“So how in the world did you ever find this place,” Blake questioned
looking around the cozy little restaurant as her eyes fell over the various
tapestries hanging over the walls--each one carrying with it, a feel of
the Chinese culture as she and Kipp savored their dinners with one another.
“It is pretty remarkable,” Kipp noted plucking a piece of sweet and sour chicken up onto his fork as he motioned it out towards her, “try this. It’s the best I’ve ever had.”
“Really?” Blake turned her eyes to the fork before her shaking her head, “Oh I don’t know…”
“Just try it,” he urged again nudging it towards her lips as Blake reluctantly took the bite. He raised a curious brow, “Like it?”
“It’s good,” she nodded in confession after swallowing the piece of chicken, “very good.”
“I had a feeling you might like it,” Kipp reached out across the table wiping at her lower lip as traces of sweet and sour sauce lingered upon her. He saw the surprised expression on her face as he explained further, “You had some sauce right there.”
“Oh,” Blake raised her napkin to her lips dabbing in the area where Kipp had touched her, “is it gone?”
“Not yet,” Kipp captured the napkin from her and pressed it gently against her face wiping at the sauce, “Almost gone,” he explained as his fingers tapered off over her cheekbone causing a shiver to rush through her as she pulled back. Kipp sensed her apprehension about the moment pulling away with a smile, “It’s gone.”
“Good,” Blake replied softening her tone a bit as she quickly changed the subject, “so tell me what brings you to Coral Valley really?”
“Work,” Kipp answered with a shrug of his shoulders, “what else is there really in this world?”
“You make it sound so miserable,” Blake watched him for a long moment, “Like that’s all there is until you die.”
“Well no, that’s not how it is, but sometimes it feels like that,” he answered with a sigh reaching for his tea, “I mean don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and law school was just one step on my road to greatness. Granted I enjoy working for Stone Corporation and given that I’m the one running the show as the in house council, well it does have it’s perks, but on the flip side, it’s very time consuming.”
“I’d imagine it would be,” Blake noted with a frown, “then again I suppose some lawyers are busy doing their jobs instead of prancing around trying to stir up more Ashford family rumors and speculations.”
“Spoken like you have strong opinions on this one,” Kipp watched her closely noting her sarcasm, “Speaking from experience?”
She shook her head, “Not really. It’s just well, my brother’s latest fiancée works for BBK and she’s well I don’t know how much work she’s actually getting done considering that she and my brother keep popping up on the tabloid covers all over town. They seem to be having more fun causing trouble than getting work done.”
“And I take it you’re less than happy about this current media frenzy,” Kipp raised a curious brow watching her take another bite of her vegetable plate.
“You could say it’s put a damper on my social life lately,” Blake nodded, “Not that I’m not used to these kind of things, but still…”
“Does that explain why your beau wasn’t with you tonight? He feeling the after shocks of the press and their intrusion on your personal life?”
“Not really,” Blake shook her head simply, “Seth’s not the kind of guy to get wrapped up in all that tabloid trash. He’s really down to earth and compassionate about that sort of thing.”
“Let me guess,” Kipp teased with a wink, “Loyal too, right?”
“Oh of course,” she nodded emphatically, “He’s an amazing man.”
“You make him sound more like a puppy dog,” Kipp replied simply, “though if you want my opinion on the subject, I’m guessing the guy isn’t all he’s cracked up to be.”
“How can you say that? You don’t even know him,” Blake frowned in response.
“I’m just saying that when you build people up to be something they aren’t, you’re just leaving yourself wide open for disaster and disappointment,” he stated simply eating another piece of chicken, “Don’t get me wrong, maybe he’s not like the others that flock around a family like yours when media strikes and the iron is still hot, but most of them, well they’re just looking for a free ride on the glory express.”
“Seth’s not like that,” Blake wrinkled her nose in response, “He’s not like that at all and just because you’ve been burned by love doesn’t mean that my boyfriend is like those you’ve encountered….”
“Now wait just a second,” Kipp frowned back at her raising his hands in the air defensively, “I never said anything about being burned by love, so don’t just jump to conclusions…”
“Oh come on,” Blake gave him a disapproving look, “I see it out in the open there. You left the enterprise your father had waiting for you in Los Angeles trying to claim a name for yourself in the hopes of having that respect that you weren’t given just being Douglas Mahoney’s son. I mean sure it has it’s perks, but in being his child, you’re constantly wondering whether or not people truly care about you and my guess is that you’ve found out along the way that people aren’t what they make themselves out to be. You’ve probably come across a few women ready and willing to partake in the Mahoney empire, so you now feel that all women are after the same piece of the prize, hence your jaded attitude on love.”
“My jaded attitude might be in part due to that,” Kipp conceded watching her eyes light up with a hint of anger and determination, “but more so it might just stem from the fact that the right woman seems to have her heart set on a man that’s completely wrong for her.”
“Ha, I knew it,” Blake deduced with a proud grin, “I knew there was reasoning behind this.”
“Considering I had to twist your arm into dinner tonight, yeah I admit I’m feeling a little put out,” Kipp sighed shaking his head back at her, “I mean think about it Blake. This guy you’re with, well you know nothing about him other than he’s nice to you. However, if he was really so nice, then why in the world wouldn’t he be here with you tonight having dinner instead of that.”
“Seth has some things to take care of…” Blake argued with him as a scowl touched over her features.
“What things? I mean Blake, what do you honestly know about this guy,” Kipp frowned deeply as he took in a breath, “Never mind I shouldn’t be getting into this….”
“No,” Blake saw a darkness cross over his features as she reached out towards him, “Kipp, what is it?”
“You’re already upset and I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this to you,” he confessed taking in an exaggerated breath, “I mean given all that you’re going through with your brother, well I don’t see how this would make anything any easier…”
“Kipp, what is it? What aren’t you telling me?” Blake insisted.
