Episode Thirty Nine

“I could get very used to this,” Russell confessed draping his arms around Avery snuggling in closer to her as she spooned in against him.  “Very used to this indeed.”
“It does feel nice,” Avery agreed with a soft sigh, “but then again it always did when we woke up like this…well, except for your being a blanket hog.”
“I’m so not a blanket hog,” he argued with her as he looked to her toes sticking out from beneath the blankets before she offered up a skeptic eye, “okay so maybe I’m a little bit possessive of the blankets every now and then.”
“I think you’re a bit possessive about more than the blankets,” she motioned towards the pillows that seemingly gravitated towards him as she teased further, “I’m surprised I made it through the night with you.”
“I just figured that right here in these arms is all the warmth you need,” he kissed the top of her head gently, “besides I’m sure if this became a daily thing for us, we could work out some kind of arrangement with one another.”
“An arrangement,” Avery lifted a curious brow as her eyes turned up towards his, “such as?”
“Well maybe we could do a couple of nights a week in my bed, a couple of nights in yours and then we could try to work out all the little details such as blankets,” Russell offered up brightly as his arm curled around her tighter, “What do you say?”
“Are you asking what I think you’re asking,” she gave him a sideways glance as his eyes lit up with excitement.
“Avery, we have a really good thing together and I was thinking about this last night after we made love,” he confessed his finger tips tracing over her spine gently, “Maybe we should think about making this more permanent and perhaps we could take the next step together beyond this…”
“Beyond this?” she repeated with wide eyes as she propped herself up over him.
“Most definitely,” his fingers swept over the side of her face as a smile lifted over his lips, “I think maybe we should move in together.”
“Move in together,” she repeated with a tiny gulp, “Russ, you can’t possibly be serious, can you?”
“I’m very serious,” he nodded in confession, “I mean I understand that right now there’s the investigation going on and that engagement rumor which by the way we’ll have to find a way to break things to Brant about us putting that to a close once and for all, but the more I think about it, the better the idea sounds.  Granted we can do it on a trial basis there if that’s what you want to start with.  As I said before we can alternate between my place and yours given the mood that suits us…”
“Whoa, just hold on a second,” Avery interrupted shifting over him as she noted the look of inspiration washing over him as she placed her hand in the center of his chest, “Russ, I don’t know if we should take that leap just yet…”
“Why do you say that?” a frown touched over his lips at her reaction to his suggestion.  His fingers tapered off over her curves as his green eyes penetrated her, “I would’ve thought after last night that it might sound like something we both could live with.”
“Russ, it’s not that we couldn’t but,” she trailed off thinking about the weight of his offer as a nervousness built up inside of her.  Taking in a slow breath, she faced him fully as she spoke up again, “Russ, for a real relationship to work between us, we have to have something more substantial than this physical attraction between us.  Don’t get me wrong as sexually things are fantastic, but we both know that to make something work, it has to be about more than just sharing good times in bed together.”
“I’m fully aware of that Avery and if you think about it, the last time we went down this road with one another, well I think it proved that we had what it takes to cut it in terms of a real relationship,” he urged further seeing the doubts building behind her eyes, “I mean come on just the knowledge that we were about to become husband and wife says something right there about how good we can be together.”
“Even so, if you recall our engagement ended in misery for the both of us,” Avery added with a heavy sigh, “We took the road to romance as far as it was willing to take us and then when the big moment came to be, it fizzled.”
“It didn’t fizzle,” he pointed out tracing the contours of her body, “you got scared.”
“You’re right I did and you should’ve been terrified as well considering what kind of move we were about to make together,” Avery reminded him sharply, “We’re talking about the rest of our lives Russell and to get to that point in a relationship it takes work.  It takes the getting to know one another better…”
“I think we’ve been working on that quite well over the last couple of weeks,” he offered with a look of sensuality that caused a heat to wash over her from her head to the tips of her toes.
“Beyond sex,” she offered once again, “it involves just spending time together doing the simple things in life--you know the lazy days and the quiet moments…”
“The classic movie nights and dinner for two at home after a long day at work,” he interrupted with an eager nod, “Avery you know we can do it.  We’ve proved that the good times can be really good for us…”
“And what about the bad?” she challenged lifting a curious brow, “The way I see it to be involved in some kind of romance, we’d have to have other things that come to light as well that might pose a challenge for us on some levels.”
“Such as?” he inquired watching her struggle to find a reason why they wouldn’t work out together.
“Well for starters our family would be a major issue,” Avery threw out with a frown, “You and your brother are extremely close and just the idea of you being tied down to me would drive him nuts as it’s the last thing he wants for you.”
“Grady would just have to get used to the idea because it’s what I want,” Russell declared passionately as he lifted his fingers to her face, teasing them over her lush lips, “Avery, I want to spend my every morning waking up with you in my arms and my every night holding you close to me knowing that I’m finally free to share my heart with the only woman who’s ever truly been able to reach down deep into my soul.”
“Even if it means costing you the brother who has been the best friend you’ve had all your life?” Avery questioned painfully, “Russell, I don’t want to be the thing that tears you and Grady apart forever.  I couldn’t live with that.”
“Grady’s just stubborn and right now what he’s going through is more about him than it is about us,” he tried to alleviate her concerns about his brother’s sudden retaliation about the two of them together, “He’s a stubborn jackass, but that doesn’t mean there’s isn’t any hope of reaching him one way or the other down the road.”
“And what about Brooke?” she threw out in a challenge, “She’s damn near impossible and given the way she treats you…”
“I can deal with Brooke and this time, well I’m not going to let her get in the way of what we have,” he promised leaning up to kiss her, “What we have between us is far too important for me to allow her to screw it up.”
“She destroys everything that she has issues with and I know that she’d spend her every waking moment making you miserable.  We could never have a family gathering or a time when we’d be at ease around her…” she continued nervously.
“Avery, I’m in love with you, not Brooke and I can deal with her,” Russell promised pulling her up over him as she hovered over him, “I love you and in doing that I’m ready to take on the world if need be just to show you how right we are for one another.”
“Russ, I want to believe that, but…” she felt a heat rise over her features as she threw out the other issue that would remain between them, “What about my job?”
“What about it,” he questioned with a shrug of his shoulders before turning her in his arms as she fell back onto the mattress.
“Russ, we both know that you’re not happy about Brant’s involvement in my life, but the reality is it’s a fact of life because I’m not giving up my career,” Avery insisted firmly as she felt his arms stiffen around her.  She saw the dreamy-eyed look wash over him as she placed her hands on his shoulders, “Russ, we both know you’re not going to be comfortable with that.”
“I can deal with it,” he promised leaning down to kiss her gently, “together we can find a way to work through it.”
“Russ, working through it doesn’t consist of you showing up at the office and stalking me all day in your quest to keep me away from Brant,” she pointed out breaking away from the kiss, “I wouldn’t want you to give up what you have going over at the paper just so that you could try to save me from Brant so to speak.”
“Avery, is this really about work or about your not wanting something between us,” Russell pulled away from the kiss as he looked to her, “because I’m not seeing any problems with this.”
“Russ, it’s just…” Avery sighed leaning back into the pillow beneath her, “This is all happening so fast with us again and I don’t want to spoil it.”
“Our getting closer isn’t going to spoil it,” he promised nibbling on her lower lip, “It’ll just make it better for us.”
“How can you be so sure?” she questioned with a heavy sigh, “We tried this once and it damn near destroyed you.  Why on earth would you want to take a risk like that on me again knowing what’s happened before?”
“Avery, how many times do I have to tell you,” he whispered over her lips, “I love you and in loving you, I’m opening myself to all the possibilities that the world has to offer.”
“It’s quite a gamble,” she breathed in response bringing her arms around his shoulders, “are you sure you’re ready for something like that?”
“I think I’m up for it,” he nodded eagerly, “We can agree to disagree about the Brant situation…”
“Which brings us back to where we started on this,” she sighed heavily, “Russ, I’m not leaving my job.  I worked too hard for this position and if you think for one minute that I…”
Russell placed his index finger over her lips to silence her, “I wouldn’t ask you to give up your career.  You’re under this strange misconception that I’d like you to throw your life away for love and that’s not what I’m asking for.  I’m merely asking for a chance for us to grow with one another--to evolve into something more as two people who want to share their lives with one another.  It involves the good, the bad and everything else in between.  I told you once upon a time that I knew in my heart no man would ever be able to tame you and I said I’d never want them to either.  That applies to me you know.  I don’t want to change you.  I just want the opportunity for us to see where this thing between us takes us…”
“Russ,” she opened her mouth seeking one of the many reasons to voice her protest as he leaned forward kissing her once again.
“Just think about it, will you,” he pleaded savoring the sweetness of her lips as their kiss expanded with the moment.
“Russ I…”
“Please…” he coaxed further as his arms eased down her sides, “for me?”
“Russ…” she murmured as his hand cupped over her thigh now tingling at the touch, “oh alright.  I’ll think about it.”
“Promise?” he searched her eyes as his own filled with hope.
“I promise,” she sighed, “but you have to swear to me that you won’t push this with me like you do everything else.  If I’m going to take this step with you again, I need to do it on my own time, in my own way…”
“Fair enough,” he nodded eagerly, “Avery, we’ll do this any way you want even if it means a few random nights here and a few random nights at your place…”
“And this thing goes beyond sex,” Avery added simply, “it has to be more than that or else…”
“It’s always been more than that,” he reminded her hugging her against him, “and I’m going to prove that with you starting with a retreat I’ve had in mind for us once this investigation blows over.  I was thinking maybe we could take a weekend at the cabin together and then, well maybe things will start falling into place after that…”
“The cabin?” she repeated as a smile touched over the corner of her lips.  “You wanted to take me to the cabin?”
He nodded in confession, “I was going to make it a surprise, but maybe in telling you now, it will open the door for the possibilities that come with that kind of trip down memory lane.”
“Russ, I don’t know what to say…” Avery felt a warmth rush over her at the fond memories they’d shared together at his family’s cabin in the past.
“Say yes,” he pleaded with her running his fingers through her dark hair, “Say you’ll go and that while we’re out there, you’ll think about what happens next…about where we go from here…”
