Episode Forty

Diego stopped at the nurse’s station and lifted a stack of messages from the tray. He sorted through several of the messages before he looked to Barbara, “Do you have Caitlin Vaughn’s chart?”

“Here it is,” Barbara explained as she placed the chart in Diego’s hand, “She hasn’t taken any pain medication today.”

“No pain?” He asked as he opened the chart and began to read over the notations.

“I get the feeling she is in pain, but she won’t ask for any medicine. I don’t think she likes the side effects.”

“Maybe,” Diego flashed Barbara a smile before he tucked the chart under his arm and made his way down the hallway to Caitlin’s room. He had sensed a deeper problem with her last night, and he wanted to investigate it further…if only she would allow him to help her investigate the issue.

He knocked lightly upon the door before he stepped inside, “Ms. Vaughn, I’m Dr. Hernandez. I came by last evening.”

“Yes, Dr. Hernandez,” Caitlin allowed a welcoming smile, “Please come in.”

“I came by to speak with you. Might we have a few minutes alone?” He asked as he cast a glance towards Kenneth.

“Will you be okay?” Kenneth asked as he looked to Caitlin.

“I’ll be fine,” She assured him.

“I’ll go stretch my legs a little,” He replied before kissing her cheek and leaving the room.

Diego smiled at the display before he looked to Caitlin, “He seems to be a very calming influence on you.”

“He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” She said with a smile as she tucked her blanket around her, “Please sit down.”

“Thank you,” He said simply as he sat down beside her, “It says on your chart that you haven’t had any pain medication today. Aren’t you in any pain?”

“I’m in plenty of pain,” She corrected him, “But I’d rather feel the pain than be groggy from medicine.”

“You don’t like not being in control,” He concluded.

“That’s not it at all. It’s just that I’d rather know exactly what’s going on around me than to be only vaguely aware that there are things going on that affect me personally.”

He nodded, “That seems to be a reasonable enough request,” He allowed a slight smile, “Last night, you didn’t seem willing to listen to reason.”

“With all due respect, Dr. Hernandez, there’s no such thing as reason in my particular situation,” She said firmly, “You can’t possibly understand what it is I’m going through.”

“Then sort it out for me. Let me help you.”

“You can’t help me. I’m not the problem, Doctor. You’d have to find my ex-fiancé and give him all the therapy you want to give to me. He’s the one who did this to me.”

“And your current boyfriend?”

“What about him?” Caitlin asked quickly before she raised her hand, “Hold it. You can’t possibly suspect that Kenneth would ever do something like this…” She shook her head, “Absolutely not. He’s the most kind, gentle man I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

“Last night you were adamant that the only way to stop the violence would be for your attacker to kill you. Is Kenneth the type that would allow that to happen?”

“No, he’s not,” She replied, “Why would even think that?”

“Last night, you seemed to believe that there would be no way to stop your attacker from doing this sort of thing again. Has that changed?”

She understood his question as she nodded, “Yes, it has.”

“How so? What event changed your belief?” Diego asked as he continued to focus upon her.

She turned her gaze towards the windows where pale sunlight penetrated the gauzy curtains, “I finally told Ken the truth about all of this.”

“The attacks?”

She nodded.

“Why hadn’t you told him before now?”

“Because I was afraid,” She admitted as she continued to stare blankly at the curtains, “I was afraid that Ken wouldn’t understand,” She paused and closed her eyes, “No, that’s not true. I was afraid that he would understand, but that he would just see me as some stupid naïve girl who thought she could change someone when she couldn’t. Others have felt that way. He wouldn’t have been the first.”

“And yet, you told him now?”

She nodded again as she slowly opened her eyes, “I felt I owed him the truth. He’s been so good to me, and he wants to be so helpful. I had to tell him. If he was going to leave me, I wanted it to be now before things got any worse.”

“You care about him very much.”

“Yes, I do,” She admitted as she focused on Diego, “Ken’s the most wonderful man in the world, and I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t been so supportive of me. He’s standing strong beside me, and he just wants to keep me safe. How could I not care about him after that?”

Diego responded with a gentle smile, “Will you be pressing charges against your attacker?”

Caitlin paused as she considered her options for a moment, “Ken wants me to.”

“That isn’t what I asked.”

She frowned, “What do you want from me?”

“I only want to see you safe and secure in yourself. I believe that’s your biggest obstacle at this moment. The question is…are you willing to over come that obstacle?”

“You’re acting like this is my fault. Like I somehow caused this. I used to believe that, but I don’t anymore. It took a long time for me to realize that, but I know the truth now,” She defended adamantly, “This is not my fault.”

“No, it isn’t,” He agreed, “But I never said it was. Now, are you going to answer my question now?”

“What question?” She asked in exasperation.

“Will you be pressing charges against your attacker?”

She tucked her hair behind her ear before she sighed, “I just don’t know.”

“And why is that? Don’t you think what he did was wrong?”

“I…he needs help, not to be locked up.”

“He does need help, but more than anything else, he needs to be stopped from hurting you again. Don’t you want that?”

“I don’t want him hurting me again, but…” She covered her mouth as she stopped tears.

“You still care about him,” Diego said in realization.

“No, it’s not what you think…” She stammered as her eyes snapped to the doctor.

“It’s common for victims to feel for their attackers even in the aftermath of an abusive relationship,” He began, “It wouldn’t be uncommon.”

“No!” She shouted as her eyes blazed at him, “No!”

Diego held up his hand in silent surrender. After a moment of uncomfortable silence filled the room, he took a deep breath and met her eyes, “Caitlin, I’d like to schedule regular therapy sessions for you.”

“I’m not crazy,” She declared rigidly, “And I don’t need you trying to tell me that I am.”

“I have no doubt in my mind that you are perfectly sane,” He said in a calming tone, “However, I think you have some misconceptions that I’d like to help you clear up.”

“Why would you want to do anything like that for me?” She asked as she eyed him closely.

“As I’ve said before, I want to see you safe and secure in yourself. And I think that starts with just a little information I’d like to share with you,” He said as he glanced over his note pad in his lap. He removed a business card from a side pocket and jotted down a date and time. He stood and extended the card to her, “This is an appointment time that I have free. If you want to talk,” He paused, “If you want to break this man’s hold on you once and for all, come see me. I think I can be of some help to you,” He paused once more before he turned and left the room.

Caitlin glanced at the appointment card before she tossed it onto the side table and wondered if anything about the last few moments had been true. She couldn’t allow herself to believe that any of it was true. She had fought the good fight to make it to where she was. She wouldn’t allow herself to back slide into a pool of doubt. She couldn’t allow that to happen.


“Are you planning to make a habit of this?” Judy asked as she sipped her glass of ice water. She glanced across the table at Richard and found a smile hard to resist. While she’d loved other men in her life, Richard had been her first love, and that alone made him special in her heart.

Sitting here with him now was a little bit like getting lost in a time warp. It had been years since she’d felt so comfortable with a man that she could enjoy herself without worrying about consequences or implications. Yet somehow being with Richard was the epitome of comfort, and she could only remember one time in her life when she’d felt so care free.

“Would it bother if you I were?” Richard asked as he leaned upon the table. He’d missed this, missed her. Judy had always been his perfect woman to whom he’d compared all others. Brooke had always fallen short as she was Judy’s exact opposite, and he’d often wondered why he’d let one stupid indiscretion ruin his only chance with the woman he loved.

“Hmm,” She said as if she were considering the possibility, “I’m not sure yet, but I have a feeling it’ll be interesting to see how things go.”

“I feel a challenge in those words,” He smiled, “And you know that I could never resist a good challenge.”

“Should I feel like prey at this point?” She teased.

“I don’t know if I’d go quite that far. Although,” He grinned like the cat who ate the canary, “The idea of devouring you does spark a few thoughts.”

“Rick, behave,” Judy warned through a grin, “I’m not the kind of woman who will just fall into bed with a man…even if I do have a prior history with him.”

“Who said anything about a bed?” He asked with an innocent smile.

She raised an interested eyebrow, “Do you really think you’re that agile at your age?”

“You’d be surprised what the old boy has in him,” He said with a wink.

“You always did have an overblown ego,” She said with a sigh, “Though I will say that you always did give everything the old college try...and it was usually of championship caliber.”

Richard grinned, “And I’m like a fine wine. I only get better with age.”

Judy’s eyes widened before she leaned forward, “Be careful, Rick. I’m not the naïve young girl I once was. My wants and needs are much greater now.”

“I’ll rise to meet the challenge.”

She grinned as she caught his pun, “I can’t wait to see how you manage it.”

“Something tells me that you doubt my ability to meet your high standards,” He said as he shook his head, “Your lack of faith truly disturbs me, Judy. I really thought I’d proven more to you in our youth.”

“Well, it has been quite a long time. You realize that you’re going to have to refresh my memory before you get any kind of reward out of me.”

“Yet another challenge I’m fully prepared to take on,” Richard said with a smile as he raised his water glass, “Here’s to rising to the challenge.”

“And here’s to renewing my faith,” Judy concluded the toast as she touched her glass to his.

“What the hell is this?” Brooke demanded as she approached their table from the front. The host chased after her.

“Ma’am, you can’t just barge in here like this,” The host declared as he attempted to block her path.

“Watch me,” Brooke warned as she shoved the host out of her way and stood before the table where Richard and Judy sat, “What the hell is this?”

“Brooke,” Richard frowned, “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to have lunch in a tasteful restaurant, but it obviously couldn’t be here if you two are here…together,” Brooke snorted, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“It’s called having lunch, Brooke,” Judy said as she glanced up to her one time rival, “Hello by the way.”

Brooke huffed in reply as she turned her glare on Richard, “How could you do this to me? To Avery?”

“Don’t you dare bring Avery into this,” Richard warned, “This has nothing to do with her.”

“It has everything to do with her. She’s trying to start a better life here, and she’s planning her engagement party as we speak. But what you doing? You’re here smearing our family by being out with this…this…”

“Go ahead, Brooke. Say it,” Judy dared as she stood and met Brooke’s unwavering eyes.

“Slut,” Brooke punctuated harshly.

“Really?” Judy shook her head, “It’s seems to me that Richard was with me, planning to be with me, wanting me when you seduced him and got pregnant the first time out,” She snapped, “Now, who exactly is the slut here, Brooke?”

“You had an affair with my husband while I was pregnant,” Brooke countered, “I think that tops anything I might have done.”

“Not hardly. It was his only escape from your bitching and moaning.”

“How dare you?!” Brooke shrieked as she raised a hand to slap Judy.

Richard grabbed Brooke’s hand to stop her as he wedged himself in between the two women, “Stop it, Brooke. We don’t need one of your trademark scenes to make the front page of a tabloid.”

“Oh so now you’re worried about the public’s perception?” Brooke snarled as she wrenched her hand away from him, “But you don’t care to spit on me by having lunch out with your mistress?” She shook her head as she took a deep breath, “Now it makes sense.”

“What’s that?” Richard asked in a droning disinterested voice.

“Why you wanted a divorce, but you can forget it, Richard. I’m not giving up all the time we’ve spent together. I’m not going to let you just throw it all away,” Brooke declared boldly.

“You mean you’re not going to let his name, prestige and money slip through your greedy little fingers,” Judy rolled her eyes, “You’ve always been about one thing, Brooke…yourself.”

“Don’t you dare speak to me again,” Brooke warned before she snapped her eyes back to Richard, “How do you think Avery is going to feel about this?”

“Avery will be thrilled that I’m finally declaring a little independence from the black hole you’ve created for me in our marriage,” Richard replied.

“You bastard,” Brooke gasped as she raised her hand to her throat, “How could you treat me this way? How could you make me the villain?”

“Maybe because you are?” Judy chimed in, “Come on, Brooke. All you’ve ever wanted is to make yourself look good. It’s all you’ve ever been about. You’ve been doing it since we were all kids, and you haven’t changed one bit.”

“I warned you,” Brooke shrieked as she started towards Judy.

Richard seized Brooke by the shoulders and spun her towards the door as the host returned with security, “Please escort her from the building.”

“Yes sir,” The host nodded as he and the security guards escorted Brooke from the restaurant.

Richard turned towards Judy who had gathered her purse, “You’re not leaving, are you? Please don’t let her ruin our lunch.”

“Rick, this is something I didn’t want to get involved in. The last thing I want to do is play another round of one-up-man’s ship with Brooke. You have to figure out how you really want to live, but I already know that I do not want to be in an affair with a married man. I won’t make that same mistake again,” Judy said with sadness evident in her voice before she left the restaurant.

