Episode Forty Two

“Ken!” Caitlin shook her head as he carried her off the elevator towards her apartment, “My legs weren’t even bruised. I can walk you know.”

“Hush up and let me do the chivalry thing here,” Kenneth teased as he stood in front of her door, “Do you have your keys?”

“Do I look like I have my keys?” She retorted with a chuckle, “I thought you were the one who had all this chivalrous homecoming figured out.”

“Okay, so there were a few glitches in the plan,” He teased, “Think Zack is in there?”

“It’s worth a shot,” She giggled before she knocked on the door, “Zack…if you don’t hurry, I think Ken’s going to have a hernia.”

“Oh that’s funny,” Kenneth deadpanned before the door opened.

“I’m not Zack, but maybe I’ll do,” Blake smiled as she opened the door wide, “Get in here.”

“Blake? What are you doing here?” Caitlin asked as Kenneth carried her across the room and gently placed her upon the sofa.

“I stayed here last night. I didn’t want to go home, and there was no where else to go,” Blake said sadly as she closed the door.

“Blake?” Kenneth asked in concern as he approached her. He placed his hands upon her shoulders, “Blake, what’s wrong?”

“Seth and I broke up…for real,” Blake declared as she looked up to meet Kenneth’s eyes, “It’s over between us.”

He frowned with a sigh, “What happened?”

“He revealed more of his personality to me, and it was not appealing to me at all,” Blake shrugged as she slipped out of her brother’s grasp. She made her way to the sofa and sat beside Caitlin, “But I don’t want to talk about that right now. How are you feeling?”

“I’d be lying if I said I felt on top of the world, but I’m doing okay,” Caitlin said as she reached over and took her friend’s hand, “You realize that you’re going to have to tell me everything whether you like it or not. That’s just the way it is.”

“Yeah I know, but I just don’t want to go over it right now,” Blake admitted.

“So did Zack take care of you last night? Cause if he tried to put any of his slick moves on you I’ll have to kick his behind,” Caitlin said with a teasing smile.

“No, he was a perfect gentleman,” Blake replied before she giggled, “Okay maybe not perfect, but he was very good to me just as always.”

“Why didn’t you go home? Brant would have been there,” Kenneth began as he sat in a nearby recliner.

“The last thing I wanted to do was face Brant. He would just have told me how unworthy he always knew Seth to be, and I’d have to listen to I told you so’s all night instead of getting some comfort,” Blake frowned, “And I didn’t want to come to the hospital and make things worse for you guys. I just needed to decompress, and this was a good a place as any.”

Kenneth reached out to Blake and took her free hand, “Are you okay? I mean really all right?”

“I’ll live,” Blake replied as tears threatened to reach her eyes. She looked to the floor as she reigned in her feelings, “I just don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“Okay, you don’t have to,” He assured her, “Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No, I was just about to put on some tea and get myself a bagel,” Blake said as she looked to Caitlin, “What about you?”

“I haven’t eaten though your brother has tried valiantly to remedy that,” Caitlin teased with a smile.

“And I plan to do that very thing,” Kenneth said firmly, “Can I use your kitchen?”

“Be my guest,” Caitlin smiled as he winked at her and stepped out of the room. When he was out of earshot, she turned back to her friend, “So how bad is it?”

Blake met her friend’s eyes, “Pretty bad, and it only involves Cameron Stone all the more.”

“So Ken was right when he immediately distrusted him, huh?”

“So it would seem,” Blake nodded, “I really thought he was different, Caitlin, and I really lost my heart to him,” She said as the tears could be held back no longer and spilled forth.

Caitlin squeezed Blake’s hand as she drew her close enough to put her arm around her. She hugged Blake to her before speaking, “Just look at us. We’re a pair of goofs, aren’t we?”

“Speak for yourself,” Blake teased in between sobs as she held onto her friend. She hated feeling as if her entire life was falling apart, but here she was…taking comfort from her friend who was in worse shape than she was. Maybe she really was a huge goof, and now she’d have to find a way to fix it all.


Zack knocked lightly upon the door before hearing the invitation to enter. He stepped inside and met the welcoming eyes of the Chief of Staff Isaac Reynolds.

“Dr. Reynolds,” Zack smiled as he stepped forward and extended his hand, “It’s nice to finally meet the man who invited me here.”

“You must be Zack Vaughn,” Isaac spoke as he shook Zack’s hand, “Your reputation did all the inviting as far as I’m concerned. It’s good to have you here at CCR.”

“I hope that means we’re going to have a good working relationship.”

“So do I,” Isaac smiled as he motioned towards the door, “Come on. I’ll give you the fifty cent tour of the place.”

“I’ve seen some of the facilities already. Unfortunately, my sister was in here over the last few days,” Zack announced, “The trauma team certainly seems talented.”

“They are. We have a team of highly charged residents in the emergency room, but the star of the lot is our chief resident, Dr. Ria Mehran.”

“I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure,” Zack spoke as they stepped into a waiting elevator.

“You will. She’s outspoken, and as soon as you step into the emergency room, she’ll announce herself.”

“You seem like a fan.”

“She’s one of the last students I took under my wing before I became chief of staff. Now I spend most of my time tending to administration instead of medicine,” Isaac explained, “Is your ambition to move into administration?”

“No, I’m not much for paperwork and red tape. I prefer my research or surgery,” Zack shrugged, “My only ambition to be able to practice until I decide to retire.”

“I wish I had kept that as my ambition,” Isaac nodded as they stepped off the elevator and began towards the trauma rooms of the ER, “Instead I moved up, and administration has become my nightmare.”

Zack cast an understanding grin in his direction as they stepped into a trauma room where several nurses and a doctor were seated on empty gurneys.

“Dr. Reynolds,” The doctor spoke as she leapt off of the gurney, “I didn’t know you were coming down.”

“Obviously,” Isaac smiled as he saw the relaxed atmosphere, “But that’s perfectly okay. You have to take a break every now and then,” He turned to Zack, “This is our new surgical attending physician, Dr. Zack Vaughn. He’s just spent a couple of years in Seattle in a county hospital. So let’s make him feel welcome in our little family.”

“Will do,” The doctor extended her hand, “I’m Dr. Ria Mehran. I’m the chief resident.”

Zack shook her hand, “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Ria smiled while Isaac frowned.

Isaac lifted his pager from his waistband, “This has to be some other administrative headache. Ria, could you show Dr. Vaughn around for me?”

“No problem, boss,” She agreed while the chief of staff left the room.
Ria motioned towards the door before she led him out of the trauma room, “Seattle, huh?”

“Yeah, I had a research grant there, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a vacation spot,” Zack frowned as he followed her down the hall.

She smiled in reply before she pushed open the door to the staff lounge. She glanced around for signs of life before she turned back to face him, “Dr. Vaughn, I think we need to lay a few ground rules here…just to start things off on the right foot.”

He crossed his arms as if he were amused by her presumption that she had the authority to issue him any sort of rule. He raised an inquisitive eyebrow, “And just what might those be?”

“In a trauma room, I’m the boss.”

“And just why do you believe that to be the case?”

“Because I’m the chief resident of this emergency room, and it’s my call as to whether the patient will be treated medically or surgically,” She declared, “As far as your position as an attending, I’d always appreciate your input, but I’d appreciate you even more if you stayed out of my way.”

He chuckled to himself for a moment.

“What do you think is so funny?”

“The idea that a resident is trying to boss me around. It’s been a lot of years since I’ve let any resident give me any kind of orders, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take a step backwards now. I’m the attending, you’re the resident. In case you haven’t looked at hospital policy lately, that makes my word the final word in every medical case.”

“Your first inclination is always going to be to operate when that’s not always the best treatment for the patient.”

“You don’t even know me. How can you presume to judge my medical opinions?”

