Episode Thirty Two

Brant stepped into the mansion hearing the sounds of silence fill the walls surrounding him as he thought to the last twenty four hours of his life.  While dinner with Avery’s parents hadn’t gone as he’d hoped for, he was more disappointed by what had happened or rather what hadn’t.  It was bad enough that Shannon had taken the liberty to try to have him locked up, but then with Heather, well he was ready to strangle her by the time he’d made it out of lock up.  When was she ever going to learn, he frowned to himself realizing that Heather was becoming the kind of bother that he certainly didn’t need in his life right about now.  He’d told her in about a million different ways that there was no chance in hell that they’d be getting back together, yet somehow she took that as some sign of encouragement.  His constant reaffirmations that he just wasn’t interested seemed to fuel her fire and getting her all hot and bothered was the last thing on Brant’s mind especially now that he’d focused on Avery and there in itself began to pose the truth behind what was truly bothering him.  It was bad enough he’d had to deal with Heather, but then to discover that Avery had left the station without even bothering to seek out the outcome of things, well…it just left him unsettled.
Brant tried to think of the reasons why Avery might not be comfortable at the police station, but still none of them really gave up any answers as to why she’d left.  He knew that she’d hated being taken from dinner and hated in having Shannon bother them, but for her to just up and leave the police station without hearing a word from him about what was happening, well it just felt so unlike Avery.  That in itself had him in a sour mood as he’d hated the idea of leaving the police station without her.  Now as the mansion’s silence filled him, he wondered where she might be at a time like this.  Surely she had to have questions about what was happening and she must be in some sense of turmoil…unless…
Brant stopped the thought before it started.  Surely she wasn’t walking away from him.  She’d seemed determined to fight him at the restaurant, but still there was that spark of passion between them.  Avery Morrison wanted him as much as he’d wanted her and by God he wouldn’t let anything get in the way of that.  He’d find a way to prove to her how right they were together one way or another and in the end he’d make her believe in happily ever afters--that much he was sure of.
Just as Brant was about to let his thoughts overtake him, he heard the sound of the front door opening and a tired looking Avery stepped inside.  Immediately his disposition perked up as he approached her smiling brightly, “There you are,” he called out to her, “I was worried about you.”
“Brant,” Avery turned her attention to him as she tucked her hair behind her ear, “hi.”
“I was starting to think you skipped town without me,” he offered in a flirty tone helping her with her jacket as she stepped further into the foyer, “and that would’ve been such a pity considering that if you wanted to leave, I have my own little private escape planned out for us you know.”
“I’m sorry about just disappearing like that,” Avery tilted her head back to look at him once he’d helped ease her out of her jacket, “My father thought I needed some time to myself for a while after last night.”
“Your father’s a wise man,” Brant felt a breath of relief wash over him as he reached out to touch her shoulder gently, “I was starting to worry myself considering that Shannon was set on making our night miserable like she did.  I didn’t think it was ever going to end.”
“I’m starting to feel that way myself,” Avery confessed with an exaggerated sigh as her dark eyes turned up towards his, “Brant, what really happened the night of Bruce’s murder?  Why were you and Russell down at that club?”
“Avery, you really shouldn’t worry about that right now,” Brant waved his hand dismissively as he took a step away from her, “I was just about to go make myself a martini.  Can I interest you in one?”
“As much as I’m sure I could use a drink, I’d appreciate the truth more,” she watched him make his retreat as she followed after him determined to learn the secret he and Russell had been hiding from her, “Brant, please don’t keep me in the dark.  What’s going on?”
“There’s nothing going on,” he answered keeping his back turned to her as he circled around his bar ready to lose himself in his alcoholic temptation, “though if you’d take a moment to relax perhaps we can salvage the rest of this evening somehow.  How do you feel about a late dinner?”
“Brant, I’m not hungry,” Avery snapped back at him, her frustrations mounting, “I could care less about food at a time like this considering that I’m scared out of my mind that you and Russell did something stupid the night you left me here at the mansion.”
“Well I can say that I didn’t do anything stupid,” Brant offered casually getting his things together to make his martini, “as for Russell, well that’s an all together different story since I think the man wakes up each morning hoping that he’ll have one day of not doing something stupid.  Honestly, I don’t know how you can tolerate listening to his nonsense half of the time…”
“Brant, this isn’t about Russell,” Avery argued with him shaking her head dismissively, “this is about the truth--about your telling me what really happened.  Clearly you two were there at the bar.  I heard what Shannon and Dave said about the tape…”
“Avery, it’s old news,” he began to mix up the drinks before him as he casually glanced over at her, “Sooner or later Shannon will see that her ridiculous witch hunt is only going to land her into nothing but trouble and she’ll ease up.  She’ll get the hint that I’m not interested anymore and she’ll go back to crawl under whatever rock it was she came from and we’ll be done with her.”
“We’re not going to just be done with her,” Avery argued with him marching over towards the bar, “Damn it Brant don’t you see that this isn’t about you anymore?”
“Avery, of course it’s about me,” Brant explained simply, “with women like Shannon, it’s always about me.”
“Forget your trail of broken hearts for a moment and your pathetic overblown ego and just think for a moment.  Really think…” Avery pointed to his head, “Use what little brain cells you have left inside that melon of yours and think about what might really be at the heart of Shannon’s constant badgering us.  If she thinks she’s got a way to trap you because you did something, then she’s not going to ease up…”
“All because I dumped her,” Brant nodded accordingly dropping a couple of olives into the martini glasses before him, “Avery, I know where she’s coming from.  It’s just a sad state that women come from when they’ve had the best and then are left without.  It’s like a drug for some of them, but in time they’ll work their way through withdrawal and try to manage without me.  Sure it won’t be easy, but life does go on.”
“Don’t flatter yourself Brant,” Avery rolled her eyes having heard enough of his line of bull as she shook her head and groaned, “Losing you was probably the best thing that ever happened to Shannon and maybe she’s just trying to lock me away for life so that I don’t wind up making the same mistakes she did since clearly you don’t give a damn about the women that walk in and out of your life.”
“I didn’t before, but now that’s all changed,” he explained with a frown.
“And why is that exactly,” she folded her arms in front of her chest as a hiss rose from within.
“Because with you, I care about you,” he flashed her a sexy smile as he reached out to her across the bar, “and I know this time it’s the real thing.  This time I know it‘s love.”
“So because you believe you‘re,” she made a gagging noise, “in love, then you won’t be talking about me like I’m trash when we’re over?”
“Avery, we aren’t going to be over anytime soon,” he offered up extending a glass towards her, “I don’t have any intentions of ever letting go of you.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” Avery reluctantly accepted the token he’d offered her, “but then again we haven’t had sex yet, so you have no real reason to dump on me at this point in time.”
“I think I’m offended,” Brant watched her take a sip of her drink as his frown deepened, “Do you really think so little of me?”
“I think that you’re a shallow, pathetic, narcissistic son of a bitch that’s skidded through life by his good looks and his sense of place in this world since you were born an Ashford,” Avery spat back at him her eyes narrowing with anger as she watched him closely, “Unlike your brother who has tried desperately to get away from the temptation of the birth right, you’ve used your Ashford name to conquer all that’s crossed your path and when you want something, you pull out all the stops to make it happen because there isn’t a moment in your life when you can recall anyone denying you what you wanted.”
“Are you done yet,” Brant lifted a curious brow, “because whenever we get over this tantrum of yours we might be able to have a nice evening together.”
“A nice evening,” she repeated her eyes widening back at him, “Brant if you’d just set the media straight and tell them that we aren’t engaged, I’ll be willing to give you all the nice evenings you want--without me because right now you’re the last person I want to be around.”
“You don’t mean that,” Brant circled around the bar moving closer to her, “You can’t mean that.”
“Can’t I?” she challenged standing taller as her dark eyes glared up at him, “Brant, since I’ve come back here, you’ve done nothing but piss me off and quite frankly you’ve taken all the positive things I’ve felt about you over the last few weeks and turned them into something ugly.  Just when I think you have a heart, you go and turn into this,” she waved her hand wildly as her words grew in intensity, “Just to hear you talking about Shannon that way, well truth be told I can’t stand the woman, but for you to sit here and devalue her like this just because she caught you doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing, it’s just wrong.  Granted, maybe she does have some feelings for you, but in listening to you talk about her, it just proves that her heart was clearly misguided in ever giving you a chance at winning it.”
“Don’t you think you’re going a bit off the deep end right about now,” Brant scowled back at her, “I mean honestly think about what she’s been doing since she set foot back in town.  Avery, she’s working to destroy you--to destroy us all because of that bastard that tried to kill you.  Bruce Mathis doesn’t deserve this kind of police and media attention because the way I see it, the man didn’t deserve half of what he had--especially you.”
“So then you think that his death was justified?” Avery questioned harshly as Brant set his glass down on the bar top with a resounding thud.
“You’re damn right I do and I don’t think that anyone has a right to judge the person that put him in his grave because the man had what was coming to him for a long time,” Brant added his voice laced with rage as he looked down at her, “In fact, I’d like to shake that person’s hand and congratulate them for getting rid of someone who really didn’t have much to offer the world around them.”
“Is it shaking their hand that you want to do or is it paying them off since you had them do the deed,” Avery questioned skeptical as Brant reached out to her pulling her towards him with one surprising movement.
“Listen to me Avery,” Brant’s voice lowered to a tight whisper as he held her, his dark eyes menacing to say the least as he fought to keep his voice even, “I didn’t like the man--hated him for what he did to you and if you’re asking me if I wanted him to pay, then the answer is yes, I wanted him to pay for his actions more than anything, but I didn’t kill him.”
“Then why won’t you tell me the truth about what you and Russell did that night,” Avery questioned holding her ground as his hold on her sent sparks of electricity racing over her spine.
“Why won’t you let me in,” he countered squeezing her in against him despite the heated exchange they were having.  He could see the fire behind her eyes, the hints of sheer disgust washing over her as he refused to let go of her in this moment.
“I want to know what you and Russell did that night,” Avery repeated seemingly unshaken by his hold on her as she kept her face devoid of any emotion but anger.
“I already told you…” he began again.
“You didn’t tell me a damn thing,” Avery reminded him sharply, “and somehow I get the feeling that you’re going to dance around this issue all night, aren’t you?”
“Just like you’re dancing around the issue of the way you feel about me,” he countered sharply feeling her palm press into the center of his chest in an attempt to shove him away from her.  “Why don’t you just face up to what’s really happening here with us?”
“Why Brant you just made it quite clear that no woman in this world could live without you, so why bother with the trivial thoughts going on in my little feminine head since you already know the ways of the world and women,” she threw out with heavy sarcasm as she took a step away from him.
“Avery, that’s not fair,” Brant frowned watching her retreat as her eyes shot daggers at him.
“Neither is what you’re doing to me.  If you cared about me--really gave a damn about me, then you’d be up front about what happened that night.  You wouldn’t keep playing the issue and you most certainly wouldn’t write this all off as your obsessed ex-girlfriend chasing you around because clearly Shannon’s got more to her agenda than someone like Heather does.”
“Avery, I already told you…” Brant started once again.
“I don’t want the world according to Brant’s view of things,” she explained matter of fact, “I want the truth and until you’re going to give me that, then quite frankly this discussion is over,” she turned towards the direction of the staircase ready to walk away as he rushed in behind her tugging on her arm.
“Oh no you don’t,” Brant began desperately pulling her towards him once again, “You’re not walking away from me so easily.”
“Consider it my cue to exit so that I can go lose myself in my fantasies about how wonderful you are,” she rolled her eyes trying to shrug out of his attempt to hold onto her.
“Avery, I care about you,” Brant threw out once again, his tone changing a bit as his dark eyes filled with something completely foreign to the conversation they were having, “and if it makes me a little crazy after the last twenty four hours, then so be it.  I know that I’m not acting rational or even considerate, but after being locked up like I was…”
“Locked up,” Avery gave him a strange look, “what do you mean locked up?”
“Shannon and Dave decided to be cute and go for the scare tactics by tossing Russell and I into a couple of cells there at the police station,” he admitted softening his tone a bit, “She was pissed because Russell and I weren’t giving her the open admissions of guilt that she was banking on and she turned things around and it was all so very twisted in a matter of moments.  The truth is I was furious as hell with her for locking me up like that and I let my rage get the best of me,” he paused drawing in a breath as he released her, “Look I know that Shannon would rather see me dead than have me in her bed once again, but after being put through hell, I guess the testosterone gets going and one thing leads to another…”
“Brant, it’s still no excuse,” Avery sighed bringing her fingers through her dark hair, “This isn’t about your list of who you’ve been with and who you haven’t.  This is our lives you’re playing around with and if you can’t tell me the truth, then I’m not going to be able to help you or Russ when push comes to shove.  If you two did something…” she trailed off feeling her voice overtaken with emotion as the thought of losing them rushed over her, “Brant, I don’t want to be the cause of you and Russell losing everything if you did this all to help me.”
“Avery, we’re not going to lose anything,” Brant reached out to her touching her cheek gently as tears filled her dark eyes, “I swear to you that no one is going to lose their life over this.”
“Then why can’t you just be honest with me,” she pleaded with him, “Brant, I’m asking you now if you care about me at all, then you’ll do the right thing and just be honest about what happened that night.  That’s all I want from you.”
“Avery,” he began contemplating his words as he watched her tears.  He reached out to her touching her cheek gently as he leaned in closer to her longing to be close to her.
“Yes?” she questioned lazily thinking of her request as his breath mingled with hers.
“The truth is,” he bridged the distance between them his lips hovering just above hers as his touched tapered in over her beautiful features.
“Yes?” she repeated leaning into his palm as his finger tips fanned off into her dark hair.  His lips were a mere breath away from hers as she closed her eyes turning up towards his lips as she anticipated the one thing she’d been asking for out of him.
“The truth is, that…” he whispered faintly as his mouth skimmed against hers in a kiss.  His arms wrapped around her pulling her to him securely as he deepened the kiss allowing his hunger for her to shine through the surface as his hands began to trace over her soft curves wanting nothing more than to lose himself in her completely.
Slowly Avery withdrew from the kiss, her brown eyes gazing into his as she spoke up in a low, throaty whisper, curling her fingers over his shoulder, “You can tell me, Brant.”
“Well the truth is,” he leaned forward longing to claim another kiss from her as the warmth of her flooded over his senses, “it’s very hard for me to get into this with you considering…“
“Brant, you can trust me,” Avery touched his cheek seeing the hints of something burning beneath the surface as she wondered just what he was holding back on.  She wrapped her arms around his shoulders in the hopes of encouraging his honesty as he cupped her bottom in his large hands giving her a soft squeeze.
Capturing her mouth hungrily as he pressed her into the bar behind them, Brant eased her up off of her feet, bringing her up onto the top of the bar as notions of passion and desire between them filled his mind.  One way or another he would make her face her truths about him even if he had to open up a bit to her about what had happened.  He’d be brutal if he must, but he was going to get an answer from her.   His mouth collected kisses from her as she held him only fueling his desire for her with each passing moment as his hands drifted off over her body.  He dropped his hand over her thigh easing his fingers in beneath the hemline of her skirt as his lips sank over the curve of her neck.
“It’s just so complicated, Avery,” Brant murmured against her throat as his finger tips eased the material of her skirt up her body, “I want to trust you, but…”
“Just tell me the truth,” Avery pleaded as he tried to coax her into wrapping her legs around him, “Brant please…”
“The truth is,” his lips moved over her shoulder nibbling on her soft skin before he pressed a kiss over her earlobe, “there’s nothing to tell,”
“Wait a second,” Avery blinked back at him bringing things to a screeching halt between them as she shoved her hand into the center of his chest, “What did you just say?”
“I said there’s nothing to tell,” he answered lazily bringing his hand over her shoulder gently massaging her heated skin, “but then again I think that we should forget about what was happening before and we can focus on what’s going on between us right now.”
“You mean you want me to just push any notions I have about getting the truth out of you out of my mind so that we can lose ourselves in one another--in the passion that clearly is alive between us,” she lifted a curious brow as his smile widened eagerly.
“That was the general idea,” Brant nodded emphatically, “and so far it’s looking good for us.”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes using her strength to shove him away from her, catching him off guard as he fumbled backwards and she took the moment to leap down from the top of the bar, “as if I’m going to have sex with you when you carry on the way you do.  What dream world are you living in, Brant?” she shook her head at him with a deep scowl.
“Avery, but I just thought…” he stammered a bit as she adjusted her skirt silently cursing him again and again in her mind.
“That what?  I’d just appreciate your attention and I’d forget about what was really bothering me?  Think again Brant.  I don’t work that way even if you think we women all share one mind,“ Avery shot back sarcastically as anger flooded over her, “I asked you for the truth, but you couldn’t even give me that, yet you expect me to give my body to you knowing that you’re deceiving me.”
“Avery, if you’d only stop being so stubborn…” he began again.
“You haven’t seen anything when it comes to stubborn yet, but you will soon enough,” she marched past him making her way towards the staircase.
“Now just wait a second,” he chased after her seeing her halfway up the winding staircase, “Avery, come on.  Don’t just walk away like that…”
“I refuse to waste anymore time on this,” Avery tossed her hair over her shoulder as she threw out one last scathing look, “and unless you can start facing up to what really is going on, then we have nothing to talk about.”
“Avery, don’t you think you’re overreacting a bit,” Brant called out, “I mean we could be enjoying this night together instead of fighting…”
“Brant, I’m not going to sleep with you, so get it in your mind that you don’t have a chance,” Avery sneered at him, “You never did and if you think you’re getting laid tonight, well then you’re sadly mistaken unless of course you’d like to go seek out Kimberly because she seemed more than willing to give you that mindless screw you’re looking for.”
“I just might do that considering that you‘re not worth all this aggravation,” Brant yelled up at her watching her continue towards the guest room, “I don’t have to put up with this you know?  I don’t have to take your constant putting me off when there are plenty of women in this world that want me you know.”
“Fine, then go find yourself one and tell her that I hope she keeps you busy long enough for me to get the hell out of this place once and for all,” Avery shouted down at him as he clenched his fists in a ball tightly.
“Fine, and when I do then you won’t have to be bothered with me anymore,” Brant countered sharply, “I won’t be such a burden on your life.”
“Great, that’s just what I wanted to hear,” Avery threw out finally as Brant heard the sound of the door slamming up above him.

