Episode Thirty Three


Annette sat on the back patio watching Brant jog up towards her looking rather sullen after his morning jog.  She greeted him with a smile motioning to the juice she’d brought out with her, “Good morning,” she smiled at him as he made his way over towards her.
“Annie, what are you doing up so early,” Brant questioned reaching for the juice on the table, “I’d assume this is for me.”
“Of course, it is and as for it being early, Brant I‘m always up this early.” she nodded back at him.
“So you are,” he began to reach for the glass.  “I guess I never really took the time to notice that before.”
“Even so, I’ve noticed that you usually aren’t running around this early,” Annie noted curiously, “You’re at least half an hour ahead of schedule.”
“Maybe I wanted to get a good start or maybe I was just in the mood to clear my head a bit,” he confessed with a sigh trying not to replay last night’s disaster with Avery in his head over and over again even though it had haunted him more than he’d imagined it would have.
“Why don’t you have a seat and humor an old woman for a few minutes here?”  Annie suggested noting the cloud of darkness that pressed over his features.
“You’re not an old woman,” Brant replied with a light smile wiping at his sweat covered brow with the hand towel he’d had with him, “while I was in a hurry to get into the shower, I don’t think I could refuse an offer from such a beautiful woman.”
“Flattery was always your strong point,” she shook her head at him before offering a smile.
“Well at least it still works sometimes,” Brant grumbled slumping down in the seat beside her as a huff spilled past his lips.
“I take it things aren’t going the way you were hoping for with Avery, huh?” Annie noted eyeing him closely.
“That woman is by far the most stubborn woman I’ve ever met and I mean I’ve done everything by the book.  I’ve been patient and doting and understanding and I’ve even tried to push my desires to the side, but does she bend?  Not even a little,” he scowled deeper, “I feel like I’m running into a brick wall with her and I hate it.”
“Brant, the woman just lost a loved one,” she reminded him simply, “even with what happened before his demise, this has to be taking it’s toll on her.  I’m sure romance is the last thing on that poor girl’s mind.”
“Annie, you don’t know Avery like I do,” Brant added firmly, “She wants me.  I know she does and if she’d only get over this ridiculous fear of being with me, then she’d see things would be much easier for the both of us…”
“Is that your heart talking or your libido?” she raised a skeptic brow, “Brant, we both know that you aren’t shy about the physical aspects of romance as I think that is the only aspect of romance all together that you truly embrace most of the time.”
“Annie…” he began to protest.
“Now Brant,” she interrupted him simply, “while I am well aware that you are much to old to be getting a talking to from someone like me, I’m only doing this for your best interest as I’m certain you are on the path of destruction with Avery judging by the expression on your face.”
“She’s just so…” Brant struggled for the right words, “Avery and I feel like the more I try, the harder it is to reach her.”
“Did you ever think that maybe right now more than anything she might need some companionship?  Perhaps some real friendship and openness with someone that she feels comfortable with,” she suggested watching the look behind his dark eyes, “Don’t get me wrong.  Women want to feel desired by the man in their life, but they also want to know that they’re respected and cared for.”
“I do care for Avery,” Brant began to argue before shaking his head, “Believe me it would be so much easier if I didn’t.”
“Brant, what is it about Avery,” Annie asked the million dollar question, “I mean really what is it about her that has you so wound up?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted honestly after a long hesitation, “I guess it’s because she’s not like anyone I’ve ever met before and when I’m with her, well, she makes me want to be something more…to grow if you will…”
“Then maybe in that growth you should take the time to think about what it is that Avery wants and needs in all of this,” she paused reaching for his hand, “You’ve both been under tremendous stress lately and perhaps while the feelings are there, they need to take a back seat to what’s going on.  Maybe instead of thinking about the road to romance, you should work on the other aspects of your relationship…”
“Like what,” Brant frowned stubbornly.
“For starters, how about just enjoying one another’s company,” she suggested gently, “Dinner the other night seemed to go well with the two of you.”
“That’s because you were there,” his frown deepened.
“I don’t think that’s it,” she shook her head in response, “I think it had more to do with the fact that you weren’t pretending to be the Brant that you feel the world needs to see.  You were being the Brant that I know and love and in showing her that, well you were proving to Avery that you are interested in getting to know the real Avery.”
“Annette, I’m trying,” he sighed again, “I really am, but with this murder investigation and Shannon and Heather…”
“Forget about all of that,” she waved her hand at him, “Forget about all those other things and just focus on finding ways for you and Avery to be comfortable with one another’s company.  If you do that, then I’m sure the rest will fall into place as I’m sure if you just start being you, then Avery will see that there’s more involved than just…well, then your usual relationships.”
Brant contemplated her words for a long moment, “I don’t want Avery to be like the rest of them.  I mean clearly she’s not like Heather--who by the way refuses to let go of me.  I ran into her at the police station and she’s beyond need of therapy.”
“You broke the girl’s heart,” Annette reminded him simply, “That mending that takes place happens over time.”
“I think she’s spent more time in misery over me since we broke up than since we were together,” he sighed shaking his head back at Annette, “I just wish I could get Avery away from town…away from this mess and just well, just so that we can be alone together.  I mean I’m sure if we were alone, then somehow we could work past what’s happening.”
“You could start with breakfast,” Annette suggested with a smile, “I’m sure she’s be appreciative if you offered to have breakfast together to talk.”
“I don’t know about that,” Brant thought back to his fight with Avery, “I said a lot of stupid things to her last night.”
“Then perhaps an apology might be a nice addition to breakfast,” she suggested with a hint of a smile, “and perhaps a little openness on your part might be nice too.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he thought it over realizing that maybe he was being too pushy with Avery.  Maybe he would have to appeal to her on a friendly level in order to reach the heart of her.  Certainly it was worth a try, he reasoned as he thought of the things he’d said the night before.  He’d left no room for Avery to feel anything but cornered when he’d tried the direct approach so maybe Annette was on to something.  Perhaps he’d try to reach Avery in a different way and as the wheels in his head began turning, he decided that he’d make the most of this morning and one way or another he’d win Avery over again.


Warm fingers of sunlight crept across the hardwood floor, ever so slowly approaching the oriental rug in the center of the room. Their long reach grasped the corner of the rug before crawling along the legs of the bed and beginning across the comforter upon the mattress.

Grady lay on his side, watching Jade sleep as the morning sun encroached upon them. He eased his fingertips over her cheek to sweep away a wisp of hair, admiring her soft beauty. She slept with such peace that more than once during the night he’d found himself checking to see if she were still breathing. To his relief, she had taken each opportunity to snuggle into his arms and demonstrate to him that she was very much alive.

When he had asked her to stay the night with him, he wanted nothing more than to enjoy a moment such as the one he was experiencing now. She brought peace to his chaotic world even when she did nothing more than lay beside him during the night. He’d never gotten the chance to enjoy peaceful moments in any other relationship in his life, but the moment before him led him to believe that such moments were what true relationships were made of.

Jade smiled as she curled further into her pillow without opening her eyes, “Are you going to say something or just stare at me all day?”

He grinned as he watched her lips curl into her beautiful smile, “How long have you been awake?”

“Not long,” She replied as she finally opened her eyes to gaze at him, “Just long enough to know that you’ve been looking at me for a while.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t really mean to stare,” He apologized while slipping his arm around her waist and drawing her close, “It’s just that you are so beautiful. Sometimes I have to remind myself that you’re not just a dream.”

She lightly drew her fingertips over his lips, “It’s funny because sometimes I have the same problem with you.”

He smiled as he cuddled her close to him and relaxed into his pillow, “I so do not want to go into work today. I think I could really enjoy a day in bed.”

Jade grinned, “You are the boss, you know. You could always give yourself the day off.”

“I can’t,” He sighed, “As much as I would really love to, I can’t. I have a whole lot of things to do with this case for Cameron Stone. The sooner we can get this case started, the sooner we can get him the hell out of our lives forever.”

“Okay, if I ever needed motivation, that’s it,” She spoke as she raised up to meet his eyes, “I want him gone…like yesterday.”

“I know you do,” He nodded.

“I can’t believe anything can get so complicated. Why is it that some people can’t just take no for an answer?”

“I don’t know, but if he won’t react to words, perhaps a demonstration will do the trick.”

“The reception at Stone Corp?” She questioned.

“Exactly. I think it’s the perfect opportunity for us to prove to him that he doesn’t have a chance in the world with you.”

“Now you’re talking,” She smiled, “I’m going to enjoy getting you out on the town.”

“Uh oh, maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all,” He teased as she moved closer to him and dropped a kiss to his lips.

“Trust me. When the night is over, you’ll be thinking that it’s the best idea you ever had,” She smiled proudly.

Grady grinned, “You do realize that we have one obstacle in our way, however.”

“Please don’t bring up my brother again,” She frowned quickly.

“I know that you’re getting really tired of hearing it, but this is something that can’t be put off forever, Jade. We really need to have dinner with him. In fact, you need to talk to him today. Invite him over for dinner tomorrow night. We’ll all get a chance to sit down and really talk.”

Jade exhaled with frustration, “I really don’t think he’s going to cooperate with us.”

“But we have to try anyway,” He urged her, “Family is always the most important thing in life, and I do not want to upset yours.”

“You’re really very sweet to think of me,” She said as she touched his cheek, “I’ll see what I can do about Seth, but I’m not going to make any promises about his decisions.”

“Fair enough,” He said as he drew her close and kissed her gently, “As much as I hate to do it, I think we need to go into work now.”

“Ugh,” She groaned as she snuggled back into his chest, “Just a little while longer….please?”

Grady chuckled as he glanced to the clock beside his bed, “We’re already late.”

“Who cares? You’re the boss. What are you going to do…fire us?” Jade teased as she held onto him and enjoying the simple comfort of being held by the man she had wanted for so very long.


