“Brooke Downing,” Heather gushed at the living legend before her.
A bright smile touched over Heather’s features as she reached out to take
the hand of the woman who’d been her idol for most of her life. Brooke’s
tale had always been of great interest to her as Brooke was the one woman
in this world that found a way to make all of her dreams a reality and
gain nothing but success and status along the way--the very things that
Heather too acquired to have in her life. Now as she thanked her
lucky stars for the way luck had played a new hand for her, Heather found
herself overwhelmed by the moment as Brooke shook her hand politely, “I
have been a huge fan of yours ever since I was old enough to know what
Beholder Cosmetics were.”
“Really?” Brooke’s eyes widened in surprise as she watched Heather shake her hand emphatically.
“You have been an inspiration to so many women over the years and the ways in which you carry yourself with such beauty and grace,” Heather continued eagerly thinking of her dreams of fame and fortune, “I knew that one day I wanted to be just like you as you are the single most important fixture in helping define my identity as a model and as a woman.”
“Oh I’m sure I couldn’t have possibly done all that for you,” Brooke began modestly a smile lifting over her lips before she continued, “Of course then again this is the magic of Beholder we’re talking about, so anything is possible.“
“That’s exactly how I feel when I’m using your products,” Heather explained with an eager nod, “I don’t ever leave home without them as they are truly remarkable. I wouldn’t even think to look anywhere else because you, well you have the top of the line for today’s woman who is into ready to take the world by charge and make destiny happen for her. Your cosmetics off up a feeling of independence, zest and an all round confidence that in wearing them a woman can’t help but feel like the world is hers for the taking.”
“And who did you say you were again dear?” Brooke questioned curiously motioning for Heather to take a seat beside her on one of the benches.
“Heather Gibbons,” Heather replied politely following Brooke’s lead as she took a seat on one of the benches, “perhaps you’ve seen some of my work as I’ve done ads for Cosmopolitan, Vogue and various other fashion magazines. Of course I’d also done my own calendar, not to brag as that’s small potatoes compared to the latest project I’m working on, but none the less my face has shown up here and there every so often.”
“And what pre tell is your latest project,” Brooke quipped with curiosity as she began to scrutinize the eager blonde before her. Certainly while Avery was stubborn and putting her foot down in her quest to help Brooke with her bustling new ad campaign, this latest find might fit the bill…maybe…Brooke reasoned as Heather continued running through her own rendition of her résumé.
“Well, I don’t mean to brag here, but,” Heather lowered her eyelashes a bit feigning modesty before continuing, “My boyfriend’s father is expecting me to be the lead in his new, upcoming film and while I tell Kipp that it’s such an honor to be the lead in a Mahoney production…”
“Did you say Mahoney?” Brooke’s eyes widened with obvious interest alerting Heather to the fact that Brooke had clearly taken the bait. “As in Douglas Mahoney?”
Heather nodded, “It seems there is a role that was just made for me in this latest film and it would appear that big things are to be expected from this latest motion picture. I mean we’re already talking about the merchandizing on top of the film itself and…”
“So you say you’re also interested in Beholder,” Brooke interrupted the wheels turning in her head at the idea of one of Douglas Mahoney’s starlets promoting her latest cosmetics line. Certainly Brooke had thought Avery would’ve been perfect for the job as Avery was well on her way to becoming Mrs. Brant Ashford, but now as she thought of the profit potential that Heather Gibbons could bring to Beholder, perhaps this meeting was fate stepping in.
“That’s right,” Heather nodded eagerly feeling a smile build inside of her as she realized that this goal would soon be in the bag for her, “I know that with my rigid shooting schedule starting up soon on the film, I might not be exactly what you had in mind, but given that I have done similar work in the past, well I couldn’t think of passing up the opportunity of being a part of the greatest cosmetics team in the world. Beholder is a great part of my life and to just let the moment pass me by when I find you here of all places…”
“That is rather unfortunate that we’ve met in this town,” Brooke wrinkled her nose at their surroundings, “and in this place of all places, but I’m very pleased at this turn about.”
“Then you’d consider fitting me in with your company in say an interview of sorts even knowing about the film I’ll be working on,” Heather questioned hopeful as her eager smile built in intensity.
“Forget an interview,” Brooke shook her head dismissively waving her hand out in the air, “I think it’s safe to say that you and I have more than gone through the interview process here tonight. Granted a look at your portfolio would be nice, but from the sound of things, I can see you and I will have a very rewarding relationship at Beholder with one another, that is if you’re truly interested in becoming the new face of Beholder.”
“Seriously?” Heather’s eyes widened in response, “You’d really want me for that position?”
“That’s if I can snag you away from Douglas long enough for us to work out the details of my campaign,” Brooke reached into her pocket handing Heather her business card. “I’ll be staying in town for a while, but my cell phone number is on there and if you call, we can set up lunch or something to go over more details if you’re interested.”
“Am I ever,” Heather reached for her hand shaking it eagerly, “You have no idea just how much this means to me that you would even consider me as the new face of Beholder, let alone offer me the position like this…”
“Darling, with your looks and personality, you’re bound to go far in this business,” Brooke assured her proudly, “and believe me I know as I was once in your shoes. All it takes is a few of the right doors opening to you and then well, then the rest is history. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the spunk that I did and given what I know about this industry, you’re well on your way to making it as well.”
“You really mean that?” Heather questioned brightly, “Oh you have no idea how much this means to me as I’ve dreamed of meeting you and now that I have, well it’s more than a dream come true. This is just the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me and when I tell Kipp, well he’s just going to be so very excited and I’m sure that his father will love the idea of working with Beholder…” she paused, “that is if you two want to do something in correlation with the film and the new campaign you’re running.”
“Now that sounds absolutely delightful,” Brooke’s eyes laced over with things to come as the idea of Beholder working hand in hand with Mahoney Productions sent her to her own euphoria about things. It would be the one thing that Beholder needed to take their overwhelming popularity and expand upon it. “In fact, you really much call me soon and you and that lovely man of yours…Kipp you say?”
“Yes Kipp,” Heather nodded brightly realizing that while Kipp had been a bore, she was about to reach all of her goals thanks to meeting him. First she’d tempt him into getting her that audition with his father and then when she had it, she’d spring the potential deal with Beholder to Douglas Mahoney and make him an even richer man. She couldn’t lose as it was nothing but a win-win situation.
“Well you two must have dinner with me while I’m in town,” Brooke continued reaching for her hand, “I absolutely insist upon it.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Heather boasted realizing that all of her dreams were about to come true as she’d taken fate and bent it to her benefit. Life couldn’t get any better than this…well, there was that matter of getting Brant back to deal with, but once he saw all the things she’d done in her road to success, he wouldn’t have a choice but to take her back. Sooner or later she would have it all. There were no doubts about that.
“Blake I don’t know if we should be doing this,” Seth tugged on her
arm as they stood on the porch outside the Ashford Mansion, “I mean I know
we agreed that we’d do this together, but the more I think about it, the
less I want you involved in any of this.”
“I already told you. I’m not going to sit back and let some jerk like Cameron Stone roll into town and try to play the proverbial bulldozer on my family or my boyfriend for that matter,” she answered defiantly turning the key in the lock before opening the front door for him, “If this guy is looking for a fight, then he’s going to get more than he ever imagined from me.”
“Blake, honey listen to me,” Seth frowned watching her close the door behind them, “Cameron isn’t the kind of man to mess around with. If I learned nothing else from this, it’s that he’s a very dangerous man.”
“And I’m a very dangerous woman,” she piped in determination flooding over her beautiful features as she noted his look of disbelief, “Well I am.”
“Blake, you couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Seth crossed his arms in front of his chest doubtful, “I know you better than that.”
“No, you don’t,” she stood taller tossing her hair back behind her shoulders, “While you seem to keep writing off what I’m telling you about my personality, the truth is I can be downright wicked,” she watched the same expression cloud over his handsome features, “I can be.”
“Like how,” he questioned watching her prance around the foyer for a moment.
“Well, for starters, ever hear the name Heather Gibbons?” she inquired raising a curious brow.