“Because I know surgeons. Boy do I know surgeons. The last surgical attending, Bruce Mathis, thought he was god when it came to carving on the human body. Newsflash, Dr. Vaughn, this emergency room isn’t here for your personal cutting pleasure. It’s here to treat the sick and injured medically first and then surgically if there are no viable medical options.”

Zack approached her, sizing her up with every inch that he got closer. He stopped just in front of her and glanced down at her petite frame, “You sure like to make speeches, don’t you?”

“Don’t patronize me, Doctor.”

“Don’t presume to issue orders to me, Doctor.”

Ria narrowed her eyes at him before she snorted, “You surgeons are all the same…a bunch of egotistical, over zealous, uncaring louts.”

“Careful, I make take offense to any or all of your comments.”

“You’ll live,” She said as she groaned and walked around him.

“Is that your professional diagnosis, Doctor?” He asked, turning on his heel to watch her stop at the door.

“As a matter of fact, I think you’re a hopeless case…just like every other surgeon I’ve ever known. I have work to do.”

“What about our tour?” Zack reminded her as he watched her open the door.

“I’m sure you’ll find your way around. Surgeons always do seem to be able to ferret out the OR,” Ria smiled sourly before she left the lounge, leaving Zack to give himself a tour of the hospital and its facilities.


Avery stretched out from beneath her blankets feeling the morning air hang over her as a yawn spilled over her lips.  Despite the exhaustion that had weighed upon her the night before, she felt refreshed and energized as she heard the soft rustling sound coming from on the floor.  Turning on her side, she watched as Rusty knelt on the ground waving his tail in the air as a seriousness fell over his features.  Across the floor near the foot of the bed, Russell was crouched over dangling a toy mouse at the kitten and while Rusty was doing his best to pretend that he wasn’t interested in temptation, there was no denying where he was focused as his tail wiggled furiously.
“What are you two up to,” Avery questioned rolling over onto her stomach as Russell held his hand up in the air to silence her for a moment before Rusty took the opportunity to pounce in Russell’s direction ready to take on the toy mouse with all his might as his paws went flying up at the mouse, sending it spinning above his head.  Russell let out a tiny laugh scooping Rusty up into his arms as Rusty bucked in protest wanting down on the floor once again and back to the mouse he’d been teased with.
“He’s very focused,” Russell explained as Rusty began to creep towards the mouse before leaping on it and wrapping it up in all four limbs.  He started kicking furiously at the toy nibbling on it’s ear victoriously as the mouse was nearly as large as he was.
“I can see that,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh as she propped herself up on her elbows and she watched Russell teasing Rusty’s tail for a moment, “but I’d have to say he’s not the only one, now is he?”
“I’m very focused,” Russell nodded in agreement as he scooted himself towards the bed, reaching out to touch her cheek as he urged her in closer to him.  Smiling as his gaze drifted over her lips, his tone shifted to that of mystery with a hint of seduction in it, “very focused indeed,” he explained capturing her mouth in a tender, good morning kiss.
“Mmm…” Avery purred against his mouth, “that was nice.”
“I aim to please,” Russell replied slowly pulling away from her as her fingers threaded through his hair.
“In that case, you can do better than that,” Avery decided tugging him towards her as her lips captured his roughly pulling him back onto the bed with her.
Clumsily Russell maneuvered himself over her as she threw her arms around him wildly.  His hand slid over her body, up underneath her bottom raising her up off the mattress a bit towards him as her thigh curled around his body hugging him in against her.  He shifted over her, a low moan building in his throat as her fingers left his hair and her nails sank into his shoulders squeezing him in over her as their lips parted.
“Very nice indeed,” Avery murmured a smile building behind her features as she held him over her.
“I take it Rusty’s not the only one feeling playful this morning,” Russell couldn’t help but let out a tiny chuckle as Avery’s hands explored the contours of his body.
“Not by a long shot,” Avery lowered her voice to a suggestive tone as her grin widened and her eyes threw out a look of seduction, “wanna see if you can make me purr this morning?”
“Hmm…now that does sound like an enticing challenge indeed,” Russell relished the notion before driving down over her lips in another hungry kiss as her arms wrapped him up tighter.
“It feels like you’re more than up for it,” Avery deduced as she arched up against him savoring the feel of his hard body over hers as another soft moan rose from her lips.
“You really are in a good mood this morning, aren’t you?” Russell questioned surprised by her sudden playfulness as she kissed him with teasing nips.
“You have no idea,” Avery confessed sliding his shirt up over his body as she continued to explain, “I had the most deliciously wonderful dream about you last night and when I woke up this morning, well I got to thinking perhaps we should focus on making it a bit of a reality.”
“Hmm, that must’ve been some dream there,” Russell decided dropping kisses over her neck, “I think I’m envious.”
“Why would you ever say something like that,” she questioned curling her legs around him as she squeezed his body in against hers, “considering that I’m about to share every incredible moment of it with you.”
“Honey, don’t tease,” Russell groaned in response feeling her body tantalize him.
“I’m not teasing,” Avery’s eyes widened solemnly as she eased her hands over his spine crushing him against her, “I’m hungry this morning, Russ.  Hungry for you.”
“Oh Avery,” he breathed her name as he pinned her beneath him rubbing up against her as his desire for her grew with every passing breath.  She scratched at him, nibbling on his neck as she tugged at his shirt wanting to tear it from his body as her breathing came out in slow, shallow pants.  She curled her fingers over him, scratching, teasing and nipping at him with her teeth as he let out a soft moan, “honey slow down…”
“I want you Russell,” she pleaded with him again as a soft whimper rose from within.
“I want you too, but don’t you think we should slow down just a bit,” he questioned fighting to keep his breathing even as her temptation flooded over his every synapse, “I mean we do have our baby in the room with us and your father is somewhere in the house right now probably on his way up to kill me if we keep making this much noise.”
“Daddy,” Avery’s widened feeling her mood come to a screeching halt as her eyes quickly scanned the room surrounding them, “oh God, we’re still at Brant’s aren’t we?”
“Afraid so,” he nodded with a heavy sigh as he reluctantly pulled himself up off her a bit to place a distance between them before common sense took a back seat to passion entirely, “I snuck in last night and tucked you in.”
“I forgot all about being here,” she admitted a color rising in her features, “In my dream we were at your place and…” heat flooded over her as she bit on her lower lip, “This was so not the time, was it?”
“Honey being with you it’s always the right time, but in this particular situation, I’m sure you don’t want to remember your time at Brant’s mansion with your family around us as a time we decided to throw caution to the wind and go for those wild impulses between us…not that I’d mind a bit, but given the way you feel about things…”
“We should probably put this on hold for a while,” Avery nodded in agreement as a frustrated sigh spilled over her lips, “and here I was being the one lecturing you about how we need to work on something more substantial than sex and I’m the one who throws down on you like a sex-starved lunatic.”
“It just reminds me how wild I can make you,” Russell leaned forward kissing her seductively as his voice dropped in pitch, “and I like knowing that I can still make you hot when you wake up in the mornings.”
“Scorching is more like it,” she breathed against his mouth as a tiny meow broke through the moment.  Turning her head towards the source of the sound, she realized that Rusty was seated on the floor looking up at the both of them with big, green eyes.  Avery felt a smile tug on her lips as she turned in Russell’s arms reaching out for the kitten as she pulled him up on the bed to join the two of them, “You’re probably wondering what in the world is wrong with your mother here, aren’t you?”
“Nah, he’s just seeing that playtime needs to be a family affair here since you’ve got some energy today,” Russell teased as he moved in beside her reaching over to stroke Rusty’s fur gently, “You know he and I learned a new game while you were sleeping if you’re interested in seeing it.”
“Of course I’m interested,” Avery nodded in response as she kissed the top of her kitten’s head, “What did daddy teach you while I was having naughty dreams?”
“Well it’s quite simple, but I think you’ll enjoy it,” Russell explained reaching for a pillow and placing it between the two of them, “You ready for this.”
“Sure,” Avery replied giving him a strange look as Rusty’s eyes focused on the pillow before him.
“Just watch,” Russell explained growing silent before he slowly popped out from behind the pillow playing a game of peek-a-boo with Rusty.  The kitten watched him for a long moment before he rose up on all four feet and he slowly made his way towards Russell, taking his time to plot out his next move as Russell continued to pop out from behind the pillow every now and then.  Just as soon as it looked like Rusty had built up the courage to pounce, Russell would pop out from behind the pillow once again and the kitten would take a leap back slowly taking his time moving towards the pillow once again.  This game continued for a few minutes before Rusty finally gained the courage to pounce at Russell waving his front paw at him wildly as Russell scooped him up and Rusty began to nibble on Russell’s finger making a low growling noise like he was a tiger as he took on Russell.