Blake stepped into the kitchen finding Kenneth looking over the morning paper just as he had for the last couple of years as his morning ritual.  She stepped over to the refrigerator pulling out some juice before casting another glance in his direction as she thought to the meeting they’d had the previous night with Seth and Caitlin.  Finally opting to break the silence as she poured herself a glass of juice, she spoke up stubbornly.
“In a better mood this morning?”
Kenneth looked up from the headline he’d barely been absorbing as he set the newspaper aside turning his attention to his younger sister fully, “I wasn’t in a sour mood last night.”
“Yes,” Blake approached him as she took a place across from him at the table, “you were and poor Seth…”
“Poor Seth,” Kenneth repeated shaking his head at her, “Blake, how can you possibly be taking all of this so lightly considering…”
“I thought you were over this last night,” she frowned deeply curling her lip into a pout, “Seth told you why he was doing what he was doing…”
“That doesn’t mean I have to like the fact that he was doing it to begin with,” he reminded her pointedly, “I hate the idea that someone was using you for the personal gain of a man like Cameron Stone.”
“Seth isn’t using me,” Blake reminded him stubbornly, “and we completely covered that last night after we got talking about the situation.”
“That doesn’t mean that I have to like the situation,” he pointed out leaning back in his chair, “Even with Seth’s motivation for taking on the job, the fact remains that Cameron Stone still his pulling his strings…”
“Seth came clean about what was going on because he loves me,” Blake added raising her voice a bit, “and I love him, Kenny.”
“Blake, you think that now, but you’ve just met him…” Kenneth pointed out once again.
“Kenny, think about it.  He saved my life when we first met and since then he’s made me happier than I’ve ever been,” Blake sighed shaking her head at him, “I haven’t been this happy since I was a little girl and I don’t care how or why it happened, but the fact remains that I fell in love with Seth and he loves me.”
“So there’s no point in even talking about this situation then huh,” Kenneth shook his head at her, “You’re almost as stubborn as Brant you know.”
“I just know what I want and Seth is it,” she answered with a nod as she sipped her juice.
Kenneth watched her for a moment before shaking his head once again, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
“You’re going to love me and be happy that I’m not nearly as grumpy as you are about the man in my life,” Blake smiled sweetly at him, “because I happen to think it’s beyond wonderful that you and Caitlin have decided to quit fighting the obvious with one another.  You two are perfect for one another and given that she’s my best friend, you have my full permission to marry her and bring her into the family…”
“Now just wait a minute,” Kenneth raised his hand in the air, “Blake, I think you’re getting ahead of yourself a bit.”
“Not in the least,” she shook her head in response, “I can tell when two people are meant for one another and Kenny you’re just what she needs in her life and vice versa.”
“I’ll admit that Caitlin is a very special woman,” he couldn’t help but smile as thoughts of her filled his mind, “but that being said, I don’t think she’s ready to step into this family just yet…nor am I ready to subject her into something like that.”
“Suit yourself, but let’s face it.  You two are meant for one another,” Blake reached across the table taking a piece of his half eaten toast from the plate before her.  She took a bite as her smile widened, “and of course when you two decide that you’re ready to face how wonderful you are together, I’m going to take immense pleasure in saying that I told you so…”
“Well before you start planning the wedding, how about we get back to what’s at hand starting with this situation with Cameron,” Kenneth frowned thinking about last night’s turn about, “We don’t know what we’re up against with that man.”
“Considering his reputation, I think it’s safe to say he’s ruthless, but now that we know that he is out to get our family, then we have the ammunition to put him in his place and…” Blake began eagerly thinking of stopping Cameron Stone in his tracks.
“Now just hold on a second,” Kenneth interrupted, “Blake, you make this sound like it’s a Scooby-Doo adventure, but it’s not that easy.  Cameron Stone has a corporation behind him that’s going to make our situation all the more tentative as we try to unmask his agenda.  We can’t just storm into his office and demand he back off…”
“I wasn’t suggesting that we did, but we should find a way to beat fire with fire,” she pointed out with a shrug of her shoulders, “After all in hearing about the guy they have set up against you, well I can tell you all you need to know about Kipp Mahoney.  He‘s a snake.”
“Hmm, now is that your professional opinion or is this merely Blake intuition,” he couldn’t help but tease as he noted the scowl that built over her features.
“Laugh it up if you will, but it’s clear to me that the man has some kind of crush on me,” Blake tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder, “He made that apparently obvious when he kissed me the other night…”
“Now just wait a second,” Kenneth sat upright, “You never mentioned anything about him kissing you back at my office.”
“Seth was there,” she shook her head at him as if he was some silly child, “I couldn’t very well start telling you that in front of him.  He already hates Kipp for the role Kipp played in spreading lies about him.  You don’t really think I’m stupid enough to let Seth know that not only did Kipp try to tarnish his name, but he also tried to put the make on me?  God, what kind of moron do you take me for, Kenny?”
“So let me get this straight,” Kenneth took it all in, “Not only is Kipp Mahoney going to be taking me on in the case against Midlands, but he’s also working to destroy our family and to put the moves on my little sister as a part of Cameron Stone’s payroll?”
“Well, I’m sure his manipulating me is in part of his task for Cameron,” she thought it over taking another bite of the toast, “but there was no denying the lust in his eyes when he kissed me.  The man wants me and maybe if we play our cards right we could use that to…”
“No,” he interrupted firmly, “Absolutely not.”
“Why not,” she pouted slightly, “I mean look at it this way.  If I gave Kipp a little encouragement then maybe just maybe we’d get some insight on Cameron’s agenda…”
“And you thought that Seth wouldn’t like hearing about Kipp kissing you before,” he began doubtful, “Just what do you think your boyfriend will say to you willingly putting yourself in the line of fire?”
“I can hold my own,” she added with a huff, “You know that and well with Seth, he’ll just have to understand that family comes first…”
“Which is why I’m telling you that it’s not happening,” Kenneth announced firmly, “Blake, having you around Seth is bad enough considering that you’re a good person with a kind heart,” he began as she opened her mouth to protest, “and while I realize that Seth is one of the good guys here, what I’m saying is that I really don’t want you in the middle of this.”
“Why is that?  Because I’d be much better suited in letting the boys take over this family crisis?” she frowned deeply, “I mean honestly Ken, what kind of logic is that?  I’m the one who found the microfilm that Cameron wants.”
“And that’s exactly why I don’t want you involved.  If he knew that you knew…”
“What’s he going to do to me?” she threw out boldly, “I’m an Ashford.  If anything happens to me, he’s a dead man…”
“Blake, you’re not understanding,” he sighed shaking his head back at her, “The things that a man like Cameron is capable of well, it’s just not something that I want my sister involved with.  You heard Seth last night when he’d mentioned how he feared for his sister’s safety.”
“Well I can’t really blame him since the guy did seem like a creep the time I saw him,” Blake shrugged her shoulders, “but still…”
“Wait a second,” he frowned again, “You’ve met Cameron Stone?”
She nodded, “He’s a real jerk off if you catch my drift.  Really creepy and pushy.  He wouldn’t leave Jade alone and when she saw me, well I think it was the beginning of a friendship for us since I helped her out of that situation.”
“Blake, what else aren’t you telling me,” Kenneth thought over her admissions for the morning, “or don’t I want to know?”
“Kenny, there’s really nothing else to tell.  Seth told you the whole story last night and now that you know the rest, well it’s just enough to get us started on taking down that smug bastard…”
“Blake, I don’t like the idea of you or Caitlin being involved with this anymore than you already are.  Cameron Stone is trouble and…”
“Kenny, if you’re going to try to father me on this, well I’ve got news for you,” she rose from her chair with a huff, “I’m not listening and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing whether you like it or not.  You can either work with me or I’ll do it on my own.”
“Blake, I don’t want something to happen to you,” he frowned watching her step away from the table, “you’re my only sister…”
“And I know that you love me, but this time,” she spun around to face him once again, “this time I want to help.  I’m tired of being the one that everyone is protecting and keeping from the problems that this family has.  I’m not the same little girl I used to be.  I’m not afraid of everything anymore like I was when mom died and damn it Ken, I want to be a part of things as well.”
“This isn’t something you should be a part of,” he began with a sigh.
“It was my face in that tabloid and it’s me that they’re targeting which means that Cameron must feel I’m pretty damned important to whatever it is on his agenda.  He hasn’t directly gone after you or Brant just yet, but he’s made obvious attempts on me with Kipp and even Seth before things evened themselves out,” she decided with a huff, “which correct me if I’m wrong, but all of that adds up to Cameron thinking that I’m the weakest link in this family and if you allow me to be in that position, then you won’t be doing me any favors.”
“I won’t be if I let you get hurt either,” Kenneth rose from his chair, “Blake, I know you mean well, but…”
“But nothing,” she stepped in towards him, “We’re a team and whether you like it or not, it’s going to stay that way.  Got it?”
“I don’t have a choice in the matter now do I?”
“Not really,” she shook her head back at him, “but hey look on the bright side in working together, you and I can keep in check with one another.”
“Blake,” he spoke up before letting out a reluctant sigh, “I swear sometimes you can be so infuriating.”
“But you still love me,” Blake smiled at him before throwing her arms around him in an embrace.
“It’s one of my downfalls in this lifetime,” he sighed returning the embrace as he hoped that whatever Cameron had in store for the family, it wouldn’t bring about their demise as the last thing Kenneth wanted was to lose someone he loved in all of the chaos.  They’d all experienced too much pain already and now as Blake was dead set on helping in this latest Ashford crisis, he just hoped that this wouldn’t be something that would bury them all.


Brooke huffed as she made her way up the winding staircase of the Ashford mansion and it was in that moment that she’d made her final decision.  She was most certainly going to kill Richard…there was no doubt in her mind.  Of all the pompous, arrogant things for him to do, well this just topped them all.  He’d left her down and out just outside the city limits in the middle of well, for lack of a better term…no where and without her cell phone.  That in itself had her beyond furious and if it hadn’t been for her quick thinking and her less than fortunate experience in flagging down a truck driver, well she was certain she’d have been eaten alive by the wildlife out in that neck of the woods.  Now as she smelled like cigars and pine trees after that God awful ride with Bubba, the gracious foul mouthed truck driver, she was seething with anger.
“Oh Dick, you have no idea how much you’re going to burn for this,” she muttered to herself stomping up the staircase as she vowed to make her estranged husband burn for his latest pot shot at her.  So he thought he’d won.  Well he’d see soon enough that Brooke was the last person he wanted to mess with, but first, well first there was the matter of a shower to attend to.
The last thing Brooke wanted was for her future son-in-law to find her in such a frazzled state as there were more important issues at hand…which somehow lead her back to the issue Richard had so rudely taken her from.  If she was ever going to find a way for her daughter to get back on the road to happily ever after, Brooke realized she was going to have to do some serious damage control.  While Heather Gibbons played up the admiration angle to the point of sickening, Brooke realized that woman would surely be trouble for Avery’s future with Brant.  Heather might not have Brant’s eye at the moment, but given the lengths she was going to in order to win Brant back, well Avery would be in for some fierce competition and if anything Brooke refused to allow her daughter to let Brant Ashford slip away.
Now as Brooke contemplated the situation, she turned her focus to the room Avery was staying.  Sure, she should be showering and preparing for the latest bout of rage she would undoubtedly direct at Richard, but as she realized Avery would probably be alone, perhaps it was time to start with a long overdue mother/daughter chat until Avery saw things the way they were meant to be.  Yes, that indeed would be best, Brooke reasoned making her way to Avery’s room and knocking on the door gently.
“Avery,” she spoke up as she reached out to the knob deciding to take a look in for herself to see if Avery was in the room.  Slowly, she turned the knob and opened the door a crack before popping her head inside the darkened room.
“Avery,” she spoke in a whisper as her eyes fell upon Avery’s cocktail dress thrown haphazardly on the floor.  Almost immediately her curious eyes were drawn to the bed in the center of the room as she noticed the sleeping figures before her.  A proud smile touched over Brooke’s lips as she noticed the muscled arm wrapped around her daughter curling Avery into the powerful chest masked in the shadows.
“Good girl,” Brooke whispered realizing that her daughter did in fact have some of her resourcefulness as she realized that perhaps she had overreacted to her concerns about Avery’s motivations.
Now as Brooke turned to leave, she noticed a pair of worn sneakers on the ground that seemed oddly out of place.  Unable to curb her curiosity Brooke stepped further into the room ready to investigation when she heard a sound from below.  She tiptoed out of the room turning towards the source of the sound as she almost immediately recognized the voice.
“I think I’ll just go and see if Avery is awake now and up for breakfast,” Brant’s voice rang through the hallway as Brooke turned her attention back to the sleeping figures before her.
Suddenly in the blink of an eye a harsh realization fell upon Brooke as she realized that what she’d walked in on wasn’t a moment of Avery with her loving fiancé, but very much so the same scenario she’d walked in on a long time ago when she’d found her seventeen year old daughter in the arms of a man she grew to detest.  Despite the shadows, the truth was plain to see as Avery was clearly cuddled into Russell Denton clearly lost in some little fantasy world that Russell had pushed upon her.
Brooke clenched her fists and fought the urge to tear Russell apart as the sound of footsteps approached from behind her.  Swiftly, she spun around realizing that things would all be over much too soon for herself and Avery if she didn’t do some damage control.  Damn Avery for being so foolish to throw it all away on the likes of someone like Russell Denton.  What had her daughter been thinking considering that Brant Ashford was exactly the kind of man that any woman would clearly dream about having in her life?  Certainly Avery would have to realize the error of her ways.  There was no way in hell that Brooke would allow her not to marry Brant.  There was far too much invested in this and now with Heather chasing after Brant and Avery so foolishly risking it all on Russell, well it would be put to an end.  That much Brooke was sure of.
Still as Brooke replayed the images of what she walked into over and over in her mind, she thought to a time when she’d first found out about Avery’s obsession with Russell Denton.  Time and time again she’d tried to keep Avery away from that man as only trouble followed, but the more Brooke forbid them from seeing one another, the harder Avery pushed.  Still this time there would be no room for Avery to defy her as too much was at stake now.  Avery could protest until she was blue in the face and that wouldn’t change a thing about what Brooke would do.
“Avery will marry you, Brant,” Brooke reasoned hearing the sound of Brant coming up the stairs as she fought to come up with a solution to the problem her daughter had so foolishly put upon her.  Damn Avery for being so stupid, but Brooke was confident she’d fix the mess for her daughter and then Avery would have no choice but to be grateful to her.
“Brooke,” Brant’s surprised voice captured her full attention as she turned her eyes towards him noting his damp hair as he flashed a smile at her, “I didn’t realize you were awake so early.”
“I had a long night,” Brooke flashed him a bright smile, “but you look like you’ve already had quite a morning yourself.”
“I went for my morning jog,” he confessed with a sigh, “but now that I’m back I was thinking about sharing some breakfast with Avery.  I thought perhaps it might be a nice change.”
“I’m sure she’d love to,” Brooke approached him standing between him and the door to the room Avery was staying in, “but I’m afraid she’s not feeling well this morning.  Perhaps it would be best to leave her to herself for a little while.”
“What’s wrong with her,” Brant frowned in response thinking about the previous night, “She’s still upset with me, isn’t she?  This is about last night, isn’t it?”
“She was very upset last night, but I can assure you it had nothing to do with you,” Brooke began reaching out to him in a supportive fashion, “though maybe you should give her a few minutes to collect herself this morning as she’s still in bed.”
“I should go on there and talk to her,” Brant frowned in response as he took in Brooke’s words, “I know I said some stupid things last night and while she has every right to be upset with me, I’d really like to work this out…”
“So would she,” Brooke offered listening to his words, “She’s just dealing with what’s happening after being harassed at the station and well, she’s just getting used to the way she’s been feeling about well, the new changes in her life…”
“Such as?” Brant lifted a curious brow seeking out some help from Avery’s mother.
“Such as your engagement,” Brooke added with a soft sigh, “it has been a tremendous source of stress for her considering that…”
“Brooke look I know that things haven’t been easy but…” he began at a loss.
“But nothing.  Brant, we both know that you love Avery and well, part of why she’s been so wound up lately is because she’s very much in love with you as well.  Why I haven’t ever seen her this lost in love before in all her years.  She tends to get worked up from time to time when she feels very passionately about things and while it might get her a little cranky, the truth is that she feels very passionately about you and about your relationship.”
“She said that?” Brant’s eyes widened in surprise upon her words.
Brooke nodded, “She said she’s never met a man that could reach her in the ways that you do and that despite the fact she’s been behaving so horribly lately, she knows that you are the most wonderful man she’s ever known,” she reached for his arm, “In fact she was just telling me before that she’d really love the idea of the two of you building on what you have together.  You know in kind of showing the rest of the world how happy you are…”
“Really?” Brant replied thinking it over for a long moment, “She didn’t sound that way last night when we were fighting…”
“My daughter uses fighting as a tool to get to her favorite part of the relationships,” Brooke winked at him shamelessly, “which is making up.”
“You mean she’s in there right now…” his gaze lifted to the door.
“She’s trying to come up with the right words to make last night’s ugliness go away,” Brooke nodded confidently, “and maybe if she can sort it all out, then perhaps you two could work through things in a bit when she’s up and about.”
“I do want to work through things,” he offered looking to Brooke again, “I know times haven’t been easy, but I really want to make Avery happy.”
“You already have,” Brooke touched his arm once again, “although you could do me a favor and take me downstairs for some of that breakfast while Avery has some time to herself.  I’m sure whatever you’ve had prepared for her was nothing less than extraordinary.”
“Well it is, but I was thinking that…” he looked to the door again, “I suppose I can give her a little time to herself.”
“You won’t regret it,” Brooke laced her arm in his allowing him to lead her down the staircase as she said a silent prayer that Avery would wake up and come to her senses before it was too late.


Shannon stood in front of the coffee machine at the police station, stirring sugar into her fifth cup of coffee. She had never reacted very well to alcohol, and the unrelenting pounding of her headache reminded her of that fact. She had spent the first hour of consciousness this morning hovering over a toilet getting rid of the remnants of her stomach lining. Since then, she’d nursed four cups of coffee, two alka seltzer, and nibbled on a piece of toast. One thing was for sure…she and alcohol made a really horrible pair.