“The model,” Seth eyed her closely.
“More like the tramp,” Blake explained matter of fact, “She came in this house acting like she was all head over heels in love with my brother. You know all, ‘Brant this, Brant that’ to the point it was sickening and well, you know when my brother proposed to her, I knew he’d clearly lost all of his marbles there because it was obvious to the rest of the world that she was only after my brother’s money. The witch clearly was incapable of real human emotion and when I found out that she was cheating on Brant, well I made damn sure it was a mistake she wouldn’t be repeating. I mean I hated to see my brother hurting inside because of her, but I had no choice but to make sure that he saw what she was.”
“And just what did you do,” Seth inquired leaning in against the banister of the staircase as a dark and twisted smile spilled over her features.
“Well Heather was trying to rush along this dream wedding of hers with Brant--you know in the hopes that one day she’d be the heiress to the Ashford throne,” Blake rolled her eyes at the thought, “so I made sure Brant saw exactly what she was about on the night of their big New Year’s gala. Not only did Brant find out what a tramp she was, but so did the movie producer that she had on the side when they both found her in bed with an accountant over at BBK. Nonetheless, after that Heather was packing her bags and out the door because nobody…and I mean absolutely nobody screws with my family.”
“Blake, I think catching your brother’s cheating fiancée at her game is one thing, but dealing with a madman like Cameron Stone, is in a league of it’s own.”
“You’re dealing with him, aren’t you?” she countered tapping her foot impatiently as she folded her arms in front of her chest mimicking his stance.
“That’s different,” he argued with her.
“Why because I’m a woman,” she questioned sharply, “or because you just want to play my hero and keep me protected from the big, bad world around me? Seth, I realize that we haven’t known one another long, but I went to school out in California. That in itself should tell you something about my survival techniques.”
“What it is telling me is that you’re stubborn as all hell,” Seth shook his head down at her, “What am I going to do with you?”
“You’re going to stop arguing with me,” she reached out to him curling her finger into the center of his chest before balling up the material of his shirt and tugging him towards her. She rose to one of the steps on the winding staircase giving him a quick peck on the lips before pulling back, “but first we’re going to go find that microfilm.”
“Now wait just a second,” he tugged on her arm as she attempted to walk away from him, “Blake, I really don’t want you involved in this.”
“Well it’s a little too late for that now,” she reminded him dismissively, “Cameron’s already worked to make this personal by bringing Kipp into this to work me over.”
Seth’s eyes darkened at the very mention of the weasel of a lawyer working for Stone Corporation. His lips tightened into a scowl as his anger rose from within.
“That in itself tells you that I have as much reason as you do to be a part of this,” Blake pointed out breaking through his thoughts, “Besides I don’t take too kindly to someone playing me for a fool. You saw that earlier tonight…”
“Blake, I already told you that I had nothing to do wit…” he started turning his attention to her once again.
“I know what you said and despite how crazy it sounds, I believe you,” she added with a shrug of her shoulders, “Granted I’m still mad as hell about things, but I’m willing to find a way to get us through this.”
“I just don’t want Cameron to hurt you. Just the idea that he’s bringing Kipp around the mansion,” his voice tapered off with obvious loathing.
“Men like Kipp are harmless,” she waved her hand at him, “I could take him out with my hands behind my back and being blindfolded. His kind aren’t the real monsters as their motivations are painfully obvious…”
“But Cameron’s aren’t and we still don’t know what he’s all about,” Seth interjected reaching out to her, “Considering the lengths he’s gone through in order to get his hands on that microfilm without giving me any information, well that in itself says that there’s something more to this story.”
“Which is exactly why you and I need to find out what’s going on with his end of things. Together we have a chance at putting this guy out of commission. That much I’m sure of,” Blake decided firmly, “and beyond that, well hey, it’s my house so my rules,” she blurted out racing up the stairs towards her brother’s room.
“Blake,” Seth called up after her chasing her up the stairs as he made his way to Kenneth’s room finding Blake near Kenneth’s bed with the painting propped up against her legs. She turned her blue eyes up in his direction as she pulled out a pocket knife she’d apparently been holding.
“Wanna help,” she questioned with a light smile.
“Do I have a choice,” he couldn’t help but laugh as he watched her flipping over the paining setting it down on her brother’s bed.
“Not really, but if you’re just going to stand there,” she shook her head at him before turning her attention to the back of the painting, “then I’ll just do all the work,” she finished making a tiny incision in the back of the painting before sliding her fingers inside to feel around.
“Blake, be careful,” Seth watched her closely as she continued her search until finally a victorious laugh spilled over her features and she pulled out the microfilm.
“Ha, I’ve got it,” Blake blurted out proudly, “and now it looks like we’ve got the upper hand whether Cameron likes it or not.”
“Blake, we have no way of knowing what’s on that microfilm,” Seth reminded her simply watching as she held her find up to the light.
“See now that’s where you’re wrong,” she boasted tossing her hair back over her shoulder once again, “as I’m an Ashford and we Ashfords are very resourceful. Give me a few minutes, and I can promise you we’ll know all of Cameron’s secrets soon enough,” she finished ready to uncover the secrets that Cameron Stone was after one way or another
Jade sat on the sofa in her office staring out the window. Since Cameron’s departure, she’d been sitting alone, trying to reel in her raging emotions. Her fear of Cameron grew every time she met with him.
Why had she insisted that she could face Cameron without wavering in
her stance with him? While it was true that she hadn’t even been tempted
by his come ons, she had felt his desire to intimidate her and that had
frightened her. Powerful men usually fed their egos by the women they could
intimidate, and she had been devastated by such a man one time in her life.
She wouldn’t ever let it happen to her again.
And still, she allowed herself to be alone with him. Why would she do something like that? Why would she willingly place herself in a situation that brought her fears to life? Why did she see fit to torture herself in such a way?
“Jade?” Dorothy questioned as she stood at the door to the clerk’s office. She stepped inside and gently closed the door behind her. She’d noted Jade’s absence during the signing of the papers which was highly unusual, and she’d immediately known that something was wrong.
Dorothy made her way to the sofa and gently sat down beside Jade, “Jade, honey, are you okay?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure,” Jade admitted as she slid her fingers through her hair to sweep it out of her face.
“What’s going on?” Dorothy asked as she gently placed her hand upon Jade’s shoulder.
“Oh nothing, I’m just trying to prove something to myself, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure that I’m proving anything,” Jade sighed as she attempted to refrain from crying.
“I don’t understand,” Dorothy frowned as she plucked a tissue from an end table and presented it to Jade, “What are you trying to prove?”
“That I’m not intimidated,” Jade sniffled as she dabbed at her eyes, “That I’m not going to run scared my entire life. That I’m not some weakling who lets people push her around and use her.”
“Jade, I’ve known you for quite a while and I have never once seen you let anyone push you around,” Dorothy assured her, “I don’t know why you’re being so hard on yourself.”
“You just don’t know,” Jade shook her head as she looked to her friend, “I brought myself up against the worst possible odds to get to where I am, and all it takes is one man who acts as if he owns me…that I have no choice in the matter…like I have no control.”
“You have a choice. Don’t you ever let any man make you think that you don’t,” Dorothy said firmly as she took Jade’s chin gently in her fingers, “Don’t you ever let them steal that from you. You are a strong independent woman, and you have the power to make all the choices in your life.”
“But what if my choice could hurt the people I love?”
“How could it possibly hurt the people you love? What is this guy threatening you with?”
“He’s not really threatening me,” Jade sighed as she stood and stepped across the room, “But if I have to keep pushing him away, I’m afraid that Grady will step in and turn down this case. You know as well as I do that a case this prestigious is just what the firm needs. I can’t put Grady in that kind of position.”
“Jade, if this man is threatening you, you have to tell Grady. He wouldn’t want to do business with that kind of man no matter how prestigious the case is,” Dorothy reasoned.
“But this case is important. How could I do that to him? How could I just tell Grady about all of this and expect him to destroy this case?”
