecture on defense strategies in criminal cases at a law enforcement seminar, and she was in attendance.”

“Oh,” Russell frowned, “Wasn’t that around the same time you met Susan?”

“We’re not going to bring up Susan, but yeah, that was the general time period. Anyway, Shannon and I kind of hit it off afterward, and we spoke at length about the law and how the spirit of the law gets violated by both the defense and prosecution in order to look good for cameras and money. We both agreed that the spirit of the law should be held sacred above everything else.”

“Shannon? We are talking about Shannon Pryce here, right? The FBI agent who is currently in town and doing her dead level best to send Avery to the slammer?” Russell countered, “The only thing sacred to her is trying to get Brant back.”

“I seriously doubt that one. Shannon’s a smart girl, and she already took her disastrous ride on the Brant merry-go-round. She wouldn’t subject herself to that again.”

“Avery’s convinced otherwise.”

“Avery’s probably paranoid. You know how it is with Avery, Russ. She likes to play games, and she probably thinks it would make Brant all that more interesting if every woman who lives and breathes wanted him.”

“Why are you always so hateful towards Avery? Why are you so determined to hate her?”

“I don’t hate her, Russ. I just hate what she does to you. I don’t know how, but she’s got this power to take your highly developed brain and reduce it to an IQ in the negative numbers,” Grady shook his head in frustration, “I know you loved her. Hell, you probably still do. And she knows it too. She’ll use you until you either let go of your teenage fantasies of her or until she finds someone else who is willing to go that extra mile for her that you do.”

“She’s not like that, Grady,” Russell defended sternly, “She never was.”

“Believe what you want to believe, Russ, but she’s not the woman you want to believe she is. I just hope you haven’t done anything because of her that you’ll live to regret,” Grady warned.

“I don’t have to listen to this,” Russell stood and walked to the door. He turned and looked at his brother for a moment as he opened the door, “Avery is a good woman with a good heart. She just has horrible luck. I just wish you could see that,” He declared before walking out.

Grady frowned, “I just wish you could see her for what she really is, Russ, and I wish it would happen before it’s too late…if it isn’t already,” He sighed in resignation, knowing that only an act of God would get his brother to put aside his love for Avery and accept that their futures would never align in harmony.