She wasn’t exactly sure what had happened last night. There were only brief moments that she could remember clearly…one of which involved shoving Dave Warner onto her bed. Having woke up with her clothes on, she was fairly certain nothing had happened with him…at least she thought she was.

“Good morning,” Dave’s voice cut through her mental fog, jolting her to the present and sending a stabbing pain through her temple.

Shannon rubbed her temple and groaned, “Morning.”

“Hmmm,” He said with a sly grin as he stood behind her. He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, “How are you feeling this morning?”

“I’m fine,” She said tightly as she focused upon her coffee.

“You know…I never knew a woman your size could be so strong. You sure taught me about a thing or two about…” He paused, gently easing his hand over her shoulders, “Well…hand to hand combat.”

She spun on her heel and glared at him, “Do the words sexual harassment mean anything to you?”

“Actually, now that you mention it,” He said calmly as he slipped his hands into his pockets, “I believe that was what you were doing to me last night.”

“I did no such a thing,” She defended quickly.

“Oh really?” He asked as he eased himself closer to her, “And just what would you classify what you did to me last night?”

“I…I…” She stumbled over her words, “I was drunk.”

“No kidding,” He chuckled as he eased back and met her eyes.

“Ugh, go to hell,” Shannon snapped as she turned and began walking down the hall towards her office.

“You know,” Dave began as he fell into step along side her, “I can see how you and Brant got along now.”

“What is that suppose to mean?” She asked as she stopped and glared at him.

“He gets you drunk, and you get downright feisty,” He grinned, “I must admit I never figured you for a woman who knew how to let her hair down.”

“Oh I don’t need this,” She rolled her eyes, turning to make the walk to her office once again.

His grin grew as he followed her to her office. He stood in the doorway, watching her as she sat behind her desk, “So are you over the snit now or what?”

“What snit?” She asked, glaring at him.

“You being pissed about your bosses,” He reminded her while crossing his arms and leaning against the door jam, “Are you ready to get back to work and prove to them that you can do your job and do it well?”

“Of course I am,” She said as she held her head high.

“Then what was last night about exactly?”

“I just needed to vent, okay? Don’t you ever just need to blow off some steam?”

“Yeah, that’s when I go to the shooting range and unload a dozen clips,” He nodded, “I don’t think drinking yourself into a stupor is going to help anything.”

“I don’t need a father, Warner.”

“No, you don’t. But I’m your partner, and if you’re not at your best, then how can we do our job?” He asked bluntly.

She exhaled slowly as her eyes drifted towards the floor, “You’re right, and I’m sorry. I should have thought about the bigger picture.”

“It’s okay,” He said as he gave her a forgiving smile, “We have an appointment at the crime lab later. You might want to try to get your head together before then.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be on top of my game,” She assured him.

“One more thing.”

“Yeah?” She asked as she looked up to him.

Dave smiled, “When I said I could see why you and Brant worked together…it had to be the alcohol that made you forget your brain long enough to be with him. You’re too smart to ever involve yourself with a nut like him without being intoxicated,” He said with a wink before he turned and left her office.

Shannon’s jaw dropped for a moment, wondering if she had really heard the veiled compliment in Dave’s words or if she had only imagined it. Either way, the morning was not turning out how she had envisioned it at all.


Seth looked around the apartment noting the Jade didn’t appear to have come last night as a frown touched over his features.  It was bad enough that he had the concerns of his association with Cameron hanging over his head, but now knowing that his sister was out in the open as a moving target, put him at anything but ease.  He stepped into the small kitchen area of the apartment getting ready to put on some coffee, but decided against it as he realized caffeine was most certainly not going to put him any less on edge.
Now as Seth turned his attention to the refrigerator before him, he thought of Blake’s determination to get involved with this situation with Cameron.  While he’d hated letting her in on what was happening, the fact that somehow she knew the truth and still wanted to be with him made things easier.  Granted he realized that they were in for a long, hard road ahead of them, but still he’d had hope about their future once Cameron was dealt with.  Blake was seemingly convinced that Kenneth could help them as well, but as Seth thought of Cameron’s menacing personality he had his doubts.
Seth pulled a bottle of juice out of the refrigerator lost in his thoughts about the situation he’d found himself in as a faint tapping at the door captured his attention.  Looking to the time he wondered if it could be Blake stopping by as she’d promised to head on over to see him once she’d smoothed a few details over with Kenneth.  Seth had been skeptical about winning any places in Kenneth’s good graces, but given the circumstances, he was sure as hell ready to try.  Setting the juice down, he walked over to the front door opening it slowly as he found Thea glaring up at him.
“Took you long enough,” she frowned pushing her way into his apartment with a scowl.
“Well hello to you too,” he grumbled watching her prance around his living room, “I don’t believe I invited you in.”
“Where’s the microfilm?” Thea demanded spinning around to face him, “You’ve had plenty of time to get to it and Cameron wants it…”
“Well Cameron is going to have to wait because I don‘t have it,” Seth stood taller trying not to let her intimidate him as he stood his ground.
“You have a deadline and that deadline is now, so hand it over,” she hissed holding her hand out at him expectantly, “I already told you the consequences of not doing what’s asked of you.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me right,” Seth shook his head at her simply folding his arms in front of his chest as her angry eyes glared up at him, “I don’t have the microfilm.”
“Why the hell not,” she seethed with obvious rage as she stepped towards him looking like a hunter about to devour her prey, “You were warned…”
“Warnings or not, how in the world did you imagine I’d be able to get to the microfilm when Cameron is working to sabotage me with Blake?” Seth tossed back at her with a frown, “Did you honestly believe that by planting that article about her in the Inside Track, it was going to win me brownie points or any kind of access to the mansion?  I mean honestly, I’d imagined you people were smarter than that before you go shooting one of your own.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Thea lied standing taller as her frown deepened.
“Don’t give me that,” Seth pushed past her returning to his juice in the kitchen, “Cameron set me up to look like I betrayed Blake, which honestly I don’t quite understand considering that you were all so obsessed with that microfilm.  How would you propose I go about getting it now that she’s made it apparently obvious that she has no desire to see me?  You didn’t really believe she’d open up to me with open arms after the stunt you pulled,” Seth reached for the bottle of juice pouring himself a tall glass as he noted Thea following him into the kitchen area, “Oh and bringing that loser Kipp into this was a really nice touch,” he shot out sarcastically, “That in itself just took my progress back more than you can imagine.”
“I knew Kipp would be trouble,” Thea muttered under her breath before turning her attention to him again, “but that still is no excuse…”
“Um Thea, do you have any idea what kind of woman Blake Ashford is,” Seth questioned with a deep frown, “She’s innocent and trusting and when someone does something to upset that balance she needs in her life, she is withdrawn.  I mean really I’ve been working so hard to make some progress with her,” he let out an ironic laugh as he kept the emotion from his face, “I went so far to make her believe I was falling in love with her--that we had some kind of future together and she was buying it until you sent your lapdog in to make things worse.”
“Really,” Thea raised a disbelieving brow as she eyed him intently, “So you expect me to believe that you were playing this to work to Cameron’s advantage all along, huh?”
“That was the idea,” he nodded simply before lifting his glass to his lips, “I mean really, while Blake is an incredibly attractive woman, she just doesn’t do it for me and the sooner that I can get this charade over with, the better…”
“I see and your protesting,” Thea leaned against the kitchen counter scrutinizing him, “That was what?  An act?”
“I’ve made it clear from day one that I don’t want Cameron anywhere near my sister and I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable request,” Seth set his glass down on the counter top, “Do you?”
“What Cameron wants he always gets,” Thea’s gaze drifted over the firm lines of his muscled chest before her.
“He’s not getting Jade,” Seth stepped in towards her lowering his voice a bit as he bridged the distance between them, “but what about you?”
“What about me,” she stood taller curious by his boldness as she leaned in towards him.
“What do you want,” Seth questioned lazily raising his hand to her face in a far more intimate gesture than Thea expected out of a man she’d threatened to kill on various occasions.
“You aren’t man enough to give me what I want,” Thea spat out at him a wicked smile pressing over her lips as her eyes connected with his.
“You sure about that,” Seth questioned slinking his arm around her waist as he pressed her in against the kitchen counter.  He tipped down towards her, the warmth of his breath striking over her beautiful features, “I realize I don’t have the wealth that Cameron might have, but thanks to Cameron I’m no longer in the poor house either.  I could very easily show you a thing or two that you aren‘t experiencing with someone like Cameron.”
“I sincerely doubt that,” her lips curled in a scowl as she inched up towards him, “considering that you’re too much of a softie for a woman like me…”
“There’s nothing soft about me,” Seth bent down bringing his lips over hers in a heated kiss taking her by surprise as she slinked her arm around him feeling the solidness of his body push her back into the kitchen counter.  His lips brushed against hers, coaxing her into one of the most unexpected kisses of her life.  Slowly he pulled back wiping at his lower lip as Thea fought for her breath.
“See, I told you that you’d like me,” Seth boasted turning his attention to his juice again as Thea reached out to him curling her finger tips over the drawstring on his sweatpants as she pulled him to her throwing her arms around him wildly.  She slammed him into kitchen wall devouring him as she crawled over his body pinning him beneath her.  His arms wrapped around her slender form in an attempt to control the situation as Thea tore her mouth away from his.
“Don’t think that this is going to change anything,” Thea warned simply shoving her hands into the center of his chest as she pulled away from him.  Her eyes feasted over him for one lingering moment as she contemplated the ways she would relish in using and abusing Seth Alexander, but first things first…  “You’re going to get that microfilm for Cameron even if that means crawling back on your hands and knees to little Miss Innocent.”
“Wonderful,” Seth rolled his eyes shaking his head at her, “Just what I needed in my life…”
“Cameron wants that microfilm,” she reminded him watching him turn away from her as she stepped forward pressing her soft curves against his spine as her arms encircled him, her hands pressing over the center of his body as she teased him, “and then when he gets it, perhaps we’ll work on those rewards I promised you,” she whispered hotly against his ear as she tipped up on her toes--her fingers massaging over his body.
“And what about Kipp’s intrusion,” he questioned closing his eyes as her touch scalded him.
“I’ll work on Kipp,” she promised licking a hot, wet line over his neck as a wicked smile pressed over her lips, “but you…you get back to business so that we don’t have to have any unsavory meetings again,” she released him sizing him up as her grin widened.  “I knew we’d get along beautifully once you warmed up to me.”
“I’ve been warmed up to you for a while,” Seth offered cocking his head to the side as he allowed his eyes to linger over her, “A man would have to be blind to not notice how beautiful you are…and dangerous of course…”
“Danger can often lead to pleasure,” Thea added with a hint of promise as she took a step back, “that being said I think we’re finished for today.  Next time we see one another, well, here’s hoping that we’ll have the same pleasant circumstances if not more…”
“I look forward to it,” Seth guided her over to the apartment door looking down at her as he leaned forward in an attempt to offer up one last kiss before she placed her finger in the center of his lips stopping him mid-movement.
“Next time,” she promised with a teasing wink as she stepped out of the apartment leaving Seth to the involuntary shudder that rose over him upon her exit.  Now as he locked the door, he felt a sick feeling overtake him. Kissing Thea had felt so wrong, so awful, but he hoped that he’d bought some time for himself with her.  He was seriously doubting it considering her previous threats upon him, but for the moment a crisis had been avoided and now, well now it was time to figure out how to get the hell out of this situation once and for all before things turned very ugly and he was forced to step into a role he was certain he’d never wanted.


Caitlin sat in waiting area of the airport terminal, stirring her fountain drink with a straw. She hated waiting for airplanes at any time, but she was anxious this time only because she wanted to see her brother. It had been so long since she’d been able to spend time with him, and she was looking forward to having such an opportunity.

She sighed as she glanced up at the arrival schedule and noticed the time. Her brother’s flight was expected any time now. She stood and made her way to a garbage can, tossing her drink away after her nerves had kept her from drinking very much of the soda. She stood near the baggage claim area, waiting for her brother to step into the terminal and back into her life.

She saw him step off the plane with his sunglasses already in place, hiding his charming eyes. She knew all his moves as he talked sweetly to the woman beside him. He stopped just inside the terminal and pulled a pen from his shirt pocket. He wrote a quick note upon a business card and extended it to the woman. She smiled brightly at him before they parted ways.

Caitlin crossed her arms and clucked her tongue as Zack passed by her, “You are one sorry looking excuse for a doctor.”

Zack stopped, dropped his carry on bag, and pulled Caitlin into his arms. He hugged her tightly and spun around gently, “It’s so good to see you, sweet pea.”

“You haven’t called me that in a thousand years,” She chuckled as she backed away from him slightly, “You’re looking good, Zack.”

“I could say the same about you, little sister,” Zack smiled brightly as he took off his sunglasses, “This town must be doing something right to have you looking so healthy. The last time I saw you, you were barely eating.”

“I was always traveling. I never had time to eat,” She replied, “Come on. Let’s get your bags, and we’ll go to my place.”

“I’m traveling light,” He said as he slid the strap of his carry on bag over his shoulder, “The rest of my stuff is being shipped from Seattle.”

“Aren’t you suppose to start at the hospital on Friday?” Caitlin asked in surprise, “What if your things don’t get here?”

“All I need is a place to take a shower, get some sleep, and a pair of scrubs which I’m sure I can pick up at the local Wal-Mart,” He said with a smile, slipping his arm around his sister, “So why don’t we just go to your place and you can feed me breakfast?”

“Feed you? Pfft,” She snorted, “What do I look like, a bed and breakfast?” She teased as she led him out to her car.

“Well now that you mention it,” He teased, earning her elbow in his ribs, “Hey…don’t be mean to me there, kid sister.”

