Episode Thirty Seven

Shannon stepped into the Cadillac Ranch and coughed slightly as the air thickened with stale alcohol and cigar smoke. She had been in plenty of bars in her time, and she had hated every last seedy one. This one wasn’t the worst she had ever been in, but it definitely qualified as a dive.

She looked around the room for any sign of her prey. After her run in with Patrick Sharpe earlier, she was sure there was a lot he wasn’t telling. She had pulled his file and read over his entire service record. She had a hunch about him, and she always followed her gut instinct. At this point, her gut instinct was all she had to go on, but that had never stopped her before and it wouldn’t now.

She made her way to the bar and sat atop a stool at the end of the bar. She ordered a virgin Mary and kept looking around the bar for her mark.

Instead of spotting her mark, she saw the entrance of yet another player in the strange case of Bruce Mathis. While she hadn’t gotten the chance to formally introduce herself to Jenna Carpenter, she knew the doctor by reputation. All her colleagues had spoken highly of her expertise as well as her work ethic. If it wasn’t for her superior’s ideas about this case, Shannon would have enjoyed the chance to work with Jenna.

Jenna approached the bar and sat in front of the bartender while a smile caressed her lips. She leaned onto the bar and wiggled her finger at the bartender.

Shannon raised an eyebrow as she watched the exchange at the end of the bar. She’d never heard of this side of Jenna Carpenter, but she supposed that everyone had their secrets to hide.

Shannon sipped her drink for a moment as she watched the happenings within the bar. After a while she watched as Patrick Sharpe arrived. She smiled as her prey was now within reach.

Patrick walked to the end of the bar where Jenna sat and smiled as he sank onto the stool beside her, “Hey baby…just can’t get enough of me, huh?”

Jenna’s playful demeanor towards the bartender disappeared as she turned her gaze towards Patrick, her eyes full of hatred, “Can’t you take a hint and just go away?”

“You’re the one who keeps showing up at my haunts,” He said as he plucked a few nuts from a bowl upon the bar and dropped them into his mouth. He shrugged, “I thought you were a smart woman, but if you keep violating the restraining order I have in place…well, I just might have to take action.”

“Let me spell this out for you so there are no misunderstandings, okay?” She snapped at him, “Your ridiculous restraining order is groundless, and whatever delusions you have about my wanting you are equally as absurd. I want nothing to do with you. In fact, being in the same room with you makes me want to wretch. So leave me alone, and I’ll do the same with you.”

“That’s just the alcohol talking,” He shrugged.

“I’m drinking water, you ass,” She rolled her eyes, “Besides, there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to make me want you.”

“Why don’t you just give up this notion of playing hard to get and admit that you want me? You know that you’ve wanted me since the first time you saw me.”

“Actually, no, I haven’t. I thought you were cute until you opened that arrogant rude mouth of yours, and then I realized that you’re not worth wasting my time on,” Jenna huffed after a moment, “I can’t stand this. I’m not going to sit here and even share space with you,” She said as she looked to the bartender apologetically, “One of these days, we’ll find a way to talk without all these interruptions.”

The bartender smiled, “It’s a date,” He said as he winked at her.

Jenna smiled as she slid off of her stool and began towards the door.

“Don’t walk away from me,” Patrick demanded as he grabbed her arm.

“Hey, excuse me, why don’t you just let go before I’m forced to commit an act of violence?” She growled at him, attempting to tear her arm out of his grasp.

“You’re not going anywhere until you talk to me.”

“Guess again,” Shannon said as she tore Patrick’s hold away from Jenna and slammed him back against the bar, “You’re going to leave her alone.”

“Leave her alone? Hey, she’s the one who’s violating a restraining order,” Patrick said quickly, “She’s the one who’s after me.”

“Oh yeah, I can tell she’s that brain dead,” Shannon rolled her eyes, “Restraining order or not, you have no right to put your hands on her. My best advice to you would be to walk away right now before I kick your ass…” She paused, “Then again, that could be fun for me. So go ahead…press your luck,” She said with a bright smile.

“Bitches,” Patrick snorted before he walked towards the far end of the bar.

Shannon shook her head in slight amusement as she turned towards Jenna, “I’m Shannon Pryce. I thought it was about time we met, Dr. Carpenter.”

“Shannon Pryce,” Jenna said the name as she shook the agent’s hand in greeting, “So you’re the woman that got me booted off the Mathis case.”

“That had nothing to do with me, and if anyone had asked my opinion, I would have said that you were just the woman for the job,” Shannon clarified, “I know your reputation and your service record. You’re very talented, and I think we need your kind of brain power on this case.”

Jenna’s eyes widened, “What kind of set up is this?”

“It’s no set up,” Shannon assured her, “Actually I came here to keep an eye on Sharpe…funny how that name is just the opposite of what that numb nut is.”

Jenna couldn’t help the smile that formed, “You’ve got that right.”

“I know this is kind of a strange way to meet, but what do you say we have a drink and talk for a bit? I’d like to hear any insights you have on the Mathis case.”

“So you can take the glory of the case or maybe to ride Avery some more?”

“I take it you’re a friend of Ms. Morrison,” Shannon sighed, “I have no interest in pursuing a case against Avery. It’s the men in her life that I’m more interested in now.”

“Is this some vendetta against Brant?”

“No,” Shannon grinned, “If it was a vendetta, I’d just tell Avery the truth about what kind of slime ball Brant really is, but I think she’s a smart woman. She’ll figure that one out all on her own. I’m only interested in catching a killer.”

“Do you have any pull with your bosses?” Jenna asked as she folded her arms across her chest.

“A little, and I’d be happy to get you reinstated. I never would have had you removed in the first place, and now there’s no reason for you to be taken off the case since Avery is no longer a suspect. So…about that drink…” Shannon offered once again.

“Draft beer,” Jenna said as a smile slowly formed on her features. She wasn’t sure where this conversation with Shannon Pryce would lead, but if nothing else, she could find out just how much the police knew and if any of it could help her in her own investigation.


Brant entered the Cadillac Ranch bar finding himself less than impressed with the wild goose chase Hart had taken him on after the initial phone call he’d received.  First Hart had insisted that they meet at Hart’s office to discuss news that could quite possibly blow Shannon’s case out of the water, but at the last minute that plan changed as Hart called again to suggest they meet at a quiet place just out of town, which would’ve worked fine, but that too didn’t pan out.  Now as Brant looked around the tacky bar, a scowl built upon his features as he thought of Avery back at her apartment without him.  The very idea of leaving her alone with Russell Denton was enough to make him cringe, but Hart had promised that the meeting between them would be worth the time needed to have an exchange…still Brant had his doubts.
“You’d better be here,” Brant muttered to himself as he searched the bar hoping to find his lawyer amidst the drunken crowd.  Somehow this visit wasn’t any less nerve racking than the last time when he’d come to this place with Russell.  Of course that night seemed to change everything as it was that night in particular that suddenly put his life under the microscope--well more so than usual.  Normally Brant could deal with a string of bad press and even harassment by someone as irritating as Shannon, but now with all that was happening, it seemed to be adding up to the point Brant wasn‘t quite sure when the chaos would end.  Sure, he’d find a way to fix things, but Avery’s concerns were all together another story.  She was having her doubts and insecurities because of this murder investigation and that simply wouldn’t do.  He had to find a way to fix the situation before things became more chaotic.
“There you are,” Hart’s voice rose above the crowd as he saw his lawyer pal seated at a small table flagging him down in an attempt to capture Brant’s attention.
The frown deepened on Brant’s features as he weaved through the crowd making his way over to the table Hart was waiting at, “This had better be good,” Brant warned sharply before taking a seat across from him, “You have no idea what I walked out on in order for you to lead me in a wild goose chase.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Hart began his eyes skimming over the bar, “as normally my office might’ve been the best place to talk, but I figured rather than explaining the situation to you, I’d just show you.”
“I trust this is something worthwhile given the promises you were offering on the phone before.  You’d said you knew a way we could clear myself and Avery of all suspicions once and for all?” Brant inquired raising a curious brow.
“That’s right,” Hart nodded simply, “All of your problems will be over before you know it.”
“Then why don’t you start spilling what you know before I realize that this is truly a waste of my time,” Brant suggested dryly as a perky blonde waitress approached their table greeting them with a bright, white smile.
“Hey sugar, what can I get you this evening,” her voice squeaked with enthusiasm as Brant’s gaze lifted over her scantly clad curves.
“I’ll take a beer,” Hart explained simply with a shrug of his shoulders before the waitress directed her attention to Brant.
“And what will it be for you honey,” she winked at him as Brant leaned back in his seat a bit offering up a sexy smile in her direction as he decided to take a moment to appreciate the view before him.  Normally in this type of situation, this would be where he’d throw out something witty and charming in an attempt to get a night with her after business offers, but given that he’d just left Avery back at her apartment, now was most certainly not the time for flirting.  Still a little charm didn’t hurt anything, he reasoned.
“A martini would be nice,” Brant spoke smoothly watching the woman’s smile widen in response to him.
“I’ll get right on it,” she winked at him once again as Brant watched her walk away while taking the time to admire the view before him.
“Um, Brant hello,” Hart waved his hand in front of his face, “while I realize she’s a knock out, um, you do remember that woman you’re engaged to?  You know the one that’s put you in the center of a murder investigation?”
“The one that we’ll be out of soon enough,” Brant redirected his attention to his friend.
“Yeah that one,” Hart motioned towards the waitress, “Granted she’s cute, but um, how do you think your fiancée would react to what you’re doing?”
“I was merely admiring the view,” Brant stated casually leaning back in his chair, “and maybe even thinking of asking her about that uniform in the hopes that perhaps I could get something like that for Avery.  You have to admit she’d look sexy as hell in one of those things with maybe some fishnet stockings and…”
“I don’t want to know,” Hart interrupted with a groan, “Granted your fiancée is a stunner, but if you start giving me a visual, I might have to steal her which won’t be hard if you don’t start to focus on what I have to tell you.”
“So far you haven’t said anything that’s perked my interest,” Brant replied smugly, “and given the fact that I left Avery alone with Russell Denton, I’d really like to cut this short.”
“Avery and Russell are together?” Hart lifted a curious brow, “Doing what?”
“Packing so that she can return to the mansion with a few more things,” Brant attempted to be casual in his tone despite the feeling nagging at him.
“And you’re okay with that,” Hart’s eyes widened in surprise, “I didn’t think you’d let him get anywhere near her even with this so called comradeship you two have suddenly built with one another.”
“Look, I tolerate Russell because he’s Avery’s pal, but that doesn’t mean that I trust him…not for one second.  He’s been a thorn in my side for too damn long already, but if I try to thwart him from Avery’s life, well let’s just say I’m not ready to deal with the consequences of that one just yet.”
Hart offered up a tiny chuckle, “Now this is something I never thought I’d live to see.”
“You taking orders from a woman,” Hart shook his head with heavy disapproval, “No wonder you’re in a world of trouble these days.  If you were still running the show, then we wouldn’t have had to deal with this investigation right now.  We could’ve just skipped over the formalities and been done with it.”
“Can you spare me the lecture,” Brant grumbled in response, “and for your information I’m still very much in control of things.  Avery knows what I expect out of her and we both have our boundaries.”
“None of which include her spending time with a man she was once very attached to?” Hart lifted a curious brow as the waitress returned bringing their drinks.  He reached for his beer taking a swig of the cool liquid before shaking his head once again, “I don’t know if I’d be big on the idea of that going on with the woman I was about to marry.  I mean hell I don’t imagine she’d want you parading around town with Heather..”
“It’s not the same thing,” Brant frowned deeply downing his martini before flagging the waitress to return to their table as he ordered another drink.  A moment later she returned with another drink setting it down on the table top.
“Really?” Hart gave him a sideways glance, “Well if you’re secure about it, then who am I to judge then if you can deal with her ex-fiancé around all the time?”
“Come again,” Brant nearly choked on the shallow he’d taken.
“You mean you didn’t know,” Hart replied his amusement fading, “Brant, I just figured…”
“Are you trying to tell me that Russell was once engaged to Avery?” Brant thought of the conversation he’d had with Russell the last night he’d been at the bar.  Suddenly it was all starting to make sense and as Hart’s words passed over him, an anger tightened inside of him as he clenched his martini glass drowning himself in the drink once again.
“I assumed you knew,” Hart explained simply, “I was doing a little digging before and it came up if you will…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Brant decided finishing off his drink as his patience was running thin, “but what does matter is why you called me here to begin with.  You said you had something for me…”
“Ah yes,” Hart nodded returning to the topic at hand as his eyes cast over the bar taking in the patrons.  Suddenly something near the end of the bar captured his full attention and he felt a heat rise over his features, “I don’t believe this.”
“Believe what,” Brant questioned impatiently, “Hart what’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” Hart grumbled, “but I’m sure as hell going to find out,” he decided getting up from the table as Brant watched him weave through the crowd in an attempt to stalk over to the bar.
As Brant’s eyes fell upon Hart’s destination, he immediately recognized the blonde woman seated beside Jenna Carpenter and his anger began to bubble over, “Oh hell no,” Brant decided following Hart as he realized that his evening had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.  He wasn’t sure why Avery’s so called best friend was with Shannon, but he was going to find a way to put an end to it starting now.