Unable to help herself Avery felt a laugh tickle over her lips as she watched the two guys in her life play with one another.  Somehow as nice as her dream had been, being able to share this moment with the two of them was even better as somehow things seemed as though they’d always been meant to be like this.  Watching Russell with Rusty teasing and toying with him with the love and tenacity of a new father with his little one, she realized that this was a whole other side of Russell--one that she certainly was growing fond of as somehow she was seeing more and more that he was the perfect package of a man.  The way his eyes lit up as he played with Rusty, only caused a warmth to fill inside of her as she admired their bond.
“You’re a good father, you know,” she couldn’t help but reveal her thoughts as she watched them together.
“I’m alright,” Russell answered with a simple shrug of his shoulders as he tickled Rusty, “Of course if you’re enjoying it, I’ll keep it up though as this is just the beginning as I’m sure you’ll see this is great practice for when we have our children in the future.”
“Our children,” Avery repeated as the words sunk in, “You really want that, don’t you?”
“For us to have a couple of children in our life together,” he half questioned as he looked into her dark eyes, “You bet I do and when the time is right, there’s no doubt in my mind that you and I are going to have a great family with one another.”
“Russ, that’s a beautiful dream,” she began taking in a slow breath as a sadness filled her, “but you never know what the future has in store for us.”
“I’m sure that somewhere down the road there will be a couple of beautiful babies that have their mother’s beautiful face and sparkling personality,” he reached across the bed touching her cheek gently.
“Any child of yours would have to have your eyes because they’re gorgeous.  I’ve always loved your eyes and your smile,” Avery took in his handsome features as she leaned into his touch, “and believe me there’s nothing I could want more than to have your baby one day, but...”
“But what?” he questioned searching her eyes.
“I just don’t know if I’m mommy material.  I mean look at Brooke.  She was a total disaster as a mother and I wouldn’t know where to begin in the mothering department as I can barely keep my head above water right now and then, well to think about what’s going on…” she started to reason as she took in a slow breath.
“Avery, I’m not asking you to take the plunge and us rush into this just yet,” he replied honestly as he caressed her soft skin, “We still have a lot of catching up to do between us before we can even consider something like that--not that I’d have a problem with it at any time, but I know how important your career is to you and how you want us to do this right--to take our time.  I‘m not trying to push.”
“I know you aren’t and it’s a beautiful dream, Russ,” she offered a tiny smile as she leaned in against his touch, “It really is.”
“It’s our dream to have for the future,” he promised leaning in across the bed over Rusty as he kissed her tenderly, “I can see it now with the four of us having our happily ever after.  Rusty can be a big brother and maybe we can work on all those other things along the way that we were too afraid to face before.”
“You really have beautiful dreams, Russ,” she admitted thinking to the ways in which she’d loved him over the years leading to their breakup before, “and I don’t want to be the thing that brings them all crashing down somehow.”
“With your loving me, I know that they’re all within my reach,” he answered tenderly, “We really can have it all together if you’re willing to open yourself up to the possibilities that forever has to offer with us together.”
“I like your ideas about happily ever after,” Avery admitted wishing that things could be as easy as Russell made them out to be, but unfortunately she was a realist that knew pain and disappointment first hand and now as he spoke about children and a future she feared that she might not be able to make all of his dreams come true as the past had often haunted her about this particular subject.
“I love you, Russ,” she whispered tears building behind her eyes as she touched him, “I hope you realize that--that you’ll always realize that.”
“I do and I love you,” he answered collecting her in his arms, “and I swear to you Avery that one way or another I’ll make you believe in happy endings again.  I’ll show you that things can work out the way we want them to,” he whispered seeing the sadness behind her eyes, “this time it’ll be different.”
“I hope you’re right,” she replied hugging him tightly as she realized she never wanted to let go of the feeling that flooded over her in these moments she shared with the man she’d always loved.  Somehow in being in Russell’s arms, he made the impossible seem possible and she just prayed that one day that would be the case for them together.


Brant made his way downstairs to the dining room in the hopes that he’d find Avery awaiting his arrival, but much like the morning before, she’d been conspicuously absent.  A frown touched over his lips as he decided that perhaps he’d make his way back upstairs to pay her a visit and perhaps talk her into going out to breakfast before work.  Just as he started out of the dining room, he came face to face with Richard Morrison much to his dismay.
“Brant,” Richard beamed with an uncharacteristically pleasant smile, “just the man I was looking for this morning.”
“Really?” Brant’s eyes widened in response as he found himself unable to contain his surprise at Richard’s words.
“That’s right,” Richard nodded motioning for Brant to follow him back into the dining room, “I think it’s about time you and I had a man to man about your relationship with my daughter before this big party you and my wife have planned here for her.”
“About that…” Brant began nervously not sure how to approach the subject with Avery’s father as he was well aware of Richard’s dislike for him.
“I know that my wife instigated this,” Richard remarked taking a seat at the table as he held a mug of coffee in one hand, a newspaper in another, “but what I also know is that my daughter’s happiness is at the utmost importance to me.  You see there’s a special bond between a father and his daughter and being that Avery is my one and only little girl, well you could say over the years she and I have been very in tune with one another.  She’s very special to me and I’ve always valued her ability to make decisions that were in her best interest.  She’s a very smart, vivacious young woman and I’d like to see her happiness continue through the years…”
“As would I,” Brant nodded in response circling around the table as he took a seat across from Richard.
“I’m glad to hear you say that as I must confess when my daughter first agreed to start working for your father, I had my reservations about the situation--a great many reservations indeed and the last thing I wanted was my little girl in a place where there was a less than savory reputation lingering in the air.  Granted I hear you saying that BBK has changed since your father’s reign, but I still don’t enjoy the idea of my daughter being attached to that company considering…”
“Your daughter is one of the best things at BBK these days.  Avery’s an asset to my company and just having her there, well I must admit that she adds a certain something that not just anyone could bring to the table.”
“I don’t doubt that at all, and while I might still feel a bit indifferent about the situation she’d chosen to work with, I do respect my daughter’s decisions enough to know that Avery will do what she feels is right for her.  That being said, I would just like to take this moment to remind you of where I stand on the issue.  I want what’s best for my daughter and that includes the things that make her happy.”
“I understand sir,” Brant nodded accordingly deciding that it would be in his best interest to smile and nod taking in what Richard had to say to him.
“No, I don’t really think that you do,” Richard shook his head as a frown touched over his lips, “Avery’s happiness is the one thing that means the most to me and as her father, I will do anything and everything in my power to ensure that she keeps the happiness in her life that she was meant for.  Time and time again I’ve watched my little girl’s heart be broken by circumstances and while my Avery is a fighter, I know she’s also very vulnerable to certain situations and the last thing I want is to see someone prey upon that vulnerability.  That being said, I don’t know what Brooke has filled your mind with about Avery, but it would be in your best interest if you forget it starting now as Brooke doesn’t know the first thing about our daughter like a mother should.  Her sole agenda is to make Avery’s life miserable and if I find that you should be encouraging or adding to this in any way, well, you’re going to have me to answer to because I’m not about to let you or anyone else…including my wife break my daughter’s heart or stand in the way of her happiness ever.  Is that understood?”
“Yes sir,” Brant nodded in response feeling Richard’s strong dislike for him hang in the air surrounding them as Richard tucked the newspaper he’d been carrying with him earlier under his arm as he began to rise from the table.
Richard reached for his coffee mug giving Brant one last look before offering a polite smile, “I’m glad we had this conversation, Brant,” he threw out emotionlessly before walking out of the room as Brant wondered if in fact there would ever be a way to get Richard on his side of things.
For a brief moment, Brant felt a twinge of guilt wash over him as he thought of his alliance with Brooke.  Sure things might take a drastic turn in Avery’s life once the weekend was over, and yes it might disappoint her, but in the long run Brant was certain he and Brooke were doing Avery a favor as there was one place in this world where Avery truly belonged and that was with Brant.  He’d be sure to find a way to make it happen even with Richard’s firm warning as he was certain nothing would stop destiny from taking it’s course with them.