“Alright,” she agreed with a nod, “I’ll consider it…”
“Starting with a little breakfast in bed,” he lifted a curious brow as a smile touched over his lips.  His touch tapered off over her body as his grin widened, “as I’d planned fully on pampering you this morning.”
“Mmmm…” she purred arching up against his touch as a sigh spilled over her lips, “Russ, I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because if I’m going to make any kind of segue into this case against Stone Corp, I’m going to need to get to work and that means getting there in enough time to get my research going,” she confessed with a hint of a frown as she curled her finger over the side of his face, “which leaves me time for maybe a quick shower and a good-bye kiss.”
“Hmm, well I suppose we can take a rain check on breakfast in bed,” he shrugged his shoulders, hopefulness taking over his tone, “and skip to that shower together.”
“Russ, if we hop in the shower together, then we both know it’ll put me at least an hour behind schedule,” Avery teased shaking her head at him as she pushed him off of her with a playful shove, “I think maybe this time I should brave this one on my own.”
“And leave me hanging like this,” he threw out his most pitiful expression as Avery rolled out from underneath the blankets revealing her shapely legs to him as his eyes tapered up over her body, admiring the way she looked in his flannel pajama shirt.
“I’m sure you’ll survive,” she cast a glance in his direction watching him flop back on the mattress barely covered by the sheet as a sigh spilled over his lips.
“Avery, I’m in agony,” he groaned in response as she placed her hands on her hips.
“You’ll get over it,” she waved her hand at him, “now quit being so difficult because you have a full day ahead of you as well.”
“All the more reason for us to share a shower,” he suggested an idea forming behind his mischievous green eyes, “I can help you with your research on Cameron.”
“Russ,” she gave him a sideways glance, “I highly doubt that one considering that…”
“I’m being serious,” he announced sitting up and throwing off the blanket as he rose to his feet.  Avery’s eyes involuntarily dipped off over his body as she admired his powerful, masculine form before her in it’s naked perfection.
Russell smiled noticing the way her eyes followed him as he stepped forward draping his arms around her waist as he dropped a tender kiss over her shoulder, “Have I ever told you how sexy you look in my pajamas?”
“Russ, you’re losing focus again,” Avery pressed her palms into the center of his chest placing a distance between them.
“Maybe a little,” he pinched his fingers in the air, “but I swear in the shower, I’ll get started on revealing what I know about Cameron to you.  Maybe I’ll even compile some things at the newspaper office that I can fax your way if it helps…”
“Considering your connections, that doesn’t sound all that bad,” Avery thought it over as his finger tips teased over the buttons on his pajama shirt.  She dropped her palm beneath his chin urging him to meet her pensive gaze, “Russ, focus…”
“I am focused,” he leaned forward kissing her tenderly, “very focused.”
“Well focus on getting Cameron into that busy mind of yours and hey why don’t you hop in the shower first…”
“Avery, we both agreed that we could benefit from my knowledge and I want to share it with you,” his lip curled in a pout, “I swear I’ll behave.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she shoved him in the chest lightly, “Seriously, go get in the shower.”
“You’re going to join me still, right?” he reached for her arm pulling her towards him.
She threw out a warning glance before sighing, “Fine, but the moment that you even think about turning this away from talk on Cameron, I swear to you that it’s going to be the coldest shower of your life buster.”
“You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?” he teased with a hint of a smile.
“Don’t tempt me,” she urge shoving into his chest once again, “Now go.  I’m going to go put some coffee on for when we get out and then I’ll join you.”
“I promise,” she nodded, “now go before I change my mind.”
“Alright,” he flashed her a bright smile before heading towards the bathroom, “but don’t make me wait too long as we really should get started on the details there.”
Avery watched him disappear into the bathroom as she shook her head, “Details my ass,” she muttered under her breath making her way into his kitchen knowing full well that the last thing on his mind was Cameron Stone.  Still as she began to put together a pot of coffee, she wondered if maybe she could benefit from Russell’s insight on the issue.  This morning might not be productive, but later might prove to be the key to something she could use to counterstrike.
As Avery finished up with the coffee, she heard the water running from the shower and Russell calling out to her as a smile lifted over her lips.  He was persistent, she thought to herself with a tiny laugh.  She’d give him that and well, he was sexy and exciting and…oh hell, she didn’t have to recount all of Russell’s good points as that would only make her more than eager to let him get distracted in the shower.  Still, she’d see how long he could keep good on his word, she decided as she headed towards the bedroom once again as the ringing of the phone captured her attention.  She stopped mid-motion before calling out to Russell.
“The phone’s ringing,” she announced.
“Let the machine get it,” his voice echoed through the bathroom door.
“Are you sure?  It might be Grady and if you want to talk to him…” Avery started again.
“Right now the only person I want to be talking with is you, so get back in here before the water gets cold,” he urged disappearing into the shower as Avery shook her head at him listening as his machine picked up the call.
“Russell, where the hell are you?” Heather’s voice filled the room as Avery stopped upon hearing the sound of her voice, “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but we need to talk about what’s next for us.  The way I see it, we need to put our heads together about what comes next in getting Brant and Avery away from one another.  I really hope you aren’t working an angle on your own without me because I’d like to think we’re still partners in this thing so quit putting me off and call me back like pronto…” her voice cut off as Avery felt a tremor rush over her.
Hearing the desperation in Heather’s tone, caused Avery to flinch as her body grew tight at the thought of Russell and Heather working together to sabotage her somehow.  No, that couldn’t be possible, she tried to dismiss Heather’s words as she realized that Heather clearly was in her own little land of delusion.  I mean sure, she thought to herself, Russ and Heather had been teaming up before, but now…well, there just couldn’t be anything going on in terms of them scheming, could there?
As Avery’s mind was overrun with notions about Heather’s phone call, Russell beckoned her from the shower once again, “Oh Avery?”
“I’m coming,” she replied trying to shake the thought as she made her way into the steam filled bathroom.  She quickly shed his night shirt before stepping into the shower behind him.  Wrapping her arms around him, she leaned in against him her mind running wild with the thought of Heather’s phone call as his hands pressed over hers squeezing her in against him.
“I thought for a moment you’d given up on me,” he raised her hand to his lips kissing it gently before turning to face her.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Avery confessed sliding her arms around him further as she lifted a skeptic brow, “but I really wouldn’t have any real reason to do that, would I?”
“How can you even ask,” he questioned giving her a strange look, “Avery, you know how I feel about you.”
“Remind me again,” she stepped up on her toes, seeking out his mouth as he held her, “remind me why you’re working so hard to win me over once again.”
“Because I love you,” he murmured against her mouth squeezing her in against him, “because I’ve always loved you.”
“There isn’t any other reason,” she searched his eyes hoping to decipher if there was any other motive driving him towards her.
“Is there supposed to be?” he asked with a slight frown as he held her, “Avery, is something wrong?”
She drew in a slow breath savoring the feel of his arms around her as she shook her head struggling to push her concerns aside, “I hope not.”
“Are you sure,” he asked again pulling her under the steady stream of water with him.
“I think so,” she answered squeezing him closer to her as she found herself wanting to forget about Heather’s phone call, “Russ, just promise me that regardless of what’s going on in the world around us, that you’d never lie to me--that you’d never do anything that could put what we have with one another at risk in any way.”
“Avery, I’ve waited forever to have you in my life again and I’m not going to do anything to screw this up,” he cupped her face in his hands, “and while I don’t know where this sudden insecurity is coming from, I hope you realize that, don’t you?”
“I do, but…” she dropped her eyes looking away from him.
“Is this because I asked you to move in with me,” he urged her to look at him once again.
“No, it’s not about you asking me to move in,” she shook her head simply, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Then what’s the problem?”  he threw out at her once again as her silence set him on edge, “Avery?”
“Look it’s just…” she began at a loss as she stepped out of his reach, “Russ, why did you pick now?  I mean what was it exactly that made you decide that you wanted to be with me?  What was it about the timing that made you realize that this was it?”
“Avery, I don’t believe this,” he groaned in response, “why are you doing this?  Is this your way of starting a fight so that we can avoid what‘s happening again?”
“That’s not what I’m doing.  It’s just…well, I just want to know,” she pleaded with him, “I mean when I walked out before, you just let me go and then I wasted all that time with Bruce and you did nothing, but now…”
“I grew up,” he interrupted with a frown, “I saw what life was like without you in it and I didn’t like what I saw.”
“So you just decided to go for the gusto and win me back?” Avery questioned trying to reason with the insecurity that Heather’s phone call had brought about in her.
“Avery, come on.  I told you before and I’ll tell you again…”
“That you never stopped loving me,” Avery nodded in response, “and I never stopped loving you either, but that didn’t bring either one of us to own up to our mistakes and just be together until now, did it?”
“What did you just say,” his jaw dropped at her words.
“I said that we never decided to get back to this…” she began again.
“No, not that,” he shook his head as he moved in closer towards her, “the other part.”
“What other part,” she questioned in confusion giving him a sideways glance.
“The part about you admitting that you never stopped loving me,” he reminded her as she looked away from him.  He touched her cheek tentatively as he coaxed once again, “Avery, is that true?”
“Russ, I don’t believe we’re getting into this right now,” Avery sighed in response as she focused on the bar of soap just beyond his shoulder.
“Avery please,” he urged further, “I need to hear it once again.  Is that really true about how you felt for me?  How you still feel for me?”
“Russ, I…” she focused on his curious eyes as a breath spilled over her lips, “yeah, okay…it’s true.”
“What’s true?” he coaxed again as she shot him a disapproving glare, “Come on Avery.  I want to hear it just so I know I’m not imagining it because believe me I’ve thought of it plenty of times in the past…”
“Russ,” she took in a slow breath leaning into his touch as his thumb brushed over her damp skin and she felt the words touch over her lips, “I never stopped loving you…” she stammered a bit as he held onto her, “Despite what I’ve been trying to tell myself all these years about us being over, the truth to the matter is that I love you.  I‘ve always loved you and I can‘t see myself not loving you, okay?  Are you satisfied?”
“I’m more than satisfied,” he answered excitedly pulling her into his arms kissing her lovingly as she’d said the words he’d waited for what felt like forever to hear from her.  She loved him--she really, truly loved him and now that they’d found their way back to one another again it seemed that things were finally returning to how they’d always were meant to be.