Diane took in a slow breath as she placed her hand over her abdomen trying to still the butterflies waging war in her stomach.  Despite the fact that she’d offered to drive over to Ben’s place rather than having him pick her up, the truth to the matter was that anticipation was killing her.  While she’d thought about what tonight could bring for them, she never truly expected him to call her, well other than to back out on dinner as he seemed to have a habit of doing that lately, but when he’d called, she was stunned to hear he hadn’t been calling to withdraw his invitation.  She reached out towards the door knocking on it gently as she took in a slow breath.  Now as she stood taller contemplating which flirty smile would work best for her arrival, she prayed that tonight’s dinner would go smoothly.
A moment later the apartment door opened and Ben greeted her with a sexy smile, “Hello beautiful,” he reached out to her taking her arm as he eagerly lead her into his apartment, “come on in.”
“Why thank you,” she replied a bit surprised by the forwardness in his movement as her smile widened.  She took a quick look around as his apartment before speaking up again, “So I finally get a glimpse at the mysteries that Ben Walters has to offer.”
“Tonight I’m an open book,” he promised reaching out from behind her as he closed the door and a moment later he held out a single red rose in front of her as he leaned over her shoulder speaking in a seductive tone, “for you.”
“Oh Ben,” she accepted the crimson colored bud, a smile lifting over her features as she spun around to face him, “it’s beautiful.”
“Not nearly as beautiful as you are,” Ben confessed tipping down to kiss her tenderly as she couldn’t help but wrap her arms around him savoring the intimacy between them.  His muscled arm eased around her slender waist drawing her in closer to him as he slowly withdrew from the kiss, “I hope you like Italian.”
“I love it,” she admitted with a soft sigh tasting the sweetness of his kiss lingering upon her.
“That’s just what I wanted to hear,” he winked back at her reluctantly stepping away from her, “as I wanted tonight to be special.”
“So you were really cooking,” she questioned taking in the hearty aroma that hung over his apartment.
“You sound surprised,” Ben disappeared out of the living room as she slowly took in her surroundings.
“Maybe a little bit,” she confessed turning her attention to the photos on the wall, “but then again I’m sure that there are a few things that might surprise you as well where I’m concerned.”
“Diane, there isn’t a thing about you that doesn’t surprise me,” he admitted popping his head out from the kitchen to watch her for a brief moment, “but truth be told I love surprises.”
“Then it would seem we’re both in luck,” Diane mused as she moved towards the wall inspecting one photograph in particular closer.  At first it looked like a random moment captured in the summer time, but as she took a closer look, she realized it was a woman on the beach beside a sandcastle with a little boy next to her holding a shovel and pail.  Both of them looked so very happy and carefree as they sat beside the grandiose sandcastle.
“That was me and my mother,” Ben’s voice piped in causing her to spin around as she faced him once again.
“I didn’t mean to gawk like that, but it’s really a beautiful picture,” Diane replied quickly feeling her pulse racing in her throat as he’d caught her completely off guard.
“It’s one of my favorites which is why I have it up on the wall,” Ben nodded in response, “It’s from our time in Florida.”
“Florida?” Diane lifted a curious brow.
“That’s right,” he nodded simply, “We spent some family time down there one summer and after a while our trip became more of a yearly ritual.  There was just something about the ocean that drew my mother in,” Ben explained with a hint of a smile, “which is probably why she and my father decided to retire down there a few years ago.”
“So your parents live in Florida?” Diane noted realizing this was really the first she’d ever heard about Ben’s family since they’d met one another.
He nodded in response, “It’s been about five years since they moved down there and they seem to like it well enough.  Granted it’s a beautiful place, but call me old fashioned because when December rolls around, as nice as it is being on the beach, there’s something about the snow on the ground that gets you going and really helps you embrace the holiday spirit.  Don’t you think?”
“I guess snow’s alright,” Diane shrugged her shoulders, “When you spent most of your life surrounded by it, it’s nothing really exciting.”
“Sounds like you’ve seen a lot of snow, huh?” Ben questioned motioning towards the table urging her to join him.
“Here and there,” Diane shrugged her shoulders, “with my father’s line of work, we moved around a lot.”
“I see,” Ben pulled out a chair for her, “so that’s how you’re so worldly, huh?”
“It comes along with being an army brat,” Diane confessed with a bright smile, “but then again you learn a lot of tricks of the trade having a military man in the family.”
“I almost don’t want to know,” he threw out a teasing wink as he helped her into her chair, “then again maybe it’ll help me get a handle on you.”
“So that’s what this is really about,” she flashed him a bright smile, “I knew there was a reason you turned this around on me when we started talking about you.”
“Now Diane, I’m just curious to hear more about you as I’m far less interesting than you think I am,” Ben teased with a wink, “besides if I offer up any more behind the mystery you’ll be bored to tears.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” she watched him walk back into the kitchen as she thought to the photo she’d seen a few moments earlier, “So your dad was the one taking the photo then?”
“He always liked to tinker around with the camera,” Ben answered as he returned with a bottle of wine in hand, “He still to this day bombards my e-mail with these strange pics that he takes down at the beach.  I don’t think they mean a whole lot of anything, but he finds them absolutely scintillating.”
“Sounds like he’s a fun guy,” Diane noted watching him pour a couple of glasses of wine before handing her one, “Thank you,” she accepted the glass as her eyes remained fixed upon him.
“So what about your parents?” Ben questioned circling around the table to take a seat across from her, “Your father must have some interesting stories to tell after having been in the military.”
“Actually,” Diane bit on her lower lip before offering up the truth, “he’s dead.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ben frowned in response.
“It’s okay,” Diane forced a smile as she thought of her father, “He was a good man and he lived a full life.  He and my mother were very happy together up until their final moment with one another and that’s really what matters.  Though I wish I‘d had a little bit more time with him as his death was rather unexpected.”
“In the line of duty,” Ben questioned seeing the sadness that pressed over her features.
“Something like that,” she nodded, “but not in the military,” she took in a slow breath, “I mean he was in the military for a while when my sister and I were younger, but then when I was at more of an impressionable age, well he decided it was time to settle down and to do that a change of career was in order.  He gave up the Army and took to another line of work,” she circled the rim of her wine glass nervously, “I’m rambling aren’t I?”
“Not at all,” he smiled at her mesmerized by her beauty as she told her tale.
“Well, to make a long story short, he decided to get into law enforcement and we moved to Coral Valley to start over again.  My mom was from this area and she’d always spoke so fondly of it, so my father decided to bring her back to the place she loved so much.  He joined the CVPD and really sunk into his work…even got promoted through the ranks pretty quickly, but then, well then he was working on this one case and things went wrong during a routine traffic stop…” she trailed off shaking her head at the thought, “He really wasn’t supposed to be working the streets that night, but they were short handed and he volunteered,” she thought back to that time in her life, “He was trying to surprise my mother with this big island getaway they’d been talking about for their anniversary.  It was going to be this major deal and he figured if he could pull in some overtime that maybe he could do something really over the top, but well…things didn’t work out that way as the person he stopped decided that they weren’t too big on cops.”
“Oh Diane,” he reached out across the table taking her hand, “I’m so sorry…”
“It’s okay,” Diane fought the emotions building up inside of her as she forced a smile, “as I said my father lead a full life and he was very happy.  He and my mother had this picture perfect romance and I’ll always remember that fun I had with him.”
“It sounds like he was a good man,” Ben offered with a light smile.
“He really was and while I’ll never forget the place he has in my heart, he did teach me some very valuable lessons along the way,” Diane admitted squeezing his hand gently.
“Such as?”
“Such as life is too short to get wrapped up in the craziness that comes your way,” she confessed simply as her finger swept against his hand in a tender motion, “and that if you don’t take the time to savor what fate brings your way, then you could miss out on some of the greatest moments of your life,” she felt a wave of sentimentality wash over her before she quickly covered, “and I also learned that it’s not in your best interest to fall in love with a risk taker, but that’s another story.”
“See now that one strikes me as strange falling from your lips considering you’re the biggest risk taker I know,” Ben confessed watching her closely.
“Well, it’s not a risk per se that keeps me from things.  I mean sure going out on a limb to get what you want is one thing, but placing yourself in the line of danger time and time again, well that’s just foolish,” Diane explained shaking her head at the thought, “Don’t get me wrong, I love my father and I think he was a wonderful man, but given the career he’d had, well sometimes I just wonder if he’d have just taken another path if maybe just maybe he’d be here with my family now.  I mean I know it sounds childish, but when I think of how police officers put their lives on the line day in and day out like that, well it just seems like a risk not worth taking considering…”
“So you see being a police officer or any other kind of law enforcement agent as a bad thing?” Ben lifted a curious brow as she offered up a nod.
“It’s foolish to say the least, but then again, given what I know about the lifestyle, I choose to take my risks in other places,” she brushed her finger up against his hand once again before flashing him a sexy smile, “which is why I know that you’re worth taking a chance on.”
“Because I’m the right kind of risk?” Ben questioned giving her a sideways glance.
“I know you’re not some kind of adrenaline junkie that’s going to go out there and get yourself killed in the name of duty,” she nodded in response, “and besides, the kind of risk you provide is something that keeps me on my toes, but doesn’t scare me to death.”
“Not all cops are adrenaline junkies,” Ben offered simply with a shrug of his shoulders, “Some of them are decent guys--like your father.”
“My father was the greatest, but he was stupid not to think of putting us before his work,” Diane answered sharply as she withdrew her hand, “Look my father is the last thing I want to talk about tonight.  After all we didn’t agree to dinner to get caught up on what my family or yours did, but more so on what’s going on right here, right now between us…”
“Which is something I’d like to get back to,” Ben promised rising from his chair, “but first I think I should check on dinner.”
“Alright,” Diane agreed watching him slip away from her as Ben stepped into the kitchen thinking about the story she’d shared with him.  He snuck a quick peek at her as her words haunted him and suddenly this evening seemed to take on a whole new light as he saw a side of Diane that he hadn’t been prepared for.  Now as her words reached him when she’d spoken about her father, he realized that he hadn’t been prepared for that kind of honesty, but now that he’d experienced it, he knew that he couldn’t risk the thought of losing her--not now when there was so much waiting to come to life between them.  Somehow he’d have to keep his horrible secret to himself as he couldn’t risk losing her over especially not now when he‘d found himself so drawn to her.