Seth paced around his apartment struggling to find the right words to say as he’d been up all night stewing about the situation with Blake.  It was bad enough that he was on the outs with Jade once again and even worse that she hadn‘t bothered to come home, but as he thought back to the look in Blake’s eyes when he’d told her the truth, it was something he’d wished he never would have witnessed.  The raw hatred and rage that had been burning behind her beautiful blue eyes tore him in two as she ran away from him.  His heart ached at her words as the one thing he’d feared about losing her happened right before his very eyes.
While Seth hadn’t anticipated her taking the news lightly after she’d requested the truth from him, he didn’t expect her to run away like she had.  Of course Seth was no stranger to the world of greed and misery and the perversions that followed as Dimitri Alexander had gone great lengths to expose his children to those kind of horrors at an early age.  He’d seen to it that the innocence that carried over in childhood had been robbed of both Seth and Jade in so many horrific ways, but with Blake, well despite the nightmare she’d experienced in losing her mother as she had, she’d wanted to see the good in the world.  She believed in the impossible being possible and she’d trusted those who were clearly unworthy of such openness and that in itself made her vulnerable--almost like Jade was before Dimitri’s last return.  Jade had been so full of hope wanting to believe nothing but the best about their scumbag of a father and even after the rape, it was hard for Jade to truly see him as he was and accept the pain that Dimitri’s presence had inflicted upon her.  Blake too was blinded by her thoughts of her father.  She didn’t see Nicholas as the monster he truly was as it had never been brought to her attention before, but like in Jade’s case, Seth had been the one to speak the truth.  He knew about how awful both of their fathers had been and Blake had been unwilling to face it--unwilling to see the evil that lay within her family.
Sure, Seth had once thought that everything Ashford was as vile as Nicholas, but then he’d met Blake.  She’d been a surprise in more ways than he ever could’ve imagined.  At first he’d heard all the tales about the spoiled little rich bitch and that had somehow made it all the more easier to agree to what Cameron had offered and it wasn’t until the quake that Seth saw the door opening into the Ashford Empire during his chance meeting with Blake, but soon after he’d started to play things out, he saw how wrong he was about her.  Their night down by the lake when she’d broke down about her mother, he knew that she’d never been the woman the rumors had built her up to be.  The only thing she and Nicholas shared was a last name and even that was not enough for Seth to keep from falling for her.  Her innocence, her beauty and the way she looked at life had somehow opened up his cynical heart and had given him something to believe in despite the way his father had damned him and Jade, but now as the hatred in Blake’s eyes flashed through his mind, he realized that he’d lost that one source of joy in his life and he had to find a way to get her back.  He had to reach her somehow.
Now as he reached for his phone, he dialed Blake’s cell phone number hoping she would answer as his heart ached to speak with her once again.  After a couple of rings, her voice mail picked up with her perky message as a heaviness fell upon him, “Blake, listen I know you have to be screening your calls.  I realize that last night was upsetting, but please…you have to talk to me.  I can’t just let you walk away there without a fight…there’s so much we need to talk about…so much that I can’t do over your voice mail.  Blake, please…I love you,” he blurted out painfully as there was a beep on the other end of the line alerting him that he’d run out of time to leave a message.
Hanging up the phone, Seth felt a determination rush over him as he reached for his jacket deciding to find another way to reach her if need be.  He marched over to the door throwing it open only to discover a pair of dark eyes upon him.  He stood taller surprised to find he wasn’t alone as Thea tossed her hair over her shoulder.
“Going somewhere,” she questioned with a seductive tone as she pressed her palm into the center of his chest shoving him back into his small apartment with that one movement.
“I was actually on my way out,” Seth answered nervously as he looked down at her, “What can I do for you this morning?”
“Honestly,” Thea began flashing him a bright smile, “I came over here to check on how the situation was going with the microfilm…you know I was hoping to discover you’d made some progress.”
“I wish I had something to report, but things are a bit more difficult than I’d imagined them being,” Seth explained with a sigh, “There’s been a bit of a snag in the plans.”
“Such as?” she lifted a curious brow pushing him into a chair as she leaned over him, “Well?”
“Blake’s found someone else,” Seth blurted out behind gritted teeth as Thea’s dark eyes penetrated him, “She’s dating some schmuck from Seattle that just came to town.  I tried to get in her good graces, but this loser seems to keep popping up at all the wrong times.”
“Well, that is an unfortunate tale indeed,” Thea traced her index finger over the center of his chest appreciating his lines as she settled down over his lap straddling him, “as it would seem your usefulness is running thin these days without your access to the microfilm.”
“Do you really feel that way,” Seth questioned in a hint of a whisper as her lips skimmed over his, hovering a fraction of an inch above him, “Is that what you really came over here to say to me this morning?  That my usefulness is running out because Blake is being difficult?”
“Normally I’d have come over here to kick your ass for being so inept,” Thea admitted with a hint of a smile as her finger nails raked down his shoulders, sliding over the sinewy muscle in his arms, “but given our special situation, I might be able to get you an extension of sorts…that is if and only if you manage to entice me into feeling generous this morning,” she breathed as she leaned forward nibbling on his earlobe as her hands eased down over his chest, caressing the warm lines of his body.
Seth closed his eyes taking in a harsh breath as he felt her soft, sensual curves above him and he spoke in a low, tight whisper, “And just how might I go about doing that?”
“I think you know,” she replied with a wicked smirk, suckling on his neck as her hands dropped into his lap testing his responsiveness to her as her hips ground into him, “Seth, we both can be resourceful in our own way and while I admit that Cameron won’t be happy with this turn of events, perhaps we can work on some kind of arrangement where Cameron doesn’t have to know about this just yet,” she pulled away from him, her eyes sparkling with temptation as she pressed herself against him, her breasts skimming over his muscled chest, “What do you say?”
“I say…” he began trying to think of the right words to get himself out of this situation without damning himself even further, but before he could get a word out, she raised her index finger to his lips silencing any protest that may come from his mouth.
“It’s not every day that I’m feeling so worthy of divulging the opportunity to let something breeze past Cameron,” Thea purred as her fingers plucked open a few buttons on his shirt, parting the material as her eyes feasted over his chest, “but then again, it’s not every day that Cameron finds me such a fine specimen of man to work with either…”
“What would Cameron say if he knew about this…” he began feeling her hands dip in beneath his shirt, “arrangement you are hoping for between us?”
“What would Cameron say if he knew that you weren’t playing the game by his rules,” Thea challenged lifting a curious brow as she eased over his body, sliding down a bit as she continued to unbutton his shirt.  Her playful mood was evident as Seth felt her lips on his chest, moving in over his abdomen and in that moment a harsh reality hit him as he was certain that Thea was a woman who knew full well what she’d wanted and right now Seth was the main course.
“Thea,” he began uneasily as he reached out to her tugging on her shoulders as she knelt before the chair, her fingers playing with his belt as he tried to think up something--anything that could persuade her that he wasn’t really what she wanted nor did she want to tear him apart limb by limb either, but considering the blunder that he’d created last night with Blake, he was beginning to doubt himself as a whole as convincing was clearly something he wasn’t and if he wasn’t up to speed with Thea, it would burn him more than he’d ever imagined.
“Shhh…” Thea instructed lifting her finger to his lips as her palm pressed in over him teasing his body as he found himself responding to her as her skilled hands taunted him.
“Thea wait,” he began again feeling him body tight with tension as he closed his eyes once again and his thoughts lingered to Blake--to the way it felt having her near him, to how it should’ve been for them as Thea began to unfasten his jeans dropping her fingers in over his boxer shorts as she let out a pleased sound that resembled a purr.
“Oh you are everything I’d imagined you being,” she confessed sounding pleased as she eased her index finger over the waistband of his boxer shorts, before tugging on them harshly in an attempt to take a good look at him.  “Very nice indeed,” she touched him, her fingers working their magic over his body and it was in that moment that he opened his eyes feeling her enticing touch as immediately the thought of Blake filled him.
“Thea wait,” he captured her wrist in his stopping her from taking any further action with him, “We can’t do this.”
“Why the hell can’t we,” Thea frowned anger flashing behind her eyes, “Look Seth, I’m about to make you feel like a very lucky man, so just shut up and enjoy it or else I might be compelled to screw you in another less than savory fashion and you won’t like it.”
“Thea, this isn’t really what you want,” Seth began nervously, “I mean the way I see it, you’re rewarding me with your attentions and you don’t want to reward me for a job that’s not been done the way it should be, do you?”
“Consider it punishment,” she raised up on her knees seeking out his mouth biting on his lower lip as a primal moan ruse from within her.  She crawled up onto his lap again wrapping her arms around him as she whispered hotly in his ear, “If you want we can play it that way…”
“Thea,” he sucked in a sharp breath as she moved over him making her intentions obvious to him as he tried to keep her still, to stop her wild and wicked temptation from forcing him to do something he knew he’d live to regret, “this isn’t what you’ve asked out of me and I feel as if I’ve failed you.”
“Keep talking and I’m going to start feeling that way,” Thea demanded claiming his mouth roughly before pulling away from the kiss, “unless of course you’re really hung up on that little Ashford bitch after all.”
Seth watched her eyes darken with anger as he took in a slow breath, “That’s not it Thea.  I could care less about Blake thinks of me.  She’s nothing to me and believe me I want this--I want you…”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that I’d feel so much better about this if I had more to bring to the table--if I had something more substantial that you could take back with you.”
Her gaze dropped into his lap, “I think you’ve got some pretty good materials to work with and I strongly suggest that you start using them to your advantage or else, well things might get ugly and you don’t want that,” she challenged raising a curious brow, “do you?”
“Of course not,” Seth answered wondering how in the world he was going to talk himself out of this situation as Thea’s words held an unspoken threat that demanded some sort of action out of him one way or the other.  He just hoped he could find a way to breeze out of the situation before he was forced to something he would live to regret.