Brant made his way into the dining room finding Brooke seated at the table reading over a report her secretary had sent over from her main office at Beholder as she nibbled on a piece of toast.  The smile that filled Brant’s lips faded after a moment as he realized she was dining alone much to his dismay.
“Where’s Avery?” Brant questioned almost impatiently as Brooke looked up from her report turning her attention to Brant completely.
“There you are,” Brooke smiled at him eagerly, “you just missed Avery as she said she wanted to get a head start at the office this morning.  Something about having to do some research for you…”
“On the lawsuit,” Brant nodded accordingly thinking of Avery’s dedication to the job, “yeah that sounds about right with her as she’s always ready to bury herself in the job at hand especially when so much is riding on her doing a job well done.”
“I’m sure she’ll do nothing but the best work for you,” Brooke promised hiding her own concerns about her daughter’s ill-timed behaviors keeping her from the mansion, “then again, you know how Avery can be.”
“Avery’s the best,” Brant decided crossing over to retrieve a glass of juice for himself, “So what are you up to this morning?”
“I actually just finished speaking with my personal assistant,” she confessed brightly as her eyes perked up with enthusiasm, “as it stands I have all my people working on this engagement party that we’d talked about last night.”
“Excellent,” Brant’s smile widened as he joined her at the table, “and I trust they can do it in the timeframe we gave them given that I’ve made sure there aren’t any limits on how far I’ll go in terms of making the night nothing less than perfect for Avery.”
“I know she’s going to feel like she’d died and gone to heaven,” Brooke answered brightly as she reached out across the table for his arm, “and besides caterers and party planners salivate at the mouth when they hear the sky is the limit for them and their creativity.”
“I want this engagement party to be the defining moment in my relationship with Avery,” Brant confessed thinking about his plans for the night that would change everything for him.  He turned his attention to Brooke once again as a cryptic smile swept over his handsome features, “I was also thinking about that other detail we were working on last night.  You do recall the one, don’t you?”
“I wish it was so easy to forget,” Brooke wrinkled her nose in response, “but I’m sure once Avery opens her eyes to the way things really are, then you won’t be hassled by any of the less than savory reminders of Avery’s past mistakes.”
“That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear,” Brant beamed with enthusiasm as he thought to all the ways in which he would savor the time spent alone with Avery without any outside interference between them, “I’d already started making a few calls myself and phoning in a few favors if you will.”
“So then the wheels are already in action,” Brooke lifted a curious brow, “My you are one to work fast when motivated, aren’t you?”
“Your daughter is exactly the motivation I need to keep me on my toes,” Brant admitted after a moment’s contemplation before he offered up a bit more, “and while there are a great many rumors circulating around about me, the only one that really holds any true validity is that when I want something, I find a way to make it happen one way or another.”
“Brant, I have no doubt in my mind about your power of persuasion and I can see that’s exactly why my daughter fell in love with a man like yourself,” Brooke answered praising him as she thought to the potential he could bring to her daughter’s lackluster life, “While Avery can be stubborn, I know in my heart that she’s only ever been truly happy when she’s around you.  You bring out something in her that enhances her potential in so many ways.”
“Avery’s the greatest woman I’ve ever known and I’m certain once we’re married that she’ll be very happy,” Brant vowed thinking to the welcome notions of settling down with Avery, “She’s been one hell of an adventure, but that’s what makes her so unique.  I can honestly say that I’ve never felt this strongly about anyone in my life before as I do about Avery.”
“And I’m sure that she appreciates that quality in you fully,” Brooke encouraged him, “It’s not every day Avery finds someone so willing to take on the challenge she presents to them.  She has her moments, but all in all, I think she hit the jackpot with you as you’re exactly what I’d hoped for in her life.”
“Avery’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman and I know that by the time this party rolls around, things are going to be better than ever between us,” Brant vowed thinking to the steps he and Brooke were taking to make his dreams of Avery a reality.  Soon he’d be able to sweep Avery off her feet without distractions and show her a world of love she’d only dreamt of.  He’d find a way to prove to her how right they were for one another and with Brooke at his side, coaching him along, he was certain that he’d be victorious sooner rather than later in completing the task at hand.  After a few more phone calls, he fully anticipated any and all competition for Avery’s attention to be eliminated as he reminded himself eagerly that what Brant Ashford wanted he always found a way to get one way or another and soon with his resources on his side he’d have everything he’d been hoping for and more with Avery.


Caitlin heard soft sounds in the room around her. She felt a slight throbbing in the back of her head as she stretched slightly. She blinked her eyes, allowing light to flood her vision. She winced against its intrusion before her vision cleared. She focused upon the wall, noticing a benign painting upon the wall, reminding herself that she was in a sterile hospital.

She slowly turned as she looked for Kenneth. She had felt his presence all through the night and had slept peacefully because of him. She knew that he was one in a million, and now, she felt like the luckiest woman in the world to have him by her side.

“Ken?” She asked softly as she looked around the room before spotting him standing at the end of the bed placing a vase full of flowers upon the table, “What are you doing?”

Kenneth smiled, “You’re looking better this morning. How do you feel?”

“Like my head is going to explode, but you’re changing the subject. What are you up to?”

“I’m preparing a surprise for you, but that’s completely beside the point,” He said as he sat on the bed beside her and gently touched her cheek, “Do you need something for the pain? I can call the nurse.”

“No, I don’t want any medicine. It’ll just make me groggy, and I hate feeling that way worse than the pain.”

“Are you sure?” He asked as his eyes filled with concern for her, “I don’t want you to be in pain.”

“I know you don’t,” She said as she covered his hand with hers and pressed her cheek more firmly into his palm, “But I’ll be okay.”

“Okay, but it you start feeling rough at all, you just let me know,” He said as he dropped a kiss to her opposite cheek before he slipped off the bed.

“Where are you going?” She asked as she watched him step across the room.

“Well, when I woke up this morning, I was thinking about what you said last night, and I decided to do something special for you.”

“Really?” She asked as a lazy smile graced her features, “What did I say last night?”

“You said that you thought I might go down to Irvan’s to eat, and I thought that since you couldn’t go with me,” He smiled as he placed a tray upon the over the bed tray and slid it into place in front of her, “Here’s you a breakfast fit for a princess,” He smiled before placing a single rose into a small vase near the food.

“Ken,” Caitlin smiled as she looked at the breakfast, “You are beyond sweet. You didn’t have to do this.”

“No, I didn’t, but I wanted to. I wanted you to know just how special I think you are, and I wanted you to know that I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be right by your side,” Kenneth said as he leaned forward and kissed her gently.

She eased her fingers down his jaw line as he pulled back to gaze into her eyes. She smiled as tears pooled in her eyes, “I really don’t know about you sometimes. I feel like I’m in a dream. No one has ever been so accepting of me…and all the baggage that comes with me.”

“Then you were simply meeting the wrong people, Caitlin. You’re a wonderful woman in a horrible situation. It’s not fair, but I’m going to be with you, and somehow I’ll help you even the playing field a bit. I’m not going to let this guy get near you again. I’m not going to let him hurt you.”

“That’s a bit more difficult than you think it is,” She said as she turned her eyes away from him.

He slipped his fingers beneath her chin and directed her eyes back to his, “Then I’ll prepare myself for a hard fight, but I won’t give up…not on you. You mean too much to me for that to ever happen.”

“How did I deserve you? In all this chaos and in all my craziness, how is it that you were the man that I found?” She asked softly.

“I’m not perfect,” He announced, “But I try hard,” He smiled at her, “I’m not going to lie to you. I do have my bad days, and I can be a bit of a grump when that happens. But I will never raise my hand to you in anger,” He assured her, “I swear to you, Caitlin, that I would never hurt you intentionally.”

She reached out to him and caressed his cheek, “Don’t you think I know that?” You’ve been the most amazing man that I’ve ever met, and I’ve never even seen you angry,” She paused, “Well, being pissed at your brother doesn’t count because lord knows I am an expert at that subject, but you’re not a violent man.”

“Your brother may have something to say about that considering I threatened him with bodily harm last night,” Kenneth frowned, “It just happened in the heat of the moment.”

“What happened? Did he try to tell you to get lost because if he did I’ll kick his ass from here to Seattle and back,” Caitlin declared adamantly.

He smiled, “No, actually he was about to come to blows with Seth, and I had the feeling that he was trying to provoke Seth as well.”

“It figures,” She groaned, “He always did go into super psycho protective mode at all the wrong times,” She rolled her eyes, “Does Blake know?”

“No, and I’m not going to tell her. I figure the less she knows, the better. She’s got plenty on her plate right now.”

“Don’t we all?” Caitlin sighed before picking up a strawberry from the breakfast tray, “So what exactly did you threaten Zack for?”

“I warned him that if he upset you, I’d make sure you weren’t the only one in the hospital,” Kenneth confessed with a guilty look sweeping over his features, “I really did just sort of blurt it out there without thinking.”

She smiled, “That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

He looked back at her in confusion, “How do you figure?”

“Well, it’s not just anyone who will stand up to Zack, especially when he’s trying to be Mr. Macho and protect the female population. The idea that you threatened him,” She smiled, “Well, it just makes my day a little brighter to know that someone…my someone,” She said possessively as she took his hand, “Finally put him in his place.”

“I’ve never known anyone who was amused at the idea of someone threatening their brother,” Kenneth paused and shrugged, “Well, for anyone whose brother isn’t Brant of course.”

Caitlin chuckled softly as she bit into the strawberry, knowing for certain that Kenneth was the man of her dreams, and he seemed to prove that fact more so with every moment they spent together.