A thick mountain of clothing was scattered over the floor of Avery’s closet as she lay in Russell’s arms tangled up in his embrace as he hugged her in closer against him.  Her robe lay near the foot of the closet’s entrance now nearly hidden beneath his pile of clothing as the aftermath of their escape with one another lingered over her closet keeping them safe and warm with the memory of their love making hanging in the air.
“I don’t think I’ll ever look at packing the same way ever again,” Avery confessed lazily tracing the contours of his muscled chest as she snuggled in against him savoring the connection between them.
“I didn’t imagine we’d have this much fun in your closet,” he couldn’t help but tease as he reached for a stray piece of clothing on the floor plucking it up with his index finger as he eyed it curiously, “Hey, this is mine.”
“No it’s not,” Avery looked over to the garment he was holding as she reached out to it, “It’s not yours.”
“Yes,” he held it just out of her reach as a playful smile swept over his handsome features, “it is mine.  It’s my varsity sweater from college,” Russell explained matter of fact as a tiny laugh bubbled up inside of him, “I always wondered what happened to this old thing.”
“This old thing,” Avery snatched it from his hands with a huff as she pulled it towards her, “was a gift you gave me a long time ago during a very special moment, or has your memory gone on you this early on?  After all they do say that losing your memory is the first sign of senility in a man.  Then after that,” she let out an emphatic sigh as she rolled over hugging the sweater to her body, “they say other,” she paused with heavy emphasis, “things start to go as well.”
“My memory is very well in tact,” he plucked the sweater away from her, his eyes feasting over her luscious curves as his finger tip traced over her breastbone, “and judging by your response to me a few minutes ago, I’d have to say that everything else is in full working order as well.”
“Hmm,” Avery closed her eyes savoring his touch over her silken skin as a soft sigh escaped her lips, “I suppose things were about up to speed there, though you know there is always room for improvement,” she teased lightly.
“I’ll give you room for improvement,” he tickled her sides watching the laughter rise over her features as he collected her in his arms once again.
“Russ, stop it,” laughter spilled over her as he continued his tickle assault on her, “Russ, I mean it.”
“What are you going to do about it if I don’t,” he challenged an air of playfulness in his tone as he lifted a curious brow.
“You don’t want to know,” she warned her in a tone of mock menace as he reached out for her hugging her against him savoring the feel of her in his arms as she snuggled into his chest.
“Hmm…maybe I do,” he urged her to meet his green eyes as he lifted her chin feeling her reposition herself over him with the gesture.  “Could it possibly have anything to do with that white silk scarf I saw over there,” he motioned to the other end of her closet.
“Oh you wish,” she rolled her eyes as a laugh bubbled over her and she swatted at his chest playfully, “I don’t think you can handle what I have in store for you if you plan on misbehaving,” she chastised leaning forward and nibbling on his lower lip as he held her.
“I can handle anything you’re ready to dish out, Avery,” he promised keeping her wrapped up in his arms as their kisses continued.
“I’m starting to believe that,” Avery teased propping herself up over him as she met his mischievous eyes.
“You always knew that to be the case with us,” he eased his finger tip across her jaw line as a hint of a smile pressed over his features.
“You’re right about that,” she admitted snuggling into the warm lines of his body as he hugged her closer.
“Remember the first time we made love?” he asked his voice full of sentimentality as his fingers tapered off over her spine massaging her gently.
“How could I forget,” she mused with a smile thinking back to their first time together.  “I was so nervous about us sneaking away like that…”
“You knew I’d be worth the risk,” Russell remembered thoughtfully as he held her, “and I knew that you were.”
“Did you really believe that?” Avery questioned tilting her head up as she watched him closely.
“That you’re worth it,” he couldn’t help but trace her lips with his index finger as a smile lifted over his features, “I still think you’re worth it and besides, no other woman has been to that cabin with me and there won‘t ever be another woman that I‘d want there.”
“Russell,” she felt a heat rise over her features as his thumb skimmed over her cheekbone.
“You’re blushing,” his smile widened at her response to his words.
“No I’m not,” she swatted at his hand trying to hide the color that rose in her features.
“Yes you are,” he cupped her face in his hands urging her to meet his eyes once again, “and I find it absolutely adorable.”
“You always did like to keep me feeling uneasy about things,” she muttered sliding her palms over the center of his chest.
“It’s not keeping you uneasy, but more so keeping you on the edge of your seat always anticipating my next move,” he replied leaning up to collect a kiss from her, “and I happen to think it was a smooth move on my part even back then when I took you to the cabin…”
“You didn’t have a smooth bone in your body back when we’d first decided to take the plunge together and yet that time we spent together was nothing less than amazing,” she chuckled laying her head on his shoulder, “I’m surprised that your parents didn’t see right through what you’d had planned for us.”
“Oh like you sneaking away from Brooke was some easy maneuver there,” he pondered the thought, “Though you never did enlighten me on how you pulled that one off.”
“I knew what I wanted,” Avery’s eyes fell upon him, darkening with a hint of desire as she dropped kisses over his shoulder, “and I wanted you unlike anything I’d ever imagined…”
“You have no idea how long I’d waited to hear you say that,” Russell breathed feeling her kisses burn him straight to the core as his fingers slipped through her dark tresses, “I just knew that when I got you to the cabin, things would fall into place…”
“You were all about sex even back then,” Avery gave him a sideways glance, “I knew what you were up to…”
“I wasn’t all about sex,” he defended as she threw out a pointed look, “well not entirely, but it wasn’t like you’re making it sound.”
“Russell, we both knew when we went to that cabin that we’d end up making love,” Avery sighed placing her hand over the center of his chest as his fingers pressed over hers lacing their hands together.
“And that’s what we did.  We made love Avery,” he lifted her fingers to his lips kissing them gently, “Just like we do every time we’re together.  From the first time I laid eyes upon you, I knew you were the one.”
“Russ, we were all of what?  Six years old when we met one another,” she shook her head at him, “You couldn’t have loved me then.”
“I did and I still do,” he declared easing her into an embrace as he turned her in his arms so that they lay face to face, “I always will.”
“Russ,” she felt his touch skim over her bottom lip as she offered up a soft kiss upon his smooth skin.
“I knew that you were the one woman in this world that I wanted to give my all to,” he confessed watching as she leaned into his touch holding his hand against her face, “From the first moment I touched you, I knew that nothing would ever be more perfect than our being together…”
“I knew from the moment we made love for the first time, that no other man would reach me like you do,” Avery confessed as she guided his hand over her body, placing it over the rapid beating of her heart.  “No one ever will and even when I walked away, I knew that this part of me, well it’s only alive when I’m this close to you…when I’m with you…”
“I never want it to end,” he completed her words bridging the distance between them as he kissed her savoring the magic that was still very much alive between them as he eased her back onto the mound of clothing beside them.
Avery wrapped her arms around him drawing him in against her as the weight of his body over hers sent shivers racing over her as she wanted to hold him with everything she’d had.  His lips tantalized her, his words reaching down deep into her as their love had built something between them that neither time nor distance could erase.  Russ loved her.  He loved her with everything he had and despite the fact that she’d fought like hell to keep from feeling anything, the truth remained that she’d never stopped loving him.  Even now with all the chaos that surrounded them, she couldn’t deny what her heart was so clearly telling her.  Being lost in his arms was the only place she’d ever felt safe, complete and loved.  Russ was home to her and when they were together, the truth to the matter was she never wanted to leave.
“Russ I,” she broke their kiss feeling him over her as their eyes connected once again and his gaze penetrated her reaching so many places inside of her she’d never been able to show another person before as her heart filled with love for him.
“Oh Avery,” he tipped forward kissing her again as her arms wrapped around him.
“Russ, I…” she began feeling the words on the tip of her tongue begging to come out as the faint ringing of his cell phone broke through the spell between them.
Russell barely registered the sounds as a groan spilled over him and he reluctantly tore himself away from the kiss, yet managed to keep her in his arms, “I swear to God, whomever is calling needs to learn a thing or two about timing.”
“Knowing our luck, it’s probably Grady,” Avery groaned a sigh spilling from her lips as she fell back onto the carpet, “and he’s probably ready to attack.”
“Well then I’ll have to let him know once and for all that nothing in the world is going to keep me from you,” Russell reached out across the carpet feeling for his phone as the ringing continued, “and when he hears that we’re together like this making love, then maybe just maybe he’ll get a clue and let it be.”
“I’m sure that’s exactly what he’s going to do,” Avery groaned as she watched him pick up his phone, “More than likely he’s going to come over here and try to kill me himself.”
“He’ll have to get through me first,” he promised kissing her tenderly as he turned on his phone to speak to the caller on the other end of the line, “This had better be good because right now I’m in the arms of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known and unless this is an act of God, then I’m about to hang up,” he finished as Avery felt a tiny laugh build up inside of her.
She reached out to the phone covering the mouthpiece part of it as she shook her head at him, “You’re crazy, you know.”
“Crazy in love with you,” he winked at her before a mask of sudden seriousness flooded over him.
“What?  When?” he questioned shifting a bit as he rolled off of her.
Avery watched him as he pulled away from her, sitting upright as a scowl pressed over his features.  Judging by his reaction to the caller, something was wrong and as Avery felt him tense up beside her, she reached out to him touching his shoulder.  He gave her a brief concerned glance before turning his attention to the caller once again.
“Thank you for calling.  I really appreciate you doing that,” Russell finished his conversation turning off his phone as Avery moved in behind him bringing her arms around his shoulders as she knelt behind him.
“What’s wrong,” she questioned in his ear suddenly worried by his reaction to the phone call.
“It’s Caitlin,” Russell answered poignantly as a slow breath escaped his lips.
“What’s wrong with her,” Avery released him moving in beside him as she saw the darkness that pressed over his features, “Russ, what’s wrong?”
“She was attacked earlier at work,” Russell explained trying to keep himself under control as he thought to the phone call he’d just received, “She was in the parking garage and someone attacked her.  She’s at the hospital and apparently in pretty bad shape.”
“Oh my God,” Avery gasped at the thought, “did they find the person responsible?”
“Not yet, but this isn’t the first time it’s happened,” he confessed silently cursing himself, “I knew I should’ve done more after that first time.  Caitlin insisted that I not worry about it, but with the story she’s doing on Midlands and the fact that she was attacked one before, God, what was I thinking?”
“Russ, you couldn’t have known,” Avery began trying to alleviate some of the frustration going through him as she thought back to her brief encounter with Caitlin at the Ashford mansion.  Suddenly as Russell’s words reached her, another chilling thought came to mind, “You said this happened before?”
“Just once, but once was too many times,” he replied with a deep frown, “I should’ve thought about this and worked on getting some added security in the parking garage, but I was just so…” he shook his head, “there’s no excuse for my not taking this more seriously.  If this story she’s working on is the cause of it…”
“I don’t know if it’s the story,” Avery thought to her own situation with Bruce as Caitlin’s knowledge of covering up bruises was fresh in her mind.  There was something about Caitlin’s story--about the look in her eyes that rang too close to home in it’s own way, but at the time Avery had been so caught up in her own misery to notice it.  Was it possible Caitlin knew her attacker as well, Avery reasoned thinking of the exchange she’d had with Caitlin.  Now as a sense of concern flooded over her, she looked to Russell once again.
“I have to go over there and check on her,” Russell began easing out from beneath the clothing that surrounded them, “I can’t just not do anything.”
“I know that and I wouldn’t ever ask you to,” Avery pulled one of her blouses up from the floor, “but I’m going with you.”
“Avery, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea considering that I don’t know what kind of shape she’s in.  Caitlin’s not big on offering up details of her personal life and given that this has happened twice, I’d have to say these attacks are pretty damn personal and if Midlands is behind it somehow…”
“Russ, she was there for me when Bruce attacked me and while she might not be up for company, I want to be there for her,” Avery touched his arm, “Russ, please.”
“Are you sure you’re up to it,” he asked thinking to her own situation with Bruce, “With everything that’s been going on…”
“Russ, I want to go to the hospital to check on Caitlin,” Avery decided firmly, “She was good to me at a time when I didn’t want anyone else seeing the truth and she helped me.  If there’s any way that I can do the same for her, then I want to at least try.”
Russell watched her for a long moment before finally nodding, “Alright, but if it’s too much…”
“Russ, this isn’t about me.  It’s about Caitlin and we both know that she needs those who care about her with her especially now,” she squeezed his shoulder gently, “That’s what’s important.”
“I know,” he nodded reaching for his pants before stopping mid-movement.  He turned to look at her one last time before moving in to give her one more longing kiss, “thank you.”
“For what,” she questioned as he pressed his forehead against hers.
“For being you,” he replied with a soft smile, “I don’t know what I’d do without you at a time like this.”
“Now’s not the time to worry about something so silly,” Avery offered up another tender kiss, “because I’m not going anywhere,” she promised savoring one last moment between them as their concerns were directed to Caitlin, both of them hoping that she would pull through this tragedy that had fallen upon her.  As Avery began to dress, she pondered her suspicions about Caitlin and for Caitlin’s sake, she hoped her intuition was wrong because if anyone deserved better than that horrible twist of fate, it was a kind heart like Caitlin.