Richard groaned as he ran his fingers through his hair. The last thing he’d expected today was to get in the midst of the war between his first love and his wife. However, it had happened, and he had to find a way to remedy the situation as soon as possible for both his own sanity and his dreams of a future in a loving relationship with the woman he’d always loved.


Avery hung up the phone after finishing up her latest round of damage control.  This early on she could already feel that the lawsuit was going to be something that she couldn’t treat lightly especially after the Davies deal that had gone sour.  Granted life seemed to keep getting in the way, but now was time to focus and focus she would as there was no chance in hell that Stone Corp or Grady Denton for that matter would get the upper hand in this situation with her.  She was going to devote herself to winning this lawsuit and there wouldn’t be a distraction that would change that for her as…  Avery’s affirmations were put to an abrupt end as she looked up to find Brant standing in her office doorway lifting a curious brow over at her.
“Forget to take a break for lunch?” he questioned casually making his way into her office with a bag in hand.
“I had a lot of work ahead of me this morning,” Avery turned her attention to the legal documents before her, “and I figured that I should probably keep working on it while the iron was hot.”
“You know this really isn’t good for you,” Brant noted her concentration as he crossed over her office coming in towards her, “I mean on one hand I’m flattered that you’re working so very hard to save my company here, but on the other hand, you really should give yourself a break there.  Honestly I don’t know how long you can keep up like this.”
“Long enough to get us a victory at the end of this lawsuit,” she answered in her best professional tone, “The way I see it, the failure to solidify the deal with Davies left us open for this kind of setback.  Not that the two things go hand in hand, but given that BBK has taken a loss there, we’d probably be best to find some way of making up for that.”
“Which is why Brooke and I thought the engagement party was a good starting ground,” he frowned watching her bury herself further in the work before her, “Avery, come on.  Give yourself a minute.”
“Brant, I can’t.  I really can’t stop now because if I do…” she began as he flattened his palm down over the center of the page she was reading and a frown touched over her lips as she turned her dark eyes up towards him, “What are you doing?”
“Giving you a break to eat,” Brant stated matter of fact noting her look of strong disapproval, “as your boss I think I’m well within my rights to request you take a lunch.”
“And as your lawyer, I’d advise you that it’s in your best interest that I keep doing what I’m doing here,” Avery snatched the paper from beneath his hand, “Trust me on this Brant, it’s better this way.”
“For who?” Brant questioned setting the bag he’d brought with him down on her desk top before circling around her desk to stand behind her chair, “Because the way I’m seeing it, I’m not going to have the top support beside me when my top legal expert is running herself ragged.”

“Brant, I already told you…” Avery started feeling his hands press over her shoulders automatically as she realized he was hovering over her.  His fingers curled over her shoulders and a surprised gasp fell from her lips, “Brant, what are you doing?”
“Easing some of this obvious tension you clearly have going on,” he explained kneading her tightened muscles through her blazer jacket as another pinched breath spilled from her lips.
“Brant, stop,” Avery insisted as he seemed to know exactly the right trigger points in her shoulders to melt her tension away with each skilled stroke of his fingers.
“Avery, just shut up and enjoy this,” he urged with a tiny grin watching as she seemed to sink back into her seat a bit, “It’s not every day I use my skills for the good of the world.”
“You usually use them to butter someone up for something more that you’re reaching for,” Avery closed her eyes as a sigh crashed over her and she allowed the warmth of his skilled touch to reach deep into her knotted muscles.
“I think I’m offended,” he stopped for a moment watching her eyelids flutter a bit before he continued with his massage once again, “To have you think so little of me doesn’t say much.”
“I’m just calling it like I see it,” Avery admitted as his fingers teased over the back of her neck, “Oh right there…that’s the spot.”
“I thought so,” Brant mused with a proud smile as he continued to work his magic over her, “though you know if that’s really how you’re seeing things, maybe you’re not looking hard enough.”
“Brant, don’t give me the lecture on how you have all this hidden depth that I’m overlooking because I’m really not in the mood to hear it about now considering…” she began as his knuckles pressed over her spine and she let out a tiny wince, “Ow…Brant that hurts…”
“That’s because you’re wound up tight like a drum,” Brant explained working his fingers over the spot, “lean forward.”
“No way,” Avery shook her head feeling her defenses build up once again as Brant applied some pressure to her shoulders coaxing her forward a bit in her chair.
“Fine, we’ll do this my way,” he declared watching as she involuntarily moved forward a bit giving him access down her spine as a slow purr seemed to rise up inside of her, “See, I told you I’m pretty good with my hands…”
“Brant, you’re about this close to having me push you away,” Avery sank further over on her desk enjoying the moment as he seemed to find all the right spots to work over on her.  “I’m still tempted to do it you know.”
“Oh would you just shut up and enjoy this,” Brant insisted watching her for a long moment, “In fact, take off your jacket?”
“What?” Avery sat upright almost immediately her body on edge upon the sound of his voice.
“Avery, it’s not sexual…” he shook his head at her seeing the protest ready to fall from her lips, “It’s not even close this time, so just trust me for once.”
“Trusting you isn’t something I should be doing,” Avery grumbled in response, “especially after you and Brooke threw this engagement party on me.  You know that right now is the worst possible time for it, yet you let her come in and press the issue to the point where I’m backed into a corner and you win.  I mean it’s bad enough that you wouldn’t set the media straight about the fact that we aren’t engaged, but then you have to go and make matters worse by having this ridiculous party that the world is going to see right thought…” she continued as he slipped his fingers in over the lapels of her jacket dragging it from her shoulders.  She continued speaking allowing him to ease her arms out of the jacket as her mind moved fast forward to the pressure she was under, “I mean really what are you hoping this party is going to accomplish as it’s not really going to make the lawsuit go away, nor is it going to do anything that’s going to benefit BBK?  Granted, I’m sure it does wonders for your ego considering that you just love putting me in a position where I can’t refuse you because to do so would make quite a spectacle of myself…”
“Avery, do you ever shut up,” Brant questioned as she leaned forward once again over her desk as he slid around her chair to get in closer to her.  He glided his fingers over her shoulders once again silencing her verbal attack as she lay her head over the pile of pages before her, “The way I see it, this engagement party is a good thing--a very good thing and you never know as you might enjoy it.  You might find that I’m not as bad as you think I am and that maybe just maybe I’m being sincere about things.  I know that concept is hard for you to grasp because you only see me as the playboy millionaire that goes through women like women go through shoes, and maybe on some level that’s how I was in the past, but with you it’s different,” he continued his voice taking on an air of sincerity as he continued to massage her back, “I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d wanted a woman as much as I want you, but Avery I do want you.  I know that we keep getting into these situations and I wind up putting my foot in my mouth and saying something stupid or doing something stupid, but that’s not how I want it to be.  I mean sure there’s no denying the fact that I’m attracted to you sexually…very attracted to you,” he paused a smile lifting over his lips as he shook his head simply, “but that’s beside the point.  The way I see it, I’m in it for the long haul for us.  I want to know what it’s like to experience love and everything that comes with it and Avery I know you’re the woman to do that with me.  We’ve already been through one crisis here after another on a professional level and I really think we’re getting good on dealing with things on a personal level and maybe just maybe if you quit letting what you think you know about me guide you, then perhaps you’ll see that there’s so much more there that’s just waiting to be explored.”
Brant squeezed his fingers over her shoulders, down the center of her spine as a breath flooded over her and he took her silence as encouragement, “I mean hey stranger things have happened than us being together and I’m sure you’ll find that once you open yourself up to the possibility of us together that you’ll see it’s exactly where you want to be.  I can offer you the best the world has to offer and maybe along the way you can teach me a few things about the finer aspects of life that I’ve been missing out on.  I mean hey, we can start slowly…though I think we’re really working at a slow and steady pace to the point it feels like crawling, but I respect that.  I can deal with taking our time because I know you’re worth it and when we make love, well I promise you Avery that it’s going to be nothing short of sensational as you’re my dream girl…” he trailed off leaning over her a bit as her body seemed to relax completely at his touch, “You have no idea how many times I’ve thought about you, dreamt about holding you, loving you and being with you and if you’d just stop fighting me on the issue so much, well you might find that we can both indulge in a great many levels of pleasure with one another,” his tone held a hint of seduction within it’s dark and dangerous depths as he lowered his voice to a mere whisper, “while this engagement party was a surprise, I can promise you it’s nothing short of a trip to ecstasy in every way imaginable as I want our engagement party to be a fairy tale come to life for you.  I want to show you that happily ever afters can come true starting with us.  Avery, I believe we have a chance to have the kind of romance that rivals all others and if you’re willing, I think we could start working on it right about now.  We could just push the lawsuit aside for the moment and maybe just maybe take a look at some of the party planning together,” his sexy grin flashed over his features as he lifted his palm to her hair, running his fingers through the dark, silken strands, “Well what do you say?”
Brant was met by a long silence as his smile faded and he gently nudged her awaiting a response, “Come on Avery.  You can say something as the suspense is killing me unless of course you want to keep me hanging,” he paused once more awaiting her response, “Avery?”
Brant was about to speak up once again when he was met by the sounds of her snoring.  Much to his dismay Brant leaned forward noting the way her head was turned to the side on the desk and her eyes were closed as he realized she’d drifted to sleep during the massage.  Shaking his head as he reached out to her easing her up out of her chair, he thought to what he was hoping to accomplish in bringing her lunch.  Her sleeping wasn’t part of the plan, but now as she felt like dead weight in his arms, he carefully set her down on the couch in her office realizing that he’d been right about things getting to her.  Now as she lay peacefully before him, snoring in an unladylike fashion, he couldn’t help but smile as he slipped out of his jacket draping it around her as she seemed to snuggle in against it.
“I told you I had magic hands,” Brant couldn’t help but smile as he knelt beside her touching her cheek for a brief moment before rising to his feet once again and collecting his lunch.  Deciding he’d stay a while, he took a seat across from the small sofa indulging in the serenity Avery brought to him even with her ridiculous snoring.  As he watched her, he thought of all his plans for them starting with the engagement party and as she lay at peace before him, he knew that he was doing the right thing.  He had to find a way to keep her in his life as she was so very important to him and he refused to let go of something so precious.


Blake stepped into the kitchen hearing the unusual silence that filled the mansion at this hour.  Normally she’d have walked in on Kenneth and Brant engaged in their usual activities with one another no doubt debating whatever issue was thrown out on the table, but now it was just the emptiness that followed the aftermath of yet another crisis.  Blake noted the time realizing that perhaps she’d stop by the hospital to pay Caitlin a visit as there was no doubt that she’d probably find Ken there beside Caitlin as he’d been the night before.