Now as Brant looked around the foyer dwelling over how wrong this night’s turn of events went, he decided that it was time to get things into perspective.  One way or another Avery Morrison would fall in love with him and even if he had to listen to her kicking and screaming fighting him on every turn to the road of romance, then so be it, but now, well now he decided that it was time to get some air as he headed out back struggling to find a way to make up for this horrible turn of events between them.


Grady walked down the hall towards his office wondering if anyone was left in the office. After having it out with Russ, he just wanted to sit down for a while and try to focus on anything other than his brother.

“Hey boss,” Dorothy smiled as she met him halfway down the hall, “Jade’s in your office doing some work.”

“You guys are still here? What’s going on? Are you trying to break me with overtime pay?” He teased.

“You can afford me,” She winked at him, “Though I’m not quite sure about Jade.”

“Very funny,” He said through a smile, “Good night, Dot.”

“Night,” Dorothy said with a smile as she made her way out of the office.

Grady stood at the door of his office and watched Jade who sat at his desk hard at work. He smiled as he watched her, thinking of just how much she meant to him. It was all so new to him, being able to care about someone without feeling like the world would fall out from under his feet. He felt safe with Jade, and yet he also felt as if she were the weapon which could fatally wound him. He hadn’t wanted to venture so far with her, but now that he had, he knew that his life would have been miserable without her.

Jade looked up from her paperwork, having sensed someone’s presence in the room. She dropped her pen upon the desk and quickly made her way towards Grady. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

Grady held her securely as he felt her relief at his arrival. He reaffirmed his hold on her before speaking, “Jade, what’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“Nothing, I…just..,” She squeezed him in her arms, “I’m just glad to see you.”

“Jade, something had to happen,” He said in concern, “You’re trembling.”

“It’s just been a very trying day,” She admitted as she looked up to meet his eyes.

“What happened to shake you up like this? You have nerves of steel,” He said as he studied her classic features, “What is it, Jade? Tell me. Please.”

She took a deep breath and reached for his hand. She led him to the sofa and sat down beside him. Looking towards him, she tucked a tress of hair behind her ear before speaking, “Cameron came by today.”

“What did he do?” Grady asked, his ever muscle fiber tightening with tension.

“He just won’t give up, Grady. I even told him that I was involved with you to which he had a quick retort about Thea. He scares me, Grady. He really scares me. He thinks he can have me if he’s just pushes hard enough,” She said as she took a shaky breath, “I know exactly what powerful men can do when they think they’re entitled to something. He just needs to know that he’s not entitled to me.”

“Hey,” He spoke as he gently drew her into his arms, “We’ll make it very clear to him that he can’t even dream about you. We’ll prove to him that you and I are solid,” He eased his fingers through her hair, “I’m not going to let anyone intimidate you that way ever again. You’ll never have to meet with him again.”

“I just…I thought I could prove…” She trailed off as she looked away from him.

“Jade, you don’t have to prove anything to me,” He said as he urged her to face him.

“I wasn’t trying to prove anything to you. Well, actually, yeah I did, but more so, I just wanted to prove to myself that I really could stand up to him…to make him see that when I say no, I mean it.”

He frowned as he watched her look towards the floor, “Jade, men like Cameron Stone don’t care what anyone says or thinks. He only cares about his own agenda, and I don’t really think that anything would change his mind at this point except a very bold show on our part.”

“What do you mean?” She asked as she raised her eyes to look at him.

“I think Mr. Stone needs to see that you and I are inseparable.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“I received an invitation to a reception for Stone Corp’s new offices. I think we should go and make Cameron see that there’s no way that he’s going to come between us,” Grady suggested as he gathered her into his arms and lifted her onto his lap. He lightly eased her into a kiss, “I’m not going to let him cause you any more pain, Jade. I’ll do anything to make certain he’s not a cause of distress for you.”

“Promise?” She asked as she searched his eyes.