“I promised myself that I’d be up front with you, but then when you agreed to dinner, well I realized that you’re just an amazing woman and I know in my heart that you deserve better than that Seth guy. Then again this isn‘t really my place…”
“Kipp, look if you’re trying to imply something, you may as well spit it out and lay it on the table since you brought it up,” she insisted impatiently, “If you know something that you aren’t telling me…”
“It’s just,” Kipp feigned inner conflict as he shifted on his seat, “well the other day at the gym when you showed me who this mystery man in your life was, well I realized he looked familiar…like I’d seen him before.”
“So,” Blake shook her head simply, “Coral Valley is a small town. You probably ran into him on the street when you first arrived.”
“No, it was more than that,” Kipp stated firmly as he reached across the table taking her hand in his, “Blake, I never forget a face and when I saw Seth, well I knew I’d seen him before, but not in Coral Valley. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’d seen him before out in L.A.”
“Los Angeles?” Blake offered up a strange expression.
“He’s a photographer, yes,” Kipp watched her blue eyes cloud over with confusion.
“Yes, he’s a wonderful photographer,” Blake nodded.
“Blake, he’s a son of a bitch is what he is,” Kipp saw the protest form over her features as he hurriedly explained, “He took some really awful pictures of my family for some sleazy tabloid not too long ago and it damn near destroyed my father.”
“No,” she gasped shaking her head, “Seth wouldn’t do that.”
“Wouldn’t he?” Kipp lifted a curious brow, “Blake, think about it. The man went out of his way to destroy my family. There was this little tabloid out in L.A.--you know the kind that would pay big bucks for a story and when my father was shooting one of his blockbusters, they brought in some investigative reporter on the scene claiming that my father was having an affair with the hot young actress he’d hired as the lead. To make a long story short your boy Seth was the one taking the photographs at the time and he’d spun the story around making up his own twisted angle along the way…”
“That doesn’t sound like Seth at all,” Blake replied dismissively, “He wouldn’t exploit a person like that.”
“Blake, it gets worse. Your boyfriend decided that it would be more fun to screw around with me instead of my father since that angle has been done before,” Kipp continued weaving his tale of horror for Blake, “He managed to talk some working girl into spending some time with me at a club in L.A. He’d paid a prostitute to strike up a conversation with me and it was in that moment at the club that he came in with his camera snapping all this trashy pictures to sell to the tabloids. In fact for the next month that was the headline that sold as the great Douglas Mahoney’s son was known for spending his after hours with hookers,” he clenched his fingers into a fist, “and the worst part of it all was that nothing happened with the girl. At the time I was with the most amazing woman--someone I was ready to share my life with and I’d thought that love was enough. It turned out that she chose not to look past the tabloid’s twisted version of what was going on and she left me.”
“Kipp that sounds horrible, but how can you be sure that Seth…”
“He did all of that,” Kipp grumbled back at her, “Him and his damned camera and that’s why I left Los Angeles. I decided I couldn’t face another day without the love of my life as long as the memories remained, so I came here to start over,” he let out an ironic laugh, “Only thing is it appears that the bastard that ruined my life must’ve followed me here as well looking to make his next mark.”
“That can’t be true,” Blake protested emphatically, “Seth isn’t like that. I know his heart and I know that he wouldn’t do something so horrible considering that he’s always been so trustworthy and caring with me…”
“Blake, think about it,” Kipp sighed reaching for her hand gently, “The man knows all about your family just like he knew about mine. Chances are he’s looking for a way to get his next line of gossip and you’re it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trying to sell the story of your romance to the highest bidder right about now.”
“No, I don’t believe that,” she refused to take in his words, “Seth isn’t like that.”
“Ask him,” Kipp urged on, “Ask him about the photos he’s taken in the past or even better, ask him about the one that’s made it’s way into the Inside Track. You know the one with you in the fountain in your yard…”
“What,” Blake’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“You know the one I’m talking about,” Kipp continued seeing the tears building behind her eyes, “It’s on page three with the caption ‘Blake’s Wet and Wild Romp’. I didn’t want to do this, but you have a right to know,” he finished poignantly, “Blake I’m so sorry.”
“No, that can’t be,” she rose from the table tears threatening, “Seth wouldn’t do that.”
“I’m afraid he did,” Kipp sighed rising up from his seat and reaching out to her, “Blake…”
“No, don’t touch me,” she replied raising her voice a bit as she looked to the other restaurant patrons. Trying to remain calm, she refused to let them see her hurting as she drew in a breath, “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to the ladies room.”
“Of course,” he nodded watching her go as he could almost hear the sounds of her feelings of betrayal sweeping over her. He slowly sank into his seat almost feeling a hint of guilt tug at him after the tale he’d spun in his attempt to take care of Seth Alexander, but as Cameron pointed out there was much more at hand and eventually well he’d find a way to help Blake deal with Seth’s ‘betrayal’. Still as he thought to the well placed phone call to his pal out in L.A., he realized that his fairy tale would soon become fact.
Suppressing the urge to laugh at how easy it was to break Seth, he quickly dialed Cameron’s number excited about this evening’s turn about as Cameron’s machine picked up, “Cameron, it’s Kipp. I was just checking in to let you know that everything is going as planned with Blake. Thea’s lifting that photo of Blake was brilliant and I pointed out to Blake where she’d find it in the Inside Track just like we’d talked about. I don’t think Seth is going to be a problem anymore,” he finished hanging up the phone as a smile finally lifted over his lips. Reaching for his drink, he sipped it feeling a sense of empowerment as he found himself one step closer to getting everything he wanted. Life was good.
“Sorry about that,” Ben apologized returning to the table after leaving
Diane alone while he’d been returning his call.
“That’s quite alright,” Diane explained with a soft smile, “I just took the liberties of ordering for us,” she motioned to the plate across from her, “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t,” Ben answered with a frown, “It looks delicious, but the truth is I’m going to have to cut dinner short tonight.”
“What?” she questioned with a scowl, “Why?”
“Something came up,” Ben explained flagging down the waiter, “Can we have a couple of boxes here please?”
“Of course,” the waiter nodded picking up the dinner dishes rushing off to get a couple of boxes as Diane frowned up at Ben.
