Episode 334

“I really appreciate you two inviting us over,” Kevin smiled widely fixing the color of his black dress shirt before pulling Ria’s chair out for her carefully at the table. “It really means a lot to me--well, to us.”

“He’s right,” Ria interrupted looking up to Russ and Avery who were standing at the other side of the table as Russ helped Avery into her seat. “It’s nice to meet you after all this time Avery, I mean it. Making new friends is always great.”

“I’d like to think so,” Avery smiled proudly before realizing that the food wasn’t set out yet. Going to get out of the seat she felt a strong hand place over her shoulder and she half smiled looking up to see Kevin behind her. “I should probably help Russ bring out the rest of the things.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kevin hushed with a small smirk taking a step toward Russ that was over towards the kitchen already. Moving in next to Russ he offered up another wide smile. “I think us guys got it, let us serve you.”

“He’s cute,” Avery pointed watching Ria smile as Russ and Kevin walked into the kitchen, leaving the two women alone. Seeing Ria’s dark eyes meet hers Avery moved forward in her seat folding her arms out in front of her. “He sounds so happy when he talks about you, you two sound like a perfect couple.”

“Us a perfect couple? Look at you and Russell,” Ria shook her head slowly before slightly shrugging her shoulders. “You two should be called the perfect couple, you two looking amazing together.”

“Well thank you,” Avery half smiled before seeing Kevin and Russ return to the dining room with a few dishes in their hands. Avery went to stand up before Russ shook his head slowly motioning her to sit back down. “I really should have helped you guys, Kevin is a guest here and…,”

“He has no problems helping me,” Russ pointed out with a small wink before setting a few things down in the center of the table. Setting a plate in front of Ria, Russ offered up a wide smile before shrugging his shoulders. “I wasn’t quite sure what you liked, so I made Kevin do your plate. If it sucks, I’m sure it’s because of him.”

“It won’t suck,” Kevin replied hitting Russ in the back of the head playfully after setting everything down in the right spot. Russ frowned and hit him in the chest back as Kevin let out a small laugh. “He seemed to follow the recipe perfectly, so it’s great. Trust me.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Ria smirked looking up to Kevin with a small smile seeing him wink down at her before taking a seat and moving forward towards the table. “It looks very good Russ, I really mean it when I tell you thanks.”

“Hey, no problem,” Russ nodded slowly before grabbing his napkin and setting it down in his lap. Placing his hands on the table, a bright smile spread over his features and he shrugged his shoulders. “It’s nice to have guests over to our new house. You two are actually one of the first to be in here.”

“That’s really cool,” Kevin placed his hands on the table looking over at Avery and offering up a small wink before looking over at Ria. “I was actually thinking about it and…,”

“What in the world is this?” Kyle voice erupted through the room as he walked into the room with Grady and Zane at his side. “A dinner party at the new house and Kyle wasn’t invited?”

“How did the two--three of you get in the house?” Russ questioned after noticing Zane at Grady’s side, making him get up from his seat and turn to face Kyle as Kyle stepping in closer to him. “Seriously, you don’t just walk into people’s houses like that.”

“The door was unlocked,” Zane informed Russell seeing Russ’s green eyes look down at him curiously as he shrugged his shoulders and nodded over towards Grady. “Kyle didn’t open the door, Grady did.”

“Kiddo,” Grady chuckled reaching down to pick up Zane in his arms and hold him tightly. Letting out a hesitant laugh Grady shot Kyle a look seeing Kyle shrug his shoulders before looking back to see Kevin before him. “He was playing.”

“He really wasn’t,” Kyle began in a small whisper turning to step in behind Kevin’s chair a muscle in his jaw tightening as he saw Kevin arch his eyebrow and look over his shoulder. Meeting Kyle’s gaze, Kyle turned toward Russ before frowning slightly. “Am I being replaced by this punk?”

“Listen,” Kevin got up from his chair slowly seeing Kyle’s eyes narrow in over at him as Avery stood up from the table to see the two men step nose to nose. “Do you really have a problem with me or something? We can finish it right here if you want.”

“Kevin,” Ria stood up touching the side of Kevin’s arm seeing him pull it away carefully before shaking his head slowly. Avery and Ria both moved forward seeing a muscle in Kevin’s jaw tightening as Kyle’s hazel eyes narrowed up into his. “Kyle doesn’t mean anything by it honey.”

“It’s okay Ria,” Kyle smirked flashing her a small smile before looking over Kevin’s shoulder. Eyeing her over slowly Kyle folded his arms out in front of his chest nodding slowly. “I haven’t seen you in a while, you look good tonight. It’s nice to see you again.”

“You know him?” Kevin snapped seeing Ria roll her eyes once he looked back at her and Kyle shrugged his shoulders before going to walk off feeling Kevin push him in the center of his shoulder. “We’re not done here. You have a problem with me so come on.”

“You think I have a problem with you,” Kyle pushed at the center of Kevin’s chest rough enough to make him step back and Kyle felt Russ touch his shoulder and he nodded slowly motioning Russ to take a step back. Kevin bit down on his bottom lip as he saw Grady take Zane into the other room as Kevin clenched his fists at his side. “Well, I’ll tell you straight up, I have absolutely no problem with you.”

“What the…,” Kevin let out a shocked breath feeling Kyle wrap his arms around him and pull him into a hug as he looked over at Russ seeing the same expression on Russ’s face that he was feeling. Hearing Kyle let out a small laugh Kevin moved backwards feeling Kyle let go of him and move backwards. “Is he drunk? Are you drunk Houston?”

“No, I was just bored,” Kyle yawned plopping down in Kevin’s seat to take a look at the plate in front of him before moving forward to pick up a fork and poke at the food that was on Kevin’s plate. After poking at it for a minute he took a bite of the food before looking up at everyone, seeing all of their gazes on him. Shrugging his shoulders Kyle got up from the table pulling the plate up with him as he faced Kevin again. “Sorry about getting angry with you earlier, it’s just kind of a man thing. You know what it’s like--obviously.”

“Right, that‘s okay,” Kevin nodded glancing over at Ria for a minute before pausing and remembering that her and Kyle knew each other. Seeing Kyle walk into the living room he eyed Ria over slowly. “How the hell do you know him?”

“He comes to the hospital a lot Kevin, he’s got friends there,” Ria pointed out seeing Russ and Avery meet them over by the door when they heard Grady and Kyle in their living room. “When you have nothing else to do, talking is a good thing.”

“Kyle is nothing to worry about,” Avery assured Kevin with a small pat on his back as Ria and Russ walked out into the living room. “He may act like a jerk sometimes, but he would never hurt someone. It’s not like him to do something like that. The only time he ever would do something is if he felt like his family and friends were in danger.”

“Hey,” Kevin let out a small gasp catching Avery in his arms as she tripped over the phone cord. Feeling her against his chest Kevin placed his hand in over the small of her back to make sure she was okay. “Are you alright.”

“I’m fine,” Avery nodded feeling his thumb move in over her cheek as gained her balance back and noticed Kyle walking over towards the phone cord, kicking it back in place. “Thanks for catching me.”

“Stupid cord,” Kyle frowned taking another bite of the food that he had stolen from Kevin. Moving over toward Kevin, Kyle eyed him over slowly before letting out a small laugh. “You look like a dork.”

“Excuse me?” Kevin’s eyebrows tensed together as he looked down at his black dress shirt and fixed it up carefully. Noticing that Ria, Russ and Avery were sitting down on the couch talking with Zane, Kevin decided to give his own opinion. “I happen to think I look fine.”

“I happen to think you look like you are trying too hard,” Kyle was about to say more before the cry of Erin erupted through the house and a frown expanded over his features. Setting the plate down on the end table, Kyle let out a small breath. “Poor little girl.”

“I’ll go get her for you,” Kyle, Kevin, and Grady all offered up at the same time as Kyle shot Kevin a look and shook his head slowly stepping over toward the hallway.

“I’ve got her,” Kyle assured Kevin with a small shake of his head as Kevin rolled his eyes and took a seat next to Grady, leaving a spot open for Kyle so he could see Erin. “Here’s the pretty little girl.”

“She is so hamming it up for him,” Russ pointed out seeing Erin snuggling into Kyle’s shoulder, her cheek rubbing in against the smoothness of his t-shirt as Kyle let out a small laugh. “It looks like we have another man she’s going to be in love with.”

“She can’t help it,” Kyle informed them taking a seat next to Kevin on the couch before moving in closer to him so he could see Erin. “She loves her uncle Kyle, don’t you?”

“Look at her smile,” Kevin chuckled seeing Erin smile and try to hide her face from the people around her as he reached forward to tickle at her stomach while Kyle held her forward. Hearing her little laugh Kevin couldn’t help but laugh seeing her bright eyes looking over at him. “Look at how precious she is Ria.”

“She’s very cute Kevin,” Ria agreed seeing the way that his face just lightened up when Kyle brought Erin into the room and the way he played with Erin made her realize how much she loved the man before her. “You two have a beautiful child.”

“Speaking of the parents,” Kyle cleared his throat uneasily scooping Erin up in his arms carefully before standing up slowly and moving in closer to Kevin. “I need to talk to Erin’s mother in private for a minute, so if you don’t mind Adonis…,”

“I don’t mind at all,” Kevin smiled widely getting a hold on Erin as she giggled looking up at him with her wide eyes as Kyle walked away. “I love seeing this beautiful little girl.”

“You know, I’m her uncle,” Grady pointed out seeing Kevin lean down to blow on her belly gently and she let out a long laugh, tugging on his hair gently. “I should get to hold her.”

“Why don’t you let Erin chose,” Russ offered up seeing Kevin shrug his shoulders before holding her up in the air carefully. “Who does she want to see?”

“You want to see your uncle Grady or do you want to see Kev?” Kevin questioned with a wide smile seeing her look back between the two of them before she stretched her arms out towards Kevin again. Pulling her in closer to him, Kevin snuggled with her feeling her head rest against his chest and her little fingers wrapping around his. “I think I’m having a problem Russ.”

“Really?” Russ leaned forward in his seat giving Ria a small glance as she smiled watching Kevin press a small kiss against Erin’s forehead. “What’s that?”

“I think I’m falling in love with your daughter,” Kevin replied leaning back so Grady could see Erin as she cuddled more into his chest and let out a small yawn. “When I mean I’m falling, I mean I’m falling very hard.”


Heather tried to still the furious pounding of her heart, but it was no use. All she could think about was what it had felt like when she’d learned that Kyle was marrying Sarah this weekend. It seemed so unfair, so far from what she’s wanted--from what she’d started to long for in her life, yet when it came down to it she knew better. She knew full well Kyle was off limits, yet she’d kept pushing the envelope and now, well now the joke was truly on her.

There wouldn’t be any happily ever after. There wouldn’t be any romantic over clichéd dream come true for Heather. Reality was what was right in front of her. Men like Kyle Houston didn’t get involved with women like her, let alone married to them. Sarah was always what he’d wanted--clearly what he needed and Heather was a fool to try to make a different outcome happen between them. Kyle was just like every other creep out there--ready to have one last fling and there was Heather as always ready to provide it.

“Well no more,” Heather blurted out knocking on the door in front of her in an attempt to be calm and collected though she was ready to climb the walls. She was late in coming over to pick up Charles and even though her mind was in an uproar all she could think about was seeing her son and focusing on the only man in her life that had never truly let her down. She’d just think about all she did have with Charles instead of lingering over the dream that would never be with Kyle.

“Hey,” Kipp opened the door seeing her ready to pound on it once again. Before she could follow through on her intentions, Kipp reached for her wrist catching it before she could strike him across the chest, “Heather the door is open.”

“Oh right,” Heather snapped out of her daze throwing an apologetic expression over at Kipp. “I’m sorry. I know I’m late, but…”

“Are you okay?” Kipp couldn’t help but ask seeing that it appeared that Heather had been crying. He watched her wipe at her face as if to hide the evidence of her tears and he already knew his answer. “Okay, what’s happened?”

“Nothing. Everything,” she threw her arms up in the air, “I don’t know. I just don’t understand why I can’t just have the one thing that I wanted more than anything. I can’t understand why I can’t make just one person--just one very important, very special person see just how much I love him. Then again maybe this is payback for everything I’ve done. Maybe I deserve to hurt like this for what I did to you and to everyone else in the past…”

“I take it something happened with Kyle,” Kipp frowned closing the door behind her entrance and seeing her pace around the room.

“Do you think I’m a horrible person?” Heather questioned spinning around to face Kipp once again, “Never mind. Don’t answer that. I already know that I’m a horrible person, but I really haven’t done anything too terrible lately except for well maybe trying to seduce my sister’s soon-to-be husband, but really that wasn’t something I planned on. If Kellen hadn’t put all of those stupid, foolish notions into my head, then I never, ever would have…”

“Hey slow down,” Kipp approached her reaching out to place his hands over her shoulders to still her.

His dark gaze reached out to her and he saw the confusion and frustration burning inside of her. Gently nudging her over towards the sofa, he urged her to take a seat. She did as instructed and plopped down with him soon following at her side.

“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” Kipp suggested placing his hand on top of hers. “What happened?”