“I promise,” He said with a smile before he lowered his lips to hers in a delicate sweet kiss. When their lips parted, he met her eyes with a smile, “Now I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Is it a good favor or am I going to live to regret it?” She asked while she wrapped her arms securely around his neck.

“I think it’s a good favor,” He said with a grin, “I’m beyond tired, and I was wondering if you’d come home with me tonight. I would really love to feel you beside me.”

Jade felt the smile growing from deep within her, “Actually, I’d love to, but then there’s this whole need for something to wear to work in the morning.”

“How about we stop by your place and you can pack a bag for the night? Would Seth be hugely upset over that?”

“I doubt he’s even there. He’s probably out with Blake somewhere, but that’s all beside the fact. I’m not ten years old, and I don’t care what he wants. I know what I want, and I want to be with you.”

“You’ve always been pretty adamant about that one,” Grady teased as he lowered his lips to hers and squeezed her close to him, hoping that they would be able to help one another make a better night together than their miserable day apart.


“There’s a stack of messages already on your desk, a notice came in today about the Henderson case, and I put on a fresh pot of coffee for you,” Judy advised Kenneth as he sat on the edge of her desk, “You realize that burning the candle at both ends really isn’t too smart, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know, but sometimes it can’t be helped,” Kenneth sighed as he shook his head, “I’m hoping things will settle down soon.”

“I hope so too. I don’t want you to burn out too young, Ken. You’re a good attorney, and the world needs good men like you,” She warned him as she picked up her purse from the desk, “I’m going home now which is something you should be doing very soon.”

“Okay, okay,” He smiled, “Thanks, Judy,” He took a deep breath as his secretary left the office. When the door closed he moved towards the coffee pot and filled his mug with the caffeine packed liquid. He was exhausted, but he’d never shrunk away from a case in his life, especially when so much was at stake as in Avery’s case.

As he began to stir sugar into his coffee, he heard the door open behind him, “Did you come back to cluck your tongue at me some more?” He asked in teasing as he turned expecting Judy but instead was greeted with the sight of Caitlin standing before him.

“Cluck my tongue? Should I?” Caitlin asked with a smile, “Or should I take that as confession that you didn’t get any sleep last night?”

“Guilty,” He admitted as she crossed the room and touched his cheek.

“You’re out of your mind. You know that, don’t you?” She shook her head as she gazed into his tired eyes, “You should be at home right now getting some rest.”

“I know. Judy was just getting onto me about that same thing,” Kenneth sighed.

“Well she’s right, Ken,” She lectured him, “Why don’t you go home and get some rest?”

“Because I need to do some work around here,” He smiled as he took her hand and placed a kiss to her palm, “But I appreciate your concern.”

“What is it exactly that you think requires your attention tonight?” She asked, following him into his office.

“I need to go through all my messages. I also got a new notice today regarding the Henderson case which I need to read and research tonight.”

“What you really need to do is get a few hours sleep,” She urged him, “Ken, you can’t operate if you’re exhausted.”

“You’d be surprised what can be accomplished on the brink of exhaustion,” He said with a sly grin, “So what brought you by the office?”

“I was doing research on Midlands for my story, and I learned something rather interesting in my search,” Caitlin said as she placed her document bag upon a chair and reached inside, “Did you know that Stone Corp bought out seventy five percent of Midlands stock?”

“No, I didn’t. I knew that Stone Corp had come into town recently, but I had no idea about their interests in Midlands,” Kenneth admitted as he sank into his chair, “That’s going to complicate things.”

“Yeah, I thought it might. I’ve been doing research on Stone Corp all day long, and I found out some interesting things. Apparently, Stone Corp has a history of buying out companies on the verge of bankruptcy due to lawsuits,” She advised him as she placed a folder full of articles in front of him, “They buy the companies and keep them in a holding pattern until they can write them off as a capital loss.”

“Let me guess. You believe they’re doing the same thing with Midlands due to the Hendersons’ lawsuit?” He asked as he opened the folder and glanced over the articles.

“That would make the most sense,” She said before she withdrew a lone article from her bag, “But there’s one more thing I think you should know.”

“What’s that?” Kenneth asked as he looked up to meet her eyes.

“I’ve also been looking into Stone Corp’s CEO, Cameron Stone. And I found this,” Caitlin said as she placed the article into his hand, “Isn’t that…”

“Yes it is,” He frowned as he spotted his father with Cameron Stone. He read over the article’s content for a moment as his frown deepened, “It figures. Dad never did have a scruple about him.”

“How well do you think they knew each other?” She asked as she moved around the desk to look down at the photo with him.

“I don’t know, but I get the sinking suspicion that it was closer than I would have liked,” He placed the article down before rubbing his temple, “I’m not sure I like the idea of this new development. If this guy knew my father and he’s in town now, it’s bad news all around.”

“I’m sorry,” Caitlin said as she lightly touched his hair, “But this was something I thought you needed to know.”

“It is, and I thank you,” He said as he flashed her a smile. He glanced back to his desk and saw the tell-tale blue backed paper alerting him to a legal notice. He lifted the paper from under his messages and unfolded the paper to read the notice.

“What is that?” She asked as she watched him read the legal paper.

“It’s a notice of appearance. It’s saying that the corporate counsel for Midlands has been taken off the case and is being replaced by the corporate counsel for Stone Corp. His name is Kipp Mahoney.”

“Mahoney,” Caitlin said the name and paused, “I wonder if he’s related to Douglas Mahoney.”

“I don’t know, but I think I need to do some research of my own now. I need to know just who Kipp Mahoney is and how difficult he’s going to be to handle in court,” Kenneth rubbed the tightening muscles of his neck, “Could life possibly become more complicated?” He asked rhetorically as he glanced over the legal paper once again, hoping that no other complications would arise for himself or his clients.


Jenna stepped into the smoke filled bar thinking of how she’d spent most of her adult life avoiding places like these, but still given the lengths that the FBI had gone to in order to shut her out of her work, she was more determined than ever to seek out the truth in the Bruce Mathis murder investigation.  Granted she wasn’t a cop, but then again in dealing with the half wits in Coral Valley, she knew it didn’t take more than an excess overload of testosterone and a sharp tongue to get a badge.  Certainly there were no awards given out for intelligence on that department, she thought to herself as she realized that if this investigation was left in the hands of the boys in blue mixed in with the clearly biased FBI, then the truth would never be known.  That in itself was enough to make Jenna want to seek it out more than ever.  Sure she had some forensic background there that came along with the job and if push came to shove, she was certain she’d find the truth before anyone else in Coral Valley.  That in itself was a comforting thing as she made her way through the smoke and noise ready to seek out the shades of the truth before her.
“What will it be,” the gruff looking bartender questioned as Jenna squeezed her way through the crowd ready to absorb herself in the atmosphere.
“I’ll have a club soda,” Jenna replied simply flashing him a polite smile as the man gave her a twisted look, “on second thought make it a beer.”
“You’ve got it,” he nodded in response tending to her order as Jenna looked around the bar wondering if the clues she’d been hoping to find could be in this very room.
While Jenna had made it a practice to avoid bars as much as possible, she had to admit that the Cadillac Ranch had been one that she’d just as soon have avoided the rest of her life.  She’d only been here a few times in a past and each time she’d had a terrible tale to tell after being in here.  The first time had been when Avery had wound up at this bar after walking out Russell, hoping to find an escape where he wouldn’t find her and the second, well the second was one she’d rather not think about anymore.  Now as she turned her attention to the bartender returning with her beer, she tried to drown out the sounds of country music as she turned her attention to the bartender.  He’d almost reached her when the crashing sound came from down the bar and one of the less than sober patrons began to scream wildly in a drunken stupor poking at another angry man.
“Take it outside,” the bartender growled back at the two of them before turning towards Jenna, “here’s your drink.”
“Rough night tonight, isn’t it,” she motioned towards the dueling duo, “This happen a lot around here?”
“Nothing more than the typical,” the bartender shrugged his shoulders before reaching for one of the hoses under the bar, “Hey you two,” he called out squeezing on the nozzle and sending a solid spray of water across the bar at the both of them immediately causing them to part as his eyes threw out a warning glare, “Knock that off or else you’re out of here,” he warned before looking to Jenna again curiously, “So tell me, what’s a pretty gal like you doing in a place like this?”
“Can’t I be enjoying my time here,” Jenna inquired with a hint of a smile as the man rumbled with laughter.
“Honey, you couldn’t possibly be enjoying yourself here,” he motioned to the beer he’d brought for her, “You didn’t even want that beer and in being here, well I can see that this crowd isn’t the kind your used to, so it leads me to believe one of two things.”
“What might that be,” Jenna lifted the bottle to her lips offering up an attempt at fitting in.
“That one you’re lost,” the bartender slumped over the bar moving in closer to her, “or two you’re another cop coming around to ask questions.”
“Now why would you think something like that,” Jenna moved forward matching his movement as her perfectly sculpted brow arched with curiosity, “Do I have the cop vibe to me because if I do, then clearly you’re reading me all wrong.  The truth is I hate cops--despise them actually.”
“Hmm, now see that I didn’t figure you for,” the bartender chuckled in amusement, “maybe I was wrong about you after all.”
“Well, now here’s my part to be brutally honest,” Jenna offered up with a flirty smile, “I did come here in the hopes of learning something that perhaps you could help me with…” she reached into her purse withdrawing a few bills and setting them on the bar top, “I believe this should cover the drink and anything else that might be on my mind this fine evening.”
The bartender looked down to the generous token she’d offered him before sliding it casually into his pocket, “So what’s on your mind tonight pretty lady?”
“A pal of mine was in here the other night,” Jenna began tossing her hair over her shoulders as she lifted the bottle of beer to the plunging neckline of her shirt, allowing the neck to glide in over the swell of her breast for a lingering moment, “perhaps you might remember him.”
“That all depends,” the bartender eyed her intently as his gaze was drawn to the bottle.
“Well he has been in the media lately and his name was Bruce,” Jenna offered up leaning forward to give him an eyeful as she lifted the beer bottle to her lips again, “Maybe that might ring a bell.”
“You mean the doc that was murdered,” his eyes widened with curiosity, “you know now that you mentioned it, I might remember a little something about him being here.”
“Oh,” Jenna tilted her head to the side leaning in closer to him as she lowered her voice, “and just what might that be?”
“Well your,” he dropped his gaze shamelessly over her curves as a crooked smile swept over his features as he made no attempt to hide the fact he was enjoying the view she’d offered him, “friend was a regular here…though he really wasn’t too much trouble until that last night he was here you see…”
“Oh,” Jenna lifted a curious brow, “what changed?”
“Well for starters, he used to enjoy coming here around opening and he’d sit right down at the end of the bar by himself for a while,” the bartender explained, “I thought it was a bit odd considering that guys like him don’t exactly spent their time in a place like this.  I mean you know the martini drinking high society types tend to stay in town, but your friend,” his voice was laced with the truth about his believing Jenna and Bruce were buddies as he continued, “well, he liked to spend a significant amount of time in here just taking in the atmosphere if you know what I mean…”
“Enlighten me,” Jenna trailed her finger over the rim of her bottle as she batted her eyelashes at him.
“He liked the working girls if you catch my drift,” the bartender explained with a shrug, “A lot of them come in here at night to capture the attention of a potential client…not that I’d willingly admit to this because I don’t take part in what they do you know.  They just come into my bar spending money so what they do out of here is their business, but I know what’s going on, you see.”
“Of course you would,” Jenna nodded in response, “and you can’t be blamed for their actions.  No one would condemn you for turning the other cheek so to speak.”
“Yeah well the cops might not like it,” he paused contemplating his words, “you sure you’re not a cop?”
“Honey, do I look like a cop,” Jenna reached across the bar for his hand in flirty fashion before pulling away.
“Hell no,” he smiled widely as Jenna could see he was exactly the kind of bartender she was looking to meet up with as he offered her information.
“So about my friend,” Jenna reminded him again.
“As I said, he came in around opening and spent a lot of time just sitting at the bar.  After a couple of hours he’d try to pick up on one of the working girls.  There were plenty of eager and willing women here, but he seemed to take to the ones that went straight for the services for profit kind--mostly brunettes from the look of things.”
“And how often did you say he was here?” Jenna questioned again.
“At least twice a week, though over the last couple of months it was more like four or five depending,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I almost felt sorry for the guy considering he was always paying for attention.  Made you wonder what kind of sick, twisted bastard he was seeing as he clearly couldn’t hold onto a good woman if he was always out paying for it.”
“You’d be surprised,” Jenna frowned thinking about Avery’s attachment to Bruce, “Still, you’d said that the night he was in here the last time things were different.”
“That’s right,” he nodded, “They were.”
“How so?”
“Well this time, he’d met up with a woman early on.  She’d spotted him at the bar and things got pretty intense right away.  They were on the dance floor making a spectacle of themselves and damn near went at it in the middle of the room, but then I don’t know what he did, but she lost it.  She went completely crazy on him--scratching and clawing at him and yelling like you wouldn’t believe.  I really thought it was going to get ugly and when she was carrying on like that, well I had to step in and ask him to leave.  He didn’t like it, but he was on his way…”
“So he just left after their fight,” Jenna inquired further thinking about this new side of Bruce that was revealed to her, “and the woman?”
“Well that’s the thing.  I would’ve thought she’d left as well, but she stuck around for a while and spent some time with another man in the bar,” he shrugged his shoulders, “She didn’t seem upset anymore once your buddy left.  I guess you can never tell.”
“Would you recognize her if you saw her again,” Jenna asked thinking about the information he’d offered up as she recalled that the FBI was chasing after Avery, “Anything in specific about her?”
“Well she was a real knock out--not the kind of woman that your buddy seemed to pick up before, but not really the kind that would be in a place like this--much like you,” he flashed her a grin, “She was pretty.  Brunette, beautiful and that mouth…oh man what I wouldn’t have given to spend some time with her…well before she unleashed her rage on that poor fool.”
“So she really made an impression on you, huh?” Jenna questioned taking in the information he’d given her.  “Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“Hmm, well nothing more than what I’ve said.  She was in this cute little black outfit and…” his eyes widened before a smile followed, “Actually now that you mention it, there was something…”
“What was it,” she probed further.
“She had this little tattoo on her back,” he noted scratching his head, “kind of like a spider web or something along those lines right over her hip.  With the way her shirt cut off over her midriff, I remember thinking it was sexy as hell as she walked away from the bar.  Still, when I think about that temper…” he trailed off as another crashing sound came from the two patrons that had been making a scene before.  “Damn it.  I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” Jenna offered processing the information he’d given her as she realized that the woman in question was the key to discovering the truth about Bruce’s last night on Earth.  Now as she was armed with the knowledge she needed to further this investigation she felt a sense of pride wash over her.  She’d have this solved in no time flat, she vowed as a voice broke through her moment of triumph.
“Well look what the cat dragged in,” the familiar voice rang through her ears like nails scratching over a chalkboard as she slowly turned around to face the last person she’d wanted to see as Patrick Sharpe stood before her and she realized that things were about to get ugly.  Very ugly!