Dave knocked gently upon the door and stuck his head in, “Can I come in?”

Kenneth nodded at his friend as he continued to hold Caitlin in his arms. He leaned gently near her ear and whispered, “Caitlin, the chief of police is here to ask you some questions.”

“Oh...” Caitlin replied softly as she continued to hold on him.

“Do you mind answering just a few questions, Ms. Vaughn? I just want to go over some basic facts, and then we can always take a statement later,” Dave said sympathetically as he watched her tighten her hold on Kenneth.

“Okay,” She said simply as she held onto Kenneth as if he would somehow slip away.

Kenneth held Caitlin close and nodded at his friend to begin the questions.

“Did you see your attacker?” Dave asked as he took out his note pad and pen.

“No. He jumped me from behind,” Caitlin answered softly.

“Did you know his voice?”

She paused, “I…I can’t…I mean…I’m not sure. It all happened so fast.”

“Did you hear where he might have come from?”

“One of the floors above the newsroom. Maybe in one of the publishing offices,” She said simply.

“Have you received any threats? Phone calls? Messages?” Dave offered her some options.

“No, nothing like that.”

“Did this man say anything to you that would make you believe he might have been the man who attacked you before?”

Caitlin squeezed Kenneth gently as she struggled with her words, “No….not really…”

“Caitlin,” Kenneth began softly, “If you know anything that could help the police find this man, you should tell them. Dave is my friend, and I trust him implicitly. You can trust him too.”

“It’s just that…police have never been able to help before,” Caitlin broke down in tears as she held onto him tightly.

Kenneth glanced to Dave, “This has happened before…before even the attack in the garage?”

She nodded, “I didn’t want anyone to know,” She said as she glanced towards Dave, “Could you give us some time here? I…I need to do this on my own…just me and Ken.”

Dave nodded as he looked to Kenneth and Caitlin. He folded the note pad and slipped it back into his pocket, “I’ll come by tomorrow to get your statement.” He said before giving Kenneth a supportive hint of a smile and leaving the room.

Kenneth looked to Caitlin who seemed distant though she was curled into his side. He wasn’t sure what she had burdening her, but he was sure that he could help her if only she would tell him. With that thought in mind, he gently brushed his lips over the bandage upon her forehead, “Caitlin, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not,” She said stoically as she looked up to meet his eyes, “It’s a long way from okay.”

“Whatever it is, we’ll find a way to fix it,” He assured her.

“There’s no way to fix this,” She said sadly as she turned away from him and looked towards the wall.

“What is this exactly?” He asked as he gently placed his hand upon her shoulder.

Caitlin closed her eyes, knowing this would be the true test of her trust in Kenneth Ashford. If he still wanted to be with her after she told her story, then he was exactly the kind of man she had believed him to be. Unfortunately, the experiences of her past told her that it wasn’t likely that her trust was well placed.

“It all started back in college. I met this guy,” She paused, “His name is Jimmy Cordell. He was a football player, business major, all around perfect American male,” Her tone negated the perfection of her words, “He seemed like a perfect guy, and I thought we really had what it took.”