“What do you mean we have to cut this short,” she watched him reaching for his jacket as she reached out across the table stopping him, “Ben, what’s going on?”
“I can’t really get into it right now,” he answered cryptically, “but I promise we’ll do this again in the future and next time, things won’t be like this.”
“Ben, why do they have to be like this now,” she questioned in confusion, “I thought that we had the whole night ahead of us,” she reached out to him pulling him towards her as she rose to her feet, “I’d had such high hopes for us tonight…”
“Diane, believe me this is the last thing I want to be doing tonight in leaving,” he admitted feeling her fingers curl into the center of his chest as she leaned up on her toes towards him.
“Then call them back and cancel,” she urged moving up boldly as she collected his mouth in a tempting kiss catching him off guard. As they parted he blinked back in confusion as her breath flooded over his features, “I’m worth it, aren’t I?”
“Honey you’re more than worth it,” he confessed drawing his arms around her waist as he pulled her in against him unable to resist the urge to hold her as they stood in the middle of Irvan’s together.
“Then what’s the problem?” Diane questioned impatiently, “I think we’ve put us on hold for far too long already.”
“Too long indeed,” Ben agreed enjoying the feel of her in his arms as his obligation flooded through his mind, “but if I don’t go now…”
“What could possibly be more important than us getting to know each other better,” Diane urged leaning up towards him once again ready to remind him of all the reasons he shouldn’t refuse her as the waiter returned.
“Here are your dinners,” he explained impatiently as Ben turned away from Diane quickly offering money to the waiter, “You’ll find that’s more than enough for the bill and the tip.”
The waiter inspected the bills in his hand before a smile touched over his lips, “Thank you sir.”
“Ben,” Diane pouted watching him step away from her and retrieve the boxes from the table top as she stomped her foot impatiently.
“Diane, please, don’t ask,” his eyes urged her as he took in a breath, “If this wasn’t an emergency, then I wouldn’t be going right now as there’s nothing more in this world that I’d rather be doing than spending tonight with you.”
“What kind of emergency is it,” Diane questioned with concern evident in her tone, “A family emergency?”
“Something along those lines,” he nodded in confession, “I really have to get going, but I’ll drop you off on the way.”
“Why not take me with you,” Diane suggested, “I mean if there’s something going down, I’m good with those kind of situations. I did go to nursing school for a few months so I’m equipped to help in a situation…”
“Diane as much as I appreciate the offer, this is something I have to do on my own,” he reached out to her giving her a quick kiss before taking her hand, “I promise we’ll have a rain check on dinner and next time it’ll be much better.”
“It had better be,” she grumbled letting him lead her out of the restaurant as she wondered what would be so important for Ben to just drop everything. He hadn’t said much about his family before now, but as Diane noted his eagerness to return to whatever crisis was waiting for him, she decided she’d make it her mission to find out just what was going on in Ben’s life. After all a woman should be informed about the man she was set on winning over. Maybe in learning more about Ben’s family, she’d find out an easier way to capture his full attention once and for all.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Seth said in disbelief as he eyed the woman standing in his doorway.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Thea smiled before clucking her tongue. She brushed him aside with the back of her hand as she stepped inside, “Really, Seth, we must work on your manners.”
“What are you doing here?” He asked as he watched her cross the apartment.
“I’m here to give you a reminder. I think something very important has slipped your mind,” She spoke as she swept back the curtains to glance down at the street below. After a moment she glanced back at him, “Not much of a decorator, are you?”
“This is not a good idea,” He warned as he crossed the room and took her by the arm, “You need to leave right now.”
“And you need to remember that you belong to us,” Thea declared as she planted her hand in his chest and shoved him forcefully onto the sofa, “You aren’t living up to your end of our arrangement, and Cameron isn’t happy. Do you have any idea what kinds of tragedies occur when Cameron isn’t happy?”
“I don’t really care,” He replied boldly as he repositioned himself in a more dignified manner on the sofa, “I took the pictures he wanted. That should be more than enough.”
“It was only the beginning,” She said simply as she sat on the coffee table, crossed her legs and leaned forward, “You have so much more potential than you’re allowing yourself to see. Cameron, however, does see your potential, and he intends to see you fulfill every aspect of it.”
“I’m not interested in anything Cameron sees,” He frowned.
“Not even your sister,” Thea suggested with a smile, “Oh yes, I met the little darling today…quite a spitfire. She’s totally Cameron’s type.”
“He’d better stay away from my sister,” Seth declared, “Or I’ll kill him.”
“Brave words for a man who’s too cowardly to do what is asked of him,” She said with a shrug, “But then again, maybe you’ve not been given the proper motivation. Perhaps I should get closer to your sister and make her believe that Cameron is the man of her dreams.”
“That would never happen. Obviously you didn’t speak with Jade very long, or you’d know that she isn’t easily manipulated,” He said with a confident grin.
“Who said anything about manipulation? There are so many other ways to get to a young woman, and you, of all people, should know that,” She said with a threatening smile before she stood, “Don’t make me demonstrate just how serious I am about this, Seth. Get the microfilm in the next forty eight hours, or Cameron will have Jade…all of her.”
“I told you to leave Jade out of this,” Seth warned as he stood and met her eye to eye.
“And I told you that nothing in this situation is dependent about your wants. The only person who matters in this little arrangement is Cameron. If you disappoint him, I can promise you that not only you will suffer, but so will Jade and your new found love,” She gently swept her fingertip down the middle of his chest, “You do not want to cause the destruction of everyone you know and love, do you?”
“This isn’t what I agreed to in our original deal,” He sighed, feeling as if he were backed against a wall with no other options.
“Circumstances change,” She shrugged, “Besides, you’re more than suitable for the task. Don’t make me have to come back here a second time, Seth. I can promise you that it won’t be in your best interests to see me upon your door step again,” She warned before making her way to the door. She opened the door and was greeted with the sight of Jade attempting to slip her key into the lock, “Well, what have we here?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Jade snapped quickly as she met the eyes of Grady’s one night stand.
“Oh, well,” Thea turned to look towards Seth, “I was just catching up with an old friend,” She said before glaring at Jade.
