Episode Forty One

Grady placed a cup of chamomile tea before Jade as she sat on the sofa, “This might help calm you a little.”

“Nothing can help,” Jade said softly as she stared into nothingness, “Nothing has ever been able to help. I’ve tried to put it behind me, but Seth won’t let me. He keeps bringing it up whenever I meet someone.”

He gently touched her hand, “Just tell me what it is you want me to know.”

“I don’t want you to know,” She said as she looked to him, “I never wanted you to know. I never wanted to even talk about this again, but Seth keeps reminding me of it no matter how much I tell him that I’m past it. I don’t even want to know about this,” She took a deep breath as she swept her hair from her shoulder, “But I think it’s time to tell you about my past.”

“Just take your time,” He urged her as he watched her shift on the sofa.

Jade dropped her eyes to her fingers where she nervously fingered a tassel on a chenille throw upon the sofa, “I was fourteen when Dad came home the last time,” She began, “He’d always come in and out of our lives. After Mom died, Seth always had to take care of me. Whenever social services would come around checking on us, Dad would be around just long enough to put the investigation to rest. I always wanted to get his attention. I thought that maybe I could get him to love me, to be a real father. I always wanted that, but he wasn’t the fatherly type.

“But I tried anyway,” She said as she continued to twist the tassel around her finger, “When Dad showed up again, I thought it was my chance to make him see that I was worthy of his love. So I followed him everywhere, did whatever he said. I was Dad’s perfect little side kick. He’d go out gambling, and I’d be right there beside him at the game, learning all the tricks. We’d go to the track, and he’d show me how to pick a winner. I really thought I was doing what it took to earn his love.

“One day, he came by my school and checked me out early. He said that we had to go shopping because there was going to be a party. He said I needed to look like a million dollars, and I was thrilled to hear that my dad was going to take me to a party.

“So we went shopping and I picked out a sexy black cocktail dress. My dad was thrilled, and he paid for it with cash. He took me to a salon where I was given the star treatment. I felt like I was on top of the world.

“We left the salon in a limousine. I was in awe of everything. All it seemed like a dream come true. When I was a little girl, I dreamt of having all these things just like every other little girl does. I thought I was going to have the same kind of fairy tale as in my dreams, and I was thrilled.

“We went to the Beaumont Hotel, that hotel that was real big back then but closed down a few years ago,” She clarified, “When we arrived, Dad helped me out of the car and led me inside. It was so beautiful that I thought we were close to paradise. Dad took me to the penthouse suite.

Jade paused as she shifted her focus to the floor, “When we got there, I thought I had arrived in the big time. There were women there who looked like beauty queens, and the men were high powered people that I’d only ever seen in magazines. This was high society, and I was right in the middle of it.

“We mingled among the crowd, and I got to chat with some of the most powerful men I’d ever heard of. Dad brought me a glass of champagne, and I gulped it down. It was the first time I’d ever drank alcohol, but I was nervous and it went down quickly. A few minutes later, Dad brought me another glass of champagne. I drank it pretty quickly too. If Dad was bringing them to me, it had to be okay, right?” She shrugged, “I thought it was perfectly okay.

“But it wasn’t,” She let out a slow breath, “I started feeling a bit sick. I felt really nauseous and groggy. Dad led me into the back bedroom and helped me lie down on the bed. He said I’d probably be okay in a little while. He left the room, and I was in there all alone. I lay there for a few minutes before I decided I wanted to go. Dad had said that he really needed to be there, but I’d be okay in the bedroom. But I didn’t feel good, and I just wanted to go home. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move at all. I tried to call out for my dad, but I couldn’t even speak. I was trapped there in my own body, feeling sick, and laying there helpless.

“It was then that I heard the door open. I hoped it was Dad because I felt really horrible. I couldn’t even turn to see if it was my Dad. A few seconds passed before a man stood over me. He looked at me and told me how beautiful I was. I was in such a haze. I only barely heard what he was saying. He pushed my dress up over my hips, tore my dress down to my waist, and threw my panties away. He fumbled with his pants for a moment before he crawled on top of me and raped me,” She closed her eyes and visibly trembled.

“Jade,” Grady spoke as he placed his hand upon her shoulder.

“When he was done, he told me how pretty I was, kissed my cheek and left the room. I was so humiliated. I wanted my father to come in but I didn’t want him to. I wanted him to come save me and take me home, but I was afraid he’d be upset with me so I didn’t want him to see. The door opened again, and I thought it was my Dad. It wasn’t.

“Another man came in and raped me, then another…I think it was maybe four…maybe five men. I don’t remember exactly,” She said as tears streamed down her cheeks, her voice as even as it had been before she began crying, “After the last guy left the room, I struggled against my own body. I fought so hard to move, and I did…slowly. It wasn’t enough though. I still couldn’t make any kind of movement that would save me. I did move my head enough so I could see a clock across the room. I laid there for over an hour alone. No one came or went. It was just me…stripped, raped, and feeling like I had done this to myself. Seth had told me not to trust Dad. He had warned me not to believe anything he said, and yet here I was because I had trusted my father.

“When someone finally did come in, I thought it was going to begin all over again, but it didn’t. He came over to me, straightened my clothes as best he could, wrapped me in a blanket, and carried me out of the room. He drove me to the hospital and took me inside. The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital bed with Seth holding my hand. My father had disappeared, and I haven’t seen him since.”

“Jade,” Grady said in horror as he drew her into his arms, “Jade, I had no idea.”

“No one did, and I didn’t want anyone to know. Seth doesn’t want anything to happen to me, and he just wants to protect me. But he doesn’t realize that you’re not that kind of man, and you hate the ones that did this to me. He’s the one who needs to be doing penance. He’s the one dating one of them.”

“Wait, hold on. What are you saying? The Ashfords were involved in this?” Grady asked with disgust evident in his eyes.

She nodded, “Brant Ashford is the man who took me to the hospital…I think he felt like he needed to clean up after his father’s mess.”

“What? Jade?” Grady urged.

Jade met his eyes with tearful ones of her own, “The first man to enter the room…the first one to rape me…it was Nicholas Ashford.”

Grady felt his heart sink like a rock as he pulled her into his arms. If he’d ever wanted to destroy the Ashford empire, he now was more determined than ever before.


“Seth,” Blake began as she broke the heavy awkward silence in the car. Since they had left Grady’s house, Seth had remained quiet and simply stared at the road before them. She hadn’t understood his actions at dinner, but she wanted to. For that, she would need for him to explain what was going through his mind, “Seth, please talk to me.”

Seth glanced to her as they passed under street lights which cast a warm glow into the car. He turned his attention back to the road, “There’s nothing to say.”

“I think there is. What happened back there?” She urged him before she placed her hand upon his shoulder, “Seth, please…”

He rubbed his neck with one hand while driving with another, “I told you about trouble in Jade’s past.”

“I remember, but I don’t understand what that has to do with Grady. He was very nice, and he welcomed you into his home.”

“It’s just a front. It’s all a front. Guys like that always put up a false front to slink their way into a young girl’s life, and then they show their true faces and destroy them.”

“You can’t make that kind of generalization.”

“Can’t I? I’ve seen it happen, Blake. It happened to Jade once before, and she paid for it. Boy, did she ever pay for it.”

“Seth, tell me what this is really all about.”

“Our father,” Seth said with anger and hatred in his voice, “Jade thought she could trust our father, but he traded her to pay for some of his debts. The men he owed gang raped her, and you think that would have taught her not to trust these men who put on these false fronts.”

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Blake gasped, “She was…oh Seth, no wonder you’re fighting so hard to protect her.”

“I’m trying, but she won’t let me. I want to keep her from getting hurt like that. I had to practically teach her how to live all over again. She was broken, and she had to struggle just to get along in her daily life. After a while, she was able to stand on her own two feet, and she started to back out into the world. I’ve been trying to keep an eye on her because I’m so afraid something will happen to set her back. I don’t ever want to see her that helpless again. After she was raped, it was like the sister I’d known and loved died. Jade has never been the same, and I just want to make sure that she doesn’t have to rebuild her life. It’s why I got involved with Cameron Stone.”

“What does Cameron Stone have to do with this?”

“He has pictures of Jade…from the rape,” Seth swallowed a hard lump in his throat, “He’s threatening to spread them around, and that’s the last thing Jade needs. I thought if it entailed bringing down the Ashford empire, then it would be worth it.”

“Wait, why would any of that have to do with my family?”

“Your father was one of the men who raped Jade,” He said harshly.

“What?” Blake shrieked with a shocked gasp, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your father. My father owed Nicholas Ashford some money, and instead of paying him, he gave Jade to your father as some toy.”

“No, you’re wrong!” She shook her head, “Pull over.”

“Blake, I know the truth hurts, but you’re going to have to face facts.”

“Pull this car over, right now!” She screamed, “Pull over!”

Seth pulled the car over into a parking space on the side of the road, “Blake, look, I’m sorry, but I’m only telling you the truth.”

“Like hell. You are a lying son of a bitch,” Blake screamed at him, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to ever see you again!” She shouted as she got out of the car and slammed the door.

Seth quickly followed suit as he crawled out of the car and followed her along the side walk, “Blake, wait…” He said as he reached for her, “Blake…”

“Stop it,” Blake wrenched her arm away from him, “Go to hell! Don’t touch me. Don’t you ever touch me! I want you to stay away from me. I don’t want you near me. I don’t want you to ever speak to me ever again.”

“Blake, please…” He attempted to reach out to her again.

“Don’t,” She warned as she backed away from him, “It was bad enough when you started working for Stone to try to get to my family, but now you tell me this batch of lies. That’s it. I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt to begin with, but this is crazy. Leave me alone!” Blake screamed at him before she ran down the street.

Seth let his hands fall to his sides as he watched Blake run down the street away from him. He had already alienated his sister tonight, and now he had lost Blake too. The night couldn’t get any worse, and now he had to go home and regroup. He needed to figure out how he was going to fix his relationships with the two women he cared about most in the world.


Shannon threw open the doors to the morgue and found her bosses standing in the room as she led Dave inside, “What the hell is going on here? I just got a call that the body of Bruce Mathis is missing?”

“Yeah,” Special Agent Nielson nodded, “Pretty shoddy work, wouldn’t you say?”

“Let’s not start insulting anyone just yet,” Assistant Director Callaway said firmly as he looked between his agents, “We need to get to the bottom of this.”

“First of all, why wasn’t this place secured?” Shannon asked as she let out a heavy sigh.

“It should have been,” Callaway said as he glared at Dave.

“Don’t start pointing fingers at me, gentlemen. You’re the ones who ripped this investigation out of my hands,” Dave defended quickly.

“Yeah,” Shannon agreed as she looked between her superiors, “You know, that’s a good point. If the locals would have been involved in this case, the morgue would have been secured by their own people. You can’t pass the blame off on this one.”

“Just who’s side are you on, Agent Pryce?” Nielson asked as he took a step towards her.

She matched his step as she stepped towards him, “I’m on the side of justice. I don’t give a damn about territorial pissing contests. All I’m interested in is the truth, and we can’t do that if we’re bickering amongst ourselves. The Bureau started it when we first came to town by throwing the local medical examiner off the case. Why?”