Heather glanced at herself in the mirror once again and smiled. She would have to break out the big guns tonight. She just had to convince Kipp to have his father hire her. She would convince him that it was a great move for Douglas Mahoney to hire her because she would soon be the face of Beholder Cosmetics. Things really were looking up for her…at least they would be as soon as she wrapped Kipp around her pinky finger.

A knock at the door interrupted her inspection of her appearance. She made her way towards the door and smoothed her dress. She opened the door with a bright smile, “I knew you wouldn’t keep me waiting.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about you,” Cameron said as he allowed his eyes to survey her statuesque figure, “Although I must say it’s very nice to see you.”

“What are you doing here?” She asked with a frown as she put her hands on her hips.

“I’m here for a progress report on our agreement. I want to know how long I’m going to have to wait until I get what’s rightfully mine,” He informed her as he brushed by her and glanced around her hotel room, “So tell me, Heather, when am I going to get my ring?”

“Soon,” She frowned as she closed the door, “You really shouldn’t be here.”

“And why’s that? Expecting company?” He asked as he sat on the corner of her bed and reclined slightly, bracing his weight upon an elbow, “There isn’t anyone coming who could appreciate you as much as I could.”

“You flatter me,” She said blandly, “If you don’t mind, I really do have company coming, and I don’t think he’d appreciate you being here.”

“That’s too bad because I’m not going anywhere,” He said coolly before patting the bed beside him, “So why don’t you come here and have a seat beside me?”

“Cameron, really, I don’t need this right now.”

“No, you need to be getting my ring for me. Or did you forget that you agreed to my proposal?”

“I haven’t had the chance. In case you haven’t noticed, the police have been surrounding Avery Morrison night and day.”

“And why should that bother your assignment?” He asked as he reached out to take her by the wrist and draw her into his arms. He rolled her back to the bed and perched over her, “I’m on the verge of being very disappointed in you.”

Heather met his eyes and boldly shoved him off of her, “I’m on the verge of throwing you out of here, pal,” She said as she bolted from the bed, “You have no right to come in here and demand anything from me.”

“Oh really?” Cameron asked as she stood and followed her across the room, “Perhaps you forgot our arrangement, Heather. You get the ring, I give you the answer to getting Brant back into your clutches,” He backed her against the wall, “Now have you forgotten that arrangement or do you need me to remind you?”

“I don’t need anything from you,” Heather declared boldly as she met his eyes.

“On the contrary, I think you do,” He said softly as he eased the back of his fingers across her cheek, “You’re a beautiful woman, Heather, and you deserve whatever it is you want in life. I can give you what you want. All you have to do is deliver on our arrangement.”

She frowned as she attempted to move away from him. He blocked her path and caged her with his arms. She met his eyes before placing her palms against his chest, “I will do what you ask, Cameron, but I’m going to need more time.”

“We’re running out of time, Heather…the both of us. Brant’s moving on with his life, and if he makes it to the alter before you can make your move, well,” He shrugged as he brushed a thumb over her lips, “You’d be denied your greatest desire. Do you really want to live without him?”

“Of course not,” She answered quickly, “I love Brant.”

“Then we should do everything in our power to get him back for you, shouldn’t we?” He asked with a smile before he eased his lips towards her.

“That wasn’t part of our deal,” She said as she stopped him with a finger upon his lips, “It’ll take a lot more than a few pictures to earn you that kind of reward.”

“I like a woman who knows her worth,” Cameron said with a smile, “I’ll just have to see what I can do to help you then,” He said as he took a step back away from her.

A knock at the door drew Heather’s attention away from the man before her. She stepped around him and answered the door, smiling immediately upon seeing Kipp, “I was beginning to think you were going to stand me up.”

“You know that would never happen,” Kipp said with a smile as he stepped forward and kissed Heather upon the lips, “You look good enough to eat.”

“Funny, I was just telling her the same thing,” Cameron said from across the room.

Kipp’s eyes widened as he looked towards his boss, “Cameron, what…what are you doing here?”

“Heather and I are old friends,” Cameron lied as he stepped towards her, “We were just…catching up.”

“Yeah, catching up,” Heather nodded before looking towards Kipp, “I hate to be rude, Cameron, but Kipp and I have dinner reservations that we can’t miss.”

“Of course,” Cameron nodded before he dropped a kiss to Heather’s cheek, “I hope to see you again soon,” He said before he left her hotel room.

Kipp took a deep breath as Heather closed the door behind Cameron’s departure, “What was he really doing here?”

“It’s just what he said it was,” Heather said as she slipped her arms around Kipp’s neck, “Now let’s just focus on us.”

“Heather, Cameron can be a dangerous man,” He warned, “Maybe you shouldn’t interact with him too much.”

“Don’t you work for him?” She countered.

“Well yes, but I can handle whatever Cameron can dish out.”

“And so can I,” Heather assured him, “Now let’s go to dinner,” She urged, hoping to put the meeting with Cameron behind her and start convincing Kipp to put her career on the fast track.


Dave opened the door of his pick up and reached across Shannon to unfasten her safety belt. He eased her out of the safety belt as she sank against him.

“Why did you have to pass out so early, kid?” He asked in a sigh as he slowly drew her out of his truck. He cradled her in his arms and moved away from the truck before kicking the door closed with his foot.

“I knew you were going to be a pain in my ass, but I never quite imagined you’d give me a pain in my back too,” Dave quipped as he walked towards the hotel.

The doorman of the hotel rushed to open the door for Dave as he carried the unconscious FBI agent inside. The police chief nodded his thanks to the doorman before he made his way to the elevator. He stepped inside and nudged the button for Shannon’s floor with his elbow.

“For a fit chick, you sure weigh a ton,” He grumbled as he attempted to readjust her position within his arms.

“Hmmm,” Shannon murmured as she threw her arms around Dave’s neck, slightly finding her way back to consciousness.

“Hey…you know, you’re a sorry excuse for a drunk,” He stated as he gently bounced her within his arms to readjust her, “You know, you could at least wait until you’re in your room to pass out.”

“I want a drink,” She sighed as she snuggled into him.

“I think you’ve had quite enough,” He informed her as the doors of the elevator opened. He carried her down the hall and leaned her against the wall as he felt within her jacket to find the card key to her room.

“Are you getting fresh with me, Chief?” Shannon giggled while wrapping her arms around her.

“Now, I’m sure that you’ve had enough,” He said as he shook his head and plucked the key from her jacket pocket. He unlocked the door and carried her inside the room, placing her upon the bed. He began to move away before she grabbed his arm and yanked him onto the bed with her.

“You’re not going anywhere, Chief,” She chuckled as she pinned him to the bed with her body, “I want to have some fun.”

“Not only are you a sorry excuse for a drunk, but you’re also a raving lunatic as well,” He attempted to push her away.

Shannon used the full weight of her body to hold him down, “You shouldn’t be so pessimistic, Chief,” She said with a chuckle, “Don’t you want to have some fun?”

“Not particularly,” He said dryly, “So get off of me.”

“Oh I plan to get off,” She purred, “But not until the both of us are well taken care of.”

“Now I think I know exactly what Brant was attracted to. Just how often did you two get totally plastered with each other?” Dave asked as he watched her pluck open the buttons of his shirt.

“We didn’t get completely totaled. Well…not always,” She giggled as she crawled over him and met his eyes, “You can’t tell me that you’re not attracted to me.”