“Kipp, everything is a mess,” she sighed sinking further into the couch, “I mean I get that I’ve been a real jerk, but why must fate punish me like this? Why must I fall in love with someone who is never, ever going to love me back? I mean I’m used to keeping a safe distance, but now…”

“Now you’re seeing what it feels like to put your heart out on the line and make yourself vulnerable,” Kipp noted watching her nod. She opened her mouth to speak, but instead tears followed.

“I hate this,” Heather blurted out leaning forward into his chest. She felt his arms wrap around her and her tears continued. “I tried to convince myself when I ran away from home that I wouldn’t ever think about Kyle the way I’ve been thinking about him lately, but I’m too stupid to stick to my guns. I’m too big of an idiot to keep myself away from what I’ve put myself into.”

“Heather you aren’t stupid,” Kipp smoothed his fingers through her hair urging her to gaze up at him. “That’s one word I would never, ever use to explain all that you are. Neither would Kyle.”

“Oh come on,” Heather let out an ironic laugh, “Kipp I almost made love to the man only to discover that he’s marrying Sarah this weekend.”

Kipp frowned slightly, “That doesn’t sound like Kyle. Kellen mentioned that Kyle was having his doubts about Sarah and their relationship.”

“He is or at least he was, but now…” she shook her head with an exaggerated sigh, “I don’t know why I expected anything more from all of this.”

“Did you talk to Kyle?” Kipp couldn’t help but ask her. “What did he have to say?”

“What could he say other than he’s marrying Sarah?” she questioned with an exaggerated groan. “I mean it’s not like you can get the perfect fairy tale ending with a man who marries someone else Kipp.”

“For your information no one has the perfect fairy tale ending anymore,” Kipp pointed out matter of fact pushing a piece of her long, blonde hair out from her face, “That’s probably why they reserve those only for fairy tales Heather. They aren’t real.”

“Yes, but everyone else seems to get theirs. I, on the other hand, never wanted one, yet there’s Kyle and…” Heather shook her head at the thought, “I don’t know why I would think he’d see anything in me when he’s always wanted her.”

“Well, I think any idiot could see what he likes about you,” Kipp explained trying to pull her out of her moment of self pity. “You’re bright and beautiful and irritating as hell sometimes…”

“Stop,” she dismissed his words with a groan hating the way things played out, “You’re only obligated to say that because you’re my son’s father.”

“Heather if my memory serves me correct, the only reason I’m your son’s father is because I saw all of those special things in you and I’m sure that Kyle does too,” Kipp squeezed her in his arms, a small smile touching over his lips. “Hey that in itself should say something. Look at our son. He’s incredible and the only reason he made it this far was because of you.”

“Sarah would like to beg to differ with that opinion,” she pointed out smugly thinking about how her sister constantly liked to beat her down one way or another.

“Sarah can blow it out her ass because in my eyes and most of the others around here, you’re the shining star,” Kipp touched the tip of her nose with his finger and his grin expanded. “Who would want someone like her when they could have a lifetime with someone as incredible as you? If you think that Kyle would be willing to pass up someone as amazing as you are, then he’s the idiot, not you.”

“Stop being so nice to me,” she frowned wiggling out of his arms, “Kipp I treated you like dirt. I used you and broke your heart and the last thing you should be doing is being nice to me. You should be saying that this is exactly what I deserve for hurting you--that I should be lucky that getting my heart broken is all that’s happening.”

“Personally I think you should take a step back before you start condemning yourself,” Kipp suggested seeing her getting worked up all over again, “Heather, what happened between you and I is the past and while we didn’t end up where I thought we would, I wouldn’t change what we had for anything in the world. Our time together gave us Charles and that’s something that’s always going to be special for me. You gave me the one thing that I’ve always been missing in my life and that’s a family. I couldn’t ever feel bitter or resentful to you for that. It’s because of you that I have our son in my life.”

“Kipp, it’s just…” Heather stopped herself and sighed, “I’m sorry that I hurt you. I wish I could take that back.”

“It’s water under the bridge,” Kipp shrugged his shoulders before rising to his feet and stepping towards her, “but that doesn’t mean that you have to give up on yourself or on Kyle because of what’s been done. Heather if you love him and you think that there’s a possibility that he might feel the same way, then you need to talk to him. You need to make sure that you’re both not making a mistake. From what Kellen tells me you and Kyle have something special between you.”

“Kellen thinks anytime a man has an erection it’s special,” Heather blurted out thoughtlessly seeing the expression on Kipp’s face, “Sorry, but it’s true.”

“Even so maybe you shouldn’t write what it is you were hoping for with Kyle off just yet. I’ve seen him with Sarah and I’ve seen him with you. Something tells me Sarah’s yesterday’s news,” Kipp offered up supportively.

“Yes with tomorrow’s ring on her finger and a wedding on the weekend. It’s a hopeless cause,” Heather threw her hands in the air, “I don’t know why I’m even bothering to carry on like this.”

“Because you’re strong and you’re ruthless and you don’t let anyone or anything keep you from what you want,” Kellen’s voice blurted out as he entered the room, “You are my Heather Babes and you’re going to march up to Kyle and tell him point blank that you’re his future. Sarah’s a bad mistake and you’re going to prove that to him.”

“Oh would you just shut up,” Heather threw her hands up in the air before wiggling her finger at Kellen in an accusatory motion, “You’re the reason this whole mess got started in the first place.”

“Hey, I can’t help it if I see chemistry where it’s at and you my darling have explosions with that man,” Kellen argued with her seeing her irritation.

“Yeah that’s called my life blowing up when it gets derailed,” Heather cut him off abruptly before turning to Kipp, “Look I know it’s getting late and I said I would be here earlier for Charles…”

“He’s sleeping right now,” Kipp explained apologetically, “but I can wake him if…”

“No, don’t wake him,” Heather shook her head realizing that just because she was in an uproar it didn’t mean she had to drag Charles into it. “I’ll just let him stay here tonight and I’ll pick him up in the morning. I think I need time to think anyways.”

“You can stay here and talk about it if you’d like,” Kipp suggested catching the glare that Heather gave Kellen.

“No, right now I need to get outside of myself for a while and I think the only way I’m going to do that is to spend some time alone,” Heather explained glancing over at Kipp once again, “Are you sure you’re okay with my picking Charles up in the morning?”

“Of course and if you change your mind about that talk…” Kipp mouthed reaching out to touch her arm gently.

“Thanks Kipp, but you’re right about what you said before. I need to think this one through,” Heather confessed embracing him for a brief moment before leaving his place with a great many questions unanswered. Once she walked out the door Kipp finally looked to Kellen with curious eyes.

“Okay spill it,” Kipp blurted out giving his lover a long look, “You told me that Heather and Kyle were pretty much a sure thing, so what’s really going on here now? When the hell did he decide that he was going to go through with marrying Sarah? I thought they were over…”

“Yeah well about that,” Kellen raised his finger in the air to issue Kipp a dose of the reality behind the situation, “That’s a pretty big story and…”

“And I think we’ve got a while to talk about it, so how about you give me a clearer picture of what’s going on with Heather?” Kipp suggested as Kellen realized that things were becoming even more tangled in the web that Kyle was weaving for the great finale soon to be on the wedding day. Kellen just wondered if in Kyle’s big moment if he would truly be making the right decision or if his actions would cost him and a great many others more than they were willing to pay.


“Don’s late,” Brant frowned from the corner booth that he and Angela had slipped into upon their arrival at Pizza Palace. The place was buzzing with parents and sugar-driven children that were practically bouncing off of the walls around them. The atmosphere was loud and chaotic, yet Angela seemed to be immersed in enjoying the craziness that had surrounded them for the last half hour that they’d been waiting for Don to show up.

“I’m sure he’ll be here,” Angela insisted taking a long look around the restaurant, “Would you believe I have never, ever been in a place like this one?”

“You have to be kidding me, right?” Brant glanced over his shoulder at her watching her shake her head.

“I wish I could’ve spent time in places like these when I was younger, but my father wouldn’t hear of it,” she confessed with a small sigh seeing a father and his daughter over by the skee ball machines playing a vigorous round of the game. “My father had me grow up with private tutors all the way through my school years. It was a wonder that I was able to get out to med school in Europe.”

“You studied in Europe?” Brant questioned with a curious expression eager to learn more about the woman he was with.

She nodded, “Yeah and I had the best of the best tutors, but it wasn’t like a normal child would live. I had bodyguards and someone at my side all of the time. The friends I had were the children of the men that worked for my father and even then I think most of them hated me. Other than Kevin, I don’t think I really had any friends.”

“Seriously,” Brant blurted out without thinking, “Somehow I find that very hard to believe.”

“Why?” she questioned looking up at him from where she’d been seated, “Do you think I’d make something like that up?”

“No,” he shook his head, “It’s just that you seem so personable that I’m surprised that you didn’t have a flock of children around you growing up. You’re just so friendly and…”

“And in being the daughter of one of the most threatening men in the country, well let’s just say it didn’t exactly make you on the top popularity list--at least not unless there were orders behind it,” Angela revealed with a heavy sigh placing her hands on the table top. “I’m sorry I’m not trying to have a pity party for me here.”

“No,” Brant reached out to squeeze her hand gently, “I want you to feel like you can talk to me. I want to know more about you. I mean I think it’s kind of important right?”

“I guess,” she flashed him a small smile before letting out a nervous laugh, “but I wasn’t really ready to admit to you that I was a loser here. It seems pathetic to finally vocalize that.”

“You’re far from being a loser,” Brant squeezed her hand gently before leaning in over the table top, “Truth be told I wasn’t exactly Mr. Popularity myself when I was younger. Ken was the one that everyone wanted to get close to. I was more so the class clown. Don, Hart and I were like the biggest dorks in prep school. I wasn’t nearly as bright as Ken was and none of the girls wanted to date me. Hell, Don and I used to have a contest each summer to see which one of us had less rejections in the dating department--sadly we both averaged about fifty of them a season.”

“Oh please,” Angela rolled her eyes at what he was telling her, “You’re so lying about that.”

“No seriously,” Brant informed her point blank, “It wasn’t until Don and I went on Spring Break one year that our bad luck streak left us. Of course even then I think I didn’t have the greatest of luck there. It took my becoming the CEO of the family business for people to really take notice. I mean sure okay so maybe it wasn’t that long, but it took a while.”

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better. I don’t believe for a second that anyone would think you and Don were nerds,” Angela shook the thought feeling his fingers over hers, “especially considering how hot you both are.”

“You think we’re both hot?” Brant arched a curious brow, “As in Don too?”

“Well yeah,” she nodded in response before tipping her head to the side, “That doesn’t bother you, does it?”

“That all depends,” he got up from where he was seated across from her at the booth. He slid in beside her, bringing his arm around her shoulders, “Who do you think is hotter? Don or me?”

“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes at his question, “you can’t be serious.”

“I’m very serious,” he admitted shifting his body ever so slightly so that he faced her, “Who do you think is hotter?”

“I made love to you last night, didn’t I?” she wrinkled her nose at him placing her hand on his thigh, “And this morning if I do recall…”

“I think that does come to mind, but it’s a bit hazy,” Brant teased catching the playfulness in her voice.

“I’ll give you hazy,” Angela tickled at his side, a bubble of laughter rising up from within her, “Brant Ashford I’ll have you know that I have never derived so much pleasure in being with a man than I have with you.”

“Now you’re just saying that because you feel obligated,” he remarked eyeing her intently, feeling her fingers still resting on his thigh, while her other hand pressed in against his chest.

“I’m obligated to no one,” she reminded him pointedly, “I don’t have to lie to make people like me because most of the time they don’t. I’m well aware of that fact, so I’ve always tried to keep up with being brutally honest.”

“So be brutal and give it to me straight,” Brant dared her, wiggling his brow mischievously.

“Fine, you asked for it,” she inched in closer to him, “the fact to the matter is that I think Don is very sexy. He’s funny in a quirky kind of way and he’s goofy, which is always a turn on for me. He tends to not take himself too seriously and there’s just something about those beautiful blue eyes of his…”

“Okay I take back what I said. Lie to me,” Brant replied fighting to suppress the reaction building up inside of him.

“Not a chance. Remember it’s brutal honesty,” Angela informed him bluntly, curling her lip in a small pout. She reached out to trace her index finger over the center of Brant’s lips, “Don has a certain charm to him--one that makes me realize that he’s a fun guy to spend time with. I like him a lot--a real lot and yes I think he’s very attractive, but I’m in love with you.”

Brant couldn’t help but break into a smile upon hearing her words, “Could you say that again? I just want to make sure that I didn’t hear you wrong.”

“I said that I am completely head over heels, insatiably in love with you,” Angela mouthed sliding her fingers through his thick hair and pulling him into a very explicit, passion-filled embrace. Her fingers crept in over his inner thigh sending tremors racing over him until their lips parted. “Now if you have any doubts about that one, then you’re crazy.”

“We already knew that about me. I am crazy,” Brant mused with a thoughtful expression, “Crazy over you.”

“You’d better be,” Angela leaned in to kiss him once again only to spot Don arriving over Brant’s shoulder. She gave him a quick peck before pointing to where Don was, “He’s here.”

“Oh great,” Brant turned to see his friend standing in the doorway with Matt in his arms. His elevated mood suddenly tapered off a bit watching Don searching the room.