“That’s not your concern,” Nielson declared, “We need to get back to the matter at hand.”

“Where do you even begin when a body is stolen from the morgue? That is what we’re assuming, right? I mean since a corpse can’t leave the morgue under it’s own power,” Shannon offered.

“We begin with the last person to see the body. That would be one of ours…Agent Lawson,” Callaway spoke.

“He’s in the hall,” Nielson informed them as he opened the door and told the agent to step inside.

Lawson stepped inside nervously as Callaway converged on him.

“You were the last person to see the body, correct?” Callaway began.

“Yes, sir.”

“Did anyone else come in or out of the morgue?”

“Not that I saw, sir.”

“Well he didn’t get up and walk out of here,” Shannon said as she crossed her arms.

Callaway shot Shannon a dirty look before he turned his attention back to Agent Lawson, “Were you distracted at all? Phone call? Go to take a leak? Anything like that?”

“I did have to go down the hall to get myself a soda,” Lawson shrugged, “I suppose I could have missed someone come in, but I wouldn’t have missed them going out.”

“I want you to write up a full report as soon as possible,” Callaway instructed before dismissing the agent.

“That still doesn’t tell us who could have come in here,” Dave added, “Though this wouldn’t have happened if our medical examiner would have been on the case.”

“You really have that much faith in your medical examiner? Doesn’t one of your officers have a restraining order against her?” Nielson asked as he glared at Dave.

“That’s irrelevant to her abilities to get the job done. She’s one of the most highly trained medical examiners in the country, and she has an impeccable reputation on the job,” Dave defended.

“So why don’t we bring her back into the loop? Dr. Jenna Carpenter could be useful as she would know her own morgue better than anyone else. She would know all the ins and outs of the place,” Shannon suggested.

Callaway waved for Nielson to join him. They whispered to one another for a few moments before Nielson turned away from the crowd. Callaway turned towards Dave and Shannon, “You’ll have the medical examiner. We’ll send the paperwork through today.”

“Good,” Shannon declared as she met her boss’s rigid stare.

“Don’t make me regret this, Agent Pryce. If she screws up anything involving this case, you’ll go down with her,” Callaway warned.

Shannon nodded before she and Dave left the building. When they stepped outside, she turned towards her partner, “Something has them nervous in there. There’s something they aren’t telling us.”

“I got that feeling too. I wonder what they feel they have to hide…especially from you,” Dave said as he unlocked the doors to the car.

“I don’t know, but to be honest, it makes me more than a little nervous,” Shannon frowned as she got into the car. Whatever had her bosses on the run couldn’t be good, and she dreaded the moment when she would actually know as she had the feeling it would be bad for everyone involved in the long run.


“I can’t believe this is happening,” Avery confessed yet again as she entered the Ashford mansion with Rusty tucked carefully within her arms, “I mean how can a body just disappear like that?”
“I have no idea,” Brant answered smugly as his eyes darted impatiently over in Russell’s direction, “but I wish some other bodies would just up and disappear sometimes.”
Ignoring Brant’s comment, Russell followed Avery into the mansion slinging the blue duffle bag containing Rusty’s toys and more over his shoulder, “I don’t know how this could’ve happened, but there has to be some kind of logical explanation for this…”
“You mean other than the CVPD being completely incompetent?” Brant rumbled in response watching as Russell stayed close to Avery much to his dismay.
“Yeah that too, but still,” Russell shook his head as he pondered the thought, “things like this just don’t happen every day.”
“I know Bruce has no family that I know of, but still…that wouldn’t explain him just up and vanishing there,” Avery sighed heavily as she pondered the thought, “I mean even if someone from his family did request a release on the body, it wouldn’t just disappear like that.”
“No it wouldn’t which is why I have a feeling that once again someone is trying to push our buttons,” Brant decided with a frown, “I mean that’s the only logical explanation.”
“Yeah well who would have that kind of clout that they could just break into the morgue and steal a body without anyone knowing it was happening,” Avery pondered the thought for a long moment, “To pull something like that off, someone would have to have some major connections…”
“Well if we’re looking at it from that angle, then the only one who could really pull something like that off in this town would be well,” Russell hesitated for a brief moment before turning his eyes over in Brant’s direction, “you.”
“Oh please,” Brant rolled his eyes in response to the suggestion, “Why on Earth would I do something like that and want to put myself in the hot seat with the Feds more than I have already?”
“Why wouldn’t you want to do something to start an uproar,” Russell challenged folding his arms in front of his chest, “I mean that is your style lately, isn’t it?”
“You’re just begging for a reason to have me throw you out of the mansion aren’t you,” Brant questioned gruffly as he motioned back towards the door, “but I’ll have you know that I don’t really need a reason as I’m more than willing to do you the honors right now considering…”
“I’d like to see you try,” Russell challenged back at him, “I mean why not show us all what an ass you can make of yourself.  Then again, you always did like to deal with the competition by eliminating them before you had to defend your position on things…”
“Funny thing about that is that I don’t view you as competition, but more so as a nuisance that just won’t go away,” Brant stepped forward eyes narrowing at Russell as his patience was wearing thin with the man before him.
“Maybe that in itself should be something you think about,” Russell offered with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “I mean clearly there’s a reason that I’m around and needed here and maybe just maybe that’s got more to do with you and your level of incompetence than it does with me.”
“I’ll have you know that the only incompetent fool I see here is the one who keeps winding up on my doorstep not knowing when to take a clue on things,” Brant retorted adjusting his tie as Russell Denton had become nothing short of a pain in the neck--one that he’d just as soon flush out of his life sooner than later.
“Stop it,” Avery snapped in response looking between both men as she pet the top of Rusty’s head gently, “Can’t we just go five minutes without doing this again and again?”
“He started it,” Russell mumbled as he reached over Avery’s shoulder petting Rusty’s head gently as the kitten began to purr in Avery’s arms.
“I don’t care who started it,” Avery looked up at him with a strong disapproval, “I’m finishing it.”
“Okay, okay,” Russell nodded eagerly as he scratched at Rusty’s ears.  He casually stepped in behind Avery allowing his hand to slide over her bottom as Brant eased out of his jacket making his way over towards the bar.  Avery’s eyes darted up towards Russell again as he winked at her offering up one last pat on her bottom before he leaned forward giving Rusty a kiss on the head, “you’re just the cutest little thing, aren’t you,” Russell spoke smoothly keeping his eyes on Avery in such a way that only she could see he was trying to capture her complete attention, “Even when you get worked up, you’re adorable.”
“You know maybe something about Bruce’s past might be a key into what’s going on,” Brant suggested as Russell took a step away from Avery keeping a safe distance between them as he pet Rusty’s head, “I mean maybe that does have something to do with what happened today.”
“I don’t see how it could,” Avery frowned in response trying to ignore the goading that Russell was laying out on her.  She focused on the disaster at hand as Brant began to mix up a few drinks.
“Well maybe there’s something he might’ve said, might’ve mentioned casually about the people he associated with before you met,” Brant thought it over for a long moment as he looked up over at Avery from the drinks he’d been mixing, “I mean think about the night you met him.  Was he alone that night or was he with someone else…”
Avery felt her body tense up immediately as she thought to the night she’d met Bruce.  Her eyes darted over at Russell seeing the expression on his face as a sudden twinge of guilt rushed over her.  Opting to leave the conversation from opening up, she threw out a quick answer, “I don’t see how that’s relevant.”
“It might be,” Brant probed further paying attention to the pained expression on Russell’s features as he thought of the news Hart had delivered him.  On top of Russell’s confession about how Bruce and Avery had met, perhaps he could use the past to his own advantage, “I mean we know when you met him, you were running out on some pathetic loser that wasn’t worth your time, so while it might’ve been hard for you to focus on the details with Bruce, there had to be something about him that stuck out that night…”
“Nothing,” Avery answered tightly, “I don’t remember much about when Bruce and I met.”
“Surely he had to leave some kind of impression considering that you and he were together so long,” Brant continued fighting to suppress the sly grin that was building over his features as Russell’s body grew tight with obvious tension, “I mean considering that you just walked out on one loser and you moved forward with him.  There had to be something about Bruce that seemed much more appealing than the guy you were with.  I mean maybe he gave some clues about his background in the heat of the moment--you know when he was perhaps feeling a bit vulnerable with you.”
“Bruce didn’t get vulnerable,” Avery answered flatly suddenly finding herself less than eager to be having this conversation with Brant, “He wasn’t an open book and I think his trying to kill me was a sure sign of that.”
“Well if you two didn’t get to talking when you first started dating, then what was it all about?” Brant questioned bluntly, “Getting the satisfaction that you clearly weren’t getting from the other guy?”
“That’s it,” Russell piped in with a deep frown, “Brant you’re out of line.”
“I’m just saying,” Brant shrugged his shoulders innocently, “I mean you never know.”
“And you’re not going to either,” Avery shot back icily as she realized she’d had more than enough of where this conversation was heading, “Bruce was into the hospital and becoming Chief of Staff.  I think he had his whole life planned out and he thought I was part of the complete package,” Avery finished simply as she turned her eyes in Russell’s direction, “which was a place that I was never meant to be in.  I never should’ve started seeing him and I wish I could take that back.”
“Well seeing as you can’t,” Brant interrupted with a frown, “Maybe we should start from where you and Bruce left off.  I mean I know the guy was a whack job, but still there had to be some clues about what he was into--about who might’ve wanted to see him dead.”
“You mean other than the three of us?” Avery questioned arching a curious brow as she looked to him, “I mean that’s kind of where this is heading isn’t it?  Given that Shannon will probably be showing up on the doorstep sooner or later demanding answers, maybe we should talk about that night Bruce died.”
“I don’t think that has anything to do with what happened today,” Brant frowned in response as he poured himself a drink.
“Well maybe not, but maybe now would be a good time to open up the floor with some honesty since I know you and Russell didn’t just follow him around to ask him if there were any missing details in his past that he could clue you in on.”
“I didn’t follow him around,” Brant began as he looked over at Russell noticing the expression on Russell’s face, “What did you tell her?”
“I told her everything,” Russell stated simply with a shrug of his shoulders, “I told her how we went to the bar--how we waited for Bruce and how you and I had a few words with him once he left.”
Brant grew silent before a dark expression crossed over his features and he shook his head in heavy disapproval, “What the hell is wrong with you, Denton?”
“I wasn’t going to lie to Avery,” Russell explained simply, “I owed her the truth.”
“You should’ve kept your mouth shut,” Brant snapped back at him as he circled around the bar, “Now that your conscience has gotten the best of you, who else knows?  Your idiot brother?”
“I only told Avery,” Russell explained matter of fact.  “She had a right to know.”
“We both agreed…” Brant began with a grumble.
“To hell with what you agreed upon,” Avery interrupted harshly, “I had a right to know the truth and if you weren’t going to give it to me, then I knew Russ would.”
“Oh of course he would because he’s trying to get on your good side yet again by pushing his way into your life, into my home and into the middle of everything that’s going on.  I mean it’s bad enough that my company is being sued for millions because his over ambitious brother has a chip on his shoulder and a complete lack of morals…”
“Oh like you can even begin to give a lecture on that one considering how many people you’ve stepped over in your path to success,” Russell rolled his eyes in response, “Don’t sit there and give us a sermon on Grady when you’re the biggest sinner of the bunch.”
“Your brother is asking for trouble in taking on my company and I promise you that by the time we’re done with him, not only will he be shamed in his profession, but when I’m through with things, he won’t be in that profession any longer.”
“Brant, that’s enough,” Avery snapped back at him hearing the anger rise in his voice as Russell stood taller.
“I’m only warming up,” Brant promised adjusting his tie as his dark eyes fell upon Russell.
“No you aren’t,” Avery argued with him as she turned her attention to Russell, “Maybe we should just call it a night.”
“No damn way,” Russell replied defiantly, “There’s no way in hell that I’m leaving you alone with this lunatic especially when he’s in a fighting mood.”
“Avery’s not the one I have a problem with.  You on the other hand, well truth be told I’d love to go a few rounds with you,” Brant answered flatly, “It might even the scoreboard up a bit.”
“You really believe that you can take me on and count it as a victory?” Russell challenged raising a curious brow, “Brant, you and your over inflated ego are in some serious need of a squashing and I just might be the man to do it.”
“No you won’t be,” Avery stood between the both of them as they began to let the tension filling the room carry over them, “Russ, you aren’t going to fight with him and Brant, just knock it off.”
“I’m not going to just…” Brant started as the door to the mansion opened and Brooke stomped into the room taking a long look at the trio.
“Well this just figures, now doesn’t it,” Brooke growled as her eyes darted in Russell’s direction, “Don’t you ever go away?”
“Don’t you have a life,” Russell remarked offhandedly as Brooke waved her hand at him wildly.
“You aren’t welcome here and if you think for one second that you can keep prancing in and out of the mansion any time you please…” Brooke began as Brant felt a smile build over his lips as he finally had someone on his side in this deal.
“She’s right,” Brant nodded eagerly as he moved in closer to greet Brooke, “You should be leaving as it’s time for a family discussion.”
“That it is,” another voice rose from the crowd as Avery saw her father standing in the foyer looking less than impressed with his wife’s outburst, “but given the circumstances, I think it would be best if we kept it in the family which means I’d like a few minutes alone with my wife and daughter.”
“Oh so now you’d like a few minutes with me,” Brooke huffed as she shook her head at him, “It figures that you’d want to do this now in front of our daughter instead of earlier when you were with your whore.”
“Brooke,” Richard spoke her name firmly as he turned his attention to Avery and he forced himself to maintain a look of calm despite his demeanor, “Can we have a few minutes?”
“Of course,” Avery nodded as she looked to Russell, “Russ, I think we should call it a night.”
“Avery…” Russell began to protest before finally offering up a nod, “Okay, but if you need anything…” he reached for her hand.
“I know where to call,” she promised squeezing his hand as she fought the urge to give him a good-night kiss.
“Just keep that in mind,” he offered up once again before he leaned forward to give Rusty a quick kiss on the top of the head, “Take care of your mommy tonight.”
“He will,” Avery answered in a soft whisper before lowering her voice a tiny bit, “We’ll be thinking about you.”
Rusty let out a tiny meow before Russell took a step back and looked around the room.  He met Avery’s dark eyes for a long moment before throwing out one last look before mouthing the word, “Likewise.”
“I’ll show you to the door,” Brant broke through the moment marching past the crowd impatiently, “Avery you can find me when you need me after you’re done with your parents.”
“Okay,” Avery nodded watching Brant lead Russell to the front door to show him out before she turned to her parents wondering what kind of disaster was ready to be unleashed now.