Still thinking about what happened to Caitlin, Blake felt chills race over her.  The last thing she wanted was to have her best friend in a state of turmoil as each time these attacks happened, it took a piece of Caitlin out of her and Blake feared that eventually it would break her.  Blake refused to let that happen as one way or another this nightmare would have to come to an end for her best friend.  Deciding that she needed to pay Caitlin a visit now more than ever, she quickly pulled a bottled water out of the refrigerator and retrieved a protein bar before turning towards the door ready to begin her day when the phone rang.
“It never fails,” Blake shook her head with a heavy sigh realizing that the moment she’d finally made up her mind about something, someone just had to call.  Reaching across the counter, she pulled for the receiver of the phone lifting it to her ear, “Speak to me…”
“Good afternoon beautiful,” Seth’s voice spoke smoothly in his sexy, seductive tone over the other end of the line, “how are you this morning?”
“Much better now that you’re calling,” Blake admitted leaning in against the counter as a teasing smile lifted over her lips, “but you know you really shouldn’t be calling here like this considering that anyone could be around and discover that I’m talking to you.”
“You’re worth taking a risk,” Seth admitted with a hint of a smile in his voice before a long pause followed, “Then again, you aren’t with Zack right now, are you?”
“Why would you ask me something like that,” Blake felt a frown touch over her lips.
“Considering I think the guy is taking his role of your pretend boyfriend to a higher level than either one of us bargained for, I just assumed that maybe that might be your reasoning in not wanting to talk to me.”
“Seth, I was just kidding,” she explained quickly before continuing, “What is it about Zack that rubs you the wrong way?  I told you he was a good guy.”
“I didn’t like the way he was talking to you,” Seth explained firmly, “and the way he was ready to attack, well I just don’t think he’s the right one for what we had in mind.”
“His sister is in the hospital.  It tends to make a situation tense to say the least.  You can’t really hold his behavior against him this early on,” Blake defended Zack’s behavior.
“Blake, the man is a raging lunatic and I just think that maybe we can find another way around this issue without enlisting his help as I’m starting to think that he’d be more of a hinder than a help to us.”
“Seth, I know that last night wasn’t how I’d hoped your meeting would turn out, but you have to trust me when I tell you Zack’s a good guy.  I’ve known him since college and while he has a big bark, he’s just a little puppy dog.”
“Blake, you said it yourself that it was in college you were pals, a lot could’ve changed over the years…” Seth began to argue.
“He’s my best friend’s brother.  I highly doubt things have changed that much,” she rolled her eyes, “Honestly Seth, you should just believe me for a change.  I wouldn’t do anything that would put us in jeopardy in any way.”
“I wish I could say the same, but I guess it’s a little too late for that huh,” sadness rose in his voice.
“It’s not too late.  We’re just working to repair the damage that’s been done, but I’m sure that we can do it,” Blake felt a silence sweep over him once again as she added again, “I believe in us, Seth.”
“So do I which is why I don’t want someone else to sweep you off your feet while we’re working so hard to keep it together,” Seth blurted out his insecurities shining through in his voice.
“The only man I want in this world is you,” Blake promised as she wanted to reach out to him and envelope him in her arms, “I love you Seth.”
“Then bend the rules a bit and be with me tonight,” he urged quickly.
“Seth I…” she started thinking about the idea of spending a night lost in his arms.
“Jade coaxed me into having dinner with her and Grady,” he explained breaking through the fantasy already spinning in her head, “He invited me over and I just know if I show up on my own, that I’ll probably wind up kicking the crap out of him because I know he’s absolutely wrong for my sister…”
“I’m sure it won’t get to that,” Blake tried to reason with him.
“I’m not,” Seth confessed with a heavy sigh, “when I think about what we walked in on the other day, well truth be told I didn’t like it.  I still don’t think this guy is sincere…”
“If he’s trying to make an effort with you, maybe that says something about him,” Blake suggested as an afterthought, “I mean he can’t be all that bad if you’re sister is in love with him.”
“My sister is infatuated with him, but it’s not love,” Seth argued with her, “Jade tends to leap before she really takes the time to look at the situation and that worries me…especially around a guy like Grady.  He’s older than her and he’s in a position to potentially destroy her…”
“I don’t think that’s what he’s doing,” she offered up thinking about the dreamy look Jade had in talking about Grady, “I think that maybe there’s more there than you’re willing to see.”
“All I know is if I go there tonight, I might say something stupid and have Jade upset with me as that’s where I’m at.”
“And you think my being there can prevent that?”
“I’m hoping that it might,” Seth’s voice hinted at something a bit lighter, “and besides I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to see you again.  I don’t think anyone is going to expect us to be hanging out at Grady Denton’s home.”
“And what exactly do I get out of this?” Blake couldn’t help but tease thinking about what Seth was asking of her.
“You get to be my voice of reason and see me through something that I’m certain I probably wouldn’t make it through without you.  Truth be told, before you and I found one another, I wouldn’t even consider it, but there’s just something about us that made me realize that maybe just maybe I should give Jade a chance here.”
“That sounds like you made a wise decision and hopefully tonight you’ll see that she’s happy and you’ll try to lay off Grady a bit,” Blake decided thinking about the potential for dinner, “and maybe you’ll find he’s not so bad.”
“Isn’t he leading a lawsuit against your brother’s company?” Seth questioned curiously.
“Yeah well, we’ll work on that one later as tonight we’ll try to keep our feet out of our mouths,” Blake decided realizing that maybe just maybe over dinner it would give her a chance to sway Grady Denton in a more positive direction.  After all if he saw that Ashfords weren’t the nightmares he’d believed them to be, then perhaps he’d rethink his taking on BBK.  “I’m sure we can find a way to benefit everyone tonight.”
“I hope you’re right,” Seth sighed dreading the night before him as he hated the idea of his sister giving her heart out to someone who held the power to destroy her completely all over again.


Kipp stepped out of the shower getting ready to put the horrible day at the office behind him as he’d cut out early in the hopes of finding a way to salvage the rest of the afternoon.  Having received his father’s message, he found himself more determined than ever to make things up to Heather for his father’s shameless behavior.  So what if Douglas was far too jaded to understand the meaning of real love?  Kipp was well aware of what something so precious and rare meant in this world and he’d find a way to show Heather that he could still make all of her dreams come true even without his father backing him up.  He’d be damned if he’d lose the only thing in his life that ever truly mattered.
Now hearing the buzz of an arrival from his door, Kipp quickly slipped into his bathrobe hoping that Heather had decided to pay him a surprise visit, but as he opened the door and came face to face with his father, a deep scowl pressed over his features, “Oh it’s you,” he grumbled ready to close the door on Douglas.
“That’s right it’s me,” Douglas pushed his way into Kipp’s penthouse apartment, “and while you’ve chosen to foolishly ignore my messages, the fact to the matter is that I need to have a word with you.”
“I’m busy,” Kipp grumbled making his way over to the bar, “and that means I don’t have time for your nonsense.”
“Nonsense?  Kipp, I’m trying to keep you from ruining your life which clearly seems to be your goal these days with your impulsive, childish behavior.  Honestly Kipp is your quest to spite me every step of the way really worth ruining your life by wasting it on a heartless ice queen whose sole purpose in life was to step over you in her road to success?”
“I’m not going to listen to this,” Kipp dismissed his father refusing to bend at Douglas and his words, “I love Heather and she loves me and we’re happy together.  She’s everything that I’ve ever wanted and needed in my life and if you can’t understand that…”
“Kipp, the woman is a tramp and she wants nothing to do with you.  All you have to do is dangle the prospect of fame and fortune before her, or maybe even some loose change and her interest changes with the weather.  If you’d stop allowing your libido to be your guide you’d see that these women you tend to latch onto aren’t what you believe them to be.  They make a fool out of you time and time again and this Heather is no different.  She’s just going to make another fine mess that I’ll have to clean up yet again once my son has been deemed a loser for allowing his Johnson to get the best of him…”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” Kipp snarled back at his father, “You’re always trying to control my life and tell me how to live, but can’t you see that when I’m with Heather it’s the only time I’m alive?”
“You can pay a common whore for the services you get from her and you know that’s what she is,” Douglas shot back simply as he adjusted his tie, “When I dangled the possibility before her to choose you or her lust for greed, what do you think she chose?” he lifted a disapproving brow, “Kipp, you know it wasn’t you.”
“What did you do?” Kipp’s eyes narrowed with anger as he felt the wind knocked out of him, “What have you done to Heather?”
“She took the money and ran just as I suspected she would,” Douglas shrugged simply, “She was never good enough for you and we both know the moment she had a chance to better her own situation that she’d drop you like a hot potato.  I just gave her what she wanted and beat her to the punch.”
“Damn you,” Kipp shouted at his father, “How many times have I told you that I don’t want you doing this?  Heather is everything to me and if you’ve done something to destroy what we have together…then I’ll…I’ll…”
“You’ll what?”
“I’ll never forgive you,” Kipp paced around his apartment thinking of all the possibilities about his father approaching Heather, “What did you say to her?”
“I didn’t have to say anything as the money was the only thing she heard,” Douglas sighed as he shook his head once again, “Honestly Kipp I raised you to be smarter than this.  I told you time and time again that a pretty face isn’t always what you want it to be…”
“I’m not going to listen to this,” Kipp roared back at him stalking over to the door to his apartment and throwing it open in a rage, “Get out.”
“Excuse me,” Douglas blinked back at him, “Kipp, I hardly feel you’re in a position to be giving me orders considering that I just saved you from making yet another stupid mistake in the list of many.”
“I’m not a child and I’m tired of you treating me like one.  I’m trying to live my life and damn you I’ve done well for myself.  I made a career on my own and I have become something without you.”
“Without my money and influence, we both know you wouldn’t be playing the game of lawyer right now,” Douglas took on an authoritative tone, “You have what you have because of me.  I was there every step of the way making sure that I covered up your mistakes, but I won’t sit back and allow you to do it once again with that bimbo.”
“I didn’t give you a say in the matter,” Kipp snarled in response, “I love Heather and I will be with her regardless of what you have to say on the matter.”
“Not with my finances backing you up,” Douglas informed him point blank, “and then see how eager your precious Heather is to love you when you’re penniless.”
“Heather cares about me and I care about her.  We can make it without you and I’ll show you just how wrong you are,” Kipp argued with him, “You’ll see.”
“The only thing I see is that my son is hell bent on destroying himself and I will not take part in that,” Douglas stood taller making his way towards the open doorway, “and if you believe that you’re going to get something from that whore that you aren’t getting out of the life I have provided you with, then go ahead and try, but know that this time when you fall on your face, I won’t be welcoming you back with open arms.  Once I walk out this door, I won’t be offering up a dime in your direction as you’ll be dead to me.”
“Maybe then I’ll truly have freedom in my life,” Kipp cut back sharply slamming the door behind Douglas as his mind raced with the possibilities of what Heather must be facing right now.  One way or another he had to find a way to make things right between them.  He couldn’t allow his father to take away the only thing that mattered to him--not now, not ever.


“Why are we here?” Shannon asked as she stepped off the elevator with Dave, “Our victim is dead. I don’t think a hospital is going to help him in any way.”

“We’re not here on the Mathis case,” Dave said as he walked down the hall, “We’re here on an unrelated matter.”

“And what matter would that be?” She asked as he stopped in front of a room.

“Caitlin Vaughn, a reporter for the Coral Courier, was attacked last night in the newspaper’s building. This is the second time she’s been attacked, and I need to take her statement.”

“But why you? Why not one of your deputies?”

“Because Caitlin is Kenneth Ashford’s girlfriend,” He replied, “That makes this case especially important.”

“Kenneth’s girlfriend? An attack is something I’d expect on one of Brant’s women,” Shannon said in concerned disbelief.

“That’s what makes this especially difficult,” Dave nodded before he knocked on the door gently and stepped inside, “Can I come in?”

“Yes, come in,” Kenneth said as he stood from Caitlin’s bedside.

“I brought Agent Shannon Pryce with me,” Dave announced as she entered the room behind him, “We’re working on another case together, but I wanted to come by and take your statement while the details are still fresh in your mind.”

“Okay,” Caitlin agreed as she took Kenneth’s hand and drew him closer to her.

Dave took a seat near the bed as he withdrew his note pad from his jacket pocket, “I asked a few questions yesterday about whether you’d seen your attacker. Are any of the details any clearer today?”

“I think I know who attacked me,” She replied with a heavy sigh, “And why.”

“Who was it?” He asked as he watched her struggle with her situation.

“His name is Jimmy Cordell. He’s my ex.”

“Why would he attack you?”

“He thinks he owns me. He always did believe that,” Caitlin said as she looked to Kenneth. She squeezed his hand for support, “I left him before our wedding a few years ago, but now he’s found me. He’s not going to stop doing this.”

“He will,” Dave nodded as he made some notes on his note pad, “Because he won’t be able to do it from behind bars.”

“Do you really think you can find him?” She asked as Kenneth sat on the bed beside her and slipped his arm around her.

“If he’s in Coral Valley, yes, I can and will find him,” Dave assured her as he looked to Kenneth, “You’re already working on a TPO, correct?”

“I filed the papers this morning,” Kenneth nodded.

Dave smiled as he thought of his friend’s quick thinking, “I’ll put out an APB on this man right now. I’ll be right back,” He said as he stepped out of the room.

Caitlin leaned over to relax into Kenneth’s embrace while Shannon stepped forward.

“Is there anything I can do to help out? Any strings I could pull to make things easier?” Shannon asked.

“No, but we appreciate the offer,” Kenneth replied with a soft smile, “I think between Dave and myself we’ve got all the bases covered.”

Shannon smiled as she looked to Caitlin, “You got the best the Ashfords have to offer in Ken here.”

“I know,” Caitlin smiled as she looked up to meet Kenneth’s eyes, “Although I have no idea how I ever deserved it.”

“Something tells me that you’re a special kind of girl,” Shannon said softly, “And I think Ken is just the kind of guy who can appreciate that.”

“Me too,” Caitlin agreed as she melted into Kenneth’s embrace.

Dave stepped back into the room and glanced to Caitlin, “I’m going to need a few more details to put into a warrant if we arrest this guy. Did you see him?”