“Where’s his wife?” Angela questioned seeing a short, burly woman with short black hair that spiked over the top of her pumpkin shaped head, “Oh boy please don’t tell me that’s Shannon.”

“No, but Don would probably be better off if she was,” Brant replied feeling his blood boil at the realization that Shannon may have backed out on Don. “She can’t do anything for him these days.”

“Who? His wife?” Angela questioned curiously waving over at Don and seeing him approaching.

“She hates me and she’s going to make him suffer because of it,” Brant whispered vowing to have a word with Shannon after this. While he hated Shannon and hated the fact that she’d married his best friend, the fact to the matter was that Don was a good guy. He deserved someone who would accept him as he was and that included being there when Don needed her. Yes Brant and Shannon had history, but for her to abandon Don and Matt without good reason that was too much.

Of course she could have good reason, Brant thought to himself wondering if that was the case when Don arrived at the table.

“Uncle Brant,” Matt cheered looking down at Brant.

“Hey slugger,” Brant stood up to greet Matt pulling him into his arms, “How are you?”

“I’m great,” Matt hugged Brant excitedly before stretching up and peering over Brant’s shoulder to gaze down at Angela, “So this is your hot new girlfriend my dad was talking about, huh?”

Angela couldn’t help but chuckle seeing the way Don’s eyes widened in surprise. Don moved forward reaching out to pull his son back into his arms quickly.

“I said Brant had a nice new girlfriend,” Don explained to his son embarrassment flooding over his face at what his son said.

“That was really hot. I heard you talking on the phone,” Matt pointed out to his father with a matter of fact look on his face.

“Okay, so maybe I might’ve said something that you think sounded like that, but…” Don began feeling his face grow hot.

“It’s okay,” Angela interrupted sliding in to get out of the booth, “I’ve heard a lot about you as well Matt. My name is Angela and it’s great to finally meet you. Your dad tells me that you like to swim.”

“Do I ever,” Matt nodded turning around to face the new attention that was presented to him. “I’m the best swimmer in my class and today I got to meet a real Olympic swimmer. Did you know my dad was almost in the Olympics once too?”

“Matt, we don’t need to go there,” Don further blushed watching his son gush about him.

“Sure we do,” Matt added proudly, “My dad is one of the best wrestlers out there. He was captain of his team in high school and college and…”

“And why don’t we think about what we want to get for dinner?” Don suggested placing his hand on his son’s shoulder. “I’m sure Brant and Angela are super hungry since we’re running behind.”

“I’m super hungry,” Matt decided as well turning to Angela today. “We had jell-o today, but it wasn’t that good. The pizza here is the best though. My favorite is extra cheese and extra ham. I love ham on my pizza.”

“Me too,” Angela glanced up at Brant and Don and noted the expression on Don’s face. “In fact, what do you say you and I go and order us some pizza and maybe some breadsticks? They look really good.”

“They are like the super best,” Matt glanced her over curiously, “Have you not been here before?”

“This is my first time,” Angela explained with a small smile.

“Really? Wow, I mean I guess I thought everyone came here. You’re a grown up and I thought you’d been here lots of times like me,” Matt explained with a small laugh, “Well let me give you the tour if my dad says it’s okay. Dad, can I show Angela Pizza Palace after we order pizza?”

“Sure,” Don nodded with a smile of his own, “just be careful.”

“I will and I won’t forget to get you your pizza,” Matt added with a wink turning to Angela, “You won’t like his because it’s yucky, but the ham pizza here is the bestest of the best.”

“I’m sure it is,” Angela noted exchanging looks with Brant, “I’ll be back.”

“Here take this,” Brant decided pulling some money out of his pocket and handing it to her, “Get him anything he wants. The same goes for you. Matt knows what Don and I order, so we’re all set.”

“Okay,” Angela accepted the money only to feel Don’s hand over theirs.

“No, I can cover it,” Don started to fumble with his pocket to pull out some money.

“It’s no problem. It’s not every day that I get to treat my godson,” Brant assured him watching Angela tuck the money into her pocket.

“We’ll be back after the tour,” Angela informed the both of them with a smile before leaning in to whisper to Brant, “You two can take all the time you need to talk.”

“Thanks,” Brant kissed her on the cheek before watching Matt lead Angela away to show her around Pizza Palace. Turning to face Don, Brant noticed the perplexed expression on his friend’s face. “Shannon’s not showing up huh?”

Don shook his head, “No, but it’s her problem, not mine. I promised you that we’d be here and I’m not going to let her ruin tonight. If she can’t handle the fact that you’re my best friend and I’m not going to cut you out of my life simply because she doesn’t like you, then that’s her problem, not mine.”

“Look I didn’t mean to start problems in your marriage Don. If I would’ve thought that Shannon would get this bent out of shape over what happened,” Brant started apologetically.

“Shannon gets bent out of shape over everything,” Don admitted with a painful expression, “Maybe the mistake I made was thinking that it could work in the first place. I mean it wouldn’t be the first time someone confused sex and love in a relationship, right?”

“Oh come on Don. I know that you love her. As hard as it is for me to figure out why, I know you do,” Brant replied seeing the sadness behind his friend’s eyes.

“Yeah, but what’s the point if she can’t love me back,” Don let out an ironic laugh before looking to Brant, “I mean if she wants me to be someone I’m not in order to make her happy, then what’s the point? When I was with Stephanie she never expected me to be anything other than me.”

“Stephanie and Shannon are like night and day Don,” Brant reminded his friend pointedly, “We both know that.”

“Even so I can’t keep living a lie Brant,” Don explained pointedly, “All of my life I have wanted something that I’ve never had. With Stephanie I had it for about five minutes before it was taken from me. Matt is all that I have and I love him with all that I am.”

“Shannon’s good with him,” Brant reminded him seeing a smile touch over Don’s lips.

“She’s great with him, but I just don’t know how I can be with someone who doesn’t love me for me,” Don motioned over to Angela and Matt as they stood by the counter with one another. “I mean look at Angela. She thinks that you’re amazing. You two have something special with one another and I can see the love in her eyes when she’s around you. She knows you’re not perfect and she still thinks that you are.”

“Believe me she doesn’t,” Brant offered up watching the way that Angela interacted with Matt. Matt tugged on her hand and she bent down to listen to him whispering in her ear. She laughed lightly before whispering to him in response and causing him to giggle. “We have our share of problems too.”

“Even so, she’s never asked you to give up all that you are. She never flat out told you she couldn’t stand you because you made a decision to help someone you cared about and stood by it,” Don informed him with a heavy sigh, “The only time Shannon is happy with me lately is when we’re in bed and with Nate there that isn’t even happening for us.”

“Hey, maybe this is just the stress of Nate. I mean maybe she’s just going through some issues with him being around herself,” Brant suggested hating to see his friend so upset.

“No, she just likes to punish me,” Don groaned inwardly, “and in some areas I love it when it‘s in the appropriate time and place, but tonight she should’ve been with me. Tonight she should’ve came with Matt and I to meet with you both. There’s no excuse for her not being here other than she’s too stubborn to try to make things work.”

“Look maybe if you two talk…” Brant offered worriedly hating to see Don looking so upset.

“To hell with it. I’m here and I’m not going to let Shannon ruin this for Matt and I. I’m going to have fun whether she likes it or not,” Don announced going over to join Matt and Angela as Brant wondered if things were really headed towards disaster between his best friend and Shannon. He just hoped that if things came to an end that Don wouldn’t wind up with his heart shattered given that he’d lived through that once and it damn near killed him the first time around.


“So where are we going?” Evie questioned turning to look over at JT with curious eyes. She patted her fingers on the seat in the car before looking to him again, “Well?”

“An impatient one, aren’t you?” JT couldn’t help but laugh at her. “Tell me something do you ever just take the time to sit back and relax?”

“I am sitting back and relaxing,” she informed him with a small frown, “yet at the same time I’ve been overly patient about the way things are going on around me. If you don’t start telling me what’s on your mind soon, I’m going to go crazy.”

“You’re already driving me there,” JT couldn’t help but tease glancing over at her before focusing on the road again. “You know there’s really just something about you.”

“A good something or bad something?” she questioned arching a curious brow.

“Just something,” he laughed lightly shaking his head before pulling off of the main road and bringing them one step closer to their destination. “I mean just when I think I have you pegged you find a way to throw me through a loop.”

“I thought you liked a good mystery,” she grinned over at him, tossing her long, dark hair behind her shoulders.

“I do happen to enjoy a good well played mystery now and then, but obviously you’re the kind of person who likes to know the final destination before you can truly enjoy the journey,” he added with a tiny chuckle. “I’ll bet you even read the last page of the story before you start it, don’t you?”

She stayed silent for a long moment before curling her lip in a pout, “So what if I do? That just gives me motivation to want to read the story. I mean let’s face it, it’s all about the ending and if the ending sucks, then what’s the point of going through the whole tale only to be let down at the end. I would rather know what to expect out of the situation I get into.”

“Spoken from someone who thrives on trying to get various cheap thrills,” he couldn’t help but tease shaking his head at her, “When you’re pick pocketing you couldn’t possibly be knowing the outcome of the situation.”

“That’s not what I was talking about,” she frowned over at him, “Besides, why are you bringing that up now when we have a perfectly good evening lined up in front of us. Shouldn’t we be focused on where you’re taking me instead of on all of that?”

“I was just making conversation,” he shrugged his shoulders before bringing the car to a stop. He turned the keys in the ignition before looking over at her. “You ready?”

“Where are we?” Evie wrinkled her nose taking a long look around to see that they were no where near surrounded by the street lights that had been present earlier. She watched JT open up his car door without giving her an answer before he circled around the car to open the door for her.

“You’ll just have to trust me,” he winked down at her taking her hand in his. He helped her out of the car before looking to the night sky above. “It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah it is,” she paused for a moment realizing that they were surrounded by nothing, but an open clearing and some trees in the distance. “You’re like not going to try to like kill me or anything for when I took your wallet, are you?”

“Is that why you think I brought you out here,” JT couldn’t help but laugh lightly still keeping her hand in his. He pulled her in closer to him, wrapping his arm around her waist. “I guess it looks like it’s just the two of us and you’re going to have no choice, but to trust that I enjoy having you around.”

“You’d be missing out on a lot if you killed me,” she inched up on her toes pressing her fingers into the side of his cheek. Her hand slide lazily into his dark hair before her lips beckoned his to meet hers in a small kiss. Curling her other arm around his waist, she felt his hold on her strengthen until a loud sound sprung up from behind them.

“It looks like our ride is here,” JT whispered against her lips pulling back ever so slightly to let her see the first glimpse of the horse drawn wagon that was approaching them. Instinctively he waved to the man that was driving the horses and released Evie long enough to walk over to him. “Hey Sid, how’s it going?”

“Great night isn’t it JT?” the man nodded back at him before smiling over at Evie. “Hello young lady.”

“Evie, I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine. This is Sid. Sid this is my good pal Evie,” JT explained brightly drawing his arm around Evie’s shoulders. “Evie’s never really experienced the fun of a haunted evening like tonight so I thought we could show her a thing or two about this place.”

“So you’ve never heard of the delights that Haunted Hills has to offer?” Sid arched a curious brow at her.

“Haunted Hills?” Evie repeated looking between both men. “No I can’t say that I have.”

“Well then tonight will be a first for you young lady,” Sid explained with a bright smile glancing over at JT before explaining. “You see this part of town is said to be haunted and there are a great many ghost stories that take place about what goes on at night in the hills here.”

“Ghost stories,” Evie blurted out with a small laugh, “You can’t honestly tell me that you two believe in ghosts, do you?”

“You don’t?” JT arched a curious brow before squeezing her in closer to him. “You can’t tell me that you’ve never seen a ghost before.”

“Hardly,” she wrinkled her nose at him, “There are no such things as ghosts or haunting.”

“Then I’m assuming you’re brave enough to take on the haunted hayride then, yes?” Sid questioned with a warm, welcoming glance.

“Is that what we’re doing?” Evie looked between the two men.

“That is if you are up for the challenge,” JT nodded with a bright grin seeing something spark behind her eyes.

“I’m more than up for it and before this night is over I’m going to prove to you that there are no such things as ghosts JT,” she blurted out with a determined laugh getting up onto the side of the wagon. She hoisted herself up into the pile of hay before turning to JT again. “Well what are you waiting for? Please don’t tell me that you’re afraid we’re going to get into some serious haunting.”

“I think you’re going to find that you’re in store for some big surprises tonight,” he teased pulling himself into the wagon as well. He settled in beside her before laughing, “but don’t worry I won’t hold it against you when you’re terrified and squeezing onto me for dear life.”

“I might hold onto you, but you can rest assured that it will have nothing to do with my being afraid of a ghost,” she wrinkled her nose at him before taking a long look around and anticipating what the ride had to offer them!


“Ever since your friend left you have been kind of quiet you know,” Daniel pointed out seeing Lindsay look away from him as he reached out to give her shoulder a small squeeze. “Listen, I know you probably don’t want to talk about things with me…,”

“No, it’s not that. I don’t mind telling you things,” Lindsay tried to explain before finding herself at a loss of words again when she moved forward into the store to look at something. “Thanks for offering to take me home by the way.”

