Kenneth rushed into the emergency room of CCR and found Barbara near the front desk, “Where’s Caitlin Vaughn?”
“She’s back here,” Barbara said softly as she led Kenneth back to one of the trauma rooms, “She was attacked at the newspaper. She’s pretty bad.”
“How bad?” He asked quickly as she stopped him outside the room. He attempted to see inside the room but all he could see were doctors and nurses moving about the gurney inside, “How bad is it, Barb?”
She touched his arm gently, “She has a severe concussion, both eyes are swollen shut, her jaw is fractured but not broken,” She paused, “We’re going to be taking her down for a CT scan in a few moments because the doctor thinks she may have some internal injuries.”
“Oh god,” He attempted to move towards the doors but she blocked his path.
“Just stay here, Ken. Let the doctors do their jobs.”
“I want to see her,” Ken said firmly as he tried to move around the persistent nurse, “I need to see her.”
“As soon as the doctors get her stabilized, you’ll be able to see her. For now, you need to be patient and let them do their work,” Barbara advised him.
“Kenny!” Blake called out as she rushed down the hall with Zack directly at her side, “What happened?”
“Caitlin was attacked outside the paper again,” Ken informed her.
“Again?” Zack asked quickly, “This is happened before?”
“She didn’t tell you?” Ken sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair, “I guess she didn’t want you to worry about her, but yes, this has happened before. She was attacked a few weeks ago in the parking garage at the Courier.”
“They didn’t catch the guy?”
“Caitlin didn’t really want the police involved at all, but I asked the Chief of Police to look into the matter anyway,” Ken looked back towards the doors of the trauma room, “Obviously it didn’t help anything.”
“I don’t understand. She said this was a great place. How the hell can it be so great if she’s being attacked?” Zack grumbled, “I’m going to find out the specifics of Caitlin’s condition,” He said as he stepped into the trauma room.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Blake said as tears filled her eyes, “She was finally able to make a fresh start without worrying about this kind of thing.”
“What kind of thing?” Kenneth asked as he watched his sister nibble her lower lip, “Blake, what aren’t you telling me?”
“I know who’s doing this…at least I have a pretty good idea, and so does Caitlin,” She said as she shook her head, “I should have convinced her to tell the police,” She sniffled as she closed her eyes.
“Who is it?” Her brother asked as he placed his hand upon Blake’s shoulder, “Who is doing this?”
“Caitlin didn’t want anyone to know. She was so ashamed, and she wanted to start fresh…really fresh so no one would have to know.”
“Know what?” Kenneth demanded as he turned her to face him, “What isn’t she telling?”
“If I say anything…she’s…Caitlin will be so mad.”
“I’d rather her be mad than dead,” He urged her, “Come on, Blake…what do you know?”
Blake met her brother’s concerned eyes as she stifled a frightened sob, “Kenny,” She said softly, “You love her, don’t you?”
He shook his head, “Don’t change the subject, Blake. Who is doing this to her?”
“You do,” She said in realization, “That’s why you’re so adamant about her well being. Have you told her?”
“That’s not the issue here, Blake. I want to know who is doing this to Caitlin, and if you know, you’d better start talking. Right now,” He demanded.
Blake pulled away from her brother and slowly made her way to stand just outside the doors to the trauma room, “Caitlin doesn’t want anyone to know. She needs to tell you on her own, Kenny.”
“Blake, we have to think for her right now. It’s in her best interests if we take this out of her hands,” Kenneth spoke with determination, “We have to make this decision for her…for her own good.”
“Is that really what you think?” Zack asked as he stepped out of the trauma room, “Well, I guess you are the spoiled rich boy I thought you would be.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kenneth said as he looked to Zack, “I’m trying to persuade Blake to…”
“I don’t care what you’re trying to do. I won’t let you take any decisions out of my sister’s hands as long as she’s breathing, and I’m here to protect her,” Zack declared as he met Kenneth’s eyes, “It’s probably your fault she’s in this condition to begin with.”
“What? You must be joking,” Kenneth replied as angry offense took over his features.
“Who have you pissed off, Rich Boy?” Zack asked as he stood toe to toe with Kenneth.
“This is not my fault,” Kenneth said boldly, “I would never bring any harm to her.”
“That’s what they all say, but I’m sure you’re used to having all the dirty work swept under the carpet, haven’t you, Rich Boy?”
“Don’t call me that,” Kenneth warned.
“Okay you two,” Blake raised her voice above them, shoving her way between the men and pushing them away from one another. She turned her gaze from one man to the other as she spoke, “Get over yourselves. This isn’t about either one of you two mindless baboons. This is about Caitlin…remember her?” She asked as she took in a deep breath, “Stop fighting amongst yourselves and focus on helping her, dammit!”
Zack glared at Kenneth before he turned and took a few steps down the hall to sit down in a waiting area. Blake looked to her brother with questioning eyes.
“Well? Are you through pulling a Brant-fit?”
Kenneth shook his head in disgust before he moved to the doors of the trauma room, “Caitlin…what haven’t you told me that could help me help you?” He asked softly, closing his eyes and saying a silent prayer of healing for the woman he had come to love.
“I’m not changing my mind on this,” Grady threw out one last time at
Russell realizing that there would be no bending on the issue of Avery
despite his brother’s impassioned pleas, “Not when I know what the outcome
“Then as it stands, I guess we both know where this is going to go,” Russell finished struggling to keep his feelings about his brother’s impossible side under wraps as the idea of Grady taking on the woman he loved burned him to no end. He clenched his fists at his sides as he struggled to keep from losing control in the moment, but as he opened up the door leading out of Grady’s office, he gave his brother one last look, “but I warn you now, you’re making a huge mistake because you’re forgetting who the real enemy is in all of this.”
“I know exactly who the enemy is,” Grady muttered under his breath watching as Russell emerged from his office to the lobby where Avery was seated with Brant Ashford, “and believe me she’ll get what’s coming to her,” Grady promised as he watched Avery rush from the sofa towards his brother. Never in his life did he feel more determined about something, but now, well not was only the beginning of this battle and for his brother’s sake, he vowed it would be one war he’d most certainly win.
A breath of relief escaped Avery’s lips as she noticed Russell standing
in the doorway of Grady’s office seemingly in one piece. She rushed
over to him taking a closer look as she touched his shoulder gently, “Are
“Let’s just get out of here,” Russell answered tightly as he tried to push what just took place in his brother‘s office behind him.
“Of course,” Avery nodded simply, “anywhere you want to go, just name it.”
“I don’t care where we go, but I just want to get away,” Russell lowered his voice as he turned towards her, “I want us to get away.”
“So I assume that whatever crisis is going on for the time being is over,” Brant piped in alerting Russell to his presence again as Russell grudgingly turned his attention to Brant.
“I would’ve thought you’d have left by now,” Russell tried to keep his displeasure from showing as he took in a slow breath.
“I’d planned on it, but Avery insisted upon returning your car keys and your jacket,” Brant explained simply, “but now that you’re out, she can do just that and we can be on our way, now can’t we Avery?”
“No you can’t,” Russell answered gritting his teeth as Avery felt the tension flooding over his body, “I’m not finished speaking with Avery just yet.”
“But I thought that…” Brant began at a loss.
“Brant, why don’t you get going and I’ll meet up with you at the mansion,” Avery suggested after a moment’s contemplation, “I promised Russ that I would drive him home and well, since I’m sure you brought your car as well, I could have Russ drop me off at my apartment and I could get a change of clothes before heading to work…”
“Avery, you have a change of clothes at the mansion,” Brant reminded her simply as his frown deepened, “You can change up there and then we can head over to work together.”
“Brant, I really think it would be better if we just do it this way,” she urged further, “Since I was hoping to get a few words in with Russell.”
“I was hoping we could get a few words in ourselves,” Brant argued with her, “There was something that we were talking about earlier and I’d like to get back to that…”
“We will, but right now…” Avery started once more.
“Can’t you get a clue, Brant,” Russell frowned in response, “Avery would like some breathing room, so why don’t you give it to her?”
“Look buddy, if it wasn’t for you and your brother then we wouldn’t be standing here in this office right now, but you two just love to stir up trouble where ever you go and…”
“I so don’t need this from you,” Russell grumbled his anger rising with the moment once again as he suddenly found a new focus for his rage in Brant Ashford.
“Russ, it’s okay,” Avery began stepping in between both men, “Brant, please just give us some time to talk and I’ll be to work as soon as possible.”