“No, he jumped me from behind,” Caitlin answered.

“Did he say anything that identified him?” Dave asked as he began to make notes once again.

“He told me that I’d thought I’d lost him but I was wrong. He’d find me,” She shrugged, “I don’t know. It all happened so fast that I don’t remember his exact words but it was something very similar.”

“That’s okay. If you had to, could you identify his voice?”

She paused and thought for a moment, “Yeah, I think I could.”

“Why would Jimmy Cordell attack you?” Dave questioned, “Do you have any reason to believe he’d attack you?”

“He’s done it before,” Caitlin took a moment before she continued, “He’s done it many times before.”

“Did you ever report him to the police?”

“No, but neighbors called. The last time he hurt me so bad that I was in the hospital for a week. The police took a report, and he was arrested, but I suppose he found some way of getting out of that.”

“He won’t this time. I’ll make sure of it,” Dave said firmly as he made a few more notes, “Do you have any old pictures of him at your apartment?”

“No, I wanted to get rid of any reminder of him,” Caitlin said as she shook her head, “I wanted him out of my life for good.”

“This time we’ll make certain that happens,” Kenneth assured her as he hugged her close.

“Yes we will,” Dave nodded, “I think that’s all I need for now. I’ll get back to you with any updates, or if you think of anything else that could help us, just let me know,” He suggested.

“Thanks, Dave,” Kenneth said as he stood and shook his friend’s hand, “We appreciate it.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Dave said as he looked back to Caitlin, “You just get to feeling better, okay? Ken needs someone like you to keep his straight.”

Caitlin chuckled softly as Kenneth looked slightly offended.

“Hey, I think I resent that,” Kenneth said with a teasing smile in Caitlin’s direction.

“I think you know it’s true,” Caitlin teased as she held out her hand to him and drew him back beside her.

“Maybe,” He agreed before kissing her gently.

Dave smiled, “We’ll be in touch,” He said as he and Shannon stepped out of the room.

“It’s nice to see someone in a nice loving relationship,” Shannon mused.

“Yes it is,” He agreed, “I hope I find that kind of relationship one day.”

“Good luck. I really don’t think there’s any such thing left in the world, Dave,” Shannon sighed as she walked down the hall.

“It doesn’t hurt to have hope, you know,” Dave said to himself with a frown before he walked down the hall after his partner to get back to the murder case looming large over their careers.


Brooke made her way into Avery’s office unannounced as her encounter with Richard and Judy left her far more furious than she’d imagined.  While she’d thought of calling Guy, she didn’t want to bother him yet again with his father’s stupidity which meant there was only one other focus--with Avery.  Noting that Avery’s secretary was seemingly absent from the desk before her, she marched into Avery’s office, ready to unleash the anger building inside of her as she scanned the office quickly only to find Avery sleeping on the couch in the corner.
A frown touched over Brooke’s lips as she stepped in closer towards her daughter taking a look at her.  Avery was snuggled up beneath a jacket that looked strikingly like the one Brant was wearing earlier at the mansion.  Still as Avery began to toss and turn a bit, Brooke’s anger grew to a fevered pitch as Avery spoke the name that Brooke never wanted to hear from her daughter’s lips again.
“Russ,” Avery cried out a frightened look sweeping over her features as she shifted once again, “Russ wait.”
“Oh hell,” Brooke swatted at her daughter drawing her out from her slumber, “Get up Avery!”
“Russ…” Avery spoke up once more before her eyes snapped open and she found her mother hovering over her with a strong look of disapproval in her eyes and Avery let out a tiny scream before a scowl touched over her lips, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Saving you from your stupidity,” Brooke moaned in heavy disapproval as she shook her head down at Avery, “First I have to deal with your father’s stupidity and then yours.  Honestly, for a daughter of mine, you’d think that you’d have picked up on my level of class and poise, but you’re almost as pathetic as your father is.  To think what might’ve happened if Brant came in here listening to you moan and groan about that Denton boy,” Brooke’s nose wrinkled in response, “Honestly, when will you ever learn, Avery?  You know it’s bad enough that your father has to make life difficult for me, but with you…do you have any idea how many times I’ve had to cover for you lately and I know it’s because of Russell,” she spat out the word as if it was the most hideous thing she’d ever said as she crossed over Avery’s office inspecting it closely.
“I didn’t ask you to do anything for me,” Avery sat upright taking note of Brant’s jacket as she set it aside on the edge of the sofa, “and I didn’t invite you here either.”
“I needed to speak with you right away,” Brooke waved her hand at her, “I figure that I may as well try to make the most of one disaster at a time and since yours was something that we could easily fix…”
“The only disaster that I have in my life is the fact that you keep trying to control it,” Avery snapped back at her sharply, “I’m sick and tired of you busting in and taking charge of things that don’t concern you.  With your talking Brant into some stupid engagement party…”
“I was doing you a favor--one that you’ll thank me for down the line,” Brooke spun around to face her, “Considering all the wonderful things that man has done for you, the last thing he needs to witness is you whoring yourself out to Russell Denton,” Brooke finished noting the surprise in Avery’s eyes, “Don’t think that I haven’t noticed what you’ve been up to behind my back.  I knew what you were doing as a child and I can see it now only this time I won’t be able to fix the mess you’ve made.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Avery answered tightly trying to keep her mother from seeing the way Brooke’s declaration caught her off guard, “I’m not a child anymore.”
“Which is exactly why you shouldn’t be playing out these childish fantasies with Russell,” Brooke reminded her sharply, “The first time you two decided to take this family for a ride, it damn near destroyed you and if I wasn’t there to pick up the pieces after that sham of a wedding…” Brooke shook her head once again, “Avery, we both know that it ended back then for a reason and you should’ve left it all in the past.  Don’t start stirring up trouble with that man when you have Brant ready to give you the world.”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I love him,” Avery answered standing up to her mother at long last, “Regardless of the times you tried to keep us from one another, I love Russ and that hasn’t changed.”
“He almost destroyed you and when I took care of you after that…” Brooke began with a hiss.
“Russ and I could’ve managed if you hadn’t confused me,” Avery shook her head in response, “and now that we have a second chance…”
“Avery, you’re engaged to Brant Ashford--to the kind of man that dreams are made of.”
“No, I’m not,” Avery confessed taking in a slow breath, “Brant and I aren’t engaged and if you’d took the time to check in on my life over the years instead of reading what the tabloids tell you about me here and there, you’d know that.  You’d know that our engagement is nothing more than a tall tale.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” Brooke answered in denial, “and no matter how you spin this tale to suit your lust for Russell Denton, I won’t sit back and hear any more of it.”
“I’m not asking you to listen to it or to accept it because you don’t have a say in my life,” Avery pushed past her mother making her way over to her desk once again, “and I have work to do.”
“Work for the man you’re going to marry,” Brooke pointed out firmly as she hovered over Avery’s desk, “and you will marry Brant because he loves you and he’s going to give you the kind of life that you deserve.”
“Brooke, I don’t want to hear this…”
“Well you’re going to,” Brooke ordered with a huff, “Love will get you no where and this lust that you have with Russell, it’s going to fade and when it does, you’ll be left penniless with a house full of children that don’t respect you.”
“No mother that’s your life and not mine,” Avery sank back into her chair, “and correct me if I’m wrong, but you married for money and daddy hates you now doesn’t he?”
“Your father was a stubborn fool much like you are and I swear Avery if you don’t start behaving like a rational adult…”
“What’s your definition of a rational adult because I have to admit if it’s anything like you, then I want no part in that,” Avery hissed in response feeling her anger bubble over her at her mother’s intrusion in her life, “For your information I was doing just fine before you decided to sniff out the man in my life.”
“You mean the man that you’re pushing aside for that Denton boy that doesn’t really want you.  Avery, if you think about this for a moment you’ll see that beyond the lust, he has nothing to offer you.  Once he knows everything about you, then he won’t want to play these games with you.  He only wants what he can’t have and because you’re about to marry the most wonderful man alive…”
“Russell knows everything about me and he loves me regardless.  He makes me happy and I love him.  I honestly love him and despite the fact that you wanted me to outgrow it, that hasn’t happened and it never will because he and I are meant to be together.”
“You’re meant to be with Brant,” Brooke motioned towards the ring on her finger, “and that alone should tell you why.”
“I’m not interested in his money,” Avery confessed thinking to the ways in which Brooke was viewing Brant, “That’s not what makes me happy.”
“Love will only leave you broken down and miserable and regretting this latest act of indiscretion on your end,” Brooke piped in smugly, “and besides I find it hard to believe that Brant just accepts your position on the relationship between you.  I don’t feel for a second that he’s pretending to feel for you the way he does.”
“Brant cares about me and I care about him,” Avery thought to the ways she’d been keeping Brant in the dark about her relationship with Russ.  Still it wasn’t the time to get into that kind of discussion with Brooke on a warpath, “You know somehow I get the feeling you came here to harass me about something other than my romantic situation?”
“I came here to force you to put your head on straight before you ruin the best thing that ever happened in your life.  I mean it’s bad enough that your father is trying to make a mockery of our family, but with you prancing around with that low class trash when you are about to be wed to the best there is to offer….it’s truly a wonder you’re my child considering how you tend to slum over and over again.  Why just the idea of how much you‘re like your father makes me ill…”
“So what has daddy done now to get a rise out of you?” Avery questioned seeing the intensity behind her mother’s eyes.
“Your father thinks that what’s going on is a joke and he’s making a mockery of our family…”
“You already mentioned that,” Avery waved her hand at Brooke, “but what is it exactly that you’re referring to?  Another project that goes against your materialistic beliefs?”
“More like another woman,” Brooke sneered thinking to the horrid way Richard had treated her as she stepped in upon the lunch he was having with his tramp.
“Really?” Avery’s eyes perked up with obvious interest.  “Daddy was on a date with someone else?”
“Don’t sound happy about this,” Brooke glared at her, “Your father is ruining the image our family has to offer as you’re about to embark upon the wedding of the century.”
“Brooke, I already told you that…” Avery began to argue with her.
“Why I have the best of the best coming in to take charge of this, but instead your father is off finding himself a low class whore so that he’s bound to cause a rift in the plans I have.”
“Sounds like she’s someone I could like already,” Avery noted with a wicked smirk, “especially if she gets you this worked up.  I think I’d like to meet her.”
“Don’t you sit there and be smug like that with me.  That woman he’s spending time with almost cost you your future,” Brooke announced with a deep frown, “She was trying to keep your father out of your life and she’ll do it again if she has the chance.  She’ll take him away from us both if we let her do it.”
“I know he loves me,” Avery rolled her eyes at her mother’s dramatics, “I don’t believe him moving on with his life after this sham of a marriage you’ve had is going to take the relationship I have with him away.”
“You haven’t met this manipulative bitch he’s spending time with,” Brooke paced around Avery’s office, “If she’d have had her way, then you never would’ve been born.  Even now your father would much rather spend time with her than be involved in your life when you need him the most.  I mean think about it…when was the last time you’d spoken with him?”
“Contrary to your belief, he’s helped me put some things in perspective,” Avery shrugged her shoulders, “and if he’s trying to finally find some happiness in his life, then I’m happy for him.”
“All your father has done is made a bad situation worse and if you even encourage his unsavory behavior, you won’t have to worry about Brant finding out about your liaisons with Russell as he’ll be sure to leave you for the way your father carries himself around town.”
“Now I know you’re getting carried away,” Aver groaned as she sat up straighter, “How about you just give him a divorce and we can all call it a day?  I mean it’s not like you haven’t been seeing other men behind his back anyways, right?”
“I would never,” Brooke feigned insult as she lifted her hand to her chest.
“Brooke, I know you were sleeping with your personal trainer, your accountant, your product designer, your yoga instructor and I believe my economics professor to name a few, so don’t give me the loyal wife routine that you slap on daddy every time he even mentions the word divorce to you,” Avery groaned in response, “Do yourselves a favor and just end it now.  You might find you enjoy life again.”
“I would expect this kind of abuse from your father, but not from my first born,” Brooke huffed as she seethed with anger, “They say that your first born is supposed to hold a special bond with you, but you’d rather destroy me wouldn’t you?  After all the love and doting I’ve given you…”
“Oh not this again,” Avery rolled her eyes unable to contain the urge, “I don’t need to hear it.”
“Yes you do,” Brooke demanded in an authorities tone, “by God as my witness I will get you on the path of the straight and narrow seeing to it that you don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made.  You will marry Brant Ashford and you will let go of this ridiculous obsession with Russell Denton and that’s final.”
“Are you going to send me to my room without dinner if I choose to ignore you?” Avery countered back spitefully.
“Don’t force my hand in this issue,” Brooke warned sharply, “as you know that I can do it.”
“All I know is I’m not seventeen anymore and I won’t let you run my life,” Avery stated simply, “now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do for Brant--which I’m sure you’d like me to get to considering that he’s become your latest target.  The last thing he’d like is for me to be behind on what he expects of me, so why don’t you do Brant a favor and give me some peace of mind?”
“This isn’t over,” Brooke warned standing taller as her eyes narrowed down at Avery, “Don’t think that I’m going to sit back and watch you ruin your life all over again.”
“Of course you wouldn’t do that as you’re more than willing to do it for me I’m sure,” Avery grumbled in response as she rose from her desk, her jaw tight with anger, “I’m sure you can find your way out by yourself.”
“Avery,” Brooke began deciding she’d had enough of both Avery and Richard for the day as there were plans to be made--things to be done to ensure that her daughter’s stupidity wouldn’t ruin everything, “Fine.  I’ll go…for now.”
“There is a God,” Avery let out a breath of relief as Brooke stepped towards the door.
“But don’t think I’m finished on this subject with you,” Brooke threw out with one last look before she stepped out of Avery’s office.
“I didn’t think you were,” Avery sighed to herself falling into her chair as her stomach was tied in knots over her mother’s appearance in her office.  With her mother on the warpath, she was certain that things were going to get a lot worse before they’d get better for her.  She was just hoping that somewhere down the line her father didn’t have to endure the same hell over and over again at Brooke’s hand as living with Brooke made everything difficult for everyone.