Ben pounded furiously on the door before him thinking of the ways in which he was going to lose it as Diane’s abrupt departure from his apartment and more than likely his life played in his mind over and over again.  It was bad enough that he’d lied to her up until now, but given that their day together was spoiled by his unwelcome guest, he realized he had to find a way to fix it.  Speaking with Diane right now wouldn’t do as he was sure that she’d be far too stubborn to hear him out, so now as he continued to assault Isabel Chavez’s front door.  A few moments later, she opened it looking less than impressed to see him.
“Now this I wasn’t expecting,” Isabel’s eyes darkened as she folded her arms in front of her chest, “After the way you threw me out this morning…”
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” Ben demanded harshly as he pushed his way into the District Attorney’s home.  “Of all the months I’ve worked at BBK only for you to do what you did this morning…”
“What I did,” Isabel let out a hearty laugh as she shook her head at him with heavy disapproval, “You were the one who chose not to keep it in your pants when you should’ve been working.”
“I have been working,” Ben snapped back at her harshly, “I’ve been working my ass off doing everything that’s been asked of me and I’ve done a damn good job of it…that was until you burst into my apartment making a mess of things.”
“Brant’s secretary will get over you soon enough, but you on the other hand need to start producing once again,” Isabel explained closing the door to her home before she folded her arms in front of her chest as she glared at him.
“I have been producing,” he argued with her.
“Not fast enough,” Isabel argued with him, “I want some kind of conviction within the next year and all that you’re giving me, well I’ll be lucky if anyone will take me seriously anytime soon within the next decade.”
“I’ve been looking around, but there’s nothing there.  There’s nothing more than what I’ve given you,” Ben frowned in response thinking of how his job had been the major source of a headache time and time again for him since he’d taken this current assignment.  “Did it ever occur to you that maybe Brant doesn’t run the show like Nicholas did?”
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and when the time is right, I won’t miss the chance to nail this Ashford bastard like I did with the last,” Isabel promised enthusiasm in her tone as she thought of the prospect before her, “Taking down the Ashford empire is exactly the kind of thing I’ve waited a lifetime to do and I won’t let your infatuation with Brant’s trampy secretary get in the way of that.”
“Diane isn’t a tramp,” Ben argued with her, “She’s a good person with a kind heart and…”
“Spare me the sob story,” she rolled her eyes moving past him into her kitchen to retrieve her mug of coffee she’d poured herself before his arrival, “I don’t care if she’s Mother Theresa.  The point is that I want some progress on this case sooner than later as I’d like to get the Ashfords before it’s time for my retirement.”
“I’ve been looking, but I don’t see anything along the lines of what you suggested when you gave me this assignment,” Ben answered flatly as he watched her cruise around her kitchen before moving into her living room and settling down on the couch before him, “Considering everything you’ve told me, I’m not seeing anything that supports your hypotheses there.”
“Then you’re not looking hard enough.  If you’d stop playing games with Brant’s secretary, then maybe just maybe you’d get focused on the game plan,” Isabel sipped her coffee slowly before allowing her gaze to rise over him, “What about the lawyer?”
“Avery?” Ben’s eyes widened at the mention of her.  “I don’t think so.”
“She was in house council when Nicholas was there.  I’m sure she’s tangled up in everything somehow.  She was vital to BBK when Nicholas was running the show and I’m sure she’s carried some of the old ways with her.  Even with her boyfriend winding up in the lake, that begs the question of just how far Brant would go in order to keep his loyal employees happy.”
“I think you’re reaching with that one,” Ben argued with her, “I’ve been working with Avery for almost a year and she’s been nothing but business as usual.  Everything she’s working on, she’s given me access with as I’ve been working side by side with her.  There’s nothing shady about her and given her father’s reputation…”
“Ah yes the high and mighty Richard Morrison,” Isabel rolled her eyes at the mention of Avery’s father.
“It would probably be in your best interest to remember just that,” Ben grumbled in response as he ran his fingers through his hair, “He’s someone who won’t like you trying to sniff around his daughter.”
“I realize who he is, but don’t think that will keep me from nailing his daughter for her roll in all of this.  I won’t sit back and allow Ashford to take down this town in his quest for power,” Isabel vowed as her eyes lit up with the same spark that crashed over her in her ideas about ridding Coral Valley of the holier than thou Ashford clan.  “The way I see it, we’re going to bury them and you’re going to help me do it.”
“No, I’m not,” Ben argued with her standing his ground, “I’m done.”
“You’re done when I say you’re done,” she snarled up at him.
“You said if I was uncomfortable with this, then I had an out,” Ben reminded her sharply, “and after this morning that’s what I want.”
“That was before you wasted a year of my time on this,” Isabel spoke sharply, “You’re in too deep to back out on me now and I won’t let you.”
“After what you did this morning my cover could be blown…”
“Then you work damage control and make sure that it isn’t because if I don’t get what I want out of this,” her tone grew menacing as she rose to her feet once again going eye to eye with him despite the height difference between them, “then I’ll take you down with me and I can promise you that by the time I’m through with you, you’ll be lucky if McDonald’s considers you competent enough to sweep the floors and take out the trash.  Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal,” Ben answered tightly realizing that he was in over his head as suddenly the stakes were raised with his position.  While he’d taken this job hoping to fight for justice, the more time he was spending with Isabel listening to her agenda, the more he was starting to see that the lines were blurred further than he’d imagine.  It was bad enough that somehow he’d lost his heart and still wound up losing Diane, but now with Isabel taking away his out, he was beginning to realize that maybe things weren’t what they’d seemed in this line of work at all.
“Don’t think that I’m going to take this meeting lightly either,” she warned breaking through his thoughts, “If you dare think about screwing up this investigation in any way or putting it off more than you have, I’ll have you thrown in jail for obstruction of justice.”
“I’ve done everything you’ve asked and I can’t help it if there’s nothing to find at BBK,” Ben snapped back at her having had enough of her threats, “Maybe it’s about time you wrapped up this investigation and moved on.”
“Maybe it’s time you just did what you were told and stopped questioning my authority in the matter,” she threw out at him a hint of menace in her tone, “or else this morning’s drama with your playmate will be the least of your concerns.  You can mark my word on that,” she finished knowing that she had Ben exactly where she wanted him as very soon she was about to change the way things were done in Coral Valley starting with the downfall of the Ashford Empire.