Shannon stepped into her office and hung up her jacket. The morning had chilled her to the bone which was unusual considering she’d grown up in New England and was accustomed to much colder temperatures. Then again perhaps it was the investigation taking its toll on her which caused her to feel a nip in the air. Nothing seemed to make sense about the way things were going, and every answer in the case yielded more questions. She was really beginning to hate Coral Valley…well, even more so than before.

She placed her computer bag down behind her desk before going through a stack of messages already laying upon her desk. She tucked a strand of blond hair behind her ear as she tossed most of the messages into the garbage, deeming only a few worthy of a return phone call.

She began to unpack her computer when she heard the door to her office close, drawing her attention to Dave who stood with his arms crossed and jaw set in tension. She raised a curious eyebrow as she placed her laptop upon her desk, “What’s wrong with you?”

“I think that’s the question I should be asking you. What the hell were you thinking in starting a fight with Brant?” Dave demanded.

“Whoa, hold it. I didn’t start anything. Brant’s the one who accosted me, not the other way around,” She defended.

“I have eyes, Shannon,” He countered as he stepped forward, “I saw you egging him on. Are you nuts? Do you want to end your career?”

“Look, I just went to that bar to follow Sharpe. I had no idea Brant would be there. It’s not exactly the country club, okay?” She snorted as she sat down in her chair.

“Following Sharpe? What the hell for?”

“Because he wasn’t telling the truth, and your good ole’ boy system wasn’t going to do any thing about it. You need to get his ass in here and press him for some answers.”

“He told us what he saw, and I, for one, believe it.”

“Then you’re as big an idiot as I originally took you for.”

“Because I actually trust who I work with? Just because you work with a bunch of backstabbing ladder climbers doesn’t mean that all of us are trying to screw each other.”

“No, you just blindly accept your good ole’ boy’s word for it...even though he’s completely full of shi…”

“Stop….” He demanded as he held up his hand, “You don’t want to go there.”

“It appears we’re already there since you came in here accusing me of starting a fight. That’s rather presumptuous of you.”

“What am I suppose to think? You two are in each other’s faces, only inches from tearing into each other,” Dave stopped suddenly, “Oh my god…that’s disgusting.”

“It wasn’t what you think,” She began.

“The hell it wasn’t. Is that how you two enjoyed your relationship? Did you always have to get close to homicide before you had sex?” Dave shook his head, “That’s just not healthy.”

“My sex life is none of your business.”

“You’re making it my business.”

“Like hell I am.”

“If you don’t knock it off and start acting like a professional, you’re going to lose your job,” He shook his head, “Then again, you probably don’t care since you’re intent on getting Brant back into your bed.”

“What?” She shrieked, “How dare you accuse me of..”

“I didn’t,” Dave declared as he tossed a copy of the Inside Track upon her desk, “They did.”

Shannon looked at the paper upon her desk and jerked it up as she read the headline which read ‘Old Lovers Reigniting the Flame?’, “Son of a bitch.”

“Think his fiancée will want to come down here and throw a fit? Maybe your bosses will pull the plug on your assignment here, and for what? To get in Brant’s face and put the screws to him?”

“I never wanted this, and I damn sure didn’t want this assignment. I was happy in New York, but no, all of a sudden, I got yanked up and sent here to investigate my former lover. This wasn’t my idea, and I warned them about the possible consequences of being here,” She screeched, “Damn him, and damn this town. I hate the fact that I was stupid enough to be involved with him to begin with, and I hate the fact that he dumped me for some other bimbo that he’s already tossed aside as well. Do you have any idea how small that makes me feel?”

He raised an eyebrow and began to speak before she continued her rant.

“It makes me feel like less than a human, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Brant or any of his Ashford hype break me. I’m a good agent, and I’m here to catch a killer. I’m not leaving here until I catch this son of a bitch, and I’m going to make him pay for making me come to this god forsaken town again,” She declared as she slammed the tabloid back upon the desk, “Now either get started looking over the evidence with me or get out!”

Dave smiled as he sat down across from her, “Then let’s get started, shall we?”

Shannon took a deep breath and glared at the tabloid once more before she tossed the entire paper into the waste basket nearby. She absently rubbed the tense muscles of her neck as she attempted to focus on the case before her. The sooner the killer was caught, the sooner she could get the hell out of this miserable town.


Diane felt the warmth of Ben’s arm surrounding her as she opened her eyes almost afraid the dream that had begun the previous night between them would come to an end as the day crept in upon them.  Slowly she fanned her fingers out over his chest in a tentative fashion savoring the feel of him beside her as a smile touched over her lips.
“Good morning, beautiful,” Ben’s voice beckoned her from her thoughts as the welcome tone filled her with a warmth unlike anything she ever known before.
“Morning,” Diane purred feeling a smile lift over the corners of her mouth as she cuddled in closer to him savoring his touch as his fingers crept over her spine tenderly, “how long have you been awake?”
“A little while now,” he confessed offering up a soft smile as he brushed a strand of hair from her face.
“What time is it,” she questioned curling into his strong chest as a yawn spilled over her lips.
“Probably later than it should be considering that you and I have to get to work,” he admitted after a moment’s hesitation, “but then again I couldn’t resist taking the time to watch you sleeping just now.”
“You couldn’t,” she questioned feeling a heat rise over her features as she was certain she was no blushing at his words.
He shook his head in response as he curled his arm around her, “You looked like an angel sleeping there and I realized that there was no way that I was going to be the one to spoil that.”
“You haven’t spoiled anything,” Diane murmured basking in the afterglow of their night with one another.  As Ben held her, she thought of the many different times she’d fantasized about this moment between them, but never in her dreams had it been as incredible as it was in this moment of intimacy between them.  Making love was far beyond anything she could’ve imagined and now just watching the way his eyes reached into her, touching all the places she’d been unaware had been excited by him all this time, she found herself falling harder by the minute for the amazing man beside her.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Ben winked at her noting the dreamy expression on her features, “because for a minute there, I wasn’t sure what you were going to think this morning.”
“Why is that,” she questioned drawing lazy circles over the center of his chest as a breath fell over her lips.
“Well last night wasn’t exactly what I’d planned on,” he admitted with a tiny shrug, “when I’d invited you over for dinner, I hadn’t really planned on having you here for, well,” a sly grin washed over his features as he thought back to their night of passion, “dessert.”
“No?” Diane lifted a perfectly sculpted brow as she turned her attention up towards his handsome features, “I never would’ve guessed considering your insatiable appetite for a while there…”
“I guess I was a little eager,” Ben teased his fingers over the soft contours of her body memorizing every curve as he pulled her in closer to him, “but then again you did offer up quite a savory delight…”
“One that could’ve been yours long ago if you’d only opened yourself up to the possibilities,” Diane rolled on top of him, tracing her index finger over his lips in a tentative fashion, “and the way I see it, after last night, we could easily give in to temptation again and ride it out for all it’s worth between us…”
“Hmm,” Ben pondered her words as he pressed a kiss against her finger tip, “that does sound quite stimulating indeed.”
“You have no idea,” she answered wiggling her body over his as sparks of electricity built between them, “I mean considering that Brant has been gone for a while taking his vacation time along with Avery, I don’t see the harm in you and I doing the same and exploring some of that out of the office time together…” she let out an exaggerated breath, “I mean I know we have work waiting for us, but then again to think of spending a way apart when we could just as easily stay in bed just like this, exploring each other in every imaginable facet, well it just makes the idea of going to work seem like torture…”
“You are a vixen, aren’t you,” Ben tickled her sides as a laugh spilled over her.  He rolled her in his arms pinning her down beneath him on the mattress as a smile lifted over his features, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
“Follow my lead,” Diane suggested slinking her arms around his shoulders as she sought out his mouth in a desperate kiss, “I promise I’ll give you plenty of ideas for inspiration before it’s lunch time…”
“As tempting as that sounds,” Ben began to pull away from the kiss as his eyes fell upon hers.
“Don’t you even think about refusing this once in a lifetime offer,” Diane placed her finger over his lips to silence him as a tiny frown bubbled over her, “because it’s not every day Ben Walters that I am willing to devote my complete attention to someone such as yourself…”
“So then I should consider this proposition to be an honor then, huh?” he couldn’t help but tease back as she nodded eagerly.
“It’s one of the highest honors known to man and the things you’ll learn by taking the time to get reacquainted with the things you opened yourself up to last night, well they’ll stay with you for years to come.”
“Is that so?” he let out a laugh as he shook his head at her, “Diane, you’re so tempting on so many levels and now that we’ve made love,” he bent down nibbling on her lips as he tasted her desire for him, “well I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get you out of my system.”
“That was the point,” Diane admitted reciprocating his kisses as they grew in intensity, “I want you to be addicted to me.”
“It’s too late for that,” Ben muttered sliding his hands beneath the blankets to sketch her soft, slender curves, “because I already am.”
“Then it’s all the more reason to phone in sick today,” she encouraged his touch as she arched up against his palms, offering her body to him completely with that one simple movement, “I promise I’ll put my nursing skills to good use and treat you real good baby.”
“Hmm…” he dropped kisses over her shoulder, “my own personal nurse right here with me…” his lips tapered off over her skin creating a deliciously wicked path over her body, “being bedridden never looked or felt so good before…”
“That’s because you’ve never experienced my personal hands on care, but I can assure you that it’ll be everything you need and so much more,” she threw out in a sultry tone as her hands eased over his broad shoulders, down the muscled planes of his back.
“Since you put it that way,” Ben mused as he slid down over her body taking his time to savor every incredible inch of her, “perhaps I do feel a bit of a fever coming on.”
“You’re telling me,” Diane bit on her lower lip as his large hand collected her breast massaging it gently as a soft moan built inside of her.
“Perhaps bed rest is exactly what the doctor ordered,” he dropped a teasing nip over the collar bone before his lips traveled a path towards her full, pouting breast aching for his undivided attention.  His lips skimmed over her rosy tip, teasing her as her fingers threaded tightly through his hair devouring all of the attentions he’d offered her.
“Oh Ben,” Diane cried out desire ripping through her at his skilled attentions.  He lifted her up towards him taking his time to tease her torturously dividing his attention between her breasts as she sucked in a sharp breath, nails skimming over his body heatedly lost in the moment.  It was then in the midst of pleasure that she realized that she‘d won this round of persuasion as work was the last thing on either of their minds with passion holding the promise of things to come between them in this quiet morning with one another.


