Episode 286

“Come on Diego,” Heather stifled the laugh that built up in the back of her throat. She leaned back on the sofa watching him greedily knowing full well that he was less than comfortable standing in front of her clad only in his boxer shorts, but after she’d initiated this little game between them, she knew full well that one of them had to be victorious and as predicted, it was her. She looked down to where she’d folded his clothes in a neat little pile beside her and her grin expanded. “It’s not going to be that bad. Just hand them over and we’ll call it a game.”

“This is hardly fair,” Diego argued eyeing the toss pillow on Heather’s couch precariously knowing that he should just get up and leave, but he’d made a deal with her--a very stupid, very reluctant deal no less, but now that his hand of poker was the zenith of embarrassment after this night of losing the game to her, he knew he had to pay up.

“Want me to help,” Heather wiggled her brow at Diego carefully untucking her toes out from beneath her where she’d placed them after all she’d lost in one bad hand was her pair of shoes on her feet. She cast her gaze over him appreciatively before smiling, “because you know I’d be more than willing to do so. Hell, I’m pretty sure you’d find the experience to be quite enjoyable.”

“I think I’d better play it safe,” Diego finally decided on reaching for the pillow trying to maintain some semblance of dignity as he prepared to disrobe completely for Heather. He sucked in a sharp breath and rose from where he was seated placing the pillow in front of him. He curled his finger in underneath the waistband of his shorts and Heather let out an impatient squeal.

“Oh no,” Heather rose to her feet snatching the pillow away from him, “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to be any less than sensational in the delivery. You would’ve had no problems with my stripping down naked for you, so I fully expect the same treatment.”

“Somehow I get the distinct feeling I was conned in this one,” Diego eyed her skeptically. “You stacked the deck, didn’t you?”

“Hardly,” she waved her hand at him dismissively clutching the pillow she’d taken from him to her chest, “I’m just that damn good. I had a great teacher at this game and trust me he’s someone that even I have trouble beating every now and then.”

“And who might that be?” Diego arched a curious brow in the hopes of distracting her.

“That’s for me to know and you to never find out,” she snapped her fingers together in the air, “Now quit stalling and take it off baby. Would you prefer I give you some mood music?”

“I’d prefer you take mercy on this old soul here and have some pity on me,” Diego’s dark eyes sought hers out, “You don’t really want me to be standing here naked like this under these circumstances, do you?”

“As a matter of fact yes, yes I do,” she nodded eagerly licking her lips again, “I mean hey you’ve seen me raw and naked in every sense of the world. You know things about me that I’ve never told anyone else, so in that sense I’ve opened myself up to you in ways that no one else has come close to in a long time. Your losing your boxer shorts doesn’t even come close to that Diego.”

“Even so, it’s kind of chilly in here, don’t you think?” he began again in an attempt to stall.

“No, not really,” Heather strode over to him casually, her blue-green eyes fixed on his. Leisurely she reached out to him tracing her nails over the center of his chest, dragging her nails lightly over his toned body. A smile crept in over the corners of her lips as she felt him shiver beneath her touch. “In fact, I happen to think it’s getting very, very hot in here.”

“You don’t play fair. I’m sure of it,” Diego mouthed feeling her fingers dip in over the waistband of his boxer shorts.

“I never said I did,” Heather mouthed leaning forward and claiming his lips with fiery intensity. She slipped her fingers in underneath his boxers sliding her hands in over his hips and using the distraction of the kiss to further her agenda. She felt his body warm up to her touch, his mouth melding perfectly with hers and with no further prompting she tugged on the cottony material of his boxer shorts dragging them down over his hips victoriously.

“Heather,” Diego’s words buzzed against her kiss causing her to feel even further elated in her victory.

“I believe these are mine now,” Heather’s touch traveled around to explore his body, her touch tapering off over the root of his masculinity feeling his body spring to life with nervous energy beneath her touch.

“Heather,” he closed his eyes sucking in a sharp breath, “that’s not my boxer shorts you’re reaching for there.”

“I’m well aware of that,” she mouthed lavishing him with the warmth of her soft touch. She almost had him where she wanted him to be. She was sure of it and with one more tug on his boxers, he’d be naked and all hers for the taking. She leaned forward to kiss him again when there was a sudden boom coming from the front of her apartment.

“What the…” Diego gulped retracting from her, his eyes now divided in panic. He looked around the apartment only to discover another man standing in the doorway holding a box of Krispy Kreme Donuts.

“Well, what do we have here?” Chris couldn’t help but ask seeing Heather and Diego standing together in front of him in the middle of her living room. She was dressed. He was, well partially dressed, but judging by the proximity between him and Heather, Chris was sure that this Latin would be lover would’ve easily been disrobed if Chris had only waited a few seconds longer before coming into the unlocked apartment. Of course, fortunately for Chris that simply wasn’t the case. Gleefully Chris greeted Heather and her boy toy with a grin, “Looks like I showed up in the knick of time here didn’t I?”


“So as you can see the only way to save Brant is to help him through this by giving him what he needs,” Don finished with a heavy sigh rubbing his hands together. His blue eyes were fixed on Avery knowing full well he was taking a gamble, yet with his best friend’s future on the line it was a risk he was willing to take. He just hoped that Avery would give him what he’d been seeking out in coming to visit her hospital room, “Avery, the only way to keep Brant from going under is for you to go back home with him again.”

“Wait a second,” Russell’s jaw practically dropped as he glared over at Don, “Are you trying to say that you want my wife to go back to the mansion and live with Brant as his wife?”

“Technically she is his wife,” Don pointed out the obvious catching the snarl Russ threw back at him, “whether you like it or not, Avery is married to Brant and as his wife she’s the one who needs to start thinking about his future here. She’s the one who is in charge of what happens next.”

“The hell she is,” Russ couldn’t help but let his anger get the best of him. “There is no way that…”

“Russ, it’s unfortunately the only way,” Ken couldn’t believe he was saying after he too had listened to Don’s talk about what was going on with Brant. While Ken didn’t want to shake up the situation more than it already had been knowing how far Brant had gone to try to help him was more than reason enough for Ken to stand by his brother in the hopes of helping him regain his health again. “Brant is so far gone right now that I’m not willing to risk losing him completely. If Avery is the only person that can reach out to him, then I think she should do it. I think she should come back to the mansion with him.”

Avery’s dark eyes snapped over at Ken. There was a clear tension in the air that Russ picked up on right away, but he couldn’t quite place it. Given the way Avery was looking at Ken, Russ figured that she too was feeling the ridiculousness of this all this weighing upon her as well. Taking a step towards Don and Ken, Russ took in a long slow breath.

“It’s not happening,” Russ insisted firmly, “Regardless of whatever scheme you have cooked up for Brant, it’s not happening. I’m not letting Avery go back to that place with any of you.”

“Russ, I can more than speak for myself,” Avery frowned over at him seeing his heavy agitation.

“Avery, I’m just saying that…” Russ replied turning around to face her, “I don’t want you stuck in this mess. You don’t need to have this thrown on you on top of…”

“Russ, as much as you hate to see it, Ken’s right,” Avery confessed reluctantly, “The law states that Brant and I are husband and wife. He’s in a bad place right now and if he needs me, well how can I turn my back on him?”

“Avery, you and I should be married right now. You were my wife--and in our hearts we still are married. We have a daughter and…” Russ tried to remind her wondering if she too had lost her mind.

“Russ, listen to me,” Avery reached out to him taking his hand in hers, “How do you think Erin would feel if she knew that I had a chance to help a man, but I turned my back on him when he needed me the most? What kind of person would that make me?”

“A smart one given that the Ashford family is nothing but trouble,” Russ repeated his mantra feeling a chill creep in over him at Don’s sharp words.

“Yet, wouldn’t that hold true for you given that you’re one of them?” Don stated bluntly noticing the way Russ tipped his head up to glare at him, “I’m just stating the obvious here since you’re ready to condemn your family here. Hell, Brant is your brother and for you to feel all this contempt for him…”

“He’s not my brother,” Russ snarled in response, “Just because you think you know something, you don’t. What you shared with us, it’s irrelevant. Biology means nothing.”

“Yet you’re using it as your excuse to keep Avery from doing what in her heart she knows is right,” Don continued to lash out at Russ, “You’re playing her feelings for Erin against her heart in the sense that Brant is her husband. She cares about Brant, but you’re berating her and making her feel horrible for loving him.”

“I’m not berating her and if you don’t shut up…” Russ moved to get up and go after Don again.

“Russ wait,” Avery clenched onto his arm refusing to let him go attack Brant’s best friend, “Russ please listen to me.”

“Avery,” Russ faced her again, his green eyes full of concern and worry. He reached out to touch her cheek tenderly, “We have fought like hell to find our way to one another again. That family found a way to keep us apart--to make you believe I was dead…”

“My mother played a part in that Russ,” Avery sighed lowering her voice, “She was one of those people who hurt you and tried to keep us apart.”

“So then why let her win?” his voice softened a bit, “Why let them keep us from being together?”

“Russ, that’s not what’s happening here,” Avery continued a heavy sigh falling from her lips, “Russ, I love you. I’ve spent my whole life loving you. What we have is something that no one has ever been able to take away from us. We belong together. I don’t doubt that for a second--I’ve never doubted that even when we were apart. You’re the man I want to grow old with--the man that I want to share my future with and you’re the man I trust with my heart completely, but right now Brant needs me. He needs us to help him through this…”

“Avery, I just don’t trust him. I don’t trust that,” he began feeling her press her finger over his lips to silence him.

“Russ, I’m asking you to trust me. As your one true love, you need to listen to me when I tell you that Brant didn’t have anything to do with what happened to you. Sure, maybe his father did do this, but that doesn’t mean that Brant was involved. You knew nothing about Nicholas being your father just like Brant knew nothing about Nicholas being alive. You were both in the dark about this situation as was I. If I’d known that Brooke took part in this…”

“Avery, how could you have? Granted your mother has hated us together for years, but…” he shook his head at her, “It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s Brant that I don’t trust. I’ve never trusted the guy especially considering that he’s done everything imaginable to keep us from being together--from having the life that we were meant to share with one another…”

“But we still have it Russ,” she traced her index finger gingerly over his jaw line, “We’ve always had it and we always will now that we have Erin.”