“You’re the one who started it,” She reminded him as they arrived at her car. She unlocked the doors and they got inside. After she pulled out of the airport’s parking lot, she glanced over to him, “Okay, so why don’t you tell me the real story? Why are you here?”

“I told you…to practice at CCR,” He said as he watched the scenery pass by.

“I know you, Zack. You were thrilled to take the job in Seattle because you were moving ahead in your research. Why come to Coral Valley? It’s virtually in the middle of nowhere.”

“Didn’t you tell me this was a peaceful place to live?”

“I did, but you’ve never enjoyed peace and quiet. So what really drove you here?” She asked, glancing at him for a brief moment before looking back to the street ahead of them.

“Nothing drove me anywhere, Caitlin,” He said as he turned his attention towards her, “I just really needed to get away from all that depressing rain.”

“You can tease about this all you like, but I know something is up, Zack.”

“You’re too suspicious,” He smiled, “But that’s what makes you such a good reporter. So what big story are you working on these days?”

“Actually I’m working on an environmental negligence story, but don’t change the subject,” She demanded.

“Caitlin, I just wanted a change. Haven’t you ever just really wanted a change in your life?”

She paused for a moment as she turned the vehicle down main street, “Yeah, I know all about wanting a fresh start.”

“Then you know exactly where I’m coming from. I just wanted a chance to begin again.”

“Why would you need to begin again?”

“Caitlin,” He groaned, “Can’t we just enjoy the morning instead of going through this interrogation routine?”

“Of course we can,” She smiled at him, “I’m sorry. I just worry about you.”

“I know you do, and I worry about you too,” He said as he looked around at the morning crowd on main street, “Speaking of worrying, how about taking me to meet this new guy in your life.”

“Ken?” She asked with wide eyes as she glanced at her brother, “Are you sure you’re ready for that?”

“The question should really be is he ready for me,” Zack grinned, “You just drive to wherever we can find him. I want to know who it is getting involved with my sister, and if I need to give him a good brotherly warning.”

“Oh brother,” Caitlin groaned as she turned the car down a side street towards Kenneth’s office. If she had to worry about Zack warning Kenneth away, she had more trouble on her hands than she’d thought possible because she knew just how much trouble her brother could be.


Heather smiled as she overlooked the lake, feeling a cool breeze sweep off the water to dance across her face. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of the peaceful morning. While Coral Valley certainly was no New York or Milan, it did have some high points. Peace and quiet being one of them.

Kipp’s arms slinked around her waist as he pressed his chest against her back and perched his chin upon her shoulder, “Penny for your thoughts,” He offered as he noticed her lovely smile.

“I’m not that cheap,” She quipped before she turned to face him, “But I’ll tell you what’s on my mind anyway. I was just thinking about the two of us and how well we’re getting along.”

“Really?” He asked with a bright smile, “I must tell you that this has been like a dream come true for me. I have my dream girl before me, and I don’t want anything to spoil it,” He said as his smile slowly faded, “Which brings me to Cameron.”

“Oh poo, forget about Cameron,” She snorted, “He’s nothing.”

“Then you definitely have the wrong impression of him. He’s a very successful man, and men like him don’t become successful by being nice. He’s ruthless and vindictive, and he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants.”

“I can handle, Cameron. Believe me, I’ve handled worse.”

“Heather, I’m serious. I’ve worked with Cameron for a while now. I know just how dangerous he can be.”

“Then why do you continue to work with him?”

“Because he’s prestigious and he can be very generous when things go his way.”

“See, that’s exactly what my interest is,” She said as she dismissed his worries, “What would your boss say if he knew you thought so poorly of him?”

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Kipp answered dryly, “What business do you have with Cameron anyway? What is it he’s promising you?”

“Nothing,” She said simply, “Besides, all I could ever want is what you can provide me,” She said as she eased her fingers along his lapel, “You’re the one, after all, who said that there might be a starring role for me,” She said with a subtle smile, “Have you spoken with your father?”

“I haven’t had the chance between my work and his. Our schedules don’t seem to be conducive to conversation lately,” He frowned, “Besides, you’re changing the subject.”

“Yes, I am,” Heather agreed, “I do have other offers, you know. I can’t just wait to become Douglas Mahoney’s new leading lady. In this business, you have to strike while the iron’s hot, and in my case, that’s right now.”

“I know it is, and believe me, I want to get you into my dad’s film more than anything in the world. I just haven’t had the time to do so.”

“Aren’t I important to you?” She pouted as she slipped his tie through her fingers, “Aren’t I worth taking the time for?”

“Of course you are. In fact, you’re more than worth it,” He paused as he gently touched her delicate cheek, “I’ll call him today, and I’ll set up a meeting for us. I know that my dad will simply adore you when he meets you.”

“Really?” She asked as her smile grew, “You really think so?”

“My father knows star power when he sees it, and honey, your look screams box office draw,” Kipp smiled brightly, “He’s going to love you.”

Heather threw her arms around Kipp with sheer delight, knowing that she would make Douglas Mahoney love her…no matter what she had to do to make it happen, and she would have her spot at the top of the Hollywood hierarchy as she had always been destined to reign supreme.


Jade rushed into the office and settled her things upon her desk. Grady had suggested arriving separately, and she had agreed only to keep him happy for the time being. She hadn’t seen any reason why they should try to hide their relationship around the office. It would only be a matter of time before everyone knew…not that some of those in the office didn’t know of Jade’s feelings for Grady already.

“You’re awfully late,” Dorothy said from the door way as she smiled at the younger woman, “And Grady isn’t here yet either. Is there something I should know?”

“Nope,” Jade replied with a smile as she glanced over the files upon her desk, “I just slept in.”

“With Grady?” Dorothy teased, “I mean…he’s not here yet either.”

“Then I suppose we just both took a long morning. Anything wrong with that?” Jade asked, trying to be nonchalant in her replies.

“No, not at all,” Dorothy grinned as she glanced down the hall, “Well, look what the cat finally drug in.”

“Good morning to you too, Dorothy,” Grady flashed her a smile, “Did the files for Cameron Stone make it to the court house yesterday?”

“They did,” Dorothy nodded, “I have the receipt from the messenger on my desk.”

“Good, the last thing I need is Cameron Stone hanging around any longer than necessary,” Grady took a deep breath as he glanced into Jade’s office, “Let’s find out everything about Mahoney that we can.”

“Mahoney?” Dorothy asked quickly as she felt her heart sink, “Did you say Mahoney?”

“I did,” He nodded, observing the closely guarded stance of his secretary, “Do you know Kipp?”

“Kipp?” She repeated the name, “Who’s Kipp?”

“Kipp Mahoney,” Grady clarified, “Do you know him?”

“No,” Dorothy sighed with relief, “No, I don’t.”

“It sounded like you knew a Mahoney though,” Jade joined the conversation again, “Could Kipp be a relation?”

“I…I don’t know…Possibly,” Dorothy shrugged, “I have some things I should be doing. If you’ll excuse me,” She said quickly as she rushed away to her desk.

Grady frowned as he stepped into Jade’s office, “Do you get the feeling something else bothered her?”

“Yeah, she seemed to be really upset,” Jade frowned, “That wasn’t like Dorothy at all.”

“No, it wasn’t,” He shrugged before slipping his hands into his pockets, “Was she okay before I got here?”

“Yes, but she was trying to get information out of me,” She grinned, “About you.”

“About me?” He asked before raising an eyebrow, “Do I even want to ask?”

“She noticed that we were both late. She can put two and two together, you know,” She sank into her chair, “I don’t know why you thinking keeping our relationship out of the office would be such a good idea. Everyone will know just as soon as Cameron’s reception comes around.”

“Yeah, I know,” He paused, “I can’t help it. When I think about work and relationships, all I know is disaster. I don’t want that to happen to us.”

“It won’t,” She assured him, “I’m not your ex-wife, and besides, I’m dead set on having you in my life for a very long time to come. I’m not going to let anything get in our way.”

He grinned, “God I love your determination,” He turned and made his way to the door, “I’m going to have the papers ready to be served to the Ashfords today, but do me a favor in the meantime.”

“What’s that?” She asked, leaning upon her desk.

“Call your contacts around the police station and see what you can find out about the murder of Bruce Mathis. If Russ won’t tell me everything that he knows, I’ll get my information somewhere.”

“I’ll do what I can. You’re a good brother, Grady,” Jade smiled.

“I’m sure Russ won’t think so if I start snooping around his life,” Grady sighed as he stepped out of Jade’s office to get to his own work. He knew that he’d have to take all the necessary steps to save Russ on his own, even if it meant stepping over his precious Avery.