“So this is what it feels like to have died and gone to heaven huh,” Diane purred sliding her hand over the center of Ben’s chest as their day away from the office had indeed been nothing short of heaven on Earth for her.  His fingers tangled through her long hair as a smile lifted over his lips and she knew just by watching him that clearly he was feeling it too.
“If this is heaven, then I don’t ever want to leave,” Ben confessed thinking of all the ways he and Diane had explored one another over the last twenty four hours.  While he’d been fighting her for so very long, giving in was something he realized that he’d wanted just as badly as she had.  From the first moment he’d saw her while taking the grand tour of BBK, he’d noticed her.  From her sexy smile, down to the not-so-innocent plaid miniskirt she was wearing, he knew that she was the first sign of trouble for him, but oddly enough for the first time in his life, he didn’t care.  Sure, he’d known that even contemplating anything with Diane was a risk, but after last night, he was certain he’d keep taking risks as long as it meant having her like this in his arms.
“And here I’d thought that you would be ready to bolt on me this morning when work rolled around,” Diane felt a smile tug over her features, “Boy was I ever wrong.”
“That you were,” Ben agreed with a heavy sigh squeezing her in closer against him, “and I’ll bet you feel just awful about that now, don’t you?”
“Ask me that tomorrow because given everything you’ve done to me, I don’t think that feeling awful fits into the equation,” Diane teased a warmth filling her up inside as she propped herself up on his chest, “although I must confess my stomach might have room for protest.”
“Oh?” he lifted a curious brow, “Do I sense a complaint coming on here in the midst of our moment of bliss?”
“Not so much as a complaint, but more so a request,” Diane explained dropping feathery light kisses over the center of his chest, “We never did get to dessert last night like you promised and I think we skipped over breakfast this morning…”
“And lunch by the looks of things,” Ben teased with a tiny smile as he eased his hand over her spine cupping her against him, “and given your tenacity probably dinner as well.”
“Only if you’re lucky,” Diane leaned forward, her hair dropping over her shoulder and tickling his chest as she nibbled on his lower lip.
“I feel like the luckiest man in the world right about now,” he admitted with a tiny moan before suckling her moist lip taking it between his as he coaxed her into a more explorative kiss.
“You’d probably increase that lucky streak of yours if you can find a way to sneak some of that dessert into bed here,” Diane murmured against his mouth.
“Are you saying that my temptations aren’t sweet enough,” Ben questioned feigning insult as he held her.
“On the contrary,” Diane shook her head simply, a wicked smile building up over her sexy, seductive features, “I was more so thinking of new ways to show you just how exciting dessert can be.”
“Hmm…now I must confess dessert never looked so good,” Ben flipped her onto her back as he rolled over her caging her in his arms protectively, “but I’ll only go get it on one condition.”
“What’s that?” Diane lifted a curious brow, her smile reaching all over her as she thought to how the last twenty four hours with Ben had been nothing short of a dream come true for her.
“That when I return you’ll be right here in this very spot waiting for me,” Ben dropped down to kiss her once again, “as I won’t settle for anything less.”
“Hmm, well since you put it that way I suppose I could find a way to wait for you--if you don’t take too long,” she teased before sinking back into the pillows, “or else I might think you ran off on me once again like you tend to do every now and then.”
“My days of running away are over,” Ben promised her solemnly as he held her hand over the center of his chest, “I wouldn’t dream of it after what we shared last night.”
“Good because that’s exactly what I was hoping to hear,” Diane confessed releasing him as he reluctantly tore himself away from her.  She sank back into the pillows sprawling out in a most tempting position as she watched him turn towards the door, “Oh Ben?”
“Yes,” he spun around to face her, his eyes widening at the way she looked stretched out in the center of his bed.
“You never did say what dessert was,” Diane dropped her head back a bit running her index finger up over her body in a teasing fashion.
“No I didn’t,” Ben answered with a cryptic smile as his eyes followed the path her finger had drawn over her body, “but I’m sure you’re going to love it.”
“For your sake I sure hope so,” Diane teased back watching him leave the room as she felt the silence surround her.
Unable to contain herself Diane let out a tiny squeal of victory as she reached for his pillow drawing it against her body.  She inhaled the sexy scent of him that lingered over the pillow, reminding her all over again of how Ben managed to seduce all of her senses on every level imaginable.  She could hear him whistling a tune in the kitchen and a smile lifted over her features as she thought of the stories she’d tell Jade after this.  Last night had been something she’d been dreaming about for so very long, but she never, ever imagined that things would turn out to be as wonderful as they’d played out.  Still even now her body was buzzing with the pleasures that Ben had provided her with as he was all the man she’d imagined him to be and more.
Life couldn’t get any better, Diane decided as she rolled onto her stomach realizing that perhaps she’d try a different approach for Ben’s return as she was eager to find new and exciting ways to tantalize every inch of him over and over again.  She tossed her hair over her right shoulder, then her left, then back to her right wanting to find the perfect pose for his eyes to feast upon in his return as she decided that laying on her stomach simply wouldn’t do.  Shifting positions once again, she rose up on her knees, carefully puffing her chest out a bit while trying to look comfortable as she flaunted her curves in her attempt to tempt him.  However as a few minutes began to pass, Diane felt an ache rush over her as her attempt at being sexy was a bit tiring.
Diane waited a few more moments before finally deciding that Ben must’ve gotten lost in the refrigerator.  Or maybe he had decided to bail on her, she frowned to herself as she rose up from the bed slowly crossing his bedroom as she heard the sounds of voices coming out from the other room in his apartment.  She tried to make out what was going on as she could hear Ben’s voice a bit muffled, but then there was something else--something more that perked her interest.  It almost sounded like…
“No, it can’t be,” Diane bit on her lower lip before looking around Ben’s bedroom and quickly throwing on one of his shirts.   Slowly Diane made her way down the hallway towards the kitchen and it was in that moment when she saw the one thing she hadn’t anticipated on their morning together.  Ben was standing in his living room, by the doorway talking to a tall, leggy brunette.  She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but judging by Ben’s physical reaction to her, Diane could tell that things were intense.  She crept forward trying to listen further as the woman spoke up sharply.
“I don’t care who the hell you have here Ben.  Your priorities with me are what should be at the top of your list,” she sneered her dark eyes narrowing with a rage as she placed her hands on her hips, “which means you’d be best suited to go back into that bedroom of yours and tell the bimbo to beat it as we have to talk.”
“I’m not going to do this now,” Ben answered sharply.
“You need to be focused on us and if you won’t do it, then I will as this ends now,” the woman started towards the hallway as Diane took a step back still trying to listen without being caught in her eavesdropping.
“You aren’t going anywhere near her,” Ben’s voice lashed out at her as he reached for the woman’s arm pulling her towards the door once again, “I already told you that we’ll deal with this later.”
“We’ll deal with this now,” she spat back at him shaking her head furiously, “what the hell happened to you?  You used to have your priorities in the right place, but now…”
“Now is not the time for you to come in and turn my world upside down.  I told you once and I’ll say it again,” Ben pulled her towards the front door urging her out of his apartment, “this can wait.”
“No it can’t,” the woman snapped back at him, “Ben, I’m not going to be put off and if you think…”
“This is going to wait plain and simple,” Ben shoved her out of his apartment closing the door in her face before letting out an agitated sigh.  He turned the lock thinking to Diane waiting in his room as he spun around to find her standing behind him, anger burning behind her eyes.
“Diane…” he started nervously as he looked back at her, “I…”
“Don’t you dare Diane me,” she shot back suddenly feeling like a fool as things were suddenly painfully obvious to her.
“Diane, it’s not what you think…” Ben began reaching to her.  “It’s….”
“Don’t you touch me,” she snapped back at him, “Don’t you ever touch me…”
“Diane,” he reached for her arm as she pushed him away from her feeling her anger get the best of her as tears swelled in her eyes and she realized that her dream with Ben came to an end.
She reached for his door throwing out one last bitter look before speaking up again, “Obviously this was why you kept running away before, but don’t worry Ben.  I’m not stupid.  I get it now and you won’t have to worry about me ever again,” she marched out of his apartment wanting to kick herself for being so stupid as she heard Ben calling out to her.  Unwilling to look back she made her way to the elevator ready to put the last twenty four hours behind her as she’d finally succeeded in making a fool of herself all over again.