“I am attracted to you,” He admitted, “But I don’t like you, and that’s kind of an important aspect to the whole sex thing.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” She said as she sat up and laced her fingers in the fastening of his belt, “We don’t have to like each other. Let’s just enjoy each other.”

“Shannon, there’s no way in hell that’s going to happen,” He said as he sat up.

“Oh yes there is,” Shannon declared as she shoved him forcefully back down on the bed, “And I’m going to show you right now,” She said as she leaned forward and summarily passed out on top of him.

Dave sighed as he gently rolled Shannon onto her back. He rolled off the bed and glanced down at her sprawled out form. He shook his head before drawing her up the bed and settling her upon the pillow. He settled a blanket over her and shook his head, “If you survive the hangover you’re going to have, I’m going to enjoy twisting this one like a knife for a long time to come,” He chuckled to himself as he set his clothes to rights and left the hotel room, allowing Shannon to sleep off the remainder of her alcoholic binge.


Brooke stepped out of the cab tipping the driver generously as she noticed her Richard in the Ashford circular drive making his way back into the rental car he’d taken since his arrival.  A scowl touched over her features as she marched up to him decidedly ready to give him hell for his butting into her situation with Avery once again.  Ready to tear into him, she growled at him in an accusatory tone.

“Just who the hell do you think you are,” Brooke challenged viciously as Richard stopped mid-movement turning around to take a look at his estranged wife.
“Just when the night was looking up,” he grumbled to himself as he let out a deep sigh, “so what is it that I can do for you Brooke?”
“How dare you take my daughter from the police station and leave me there to rot in that filthy place,” she sneered in response a huff spilling from her lips.
“Our daughter needed some clarity,” he stated simply, “and being around you wasn’t going to help her achieve that so I did what any caring father would.”
“Caring my…” Brooke scoffed shaking her head at him, “What you’re doing is trying to ruin her life.  She doesn’t need you around you know…”
“Brooke, whenever you’re around our daughter needs me more than ever,” he pointed out with a frown, “All you do it take pleasure in twisting her world upside down and using things to your advantage.  You’re not here because you care about Avery, but more so because you care about her fiancé and that in itself is the reason you’re upset with me.  You’re afraid I’m going to talk some sense into our daughter and keep her away from playboy Ashford and that irritates you to know end.”
“Don’t you care about our daughter at all,” she shook her head back at him, “She’s finally about to have everything that any woman would dream of in her life and here you are raining on her parade.  She’s in love and she’s happy, yet you’re ready to manipulate her into seeing your way of things.”
“I think that’s more so your approach,” Richard sighed, “Brooke, you can’t run her life.  You saw what it did last time and if you try to do it now…”
“Brant loves our daughter and she loves him,” she announced firmly, “and I’m not going to let anything get in the way of this wedding…”
“Not even Avery’s happiness?” he arched a curious brow, “Does she truly mean so little to you that you’d be willing to push her off on the highest bidder?”
“Brant cares very deeply for her and he can give her the world, unlike that miserable Denton boy that almost ruined her life,” Brooke reminded him sharply, “You saw how being with that man damn near destroyed our daughter and I refuse to let her walk away from the greatest decision she’s ever come close to making.”
“What about love?” Richard challenged, “What about her finding someone who makes her happy?”
“Oh please,” Brooke rolled her eyes, “as if you even knew the meaning of the word happiness.  Happiness and playful flirtations come to an end, but security and the comfort that Brant can provide her with is forever.”
“Just like you believed my trust fund to be the moment I married you,” he shook his head at her, “Even after all these years you never learn, do you?”
“You stole my youth from me and I refused to allow Avery to get hers sucked away by some penniless loser like Russell Denton when she can have the world with Brant,” Brooke sneered back at him waving her hand out at him, “and if you’d stop being so self-righteous you’d see that I’m right on this.  Brant can offer her the world and facilitate the best in her.”
“Brant doesn’t have a loyal bone in his body.  He’s going to break her heart into a million pieces and hurt her far more than you can imagine,” Richard grumbled back at her.
“Given the great lengths he’s gone to in order to provide for her, she’ll have more in her life than the pathetic whispers of love,” she rolled her eyes placing her hands on her hips, “So Brant has some growing up to do, but I’m sure that Avery can tame him.”
“Tame a man like that,” Richard chuckled with mock amusement, “Brooke, are you talking about our daughter or you?  I mean with the way you’re carrying on, the question is how long are you going to wait before you decided to bed him yourself?”
“Oh you would stoop that low,” she hissed back at him, “He’s the love of our daughter’s life and for you to imply that…”
“I see the way his fortune makes you light up like a Christmas tree and he’s young, which seems to be right up your alley there,” Richard continued.
“That’s just sour grapes because of your inability to satisfy me over the years,” she argued with him, “It’s a wonder that we stayed together all this time with our children considering that you were never man enough to handle me.”
“I think even a saint would grow tired of dealing with you,” Richard growled back at her, “and if you hadn’t manipulated me into marrying you…”
“Ah yes, it all goes back to me, doesn’t it?  You preach about how Avery is the world to you, yet you’re always ready to curse the day you found out about her because your life changed due to my being pregnant…” she snapped back at him, her eyes full of hatred, “So why don’t you just get it out in the open and say that you resent me for what happened and you can just admit that you wish it never was the way it was?  Just say that you never wanted any of this.”
“I’d take back marrying you in a heartbeat,” Richard remarked sharply, “but I won’t admit to anything more than that as despite how much I hate you, I love our daughter.  Avery is everything I ever could’ve wanted and she and Guy are the only good things that came out of our time together.”
“And here I thought you cursed the day Avery came into existence since she wasn’t what you wanted in your life…” she hissed back at him, “As she was the only reason you were stuck with me as you put it.”
“Avery and Guy are the only ones in this world that truly hold any meaning for me and I’m not about to let you shake up either one of their lives,” Richard lowered his voice as he stepped in closer to her, “Avery’s in a world of trouble right now and if you care about her, even the slightest bit--if you can take a moment to step out of your own little world of interest, then maybe just maybe you’ll see that this isn’t helping her.  She doesn’t need you trying to plan her life.  She needs some stability and security…”
“Which Brant Ashford could give her…”
“Brooke, she’s torn up inside.  Our daughter is breaking apart at the seams and she needs you to ease up.  If nothing else, do it for her,” he sighed running his fingers through his hair, “Later, you can push all you like as you always do, but for now, just leave it be.”
“I can’t leave it be,” Brooke decided thinking back to what she’d witnessed at the police station between Heather and Brant, “especially not now that Avery’s got more competition than ever.”
“Competition for what?” Richard watched her seeing the wheels turning in her head.
She waved her hand dismissively at him, “Look Dick, I’m not in the mood to take this any longer.  You do what you feel you must and don’t get in my way when it comes to dealing with our daughter.  The last thing she needs is your playing her against me.”
“The last thing she needs is your playing her period,” he looked back to the mansion before he took in a reluctant breath knowing he was about to hate the decision his mind had already made, “in fact,” he grumbled tugging on her arm as he pulled her towards the car.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she shouted at him fighting him as he pulled her around towards the passenger side of the car, “Let go of me right this instant.”
“I can’t do it.  Not tonight,” he explained pushing her into the car despite her protests, “While you might have an agenda, our daughter needs a break and though I’m certain that I’d much rather have my eyes taken out with an ice pick, I’m going to make sure that you don’t bother her tonight.  She needs her rest.”
“What is this?” Brooke sneered at him attempting to get out of the car, “You can’t just kidnap me.”
“You’re still my wife,” he remarked sharply, “so technically it’s not kidnapping,” he slammed the door shut knowing that there would be no way Brooke would spend the night away from the mansion, but perhaps he could find a way to dump her off outside of town for a bit so that Avery could get some time to herself.  After all he owed their daughter that much as even a few minutes away from Brooke was a relief, he realized as he dreaded the thought of having to be this close to her, but unfortunately as he thought of Avery’s pain he realized that perhaps this was for the best.