“Avery I just…” Russ began again feeling her finger over his lips once more.

“I know,” she nodded before turning her attention to Don and Ken, “Can you two please give us some time alone together?”

“Avery, I really need to know an answer. The longer Brant is in here, the more…” Don protested with an obvious unhappiness with her response.

“Of course we can give you two some time alone,” Ken swatted at Don’s arm issuing Don a warning look, “We’ll just be out in the hall when you’re ready to give us an answer.”

“Thank you,” Avery smiled at him before directing her attention to Russ again. She could see so many things happening behind his eyes--things that were based on fears and worries about what they had lost in the past--about things they could lose, but more so she knew that his concerns about Brant were deep rooted from what had happened to him. Now they had so much on their plates given all the life altering news that had been dumped on their laps over the last few days, but now, well now was about trying to pull the pieces together and do the right thing even if it was the most difficult thing in the whole world.

“Avery, I don’t want you to do this,” Russ frowned down at her knowing that despite his many protests, she was caving to some kind of misguided loyalty to Brant. “I know that you think you owe him something, but…”

“But nothing. Russ if it wasn’t for Brant, then I don’t know what would’ve happened to me or to our daughter,” Avery explained desperately, “So many things were happening when you were gone--things that were beyond any of our control.”

“Avery, I understand that but…” he started once again.

“Russ, do you remember when we broke up in college? When I suggested that we should see other people,” she questioned out of the blue catching wind of his surprised expression.

“How can I forget,” he finally replied, “It was the worst three months of my life. All I could think about was driving to Harvard and convincing you what a mistake you were making. I wanted you to see that you were wrong in thinking we needed a break from one another.”

“I know,” she nodded again, “I felt the same way, but deep down in my heart even with our being apart, it never changed the way I felt for you. I never stopped believing that we’d get back together again. Even after I was convinced that you were moving on with your life with Johanna, I still held out hope that you and I would return to each other…”

“And we did,” he couldn’t help but smile reaching out to touch her cheek gently, “We found our way together again at the cabin…”

“That’s right,” she nodded sliding her warm fingers against his soft, bronzed skin, “to the place where it all began for us--to the one special place that has always brought us together again.”

“It’s always been the place that’s represented our love for each other,” Russ added with a thoughtful expression, “Ever since the first moment we went there together…”

“And even now. We shared so many experiences there,” Avery continued with a small smile, “Our daughter was born there.”

“Under some pretty unique circumstances,” he nodded in response unable to refrain from smiling at the thought of when Erin entered the world, “but all in all even with all the craziness surrounding her birth, we were able to have things turn out in our favor.”

“Yes we were,” she nodded in response, “and that’s kind of my point here Russ. With everything that’s happening, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s going to be easy because it’s not, but at the same time I need you to trust me. I need you to believe that somehow we’re going to find a way to get through this--that we’re going to be able to have that peace and happily ever after at the end of the road…”

“Avery I want that, but with Brant,” Russ started once again hating the fact that in his absence Brant had been able to get further ties to Avery.

“Russell Denton, you are the great love of my life and if you think for one second that I’ve forgotten that, then you are even more delusional than ever,” she blurted out reaching out to curl her fingers around the back of his neck, “I love you so very much and I have no intentions of letting go of what we have. When I thought I lost you, it was as if this huge chunk of my heart was taken from me. You are my heart, my soul and my one true destiny. I wouldn’t for a second let go of our love…”

“But?” he arched a speculative brow.

“But you need to let me help Brant. After everything he’s done for Erin and I, you need to give me an opportunity to repay him--to help him if I can,” Avery sighed heavily, “I realize that might feel like I’m asking too much out of you, but…”

“Avery, I’m just afraid of what could happen--about what will happen once you get sucked into his web. If I could’ve been here…” Russ began again.

“Russ, we were all put in a place that we didn’t want to be, but right now is about healing. We have to help Brant heal before we can even think about moving forward otherwise we’ll always have a dark cloud hanging over our head--one that we’ll never be able to get out of even if we try,” she revealed fearing that if they didn’t fix the mistakes of the past and try to do the right thing, it could end up costing everyone their future down the road!


Grady paced around the hospital corridor thinking about what was happening with his brother. While he wanted to be there for Russ, he didn’t think that going into Brant’s room and pulling the plug on him would be a good idea. Then again Brant wasn’t on life support, so that would be kind of pointless. Of course Grady could always strangle him and put him on life support, but that would probably elicit more sympathy from the world around him, thus putting Brant in more of a position to be pitied upon.

Sighing Grady threw his hands up in the air and walked in a new direction. It seemed like nothing was making sense--no matter how the situation played out someone was going to get hurt and Grady feared it would be Russ. Dropping down to one of the chairs lined up against the wall, Grady placed his hand in his head thinking about how this situation had to be hurting Russ. It was bad enough to come back home and see that the love of your life had married someone else, let alone your worst enemy. Then to find out that he’d been lied to--that their family was surrounded with lies. Closing his eyes again Grady felt his own guilt tearing away at him.

“And I’ll have you know that it takes a lot to get me drunk and trust me I’ve wanted this for years,” Grady mouthed leaning in towards her, “I’ve wanted it ever since that night we spent together and even now I’m wanting you unlike anything I’ve ever imagined. I need you Avery.”

Avery placed her hands firmly on Grady’s shoulders thinking about what he’d just said to her. She started to back away from him in an attempt to scoot up and out of the bed, but he pulled her in closer to him. “Now I know you’re drunk because you couldn’t possibly mean that.”

“And just why not?” Grady questioned uneasily feeling his body grow rigid at her blatant refusal of him. Here he was ready to delve into his fantasies about her and there she was being obstinate as usual defying his own declarations with her own twisted Avery logic. “Why wouldn’t I mean it?”

“Because I know you,” she replied pointedly, her eyes searching his for clarity or perhaps it was for an affirmation of her declaration. Either way she didn’t seem to be getting what she was hoping for. “You’ve spent all these years making me miserable and…”

“And I’ve done a wonderful job of covering up for how I really felt,” he confessed, his voice raw and full of yearning as the underside of his palm pressed in against her soft skin, teasing over her shoulder in a slow, sensual movement, “In hiding how much I wanted to kiss you that night that you took me to the Beholder party. Right before Russ came in I found myself imagining what it would be like to be that close to you--to taste your lips after all the nights I spent dreaming about them. I’d imagined even back then that you’d be like a culmination of fire and seduction--that your passion for life would no doubt make you remarkable at kissing.”

“Grady…” she dropped her gaze her eyes trying to focus on anything but him.

“And I was right,” he curled his finger underneath her chin urging her to meet his eyes again, “Kissing you is like heaven. It’s something that I thought about time after time. When I was holding you that night--when we were dancing together--the way that you leaned into me--the way it felt to have you in my arms…it was like one of those fairy tales where the prince takes his princess to the ball--where they danced the night away lost in one another…”

“But that night was…” Avery stammered feeling her face grow hot with an unexpected fire as she tried to process what he was saying to her.

“And then there were all those other moments through the years,” his words poured from him freely now that he was no longer a man with anything else to lose but his heart, “I always thought that you were by far the prettiest girl on the playground and when you approached me to play baseball that first day, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was about you that had me so upset--so infuriated…”

“I told you to go to hell,” she reminded him with a small laugh nervousness rumbling in her abdomen.

“Yes,” he laughed lightly thinking back, “Yes you did, but it was something more than that. You had a spark about you--a fire and somehow I couldn’t quite get it out of my head that I’d hesitated--that I’d just let you stomp off like that instead of going after you. Here I spent so many years wishing like hell that I could’ve gone after you that day on the playground--that I would’ve been smart enough to walk you home, but instead I had to live in the realization that I missed out when Russ was the one that found you first. You have no idea how jealous I was when I found out you two had something between you. I can’t even begin to tell you how many nights I lay awake wondering what it would’ve been like if it would’ve been us together instead of the two of you…”

“Grady,” she blinked back at him, shock evident in her face, “I can’t believe that I’m hearing this…that I’m…”

“I can’t believe I’m telling you all of this, but it’s the truth,” his thumb skimmed over her bottom lip gingerly, “I have never met another woman who has made me feel as reckless and out of control like you do Avery. You know how to get to me--to really make me want to react--to lose myself in thoughts of only you--to surround myself by you even when I don’t want to…”

“That’s because you’re a hothead where I’m concerned. You said it yourself I infuriate you and…,” she offered up with a nervous smile not quite sure what to think about what he was telling her.

“No, it’s because when I’m with you, something happens to me. I turn into this man that,” he leaned forward kissing her quickly, “that just can’t help himself.”

“Grady, I know what you’re saying but…” she pressed her hand in the center of his chest once more.

“But what? You want more?” Grady questioned arching a curious brow, “Okay, how about we talk about the time I found you beside that tree? You know when you broke your arm? Do you remember that?”

She nodded, “I remember.”

“Well when I took you to the hospital I was so afraid,” he confessed his fingers sweeping in to push the hair from her eyes as he spoke from his heart, “I kept thinking to myself that I didn’t want you to cry--that I didn’t want you to be in pain. I kept praying to God over and over again to keep you from hurting--to just see that you were okay because to see you cry like that it killed me inside. I wanted like nothing else for you to be alright and it was then that I promised myself that if you made it through that experience that I would stop wanting you--would stop loving you like I did…”

“Grady, you don’t love me. You might think that you do, but…” her words were silenced by his finger in against her lips.