Blake stood outside Seth’s apartment thinking about the day they had ahead of them as she contemplated the ways in which they would gain the upper hand over Cameron.  After knocking twice, Blake’s eyes widened in surprise as Seth pulled her into the apartment swiftly taking one look around the empty hallway before locking the door in a haste.  She gave him a sideways glance watching him lock the deadbolt as she spoke up.
“What’s this all about,” Blake questioned in confusion as Seth turned around to face her, his eyes wild and dangerous as he reached out to her drawing her into his arms desperately as his lips dropped down over hers kissing her like she’d never been kissed before.
Blake gasped barely able to contain herself as Seth’s lips beckoned her stirring up emotions inside of her and feelings that she was quite certain shouldn’t be spinning through her head as they were supposed to be planning their attack on Cameron.  Her surprise transformed into a soft moan as Seth lifted her up off of her toes and into his arms fully as her arms instinctively eased around his broad shoulders.  With each flick of his tongue, her hunger was unleashed as he carried her over to the sofa, bringing her down in his lap before the kiss came to a reluctant ending.
“What was that for,” Blake questioned fighting for her breath as he touched her face gently.
“I missed you,” he confessed leaning forward and pressing his forehead against hers as he took in slow, uneven gasps.
“I haven’t been away that long,” Blake eased her fingers under his chin lifting his eyes up towards hers, “Seth, what’s really going on?”
“Thea paid me a visit earlier,” he explained reluctantly, “She came around asking about the microfilm.”
“And what happened?” she questioned with wide eyes, “What did you tell her?”
“I told her that you left me,” his thumb skimmed over her bottom lip tenderly, “that you were furious with me about the article Cameron put in the tabloid and that there was no way I could get into the mansion to get the microfilm now.”
“Did she believe you,” Blake asked noting something more behind his eyes, “Seth, what happened?”
“I don’t know if she believed me,” he admitted drawing in a nervous breath, “I tried to be convincing, but with women like Thea…” he looked away, “sometimes you have to go to an extreme to get your point across…”
Blake noted his apprehension as a suddenly sinking feeling swept over her, “How extreme?”
“Blake, I don’t really want to talk about it,” he shifted uneasily beneath her as she thrust her hand into the center of his chest pushing him back into the sofa.
“Tough,” she cut back sharply, “Spill it Seth.”
“Blake,” he stammered a bit before meeting her expectant gaze once again, “I didn’t want to do it, but well, I…I kissed her…”
“You what?” Blake blinked back at him in disbelief.  “Are you insane?”
“Blake, she wasn’t buying into my story so I had to say things that I didn’t mean…things that I clearly wouldn’t have said if I didn’t have a choice…”
“Like what?” she glared down at him suddenly feeling her heat of desire fan off into the first flames of rage.
“Like I’d rather not get into it,” he evaded her questioning as he attempted to move away from her.
“Like what Seth?” her voice rose with the heat of the moment as her eyes darted down upon him, “Did you tell her that you loved her?  Did you sleep with her?  Is that what you’re not telling me?”
“Blake, it’s nothing like that…” he began hearing the anger in her tone.
“Then what?  What could possibly be so bad unless you did something like that with her?  Did you do more than kiss her,” Blake hissed as her anger flooded over her and jealousy ate away at her every synapse, “Did you promise that bitch some kind of future with you?”
“Thea isn’t looking for a future,” Seth blurted out simply as he realized he’d opened a door to a fight he’d just as soon avoided with Blake, “She needed to see that I was loyal to Cameron and that I wasn’t just finding excuses not to get them what they want.”
“So you decided to sleep with her so she’d believe that you could be trusted,” she sneered at him as she attempted to pull herself off his lap.
“Blake, no,” he refused to let her leave him as his hold on her constricted, “Blake listen to me.”
“I’m hearing every word you’re saying and picking up on what you’re not saying, Seth,” she hissed shaking herself out of his arms as her anger bubbled over her.
“I didn’t have sex with her,” Seth’s voice rumbled over Blake’s hysterics as he squeezed her in his arms, “It was just a kiss…there was nothing more to it.”
“Right,” she shook her head at him, “like I’m supposed to believe that.  You know maybe I am the fool.  Maybe Kenny was right and this isn’t about your wanting to help us, but more so you’re trying to play both sides to see which one can give you what you’re really seeking out.  I mean hey why not?  Who’s going to question you considering that your story sounds so convincing?”
“Blake, it isn’t like that,” he insisted as she continued to block him out.
“You know maybe I am a fool.  Maybe I shouldn’t have bought into your innocent act about that tabloid article…  I mean how stupid can I be considering that you’re shaking up with a woman who’s working to destroy my family.”
“Damn it Blake.  I‘m not shacking up with anyone and I’m not working both sides,” his voice rose with frustration as she wiggled over him attempting to put a distance between them once again, “I’m on your side.”
“Oh right, then why did you kiss her?  Why won’t you tell me what you told her to get her to believe you unless of course there’s something horrible that goes along with this…I mean if you didn’t sleep with her, then what could you have possibly…”
“I told her that I was using you,” Seth admitted with a deep frown, “I explained that I was building you up to win my trust so that I could take the microfilm from you without you ever suspecting it was me…”
“I see,” she bit on her lower lip struggling to contain herself as a lump formed in her throat, “and is that the case?”
“Blake, how can you ask something like that,” Seth questioned in disbelief, “I already told you…”
“If you’re lying to her, then how do I know you’re not lying to me?” she challenged with a huff, “How do I know that you’re not just using me to get what Cameron wants?”
“Well for starters I had the microfilm in my hands yesterday.  Don’t you think if I was working for Cameron and completely loyal to him that I would’ve given it to him instead of telling you about it?”
“You were cornered so you figured you could use me to help you get ahead,” Blake offered with a sneer.
“And then when we were looking at the microfilm?” he raised a disapproving brow, “Blake, don’t you think I would’ve just taken it then if it was that important to me?  Don’t you think I would’ve found a way to betray you?”
“How do I know you’re not right now?  I mean if you’re kissing on some bimbo that Cameron has come over to threaten you…”
“Blake, I needed to do something or else she’d see right through me,” Seth pleaded with her, “I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t have a choice.  If I stood here and tried to tell her some other story she wouldn’t have believed it and we would’ve wound up in far more trouble than you could’ve imagined.”
“You could’ve left it with your tale that I dumped you,” Blake huffed back at him, “You didn’t have to kiss her.”
“Blake, she needed to see that I’m on her side even though I’m not,” Seth began again in frustration.
“So next time if she’s coming around seeking out some kind of assurances from you, then what?  Are you going to sleep with her in order to keep from blowing your cover?  Or maybe sleeping with her is more means of getting that release that you’re obviously not getting with me?”
“Blake, I can’t believe you’re doing this,” he shook his head at her, “It’s not about sex.”
“Then what else can it be about?  What other reason could it possibly be if it isn’t about sex because I don’t see why kissing her ever should’ve come into the picture.”
“Blake, I had to convince Thea that I’m not in love with you because if she had even a hint of the truth about my feelings for you, then she’d come after you and that’s the last thing I could deal with,” he touched her face tenderly, “Blake, I couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to you…”
“Yet you’d make a play on another woman in the name of saving me from the evils of the world?”
“Blake, look I screwed up, but the fact remains that it bought us time until Caitlin’s brother can shed some light on that microfilm.”
“Are you concerned about it because you’re wanting to save Cameron the trouble of deciphering it himself or because you want to help?”
“Blake, you should know the answer…” Seth began with pleading eyes, “I love you.”
“How can I be sure of that?  How can I be sure of anything considering that you’ve spent so much time telling me lies?”
“Blake, when I told you the truth about Cameron, I did it so you’d see how much you mean to me…that you’d know that despite how things transpired between us that you’re someone special to me,” he pleaded with her, “I care about you and in loving you like I do, I don’t want you to be set up for anymore pain than what I’ve already brought to your life.”
“Seth, I want to believe that.  I truly want to believe in you, but given the situation, it’s just so hard,” she felt tears building behind her eyes as she looked away from him, “and just thinking about another woman kissing you…”
“Blake, honey,” he turned her to face him once again, “you’re the only woman I want--the only woman I could ever want in my life and I’ll do anything to prove that to you.”
“If you really mean that, then why did you kiss her?  I mean honestly there had to be another way…” she thought it over for a moment before adding, “How would you feel if I did something like that?”
“You mean if you kissed Thea?” he gave her a strange look.
“No what about someone like Kipp,” Blake blurted out as the thought of Kipp kissing her the other night came to mind and she almost immediately bit on her lower lip.
“What do you mean someone like Kipp,” Seth watched her face drain of color as she attempted to turn away from him.  “Blake?”
“Never mind,” she shook her head dismissively, “This is stupid and I’m just being irrational.  I’m sorry…”
“No, that’s not all there is to it,” he reached out to her once again urging her to look at him, “You were going to say something, but then you changed your mind.”
“What’s the point in us fighting like this when we’re supposed to be working together to take down Cameron?” she insisted taking in a breath, “I guess I’m just wired up because when I think about that man finding ways to get into my life and make me doubt everything, well I get furious and then I start letting him and his deceptions get the best of me.”
“Still, Blake you have every right to be upset and I’m sorry,” he reached out to her, “I never meant to hurt you like that and truth be told, had Kipp Mahoney touched you in any way, well he’d be a dead man plain and simple.  I couldn’t live with the idea of him or anyone else moving in on you when I want to be the only man in your life.”
“You are,” she touched his face gently instantly regretting letting loose on him as he’d at least told her about Thea which was more than she’d ever do about Kipp especially now.  She sighed as she thought of the ways in which Cameron uprooted her life and she tried to focus on the moment, “Well actually you aren’t the only man as there is Kenny and Brant too, but you know what I mean…”
“I know,” Seth nodded pulling her in closer to him as a breath escaped his lips, “Blake, I really never wanted any of this for you.  I didn’t imagine that things would turn out this way and if I’d only known what Cameron was about…”
“You were trying to protect your sister and in doing so, you did what you had to,” she reasoned sinking into his arms as her anger began to dissipate.  “I know that you wanted to help her.”
“She doesn’t deserve anymore pain in her life, but neither do you.  Blake, I really wish that I hadn’t entered this relationship on the wrong foot because I’d give anything to start over again…to be able to keep Cameron out of our lives…”
“It’s a little too late for that now, but maybe we can work on starting over,” she tilted her eyes up towards him.  “In fact that’s a great idea.”
“How do you propose we do that?” Seth lifted a curious brow.
“Like this,” Blake explained sitting up straighter as she smiled at him, “pretend we were at a bar and I was with my girl friends enjoying the night when you walked in.  I noticed you and even though I was pretending not to be considering giving you the time of day, you walked up to me and tried to get me to talk to you.  Naturally I told you to back off and go away, but you were persistent and…”
“Wait a second,” Seth gave her a strange look, “you told me to go away?”
“Well of course,” she let out a tiny laugh, “You don’t really think that I’d give you the time of day under anything less than extreme circumstances.  I am an Ashford you know and I have to play a little hard to get,” she reminded him simply before continuing her tale, “Anyways…getting back to the bar.  I told you to just go away, but you were relentless and you followed me back to the ladies room…”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Seth added once again, “it’s not my style to do something like that…”
“Even if you saw some promise in the woman before you,” she arched a curious brow.
“Well maybe I might consider catching up with her on the dance floor,” he trailed off a smile pressing over his features as he eased her off his lap, “wait a second,” he raised his finger as she watched him with confused eyes as she sank into the couch cushions.  A moment later he turned on the stereo allowing a smooth Latin beat to fill the room as he returned offering his arm out towards her, “Come here.”
“Seth, this isn’t…” she began to protest as he pulled her off the couch and she extended her hand out towards him placing a distance between them, “this was my tale…”
“I’m adding my own input,” Seth announced in a sexy voice as his eyes ate her up greedily each movement of his gaze causing a surge of electricity to rush through her as he began to move to the music, “So now where were we…”
“The dance floor,” Blake replied following his lead as she slowly swayed her hips to the beat allowing the mood to envelope her as she turned away from Seth, “I’m with my friends ignoring you over here and you’re over there,” she glided her hands up over her body easing over her curves.
“You’re teasing me,” Seth couldn’t help but smile watching her fingers run through her blonde hair as he stepped in towards her moving in behind her, “but what you don’t expect is that I’m not one to take rejection too easily,” he pressed in against her as Blake turned in his arms.
“And I’m not one to change my mind about something I’m not into,” Blake spun around moving away from him again as he reached out to her drawing his arms around her waist as his hips bumped in against her causing a friction between them as he whispered hotly in her ear.
“And I’m not one to give up easily when I see something I want,” he breathed against her skin sending shivers racing through her as his fingers curled over her hips pulling her in against his body as a gasp fell over her lips.  She closed her eyes feeling the instant connection of his body pressed in against hers as his solid masculine form meshed with her every feminine contour.  His breath struck against the back of her neck as his arms wrapped around her waist squeezing her in against him, “and from the moment I saw you over at the bar, I knew I wanted you…”
“Seth…” she hissed his name in a white hot rush as she gyrated against him, feeling his lips drop teasing kisses over her shoulder.
“No names,” he murmured behind her ear, his breath striking a chord within her as the seductive melody tempted the both of them as they moved together as one breath, one body, one sweet rhythm as he spun her in his arms, his dark eyes penetrating her, “after all we did just meet,” he finished with a smile.
“So we did,” she returned his sexy smile sliding her arms around his neck as his palms fanned out over her bottom pulling her tightly against him.  Almost immediately her eyes widened in surprise, as the hard pulse of his arousal pressed in against her abdomen alerting her to his desire as she shimmied against him.
“You’re beautiful,” he breathed leaning down to collect a kiss from her as she spun away from him a teasing laugh spilling over her features.
“You’re going to have to work harder than that,” she taunted him feeling a surge of confidence pressing over her as she eased back against him toying with his excited body, “I’m not that easy…”
“I’m always up for a good challenge,” Seth reached out to her urging her into his arms again as her blue eyes tilted up towards his, “I’m very persuasive you know…”
“And I’m very stubborn,” Blake felt his touch pressing in over the curve of her spine, “especially when someone tries to push themselves into my world without my permission.”
“You want me to be relentless,” Seth teased flashing a grin at her, “and besides your eyes tell another tale.”
“My eyes are saying that you need to get lost because I don’t have the time for this,” Blake offered casually straining to keep the truth about the way he was effecting her out of her voice.
Seth eased his finger tips over her thigh before urging her leg up over his body.  He ground his body against hers as his finger tips traveled up over her thigh underneath her skirt as he pulled her tightly against him, “You’re body’s telling a very different tale right now.”
Blake fought for a witty comeback to spill from her lips as she dove deeper into this game she’d started with Seth, but instead she continued rocking against him in wild response.  She could feel her pulse racing, her body on fire as his hands squeezed her bottom boldly placing her against him as they were in constant contact with one another an erotic friction spinning to life with each pulsating beat of the music.  She threw her arms around his neck allowing him to lift her up his body a bit as she bucked against him fast and frantic as desire licked over her.
“Blake,” he breathed her name pulling her skirt up over her hips as he crushed her against him enjoying the incredible friction between them.  She let out shallow pants as Seth urged her on, moving to the pounding rhythm of the music as Blake’s legs clenched around him tighter.
“Seth,” she cried out throwing her head back as he bumped against her furiously the pounding beats of the music driving them on as her fingers sank into his shoulders as her breathing grew more uneven, more frantic as he held her more firmly.
Crushing her against him as his knees grew weak against Blake’s gyrations, Seth fell back onto the couch pulling her into his lap as she writhed against him desperately, her breath escaping her lips in short, urgent gasps as she tore at his shirt longing to feel his body against hers.
“Blake,” he spoke her name heatedly as his hands took control and he pulled her shirt up over her body, watching her help him toss it across the room before their eyes connected.  She bit on her lower lip nervously for the briefest of moments before devouring his mouth with a growing intensity as she rocked over him grinding into his lap eagerly.
Seth’s palms pressed over her hips guiding her movements over him as her urgency was driving him wild with each growing moment.  He tried to slow her down, to curb the feelings bursting inside of him as she writhed against him in protest, her tongue sliding moistly within his mouth as her whimpers burned him to the core.  He glided his fingers over her spine, using his thumb and index finger to pluck away at the clasp on her bra revealing her smooth skin to his hungry attentions.
Blake leaned forward as he glided the silken straps of her bra from her shoulders, pulling the undergarment away from her glistening skin as her breasts spilled out towards him seeking out his touch as he lifted his palm to her soft mound reshaping it as she arched her back offering herself up to his heavenly touch.  His lips dropped over her body, taking her surging peak into his mouth tasting her completely as she cried out throbbing into him furiously with each flick of his tongue over her body.
“Oh Seth,” she purred his name wanting nothing more than to lose herself completely in this moment, to have him buried deep within her as her passion for him knew no limits--no boundaries as she wanted nothing more than for them to become one.  She spoke in shallow pants as he lapped at her body, drawing her out from within in a solid burst of white hot electricity.  His fingers fanned out over her hips tearing away at the barriers between them when a sudden bolt of reality filled the moment as the phone started ringing causing them both to jump in surprise.
Seth looked to Blake seeing the astonishment settle in over her beautiful features as the weight of what was happening between them hung over the moment.  Her face was flushed with desire as she blinked back at him unable to find the right words to fill the moment as the answering machine picked up breaking through the silence.
“Seth, hey it’s Ben.  I’m sure when we ran into one another the other day you didn’t imagine I’d be calling so soon, but I really need to talk to you.  Something’s going on that I can’t get into over the phone, but I could use the voice of reason so when you get this message…”