Caitlin opened her eyes and stared at the wall as if she were watching the events of her past before her, “Jimmy and I dated, and everything was like a storybook romance. He asked me to move in with him when we graduated, and I was so excited. For the first few weeks, it was great. It was exactly how I dreamed a real relationship would be. But then…” She paused as she swallowed a lump that had suddenly formed in her throat, “He became real possessive. I couldn’t go out for drinks with friends or even stay late at work. He wanted to know my every move and who I was with.”

She lifted her hand to her cheek, wiping away tears she had shed years before, “He accused me of having an affair with my boss. We got into an argument, and he hit me. Afterwards, he apologized, and I believed him. But that wouldn’t be the last time he hit me,” She said as she felt tears welling up in her eyes, “He’d slap me around if I wasn’t home when he thought I should’ve been.”

“It only got worse,” She spoke before taking a deep breath, “Instead of just slapping me, he started punching me, shoving me into walls,” She stopped as she felt a sob rack her body, “He would hold me down and choke me until I passed out. Every time he’d apologize, and I believed his apologies for a while. Then I realized that he just wanted to make himself feel better for a little while until he’d do it again.”

“I felt so trapped and alone. I’d call Blake, and she’d try to convince me to leave him. But I was so sure that I could change him. I was so stupid and naïve. I really thought I could make him stop and that on some level he loved me. I thought I had enough love for the both of us, and that if I spent enough time with him, I could help him through his violence.”

Caitlin paused, attempting to reign in her emotions so she could finish her story, “His parents came to visit us, and he was the absolute perfect gentleman in front of them. I knew,” She exaggerated the word, “That he had finally come through his rough patch. He took us all out to dinner, and he asked me to marry him. I thought it was great, and I accepted. I knew that we could work things out, and that this was our chance to make it despite all the things we’d been through. But that wasn’t how it worked out. Two weeks before the wedding, he snapped. He beat me so badly that I was admitted to the hospital.”

“Caitlin,” Kenneth said her name as he felt her pain and wanted nothing more than to take her pain away.

“My parents came out to see me, and Jimmy told them it was just a random mugging and that I was lucky that I hadn’t been raped,” Caitlin sobbed lightly, “When I faced my parents, I saw the concern in their eyes and they were so supportive of Jimmy. I couldn’t handle that. I got a chance to talk to my mom, and I told her everything. She talked to my dad…” She paused, “Dad wanted to kill him, but I told them both that I only wanted to disappear. It was really the best thing for everyone. So I did. I packed my things, and I vanished. I took the job at the travel magazine so I was never in one place for too long.”

“I was so tired of running,” She cried, “I came here to Coral Valley to settle down. I thought I could start fresh here, but he found me,” She sobbed out loud, “He’s here, and he’s going to kill me, Ken. He’s not going to stop.”

“He’s not going to kill you,” Kenneth declared as he urged her to turn and look at him, “I’m not going to let that happen. First thing tomorrow, you’re going to tell Dave what you just told me. I’ll file all the paper work for a restraining order against him, and I’ll make sure Russell upgrades security at the paper. I’m not going to let him keep doing this to you.”

“But…” Caitlin attempted to protest.

Kenneth dropped a tender kiss to her lips, “Shhh, I’m not going to lose you, Caitlin, and I won’t watch you suffer because of this idiot. I’m going to protect you, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that this guy pays for what he’s done. We’ll make it so that you never have to fear this man again,” He met her eyes and tenderly caressed her cheek, “I promise you that.”

Caitlin broke down into tears as she settled against him, accepting his protective embrace and comforting words. If anything had been destroyed by her confession to Kenneth, it had been her experiences with men and her secret. Kenneth had proved that there were men who could accept her past and reassure her of a safe and comfortable future.


Blake stepped into the waiting room and placed a small cup of coffee in Zack’s hands, “Is Kenny still in with her?”

“Yeah,” Zack nodded, “I think the police chief is in there too. He didn’t want to leave until he’d had a chance to talk to her.”

“Maybe she can tell him something useful,” She said hopefully as she sipped her coffee.

“How about you telling me something useful?”


“I know I came in at the last of your conversation with your brother, but I did get the gist of it was that you know something about Caitlin’s attack that you’re not telling. So why don’t you tell me?”

“Zack, I don’t know anything about the attack other than it happened. I really don’t have any first hand knowledge.”

“Don’t be evasive, Blake,” He said as he looked at her sternly, “This is my sister’s life we’re talking about here, and I don’t want anything happening to Cait. You have to tell me.”

“I made a promise to her,” Blake said as she met his eyes, “I can’t go back on it now.”

“Even if it means risking her life? Are you insane?”

“Don’t act like I’m the one who did this to her, Zack,” She declared harshly as she stood and stepped across the room, “I’ve asked her to do something…anything,” She groaned, “But this is her life, and her decision to make.”

He rolled his eyes, “Come on, Blake. We’re talking about some wacko who attacked her and put her in the hospital. Isn’t this enough to make you think you need to say something?”

“I can’t,” Blake said firmly, “You’re going to have to get your answers from Caitlin.”

“Damn stubborn woman,” Zack grumbled as he sank back on the sofa.

“Blake?” Seth questioned from the doorway as he spotted her. He stepped inside quickly and slipped his arms around her, “I heard about what happened to Caitlin. How is she?”

“She’s got a nasty concussion, and her internal organs are bruised,” Blake answered as she hugged Seth close, “Thank you for being here.”

“I know how much she means to you. I thought you could use someone by your side,” He said as he gently stroked her hair.

“She has someone,” Zack announced his presence from across the room.

Seth’s gaze darted across the room and held the man under close scrutiny, “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” Zack countered.

Blake turned and looked to Zack, “Zack, this is Seth. Seth, this is Caitlin’s brother, Zack…the one I told you about.”

Seth eyed Zack for a moment before he extended his hand, “Welcome to Coral Valley.”

Zack glanced at Seth’s hand for a moment before he folded his arms over his chest and met the man’s eyes, “Aren’t you suppose to be the ex that Blake wants to stay away from? It isn’t exactly smart for you to be here right now.”

Seth slowly retracted his offer of a hand shake as he met Zack’s nasty stare, “Some things are worth the risk,” He said as he looked back to Blake, “How are you holding up?”

“I’d be lying if I said everything was okay because obviously it isn’t. It’s just horrible to think this has happened to Caitlin again, and I want to find a way to help her,” Blake replied as she held onto Seth.

“Then why don’t you start talking, Blake?” Zack groaned, “Come on…this is Caitlin we’re talking about…your best friend. You could try to open up and let us in on the big secret you’re hiding.”

“Hey,” Seth said defensively to stop Zack’s demanding tone, “If you’re implying that Blake knew anything…”

“As a matter of fact, I am. She knows something about this attack, and yet she’s all clammed up,” Zack met Blake’s eyes, “You have to tell us, Blake. Otherwise this could happen again…and next time, it could be her life that you have on your hands…do you really want that?”

“Whoa,” Seth raised his voice as he placed himself between Blake and Zack, “That’s enough. You’re not going to stand there and accuse Blake of practically killing Caitlin when she had nothing to do with this. I think maybe you need to go outside and clear your head.”

“I’m not going to take orders from some punk who thinks he’s good enough for Blake,” Zack declared as he stood toe to toe with Seth.

“Guys…” Blake piped in, “Don’t come to blows over this…really. Zack, why don’t you go see Caitlin and give me a few moments here with Seth?”

“I don’t like the idea of you being alone with him, Blake,” Zack said honestly as he continued to meet Seth’s stare.

“Blake has nothing to fear from me, but you,” Seth looked at him with contempt, “I wonder about you, pal.”

Zack began to sneer at Seth with a cutting insult on the tip of his tongue before Blake pushed her way in between the two of them.

“Okay, that’s it. Zack…outside….Seth…sit down,” Blake ordered as she pointed in each direction for the men to obey, “Or I swear I’ll beat the crap out of the both of you, and there won’t be any room for your testosterone induced macho ego contest.”

Zack glared at Seth before he slowly made his way out of the waiting area. He stopped at the doorway and looked back to Seth, “This isn’t over,” He declared before he walked down the hall.

She groaned in exasperation as she turned towards Seth, “What did you do that for?”

“Do what? Defend you from him?” Seth asked with wide eyes, “Well...maybe I should have just let him keep on his tirade. In fact, if that’s the way you feel about it, maybe I should just leave you with him,” He said as he started for the door.

“Oh no you don’t,” Blake declared as she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back to her. She pulled his lips to hers in a fiery kiss as she wrapped her arms around him, making sure that he didn’t leave her when it was the last thing in the world she wanted in this moment.