Grady knocked upon the door to Jade’s office before stepping inside. He’d only arrived a short while before her and heard her as she made her way into her office. He stepped inside to see her already at work behind her desk, “You’re here early. What’s the occasion?”

“I’m working on some paperwork here. I want us to be able to get out of here on time for a change for the dinner with Seth,” Jade replied as she returned to the papers before her.

“I almost forgot about that,” He confessed as he sat in a chair across from her desk.

“Well, you need to remember it because it’s important,” She reminded him, “Seth needs to know that you’re the wonderful man I know you are. All you have to do is charm him, and that should be plenty.”

“So dinner at my house around seven?” He suggested.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. There won’t be any distractions for us, and we can actually talk and maybe convince him that things aren’t the way he believes them to be at all.”

“I’ll see what I can do about changing his mind,” Grady smiled, “In the mean time,” He spoke as he stepped around her desk and turned her in her chair to face him. He drew her out of the chair and into his arms, “How about I work on charming you?”

Jade’s smile enveloped her entire being as she wrapped her arms around his neck, “Actually, I think you have me pretty well wrapped around your finger.”

He gazed into her dreamy eyes and found her smile to be contagious as one of his own sprang to life, “Remind me how I could have been so stupid as to attempt to ignore you.”

“It’s not stupidity,” She corrected, “It’s just your stubborn streak that refuses to be tamed. Some how, Grady Denton, I’m going to make that stubborn streak a bit more pliable where I’m concerned.”

“Pliable?” He asked with a suggestive grin, “Are you sure that’s the word you’re going for?”

Jade’s smile became sensual as she eased her lips closer to his, “I assure you that particular adjective only applies to your stubbornness. Everything else…well…” She paused as she pressed her body close to his, “I prefer to be as firm as possible.”

“And you tend to get exactly what you want, don’t you?” He questioned before he captured her lips in a provoking kiss.

After their lips parted, she met his eyes and felt her heart race along at a maddening pace, “You’re playing with fire, Mister.”

“Yes, I am,” He agreed, “But it’s been too damn long since I’ve even wanted to. You put that spark back in my life, Jade. After my marriage fell apart, I decided that I wouldn’t take any more risks with my heart. When you first started to catch my eye, I kicked my own ass for even looking in your direction,” He confessed, “But you found a way to get to me, and all your determination has paid off. I’m yours,” He declared, “Such that I am, I’m completely yours.”

“Grady,” She whispered his name as emotion choked her up inside. She drew his lips to hers in a loving kiss. She had hoped that somehow she could get through to him, and just when she’d begun to wonder about him, he’d given her all the hope she’d ever need.


Avery returned to her desk hoping to quell the nausea that had overtaken her shortly after her arrival at work.  Despite the fact she’d been adamant about not having time for breakfast, her queasy stomach made her wish she had at least stolen something from Russell’s refrigerator as she clearly had a long day ahead of her.  Now as she looked to the pile of papers on her desk, a breath of relief escaped her lips as Russell had at least been true to his word in helping her out with some research on Cameron as she’d had a stack of information waiting for her thanks to Mindy’s quick work over at the newspaper offices.  Soon enough she’d get a feel for what she was up against and then she’d plot out her next move, she decided sinking into her chair as the phone on her desk rang.
“Avery Morrison speaking,” Avery answered the phone on the second ring not surprised to hear Mindy’s cheerful voice on the other end of the line.
“Hey girlfriend, it’s Mindy,” she explained brightly, “I was just calling to see if you were getting those things Russell had me send your way.”
“The faxes have been coming regularly since I’ve arrived,” Avery answered with a hint of a smile, “He’d better be paying you overtime for this one considering what you’re doing for me.”
“Oh I have plenty of perks around the paper,” Mindy offered with a cheery tone, “Of course as I skimmed these things Russell had here, I have to admit I don’t know why you’d be interested in knowing about a low life scumbag like this Stone character appears to be.”
“He’s suing BBK,” Avery revealed openly, “and I figure the best way to get ahead is to know the enemy…”
“Yeah well I get the feeling I already know way to much about this guy,” a shudder raced over Mindy’s voice, “He gives me the creeps based on what I read alone.”
“Me too,” Avery sighed knowing that she had a battle before her unlike any other she’d previously experienced.  Still with the idea of Grady being the one to take her on, there was a bit of hope on her end as Grady would be much easier to face off against than some of Cameron’s less than savory associates from the looks of things…at least she hoped so.
“Well you know if you need anything,” Mindy offered once again breaking through Avery’s thoughts.
“You’ll be the first one I call and I know I said it before, but I’ll say it again.  Thank you so much for doing this,” Avery replied leaning back in her chair, “this means a lot to me.”
“Well I’m glad and hey maybe we can do lunch sometime since I’m sure I’ll be seeing more of you around the office,” Mindy’s voice hinted at something Avery couldn’t quite place as she continued, “I mean with you and Russell spending more time together lately and all…”
“Mindy, now don’t you go starting up any rumors there,” Avery warned back in a teasing tone, “I don’t want to be the topic of newsroom gossip there just because Russell is doing me a favor.”
“Hmm, well I’m pretty sure if there’s any gossip going on around here, it’s not because of anything I’d say or do, but you know Russell.  He has a way of perking interest especially when he calls from home early in the morning with you talking in the background…”
“I was paying him a visit,” Avery defended feeling a heat rise over her features as she thought to Russell’s calling his secretary.
“Uh huh,” Mindy replied doubtful, “hey you don’t have to defend yourself to me as I think it’s great.  I mean it’s been long overdue for Russell and considering how hung up on you he is…”
“Mindy, I think you’re reaching a bit there,” Avery offered up drawing in a nervous breath.
“I don’t think I’m the only one reaching out and touching someone,” Mindy teased before adding quickly, “but as I said before I think it’s great.  You two have always been so good together and if there’s a chance that you’ll be the one paying him visits instead of that other woman who was set on ordering everyone around, well, then I couldn’t be happier about it.”
“Other woman?” Avery repeated with a frown, “You mean Heather Gibbons?”
“That’s the one.  She’s a real pain in the…well, let’s just say that we’d all much rather you coming around again instead of her,” Mindy grumbled in response.  “Things are just tense when she’s around.”
“Well maybe I’ll just have to work on changing that,” Avery offered with a hint of promise before looking to the time, “Thanks again Mindy.”
“Not a problem,” Mindy replied as Avery hung up the phone pondering the thoughts of Heather’s pushing her way into Russell’s life.  While Avery hadn’t mentioned Heather’s phone call earlier to him, she realized that perhaps they should take the time to talk about Heather’s involvement in his life as it was something Avery was not too happy about considering that Heather thrived on making Avery completely miserable.
“Enough about Heather,” Avery warned herself as the knots in her stomach began to twist once again, “You have work to do,” she reminded herself as she began skimming over the pages Mindy sent her.
There was a faint tapping at the door as Avery looked up to find Brant standing before her, a smile on his face as he entered her office brightly, “You busy?”
“I was working on it,” she nodded in confession as he crossed her office making his way over towards her desk.
“I kind of thought you might be on work overload which is why I brought some sustenance with me,” he held up a brown paper bag in one hand and cappuccino in the other, “I thought maybe you missed breakfast this morning, so I’d make up for that.”
“Brant, you didn’t have to,” she offered politely as she realized she hadn’t bothered to return to the mansion the previous night.  As he set the things down on her desk for her, she drew in a nervous breath contemplating how she was going to explain things to him.
“So how’s the research going,” Brant questioned making himself comfortable in the seat across from her desk as he lifted a curious brow.
“It would be going better if Ben was in to help me with some of this,” Avery sighed reaching out for the cappuccino before her as she tried to still her nerves.

“Funny that he’s not in today,” Brant noted with a curious smile, “Diane’s not in either and it makes you wonder about those two crazy kids.”

“I think he’s had a crush on her for a while,” Avery admitted thinking about her assistant’s curious behavior around Brant’s secretary.

“So do you think it’s possible that they’re together?” Brant lifted a curious brow.

“I suppose, but I don’t know…Ben always seems so serious and…”

“Diane’s pretty persuasive I would imagine,” Brant chuckled in mild amusement, “so I guess if she found a way to make something happen between them, then I’m sure it’s happened.”

“Well good for them,” Avery smiled thinking about her assistant’s serious side, “Ben could use some time to enjoy life a little bit since he’s always working so hard for me…though I won’t lie as I could really use him right about now.”

“What are you working on?” Brant questioned curiously as he peered over the pages on her desk.