“I spent a great many years resenting Russ for what he had with you--hating myself for not making my move and even that night when we went home together, you have no idea how hard it was for me to do the right thing. When I urged you into leaving, the fact to the matter was that I wanted you to stay--I wanted you to be with me--for us to give this a chance, but then I knew how it would hurt Russ if we did,” Grady confessed a sigh spilling over his lips, “I guess that was always the one thing that kept me from going too far--from crossing any lines and maybe deep down that was why I treated you so horribly--not because I hated you, but because I hated myself for knowing how I’d lied about what it was you meant to me,” Grady continued with an impassioned voice, “but I’m not going to lie to myself any longer. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t care about you because I do Avery. I’m not going to act like this wasn’t supposed to happen for us because after last night, well I’m done with living a lie. I’m not going to ignore my heart any longer. I have nothing left to lose and I know what I want and the truth to the matter is that I want you Avery--only you.”

“Grady,” he heard a voice bring him back to the present snapping him out of the daze the memory of making love to Avery had imprinted in his mind. It hadn’t been that long ago, yet it felt like it was further away than ever now that Russ was home and in turmoil. Immediately regretting his thoughts lingering back to that one night they shared with one another, Grady fought to contain the startle that rushed over him.

“Hey relax,” the voice explained as Grady noticed a pair of long legs before him. The woman standing in front of him stepped back and removed her hand from his shoulder where she’d touched him earlier, “I was just trying to see if you were okay, but next time I’ll just pretend I didn’t see you there.”

“Deana,” Grady tipped his head up to see the concerned expression on her face. He could see that he’d startled her as well and with a heavy sigh he sat up straighter, bringing his palms down to rub against the outside of his leg, “I’m sorry about that.”

“About what?” she questioned folding her arms in front of her chest, “The fact that every time I’m around you, you’re ready to launch an attack or for the fact that you can’t stop stalking me?”

“Stalking you,” Grady repeated with an amused grin. “Oh please sweetheart, you were the one who was following me around. I know that you couldn’t resist the urge to come on over here and reach out and touch me. Admit it you think I’m cute.”

“Actually I was hoping I could persuade you into getting up and out of here so that people who really should be here could use the seat you’re in,” she snubbed in response wrinkling her nose at him.

“Hey, I have every right to be here,” Grady objected rising to his feet to face her down. He couldn’t help but notice the flecks of amber behind her brown eyes. He watched the way that her lips turned downward in the beginnings of a frown and he couldn’t help but grin. “Really I don’t see what your problem is with having me around.”

“Well, from where I stand it appears that you have no life,” she folded her arms in front of her chest, “because why else would you continue to bother me?”

“Bother you?” Grady couldn’t help but offer up an amused laugh, “Um sweetheart in case you haven’t noticed my family is in the midst of a crisis in this hospital which keeps me hanging around. Granted you might want to believe that it’s some deep rooted lust for you and that less than perky disposition of yours, but don’t flatter yourself. I’m not interested.”

“Good because I wouldn’t want you to be,” she wrinkled her nose again a look of disgust overtaking her. “I’m not really in the mood to be shooting down losers this early on in a new town.”

“Losers?” Grady repeated watching her walk away. He frowned before taking a step towards her. He reached out to her stopping her from walking away, “Who said I was a loser?”

“Do you really need to ask?” she questioned flashing him a mysterious grin. “I’ve heard the talk around this town.”

“Then you’ll know full well that I’m anything but a loser,” Grady continued to inform her point blank. “I happen to be the life of a party and a guy that a lot of women in this town would love to date.”

“How unfortunate,” she muttered with a small groan. “Rest assured that you won’t be adding another to the list of the pitifully desperate since I’m not going to be joining that party anytime soon.”

“Oh right,” Grady chuckled raising his voice a bit before giving her a long once over, “I know you’ve been eyeing me since I first was brought into the hospital. Admit it sweetheart, you’ve got the hots for me.”

“The only thing that I find hot about you is your temper and it’s very unflattering, so if you’ll excuse me,” Deana turned to walk away again.

“Hey, you’re the one who chose to stop, not me,” Grady reminded her point blank, “You’re obviously the one who can’t stop coming around to get near me sweetheart.”

“Enough with the sweetheart,” Deana spun around to glare at him. She placed her hand on her hips impatiently. “While I understand that any level of being polite or courteous is far too much to grasp for your caveman tendencies, the fact to the matter is that I have earned a certain level of respect in my line of work and you may address me as Nurse Sherman or…”

“Hey relax,” Grady threw his hands up in the air seeing that he’d upset her, “I’m sorry okay. I didn’t realize I’d get you that worked up. If you don’t like the whole sweetheart thing, then I’ll drop it.”

“You’d better,” she frowned folding her arms in front of her chest defensively once more. “It’s very unbecoming.”

“So is the direction that our relationship is turning in,” Grady held his hand out to her in a small gesture, “which brings me to my next point. How about we start over again?”

“Why would I want to?” she questioned arching a perfectly sculpted brow.

“Because you might find out that I’m not the hotheaded jerk that you have me pegged for. I can actually be a pretty decent guy,” Grady attempted to plead his case with her.

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” she mouthed still doubtful of his intentions.

“Hey, I promise you that I won’t bring you down. Knowing me can only enhance your life,” he grinned over at her catching her look of distain.

“There you go again with that ego,” she rolled her eyes and shook her head, “Why is it that men think that they can smile and wink at us and we women are just supposed to turn to putty in their hands?”

“It’s one of our main faults,” Grady shrugged his shoulders before letting out a sigh, “but for what it’s worth I’m not looking to make you putty. I’d really just like for us to be friends…or at least civil to one another. So what do you say?”

“I really shouldn’t bother with you,” she explained with a long pause. She gave him a long once over before finally letting out another sigh. “But I guess it wouldn’t hurt to know a few people in town.”

“There’s the spirit,” Grady felt her reach for his hand and shake it. He returned the shake until he felt her squeeze tightly on his palm in an iron-clad grip.

“However if you ever call me sweetheart again all the rules are off,” Deana warned in this attempt to be civil with one of the most infuriating men she’d met in Coral Valley. Perhaps there would be some good out of playing nice with Grady in the long run. Time would tell.


Kevin quickly ran up to the doors of Cameron’s house, knocking on the door roughly as he let out a small sigh. He had gone everywhere looking for Angela and this was his last place he would think of looking.

He just wanted to find Angie and clear everything up between them. In no way at all did he want to start a fight with her, she just jumped on him like that. That was the thing with Angie, she could never just try and make peace. There was always chaos and he couldn’t leave their friendship like that.

“Please be here Angie,” Kevin whispered under his breath, going to knock on the door again before Cameron opened it up. Kevin stopped his fist from going any further before he let out a small breath. “Cameron, is Angie here? I’ve been looking for her everywhere and I have no idea where she is.”

“No, she isn’t here, I was also wondering where she went,” Cameron motioned Kevin to step inside and Cameron closed the door behind him. “Come in the kitchen, I’ll get you a drink.”

“No, I think I’m okay, but get yourself something,” Kevin followed Cameron into the kitchen, pulling up the barstool and sitting down. He ran his hand through his hair before letting out a long sigh. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her anymore.”

“What’s going on with the two of you? Is she just angry because of me pushing the two parents to get married?” Cameron questioned seeing the way that Kevin seemed to look up at him with his dark glance. “What’s that look for?”

“You might want to back off her with that Cameron,” Kevin warned knowing fully well that this was the whole reason she was freaking out. “Just let her do what she wants.”

“Come on Kevin, you know she should marry you,” Cameron urged Kevin with a small smile as he poured him and Kevin a drink. He slid Kevin a drink, watching as Kevin pushed it away from him and shook his head slowly. “Kevin, I know you love Angel--that’s why you two deserve to be married.”

“Cameron, why are you so insistent upon this now of all times?” Kevin couldn’t help but wonder as he let out a small laugh and shook his head slowly. “This is unbelievable you know. I was dead in love with your sister when I was twenty-one and back then you’re one of the reasons we never got together. Why now? Why do you want us together?”

“Kevin come on, I know you are the only man on this Earth that could give her the type of love she truly needs,” Cameron pointed out with a small laugh like Kevin should have already known that. Cameron took a sip of his drink before watching Kevin shift uneasily in his seat. “Come on, you two lost your first child--this is just someone out there giving you two another chance.”

“Another chance?” Kevin repeated the words letting out a small laugh as he looked up at Cameron with his dark eyes. “What makes you think this is the second chance? Cameron, you screwed any future I could have had with Angie back in the day--why are you going to say that I can marry her now of all times? Hell, how do you know the babies are even mine?”

“Come on Kevin, I remember what you two were like in the past. Do you know how many times I walked in on you and her in the act. You two were like jackrabbits, even when you weren’t officially dating. So don’t give me the crap that you aren’t the daddy. You know those babies are there and you are going to be there for my sister and that’s final Kevin.”

“I want to be there for Angie, in case you haven’t noticed I have been there for her my whole life and I’m never going to stop,” Kevin snapped sitting up from the stool and placing his hands on the counter. “I’ve been there for her every second she was in pain so don’t you dare tell me I haven’t been. I loved Angie for a long time, but what I want to know is why do you want us to be happy when back then it didn’t matter if we were together or not?”

“Kevin, you of all people should know that I trust you the most,” Cameron let out a small chuckle seeing the way that Kevin’s eyes stared into his. “I mean come on Kevin, why would I have sent you to…”

“Don’t bring that up now,” Kevin begged watching Cameron let out a small laugh and simply shrug his shoulders. “You know why I did that and you would have done the same thing.”

“You did it because you loved her and you wanted her safe, so what’s changed Kevin? What‘s made you not want to be with Angel? The last time I checked you were like a sick puppy dog in love. After what you did, how could you say you don’t love her?” Cameron wondered watching Kevin look down towards the ground. “You can go and do something like that and you can’t marry her? I must have been mistaken when you did that to him.”

“Shut up Cameron,” Kevin snapped seeing JT step in behind Cameron watching the way that Kevin seemed to grow angrier by the second. “I don’t care what you have to say and I don’t care who you are. You’re never going to bring that back up again. Just let Angie be and let her do what she wants. If she wanted to be with me, she would be with me wouldn’t she? We all have to face the facts even if it hurts. I’m going to be there for those babies through everything, but I can’t promise you anything else. I want to be in those babies lives every day from here on out, but the question is--do you want your sister happy Cameron?”