Heather heard the pounding on her hotel room door rousing her from her beauty sleep as she was certain she’d need to be on her tip top shape for the party this weekend considering that Brant was clearly going to be making his way back into her life again.  Clearly that had to be why he took a sudden interest in her favorite cosmetics company and after the party, she was convinced she’d have more than ever with Brant back in her life and a modeling contract that would rival all others she’d had in the past.  Now as the furious banging on the door beckoned her, a frown fell upon her lips.  She looked to the time realizing it was far too early for room service to be bringing her the evening protein snack she’d requested in her beauty session.
“What?” Heather demanded harshly throwing open the door as she found Kipp standing before her looking rather frazzled.
“Thank God you’re here,” Kipp let out a breath of relief as he looked into her room, “Can I come in?”
“Actually,” Heather began flatly standing in the doorway to prevent him from accessing her room, “I don’t think now is a really good time Kipp as I’m rather busy.”
“Too busy for the man you love,” his dark eyes pleaded with her as he saw her unyielding composure and his heart sank, “Heather, look I know about what happened with my father.”
“Then you should know why I don’t have the time for any of this,” Heather huffed tossing her blonde hair back over her shoulders, “You should know better than to try to come here after the way he offended me today.”
“I’m sorry,” Kipp explained desperately, “My father tends to do things--stupid, foolish things without giving thought to what is really best in the situation and the way he treated you, well it was horrible.  It was wrong and if you’d give me five minutes, I swear to you that I can prove to you what he said doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
“Kipp, I don’t really have the time to…” she started pushing on the door a bit as Kipp placed his foot between the door and the frame hoping to keep her from shutting him out.
“Heather please,” he began his voice tight with emotion, “Tell me that my father hasn’t won--that he hasn’t pushed you so far out of my life that I’ve lost you forever.  I love you Heather and to hell with what he says.  I’d give you the world…I’d do anything it takes to make you happy including going against him if it meant that you’d have me.  Heather, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me and to hell with what he said.  You are talented, beautiful and well on your way to being a star.  If he’s too blind to see it, then I’ll make it happen.”
“How?” she questioned opening the door a bit to eye him with intense scrutinization.
“I have connections--people outside my father--bigger than my father that I can go to and then there’s more,” Kipp began desperately hoping to find a way to persuade her, “I had a talk with a college buddy of mine…maybe you’ve heard of him.  Angelo Giovanni…”
“The talent agent?” Heather’s eyes widened in surprise as Kipp nodded eagerly.
“When I told him before about William representing you, well he agreed with me that your talent was far too good to be wasted on a loser like that.  He’s willing to take you on at a going rate of half of what he has his other talent on because I told him about the profit potential you have.  He‘s heard all about how wonderful you are and then there‘s this,” Kipp reached into his pocket pulling out a jewelry box as Heather’s eyes widened in surprise.
“What is this?” she questioned inspecting the velvet box before her with inquiring eyes.
“It was made just for you,” he coaxed the box into her hands, “Just take a look at it as I want you to have it.”
“Kipp, I…” she began unable to purge the curiosity that had taken over her as the weight of the box centered in her palm.  Now as she carefully lifted the lid, her eyes fell upon one of the most beautiful, sparkling pink diamond necklaces that she’d ever seen.  A gasp fell over her lips as she was mesmerized by the jewels sparkling before her, “Is this real?”
“As real and as rare as can be much like you are,” he admitted stepping in towards her as he touched the box feeling the hold her fingers had on it as her eyes remained fixed on the surprised he’d brought over for her, “I didn’t know if you preferred the pink diamond in itself, but when I saw it, I knew it was the one I’d wanted for you,” Kipp explained lifting the necklace from the box as Heather’s eyes followed the movement unable to contain her surprise and eagerness to wear it.
Kipp stepped in behind her watching her lift her hair as he eased the jeweled necklace over the perfect lines of her long, slender neck.  A soft sigh escaped her lips as the feel of the necklace pressed in against her skin.  Her fingers rose up to caress the jewel as she dropped her hair in a cascade over her shoulders.
“It’s beautiful,” Heather gasped unable to believe what Kipp had brought over for her as she turned towards the mirror to take a long look at the token he’d brought over in an attempt to win her heart.  Her smile sparkled and rivaled the gemstones in the necklace as Heather indeed felt that this necklace was made for her and her alone.  Kipp had been right on his assessment of it, she decided realizing that things were most certainly looking up for her.
“You’re beautiful,” Kipp pressed a kiss over her shoulder blade tasting her sweet skin as her smile filled his heart with a warmth unlike anything he’d ever known, “Do you like it?” he hummed against her skin as Heather nodded eagerly.
“I love it,” she breathed feeling her body tingle with pleasure at the feel of this precious gem against her skin.  The very thought of the small fortune she was wearing seemed to arouse her in ways she’d never dreamt of before as her fingers played over the luster of it.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Kipp slid his arms around her waist as he stepped in behind her holding her closer to him.  His hands teased over the bottom buttons on her shirt as her eyes danced with delight at the necklace, “Does this mean you’ll reconsider giving us a chance after my father’s inappropriate behavior?”
Heather turned her attention briefly to his hands upon her as a frown touched upon her lips, “I suppose it’s a start.”
“What if I told you that there was more where that came from,” Kipp questioned with a cryptic smile as Heather spun around to face him eagerly.
“You mean you brought me something else?” she tugged on his tie as her thoughts of what else he might have in store for her took over.
“I can do that, but first I need to know that we’re okay,” Kipp’s eyes pleaded with her as he continued to maintain his hold on her.
“Kipp, what your father said to me was very cruel especially after you promised he’d give me that role in his film.  I was so hoping he’d be half as nice as you are, but then when he shunned me…” she threw out a baby voice as her lip curled in a pout.
“My father’s a fool,” he pulled her in against him tighter, “but I’m not anything like him.”
“No, I suppose you aren’t,” a smile lifted over her features, “Kipp, is that another jewelry box in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
“Maybe a little bit of both as I have a few surprises for you along the way,” he stepped further into her hotel room bringing her along with him, “why don’t you check it out?”
“Oh Kipp, something tells me that for the first time tonight I can’t wait to get into your pants,” Heather bubbled over with excitement pushing him back onto her bed and straddling him as she decided that perhaps it was time to see just how far Kipp would go to make her happy.  Douglas had been rude and condescending, but that would change soon enough as she was certain he wouldn’t refuse the only thing that made his son happy and the happier Kipp was, the better Heather’s chances of getting everything she ever dreamed of.
If tonight was a hint of things to come, then Heather would sit back and let Kipp shower her with lavish gifts as he would be exactly what she needed until Brant at long last opened his eyes and welcomed her back with open arms.  Then again as an idea sparked in her head, perhaps Kipp would prove more useful than ever before.  Given that Brant had decided to throw a party to capture his attention, maybe it was time for her to bring the game full circle once again reminding Brant that she was in fact hot property and certainly seeing her with Kipp would be just the thing to make him made with desire and jealousy as Brant never enjoyed being shown up especially not by someone like Kipp Mahoney.  Given Brant’s nature, by the end of the party Beholder was having, he would be begging for her return as the last thing he’d want would be her having a man like Kipp on her arm.  Somehow the idea of getting Brant jealous seemed like means to an amazing end as she was about to acquire everything she’d worked so very hard to obtain.  The world was in her hands and she was eating it up with all the enthusiasm and delight that she could as today was the first step towards that happily ever after she’d longed for.


Jade sliced vegetables quickly before dumping them into a salad bowl and stopping for a moment to catch her breath. She closed her eyes and said a prayer that things would work out for the evening. She wanted nothing more than for Seth to see that Grady was a good man. He had to see that…he just had to.

“You don’t have to be so nervous,” Grady advised as he stepped in from his back porch, “Everything is going to be fine.”

“I really don’t know how you can say that. Seth is coming over here, and he has only one thing in mind…blowing you out of the water,” She frowned as she turned to face him, “You just have to understand that Seth is not going to be open to this idea at all.”

“I understand that, but you also know that I do put up one hell of a fight,” He said as he took a platter from the cabinet, “The steaks and chicken are almost done out on the grill. I’m going to go out and get them. Will you be okay in here with the potatoes and the salad?”

“Yeah, the food is just great,” She said as she blew off the thought, “I’m talking about my brother who just might come in here and try to kill you, Grady.”

“I know you are,” He said, placing the platter upon the countertop and slipping his arms around her. He gazed into her eyes for a moment, “It really will be okay. Have a little faith,” He said with a wink before he dropped a kiss to her lips, “I’m going to get the meat off the grill. Check on the baked potatoes, okay?”

“Okay, I’ll do it,” She said as a smile crept over her face. She looked up to his eyes, “Just promise me that everything will be okay.”

“Everything will be okay,” He assured her before dropping another kiss upon her lips.

“I sincerely hope you’re right,” She said as he picked up the platter and made his way outside. She moved to the oven and checked on the baked potatoes. Deciding they were done, she removed them from the oven and placed the baking sheet upon the stove. The door bell rang, drawing her attention away from the food.

Jade took a deep breath, hoping to calm the anxiety that crept over her. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before she made her way to the door and opened it to greet their guests, “Seth, Blake, I’m glad you could both make it.”

“You didn’t give me a choice,” Seth reminded her as he followed Blake inside the house, “Where is he anyway?”

“He’s out back taking the food off the grill,” Jade informed him, “Why don’t you take your jackets off and I’ll get you something to drink. What would you like?”

“A beer,” Seth said as he glanced around the living room for any insights into Grady’s personality.

“And for you?” Jade asked of Blake.

“Water is fine,” Blake said as she watched Seth carefully.

“You two just make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be back in a minute,” Jade smiled before stepping out of the room.

“Seth, are you okay?” Blake asked as she stepped forward and touched his arm.

“I don’t like this,” Seth grumbled as he looked to Blake, “I want to go back there, find this guy and beat the snot out of him.”

“You haven’t even seen him tonight,” She said softly, “You need to give him a chance…for Jade’s sake.”

“But this is all wrong, Blake. Every bit of this is wrong. Jade wants to believe the best in everyone, but I know guys like this. I brought her back from the brink one time before. I’m not going to stand by and watch her walk willingly into that kind of disaster again.”

“Seth,” Blake spoke his name firmly as she met his eyes, “You need to trust Jade’s instincts. She cares about Grady very much, and if you go into this full of antagonism, you’re going to push her away from you. If you really want to protect her, then maybe you should get to know Grady very well. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Seth took Blake in his arms and hugged her close, “You know just how to work me into this. Thank you for coming here tonight,” He kissed her gently, “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome,” Blake smiled.

“Here’s your beer and water,” Jade announced as she stepped across the room with drinks in hand.

“Thank you,” Blake smiled as she took the water, “This place is very nice. Grady has great taste.”

“Yeah, he does,” Jade nodded, “I asked him once if his ex-wife did the decorating, and he told me real quick like that she wouldn’t even know where to begin. So what you see is all Grady.”

“So where is he? What’d you guys do? Kill a cow or something?” Seth asked dryly.

“Seth, don’t be an ass,” Jade warned, “He’ll be in shortly.”

“Are you talking about me?” Grady asked as he stepped into the room, “I had to take the meat off the grill and make sure everything was shut off before I came in,” He explained before he extended his hand to Seth, “I’m glad you came, Seth. This really means a lot to both Jade and myself.”

Seth shook Grady’s hand as he studied him closely, “I just hope this isn’t a huge waste of time for all of us,” He said as much in warning as in seriousness. He could only hope that his sister’s instincts were more on track this time than any other time in her past. The last thing he wanted was to have to save his sister from herself.


“So how are we doing?” Kenneth asked as he stepped into the hospital room with a bundle of flowers in his hands.

“What have you done now?” Caitlin asked as she covered her gasping mouth at the sight of the flowers.

“Well, I passed a garden, and since I couldn’t take you to it, I thought I’d bring it to you,” He teased as he sat a vase down upon the end table and slipped the flowers into the container, “What do you think?”

“I think they’re beautiful, and you are too much,” She said as she extended her hand to him.

He took her hand and raised it to his lips for a gentle kiss, “It’s never too much for you,” He said as he sat on the edge of the bed beside her. He gently swept small tendrils of blond hair from her cheek, “Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?”

“Short of taking me home, not really,” She smiled weakly as she gazed into his dark eyes, “Though it really helps that you’re here.”

He smiled as he turned his position so that he could kick off his shoes and lay on the bed beside her. He drew her into his arms and hugged her close, “Do you think you’ll feel up to attending a party this weekend?”

“Are you serious?” She asked as she raised up and looked at him as if he were crazy.

“Unfortunately I am. Brant’s throwing an engagement party for Avery and himself. I have a feeling it’ll be the typical Ashford bash which means there will be plenty of food, drink, dance, and drama,” He shrugged, “I wouldn’t go, but it is my twin brother’s party.”

“And how many of these engagement parties has he had?” She asked as she lay against him and snuggled into his chest.

“Well, more than any one person should unfortunately,” He admitted, “But still, it is kind of expected that I show up. I don’t have to be there for every minute, but I do have to put in a quick appearance.”

“In that case, I suppose I could muster up a few moments to spend at a party with you,” She sighed, “As long as you promise to make it up to me the rest of the night.”

“I’ve already thought about that actually.”

“You have?”

“Yep, I’ve already made a few plans, and it will definitely be relaxing for us.”

She smiled as she closed her eyes to get more comfortable, “Then you can count on me to be there.”

“Excellent. So did your doctor say anything about letting you out of here? I guess I should have asked about that before I started making plans for this weekend, huh?”

She laughed softly, “Probably, but it’s okay. The doctor said he wants me to stay tonight, but he’ll discharge me in the morning.”

“That’s good to hear,” Kenneth kissed the top of her head, “I’ll take you home, and you can relax.”

“Ken, you don’t have to do that.”

“No, I don’t, but I want to, and I’m going to.”

“Well then,” She teased.

“It’s just that I hate to see you like this, and maybe I can take away some of the pain and discomfort by giving you something else to focus on.”

She raised her head and gently touched his lips with a forefinger, “You are just too good to be true, Kenneth Ashford,” She paused before she pressed a kiss to his lips, “But I’m glad that you are real,” She smiled as she lay her head upon his chest and relaxed into his embrace. While her life was in utter chaos at the moment, she found solace and peace within his arms, and that was the most comforting thought of all.


Cameron knocked lightly upon the door before he stepped inside Thea’s office. She glanced away from her computer terminal with questioning eyes, “Aren’t you here a little late?”

“Some items required my attention,” He explained as he carried a newspaper in his hand, “And now they’re going to require yours.”

“I don’t think I like this already,” She sighed as she sank back in her plush leather chair.

“Poor Thea,” He frowned as he sat across from her, “Have I been working you too hard again?”

“Do you realize that we are stretched pretty damn thin on every project we have in motion? And we haven’t made very much progress on any of them.”

“We’ve made progress,” He said simply.