“Old friend? You must be joking. I know all of Seth’s friends, and you are definitely not one of them. I don’t know why you’re here or what you had in mind with visiting my brother, but you can just hit the road,” Jade declared adamantly as she stepped into the apartment and gave Thea a shove out the door, “Buh bye,” She said before slamming the door in the woman’s face.
Seth sighed in relief as he watched Jade proceed into the kitchen, “So, are you over being mad at me?”
“Not even close,” She replied as she turned and met his intense eyes, “You owe me not one but two explanations.”
“I wasn’t aware I had the one, but I’ll bite. What are these two explanations?” He asked as he crossed his arms, ready to do battle with his little sister.
“Number one, I want to know why you have such a problem with my finding a good man to be with, and number two, what the hell was that bitch doing in our apartment?” Jade laid her cards out on the table for him as she placed her hands on her hips, “So get to it, Seth. Start explaining.”
Seth frowned deeply, his handsome features turning dark as he considered the questions laid out before him. He didn’t want to turn a simple evening into World War Three, but if she wanted to pick a fight, he was more than willing to meet her half way.
“Ken,” Richard said his protégé’s name in relief as he spotted him entering the police station. He quickly approached Kenneth and shook his hand, “They interrupted our dinner and drug Avery down here for some absurd interrogation.”
“I understand. I’ll go see what I can do,” Kenneth assured his mentor before proceeding through the police station to find Avery. When Dave had called his cell phone, he’d never expected to find himself at the police station to protect Avery from herself. Yet, here he was about to go head to head with Shannon Pryce over the fate of Avery’s life. How he had gotten himself into this situation he really wasn’t sure, but now that he had imbedded himself as Avery’s attorney, he would do his best to see she was protected from over ambitious investigators.
He opened the door to the interrogation room and spotted Avery sitting at the table with her arms crossed, jaw set, and eyes glassy with anger. If he thought handling Shannon would be difficult, he now knew that Avery would be an equally daunting task.
“I want a moment with my client,” Kenneth announced to the uniformed officer. The officer nodded and stepped out of the room, leaving Avery and Ken alone.
“Thank god, you’re here,” Avery sighed in relief, “I don’t like the idea of being dragged down here just to satisfy Shannon Pryce’s curiosity.”
“This isn’t just to satisfy her curiosity, Avery,” He frowned, “They searched Bruce’s apartment, and then they went to your apartment.”
“They what?” She asked, panic beginning to emerge, “But…how’s that possible? We weren’t served notice.”
“Because it wasn’t an intrusive entry,” He pointed out as he sat down beside her, “I just got a copy of the warrant. They wanted to try out a key they found at Bruce’s place.”
She frowned, “Why?”
“That’s a good question,” He said as he searched her eyes.
“What? You think I know? Ken, you’re suppose to be my attorney.”
“I’m also suppose to know everything I can in order to help protect you. What aren’t you telling me, Avery?”
“I’ve told you everything, Ken.”
“Okay, let’s think about this. Dave said that Shannon wants to talk to you because of some inconsistencies in your statement. What was inconsistent?”
“I don’t know,” Avery grumbled in frustration as she pushed away from the table.
“Okay, let’s just calm down here. This is only just beginning, and I know that we have plenty of ground to cover here. Shannon isn’t going to pull you down to the station on a whim. She knows that we’d slap her with a wrongful prosecution suit so fast it would make her head spin. So she’s going to be smart about this, and we need to do the same thing. What exactly did you tell her in your statement?”
“I told her that Bruce and I had broken up. She asked about why he’d been at my apartment. I told her that…” She winced, “He was there to return some of my things and my key.”
“And the key they found at Bruce’s place,” He frowned, “Am I to assume it was yours?”
“Maybe,” She admitted, “But Brant had the locks replaced because he crashed through my door to save me from Bruce,” She trailed off as the horrible memories of her former lover’s attack haunted her, “The key wouldn’t have fit anyway.”
“Maybe not, but if Shannon thinks those locks are new and that you were lying to her,” Ken exhaled in an anxious breath, “That complicates things. I still think your best bet is to tell the truth of what happened with Bruce.”
“No!” Avery declared dramatically, “There’s no way I’m revealing that to anyone else. Besides, they’d just think that I went to Brant’s place to plot something or worse think that Bruce had plenty of reason to do what he did. No, absolutely not,” She shook her head emphatically, “I won’t do it.”
“Okay, then we’ll just find another way of doing this,” He ran his fingers through his hair as he considered their current situation, “I still feel like there’s more to this than they’re letting on.”
“What do you mean?” She asked as she observed Ken.
“I mean that Shannon isn’t just going to drag you down here for a key. Something else is going on, and I would really like to know what it is,” He admitted.
The door to the interrogation room opened, and Shannon stepped inside. She placed a paper cup full of water in front of Avery before she placed her notebook down on the table and sat across from her suspect.
“What’s this? Poison?” Avery quipped.
“Avery,” Kenneth chided as she glanced at him. He shook his head to discourage her from saying anymore.
“It’s water,” Shannon announced as she switched on the tape recorder at the end of the table, “Interrogation of Avery Morrison in the matter of Bruce Mathis’ murder. Special Agent Shannon Pryce conducting the interrogation with Avery Morrison and her attorney, Kenneth Ashford, present,” She looked to the suspect and her counsel, “Can I get you anything to make this more comfortable?”
Avery began to speak before Kenneth placed his hand upon her forearm.
“No,” Kenneth answered as he cut Avery a look to be quiet.
Avery frowned as she glared across the table at Shannon. Now, she could only brace herself for what evidence the agent thought she had.
“This is beyond ridiculous,” Brooke announced pacing around the police
station lobby as she turned to her husband, her lips curling in an accusatory
scowl, “this is all your fault. You should’ve been ready for something
like this and now that Avery is in there with that jealous FBI woman, here
you are doing nothing yet again. It never fails, does it?”