Hart watched as Jenna and Shannon sat beside one another at the bar and while he’d tried to keep his thoughts under control in the walk over towards him, just the idea of Jenna having played him burned him to no end.  Sure, there might be an explanation for what he saw, but then again, given that Jenna had been hell bent on giving him a hard time, he couldn’t help but wonder if she’d been playing him all along.  Perhaps that was what this was all about.  She must’ve been trying to gain some insight on Brant for Shannon as now in seeing them sitting together like chums, it was obvious where her loyalties were and that was simply unacceptable.
“Excuse me ladies,” Hart spoke up sharply as he stepped in between them, “I’d like a word with Dr. Carpenter if you don’t mind,” he reached for her arm urging her off the bar stool.
“As a matter of fact I do mind,” Jenna frowned not liking his approach as she pulled her arm out of his grasp, “Hart, what’s your problem?”
“My problem,” he repeated incredulously, “as if it wasn’t obvious,” he motioned over towards Shannon as a frown spilled over his lips, “What’s all this about Jenna?”
“Excuse me,” she blinked back at him, “All what?”
“This,” he motioned towards Shannon, “you and Agent Pryce.”
“Is there a problem,” Shannon inquired surprised to find Brant’s less than savory lawyer standing between them.
“Zip it Pryce,” Hart sneered in response keeping his focus on Jenna, “this is between Jenna and I.”
“It doesn’t look like she’s interested in listening to what it is you have to say right now,” Shannon’s eyes narrowed in anger as she thought of her last interaction with Hart Steiner.  The memory of his smugness hit her once again as a scowl touched upon her lips, “Come to think of it, she and I were in the middle of a conversation…”
“Well, it’s going to have to wait because I need to speak with her,” Hart demanded sharply as he looked to Jenna, “Now.”
“It can wait,” Jenna shrugged her shoulder giving him a pointed look.
“No, it can’t,” he spoke tightly.
“Yes,” she emphasized the words, “it can.”
“No it really can’t,” Hart started as he spotted Brant out of the corner of his eye making his way towards the trio.
“Well, what do we have here,” Brant grumbled alerting the group to his presence his eyes shot daggers in Shannon’s direction, “Deciding to work your lack of influence over on those of us here in Coral Valley who could care less what you have to say?  I mean it’s bad enough you went after Avery, then me, but now her best friend?  Gee, you’re really reaching now, aren’t you Shannon?”
“Go to hell Brant,” she grumbled back at him keeping her eyes on Hart, “I’m not in the mood for you.”
“Well then there we have something in common because I’m not in the mood for you and your hissy fits,” he snapped back at her, “Honestly Shannon when are you going to just get over me and move on with your life?  I mean it’s been long enough for you, hasn’t it?”
“Oh please,” Shannon rolled her eyes in response to his words as she focused her attention on him, “Brant, the moment we split was the moment I stopped worrying about losing my mind over someone like you.  Just the mere thought of having had any sort of relationship with you makes me cringe.”
“Oh right,” Brant muttered in disbelief, “You can’t get enough of me and that’s why you’re back making my life a living hell.  I mean honestly, what did you really think you were going to accomplish here in harassing Avery?  Did you think it was going to make me want you all over again?”
“Believe it or not the world doesn’t revolve around you, Brant,” Shannon hissed back at him as she held her drink in her hand feeling her anger bubble over at his words, “but I’ll warn you now, if you’re guilty of something then I’ll get to the truth to the matter…”
“My lawyers will tear you to shreds,” Brant flashed her a smug smile as his eyes narrowed with rage, “won’t they?” he looked to Hart expecting reinforcements as he realized that Hart and Jenna were no longer beside them as Hart had managed to pull Jenna towards the other end of the bar and the two appeared to be having a heated discussion of their own.
“Looks like the services you pay top dollar for are really doing you justice now,” Shannon motioned for the bartender flagging him down again as being this close to Brant was giving her a throbbing headache already.
“I’ll have you know that whatever game you’re playing isn’t going work, Shannon,” Brant stepped in closer to her leaning in over her shoulder as his voice lingered over her, “and when I’m through with you, you’re going to wish you never came back to Coral Valley.”
“Hmm…was that the threat you issued to Bruce Mathis before you killed him for getting in your way,” Shannon lifted a curious brow as she casually turned to look over her shoulder at him.
“You wish you could pin this murder on me, but the truth to the matter is you know that I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Brant answered flatly, “and that in itself bothers you to no end.”
“What bothers me to no end is the fact the for even a brief moment in time I found any of your bull charming,” Shannon snapped in response her eyes darkening with anger, “and hey maybe the sooner your fiancée sees that, then the sooner she’ll wake up from the nightmare she’s placing herself into with you.”
“Oh please,” Brant rolled his eyes as he hovered over her stepping in closer behind her as his words took on a menacing tone, “you couldn’t get enough of me when we were together and even now, you still want me.  It’s obvious Shannon, so cut with the insults and just admit that you’re obsessed and get over it.”
“Brant, your ego really knows no end, does it,” she looked down to the bar as the bartender carried over her drink.  Lifting it from the bar top, she took a long, swig allowing it to reach her down to the core.
“Shannon, the sooner you admit that you’re still hung up on me, the sooner we can deal with this and then you can let go of this vendetta you have against me,” he dropped down into the seat Jenna previously occupied, “I mean honestly…murder charges?  Do I really warrant all that just because I broke your heart?”
“You didn’t break anything of mine Brant and you never will,” Shannon took another sip of her drink, “and the way I see it, you’re guilty as sin and when the time comes regardless of what I might think of you, you’ll have to answer for your actions.”
“To you?” Brant chuckled with mild amusement as he motioned for the bartender to bring him another martini, “I don’t think so.”
“Brant, sooner or later you’re going to mess up and when you do, I’ll be right there to take you down,” Shannon promised smugly as she reached for one of the peanuts in the bowl in front of her.
“You always did enjoy doing that, didn’t you?” Brant questioned with a hint of laughter in his voice despite his strong displeasure with the situation, “and hey maybe if I wasn’t so good when I was letting you take me down, then we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with, now would we?” he threw out at her.
“You’re walking the line of harassment tonight, Brant,” Shannon stated simply.
“And what do you call what you’re doing in stalking me? Watching my every move like a hawk?  I mean really Shannon you really need to come to grips with what you’re doing.  It’s not healthy,” Brant sighed shaking his head at her.
“Keep talking and I’ll show you unhealthy,” Shannon offered up harshly as she wanted nothing more than to tear Brant apart for his arrogance, but knowing that any more she’d make would be considered brutality on her part, she had to choose her moves wisely or else there would be a price to pay and she’d be painted as the jaded lover he was goading her into becoming in the public eye.  One way or another she would have to find a way to maintain control even if it meant dealing with Brant like this as she refused to let him get to her.


“What the hell were you doing back there?” Hart demanded his eyes penetrating Jenna as she stood before him.
“Having a beer and the last time I checked there’s no law against that, is there?” she shrugged her shoulders at him.
“Of course not, but you know that’s not what I was referring to.  You came here tonight to tell the FBI everything, didn’t you?” Hart threw out in an accusatory tone, “All this time I thought we were working as a team and you were playing me for the other side, weren’t you?”
“That’s more your style, not mine,” Jenna’s dark eyes were laced with heavy displeasure, “I don’t know how you can even think something like that about me considering…”
“Considering that I see you chumming around with Agent Pryce,” Hart reminded her with a huff, “I’d say that gives me ample reason to draw my conclusions there.”
“Well like most of your deductive reasoning, this theory of yours was clearly flawed as well,” Jenna cut back sharply as she noted Brant across the bar with Shannon, “though if I were you, I’d focus on your client putting his own foot in his mouth instead of me considering that it’s pretty clear he and Shannon don’t have any love lost between them.”
“Brant can hold his own, but you’re more of the wild card tonight,” Hart ignored her words as he continued on his rampage, “I thought we were a team, Jenna.”
“We are a team bonehead but that doesn’t mean I have to give you a detailed report on every one of my moves.  We never agreed to that,” she reminded him bluntly, “That was never in the deal.”
“Neither was becoming buddies with the agent who’s hell bent on putting my client and your best friend behind bars,” he insisted firmly, “You know that she worked to get you thrown off this case and…”
“She said she didn’t,” Jenna pointed out.
“And you believe that?  Shannon is a viper with an agenda filled with revenge and for you to even think contrary of her makes you a fool,” he snapped in response, “I mean I’ve been working my ass off trying to get to the heart of this investigation and then for me to see you here tonight with her of all people…”
“I came here looking for answers not that it’s any of your business and Shannon approached me,” Jenna planted her hands on her hips impatiently.
“So you just what?  You thought you’d share trade secrets with one another?  Maybe sell out your so-called partner in the name of kissing up to the FBI’s pit bull there?”
“It was more like I was trying to learn more about their angle in this investigation you bonehead,” Jenna glared up at him, “and clearly it’s a good thing that I did some work on my own because we would’ve gotten no where with you and your attitude.”
“My attitude isn’t in question.  It’s your loyalty…”
“I put my ass on the line giving you that report the other day,” Jenna’s voice lowered as she looked around the bar, “or did you forget that?”
“How do I know the feds didn’t plant that in order for you to win over my trust and manipulate me into giving you something that they’re looking for?” Hart threw out in a challenge.
Jenna pondered the thought for a moment, “I guess you really don’t, but then again I suppose that’s a risk you’re going to have to take since you’re the one who wanted to play this game of trust here.”
“Jenna, I just need to know if you’re screwing with me,” his tone shifted a bit as a sigh spilled over his lips, “If this partnership isn’t what you made it out to be…”
“Hart, I already told you,” Jenna began as her eyes wandered over towards the bar again and she watched as Shannon threw her drink at Brant, “Oh no.”
“What?” Hart followed her line of vision seeing the dispute taking place between Brant and Shannon as a frown touched over his lips.  Groaning inwardly he gave Jenna one last look before heading towards the direction he’d left Brant in, “This is going to have to wait,” he muttered to himself realizing that in leaving Shannon and Brant alone he’d left the door wide open for a scene and given the bad press that was following Brant around lately with the murder investigation, it wasn’t a smart move at all.  He just hoped that somehow he could intervene before things got nasty between the former lovers.


“Dinner was fantastic,” Diane confessed leaning back in the chair as she watched Ben rise from his chair ready to collect the dinner plates.
“I aim to please,” Ben threw out a playful smile in her direction, “of course we haven’t even gotten to dessert yet,” he winked at her reaching for her plate as she snatched it up.
“I’ll help with dishes,” she suggested following him into his kitchen as she noticed the fruits of his labor surrounding them.

“You don’t have to do dishes,” Ben confessed trying to steal the plate from her, “as I didn’t ask you over here to clean house you know.”

“I know, but given the lengths you went to in order to show me something special tonight, I figure the least I can do is find a way to earn my keep somehow,” she offered in response snatching the plate back again, “Besides, I wouldn’t mind getting familiar with your kitchen…that is unless of course my taking control of it, intimidates you,” she teased lightly.
“By all means,” he waved his arm out at her, “learn as much as you want about this place, though I do have one request,”  he slinked his arm around her waist pulling her away from the kitchen sink as her eyes widened with surprise.
“What’s that?” she questioned fluttering her eyelashes up at him.
“I’ll wash and you can dry,” Ben decided offering up a quick kiss on her forehead before he released her and turned his attention to the sink.