“You know you’re violating a restraining order right about now,” Patrick remarked dryly as his piercing eyes flooded over her, “I could have you taken in right about now if I wanted to…”
“Go to hell Patrick,” Jenna rolled her eyes back at him, “Believe it or not knowing you’re here is reason enough to make me want to vomit to say the least.”
“Oh now Jenna, don’t pout because I caught you stalking me once again,” he watched her turn away from him as she spun on her barstool working her eyes over behind the bar in an attempt to shut him out of her mind, “I mean I know you had a tough time getting over me and all…”
“In your dreams,” she glared over her shoulder at him, “Believe me Patrick, you’re the absolute last thing on my mind right about now.”
“Oh Jenna,” he shook his head as a laugh bubbled over him and he took a seat on the empty barstool beside her, “There’s really no point in denying the obvious here.  You’re still pissed off because I took you to court for what you did and now that you’re forced to stay away from me, you can’t handle it.”
“Being away from you was the best thing that ever came out of that court order,” Jenna remarked dryly, “now if you could learn to just keep away from me, we’d be in business here.”
“See now that’s where I think you’re confused,” he waved his finger between the two of them, “You’re the one that is supposed to be staying away from me.  Remember you assaulted me, not the other way around?”
“Only in the perverse eyes of the courts, but if they knew half the truth about what happened that night, then you certainly would be the one on the receiving end of a restraining order,” her voice was laced with animosity as she looked to him again.
“Now Jenna,” he chuckled noting the fire behind her angry eyes, “if you’d only have offered up some of that spark on our night together, then we wouldn’t be here right now,” he reached across the top of the bar teasing his fingers closer towards her before a sly grin swept over his handsome features, “Then again, maybe if you decide to be nice to me for a change, we could work on fixing the mistakes we made in the past,” he lifted his hand up to touch the exposed skin of her shoulder as he took note of the generous lines of her body, “Perhaps I could forget all about the restraining order for tonight and we could work out some kind of arrangement with different kind of restraints,” he finished suggestively brushing his index finger over her shoulder as Jenna reached out to smack his hand off of her.
“Don’t you ever touch me again,” she hissed back at him rising from the bar stool as her hands clenched in fists beside her, “Or I swear…”
“You’ll what,” Patrick taunted as laughter rumbled over at him, “What are you going to do to me, Jenna?  I’d really like to know considering that whatever it is that’s running through your mind right now, well it’ll be the very thing that causes you to lose your career forever, so why don’t you share?”
Jenna watched him for a long moment contemplating all the ways in which she’d love to hurt him--how she’d love to rip him apart and torture him, but as the thought to the ways in which justice had been taken from her in their first go round, she drew in a tight breath before forcing her voice to remain even, “You so aren’t worth it,” she finished deciding her work was done for the night with Patrick lingering around as she turned to leave the bar.
“I’m just getting started,” he reached for her arm tugging her back towards him with a violent jerk as he forced her to meet his eyes.
“Get your damned hands off me,” Jenna warned fiercely as she scowled up at him.
“As I said before, we’re a long way from finished,” Patrick’s voice rumbled over her as his fingers curled around her arm tightly.
“Not from where I’m standing,” a voice answered from the crowd as Jenna turned towards the source of the sound seeing Hart Steiner standing before them taking in the scene.
“Well, well,” Patrick grinned wildly releasing her as he focused his attention completely on Hart, “Look who’s here.  It seems things are going to be a lot easier now that my lawyer is here witnessing you in direct violation of a restraining order,” he chuckled again before winking at Hart,  “Good timing as usual, Hart.”
Hart looked over to Jenna seeing the rage behind her eyes as he reached out to her, “Are you alright?”
She nodded in response, “I’m fine.”
“Wait just a second,” Patrick frowned watching the exchange between them, “You’re my lawyer and you’re supposed to be asking me about what’s taking place here.  You’re supposed to be asking if I’m alright and not her.  She’s the one that’s violating a restraining order…”
“Put a sock in it Pat,” Hart warned sharply with an icy glare, “I think I’ve heard just about enough,” he turned his attention back to Jenna again, “What do you say we get out of here?”
“I say that’s the best offer I’ve gotten in the last five minutes,” Jenna replied turning her eyes to Patrick again as she flashed him an icy smile, “It’s been real,” she muttered with an air of sarcasm as she turned to leave.
Hart began to follow after her as Patrick stepped forward placing his hand out in an attempt to stop Hart, “What the hell is going on here,” Patrick demanded motioning towards Jenna, “What’s this all about?”
“This is about you harassing my client,” Hart stood taller his voice menacing as he looked to the former client of his, “and if you come near her again, I swear to you that I’ll make you wish you’d never started that lawsuit to begin with.  If you so much as look at her the wrong way, I’ll see to it that you’ll be spending your days not at the police station as a Lieutenant, but more so as a fry cook at the local burger joint.  Is that understood?”
“Now wait just a second,” Patrick grumbled at him, “You and I both know that what she did…”
“She didn’t do a damn thing,” Hart interrupted sharply, “We both knew you were guilty as sin at the inception of the case, but now that it’s over, it’s time to move on and as I said before…stay away from her or else your life is going to take a very ugly turn.”
“But…” Patrick started once again.
“You know I’m just the man to do it, so don’t push me,” Hart warned having had enough of Patrick Sharpe for a lifetime as he shoved Patrick away from him following Jenna out of the Cadillac Ranch into the night.  As he felt the gust of the night air wash over him, he found Jenna standing beneath one of the streetlamps kicking at it in a rage.  She saw him standing close to her as she stood up taller trying to regain her composure.
“I could’ve handled the situation in there,” she snapped almost immediately at him as her eyes narrowed with anger.
“You looked like you were doing real well in there,” Hart muttered sarcastically as he shook his head at her, “What were you thinking in violating a restraining order like that?”
“I was trying to solve a murder investigation…not that it’s any of your business,” Jenna huffed standing taller as she pushed her way past him.
“Somehow I had a feeling that’s what you were doing,” he remarked as she began to walk down the sidewalk towards her car.  Despite her ill temper with him, he followed after her determined to keep up the pace with her, “Which is why I’m here.”
“Look Hart I’m really not in the mood,” she stopped mid-movement as she turned to face him, “if you’re seeking out some kind of thank you for what you did back there, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you because you’re the reason that I’m in this mess before.  If you would’ve said anything even remotely close to that jerk back when he asked you to take the case, then I wouldn’t have to watch my every move because of this bogus restraining order.”
“Look Jenna, about that,” he struggled for the words as he saw a faint flicker of hurt wash over her features, “I’m sorry…”
“No you’re not,” Jenna shook her head in disbelief, “You got what you wanted out of the case and you and Patrick both took pride in trying to destroy me,” she turned to leave as he called out after her.
“You’re right, I was nothing short of a jerk and I’m sorry,” he blurted out not bothering to care who heard him as he watched her stop once again, “Look Jenna, I made a mistake in representing him, and while I can’t make up for that, maybe you and I can find a way to make up for some of the mistakes being made now.  That thing you gave me, well it was exactly what I needed…”
Jenna spun around to face him as his words hit her and she looked to the parking lot surrounding her.  Lowering her head a bit as she took a step forward she spoke up quietly.  “Did it really help?”
“Shannon Pryce had Avery in an interrogation,” Hart nodded in confession, “and she was ready to try to spin out some tale about Avery being the one responsible for the murder…that is until I let Avery’s lawyer see the report.”
“But that could put your client in jeopardy considering you’re representing Brant,” Jenna gave him a puzzled look, “Somehow that doesn’t seem like a typical move for you.”
“Well it’s not, but Brant’s got some vested interest in that report considering that while it implicates him in a way, it opens the door to freedom for the woman he loves…”
“So you used the report for Brant, then?” she raised a disapproving brow.
“Not entirely,” he shook his head in response, “I want the truth just as much as you do…which yes I know it’s a rarity for me, but given the way the media is going all out and the fact that the FBI are pulling out all the stops, this case just oozes with something more than the typical murder investigation.”
“And this interests you, why?”
“Call this my one and only time to make things right for all the other wrongs I’ve done in the past,” Hart flashed her a tiny smile before offering a wink, “and maybe on top of that the idea of spending some more time with you just appeals to me.”
“Now I know you’re delusional,” Jenna groaned in response.
“Hey it was worth a shot,” he laughed lightly, “I mean hey you never know what’ll work and what won’t.”
“Well that line certainly won’t,” Jenna couldn’t help but laugh in response, “though I will say that working together doesn’t sound like it’s as bad of an idea as it did before tonight.  You have some connections that I won’t be able to have thanks to that restraining order,” her tone darkened upon the words, “but maybe together, well maybe we can get one step ahead of the rest and we can find out the truth.”
“So then you’re in this with me,” he questioned curiously.
“Despite my better judgment,” she nodded in response, “I’m in, though that should’ve been obvious in my risking my neck with that report.”
“You have no idea how much that meant to me,” Hart began thinking about the way things went down at the police station earlier.
“You can make it up to me over coffee,” Jenna decided looking around the parking lot one last time, “that is if you can find a place that brews a good cup at this hour outside of Coral Valley.”
“I think I can work on finding one,” Hart promised thinking of the potential that came with his newfound alliance.  Together he and Jenna might get a stab at the truth before anyone else and if that happened, then he could find a way to deal with the situation much more efficiently than Shannon or any of the other biased FBI agents would.  Together he and Jenna would get to the heart of the matter.  That much he was certain of as anything that Hart Steiner set his mind to, he made it happen.


“Come on, Seth. Quit stalling,” Blake urged as she pulled him off the elevator.

“I don’t know about this, Blake. I really don’t think this is such a good idea,” Seth said as he stopped just outside the elevator doors, “Brant already thinks I’m no good for you, and I don’t want you to have to do battle with your other brother because of me.”

“I already told you that Kenny is an entirely different person than Brant. They’re like oil and water really so you have nothing to worry about,” She said as she took his hand, “Come on. We really need to tell Kenny about this. He’ll help us stop this Cameron guy before he can even really get started.”

“I already told you that this is really my fight, Blake. I don’t want to drag your entire family into this.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Seth, this is about my entire family. Cameron’s already sent you and Kipp after me, he wanted the microfilm from Kenny’s room, and now the microfilm clearly shows that he wants part of BBK which affects all of us,” She pouted slightly as she moved closer to him, “Seth, if you trust me at all, you’ll know that I won’t lead you into trouble.”

“I don’t know about the truth to that statement,” He said with a raised eyebrow as he teased her.

Blake grinned, “Well, nothing that could hurt anyway,” She said before quickly kissing him, “Now come on. I want to get Kenny before he gets home. The less Brant knows about this the better, and this will be a chance for us to talk to Kenny alone. Kenny listens to reason unlike my other stubborn brother,” She groaned as she took Seth’s hand once again and led him towards her brother’s office.

“I still don’t think this is a good idea,” Seth murmured as he followed along behind her, reluctantly allowing her to drag him into her brother’s office.

Stepping into her brother’s office without knocking, Blake waved with her free hand, “Hi Kenny.”

Kenneth looked up from his desk, directing his attention from a set of articles Caitlin had given him to his sister, “Well, this is a surprise.”

“I’ll say,” Blake said as she spotted Caitlin sitting near Kenneth’s desk with another stack of articles in front of her, “If this is your guys idea of a romantic date, you should get out more.”

“Very funny,” Caitlin smiled as she spotted Blake’s companion, “Is this the famous Seth?”

Blake smiled brightly as she turned to look at her boyfriend, “Yes, this is the very famous Seth,” She paused and tapped her fingertip against her lips, “Or should it be infamous?”

“Cute,” Seth frowned as he glanced to Kenneth.

Kenneth smiled, “Don’t let Blake give you a hard time. She’s about the last person to be calling anyone infamous.”

“Hey, Kenny, you know you are supposed to support me, not my boyfriend,” Blake huffed in a exaggerated pout.

“Somehow I think if he’s your boyfriend, he’s going to need all the support he can get,” Kenneth grinned as he stood and made his way around his desk to shake Seth’s hand, “I’m Kenneth…the good brother.”

“Right now, I’m thinking of revoking that title,” Blake said indignantly as she crossed her arms.

Kenneth shook his head with a grin, blowing off his sister’s put on tantrum, “It’s nice to finally meet you, Seth. Blake has very high praise for you.”

“That’s good to hear,” Seth said with a sigh of relief, “Blake told me you were easy to get along with. After meeting Brant, I was a little intimidated.”

“Don’t let Brant bother you,” Kenneth rolled his eyes, “He talks a good game, but all it takes is some leggy blond to distract him from whatever he thought he was going to do,” He shrugged, “Seth, this is Caitlin,” He introduced his companion, “My girlfriend.”

Caitlin smiled brightly at the introduction as she shook Seth’s hand, “I’m also Blake’s best friend,” She looked to Blake, “I approve, by the way.”

“I thought you might,” Blake said happily as she slipped her arm into Seth’s.

“So what brings you two by here?” Kenneth asked as he glanced between the happy couple before him.

“You might want to sit down for this one, Kenny,” Blake said as nodded to his desk.

“Uh oh,” Kenneth replied as he watched his sister closely, “Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like this?

“Because you’re not,” Blake nodded as they all took a seat, “Does the name Cameron Stone mean anything to you?”

“Now I know I’m not going to like this,” Kenneth sighed heavily, “Yeah, I’ve recently learned more about the man than I ever wanted to know. Why?”

“I think he’s gunning for us, Kenny,” Blake said as she plucked the microfilm from her purse and slid it across his desk towards him.

“What’s this?” Kenneth asked as he glanced at the microfilm.

“It’s microfilm.”

“I can see that, Blake. What’s on it?”

Blake glanced to Seth before looking back to her brother, “Documents from BBK, and if it’s what I think it is, it’s the drug that Brant hopes to pass through the FDA next year.”

“Where did this come from?” Kenneth asked quickly, “How did you get this?”

Blake took a deep breath as she looked to Seth again. When she began to speak, it was Seth’s voice providing the explanation rather than her own.

“I was hired by Cameron Stone to get it from your house, your bedroom more exactly,” Seth explained, “It was in a painting that you apparently bought.”

“Wait just a minute,” Kenneth said as he turned his attention towards Seth, “You were hired to invade our home and steal from us?”