Blake sat out back by the pool enjoying the quiet evening as she let out a lazy sigh stretching her arm out towards the chilled glass of lemonade waiting for her.  The house was quiet for a change, well that wasn’t entirely true since it seems Brant and Kenneth were always on the run, but still this appeared to be the first night that the reporters weren’t swarming around the estate hoping to dig up dirt on Brant and his engagement.  Blake rolled her eyes at the thought as she realized that this latest media frenzy had torn up her life more so than she’d thought possible when Brant decided to pull out all the stops on this one.  Still to think Brant would settle down, the very idea was preposterous, Blake reasoned sipping her drink as she lay back in the chair she’d settled into a bit earlier when the sun had still been going strong.
Now as Blake stretched out across the chair, she thought to the bubble bath she should be losing herself into or the romance novel she’d tossed aside a while ago, but as her thoughts were dominated by the quietness of the house, she decided to just enjoy the moment.  Looking to the phone beside her, she contemplated calling Seth, but decided against it as she thought to the disaster she was certain had taken place back at his apartment when he’d found Jade and Grady in bed together.  Just thinking back upon the anger behind his eyes, she felt a frown touch over her lips.  It wasn’t like Seth to be so full of rage and anger and that in itself made her wonder if there was more to Seth than she’d imagined.  Granted she’d enjoyed every single minute they’d shared together, but something about his tone earlier had been very unsettling.
“Stop it,” she urged herself thinking to how she seemed to let her imagination get the best of her in terms of relationships.  Now after she and Seth had taken a step forward in their feelings for one another, she realized she was taking the typical Blake Ashford step back.  The other night had been beautiful, wonderful, exhilarating and humiliating all at once, she frowned shifting in the chair as a wind picked up beside the pool.  She took another drink of her lemonade as she thought to the intimate moment they’d shared and how it had come to an abrupt closure when she’d blurted out those stupid, stupid words.  Damn her for getting carried away.
Blake Ashford was known as a great many things over the years, but stupid enough to lose herself to the moment, her frown deepened as the thoughts swirled in her mind.  That was just unheard of.  Still as she thought to Seth’s response to her, she’d thought it was such a tender and romantic gesture, but now as she realized he hadn’t called her since she’d left, she began to wonder if maybe she’d read him wrong.  Maybe he was just trying to let her down gently as she turned out to be more of a hassle than he’d wanted to deal with.  Maybe he’d decided that she wasn’t worth the wait and he’d forgotten all about her.  After all what kind of man like Seth would want to waste his time with someone like her without an ulterior motive?  That seemed to be what was the name of the game for her.
As Blake rose from the chair, she collected her things, feeling a sour mood sweep over her as the memories of the men from her past haunted her.  Sure each relationship served it’s purpose, but time and time again she found herself broken hearted and let down because the man she’d wanted so very much turned out to be nothing more than a joke.  Even reflecting about the poor choices she’d made over the years made her want to scream.  She hated this doubt that came along in these moments of happiness as the best times of her life were always certain to bring about the worst things she’d ever lived through, but the point was that she lived through them, right?
Blake felt her inner conflict rushing over her as she reached for the phone ready to dial Caitlin, but as she thought to Caitlin’s blossoming romance with Kenneth, Blake hung up the phone.  There was no need in putting a damper on Caitlin’s mood now that she’d found some happiness.  Blake was sure that her whining was the last thing Caitlin wanted, but still Blake realized she needed someone to vent to--someone to understand what was going on and damn as luck would have it, that someone was off having the time of her life with Kenneth no less.  That in itself really made Blake question her own thoughts on wanting Kenneth and Caitlin together.  Granted she loved them both very much, but now that her brother was seeing her best friend, well it took away from the time they could be sharing together like this moment as Blake was allowing self doubt to fester in her.
Oh why couldn’t Seth just picked up the phone and called, she cursed under her breath making her way into the empty estate as she slumped her shoulders finding herself in a sour state.  The one thing she hated more than being alone in confusion was being in a bad mood for no real reason other than self pity.  That in itself was enough to drive her mad as she wished she hadn’t urged Annie to go out for the evening.  Usually things like this weren’t a big deal, but with Brant off making his latest headline and Kenneth off wooing Caitlin, it left Blake in the place she’d found herself over the years--alone.  She turned towards the staircase ready to lose herself in something or at least die trying as she started up the stairs.  She was halfway up the winding staircase when she heard the bell and immediately she perked up.
“It has to be Seth,” she grinned rushing down the stairs as her heart fluttered with anticipation.  She quickly wrapped herself up in the towel she’d brought in with her as she checked her appearance quickly.  Sure she looked a bit tousled, but tousled was always good right, she adjusted the towel around her body a bit before blowing a kiss at her reflection.  She ran her fingers through her blonde hair mussing it up a bit as she surveyed herself once again.  The bell rang once more and with a feeling of boldness, Blake plucked the towel away from her body, allowing the tanned lines of her blue polka dot bikini to be all the eye candy Seth would need as she forced herself to keep a lazy expression vowing not to show him just how excited she was about his arrival.
Drawing in a slow breath, Blake reached for the door opening it leisurely as she leaned against the door frame offering up a heavy sigh, “Can I help you,” she questioned her gaze rising over the man before her as she fluttered her eyelashes at him.
“I think I just died and went to heaven,” Kipp gulped taking in the vision before him as Blake let out a tiny gasp.