“Kevin, we all know you can give her this happiness,” JT added seeing the way that Kevin looked away from Cameron and towards him. “I mean, just the way you look at her shows that you love her.”

“And you know what love is? If your family knew what love was then you would have never taken her away from me when I was younger. You would have never kept me in that damn boxing ring with your father and you would have let me be with her when she went Europe,” Kevin shook his head slowly before looking down at his watch once more. “I’m telling you now Cameron, let her life go as it goes. You screwed her life up with me more than just a couple of times, so let it be.”

“I think you guys should just apologize to each other,” Cameron let out a small laugh, looking back at JT before shrugging his shoulders. “You two will be together. You lost your first child and you should…”

“Stop bringing it up Cameron because you didn’t give a shit about that,” Kevin snapped pushing the drink off of the counter and onto the ground. He heard the glass shatter upon the impact as Cameron looked down towards the floor. “Nine months I waited to have that baby, nine months and all those nine months you never approved of the baby. It was your fault that I was gone when Angie needed me the most.”

“Hey now, how dare you say I don’t care. This would have been my niece, I wanted more than anything to be an uncle. Don’t you dare tell me that I didn’t care,” Cameron snapped taking a step in closer to Kevin, pushing JT out of the way. “It wasn’t my fault that you were gone Kevin, I told you it was all Craven--not me. If I could have stopped it, I would have.”

“Then why the hell are you being so insensitive Cameron? Why do you keep using my emotions against me when you know everything hurts me? You know what happened to me when my daughter died, you know it still kills me inside,” Kevin pushed Cameron back, his eyebrows tensing as his breathing became heavier. “I wanted--I still want to be a father so bad, but I can’t continue to have you doing this Cameron. Let me and Angie work our problems out together and don’t try to interfere anymore. Every time you have in the past, I lost her time and time again. I’m tired of it, just let her make a decision for once before you go out and kill someone on the inside again.”

“Alright,” Cameron nodded taking a step back and throwing his hands up in the air. He watched Kevin look down towards the ground before taking a step back. “I’ll leave things to you, but you better make the right decisions.”

“You should have let me do that years ago because if you did, we wouldn’t be having this talk right now,” Kevin pointed out, fixing the collar of his shirt before shaking his head slowly. “Just try and stay out of things for once. It might help you in the long run.”


Angie stepped into the diner taking a look around. While she really didn’t have any place to be other than at Chris’s house, the truth to the matter was that she didn’t want to stick around there and listen to Kevin complain. It just wasn’t her idea of a good time. Now as she sat down on one of the stools near the front counter, she felt frustrated and beyond any notion of wanting to talk to anyone she knew. Granted given that they’ve all kept her in the dark about things lately, maybe it was best if she didn’t bother talking to them either.

“What can I get for you,” the woman behind the counter questioned with a pleasant smile.

“I suppose you don’t have anything that could help me get rid of all the men in my life,” Angela let out a small groan.

“Oh honey, believe me I can relate. Why if having a gun and shooting them was legal,” the woman laughed lightly, “well, I suppose the what if doesn’t help…”

“No, but it would be nice to think about what could happen if you could,” Angela smiled back at her, “Of course that doesn’t help my situation.”

“Tell you what. I think I have exactly what can help--at least in a small way,” the woman replied moving in behind the counter to leave Angela to her thoughts again.

“Here’s hoping,” Angela sighed heavily slumping down on the countertop thinking about how not only Cameron, but Kevin had lied to her. Neither one of them thought it was important to clue her into what they had going on in their lives. That in itself hurt--a lot!

“Here you are,” the woman behind the counter explained handing over a chocolate covered brownie and ice-cream in a bowl topped off with a cherry, “That might help.”

“In most cases, I’d tend to agree, but given that this reminds me of one of the men who are driving me nuts, I don’t know,” Angela shook her head eyeing the sweet treat in front of her with heavy contemplation. “I mean this would probably do the trick, but still, I’d probably start thinking about someone I shouldn’t be thinking about and…”

“Want to talk about it?” the woman behind the counter questioned.

“I could but, well what’s the point,” Angela sighed reaching for a spoon and depositing it into the bowl to scoop up some ice-cream. “I mean this whole mess started when I met Mr. Wonderful on the beach. He and I had this amazing affair with one another and it went sour and since then I think my life has pretty much fallen to pieces.”

“Sounds serious,” the woman noted with a curious expression.

“Unfortunately it’s very serious,” Angela replied honestly with a nod, “I mean here I thought I found Mr. Perfect--that I found someone who really could be something, which yes I know was stupid of me to think in the first place, but still…”

“Hey we all want to find a reason to believe honey,” the woman noted hearing the bell over the door alert her that another customer had walked in.

“Yeah well I think I’ve given up on believing and men in general,” Angela sighed taking a hearty scoop of her ice-cream.

“Oh you shouldn’t do that,” the woman behind the counter added, “Giving up on all men isn’t necessarily a good thing even when they all drive you crazy.”

“I’ll second that,” a female voice added as the waitress turned her attention to the new arrival, “Hey Leslie is my order ready?”

“It sure is,” Leslie nodded holding up her finger, “Just give me one second.”

“Okay,” the new arrival nodded before glancing over at Angela. She gave her a long look before clearing her throat to speak up again, “Um excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear what you were saying…”

“What?” Angela questioned turning to face the woman. She watched the woman let out a gasp and she saw her practically leap back.

“Oh my God,” the woman’s jaw dropped as if she couldn’t believe her eyes, “How can you be…”

“Excuse me?” Angela replied seeing the color drain from the woman’s face. Immediately Angela sensed something was wrong and she rose up from where she’d been seated. “Are you alright? Listen, I’m a doctor and…”

“I’m a doctor as well,” the woman paused, “but how can you be…”

“Be what?” Angela blinked back at her seeing the woman regain her composure.

“It’s just that you look so much like…” she trailed off, “I mean the hair is different, but from what I remember…”

“Like what?” Angela questioned feeling a growing impatience overtake her.

“Like nothing,” the woman in front of her cleared her throat uneasily, “Look I’m sorry about that. I was just…”

“Hey we all have those days,” Angela let out a small groan slumping down in her seat, “I mean this wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been mistaken for someone else. Come to think of it, that seems to be the mistake everyone is making these days all the time. It’s usually with men though given that I guess I’ve just got that face, though I have to tell you whomever she is that has the face, I wish like hell that I had her luck.”

“I just…” the woman replied with a pause before speaking up again, “Maybe we should start over again. My name is Ria.”

“Well Ria, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Angela,” Angela held her hand out to shake the woman’s hand in front of her. She eyed her for a moment before catching the expression on the woman’s face.

“Well Angela, it’s nice to meet you and I’m glad I did because what I have to tell you I think is something that’s going to change your life forever,” Ria blurted out with a determined expression realizing what a find she’d made on this otherwise boring afternoon.


“Don’t you knock?” Heather blurted out in an agitated tone less than thrilled to see Chris standing before her. What made matters worse was that not only was he standing there in front of her ruining a perfectly good and potentially thrilling moment with Diego, but he was approaching her. He was actually moving further into the living room area to make himself comfortable. She watched him plop down on one of her chairs before leaning forward to open the box of donuts.

“Funny, I feel like we’re having a déjà vu moment given that I think we had this conversation earlier at my place, didn’t we?” Chris waved his hand at her dismissively before flashing her a bright, wide grin, “No matter. What’s done is done. The past is the past. Let bygones be bygones, but never waste a perfectly good moment in reflection on the less than important issues. Donut anyone?”

Diego watched Chris holding out a glazed donut and suddenly he felt very awkward. Fortunately he’d been able to pull up his boxer shorts and steal the pillow that Heather had once been holding. He now held it up over his lap in a pathetic attempt to shield himself from Chris’s scrutinizing eye. He saw Chris extend he donut offer towards him with another glazed donut.

“Donut Domingo?” Chris questioned in a nonchalant fashion watching as Diego shook his head.

“Um, it’s Diego,” Diego corrected catching by Chris’s expression that Chris really didn’t care one way or the other. Diego tipped his head to look over at a now fuming Heather, “I think I’d better get dressed now.”

“No, you’re not going anywhere,” Heather started with a pleading look before glaring over at Chris, “but you on the other hand you have to leave like now.”

“No way. I just got here and you and I have so much to catch up on,” Chris insisted firmly, being as stubborn and impossible as he’d learned to be over the years. He took a hefty bite of his donut before speaking up over at Diego with a full mouth, “Though you might want to get dressed Donatello because it’s kind of chilly in here and you don’t want to embarrass yourself. I mean they say in the cold things tend to shrivel up and shrink, so you know putting your pants back on might do you a big service there if you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of Heather.”

“Heather I…” Diego felt his face grow hot with embarrassment at how bad this had to look. Finding himself at a loss he passed by Heather reaching for his clothing on the couch.

“Diego wait,” Heather pleaded with him reaching for his arm all the while glaring at Chris, “I’m going to get him out of here and then…”

“Heather, we shouldn’t have let things get this far out of hand tonight,” Diego sighed heavily mortification flooding over him knowing not only that Chris had taken to finding them in such a compromising position, but that he’d managed to let a simple case of Heather’s persuasion put him into a bad position. It was bad enough he’d screwed Cori over and slept with Heather’s sister, but to complicate things even further…well, it only proved that he’d lost his damn mind. “I need to get dressed.”

“Diego wait!” Heather repeated again watching him make his way down the hallway to her bathroom with his clothes in hand. She heard him close the bathroom door behind him before she spun around to face Chris with homicidal intent. “You!”

“Me,” Chris reached for another donut taking another bite, “You sure you really don’t want one of these Heather? They are great. I mean you know I didn’t think that they’d make them as good as they do in the big city, but here there’s kind of this whole homemade vibe that’s associated with them when they go down. They kind of settle into your stomach and…”

“I want you out of here!” Heather snapped ripping the box of donuts out of his hands, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing just barging into my home uninvited but…”

“Hey believe it or not I actually came here to offer you some company since Domino was too busy to pay you attention,” Chris explained with a small frown, “Little did I know he’d be here embarrassing himself in front of you in his underwear, which by the way only proves what a loser he is. I mean really what kind of guy gets naked and leaves a beautiful woman standing in front of him completely clothed.”