“Forget work for the moment,” Brant pushed further, “Let’s just get over to the mansion and work on strategy there as I can think clearer in my own home without all the outside interferences,” he finished sharply his eyes darting over at Russell.
“Brant please…” Avery began again.
“Just who the hell do you think you are,” Russell challenged breaking through the moment, “Do you honestly believe that Avery can’t have a moment to herself now that you’ve claimed her your own personal property?”
“She doesn’t need you or your brother hounding her now that the attack has become personal,” Brant demanded harshly, “I mean it was bad enough when your brother was trying to attack my sister during the quake, but now for him to try to take on me and my company, well it’s just ludicrous.”
“Everything isn’t about you Brant,” Russell rolled his eyes in response, “and as for your sister, well she was working a number over on Jade’s brother and that’s what spurned that one. She blatantly lied to the hospital staff and tried to keep Jade from her family…”
“My sister and Seth are very much in love and just because Jade doesn’t keep tabs on her brother’s love life doesn’t mean that my sister should’ve been subjected to a windbag like your brother getting up in her face,” Brant sneered in response, “You and I both know that he was out of line then, just like he’s out of line now.”
“You know what,” Russell retorted finding himself just about ready to lose his top as the words came so close to falling from his lips, “to hell with you. To hell with this,” he turned to leave as Avery felt a panic rushing over her.
“Russ wait,” she reached for his arm stopping him mid-movement as she urged him to look at her once again, “Russ, don’t leave like this.”
“I’m not going to listen to anymore crap from him considering that Grady and I…” his gaze traveled back to his brother’s office once again, “This is just too much.”
“You’re right,” she agreed with a nod, “it is. It’s far too much than anyone should have to deal with right now, but please don’t walk away from me,” she lowered her voice, “not right now--not when we need to talk about things…”
“Avery,” he sighed as his eyes traveled towards Brant once again, “What about him?”
“I’ll deal with him,” she promised taking in a slow breath in an attempt to calm herself as she realized that something horrible must’ve happened in Grady’s office between him and Russell, “Please, just let me work my magic and then you and I can talk.”
“Avery, I…” he began with a reluctant sigh, “fine.”
“Thank you,” she smiled up at him for a brief moment before turning her attention back to a less than enthusiastic Brant. Stepping towards him, she took in a slow breath struggling to find the right words as she thought about the situation they’d all found themselves in. “Brant…”
“Avery, don’t give me that look,” he warned simply, “because I’m not in the wrong here.”
“Brant, just think about everything we’ve all been through over the last couple of weeks,” Avery explained simply struggling to keep her voice even, “I think calling it hell would be putting it nicely. Even this latest curve ball is only icing on the cake and we both know it.”
“Still, I don’t need to listen to him talking that way when…” Brant began to argue with her as his gaze drifted over to Russell once again.
“Brant, he just took on his brother in there,” Avery explained point blank, “and while I know you don’t care, Russ and Grady are close--really close, but Russ went in there letting Grady know that he feels Grady’s in the wrong. A conversation like that is bound to have some kind of consequences and I need to know if he’s okay.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Brant shrugged his shoulders dismissively, “I mean he’s still walking, isn’t he?”
“Brant, you know that’s not good enough for me,” Avery frowned deeply, “You said it yourself a few minutes ago that you’re well aware that he’s my best friend. You know I can’t just let him walk away being as upset as he is…”
“I understand that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…especially now…” Brant grumbled back at her, “I mean clearly he can deal with this on his own.”
“How would you feel if you and Ken went head to head over something like this?” she challenged lifting a curious brow.
“Ken wouldn’t be so stupid about something,” Brant answered flatly meeting her disapproving eyes, “Well he wouldn’t.”
“Even so, right now Russell needs me and I have to be there for him,” Avery explained firmly as she tried to reason with Brant.
“I need you and BBK needs you, Avery,” Brant sighed shaking his head back at her, “Right now we need to focus on getting on top of this lawsuit and finding a way to stop Grady Denton before he and Stone Corp work to take us down.”
“They aren’t going to take anything from BBK,” Avery promised solemnly, “You have my word on that one and you know I’ll put in a hundred and fifty percent…more if need be to make that happen…”
“Still…” Brant began seeing the determination behind her eyes, “Fine, then if you want to spend some time with him, how about we all just head on over to the mansion?”
“Brant,” she gave him a sideways glance trying to decipher his angle.
“We have to get some work done and then you can have him there if it makes you happy, I guess,” he frowned deeply, “though I must say that I think he’d be much better alone for a while and you could be more focused on this lawsuit…”
“Brant, I really think that I should just go back to my apartment to work for a bit and then maybe just maybe I’ll be more focused…”
“No, Avery I don’t want you going back there. With the media roaming around, it’s bound to get ugly and I don’t want that happening,” Brant sighed as he looked around the Denton legal offices, “I think we’ve had enough ugly for the day, don’t you?”
“At least let me go with Russell to pick up a few things,” she suggested after a moment’s contemplation, “I didn’t bring that much with me to the mansion in the first place you know.”
“We’ll get you new things,” Brant offered with a bright smile, “You know I can have the best of the best brought over to the mansion for you…”
“Brant, I’m still an independent woman and you have to let me do my thing,” Avery answered her voice full of determination.
“Don’t look at it as me trying to infringe upon your rights there. Look at it in terms of me trying to find a way to make things easier on you. I’ll be pampering you if you will…” he threw out a sexy smile knowing that it would have some kind of impact on her as she reciprocated the gesture.
“Pampering is nice, but right now, just let me do things my way,” Avery pleaded with him reaching out to touch his arm, “You know I’m more comfortable with the situation when I’m the one calling the shots.”
“Fine,” he sighed reluctantly, “then we’ll go to your place and pick up a few things and then you can bring Russell back to the mansion with us if he’s still insistent upon hanging around. Is that better?”
“Well, it’s a start I suppose,” Avery thought it over, “but still…”
“We can just hop in the Porsche and then we’ll head on over to your place and…”
“Whoa, wait a second. We’re not taking the Porsche to my place. Brant, there’s no way that we can all go together in that,” Avery reminded him with a frown.
“Fine then we’ll take the Porsche and Russell can follow us to your place,” he suggested boldly as he took in the situation. “That way we’re all happy campers.”
“I promised him I’d drive as he’s in no position to do just that,” Avery glanced back over at Russell noticing he was about to leap out of his skin as he waited for her to finish speaking with Brant. “Why don’t you just follow us over there?”
“Avery, I don’t like the idea of you…”
“Brant, you’re getting into that controlling mode again,” Avery curled her lip in a frown, “and I can tell you right now where it’s going to get you.”
“Somehow I have a feeling it’s a place I don’t want to be,” Brant grumbled back at her, “What if we just all take his car over there and then I can have Simon pick up the Porsche?”
“You’re going to just leave the Porsche in this neighborhood?” Avery threw out a skeptical look, “Even I wouldn’t think about doing something that stupid considering the atmosphere.”
Brant frowned upon her words, “I really hate it when you’re right. I hope you realize that, don’t you?”
“I realize it and truth be told, as much as you hate it, it’s what keeps us above water,” Avery stood taller feeling a victory eminent as she smiled back at him, “but trust me, things are better this way.”
“I’m having my doubts about that one,” Brant casually allowed his eyes to taper off in Russell’s direction once again.
“It’ll be fine,” Avery patted his shoulder, “now just follow me to my apartment and everything will be okay.”
“Fine,” Brant reluctantly agreed realizing that once again Russell Denton was changing their plans for the day as he followed Avery over in Russell’s direction.
“Everything all settled?” Russell questioned as Avery offered up a nod.
“As long as you don’t mind taking a trip to my place for a few minutes, then we’re all good,” Avery explained looking between both men, “Brant’s going to follow us over there and then he invited us to the mansion for a bit…”
“Wonderful,” Russell muttered under his breath realizing that right now Brant was one of the last people he’d wanted around, but as he thought of the ride over to Avery’s apartment, he realized that a few moments alone with her was better than nothing and given the morning he’d had, he’d take what he could get one way or another.
“Ready?” Avery questioned with a bright smile as she patted his arm.
“Sure, why not,” he agreed taking her arm in his as he ignored the fact that Brant had reached for her other arm as the trio left the Denton legal offices pushing this disaster aside temporarily.