“It’s some background information on Cameron,” Avery admitted thumbing through the pages, “I had Russell dig up some information for me so that I’d know how to work this one considering…”
“I’m sure whatever you come up with, it’ll be nothing less than the best,” Brant smiled proudly, “as I’m sure that you’ll find a way to put Grady Denton in his place and have Stone Corp running in the opposite direction there.”
“I wish I had your faith, but that’s easier said than done,” Avery sighed sipping her drink.
“I’m sure if victory is at all possible in this scenario, that you’ll be the one who makes it happen,” Brant boasted proudly, “You’re a good lawyer and I’m damn certain that we can win this.”
“I’d like to think so, but until we have a victory here, I’d like to stay focused,” Avery confessed bringing her fingers through her hair.
“Which is why I brought breakfast to you as we can’t have you not eating there,” Brant urged extending the bag towards her, “It’ll help you stay focused.”
“You really didn’t have to do this,” Avery looked to the bag before her thinking about his taking the time to bring her something.
“It’s the least I could do after abandoning you last night,” Brant answered with a shrug of his shoulders, “I’m really sorry about that.”
“Don’t be,” Avery shifted uneasily in her chair.
“It’s just that Hart called and…” he began once again as she lifted her hand to silence him.
“Brant, you don’t have to explain,” she took in a slow breath realizing that as much as she hated the idea of being open with him about what went on the previous night, there was no time better than the present as she decided to tell him about her and Russell, “Brant about last night…”
“You don’t have to say a word,” Brant waved his hand dismissively, “Your mother told me everything.”
“She did?” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise.
“That’s right,” he nodded accordingly, “and I realize you are under a lot of stress lately which is why I think that last night was exactly what you needed.”
“Come again,” she blinked back at him.
“Well I mean first you had Bruce to deal with and then this ridiculous murder and now the lawsuit,” he continued with a frown, “It’s no wonder you did what you did and even this morning, well who can blame you?”
“Brant, I’m not following,” Avery confessed wondering just what Brooke had filled his head with as she watched him seated so casually before her.  Surely he wouldn’t have known about her being with Russell all night long or else he wouldn’t be so calm, or would he?
“Your mother told me how you were wiped out and how you called it an early night, then about how you skipped out on breakfast to start working here right away,” Brant explained shaking his head in response, “and while I appreciate your tenacity and eagerness to get started on our defense against this ridiculous lawsuit, well the last thing I want you to do is wear yourself out considering…”
“Brant, I don’t think you understand,” Avery began again taking in a heavy breath as tension curled up over her shoulders, “Last night after you left, well Russ and I…”
“Avery, to be quite honest with you I don’t really want to talk about Russell right now especially considering the things we have ahead of us.  The way I see it, I finished talking with my PR people and they truly believe that the best way to deflect from the negativity that this lawsuit will be bringing upon the company is in our throwing that engagement party we’d talked about.  Brooke and I were thinking about it last night and we decided…”
“Whoa,” Avery heard the words engagement party and it put her thoughts to a screeching halt, “What did you just say?”
“I know it’s short notice, but truth be told, the longer we wait, the harder it is going to be to put a positive spin on what Grady and his idiot client are trying to do to me,” Brant adjusted his tie before continuing smoothly, “I figure what better way to rebuttal these allegations than to show the world what an honest, family man I am.”
“Brant, we both know that’s not the case and if you think that some sham of an engagement party is going to change your reputation, then you’re sadly mistaken,” Avery began to argue with him.
“Just hear me out Avery,” he pleaded with her, “Brooke and I have already put the wheels into motion and she’s called the best caterers and party planners and by the weekend the mansion will be buzzing with the kind of atmosphere that will be needed for the party of the century…”
“This weekend?” Avery’s eyes widened in response, “Brant, there’s no way we can have an engagement party this weekend when  we have a major lawsuit to think about here…not to mention the FBI already lurking around you because of this thing with Bruce.”
“Avery, I’m telling you that the engagement party is exactly what we need,” Brant explained brightly, “The way I see it, we can make it this big affair that will draw in all kinds of positive press, not to mention it’ll solidify us as a couple and…”
“Brant, that’s just it,” Avery frowned deeply as she sat up straighter in her chair, “We aren’t a couple.  We’re not engaged…hell, we’re not even dating to be honest about it.”
“That’s because you’re so hell bent on being stubborn, but you can’t deny that there’s certainly something here between us,” he motioned his hand between them, “and if you’d stop running away from it, then maybe just maybe you’d find that the idea of being with me isn’t as bad as you think it is going to be.”
“Brant, there’s not enough room for you and your ego, let alone putting me into the picture,” Avery cut back sharply, “not to mention that right now, I’m…”
“Being impossible, but we’re going to work on changing that,” Brant cut her off quickly, “Avery, I don’t care what it takes to get through to you, but the truth to the matter is that I’m going to find the key to making it happen and maybe if you’d just stop fighting me on this issue, you’ll find that you might actually enjoy yourself more.”
“Brant, I’m not going to get into this with you again considering that I have a lot of work cut out for me with this lawsuit,” Avery replied bluntly, “I’m not in the mood to be parading around town at some ridiculous engagement party and I’m certainly not interested in anything that my mother has in her head about taking over my life once again.”
“She’s not trying to take over your life.  She’s merely trying to take part in your happiness and I think that’s something in itself that you should be grateful for,” Brant pointed out as he rose from his chair making his way around her desk, “You know at this stage of the game, I’d love to have a mother who as eager to see the best in me as Brooke is with you.”
“Brant, she’s not what you think she is,” Avery grumbled in response, “I don’t know what kind of bull she’s feeding you, but she’s not this perfect mother and my best interests aren’t what’s keeping her going these days…”
“The way I see it, she only wants you to be happy and I feel the same way,” Brant insisted standing behind her as he placed a hand on her shoulder, “Avery, I want you to open yourself up to the possibilities of all I have to offer you.  I told you before that I’m not in this for the here and now, but more so the long run.”
“Brant, you only think you’re in this for more, but as soon as you got your way, you’d just move on to your next project,” Avery tipped her head up to look at him, “Which brings me to my next point.”
“And what might that be?”
“How about we skip over your attempts to seduce me and we pretend we’ve been there, done that so that you can move on to the next woman on your hit list,” she suggested with an icy smile, “I think that in itself sounds like a very good plan.”
“I think it stinks,” he turned her chair so that she faced him as he reached for her hands pulling her up towards him in one swift motion, “and deep down I know you couldn’t live with that either.”
“Brant, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that I’m not…” she started with a heavy sigh filling her.
“Avery, stop before you say something that you couldn’t possibly mean,” Brant pressed his index finger over her lips to silence her, “We’re having an engagement party this weekend.  You’re going to love it and we’re going to show the world just how right we are together.  Case closed.”
“Brant,” she started again as he shook his head in an attempt to silence any and all protests that were about to fall from her lips.
“No arguments,” he leaned forward dropping a quick kiss on her lips before taking a step back towards her door, “I have a meeting down in one of the labs, so I have to get going and we really don’t have time to argue about this one.  However, if you’re still feeling fired up around lunch time, then consider it a date.  We can go to Irvan’s or something,” Brant threw out a playful smile before slipping out of her office before she could throw out any protests to his plans.
“Ugh,” Avery groaned falling back into her chair as she looked to the pile up of things working against her.  First Bruce’s murder, then the lawsuit and now Brooke and Brant working to solidify the so called engagement she and Brant had going.  As if the day couldn’t get any worse, she grumbled to herself as another ache rushed over her.  Suddenly the memories of the ulcer she’d worked so hard to overcome by moving far away from her family returned to her and she wondered if this was nature’s way of dealing with Brooke once again.  Either way as Avery rose from her desk hoping to find a way to curb the sensation racing through her, she just prayed that things wouldn’t get any worse.


“No comment,” Judy stated firmly before she hung up the phone. She sank back in her chair and sighed as she watched her telephone light up again with incoming calls. They had been coming in non-stop all morning due to Caitlin’s attack. It seemed the tabloids always did love to pounce amidst a tragedy.

She took a deep breath before answering the next call, “Kenneth Ashford’s office.”

“Judy,” Richard’s smooth and sexy voice began, “Good morning.”

“Rick,” Judy’s frown became a smile, “Ken’s not in this morning. He’s at the hospital with his girlfriend.”

“Yes, I read about the attack in the morning paper. Have you heard from him?”

“He came in for just a bit to make sure that I could handle all the news coverage. He says that she’s sore, but over all she was lucky that there were no critical injuries.”

“That’s good to hear,” He said with relief in his voice, “But I’m sure you’re having a hard time fielding calls from reporters.”

“It’s a part of my job that I got used to when Nicholas Ashford died. Luckily I don’t have to put the press off very often, but when I do, it’s usually something just a bit short of chaos.”

“Then why don’t you let me take you away from that chaos?”

“I can’t. I need to be here for Ken.”

“I know that, and I wouldn’t dare think of putting Ken in a tight spot,” He assured her, “You are entitled to lunch though, and I’d like to treat you to a nice lunch away from the chaos around the office.”

“Rick, that’s really very sweet of you, but I can’t. I’ll just order something for delivery, and I’ll eat here.”

“Judy, don’t turn me down. You know how fragile my ego is, and I simply couldn’t handle rejection from you,” He declared boldly.

“Fragile? Yeah right, if that was the case, that wife of yours would have torn you apart years ago,” Judy chuckled.

“Alright, when did you get your law degree and start demanding I use precise language?” He teased before he rephrased, “How about this instead…my ego is very fragile when it comes to you. So you know you can’t turn me down now.”

“Rick, really, I appreciate the invitation. I really do. I just can’t. There are several people here who need my attention, and I can’t ignore them.”

“Liar,” Richard accused as he stood in the doorway to the office. He waved at her before he switched of his cell phone, “So now that you can’t run and you have to answer me to my face, what do you say to a nice relaxing lunch?”

Judy hung up the phone and crossed her arms, sinking back into her chair, “You’re being pushy.”

“I usually do when I see something I want.”

She raised an amused eyebrow, “If that’s your not so subtle way of hitting on me, it needs some work.”

“Damn,” He frowned, tucking his cell phone into his jacket, “And I thought it was pretty smooth. Shall I try another?”

She chuckled to herself, “Okay, go ahead. Knock yourself out.”

He readjusted the knot in his tie before he made his way around the desk and sat upon the corner, “Have lunch with me. I promise not to waste your time, and I’m fairly certain that I can amuse you for at least a moment or two.”

“That was pathetic,” She said with a laugh as she patted his knee, “But it’s cute how you’re trying. Maybe that might be worth humoring you for a little while.”

“So you’re taking pity on me?” He asked with a slight smile as if he might be insulted, “I think I’m offended.”