Jade stretched slowly as she felt Grady’s warm arms slip more firmly around her and draw her closer to him. She smiled as she laced her fingers with his around her waist and relaxed against him. While she had hated to tell Grady about her past, he hadn’t shunned her or blamed her in the slightest. He had held her close and sworn to help her move on with her life. She’d always known Grady was one in a million, but this time he’d proven himself beyond any shadow of a doubt.

“Morning,” Grady whispered in her ear as he pressed a kiss to her temple.

She smiled, “Morning.”

“How’d you sleep?” He asked softly as he whispered in her ear.

“I didn’t think I was going to sleep at all when I first laid down last night. But when you came in here and held me, it made me feel safe. I went to sleep and I didn’t wake up all night.”

“Good,” He said simply, “I’m glad to hear that.”

“Are you okay?” She asked as she turned to face him.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” He asked in confusion as he met her eyes.

“After last night,” She shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess I figured you might have had a chance to think about things and decide you didn’t want me complicating your life.”

Grady placed his forefinger over her lips, “I don’t want to hear you say that ever again.”

“What’d I say?” She asked with a grimace.

“You classified yourself as a complication. Granted you’ve complicated my life in ways I never bargained on, but that’s a good thing,” He said as he flashed her a smile, “But you are not a bad complication by any stretch of the imagination.”

Jade matched his smile with one of her own as she drew his lips to hers for a sultry kiss, “You drive me crazy.”

“It’s nice to know the feeling is mutual,” He teased as he kissed her once more, “Now I have a surprise for you.”

“How can you possibly have a surprise for me?”

“I’ve been a busy boy this morning,” He admitted, “When I noticed you were sleeping pretty soundly, I slipped out of bed and prepared a surprise for you.”

“Grady, you didn’t have to…” She began.

“I know, but I wanted to. Do you have any idea how long its been since I’ve wanted to spring a romantic surprise on someone?”

“Romantic? Well,” Her smile brightened, “In that case, what do I have to do to get this surprise?”

“All you have to do is take my hand and follow me,” He smiled as he let her out of his arms. He moved off the bed and extended his hand to her, “Oh and close your eyes.”

“Hmmm, do I trust you enough for that?” She teased as she closed her eyes.

Grady moved behind her as he eased his hands down her arms to lace his fingers with hers. He lowered his lips to her ear and whispered, “I promise it’ll be worth it.”

“I have no doubt about that,” Jade smiled.

He eased her forward and into the den. The warmth of the room enveloped them and drew them into its welcoming embrace. Jade could hear soft sounds in the room but couldn’t quite make out what she was hearing. He stopped their movements and stepped around her, taking her hand to draw her forward by a few inches before he knelt and drew her down with him.

“Okay, you have me totally stumped. Can I open my eyes now?” Jade asked as she felt excitement permeating through every cell of her body, “Come on, Grady. You know that patience is not one of my virtues.”

“Don’t make me have to blind fold you,” He warned with a teasing tone, “Keep those eyes shut, lady.”

“Grady,” She whined, “Can’t I get just a peak?”

“No, now shush. I’ll be right back,” He said with a warm laugh, “On second thought, maybe I’d better blindfold you. I do have to step into the kitchen for just a minute.”

“I won’t look,” She sighed, “I promise.”

“And we’ll just seal that with a kiss,” He said as he stole a quick kiss from her, “No peaking, or there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Okay, okay, sheesh,” Jade said as she fidgeted with excitement.

Grady smiled to himself as he made his way to the kitchen. Working out all the details in order to surprise Jade hadn’t been easy, but seeing her excitement at the prospect of a romantic surprise was well worth it. She would love the surprise he had for her, and he would love the idea that he had done something to make her feel more comfortable.

He finished preparing his surprise for her before he made his way back into the den with a tray in hand, “Have you been peaking?”

“I swear I didn’t,” She said as she held up her right hand, “So help me God.”

“Hmm, I wonder if I have a bible laying around here somewhere to make you swear upon…” He teased as he sat the tray down nearby and sat down near her.

“Grady, you’re just torturing me now,” She said as she bounced slightly, “Come on already.”

“Shhh,” He hushed her as he lifted a chocolate glazed strawberry from the tray and brushed it softly upon her lips. She licked her lips in an attempt to discern what he was doing. She was about to speak before he eased the chocolate bathed berry to her mouth and allowed her to take a bite, “Now, wasn’t that worth the wait?”

She opened her eyes as she savored the chocolaty berry. The room was indeed warmed by a crackling fire in the hearth while bouquets of flowers adorned the room. She glanced all around her where pillows lay upon the floor where they sat. A tray of breakfast items sat nearby. Pastries, chocolate covered berries, and two mugs of steaming liquid beckoned her.

“Grady, how did you do all of this? I can’t have slept that deeply,” She reasoned as he passed her a mug.