“I’m sure that our daughter is in perfectly capable hands with Kenneth,” Richard remarked with a matching frown, “I trained him myself and I’m quite competent that he’s more than the best in this situation. Unlike the other men in Avery’s life,” his angry glare fell upon Brant, “I know he’d never let her down. He has my uttermost faith in him.”
“A lot of good it does us,” Brooke turned her attention to Brant, “Isn’t there something you can do to speed this up a bit? I mean clearly the woman really has nothing substantial on Avery as Avery would never murder anyone.”
“That’s because she hasn’t been locked in a room long enough with you,” Richard muttered under his breath as Brant spoke up weakly.
“Avery’s going to be out of there soon,” he tried to assure himself along with her parents, “I know that she hasn’t done anything, so there’s nothing they can have over her. She didn’t commit this murder and for them to even imply it, well it’s just beyond ridiculous.”
“That’s what I’m saying which is why we need to find a way to get her out of this dreadful place and back to the mansion where the three of us can sit down and discuss the details of your wedding…”
“Oh would you put a lid on it already about that damned wedding,” Richard growled back at her, “Can’t you see that our daughter has wound up in a world of trouble since she’s been involved with this loser,” he motioned towards Brant, “The last thing she needs to be thinking about right now is getting tied down to him.”
“Now look,” Brant spoke up in his behalf, “While you might not think highly about me, I never, ever wanted anything like this to happen to Avery. She’s very important to me and…”
“She’s important to your ego,” Richard scowled back at him, “and when you’re done sucking the life out of her you’ll toss her aside just like all of those other pitiful women who were under the misconception that you’d give them the world. I saw how you destroyed those ladies that invested their hearts in you and I won’t let my daughter become a casualty of the Brant Ashford’s quest for the woman of the moment.”
“Now wait just a damned minute,” Brant raised his tone finding himself less than thrilled with Richard’s accusations.
“No, you just wait a minute,” Richard continued firmly, “I know for a fact that my daughter has been a good girl and trouble hasn’t followed her in her life until you became a part of it. Why she chose you instead of all the other much better suited men in her life, I don’t know, but I won’t sit here and let her be the FBI mark of the moment just because she was blinded by your charms.”
“As I said before,” Brant started in his own defense.
“Don’t bother with him,” Brooke reached out to touch his arm, “Richard is blinded by his own inadequacies that he doesn’t want to face the fact that Avery’s finally made a decision that’s for the best. He would much rather have his daughter penniless and miserable instead of loved and happy with someone as wonderful as you just because I approve of this union between the both of you. He’d do and say just about anything to spite me.”
“My feelings about you hold no weight on my feelings for him,” Richard growled back at her as he turned his attention to the interrogation room. He stepped towards the window before shaking his head, “That’s it. I’m going to work on making a few calls in case they start hassling Kenneth in there. He might need the added support.”
“Gee, so your faith in the man you were just praising before isn’t as strong as you thought it to be when our daughter’s really, truly on the line,” Brooke spoke in a mocking tone as he turned around to face her with a glare.
“Just…” Richard opened his mouth to speak before shaking his head at her. He turned his attention to Brant before adding quickly, “Just make sure she doesn’t start any more trouble than she already has. If you can handle that,” he finished heading off to make a few phone calls of his own as Brant looked over to Brooke once again.
“He’s always been a bit of a hot head,” she apologized with a shrug of her shoulders, “I suppose that’s where Avery tends to get it from. He means well in his own warped mind, but he often makes things worse than they should be. I should hope that you won’t hold any of his words against Avery.”
“Not at all,” Brant turned his attention to the interrogation room once again, “I just wish that Shannon hadn’t jumped on her like she did. I know Avery didn’t do this.”
“That woman tends to have some hang ups where you’re concerned, doesn’t she,” Brooke eyed him intently.
“More than I’d like to admit,” Brant turned his attention to Avery’s curious mother, “but don’t think that it changes my feelings for Avery because I just want you to know that she means the world to me.”
“I’m well aware of how you care for my daughter,” Brooke patted his arm supportively, “That ring on her finger is a small token of your appreciation for her and I can promise you that while Richard tends to put his foot in his mouth more often than not, I’m confident that you’ll be able to give my baby girl all she needs in this world. She’s very happy with you and as her mother I can see that your getting married is exactly what she needs in her life,” she waved towards the interrogation room dismissively, “but this shall pass. Of course soon you’ll have a wedding ahead of you and then I’d assume you both would want to get started on grandchildren for me…”
“Grandchildren,” Brant gulped in response his eyes widening in surprise.
“Why of course. After all nothing secures a marriage better than a happy little family with smiling little faces running around,” Brooke continued eagerly, “and given your zest for life and Avery’s love of children, I think you’d both be wonderful parents,” she paused seeing the curious expression on his features, “unless of course you and she have already burned that bridge hence the speedy engagement as you‘re expecting.”
“No,” Brant replied emphatically, “Avery and I aren’t…I mean she isn’t…she’s not…we just…” he danced around the issue uneasily as the thought of children right now caused a tremor to rush over him, “I mean we’d talked about it down the road, but right now we’re both eager to keep our careers in tact.”
“Of course,” Brooke nodded the wheels already turning in her head as she smiled up at him sweetly, “then I can see that clearly this engagement is all about love and romance which shows that you are certainly the man for my daughter. You’ve got your priorities in the right place and I’m certain that you’ll find a way to make this go away,” she motioned to their surroundings.
“I’m hoping so,” Brant confessed his thoughts lingering to what could be happening behind that interrogation room door as he prayed that Kenneth found a way to just make all of this go away with Avery. The last thing he needed was to deal with this considering that Avery was already a nervous wreck. Ken will fix this, Brant repeated to himself silently hoping that his faith in his brother would prove to work in everyone’s favor.
Russell looked over the notes he’d put together for the upcoming interview
with Richard and already he was feeling things picking up for him as he
realized with Richard on his side there might be hope after all in this
quest to win Avery over. Soon enough he and Richard would sit down
for this interview which would certainly boost the public’s awareness of
the Courier given Richard’s reputation and that in itself brought a smile
to Russell’s face. He set his notes aside ready to call it quits
as his thoughts lingered back to Avery. Perhaps he’d find a way to
sneak her out of the mansion tonight for a little while so that they could
talk about things or perhaps… His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing
phone on the corner of his desk.