“Don’t be. I like doing charity work,” Judy teased as she braced herself upon her desk and met his seductive eyes. Teasing with Richard had always been the epitome of fun, but it was where that fun had led her that had gotten her in trouble so many years before. She could only hope their renewed relationship wouldn’t result in so many unexpected consequences


Brooke looked up from the table she’d been seated at as Heather walked through the door at Irvan’s on time as Brooke suspected that she would given the eagerness Heather had displayed in wanting to be a part of Beholder‘s latest campaign that Brooke had told her about.  As Heather made her way through the restaurant, Brooke realized that there were a few heads turning at Heather’s arrival, but as Brooke felt a smile lift over her lips, she realized that the looks Heather was receiving today would be nothing in comparison to the looks she’d get after this weekend was over.  Now rising from her chair Brooke greeted Heather with open arms laying the charm on thick.
“Heather darling,” Brooke embraced her with welcome arms, “how are you?”
“I’m doing wonderful thank you,” Heather beamed in response, “Brooke, you look absolutely fabulous this morning.”
“Oh I do not,” Brooke took a step back waving her hand at Heather dismissively as a laugh spilled over her lips.
“You most certainly do,” Heather continued eagerly, “I’ve never seen a woman with more of a sense of style and class than you.  You are truly remarkable…”
“Enough already,” Brooke laughed lightly before smiling brighter before taking her seat at the table once again, “no go on..”
“I am so honored that you thought of me this morning,” Heather admitted as she took her seat across from Brooke, “I was rather surprised that I’d been hearing from you so soon, but very eager to meet with you again considering I had a great many ideas about this upcoming campaign.”
“Really?” Brooke lifted a curious brow, “Well that’s wonderful considering at Beholder we’re always looking for innovative people with talent to work with us.  Considering that you’re well on the road to stardom with your project with Douglas Mahoney, this must feel like small potatoes to you, huh?”
Heather forced a smile as she thought to Kipp’s evasive father for a moment, “Beholder Cosmetics would never be something I could consider small potatoes as it’s a way of life for me.”
“You have no idea what it means to hear you say that,” Brooke’s grin widened, “which is why I knew that I shouldn’t waste anymore time with you in getting you working for me.”
“Really?” Heather’s eyes widened with enthusiasm, “I mean this is like a dream come true for me to say the least…”
“Truth be told I might not be pushing the issue like this so soon, but the fact to the matter is that I’ve begun working on the promotional work here in Coral Valley and I’ve taken on a partner if you will.  It seems you’re one of the many fans of my work out here and I was approached the other night by Brant Ashford.”
“Brant approached you?” Heather felt a gasp fall over her lips in surprise to hear about her ex-fiancé’s surprising involvement with Brooke.
“I take it you’ve heard of him?” Brooke lifted a curious brow noting the expression on Heather’s features.
“Yes,” Heather nodded hoping to curb her enthusiasm just a bit as she wondered why had prompted Brant’s interest in Beholder.  Could it be he was trying to surprise her with something wonderful before they got back together again?  Hope surged through her as she realized that maybe she had come closer to winning his heart over than she’d realized.  Still, she had to play it cool for now as she continued casually, “I’ve heard of him.”
“Good, then I’m sure you’re familiar with his taste and sense of style,” Brooke continued ignoring Heather’s obvious elevation at the mention of Brant’s name, “It would seem that Mr. Ashford would like to do something a little special this weekend to help me promote my new face campaign at Beholder.  While I realize that it’s rather short notice considering you’re upcoming film, the truth to the matter is that he’s throwing a gala over at his mansion and I thought what better time to promote the new and upcoming sensations over at Beholder than this gala.  The way I see it, it’s a perfect time for my company to revel in the positive press that this kind of event could bring with it which is why I asked you here today to offer you an open invitation to the gala.”
“Really?” Heather felt her jaw drop at Brooke’s proposition.
“Yes really,” Brooke nodded eagerly, “The way I see it there’s no better time than the present to get started on promoting the things I have ahead for Beholder.  Given your background, I’m certain that Brant will be very pleased to see what the future holds with the company.”
“You have no idea,” Heather began thinking to all the ways she would be able to win Brant over now that he’d taken an interest in her life.  Clearly he had to have her in mind in working with Beholder like this.  It must be a sign.
“I must admit that I realize this is kind of just thrown on your lap all of a sudden, but given what I’ve learned about you in my short time of knowing you, I know you’re a go getter and I have no doubts in my mind that you are the right person to get the job done as there is a lot riding on my faith in you,” Brooke continued thinking to her talk with Brant the previous evening.  If everything was going to work out like she’d hoped for, then Heather’s presence at the party was going to be an essential element.
“I take it you’ve been checking up on me?” Heather questioned giving her a sideways glance.
“Your reputation speaks for itself and I must admit I do keep tabs on all my girls at Beholder and in this particular situation, well it was made quite obvious to me that you were the only woman for this opportunity of a lifetime.”
“That I am,” Heather nodded eagerly, “I promise that I won’t let you down as this position with Beholder in working with you is very important to me.”
“I’d imagine it would be,” Brooke grinned realizing that things were falling into place easier than she’d imagined them being, “Of course I hope that Douglas won’t mind my borrowing you for the event.”
“I’m sure we can find a way to work it into the schedule as filming hasn’t started just yet,” Heather waved her hand dismissively as the wheels were turning in her head about being so close to Brant once again.  Once he saw her with Brooke and knew the caliber of her reputation these days, he’d see her as the woman he’d fallen in love with and soon, she’d be back in his heart again forever.
“Excellent,” Brooke mused noting the dreamy eyed look in Heather’s features, “because I have a feeling that after this weekend, life as we know it is about to change in so many ways.”
“I’m starting to believe that,” Heather answered hopefully as Brooke beamed with enthusiasm realizing that with Heather salivating at the mouth at the idea of returning to the mansion, it would make her work all the more easier.  Now she’d just have to work on a few other details, but very soon, she was certain things would fall into place once and for all for her defiant daughter as this party was about to change everything in Avery’s life forever.


Russell knocked on the door to the hospital room Caitlin was staying in before stepping inside to find her laying before him in the hospital bed.  A tiny frown touched over his lips as he hated seeing her in such a state.  Still not wanting to make her feel any more uncomfortable than she already was, he quickly forced the frown to fade and he smiled brightly approaching her without hesitation.
“Good morning beautiful,” Russell greeted her as he held out a bunch of daisies he’d picked up for her on the way over, “I come bearing gifts for my star reporter.”
Caitlin turned towards him despite the pain that hung over her and she felt a smile tug on her lips as he held the flowers out towards her, “Russell, you shouldn’t have.”
“I’m not done yet,” he admitted brightly as he set the flowers down on the table beside her hospital bed, “they came with a vase since Avery’s always telling me to be practical about things.  They’re from the both of us, but this,” he pulled out a brown paper bag from his jacket pocket before handing it over to her, “this is all me.”
“What is it?” Caitlin questioned accepting the token from her boss as the sweet scent of pastries filled her senses.
“It’s my alternative to hospital food for you,” he admitted pulling a chair over to her bedside and taking a seat next to her, “I figure it’s the least I can do for you considering that they’re probably trying to pass off that toxic cardboard as food around here.”
“Now I feel spoiled,” Caitlin couldn’t help but smile at his gesture as she shifted a bit to look at him better, “considering that this is the second time someone’s smuggled in real food for me.”
“You mean I’m not the only one with your stomach in mind?” Russell arched a curious brow, “Who beat me to it?”
“Ken,” she admitted feeling a heat rise over her features as she thought back to the romantic breakfast he’d prepared for her in his attempts to make her feel better about things.
“Ah, so where is your white knight,” Russell teased noting the expression on her face.
“He had to run over to his office for a little bit,” she admitted noting the curious expression on his face, “Don’t give me that look.”
“What look,” he shrugged his shoulders innocently, “I didn’t say anything.”
“You don’t have to,” Caitlin pointed out firmly, “Your eyes say it all and just because last night I wasn‘t up to speed doesn‘t mean that I can‘t read what it is you‘re thinking right about now…”
“Hey, I came here to cheer you up, not to get you going with me like usual with that spunky side of yours,” he teased with a playful wink, “though I must confess I’m glad to see it’s back again.”
“It never left me,” she sighed thinking back to her attack, “It just needed some time off.”
“I don’t think it’s the only thing that could use some rest and relaxation, which is part of the reason I came over here.  I know that you probably will argue this point with me to no end, but I was thinking that maybe you should spend some time taking it easy for a while.”
“Russell,” she began a frown touching over her split lip.
“Just hear me out,” he urged further as he saw the protest building behind her eyes, “I know that you’re fully capable of taking on the world and I have no doubt in my mind that you could come up with one of the best features that the Courier has ever had right about now, but given that the feature you’re working on is about a man that I have some concerns about…”
“My story is about Jay and Kelly Henderson and their battle against Midlands,” Caitlin reminded him simply, “It’s about the work that Ken is doing and about helping their son…”
“I understand that Caitlin, but given that Stone Corp is involved, well the truth to the matter is that I don’t like the idea of my two favorite gals taking on a man like Cameron Stone.  I mean it’s bad enough that Avery’s got no choice in the matter, but given the attacks that have been taking place on you, well it’s a rather unsettling feeling as your editor to sit back and allow you to be put in the line of fire like this.”
“I already told you that this wasn’t about the story,” Caitlin argued with him, “Russell, I know what I’m getting into with the story and if you put a hold on it and you silence me, then it’s giving Cameron exactly what he’s hoping for.  He doesn’t want the public to hear the truth, only his skewed version of it and if I don’t work on this story and write it, then no one will ever know how things really are.  The Hendersons will lose their voice and I refuse to let that happen.”
“I’m not saying that you should scrap the story, but more so that you should take a break from it for a while just until you’re healed,” Russell insisted his voice laced with concern, “Caitlin, we just got you over at the paper not too long ago and it would be a tragedy on a professional and personal level for me to lose you.  I won’t risk your safety.”
“Is this about me or about Avery?” she turned the conversation around on him, “Russell, I know how you felt about what happened with her and Bruce and now that Stone Corp is taking on BBK, I’m sure it’s bound to have you tied in knots over this.”
“I’ll admit I’m concerned about Avery,” he offered up after a moment’s hesitation, “but that doesn’t underwrite my concerns about you.”
“I appreciate your concern, but this isn’t about the story.  This is about something else…something different…” her voice tapered off as she thought to the past that haunted her.
“I realize that and while I know that whatever is going on is very personal, I want you to know that I’m here for you,” he reached for her hand taking it gently, “I think of you as a friend Caitlin and I couldn’t bear the thought of you hurting in any way.  I just want you to know that if you ever want to talk about things, or if you need anything that I’m here for you.  I’ll always be here for you.”
“Thank you,” she felt a smile lift over her lips, “you have no idea how much I truly appreciate that.”
“I just want to do what’s best for one of my favorite gals,” he added with a teasing wink, “After all I’d be lost without your spunk.  Not to mention you‘re the only one in the newsroom who has the courage to tell me when to stick it when I get overbearing.”
“Oh I’m sure you’d find a way to march on,” Caitlin couldn’t help but laugh at his attempt at humor, “but the truth to the matter is that I want to do this story.  I need to keep writing it because it’s something I feel very connected to.  If you really want to help me, then don’t make me push it aside.”
“I just want what’s best for you,” he added with a sigh, “That’s what is important.”
“This story is what’s best for me and for everyone else involved,” she insisted her voice filled with a determination that had been absent the previous evening, “It’s the one thing that keeps me fighting as I know others are depending on my words to reach out to the world and give them their voice.”
“Then who am I to argue with an altruistic vision like that,” he lifted her hand to his lips offering a tender kiss upon her bruised skin, “You’re one in a million Caitlin Vaughn.”
“As are you Russell Denton,” she felt a smile lift over her lips as she felt the warmth of his visit putting her back in perspective again about the other things in her life.  First Kenneth had warmed her heart with his romantic breakfast and now Russell had given her a reminder of why Coral Valley had brought forth a sense of passion and promise for her work in her.
“Hey now,” a voice broke through the moment as Kenneth stepped into the room an arm load of flowers in hand as he looked between the two of them, “what’s this?”
“Ken,” Caitlin perked up at the sound of his voice feeling herself immediately elated at his arrival.
“Hey Ken,” Russell rose from his seat greeting the new arrival, “I was just paying Caitlin a visit and trying to convince her to take it easy on the workload for a while.”
“How did that go?” Kenneth questioned looking over to Caitlin as he noticed the smile that filled her beautiful features.
“She pretty much told me to get lost,” Russell admitted with a hint of laughter, “which was what I expected, but I had to try.”
“I’m not backing down on this story,” Caitlin added as a firm reminder, “and nothing is going to change that.”
“Well in that case, I guess I can be sharing my research on Stone Corp and Cameron Stone with you two along with Avery,” Russell decided quickly, “I suppose it’s good to put it to use now a days…though I don’t like the circumstances behind it.”
“None of us do,” Kenneth frowned thinking to the situation brewing behind closed doors with Cameron.  “So with Avery, has Cameron made any moves other than the lawsuit?”
“You mean other than recruiting my brother,” a frown fell upon Russell’s features, “Not that I’m aware of, but I’m not going to let him get the opportunity to make a personal strike against Avery or Caitlin.”
“Neither am I,” Kenneth vowed his jaw set with tension as he thought to Cameron’s arrangement with Seth, “The man is trouble and I’d like to find a way to stop him before things get out of hand.”
“It’s a little too late for that as he’s crossed the line a long time ago, but maybe this time we can find a way to put his reign of terror to an end,” Russell decided firmly thinking about the ways in which he wanted to protect those he loved, “Look I can have my office fax you some things I have on Stone Corp later.”
“I’d appreciate that,” Kenneth nodded appropriately, “and if you do talk to Avery, tell her to call me since I haven’t seen her around the mansion lately.”
“Sure,” Russell agreed giving Caitlin one last look, “and you heal up because we have some very exciting things ahead of us.”
“I’ll be on them sooner than you can imagine,” Caitlin promised throwing out one last wave in his direction.
“I have no doubt about that,” Russell replied saying his final good-byes as he left the two of them alone giving them time to one another as he thought to the mission at hand.  One way or another he’d find something that could help those he cared about rid themselves of Cameron’s twisted influence on their lives as far too much was riding on their safety in the matter at hand.