“A vanilla non-fat latte, very light on the foam,” He informed her as he placed the mug into her hands.

“Come on, how did you do this?” She asked as she sipped the latte.

“I’m a man of many mysterious talents,” He teased as he lifted another chocolate covered strawberry to her lips.

She took a bite of the sweet and closed her eyes, “God, you are gifted.”

“I know,” He said with a teasing smile before finishing the berry himself.

Jade opened her eyes as she licked her lips. She paused as she met his eyes, “Grady?”

“Yes?” He asked as he met her eyes, seeing a new spark beneath the surface.

She leaned forward and kissed him heartily, “I love you, and I appreciate you. You’ve been so good to me, and I have no idea how I can ever repay you for that.”

“Repay me? Jade, you’ve given me life again,” He assured her, “You’ve given me back a part of my life that I didn’t know was missing but was secretly killing me inside. You’ve reintroduced me to love, and I am the one who owes you.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” She said as she caressed his cheek, “All I’ve ever wanted is your love.”

Grady eased his fingers into her hair and drew her closer to her, “And you have it, Jade. I love you,” He declared as he gazed into her eyes, “I didn’t think it was possible for me any more, but you’ve proven to me that it happened without my even knowing it.”

She trembled with his admission as she searched his eyes. She touched his cheek, attempting to prove to herself that this was not a dream.

He eased his lips to hers in a loving kiss, “I love you, Jade.”

Jade gasped as tears fell from her eyes. He had given her the most wonderful gift in all the world. He had truly given her a dream come true.


Russell entered the newsroom whistling a tune to himself as he thought of the memorable morning he’d shared with Avery and Rusty.  Somehow things were only getting better as the last few weeks of his life had somehow turned into the greatest days he’d ever known.  Now as he began to plan for the day ahead of him, he noted Mindy’s curious eyes upon his arrival.
“Well, well, he finally makes his way in this morning and smiling too,” Mindy noted with a wink, “It wouldn’t have anything to do a certain brunette that used to spend her time hanging out here, does it?  You know the same one that you had me faxing her office like crazy yesterday?”
“Mindy, you have a great eye for the news and an attraction to gossip, but this morning,” he winked back at her, “you’re not getting a thing out of me.”
“Russell, I hate to break it to you, but you’re totally predictable there,” Mindy noted leaning in over her desk, “It’s painfully obvious that someone’s been rocking your world lately and given that goofy grin on your face I can take one guess and know that I’m right on the mark, but hey,” she shrugged her shoulders, “I happen to think it’s totally cool that you and Avery are knocking boots again and hey it’s about damn time,” she leaned back in her chair tapping her pencil on her desk top, “I mean after the fireworks between you both a while back when you chased her through the newsroom, well I knew it was only a matter of time.”
“You really like to put your nose in places it doesn’t belong don’t you,” he shook his head in response unable to believe the things that could come out of her mouth.
“It’s my job,” Mindy shrugged her shoulders as a tiny laugh bubbled over her, “but you have to swear to me that if Brant Ashford comes over here ready to tear the walls down because he sees that you and Avery are still hot to trot for one another, then you owe me the exclusive.”
“It’ll never happen, Mindy,” Russell shook his head back at her before he headed towards his office, “However, if I‘m not keeping you busy enough that you can‘t find other ways to keep yourself entertained, I‘m sure I can find some more things for you to dig out from the archives for me.”
“That’s alright,” she threw back at him, “I think I’ve got it more than covered here.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Russell smiled in response, “Now I’ve got some things to work on, so unless it’s urgent, don’t bother putting anyone through.”
“You mean unless it’s Avery?” Mindy inquired with a knowing glance as Russell shook his head once again.
“Get back to work,” he threw back at her closing the door to his office as he wondered if he’d been that obvious about him and Avery being together again.  Sure, he’d been in a much better mood lately, but he’d also liked to think that he’d been pleasant before.  He’d gone out of his way to make the paper one, big, happy family and he’d always tried to maintain an air of pleasantness as it had kept him one step above the rest.  Still as his personal life had taken a bit of a turn leaving him more satisfied than ever, he started to think about all the possibilities before him and the changes he’d planned on making as his attention returned to the stack of messages awaiting his immediate consideration.
Russell took a seat as he reached for the stack of messages lifting them from the center of his desk as he began to thumb through them discarding the ones that could be put on hold, but as he made his way half way through the pile, a name from the past popped up before him.  He set that message aside, before looking to the next realizing that it too was from Johanna Larsen much to his surprise.  Continuing through the pile, he found that she’d left not two but twelve messages for him over the last couple of days.  Now suddenly curious to see what she’d wanted, he reached for the phone dialing the number she’d left for him.
“Standard Reporter-Johanna Larsen speaking,” she answered her voice polite and professional as Russell realized it had been far too long since they’d spoken to one another.
“Hey Jo, long time no talk,” he greeted her cheerfully allowing his mood to sink into the conversation at hand.
“Russell Denton,” her voice shifted gears as a familiarity and warmth filled her tone, “you’re a hard man to get a hold of it would seem.”
“I see you’ve been harassing my secretary for a couple days now,” he teased back with a tiny chuckle, “I would imagine that either this is important or you’re still looking for a reason to torture me after all this time.”
“Torture you,” she repeated feigning injury, “now why on Earth would I do something like that…unless of course you tell me that you’re still pining away over Beholder’s calendar gal.”
“Well, truth be told as much as you’d hate hearing me say it, it’s not actually my pining away there anymore,” Russell began catching the sarcasm in her tone at her reference directed towards Avery.