“No problem,” he nodded slowly watching her walk towards the front of the store and out into the wide space where they could go and sit down in the food court. “Does this mean you are going to tell me or are we going to have another smoothie?”

“I can tell you something right?” she questioned carefully seeing Daniel nod slowly and she took in a deep breath not quite sure if he was the right one to tell, but he seemed like a nice enough guy that wouldn’t spread the word around. “You won’t tell anyone about any of this right?”

“I swear,” Daniel nodded slowly not quite knowing what it was she was about to tell him, but he knew that it was obviously something that was deeply bothering her. “Just talk to me about whatever it is that is bothering you. I told you, I am a pretty good listener.”

“Alright,” Lindsay took in a deep breath, not really knowing where to start considering the facts that she was still really confused about the whole situation herself still. “I walked in on my father kissing another woman and it wasn’t my mother.”

“Oh wow,” he took in a sharp breath not knowing what to say as he looked around the room before him before moving in closer to her to place his hand over hers. “Lindsay, maybe you saw something wrong. Maybe it wasn’t what you thought.”

“It’s exactly what I thought Daniel,” she snapped not meaning to snap at him as she inhaled deeply and shook her head slowly. “I’m telling you, my whole life I thought my parents were fine. I thought he was okay with my mother, their relationship seemed so good, but it obviously wasn’t. I can’t believe that my father would go and do something like that. What if my mother doesn’t know about it? Oh my god, she is going to be so torn up about this.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” he tried to hush her seeing the way her worried blue eyes lingered around the room and he urged her to look up at him as he slid his index finger in underneath her chin. “First things first, we have to get you to calm down. That’s all.”

“This isn’t really about me Danny,” Lindsay took in a small breath moving her hand out from underneath his and she shook her head slowly. “I just can’t believe he would do this to my mother after all these years. They had two good children and he goes off and does something like this. Granted Don is an adult and has a child, but I’m still a teenager. I need my parents to be together.”

“Hey, even if they do get a divorce--there are plenty of people that have that,” Daniel tried to get her to calm down as he placed his hand in over the center of the table. “To tell you the truth, I don’t even know who my father is. My mom just decided that she wanted to have a child and I guess you could call me a lab baby. I don’t know who my father is Lindsay.”

“Danny,” Lindsay took in a deep breath not quite knowing what to say after she made herself look bad like that and the worst part was that she now felt bad after acting like that in front of him. “I’m so sorry, if I would have known…,”

“You didn’t know, that’s the point,” Daniel hushed her shaking his head slowly before stepping up from his chair and nodding over towards the exit. “I’m doing fine with just my mother anyways, she’s all I could ever ask for. How about we get out of here and go for a ride or something before I take you home? That always gets me to feel better.”

“Alright,” Lindsay reached for his hand as he helped her out of her seat and over toward the exit doors and she took in a deep breath. “If it makes you feel better, it might do the same to me.”


“Thanks for inviting us out with you tonight,” Hunt looked over to Chase and Trisha after they had slid into their side of the booth across from him and Mindy. “I was just telling Mindy that we needed to find something fun and exciting to get wrapped up in.”

“This place is great,” Trisha added brightly looking over at Chase with a grin, “Thanks for suggesting it honey.”

“A friend of mine does some Deejay work here on the weekends, so he’s the one you should be thanking. He’s the one that really suggested it,” Chase explained with a grin taking in the environment now that the neon lights shone overhead. He watched the groups of people making their way onto the dance floor and he smiled. “It’s pretty nice though.”

“Nice doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Mindy noted sipping on her martini. She set the glass down on the table again before looking to Chase, “Though I’m surprised you haven’t been here before tonight since you seem to be in with the dance scene.”

“Mindy,” Trisha threw out a warning look at her friend.

“Chase is a great dancer,” Mindy continued to jab at Chase with a small laugh, “Why you should’ve seen him the other night Hunt. He got on stage and…”

“Mindy,” Trisha felt a blush carry over her at the reminder of how they had seen Chase at the strip club.

“No it’s cool,” Chase waved his hand dismissively before grinning over at Mindy. “I’m glad you liked the performance. I must say I worked long and hard on the number and most of the time I do get a lot of positive feedback on it, but it usually comes in the form of money in a g-string instead of real, honest responses.”

“Come again,” Hunt blinked back at Chase surprised at what he was hearing.

“I’m an exotic dancer,” Chase admitted openly and candidly surprising everyone at the table with the ease at which he was discussing his profession. “It wasn’t exactly what I’d planned on getting into, but the pay was great and the hours weren’t so bad. I’m still going to school hoping to get into broadcasting, but hey for now it pays the bills.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Hunt finally spoke up clearing his throat in an attempt to be casual. “I’m sure it beats the hell out of working fast food.”

“Oh believe me, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to my job at Steak and More. You’d think that would be easier, but I was more poked at there than I am on stage,” Chase laughed lightly tossing his head back before turning to Trisha. “What did you think? Did you like the show the other night?”

“The one at the club or the one at home?” she questioned suggestively placing her hand on his leg.

“Ok it’s official, I’m going to throw up now,” Mindy rolled her eyes ever so slightly. She turned to Hunt and motioned to the dance floor. “Tell you what? Why don’t we go dance while they make out or something?”

“We’re not going to make out,” Trisha curled her lip in a pout before smiling, “at least not yet.”

“Ok I’ve heard enough. Mindy I would love to dance,” Hunt decided allowing Mindy to lead him out onto the dance floor to give Chase and Trisha some privacy with one another. Once Hunt and Mindy were out of earshot Trisha spoke up again.

“You handled that well,” she noted thinking about her friend’s words.

“I’m not ashamed of what I do,” Chase explained matter of fact his gaze fixed in on Trisha’s. “Sure, I was nervous about telling you because most women don’t understand, but it’s not like I’m doing something wrong. I’m just an entertainer. When I get on stage I dance, do my routine and then call it a night. That’s all there is to it.”

“And what about the women who try to stuff your g-string?” Trisha couldn’t help but ask feeling a moment of uneasiness in her stomach.

“They aren’t getting any further than that because the only woman I want in my life or even in my pants is you,” Chase winked down at her touching the side of her face. He smiled before leaning in closer to her. “I love you and only you. My job doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and do something stupid to destroy what it is we have together. This is the real deal and I wouldn’t give that up for the world.”

“Not even for the perks of your job?” she questioned lazily her gaze drawn to his lips again.

“There aren’t that many perks,” he admitted with a small laugh. “It’s a glorified talent show when it gets down to it. Half the guys I work with are married with families and their wives are usually in the audience cheering them on.”

“Are you serious?” her eyes widened at his statement.

He nodded again. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing to see how different things are from where you would expect them to be. I mean yeah I’ll admit I was a little nervous when I first took the job. I went in to get a position as a bartender since a friend of a friend hooked me up with word about an opening, but when I got there that position was filled. They needed a dancer and I was hesitant, but I gave it a go and it worked out. I mean yeah there are some guys who have a little something on the side in getting involved with the customers, but that’s not me. I do what I have to and then I get back to my real life--which includes you with me.”

“I know,” she nodded in response, “and I don’t hold what you do against you. I mean on some level I find it to be incredibly sexy.”

“Is that right,” he leaned in closer to her sliding his fingers through her long, dark hair. “I never would’ve guessed.”

“Liar,” she reached up to trace his lips with her index finger. “You know full well how sexy I think you are.”

“Does this mean that you’ll be front and center when I’m at work now?” he teased leaning in to kiss her playfully.

“You’re damn right I will be and if a woman even thinks about touching you, she’s toast,” she promised stealing another kiss from him. “Now how about we put Mindy and Hunt to shame on that dance floor and show them how a professional does it?”

“I say you’re on,” he nodded in response kissing her again before heading out to the dance floor ready to enjoy a night with the woman he loved now that there were no more secrets between them weighing down on their relationship.


“Now this is much better,” Hart announced lighting the candle in the center of the kitchen table to add to the romantic air he had surrounding him and Jenna now that they were back at the apartment. Looking over his shoulder at her he spotted her pulling the plates out of the cabinets before moving over to the microwave.

“It’s just too bad that everything was cold by the time we got back,” she explained with a heavy sigh opening the microwave to pull out their reheated dinner.

“That’s okay,” Hart stepped in behind her placing his chin down on her shoulder and squeezing her in his arms, “I don’t mind a cold dinner when I have someone as hot as you in my life.”

“Oh my you are a kiss up,” she laughed lightly tipping her head back to catch his lips in a sloppy kiss over her shoulder. She turned in his arms facing him completely, “but you can keep up with it. It’s great for my spirits.”

“I can think of something even better for your spirits,” he moved forward to kiss her again only to hear the sound of the doorbell ringing. He let out a small groan, “Okay tell me that did just not happen.”

“I could, but then I’d be lying,” she frowned up at him hearing the ringing of the door once again, “and something tells me ignoring it won’t make it go away.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Hart sighed shaking his head at the thought of company. “We could try though…”

“What if it’s important?” she couldn’t help but ask. “What if it’s Sam? You mentioned she might be coming back soon and…”

“You’re right,” Hart let out a small breath before taking a reluctant step back, “I should check.”

“I can put another plate on. We have enough food,” Jenna suggested watching him walk over to check on who was at the door.

“Hopefully it’ll be a wrong address,” Hart muttered under his breath making his way over to the door. He paused for a moment before trying to put together a pleasant expression. The fakeness behind the movement turned to a genuine smile when he saw Sam standing before him.

“Hey,” she waved up at him, “I hope this isn’t a bad time.”

“For you,” he shook his head opening the door further and inviting her back in, “It’s never a bad time.”

“Yeah right,” she shook her head, her soft hair framing her face with the movement, “You’re so lying, but I promise I won’t be long.”

“I like you visiting especially since I haven’t seen you in forever,” he reached out to give her a small hug, “How are you?”

“I’m doing pretty good Hart,” she corrected herself with a small smile, “Dad.”

“Hi Sam,” Jenna popped her head out of the kitchen to wave at her, greeting Sam with the same warmth that Hart had. “I hope you’re hungry because we’re about to have some dinner.”

“Oh you don’t have to feed me,” Sam started with a nervous expression.

“Of course we do,” Hart blurted out with a welcoming grin, “After all it’s not everyday that my daughter pays me a visit.”

“Oh yeah about that,” Sam smiled again, “I’m sorry I didn’t call you more than I did while we were out of town.”

“It’s okay,” Hart waved his hand at her dismissively, “I know what it’s like to be young and on vacation.”

“Yeah about that,” Sam began again uneasily, “the truth is we weren’t entirely on vacation. You know how I mentioned a school out there.”

“Right,” Hart nodded leading Sam into the kitchen, “The one with the great summer program you were interested in checking out for next year.”

“Yeah well um, it’s not exactly a summer program,” she explained nervously glancing over at Jenna. “I mean originally I had thought about that, but with Wayne thinking about doing some studies overseas if you will, well it got me thinking about the direction I wanted to go in as well. The school he’s going to be staying at, well it has an incredible theater department and I got to talking with one of the directors while he was over there checking things out…”

“And?” Hart was almost afraid to ask noting the expression on her face.

“And I think that maybe that might be something worth checking out. In fact the more I talked to everyone there, the more I’m sure that I belong there. That’s the place where I’ve always dreamt about being at and I think that maybe just maybe it’s something I need to do.”

“Maybe,” Hart repeated with a worried expression, “well, are you sure? That doesn‘t sound too confident there.”

“That’s because I’m trying to downplay it,” Sam revealed after a moment’s hesitation, “The truth to the matter is that I would really love to go there. More than anything I would love to get in there and it works out perfectly with Wayne being close by. It would be the perfect chance to get a new start at what I’ve always wanted and…”

“And what does your mother have to say about the idea?” Hart couldn’t help but ask.

“She doesn’t know, but I’m sure she would hate it. Since I was sick for so very long she’s never really let me have a chance to live, but now that opportunity is right in front of me and I’m afraid if I don’t act on it now it’s going to pass me by and I’ll never have it again,” Sam revealed with worry shining behind her eyes. “I want this more than anything and I was hoping that maybe just maybe you could pull some magic out of your hat and help me make this miracle happen for me since I know you’re good at that stuff. I already talked to someone in admissions and it’s really only a matter of paperwork at this point. It is pretty much a sure thing. They are even willing to help me with a scholarship--one that will pretty much pay for everything, but it’ll be that jump out there that I might need help with. I know mom won’t understand and…”

“And what? Are you asking me to go and prepare her for this?” Hart couldn’t help but ask surprise behind his voice.

“I was hoping that you’d give me your blessing and tell me that I’m doing the right thing. From what you told me about you in the past you broke away from your family and started off on your own and look where you are,” Sam pointed out hoping for his encouragement. “Now I want to do the same and I was just hoping that at least one person would be happy for me. So are you?”

“Am I what?” Hart couldn’t help but ask a bit shell-shocked by the idea that his daughter was thinking about going away and he hadn’t had much of an opportunity to get to know her.

“Happy for me?” Sam searched his eyes, “I mean don’t you think this is a great opportunity for me?”

“Well if it’s everything you’ve dreamt about, then yes it is something you should go for,” Hart finally blurted out despite his own inner conflict, “but you just need to make sure it’s something that’s right for you.”