“Blake wait…” Seth began fighting his every impulse to take her then and there as Ben’s voice brought him back to reality.  He stilled her movements stopping the sparks of electricity that were building with the movements she made.  He took in a sharp breath trying to get his body back in check as his head struggled to take over.
Blake shifted uneasily over Seth as she tried to still her racing pulse.  She could barely hear Ben’s words filling the room surrounding them as she fell back onto the couch cushion wondering how in the world she’d managed to get herself so distracted with the game she and Seth had been playing with one another.  Now as she tried to curb her body’s impulses to finish what she’d started with Seth, she felt him touch her shoulder gently.
“Hey,” he spoke tentatively almost in shock himself as she felt his breath skim over her shoulder, “Blake, are you okay?”
Blake nodded unable to find the words to express the thoughts racing through her mind as she kept her eyes closed tightly.  She pulled her arms up in front of her chest hiding herself from him as a sudden embarrassment flooded over her and she felt the first hints of tears stinging in her eyes.
“No you’re not,” he reached out to her taking her into his arms, “hey it’s okay.”
“I’m sorry Seth,” Blake began burying her face in his chest, “I didn’t mean for us to be so…”
“Distracted,” Seth reached out to her urging her to look up at him, “Hey, you’re the best kind of distraction you know,” he tipped down to kiss her lips, “but I have to say as much fun as our night at the club has been,” he threw out a teasing wink, “I don’t make it a habit to turn something wonderful into a one night stand, so what do you say we spend some time getting to know one another a bit,” he suggested still keeping up in the game they’d been playing.
“I don’t know,” Blake flashed him a sexy smile pushing aside her own nervousness and insecurities about what was happening between them as she lowered her arms freeing herself up to his eyes once again, “how do I know you’re worth it?”
Seth’s fingers dipped off over her breastbone caressing her gently as his eyes remained fixed on her, “Truth be told, I’m not, but if you’re willing to take a chance on me…”
“I think I might be,” she reached for his hand repositioning it on her breast in a bold movement as her smile widened, “if you’ll have me.”
“There’s nothing I could ever want more,” he leaned in to kiss her tenderly, “although I was thinking that we should probably get out of this club scene for a while because you know I have this little couch back home and well I’m sure there’s something on cable that we could probably enjoy for a while.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to tempt me into spending the day in your arms,” she replied feeling her mood lift as he hugged her in closer to him.
“That was the general idea,” Seth confessed shifting positions on the sofa as he leaned forward reaching for his shirt and handing it to her, “Here’s something to cuddle with…”
“I prefer you, but I’ll give it a try,” Blake lifted it to her face inhaling the sexy scent of Seth before slipping it over her head, “Well, what do you think?”
“You’re beautiful,” Seth smiled reaching for her as he settled in on the couch with her.
“And you’re a flatterer,” Blake snuggled back into him savoring the closeness between them as she closed her eyes and thought about the day before them, “So are you going to call Ben back now that he’s managed to kill the mood here?”
“I’ll give him a ring later, but right now, how about we just enjoy the calm before the storm since I’m sure your brother is going to have a few things he’s going to want to discuss later and I’m not sure I’m ready for that,” he admitted holding her securely.
“Kenny’s not going to make this difficult,” Blake decided sinking into his chest, “If Caitlin can talk Zack into helping us, then we’ll be in business.”
“So tell me about this Zack guy,” Seth prodded at her, feeling the warmth of her surrounding him, “What’s the story?”
“He’s Caitlin’s older brother,” she shrugged her shoulders as a smile touched over her features, “and he’s a brilliant doctor.”
“Hmm…judging by the look on your face I should be worried, shouldn’t I?” Seth lifted a brow as he eyed her closely.
“Considering what almost happened right here between us, I don’t think you should have a concern in the world about any other man, when clearly you’re the only one I want,” she turned to face him again, her smile warming him all over as he held her.
“I love you Blake,” he pressed a tender kiss upon her lips, “even if you do drive me to distraction.”
“I love you even if you keep taking me to the point of no return time and time again,” she reached out to touch his face, “and I have no doubt in my mind that when we make love, well it’s going to be nothing less than magic between us.”
“I know it will be,” he nodded in response thinking about their love play a few moments earlier, “You’re remarkable and no woman has ever excited me the way you do.”
“Now you’re just trying to build me up,” she felt a heat rise over her features.
“I’m never going to look at strawberry shortcake the same way again or even dancing…at least not without thinking about you,” Seth traced the contours of her soft features, “and when this thing with Cameron is all over with, I’m going to whisk you away to paradise and make love to you over and over again.”
“It sounds like heaven,” she snuggled into the warmth of his chest as she closed her eyes listening to his pounding heart.
“Holding you like this is more than I ever could’ve asked for,” Seth kept her close to him realizing that despite the twists and turns he and Blake faced ahead of them, nothing would keep them apart and when the time was right, he’d see to it that he showered her with the kind of love that she deserved as their first time together would be nothing short of magic.


Caitlin stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the floor of Kenneth’s office. She was much more nervous than she had been the night she had met Ken, but then again, she had known their meeting would work out. However, she wasn’t optimistic about how Zack would react. She didn’t want to have to kill her own brother to make him leave her boyfriend alone.

Zack glanced at Caitlin and smiled, “You look like you’re terrified. Is your boyfriend that bad?”

“No, you are,” She clarified, “Promise me that you’ll be on your best behavior in here. I really like Ken, and I don’t want you to scare him away.”

“Are you serious? From what I’ve heard about the Ashfords, you’re the one who should be running scared,” He chuckled.

“Zack, please,” She asked as she touched his forearm, “Please?”

“I’ll try,” He relented, “But I swear if I get the holier than thou vibe for even one minute, I’m going to give the guy a piece of my mind.”

“Ken’s not like that. He’s a very sweet, very gentle man, and you better be nice to him,” She demanded as she poked him in the ribs.

The doors to the elevator opened, and Caitlin led her brother down the hallway. She passed through the main entrance to the law offices before diverting down the hallway towards Kenneth’s office. She opened the door and smiled at Judy, “Ken should be expecting us.”

“He is. Go right in,” Judy smiled in welcome, “In the meantime, can I get you anything?”

“No, we’re good,” Caitlin said quickly as she led her brother into Kenneth’s office. As soon as she entered the office she smiled at the sight of Kenneth hard at work on a file before him. When he glanced up and smiled at her arrival, her anxiety dissolved immediately, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” Kenneth welcomed her as he stood and made his way to her. He kissed her cheek before he looked to Zack and extended his hand, “And you must be Zack. I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”

“I hope that’s a good thing,” Zack said as he shook Kenneth’s hand.

“Between Blake and Caitlin, I think it is,” Kenneth smiled, “Please have a seat on the sofa, and we can all talk,” As they made their way to the seats, he asked, “Would you like anything to drink or eat?”

“No, we’re good,” Caitlin quickly answered.

“Actually, I haven’t eaten today,” Zack spoke up, “So a cup of coffee would be great to tide me over.”

Kenneth nodded as he walked to his desk and switched on the intercom, “Judy?”

“Yes?” Judy answered.

“Could you bring in an assortment of bagels and a carafe of coffee?” He asked softly.

“Of course,” She replied before the line went silent.

Kenneth turned back to his guests and smiled, “So, have you found a place to stay in town yet?”

“Not yet, but I’m going to bunk with Caitlin until I can find a place,” Zack replied.

“If you’d like, I could suggest a couple of places. I was born and raised in Coral Valley. I know the best neighborhoods, the affordable ones, those kinds of things,” Kenneth offered.

“I appreciate that, but I probably can’t afford anything that you’d recommend,” Zack said dryly.

“Zack,” Caitlin chastised as she looked apologetically to Kenneth.

“It’s okay. I’m sure he’s heard all the nasty stories about my father and Brant,” Kenneth spoke, pausing as Judy brought in a tray of bagels with cream cheese and jams on the side. After placing the tray upon the coffee table, Judy also delivered a carafe of coffee. Kenneth thanked her with a smile before she left the room.

“So, are you going to defend the actions of the rich and infamous now?” Zack asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

“No, I’m not,” Kenneth replied, earning a questioning look from Zack, “I won’t defend their actions because there are no excuses for their behavior. I won’t, however, stand by and be accused of the same bad judgment. I’ve spent my entire life trying to break out of the mold my father created, and I’ve done everything I could to make sure that I don’t end up like my brother or my father. I don’t live my life to destroy and wreck havoc. My life isn’t all about the Ashford empire.”

Zack observed Kenneth for a moment, “Oddly enough, I believe you. I didn’t think I would like you, but dammit, you’re kind of hard to hate.”

Kenneth’s grin slowly formed upon his lips, “Does that mean I have your approval?”

Caitlin covered her smile as she looked to her brother.

“I don’t know. I can’t make my mind up that quickly. What kind of brother would that make me?” Zack said before Caitlin thrust her elbow into his ribs, “Ouch, god…I got here to work at the hospital, not to go to the hospital.”

“Keep that up and the coroner will be the only doctor you’ll see in this town,” Caitlin warned.

Kenneth sat back in his seat as his smile grew. He didn’t know much about Zack Vaughn, but it was obvious just how much Caitlin loved her brother as their interaction spoke volumes. Coupled with Blake’s obvious adoration of him, Kenneth couldn’t help but like Zack himself. He only hoped that his first impression wouldn’t be proven wrong.


Heather sipped her glass of orange juice as she glanced over the front page of the morning newspaper. There always seemed to be a story about the Ashfords, and if she couldn’t be with Brant, then she’d just settle for knowing every detail of his life via the media. They could always be counted on for information about the Ashford family.

The ringing of a cell phone interrupted Heather’s reading. She moved across the room to check her cell and frowned when she realized it wasn’t her cell phone that was ringing. She stepped near the table and picked up Kipp’s cell phone. Thinking of knocking on the bathroom door to inform him of the phone call, she glanced to the screen of the phone. Caller ID informed her that the caller was none other than Douglas Mahoney.

Heather smiled to herself as fate had smiled upon her. She switched on the phone and answered brightly, “Hello.”

“Who is this?”

She felt a shiver travel down her spine at the voice of the man she admired so much. If there had ever been a man that held her every ideal, Douglas Mahoney was it.

“This is Heather Gibbons. I’m Kipp’s girlfriend. He’s in the bathroom at the moment, but I thought I should introduce myself to you.”

“Why would you need to introduce yourself to me?”

“Because I’m a huge fan of yours,” She admitted before turning on her charm, “And I’m an actress.”

“Really? Performed in local theater, have you?” Douglas spoke with doubtful contempt.

“Actually I’m a model, but I want to be an actress. Perhaps you’ve seen my work. I’ve been in all the major fashion magazines as well as shows in Milan and Paris. I even have a calendar which your son is quite fond of,” She smiled.

“I don’t even want to know,” He sighed, “Could you get my son on the phone for me please?”

“There’s one more thing I wanted to mention. Kipp has mentioned that you’re casting a role for a new movie of yours, and I just wanted to say that I would love to audition for you. I’m going to be starting a new campaign for Beholder Cosmetics, but I’m sure that I could find the time to audition for you.”

“Beholder? Really?” He asked his attention was piqued, “Perhaps we can talk.”

“I’d really love the opportunity,” Heather said happily as Kipp emerged from the bathroom, “Kipp’s here. Hold on just a second,” She said before holding the phone out to him, “It’s your father.”

“Thanks,” Kipp said as he took the phone, “Hi Dad.”

“Who the hell was that and where did you find such an opportunistic bimbo?” Douglas asked harshly, “I swear, Kipp, why is it that you seem to find the leaches of society?”

Kipp held up his hand to put off Heather for a moment as he stepped out onto the balcony, shivering slightly as he felt the cold off of the lake, “Dad, Heather is not a leach. She’s a beautiful woman with a lot of potential. I really think you should take a look at her.”

“I am not going to look at any woman who chased you down. What did she do, Kipp? Call you up and then throw herself at you?”

“Dad, don’t just write this off as a fling. Heather is the one. She’s beautiful and talented. She’s everything I could want in a woman, and I really think you should give her a chance.”

“Is this what you’ve been trying to call me about all week?” Douglas groaned, “Please tell me that these messages marked urgent weren’t about this airhead woman of yours.”

“Dad, don’t be so flip about this. What if I decide I want to marry her?”

“I’ll disinherit you and cut you off so fast it will make your head spin,” Douglas warned.

“Don’t threaten me, Dad.”

“It’s just a friendly warning, Kipp. Don’t expect any large favors from me,” Douglas said before he hung up.

Kipp turned off his phone and exhaled nervously. The last thing he wanted to do was fight with his father, but he wouldn’t let go of Heather. She was the proof that he had finally arrived in the big time, and he’d be damned if he would let her go…even if it meant taking on the powerful Douglas Mahoney.