“Denton speaking,” he answered cheerfully as Caitlin’s voice spoke up over the line.
“Russ hey I was hoping I might catch you at work…”
“Ah, it’s my star reporter,” Russell’s voice beamed with enthusiasm, “Tell me you’ve got something good for me.”
“I have something for you, but it’s not what you’re hoping for,” Caitlin confessed hesitation in her tone.
“What’s wrong?” he frowned immediate panic sweeping over him, “Don’t tell me that Midlands has already started a backlash with you.”
“This isn’t about the story,” she paused contemplating her words, “This is about Avery. I know that you two are friends and you’d asked me to keep an eye on things…”
“I know and if you felt uncomfortable because of that, well I’m sorry because…” he began thinking of his impulsive request earlier.
“No, it’s not that,” she interrupted him once again, “I just wanted to call you and let you know that Ken was on his way to the police station earlier because apparently Shannon had her taken down. Her father called Kenneth while we were together and he had to go…”
“To the police station,” Russell thought it over as his frown deepened, “Did he say why?”
“He only said that they took Avery down to the station for some questioning,” Caitlin explained simply, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t give you more to go on, but I know that you and Avery are friends so…”
“Thanks for calling,” Russell replied thinking about Avery as he realized that he needed to make a detour to the police station.
“Russell,” Caitlin broke through his thoughts, “look whatever this is about, I hope it blows over for everyone. A man like Bruce still seems to be haunting this town even in death.”
“Unfortunately it’s people like Bruce that never really pay for what they’ve done,” Russell’s voice laced with anger as he thought to Bruce’s attack on Avery, “but I won’t let him hurt her anymore.”
“I’m sure Kenneth’s doing his best down at the station for her,” Caitlin offered supportively.
“I’m sure he is,” Russell replied with a sigh, “thanks for letting me know.”
“Not a problem. I just hope it all works out somehow,” Caitlin admitted with a hint of sadness in her tone as Russell hung up the phone wondering if Kenneth’s best would be enough considering Shannon’s determination to find a scapegoat for Bruce’s demise.
Now flooded with concerns for Avery, Russell realized he couldn’t sit back and do nothing. Reaching for his light jacket, he turned his desk lamp off as he headed out of the office ready to face whatever trouble was working it’s way over Avery at the police station. One way or another he vowed not to let her be harassed by someone as misguided as Shannon Pryce. That much he was certain of.
Jade opened the refrigerator and removed a bottle of water. She took a long drink from the cold water before she turned her prying gaze towards Seth. He’d been quiet for a few moments since she’d demanded answers from him, and his hard demeanor only meant that she wouldn’t like any answer he had to give. Still, she wanted to know why Thea had been in their apartment, and she also wanted answers as to why Seth was so unwilling to believe that she could make a good choice where men were concerned.
“Well,” She began with a brow raised in questioning, “I’m waiting for an answer, Seth.”
“Jade, I really don’t think you want to get into this with me right now,” Seth stated before turning and walking back across the living room.
“Oh yes, I do, and now that you’re doing your dead level best to walk out on my question only means that you definitely need to answer my questions now,” She said as she followed after him.
“Jade, you know why I don’t want you with that Grady guy.”
“This isn’t about Grady.”
“Since when? You’re chasing an older man, and I have every right to be worried,” He reminded her.
“This is about Thea,” She clarified, “I want to know why she was here.”
Seth glanced towards the door as if to relive Thea’s retreat. If only he could retreat as easily from Jade.
“Seth, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Look, Jade, there are some parts of my life that I just can’t tell you about.”
“Oh don’t tell me you jumped into bed with her,” Jade grimaced.
“Hell no,” He replied firmly.
“Then why can’t you tell me?”
“Because it’s none of your business, Jade,” Seth declared as he met her eyes, “Look, she was here to see me, and now she’s gone. So why not just leave it at that?”
“Why? Because I don’t trust that woman as far as I could throw her. That’s why,” She informed him, “How about we just agree that she never comes back here? How about that?” She said as she started to walk around him.
“Only if the same thing goes for your sugar daddy.”
Jade stopped in her tracks and turned to meet his eyes, “Don’t you ever talk about Grady that way.”
Seth shook his head, “Why don’t you just see this for what it is, Jade? He just wants to take advantage of you, and then toss you out on your ass.”
“You don’t know the first thing about Grady. So, don’t you dare stand there and act all high and mighty in judgment of him. Grady is a good man with a good heart.”
“And that’s why I found him in your bed this morning?”
“Yeah, actually it is,” She replied as she crossed her arms, “He was tired from helping out a client all day long, and I decided that it would be best for him to stay here rather than drive home. And it wasn’t like we were naked, you moron. I was fully clothed in my pajamas, and he was wearing his boxers. So what exactly is your problem with that? You and Blake were all piled up on the sofa in here a few days ago.”
“There’s the difference. We weren’t in bed together.”
“You would have been if you’d been smart. It wasn’t any different than what happened with you two so don’t lecture me, Seth.”
“I really don’t understand why you can’t see through this guy.”
“And I don’t understand why you can’t see that Grady is a good man. I apologized to him for your behavior this morning, and do you know what he had to say? He said if he’d been a big brother in the same situation he probably would have reacted the same way. He gives you the benefit of the doubt. Why can’t you just extend him the same courtesy?”
“Because I don’t know him from Adam’s house cat, and I don’t trust strange old men in my sister’s bed. How’s that for reasoning?” He snapped at her.
“It’s stupid, okay?” Jade groaned, “I told Grady that trying to reason with you was impossible, but he wants to try anyway. He’s got this crazy idea about inviting you and Blake to his house for dinner one day this week. He said that he wants to get to know you and vice versa so that you two can get along. Doesn’t that tell you how he feels about me?”
“It just means he thinks he can con me too,” Seth reasoned, “There’s no way I’m going to listen to any of his bull.”