“More than anything I know it’s right for me and I just need to hear you say that you’re okay with it,” Sam glanced up at him again with a pleading expression.

Despite what was happening inside of him Hart forced a smile, “Of course I’m okay with whatever makes you happy. I would only want the best for you.”

“I knew you’d see it my way,” Sam reached out to embrace him tightly, “I knew that my father wouldn’t let me down in all of this. I knew that you would support me.”

“Of course I will,” Hart promised glancing over at Jenna and wondering if he could really let go of his daughter now that he’d just found her. Seeing how happy Sam was made Hart realize that he didn’t want to bring an end to her dreams for his own selfish reasons, yet in having her go away it felt like there was something inside of him that would go with her now that he’d just bonded with her.


“So what’s going on Kyle?” Avery couldn’t help but ask now that she and Kyle stood out on the back porch looking out to where Russ had already had the beginnings of a swing set in the works before them. She glanced over at Kyle seeing the tension that creased his brow and caught the frown that overtook him. “Well?”

“I guess you could say I’ve come to a crossroads if you will,” Kyle let out a long sigh, “I mean on the one hand I know where I want to be when this week is over with, yet it’s the getting there on the journey that’s become a problem.”

“Okay, you’ve totally lost me,” Avery couldn’t help but admit giving him a strange look. “Is this about the wedding? I know you mentioned that Sunday is the big day…”

“That it is,” Kyle let out an ironic laugh, “and in a lot of ways I’m dreading what’s next, yet…”

“Yet what?” Avery questioned sensing the worry behind his eyes, “Kyle are you having second thoughts about marrying Sarah?”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Kyle let out another laugh, “I mean most of my life I thought she was the one, but then, well let’s just say I learned a few things about her lately that have me seeing her as she really is.”

“And something tells me that’s not the person you believed her to be,” Avery noted watching him closely, “but if you feel that way, why are you getting married?”

“I said there will be a wedding,” Kyle corrected offering up a cryptic expression, “I never said anything about getting married.”

“Okay now you’ve completely lost me,” Avery admitted moving to take a seat on the swing set up on the porch. She motioned for him to join her and take a seat. Quietly he moved in beside her placing his head on her shoulder, “Seriously Kyle, what’s really going on?”

“The truth,” he pulled his head up enough to meet her concerned eyes, “I think I fell out of love with Sarah a long time ago when everything played out like it did with Susan. She showed me her true colors when Susan died and then when you were in trouble, well I saw all that happened leading up to my bringing Erin into this world with you. When she was born everything changed for me. Everything in my life was at this pivotal moment and I wasn’t sure where I was headed, but now…now I see the direction I was taking was all wrong for me. I mean it’s kind of like you live your life expecting one thing and dreaming about that thing, but when you get older you see that your dreams weren’t necessarily wrong, but just different. Does any of that make sense?”

“Strangely yes,” Avery nodded giving him a long look, “but just because they turn out to be different than you planned doesn’t mean that they are wrong.”

“You and Russ though,” Kyle leaned on her shoulder once again letting out a long sigh, “You’ve been pretty solid. Through thick and thin you’ve always had a special bond with one another.”

“It hasn’t always been easy Kyle and even now,” Avery wrapped her arm around his shoulders drawing him in closer to her, “I have to be honest with you when I tell you I don’t know what he sees in me anymore. I’m not anywhere near being the woman I was when I lost him before. If he had any idea how many ways I failed him…”

“You didn’t fail him,” Kyle frowned pulling his head up to look at her again, “If anything you proved that you had a strength inside of you--a power that so many people in this world seldom possess. You’re a very brave woman Avery and it’s the love that you and Russ have that pulled you together again. Your strength gave Erin life and that’s something to be proud of.”

“And now I’m falling apart,” Avery shook her head, “but this isn’t about me. This is about you.”

“Unfortunately it’s turned out that way,” Kyle groaned inwardly, “I guess maybe I’m being stubborn and foolish and stupid about a lot of things, but when I sit still and think about it…really think about it, the truth is that I know that love is out there for me. I know in my heart that my dream girl is there--that she’s always been there. I’ve loved her since as far back as I could remember, yet I’ve been too stupid to be honest about that.”

“Maybe now is your chance for you to realize what is waiting for you--what’s ahead in your future,” Avery suggested with a thoughtful expression, “After all you’re trying to tell me that it can’t be wrong if you follow your heart, right?”

“I know where my heart is and it’s just a matter of making my miracle happen for me,” Kyle admitted touching her cheek gently, “The truth is I want something like what you and Russ have and I realized I’m not going to settle for anything less. I want someone who looks at me the way you look at him--someone who makes me feel as incredible as he does when he’s with you and Erin and I really believe I have a chance to have that.”

“Then don’t ever let it go,” Avery encouraged him with a bright smile, “Don’t ever walk away from love even if there is uncertainty surrounding it.”

“You’re right,” Kyle nodded brightly, “You’re absolutely right which is why after this weekend everything changes.”

“Of course it does,” Avery squeezed his knee gently before placing her head in his shoulder, “You know I never told you thank you for all that you’ve done for me.”

“Seeing you with Russ and Erin is all the thanks I need kiddo,” Kyle replied bringing his arm around her this time. “You’ve both been an inspiration to me and it’s made me aspire for the finer things in life and love.”

“You make us sound like something out of this world--something epic,” Avery couldn’t help but issue a tiny giggle.

“That’s because you are. You and Russ are the original super couple here in town. Don’t you know that by now?” Kyle teased poking at her ribs. “You’re Romeo and Juliet if you will.”

“Without the whole suicide thing I’m hoping,” Russ stepped onto the porch hearing Kyle’s words.

“Of course,” Kyle laughed picking up on his friend’s teasing tone, “I was just explaining that you and Avery are something that’s gotten me thinking about love lately.”

“Good thoughts I hope,” Russ added seeing the way that Avery seemed to be at ease with Kyle.

“Only the best of things,” Kyle admitted freely sitting up a bit straighter as Russ approached them. “I was just telling Avery here that I’ve made it my mission to find a love like the one you two have and I’m not about to settle for anything less. I want it all.”

“That’s a pretty tall order, but one worth fighting for,” Russ noted with a smile of his own, “True love always is.”

“I realize that and that’s why I’m not going to stop going for what my heart is telling me is right. I can’t live a lie any longer and I’m not going to,” Kyle decided realizing that after Sunday he would do what his instincts were telling him and find his way to the one woman who had always held his heart. After Sunday all of the rules were about to change once and for all!


“She is just so precious,” Ria noted watching Erin reach out to grab Kevin once he pulled away from her. Her big eyes were fixed on the oversized man before her. A laugh built over her lips when Kevin made the same silly face that had her completely entranced for the last ten minutes.

“She’s amazing,” Grady noted keeping his niece in his lap as she ate up the attention the large man in front of her was giving her. Seeing Erin’s laughter surround her and fill the room with a sudden warmth Grady thought about how touch and go her arrival in this world was. “She’s just what this family needed because before her things were so unclear, but now…”

“She just makes everything seem right,” Kevin finished for him tipping his head up to look at Grady, “She’s a very special little girl and your brother is a very lucky man to be able to be here and enjoy this time with her.”

“I know he is,” Grady nodded a pensive expression sweeping over him. He looked to Erin thinking about how much she represented the fight Russ and Avery had with one another to finally have happiness. Erin was that happiness for them and after everything Grady could see that his brother had finally found that happily ever after. “We’re all lucky to have him back as well. When we thought he was gone…”

“I know man,” Kevin nodded looking to Erin again as Zane walked over to the group.

“Can I hold her?” Zane questioned with big eyes looking to Grady. “I mean you all get to, so can I?”

“Well I don’t…” Grady began glancing over at Ria.

“I can help you hold her,” Ria suggested moving in beside Grady. She smiled down at Zane, “What do you say we hold her together?”

Zane nodded eagerly, “I think I’d like that.”

Grady waited for Ria to take a seat before he carefully set Erin in her arms. Zane hopped up onto the couch beside her inspecting Erin very carefully. He made small movements with his mouth as his eyes looked over Erin’s tiny hands. Finally satisfied he looked up to Kevin and Grady with a big smile.

“She has ten fingers so it’s looking good,” Zane informed them with a sudden seriousness that caused Kevin to let out a laugh.

“That’s right little buddy,” Kevin mussed Zane’s blonde hair and laughed again, “I think everything that’s supposed to be there is.”

“I certainly hope so,” Grady couldn’t help but offer up a laugh, “otherwise someone is going to have some explaining to do there.”

“She really is beautiful,” Ria noted her dark eyes sweeping in over Erin and seeing how at ease she was. “Russ and Avery are so lucky.”

“Yes they are,” Grady couldn’t help but smile before an uneasiness carried over him. “You know I think I left my drink in the kitchen. I’ll be right back.”

“Okay,” Ria replied looking up to notice the way Kevin was eyeing Grady.

“I’ll be right back,” Kevin started with a worried expression and Ria nodded again catching on to the fact that Kevin was going to talk to Grady. “You two take good care of Erin while we’re in the kitchen.”

“You’ve got it Kevin!” Zane promised reaching out to slap Kevin high five before Kevin sought out Grady.

Kevin found Grady in the kitchen looking out the window over into the yard. Carefully closing the door behind him Kevin cleared his throat to alert Grady to the fact that he wasn’t alone. Grady didn’t make a move, but Kevin was convinced that the tension he’d seen carry over Grady was still very much there judging by his posture.

“Let me guess,” Kevin broke the suffocating silence, “Seeing Erin reminds you of what you might have had with Jade, right?”

“Am I that obvious,” Grady looked over his shoulder at Kevin, realizing that he was in no position to lie to Jade’s cousin.

“Hey, I know the look,” Kevin offered with a simple shrug walking over to the refrigerator and pulling out two cans of Cherry Coke for them. He handed one over to Grady, “I know what it’s like to have the whole world in front of you only to feel it ripped out from beneath you. It isn’t a very settling feeling.”

“No, it’s not,” Grady rubbed his hands together letting out a long sigh. He leaned back against the kitchen counter and looked to Kevin again, “It’s just that Jade didn’t tell me about the baby. She was afraid to given that I was incarcerated at the time. She was trying to give me hope and reason--to keep fighting to prove that I was innocent, yet when it got down to it, I wasn’t able to be there for her when she needed me the most. Here she had the news that we were about to have a baby--that our chance at happiness was finally coming true, yet…”

“I know,” Kevin nodded watching Grady close himself off again lost in a sea of painful memories.

“I found out after she was gone,” Grady admitted painfully tears threatening behind his green eyes. “I found out after I’d lost her. She hadn’t told me about it, but she had a friend that knew--he confirmed my suspicions and now…”

“Now you can’t help but wonder what might have been especially when you see Erin,” Kevin finished again knowing only too well what it was that Grady was experiencing.

“I’m happy for Russ. I really am, but it’s just when I think of how much Jade and I had taken from us,” Grady shook his head feeling his frustrations mount, “I know I shouldn’t do this to myself because she’s never coming back, but…”

“But my cousin is an unforgettable woman and having loved her is something that changes anyone who crosses paths with her,” Kevin offered up sympathetically. “You know she’d be very proud of you now if she were here. To see what you’ve done for Russ and Avery--how you risked your life to bring Erin into the world…”

“I’m no hero,” Grady let out an ironic laugh, “Far from it truth be told.”

“Even so, I know that Jade would want you to keep pushing on. She would want you to grab a hold of the life that you still do have. If she could see you with Zane right now…” Kevin offered up seeing a flicker of guilt press over Grady.

“I adore him. He’s a great kid and his mother is very special too,” Grady continued to explain to Kevin finding himself at a loss.

“But you keep thinking about the family that you could have had,” Kevin nodded in response, “I think any man in your position would, but if you want my honest advice it’s that you hold that memory close to you--that you hold that part of your heart where it was meant to be with you at all times, but keep one foot forward constantly pushing on and living for the miracles that are still ahead of you.”

“You say that like you’ve been there,” Grady mouthed seeing a hint of pain behind Kevin’s dark eyes.

“Your niece reminds me of the daughter I should have had,” Kevin admitted briefly, “It was a dream for me, but it was stolen long before it came into fruition. I live with that pain every day, but I know that my daughter wouldn’t want me to fall to pieces and lose myself entirely. She would want me to be the kind of man that she could be proud of and I strive for that each and every day. Sure, it hurts like hell that I can’t have her with me--that I can’t live out all of those dreams I once had, but somewhere inside--in here…”

Kevin placed his hand over his chest indicating his heart, “I know she’s with me and for that alone I try to live the kind of life that she would want for me. I try to be the kind of man that she would’ve enjoyed having as a father. In fact I’m sure wherever she is right now, she’s with Jade and your child and they’re watching us from above praying that we find the strength to keep from screwing up.”

“It’s easier said than done,” Grady couldn’t help but smile at the thought.

“Even so, it’s what we have to keep holding onto man,” Kevin raised his drink to his lips and took a long swig before speaking. “It’s what we need to do for those around us that still love and need us. For those people like Zane and Erin who need us watching their backs.”

Grady cracked a smile, “You’re right. You’re absolutely right about that.”

“I know,” Kevin shrugged his shoulders before issuing a teasing glance, “I’m always right.”