“You don’t understand. We were…” Heather threw her hands in the air, “I don’t need to explain it to you. Diego and I were busy and that means you’re not staying. I want you gone!”

“Why? Dumbo over there looks like he’s not going to last throughout the night,” Chris noted with another shrug, “To me he kind of strikes me as the type that has some control issues there. I highly doubt you’d get a good minute out of him in the sack if you catch my drift…”

“I’ll have you know that Diego is sexy and…” Heather shook her head at him again, “Chris, this is none of your business. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point tonight and I want you gone. I can’t let you ruin this for Diego and I.”

“Like I said before Heather, Darko doesn’t strike me as someone who is going to stick around tonight, so why not cut your losses and have a donut?” Chris suggested grabbing the box from her and returning to the chair. He set it back on his lap before grinning at her. “Come on. They are really good!”

“Chris,” Heather grumbled ready to reach out and strangle him.

“Trust me Heather. These are great,” Chris continued with a laugh pulling out a donut and dangling it in front of her, “One bite of this and you’ll be in heaven.”

“When I punt kick you out the door I’ll be even closer to heaven considering that my heaven is in my bathroom getting his clothes back on. If you would just leave…” she snapped at him curling her fingers into fists at her sides, her anger mounting with each passing second.

“Sorry, nope I can’t do that. I promised Charles that I’d visit him and I have to admit it’s my civic duty as your friend to spare you the grief of chronic disappointment which I’m absolutely positive the D-man there would give you tonight. So here, do yourself a favor, toss him out and have one of these. I’m sure you’ll love them,” he stood up bringing the donut closer to her.

“Chris, I said I want you out! Now!” Heather opened her mouth to further yell at him, but before a sound came out, Chris stuffed a donut in her mouth just in time to see Diego emerging from the bathroom now completely clothed.

“Oh look Donald is back,” Chris held the box of donuts out greeting Diego with a goofy grin, “Really Donald. Have a donut…they are really great. Believe me with one bite of these, you’ll forget all about disappointing Heather and you’ll think about all the other things you need to work on like those love handles and…”

“Heather, I’ve really got to go,” Diego cleared his throat uneasily making his way to the door, “but I’ll call you.”

“Diego wait! Just give me a second to…” Heather watched him open the door to her apartment and walk out into the hallway. Throwing an icy glare at Chris she spoke up in a warning tone, “If he leaves I’m going to kill you!”

Chris watched her rush after Diego and he let out a small laugh, “Trust me. You’ll be thanking me later,” he mused to himself sitting down on her sofa again and reaching for the television remote ready to get relaxed while he was waiting for Heather to return. Oh yes tonight was certainly looking up indeed!


“See that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Grady winked down at Deana seeing that her tension seemed to melt away ever so slightly after they’d shook on promising to try again.

“You’d just better watch yourself or you could end up in the doghouse again,” Deana warned finally smiling at him after all of the insults they’d slung at one another.

“We wouldn’t want that now would we,” Grady smiled in response giving her a long look. She stepped back and nodded.

“No we sure wouldn’t,” she mouthed throwing out a small wave before pointing behind her, “I need to get back to work now.”

“I’ll be seeing you,” Grady waved at her with a wide grin.

“We’ll see about that,” Deana gave him one last look before taking off towards where she was needed.

Grady watched her retreat for a long time before finally cracking a small smile. He spoke up in a small whisper mouthing to himself, “Yeah she likes me. It’s so obvious.”

“Grady, there you are,” Russell’s voice swept over him causing Grady to take the focus from his flirtation with Deana.

“Russ hey man, what’s up?” Grady turned to look over at his brother seeing how upset Russ was.

“It’s Brant,” Russ announced his brow creased with tension, “Even in a catatonic state he’s managing to keep Avery and I apart.”

“Why? What now?” Grady questioned turning his focus completely to his brother.

“He’s got his idiot doctor friend telling Avery that the only way to save Brant at this point is to have her move back home with Brant at the mansion,” Russ blurted out his frustrations mounting more and more by the second. “He put a major guilt trip on her about it…”

“Please tell me she’s not buying into that bull. She’s smarter than that,” Grady started worriedly, “She wouldn’t believe that.”

“I’d like to think she would see that this is some kind of game, but the more that Don tells her about how Brant’s life is depending on her being there for him, the more guilt she’s feeling,” Russ confessed with a heavy sigh. “I tried to reason with her Grady, but she’s not seeing it. She really believes that she owes it to him to be with him.”

“She doesn’t owe him anything,” Grady replied flashing back to that night he shared with Avery. Glancing over at Russ again Grady thought about what Avery was doing in listening to Don, “Where is she now?”

“She’s with Brant,” Russ rubbed his palms over the side of his jeans, “and as much as I hate it, she won’t listen to me. She believes this is the only way to do things and I’m so afraid I’m going to lose her. Brant’s just going to suck her back into his web of lies. He’s going to manipulate her and I’m going to lose her all over again. Everything that I fought for…”

“Will not be in vain. Russ you have to listen to me. Avery isn’t going anywhere,” Grady placed his hands on his brother’s shoulders. “She loves you and only you. She’s always been longing for happily ever after for the two of you and I know that she’s not going to walk away from that now when…”

“Grady think about everything that’s happened. Think about how far the Ashfords have gone to keep me from her,” Russ insisted with a hint of fear in his tone. “If I lose her now Grady I don’t know what I’ll do. If they succeed in taking her and Erin away from me…”

“They won’t do that,” Grady tried to assure his younger brother, “They can’t do that because no matter how hard anyone tries Avery’s heart belongs to you and only you. I’m sure of it.”

“Yes, but when I was gone I know she and Brant were married. I know they are still married and…” Russell voiced his innermost worries. “If they have something between them and…”

“Trust me,” Grady began thinking about how he and Avery had bonded during a time when she believed Russ to be gone forever, “Avery has always wanted you and Ashford hasn’t come close to what you two have. He never measured up to you in her eyes. She loves you and I’m sure that regardless of what Brant throws at her, she’ll see him for what he truly is.”

“And if she doesn’t, what then? How can I just stand back and watch the only thing in my life that ever mattered slip away from me all over again? How can I just sit idle and let him manipulate her without my putting up a fight?” Russ questioned seeking out his brother’s council.

“You don’t,” Grady informed him point blank an idea forming in his mind, “In fact the last thing you do is stop fighting.”

“Avery’s already upset about…” Russ tried to explain in frustration.

“The thing is you keep fighting, but you do it in such a way that it doesn’t hurt Avery,” Grady explained wrapping his arm around his brother’s shoulders and guiding him over to the chairs, “Trust me little brother I know a way that you can still fight the forces threatening to keep you and Avery away from one another without your doing it the wrong way. You just have to trust me on this one.”

“Grady I’m just so worried that…” Russ began again.

“Worry no more because I can promise you after our little talk you’ll find a way to make sure that Brant doesn’t get the chance to manipulate her ever again,” Grady promised ready to do what was necessary to keep his brother’s heart from being shattered all over again by anyone who dared to step in between Russ and Avery’s relationship with one another.


Avery gently pushed open the door to Brant’s hospital room taking in a breath as she prepared to take a look at her husband. While she knew Russ was less than thrilled about her being in this room with Brant, she realized she couldn’t just ignore the fact that Brant was hurting. Seeing him across the room laying in the hospital bed gazing blankly at the space before him Avery felt her heart sink.

“Oh Brant,” Avery sighed heavily moving in beside him. She reached for his hand touching it lightly. Curling her fingers in his she sat on the edge of the bed, “how could this happen to you?”

Brant said nothing. He was totally unresponsive to her as if he couldn’t even feel her presence in the room.

“I never meant for you to get hurt in any of this,” Avery began finding herself at a loss. While she’d been overjoyed that Russell was alive and that she could finally be with Russ again, she never took into account how this would effect the life she had with Brant. Now guilt swept over her at the thought of how thrilled she’d been to finally have the one man she’d thought she’d lost back in her life, while the other man she’d married lay on the hospital bed helpless.

“Brant, I’m so sorry that things came to this,” Avery reached out to bring her fingers through his dark, tousled hair, “I know that Russ is a bit stubborn in his beliefs, but I know that you’re innocent. I know that you would never, ever hurt me like your father did. What Nick and Brooke did was horrible--shameful and I wish like hell I could’ve found a way to stop it--to keep it from happening, but in some ways…”

Avery tipped her head down, her dark eyes fixed on his blank features. She memorized the lines of his face, remembering how incredibly handsome he was and how sexy he seemed when his face lit up in a smile. Now that glow looked as if it had tapered off into a dull ashen expression causing her heart to sink. This wasn’t what she wanted--wasn’t what she had wished upon him, yet here he was in such a sad state.

“Brant, I know I shouldn’t be saying this because so many horrible things happened--things that I wish hadn’t, but I don’t for a second regret what we had with one another,” she continued to brush her fingers through his dark hair, “I don’t regret loving you or inviting you into my life. You’re a wonderful man with so much love and heart. I realize that you work so very hard not to show it, but when you let me in--Brant, I know how amazing you are--how wonderful you are and that’s why I couldn’t help but love you. Why I can’t stop caring about you…”

Avery stopped herself feeling tears burning behind her eyes. She felt a lump forming in the back of her throat as she looked to him, “You’ve helped me through so many hard times. You gave me a reason to believe again and if it wasn’t for you, then Erin and I wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t have made it this far and I know that. I know how important you were to making that happen--how important you still are to me. Brant, I do love you. I love you and I want to see you pull through this. I want you to find your way back from wherever you are right now. No, I need you to do that. I need you back in my life…”

She searched his lost dark eyes seeing nothing happening behind them as her tears overtook her. She leaned forward laying her head on his chest. Unable to refrain from the tiny sobs that carried over her, she wrapped her arm around him just holding onto him, “I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry for all of this. I never, ever meant to hurt you--not after all you’ve done to help me.”