Judy just settled down for yet another night of television drama as she decided she’d have to find a way to put Rick out of her mind--even if only for a little bit.  Having had to deal with Brooke once again, she decided that it would be best to figure things out before making her next move.  As she reached for the remote control to the television, she heard a key in the front door alerting her to the only other person who’d be dropping by at this time to pay her a visit.  Looking up, she saw her daughter standing before her with tears streaming down her face as Judy immediately rose from the chair she was in rushing over to her daughter’s side in a panic.
“Diane, what’s wrong,” she questioned her motherly concern flooding over her every synapse as she reached out for her daughter, “What’s happened?”
“Everything’s a mess,” Diane cried harder as she hugged her mother, “How can I be so stupid?”
“Diane, what happened,” Judy asked again fearing the worst as her daughter wasn’t the kind to break down so completely like this.  Diane’s tremors as she collapsed in Judy’s arms left her wondering what kind of horror her daughter had endured, “Diane, talk to me.”
“It’s Ben,” Diane explained between broken sobs, “I’m such a fool…”
“Ben,” Judy repeated as she thought to the young man her daughter had been obsessing over, “Did he hurt you?  Diane, what did he do?”
Diane looked up wiping at her face as she saw the look on her mother’s features, “Not that,” she answered quickly realizing that her mother had started to draw her own conclusions about things, “at least not like you’re thinking…”
“Then why don’t you start explaining,” Judy felt a breath of relief wash over her before her concern returned once again.
“I spent the night with him.  We had the most romantic wonderful evening and then…” Diane broke up a bit as she thought to the morning in Ben’s apartment, “Oh Mom it was horrible.  We were together enjoying every minute with one another and then this woman…oh God, how could I be so stupid to do this yet again…”
“There was another woman?” Judy noted her daughter’s pained expression.
Diane nodded quickly, “I guess all the signs were there, but I wanted him so badly that I didn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together.  I mean he’d been putting me off and making excuses, but I never imagined there was someone else, but then there she was and it was just awful.  I thought that I was safe with Ben--that he wasn’t one of those men like…” Diane groaned as she let out a tiny sniffle, “Why do I keep doing this?”
“Diane, this isn’t your fault,” Judy tried to comfort her daughter as she urged her to come with her into the kitchen, “Come on.  I’ll put some tea on and we can talk about this.  Maybe even pull out some ice cream like we used to do when you were in high school.”
“I don’t think a truckload of ice cream will fix this,” Diane argued reluctantly following her mother into the small kitchen.  She walked over to one of the stools over by the bar and took a seat as her mother began to put on some water and reached for the fresh carton of Rocky Road ice cream awaiting their attention.
Judy collected a couple of spoons to go along with her methods of dealing with madness before taking a seat across from her daughter, “Why don’t you start from the beginning?”
“Like I said last night Ben asked me over for dinner and it was so romantic,” Diane began thinking about her night with Ben, “It was everything I’d dreamed it would be and then some as he was finally opening up to me.  We shared a magical night and even this morning we planned on spending the day together lost in one another’s arms, but then this woman showed up.  At first I didn’t know she was there, but when Ben was gone for a while,” she spooned up a full scoop of ice cream taking a bite of the cold confection, “Naturally you know how I don’t like to wait for things and I let my curiosity get the best of me, so I went to check on him and there she was.”
“And who was she?  What did she say to you,” Judy questioned noting the sadness behind her daughter’s eyes.
“She didn’t say anything to me, but the things she said about me.  She went on and on about how Ben’s top priority was to her and how he’d better get rid of a whore like me…” Diane broke into tiny sobs, “It was like déjà vu all over again and then when she left, I got angry and I left.”
“And what did Ben say?” Judy asked patiently.
“He didn’t,” Diane admitted with a frown, “I saw the writing on the wall and I told him what I thought about him and then I took off.  I didn’t want to repeat what happened the last time I found myself in a situation like this.”
“Are you sure this was the same thing,” Judy asked taking her daughter’s tale in.
“Mom, the things she said about me was a big enough clue as to who she was in Ben’s life.  Granted I’m pretty sure he’s not married, but then again maybe he was and his asking me to this apartment was some cover.  Maybe he had some buddy of his loan him the place for a while so that he could get his kicks off of the sex started co-worker that had been pestering him…”
“I highly doubt it was like that,” Judy began as Diane groaned in response.
“Mom you didn’t see how pathetic I was.  I did everything I could think of in the hopes of capturing his attention and time and time again I made a fool of myself.  I mean my God even thinking about how low I sank in the hopes of showing him how good we’d be together when all this time there was someone else…” Diane let out an exasperated sigh, “I mean of all the stupid, foolish things to do and what’s worse is I really thought that he was the one…that somehow he’d be the guy that could erase all the past mistakes and the poor choices--that somehow in being with him, I’d finally find a way to do something right for a change instead of completely wrong.”
“Diane, you don’t do things completely wrong,” Judy began feeling this talk spin into something much more than it was before it began.
“Of course I do.  I mean my god, look at the difference between me and Dee.  She went to med school and she did everything right.  I barely made it through high school and then I dropped out of nursing school.  She was the president of her class, the one who always got the good grades, the good boyfriends and she was the one who made you and daddy proud.  He was there to watch her become something really wonderful and all he saw from me was the mistakes I made over and over again.  It wasn’t that I was the one doing all the right things as time and time again it was Deidra who was changing the world--making a difference and showing both what the perfect daughter was like and then there was me.   All I did was get into trouble time and time again and then when I tried to impress you with my boyfriends, well look how they turned out.  I mean hell I was dating a married man and that damn near gave daddy a heart attack because I could be so careless.”
“Your father didn’t think you were careless,” Judy interjected.
“Yes,” Diane nodded simply, “he did and even now if he were alive, he’d hate what I’ve become.  I’ve done nothing the way he wanted me to and I have nothing to show for all the years you both put into me.”
“Now Diane, you know that’s not true,” Judy frowned seeing the turmoil behind her daughter’s features, “You’ve done many amazing things…”
“No I haven’t.  I’m not a doctor.  I’m not making a difference in the world like Deidra is.  I’m just as screwed up as I’ve always been making the same stupid mistakes over and over again and it’s only getting worse.”
“Now how can you say that?” Judy’s frown deepened.
“Just look at my track record.  I don’t think I need to go over each and every bad choice I’ve made, but if you really need me to…”
“Diane, I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” Judy began hating to see her daughter like this.
“No I’m not because maybe if I’d been harder on myself then I could’ve had it all like Dee does.  She’s got the perfect job, the perfect husband and everything’s just fallen into place for her.  She hasn’t had to try to impress anyone because she’s always been impressive.  She’s one of a kind and you and daddy have everything you needed in a daughter when you had her.  I was just what was left behind and I didn’t do anything but add strain to your lives because I wasn’t smart enough to make the kind of choices you wanted me to make.”
“Now that’s enough,” Judy cut her off abruptly, “I’m not going to sit here and let you do this to yourself.  Diane, your father and I were both very proud of you.  I’m still very proud of you and I know where ever he is right now, he’s feeling the same way.  He loved you with everything he had and while he was sure to be there for both of his daughters you’ve always held a special place in his heart…”
“Not like Deidra did,” Diane slumped over her shoulders, “I mean you wouldn’t be sitting here with her like this going over the latest romantic disaster in her life because she doesn’t make these kind of mistakes.”
“Diane, you didn’t make a mistake,” Judy reached for her daughter’s hand taking it gently, “You followed your heart and that can never be wrong.”
“But it lead me to…” Diane began to argue.
“Ben was the one who made the mistake in not seeing how truly wonderful you are.  If he has been seeing someone else, well then maybe he was in a place where he hadn’t opened himself up to the idea of experiencing all the joys life had to offer, but then you came into his life.”
“Yeah and I became his honey on the side,” Diane rolled her eyes.
“How do you know that?  I mean really you said it yourself he hadn’t said anything about this woman nor did you give him the chance to explain himself about what you’d heard.”
“Mom, I know what it feels like to be the third person in a situation like that,” Diane sighed shaking her head, “I remember how I felt when I found out that, well you know what happened the last time the man I gave my heart to forgot to mention he had a wife.  Having her walk in on us in bed together wasn’t exactly a good way to get things started in the relationship.”
“Eric was a creep and he manipulated you.  You had no idea, nor did he ever give you any inclination that he had a wife waiting for him…”
“But I should’ve known,” Diane argued with her, “Not knowing isn’t an excuse.”
“Would you have been with him if you’d known he had a wife?”
“Of course I wouldn’t,” Diane answered emphatically.
“Then how can you blame yourself when you had no idea,” Judy countered watching the blank expression on Diane’s face as the sound from the stove alerted her to the water being ready, “Exactly.”
“Mom, that was a different situation then the one with Ben.  I work with him day in and day out and I should’ve picked up on it…”
“Maybe you’re reading more into this because of Eric,” Judy suggested as she opened the cabinet door and pulled out two coffee mugs, “I mean there is a possibility that you’re wrong about Ben, right?”
“There could be, but I highly doubt it considering I’m the one that was chasing him around and you know how horrible my decisions end up being,” Diane grumbled refusing to accept her mother’s suggestion.
“Diane, not all of your decisions were horrible and contrary to your belief your father and I are very proud of you,” Judy dropped the tea bags into the mugs before pouring the steaming water over them, “Do you know what your father said to me the day you decided that you weren’t ready to give nursing school a try?”
“There goes another classic Diane blunder?” Diane replied with a heavy sigh.
“No more like, ‘It’s about time she starts doing something that makes her happy,’” she explained as Diane’s eyes widened and Judy continued, “Your father knew that your heart wasn’t into nursing school.  He knew you were just doing it because you thought that’s what we wanted for you and believe it or not that was the last thing he wanted for his little girl.  He hated the idea of you trying to live your life the way you thought we wanted you to live it.”
“Right,” Diane rolled her eyes disbelieving, “Mom you don’t have to lie to make me feel better.”
“I’m not lying to you and if your father was here right now, he’d back me up on this.  He and I both knew that nursing school wasn’t what you wanted and when you came to us and told us about your decision, well he couldn’t have been prouder.  In fact when he found out you were interning over at BBK, he was so very excited for you.  He knew that if anyone could take on the Ashford Empire and give it a run for his money that it was you and just look at you.  You’re still running the show over there and you’re Brant’s secretary.  That in itself is something and if your father was around, he’d be glad to see you’ve done so well over there.  I mean hey that in itself says a lot about your character considering that you’re working day in and day out with Brant.”
“You work with Kenneth,” Diane reminded her sharply.
“And I’m a classic example of what not to do,” Judy added with a hint of a smile, “Once you get to the point your mom is at and you make as many mistakes as I have, well then you’ll have reason to worry, but I have to tell you that you’re no where near to the point I’m at.”
“Mom,” Diane couldn’t help but smile as she looked to her mother, “I’m trying to be serious here.”
“So am I,” Judy felt a tiny laugh building inside of her as she thought of how she’d been worrying about her own troubles, “Why just today I had lunch with an old companion of mine and his wife tried to attack me in the middle of the restaurant.”
“No?” Diane’s eyes widened in surprise, “Really?”
“Yes really,” Judy nodded as her laugh deepened, “and it could’ve been a truly mortifying experience if I’d let it be.”
“So what did you do?” Diane questioned eagerly.
“Well I told her like it was and even if she wasn’t happy to hear it, I stayed true to who I was and I didn’t let her get the best of me,” Judy’s smile brightened a notch as she continued, “and I might even have another date lined up with my companion.”
“Mother,” Diane gasped in surprise, “have you no shame?”
“Not when it comes to Rick,” Judy admitted with a shake of her head, “though you know it’s not as seedy as it sounds.”
“Well I’m in the mood for some juicy gossip that isn’t about me, so go on and spill it,” Diane reached out for her mother’s hand, “I want to know everything.”
“Rick was someone special to me a long time ago, but we let circumstances get in the way,” Judy let go of a sigh, “but you could say that fate has a funny way of fixing old mistakes.”
“And the wife?  Was she what got in the way?” Diane questioned again.
“She played a hand in fate, but their marriage was over long before it started.  It wasn’t about love and now, well now, I think she likes to keep the marriage as a leash over him as they haven’t lived together in years…”
“Sounds harmless enough,” Diane decided thinking about her mother’s situation.
‘Well according to your line of thinking if I even considered another lunch date with Rick, I’d be committing a horrible sin on the world as you should never spend time with someone who has a past…”
“That’s different,” Diane replied with a pointed look.
“Not according to what you’ve been telling me.  I mean if I took things at face value, then I most certainly wouldn’t have had lunch with Rick earlier nor would I have faced the wrath of his wife.  I mean hey considering that you didn’t even bother to talk about things with Ben before storming out of his place thinking the worst…”
“Mom…” Diane frowned in response.
“I’m just saying,” Judy raised her hands in the air quickly.
“You’re supposed to be helping, not siding with Ben,” Diane grumbled in response.
“I’m not siding with Ben, but I am trying to help my daughter get out of this slump,” Judy reached around to embrace her daughter, “If you really think this Ben guy is something special, then maybe just maybe you should at least talk to him before throwing in the towel.  I mean hey there is that off chance that you read things wrong, right?”
“And there’s the off chance that I was reading them wrong all along too.”
“True, but you’ll never know if you don’t at least try to give it the benefit of the doubt,” Judy hugged her daughter once again, “and hey if after the talk you’re still down in the dumps, then I’ll stock up on Rocky Road and we’ll have an anti-men night here just the two of us…”
“Hmm….can I skip over the talk and we do that now?” Diane suggested with bright eyes.
“Well I won’t force you to talk to Ben, but you might feel better about it if you do,” Judy tried to reason with her.
“Maybe you’re right,” she nodded in response, “Maybe I will.”
“If nothing else it’ll give you some closure in it’s own way.”
“I suppose so,” Diane sighed savoring the few moments of quiet with her mother.
“Now about that movie night, I was just about to scan the television myself.  We could still do that if you’d like,” Judy smiled down at her.
“You’re on,” Diane agreed realizing that she’d made a wise decision in coming to her mother as it seemed her mother was the one person who could make things feel right even when Diane was ready to throw in the towel.  Perhaps tonight hanging out with her mother was exactly what she needed.