“You’re not doing it out of maliciousness. You’re doing it to stay protected from this nutcase who doesn’t take a hint,” Dorothy explained as she stood and stepped towards Jade, “Just explain to Grady what’s happened here today. I’m sure he’ll understand, and I’m sure that he’d not going to think it’s the end of the world if he has to drop this case.”
“I don’t want him to think that he has to drop the case, Dorothy. I don’t want to think he has to do anything about this. My saying no and that I’m not interested should be enough,” Jade closed her eyes and sighed, “It should really be enough.”
“It doesn’t appear that it will be. So you have to tell Grady.”
“No buts,” Dorothy said as she gently placed her hands upon Jade’s shoulders, “You either tell him, or I will.”
“Dorothy, I really don’t think I can,” Jade said tearfully before she wiped tears.
“Yes, you can. You’re the strongest woman I’ve ever met, and I know that you can find it in yourself to tell Grady the truth about this and about how truly frightened you are. He deserves the truth, Jade. You’ve trusted him to be the man you wanted. Now trust him with this,” Dorothy said with a motherly smile.
Jade nodded, “You’re right. I know you are, but it’s just so hard. I don’t want Grady to think that he’ll have to protect me from every little thing.”
“If there’s one thing I know about you and about Grady, it’s that both of you both protect those you love. He’ll do whatever he does because of who he is. Don’t hide this from him because of that.”
“I just don’t want him to give anything up because of me.”
“He won’t be doing it because of you. He’ll be doing it because of who he is,” Dorothy gently touched Jade’s cheek, “Things will work out. It’ll be okay.”
Jade embraced her friend with a hug, “I just wish I had your confidence,” She sighed as she hugged Dorothy, hoping that things really could work out for all concerned.
Diane looked around Brant’s office unable to suppress the urge to burst
apart at the seams as she thought to her plans for Ben. Sure he’d
certainly found a way to duck out of their night together the evening before,
but there would be no denying what was ahead for them soon enough.
Now as she looked around Brant’s office, she felt a smile touch over her
lips knowing full well that this was perhaps one of the biggest risks she’d
be taking over at BBK, but Ben was well worth the risk. That much
she was certain of.
“Oh Ben,” Diane mused with a hint of a smile as she slid her finger tips over the back of Brant’s leather couch thinking of all the many ways she’d tempt Ben. Sure, he seemed a bit uptight sometimes and in need of a good risk every now and then. This being one of the chart toppers, well it was bound to get them into an adrenaline rush that would be keeping him coming back for more and that’s exactly where she wanted him to be.
There was a knock on the door and Diane felt butterflies in her stomach as she checked the time. Certainly most of the staff would be out on their lunch break right about now. That in itself made her very eager to sneak in some afternoon lovin’ with Ben. Taking a quick look around, she slid over the sofa, stretching out as she tossed her hair back over her shoulders. She quickly undid a few buttons on her blouse positioning herself in such a way to make Ben’s eyes pop out.
“Come in,” she spoke in a low, seductive tone as the door slowly eased open and she purred as she shifted a bit on the sofa wanting to give Ben the perfect angle, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“You have,” a squeaky voice shrieked as Diane cringed upon contact of his words. Suddenly as she turned her eyes towards the open door, her gaze fell upon Boring Barry from accounting and she was immediately mortified.
“What the hell are you doing here,” Diane blurted out harshly as she pulled her blouse together again while sitting up straighter.
“Mr. Ashford wanted me to drop these reports by,” Barry explained with a goofy grin, “I figured now was as just as good a time as any since he isn’t here. You know I figured it might be good for me…” he shifted on his feet nervously as he pushed up his thick rimmed glasses and he licked his lips again, “So Diane, how’s it going?”
“It’s going,” she rose from the sofa impatiently, “but I’m a little busy right now, so if you don’t mind…”
“Does Mr. Ashford know you’re in here like…” a wide grin swept over his features as he snorted with laughter, “that?”
“It’s none of your concern,” she ripped the reports out of his hands with a huff, “You can leave now.”
“Diane, you know you should be nice to me,” Barry replied with his same screechy tone, “because I am going places after all. Why last week Mr. Ashford came down to accounting to tell me good work.”
“To tell you or the department?” Diane scuffed glancing over her shoulder at him as she set the reports down on Brant’s desk.
“Well to all of us, but I know it was my hard work and dedication that really lead him to the results he was looking for,” Barry boasted proudly, “I’m going places you know and it would pay for you to be nice to me little lady.”
“I’ll be a lot nicer to you if you’d just scram,” she waved her hands at him dismissively, “now go!”
“Diane, did I ever tell you that you’re so hot that you made my glasses steam when you sent me those pictures,” Barry continued as she approached him impatiently, “That day I found them in my inbox, well I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but you’re a goddess.”
“That’s wonderful,” Diane pushed her hand into the center of his chest urging him towards the door, “and I’m flattered. I really am, but you have got to go like now…”
“So soon? I mean if Mr. Ashford isn’t here, maybe you and I can…” he began as she gave him one last shove.
“Go,” she hissed closing the door in his face as she turned to look back around Brant’s office, a scowl overtaking her as Barry was most certainly the last man she’d wanted to see at this particular moment in time. She wasn’t about to let Barry ruin this for her regardless of how frazzled his appearance made her. As she tried to still her burning anger, she heard another tapping on the door and she threw it open sharply.
“I already told you get lost,” Diane snapped as she came face to face with Ben.
“Well hello to you too,” he smiled down at her, “If this is a bad time we can talk later,” he took a step back as she tugged on his arm pulling him into Brant’s office.
“Oh hell no,” she argued with him before closing the door and locking it behind them, “I didn’t think you were you…well what I meant to say is that Barry came around bothering me and…oh never mind…”
“So that’s why Barry was grinning when I saw him just a few minutes ago,” Ben couldn’t help but tease her, “So what did you do for him to make him that happy?”
“Oh would you get your mind out of the gutter,” Diane grumbled at him, “I wouldn’t dream of doing anything even remotely close to what you have in mind to Barry,” she wrinkled her nose before flashing him a suggestive smile as she reached out for his tie bringing him in closer to her, “After all I like to reserve those type of dealings for you and you alone.”
“Hmm, then I suppose I should consider myself a lucky man,” Ben teased again as he saw the mischief burning behind her eyes.
“You have no idea,” Diane murmured tapering her fingers leisurely up over his silken tie, “but if you put yourself in my hands completely, I promise that by the time this little lunch of ours is over, you’ll be going through the rest of your day a completely satisfied man.”
“A woman with confidence,” Ben winked at her, “Now that is something to think about indeed.”
“Don’t think,” Diane tipped up on her toes collecting an impromptu kiss from him, “just feel as I promise you that I can make things so very good for us baby.”
“Hmm, now that is a tempting offer…” Ben slipped his arms around her waist, “One that it would seem I couldn’t refuse…that is unless of course you’d rather rethink your position on Barry.”
“Not a chance,” Diane turned him in the direction of the leather couch before pushing him back onto the cushions, “I’ve waited a long time for this and you’re all mine Ben Walters. Nothing is going to get in the way of this,” she blurted out, her voice full of determination as she climbed into his lap certain that she’d finally get her man exactly where she’d wanted him for months.
Richard walked down the long hallway of the police station in search of Avery. He knew she had been shaken up on levels she never could have imagined over the last twenty four hours. Nothing could have prepared her for the onslaught of Brant’s exes, the media and the police. He knew Avery was strong, but even at her strongest, she had to be wavering after all the chaos.
He spotted her standing down the hall at a small window. She stood silently, holding a paper cup in her hand and quietly staring outside.
Richard slowly closed the distance between them, hoping that he wouldn’t startle her with his presence, “Thinking about trying to escape?”
Avery glanced towards her father and lightly smiled, “The thought had come to mind.”
“Then let’s do it,” He suggested as he glanced around. He extended his hand to her when he saw the coast was clear, “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
“But what about Russell? And Brant?” Her lightheartedness faded quickly, “And Brooke?”
“They can all take care of themselves,” He assured her, “Let’s get out of here before all the chaos begins again.”