Seth resisted the impulse to wince due to the tone of Kenneth’s voice, “Yes, I was hired to do that very thing, but I changed my mind about the entire thing,” He turned his gaze towards Blake, “Blake changed my mind. Once I got to know her, I couldn’t betray her. I couldn’t do what Cameron wanted me to.”

“And now I’m supposed to trust you?” Kenneth shook his head.

“Kenny, he’s telling the truth,” Blake defended quickly, “He’s here to help us stop Cameron from doing whatever it is he has planned for our family.”

“Is he? Or is he just hoping that he can be a double agent for Cameron Stone?” Kenneth asked as he met Seth eye to eye, “I don’t know what to make of you.”

“I can understand where you’re coming from,” Seth began.

“You have no idea,” Kenneth warned as he stood. He directed his wrath towards his sister, “And you, how can you just sit there and support him?”

“Because I love him, Kenny, and if you’d listen for just a minute, you’d see that he’s trying to help now,” Blake stood to match her brothers posture, “Seth couldn’t hurt me. Don’t you see that?”

“All I see is a man who took advantage of your kind heart, and you’re going to let him just keep doing it.”

“That isn’t how this is,” Seth said as he intervened between the siblings, “Yes, I’ll admit up front that I was suppose to get close to Blake to take advantage of the situation, but I didn’t. I couldn’t,” He said as he looked to Kenneth, “Your sister is the kindest, gentlest woman I’ve ever met. She’s touched me in a way I thought was impossible, and I’ve fallen in love with her. That wasn’t part of the plan, and now I’m in just as much trouble as you guys…more so. When Cameron finds out that I’m not doing his bidding anymore, he’s going to go after my sister,” He emphasized his stake in the situation, “He’s been threatening my sister since the beginning, and while I didn’t want to keep up the ruse with Blake, I had to in order to protect Jade. I couldn’t let anything happen to her. I know that you have to understand a brother’s love. You want to protect Blake from me now, and you have every right in the world. But I have to protect my sister as well.”

Kenneth met Seth eye to eye, “So what exactly are your intentions where Blake is concerned?”

“Hello, I’m still in the room here,” Blake groaned as she waved her hands at the men.

“I intend to love her and protect her,” Seth declared as he met Kenneth’s demanding gaze, “I’m not going to let Cameron Stone hurt Blake or Jade.”

Kenneth crossed his arms as he considered the situation, “If I’m to trust you, you have to tell us everything about this agreement you have with Cameron Stone. And if you make even one wrong step, I swear that I’ll make you wish that you were dealing with Brant instead of me. Understood?”

Blake’s eyes widened as she heard the serious tone of her brother’s voice. She looked to Seth who remained unmoved, meeting Kenneth’s harsh gaze without flinching.

“Understood,” Seth agreed as he extended his hand to Kenneth in a peace offering.

Kenneth glanced to the man’s hand before he shook it.

“Now that’s the testosterone is out of the way, how about we get to the real heart of the situation?” Caitlin piped in from her location at the far edge of Kenneth’s desk, “Why would Cameron Stone be after documents from BBK?”

“Corporate espionage,” Kenneth frowned, “In the pharmaceuticals industry, it’s always a risk,” He looked to Blake, “Does Brant know?”

“No, and I think he’s up to his eye balls in his own drama right now,” Blake replied, “So where do we go from here?”

“We need to make sure this is the drug that you think it is,” Kenneth sighed, “Which is going to be difficult without letting Brant know what’s going on.”

“Then why don’t you ask Zack to look at it?” Caitlin offered.

“Zack? Isn’t he in Seattle?” Blake asked.

“He’s coming into town tomorrow. He’s going to be working over at CCR,” Caitlin replied, “But you know how he’s a sucker for your big smiling eyes,” She said as she rolled her eyes and grinned.

“Yeah,” Blake chuckled, “It was always kind of fun to string him along.”

“Does someone want to tell me who Zack is?” Seth asked as he looked among the occupants of the room.

“He’s my brother,” Caitlin explained, “And he’s also a very talented doctor.”

“Do you think he would do that for us?” Kenneth asked.

“For Blake, he would,” Caitlin smiled as she looked to her friend, “Do you think you could polish up that big bright smile and fluff those lashes for him?”

Blake grinned, “I think I could twist his arm,” She said with a soft chuckle.

Seth stood nearby with a frown darkening his features. He wasn’t sure who Zack was, but he was sure that he wasn’t going to like Blake’s relationship with him at all.


Jade stepped into Grady’s house and dropped her overnight bag into his recliner before she sank onto the sofa. Grady grinned as he set his briefcase down and crawled over her, wrapping his arms around her as they settled into the soft cushions on his sofa.

“Now this is what I call relaxing,” She said with a sigh as she held Grady’s arms around her, “I needed this.”

“So did I,” He smiled as he pressed a kiss to the back of her neck.

“And that’s even better,” She said with a smile as she turned to face him. She eased her fingers over his lips, “I cannot even begin to tell you how much I want you.”

“You must be the devil,” He captured her fingers within his hand, placing a kiss upon the tips of her fingers before he met her eyes, “Because you tempt me to the very edge of my self control.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” She asked with a smile, easing her lips to his in a tender kiss.

“It is when I’m trying not to rush into anything,” He whispered as he met her eyes, “We can’t push this too quickly, Jade.”

“What are you really afraid of?” She questioned as she slipped her fingers out of his grasp and instead laced them with his, “What about our making love scares you?”

“To be honest, I’m afraid of moving too fast. I’m afraid that I’m not going to savor every last moment of learning everything about you. I’m afraid of missing the best parts of being together simply because we’re moving too far too fast,” He explained, “I don’t want to lose you because we’ve moved so fast that we’ve forgotten what we really wanted from each other.”

Jade smiled as she squeezed his hand gently, “Now that was romantic.”

“Really? It wasn’t what I was necessarily going for. I think practical was more my aim,” He grinned.

“Yes, it was that too, but I really don’t understand why you think making love to me would be so disastrous.”

“It’s not that I think making love to you would be disastrous,” He trailed off as his eyes swept over the generous curves of her body, “Because I happen to feel quite the contrary about that one. It’s that I want something more than just a physical union. I want to make love to you so much that sometimes I can’t even think straight, but I need more than that, and I think the only way that we can have absolutely everything that comes with that is to take things slowly.”

“But that’s just sheer torture,” She sighed as she brushed her nose against his in a gentle caress.

“You’re not kidding,” He said with a soft smile, “But I think that the rewards will be worth it.”

She smiled as she eased her arms around his neck, “I don’t have any doubts about that.”

“Now you’re just being evil,” He said as she pressed a kiss to his neck.

“I know,” She admitted with a giggle as he tickled her and squeezed her to him.

“I just want more than a one night stand, Jade. I’m too old for that. I’m too tired for that. I want something I can come home to, something I can count on,” He paused as he met her eyes, “I want some one,” He clarified, “And I want that someone to be you.”

Her smile grew as she pressed her lips to his in a gentle kiss, “You are so very sweet, Grady. I’ve always known you were the man I wanted in my life.”

“Now we just have to take the steps to make sure that we can both have what we want.”

“Any suggestions about the first step?”

“Dinner with your brother,” Grady stated as Jade rolled her eyes, “Don’t get that look. You and I both know that Seth means a lot to you, and I’m not about to get in between you if I can help it. We have to arrange this dinner with him.”

“You really think that one dinner will help anything?” She snorted, “Then you really are a closet optimist.”

He grinned, “Come on, Jade. Don’t be so cynical. This could work out for the best. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“My brother could kill you, and then I’ll have to kill him in return?” She asked with a smile that was much too bright.

“That’s not funny,” He said with a frown, “We really need to try to make this work for all of us.”

“I know,” She groaned as she lay against him, “It’s just that Seth can be really stubborn.”

“So can I, or haven’t you noticed?” He teased.

“Oh I’ve noticed,” She said as she jabbed him in the ribs, “That’s not cute.”

“And here I thought you admired that quality in me,” Grady teased earning him another shot to the ribs. He caged her hands against him as he met her eyes, “Or maybe it’s that I admire that quality in you as well.”

“It’s good to know we do have more than a few things in common,” Jade chuckled as she pressed her lips to his once again, enjoying the feeling of being in his arms and resigning herself to taking things slowly…even if her hormones were crying out for the fast track.