“Then you finally got over that pain in the ass,” she remarked brightly, “It’s about damn time as you were far too good to waste your time like that.”
“Actually,” Russell frowned at her response, “Avery and I are still involved.”
“Really,” disappointment swept over her tone before she quickly resumed an air of professionalism, “Well I guess as they say there are some things that are always destined to bring a good man down and it would seem you found your vice.”
“Tell me Jo, did you call me a dozen times just to insult my good taste yet again after all these years,” he leaned back in his chair ready to get into yet another debate on Avery with her.
“As much as I’d love to tell you how horrible that woman is, I’m afraid my interest in you is anything but personal this time--not that I would’ve had a shot at it considering you’re addicted to that narcissist there,” she paused with a heavy sigh, “but no matter.  The reason I’m calling is because I thought I’d give you the heads up on a position opening up here at the magazine.”
“You’re calling to inform me of an opening,” Russell couldn’t help but laugh at her announcement, “Okay now what’s the catch?”
“The catch is that we’re looking for an assistant editor and while there have been a lot of applicants, you came to mind when the opening came about,” she explained matter of fact, “Honestly, I can’t think of anyone more perfect for the position opening up in our European office.  Granted it’s a bit more fast paced than your newspaper is, but it’s the kind of position that you’d always talked about back in the day.  You know…the opportunity to be on the cutting edge, up in the thick of things while still maintaining your integrity.  It pays more than you‘ll ever dream of seeing over at the Courier and beyond that, well the perks would be that you‘d have ultimate freedom over what you wanted to put into The Standard Reporter as I have some leverage with the editor and from what I‘ve shown of your work, they‘re very impressed.”
“This is unbelievable,” Russell couldn’t help but laugh at the notion, “The last time you saw me, you told me you never wanted to speak to me again and then there was something about wanting me to choke on the air I breathed and now you’re offering me a job that you could’ve filled twenty times over…”
“Hating your guts didn’t change the way I felt about your talent,” Johanna admitted her voice lightening a bit as he leaned back in his chair, “and you do have talent Russell.  The powers that be are willing to pay all costs for your move and offer you pretty much anything you wanted in the hopes of tempting you to give it a try.”
“And you say this position will allow me my own editorial freedom however I deem it fitting,” Russell questioned thinking about the offer laid out on the table.
“That’s right, and you’ll be able to run the show--much like your newspaper except well you’ll have about thirty million more readers a day, which is certainly a perk.”
“To say the least,” he paused considering the options, “but you said this was in the European offices?”
“Only for the first six months,” she answered honestly, “but then after that there would be a move out to Washington, which I assume wouldn’t be much of a problem as you’ve always been into that scene.  If I do recall you’d always talked about going out west one way or the other…”
“I’d talked about it, but I guess that’s as far as it went,” he admitted looking around his office, “and I have to admit that it’s a very tempting offer, but I’m really settled where I’m at right now.”
“You’d be a fool to turn this one down,” she threw out at him once more, “I mean it’s not everyday that a gift like this is thrown out on your lap.”
“True and I realize that, but at the same time I have obligations in Coral Valley--things that I wouldn’t be ready to leave behind,” he answered as he thought to the progress he’d just made with Avery, “I don’t know if considering this kind of proposition would be worth risking that.”
“It might be worth thinking about considering that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she urged on, “and besides the way I see it, you’re really in a position where this could make your career.  A few months with us and then maybe you’d be able to enjoy that quiet time needed to finish that book you were working on.  You are still working on it, aren’t you?”
Russell smiled as he thought back to his masterpiece and he reclined in his chair beaming, “You could practically say it’s been writing itself lately as my inspiration has returned to me along with my muse.”
“Really, because from what I’ve been hearing lately, Coral Valley has been keeping you far too busy for your own good,” Johanna threw out with an air of cynicism, “My sources tell me that you’re finding yourself in a world of trouble over there lately.”
“Well your sources are wrong because things couldn’t be better.  The newspaper is flourishing and life is, well it’s good and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he decided brightly.
“Even though the chance of a lifetime is being tossed out at you with no strings attached?”
“Jo, you know me enough to know it’s not about the money.”
“I realize that, but what I also realize is that you were looking for a place to make your mark--to really bring yourself to the world around you and while the Courier is nice for Coral Valley, I’m giving you the opportunity to expand your horizons.  This kind of position doesn’t just roll around every day you know.”
“I’m well aware of that and I appreciate the offer, but truth be told I’m quite content here.”
“Content is the first step towards boredom,” she pointed out with a huff, “and to be honest with you, I can hear you’re tempted.  While you keep putting me off, you know as well as I do that you should at the very least think this over.”
“There’s nothing to think about.  I’m sure where I stand,” he interrupted firmly, “I’m happy in Coral Valley.”
“You’d be happier with this and if you give it half the chance, you’d realize that which is why I’m going to pretend that I didn’t hear your nonsense today and I’ll give you a week to think it over.”
“I don’t need a week…”
“Yes, you do and I’m sure that eventually you’ll come around.  Despite your shortcomings, I have faith in you,” she teased.
“Gee, that really makes me want to check it out all the more,” he shot back sarcastically.
“Yeah well just you wait and see because destiny could be throwing something in your lap that you’d be a fool to let get away,” she offered up once again.
“It already has and I’m pretty sure this is where it’s at.”
“Well maybe you might want to rethink that as I think you really have a chance at having it all this time around if you make the right decision,” she made her case clearly, “and as I said before I’ll give you a week.  Hopefully you won’t let me down this time as I’m really pushing for this one as I know you’re the man for the job.”
“I don’t know if I’d be so eager about this if I were you because I don’t see myself changing my mind,” he threw out once more.
“You will,” she decided with a smile lifting over her voice, “by this time next week you’ll be all mine again.  You’ll see.”
“Keep dreaming Jo,” he laughed lightly as he looked to the time, “and as entertaining as this has been, I really have some work to do.”
“Fine, but don’t think you can put me off forever as by this time next week, I expect an answer.”
“You already have one,” he reminded her once again.
“Not the one I’m looking for, but next week I will,” she finished confidently hanging up the phone as he shook his head at her.

Despite the time they’d been out of touch, she was still the same demanding, impatient and overeager Johanna, but unlike her other times of confidence and sureness about his behaviors, she was completely wrong with this one as Coral Valley had everything he could ask for and there wouldn’t be a chance of him letting it go.  This time he truly had it all and he was in it for keeps and no level of temptation could tear him away from that--not now, not ever.


Ben waited at his desk until what felt like forever to pass as he kept his eyes fixed on the elevators leading into BBK.  While Avery had kept him busy most of the morning, he was hoping to get a glimpse of Diane especially after their fall out with one another.  He’d hoped he could’ve found a way to reach her, but she hadn’t answered any one of his calls and now, well given what he had to work with, he realized he needed to speak with her more than ever.  As if she’d leapt out of his mind and into reality, he saw her speaking with a couple of the other girls over in the break area and he rose from his desk determined to get a word in with her.
“Diane,” Ben spoke her name watching as the other girls with her whispered among themselves before starting in the opposite direction with her turning to follow them.  “Diane, wait,” he reached for her arm stopping her from running away as she looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes full of something he couldn’t quite read as he let go of her almost immediately.
“I have work to do Ben,” Diane announced with a frown as she faced him fully, “You know the kind of thing people do when they’re serious about their job.”
“Diane, please don’t do this,” he begged of her refusing to let go of her arm as his eyes pleaded with her, “Don’t walk away from me like this…not after what happened between us…”
“I’m walking away now especially because of what happened between us.  Had I known that you were putting me off for a reason like that, well you wouldn’t have had to worry about me bothering you, you jerk,” she glared at him anger lashing out at him as she took a step back, “You could’ve just said you were seeing someone instead of letting me make an ass of myself repeatedly.”
“That I’m seeing…” he blinked back in surprise, “Diane, are you saying that you thought?”
“Look I don’t want to hear about the other woman as it’s bad enough that you lead me to believe we had something wonderful between us,” she grumbled in response shaking her head as a foolishness swept over her once again, “I can’t believe that I didn’t pick up on the signs earlier, but now that I know how things are, well the last thing you need to worry about is someone like me.”
“Diane, please if you’d only hear me out,” he reached out for her once again, “Just give me five minutes and I swear I can fix this.  I know that if you just listen…”
“No Ben,” Diane argued with him, “I’m tired of listening to excuses from men who think they can just toy with women for the hell of it.  I realize that you tried to blow me off time and time again, but now that I know the truth, well just let me do the honors and tell you it’s over.”
“Diane, I care about you,” Ben began at a loss as he thought of the position his job had put him in, “I never wanted you to be hurt like this especially considering how amazing being with you was.”
“It’s always amazing when you’re doing something that you shouldn’t have done in the first place and I’m sure stepping out on the woman in your life was some kind of cheap thrill for you, right?”
“Diane, it’s not what you think,” Ben began again wondering how in the world she’d thought he and Isabel were a couple.  Still it proved she hadn’t heard the entire conversation between them which meant that his cover was safe for the time being, but still his heart ached as he knew that he stood to lose far more than he’d ever gain in letting Diane walk away.
“Tell me that you haven’t been keeping some deep, dark secret from me.  Tell me that you aren’t leading a double life and I’m playing into some fantasy of yours…” Diane challenged as she saw the expression on his features, “Exactly.  You can’t do it Ben because we both know that you haven’t been up front with me about things.  You lead me to believe one thing, but in reality you and I weren’t as compatible as I’d imagined we would be.”
“Diane, it’s really not what you think it is.  What I feel for you, well that’s real and I don’t want to lose you…” Ben pleaded with her once again.
“You can’t lose what you never had,” Diane threw out at him standing taller as she faced him down, “and you never had me.  Despite how upset I was about seeing her in your apartment, the truth to the matter was that I got what I wanted from you.  I got what I needed and I’m ending it based on that.”
“Diane, don’t even try to tell me that this was just about sex because I know better than that…” Ben watched a coldness build behind her eyes as her face grew expressionless.
“Ben, look I know that we had fun and we weren’t exactly playing things by the rules together and yes I’ll admit I was upset when I found out that you’d lied to me, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was just looking for a wild night and you gave me that.  The sex was great, but that was just part of the fantasy that you provided me with.  We had our fun and now it’s time to move on.”
“I know you’re just saying that because of what you thought you saw…” Ben threw out at her thinking about the sudden shift in her demeanor.
“On the contrary, I’m saying that because I’ve met someone else,” Diane threw out boldly as Ben’s eyes widened.
“I don’t buy that,” Ben shook his head at her, “You wouldn’t do that this fast.”
“You’d be amazed at how fast I work when I want something,” she placed her hands on her hips, “and believe me I’m not going to spend another night crying over you as I found someone who can give me what I need and that is worth more than whatever it was that you thought we had together,” she threw out with a huff making her way towards the elevators once again as Ben found himself at a loss not knowing how to take Diane’s words.  On some level, he wanted to believe she’d said them out of the hurt he’d put her through in her finding him in the middle of a tentative position with Isabel, but on another level he feared that perhaps she was serious and that their night together really did mean nothing to her.  No, it couldn’t be that, Ben reasoned with himself realizing that now more than ever he was determined to find a way to save his career and win Diane back in the process.  One way or another he had to make it happen.