Jade opened the door to Grady’s office, wondering if she would find anyone left alive inside. She’d never known tension as thick as she had felt in the office between Grady and Russell. More than that, she’d never known the two brothers to wage war against one another. Usually they were too busy being allies to even consider being angry with one another. Still, it was scary to think that the Denton brothers could possibly be so angry at each other.
She stepped into the room and saw Grady staring out the window at the cars along the street below. She knew this look. He had spent many days at the window gazing out at the city while in deep thought about cases they had worked. She knew he was in deep thought over Russell this time, and she could only hope that she could reach him no matter what kind of barriers he had put up.
“So there are survivors, huh?” Jade asked, attempting to make light of her entrance to the room.
“Barely,” Grady said without moving.
She made her way towards him and gently placed her hand upon his arm, “Are you okay?”
“No,” He answered as his eyes remained fixed upon the city.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Grady said somberly, “I just wish Russ would listen to reason.”
“You don’t think Avery is right for him,” She suggested.
“No, I know Avery isn’t right for him,” He groaned as he turned to face her, “Avery has been the source of all of Russell’s problems. She’s the reason he’s under suspicion of murder. She’s the reason his life went all to hell years ago. She’s never been any good for him. All she knows how to do is destroy him.”
Jade thought for a moment, “And that’s why you hate her so much.”
“It’s not that I hate her,” He said before frowning, “Okay, so I don’t like her at all, but it’s because Russ is so obsessed with the idea of a happily ever after with her that it blinds him to the destruction she causes.”
“Sounds more like love than obsession,” She pointed out.
“Oh god, not you too,” Grady frowned as he stepped across the room and sank onto his sofa, “There’s no doubt in my mind that Russ loves her. God knows he’s preached that as his mantra for years, but she doesn’t love him.”
“Does that matter?” She asked as she watched him, “If he loves her and he wants the best for her, how can that be wrong?”
“Because she doesn’t deserve his devotion and loyalty, Jade,” He paused, “She has ruined him before, and I can’t just sit back and watch her do it all over again.”
“Why do you have to protect him? He’s a grown man, Grady. He knows what he’s doing.”
“That’s just it. I don’t think he does know. All he sees is this dream of Avery in his head instead of the monstrosity that she actually is.”
“Okay, what could she possibly have done that was so terrible in the past to earn all this hatred on your part?” Jade asked as she sat down in a chair nearby.
“She left Russ at the altar, Jade,” He said with a frown, “I’m not talking figuratively here. She literally left him standing at the church on their wedding day,” He closed his eyes as the memories ran through his mind, “I’ve never seen my brother so devastated as he was that day. After that, I wondered for a while if he even had the will to live. And Avery only made it worse by starting up a relationship almost immediately with Bruce Mathis.”
She thought for a moment before speaking, “Oh that isn’t good. That just gives Russell a motive for murder.”
“Another one,” He corrected, “Bruce was a bastard, and in his last days he did some really disgusting things to Avery. So Russ was more than a little pissed at the guy.”
“And you blame Avery for Russ’s dedication to her?”
“It’s not that really. Russ can be dedicated to whatever he wants, but that woman doesn’t know the first thing about loyalty to anything other than her precious career. Mark my words. The first moment Brant Ashford starts talking about giving her even more prestige, she’ll forget Russell ever existed and be panting at Brant’s feet.”
“Why is Russ still so enamored with her if she’s engaged to Brant any way?”
“Old habits die hard, I guess,” Grady ran his fingers through his hair and groaned, “I just wish there was some way to convince Russ that he’s only going to end up with more pain where Avery’s concerned.”
Jade frowned as she watched Grady. It was obvious to her that Grady and Seth had more in common than they even knew…they both were stubborn about what they thought was best for their siblings, and they would not have their minds changed.
Diane looked up from the spot she was standing in waiting for Ben as
she noticed him walking towards his car. Taking in a nervous breath,
she flashed him a bright smile as she leaned back against the hood of his
car offering up a teasing wink, “Thinking about taking off on me, are you?”
“Diane, what are you doing out here,” Ben asked almost nervously as she gave him a sideways glance.
“You didn’t really think I’d let you skip out on lunch, did you,” she questioned with a playfulness in her voice, “I mean the way I see it in your e-mails you were just dying to say yes, weren’t you?”
“Well yes, I was,” he admitted stepping in towards her, “and I want to…”
“Then what’s the problem?” she questioned casually as she stood taller taking a step towards him.
“Well nothing except for,” he hesitated struggling to find the right words as a sigh escaped his lips, “well, I have other plans this afternoon.”
“Other plans,” she repeated with a frown as she offered up a sideways glance, “But I thought that…”
“Diane, I really, really wanted to do lunch today, but something came up,” he admitted hastily as he looked over to his car once again, “but maybe we can have a rain check or something.”
“A rain check on lunch,” she repeated with a tiny frown of her own as he made his way around her towards his car, “You’re avoiding me, aren’t you?”
“No, it’s not that,” Ben began to explain as he faced her once again, “It’s just…”
“Just what,” Diane folded her arms in front of her chest, “I’ve been begging you to go out and then when we do, dinner is cut short and then we shared this romantic lunch together and now you’re blowing me off. I’m sorry maybe this sounds a little bit pathetic, but I really don’t get it. I thought I was reading all the right signals with you Ben.”
“You are reading the right signals,” he sighed thinking about what was waiting for him at the restaurant across town, “I am interested in seeing where this thing we have going takes us, but today, well today isn’t a good day for us to work on that.”
“What better time than the present,” she suggested with a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
“Diane as much as I want to, there’s something I really need to take care of over lunch,” he began uneasily as he watched her for a long moment, “but maybe tonight we can do something.”
“Tonight,” she repeated with obvious skepticism in her voice as she noted the way his eyes were drifting beyond her, “are you sure about that?”
“I’m positive,” Ben nodded in confession, “I swear I’ll make this up to you and all of my other odd tendencies will be made up for as well.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re just trying to pacify me long enough to get me to shut up,” she challenged after a moment’s contemplation, “because if what you’re really trying to do is let me down the easy way, then Ben I’m a big girl. Just be straight with me so that I know where I stand…”
“You stand in a very important position in my life,” he stepped towards her bringing his arms around her slender waist, “even though things are a bit hectic right now, you have to believe me when I say that you’re the only woman on my mind,” he leaned down towards her as his eyes reached into her trying to assure her of his motivation, “You’re the only woman that’s aroused my interest in such a way and you’re the only one that I want to spend my time with…”
“Then why all the running away,” Diane questioned feeling the warmth of him beside her as she leaned into the heat of his fingers pressing up against her face in a tender gesture.
“I’m not running away,” he promised leaning down to kiss her chastely as his arm slipped around her drawing her in closer to him, “but more so I’m paving the way for us to have a way to explore what we have together more in depth.”
“Somehow that wasn’t the vibe you were giving me,” Diane curled her lip in a pout as he held her.
“I’ll change all of that tonight,” he swore to her in a whisper, “We can have a quiet dinner at my place together…”
“Your place,” her eyes perked up at the words.
“That’s right,” he nodded in confession, “I thought maybe a little candlelight, maybe some mood music and a home cooked meal…”
“It does sound tempting,” Diane sank into the invitation of his embrace as he held her, “but how do I know that this won’t be one of those times when you suddenly have somewhere else to be?”
“It won’t be,” Ben promised her, “Tonight will be something wonderful and I know you’ll love it.”
“You’d better hope so,” Diane nibbled on his lip as he lifted her up off her toes into his arms fully.
“I know so,” he whispered in confession squeezing her closer still before he let out a reluctant sigh pressing his forehead against hers. “I have to go.”
“I wish you didn’t,” Diane grumbled in response, “I really wish that wasn’t the case.”
“Look at is as it giving us more anticipation for tonight,” he slowly lowered her to the ground once again, “Trust me Diane, it’ll be worth it.”
“I truly hope so,” she sighed feeling his hand linger against her face for a brief moment before he turned to his car giving her one last look before he headed out for his lunch appointment. Diane watched him leave as she raised her hand to her face still feeling his touch upon her face. Oh how she hoped he’d come around, but still as she thought of the way things had been lately, she wondered if tonight would just be her setting herself up for another disappointment once again.