Avery closed her eyes listening to the sounds of his heart beating beneath her. For a brief second she almost thought she felt movement beneath her--that she could hear his pulse quickening. Her tears soaked into the material of his hospital gown and just as she could’ve sworn she felt his hand press in over her dark hair, there was a small sound at the door. Avery sprang up instinctively to see Don staring at her from near the doorway.

“You can’t just walk away from him, can you?” Don questioned clearly knowing the answer. He moved forward approaching her with a scrutinizing stare. “Face it Avery. Even if Russ wants you to forget about Brant, your heart won’t let you do that.”

“I never wanted Brant to end up like this,” Avery explained tightly wiping at the tears on her cheeks.

“Because even though Russ doesn’t want you to admit it, you are still very much in love with Brant,” Don tossed out at her in a knowing tone, “Sure you might’ve had a million dreams and plans for a life with Russ, but that was before you married Brant. Admit it Avery. Being married to Brant has changed your life around in ways you never thought possible. Even now you know if you were being true to your heart, then you wouldn’t be letting Russ dictate your actions.”

“He’s not dictating my actions,” Avery argued rising to her feet with a huff, “I’m making my own decision about this.”

“Gee, I almost believe that,” Don rolled his eyes at her, “Because from where I stand I don’t see a woman ready to let go of the life she has, but rather a woman struggling to make things work with a lover that’s been long gone from her life when she knows in her heart she’s moved forward without him.”

“That’s not true,” Avery shook her head adamantly, “I love Russ.”

“Maybe so,” Don shrugged his shoulder motioning over to Brant, “but I know that you love Brant and you’re not so willing to walk away from what you have with him regardless of what Russ wants.”

“Don’t start with me,” Avery glared over at Don, “You know nothing about my situation…”

“I know enough to see that if you just toss your life away with Brant for what you thought you once had with Russ, you’re going to spend the rest of your life lost in a world of regret. You’re going to always wonder if you threw your life away by clinging to the past when you had your future beside you all along,” Don challenged with an impassioned tone, “Avery, I’ve seen you and Brant together. I can feel the electricity between you and even though your not-so-departed former lover doesn’t see that, we do. We both know that you and Brant have something strong between you.”

“Don stop!” Avery cut him off refusing to listen to another word he was saying to her, “This isn’t helping.”

“That’s where we’re at a difference of opinion. The way I see it, I’m just getting you to open your eyes Avery. Stop doing what Russell Denton would want and start thinking about what it is that Avery Ashford would want--about what’s best for her,” Don interrupted refusing to budge on the issue, “She knows that her place is with her husband. She wouldn’t turn her back on a man who loves her--a man who has sacrificed his life for her time and time again simply because her high school sweetheart wants to go steady again. Face it it’s time to grow up and start acting like an adult Avery by honoring your commitment to the one man who hasn’t turned his back on you--Brant!”

“I’m not turning my back on him if that’s what you’re trying to imply Don,” Avery folded her hands in front of her chest.

“Yeah, well if you let Russ make this decision for you, you may as well be tossing Brant’s future away for him Avery,” Don shook his head at her disapprovingly, “Brant always thought you were better than that and for a while so did I, but if you toss him like he is nothing, then so help me God, I’ll make sure that you never see a day of happiness in that life you think you’re going to have with Russell Denton.”

“Is that a threat?” Avery’s eyes widened at Don’s tone.

“No Avery that’s a promise,” Don stepped in closer to her his eyes narrowing down at her, “because I’m not about to let you shatter my best friend’s life into a million pieces simply because you’re too selfish to give a damn about anything other than making Russell Denton happy.”

“Don that’s not…” Avery’s nose wrinkled at his insinuation.

“Yes it is,” Don spat out at her shaking his head one last time, “and I’m just telling you now, if you ruin Brant, then consider yourself finished. That much I promise you.”

Before Avery could get out another word, she watched Don march out of the hospital room leaving her no room for a retort. Feeling her face now flushed with a strange combination of anger and guilt Avery spun around to face Brant knowing that right about now she would be making one of the hardest decisions of her life and it would be one that would need nothing less than great consideration and very thorough contemplation if she hoped to find the right answer.


“Please don’t tell me you’re one of those born again Christians,” Angela paused a hesitance passing through her, “because while I believe in God, I’m not ready to jump into some kind of religious cult or anything.”

Ria couldn’t help but laugh, “No, that’s not at all what I was going to say. I was just going to offer a piece of advice that I’m sure you probably weren’t interested in hearing.”

“Well I think that’s still up in the air given that I’m not sure where you’re headed with this one,” Angela replied wearily still not sure about the woman in front of her after the way she’d reacted to her at first, “though something tells me that whatever it is that you have on your mind is going to be something big I suppose.”

“Maybe,” Ria shrugged taking a seat beside her, “I mean I’ll admit I felt that way about men not so long ago, but well, I guess what I was going to say is that love hits you when you least expect it. Not that I have any place offering advice, but…”

“No please go ahead,” Angela nodded in response, “I mean hey a little pointer or two in love would be great because if I could at least get that together, then maybe everything else wouldn’t be driving me crazy right about now.”

“Sounds like a lot is going on,” Ria noted curiously.

“Hmm, well to put it in a nutshell, yeah there is,” Angela nodded in confession, “but it’s more like some twisted soap opera and I’m not getting what I did to deserve that. I’m sure you’ve heard that before.”

“Actually no I haven’t, so try me. What’s the story?” Ria questioned glancing at her watch.

“You sure you have the time,” Angela smiled over at her.

“Sure, I’ve more than earned my break,” Ria nodded again, “So what’s up?”

“Hmm, well let’s see. I think it all started last Christmas when I met the man of my dreams, then pushed him out of my life. After that I met someone else--almost married the someone else only to discover he had a wife and he split and now, well now my best friend is driving me out of my mind. We used to be really, really close, but now, well he and I have this huge wedge between us and I can’t quite get him to just open up to me anymore,” Angela sighed heavily slumping down on the counter. She reached for another scoop of ice-cream.

“Sounds like there’s a lot going on,” Ria decided after a pause, “With your best friend, what caused the tension?”

“Me probably,” Angela groaned inwardly, “I mean I guess I haven’t been all that close to him lately, but we’ve always had this bond. I mean maybe it’s my fault he doesn’t talk to me like he used to. You see he and I used to be hot and heavy not so long ago…”

“So you think it’s a jealousy thing perhaps? You mentioned that you almost married someone else,” Ria suggested listening to her tale.

“I know and I didn’t tell him until the last possible second because I knew he still had feelings for me,” Angela confessed.

“Your best friend?”

Angela nodded, “Yeah. I mean he and I have been pretty much through everything with one another. He was kind of my first real serious relationship and we were together for a while, but my family kind of got in the way. We split up for a while, then we got back together and split up again and now, well now I think he just hates me.”

“It sounds like you both have a very involved history that goes beyond being friends,” Ria added after a moment, “but you know maybe that’s where your trouble is.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, you mentioned that you’ve had this big romantic whirlwind together, yet you’re trying to be just friends right now. I have to tell you that never works especially if there are feelings involved,” Ria sighed heavily, “I mean in my own experiences I’ve found that friendship after a relationship doesn’t work. It’s really hard especially if one of the two in the relationship still loves the other one.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I love him. I love him a lot, but just not like that,” Angela continued to explain her situation, “We haven’t been officially together for a couple of years now, but there were those occasional moments where we…well, we’ve been together without being together if you know what I mean…”

“Ah, one of those relationships,” understanding sparked behind Ria’s eyes, “and is this why he was unhappy about your new guy?”

“No,” Angela shook her head, “at least I don’t think so. I mean we haven’t had sex in a while if that’s what you’re thinking at. It’s been a long time, but still I knew that he was interested--more than interested and I think after this last guy walked out on me, well I think that the opportunity came up a few times…”

“Really?” Ria arched a curious brow listening to her tale, “So you’re saying you’ve got all these men troubles that has you here upset, yet you have a best friend who loves you and you love him, yet there’s a problem?”

“Sort of,” Angela frowned back, “I mean we’ve been able to be open with one another about other relationships and lovers before, but now I think he’s just beyond upset that I almost got married again. When he saw that I was interested in someone else, he went all caveman on me. He started doing these crazy things and…oh, what’s the use? I mean I knew he still loved me. I know he’s still in love with me and when he kissed me on the island, I knew that we were going to have problems. He and I used to be able to do things like that and then get past it, but now it’s like Kevin’s hoping for something that isn’t going to happen for us. He claims he’s found someone else, but when he kissed me the other night…”

“Kevin,” Ria replied with wide eyes, “Your best friend is named Kevin and you were on an island together?”

Angela nodded, “Yeah, we’ve spent years there together. He works for my family and…” she paused, “I’m sure you don’t want to be hearing this.”

“Oh no,” Ria felt a heat rise over her cheeks as she wondered. She thought about how Kevin had gone to seek out Avery Morrison--about how he’d suddenly vanished after that and now that she sat next to a woman who could pass as almost completely identical to Avery, it was starting to become clear. “Angie right?”

Angela laughed, “Yeah, you can call me Angie, though no one really calls me that anymore…well, except for Kevin.”

“So this Kevin,” Ria prompted further, “You mention that he kissed you recently.”

“Yeah,” Angela brought her hand up to her face remembering the moment she and Kevin had shared, “but it went further than that. I mean there we were in bed together and…”

“You were in bed with him?” Ria’s eyes practically popped out of her head, “When?”

“Not long ago, but it was when we were in the bathtub together that I really started to sense that something was up,” Angela confessed with a small sigh, “I mean there we were talking about Nick leaving me and then before I knew it Kevin and I were talking about the good old days. We were reminiscing about how he used to drive me crazy with his pancake obsession and how we’d spend the weekends sleeping in and making love in between eating pancakes and…”

“Pancakes,” Ria almost yelped as the woman behind the counter finished bagging up her order.