“Like hell we have,” She leaned onto her desk, “We don’t have the ring, we don’t have the microfilm, the lawsuit has only just been filed. Your quest to have Jade has hit a brick wall, and none of the Ashfords are in any kind of danger on any level.”

“You’re such a pessimist. You have to put everything in perspective.”

“Perspective? I have plenty of perspective, Cameron, and right now, none of our plans are going well.”

“Thea,” Cameron spoke her name as he stood and placed the newspaper upon her desk. He stepped behind her chair and gently massaged the tense muscles of her neck, “You really need to lighten up. Jade is going to be mine, and I’ve already put some things in motion to make that happen. As for the Ashfords, well, trust me. Things aren’t quite as rosy over there as they’d like everyone to believe.”

“And just how do you figure?”

“I have my sources,” He grinned, “But let’s just say that I’m going to set the Ashfords on their ears.”

“You keep making promises, Cameron, but so far nothing has happened,” She said as she glanced over her shoulder at him.

“Take a look at that newspaper.”

She took a deep breath as she lifted the newspaper from the desk and glanced over it, “Caitlin Vaughn, girlfriend of Kenneth Ashford, was attacked in the parking lot of the Coral Courier. Sources say the attack was intensely violent, and Ms. Vaughn was admitted to Coral County Regional,” She lay the paper upon her desk, “Your handiwork?”

“No, it wasn’t, but I want to know who did this,” He said with a grin as he eased himself around to face her, “I want to know everything there is to know about Caitlin Vaughn. Birthday, social security number, old lovers, girlfriends, professors, co-workers, pets, her favorite food for that matter,” He said to punctuate his desire for knowledge, “I want to know everything about her. Whoever did this could use a little help to avoid the long arm of the law, and I’m just the man to give it to him.”

“What if it’s just a random psycho?”

“Then I’ll have to see to it that his next attack isn’t random,” He shrugged, “But I have a feeling there’s more to it than that. Let’s find out about this woman, Thea. This could be the link I’ve looking for where Kenneth Ashford is concerned. He’s been the hardest to try to attack up until now. I’m not going to let this chance to get to him slip through our fingers.”

Thea nodded reluctantly, “Okay, I’ll get started on this.”

“I knew I could count on you,” He said as he stooped to steal a kiss from her. He gently swept a finger over her cheek, “And smile. Things are looking up by the minute.”

Thea watched as Cameron left her office. She frowned as she glanced back to the newspaper. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t share his optimism, and until she saw some results, she wasn’t about to change her mind.


Russell entered Avery’s office hoping to find her finishing up for the day as a smile lifted over his features.  Just the thought of seeing her again after the long day he’d had made his heart soar with possibilities for the night to come between them as he’s planned something full of romance for her.  He’d taken her words from this morning into careful consideration and knowing that she loved him as much as he loved her, well it only fueled his desire to do something spectacular for them tonight.
“Avery,” Russell spoke out her name looking around her office and finding it empty much to his dismay as he wondered if she’d already left.  Still noting that her desk lamp was on and that she appeared to have files scattered over the top of her desk, he sincerely doubted she’d left for the evening.  A moment later he heard the sounds of the toilet flushing from the private bathroom in her office followed by the sound of the sink and after that a very pale looking Avery emerged from her private bathroom.
“Hey beautiful,” Russell greeted her noting the way her face had seemingly been drained of color since their time together earlier in the morning.  A frown spilled over his lips as he stepped in towards her.
“Russ, hi,” she smiled weakly as she held her hand over her abdomen trying to ignore the queasiness that had just overtaken her.
“What’s wrong,” he questioned moving in beside her, “Did something happen?”
“Brooke paid me a visit,” Avery offered weakly as he reached for her arm guiding her over towards the sofa in her office, “I guess her presence is finally catching up with me again.”
“I don’t like the sounds of that,” Russell frowned helping her sit down as he touched her face gently, “Well you don’t appear to be running a fever or anything…”
“I’m fine,” she answered dismissively as she inhaled a slow, shallow breath.
“You don’t look fine,” concern laced over his handsome features as his finger tips pressed over her cheek, “Have you eaten today?”
“I don’t even want to think about food right about now,” Avery groaned sinking back onto her couch as she closed her eyes, “It’s bad enough that I feel like my stomach is twisted in knots, but to add the element of food to the equation…ugh.”
“You really aren’t feeling well, are you?” Russell questioned watching her collapse into the cushion beside him.
“I’d be lying if I said I was feeling great, but I think this is more so my ulcer returning once again,” she sighed reopening her eyes as she turned her attention to him fully attempting to keep her eyes focused on him, “I think today is just my unlucky day as I’ve been anything, but on the ball here.  First I fell asleep without realizing it and then Brooke showed up…”
“Avery, I’m sorry that she’s bringing so much stress back into your life,” he offered extending his arm out around her as she slumped in beside him savoring the embrace as she lay her head on his chest and released a soft sigh.
“You know how Brooke is.  It seems as though my father‘s decided to reclaim his life again and enjoy it and well, as you know,” Avery confessed shaking her head as she thought back to the exchange with her mother, “when something isn’t going her way, then the world be damned.”
“I know that only too well,” he admitted hugging her in closer to him as he kissed the top of her head gently, “Well, I have to admit that your not feeling well kind of alters the plans I’d made for us.”
“What plans?” Avery questioned lifting her gaze up towards him as her eyelashes fluttered with curiosity before she gave him a strange look, “Did we make plans for tonight?”
“Not exactly,” he admitted with a hint of a smile, “but since I wound up taking you to work this morning, I thought that maybe you might need a ride home and I could perhaps have a quiet dinner for two at my place.  You know a little home cooked meal before we sat down and watched a classic movie together,” he explained thinking of the detail he’d put into planning the night before them, “I grabbed a few of your favorite romances at the video store and I thought we’d try the laid back, comfortable thing tonight.”
“Oh Russ,” Avery felt a smile touch over the corners of her mouth, “that sounds absolutely wonderful.”
“That was the general idea,” he offered up giving her a light squeeze once again, “but we can just skip over the dinner part for now if that works out better…”
“I think dinner is out of the question for a while,” Avery decided sliding her palm over the center of his chest as she felt something shift beneath his jacket causing her to gasp as she pulled back.  She noticed the bulge over his abdomen and she gave him a strange look at it continued to move back and forth underneath his jacket, “Russ, what’s in there?”
“What’s in where,” he questioned innocently while flashing her a bright smile, “I don’t see anything.”
“Like hell you don’t,” Avery leaned forward reaching for the zipper on his jacket as curiosity brewed inside of her, “What have you done now?” she questioned tugging at his jacket zipper as her eyes fell upon the biggest blue-green eyes she’d ever seen.  A gasp fell from her lips as a tiny meow filled the silence in her office.  Almost immediately her eyes turned up towards Russell in surprise, “Russ, you didn’t!”
“Didn’t I,” he questioned with a tiny chuckle as he lifted the small kitten from the warm confines of his jacket in an attempt to share his surprise with Avery.
“Russ, that’s a kitten,” Avery blurted out noting the tiny rust colored fluffy animal before her.
“So it is,” he laughed lightly.
“What are you doing with a kitten?”
“I couldn’t resist the urge when I saw him earlier,” Russell began watching her finger brush over the kitten’s ear instinctively, “You could say he found a way to persuade me into taking him home.”
“But how did you find him…” Avery questioned feeling the kitten let out a mew beneath her touch.
“I was planning for tonight,” he confessed thinking back to the hand fate had delivered him, “and next to the video store is the animal shelter and well I started thinking about our talk this morning--about how you felt we needed to find some different ways to work on solidifying our relationship with one another outside of sex I do believe was the correct terminology you used there, right?”
“Russ, I can’t believe you did this,” Avery gasped at the realization of what he’d done in buying a kitten.  “Do you have any idea what this little guy is going to need from you considering that…”
“That he’s a part of our family,” Russell finished brightly as he handed the kitten over to Avery, “Once I saw those beautiful eyes of his, I knew he belonged with us--kind of like a part of something wonderful we’ve started between us.”
“Bribing me with a kitten to get me to move in is so not going to work,” Avery threw out a scathing look before doting on the tiny creature in her hands, “Well hello handsome.  How are you this evening?” the kitten let out a tiny meow as Avery kissed the top of his head, “I know it’s a big, scary world out there and you were probably terrified in that jacket of his…”
“He wasn’t in there long,” Russell defended watching at the kitten purred upon Avery’s words.  He couldn’t help but smile as the kitten began to melt against Avery’s touch sinking in against her warm chest.  “We just wanted to surprise you.”
“Well surprise me you did because I never would’ve imagined that you’d come here with something so wonderful and…” Avery watched as the kitten let out a tiny yawn and an aww spilled from her lips, “Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”
“You’re the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” Russell admitted keeping his eyes fixed on her completely as she bonded with the kitten.
“Russell please,” Avery shook her head at his words, “There is no comparison here.  He’s absolutely darling.  Did you name him?”
“Actually he already had a name when we connected,” Russell confessed with a shrug of his shoulders, “The previous owners were surprised to find kittens, so when they couldn’t take care of them, they decided to find good homes for Rusty here and his sisters.”
“Rusty?” Avery turned her attention to the small kitten as he snuggled in against her, “Oh that’s so adorable.  Rusty is the perfect name for him.”
“Well you know I happened to think it was perfect myself,” Russell boasted watching as the kitten seemed to melt away Avery’s constant chaos, “See, now doesn’t he make everything feel better when he’s in your arms like that?”
“Kind of reminds me of someone else I know,” Avery couldn’t help but smile lifting her eyes up towards his as he leaned in closer to her dropping a tender kiss upon her soft lips.
“Anyone in particular,” he teased his breath lingering over hers as she shook her head at him.
“You never quit do you,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh at his attempts to win her over despite the day she’d had.
“Not when I’m this determined.  Besides I’ve told you time and time again about my powers of persuasion and when I told Rusty all about you, well he couldn’t wait to meet you as I had a great many tales to share with him.”
“Such as?” Avery lifted a curious brow as Rusty repositioned himself on her arm.
“I was telling him how you were the most incredible woman I’ve ever known and how you have this way about you that makes the world seem right just by your being in it,” he touched her cheek gently as his eyes memorized her features.
“Now you’re flattering me,” Avery gave him a pointed look.
“Maybe just a little bit, but then again, it’s all true,” he leaned in towards her, a hint of promise hanging over his tone as he brushed his lips against hers in a teasing fashion, “So what do you say about my taking you home right about now?”
“Mmm…” she purred against his lips before parting from the kiss reluctantly, “I’d love to, but I have a lot of work to do.”
“You can finish it tomorrow,” he urged again.
“I wish I could, but Brooke put me behind and with the way I’m feeling,” she started thinking about the weight of the lawsuit hanging over her head, “I don’t know if I’m ever going to be prepared for this one.”
“Then why don’t you let me help you?” he suggested eagerly, “We can take some of it home and work on it together.”
“Russ, you don’t know a thing about business law,” Avery threw out a firm look in his direction.
“I helped you study back in the day.  How hard can it be?”
“It’s a lot harder than you thought it to be and even so, well I don’t know if I could pull off sneaking away to your place tonight especially after Brooke’s latest disaster in the making.”
Russell watched her eyes for a long moment seeing the displeasure building behind them before he let out a heavy sigh, “Alright, what has the ice queen done now?”
“You’re not going to like it,” Avery answered wearily.
“So what else is new?” he grumbled in response, “She never does anything that sits well with me as I really think her main goal in life is to make us miserable.”
“I don’t doubt that, but this time she managed to rope Brant into her nefarious plot,” Avery continued taking in a breath as she prepared to tell Russell about the engagement party that was thrown on her in the spur of the moment.
“Wait a second,” Russell frowned deeply, “Did you say Brant and Brooke?”
“She coaxed him into throwing an engagement party,” Avery blurted out quickly knowing that he was not going to like the news.
“She what?” he roared in response as Rusty opened his eyes and let out a tiny surprised meow.
“Russ, it’s okay,” Avery ran her fingers over Rusty’s fur hoping to put him at ease, “It’s not as bad as it sounds.  I mean you know how Brooke pushes her will upon others.”
“Avery, I told you that an engagement party was a stupid idea and somehow I get the feeling that Brant didn’t exactly need his arm twisted for this one considering that he’s been salivating at the mouth hoping to get a chance to flaunt you off as his latest conquest.”
“We both know that’s not what’s going on,” Avery defended thinking about the situation they’d found themselves in, “Brant’s using this more so as a way to counteract the negative press that this lawsuit and the murder are bringing in the direction of BBK.”
“No, he’s using this as a ploy to get you into his arms and away from me,” Russell argued with her thinking of the lengths that Brant Ashford would go to in order to rip Avery away from him.
“He doesn’t even know about us yet, Russ.  I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to do,” Avery began after a moment’s hesitation, “I really think that this time this one lays all on Brooke there.”
“Brooke sees him as her latest meal ticket and she’s going to play it for all it’s worth especially if it means pushing me out of your life forever,” he frowned deeply thinking of the cards stacked against him.
“Since when do I let my mother tell me what to do?” Avery raised an introspective brow as the concern washed over his features.
“Gee, I think the last time was our wedding day,” Russell blurted out thinking back to the moment in time when everything changed for him.
Avery shifted uneasily at his words, “That was different.  The circumstances weren’t the same…”
“Avery, that was a big moment in our lives that Brooke took from us.  If you would have just ignored her and stayed that day, then you and I could’ve avoided all this nonsense we’ve had to endure,” he explained with a sigh thinking to the road that brought them back to one another again, “I mean really we both could’ve been so very happy long ago if…”
“Russ, that day was a disaster for all of us,” Avery interrupted feeling tension rush over her as her heart began to race at the memory, “There were things about that day that…”
“That what?” he watched her begin to close down as she looked away from him.
“That you wouldn’t understand,” she took in a slow breath trying to flush out the images of the day she’d walked out on her wedding.
“Help me understand,” he urged touching her leg gently, “Make me see what happened.”
“Russ, it’s just that…” she rose her eyes up towards him once again wondering if she could relive those moments of turmoil that lay behind her, “I made a mistake.  A huge one and even thinking about it now is still so very painful,” she blurted out tears burning behind her eyes.
“I know it is,” he reached out to her touching her cheek tenderly, “It is for me too.”
“That’s why I don’t want to return to that,” Avery pleaded with him.
“We don’t have to return to that ever again as the only thing that matters is the way we feel about one another right now and our love,” he promised wiping a tear from her face as he leaned forward kissing her tenderly, “I do love you Avery.”
“I love you too,” she whispered against his lips wanting so desperately to let go of the past between them and focus on the future as it held far more possibilities for them.
“How about we work on getting you out of here,” he suggested breaking away from the kiss as he eased back on he chair a bit.  “I was thinking maybe we could work on settling that stomach of yours somehow over tea…”
“I’m sure it’s nothing that some rest won’t cure when she and I go back home together,” Brant’s voice beckoned Avery away from her lingering thoughts of the past as a gasp fell from her lips.
“Brant,” she spoke his name giving him a curious look, “H-how long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to know that I’m not going to let Russell steal you tonight as we have some major party planning to work on,” Brant decided firmly as he folded his arms in front of his chest, “I told the caterer that you and I would discuss some things with him later along with the decorator…”
“She doesn’t want to play a part in your stupid party,” Russell scowled up at him.
“No one asked for your opinion, Denton,” Brant grumbled in response as his eyes fell upon the fluff in the center of Avery’s chest. “What in the world is that?”
“It’s Rusty,” Avery answered simply as she turned her attention to the small kitten hoping to avoid conflict.
“And who’s Rusty?” Brant stepped in closer for inspection.
“Avery’s new kitten that I bought for her,” Russell explained matter of fact as Brant’s eyes darted towards him once again.
“Why would you do that?” Brant questioned abrasively.
“I thought maybe Avery could use a companion that would be good company while she was temporarily stuck at the mansion with you,” Russell grumbled in response feeling his muscles tighten at the idea of Avery spending any time alone with Brant.
“She didn’t need your charity as she has all the companionship she could ever need at the mansion,” Brant began to argue with him as Russell frowned in response.
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe just maybe the kind of companionship that you’re offering her isn’t what she’s looking for, Brant?  Did you think that maybe just maybe Avery might want to get this nightmare of a lie out in the open so that she can return to her real life again?  You know the one that doesn’t revolve around you?”
“Russ…” Avery began hearing the anger behind his tone.
“No really Avery.  I mean here Brant is planning the party of the century with your mother, but has he really taken the time to see what it is you want?  To look at what it is that makes you happy?”
“As if you’d have the first idea on that,” Brant scuffed in response as Russell rose to his feet.
“As a matter of fact I do and…” the tension mounted as Avery nearly leapt off the sofa placing herself between the two men as they faced off against one another.
“That’s enough,” Avery pleaded with them cradling Rusty against her as she shook her head, “Please don’t do this here.  Right now this is the last thing any of us need.”
“I’m not going to let him talk to me that way,” Brant offered with a huff glaring at Russell.
“And I’m not going to sit back and listen to your presumptions about what Avery wants.  The way I see it, none of this is for Avery’s benefit as it’s completely for you and you alone.”
“I’ve done everything in my power to help Avery through this situation that’s fallen upon us…including tolerating you, but right about now my tolerance level has reached it’s limit and I’m tired of dealing with you day in and day out.”
“So then let the world know you lied about you and Avery and then I promise you that you won’t have to worry about me ever again,” Russell offered up issuing a challenging tone, “Go ahead.  I’ll even be the first to print the real tale for you if you like…”
“You’d enjoy that far too much for me to give you the satisfaction,” Brant hissed back at him, “As far as I’m concerned as long as you’re wanting my engagement with Avery called off, then I’m just going to keep it going as long as I can.”
“Just to spite me?” Russell let out an ironic laugh, “Well that is just like an Ashford, isn’t it?”
“Um, hello I’m still in the room,” Avery shook her head at the both of them, “Stop pretending that I’m not taking all this in or that I don’t have a say in the matter.”
“I’m just trying to help you get rid of this bozo,” Brant answered casually as a frown touched over his lips, “As clearly he’s been nothing but a bother to you since the moment he stepped back into your life.”
“I’m the bother,” Russell laughed harder unable to mask his amusement, “The only bother I see is the one standing before me.  You know the pompous windbag that believes he can find a way to get control of you Avery by keeping up this charade and bilking it for all it’s worth.”
“Look I don’t like this any more than the two of you do, but the fact to the matter is that the FBI is still sniffing around us and wants to find a way to bury us.  If we tear one another apart right now, then it’s only going to make everything we said up until this point seem like we’ve had something to hide.  I don’t like putting up with this fake engagement any more than you like hearing about it Russ and Brant I don’t want you both fighting over me because I can clearly make my own decisions and fight my own battles which at the moment my top priority is keeping BBK out of ruins thanks to the lawsuit that Stone Corp has against us.  If you both want to do me a favor, then you’ll stop bickering and start thinking of ways to help me put Cameron Stone in his place before it’s too late…”
“Avery you know that I only have your best interest at heart,” Brant began turning to look at her with apologetic eyes, “I just don’t see why he has to be here all the time getting in the way of that.”
“I’m not getting in the way of anything,” Russell defended, “The way I see it the only one getting in the way of anything is you Brant considering that Avery and I are…” the sound of Avery’s cell phone began to ring as she stepped in between the two men.
“Knock it off,” she warned stopping their debate as she shifted Rusty in her arms handing him over to Russell before answering her phone.  “Avery Morrison…” she spoke to the caller on the other end of the line.
“Don’t think this is finished,” Brant warned in a menacing whisper as he glared at Russell.