Avery felt a shiver race over her body as she caught a glimpse of Russell
out of her peripheral vision. He was slumped over in the passenger
seat of his car, lost in that brooding silence that had been something
Avery seldom saw in him. Realizing that something was horribly
wrong, she slid her hand across the seat pressing a supportive squeeze
on his leg as she looked to the road ahead of them.
“A penny for your thoughts,” she broke the silence as he slowly turned his head towards her noting her hand on his leg.
“You don’t want to know what’s going through my head right now. I don‘t even want to know,” he confessed with a heavy sigh as his fight with Grady weighed fresh on his mind. Even after all this time Grady was set on making things difficult just when Russell was finally putting the pieces of his life back together again. Why couldn’t Grady just understand and accept his happiness, he thought to himself as Avery offered another light squeeze on his leg.
“That’s all the more reason you should start talking,” she suggested knowing that whatever was going on inside of him was clearly tearing him apart as Grady had always been one of his closest confidants growing up. To think of the two of them at odds with one another brought another chill racing over her as they’d never let anything leave them walking away from a dispute with one another without some kind of resolution. “Russ please…”
“Avery, I just don’t want to get into it,” he shrugged his shoulders turning his attention to the world outside his Camry as a sigh spilled over his lips.
“Russ, I’m so sorry about all of this,” Avery apologized thinking to what he’d walked in on when she and Grady had been attacking one another, “I never should’ve left the mansion like I did and tried to take on Grady like that…”
“Avery, this isn’t about what you did,” Russell pointed out bluntly as his frown deepened, “This is about what Grady’s doing and why he’s doing it.”
“Russ, he’s your brother and despite the way he feels about me,” Avery began to withdraw her hand from his leg as she felt the presence of his fingers over hers coaxing her to keep her hand over him. His index finger swept over her palm, tracing it gently as Avery cast a quick look in his direction.
“Don’t,” he urged lacing their fingers together as he held her hand, “don’t let go just yet.”
“Alright,” Avery nodded turning her attention to the road once again as his touch played over her skin gently.
“You know,” he spoke in a lackadaisical tone as he caressed the soft contours of her hand, “this was always one of my favorite things about us being together.”
“My driving your car?” Avery couldn’t help but give him a strange look as a laugh tickled over her lips, “because if that’s where you’re going, I know that’s an outright lie as you and I always had disputes about the way I drive versus the way you drive. You seemed to think you’re the better driver.”
“No, it’s not that,” he felt a smile fill a warmth inside of him as he squeezed her hand gently, “I was talking about the way it felt in moments like these when I could just hold you like this. I mean as silly as it sounds, you never realize the intimacy behind something as simple as holding hands until you’re not able to do it anymore…” his tone took on a sentimentality that Avery hadn’t been expecting as he brushed the pad of his thumb over the curve between her thumb and index finger, “until you can’t share something as beautiful as this moment…”
“Russ,” Avery began feeling a tremor rush over her as his touch swept through her suddenly taking on a far more intimate feel as his fingers curled over hers.
“Grady just doesn’t understand,” he sighed as he slumped back in his chair further, “He’ll never see the value in something so perfect, so precious because he’s not willing to open himself up to the truth about the way things are. He’d rather be so stuck in the past that he’d push away any hope for a future…”
“Grady’s a stubborn man, but I know he loves you and he’s always looking out for what’s best for you,” Avery defended his brother as she could hear the sadness in his voice, “What you heard earlier wasn’t meant for your ears. I wish I’d never allowed things to get to that point with Grady.”
“Avery, he was out of line and just hearing him say those things about you,” his sad, green eyes fell upon her, “I didn’t like them.”
“He didn’t mean for you to hear them,” Avery offered up once again thinking about what had transpired between her and Grady.
“That doesn’t change the fact that he never should’ve said them to begin with,” Russell shook his head poignantly, “Grady knows better than to even think about representing a man like Cameron Stone and somehow if I’d only opened my eyes and saw this sooner, then maybe…” he trailed off as a thick silence filled him.
“Maybe what?” Avery questioned after a moment, “Maybe he’d change his mind about this case? I don’t believe that for a second. Russ, you know how stubborn he is and when he sets out to do something.”
“Avery, he’d mentioned the case to me before, but it didn’t register,” he confessed thinking back to another moment he and Grady had shared with one another, “He’d been talking about a situation that was bothering him with Cameron’s assistant, and I never thought to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It wasn’t until this morning when Brant mentioned Stone Corp that I put two and two together and realized that Cameron Stone was the same man who’d wreaked havoc upon all those people back in New York.”
“Russ, you couldn’t be expected to have known,” Avery offered up hearing the weight of the burden he was carrying in his voice, “I’m sure if Grady knew…”
“Avery, I should’ve said something the first time he mentioned it, but I wasn’t thinking. I was too busy worrying about that damned article about you and Brant being engaged that I…” he shook his head at the thought, “I just should’ve thought things through.”
“Russ, the media threw us all for a loop and things seemed to fall out in ways that neither one of us imagined,” she offered changing lanes as she thought to the chaos that had followed that one article that changed all of their lives.
“Still, if only I’d seen through the story, if I’d known that it was nothing but lies…” he shook his head solemnly, “Even when I think about what Bruce did to you.”
“What Bruce did was not your fault,” Avery piped up firmly feeling as though he was sinking into some dark place dwelling on all the misery that had hung over him, “None of us could’ve planned for that and none of us knew what he was capable of.”
“Avery, I should’ve tried to stop you from leaving,” he blurted out simply, “I should’ve prevented it somehow.”
“Russ, we already discussed this and I told you that I was confused that night we made love. If you’d tried to stop me, well there’s no telling what might’ve happened,” Avery began glancing over at him as he squeezed her fingers in his lifting her hand up to his lips as he dropped a tender kiss over her knuckles.
“I wasn’t talking about the night we made love,” he answered honestly as his lips pressed in against her skin, “I’m talking about our wedding day.”
“Our wedding day,” she repeated with a surprised gasp as she turned into the parking garage leading to her apartment, “Russ…”
“Avery, just hear me out,” he pleaded with her as she turned into the darkened garage finding her usual spot to park in as she reluctantly tore her hand away from his as she turned off the car.
Taking in a slow breath, Avery finally turned to face him seeing the sadness behind his eyes as he looked into her, seeking out something that Avery had kept under wraps for so very long.
“Everything changed for me that day,” Russell confessed reaching out to touch her face tenderly as she felt her heart flutter in her chest, “When I realized what Brooke had done, it tore me up inside.”
“Russ, I’m so sorry about that. I never meant to hurt you like I,” she began as he placed his finger over her lips to silence her.
“I know and I see that now,” Russell continued as his other hand eased into her dark hair needing to feel the contact between them as he found himself so very lost in her dark eyes, “but at the time I was upset and my pride kept me from following my heart. When I saw that you’d left that church, my every instinct told me to find you, to chase after you and make you see that I’d never let anything hurt you--that I’d never turn what we had into something horrible…”
“Russ,” Avery started feeling the tears pool up in her eyes at the emotion behind his words.
“Avery, I’ve spent my whole life loving you and I’m not going to let anything change that,” he confessed solemnly as he leaned in towards her, “Today when I saw Grady attacking you, I didn’t like it and I hated to see him hurting you that way…”
“Russ, he was just trying to protect you. He sees me as that woman who broke your heart into a million pieces and in some ways maybe he’s right about me,” she took in a slow breath as she looked away from him, “From the moment we’ve crossed paths again, you’ve been in nothing but trouble because of me and maybe if we hadn’t reconnected…”
“Avery, you’re the first breath of life I’ve had in a long time,” Russell blurted out with an impassioned tone, “Without you I was dead inside, but now that we’re this close--now that we’re able to play a role in one another’s lives again, well it only gives me hope that maybe things happened for a reason. Maybe just maybe the misery we faced was because we were supposed to be here in this moment sharing this thing between us just like this…”
“I hardly think you and Grady being at odds with one another was part of the plan,” Avery answered uneasily as he dropped his hand towards her seat belt unbuckling it in a swift movement.
“Grady and I are just par for the course lately, but what really matters, what’s really important is what’s happening right here and now,” he confessed in a low whisper as he made quick work of his seatbelt and he leaned forward his breath a whisper over her features as Avery’s breath escaped her in a shivering exhale, “I mean maybe this is all this amounts to with the here and now and maybe this is where we’re really supposed to be…” he inched in towards her, his fingers sliding into her hair as he mouthed the word, “together.”