“Kipp,” she shrieked quickly pulling her towel against her as she clumsily wrapped herself up, “wh-what are you doing here?”
“I was in the neighborhood and I thought maybe I could coax you into that dinner we’d talked about,” he flashed her a bright smile as his eyes devoured her greedily, “that is if you aren’t busy.”
“Well I was sort of hoping that,” Blake started before shaking her head in resignation realizing that Seth clearly had no intentions of surprising her.  She took a step back opening the door wider, “On second thought, why don’t you come on in?”
“Are you sure,” he questioned looking around the foyer before making a step forward, “because if you’re busy…”
“No, I’m not busy at all,” she shook her head with a sigh as she closed the door behind him, “I was just kind of sunning by the pool before the sun went down.”
“Really?” Kipp questioned with wide eyes thinking about the display he’d seen at the doorway, “Well you know if you want, we can go back there.”
“The sun’s not really out anymore,” Blake shrugged her shoulders before offering up a tiny smile, “so there really wouldn’t be a point in trying to soak up the sun.”
“Even so, I heard you have a great pool,” Kipp offered with a smile, “I caught the layout that Fantasy Gardens did on it along with the fountain you have.  I have to say it’s really remarkable.”
“Well thank you,” Blake smiled politely, “My father had that brought in from Europe a very long time ago, but I do happen to enjoy it.”
“As you should,” Kipp nodded in agreement, “of course my father had his own fountain brought in, but it pales in comparison to what you have here.”
“Your father,” Blake gave him a strange look before thinking it over, “Your last name is Mahoney.  So your father would be Douglas Mahoney the movie producer?”
Kipp nodded, “The one and only, though I don’t like to flaunt that fact much considering that most of the time people tend to use me to get to him since they think I can get them ahead by association.”
“I can understand that one,” Blake answered thoughtfully, “Being from the public eye tends to make people gravitate towards you in ways that you’d really rather not have them do.  You can’t be sure who your real friends are.”
“I’ve learned that if they aren’t sincere, then they aren’t worth my time,” Kipp added with a smile, “but then again, in some cases, I just push myself out there and take a risk hoping that it’ll turn out better than the last time.”
“I know what you mean,” Blake decided looking to her apparel once again, “you know I should really get cleaned up.”
“Well if you’re interested, I’d love to do dinner,” Kipp grinned at her, “that is of course if your guy for the moment let’s you eat.”
“Seth lets me eat,” Blake shook her head at his words.
“Well good then I’m sure he won’t be upset when he hears that I’m keeping you healthy,” Kipp teased with a tiny chuckle.
“I suppose that would depend on what you had in mind for dinner,” Blake thought it over, “I mean if you’re out to get me something that’s completely wrong for me…”
“I was thinking Chinese,” Kipp added as his gaze swept over her noting that he wouldn’t mind a side order of Blake for dessert, “so what do you say?”
“Well I was going to hop into the shower there considering that I’ve been in the sun all day,” Blake began contemplating Kipp’s offer, “though if you don’t mind being around me like this I could just throw some clothes on quickly I suppose…”
“Or you could go as you are, though we might have some explaining to do,” Kipp laughed lightly.
“I think I’ll opt for some more clothes as we wouldn’t want another Ashford family scandal on her hands.  Just give me a minute,” she replied with a tiny laugh making her way up the stairs to get changed.
“I’ll be eagerly waiting right here,” he called up to her as she disappeared out of his line of vision.  Watching her slip away, he turned his attention to the foyer thinking of all of Cameron’s plans for the Ashfords.  Certainly Cameron had underestimated his abilities, but he had no doubt in his mind that he’d show Cameron that he was more than capable of getting the job done, not to mention having a little fun with Blake in the process.  Sure he was ready to pledge his life to Heather, but she was still trying to keep him at arm’s length.  He knew what she was all about in wanting that movie career, and hey if she played her cards right, he’d get it for her.  She deserved nothing less, but for now, well now was time to prove his worth to Cameron and tonight with Blake would be just the start of that.
“I’ll show Cameron what real help is worth these days instead of those losers he picked up off the street,” Kipp thought to himself as he remembered his encounter with Seth Alexander.  That man clearly was all wrong for this job, not to mention he was no where near Blake’s speed and Kipp would find a way to show that to Blake.  Now as he waited for her to return, he noticed a small black purse on the table before him.  Looking around, he felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth.
“I don’t mind if I do,” he reached for the purse going through it’s contents as he realized that it was Blake’s.  His grin widened as he shuffled through her things ready to find something he could use during their dinner to get closer to her when the ringing of her cell phone caught him off guard.  Nearly dropping the purse as the ringing continued, he looked up to the top of the stairs seeing that Blake hadn’t returned.  He eyed the number seeing it was Seth as a wicked smile filled his dark features.  Quickly turning off the phone and tucking it back into her purse, he set it back where he’d found it waiting for her to return.
“I’m ready,” Blake announced making her way down the stairs as she looked to Kipp, “Were you on the phone?”
“No,” he shook his head, “not at all.  I was just admiring this painting right here,” he nodded towards the wall.
“That’s one of Brant’s favorites too,” Blake confessed reaching to her purse, “He says it’s very inspiring in some cryptic sort of way.”
“I could see that on some level,” he offered turning his attention to her, “Hungry?”
“Starved,” she answered quickly.
“Excellent, then because I’m sure by the time this night is over, you’re going to find that I’ve shown you a whole new world of fine cuisine as this place I’m taking you to is one of the best.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Blake teased in response opening the door as he stepped onto the porch ready to enjoy a quiet dinner with Kipp hoping to find a way to distract herself from Seth’s not calling.