A smile touched over her features as she thought to what he’d put into making dinner wonderful for her, “This was really nice.”
“Yes it was and I’m glad we decided to do this,” Ben smiled back at her as he turned the water on at his sink.
“So am I,” she confessed stepping in behind him taking in the sexy scent of his cologne as a warmth filled her up inside.  Now being this close to Ben, it sent her on sensory overload as she fought the urge to take him and make him hers in right that instant.  There was just something about him…something that kept her on her toes, or rather something that wanted to have him sweep her off her feet.
“So tell me, are you convinced now that I’m serious about things,” Ben questioned as Diane stepped in closer to him sliding her arms around his waist.  She eased her hands against his teasing her fingers over his as he dropped the dish into the soapy water before him.
“You tell me,” Diane whispered pressing her soft curves into him as a smile filled her features.  She felt the warmth of the soapy water oozing between her fingers as she rubbed her hands over Ben’s savoring the contact between them as he glanced over his shoulder at her.
“I’m starting to think that dishes wasn’t really on your agenda after all,” he threw out a teasing wink as his hand eased over hers sliding up within the soft, foamy bubbles to capture her wrist, “were they?”
“Not really,” Diane confessed a hint of desire burning behind her eyes, “but then again I don’t really think they were on your mind either.”
“They might’ve been for a brief flickering moment in time, but now,” he glided his index finger up over the underside of her arm watching her tremble against his touch, “I seem to be a bit distracted.”
“Is it a good distraction or a bad one,” Diane questioned pulling her free hand out of the water as she quickly dried it on the hand towel beside the sink.  Within a matter of seconds, she felt the surge of electricity of Ben’s touch over her driving her mad with desire as she eased her left hand leisurely over his hip.
“That all depends,” Ben answered lazily as he lifted his hand from the water as well.  Quickly drying it off as Diane had, he turned his focus to her completely.  He stepped aside allowing her to move in front of him closer to the sink before he moved in behind her wrapping his arms around her waist, “though we really should get back to those dishes.”
“So you keep saying,” Diane whispered, a breath of anticipation falling from her lips as Ben’s touch set shivers racing through her body.  Just the nearness of him cast a dizzying spell over her and as his hard, muscled body nudged against her, there was no denying the ache he’d stirred up inside of her.  Reaching for his hands, Diane dipped them into the soapy water before them as a soft gasp spilled from her lips.  Hearing the soft rumble of his own labored breathing, Diane rocked herself against him, bumping her body into his.
“This is nice,” Ben murmured the heat of his breath striking against her neck as she felt his lips tip down over her shoulder smoldering over her impatient skin.
“Very nice,” she hummed as his lips dropped tender tokens of affection over her shoulder, “Oh Ben…”
“You’re so beautiful,” Ben hummed against her skin as his kisses traveled over her neck, “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to be able to have you alone like this.”
“I’m all yours,” she answered turning her head to face him as he lifted his lips from her neck.  A moment of silence fell between them before Diane wrenched her hand out of the water curling her arm around his neck as his mouth devoured hers in a hungry intensity.  Suddenly the thought of a kiss became a promise of pleasure as Diane found herself wrapped up in Ben’s arms savoring the delights she’d dreamt about for a very long time.  Kissing him like this, well it was far more than her imagination had called for as his damp hands eased over her soft curves.
“Diane,” he breathed her name as he swiftly hoisted her up on his kitchen counter urging her to wrap her legs around him as he moved in closer to her.
“Oh Ben,” she murmured tearing open the buttons on his shirt longing to feel the sheer power of his broad, muscled chest.  Now as her fingers sought out his golden skin, she reveled in the thought of being with Ben at long last.  How she’d dreamt of this moment and in touching him, well it was far beyond anything she could’ve thought up time and time again.  Ben’s eyes fell upon her as the harsh rush of his breath flooded over her alerting her to his own desire as he helped her ease his shirt off of his beautiful body.  Just the sight of his naked flesh in this raw, untamed moment of desire, caused her insides to turn to mush as she learned forward showering the muscled lines of his body with lavish kisses.
“The things you do to me, Diane,” he hissed her name, his fingers sliding into her long hair as he squeezed her against him.  Closing his eyes, he felt the intensity behind her kisses, the fire in her touch as he dropped his hands down over her spine, following the curves of her slender form until he’d secured his hold on her.  Carefully he made a move to place a distance between them as Diane’s eyes turned to him in confusion.
“Ben, what are you doing?  Don‘t go,” her lip curled in a pout fearing that he was about to pull his usual moment of reluctance as he scooped her up off of his counter top.
“I’m not leaving.  I’m just making things easier for us,” he promised capturing her lips once again with hungry desire as he carried her out of kitchen longing to explore the ideas Diane had for them together as the night was filled with promise of things to come between them.
“Oh Ben,” Diane beamed with excitement as suddenly her worries seemed to have been for not.  With his strong arms wrapped around her, his mouth beckoning her to reveal her desires for him, there was no denying the fact that Ben wanted her just as she had wanted him.  As he carried her into his bedroom, the revelation hit her that tonight was sure to be the beginning of something wonderful between them--something that would ultimately turn their lives around forever as there would be no more hiding from how they felt about one another.


Zack knocked on the door to Caitlin’s room gently and peaked his head inside. He stepped inside and watched as Kenneth waved him inside.

Kenneth gently eased himself out of Caitlin’s reach and settled her into the pillow upon the bed. He tucked her blanket around her and pressed a kiss upon her forehead before he joined Zack, “She’s finally resting,” He informed him in a soft voice as he slipped his hands into his pockets and glanced back towards her.

“Was she able to reveal anything about her attacker?” Zack asked as he watched his sister sleep.

“Yeah, actually she was. You should talk to her in a little while. She’ll need your support,” Kenneth suggested before the door opened again.

Russell and Avery stepped inside and joined Zack and Kenneth.

Russell looked to Caitlin with concern as he stood beside Kenneth, “How’s she doing?”

“She’s going to be sore as hell for a while, and she’ll be recovering from a serious concussion,” Kenneth informed him, “But all in all, she’s going to be okay.”

“Thank god,” Avery said in relief.

“Who is this?” Russell asked as if he’d only just spotted Zack.

“Zack Vaughn,” Zack introduced himself as he extended his hand to Russell, “I’m Cait’s brother.”

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Russell Denton, her boss, and this is Avery Morrison, a friend,” Russell replied as he shook Zack’s hand.

“It’s very nice that you’ve both come to be here for Cait,” Zack flashed a quick smile, “But Mr. Denton, I think you might want to consider upgrading your security. This is the second time my sister has been attacked at your building.”

“I know, and I will be taking measures to see it never happens again,” Russell turned his attention towards Kenneth, “Starting with pulling the plug on the Midlands story.”

“Why?” Kenneth asked quickly.

“Because these attacks started when she really began working on this story in earnest. I’m not about to let this story kill her,” Russell reasoned.

“It’s not the story, Russ,” Kenneth said as he looked back towards Caitlin, “There are other demons involved in this one.”

“What do you mean? If this has anything to do with Midlands, I want to know about it,” Russell demanded.

“Russ, it doesn’t have anything to do with Midlands. Lord knows Cameron Stone isn’t above doing something malicious, but this isn’t related…it’s a lot more personal than that,” Kenneth explained.

“Cameron Stone?” Avery questioned, “What does he have to do with anything?”

“Caitlin’s writing a story about my case against Midlands. It just so happens that Cameron Stone owns the majority of stock in Midlands,” Kenneth explained further.

“Ken,” Avery frowned, “He’s also suing BBK.”

“He’s what?” Kenneth groaned, “Great, like we needed any more complications.”

“So you can see why I’m a little suspicious,” Russell chimed in again, “Ken, come on. Help me help Caitlin.”

“I’m telling you everything you need to know, Russ. The best thing you can do is upgrade security in your building and make sure that all the surveillance videos make their way to the police,” Kenneth urged.

“But…” Russell began.

“Russ, he already told you that it’s not the story,” Avery said as she placed her hand upon his arm, “Let it go.”

“It’s just…This shouldn’t have happened, dammit,” Russell sighed heavily.

“Now there’s something we can all agree on,” Zack nodded.

“Ken?” Caitlin asked in a panic.

“I’m right here,” Kenneth said quickly as he sat on the bed and took her hand, “I’m right here sweetheart.”

“You’re not going to leave me, are you?” She gasped, her voice wavering with anxiety.

“I’m not going anywhere,” He assured her as he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss upon her skin, “I’m going to be right here with you.”

She sighed with relief as he slipped onto the bed and gathered her back into his arms.

“Russell, Avery, and Zack are here,” Kenneth informed her as she turned her eyes towards the door.

Caitlin blinked as she saw their silhouettes but no identifying features, “I still can’t see them clearly.”

“It’s okay,” Zack advised her as he sat on the far side of the bed and placed his hand upon her waist, “You just take your time. Looking at my gorgeous form right now might set you back a ways any how.”

“God,” Caitlin groaned with a soft laugh, “You’re impossible.”

Avery smiled as she stepped forward, “Caitlin, is there anything I can do for you?”

“No,” Caitlin replied simply, “I appreciate the offer, but right now, I just need to rest.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Russell announced, “You take as much time as you need.”

“Thank you,” Caitlin said tearfully, “You’re all so good to me, and I don’t even know how to repay you.”

“How about you just focus on healing?” Kenneth suggested as he pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“I think I could probably do that,” Caitlin said with a smile, “And all of you…go home. You don’t have to be here,” She said before securing her hold on Kenneth, “Everyone except you that is.”

Kenneth smiled as he hugged her close to him, assuring her that he wasn’t going anywhere and he would protect her for a while to come.