“Russ,” she tilted up towards him ready to lose herself to the moment as the ringing of her cell phone invaded the moment between them. She pulled back with a gasp as she found her eyes remaining fixed on Russell. The tension in the air hung between them as she reluctantly reached for her phone answering with her best attempt at an even tone, “hello.”
“Avery, where are you,” Brant’s voice questioned impatiently, “I parked outside, but now I’m standing at the door to your apartment wondering where you are. Is something wrong?”
“Russ and I were just on our way up,” Avery answered trying to keep her voice under control as her heart pounded in her chest at the thought of what almost happened between her and Russell.
“Okay, well just hurry. I’m starting to get strange looks from your neighbors,” Brant replied as Avery hung up her phone offering up an apologetic look to Russell.
“I know,” he sighed running his fingers through his hair, “this is to be continued…”
“We will continue this,” she promised hating to leave the moment as she watched him open the car door as she realized that things were growing into something she’d never expected ever again as Russell had stepped into her world and changed things in a way that ultimately brought out something in her she’d thought she’d lost. She just hoped that in finding it, somehow it wouldn’t be the end of life as Russell knew it because the last thing she’d wanted was to tear his world apart all over again.
Caitlin lay in the hospital bed, feeling groggy from the pain medication as well as exhausted from the violence of the attack she had suffered. She remembered the pain all too well, but each and every time she had been in this position, the pain always seemed more vivid than any memory.
She heard the door open to her room, but she could only make out the silhouette of a figure near the door. Her eyes were still swollen almost completely closed, but she could distinguish shadows from the light.
“Ms. Vaughn, my name is Doctor Diego Hernandez. I’m a psychiatrist here at CCR, and I was asked to come in and speak with you for a few moments. Would that be okay?” Diego asked from across the room, careful not to scare her by approaching her without her permission.
“I suppose,” She said with a slow exhale, “I’m not crazy.”
“No one is suggesting that you are,” He informed her, “I specialize in the implications of a physical attack. I treat patients who have been abused, raped, or any other form of violent attack. I help them recover from their psychological wounds after the attack.”
“And you’re here to try to help me recover from this?” She felt tears threatening to choke her, “You’re in for one hell of an uphill battle here.”
Diego lightly touched her hand in an assuring gesture, “I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge. I don’t give up easily, and I think you should know that I want my patients to defeat whatever demons the attacker would force upon them. I want to see you recover from this and be a stronger person than you were before.”
“I’ve heard this speech before,” She said tearfully, “It never helps. Nothing ever does.”
He watched her reactions for a moment before he spoke, “This has happened before?”
“Yes,” She inhaled brokenly.
“I get the feeling it’s happened quite a bit before.”
“Yes,” She said as she lifted her hand to the bandage on her head, “I can’t even remember how many times now.”
“You know your attacker,” He said in a questioning manner though sure he knew the answer.
She nodded gently, attempting to stop the pain from becoming overwhelming, “He was my fiancé. We were to be married, but he put me in the hospital a couple of weeks before the wedding. I decided that I couldn’t go through with it. I left, and I took a job that allowed me to travel. I traveled until I just couldn’t take it any more. I came here to settle down because I have friends here. But he’s found me,” She sobbed openly, “He found me, and he’s never going to let me go.”
“Caitlin, you do know that you have options. There are restraining orders, shelters, and laws that protect you.”
“Oh really? Do the do any good? No, they don’t. I’ve been to shelters. He found me. I had a restraining order. He walked right through that. How does any of that help me?”
“You need to give the police a complete statement about this incident,” Diego said softly, “If you give them the information, they can use the laws to help you.”
“They can’t help me. Nobody can help me. He’s only going to stop when he kills me,” Caitlin cried out, “He’s going to kill me, and then all of this will finally be over.”
“Caitlin, you cannot give up on your life because of this. You have to stand strong and fight back.”
“Why? It never works. He’ll always find me,” She sobbed openly as she turned gently in the bed, turning her back on Diego, “And eventually he’ll kill me, and then I’ll never have to be afraid again.”
“Caitlin…” He began.
“Don’t. Just don’t. I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to hear any more optimism. It’s all lies, and I just don’t want to hear any more,” She said as she broke into tears openly.
Diego started to speak but thought better of it. Instead he placed his card upon her beside table, “I’ll come by to see you tomorrow morning. Perhaps once you’ve rested, you’ll be ready to talk.”
Caitlin listened as he walked out of her room. She squeezed her pillow closer to her as she cried. Her despair knew no end as there were no new beginnings for her…only pain.
Dave stepped into the waiting area after having gotten the call about Caitlin’s attack. He knew Kenneth would be upset, and he knew he would be walking into a powder keg with the possibility of the Ashford leverage being used. While Kenneth had never even hinted at using his family’s fortune to pressure the police, Dave had the feeling that Ken would do so if he felt it was needed.
Dave stepped forward as Kenneth, Blake, and Zack noticed his arrival, “How is she?”
“She’s stable, and they’re settling her into a room,” Kenneth informed him as he shook Dave’s hand, “Chief of Police Dave Warner, this is Zack Vaughn. He’s Caitlin’s brother.”
“I wish we were meeting under different circumstances,” Dave assured him as he shook Zack’s hand.
“So do I,” Zack nodded solemnly.
“Have you spoken to her yet?” Dave asked as he looked between the faces of the crowd.
“No, not yet,” Kenneth replied as they all sat down.
“I’ll need to speak with her as soon as possible,” Dave said as he looked between them, drawing a note pad from his jacket pocket, “Has there been anything unusual going on lately?”
“Not that I know of,” Kenneth said as he looked towards Blake who shook her head in the negative, “There were no phone calls like last time.”
“Wait, there were phone calls?” Zack asked.
“Yes, she was receiving hang ups on her cell phone,” Kenneth frowned before looking towards Dave, “Can’t you pull the records on that?”
“Only with a warrant unless she consents,” Dave replied, “Which considering her reaction last time, I don’t think she’s likely to give.”
“Well I don’t care what it takes, you get those records and find out who did this. I don’t want her being hurt any more, and if she won’t tell us who did this, then we need to find out on our own,” Kenneth said quickly.
“Kenny,” Blake said his name softly as she placed her hand upon his knee, “Dave knows how to do his job.”
“I know,” Kenneth said with an apologetic tone, “It’s just…this is all so frustrating. This never should have happened, and I swear that if you don’t find this guy…”
“We’ll find him,” Dave assured his friend, “We will find this man, and we’ll put him behind bars.”
“You’d better hope you do, or I swear to god…”
“Ken,” Dave held up his hand, “I know you feel strongly about this but…”
“But nothing,” Kenneth interrupted, “If I find out who did this before you do, he’s a dead man,” He declared as he stood and left the waiting area.
Blake sighed, “I’m sorry, Dave. He’s really shaken up about this.”
“I noticed,” Dave frowned before looking to Zack, “When did you get into town?”
“Just this morning,” Zack replied, “This isn’t how I imagined spending my first night in Coral Valley.”
“I hope you never have to spend another one like this,” Dave replied, “Is there any way this guy could have known her schedule?”
“I don’t know how,” Zack shrugged, “Caitlin just went to work to pick up some kind of package, and then she was going to come back to her apartment. We were going to go to have dinner tonight and spend time catching up.”
“Do you have any idea what the package was?” Dave asked as he made a note on his pad.
“No, it was just for some story she’s working on,” Zack shrugged.
“It’s okay. I’ll find out from Russell,” Dave looked between Zack and Blake, “If you think of anything that could help…”
“We’ll call,” Blake said before Dave left the waiting room. She glanced to Zack and took his hand, “She’s going to be okay.”
“I know she is, but I never thought I’d be here at the hospital with my sister as a patient,” Zack ran a hand through his hair, “You know, Kenneth and I have one thing in common.”
“What’s that?” She asked, worrying that she already knew the answer.
Zack met Blake’s eyes as he spoke, “We both want this guy…dead or alive,” He said with finality.
In that moment, Blake knew she had to convince Caitlin to speak with the police about her attacker in order to protect both of their brothers from themselves.
“It’s about time,” Brant tapped his foot impatiently as Russell and
Avery appeared around the corner of the hallway leading to Avery’s apartment,
“I was beginning to wonder if someone met you down in the parking garage
ready to start something else.”
“We were just looking for a space,” Avery lied thinking about what happened, “and then I had to get the spare key from the superintendent considering I left the mansion in a haste,” she motioned to her misplaced wardrobe, “I wasn’t thinking much past breakfast when I made a run for it.”