“Oh believe me I’m far from finished with you,” Russell promised thinking of all the ways he’d like to pound the hell out of Brant at this very moment in time before the sound of Avery’s cell phone crashing to the floor turned his attention to Avery once again, “Avery, what is it?”
“What’s wrong?” Brant questioned noticing that her hands were shaky as even more color drained from her face.  He took a step towards her reaching out to touch her shoulder as she remained speechless, “Avery, what is it?”
“It’s Bruce,” Avery managed to get out in a hiss.
“What about him?” Russell questioned seeing the confusion behind her eyes.
“He’s gone,” she explained slowly as she tried to take in what the caller had informed her of moments ago.
“Yes, we already know that, but that shouldn’t be something to get all upset about considering that he’s been gone a while and he can’t hurt you anymore,” Brant tried to assure her as he bent down to pick up her cell phone tucking it into his pocket before reaching for her once again, “Those days are over.”
“No you don’t understand,” Avery shook her head as she struggled to find the words, “That was someone from the police station.  They were calling because Bruce is gone.”
“Gone how?” Russell gave her a strange look, “If you’re not talking about him being dead then what?”
“His body is missing,” Avery explained taking in a slow, steadying breath, “Someone checked down in the morgue and it’s gone…vanished without a trace…” she finished wondering how in the world something like this could happen as she looked to Brant and Russell seeing her own feelings of confusion mirrored in their eyes at this startling turn of events.


“Dinner was wonderful,” Blake smiled as she sat back in her chair, “The grilled chicken was excellent. What kind of spices did you use?”

“Are you a cook?” Grady asked as he sipped a soda pop.

“No, not really. Kenny likes to cook though, and I sometimes watch him while he’s in the kitchen,” She replied.

“Russ likes to cook too, but I just dabble.”

“So are you going to tell me the spices you used or not?”

“Nope,” Grady replied with a smile, “It’s a family secret.”

“That’s just not fair,” Blake teased, “It really was quite good.”

“I’m glad it pleased you,” Grady said as he looked to Seth and Jade, “You are pretty quiet.”

“I’m just digesting here,” Jade said happily as she looked to him, “It really was delicious. You’re good in the kitchen.”

“You helped, remember? So I think you can give yourself a few kudos as well,” Grady smiled.

“Yeah, it was good,” Seth sighed before taking a long drawl off his beer.

“Glad we could please everyone,” Grady smiled as he reached over to take Jade’s hand.

“Can I ask a few questions? I know this entire evening is for my benefit, but I really think I need a few answers,” Seth declared as he leaned onto the table.

“Seth,” Blake began.

“It’s okay,” Grady said as he met Seth’s demanding eyes, “I have nothing to hide.”

“Okay,” Seth said with a smile as cold as ice, “Why did your wife leave you?”

“Seth!” Jade shrieked.

“No, it’s a valid question,” Grady said as he gave Jade’s hand a gentle squeeze, “And he has every right to ask it. The truth is my ex-wife left because I wasn’t making nearly enough money or taking on the kind of powerful high class clients she would have liked. She wanted prestige, power, and riches, and I didn’t have any of those things.”

“So what’s the attraction to Jade?”

“Other than the fact that she’s a highly intelligent, very attractive woman?”

“Maybe you want to have some power over her since you couldn’t have power to keep your ex-wife happy,” Seth suggested.

“That’s enough, Seth,” Jade declared as she stood, “If you’re not going to have an open mind at all, then this evening has been a waste of time.”

“You’re damn right it has,” Seth stood to match Jade’s stance, “He’s not what you think he is, Jade. He’s just like all the other men you’ve trusted. He’s going to hurt you. Do you really want that?”

“Grady is not like those other men,” Jade yelled at her brother, “And you haven’t even given him a chance. How can you say anything so horrible about him?”

“Because I’ve been warning you for years, Jade. I see the monsters that you don’t see. And he’s just like the rest of them. He’s going to use, abuse, and then abandon you…just like our father did to you before!”

Jade snapped with anger as she wrenched her arm up into the air and slapped her brother fiercely, “Get out!”

Seth slowly recovered from his sister’s blitz. He turned his eyes back to her, “You’re going to let him do this to us?”

“I said get out, Seth! Now!” Jade bit out through her teeth as she trembled with anger.

Blake quickly placed her hands upon Seth’s arms, “Come on. Let’s go,” She urged.

Seth stared at his sister for a moment more, “When you’re broken and alone this time, I hope you’ll remember this moment, Jade,” He said as he turned and walked out of the house with Blake at his side.

Grady watched as Jade dropped into her chair. He reached out and touched her hand, “Jade…what was that all about? I don’t understand.”

Jade slowly turned to him with tears in her eyes, “Grady, it’s time I told you about my past. You need to know just what it is Seth is afraid of, and what he’ll never let me live down. It’s time you know about the worst moments in my life, and this could change the way you think about me forever. Whatever you think of me after this, just know…” She paused as she touched his cheeks, “Just know that I love you,” She said desperately as she gazed into his eyes.

Grady searched her eyes, terrified of what she was about to reveal to him. He’d never seen Jade so upset in all his life, and he hoped he’d never have to see this again. However, he knew that what she was about to reveal to him would change the course of their relationship for better or for worse.

...to be continued...