“So you keep telling us,” Grady chuckled in response, “and for what it’s worth I think you’re going to make a great father one day Kevin.”

“So are you Grady,” Kevin promised him knowing that Grady’s demons were still eating away at him. Sure, they may always remain, but it didn’t hurt to add the element of hope to the future. “You’ve got a good thing going here with Zane and his mother from what I hear.”

“Deana’s really special,” Grady admitted feeling a warmth press in over him at the thought of the woman he’d been spending his time with. He looked to Kevin again and cleared his throat, “It’s different than it was with Jade, but still wonderful.”

“That’s how love is supposed to be and hey opening your heart to Deana doesn’t take away from what you had with Jade. She would want you to be happy and I’m sure she would approve. Deana’s incredible,” Kevin offered up hoping to alleviate some of Grady’s guilt over moving on with someone new in his life.

“I’d like to think so,” Grady admitted honestly, “and for the record I’m sure your daughter would be very proud of you as well Kevin. You’re a good man.”

“Thanks,” Kevin replied with a half smile, “I appreciate that.”

“Anytime. Now I should probably check on Zane before he decides to see what other parts Erin might be missing,” Grady teased before walking out of the kitchen and leaving Kevin to ponder the thoughts about the hold the past could have on a man when he had a promising future ahead of him. Could someone lost inside of himself truly find a way to live again and be happy? Thinking about his future with Ria, Kevin couldn’t help but smile hoping that perhaps there was another shot at happily ever after around the corner for him after all.


“Scared yet?” JT questioned feeling Evie leaning in against his chest now that they were stretched out across the back of the wagon they’d been in. Sid had taken them out into the center of the woods before he left to go take care of another group of eager ghost hunters. Now as they lay alone in the silence of the woods, they couldn’t help but find themselves loves in the moment.

“The only thing I’m afraid of is that you’re going to decide to leave me out here,” she confessed tipping her head up to meet his dark eyes. “I may not be able to find my way back. Though I’m sure I could give it a good try without the threat of ghosts coming to get me.”

“You’re no fun,” JT wrinkled his nose at her tossing a piece of hay over at her lazily.

“I’m lots of fun and you know it,” she reached for a handful of hay and threw it back at him. “You are just upset because you couldn’t scare me.”

“I wasn’t trying to scare you,” he explained with a small laugh, “I was just giving you a history lesson.”

“You call stories about haunted woods and chilling encounters history?” she wrinkled her nose at him before shaking her head. “Face it JT. You were trying to give me a scare, but it didn’t work. I already told you that I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Why not?” he questioned lazily pushing a piece of hay out of her long, dark hair.

“Because I don’t believe in things that I can’t see--things that there isn’t any real evidence backing,” she informed him honestly, her brown eyes meeting his.

“Yet you believe in love,” he challenged eyeing her intently. “There are no concretes in love, yet you dream about the notion of having love in your life.”

“That’s different,” she shook her head firmly, “Love and ghosts are no where near being the same thing.”

“So then by that definition you would say that two people who are in love, yet aren’t together in this world any longer can’t somehow find one another in the after life?” he challenged curiously. “Are you implying that love doesn’t exist long after we do?”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” she frowned sitting up a bit straighter and looking down at him. “You’re twisting my words JT.”

“No I’m just trying to make you see that not everything worth believing in is something that we can hold onto or touch. There are so many other things out there that are beyond our control and sometimes we have to sit back and acknowledge that the universe is much greater than we are,” he continued to explain to her looking to the heavens above. “Take the stars for example. We’re lead to believe that there are so many things out there--things that we will never see or experience first hand, yet that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a whole other universe out there with living beings just like us who are experiencing the same emotions that we are.”

“Please don’t tell me that you’re going to bust into a rendition of the X-files and tell me that you believe in aliens,” she couldn’t help but laugh at him.

“Do you really believe that we’re the only life form out there capable of intelligence or emotions?” he arched a curious brow making himself more comfortable in the center of the wagon.

“Well, no, but…” she wrinkled her nose again before groaning, “You’re just being impossible tonight JT admit it.”

“I am not,” he raised his arms up over his head to relax even further.

“Yes you are,” she shook her head at him again, “but something tells me you enjoy pushing all of my buttons.”

“Like you don’t enjoy pushing mine,” he tossed back at her watching her move in over him. She knelt in over him now that he lay on the wagon beneath her. She let her hair drop over her shoulder before she flashed him a sexy smirk.

“I’ll show you what pushing your buttons is all about,” she mouthed leaning forward to nibble on his lower lip before her hand pressed into the center of his chest. She dipped down toying with the buttons on his shirt gingerly.

“Evie, what are you doing?” he questioned feeling her hand slide in beneath the material of his shirt.

“Proving to you that you don’t need ghosts to get a rise out of me,” she mouthed heatedly, her lips moving in over his neck when a sound snapped outside of the wagon. She paused before pulling her head up to meet his gaze again. “What was that?”

“What?” he questioned lazily sliding his fingers up and over her spine in a slow movement.

“That,” she replied hearing the sound again before looking up. “JT I think someone is out there.”

“That’s impossible,” he shook his head and frowned, “Sid is still on that other tour and I’m pretty sure he won’t be back for a little while.”

“No it sounds like someone is out there,” she popped her head up to take a look around. She grew silent before turning to him again, “JT did you hear that?”

“Evie, there’s nothing out there,” he paused seeing worry flicker behind her eyes, “unless of course you think there is some kind of ghost out there.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t believe in ghosts,” she argued with him ready to say something more when there was a low, whirring sound in the distance. She turned her head to the side ready to investigate the sound when a man with a hockey mask came rushing towards her with a chainsaw in hand.

“Oh my God,” she screamed terrified as the man lunged forward. She stumbled back over the side of the wagon with a blood curdling scream when she landed on the ground.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Evie heard JT’s voice shout over head from up in the wagon.

As she anticipated the man with the chainsaw taking him out and cutting him into little pieces, she heard another rumbling sound. She watched the chainsaw go flying across the ground on the other side of the wagon where she’d been looking moments earlier. Her eyes widened in watching the saw dance around on the ground excitedly, the buzzing continuing and causing her heart to do flip-flops in her chest.

“Listen you jackass I don’t know what you were doing, but it stops now,” JT’s voice shouted as Evie saw the man with the mask go flying across the ground. He landed a few feet away from the chainsaw in a quick slump. A moment later he pulled off his mask to reveal the small man behind it.

“Hey, I was just having a little fun. Sid said he left you guys out here and that your girlfriend didn’t believe in ghosts so…” the man explained in a huff while reaching for the chainsaw. He turned it off before holding it up in the air. “It doesn’t work. It’s only for show.”

“Yeah I’ll show you something,” JT jumped down off of the wagon before shoving at the guy again, “Just get the hell out of here.”

“Hey man I was just doing my job,” the guy argued with JT. He started to say something more, but thought twice of it when JT shoved him again. “Look I’m sorry.”

“I’ll show you sorry,” JT snarled at the guy seeing him run off in the opposite direction before he looked to Evie. He circled around the wagon finding her on the ground. Holding his hand out to her, he knelt down beside her. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah I’m fine. That just scared me and…” she took in a small breath trying to ignore the hammering in her heart. “I thought that he was some psycho who was going to kill us like in those horror movies and…”

“I’m sorry about that. When I decided to take us on a haunted hayride I figured I would scare you, but not like that,” JT explained with a frown on his face, “I never expected that jackass to come over here and do something like that. Are you hurt?”

“No,” she shook her head firmly looking to her arm she’d fallen on. “Just scared out of my mind.”

“You don’t have to be because he’s gone,” JT reached out to her collecting her in his arms. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t plan on that and…”

“It’s okay. I was acting arrogant and cocky tonight, but the truth is that yes I am a little believer in the fact that there are things bigger than us in this world,” she revealed with a low sigh. “I just didn’t want to become a part of the next one after he got us with that chainsaw.”

“He was a jerk and I’m sorry that he scared you,” he apologized again reaching out to touch her cheek gently. “You know what? I think we’ve had enough shockers for the night. What do you say we get out of here for a little while?”

“I think that sounds like a great idea,” she nodded in response feeling his hold on her. She felt him hoist her up off of the ground and into his arms against his chest before their eyes met once again.

“What do you say we head out for some ice-cream or something? Maybe we can go back to my place and have some strawberry sundaes or what not?” JT offered up holding her tighter than before.

“You just said the magic words,” she nodded in agreement before touching the side of his face gently, “and thank you.”

“For what? If anything I’d think you would be ticked at me because of this,” he nodded in the direction the guy had gone off in.

“Are you kidding? You rushed forward to play my hero and for that I’m eternally grateful,” she mouthed in response pulling him in for a quick kiss before drawing back, “Now about those strawberry sundaes…”

“We’ll get right on them,” he promised carrying her out of the clearing to back where he had parked the car in the hopes of salvaging the rest of the evening between them now that they’d had their uninvited guest and scare for the evening.


“Alright, so this is your house,” Daniel pulled in front of Lindsay’s family’s home and saw her freeze as if she was in fear as he reached out to touch her shoulders. “Lindsay, what’s wrong?”

“Daniel, I don’t want to go home yet,” Lindsay informed him with a worried breath seeing that her father’s car was in the driveway and she didn’t want to face him yet. There was no telling what would happen if she walked into the house right now and she didn’t even want to know. “Please Daniel.”

“Hey, look at me,” Daniel pleaded seeing her blue eyes meet his in the glowing light of the cars passing through the darkness of the night. “You are going to be okay, you just have to keep telling yourself that--I promise. Your mother is going to be there and everything will be okay. If you don’t think you can tell your mother, then you don’t have to.”

“That’s not it,” she tried to explain to him looking over at the house realizing that this was the last place she wanted to be right now. It may seem bad and she may have never felt like this before, but there was no way that she wanted to even take a step into that house right now. “Danny, I really--really don’t want to go in there. Please, let’s just stay out a little longer.”

“I really think you should go talk to your parents, but that’s just my opinion,” he stated with a deep sigh placing his hands over the steering wheel slowly as he shrugged his shoulders. “What if they are in there worrying about you. Maybe you should just let them know that you are okay and that no one kid knapped you or something. I know my mother would be worried sick if I didn’t at least call her by this time to check in.”

“My parents aren’t like your mother,” Lindsay tried to explain seeing the lights reflect from his dark eyes and she took in a deep breath gripping onto the seatbelt before reaching out to turn on the radio. “Please, let’s just go somewhere else. Just for a little bit and I will call my mom later to check in. I just can’t be here now, please Danny.”

“Alright,” Daniel nodded slowly putting his car in drive before pulling out into the street carefully, pulling down to the corner of the street. “Do you have any idea where you want to go?”

“No,” Lindsay took in a deep breath thinking about everything that had happened with her father and Cori today and she knew that she didn’t want to go anywhere near a place her father was at. “As long as we aren’t by the gym or my house, I’m sure I will do just fine.”


“Oh boy,” Kellen fell down to the leather couch seeing Kipp’s dark eyes watching him carefully as Kellen rested his head back against the arm of the couch. “You will never guess the things I heard from Kyle today. They were amazing.”

“What? Did he tell you that he was swinging on the other side of the plate or something?” Kipp questioned seeing Kellen’s blue eyes meet his in a small angered glance. “I was just asking because you seem really happy right now.”

“Well, I’m really happy because of him right now, but it has to do with the other gender,” Kellen explained happily sitting up on the couch and leaning forward. “Kipp, I can’t be the only one to know what’s going on. I got to talk to Kyle today because I was wondering what was going on him with him and Heather. So I walked in to talk to him and I saw--well, you don’t want to know what I saw him doing at first, but when were talking he was telling me something about his and Sarah’s wedding.”

“Their wedding,” Kipp’s nose wrinkled as he looked at the papers before him thinking about seeing Kyle and Sarah getting married and he shook his head slowly. “What about the two of them getting married? I know their wedding is this weekend and I’m not looking forward to it at all.”

“Tell me about it, well--that’s how I used to think about it,” Kellen rubbed his hands together slowly before licking his lips feeling a dryness in the back of his throat. “That was until Kyle told me what was really going on.”

“What was really going on?” Kipp laughed setting down his papers and standing up slowly as he rested back against his desk, giving Kellen his full attention. “I have to hear this because I know you wouldn’t be happy for something like this. If you were really excited about this wedding I think I would have to put you in a mental hospital because you wouldn’t be my Kellen. So, let’s hear it--what did Kyle have to tell you?”

“Well,” Kellen went to speak up only to hear the sound of the phone ringing interrupting him before he could finish and he rolled his eyes motioning Kipp to wait. Picking up the phone Kellen cleared his throat, seeing Kipp eye him over carefully as Kellen put the receiver to his ear. Kellen watched Kipp walk off towards Charles room as he heard Charles start to cry and he answered the phone slowly. “The Mahoney and Meloni residence, can I help you?”

“Kellen,” Sarah’s voice boasted on the other end of the phone making Kellen frown at the sound of her voice as he fell back against the back of the couch. “I was hoping that I could get to talk to Kipp, is he there.”