“I can’t say I blame you considering the shock we all received,” Brant adjusted his tie as Avery opened the door to her apartment and he stepped inside behind her. Russell followed lost in his own thoughts as Avery looked around her apartment feeling a chill rush over her as this has been the first time she’d been back since Bruce’s attack.
“Avery,” Brant touched her shoulder causing her to nearly leap out of her skin as she spun around to face him.
“What?” she questioned sharply as her eyes fell upon him.
“Are you okay,” Brant questioned softening his tone as he searched her eyes.
“I’m home so of course I’m okay,” she stood taller feigning an air of confidence as she turned her attention to Russell seeing he’d made his way into her kitchen most likely on his way to seeking out her coffee maker. “It’s in the corner, and coffee is…”
“Top right cabinet,” he finished with a light smile as he pulled out the coffee grounds.
“Of course,” Avery nodded accordingly before returning her focus to Brant, “I’m going to hop in a quick shower and then go pack a few things.”
“Okay,” he replied with a nod watching her head off to her bedroom as he turned his attention to Russell with a frown building, “You know I don’t think we’re really going to be here long enough to indulge in coffee.”
“I’m sure we’ll find the time,” Russell replied not wanting to deal with Brant as he made himself at home in Avery’s kitchen.
“Look I realize that you might not be really aware of Avery’s comfort level in this place, but given that we haven’t been here since that night Bruce was here, I’d imagine that she really wouldn’t be big on the idea of spending any significant amount of time here,” Brant began to argue with him.
“I think she’s doing just fine,” Russell shrugged his shoulders, “and besides given how Avery is, packing will take her a while in itself. Coffee will be good for us all.”
“I’m not in the mood for coffee,” Brant grumbled in response, “Not when your brother is trying to help some lunatic ruin my company.”
“My brother’s trying to do his job however misguided it might be at the moment,” Russell replied simply as he pulled out a few coffee mugs from one of the cabinets placing them down on the counter top.
“Your brother is trying to ruin me and if you think for one second that I’m going to sit back and let it happen, then you’ve got another think coming,” Brant challenged harshly, “and you, you know you claim to be Avery’s best friend, but what good have you really done for her considering that your brother is attacking her like this?”
“Grady is going to do what he’s going to do and Avery knows I have nothing to do with that,” Russell answered quickly as he stepped over towards Avery refrigerator not wanting to get into a long debate with Brant, “I don’t approve of what he’s doing, but I can’t stop him.”
“That’s funny considering that Avery puts so much faith in your friendship. I mean honestly what the hell kind of friend are you if you can just sit back and allow your brother to do something like this,” Brant probed further his anger taking over him, “You and I both know that this lawsuit is bull and now you’re trying to stand here saying that your brother is going to do what he’s going to do and that’s just the way it is. In my eyes that’s a copout.”
“I don’t really give a damn what you see it as,” Russell admitted honestly as he stood upright giving Brant a once over, “What you think doesn’t matter to me.”
“No? Well then maybe I should enlighten you here because what I think influences what Avery thinks. This is her career we’re talking about and your brother is taking a stab at her livelihood in attacking BBK.”
“Grady’s decision to head this lawsuit doesn’t take away from the fact that your main concern should be Cameron Stone. That man doesn’t stop until he conquers what he’s set out to have and until then anything that stands in his way is in danger of elimination.”
“And your brother’s leading up the battle to help him with it, now isn’t he,” Brant sneered back at him, “and you Dentons sit back and pass judgment on me knowing full well that I’m not the one to blame. If you people would just step outside your own little world of self delusion, you’ll see that maybe just maybe hating someone like me isn’t worth the energy it takes…”
“Oh I’ll give you that as you aren’t worth half of what you think you are,” Russell countered sharply as his anger mounted, “From all I’ve seen thus far, you seek to destroy just as Cameron Stone does, but the only difference is you use the Ashford name to hide behind what you really are.”
“I’ve been tolerant of you because you’re Avery’s friend, but don’t think that gives you the right to say such things to me,” Brant warned him gruffly, “because my patience is running thin where you’re concerned.”
“And I care because?” Russell lifted a curious brow as he stepped towards Brant, “Take your best shot Brant because you and I both know that the moment your true colors show, it’s the moment Avery gives you the old heave ho.”
“It would be wise not to cross me Denton because you won’t like the outcome,” Brant warned sharply as the ringing of his cell phone filled the moment as he held his glare back at Russell. His jaw tightened with anger before he reached into his pocket fishing out the phone within his jacket, “Ashford here…” he gave Russell one last glare before turning away, “When? How? Okay…right now? I don’t know if now is…” Brant’s demeanor changed as Russell noted the darkness that washed over his features, “Fine I’m on my way, but make this quick,” he snapped his phone shut as he looked to Russell.
“Problems?” Russell inquired reaching for the coffee pot as he began to pour himself a mug of coffee.
“It’s none of your concern,” Brant growled back at him as he made his way towards Avery’s bedroom as he heard the sounds of the water running from behind her closed door, “Wonderful.”
“Brant, if you’ve got to go,” Russell circled around the kitchen making his way to the couch, “I’ll just deliver the message to Avery.”
“I’m not leaving you alone with her,” Brant sneered in response, “I’m staying right here until she gets out of the shower.”
“What about your business appointment,” Russell noted reaching for the newspaper, “It sounded serious.”
“It’s none of your business,” Brant looked to Avery’s door once again before checking the time.
“Suit yourself,” Russell flipped to the sports section as he sipped his coffee, “I mean if it’s really not that important…”
Brant took in a slow breath thinking about the phone call he’d received. While leaving Avery was the last thing he’d wanted to do, the caller had given him hope to end one of the conflicts that he’d been facing over the last couple of weeks. Sure leaving might make Avery’s life easier as was his own, but then again the thought of leaving her alone with Russell… Still if he could make some of the problems vanish, then perhaps Avery would be more open to accepting him in more ways than she’d thought possible. Taking in a breath, Brant decided to go for the gusto despite his reservations about having Russell spend any significant time alone with Avery.
“Tell her I’ll be back as soon as I can get back,” Brant blurted out with a heavy sigh, “and if this place starts to bother her, you’d be best suited to get her back to the mansion. Is that understood?”
“What do I look like,” Russell grumbled back at him not bothering to look up from the newspaper he was holding, “your servant?”
“Just do it,” Brant growled in response reaching for his jacket, “and I mean it…”
“I know,” Russell waved dismissively as Brant gave him one last look seething with animosity as Russell continued to skim over the sports scores. Upon hearing Brant leave Avery’s apartment, Russell rose from the sofa tossing the newspaper haphazardly to the floor before walking over to lock the door. He took one long look around the apartment before thinking things over.
“If you think I’m going to let you dictate Avery’s life, then you’ve got another think coming Brant,” Russell vowed as he made his way across Avery’s living room with a determined stride until he stood at her bedroom door. Taking in a breath, he tapped on the door hearing nothing but silence from the other side as he reached for the knob turning it slowly as a flood of nervous anticipation filled him.
Slowly, Russell pushed open the door only to discover Avery standing in the far end of the room going through her closet as her damp hair hung over her shoulders. He took in a deliberate breath closing the door behind him as he tiptoed in behind her watching her carefully select the things she’d take back with her to the mansion. Seeing her lost in her selections, he couldn’t help but step in closer to her savoring the sweet, floral scent of her shampoo that lingered over her as he reached out to her sliding his fingers over the small of her waist.
Avery let out a gasp clenching the blouse in her hand as she felt the heat of Russell’s lips press in against the back of her neck. His fingers fanned out over her hip holding her close to him as his breath struck against her damp skin and she spoke up hoarsely, “What are you doing?” she questioned panic evident in her tone as he held her.
“Brant’s gone,” Russell explained smoothly as his fingers traveled over the knotted sash of her robe, “he had an appointment that caused him to make a grand exit,” he whispered beneath her earlobe as his kisses tapered off over her skin.
“Where was he going,” she questioned closing her eyes as she leaned back into his arms, feeling the powerful contours of his chest press in against her spine as his index finger played over the sash on her robe, gingerly toying with the knot.
“He didn’t say,” he murmured nibbling on her earlobe as his fingers teased over the knot of her robe tugging it loose as his hand dipped in beneath the soft, white texture to trace her shapely curves, “So how’s the packing going?”