Richard took in a slow breath as he was now alone with his wife and daughter.  He turned his attention to Brooke seeing the fire behind her eyes before he quickly directed his attention to Avery as she looked over at him with curious eyes while holding something in her arms.  He gave her a sideways glance before realizing she had some type of animal in her arms.

“And just who is this,” Richard asked his tone softening a bit as he made his way over to see the little one in Avery’s arms.
“This is Rusty,” Avery smiled proudly as Richard reached out to touch one of his tiny ears, “Russ decided I needed someone to cuddle with at night without having to worry about all the complications,” she teased feeling a warm smile build upon her features despite her mother’s seething.
“Russell was a smart man as I think Rusty’s doing a great job so far,” Richard couldn’t help but smile as he noticed the sparkle behind his daughter’s eyes, “although I’d be willing to take it a step further and say that part of why you’re smiling has to do with the man who gave you Rusty as well.”
“Daddy,” Avery gave him a quick look as Brooke let her obvious impatience known.
“Can we just get this over with?” Brooke demanded harshly as she tapped her foot on the flooring beneath her while placing her hands on her hips in an exaggerated motion, “There’s no need to butter our daughter up as I’ve taken the liberty of informing her about your whore.”
“Would you quit with that already,” Richard grumbled in response.  “She’s not a whore.”
“So you are seeing someone,” Avery’s eyes perked up with obvious interest.
“Sort of,” Richard looked over to his daughter noting her expression, “Why do I get the feeling that you’re not about to lay into me like your mother did?”
“Since when have she and I agreed on anything,” Avery gave him a pointed look, “So tell me, what’s she like?”
“You’d like her,” Richard admitted with a smile, “Judy’s a great woman…”
“Judy’s a tramp and she tried to break up our family repeatedly.  Did your father also mention that he was having an affair with her while I was pregnant with you?  That you meant to little to him that he was off sleeping with another woman when he should’ve been enjoying the moments of my pregnancy with me?”
“If you being pregnant with me was as bad as it seemed when you were with Guy, then I can’t say I blame him,” Avery replied with an icy smile before turning her complete attention to her father, “So tell me more about her or better yet, how about you bring her to my engagement party this weekend?”
“Engagement party,” Richard repeated with a frown, “Come again?”
“It was Brooke’s idea,” Avery glared over at her mother, “She felt I didn’t have enough pressure with the FBI chasing me around, not to mention that Bruce seemingly up and walked out of the morgue today since I received a phone call telling me his body was missing…”
“What?” Richard blinked back at her, “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?”
“I wish I were, but the truth to the matter is that no one knows where he drifted off to and they don’t appear to be close to finding him,” Avery frowned deeply at the thought, “I mean clearly a dead man wouldn’t walk out of a morgue, right?”
“Of course they wouldn’t,” Richard grumbled in response, “and I knew something wasn’t right about this situation especially with the FBI lurking like they have been.”
“Well you know the hits just keep on coming considering that there’s a lawsuit against BBK as well and Grady is the one taking me on,” Avery began to spill the details of her week to her father glad to have him around despite the fact that her mother was clearly on the attack, “I mean it’s bad enough that some low life company like Stone Corp has decided to take on BBK, but to make matters worse, they wrangle Grady into a ‘let’s kick Avery while she’s down’ party and he’s chomping at the bit to get at me.”
“Why would Stone Corp ask Grady to represent them in this lawsuit when last I heard they’d taken on Douglas Mahoney’s son as in house council,” Richard frowned in response thinking about the situation his daughter was in.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out, but it turns out that Cameron Stone, head of Stone Corp is also the man behind Midlands--you know the case that Kenneth is working on?”
“He mentioned that to me,” Richard nodded thinking about it, “I know the other day when I paid him a visit he asked my opinion on things and…”
“Wait a second,” Avery interrupted curiously, “You went to visit Ken at work?”
“Well yes I was worried about you and then he’d asked me to consult on a few things,” Richard nodded in response, “and I figured it wouldn’t hurt.”
“And you’re seeing someone named Judy?” Avery lifted a curious brow, “That wouldn’t happen to be Kenneth’s secretary there, would it?”
“As a matter of fact it’s one in the same,” Richard smiled in response, “You know her?”
“Oh yeah,” Avery nodded eagerly, “She’s great.  I mean we haven’t said too much other than making polite conversation, but hey she’d cute and she seems to be great to have around.  Not to mention that her daughter is Brant’s secretary there and Diane, oh let me just tell you she’s a trip…”
“Um hello,” Brooke waved her hands in the air watching as Richard and Avery had once again managed to push her out of the conversation they were having, “I thought you wanted us to have a family discussion.”
“I did,” Richard remembered the reason he’d pulled Brooke and Avery aside, “and I’m getting to that.”
“What’s on your mind,” Avery asked stroking the top of Rusty’s head as she sat on the side of the couch arm to listen to whatever her father had to say.
“Your mother and I are getting a divorce as I think it’s about time we did something right in our marriage,” Richard announced openly as he reached forward to pet Rusty’s head once again, “I hope that doesn’t bother you in any way.”
“It’s about time,” Avery confessed with a breath of relief, “I think it’s the best thing you two could do for one another.”
“We are not getting a divorce,” Brooke argued with Richard, “and for you to throw this out on Avery without us talking about this with one another, well it’s just wrong.”
“I’ve talked and talked until I’m blue in the face on this issue with you Brooke, but we’re getting no where.  The way I see it, this is the only way to make either one of us happy.”
“I’ve given you the best years of my life.  I’ve devoted my everything to you and this is how you repay me,” Brooke gasped bringing her hand to her chest, “Richard, it breaks my heart to think that you’re willing to throw what we have away in the blink of an eye all because some tramp comes sashaying her into your life again.”
“Brooke, I haven’t felt more alive than I do when we’re not together.  You and I are a bad thing and I think it’s past time we admit to the fact that our marriage was never meant to be,” Richard threw out at her.
“Do you hear that Avery? Your father is saying that you were never meant to be--that he regrets ever having you and he’d just as soon be done with us.  That’s what this is all about.”
“Oh please, you know that’s not the case,” Richard argued with her before looking to Avery, “You realize that don’t you?”
“Daddy, if you think this is the best thing to do, then I’m behind you all the way,” Avery rose from the couch as she stepped up on her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek, “I love you and I know you love me and I’ll support any decision you make.”
“Thank you princess,” he kissed her forehead gently as he noticed the kitten letting out a tiny yawn, “it looks like that one wants to call it a night.”
“I’m going to put him down if you don’t mind as I think you don’t need me in here any longer,” she lowered her voice, “unless you think you’ll need to sedate Brooke.”
“I think I can handle it for now, but still I’d like to talk to you about the other things going on--maybe when I’m finished down here,” he suggested in a whisper.
“I’ll be up in my room,” Avery nodded in response, “so why don’t you come up and talk to me when you’re done?”
“Will do,” he agreed watching her leave the room before he focused fully on Brooke.
“I hope to hell you’re happy now as you’ve managed to turn our daughter against me completely it would seem,” Brooke sneered in response, “You just couldn’t wait until the day you could destroy me in her eyes, could you?”
“You’ve done all of that yourself by using Avery as a pawn in all of your games over the years.  The fact that she isn’t opening up herself to you is the direct result of the way you treated her,” he pointed out simply.
“And the fact that you sit back and do nothing while she bad mouth’s me over and over again shows your lack of respect for me,” Brooke hissed back at him.
“Avery is a grown woman clearly capable of making her own decisions and I can’t help it if she sees your true colors.”
“I love my daughter which is more than I can say for you,” Brooke cut back sharply, “I mean sure she might think you’re a wonderful father, but you’ve just managed to blind her into that way of thinking.  If you were half the man she thought you were, then you and I wouldn’t be in this position we’re in right now.”
“We can easily remedy this problem with a divorce,” Richard threw in once again, “I mean hey you never know we might actually start to like one another again.”
“Do you really believe that I’m going to give you what you want just so you can be with that slut?” Brooke’s voice rose with anger, “After all the years we shared together I refuse to give it all up just so that she can take what’s rightfully mine.  I won’t allow it.”
“You don’t have a choice in the matter,” Richard argued with her, “I want my freedom and I’m not going to sit idle this time.”
“I’m not bending on this issue.  After the years we’ve spent together, I refuse to let go of this marriage,” Brooke folded her arms out in front of her chest, “Not for anything.”
“I’ll give you what you want in terms of money if that’s really what you’re worried about,” Richard offered up with a shrug of his shoulders, “as I could care less about that right now.”
“All the more reason for me to keep our marriage alive as it proves you’ve gone mad with your school boy crush on that slut.  She’s tried time and time again to wrangle you away from me, but I won’t allow it under any circumstances.”
“Brooke, this is ridiculous.  Would you really stay married to me just to keep me miserable?” A scowl touched over his features, “On second thought don’t answer that as I already know the outcome on that one.”
“I’m doing us both a favor as it’s far more profitable for us to stay together right now than to just let what we have fall apart,” Brooke stood taller, “and this weekend when the world is watching our daughter I would strongly suggest that you don’t do anything to spoil her special day for her as this is a dream come true for Avery.”
“I can see that,” he rolled his eyes in response, “More like a dream come true for you.”
“Is it so wrong of me to appreciate the fact that our daughter has evolved into a woman of character and taste?”
“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe things aren’t as you’d like them to be?  That maybe just maybe our daughter is seeking out more in this lifetime than what you’re hoping for,” Richard raised a curious brow, “that maybe while Brant seems to quench your need for the limelight that he’s not what Avery wants and instead of pushing this issue with her, you should be trying to get her to follow her heart.”
“If you even suggest that her heart lies in that hoodlum that’s been chasing her around, then I’d strongly advise you to let go of that ridiculous notion as it’s almost as pathetic as you and your slut.  Our daughter was meant for more than that low class trash and if you’d stop fighting me on the issue, you’d see that our daughter has the chance at the kind of future we wanted for her.  She could have it all and never want for anything again…”
“Except love,” Richard pointed out bluntly, “and that along with happiness are the only things that I’ve truly wanted for our daughter.”
“Than you’re a bigger fool than I took you to be as those two things alone won’t give her the security that Brant can give her,” Brooke reminded him harshly.
“Our daughter is a very wise woman and she’s done a great many things on her own without a man to guide her career.  I have no doubt in my mind that where ever Avery ends up and with whomever that may be that she’s bound to be a success and if there’s some happiness that comes with it, then that’s what I want for her.”
“What you want is for her to wind up miserable and alone as that’s where she’ll be if you encourage her to go off with Russell Denton.  Need I remind you how he nearly destroyed her once before?” Brooke grumbled in response, “Or have you forgotten the pain that followed her life after they split up?”
“I haven’t forgotten what she went through, but I will say that I know that when I see her smiling now that it’s something I want to see more of and if he’s the one that brings it to her, then I won’t discourage her from finding that peace he brings to her.”
“If you sit back and let her destroy her life, then you’re less of a man than I thought you to be,” Brooke spat out at him in disgust.
“On any given day, your opinion of me sinks lower, so what else is new,” he adjusted his tie before looking to the staircase as he thought to Avery, “but hey do us both a favor and just sign the divorce papers when I send them as I’m sure that’ll be the best thing you can do for us.”
“I’ll never,” Brooke began to argue with him once again,
“You will,” Richard threw out a smile, “eventually and when you do, you’ll see how much better life can be.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check on our daughter now.”
“Oh you,” Brooke clenched her fingers into a fist as she watched him walk away from her and she vowed to hold onto what she had with him one way or another as the last thing she would do was give him an easy way back to the woman that came close to taking him away in the first place.