Avery glanced around the police station before she smiled and took her father’s hand. She followed him out the back door of the police station and around to his car which he unlocked as they approached it. He helped seat Avery before he took his place behind the steering wheel.
Avery took a deep breath as her father started the engine, “I cannot believe that everything keeps happening in such a crazy way.”
“So why don’t you tell me where all this craziness began?” Richard asked as he glanced over to his daughter.
“What do you mean?” She asked as she looked towards him.
“I mean just how is it you became engaged to Brant Ashford.”
She frowned immediately, “Why do you automatically believe that my engagement to Brant began all of this?”
“Because Brant Ashford is nothing but poison, Avery. You’ve read all the newspapers that I have. You know that the man doesn’t have a loyal bone in his body except to be loyal to himself. How could you have gotten involved with him?”
“Dad, I really don’t want to talk about it,” She sighed as she looked back out the window.
“Well I do,” He said honestly as he glanced over to her while stopped at a traffic light, “Avery, please tell me that this is just some nightmare that I’m going to wake up from. Please tell me that you’re not engaged to playboy Ashford.”
“I can’t do that,” Avery took a deep breath before glancing back to her father, “Look, I know that a lot of things are really up in the air right now, but you have to believe that I never wanted to upset your life this way.”
“Don’t you think I know that? Avery, what exactly is the brief on this situation?”
“Daddy, it’s just…things are so confusing for me right now. I don’t know where to turn, and I’m not even sure how I got into this anymore,” She said as she ran her fingers through her hair, “I just…I’m so confused about everything,” She said, tears filling her eyes.
“Avery,” Richard said her name softly as he pulled over to an empty parking space. He switched off the engine before turning to face her. He took her hand and gently eased his fingers under her chin, urging her to face him, “Please don’t cry.”
“I can’t help it. Everything just keeps snowballing, Daddy. First Bruce and I can’t hold everything together, then Russell thinks he has to insinuate himself into my life again, and then this story hits the papers. Then all of a sudden Bruce is murdered, and I’m a suspect. Then you and Mom are in town,” Avery wiped tears gently, “My life is so out of control, and I have no idea how to get it under control again.”
“Avery,” He said softly as he wrapped his arms around her in a soft hug, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. I never meant to upset you this way.”
“You didn’t upset me,” She sniffled, “It’s just all getting to me. How can I stop this crazy train?”
“You can start by getting some rest. I’m going to take you to the Pointe where you can get some rest without all the hubbub of the Ashfords getting to you. This way you can get some sleep and eat something.”
“I can’t,” Avery shook her head, “I have to get back to the mansion. Brant will be expecting me.”
“And is everything about Brant now?”
“Daddy, please don’t start on Brant…”
“Avery, I only want what’s best for you, and I just don’t see how playboy Ashford can be the very best for you.”
“He can if I say he can,” Avery declared as she looked back to her father, “Daddy, you’re just going to have to accept the way things are.”
“I can’t believe you just said that to me,” He said in surprise.
“I know you don’t like Brant. I got that picture loud and clear, but I want you to understand that Brant and I are engaged.”
“But Avery, what about Russell?”
“What about him?”
“You two have obviously gotten very close again. Are you just going to shut him out for another man yet again?”
“Yet again?” She repeated with a sudden surge of anger, “You say that like I’ve led Russell to believe there’s something more for us when that just isn’t the case. I’ve made it perfectly clear that there’s no future there.”
“Have you?” Richard asked as he searched his daughter’s eyes, “Somehow I get the feeling that things aren’t as clear as you’d like them to be.”
“Daddy, I don’t need this right now.”
“I understand, but you will have to deal with these issues sooner or later. I just don’t want to see you heartbroken, Avery, and right now, whether you admit it or not, I think you’re already feeling some form of heartbreak.”
“Of course I am. Bruce was murdered.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it.”
“Can we just go back to the mansion? Please?” Avery asked as she turned her attention back to the goings-on on the street.
Richard frowned before he started the engine and pulled out of the parking space. As he directed the car towards the Ashford mansion, he now knew for certain that there were aspects of this story he didn’t know yet, but he vowed to learn every available fact to help his daughter avoid any further pain.
“Okay Russ, talk to me,” Grady demanded as he cornered his brother near the door of the police station.
Russell frowned, “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“How about the truth? Would it really be so difficult to come up with that?”
Russell frowned before brushing by his brother and stepping out of the police department.
Not to be avoided, Grady followed his brother out into the parking lot of the Coral Valley Police Department. He rushed ahead of Russell and stopped in front of his brother to block his path. Grady raised his hand, “Just cool it, little brother. You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what is going on.”
Russell folded his arms and stared at Grady blandly, “You’re suppose to be my attorney, Grady, not to mention my brother. Why aren’t you on my side?”
“I am on your side, Russell, but it’s a little hard to defend you when I’m not even sure you’re innocent.”
“Well gee there’s a vote of confidence,” Russell’s frown darkened.
“You’re not giving me anything to work with here, Russell,” Grady groaned, “Why the hell won’t you just share with me?” He reached out to touch Russell’s shoulder, “Russ, I’m your big brother. I’ve seen you through more hard spots than you can even count. So why won’t you help me help you?”
“There’s nothing for you to help with, Grady.”
“Really? Maybe I should just let you stay in jail the next time nothing is going on,” Grady countered before turning away from Russell. As he began to take a step he changed his mind and turned back towards his brother, “You know, I just figured out what all this is about. It’s Avery.”
Russell snorted, “What are you talking about?”
“It is Avery, isn’t it?” Grady’s eyes widened, “Are you out of your freaking mind?”
“Oh god, here we go,” Russell rolled his eyes.
“If you think that playing the noble hero is going to win you any points with that woman, guess again, little brother. She’s going to spit you out now just like she’s done a thousand times in the past.”
“She hasn’t done it a thousand times, Grady. You’re exaggerating.”
“You’re going to deny that she’s broke your heart before?” Grady shook his head, “Please tell me that you’re smarter than this. Please tell me that you haven’t gotten in so far over your head just for the sake of Avery.”
Russell remained silent as he watched his brother’s reaction.
“Oh that’s great. That’s just wonderful,” Grady snapped as he threw his hands up in surrender, “Russ, she’s engaged to Brant Ashford for god sakes. What part of that doesn’t compute with you?”
“Not everything is always the way it seems.”
“Oh really?” Grady questioned as his eyes widened, “Let me see. That ring on her finger sure seems to be an engagement ring. She sure does seem to be living at his mansion.”
“None of that matters. You don’t understand, Grady. You never will, and I don’t think I want to discuss this with you any more,” Russell shook his head as he stepped around his brother on the path to his car.
“What exactly don’t I understand, Russ? The fact that you’re set on destroying yourself over that woman? You’re damned right I don’t understand that at all. Why are you risking everything just for her?”
Russell stopped and turned back towards his brother, “Grady, there are things you just don’t know.”
“Only because you refuse to tell me. So how about giving over some info?” Grady suggested.
“Why the hell not?” Grady groaned, “How can I help you if you won’t let me?”
“I want you to help me, Grady, but there is a bigger picture here that means more to me than your help for me.”
“Meaning Avery,” Grady sighed as he looked to the ground.
“Yes, Avery, I just want what’s best for her,” Russell declared, “If you can’t understand anything else, understand that Avery needs to be safe first. I come second.”
Grady shook his head in dismay. Try as he might, he would never be able to understand Russell’s need to sacrifice himself for Avery. Still, Grady knew that he would have to think of Russell first and Avery would never be his concern.
“Okay Hart,” Kenneth said as he approached his law partner, “Want to tell me where you got that report?”
Hart grinned as he gently stirred the cup of coffee he’d gotten himself, “I have a few resources.”
“Should I be worried about these resources coming back to haunt us later?”
“I doubt it. We have some friends in low places, Ken. Just enjoy the rewards.”
“When you say things like that, Hart, I worry,” Kenneth sighed as he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.