“It was going better a few minutes ago,” she confessed tipping her head back as she sank into his chest, “You’re not helping.”
“I’d like to,” his words hummed over the base of her throat, “as it’s the least I can do for you.”
“Hmm…well since you put it that way,” Avery sighed as his lips dropped kisses over her shoulders as he eased the material of her robe off her shoulder blade freeing her up to his kisses.
“Is this our to be continued?” she whispered feeling his hands work
their magic over her excited skin.
“We’re getting there, but this robe, well it’s got to go,” Russell confessed turning her in his arms as he pushed the robe off of her shoulders completely allowing it to fall to the floor as he leaned in to kiss her.
“Russ, we shouldn‘t be…” she breathed wrapping her arms around him as he caged her within his arms and their kisses grew in intensity with each passing moment.
“I need you Avery,” his voice pleaded with her as her fingers eased over his body curling beneath his sweater, “please…let’s just take the time to savor the moment.”
“If this is because of Grady…because you‘re upset about what happened,” she began easing his sweater up over his body as they stood together in the midst of her walk-in closet with the dim lighting overhead.
“This is because I love you,” he answered capturing her mouth in a savory kiss, “it’s because I’ve always loved you.”
“I know,” she answered throwing caution to the wind as her arms wrapped around him savoring what was happening between them as the only thing that seemed to matter was the way they’d felt lost in one another. As crazy as it was, Russell needed her and she in turn needed him more than ever as they were lost in the magic of the moment that had fallen upon them.
“Since I can’t get you out of the office, I figured I’d bring lunch to you,” Jade announced as she entered his office. She found him much as she’d left him, sitting on his sofa in deep thought. While she didn’t quite see why Grady was so hell bent on keeping Avery out of Russ’s life, she knew that he was trying to be the protective big brother which she was all too familiar with.
She placed the Styrofoam boxes upon the table in front of him and waited, “Grady, come on. All is not lost. Don’t sit there and mope.”
“I’m not moping,” He said solemnly, “I’m just trying to figure out a way to get through to Russ.”
“Somehow I get the feeling that’ll be hard to do,” She spoke as she sorted through the lunch trays and separated their meals, “Besides, maybe you’d be better off trying to think the way Russ is.”
“I’d rather not, thank you very much,” Grady frowned as he reached out to take a soda from her, “I don’t even want to consider what it would be like to be so screwed up over Avery.”
“See, that’s my point. You’re not thinking like a man in love. You’re thinking as a protective big brother, and you’d really be better off if you tried to put yourself in Russ’s shoes for a minute.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your very own situation, Grady. Has it occurred to you that you’re doing the same thing with Russ that Seth is doing to me?”
“That is not the same,” Grady defended, “Seth doesn’t even know me, but I know what Avery is all about.”
“Funny thing, Seth seems to think he knows what you’re all about too,” Jade pointed out, “He thinks he knows the kind of man you are, but he doesn’t. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you’ve just misunderstood Avery?”
“I can’t believe you’re taking her side of things.”
“I am not taking anyone’s side here,” She declared, “I’m just saying that you need to give Russ the benefit of the doubt here, or you’ll end up pushing him away. I know that you two are the best of friends, and it really wouldn’t be in either of your best interests to alienate one another.”
“So what do you want me to do? Welcome Avery with open arms? Not going to happen,” He shook his head.
“Would you stop being so stubborn for just two seconds,” She groaned in exasperation, “Look, Seth is finally willing to give you a chance. He’s agreed to have dinner with us. Take that as a lesson in how to be a good big brother, Grady.”
“Wait…weren’t you the one who said he would never agree to dinner?”
“I did, but you know what…Seth wants my happiness more than anything. He’s giving me a chance to prove his worst fears wrong, and I’m not going to waste it. You need to give Russ the same chance.”
“I can’t, Jade. I just can’t. I know how Avery has treated him in the past.”
“That’s the past, Grady. Maybe she’s changed.”
“The only thing that’s changed about her is her taste…it’s gotten richer.”
“You know, maybe I was wrong about this. Maybe Seth shouldn’t have dinner with us because if you keep acting like this, you’ll be proving yourself to be the jackass he’s imagined you to be.”
Grady stopped as his eyes widened and a faint smile appeared on his surprised features, “Did you just call me a jackass?”
Jade smiled, “I might’ve. What are you going to do about it?”
“Oh that’s not fighting fair,” He said as he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into his arms as she laughed. He lay back on the sofa and pulled her down on top of him.
“Grady,” She chuckled his name as she raised herself slightly above him to meet his eyes, “Come on. Lighten up on Russ…if only to prove to me that big brothers can be reasoned with.”
Grady took a deep breath and frowned, “This goes against my better judgment.”
“It doesn’t really. It just goes against your stubbornness,” Jade teased as she lowered her lips to his for a brief kiss, hoping that somehow she could convince Grady not to push Russ further away. She knew the last thing either Denton brother needed was to lose the other with such much turmoil currently in their lives.
“You know what’s expected of you and it would be in your best interest
not to disappoint us Ben,” the warning rang over in his mind again and
again as Ben slumped over at the table he’d just finished his meeting at.
Somehow he’d had so many thoughts and plans for how things were going to
be, but as he was alone with the demons that were facing him, he realized
that things were only going to be harder from here on out. None of
his moves were going to be made without a watchful eye as that was made
apparently obvious over lunch. Still if he’d hoped on having any
kind of life after this task at hand, he’d have to find some kind of balance--if
that was even possible at this point in time.
“Hey fancy meeting you here,” a voice beckoned him from his thoughts as Ben looked up to find Seth Alexander standing before him, “Somehow I didn’t expect to run into you so soon.”
“Since you’re so great at returning phone calls I didn’t either,” Ben teased motioning to the chair across from him, “Have a seat.”
“Okay, but I can’t stay too long,” Seth explained simply, “I’m in between shoots at the moment.”
“Big job keeping you busy,” Ben questioned raising a curious brow.
“Not as busy as I’d like to be, but I’m working on it,” Seth confided with a sigh, “though sometimes I tend to wonder if only photography would just kick off things in a positive direction, then maybe I wouldn’t have to resort to other less than savory things.”
“Tell me about it,” Ben grumbled thinking about the position he’d found himself in, “I mean you’d think when you pick a career, that somehow it would work with you and not against you, but no there are always rules and stipulations to go along with it. One morning you think you’ve got all your bases covered and then the next you wake up and you realize that you don’t have a clue what’s going on,” he sighed.
“Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your mind,” Seth noted curiously, “Is that why you called earlier?”
“I’m not really sure why I called,” Ben admitted blankly before shrugging his shoulders, “well that’s not entirely true considering that there are a few things that have been bothering me lately.”
“So tell,” Seth suggested, “I mean hey I don’t mind being a few minutes late to the shoot as the starving models are more fun to work with anyways. They’re on lunch, but I’m sure you and I both know they aren’t eating and if they are, well I won’t get into what’s going on next.”
“What happened to the lighter side of the photography world?” Ben couldn’t help but laugh as he thought of the bitter, starving model types Seth often worked with.
“That side doesn’t pay enough,” Seth confessed with a sigh, “but then again I think working in his area shows me what I don’t want to face in the dating world. I wouldn’t dream of taking any one of those women home with me because well, because I just couldn’t deal with a non-eating, disinterested beauty queen.”
“Hmm, isn’t that the truth,” Ben lifted his beer to his lips taking a long swig, “Still when you find someone who’s so perfect for you, then something always happens. I mean take Diane and I for example. Things are going good--really good and I mean you’ve met her, she’s incredible.”
“That she is,” Seth agreed thinking about his sister’s best friend, “A real spitfire.”
“Exactly and everything should be falling into place, but with this job,” Ben sighed lifting his drink to his lips again before lowering his voice, “Did you ever find yourself in a position you really didn’t want to be in with the woman you care about? I mean I really think that Diane’s something special, but there’s this thing…this thing I can’t tell her just yet and it’s like this giant elephant between us. I know she can see it, but she doesn’t know what it is.”
“It sounds serious,” Seth noted leaning back in his chair.