Blake reluctantly pulled away from Seth, seeing the fire burning behind his eyes as his arms continued to surround her.  A smile rose over her soft features as she traced her index finger over the center of his chest.
“I missed you,” she confessed lightly as her voice filled with obvious sentiment.
“You couldn’t tell by the way that Neanderthal was carrying on,” Seth remarked dryly as he thought to Blake’s latest sidekick.  Suddenly the idea of her spending any amount of time with that man made Seth less than thrilled about this plot of hers.  Just thinking about her alone with him made his body tighten with anger as he took in a slow breath.
“Zack’s just upset,” Blake defended her friend, “Caitlin’s been through one hell of an ordeal and as an older brother, it’s hard for him to sit back unable to do anything while that monster is out there roaming free,” her voice tapered off as her heart sank at the thought of what was happening to her best friend, “It just isn’t right.”
“No it’s not, but neither was Zack’s jumping all over you like that,” Seth stated simply as his frown deepened, “the way I see it, he was out of line in speaking to you like that.”
“Seth, he just wants to know something that I can’t tell him as it’s not my place,” Blake began looking up to him once again with sad eyes, “I promised Caitlin…”
“And you’re true to your word,” Seth reached out to her drawing her in his arms once again, “which is why I love you like I do.”
“Oh Seth,” she hugged him tighter fighting the tears that threatened as she thought of Caitlin’s condition, “I just don’t understand how this can be happening like someone to her after all this time.  She’s a wonderful person and she never deserved any of this.”
“No she didn’t, but knowing that she’s got everyone here to support her through this, she’ll find a way to pull through,” Seth offered supportively as he kissed the top of her head, “From what little I know of Caitlin, I can see she’s a survivor and this won’t break her..”
“I hope not,” Blake sighed looking around the hospital corridor, “Actually, why don’t we take a walk to somewhere a bit more private considering that you and I do have appearances to keep up.”
“I was thinking about that,” Seth tugged on her arm as she started to walk away, “Maybe we should forget the whole breaking up idea.”
“Seth, it’s a great idea,” Blake blinked back at him in surprise, “besides you and I know the truth…”
“But clearly that Zack guy doesn’t,” Seth sneered at the memory of Zack’s first impression upon him, “I don’t trust him.”
“Seth, I’ve known him for years and he’s a good guy.  I told you he was upset about his sister and…”
“I get that and if Jade were in Caitlin’s position, you can mark my words that I’d be up front and center doing anything and everything in my power to protect her regardless of the cost,” Seth answered sharply as his fingers curled with anger, “I’d do anything to keep her safe, but what he was doing to you, that was just wrong.  With what little I’ve seen of him, I can’t see him being any help to us.”
“He’s a brilliant doctor and I’m certain that he’ll be able to decipher the microfilm and he’s just the kind of red herring that I’d need in order to let the media and Cameron believe that you and I are no more.”
“Blake, there has to be another way,” Seth argued with her, “Just the idea of you spending any time alone with this guy, well it’s rather unsettling…”
“Seth, he’s Caitlin’s brother and we’ve been pals for years,” Blake tried to reason with him, “Nothing is going to come of this and even then it’s not like we’re going to be going on intimate out of the public eye dates together.  Zack and I will just put on a performance for the world to see, but when it comes time for me to seek out the loving that I need,” she encircled his lean waist with her arms, “you’re the only man for me.”
“I get the feeling Zack doesn’t seem to think so,” Seth remarked bitterly, “In fact the more time I spent with him, the more certain I was that he’s not the man we need for the job.  I don’t want him making any moves on you and if you and I are going to do this break up thing, I want someone who I know isn’t going to try to sabotage us in the process.”
“Zack isn’t going to sabotage us,” Blake waved her hand dismissively, “He’s not like that and besides given what we’re working with, we’re kind of all out of options.  I mean there aren’t any other men that I trust enough to let them come off as being my boyfriend without there being some consequences and well, the only alternative was the one about Kipp that we talked about, but you made it clear that you didn’t want me to be near him at all.”
“I still feel very strongly about that,” Seth stated firmly, “He’s more trouble than we need right now considering.”
“Then Zack it is,” Blake squeezed him in her arms, “and then when this is all over, we can get back to us.”
“I sure hope so,” he sighed taking in the scent of her perfume as he squeezed her in his arms, “but that doesn’t mean I have to like any of this.”
“No one says you have to, but the sooner we fix things with Cameron and get him out of our lives, the better off we’ll be,” she promised tipping up on her toes to give him one last kiss.
“God I want to believe that,” he kissed her tenderly hoping that this plan to take down Cameron and gain the upper hand would work as losing her was something he didn’t want to bear to think about at any cost.


So he wanted a divorce. Was he crazy?

“Of course he’s crazy. He always has been,” Brooke groaned as she sat in the library of the Ashford mansion. She opened her laptop and glanced over the work she needed to catch up on for her company. Despite Dick’s desire that she be completely miserable, she had found happiness through Beholder Cosmetics, and with that happiness had come the greatest success in her life.

Scrolling through emails and company memos, she stopped and smiled. Her son, Guy, had emailed her from Paris with news that he had secured European buyers for the next five years. She had known she could count on Guy, but his success spoke volumes about his dedication and loyalty to the family.

She glanced at the clock and quickly computed the time difference. She picked up the phone and dialed the number to the hotel in Paris. When the line was answered, she asked for her son’s room number.
“Guy Morrison.”

“Guy, it’s your mother calling,” Brooke smiled, “How are you, dear?”

“Mum,” Guy said quickly, “Is something wrong?”

“No, of course there’s nothing wrong. Why do you ask?”

“Because it’s kind of late, and you almost never call.”

“No, there’s nothing wrong. I just read your email, and I thought I would call to congratulate you. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“Of course not,” Guy said with a smile evident in his voice, “I knew you would be pleased.”

“Have you been out celebrating?”

“As a matter of fact, I did. I went out for dinner and dancing with a few colleagues. It was rather nice.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear it. Find any young ladies that you might fancy?”

“Mum, please,” Guy groaned, “I’m really not interested in marriage.”

“Still, you should keep your options open. You never know when the right young woman might come along,” Brooke reasoned, “Really, Guy, I only want you to be happy.”

“Did it ever occur to you that I might be happy as I am? I don’t need some woman to fulfill me, Mum. I’m quite fulfilled as it is.”

“None the less, you might be surprised. You might find a young lady who will sweep you off your feet,” She said with a smile, hoping her son would be as successful in the romance arena as Avery had been to land Brant.

“Mum, leave it be. Really, all I need in my life is Beholder. Right now, it’s my top priority, and I don’t need some woman to divert my attention.”

“I can understand your devotion to the company, but you should always keep your eyes open for the right lady.”

“Mum, why did you really call?”

“What? Where did that come from?”

“You always start in on my love life when you want to divert attention from your own life. So what’s going on? Did Dad ask for a divorce again?”

“As a matter of fact he did, but don’t you worry about that. I’m going to be working on that, and I’ll change his mind.”

“What you need to do is change yours. Mum, you’ve only been miserable with him for most of my life. So why not just cut your losses on him and move on?”

“Because we’ve been together for most of my life, and I believe that holding our family together has been one of my greatest accomplishments. Does it really make me so horrible that I don’t want to give that up?” She said as she faked a distressed voice.

“Oh Mum, I didn’t mean to upset you. I just want your happiness. Whatever makes you happy should be what you pursue.”

“Thank you, Guy. I knew I could count on your support,” Brooke smiled, “Actually I should be letting you go so I can get some work done. But still….Congratulations on the buying agreements, Guy. You’ve truly surpassed my expectations.”

“I’m glad you approve, Mum. Good night.”

“Good night,” Brooke said as she hung up the phone. She worried that her son wouldn’t settle down with a nice young woman, but she was sure that whomever he finally did choose would probably outshine Avery’s as Guy had Brooke’s impeccable taste.


Kipp extended a glass of wine to Heather as she sat upon his fine leather sofa. She awarded him with one of her most beautiful smiles, and he felt his heart melt. No matter how many times he sat with her, he still couldn’t believe that he had been lucky enough to have Heather Gibbons on his arm.

“Dinner was so very good tonight,” Heather smiled.

“I’m glad you approve,” He replied as he sat beside her, “My chef will be very pleased.”

“You’ve been so very good to me, Kipp. I think it really was fate that brought us together.”

“I believe that too,” He placed his wine glass upon the table before him and turned to her, “I do believe that fate played a hand in bringing us together, and I don’t want to second guess fate. I want to solidify our union.”

Heather cast her eyes upon him, “What?”

“I’ve been thinking about us, and I truly believe that we make sense together. You and I have what it takes to make it in the long run, and I’m always looking for an investment that can survive any odds.”

“What are you talking about?” She asked, afraid she already knew the not too subtle question on his mind.

“I’m talking about us…I’m talking about being together for the rest of our lives.”


“Just hear me out,” He cut her off, “You and I were brought together by fate, and we shouldn’t question the wisdom of fate’s decision. I think we should think about our future together.”


“You and I are both well acquainted the pitfalls of public romance, and yet we’ve both avoided that in our relationship together. So why not make the ultimate statement and…”


Kipp nearly leapt out of his own skin as he jumped off the sofa and looked towards the door where his father, the redoubtable Douglas Mahoney, stood.

“Kipp, we need to talk young man!” Douglas boomed as he stepped forward, “Now!”

“Mr. Mahoney,” Heather said enthusiastically as she scurried towards him and took his hand. She shook his hand with excitement, “It’s such a pleasure to meet you.”

“Hmm,” Douglas said as he tore his hand away from her, “Kipp…now.” He demanded as he made his way into the kitchen.

Kipp watched the kitchen door swing closed behind his father. He closed his eyes, hoping that this was all a bad dream. His father couldn’t really be here. He couldn’t really be facing his father’s wrath…not when he’d been ready to…Heather…

“Heather,” Kipp opened his eyes and glanced at his excited girlfriend as she fidgeted nearby, “I’m afraid we’ll have to call it a night.”

“What? But…I wanted to speak with your father. I wanted to…” Heather stammered.

Kipp placed her coat in his arms and urged her towards the door, “Good night, Heather,” He said as he pushed her out the door and closed it soundly in her face. He looked back towards the kitchen and steeled his resolve knowing that he was about to face the wrath of the devil himself in his father.

...to be continued...