Seth hung up the phone a frown touching over his features as he wondered where Blake could be.  He’d spent most of the day worked up about Jade’s obsession with men who clearly wanted to use and abuse her, but more so Seth was struggling to find a way to tell Blake about the situation.  While he’d managed to give her a half truth the other night, he realized he owed her more than that if he’d ever hoped to accomplish anything real between them.  If only she knew the truth about why he’d agreed to work for Cameron.  If only he could tell her everything about Jade and why protecting Jade was the most important thing.  Surely she would understand, but how to put that into words.  He reached for her phone dialing once again as he hoped to connect with her, but as her voice mail picked up again, he let out a sigh hanging up the phone knowing that a voice mail wasn‘t enough.
“This can’t wait,” he reminded himself as he decided to take things a step further in stopping by the mansion in the hopes of catching up with her.  Grabbing his keys he headed to the door of his apartment ready to make tonight a night of truths between him and Blake as he pulled open the door finding himself face to face with one of the last people he wanted to encounter.
“Going somewhere?” Thea’s eyes darted up at him as Seth frowned realizing that tonight was about to become something ugly.


Shannon stood outside the restaurant and frowned deeply. She remembered this place from her days with Brant, and she definitely remembered Kimberly, the little tramp Brant had slipped away with for a lusty weekend. As she considered going into the restaurant, she silently reprimanded herself for ever getting involved with Brant in the first place. She’d heard all the stories about him, but for some reason, she’d allowed herself to give in to the physical attraction she felt for him. If she hadn’t gotten involved with him, things wouldn’t be nearly as complicated as they currently seemed to be.

She took one last calming breath before she walked into the restaurant. One of Coral Valley’s finest accompanied her, but she was certain she wouldn’t need his help. The last thing she wanted to do was cause a commotion and give the press a story to feast upon.

“Can I help you?” Kimberly asked as she blocked Shannon’s entry into the restaurant.

“Only by getting out of my way,” Shannon declared as she flashed her badge.

“Our patrons expect privacy, and I don’t think they’re going to want you disrupting their meal.”

“I really don’t care what they want or don’t want. I have a job to do.”

“And so do I,” Kimberly declared defiantly with a hand upon her hip.

“Oh really? And what would that be? Servicing the clientele in more ways than one?”

“What?” The hostess shrieked in insult.

“Your laces are undone there, babe,” Shannon said with a dismissive wave of her hand as she pushed Kimberly aside and made her way into the dining room. She looked around the tables before spotting her quarry across the room. She approached the table with caution, knowing that she was about to ignite a volatile situation.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Brant spoke in the instant he saw her.

“Avery Morrison,” Shannon began, ignoring Brant’s presence, “You need to come with me.”

Avery set her jaw in defiance as she glared at the FBI agent, “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Ms. Morrison, we can do this any way you choose, but I really think you’d prefer to do this with some dignity. Just stand up and walk out of here with me. I don’t want to have to handcuff you,” Shannon stated firmly.

“I don’t know who you are, and I really don’t care to,” Richard spoke up in his daughter’s defense, “My daughter is not going anywhere with you without her counsel.”

“The Chief of Police is attempting to contact Kenneth Ashford, sir,” Shannon glanced back to Avery, “He’ll meet us at the station.”

“And just what is this all about?” Brant asked as he stood from his chair, “If this is some half baked attempt to discredit Avery…”

“Why would I have to attempt to discredit her when she’s already done that for herself?” Shannon declared, “There are several inconsistencies in Ms. Morrison’s statements, and I want to question her in a formal setting. Now,” She said as she placed her hand upon Avery’s shoulder, “It’s up to you, but I really think it’s best for everyone if you cooperate.”

“Avery isn’t going anywhere,” Brant declared boldly as he swept Shannon’s hand away from Avery, “Now go back to the Bureau and tell them that if they want to come after the Ashfords, they’ll have to do better than this.”

“Brant, don’t make me have to hurt you,” Shannon warned before pushing him away, “Let’s go,” She said as she hauled Avery out of her chair.

“Look lady,” Avery shouted, wresting herself out of Shannon’s reach, “Maybe you don’t get it. I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“Except lie to the authorities in your every statement since Dr. Mathis’ death,” Shannon said as she glanced around the restaurant, “Ms. Morrison, please, let’s not make this scene any more explosive than it already is.”

Avery glanced to her father with an apologetic look, “I’m so sorry about this.”

“It’s not your fault, Avery. If these people think they can get away with this harassment, they’re wrong. I’ll follow you to the station, and I’m sure Ken will straighten all of this out,” Richard assured her.

Avery nodded before she followed Shannon out of the restaurant.

“Brant,” Brooke said his name hopelessly as she grasped his arm, “You have to do something. That horrible woman is going to destroy Avery. You can’t let that happen.”

“I won’t let that happen,” Brant declared as he and Avery’s parents left the restaurant, all three determined to help Avery escape the clutches of Shannon’s ambition.

...to be continued...