Avery leaned up against the door to the guest bedroom closing her eyes as her dispute with Brant played over and over again through her mind.  Why wouldn’t he just be normal and human for a change, she questioned to herself realizing that just when she’d thought she’d had a grasp on what Brant was all about, he went and proved that he was still the same self centered egocentric jerk once again.
“Rough night beautiful,” a voice beckoned her from her thoughts as her eyes snapped open in surprise.  She blinked twice unable to believe what was before her as Russell laid out on top of her bed sprawled out before her in a casual fashion as he propped his head up on his elbow and flashed her a sexy smile.  He patted the bed beside him in a welcoming fashion motioning for her to join him, “Want to talk about it?” he questioned with a suggestive nod.
“Russ, what are you doing here,” Avery almost immediately rushed over to the bed taking a seat beside him as her eyes fell upon him in wonderment, “You shouldn’t be here you know.”
“Yes, I know all about what I should and shouldn’t do, but the truth to the matter is that I wasn’t about to let you go through a night of turmoil and confusion like I’m certain you’re having right now,” he lifted his fingers up towards her touching her cheek gently, “I’m worried about you, Avery.”
She pressed her hand up over his keeping the contact between them as a fear rushed over her, “Russ, please don’t do that.  Don’t put your concerns about me before you.  I don’t want you to lose your life because of me…”
“Avery, that’s not going to happen,” he began rising up a bit into a seated position as he looked into her sad brown eyes, “and besides, don’t you know by now that my life is nothing without you in it?”
“Please don’t say that,” Avery choked up on emotion unable to contain the concerns that ate away at her since the night of Bruce’s demise, “Don’t put me in that position to take everything away from you…”
“But it’s true,” Russell watched her as he wiped at her tear instantly hating to have put her in such a state of sadness, “Please don’t cry…”
“Russ, I’m scared--really scared and Brant isn’t giving me any answers about what happened,” she confessed tearfully as she broke into tiny sobs, “When Shannon mentioned that tape and she took you both in for an interrogation, well I was so afraid.  Russ, please tell me that you didn’t do anything stupid.”
“Protecting you is never a stupid thing to do,” he offered gently as his thumb brushed over her cheek bone wiping at her salty tears.
“Russ please,” Avery closed her eyes feeling the sweep of his touch over her as she took in a slow breath, “I need to know the truth.  I need to know what we’re up against before something happens and Shannon takes you away from me forever.  If you stand to lose it all because of one of my choices…”
“Avery, is that what you think this is about,” he questioned in surprise as he shifted on the bed to face her fully as he searched her features, “You’re still blaming yourself for what happened, aren’t you?”
“Well it was my fault,” Avery blurted out unable to contain herself as she thought to what happened with Bruce, “I’d been so horrible to him over the last few months that when we ended things he was so hurt.  All he wanted was for me to come back to him, to give him a chance to make me happy, but instead I pushed him away and it destroyed him,” she opened her eyes seeing the warm flecks of amber in his eyes as he listened to her, his eyes searching hers completely, “When he attacked me, he was just upset because I’d betrayed him…”
“Avery, there was no excuse for what he did.  None what so ever and regardless of how you look at it, Bruce was in the wrong,” Russell reminded her simply as he wrapped his arms around her, “We both know that you tried to make it work with him.”
“No I didn’t,” she confessed holding onto him as she eased into the embrace longing to feel something secure in her life as the world was upside down around her, “I never gave him what he needed.  I could never be what he wanted me to be…”
“Avery, I know you tried with him,” he squeezed her closer to him as her sobs caused an ache to run through him to the core, “I know that you…”
“Russ, I didn’t give my relationship with Bruce half a chance,” Avery blurted out with an agonized gasp as her tone lowered in volume, “I never could give Bruce what he wanted out of a relationship with me because all he wanted was my heart and it wasn’t mine to give away.”
“Avery,” he saw the inner conflict building within as he hugged her, “it’s okay.”
“No it’s not okay.  Bruce didn’t stand a chance with me because I wasn’t looking to fall in love with him,” Avery confessed trembling in his arms as her admission filled her, “I never loved him and I knew I’d never be capable of it because the only love I’d ever let into my life, well, I’d thrown it away in the name of saving it from destroying everything and yet here we are back in the same position all over again,” she finished turning her eyes up towards him as her tears spilled down her cheeks, “Russ, please tell me that you didn’t destroy your future because of me?  Tell me that you and Brant weren’t going after Bruce and that this was some mistake.”
Russell took in a long breath seeing her need for words of comfort, but more so he knew her desperation for honesty as he sighed poignantly, “Avery, I can’t do that.”
She pulled away from him trying to brace herself for the moment as she questioned further, “Why not?”
Russell turned his eyes up towards hers again as the distance expanded between them and he felt a moment of honesty brush over his emotions, “Because all I wanted to do after I’d found out what he did to you was kill him.  When I think about how he hurt you when I could’ve prevented it…when I could’ve kept you with me…”
“Oh Russ…” she felt her pulse racing in her chest as she saw the horrifying mixture of pain and rage sweep over his otherwise handsome features.
“Avery,” he whispered her name his voice tight with emotion as he thought to the night in question, “when I think about how wonderful it felt in our being together--in our making love and now looking back on it.  Damn me for not running after you--for not begging you to stay with me when I woke up that morning and heard you walking out the door.  If only I’d found a way to coax you into staying--to coax you into being with me and sharing how right things were between us, then Bruce never would’ve had his chance to hurt you…”
“Russ, I was confused,” Avery blurted out refusing to allow him to take blame for what happened, “I didn’t know how to face the morning after considering I swore to myself we’d never fall into anything like that again.  I fought so hard with myself over the idea of dinner and about what was happening between us.  I didn’t want to be there with you wanting you like that or even having to face the fact that I still need you in my life.  If I’d stayed, it only would’ve complicated things…”
“It would’ve spared you a lot of pain,” he sighed reaching out to her once again, “Avery, I’d do anything for you.  I always will.”
“Russ, I left you because I didn’t want you to be put in this kind of position,” Avery reminded him tearfully, “I didn’t want you to lose it all…to be put in a place where your life could be ripped away from you all because you chose to love me.”
“Chose to love you,” he repeated emphatically before shaking his head at her, “Avery, you say that like it’s something I just picked up on a random whim--something that I just decided to try on for the hell of it, but we both know that’s not how it works,” his voice shifted with emotion as he reached out to her again touching her cheek gently, “When it comes to love, we don’t pick and choose our destinies.  Damn it Avery, don’t you see these feelings that we have for one another, they aren’t about the way we plan things to go.  They’re about the path that destiny has laid out before us…they’re about how things were meant to be and we are meant to be.  As much as you don‘t want to see that, deep down you know it‘s true and that‘s why you‘re so afraid.  You‘ve spent your life afraid of anything good that comes your way and this isn‘t the exception.”
“You were thrown in jail tonight,” Avery reminded him with a frown, “how can that be a good thing?”
“Tonight was just a pitfall on the road to happiness,” he reasoned with her downplaying what happened, “I’m not in jail anymore, so you don’t have anything to worry about…”
“Russ, we both know that Shannon’s going to use that tape to go after you and Brant again and if there’s reason for her to…” she began hastily thinking to the panic that had washed over her during the last few days.
“Avery, I didn’t kill Bruce,” Russell finally blurted out as her voice was laced with fears, “Sure, I might’ve scared the hell out of him that night giving him something to think about, but truth be told when Brant and I left him, he was still very much alive and breathing.”
“Then you two were with him,” Avery realized as the first shades of truth finally came out.
Russell nodded, “I knew we’d find him down by that bar considering…” he trailed off pain evident in his tone as he looked away from her.
“Considering that I found him there when I walked out on you,” Avery offered up shamefully, “Russ, I’m so sorry that I…”
“That doesn’t matter now,” he began dismissively, “What matters is that we’re going to find a way to work through this.”
“Still with that tape…” she began doubtful.
“Avery, Brant and I saw him leaving the bar and we followed him.  We managed to corner him if you will and we had a talking with him,” he admitted freely thinking back to the night, “I was furious as hell and believe me there were plenty of moments where I could feel myself on the verge of losing all control.  Brant and I were both ready to lash out at him, to make him pay in the ways that only violence could’ve brought about, but then before it got to the point of no return, well I thought about you and about the way that you would feel knowing that I’d done something so horrible to someone like Bruce.  I knew how he’d hurt you and while I’d wanted to kill him with every fiber of my being, I couldn’t bear the thought of you fearing me--of you thinking that I could become the monster that Bruce was,” he reached out to her tracing the lines of her face as he continued, “and maybe on some level Brant felt the same thing because we issued Bruce a few warnings and told him if he even thought about bothering you again that we’d see to it that it would be the last thing he’d ever do, but I swear to you it ended there.”
“Then you never touched him?  You just let him go?” she questioned taking it all in.
“I can’t say that either,” he shook his head in response, “As I said we were both furious and we roughed him up a bit, but no where near the point of death.  Avery, I swear to you it never got that far…”
“Russ, I…” Avery tried to process what he was telling her as her heart pounded with fear, “Shannon won’t ever believe that.”
“No, she won’t,” he sighed in response thinking about the way the investigation had gone after their lies began to build, “but apparently she and Grady know one another and…”
“Oh that’s just wonderful,” Avery grumbled with a deep frown, “If she and Grady are teaming up somehow then I’ll be guilty as sin in no time.”
“Avery, how can you say something like that,” Russell frowned in response.
“Grady hates me,” she pointed out simply, “He always has and he always will because he sees me as the one thing in this world that’s going to ruin your life and hey maybe on some level he’s right.  He said I’ve been stringing you around for years and maybe in some ways I have been.  I haven’t let you move on and find happiness because you’re always so worried about me…”
“I worry about you because…because…” he stammered straining to find the words as his heart took over, “because I love you, Avery.”
“Oh Russ,” she felt him draw her in closer to him as his lips skimmed over hers with a desperate longing as he pulled her into his lap holding her completely.  She wrapped her arms around him savoring the purity of his kiss as his words rushed over her stirring up all the emotions inside of her she was certain she shouldn’t be feeling about this wonderful man before her.  She reluctantly broke the kiss as her dark eyes fell upon him.  She reached out to him touching his face as the weight of his words hung over her, “you shouldn’t love me.”
“Avery, there are a lot of things I shouldn’t do, but you don’t see me stopping myself,” he answered point blank as he squeezed her in his arms, “I mean hey I’m sure I shouldn’t drink coffee like I do…or I shouldn’t spend half my time in the fast food line picking my poison of the moment, but that doesn’t stop me from doing so…” he finished lightly as hint of a smile sweeping over his handsome features.
“So now you’re comparing me to fast food and a caffeine addiction,” she couldn’t help but laugh at his words as she shook her head at him, “Russell Denton you sure know ways to make a woman feel special don’t you?”
“It’s my gift in this world, what can I say,” he teased coaxing her into another tempting kiss as he shifted on the bed reclining back into the pillows with her over him as he held her.
“I say you’re trouble and then some,” she murmured against his lips as he rolled her onto her back and he hovered over her the weight of him pressing in against her softness.
“You always loved trouble,” he winked down at her as he dropped playful kisses over her lips, down her neck and back to her lips again.
“That certainly explains my fixation with you,” she offered back with a tiny bubble of laughter as his fingers fanned over her sides tracing her curves gently.
“Baby, it’s more than a fixation,” he urged again feeling her wrap her arms around him, “it’s love and the sooner you admit to that, the easier this can be for us.”
“Nothing’s ever easy,” she sighed against his mouth longing to lose herself in him as she hugged his body over hers.
“It could be if you stop thinking the worst all the time,” he whispered in her ear nuzzling her neck as a sigh spilled over her lips.
“Somehow I doubt that,” she confessed as she lay her head on his shoulder keeping him closer to her.  She inhaled the scent of his after shave remembering all the mornings she’d wake up to the scent of him and how it had always put her at ease even in her moments of turmoil.
“Anything’s possible with us together, you know,” he breathed against her skin as her fingers fanned out over his spine, feeling the strength of his body keeping her safe and warm.
“Russ,” she lowered her voice feeling a tremor inside of her as holding him seemed so very right.
“Yes,” he questioned lazily as he looked down at her.
“Stay with me tonight,” she whispered feeling a heat rise over her features as the suggestion in itself posed a risk she wasn’t sure she was ready to face, “Stay with me…”
“Avery, are you sure,” he questioned brushing his index finger over her lips as she nodded.
“I don’t want you to go,” she explained gently, “We don’t have to make love because well considering everything, well maybe now isn’t the best time for that, but I want you to hold me.  I want to have just one night knowing that everything is going to feel wonderful when I wake up the next morning…” she trailed off as the weight of her request washed over her, “I’m asking too much…”
“No, you’re not,” he shook his head in response moving in beside her as he placed a distance between them.  After a moment he extended his arm out to her urging her to cuddle into him, “In fact, this sounds like heaven and there‘s nothing I could want more right now than to hold you.”
She curled into him seeking out the warmth of his embrace as she snuggled into his chest allowing her exhaustion to wash over her.  Her eyelids came to a close as his hold on her set her mind at ease and with the rapid beating of his heart beneath her, she slowly drifted away from the worries of the world surrounding them as a smile touched over her lips, “Good night Russ,” she breathed vowing to forget about the rest of Coral Valley for the evening as tonight she was going to focus entirely on the security that being this close to Russell provided her with.
“Good night Avery,” he whispered kissing the top of her head as he held her praying that somehow things would find a way of working themselves out as in holding her, he realized he never wanted to let go of how right they felt lost in one another.  Despite his own chaotic feelings on the subject of Avery, the truth to the matter was that he’d never stopped loving her and now as he held her, he realized he never would be able to walk away from her as she was everything to him.  He watched her lost in her slumber as he realized that nothing could ever be more perfect than going to sleep with Avery in his arms each and every night and maybe just maybe when this murder investigation was all over, he’d find a way to make that happen for them.  After all when it came to love and happily ever after for them, there was no hiding from it--it was what it was and Russell was hoping it was meant to be.


...to be continued...