“Ken, you’re much too high strung. Just be happy that the report helped your client instead of damning her,” Hart instructed before he stepped around his partner.
“About that…you do realize it only points back to Brant being a possible suspect.”
“Is this the talk of a concerned law partner or brother?”
“A little of both,” Kenneth frowned, “Yes, the report proves that Avery couldn’t have killed Bruce, but someone with strength and rage did kill him. If my brother was so inclined…”
“You’re not really saying that your brother could have done this, are you?”
“I’m just pitching a theory, and it’s one you’re probably going to have to contend with…especially with this surveillance tape surfacing.”
“Yes, well,” Hart shrugged, “I’ll deal the tape in due course, but you shouldn’t be so cynical where Brant is concerned. I truly believe his affection for Avery is genuine and any actions that may have arisen from that affection are noble in nature.”
“Oh please,” Kenneth snorted, “I’m not some impartial jury you’re trying to snow, Hart. I happen to know Brant Ashford better than anyone else on the planet so I can tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my brother doesn’t have a noble bone in his entire body.”
Hart chuckled, “Okay, while he’s not the typical knight in shining armor, he does have his affection for Avery in his favor.”
“Does he? It seems to me that will be the very thing that buries him.”
“If he’s so taken with Avery, then any action that would harm Avery could set him off in a violent fit of rage. Crimes of passion weren’t given their name for no reason, Hart. Brant could have easily taken off with the intentions of doing serious harm to Bruce Mathis, and his feelings for Avery are the prime motive.”
“What are you a prosecutor now?” Hart frowned, “Look, I know you’re trying to help me see this case from every angle, but try not to look as if you suspect him so much, okay?”
“I don’t really suspect him,” Kenneth exhaled, “Okay, maybe a little, but I’m trying to believe the best in him. The only problem with that is that I do know Brant so well. Believing the best in him rarely turns out in my favor.”
“What about Russell Denton?” Hart asked casually as he sipped his coffee.
“Sure, Russell would be protective over Avery. They’re very close, and they always have been.”
“Do you think he could have killed Dr. Mathis?”
“If he had caught Bruce in the act of hurting Avery, there’s no doubt in my mind that Russell could have inflicted deadly force. However, Russell is hardly the type to premeditate a murder.”
“Still, this was a crime of passion. Perhaps he didn’t intend to kill Dr. Mathis…maybe he just wanted to hurt him.”
“Russell? Nah,” Kenneth shook his head.
“Just who’s side are you on here, Ken? I’m trying to create some kind of reasonable doubt, and you keep pointing the finger back at your own brother.”
“I can’t help it, Hart. I have a really bad feeling about what went down that night. I’d really love to find out that Brant is innocent, but I’m just telling you that my gut tells me that we haven’t heard even half the story of what happened that night.”
“Well do me a favor,” Hart said firmly, “Stay away from Shannon Pryce. The last thing I need is for her to get wind of your suspicions and start trying to use you to shore up her case.”
“I have no intentions of helping the police send my brother to prison,” Kenneth defended, “I’m only telling you what I think.”
“Well let’s make sure that no one else knows just what you think. It could be disastrous to my case,” Hart said before pointing out, “Not to mention your own brother,” He declared before stepping away.
Kenneth frowned as she glanced around the police station, wondering just who Hart’s resources would turn out to be and if they could possibly help exonerate Brant. He knew that it would take a miracle to turn the suspicion away from his brother, but somehow he didn’t think that miracle would be forthcoming any time soon.
Brant adjusted his tie thinking about the ways in which Shannon had
taken the liberty of shaken his life up yet again. It was a miracle
he’d ever been attracted to her in the first place seeing as she clearly
had a heart of ice. Of course she also had a libido that would set
a man on fire and a body that was nothing less than incredible, but still
damn her for holding a grudge. Now as he walked through the police
station thinking of ways to spare Avery some of the agony that Shannon
was bent on making them all live through, he thought of the ways in which
he was going to enjoy putting Shannon in her place once again. She’d
already had managed to become more of a bother than he’d anticipated and
with the memory of great sex hanging over his head, well that in itself
wasn’t enough to make him like her any more than he did in this moment.
Shannon was eager for the kill and she was hoping Brant would be just the
thing she could have on her platter, but try as she would, he’d make damn
certain that she wouldn’t get that opportunity. He had too much at
risk now and he refused to let the good thing he had going in his life
fall to pieces thanks to an ex-girlfriend with a chip on her shoulder.
“To hell with it anyways,” Brant muttered under his breath looking around the now less crowded police station as he thought of the situation he and Russell were facing. Right now all he wanted to do was get Avery back to the mansion and face the rest of the day alone with her like he’d been hoping for over the last couple of days.
Avery…he smiled at the thought thinking to the progress they were grudgingly making with one another. Sure, she was set on keeping him at arm’s length, but there was no denying that she wanted him. Time and time again she’d given him a glimpse of her hunger and last night’s display at the restaurant only proved it in his mind. Avery wanted him just as much as he’d wanted her and it was only a matter of time before she finally opened herself up to the possibilities of them together. She was afraid and after spending a night with her parents, he could see she’d had good reason, but he promised himself that he’d find a way to alleviate her fears--to somehow make all of her dreams of happily ever after come true, but first, well first he’d have to find her and get her home. The rest would fall into place after that, he reasoned a smile touching over his face at long last as he vowed to make the most of this already less than perfect day.
“There you are,” a voice beckoned him from his thoughts as he stopped dead in his tracks wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him, but as he slowly turned around to see the vision before him, he realized that he’d in fact stepped into another circle of hell as Heather stood before him smiling brightly.
“I was looking all over for you,” Heather explained rushing over to his side as her eyes grew wide with concern, “When I’d heard you’ve been brought downtown I was so afraid of what that could mean considering that I know how hot tempered you can be after the media strikes.”
“What the hell are you doing here, Heather,” he questioned tightly shaking his head at her with heavy disapproval, “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Did you not hear a word I said,” Heather frowned deeply reaching out to touch the lapel on his jacket, “I knew you were in trouble and I couldn’t leave you to face this misery without me.”
“I wasn’t miserable until I saw you were here,” Brant grumbled swatting her fingers away from him as he took a step away from her, “When are you going to get a clue? I don’t want you hanging around anymore. It’s over between us.”
“Brant, how can you say something like that,” Heather’s lip curled in a pout, “After everything we’ve been though, how can you even think of walking away from me? Brant, I love you. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” she questioned painfully.
“Heather, you don’t know the first thing about love. You never did, so don’t start pretending now,” he remarked with a frown turning away from her.
“Brant, no one understands you like I do,” Heather reached out to him touching his arm as she refused to let him walk away, “Granted you think that your lawyer can make you happy, but we both know that it isn’t the way it’s meant to be. Avery isn’t truly what you want or what you need. She’s a user and a tramp…”
“Enough,” Brant snapped back at her facing her again, “Heather you blew your chance with me the moment you thought that my love wasn’t enough to keep you happy.”
“Brant, we both made mistakes,” Heather pleaded with him throwing her arms around him, “but I love you and I want to work through the mistakes with you. I know that if you open your mind, you’ll see that we were so good together,” her fingers touched over the center of his chest as she offered up a seductive smile, “We still can be so good together.”
“Heather, I’ve had a long night and an even longer morning and right now all I want to do is go home to bed and forget the last twenty four hours of my life,” he pushed away from her once again with a scowl.
“I can do just that for you,” Heather promised with a flirty smile, “All you need is some good relaxation and maybe a massage…you always did like the way my hands felt on your body. You told me it felt like the heavens were being poured over your every line and that the way my mouth knew all the right places to kiss you, to taste you,” she stepped towards him boldly leaning up on her toes as she placed a kiss on the side of his neck, “like this one…or maybe this one,” she purred feeling Brant stiffen beneath her as her hands tapered off over his body seeking out the source of his masculinity with one bold movement, “You know you want me back in your bed, Brant.”