Grady held Jade protectively in his arms. He cradled her body against him as he gently swept his fingers through her hair, “I had no idea.”

“No one did,” Jade replied somberly as she held onto him. Her head lay upon his shoulder as her palm nestled against his heart, “I didn’t want anyone to know. I was in therapy for a long time before I’d even let myself know the truth. I don’t talk about it because I’d really rather just leave it in the past. I don’t want my entire life to be about those men and what they did.”

“And it shouldn’t have to be,” He agreed, “That’s why Seth is so intensely protective of you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, he saw me at my lowest afterward, and he doesn’t want to see me like that ever again. But still, he had no right to accuse you of being like them.”

“He doesn’t know me, and he’s frightened for you. You can’t blame him for that.”

“But I can,” She said as she raised her head and met his eyes, “Grady, he’s always driven away guys that I’ve been attracted to. With you, it’s not just an attraction. I’m in love with you, and if he were to drive you away…”

“Shhh,” He said as he placed his forefinger gently over her lips, “I can’t be driven away, Jade. I’m here…with you…and there’s no where else that I ever want to be.”

She felt tears pooling in her eyes, “I didn’t want to burden you with all of this. I didn’t want you to have to deal with this…”

“It’s okay,” He whispered as he caressed her cheek, “You can tell me anything any time. That’s what love is, Jade…you can trust me with anything. You can share anything you want to with me. That’s what love is all about.”

She eased her fingers over his jaw line, “It’s just…I was afraid you’d look at me with pity in your eyes, and I didn’t want that. I’ve fought so hard to reclaim my life, to make my own decisions, and to do things the way I want to do them. I didn’t want you to look at me as a victim.”

Grady broke a irony-filled half-grin, “I’ve looked at you a lot of ways, Jade Alexander, but I’ve never looked at you as a victim and I never will. You’re a strong woman with a will of solid iron. You don’t let anyone give you any flack, and you fight fire with fire. I could never look at you as a victim.”

“Really?” She asked in doubt as tears slipped down her cheeks.

“Really,” He assured her as he gently dried her tears, “You’re the strongest mind I know, and I’ve never once even considered you as a victim.”

She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly, “I’m so sorry about all of this,” She sobbed softly as she held onto him, “I’m so sorry.”

He squeezed her to him, “Jade, this isn’t your fault, and you have nothing to apologize for. But don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll make the Ashfords pay, Jade. I promise you that.”

“The man who did this to me is dead, Grady,” She looked up to him, “You can’t get justice from a dead man.”

“Brant was there.”

“He didn’t hurt me. He took me to the hospital.”

“But he didn’t really help you. He could have if he had stopped what was happening.”

“Grady, I don’t want revenge. I used to, but I really just want to move on with my life. I really just want to live my life now. I don’t want to live in the past.”

“Okay,” He said softly as he caressed her cheek, “Okay, then we’ll move forward.”

“I don’t want you to treat me with kid gloves, Grady. I don’t want this to change anything about our relationship,” She urged him quickly as she met his eyes.

“It already has,” He said seeing a twinge of fear in her eyes before he explained, “It’s made me respect you all the more for being a strong woman, for fighting back from a living hell. I’m in aw of you all over again.”

Jade smiled as tears slipped down her cheeks, “I’m nothing special, Grady. I just had to learn how to live again.”

“You did more than that,” He assured her, “You’ve become a strong independent woman and destroyed any semblance of a victim they may have wanted you to be. You’re a woman all of your own making, Jade. You’re incredible,” He said with a smile as he drew her to him for a tender kiss, “You’re incredible to me.”

She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly, “Thank you so much for this.”

“For what?” He asked as he held her securely.

“For understanding. For being so supportive. For just being you,” Jade said as she closed her eyes and relaxed into the security he provided for her.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Jade,” Grady said softly as he held her to him. Now he had another reason to destroy the Ashfords, and while Jade didn’t want revenge on the entire family, Grady would be sure to make each and every one of them pay the price for their father’s sins.


Zack pulled on a pair of sweat pants as he stumbled through Caitlin’s apartment. He’d just emerged from a shower when he heard the pounding at the door. Now he wished he’d just kept the towel wrapped around his waist as the pants were proving to be a challenge as he kept moving towards the door. Finally securely the waist band over his hips, he opened the door and immediately found Blake’s arms thrown around his neck.

“Zack, thank god,” Blake gasped in relief as she held onto him tightly.

“Blake…whoa, honey, what’s wrong?” He asked as he pulled her inside the apartment and closed the door, “Did something happen? Did someone hurt you?”

“He did,” She shook her head, “He lied, and he lied. Now he’s telling the biggest lie of all, but he expected me to believe it. He even had the gall to be upset when I didn’t believe him,” She huffed as she turned and stepped across the room.

“Who?” He asked as he found a shirt he’d discarded on the sofa and pulled it on as he waited for her to answer his question.

“Seth,” She groaned the name, “He wanted me to feel all sorry for his little sister, and stupid me, what did I do? I fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker. But then he starts explaining just exactly what happened to his sister, and he blamed it on my father. Well he’s full of it if he thinks I’m going to fall for some crazy lie about my father. I know better than the crazy story he was telling, but he looked at me like I was crazy for not believing him.”

“Whoa, slow down there, Kitten,” He urged her, using a pet name he’d had for her years ago, “Sit down, take a deep breath, and tell me about this mess from the beginning.”

Blake sank onto the sofa, “That jerk…he was just like all the rest.”

“What did Seth do?” Zack asked as he sat down beside her.

“He told the biggest pack of lies I have ever heard in my entire life. I should have figured all of this out long ago, but I’m an idiot,” She hung her head as she felt tears stinging her eyes, “I’m so stupid. I actually opened my heart, and what did it get me? Nothing but pain.”

“Blake, are you going to explain some of this or just sit there and have a pity party?” He asked to provoke her.

“Seth said he was only working with Cameron Stone to protect his sister. Then he makes up this horrific story about how my father hurt his sister. That’s just vile,” She shook her head, “So I left him, and I’m never going to see him again. He just wants to ruin my family, and I’m not going to let him.”

“I kind of figured he was up to no good,” Zack frowned, “But still, I’m sorry Blake. I hate to see you heartbroken this way.”

“I’m not heartbroken. I’m pissed off. How dare he think he could just come into my life, wreck havoc, and there wouldn’t be any consequences,” She blurted before she completely broke down in tears, “Damn him.”

He drew her into his arms and held her in a comforting embrace, “Shhh, it’ll be okay, Blake.”

“No, it won’t. It won’t be okay. I loved him, Zack. I really thought he loved me too, but…he can’t possibly love me after the things he said,” She sobbed as she held onto him, “How could I have been so stupid?”

“Blake, he took advantage of your good heart. You can’t put this on you. He’s the bastard to blame for it.”

“Oh god,” She cried, “I wanted it to be real, you know? I wanted us to have a real love. I needed that, and now…”

“Shhh, it’s okay, Kitten. It’ll be okay,” He said softly.

“You know what?” She began as she pulled away from him slightly and met his eyes. She swept tears from her cheeks, “I’m going to make it okay because I’m not going to let him have another second of my life.”

Zack broke a slight grin as he grabbed a tissue from the end table and extended it to her, “Now that’s my girl.”

“I’m not going to let him be that important. He ruined his chance to have that kind of role in my life,” She declared, wiping her cheeks dry before she sniffled slightly and held her head up high, “So I’m going to move on, and to hell with Seth Alexander.”

“There you go,” He encouraged her.

“So how would you like to go to an Ashford gala this weekend?” She asked as a smile curled over her lips, “I can introduce you to all the big wigs in town, and we can have some fun. I know I’m safe with you, and you can make all the girls in town drool over you.”

Zack chuckled, “Now that’s an invitation I simply can’t resist,” He said as he pulled her into a hug, “And I’ll have to see what I can do to make you forget that jerk.”

“If anyone can, Zack, I have faith that it’s you,” Blake grinned as she held onto him. In truth, her heart was in a million pieces, but she wasn’t going to let anyone know just how broken she felt at this moment. Instead, she would prove to the world that she was stronger than that. She would live up to the Ashford reputation for always being prepared to move onward and upward in the world. She wasn’t about to let anything Seth Alexander said or did keep her down…even if she felt as if he had broken her spirit and killed a piece of her soul.