“Speaking of bull, just what kind of con do you think you’re pulling with this Thea thing? Why was she here?”
“Oh no, don’t you start changing the subject here.”
“You’re the one who changed the subject to begin with,” Jade pointed out, “I want to know how you know her.”
“She hired me to take some pictures for her,” Seth improvised, “Satisfied?”
“Not hardly,” She sighed.
“Then it looks we’re at a cross roads here.”
“Yeah, the only direction I can see to go is out on my own,” Jade shook her head as she turned and walked into her room, slamming the door to stop Seth’s pursuit.
Seth frowned as he looked at the door and contemplated invading her territory. He reached for the door knob and paused, wondering if he really wanted to continue arguing tonight. The day had been miserable enough as it was. The best thing he could do for himself and perhaps for Jade as well was call it a night and try to find a way to start fresh in the morning.
Hart stepped into the police station with a determined stride. After Brant’s call, he’d known that he needed to speak with his law partner. While they were defending two different clients in the same legal matter, they were still partners, and their clients had common interests. It was true that Brant’s interest was only in Avery, but Avery’s best interests hinged on what Hart held in his hand.
“Hart,” Brant frowned, “What are you doing here? They’re not going to question me too, are they?”
“I’m not sure, but that’s not why I’m here. I have something here that Ken really needs to see,” Hart declared as he proceeded past his client and towards the interrogation room.
“Ms. Morrison, in your earlier statement to me, you said that Bruce Mathis had visited you at your apartment in order to return your things and a key to your apartment. Is that correct?” Shannon asked as she looked to Avery.
“That’s what I said,” Avery nodded.
“We have a key here,” Shannon spoke as she produced the evidence bag with a key inside, “That was found in Dr. Mathis’ apartment. Is this a key to your apartment?”
“No,” Avery replied as she glanced at the key.
“Are you certain?” Shannon asked as she raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, I’m certain,” Avery rolled her eyes, “Are you deaf?”
“Avery,” Kenneth shook his head at her before looking at Shannon, “What are you getting at?”
“This key has a marker on it,” Shannon began, “And it has the name Avery on it. The logical conclusion is that it was a key to Ms. Morrison’s apartment.”
“I’ve received a copy of the warrant you obtained in order to test the key. So why are we here now?” Kenneth asked with a frown.
“Because the locks have been changed on Ms. Morrison’s apartment. If Bruce Mathis had returned the key, why would new locks be necessary?” Shannon asked.
Kenneth leaned over to whisper in Avery’s ear, “Don’t answer her question. Let me get you out of here first.”
“It was necessary because I just wanted them changed,” Avery said defiantly as she glared at Shannon, “I wanted to start fresh, and it was a good way to assure that I had that opportunity.”
“So you didn’t change the locks because of any security issues?” Shannon asked.
“No, of course not,” Avery snorted as she slipped her hair off her shoulder.
“A witness has stated that there was a commotion at your apartment the day that the locks were changed. Do you want to explain what that commotion was?” Shannon asked, observing Avery’s reactions closely.
When Avery began to reply, Kenneth cut her off, “That is completely irrelevant to this investigation.”
“It did happen the day that Dr. Mathis was murdered. I would think your client would want to explain what happened the last time she saw the victim,” Shannon baited.
“My client doesn’t have to reveal every detail of her private life based on the scuttlebutt going around town. Whatever your witness thinks he or she saw is irrelevant here,” Kenneth assured her, “Next question,” He urged.
“Excuse me,” Hart said as he opened the door to the interrogation room, “I need to have a small chat with my partner.”
“We’re conducting an interrogation here,” Shannon snapped, “It’ll have to wait.”
“Afraid not,” Hart declared as he waved for Kenneth to join him.
Kenneth stood from his chair and joined Hart near the door, “What?” He asked with a lowered voice.
“I’ve obtained a copy of the medical examiner’s report,” Hart whispered, “And it proves that your client couldn’t have killed Bruce Mathis.”
“What?” Kenneth asked with wide eyes as Hart produced the report for him. He opened the file and glanced over the contents, “This is certainly interesting.”
“I thought you might find it enlightening,” Hart said as he gave Shannon a wave with a less than friendly smile, “I’ll let you get back to this…interrogation…now.”
As Hart stepped out of the room, Kenneth returned to his seat and leaned over to whisper in Avery’s ear, “Don’t worry about a thing. This will all be over in just a few short minutes,” He assured her as he met Shannon’s eyes, knowing that now they were on equal footing and his client would soon be completely exonerated.
Kipp walked Blake up to her doorstep noting the change in her since
his revelation about Seth. She’d been much more quiet and withdrawn
since he’d told her about her boyfriend’s ‘sordid’ past and somehow in
having been able to speak with her, he realized that she might have her
doubts about Seth, but for the most part, she believed what he’d been saying.
Now as they stood on the porch she looked up at him with sad blue eyes.
“Thank you for dinner,” she smiled politely, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t more of a dinner companion for you.”
“You were a wonderful dinner companion,” Kipp explained with a frown, “I just wish that I hadn’t been the one to turn that smile of yours upside down like that.”
“It’s not you,” Blake shook off his words, “I guess it’s just been a long couple of weeks and I’ve had a lot to think about. This story you’ve told me about Seth, well I’ll be honest and tell you I’m not really sure what to believe.”
“I can understand that,” Kipp nodded supportively, “and I didn’t tell you this to hurt you. I just wanted you to be informed about the man you’re seeing. That’s really where this is coming from.”
“I know,” she nodded again, “On some level I really do know this, but knowing it and having feelings about the issue are two very different things…”
“Which is also understandable,” Kipp reached out to her touching her cheek gently as he urged her to meet his dark eyes, “but the truth to the matter is despite what Seth is or isn’t, you’re an amazing, wonderful woman and you deserve nothing but the best in your life.”