“Yeah, he had this silly fetish going there,” Angela nodded with a small laugh, “Why I remember one time we were trapped in this little cottage and when we were there the only thing to eat in the place was this pancake mix. Of course we were both starving and we started to make them since there was nothing else to do. One thing lead to another with a pancake fight and after that, well I think we made love nearly a dozen times that weekend and ever since Kevin’s not been able to get enough of pancakes.”

“I’ll bet,” Ria’s eyes narrowed at Angela now that it was plainly obvious that she was the one Kevin had rushed out of Coral Valley to be with. “Well, do you want my advice?”

“What’s that?” Angela questioned biting her ice-cream.

“I say you should forget about your best friend. He sounds like a jerk--a two-timing jerk who isn’t worth the air he breathes,” Ria announced with a huff, “and as for the other men in the world, well maybe you’re right. Maybe they are all creeps after all.”

“But I thought…” Angela watched Ria swipe her bag away from the waitress before stomping out of the restaurant without so much as another word.

“What was that all about?” the waitress couldn’t help but ask.

“I don’t know, but something tells me that someone else is having a worse day than I am,” Angela replied wondering what in the world had just happened during the exchange between her and Ria. Something told her that things weren’t going to be pretty for whomever Ria was upset with. Of course maybe it was just Angela given that she hadn’t had a good effect on people lately. With that thought in mind, she let out a long sigh before delving further into her ice-cream ready to push the week behind her.


Kevin hung up his cell phone once more after trying to call Angie again in his car. She wouldn’t answer his calls, she wouldn’t call him back--this was definitely one of her angry deals she always used to pull in the past. She always got angry at something he never did wrong.

There was no reason that she should even be mad at him right now, everything he said was true. When she was on the island, all she ever did pay attention to was Nick and that was all. Whenever Nick was with him and Angie--she completely ignored him to give all of her attention to some guy she didn’t even know. If he would have even told her about Jade she would have felt bad for a minute and then ran back to Nick. No matter what he did, she always got mad at him.

He even stood up for her with Cameron and told Cameron to leave her alone. There were so many things that Kevin was holding inside of him, but he didn’t even blurt them out to Cameron. There were things he knew that he could say to get her in trouble, but he couldn’t help try and help her with the babies. He had to make sure that Cameron didn’t find out about the stranger Angie got with years ago, because if Cameron found out--there was going to be hell to pay.

“Maybe I should try calling her again,” Kevin pulled out his cell phone and began to dial Angie’s cell phone number again before changing his mind. “Forget about it, it’s not like she is even going to bother anyways.”

Before Kevin could shut his cell phone, he took notice to the background picture on his cell phone and a smile appeared over his lips. It was a picture Trisha had take of him and Ria together when Trisha had been playing with the camera on his phone a couple of days ago.

“Oh come on Kevin, give her a big old kiss for the camera,” Trisha urged Kevin with a small laugh as Kevin turned his head away from the camera and blocked his face with his hands.

“I don’t like cameras,” Kevin replied feeling Ria nudge him in the side, her laugh filling his ears as both Trisha and Ria tried to get him to move his hands from his face.

“Come on Kevin, take a picture with the woman you love,” Trisha chuckled seeing Kevin move his hands away from his face, noticing the camera was right in his face before he covered his face again. “Kevin.”

“You guys are saying that, but you are just going to take a picture of me,” Kevin frowned, turning away from the camera as he felt Ria’s hand on his shoulder. “I don’t like getting my picture taken. The both of you know that and this is why you are trying to get me to take the picture.”

“Kevin please, take a picture with me,” Ria whispered lightly tugging on his shoulder as he turned to face her, placing his hand in front of the camera. “I promise it will be just the two of us and that’s it. Do it for me.”

“Okay, but only because I love you,” Kevin nodded looking over towards Trisha, wrapping his arm around Ria’s shoulders slowly. Kevin rested his head against Ria’s shoulder, hearing her let out a small laugh before resting her chin on top of his forehead. “This is the only picture though.”

“Deal,” Trisha nodded holding the camera out before taking the picture and watching Kevin look up at Ria with his dark eyes.

“I love you,” Kevin whispered leaning up to kiss Ria’s lips gently, running his hand to the back of her neck gently. Ria’s hand slid in over his shoulders gently as her hand ran through his thick hair slowly.

“Hey Kevin,” Trisha called out Kevin’s name taking a step in closer to him and holding the camera next to his face. “Kevin?”

“Yeah?” Kevin turned to face Trisha, only to see the camera in his face as she took the shot before he could block her from not taking the picture. “You two suck, you did that on purpose. That’s it, you both are dead.”

“Run,” Ria got up from the couch as Kevin got up right after her going for the phone that Trisha had before Trisha passed it to Ria, who ran into the kitchen.

“Give me the phone Ria,” Kevin ordered, cornering Ria on the other side of the table as she tried to run one way he would follow her. “Give me the phone.”

“Nope,” Ria smirked watching as Trisha came up from behind Kevin and jumped on his back to cover his eyes. Kevin stumbled backwards as Ria quickly sent the picture to her email address. Ria motioned Trisha to get off Kevin once it stopped sending as Trisha jumped off him quickly. “Too late.”

“That’s it,” Kevin went over towards Ria, grabbing her in his arms and flipping her over on his shoulder. “You’re in so much trouble Ria Merhan.”

A small smile appeared over Kevin’s lips as he thought about Ria. The only person that hadn’t let him down lately was Ria and he was happy to have her in his life.

“I think it’s time I go see her,” Kevin pulled up to a flower store deciding that Ria deserved something for being so great to him over the last few days.

Kevin got out of the car and walked into the store and picked up two dozen red roses for Ria, but something caught his eyes when he walked past the newspapers set out on the counter.

“What do we have here?” Kevin picked up the newspaper with his left hand noticing the two faces on the cover page. “Well hey, that happens to be my buddy Russ and Blake‘s brother.”

“Can I also ring that up for you sir?” the cashier questioned as Kevin’s dark eyes met his.

“Yes, you can. Thank you,” Kevin set the newspaper down on the counter before a small smile appeared over his lips. Now that the newspaper on Russell Denton caught his eye, it reminded him that he had a little visit he had to pay to someone tomorrow. Kevin would worry about Russell Denton tomorrow and show Mr. Denton a piece of his mind, but tonight he was going to be focused on only Ria.


“Someone is obviously in a bad mood,” JT pointed out falling back against Cameron’s couch after Kevin left. JT watched Cameron walk over towards the chair and sit down. JT put his feet up on the coffee table before resting his hands behind his head. “I don’t know what crawled up his butt this morning.”

“If you don’t get your feet off my coffee table, my foot is going to be going up yours,” Cameron warned sharply watching JT quickly get his feet off the table before shrugging his shoulders.

“Man, are you seriously going let Kevin talk to you like that?” JT questioned with a small shake of his head remembering the way that Kevin pushed Cameron earlier. “I mean, I think he was going a little too far. He’s the one that works for you and…”

“He can get away with it,” Cameron cut JT off before he could ramble on any further. Cameron reached out to grab the remote on the table next to him before shrugging his shoulders. “I mean he has been really good to my sister and he got her pregnant so I do have to be nice to him. I know he loves her and I guess that’s what counts.”

“You have to be kidding me,” JT chuckled going to put his feet back up on the coffee table again before catching the look that Cameron was giving him, making him having second thoughts. “If I was you, I wouldn’t bother being nice.”

“Shut up JT,” Cameron snapped turning on the television and switching it to the news channel before setting the remote down and looking over at JT. “You don’t understand how these types of things work. Kevin was right, I didn’t understand the first time they were together, but now I do. They have something together, he brings out something in Angel that only he can bring out in her. Even if it has to come down to it, I will fire Kevin so they can be together and they don’t have to worry about him working for me. They could be happy together with their children. I don’t care what it takes, I want the two of them to be happy.”

“What happened to my big brother? The real man?” JT couldn’t help but question, watching Cameron’s eyes narrow as he looked over at JT. “I’m just saying--you’re caring about what is going on--since when?”

“Since I started thinking about things. You don’t know a whole lot about Mr. Adonis and what he has done to protect Angel. Angel needs to be happy and safe--Kevin has kept the safe part in her always,” Cameron informed JT with a small nod, thinking about all the times in the past Kevin had been there with Angela. “I mean you should have seen these two as a couple--they were like so meant to be, like Barbie and Ken.”

“So they were always playing with each other and using plastic toys?” JT made a joke of what Cameron was saying before noticing the look that Cameron gave him. “I’m sorry, it seemed like the right moment.”

“Well it wasn’t,” Cameron pointed out, arching his eyebrow at JT, completely unenthused at the comments he was making. “Just with their first child, they should have had it. It killed me to see Angel after they lost their baby. I mean, I remember walking in and seeing Kevin reading a story to her stomach and I saw the first moment Angel told Kevin she was pregnant. I can tell you I wasn’t very happy about it, but those two--the look on her face you could just tell she was so happy. That was probably the happiest point in her life and if that made her happy with Kevin, then I want it to be like that when those babies are born JT. All I want is for Angel to be happy.”

“I understand that you want her happy Cam, but what happened to all the strength?” JT questioned before holding his hands up in the air, motioning Cameron to just not answer that question. Something on the television caught his eyes as he listened to the news hearing Avery Morrison’s name as they showed a picture of her. “Hey, that looks like Angela.”

“No kidding,” Cameron saw JT lean forward in his seat to get a better look at the television. “You know, now that I think about it--I have someone I need to see as soon as possible. I’ll talk to you some other time JT.”

“Wait, we still need to…” JT came to a stop as he heard the front door close and he fell back against the couch and shook his head slowly, “talk. Well screw you too Cameron.”


“This is bad,” Ben tried to wash off the soap on his hands and arms again, letting out a small groan as he scrubbed at his arm roughly. “My skin is going to be gone before I get all of this off.”

“This was all your fault I hope you know,” Diane elbowed him in the ribs gently before letting out a small laugh, looking at her hair in the mirror. “At least all of it got out of my hair. It serves you right if that stays there for weeks.”