Jenna stepped into the front door of the Denton offices making an impromptu visit with her mother before her meeting with Hart.  Knowing full well that it was a bit early for her mother’s lunch time, Jenna came prepared with coffee and bagels hoping to get a few words in with her mother as there had been a lot on her mind the last few days.  Once she entered the office, she saw her mother standing over by the coffee machine looking lost in a world of her own.
“Good morning,” Jenna greeted her mother seeing Dorothy’s reaction to her was next to nothing as Jenna waved her hand in front of her face, “hello.”
“Jenna,” Dorothy blinked out of the moment she’d been seemingly lost in as she looked to her daughter offering up a smile, “hey, what are you doing here?”
“I thought I’d sneak in a few minutes with my mother since I had to cancel our lunch the other day.  Have some time?”
“For my favorite daughter,” Dorothy smiled back at her, “I think I can fit you in without Grady having a fit.”
“I dare him to try,” Jenna challenged a hint of laughter behind her eyes as she thought of Grady Denton’s less than threatening presence.  While she didn’t know the lawyer all that well herself, given that she was Avery’s best friend, she knew probably more than any one woman, well other than Avery, should know about his younger brother and given what she knew about Russell, she was certain that Grady was no where near a tyrant.
“Don’t you go starting up trouble,” Dorothy teased leading Jenna over to the break area of the office, “So what has you up and out this early?”
“Other than the fact I was suspended from my job,” she shrugged her shoulders, “not a whole hell of a lot.”
“Jenna,” Dorothy’s jaw dropped at her daughter’s admission, “How in the world did that happen?  Are you and that dreadful Lieutenant Sharpe going another round with one another because I told you…”
“It’s not about Patrick,” Jenna blurted out seeing the concern behind her mother’s features, “but I have been seeing Hart Steiner lately.”
“You’ve what,” Dorothy blinked back at her, “Come again?”
“Look mom it’s complicated which is why I came down here to see you,” Jenna motioned for her mother to take a seat, “Perhaps you should take a load off your feet for this one.”
“What have you gotten yourself into now,” Dorothy frowned deeply thinking about her daughter’s knack for finding trouble.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Jenna explained to her mother’s disbelieving eyes, “Honestly it wasn’t.”
“Then start talking,” Dorothy urged, “First you cancel lunch and now you’re telling me you’re suspended from work again…”
“This time it has nothing to do with me,” Jenna hesitated, “You’ve heard about the Mathis murder, correct?”
Dorothy nodded, “At this point I think all of Coral Valley has heard of it.”
“Yeah well what they haven’t heard is that the FBI is trying to skew this investigation so that it looks like Avery is behind the murder, but mom I did the initial examination and my findings were contrary to what the FBI wanted to spout off about, so they made up some bull shi…” she paused rethinking her words in front of her mother, “It’s just some load of crap they started about my having some kind of bias in this case, so they threw me off of the case and I’ve been given the added vacation time with pay because of it…”
“Oh Jenna,” Dorothy couldn’t help but frown at her daughter’s latest escapade, “I don’t know how you always manage to get in over your head like this and if you really think that what they’re doing isn’t right, then perhaps you should take a moment to talk to Grady.  The lawyer you had the last time wasn’t very good, but I’m sure if you take a moment to talk with Grady, he’ll do what he can to…”
“I don’t need a lawyer,” Jenna interrupted simply, “What I need is the truth and if the FBI is going to work at covering it up, then I’m going to find it.”
“And what truth is that exactly,” Dorothy questioned seeing the spark behind her daughter’s eyes that always meant trouble.
“I’m going to find the person that murdered Bruce Mathis and then I’m going to make sure that those who dared to keep me out of my office pay in full for the harassment I’ve been given.”
“Remind me again how Hart Steiner falls into this,” Dorothy urged.
“Well, the thing is that not only is Avery under suspicion now because Bruce died, but it turns out that the lead investigator is one of Brant Ashford’s ex’s so therefore, it’s now personal…”
“What does Brant Ashford have to do with anything?”
“Avery is engaged to him,” Jenna explained seeing the questions behind her mother’s eyes, “and before you ask, well I don’t know how those two got involved, but what I do know is I don’t expect to have Brant’s ex-flings getting in my way or having them out to destroy my best friend considering.”
“And once again I ask how does that involve that snake Hart?”
“Well he’s representing Brant since the FBI is out to get anyone even remotely attached to Avery and it seems that Hart and I have a vested interest in this.  We’ve agreed to work together on this and get to the heart of the matter by helping one another along the way.”
“And you trust him at his word?” Dorothy’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Of course not,” Jenna shook her head taking a bite of one of the bagels she’d brought with her, “but at this point what choice do I have?  I’m already treading on thin water…”
“Because of Hart I might add,” Dorothy pointed out simply, “He helped Patrick Sharpe ruin your reputation and they tried to have you thrown out of your job.”
“But it didn’t happen, though I’m starting to really wonder if I chose the right career path.  I mean now that I’m working on this investigation I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve gone another route…like maybe into law enforcement…” she wrinkled her nose, “Then again I’m not dumb enough to do that and given that I’d have to deal with that loser Patrick Sharpe, maybe that wouldn’t be my thing either.”
“Jenna, I really wish you’d try to stay out of trouble,” Dorothy shook her head at her, “Heaven knows you don’t need to be stirring up any more of it in this town considering the way folks are.”
“Mom, I’m going to be fine,” Jenna flashed her mother a bright smile, “Besides you know how I love trouble.”
“That’s something you didn’t get from me,” Dorothy sighed sipping her coffee that Jenna had brought for her.
“Hmm, you know you always tell me that, but if I don’t get it from you, then do I get it from my father,” Jenna questioned raising a curious brow.  “I mean it has to come from somewhere right?”
“Jenna, I already told you a million times that you have your own sense of trouble that was completely your personality.”
“But what about my father?  Did he have that in him as well?” Jenna probed curiously seeing the same distance behind her mother’s eyes, “I’m not a little girl anymore.  You can tell me about him now…”
“No,” Dorothy answered sharply noting the surprise behind Jenna’s eyes, “I can’t…”
“Why not?” Jenna frowned back at her, “I mean I’ve tried to be understanding to what you’ve been through, but given that I never knew him and you’re the closest link that I have to the man, you can’t keep his memory away from me forever.  I want to know about where I came from.”
“Jenna, you know where you came from and we’ve been over this a million times,” Dorothy began with a long sigh, “I just don’t like to get into talking about him because it was a long time ago.  When he died, well it was very painful for me and to go through this world raising you on my own, it was difficult, but we made it through everything that came our way and now you’re all grown up.  I don’t see what point there is in looking back on someone we can’t bring back again.”
“Still, I just wish I knew more about him,” Jenna offered up lightly, “I mean you say things to me all the time about my not taking after you and I have to wonder if I get it from him and then I wonder what kind of man he was…how you two fell in love and how it was he was taken from this world…”
“Jenna, I was very young when I met your father.  We fell in love, were planning on getting married and then he died in a very tragic accident,” Dorothy recalled the same tale she’d been telling her daughter for years, “It was a very painful time in my life and just thinking about the way I felt in losing him…”
“I know,” Jenna nodded apologetically, “it’s just that when I start thinking about everything, well…I just wonder that’s all.  I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t,” Dorothy reached across the small table for her hand, “not about this, but I am concerned about you spending your time with someone like Hart Steiner.  That man is nothing but trouble and I don’t want to see him take you down with whatever he’s doing especially when the FBI is involved.”
“I won’t let him take me down,” Jenna promised her mother, “I may have been a fool once upon a time, but I won’t be a fool again especially for someone like Hart Steiner.”
“You say that now, but just by opening yourself up to talking to the man, well Jenna I just don’t want you to repeat some of the mistakes I made,” Dorothy blurted out lost in her thoughts as Jenna gave her a strange look.
“Mom, you did wonderful.  You know you did and I’m not even friends with Hart, so if you think that I’m hoping to cross some kind of line with him, well you’re wrong.  This is about helping Avery and getting my job back and then, well Coral Valley beware because I’m going to show them all that they can try, but they won’t be able to keep me down.”
“There’s the spirit,” Dorothy encouraged with a lighthearted smile.
“So what about you?” Jenna questioned eagerly, “What’s been going on around here?  Grady overworking you again?”
“More like he’s overworking himself,” Dorothy noted thinking to the strange occurrences happening in the office lately.
“You mean with his involvement with Russell and the murder investigation,” Jenna questioned realizing that she’d completely forgotten about Russell’s part in the FBI’s investigation.
“Among other things,” Dorothy nodded simply, “It’s been a busy few weeks.”
“Has Grady said anything about what’s going on in terms of Russell’s take on the Mathis murder?” Jenna arched a curious brow.
“Now you know I wouldn’t know something like that,” Dorothy reminded her daughter with a sideways glance, “and don’t get it through your head that I’m going to go around fishing for answers to that question either.”
“Oh you won’t have to,” Jenna promised with a strange expression, “If I want those kind of answers, well I’ll get them myself.  You can mark my words on that,” Jenna decided the wheels in her head turning as Dorothy watched her daughter wondering if she was about to get herself into a world of trouble that she was most certainly unprepared for.