“Heather, having you in my bed isn’t worth the headache that comes along with being around you,” Brant answered simply unwavering in his tone as his eyes focused upon her, “In case you haven’t read the headlines, I’m engaged…”
“Oh please,” Heather rolled her eyes, “We both know that Avery is just some stupid conquest that you’re after. My guess is that you haven’t even slept with her yet considering that you’re so adamant about being with her.”
“We’re finished here,” Brant stepped away from her turning down the hallway as Heather’s eyes widened in delight.
“You haven’t slept with her, have you?” Heather chased after him, “I mean it makes perfect sense. I could see it in the way you reacted just now. You thought that maybe if you’d bought her a ring and you tried to impress her with a few dazzles here and there that she’d put out, but she’s not, is she? That’s why you’re still chasing her like crazy, isn’t it?”
“Contrary to your belief Heather, not everything is about sex,” Brant snapped back at her, “If that was how the world was, I’d still be with you…”
“Oh right,” Heather rolled her eyes, “Little Miss Priss is playing hard to get so you’re just pulling out all the artillery. I see how it is, but I’ve got to tell you that it’s not going to change who you are, Brant. All of this pining away for little miss lawyer isn’t going to make you any happier than you were before and by delaying the gratification you could have with me, well you’re only making this hard on you.”
“Heather, would you listen to yourself? I mean honestly think about what you’re saying,” Brant hissed in response shaking his head at her, “You don’t know the first thing about what it takes to have an adult relationship based on trust and real human emotions. All you see in me is a bank account and when you find someone else with more to offer, you won’t even bother to think twice about me.”
“Brant, I gave you the best years of my life,” Heather pleaded with him, “We had some really wonderful times together and if you’d stop being so stubborn you’d see that.”
“If those were your best, I’d hate to see your worst,” Brant quipped in response as Heather opened her mouth in protest.
“Cat got your tongue,” Brant questioned further seeing the anger build behind her beautiful features.
“If I didn’t love you as much as I did, that might hurt, but I’m willing to ignore it because I know we’re destined to be together,” Heather offered up decidedly. “We were engaged once and I know in my heart that we’ll be together again. You might be playing hard to get for the time being, but damn you Brant I will have you again.”
“Heather, I love Avery. I don’t know how many times I can spell it out for you. There isn’t any room for you in my heart and there never will be as Avery is the only woman I want,” Brant blurted out emphatically as he fought the urge to scream at her in order to make her understand where he was coming from.
“Brant I…” she reached for him again.
“Don’t,” he snapped back at her ready to lash out at her for making a scene like this as his eyes darted towards something across the room and he stood taller, “Heather I don’t want to be having this conversation right now.”
“Brant, this can’t wait,” she pulled on his arm, “I can’t let you walk away from what we have together. I know you want to ignore the way you feel about me, but if you take a moment to really look inside your heart you’ll see that we belong together…”
“No Heather,” he stated point blank, “and the sooner you get that through your head, the better off you’ll be,” he finished shrugging away from her as he marched off in the direction he’d come from hoping to find Avery and just get the hell out of the police station once and for all.
“It’s not over, Brant,” Heather vowed watching him walk away from her as she balled her fists up in a fury, “It’ll never be over,” she finished spinning on her heel as she headed out of the police station ready to launch a new plan to win back his tortured heart once and for all.
“Not if I can help it,” Brooke Morrison muttered to herself stepping out of the shadows to watch Heather’s retreat as this curious new turn about sunk in with her. So Heather Gibbons was not only an aspiring model, but one of Brant’s very determined ex-girlfriends, Brooke thought to herself as a frown touched over her features. That would prove to be a problem as Brooke was damn certain that she wouldn’t let anything get in the way of Brant and Avery’s future with one another. Despite Avery’s defiance over the years, Brooke knew what her daughter needed and Brant was everything Avery had waited for and Brooke refused to let anything…especially the likes of Heather Gibbons or the less than savory Russell Denton get in the way of that. As Brooke thought of Heather’s eagerness to be a part of Beholder, she realized that there would be ways to get rid of Heather’s fixation on Brant. One way or another she’d find a way to guide Brant and Avery in the right direction. That much she was sure of.
“You haven’t been out of the office all day,” Mindy clucked her tongue at Caitlin as she stepped into Russell’s office and placed bags of hamburgers upon the desk, “I thought for sure that you’d at least take a break for lunch.”
“I haven’t really thought much about it,” Caitlin shrugged as she flipped through pieces of paper on the desk before her, “I’m up to my eyes in Stone Corp stories. You did a knock out job getting these for me.”
“I do whatever I can to help,” Mindy smiled as she opened a bag and set out two diet colas, “So what exactly are we looking at here?”
“I’ve got these separated so far into three different stacks. This one,” Caitlin pointed at the farthest pile from her, “Is a stack of stories about law suits against Stone Corp or one of their subsidiaries. These,” She pointed to another stack, “Are stories about Stone Corp’s holdings or their community work. And these,” She pointed to the last pile, “Are all about Cameron Stone himself.”
“Are we learning anything interesting?” Mindy asked as she plucked a French fry from the bag.
“Just that Cameron Stone is an interesting individual and that Stone Corp has a history of buying out companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy due to lawsuits.”
“Why would any for profit corporation buy a company on the verge of bankruptcy?” Mindy asked in confusion.
“To have a great big fat write off come tax time,” Caitlin explained, “If they can show that they bought the corporation in the hopes of turning it around only to suffer a loss after all is said and done, then they can write off the purchase on their income tax return.”
“So do you think the corporation has done the same thing with Midlands?” Mindy asked as she finished unpacking their lunch.
“It seems to look that way. Although I don’t understand why the corporation would pick up Midlands. It’s not as big a company as the others they’ve bought in the past,” Caitlin shrugged, “Then again, I’ve only just begun reading these articles so I’ll be better prepared to answer that question later.”
“So what about Cameron Stone? What’s his story?”
“He’s very proud, highly educated, and extremely successful. He’s been linked romantically to several women executives but never women in his own company. His tastes are rich, but he can always afford the things he want. He’ll go after the things he wants, and his track record seems to show that he always gets them.”
“That sounds like he’s persistent.”
“I don’t know if its persistence as much as it is ruthlessness.”
“That’s pretty cynical, don’t you think?” Mindy asked before sipping her soda.
“Yeah, but these high powered walking rich usually are ruthless. It may be a stereotype, but it seems to prove itself true over and over again,” Caitlin shrugged before she sorted through some more papers. She paused as she focused on the picture before her, “Now that’s interesting.”
“What is?” Mindy asked as she saw her friend staring at the paper before her.
“This article,” Caitlin said as she continued reading the print before her, “There’s a photo here that’s very interesting.”
“What is the photo of, Caitlin?” Mindy asked with a frustrated sigh, “Give it up already.”
Caitlin lifted the photo and turned the paper around to show Mindy the photo, “It’s Cameron Stone accepting an award, and the man presenting it to him is Nicholas Ashford.”
“Nicholas?” Mindy’s eyes widened, “Do you think Kenneth knows that this guy owns the company that he’s suing? Or that his father apparently knew the guy?”
“I don’t know, Mindy,” Caitlin shook her head as she glanced at the photo once again, “But I think I need to find out,” She sighed, thinking ahead to the discussion she knew now that she had to have with Kenneth.
“So tell me Diane,” Ben murmured taking a bite of the berry she’d held
out towards his lips, “is this everything you’d hoped it to be?”
“What,” she asked lazily trailing the berry over his bottom lip, “our lunch together or in my getting you alone?”
“Well both,” he couldn’t help but smile as he reached out to touch her gently, “I mean I know that we’d talked about spending some time together, but I really believed you were kidding about wanting to spend time in Brant’s office.”
“What Brant doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” she confessed leaning in towards him offering a tempting kiss, “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“You’re playing with fire,” Ben pointed out unable to mask his amusement with her as his arms slipped around her slender waist.
“Maybe I like getting burned,” Diane purred against his mouth.
“Even so, I don’t know if you’re willing to face the wrath of Brant Ashford,” Ben couldn’t help but feign an air of seriousness as he looked up at her, keeping her close to him on his lap, “I hear that’s a very dangerous place to be.”