Jenna looked up from her steaming cup of coffee only to discover a face she was certain she didn’t want to be seeing before her as Hart waved at her.  A frown touched over her lips as he slid into the booth across from her making himself comfortable as she took off the headphones she’d been listening to.
“Can I help you,” she asked with a curl of her lip as her eyes darted in his general direction.
“I was hoping I’d find out here at our coffee shop,” Hart admitted flashing her a sexy smile, “and I’m glad my hunch paid off.”
“First of all this isn’t our coffee shop and second, I was hoping to get some time to myself for a change,” she closed the book before her before setting her headphones down on the cover, “but somehow I get the feeling I won’t be getting that now will I?”
“Jenna, I think we got off on the wrong foot the other night,” Hart began after a moment’s hesitation, “and I’d like to work on fixing that situation if I can.”
“Truth be told I’m not really interested in hearing it right now,” Jenna admitted with a sigh, “considering the hell I’ve been through in the short time we’ve agreed to work together, I’m starting to think that my initial ideas of keeping a safe distance from you would be best.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying that to me after the week we’ve had,” Hart frowned in response, “I mean sure we’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I’d imagined that we’d worked up to some kind of friendship between us.”
“Not even close,” Jenna shook her head in response, “The way I see it, I’ll just do what I have to in order to get things to work in my behalf as I’m sure that I can get back to the life I was used to…you know the one without you in it.”
“Do you really think so little of me,” Hart raised his hand over his chest, “I think I’m offended there.”
“I highly doubt anything I can do or say can offend you,” Jenna threw out a skeptic look.
“Okay then what if I said the power of your words could mortally wound me,” Hart lifted a curious brow.
“Then I guess that would be motivation to keep talking,” she shot back with a tiny laugh.
“Now how did I know the thought of you wounding me would get a smile out of you,” he reciprocated the gesture leaning in over the table, “I didn’t realize how badly you’d like to hurt me.”
“I guess you underestimate your power over women,” Jenna teased back playfully as she couldn’t help but smile.
“You’re the first that’s ever taken pleasure in wanting to see me injured,” Hart offered with a tiny chuckle.
“The only one brave enough to say it to your face,” she remarked offhandedly leaning back in the booth.
“Ouch,” he placed his hand over his heart, “I might think that you’re really trying to hurt me if you keep this up.”
“That was the point,” she admitted with mild amusement watching his reaction to her words, “So what exciting tidbit brought you over to invade my moment of solitude?”
“Other than the fact that a beautiful gal like yourself should never be left lonely,” Hart threw out in a flirty tone as he leaned in closer to her.
“I wasn’t lonely,” Jenna explained motioning to the book before her, “I had Freud before me.”
“Freud?” he gave her a strange look, “Now why would you go and ruin a perfectly good afternoon with that nonsense?”
“It’s not nonsense,” Jenna thought it over for a moment, “well not entirely.”
“Freud’s sole purpose in his theories is to obsess over sexual nature using a lot of flowery words,” Hart tossed out at her thinking about it for a moment as a smile lifted over his features once again, “So you have been thinking about me today after all?”
“Only in your dreams,” she rolled her eyes, “and not that it’s any of your business, but I was looking for something in particular here.”
“Such as?” Hart leaned forward as he reached for the book and she snatched it away from him quickly.
“Such as it’s none of your business,” she scuffed as her eyes narrowed in response to him, “So are you going to tell me what you’re doing here or are you just going to annoy me until I feel the urge to leave?”
“Jenna, we really need to work on your people skills,” Hart sighed slumping back into his seat, “Granted I know you’re usually stuck with a bunch of stiffs, but still someone as intelligent and as beautiful as you are really should know how to handle herself around people.”
“I do know how to handle myself,” Jenna retorted with a frown, “I just choose not to waste my time with people like you.  I save the witty fun side for someone much more deserving.”
“Now I know you’re out to break my heart,” he winked back at her, “but you can make it up to me over dinner tonight.”
“Excuse me?” she blinked back at him, “Now what in this conversation has lead you to believe that I’d even consider having dinner with you tonight?”
“The way your eyes light up when you’re telling me off,” Hart shrugged his shoulders, “It only proves you want to indulge some more in the pleasures that insulting me provides you with.”
“You’re really delusional you know,” Jenna shook her head at him, “You should probably seek out professional help as it would be good for you.”
“I already have a doctor I’m interested in seeing, though she keeps putting me off to say the least,” Hart threw out once more.
“Smart woman,” Jenna added with a tiny laugh as she eyed him closely, “So is that all you hunted me down for?  To ask me out to dinner knowing full well I’d shoot down your offer?”
“I wasn’t expecting a refusal as I know you’re just dying to go out with me again,” Hart tried to sway her into changing her mind as he threw out the charm, “After all I didn’t truly get the chance to apologize for being the ass that I was last night.”
“I don’t think we’d have enough hours in the day for an apology that would do enough justice in your case,” Jenna teased back.
“You do realize that if you’d stop insulting me for five minutes, this might be much easier for the both of us,” Hart began with a slight frown.
“Why would I want to do that,” Jenna teased back ready to get into another few biting words with him when she noticed the new arrival at the tiny café as Shannon Pryce stepped inside.  A moment later, Shannon spotted Jenna and Hart and she made her way over towards the two of them offering up a polite nod.
“Jenna, I was hoping I’d find you here,” Shannon greeted her with a casual tone.
“Oh great, just when things were looking good, the she-devil arrives,” Hart grumbled looking up at Shannon, “What’s wrong, you can’t find my client to harass today so you thought you’d finish where you left off with me?”
“I wouldn’t give you the time of day if my life depended on it,” Shannon answered simply, “and maybe you didn’t hear me when I walked in just now, but I’m here to talk to Jenna, not you so why don’t you do us both a favor and go away?”
“I’m in the middle of something very important right now and neither one of us wants to be bothered by you Agent Pryce,” he waved his hand at her dismissively, “So just go away.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that as much as I’d love to be done with you,” Shannon turned her attention to Jenna, “Do you have a minute?  It’s kind of important.”
“Of course I do,” Jenna nodded politely before turning her attention to Hart, “I think you’ve gotten a sufficient answer from me about dinner tonight…”
“Not nearly sufficient enough,” he reached across the table for her book, “but I’ll keep an eye on these for you while you two have a girl talk.”
“I can handle it,” Jenna wrenched her book away from him as she followed Shannon over to the other end of the café and the two made themselves comfortable knowing full well that Hart was going to stick around and keep a watch over them despite Jenna’s urgings for him to leave.
“Is he always that irritating?” Shannon questioned sliding into her seat as Jenna offered up a quick nod.
“I think he’s under the strange misconception that I actually enjoy his company,” Jenna shrugged her shoulders simply, “The phrase get lost seems to have lost it’s meaning with the men in this town.”
“Tell me about it,” Shannon grumbled in response, “It’s a regular boys club around here where the meaning of the word no also seems to be lost as they take that as some kind of aphrodisiac.”
“Don’t I know it,” Jenna shook her head, “It’s enough to drive any woman to drinking.”
“Yeah well it doesn’t get any better outside of Coral Valley either although things here are starting to seem worse than they would in say D.C. right about now,” Shannon’s tone shifted as a seriousness washed over her features, “and that’s kind of why I’m here.”
“Something wrong,” Jenna questioned noting the change in Shannon.
“I’m surprised it hasn’t hit the tabloids just yet considering how things are run around here, but Bruce Mathis is missing.”
“Come again,” Jenna’s eyes widened, “How can that be?”
“Apparently the body just vanished from the morgue as the idiots in charge of keeping an eye on things--and I can say first hand they’re idiots, didn’t do what they were supposed to,” Shannon sighed bringing her fingers through her blonde hair, “which poses as a bit of a problem for obvious reasons.”
“Yeah, I’ll say,” Jenna nodded in response, “but what does this have to do with me exactly?”
“Well I pulled a few strings and it seems that my bosses are ready to quit their power play and bring you back into the loop,” Shannon explained smoothly.
“Kind of late to do that considering that there’s a missing stiff on the loose,” Jenna pointed out with a frown, “which by the way wouldn’t be happening if they’d kept me there in the first place.”
“I realize this, but they’re not going to just up and admit they made a mistake.  However in being able to get you back in, I’d say it’s a good starting ground.”
“Even so it tends to put some kind of damper on the investigation you’re running there, doesn’t it?  Any leads on what happened?” Jenna inquired curiously.
“Nothing that I can get into right now,” Shannon answered quickly.
“Well I’d like to help, but I can’t really say anything about what Bruce did postmortem.  However, the bartender at the Cadillac Ranch had a very interesting tale about Bruce while he was still among the living and breathing,” Jenna threw out thinking about her own investigation on things, “Granted with my being a medical examiner I’m sure that it doesn’t put me in the light to do some of the field work, but I have my ways of collecting information.”
“Somehow I didn’t doubt that one,” Shannon nodded in response, “The other night at the bar that’s what you were doing, wasn’t it?”
“You’d be amazed at how far a pair of breasts can get you with a horny bartender,” Jenna confessed with a sigh, “but whatever works I say when you’re trying to get to the heart of the matter and discover the truth.”
“I couldn’t agree more which is why I’m glad that my superiors decided to rethink their bad decision,” Shannon admitted honestly, “which is why I wanted to speak with you in the hopes that you’d come on and maybe shed some light into how the body could’ve just vanished from the morgue.”
“In this town, I suppose anything is possible,” Jenna shrugged her shoulders, “though even that one is something that throws me for a loop.”
“Even so, there has to be something and I’d really appreciate it if you could lend your expertise,” Shannon added after a moment, “It would be nice to have someone around who actually knows what their doing.”
“That seems to be a rare thing these days,” Jenna glanced casually over at Hart noticing how his eyes were fixed upon him, “though I suppose I can see what I can do…on one condition…”
“What’s that?” Shannon questioned curiously.
“That you promise me that the next time one of your over ambitious counter parts decides they know more than I do, that they take a walk and let me do my job no questions asked,” Jenna threw out on the table.
“I think I can work on making that one happen.  Do we have a deal,” Shannon asked lifting a curious brow.
“You bet we do,” Jenna decided realizing that getting back into her morgue once again would be the first step in reclaiming her life and getting to the truth about what really happened the night Bruce was murdered.  One way or the other she was determined to discover the truth.