“Uh no way are you talking to him bi…,” Kellen cut himself quickly realizing that if he talked to Sarah like that she would be suspicious, but it was kind of obvious that he really didn’t like her. There was always the way of pulling off everything he did before, but right now he was going to play off the nice level of himself. “Big wedding girl, you can’t uh--talk to him right now because he isn’t here.”

“Oh, I was just going to tell him something about the wedding because I figured he might like to know,” Sarah informed him taking in a deep breath before Kellen rolled his eyes and twirled the phone cord around his finger. “So, you are really big on the wedding dresses aren’t you?”

“I am,” Kellen replied quietly and non-emotionally as he sat forward and let out a deep breath. “There is just no way that you are going to be wearing white to that wedding.”

“What was that?” Sarah questioned as Kellen’s blue eyes widened and he cleared his throat uneasily when she spoke up again. “I didn’t hear that, I’m sorry.”

“I was just saying I’m sure the dress will be great,” Kellen explained quickly before looking around the room deciding that he didn’t want her on the phone any longer. “I’ll tell Kipp you called, bye.”

Before she could even get out another word he hung up the phone and threw it to the side, deciding that he didn’t want to be around long enough to hear her gush on her wedding with Kyle any longer.

“Who was that?” Kipp questioned walking into the room and seeing the expression on Kellen’s face as he hid the phone from him. “Was that someone from work Kellen?”

“No Kipp,” Kellen set the phone back down on the charger before rubbing his hands together lightly, standing up to meet Kipp in the center of the room and he reached out for Charles holding him tightly. “It was just a big waste of time.”


Heather walked around the park knowing full well that she should’ve gone back to her apartment a long time ago. Unfortunately right about now she found herself too wound up to be closed inside any place. That always lead her to the outdoors. There was always something therapeutic about being at one with nature. Sure, it sounded absolutely uncharacteristic of Heather and maybe to a degree it was completely off base for the woman she was now, but she had loved it once. Then again, what kind of woman was she now? Her life had changed so much since she’d returned to Coral Valley and as she walked through the quiet, nearly empty park, she couldn’t help but dwell on all of the transitions that had swept over her in the last few months.

“You thought you had it all figured out, didn’t you,” she heard a voice in the back of her mind call out to her. Walking over to the edge of the path she’d been on, she cast a glance out over the town below. It was so peaceful here, yet her mind was raging with a mixture of confusion and turmoil.

“If only it would’ve worked out then,” Heather sighed to herself closing her eyes and thinking back to the night that she’d escaped from the world.

“I can’t take this anymore,” Heather cried out locking her bedroom door and turning up the small radio that she had placed proudly on her dresser. It wasn’t much and it was stuck on a sport’s station, but it was anything to filter out the words that her mother was shouting at her. It would drown out the noise of her constant berating--of the nagging and the complaining about how Heather hadn’t ever belonged in her life.

“If it wasn’t for you I could be in a much better place,” her mother’s words rang out in her head over and over again. The tears fell more freely as Heather moved to the closet.

“If I would’ve just had enough money for that abortion, then Sarah and I wouldn’t have to be living like this, but no you had to find a way to screw things up yet again. You never should’ve been born to begin with. You ruined my life,” her mother continued to rant from behind the closed door prompting Heather to turn the volume up on the radio.

Moving to the closet door, Heather opened it. She stepped inside realizing that she was far too old to be crawling into the closet to escape her nightmares, yet it was the only place she’d felt safe--free to be away from it all. Reaching for the pad of paper that she had kept in there tucked away under an old jacket until she needed to convey her thoughts, Heather knew that tonight would be the night it all changed. With shaky hands she pulled the pen out of the binding knowing that tonight would change everything.

“Dear Kyle,” she mouthed to herself, the words falling from her trembling lips knowing that tonight would be the night she left this behind forever. No more being treated like a prisoner--no more of the hurt. She would start a new life and wake up someone else--someone who wasn’t the pathetic excuse for a woman that Heather Marx had become.

“I know that you told me to wait, but I can’t take it anymore…” Heather continued to write on the page detailing her escape from the world her mother had locked her into. Heather wrote in great detail where she was headed, how she would run away and even tucked away the one thing that would be the key to holding onto the only thing that ever meant anything to her in this town--Kyle.

Looking at the train ticket that she’d used her tips at the diner to buy for him, she knew that tonight they could run away together. They could go to Hollywood and be free from all of this. She would become a star and he would be her protector like he’d always been. He would sweep her up from this horrible place and turn her life around like they’d always planned on. She knew he’d thought they’d been joking at the time, but now she was suddenly serious. She’d even gone so far as to get them first class tickets--a bit of a price increase, but it was worth it to spend forever with Kyle. She was sure that he would be thrilled--that he would want to leave with her, but when her mother lashed out at her, she knew getting to him wouldn’t be so easy. She had a plan and a picture of what would happen when she left town. Kyle would know what to do. He would help her escape and as she tucked the envelope into her pocket, she realized that tonight she would go to him--she would drop the letter off at his house--in his bedroom and he would go with her once he returned home from the big game he was at out of town. He would meet her at the train station and their lives together would begin at long last.

“Only it never happened,” the hard crash of reality poured out over her bringing her back to the moment. Yes, she’d left the letter for Kyle and waited for him at the train station until the last possible second, but he never arrived. He never took his place beside her and when she boarded that train, she vowed to never look back again.

“He chose Sarah back then and he’s choosing her now,” that inner voice reminded her like a stabbing sword inside of her.

Wrapping her hands around her arms, she felt a chill carry over her. She bit down on her lower lip thinking about all of the things that had happened between her and Kyle over the last few months, but they were irrelevant. Their timing had been off. More importantly their dreams were off. He wanted someone to have one last fling with and she wanted…

“What? Happily ever after?” she could almost hear Sarah laughing at her, joking at how stupid Heather was to believe that she could actually have some kind of inkling of a future with Kyle. Again Sarah had won. She’d gotten the man of Heather’s dreams and that was all there was to it. Heather was the odd man or rather woman out and that’s all there was. End of story.

“But you love him,” she could hear Kellen’s nagging voice in the back of her head. Her eyes snapped open and she let out a small groan.

“It doesn’t matter how I feel. He doesn’t love me and that’s all there is to it,” Heather decided spinning around to go back to her place and get out of this mood, when she ran into a person behind her. She stumbled a bit backwards getting dangerously close to the edge of the cliff when she felt a hand reach out for her arm yanking her to level ground once more.

“Hey, today is not a good day for bungee jumping especially without the bungee,” Chris informed her with a half smirk, seeing the sadness behind her eyes. His teasing came to an abrupt halt and he pulled her in closer to him more securely, “Hey I didn’t mean to make you cry. If you really want to go over the cliff, well I can’t stop you, but I will tell you that it will be a bit messy and probably not what you’re hoping for.”

“How would you know what I’m hoping for?” Heather huffed pushing away from him and turning to leave.

“Maybe I don’t, but I do not think that having your brains splattered down there is on the top of your list,” Chris noted seeing her shoulders scrunch up before she faced him again. She opened her mouth to speak, but fell to silence after a barely there sound came out.

“You’re right,” she finally admitted, “You’re absolutely right. Suicide hadn’t even filtered into my mind there. I guess I just got a little too close to the edge and didn’t realize the danger in front of me.”

“It sounds like the story of my life,” Chris noted taking a tentative step towards her.

“Unfortunately it’s mine too,” she sighed heavily before finally looking at him fully, “So what brings you here?”

“Other than this insatiable need to save beautiful women who are about to leap off of the cliff into sudden death,” Chris shrugged his shoulders flashing her a small smile, “Oh I don’t know…maybe some fresh air.”

“That’s always good,” Heather couldn’t help but smile at his attempt to keep things light and comical.

“Ah there it is,” Chris snapped his fingers together, “That’s what I was hoping to see here.”

“Me plummeting to my unstoppable death?” Heather gave him a curious look.

“No, you smiling,” Chris closed the gap between them feeling a bit braver by the moment, “I’ve missed that since you started hating me.”

“I didn’t start…” she paused biting on her lower lip before speaking, “Okay so for maybe a millisecond I really couldn’t stand you once you started siding with the enemy, but I never hated you.”

“Then I take it you just feel the need to beat up the guys you really like,” Chris noted with a small wiggle of his brow, “In that case I should be on the top of your list, huh?”

“You’d enjoy that too much,” Heather let out a long sigh, “but for what it’s worth you’re not on the bottom either.”

“So then there’s hope,” Chris boldly placed his arm around her shoulders, “So tell me cute stuff what’s troubling you on such a beautiful day like today?”

“You don’t want to know,” Heather looked to his arm draped over her. “And you really don’t want to push your luck.”

“Oh right,” Chris quickly shuffled away from her leaving her plenty of personal space. “Sorry to jump the gun there.”

Heather cracked another smile, “No it’s okay. I’m the one who is notorious for jumping the gun on things and I’ve learned that it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble.”

“What’s life without a little trouble,” Chris shrugged his shoulders again, “It spices things up.”

“The last thing I need right now is spice,” Heather sighed heavily, “I just want to get away for a while and forget the world for a while. Do they make something that can do that?”

“Well, I don’t know if they make something for it, but I can think of a few very exciting distractions I could offer you,” Chris gave her a very appreciative once over half expecting her to deck him, but instead she perked up to look at him.

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right,” Heather blurted out decidedly.

“I am?” Chris half questioned seeing her nod again.

“Yes you are. I think my problem is that I’ve stopped learning how to have fun. I quit being me--at least the me that I’ve been used to being for the last decade, but no more. I’m going to get back to being that girl--get back to being the life of the party…” she announced with a forced enthusiasm in her tone.

“Good for you!” he raised his hand up to salute her before pausing, “But what party?”

“The one that you and I are going to have this weekend when we go out for dinner,” Heather blurted out the wheels in her head turning again and again.

“Dinner?” Chris repeated with a hopeful expression. “As in you and I in the same room possibly at the same table enjoying a meal with one another?”

“That’s usually what dinner entails,” she nodded back at him.

“Okay, I’ll bite who are we spying on now? Please don’t tell me it’s Domingo,” Chris wrinkled his nose at the thought.

“No, it’s not anyone,” Heather assured him with a bright grin, “It’s just going to be you and I enjoying one another’s company. Unless of course you have a problem going out on a date with me.”

“Problem dating you?” Chris waved his hand in the air, “Well let me just um think about this one…um hell no.”

“Somehow why doesn’t that surprise me,” Heather stepped towards him reaching out to place her hand on his arm, “So what do you say to maybe a late brunch on Sunday or something?”

“I thought we were talking dinner,” Chris blinked back at her slightly confused.

“If brunch goes well we can work on dinner,” she added doing her best to try to put the thought that Kyle would be getting married that day out of her mind. He would be off the market and no longer hers for the taking, so it was time to move on. She had to force herself to get back into the swing of things again.

“Since you put it that way, I can even work up something for dessert,” Chris mouthed suggestively reaching out to place his hand on her hip.

“I wouldn’t push it just yet,” Heather reached down to slide his hand off of her hip in order to give her that much needed personal space again, “but going out for brunch sounds like a good start.”

“Then brunch it is,” Chris decided with an eagerness behind his eyes as Heather wondered if she could really force herself to have a good time with Chris on Sunday all the while knowing that her one hope for happily ever after would be officially out of her life from there on out.


“Oh no you don’t!” Brant squealed seeing Don reaching out to steal one of the balls from Brant’s lane once the ball Don had launched down the skee ball lane wound up missing Don’s lane entirely.

The ball had landed right smack in the center of a pitcher of iced tea at one of the tables off to the side where two very surprised teenagers stared at Don blankly. Don had run over to them and dropped a twenty dollar bill on their table to make up for the mix-up. While the teens were more than eager to forgive and forget, Brant had decided to up the challenge and give the teens fifty dollars not to give Don the ball back, which put Brant now at a distinct advantage for the first time since the competition began.

“Just watch me!” Don warned bending in for the ball in the holder beside him. “You screwed me over, so now it’s time for me to do the same to you.”

Angela just stood behind the two men with Matt seeing them fighting over the ball and she let out a small groan. Seeing the two men feuding over something as trivial as a game was beyond ridiculous, but they seemed to really be enjoying their ‘friendly’ competition. She felt Matt tug on her arm and issue her a small smile.

“They do this all of the time,” Matt explained with a tiny roll of his eyes, “My dad and Brant almost always get us kicked out of here when we are here, but it’s just what they do.”

“All the time?” Angela’s dark eyes widened seeing Don and Brant continue to argue.

Matt just shrugged his shoulders and returned his attention to the game in front of him in which the gophers would pop out of their holes and he would plummet them with a sponge covered hammer of sorts. He played the game for the fifth time in the last half hour and it seemed almost as soon as the game started, his focus was completely taken from his father and Brant.

Angela turned to look over at the two men again shaking her head at them until she decided that Matt had a point in ignoring them. Boys will be boys, she reasoned opting to enjoy Matt’s game when she heard Don let out a victorious wail.

“That’s right!” Don shouted out kicking his feet out and wiggling his knees as an alarm sounded alerting the whole room that Don had the high score of the day. “Eat that Brant! I’m the new champ and you’re the chump!”