“I’m not so sure about that anymore,” Blake confessed with a frown wondering if Kipp’s words about Seth were true. She thought to all the experiences she and Seth had shared already with one another in her opening her heart to him and more, and suddenly a wave of embarrassment flooded over her. If there was any shred of truth to what Kipp had shared with her, then the media would know all about her in ways that she’d never wanted to let the world see her. Telling Seth just how vulnerable she was only opened her up to a story that would surely put all the others to shame. Just the idea of the tabloids getting privy to her personal life made her heart sink. Seth couldn’t have been using her to get ahead, could he?
“Blake, the way I see it, a woman like you deserves a man who can treat her with respect and who can give her the life of happiness and love she’s been hoping for,” he paused his fingers lingering over her hairline as he touched her silken tresses, “and while I know that now probably isn’t the time, I’d like to be that man…”
“Kipp, I…” Blake blinked back jolting back to reality as he moved in closer to her sliding his arm around her waist as his mouth drifted in over hers capturing her lips in a surprisingly impromptu kiss. She felt the heat of his mouth move over hers as a gasp fell from her lips and she pulled away from him, “Kipp, what are you doing?”
“Blake, I just thought…” he stammered a bit seeing the anger flash behind her eyes as he raised his hands in the air, “I’m sorry I guess I just got carried away in the moment.”
“There wasn’t a moment,” Blake frowned back at him, “and if you thought that dinner tonight was leading towards something more than…”
“No, that’s not it at all,” Kipp sighed bringing his hands into his pockets, “I guess it’s just been a long time since I’ve felt connected to someone with being new in town and all. Clearly I overstepped my boundaries tonight and I’m sorry about that.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Blake offered noting the wounded expression on his features, “I mean you’re a great guy and nice company, but right now…”
“I know,” he nodded in response, “you need to figure out what’s going on with Seth.”
“I really need to talk to him,” Blake replied opening the front door as he reached for her arm.
“Blake, just promise me you’ll think about what I said the next time you see him. I know that your heart wants to believe that he’s a good person and that’s part of what I admire about you. I know that you wear your heart on your sleeve and I’d just hate to see a man like Seth destroy you.”
“Thanks for your concern,” Blake stepped into her home turning to give him one last look as she tugged her arm away from him, “but for what it’s worth I’m a big girl and I can take care of myself.”
“I don’t doubt that, but I just don’t want you hurt,” Kipp explained his voice laced with heavy concern, “You deserve so much more than a man who’s out to exploit you and your family.”
“Thank you for dinner, Kipp,” she smiled politely starting to close the door as his voice beckoned her.
“Call me if you need anything. Even if you just want to talk…” his words hung over her as she closed the door thinking about the knowledge he’d thrown on her.
Could it be that Kipp was telling the truth? Was Seth using her for his own twisted purposes? She refused to believe the worst in a man she’d come to care about so very much, but as she thought to Kipp’s words about her picture being in the Inside Track, she realized she had to find out and put her curiosities to rest one way or another. Turning her attention to the window, Blake watched Kipp drive off before reaching for her car keys in her purse as she left the mansion vowing to get to the heart of the matter once and for all. She’d get herself a copy of the magazine and prove Kipp wrong. She’d get her hands on that stupid magazine and then she’d find a way to talk to Seth as she was certain that was the only way to clear things up.
Avery sank back in her chair and glared at Shannon. She wasn’t sure why she was sitting in this interrogation room still with this agent who wanted her blood. She was doing her best to maintain her composure, and she had shown remarkable restraint. She’d never been known for immeasurable patience. The very fact that she hadn’t told Shannon just what she thought of her was amazing.
“Let’s get on with this,” Kenneth demanded as he focused upon Shannon.
Shannon read over the notes in front of her, “Why were the locks replaced on the door of your apartment?”
“She already answered that,” He replied shortly.
“Not to my satisfaction.”
“That’s not my client’s problem. It’s yours.”
“Okay, where were you the night of the murder?” Shannon asked as she rethought her strategy.
“I was at the Ashford mansion,” Avery replied.
“Can anyone verify that for us?”
“Other than the hordes of Paparazzi on the lawn?”
“The key that we found at Dr. Mathis’ apartment, where is it from?”
“I have no idea,” Avery replied.
“She just told you that she doesn’t know,” Kenneth interjected, “Look, I think this has gone on long enough. My client is leaving.”
“Your client isn’t going anywhere,” Shannon replied firmly, “She’s under suspicion.”
“What’s the matter, Pryce? Don’t you trust the judgment of your own experts?” He asked as he placed the report on the table and slid it towards her, “It just so happens that I’ve come into possession of a copy of the coroner’s report. There’s no way my client could have killed Bruce Mathis,” He said as he stood and helped Avery slide away from the table.
“How did you get this?” Shannon asked as she glanced at the report before Kenneth plucked it off of the table.
“I have my sources,” He replied, “So we’ll be leaving now.”
“Hold it,” Dave said as he stepped inside, “Agent Pryce, I need to speak with you.”
“That’s okay. We were just leaving,” Kenneth informed him as he began to escort Avery towards the door.
“Just wait,” Dave urged him before leading Shannon into a far corner of the room.
“What’s that about?” Avery asked with a frown as she watched Shannon and Dave across the room.
“That’s a good question. There’s really no reason for us to stay here. The coroner’s report clearly shows that…” Kenneth began to explain.
“I don’t care what the coroner’s report shows. I want to know why they’re still keeping us here, and what it is they could possibly be talking about,” She frowned.
“I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” Kenneth stated as he cleared his throat, “If this isn’t about the case at hand, we really have to be going.”
“Actually it is about the case,” Dave looked back towards Avery, “You told me in an earlier statement that you, Brant and Russell were all at the mansion the night of the murder, correct?”
“Yes, why?” Avery asked, feeling a quivering feeling deep in the pit of her stomach.
“Because we have surveillance video from the Cadillac Ranch that shows Russell and Brant sitting in the parking lot, and they left directly after Bruce Mathis,” Dave looked between Avery and Kenneth, “It looks like they were following him. You wouldn’t have to have any idea as to why they would do that, would you?”
Avery clenched her fingers in her hands as she remained silent, hoping
that her worst fears were actually coming true.