“You have no idea,” Ben frowned deeply as he thought about the position he’d found himself in lately, “and the worst part is that I could lose it all if I fess up and tell her what’s really going on. I mean if I’m open with her, I could be risking so many things right about now and I’d be putting her in some unnecessary position that might only hurt her…”
“You know this is going to sound crazy, but I’ve been there,” Seth began thinking about his own situation with Blake, “but I’ve got to tell you the longer you keep the truth from her, the harder it’s going to be. I don’t know what’s going on, but nothing is worth risking a good thing in your life. If you think Diane’s someone special, then maybe she’s worth taking the risk on.”
“I just don’t know if I can do it,” Ben admitted shaking his head, “It’s just something I don’t think she’d understand.”
“All the more reason to try to be up front about it before things get to a point where you find yourself wishing you’d said something sooner,” Seth confessed as thoughts of his arrangement with Cameron came to mind, “I’ll tell you from experience that it’s a risky venture, but if you don’t stop disaster from happening, then you might lose more than you ever imagined.”
“Somehow I get the feeling there’s a lot more to this wisdom you’re offering this afternoon,” Ben gave him a curious look.
“You could say I’ve had my run in with the wrong side of things lately, but that being said, I have to admit that you seem to really have a thing for Diane and I know she’s hot for you,” Seth confessed thinking to his sister’s pal, “so if it’s a matter of just being up front with her now or risking it later, well I’d say give it a go now. Then again I‘m not really one to talk about love considering.”
“You and Blake looked like you were doing good the other day,” Ben noted with a hint of a smile, “She seemed happy and for Blake that’s something.”
“You two knew one another for a while, huh,” Seth questioned thinking about Blake, “She’s pretty impulsive, isn’t she?”
“When Blake has her mind made up, there isn’t any changing it,” Ben admitted with a tiny laugh, “She’s one of the most stubborn women I know, but somehow she always winds up on top.”
“So she’s never really bitten off more than she could chew in a situation?”
“I never said that, but the truth about Blake is that she’ll hold her own,” Ben confessed with a tiny laugh, “Why I remember one time when we were younger, she was so set on riding this horse at the mansion. Her father was very adamant about not wanting her to ride as she was very small for her age, but she did it anyways. She found the roughest, wildest of the bunch and she paraded around in front of Nicholas Ashford’s clientele ready to show the world that Blake Ashford was a force to be reckoned with.”
“Somehow I can see that,” Seth couldn’t help but smile thinking about a younger equally determined version of Blake.
“Of course she wound up falling off and breaking her arm in about three places, but during the entire ride to the hospital, she didn’t cry. She just boasted about how she’d been able to ride that horse against the odds and to this day that horse is still one of her most prized possessions.”
“I never knew,” Seth pondered the thought as Blake’s determination to see things through with the situation Cameron presented them raced through his mind, “Still I don’t want her to get hurt in trying to get ahead of herself…”
“Blake’s a smart woman. Don’t let her fool you,” Ben offered supportively, “Despite what you think you know about her, she’s always coming up with something to surprise you. It’s part of her charm.”
“You’re right about that,” Seth replied hoping that Blake’s latest attempt at proving her strength wouldn’t blow up in their faces as losing her was one thing he couldn’t bear to face.
“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me mom,” Diane sighed staring off
into her cup of coffee as she tried to remain chipper about the day she
had ahead of her.
“It sounded important, so how could I not find a way to fit you in,” Judy reached across the table to touch her daughter’s hand, “you’re my baby girl after all.”
Diane smiled at her mother’s words squeezing her mother’s hand for a moment before explaining the reasoning behind the visit, “It’s just that, well there’s this guy…”
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me,” Judy teased with a knowing grin as Diane looked up to her mother.
“Mom, I’m serious,” Diane blurted out with a slight frown.
“Okay,” Judy nodded in response, “I’m not trying to tease you, but I have to admit that I kind of figured this might be man related.”
“When is it not,” Diane groaned, “you know if men weren’t nearly as impossible as they try to make themselves out to be.”
“Men are always something of a trick to decipher,” Judy added thinking about her own situation with Richard, “You never know if they’re coming or going half the time.”
“You’re telling me,” Diane remarked with a sigh, “I mean there’s this guy at work and he’s great…really great, but every time we get close to one another, he seems to take two steps away from me and I really don’t get it. I don’t know what his problem is, but the more I try, the harder it is to reach him.”
“Maybe you should give him some space and if he comes back again, then perhaps that’ll be a sign,” Judy suggested after a moment’s contemplation.
“Are you kidding?” Diane blinked back at her, “Mom if you saw this guy you’d see why giving him space is not an option. He’s the ultimate and he’s just, well if I don’t at least try someone else will snag him up. I’m sure of it.”
“If he’s looking to be snagged up, then he’s probably not worth your attention anyways,” Judy offered gently, “Sometimes you might feel very strongly about someone, but then another woman steps into the picture and things change. You learn that maybe it doesn’t work out the way you’re hoping for.”
“Mom, this is not the kind of pep talk I was looking for,” Diane reminded her with a huff, “And I don’t really think there’s any other woman. Ben’s not like that…at least I don’t think he is…”
“So this Ben, you say he sends signals to you,” Judy tried to stay focused on her daughter’s problem.
“Oh you wouldn’t believe how many, but then it’s like, well it’s just like there’s something keeping him holding back.”
“Maybe that in itself says something,” Judy sighed sipping her coffee, “when a man is reluctant like that…”
“I just wish that I could find something like you and daddy had together,” Diane mused with a smile thinking fondly of her father, “He was an incredible man and he adored you.”
“Your father was a wonderful man indeed,” Judy agreed thoughtfully as memories of her late husband swept over her, “He gave his everything to his family and he was the kind of man every woman dreams of.”
“Exactly which is why I want someone like that in my life,” Diane explained honestly, “Daddy was so wonderful that I know there has to be another wonderful man like him out there somewhere, doesn’t there?”
“I’d like to think so,” Judy nodded supportively, “I’d like to think that there’s always a place for someone wonderful in our lives.”
“I just wish I knew for sure,” Diane sighed slumping over once again.
“Diane, honey even when your father and I found our way together, we had our share of difficulties in the beginning as nothing is ever truly a sure thing. You never know where fate will take you and that’s part of the beauty of it.”
“I know that, but at the same time I just wish that things weren’t so confusing…that maybe just maybe Ben would give me some kind of sign.”
“If it’s meant to be,” Judy promised her daughter, “then the signs will come and you’ll know it.”
“I just wish it was that easy,” Diane confessed lost in her thoughts of happily ever after as Judy looked to her daughter feeling as thought she was taking a glimpse of a younger version of herself before her.
“Hey, if it’s meant to be, then you’ll know it when the time is right,” Judy offered supportively hoping that one day Diane would be able to find the happiness in her life that she’d hoped for. While Judy herself wasn’t sure about miracles anymore, the very thought of her daughter having hope for the future was enough to get her thinking that maybe just maybe somehow things would have a way of falling into place after all. Perhaps if Diane was able to find some happiness in her life with love, then maybe Judy too could entertain the notion of opening her heart up once again.
Kenneth opened the door to Caitlin’s room and saw her soft blond hair draped over the sterile blue of the hospital pillow. He closed the door gently behind him as he watched her remain motionless. He could hear her soft sobs as he slowly approached the bed.
“Caitlin?” He spoke in his most gentle voice.
“Ken?” Caitlin asked mid sob, “Go away…you shouldn’t see me like this. No one should see me like this.”
He felt the pain in her voice echo through every fiber of his being. He walked over to her bed and let down the side rail, “Caitlin,” He spoke her name softly, “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not okay. It’s not okay,” She repeated in heart wrenching sobs.
Kenneth lay on the bed beside her and drew her every so gently into his arms. He pressed his lips gently along her jaw before whispering, “It’s okay to cry. Let it out, sweetheart. Let it all out.”
Caitlin slowly turned in his arms and met his eyes, barely catching a glimpse of him through her blurred vision.
Kenneth felt a lump in his throat form at the sight of her wounds. He resisted the urge to touch her soothingly. Instead her eased her hair from her neck and draped his fingers over her uninjured skin, “I’m so sorry.”
“I didn’t want this,” She cried, “I never wanted this to happen this way. I never wanted you to see me like this.”
“I know,” He whispered softly, “Right now, you need to rest. Just take it easy.”
“But...I never wanted this,” She sobbed.
Kenneth drew her against him and held her protectively, “We’ll find a way to get past this, sweetheart. We’ll find a way together,” He assured her as he held her close to him.
Caitlin melted into his protective touch, feeling some semblance of peace in the chaos that her life had become.