“It’s only because you stole my balls to do it!” Brant replied in an equally loud shout causing all eyes in the room to focus on the two of them. Brant waved his hand dismissively before clearing his throat, “That’s not what I meant you perverts. I was talking about these.”

Brant bent down to pick up one of the small beige colored balls from the isle Don had played his game in. He held it up for display to the room before turning to Don again, “This is mine and rightfully you didn’t win anything because this was for my game, not yours.”

“If you wouldn’t have cheated I wouldn’t have had to take those,” Don informed him bluntly, sticking his tongue out at Brant.

“Yeah well I still have one more shot left,” Brant snubbed his nose at Don before moving in to take his shot. He looked to the lane in front of him, geared up his arm and let the ball fly into the air. It sprung down the lane before dropping into the hole that indicated the highest number of points. Another alarm sounded indicating that Brant had outdone Don’s high score.

“You’re such a jerk,” Don frowned shaking his head at Brant, “You couldn’t just let me have this one victory, could you?”

“And let you think that I was going easy on you,” Brant shook his head at him before rubbing his palms together. “Not a chance. After all, where would the fun be in that?”

“I’ll tell you where the fun will be,” Don reached into his pants pockets pulling out another set of tokens that he’d been carrying with him. “I’ll even pay for this round because this is going to be the time when I cream your ass all over the carpet.”

Another round of eyes swept upon Brant and Don, a surprised gasp falling from the lips of an elderly patron who used her hands to cover her grandson’s ears.

“That’s not what I meant!” Don snorted shaking his head at the crowd. He turned to look at Brant again and frowned, “Damn perverts.”

“Ignore them,” Brant rolled his eyes before focusing on the lane in front of him, “and drop those tokens in because you’re about to see what it’s like to be beaten mercilessly yet again. Though you should be used to it by now.”

“Not this time. This time I am going to show this whole place just what a loser you really are,” Don bent over to drop a coin in Brant’s lane before moving to his. He leaned forward to drop the coin in the lane in front of him as well before he thought twice. He sidestepped to the machine on Brant‘s other side knowing that it had a full set of balls Smiling he leaned forward and pushed the token in the slot ready to let the games begin. Standing up he cracked his neck before turning to Brant again, “Oh it’s on.”

“Bring it,” Brant watched the line of balls fall down into the area for Brant to pick up one of the balls in front of him. He threw his first shot and Don let out a loud groan watching it drop into the first hole.

“I can do better than that,” Don boasted reaching for one of his balls. He shuffled it in both hands before positioning himself to throw. He bent forward a bit, leaning forward to inspect the lane ahead of him.

“Oh brother,” Matt groaned after having finished up with his game. He turned to watch his father with an almost bored expression, “Here we go again.”

“What?” Angela eyed the two men to see Don eyeing the lane from almost every angle. He leaned forward as if measuring the distance ahead of him.

“Would you just take the shot already,” Brant called out in a taunting motion waving his hands in the air, “We don’t have all day Leveski.”

“Good things are well worth the wait,” Don countered with a dismissive look, “and your losing will be a very good thing.”

“This place will close before you take your shot at this rate,” Brant quipped watching Don lean forward, wiggle his butt, do a little spin and send the ball straight down the lane right into the high score hole. Brant scoffed, “Lucky shot.”

“Oh no this is the real thing,” Don held his hands up in the air, “There is magic in these babies tonight. I can feel it.”

“That isn’t magic. It’s just a one shot deal,” Brant goaded taking another shot while the game continued. The intensity between the two of them and the taunts prompted Matt and Angela to return to the nearby table and take in the scene. Angela could see the two men jabbing and poking at one another in the means of distracting the other.

“Tell me, does your dad ever win?” Angela questioned seeing Matt picking away at the piece of pizza he’d returned to from earlier.

“Nope never, but he keeps trying,” Matt shook his head and reached for his drink. “Brant’s the best, but my dad will never admit it.”

“I see,” Angela watched the intensity between the two men until she suddenly realized that Don was very much ahead with three shots left. Brant only had two more. “Oh my.”

“I don’t believe this,” Matt took notice too sitting up straighter to keep tabs on this surprising turnabout in the ritual between his father and Brant.

“Maybe your father’s luck is changing,” Angela noted encouragingly wondering if tonight would be Don’s hot night after all. She saw him push another ball down the lane moving up ahead of Brant.

There was a clear tension between the men and Brant took his final shot hitting the high point mark giving Brant a lead. Don could still beat him if he was able to focus. The room grew silent around them as Don threw his first ball. The hole it went into put Don ten points behind Brant. Easily with the last shot Don could afford to make a terrible throw and still beat Brant.

“Eat my dust Brant,” Don jabbed at his pal ready to take the final shot when he felt the ground beneath his foot move. Then again the ground felt circular, very flimsy and…

Don toppled over backwards onto the ground in a clumsy shuffle, his ball flying straight up into the air and over into Brant’s lane. The ball swiftly sank into the high score mark sending Brant’s score shooting up over Don’s while Don tried to regain his balance. He toppled over once more this time with a more determined thud.

“Well that was awfully thoughtful of you to let me win again,” Brant teased turning around to see his friend laid out across the floor in a tangled position with the sinister ball that sabotaged him near his ankle. Brant frowned, “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Don spoke up behind gritted teeth feeling Matt at his heel.

“Dad, are you alright,” Matt asked worriedly thinking about what he’d just saw.

“Yeah,” Don nodded with a pained expression forcing a smile despite the ache inside of him, “I’m good.”

“In that case all I can say is wow. The way you did that flip in the air, it reminded me of what I saw on wrestling the other night,” Matt boasted excitedly, “You know in that ladder match where…”

“Yeah I know,” Don replied trying to pull himself up off of the ground.

“Let me help,” Brant stepped aside to reach out to his friend. He helped him up only to hear a distinct snapping sound and Don winced.

“Oh that’s not good,” Don gulped bringing his hand down over his lower back and feeling an explosion of pain spread out from the first point of movement.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Matt questioned tipping his head up to look at his hunched over father.

“I just pulled my back a little bit. Just a muscle spasm,” Don started dismissively as Brant and Angela exchanged glances.

“How about I take a look at it,” Angela suggested stepping forward and reaching out to him. “Brant and Matt can play the game. Brant can teach Matt how to have the top score.”

“You bet I can,” Brant nodded encouragingly reaching out to pull Matt into his arms, “Did you see that your dad practically beat me today?”

“It was close, but I knew he still wouldn’t be able to do it,” Matt divulged sinking into Brant’s arms as the two walked over to the game again.

Once they were out of earshot Angela whispered to Don again, “So how are you really feeling?”

“Not good,” Don offered up with a pinched expression, “but I’m guessing you could see that already.”

“I think everyone here saw that,” Angela helped him back over to the table. “Can you sit down?”

“If I do I might not be able to get back up,” Don admitted with a pained expression, “I should’ve been more careful and…”

“I don’t think anyone planned on that ball being there,” Angela pointed out matter of fact, “and by the way good game.”

“I would have won it if it wasn’t for that ball,” Don’s blue eyes fixed on the ball on the ground, “Brant must’ve paid that off too.”

“I highly doubt that,” Angela couldn’t help but laugh, “then again with how you two play it could be possible. So about your back now…where does it hurt?”

“How about all over for starters?” Don looked to her with a small groan, “I’m sure it’ll pass. I hurt it a few years ago in high school playing football…”

“Only a few years ago huh?” Angela arched a speculative brow.

“Okay, more than a few years, but we’re not telling anyone. You see Brant and I both agreed we’re never growing up to be old like our fathers,” Don informed her with an air of seriousness, “It’s just part of the club you see.”

“And what club is that exactly?” Angela reached out to touch the small of his back. He yelped upon contact with her hand over his shirt.

“The one where we try not to behave too much like adults,” Don bit down on his lip in a pinched voice, “but we aren’t supposed to cry like babies in public either.”

“I’ll try to make this as painless for you as possible,” she promised coaxing him into the chair she’d been seated in earlier. She took a seat beside him before moving in to look at his back. “I’m going to just move your shirt a bit…”

“Oh boy,” Don felt her cold fingers over his skin and he almost leapt again.

“Sorry about that,” Angela apologized bringing her hands out from underneath his shirt, “I was drinking before you spilled on the floor like that and…”

“It’s okay,” Don nodded slowly watching her blow on her fingers to warm them up before she reached for his shirt again. He felt her pull the material up just enough to take a look at his back.

“Oh yeah you’re pretty red back here,” Angela informed him with a small wince, “I would say it’s safe to say that the ball really did launch a super attack on you there.”

“Damn thing,” Don muttered under his breath feeling her reach for her purse.

“I think I might have something that can help,” she explained fishing for a cream inside her purse. She pulled it out and popped open the cap to pour it out over her hands, “A friend of mine swears by this stuff and I’m telling you it is really great for muscle aches.”

“I’m willing to try just about anything right about now if it keeps me from looking like a sissy boy in front of Matt,” Don glanced over at his son seeing Matt absorbed in a game with Brant much to his relief.

“He’s a great kid,” Angela added smearing some of the cream over her finger before focusing on Don’s back again, “This might tingle at first.”

“Whatever works,” Don sighed closing his eyes to feel her contact with his skin. The cream immediately caused his skin to buzz with sensations. His blue eyes snapped open once again, “Whoa, what’s in that?”

“It’s an island blend,” Angela shrugged her shoulders smoothing the cream out over his lower back, “I don’t ask too many questions since it works.”

“That’s kind of unprofessional of you isn’t it?” Don tipped his head back to look over his shoulder at her.

“Does our being doctors mean we have to know all the answers?” she arched a curious brow, “Like maybe we should have a psychic vibe that should teach us to avoid disaster like a runaway skee ball.”

“Touché,” Don conceded feeling the jolt of sensations taper off into a more mild, yet soothing feel over his skin reaching out into his muscled spine. “Oh that does feel kind of good.”

“It will feel like heaven in a few minutes. In fact you’ll almost be as good as new,” Angela offered up hopefully, “You may even beat Brant at his own game.”

“I could beat Brant any day,” Don confessed with a small, cryptic laugh, “All through high school I had a better pitching arm than him and still do, but he gets a thrill out of saying he can beat me, so I let him win.”

“You so do not,” Angela shook her head before seeing the sudden seriousness behind his eyes, “Oh my. You really do.”

“Hey,” Don shrugged his shoulders, a wide smile spreading over his features, “What can I say? There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my best friend?”

Angela smiled at his honesty, “Brant’s lucky to have you in his life.”

“I’m the lucky one,” Don mused proudly before nodding again, “but so are you. He loves you a lot you know. I mean sure you might hear rumors about him and how he is, but when it gets down to it, he doesn’t invite just anyone into his life. The fact that you’re here with us--with him, Matt and I only proves how much he cares about you. Never in all my years of knowing him has he ever brought a date to Pizza Palace. This is a first for him.”

Angela smiled before glancing over at Brant thoughtfully seeing how in tune with Matt he appeared to be. She watched Brant encouraging Matt, cheering him on and offering pointers to help him and it caused her heart to melt. Seeing the laughter that was shared between Brant and Matt made her fall for him even harder as she wondered what he would be like with their children. He just had a way about him that put people at ease and though she hadn’t recognized it until now, she was certain that it was the first thing she’d noticed about him on the island when they’d first met.

“And you love him too,” Don broke through her thoughts smiling wider than before, “You know he’s going to make one hell of a father.”

“I know he is,” Angela watched Brant pick Matt up in his arms and cheer as Matt got the new high score on the game. “I just hope I don’t let him down when we get to that point.”

“Are you kidding? He has so much faith in you and so do I,” Don added encouragingly, “I’m certain that you’re what Brant was meant to find in his life. He’d had a dark cloud hanging over his head for so very long. He tried to force himself to believe he’d found happiness with Avery, but what they had--what he thought he felt for her, doesn’t even come close to what I see he has with you. It’s the real thing Angie.”

Angela smiled feeling a warmth spread out over her, “Thank you Don. You have no idea how much that means for me to hear you of all people say that.”

“Hey what can I say,” he shrugged his shoulders before looking to Brant and Matt again, “I just call them like I see them.”

“So do I and I have to say I’m glad that Brant let me spend this time with you and Matt,” Angela replied rubbing her right hand over his palm again. She leaned forward to place her chin on Don’s shoulder to whisper in his ear, “I love you and Matt already.”

“We love you too almost as much as Brant does and when those two little ones come into the world, you can bet we’ll be right here teaching them all of our tricks,” Don shifted in his chair a bit to reach out and squeeze her in his arm.

“That’s what I’m starting to be afraid of,” Angela returned the embrace keeping one hand on the small of his back. She felt his hold on her intensify a bit as their hug continued and before she could say anything further, she heard him let out a small chuckle.

“Don’t be afraid we can only corrupt them once,” Don teased whispering in her ear causing her to smile at how welcoming Don had been in accepting Angela’s place in Brant’s life. It was like she was finally home--finally among friends and it felt good. So good that she was certain that…

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a voice roared through the moment bringing Angela to a startling reality. She tipped her head up to see a blonde haired woman staring down at her with homicidal intent. The woman stepped forward with an accusatory tone, “Maybe you didn’t hear me, so I’ll give you one last chance to get your hands off of my husband before I tear your throat out here and now.”


...to be continued...