Cameron slammed into Kipp’s office, “Are you intentionally trying to piss me off?”

Kipp turned from the window he’d been staring out and focused on his boss, “What did you say?”

“Don’t act stupid with me, Kipp. What the hell is your father doing in Coral Valley?”

“He’s here to tell me how disappointed he is with me. It has nothing to do with you,” Kipp assured him as he sat at his desk.

“How can you be so sure?” Cameron demanded as he approached Kipp’s desk.

“Because he came to see me and demanded that I stop seeing Heather. He’s just trying to keep me under his control.”

“So do whatever it takes, Kipp. Get rid of him.”

“That’s not as easy as it might sound, Cameron,” Kipp frowned as he leaned upon his desk, “He’s determined to control me.”

“What is it he wants exactly?”

“He wants me to stop seeing Heather.”

“Then stop seeing her,” Cameron groaned, “Get rid of her.”

“No,” Kipp shook his head, “I love her, and I’m not going let my father or anyone else tell me who I can or can’t love.”

“Guess again, Kipp,” Cameron met the younger man’s eyes, “Dump the bimbo, and get rid of your father. Neither one of us can afford his presence in this town.”

“Don’t you think I’m aware of that?” Kipp groaned, “I’ll do what I can to get rid of my father, but I’m not going to give up Heather.”

“No woman is worth losing your life over, Kipp,” Cameron warned.

“Heather is,” Kipp declared, “She’s everything to me.”

“Then you’re an idiot, and you’re going to tear everything we’ve accomplished to shreds. All for what? The chance to say you’ve nailed a model without your Daddy’s help?”

“How dare you,” Kipp shouted as he stood, “Heather cares about me.”

“She cares about your ability to help her get to the top. It has nothing to do with you. In case you haven’t noticed, it hasn’t been that long ago that she was still trying to worm her way back into Ashford’s bed. Do you really think she wants you? You’re just a bed warmer until your father gives her a big break or she can land Brant Ashford again…whichever one comes first.”

“I won’t listen to this. I love Heather, and she loves me. You’re just like my father. You’re both just upset that Heather wants someone like me instead of two uptight hot shot power players like you.”

“I’m not going to argue with you about the model. She’s already distracted you long enough. I do, however, want your father gone as soon as possible. So get rid of him, Kipp, or I swear I’ll ship you back to LA so fast your father will think you never left,” Cameron threatened before he left Kipp’s office and slammed the door behind him.

Kipp sank back into his chair. If he’d thought his presence was irritating him, Cameron had proved to be doubly annoyed by Douglas’s surprise arrival. One thing was certain, Douglas had to be persuaded to leave town sooner rather than later.


Heather stepped out of the hotel gym with a towel draped over her shoulder. She had spent the better part of the last hour keeping the body that had gotten her so far in shape. Now, she needed a nice shower before she could go shopping for an outfit appropriate of an Ashford gala and which would personify Beholder Cosmetics.

She stopped as she spotted Douglas Mahoney standing at the front desk of the hotel. She dabbed her neck with the towel before she approached him, “Mr. Mahoney, what a coincidence. I was just thinking about you.”

“Really?” Douglas asked as he glanced at her. He took his messages from the clerk and slipped a tip upon the desk before he stepped away.

“Yes, actually, I just wanted to let you know that I’m truly interested in working for you. I know that last night you wanted to speak with your son, and I admire the relationship you have with Kipp. But I was thinking that you, Kipp, and I could have dinner. I’d love to get to know you better,” She said quickly as she fell into step along side him.

“I’m sure you would, but I’m very busy,” He said dismissively.

“Mr. Mahoney, Kipp believes I’d be perfect for your next project, and I’d love the chance to show you that I could do your film justice.”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me. I don’t have time to entertain those who would waste my time with their lack of talent,” Douglas said bluntly as he pressed the button to call the elevator, “I know that you’re using my son, and I won’t stand for it.”

“I am not using Kipp,” She declared.

“Please don’t insult my intelligence, Ms. Gibbons,” He said as he turned to her, “I’ve spoken to colleagues of mine in Los Angeles, and I know all about the incident that destroyed your relationship with Brant Ashford.”

“That was all taken out of context, and the tabloids really skewed the truth,” She began.

“Don’t bother with explanations. I spoke with Nate Alderson myself,” He said as he tucked his messages into his jacket pocket, “He told me that you wanted a part in his latest movie, and you did what you thought it would take to get the starring role. I’m not as easily led by my sex drive as Nate is, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let you try to manipulate my son that way either. I want you out of his life.”

Heather felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her, “Look, I don’t know what you think you know about me, but..”

He laughed softly, “It’s not that I think I know. I do know. I’ve seen your type more times than I count in my business, and more than a few of your fellow models have tried to get their hooks into my son. Kipp is naïve, and he wants to believe that you really do want him for his own merits. I, on the other hand, am a realist, and I do know what it is you’re truly after. But you can forget it, Ms. Gibbons. I’m not in the market for a common whore for any of my pictures.”

“How dare you!” She shrieked as her anger boiled over, “I won’t stand here and take these insults.”

“Then let’s make this quiet simple for the both of us,” He said as he drew a money clip from his breast pocket and withdrew all the money from the clip, “Take this. It’s several thousand dollars. That should be plenty for you to leave Kipp alone in the future.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Heather declared as she looked at the money, “You’re not going to buy me off.”

“Really?” He asked with a slightly amused smile, “Isn’t that exactly what you wanted? You wanted to use Kipp to get a part in my movie, and then how long would it have been before you dropped him like yesterday’s news?”

“I wouldn’t,” She shook her head.

“So you’re truly in love with him,” Douglas rolled his eyes, “Please. Take the money. It’s the best you’ll get out of me.”

Heather snatched the money from his hand before she stormed off to the stairway nearby.

Douglas smiled as he stepped into the waiting elevator. As he pressed the button for the penthouse, he withdrew his cell phone from his pocket and dialed his son’s number. As the voice mail answered, Douglas spoke, “Kipp, we need to have a talk about your model…something tells me you won’t be entertaining her for much longer,” He hung his phone and decided his time in Coral Valley would be more short lived than he’d originally thought.

...to be continued...