Russell rolled over beneath the blankets reaching out for Avery’s soft form as his eyes opened up only to reveal an empty bed beside him.  A frown touched over his lips as he thought to her leaving him once again as the demons of the morning after had come back to haunt him, but as he started to lose himself in the misery that came with Avery’s abrupt retreat, he felt a surprising heat rise up from beneath the blankets.  Throwing the blankets back a bit, his eyes widened in surprise as he almost immediately sprung to life at the touch of Avery’s lips teasing over his heated skin.  The warmth of her engulfed him as her kisses tapered off over the source of his masculinity drawing him into the damp heat of her mouth.
“Avery,” he sucked in a sharp breath as her lips closed in over him torturing him mercilessly as his finger tips pressed in through her dark hair.  He curled his finger tips around her dark hair feeling her deliciously wicked mouth work it’s magic over him as she’d managed to arouse his every synapse with her surprising wake up call.  He threaded his fingers tighter within her dark tresses as she took him to the point…bringing him so very close to losing all control as her tongue traced over him.  His hips arched up against her allowing her to control the rhythm of the moment as his heart pounded in his chest and he recalled all the mornings they’d shared just like this when she’d roused him from his slumber with this very tempting tactic.
“I was wondering when you were going to join me,” Avery breathed hotly against his skin as her kisses tapered off over his body working their way up to his mouth savagely.
“I thought you’d left,” he opened his eyes reaching out to touch her face gently as she straddled him, her body rocking over his, teasing him with the promise of completion between them as a sinful expression washed over her features.
“Why would I leave when I’m the one who wanted you to stay,” she questioned leaning forward as the tips of her hair cascaded over his shoulders ticking over his excited skin, “I meant what I said last night.  I need you, Russ.  I need you so very much…”
“I need you,” he wrapped his arms around her kissing her with a growing hunger, “I’ve always needed you Avery.”
“Then you’ll always have me,” she promised brushing over his body as a murmur rose from her lips.
“Do you have any idea what you do to me,” he groaned reaching for her hips as she played with him, driving him mad with desire as she shifted over him.
“Enlighten me,” she teased a hint of laughter in her tone as his hold on her constricted.  “Tell me how hot I make you, Russ.”
“You inspire so many wicked notions in me,” he blurted out with a hiss as her tongue traced over his lip moistly darting within his mouth.
“Such as,” she coaxed further as his palms slid over her hips grinding her body in against his as a rough gasp escaped him.
“You drive me to sin time and time again,” a smile pressed over his lips as he seized her writhing body nudging her closer towards his ache for her, “and here at Ashford’s palace none the less…”
“Hmm, that’s right, we are at Brant’s,” Avery winked down at him before her face became a mask of sudden seriousness, “perhaps we should stop this right now.”
“Really,” Russ questioned a pout curling on his lips as she wrapped her legs around him tightly before falling back onto the mattress and pulling him over her urging him to continue their completion.
“Oh hell no,” she threw her arms around him devouring him hungrily.
“Mmm…I love it when you play dirty,” Russell murmured against her mouth as he buried himself inside of her ready to lose himself completely in the arms of the woman he loved.
“Russ,” she breathed his name, her nails scratching lightly over his back as a sudden buzzing sound filled the moment.  “Oh Russ…”
“Avery…” he spoke her name watching her fade away as his eyes opened and he found himself in bed beside her listening to the sounds of the alarm clock in the distance.
“Five more minutes,” Avery pleaded curling into him as Russell was suddenly very aware of her leg draped over his abdomen.  He looked down at her realizing his moment of passion with her had been nothing more than a dream as she snuggled into him and oddly enough as nice as the fantasy had been, waking up to the warmth of her was even better as he reached across to the alarm turning it off as he held her.
“No, don’t go…” Avery pleaded rolling into him more completely as her leg curled around him coaxing him towards her, “Russ…”
“I’m right here,” he promised reaching out to touch her face gently as a smile touched over her lips.  God, she was beautiful, he thought to himself as he held her.  He’d never get enough of these mornings with her as he saw the vision of beauty she truly was and as he held her he felt like the luckiest man alive.
“Good,” she murmured in response drawing him in closer to her as her lips sought out his in a surprising kiss as her leg coiled around his hip turning him in against her.
Almost immediately the warmth of her filled Russell as he held her in his arms savoring the moment between them.  Kissing her completely he felt her passion spark inside of her as she shifted against him instantaneously reminding him of the state his dream had left him in as the kiss ended abruptly and Avery’s eyes opened in surprise.
“Russ,” she breathed his name suddenly aware of his burgeoning erection trapped between her thighs as a heat rushed over her features.
“Good morning beautiful,” he touched her cheek lazily in an attempt to be casual about the situation as he could still taste her kiss upon his lips.
“Russ, what are you…” she looked down to see they were still almost completely dressed as a breath of relief fell over her lips, “Oh thank God…”
“Well hello to you too,” he shook his head at her before a teasing smile fell upon his lips, “having good dreams?”
“I was until I woke up,” she began to retreat as he reached out to her.
“Hey, where are you going,” he questioned turning her to face him again, “I thought you wanted to snuggle.”
“I do…I did…but…” she began uneasily unable to ignore the blatant evidence of his arousal brushing up against her, “but well, this wasn’t part of the deal…”
“What…” he felt her body brush up against his as he offered a sheepish smile, “oh that…”
“Exactly that,” she scowled back at him, “Honestly Russ I don’t know what you were thinking in getting this close to me like this considering…”
“Avery, honey, you’re the one who sought me out this morning,” he pointed out simply as he motioned to the connection between them, “You’re the one who wrapped me up snugly like this…not that I‘m complaining, but well, this is all you.”
“Oh,” she gasped in embarrassment unable to come back with a sharp retraction as color flooded over her cheeks and she turned her dark eyes away from him making no attempt to move away from him as a silence filled the room surrounding them.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he reached out to her urging her to look at him once again, “I’m not expecting anything if that’s what you’re worried about.  I guess sometimes being close to you, some parts of me just get a little overzealous,” he offered with a hint of a smile.
“Apparently there are parts of me that feel the same way,” she confessed feeling her legs remain planted firmly around him despite the way she was cursing herself in her mind.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” he tipped down to kiss her gently, “though we might have to give those parts a rain check because this morning, well I was thinking more about how you were feeling.”
“As in how am I feeling in right this instant or in general?” Avery questioned with a gulp trying to ignore the bolt of electricity rushing over her as being this close to Russell brought forth so many wicked and wonderful memories.
“Your choice,” he shrugged his shoulders as he touched her face gently.
She closed her eyes savoring his touch as a breath escaped her parted lips, “At the moment I’m feeling, well…we’ll just skip over that,” she fought for her breath forcing herself to meet his soulful eyes, “but in general, I don’t think I’ve had a better sleep in weeks.”
“Good,” he tipped in towards her kissing her tenderly, “that’s what I was hoping for.”
“I didn’t think it would be possible for me to ever have a good night’s sleep ever again,” she sighed against his kiss holding him closer to her as she savored the moment between them appreciating the warmth of him surrounding her.
“I told you things would have a way of working themselves out,” he whispered against the base of her throat placing feathery light kisses against her smooth skin, “You just have to have a little faith.”
“I’m trying,” she confessed with an exaggerated sigh laying her head against his shoulder, “but with the way things are going down with this murder investigation and with my parents being back in town…”
“You’re so wound up, you’re going to explode,” he interrupted inching away from her as his expressive green eyes fell upon her, “and that worries me.”
“You really shouldn’t worry about me,” Avery offered hoping to convey a feeling of confidence about her despite her inner conflict about the state of things, “I told you last night…”
Russell placed his finger over her lips to silence her as he shook his head, “I heard what you were saying, but I know you enough to know that you’re not as eager to get rid of me as the message you’re trying convey.”
“I never said I was trying to get rid of you,” she whispered pressing a soft kiss over the pad of his finger lazily, “I just asked you to stop worrying about me like you do.”
“That’s like asking me not to breathe,” he confessed leaning in towards her capturing her lips in a tender sweep.
“Russ,” she breathed his name sliding her arms around him as he held her, the closeness between them suddenly seeing miles apart as she cuddled into him further.  His lips brushed over hers sending tiny impulses prickling over her body with each building moment their kiss continued.  She fell back onto the mattress feeling the warmth of him over her as her arms surrounded him.  With each tender caress of his tongue against hers, the growing warmth inside of her filled her up inside taking her to that special place that only Russ managed to bring out in her as her heart longed to lose herself in the magic of his kisses, but as the heat of the moment began to drown them in the tide of desire, Avery heard a noise outside the bedroom that brought her back to the hard rush of reality.
“Russ, someone’s coming,” Avery whispered tightly as she abruptly broke away from the kiss.
“Well that’s flattering to say the least but I was thinking we could take things slow this morning…” he flashed her a teasing smile as he leaned in towards her once again.
“Russ, I’m serious,” she placed her palms over his shoulders in an attempt to stop him from kissing her, “I think I hear Brooke.”
He frowned slightly upon the mention of Avery’s psychotic mother, “Why do I get a sudden feeling of déjà vu all over again?”
Avery’s eyes grew wide with panic as she looked over to the door, “Russ, she can’t find you in here.”
“Avery, you’re a grown woman and I think it’s a little too late for her to start telling you who you can and cannot be with,” Russell’s frown deepened as a groan spilled over his lips, “I mean clearly she knows that we’ve already crossed into this territory with one another years ago and she couldn’t do a damn thing about it then, so I don’t think that now she’s going to be able to…”
“Russ, I think she has Brant with her,” Avery squealed as the voices rose outside of the room.  She wiggled beneath him as he tugged on her arm.
“Where are you going?” he questioned giving her a sideways glance, “Who cares if Brant sees us together?  It might set him straight about a few things.”
“Russ, just let me lock the door,” she urged tugging on her arm as she looked up at him, “Russ please…I don’t want them to find out this way…at least not just yet…”
“Fine,” he sighed releasing her as she scurried out of bed locking the door before anyone could walk in on the two of them together, “but Avery we need to really sit down and talk about this.  We can’t keep everyone in the dark about us considering that there’s clearly something going on between us.  Clearly you have to admit to that…”
“What I can admit to is that right now isn’t the time for you and Brant to face off considering that Bruce is dead.  The last thing I need is to watch you two tear one another apart only to give Shannon something more to throw against you.  I refuse to let her take either one of you down for this murder,” she explained in a hoarse whisper as she leaned up against the door nearly jumping as there was a knock.
“Avery, are you awake,” Brant’s voice rose from the other side of the door as he tapped on it once again.
Her eyes widened in a panic as she looked to Russell, “Russ, you have to hide.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he gave her a disapproving look, “Avery, if you even think you’re stuffing me under the bed or in the closet to keep Brant from seeing me, then you’ve got another think coming…”
“Russ, don’t argue about this,” Avery pleaded with him as Brant knocked again.
“Avery?” Brant questioned once more.
“Just give me a second,” she tried to keep her voice from shaking as she looked to Russ with pleading eyes, “Russ, he can’t find you in here.”
“Why the hell not,” he challenged making no attempt to leave the center of the bed as he watched her, “Let him in and we’ll have a talk.”
“Russ please,” she begged stepping away from the door and moving in towards the bed.
“Avery, I’m not going to let him think he can have you all to himself when it’s evident that you and I have something that…” he started as she leaned forward giving him a quick kiss.
“Please just do this for me,” she pleaded with him, “I don’t want another war this morning since last night just about did us all in.”
“Under normal circumstances, I’d argue with this until Brant beat that door down,” Russ reminded her with a scowl, “but given the circumstances and the fact that I don’t want you upset…”
“If Brant tries to tear you apart, it’s going to upset me,” Avery piped in as Brant knocked once again and she heard her mother’s voice in the hall.
“He’s not going to tear me apart,” he chuckled in response, “as if Ashford has that kind of power…”
“This isn’t a game of who has more testosterone,” Avery shook her head at him suddenly irritated with his stubbornness, “I don’t want things to get ugly…”
“I think it’s a little too late for that,” he pointed out as Avery tugged on his arm trying to pull him off the bed.
“Avery, open up,” Brooke insisted as Avery looked to the door before focusing her attention to Russell.
“Russ please,” Avery begged pulling on his arm as he was dead weight against her.
“If I do this, what’s in it for me,” he challenged raising a curious brow.
“I can’t believe you’re stooping this low,” she frowned back at him, “I thought we were beyond blackmail.”
“I thought we were beyond hiding the fact that there’s something between us from your mother,” he countered with the same determined expression that always infuriated Avery to no end.
“It’s not that I’m trying to hide you from Brooke, but more so that I’m trying to…” she stopped herself, “Fine.  What do you want, Russ?”
“To be with you of course,” he allowed her to tug him up off the mattress as he wrapped his arms around her.
“You’re not going to get the chance if my mother kills you,” Avery reminded him with a frown.
“So then there’s hope,” he offered with an encouraging smile.
“Russ, I really don’t want to get into this now…” Avery began feeling a heat rise over her features as she heard another knock at the door.
“Avery, are you sure everything is okay,” Brant questioned as she took in a breath.
“I’m just getting dressed.  Give me a minute,” she answered back struggling to find a way to get Russell to behave.
“Let’s make a deal,” Russell decided breaking through her thoughts of panic.
“What kind of deal?”
“You spend the day with me without interruption,” he decided flashing her a sexy smile.
“What?” she blinked back at him, “No, you’ve got to be kidding.  I can’t spend the day with you considering…”
“Not necessarily today,” he interrupted with a hint of mischief in his voice, “but when I deem it fitting you spend a day with me no questions asked.”
“I can’t just do that considering that the media is hounding me not to mention that…”
“No excuses,” he shook his head back at her, “If you want me to hide, then there’s going to be some kind of trade off and all I’m asking is for one day.”
“Russ, you know that I can’t just take off with you now and for you to be so stubborn about it…” she snapped back at him “You know Russ this is exactly why you and I don’t get along because you’re so damned stubborn and you have to do things your way…”
“It’s either a day with me or forget about me even thinking about hiding.  In fact,” he turned towards the door a smile building over his handsome features, “maybe I should tell Brant and Brooke good morning since I know they’ll both be happy to see me…”
“Russ you can’t,” she pulled on his arm in an attempt to keep him away from the impending trouble waiting outside the bedroom as her desperation shone through the surface, “fine.”
“Fine what?” he spun around to face her.
“Fine, I’ll spend a day with you,” Avery blurted out with a hiss.
“And a night,” he winked down at her.
“Now wait a second,” Avery growled up at him, “you said you wanted a day…”
“Meaning twenty four hours,” his eyes sparkled with trouble as he grinned down at her, “If you recall in the technical terms that is what a day consists of…”
“That’s blackmail and you know it,” Avery huffed fighting the urge to strangle him as he stepped in closer to her.
“And this is ridiculous and you know it,” he slipped his arm around her waist, “but if you’re so insistent upon playing things this way, then I’m going to bring forth my own terms.”
“Russ, I can’t just find a way to sneak away with you for twenty four hours and you know that…” Avery began in a haste.
“Fine, then open the door and we can talk to Brant and you won’t have to worry about not having time to yourself.”
“I really hate you sometimes,” Avery glared at him, “I hope you realize that.”
“You love me and I hope you realize that,” he leaned down to give her a quick kiss as the fire behind her eyes amused him beyond belief, “So where do you want me?”
“You don’t want to know the answer,” Avery scowled back at him as she looked around the room seeking out some kind of place to bury Russell away for the moment as her eyes fell upon the door to the balcony at the far end of the room.
“You’re cute when you’re angry you know,” Russ teased further, “I always loved the way your nose wrinkled when you were upset with me…”
“Come on,” she tugged on his arm dragging him over to the balcony as she opened the doors and motioned for him to step outside.
“No way,” he shook his head adamantly, “there’s no way I’m going out there.  Avery, it’s freezing this morning.”
“Just do it,” she demanded sharply, “I’ll do what I can to get rid of them and then we’ll work on getting you out of here.”
“I really don’t want to be stuck out here considering that it would be much easier if,” he began as she shoved him out onto the balcony with a huff.  He gave her a sideways glance as he winked at her, “What no kiss?”
“Ugh,” she groaned closing the door as she turned to look in the room surrounding her once again.  She made her way towards the bed as she noticed Russell’s shoes on the floor.  Swiftly picking them up, she rushed over to the balcony seeing him standing there looking less than thrilled until he saw her.
“Change your mind about that kiss?” he smiled stepping forward.
“Not hardly,” she remarked tossing his shoes at him before closing the door once again.  She took in a slow breath reaching for her robe as she tried to be casual making her way over towards the bedroom door and opening it to find Brant standing before her.
“Good morning beautiful,” Brant smiled at her as Brooke leered beside him her eyes narrowing at Avery.
“Everything alright in here,” Brooke demanded peeking behind Avery’s shoulder.
“Everything’s fine,” Avery opened the door wider as she stepped into the hallway.
“I thought you said you were getting dressed,” Brant gave her a strange look.
“Well you know I couldn’t decide what I wanted to wear,” Avery leaned up against the door frame, “You know how obsessive I can be about what I wear for the day considering that it sets the theme for things to come…”
“I see,” Brant gave her a strange look before shaking his head, “well regardless of what’s going on, I thought maybe I could tempt you with breakfast this morning since I was a jerk last night.”
“Well, I don’t know if breakfast is something that…” Avery began thinking about Russell waiting on the balcony.
“Avery, Brant went all out of his way to make this morning special for you and I don’t think you should be doing anything that would take away from that,” she warned sharply, “considering that you both have had some rough days lately.”
“Avery, I really am sorry about last night,” Brant reached out to her taking her hand in his, “I was an insensitive jerk and I was hoping you’d let me make it up to you.”
“Brant, I would but…” she started nervously as she took in a breath trying to think of a way to get Russell out of the mansion undetected.  She knew he was going to be angry, but she realized she had to distract both Brooke and Brant, “you know actually breakfast sounds great.  Just let me grab something to wear and…”
“It’s already waiting for you,” Brooke piped in urging her daughter further into the hallway.  “Don’t make Brant wait as it’ll get cold.  You can get dressed after,” Brooke pushed her out into the hall as Brant smiled down at Avery.
“Come on,” he extended his arm out towards her, “I know you’re going to love it.”
“Well, alright,” Avery accepted his arm heading down the stairs with him as she noticed Brooke remained at her door, “Mother are you coming?”
“Give me a moment,” Brooke smiled at Avery watching her slip away with Brant before Brooke entered Avery’s room ready to attack the man she’d seen in there earlier.  She looked around seeing that the room appeared to be empty as she thought of the moment she’d walked in on between Avery and Russell.  There was no doubt in Brooke’s mind that she was going to kill that man the next time she saw him as she refused to let him ruin Avery’s chances with Brant.

Now as Brooke turned towards the bedroom door once again, she spotted the door to the balcony out of the corner of her eye.  Suddenly remembering her daughter’s less than upstanding tactics in hiding Russell in the past during her younger years, an idea popped into Brooke’s mind as she headed towards the balcony throwing the doors open and stepping outside finding it empty.  Her scowl faded as she looked around the yard realizing that perhaps Avery had used her good sense after all and there would be simply nothing more to worry about.  With that thought in mind, she left Avery’s room and turned her attention to the stairs ready to enjoy the morning at the mansion as the wheels in her head began to turn.


“I hope you like breakfast,” Brant held a chair out for Avery as he escorted her to the table, “I know it’s not much of a peace offering, but after last night, well I realized I was the jerk of the world and you deserved something.”
“You didn’t have to make breakfast for me,” Avery began sliding into her chair as she thought to the evening’s turn abouts after she and Brant faced off.
“It was the least I could do considering that I said some things that were completely out of line,” he circled around the table taking a seat across from her, “When I think of how horrible I was, well Avery I realize that you deserve more than what I gave you.  I owed you the truth and I’m sorry that I was being a jerk about it…”
“Brant, you really don’t have to…” Avery began feeling on edge as Brooke’s absence left her wondering what her mother was up to.
“I want to,” he reached for her hand, “I was hoping we’d find a way this morning to make up for what I didn’t say last night.  I want a chance to make things up to you considering that…”
“I’m back,” Brooke announced brightly as she circled around the table, “I hope I didn’t miss anything.”
“Not at all,” Brant shook his head back at her, “in fact I was just telling Avery about my plans for the day.”
“Really,” Brooke’s smile widened as she took a seat beside Avery, “I think you’re really going to enjoy what Brant has in mind considering…”
“You know about today,” Avery began as there was a sound from the other room.  A moment later Annette walked in smiling brightly as she greeted the group.
“I was just on my way back from walking Peanut,” she explained with a smile, “when we got a visitor.”
“Oh?” Brant raised a curious brow, “Please tell me it’s not Shannon or any other form of law enforcement.”
“Not at all,” she shook her head as Russell stepped into the dining room carrying her Pomeranian and smiling brightly.
“Good morning everyone,” Russell greeted the group cheerfully.
“Russell, what a surprise,” Brant forced an icy smile as he watched the man before him.
“He was on his way to the house when Peanut spotted him,” Annette explained brightly, “and considering that he’s been around more lately, I thought what a coincidence.”
“Indeed,” Brooke’s eyes narrowed up at him.
“It looks like I came over at the right time as Annette just invited me in for breakfast,” Russell explained brightly his eyes lingering towards Avery for a brief moment before he set Annette’s loyal companion down once again and he took a seat at the table in the chair next to Avery as his smile widened.  “So what’s for breakfast?” he questioned as Avery drew in a nervous breath realizing that suddenly she was in for a very long morning.

...to be continued...