“Brant’s a teddy bear,” she answered waving her hand dismissively, “and as I said before…”
“What Brant doesn’t know,” Ben smiled in response, “Still I grew up seeing Brant at his less than finest.”
“Really?” she raised a curious brow, “You never mentioned that you knew Brant before coming here.”
“I guess it never came up,” he shrugged his shoulders before explaining, “My aunt works for the Ashford family.”
“Really?” Diane’s eyes widened in surprise, “I never saw that coming.”
“Blake and I were pals growing up, so while Brant and I weren’t that close, I knew of him and Kenneth by default,” Ben admitted with a lazy smile as his fingers tapered off over her spine simply enjoying the closeness between them as Diane reached for another berry taking a bite of it and nearly choking as she heard his words.
“Now wait just a moment,” Diane frowned in response, “You’re saying that you and Blake were close?”
“Once upon a time,” Ben nodded in confession, “though we really haven’t talked much over the years. Though I did run into her the other day when she was out with the latest man in her life.”
“You mean Seth,” Diane shook her head in obvious disgust, “Honestly, I don’t know why she has to go and shake up things like she does. It’s like it’s not enough that she’s the Ashford Princess with the world at her feet, but then to have her go around town on the prowl for the next boy toy to latch onto. It’s truly pathetic.”
“Hey, I don’t hear Seth complaining,” Ben pointed out thinking to the talk he’d had with his long time pal, “In fact, he seemed rather charmed by Blake.”
“Yeah well, given the way she flaunts it all out in the open with her oh so perfect body there,” Diane rolled her eyes, “It’s no mystery why men are charmed by her.”
“You really don’t like her, do you?” his smile faded as he watched her closely.
“Not particularly no,” she answered honestly, “It’s bad enough that she has to toy around with Seth, but then in doing so, she adds all this unnecessary stress upon Jade, which I’m telling you she really doesn’t need in her life and the worst part about it is that Blake doesn’t even care. I mean Jade is just worried sick about her brother and to think of him out with a woman like Blake, well it’s more than enough to give her an ulcer or worse, yet Blake keeps bilking it for all it’s worth just to get a rise out of Brant because she’s moving over to the other side of the tracks to find her latest Ashford shock.”
“Did you ever think that maybe you’ve been spending too much time in gossip over at the water cooler?” Ben questioned with an air of sarcasm.
“Why would you even say such a thing,” Diane frowned as her eyes immediately fell upon his features.
“Because maybe you’re letting the rumors that seem to linger in these offices influence your opinions on Blake,” he offered simply as he released his hold on her, “I mean considering your position in working with Brant it might not be wise to start spreading ugliness about his younger sister.”
“Oh you would defend her,” she pushed out of his lap there in a huff, “I mean here I am right before you offering you up anything you want with me and then you have to go and bring that spoiled little brat into our morning. I mean hell I’ll bet you’re thinking about her right at this very moment wishing that she was here instead of me…”
“At least I’d know she wasn’t ready to attack me,” Ben frowned deeply watching her as he rose from the couch suddenly feeling less interested in lunch than ever, “You know I should probably be getting back to work.”
“Oh you would just pick up and go. I mean hey why not? Maybe you can call Blake and you two can go out together and she’ll charm you into at least making it through a meal with her,” Diane grumbled folding her arms in front of her chest, “I mean clearly you’d rather be with someone like her than someone like me.”
“Is that what this is about,” he blinked back in surprise, “Diane, are you telling me you think that I’m interested in Blake in a romantic kind of way?”
“Well isn’t that where this is headed?” she questioned her voice a bit uneasy as she shifted on her feet.
“Why do I get the feeling that this isn’t about me?” Ben inquired as her features darkened, “I take it Blake beat you to the punch once before, huh?”
“Not really,” Diane shrugged her shoulders simply, “I mean it’s not like I really wanted him anyways and he turned out to be a big loser so you know…”
“Diane,” Ben drew in a breath as he stepped towards her reaching for her arm, “If this is about some ongoing feud you and Blake have, well I have news for you.”
“What’s that,” she curled her lip in a pout as her dark eyes drifted up to meet his.
“I’m not interested in Blake,” he reached out to her cupping her face in his hands, “Not like you think…”
“But you said…” she blinked back at him.
“I said we were pals when we were children…as in like five year’s old,” Ben couldn’t help but laugh as she continued to pout, “I’d hardly consider that a love connection.”
“Still, with what you’ve been saying and what you aren’t saying…”
“Damn it Diane, how more obvious do you want me to be,” Ben questioned in frustration as he leaned forward tugging her into his arms as his lips captured hers in a demanding kiss.
A gasp fell over her surprised lips as Diane curled her arms around him feeling his desire wash over her with that one perfect kiss as he held her. The taste of him, the feel of his strength wrapped around her, pulling her up off the ground as he lifted her to his level, it made her weak in the knees and lost in the sweet heaven of his embrace. Slowly as they parted, a labored breath escaped her lips as she could see into his soulful eyes.
“Diane,” he whispered her name pressing a tender kiss over her lips, “you’re the only woman I want and even though I’ve been trying to fight it, I can’t seem to get you out of my system.”
“Oh Ben,” she hugged his shoulders feeling as though she’d float away within his embrace if he dared release her.
“Now are you convinced,” Ben questioned feeling her sink into his chest as he held her.
“It’s a good start,” she admitted moving in for another kiss ready to explore this beginning with the man she’d wanted for so very long. Despite the unexpected twists that this lunch together had brought about, she was certain that this moment couldn’t be any more perfect than it was as she was lost in his kiss.
Dave stepped into the bar of the Cherokee Inn and looked around the smoky room. The old run down lounge had seen its hay day more than twenty five years ago, but it still served the purpose when those who were down on their luck wanted a drink without all of Coral Valley knowing about it. After seeing Shannon’s departure from the police department, he had the feeling that she would be after that drink out of the watchful eye of her bosses.
He stepped through the smoke and searched the dimly lit room for any sign of the blond FBI agent who had caused him so much grief lately. He knew that she wouldn’t appreciate his being here to look after her, and he even wondered why he was about to bother. It occurred to him, however, that she was his partner on this particular case, and he had never let any of his partners down.
Through the clouds of smoke, he spotted the blond at the far end of the bar with a drink in her hand. He approached her slowly, knowing that she would likely react with the full force of her anger and vengeance. While he wasn’t the true target she would have liked to unleash her wrath upon, he would do in a pinch, and he knew that was one fate he wanted to avoid at all costs.
Shannon threw back the drink, taking a moment to let it burn down her throat before warming her from the inside out. She placed the glass upon the bar before speaking out, “Give me another one.”
“You might want to slow down,” Dave warned as he slid onto the stool beside her.
“What the hell are you doing here? You know what, never mind,” She spoke quickly, “Because I don’t care. Just go away.”
“I don’t think I should do that. You’re going to need someone to drive you home when you’re through indulging in your pity party,” He replied as the bartender served up another round. Dave ordered himself a cup of coffee before looking towards Shannon, “I’d go easy on those if I were you.”
“Well, you’re not me. So just go to hell,” She snapped before taking a long drawl of her drink, “I don’t need you to watch over me.”
“I think you do. When you get through drinking, you don’t want to end up in the bed with some loser who you can’t even remember,” He stirred a packet of sugar into his coffee.
“As if I would give any loser in this town the time of day. I may have fallen for Brant Ashford’s smooth lines and sexy grins, but I will never do that one again. I’ll be damned if I’ll let any man humiliate me like that again.”
“Is that what this is about?” He shook his head with a laugh, “You’re pissed because Brant one upped you today?”
“Hell no. He’d love for me to be pissed off about him, but this has nothing to do with Brant,” She declared as she finished off her drink and placed it on the bar for a refill.
“So what exactly does it have to do with?”
“It has to do with the fact that I never wanted this case. I didn’t want to come back here, and I tried every way I could think of to stop my assignment to this posting. I didn’t want to come here again. I knew that any implication of the Ashfords would automatically bring up my past with Brant.”