“Really? You want your boyfriend to look like a freak?” Ben looked over at Diane as she let out another small laugh. “So you think it would be funny? Well, I think it looks ridiculous.”

“Well, how about we go outside for a moment and try to see if the sun helps any,” Diane suggested watching Ben shrug his shoulders and turn off the water.

“I guess I will try anything at this moment,” Ben followed Diane down the stairs and out onto the back deck. “I probably look ridiculous right now if any of the neighbors saw me.”

“It doesn’t matter what the neighbors think,” Diane whispered slowly taking a seat on one of the stairs of the deck, looking out into the backyard. “You’re my ridiculous man anyways, that’s all that matters. The fact that you’re mine.”

“That’s always a good thing,” Ben offered up sitting down on the seat next to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders tightly, feeling her rest her head against his chest. “I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.”

“I’m glad I am hearing you say that,” Diane smiled looking up to see Ben’s eyes looking out at the backyard in front of them. She reached up to touch the side of his face gently before letting out a small smile. “What’s on your mind?”

“I was just thinking about the future and where we could put things back here. Over there we could put a swing set,” Ben pointed to the left side of the backyard before standing up slowly and pointing towards the middle of the yard. “Or we could put a pool back here, not too deep to be safe, but it would be nice. Here, I’ll show you what I think.”

“Alright,” she reached out for Ben’s hand, feeling her help him up as she slowly got off the steps. A small gasp escaped her lips as she placed her hand over her stomach slowly. “Ben.”

“What’s wrong? Sweetheart, is it the baby? What’s wrong?” Ben repeated his words watching Diane close here eyes tightly and take a seat back on the step. “Diane talk to me.”

“Something is wrong Ben, I don’t feel so good,” Diane gulped feeling Ben wrap his arm around her and help her off the step and back into the house towards the front door. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“I don’t care, we are going to make sure everything is going to be okay,” Ben walked her to the car slowly helping her into the passenger seat. “I’m not going to risk it.”


“I don’t know what’s going on anymore,” Don shook his head as he talked to Hart, thinking of what was going on with Brant, Avery, and Russell. “I wonder what’s going through Avery’s mind.”

“I don’t know what’s going through Avery’s mind, but this whole thing is really worrying me,” Hart informed Don with a small frown, feeling Jenna’s hand slide in over his shoulder. “I mean, nothing has ever happened to Brant like this.”

“I’m sure he is going to be okay,” Jenna hushed, running her hand soothingly along his back gently before looking over at Don. “I know the both of you are worried, but you have to keep praying for Brant. I’m sure he will be fine soon.”

“You say that now, but you don’t realize what he’s going through,” Don pointed out with a small shake of his head, watching Hart’s eyes look up at him. “I mean, he has to deal with the thoughts of what happened to Avery--what is happening with his father, no one knows how he feels.”

“I’m sure people understand Don,” Hart offered up seeing Don shake his head quickly and look down at his watch worriedly. “What do you think?”

“I’m not thinking right now, I’m wondering if Avery is going to stop being a moron and do what I told her to do,” Don informed Hart with a small shake of his head looking back towards Brant’s hospital room. “Brant needs her the most and she needs to stay with Brant right now. It’s the only way he is going to get better. She needs to be there for him so he could get past this whole thing. I know this Russell has her mind blurred so she is being an idiot.”

“Hey now, this is my best friend we are talking about here,” Jenna pointed out with a small frown, taking a step back so she could look between both Hart and Don. “I mean, I don’t think we should be talking about her like this.”

“Well, your best friend is really making some lousy decisions as of right now,” Don blurted out looking over at Don before pointing back towards Brant’s room. “This is partly her fault and she should be here to fix what she did.”

“There is no way this is all her fault Don, I think you should get your facts right,” Jenna declared looking over at Hart with a small frown. “Are you thinking the same way as him?”

“Well, not as harsh but,” Hart began with a small sigh, shrugging his shoulders as he spoke. “I want to be a good friend and coming from a friend of Brant’s, I think she should stay with him and try to help him through this. He needs the best attention he can get and he needs the strongest help of all time.”

“Yeah, well while you are thinking of a friend’s point of view,” Jenna shot Don an angered expression before throwing her hands up in the air, “you should really place yourself in her shoes before you accuse her of something you have never gone through yourselves.”

“If I was in her shoes,” Don started taking a small step back away from Jenna before letting out a long sigh, “I would make sure that I made the right decision. The right decision would be me picking Brant.”


Russell knocked on the door to Brant’s hospital room knowing full well that he didn’t have to knock, but he was doing his best to honor his promise to Avery to give her some time alone with Brant. While he’d tried his hardest not to get upset over the matter, he still couldn’t believe that she was weighing out the idea of staying at the mansion with Brant. Grady had done his best to try to alleviate his concerns, but the truth to the matter was that Russ was terrified. He was frightened that his whole life was about to pass by out of his reach and nothing he could do or say would help him hold onto it. Even now he could feel his heart hammering in his chest at the possibility of Avery spending this time alone with Brant.

Opening the door after a slight hesitation, Russ moved into the room finding Avery seated on the edge of Brant’s hospital bed just watching him in silent contemplation. He stopped moving for a second, taking the time to just watch her for a long, painful moment. His thoughts ran wild with fear and concerns about what could happen if Avery decided that helping Brant ranked a greater priority over their family--over the life that Russ was hoping for with her and Erin. It was that hope for happiness that had brought his memory back--that had been the driving force in his returning to Coral Valley to be with her, yet it was that hope that he feared would be fading away from him.

Avery must’ve heard him enter because as she tilted her head up, she issued a small smile over at him. She cleared her throat before speaking up in a muted voice, “I kind of thought that you might be here soon.”

“I’m hoping that’s a good thing,” Russ took a tentative step towards her, “I tried not to be pushy.”

“I know,” she nodded giving Brant one last look before standing up to greet Russ. She reached for him sliding her arms around his waist and pulling him in closer to her. She lay her head over the center of his chest before whispering, “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” he confessed wrapping her up in his arms. He brought his fingers up through the back of her dark tresses feeling their silkiness beneath his touch.

“Every time I’m away from you, I’m always finding myself longing for this,” she revealed with a small sigh, “I pray that this isn’t a dream like before.”

“It’s not a dream anymore,” Russ reached out to urge her gaze upon his. He saw her dark eyes divided with a great many emotions, “I’m not going anywhere again.”

“I know that, but convincing myself of it is easier said than done,” she confessed in a shaky tone, “Russ, when I thought I lost you I felt like my whole world had collapsed around me, but now that you’re home again--now that we’re together, I know we’ve been given a second chance at life again.”

“A second chance that I don’t intend of letting go of,” he added with determination sparking behind his green eyes, “Avery I love you. I love you more than I can even begin to explain and I don’t want what we have to slip away from us.”

“It’s not going to,” Avery promised tipping up on her toes to offer him a small kiss. She sank back down to her feet and took in a deep breath, “which is why I have to do this. I can’t just ignore what Brant is going through. If there’s a chance that I can help him pull out of this…”

“Avery, no…” Russ started feeling her press her palm against his soft lips.

“Just hear me out Russ. I can’t just walk away from Brant knowing how much he still needs me. I’m not saying that I’m going to push what we have aside, but for now--for this moment I need to think about what’s best for him. I need to find a way to give back to him what he’s given to me,” Avery explained nervously, her stomach tied in knots, “I need to do what is necessary to help him regain himself again which is why I’ve decided that I’m going to sign the release papers and have him moved to the mansion.”

“And then?” Russ couldn’t help but ask even though her face had already delivered the answer to him.

“I’m moving back in there with him for now,” Avery blurted out bracing herself for his reaction, “I need to be there to help him….”

“Avery, you don’t need to sacrifice your life because of what he did for you. If he really cared about you, he wouldn’t expect it and…” Russ began to object.

“That’s just it. I’m sure that he doesn’t, but it’s what I must do--what I need to do to be sure I’ve done everything I can to be there for him,” Avery continued to plead her case with him, “Russ I have to find a way to give Brant what he needs right now when his future is on shaky ground.”

“And what about us? What about our future? What about Erin?” Russell commented thinking about their daughter. “Have you thought about how this is going to effect us?”

She nodded tears clouding her vision, “I have Russ and I know it won’t be easy, but…”

“But nothing,” Russ interrupted his jaw set with tension, “I really don’t want you to do this, but I know you enough to know that if you’ve made up your mind about this one, that I’m not going to be able to change it.”

“No you’re not,” she replied with a small sigh hating the pain she saw burning behind his eyes.

“Fine, then I won’t argue with you,” he paused for a brief second, “but I’m not going to sit back idle and do nothing either.”

“I didn’t anticipate you would,” she added feeling his hold around her constrict.

“In fact, the way I see it, if this is really what you feel you must do…” he began.

“It is,” she nodded again.

“Then you leave me no other alternative,” Russ spoke up in a pinched tone, “If you’re going to move into the mansion to help Brant through whatever it is he’s going through, then so am I.”

“What?” Avery gave him a strange look.

“You heard me Avery. If you think you’re moving into the mansion, then you may as well get used to the idea of my moving in with you,” Russ decided firmly, his gaze traveling over to Brant for a brief second, “because the way I see it I’m an Ashford as well and in being an Ashford, I’m going to do what I can to help my brother through this…”

“Russ I…” Avery stammered a bit not really sure how to response. “Are you serious?”

“Oh yeah,” Russ hugged her closer to him, “The way I see it, this is the best thing for all of us. If you go to that mansion, then so do I because that’s the only way you’re going to wind up moving back there.”

“Russ I don’t know if…” Avery tipped her head up to look at him.

“Trust me Avery. This is the best that we can make of this situation for all of us,” he tried to soothe her concerns. Pulling her into an embrace he knew that this was the last thing he wanted, yet as he watched Brant laying in the bed across from him, he knew it was the only way to keep Avery safe given Russ knew full well what the Ashfords would to do keep him from Avery. Granted Russ hated acknowledging his Ashford parentage, but if it kept him with Avery, then so be it!


...to be continued...