Avery made her way to the top of the winding staircase as her thoughts lingered to her parents.  Knowing Brooke, there was going to be some hell to pay on her father’s end for even suggesting a divorce, but then again that was par for the course with the Morrisons it seemed.  All her years back home with them, she remembered the misery they constantly put one another through in the talks about the divorce that never came about…still as Avery thought about her father’s determined tone earlier perhaps this time would be the time that things finally came to an ending after all.  With a heavy sigh, she hugged Rusty closer to her as she turned towards the guest bedroom ready to push her parents and the day behind her.
“Avery,” Brant called out to her as she turned around to see him standing down the hallway, “hey I was hoping I might catch a minute with you.”
“I’m kind of tired,” she began realizing that the last thing she wanted was to get into another go round with him of all people.
“I kind of figured that, but I thought I’d at least try to get a word in,” he offered with a soft smile, “Got a minute,” he asked as he motioned towards the kitten, “or does the new man in your life think it’s a bad idea?”
“I’m sure Rusty hates it, but I’ll give you a minute before I put him to bed,” Avery decided with a soft smile, “What’s on your mind Brant?”
“How did your talk with your parents go,” he questioned curiosity building behind his eyes despite the casual nature in which he’d asked the question.
“It went, but that’s about the norm with them,” she shrugged her shoulders as she eyed him closely, “What’s really on your mind Brant?”
“Well, I actually wanted to apologize,” he began shifting on his feet almost nervously.
“For before,” Brant explained quickly, “I shouldn’t have pressed you for answers like that about Bruce considering all that’s happened with him.  I was out of line and acting like a possessive jerk and I’m sorry about that.  If there’s ever anything that you don’t want to talk about, then who the hell am I to push the issue especially when it’s something that bothers you like I’d imagine the topic of Bruce does.”
Avery watched him for a long moment before a smile built over her features, “If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think that was sincere.”
“It is sincere,” Brant argued with her, “and I’m sorry about the engagement party as well.  I really thought you might be happy to have a distraction to what we’ve been facing and…”
Avery raised her hand in the air to silence him, “Brant, I know that wasn’t you.  I mean I’m sure you didn’t mind the idea, but I know how Brooke can be when she has her mind set on something.  She more than likely pushed this on you and I wouldn’t expect any less of her.  She’s kind of like a viper when she thinks there’s something there to work with.”
“Still I don’t want you feeling like I’m working a number on you as that’s not what I’m trying to do,” Brant offered reaching out to touch her shoulder before drawing back, “I mean I hope you realize that’s not why I’ve done what I’ve done with us.”
“I think there’s a little self interest working there, but I know you’re not as bad of a guy as you like to let the world think you are,” Avery paused feeling a twinge of guilt wash over her, “In fact, you’re an okay kind of guy Brant which is why I think you and I should sit down and have a talk after this engagement party is over and done with.”
“Why do I get the feeling this sounds pretty serious,” Brant questioned raising a curious brow.
“Because it kind of is,” Avery confessed thinking about her relationship with Russell, “There are some things that you have a right to know and I don’t want to keep you hanging considering that you deserve more than that.”
“Avery I already told you that your past is irrelevant to the future we could have together,” he began to reach out to touch her face gently, “All I care about is where we can go from here.”
“Brant,” she took a step back moving out of his touch as a sigh escaped her lips, “I really can’t do this now.  I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Brant nodded in response before throwing out a hopeful smile, “but maybe the engagement party can change things for us.”
“Brant,” she opened her mouth struggling to find the right words to tell him everything, but as a wave of exhaustion pressed over her she chickened out, “I’m really tired so I think I’m going to call it a night.”
“You do that,” Brant decided watching her for a long moment, “and hey you,” he turned his attention to Rusty, “you take good care of her.”
“He will,” Avery smiled in response watching him walk down the long hallway towards his room before she opened the door to the guest room she was staying in and she carefully stepped inside closing the door behind her as a breath escaped her lips.
Closing her eyes, Avery thought to the way the situation had escalated for her over the last couple of weeks.  One minute she was doomed to a life of misery with Bruce it seemed, and now not only did Brant want to make some kind of ground with her, but she’d also found herself wrapped up in the love that she’d thought she’d lost with Russell once again.  As if things couldn’t happen any faster for her, she sighed as she realized that her life was going in directions she’d never dreamt possible a few months ago.  Hearing Rusty’s soft meow breaking through her thoughts, she decided that she needed to just focus for a bit as she opened her eyes once again and set him down on the ground to let him roam around the bedroom for a moment or so as she got things together for bed.  As she rose to her feet, she felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her and the warmth of the strong contours of Russell’s chest press in against her spine as he dropped a tender kiss upon her neck.
“Hey beautiful,” he whispered holding her closer to him as she turned in his arms facing him surprise evident in her eyes.
“Russ, what are you doing here,” she questioned as she looked up into his green eyes, feeling their sparkle reach inside of her down to the tips of her toes as he held her.
“Did you honestly believe that I was about to let my family go a night without me when this was our first night together,” he questioned lazily as he leaned down to offer up a quick kiss upon her lips.
“Russ, Brant’s going to kill you if he sees you,” she began feeling the same argument fall from her lips as a sigh hung over her.
“My baby needs me tonight,” he squeezed her in against him as he kissed the top of her head, “both of my babies need me tonight.”
“You’re going to be the end of me, Russ,” Avery confessed wrapping her arms around as she found herself sinking into the warmth of his chest, “Sooner or later we’re going to get burned by doing this.”
“Sooner or later this will be all over and when it is, we’ll be able to move on with our lives together,” Russell promised as he glanced over at Rusty, who’d now brushed up against his leg with a purr.  Releasing Avery for a moment, he bent down to collect Rusty in the palm of his hand before rising up to offer Rusty to Avery, “I think he wants his mother.”
“His mother’s exhausted,” Avery admitted with a half smile as she collected Rusty in her arms.
“I kind of figured that,” Russell nodded making her that Avery had a hold on Rusty as he reached out to her lifting her up off of her toes and pulling her completely into his arms before carrying her over to the bed, “which is why I had to stick around to tuck you both in and share a bedtime story.”
“A bedtime story?” Avery’s eyes lit up as he carefully lowered her onto the bed before settling in beside her, “I must’ve been a good girl today, now haven’t I?”
“That’s right,” Russell explained further watching Rusty settle in between them stretching his tiny paws out beneath him extending his body with the movement as Russell rubbed his tiny ear, “In fact I was thinking about telling him the story about how the two of us fell in love.”
“Russ, he’s just a baby.  The last thing he needs to hear is about that nightmare of a tale,” she teased with a tiny laugh snuggling in closer to Rusty as she placed her hand upon his soft fur, stroking it gently as her fingers brushed up against Russell’s for the briefest of moments.
“I think he’d love it,” Russell argued the point before throwing out a teasing wink at her, “and besides, I figure I’ll keep it to a PG rating for his little ears as I think I can still get the point across.”
“Well I’d like to see you try as there’s a lot of editing on your part,” Avery teased back as a yawn fell over her.  She sank her head into the pillow as Russell picked Rusty up, bringing him onto the center of his chest before urging Avery to cuddle in against him.
“That’s why I’m the wizard with words my love,” he whispered kissing her gently feeling her hand upon his chest as he turned his attention to Rusty beginning his story, “It a long time ago--well not too long, but still…it all began the first day I laid eyes upon your mother.  She was the most beautiful, amazing woman I’ve ever known and from that first moment I knew it was love,” he paused curling his arm around Avery as he turned his head in her direction realizing that she’d drifted out before the story had began.  Now as she lay against him a smile tugged upon his lips as he focused on Rusty, “I guess the story will have to wait for another night as mommy is too tired to hear it, but you can rest assured that we’re going to make a beautiful family,” he scratched Rusty’s head as thoughts of the future began to dance in his head.
“It looks like you’re well on your way to a good start,” a voice beckoned Russell surprising him as he looked over towards the doorway only to discover Richard standing there watching over them.
Russell felt a moment of panic wash over him as the thought of Avery’s father walking in on them was something that had haunted his adolescent nightmares time and time again.  Still there was something about the look on Richard’s face that was quite different than Russell had always imagined it being as Richard stepped towards the trio.
“She’s had a really rough day, hasn’t she,” Richard lowered his voice to talk to Russell, “I’m starting to really worry about her.”
“You and me both,” Russell confessed as Avery curled into him closer than before completely unaware of her father’s presence in the room.  “She’s been under a lot of stress and I know I was supposed to leave, but…”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” Richard raised his hand in the air to silence Russell, “I can see you bring a peace to my daughter and if you two are happy together, then I don’t have anything to say on the subject other than I hope you keep making one another happy.”
“Avery’s the love of my life and her happiness means everything to me,” Russell confessed openly as he looked up to Avery’s father, “Being with her like this again, well we both know that the timing isn‘t the best as we know that it‘s…”
“It’s enough to drive Brooke wild with anger,” Richard noted with a nod, “but don’t let Brooke get in the way of this.  I know how she’s pushing Avery, but this time I’m glad to see my little girl fighting back a bit.”
“Avery’s always been a fighter and it’s part of what I love about her,” Russell admitted proudly as he cast a look in Avery’s direction.
“I love seeing my little girl happy and I must confess I was really worried when I came up here to speak with her, but now that I see you here, well I have to say I’m pretty sure she’s in good hands now,” Richard offered up with a smile of his own before motioning to the door, “but if you’re planning on spending the night, well I think you should probably let me lock the door on my way out as I’m sure that the last thing she needs is any intrusions tonight from her mother or anyone else…”
“I think you’re right,” Russell nodded in response surprised at how strangely easygoing Richard appeared to be as he circled around the bed giving Avery a kiss on the forehead before heading towards the door once again.
Richard threw out one last look in Russell’s direction before adding, “Take care of my little girl.”
“Always,” Russell answered listening to the sound of the door closing behind Richard as he turned his attention completely to Avery as he found himself lost in the simple pleasures of watching Avery lost in her own world of peace and tranquility.  Now as he held her adding to that peace of mind for her, he felt himself at ease knowing that together the world would always be wonderful as his heart belonged to the beautiful woman before him and nothing would ever take that away from them as now that they’d found one another again, they had that second chance at a happily ever after.


Brooke slammed the door as she stepped into her room. She’d be damned if she’d ever let Richard have a divorce. She’d fought too hard to keep their marriage together this long, and there was no way in hell she’d allow him to make her a middle aged divorcee.

She frowned as she stepped across the room and opened the French doors leading to her balcony. Richard was probably with Avery now, plotting how they could force her to sign divorce papers. He’d been working to have Avery as his ally since she was born, but Brooke had an ally of her own.

She made her way back to the telephone and dialed Guy’s number. If there was anyone she could count on, it would be her darling son.
“Guy Morrison.”

“Guy, I hate to call this late,” She said in a distressed voice.

“Mum? What’s wrong? You sound upset,” He responded quickly.

“Oh Guy, it’s just horrible,” Brooke sighed heavily, “Your father was out with another woman…in public. I caught them together, and now he’s demanding I give him a divorce. I don’t want to lose him, Guy. What am I going to do?”

“First, you’re going to pull yourself together,” He suggested softly, “What does Avery have to say about this?”

“Oh you know your sister. She’s jumping on his bandwagon and damning me every second of the day. You’re the only person who cares about me, Guy. You’re the only one that I can count on. Your father…he’s just been horrible to me, and if I didn’t want to hold this family together so much…”

“Mum, I’m coming to Coral Valley. I’m not going to let you deal with this on your own,” Guy informed her quickly, “I’ll make all the arrangements tonight, and I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Guy, you don’t have to do that. You’re so busy with the European contracts, and I’d hate to tear you away,” She said as she formed a smile.

“Nonsense. You need me, and I won’t let Dad and Avery double team you. I’ll be there tomorrow, and we’ll sort all of this out then.”

“But…Guy, really,” She said as happiness began to creep into her cells.

“No, I’ll be there. Tonight, you just get some rest, and don’t let Dad or Avery try to bully you. I promise you that I won’t let you go through this alone, Mum.”

“I love you, Guy. Have a safe trip,” She urged.

“Always,” He said coolly before the phone call ended.

Brooke beamed with a bright smile as she placed the phone back upon its base, “Looks like the playing field is about to become even, Dick. Let’s see how you deal with that,” She smiled before she fell back onto her bed, knowing that with Guy in town she would have her strongest ally by her side.

...to be continued...