“And so that’s what has you in a snit?”
“No, it’s the fact that despite my trying to get out of this damn case, here I am right in the middle of it, and my hands are tied. They told me to run the show my way, but I get here and try to do just that and then here come the big boss men to tell me that my way sucks.”
“I’m sure they didn’t say that.”
“Oh bite me. You’re just another big boss man who thinks your way is the only way. The very last thing I want to hear is what you think,” She rolled her eyes as she downed another drink.
“Well you’re going to have to listen to it,” He declared as he turned on the stool to face her, “Your bosses were just playing it safe. It happens.”
“Not with the FBI, or haven’t you noticed that we like to play things to the hilt? We’re the feds, buster. We don’t have to cow down to any local hot shots. But for some reason, which I still don’t understand,” Shannon groaned, “Is that we’re cowing down to the Ashfords. We’re protecting the very people that are under suspicion. How the hell is that supposed to help the cause of justice?”
“Welcome to small town politics,” Dave shrugged before sipping his coffee.
“To hell with small town politics. This is wrong. First of all, why would the Bureau want me in the middle of this when it could raise all kinds of questions about conflicts of interests? Why would they send me here just to deep six me by putting me in the line of fire where the Ashfords are concerned?” She questioned as she downed another drink.
“Those are all good questions,” He agreed.
“Dammit,” Shannon swore as she cut him an evil stare, “What the hell good are you? Can’t you give me any help at all? Why bother if you’re not going to at least say something constructive?” She groaned as she tossed several bills upon the counter and stood, “Who needs you?” She snapped as she took a step forward before falling limp and sinking directly into Dave’s arms.
Dave caught her as she was about to fall to the ground. He drug her limp body further up into his arms and shook his head, “Apparently you do, woman,” He heaved her up into his arms and carried her out of the bar, feeling that he had indeed known what Shannon would need even if she hadn’t.
“I can’t believe you have something like this in your home,” Seth noted
taking in the dark corridor he and Blake had come from to make it into
the smaller, secluded area of the Ashford mansion, “I’d started to believe
the rumors about secret passageways were nothing more than myths to add
to the Ashford lure.”
“This wasn’t a secret passageway,” Blake rolled her eyes at his words as she took the microfilm over to the machine before her, “Honestly I don’t know where those ridiculous stories get started, but I’d just as soon appreciate them ending.”
“Blake, I didn’t mean anything by it,” he began stepping up behind her as she continued to load the microfilm. He wrapped his arms around her squeezing her in closer to him as he dropped a kiss over the back of his neck. “I hope you realize that…”
“I suppose I’ll have it in me to forgive you for your ignorance,” she teased dropping her head back against his chest as she leaned into his arms waiting for the microfilm to reveal the secrets to her that Cameron wanted so desperately, “but just this once.” She turned her attention back to the machine, “This needs a moment to warm up.”
“Hmm, well since I’m only allowed one mistake,” he turned her in his arms, “perhaps we can work on my making up for it.”
“Somehow I get the distinct feeling you’re getting ready to tread into the dark and dangerous world of naughty behavior,” she teased facing him as the shadows in the room masked over his handsome features.
“I wouldn’t quite consider it naughty per se, but more so my way of making up for a few of the things that I haven’t been doing right lately…” Seth offered leaning down to kiss her as she placed her index finger over the center of his mouth stopping him mid-movement.
“Seth, are you trying to bribe me with your kisses,” she teased easing her finger over his mouth, “Is that what we’ve come to in our relationship,” she shook her head making a tsking sound, “and here I thought you would never stoop so low.”
“For you, well I’d be willing to grovel a bit if that’s what you’re asking for,” he pressed a kiss over the pad of her finger, “If that’s really what you want…”
“What if I said I wanted you,” she challenged as he reached for her wrist allowing his kisses to linger off over her smooth skin.
“I’d say I’m all yours,” he breathed against her pulse point feeling her heart racing from the closeness of him. He slowly released her wrist, dropping her arm down beside her as their eyes connected. The slight buzzing of the machine before them filled the room as he wrapped his arms around her hoisting her up into him. He saw the desire behind her beautiful blue eyes as he leaned in to kiss her, his lips teasing over hers in a savory, slow fashion as he crushed her against him.
“Kiss up,” Blake shot back at him as he hugged her in his arms leading her away from the machine over towards the counter across the small space before he set her down on the countertop.
“I’ll kiss up,” he murmured his lips tapering off over her neck tasting her silken flesh as he whispered warmly in her ear, “down or anywhere else in between if that’s what you want.”
“Seth,” she felt a heat rise over her flushed features as he nibbled on her earlobe while his hands wandered over the curves of her body in a bold fashion. She felt a murmur escape from her lips as he lifted one hand into her silken tresses. She lowered her voice a bit, “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“It’s the truth,” Seth admitted hovering over her as his mouth beckoned hers once again urging herself to embrace the passion he was offering her.
Seth’s luscious ever so kissable lips were weaving their magic spell over her as Blake couldn’t help but open herself up to the possibilities of passion between them. She craved his hands on her, longing to explore more of his skilled touch without barriers as she leaned forward wrapping her legs around his lean, muscled waist. He eased in closer to her, sliding his fingers over her curves as her pulse was pounding with a fury, stirring so many feelings inside of her she didn’t dare walk away from, but as she reached out to him easing his shirt up over his body, a beeping sound brought her back to reality and clearly it has the same effect as well as both she and Seth turned their attention to the machine before them.
A groan spilled over his lips as he leaned forward pressing his forehead against hers, “It would appear a reality check has come upon us.”
“Unfortunately,” Blake sighed savoring the hint of contact between them as she closed her eyes, “Seth, just promise me when we get all this craziness over with that we can finish what we keep starting here…”
“Finish,” Seth repeated lifting her chin as he gazed into her eyes, “Blake, sweetheart, we haven’t even begun yet, but when we do, I swear to you that it’ll be nothing short of magic.”
“So you keep telling me,” Blake grumbled hating to let go of the moment as she turned her attention back to the machine before them, “but alas Ashford duty calls.”
“You know you don’t have to do this,” Seth began reaching out to help her down from the counter, “We don’t have to read that or look any further into what Cameron wants. I can just take the microfilm and go and that way you won’t be touched by this.”
“I’m already touched by this,” Blake reminded him with a scowl, “and I thought we already covered that one with one another.”
“We did, but…” he saw the spark of determination behind her eyes as she marched over to the machine ready to check out their find.
“But nothing. The way I see it, it’s time for me to take charge before this creep thinks he can come in and make things worse for my family,” she announced taking a good look at what the microfilm revealed to her as a gasp fell from her lips. “Oh my God.”
“Blake, what it is,” Seth rushed over to her afraid of what she might’ve found as he looked over her shoulder curiously.
“Seth if this is what I think this is, then Cameron’s out for more than you thought he was,” she confessed in astonishment as she turned to face him, “Seth, if this ever got into Cameron’s hands, well it could be the end of my family and of BBK forever,” she finished realizing that the information she had before her had the potential to alter the future in a great many ways.
“Blake, I don’t understand,” Seth frowned peering over her shoulder as he noted the strange notations before him.
“Seth, it’s all very simple,” she began thinking back to her college years, “You see all this really is well, it’s a code of sorts and…” she trailed off before turning to face him. Quickly printing herself a copy of the page before her, she turned to face him a seriousness suddenly sweeping over her, “I have to make sure this is really what I think it is. I need to know…”
“Blake, Cameron wants whatever that is,” Seth pointed out with a frown, “and he’s very determined to get it one way or another.”
“Well, then it’s time we do something to hinder that mission for him as there’s no way in hell Cameron Stone is getting his hands on this--not now, not ever,” she vowed realizing that she’d stepped into something bigger than she’d ever imagined as it seemed that one of her father’s secrets had finally sprung to life opening up the door to something that Cameron Stone could use to destroy them all if she wasn‘t careful with it. One way or the other she’d find a way to use this information to her benefit and beat Cameron at his game before he dared strike again. This time Blake would be ready for him. That much she was certain of.