Avery sat at her desk lazily staring out the window as she thought to her morning wake up with Russell and Rusty.  Somehow waking up to the magic of the two of them brought about a pleasantness in her as she’d thought to the dream she’d had of her and Russell together.  Deciding that perhaps she’d be best suited to make the most of their time together before the joke of an engagement party that her mother planned happened, she reached for the phone on her desk dialing his office.
“Coral Courier, Mindy speaking.  How may I help you?” Mindy’s cheerful voice picked up on the other end of the line.
“Hey girlfriend, how’s it going,” Avery greeted her brightly.
“Avery, now this is a surprise,” Mindy’s voice held a knowing grin that Avery was undoubtedly certain Mindy was wearing right about now, “So what are you doing today calling here all happy and enthusiastic?  Could it be you’re looking to speak with Russell perhaps?”
“Actually,” Avery twirled the phone cord between her thumb and index finger as an idea formed in her mind, “I was hoping to get a word with you.”
“Really?” Mindy’s voice perked up, “What about?”
“Well, I need to ask a little favor from you, but it’s kind of on the sly,” Avery lowered her voice just a bit.
“Meaning you don’t want me to tell Russell,” Mindy replied knowingly, “Is that it?”
“Something along those lines,” Avery confessed with a hint of a smile, “Think you’re up for the job?”
“Of course I am,” Mindy replied eagerly, “So what’s on your mind?”
“Well this isn’t as exciting as I think you want it to be, but I’m going to need you to help me find a way to keep Russell in the office a little bit longer tonight--you know like during the after hours.”
“Really?” Mindy’s tone was laced with questions, “Could it be you’re planning some kind of romantic rendezvous for him?”
“Let’s just say I want to surprise him,” Avery offered up cryptically, “Think you can handle the task at hand without giving anything away?”
“Something tells me that I’m playing a role in a very romantic plot to say the least,” Mindy answered eagerly thinking of the way Russell and Avery never ceased to amaze her, “So what will it be tonight?  A steamy little tryst in the editor’s office perhaps?  Or perhaps a night of romance and seclusion away from the rest of the world as you lose yourself to the magic of the love that‘s clearly bringing the glow to Russell‘s cheeks lately?”
“Mindy, girl you’re almost making me regret bringing you into this,” Avery confessed with a tiny laugh, “as I’m starting to get the feeling I’m going to wind up in a world of trouble with you playing a hand in this.”
“Don’t worry,” Mindy promised eagerly, “I’ll keep him busy long enough for you to get what you need going, but on one condition…”
“What’s that?” Avery lifted a curious brow.
“That you find a way to keep him coming to work looking as chipper as he’s been over the last few days because I’m really starting to enjoy seeing him that way again,” Mindy confessed openly.
“Funny thing,” Avery mused with a soft smile, “so am I.”
“That’s wonderful news and hey, this time when the wedding rolls around, let’s try not to have it wind up like the last one did,” Mindy urged after a moment’s hesitation, “I so don’t want to have to deal with Guy like I had to the last time.”
“He really gave you a hard time, huh?” Avery frowned thinking back to that one fateful day in her life.
“He was miserable, but I’m sure it was no where near as miserable as you and Russell were…” she paused once again, “On second thought, never mind.  Forget that I even mentioned that time and let’s just focus on what happens this time around.”
“This time we aren’t even talking about marriage…at least not just yet…” Avery added unable to believe she’d revealed so much to her brother’s pal before she quickly added, “and I don’t want to chance things which is why tonight has to go exactly to plan.”
“You have my word on this one.  I’ll keep Russell at bay here as I owe him one,” Mindy promised in a obscure tone, “and then you can do what it is you do.”
“Thanks Mindy,” Avery replied hearing a faint tapping on her door, “I really appreciate all you’re doing for me, but I have to let you go.  Someone’s here.”
“Not a problem,” Mindy offered up before Avery hung up the phone finding Brant standing in the doorway looking a bit frazzled.
“Please tell me you were able to get your hands on a copy of this so called deal that your father and Cameron arranged with one another,” Avery took one look at him as he stepped into her office closing the door behind him with a huff, “Let me guess, you didn’t.”
“Didn’t is putting it mildly,” Brant replied with a shrug of his shoulders as he took a seat across from her, “Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to be going through all of those old contracts?  And what’s worse is that my father was very organized about things…there was nothing out of place in terms of his filing system and yet everyone keeps on running up empty…”
“And that doesn’t surprise me,” Avery admitted sinking back into her chair, “As I have a feeling that they never existed.”
“But you said that Grady Denton provided you with copies of the so called documents,” Brant replied with a frown.
“I’ve seen a copy,” Avery nodded in confession, “and I don’t believe it’s real.  I think it’s a forgery.”
“Do you have any proof that could back it up,” Brant questioned lifting a curious brow.
“As a lawyer, that should be my question, not yours right?”
“Let’s just say I’m jumping the gun,” he shrugged his shoulders before looking to her again, “Well?”
“Unfortunately no,” she frowned in response, “but that doesn’t mean that my instincts are wrong about this.  However, for me to be able to really find this legal loophole here as that’s what we’re going to need, I should probably get a little more familiar with the way things were run around here before I was hired--specifically around the time that representation was in the hands of the man in the hot seat before I was here.”
“Are you serious?” Brant questioned giving her a sideways glance before offering up a nod, “Of course you’re serious.”
“That’s right,” Avery began shuffling through the things before her, “The way I see it, there’s some kind of puzzle before us and if I can only put my finger on how to put the pieces together, then I’m certain we’ll find our way to win this one.”
“And what about Grady Denton?  I can see he’s salivating at the bit in the hopes that he can take BBK down a peg,” Brant remarked bitterly, “I’ve seen that since the quake that he’s looking for a reason to take me on.”
“He can take as many tries as he wants, but when it gets down to it, hiring Grady was Stone Corp’s weak point there.  Don’t get me wrong as he’s one hell of a fighter, but this one, well it’s just not the type of thing that Stone Corp would want someone like Grady to step in on unless there was some kind of agenda and I think there is,” Avery decided as she sat up straighter.
“Such as?”
“Well for starters, I have a feeling that Cameron Stone likes to know what he’s up against before beginning battle and in doing so, I’m willing to lay odds on the fact that he’s taken a long look at all the players in this one.  Clearly he knows I’d be the one representing BBK and he’d want to find a way to rattle me, which brings in Grady.  Clearly it’s no mystery that he and I have no love lost between us…”
“Which is interesting in itself considering that his younger brother follows you around like a lost little puppy dog,” Brant rolled his eyes as a sigh spilled over his lips, “which that in itself is quite annoying to say the least.”
“Russ is a good person with a kind heart and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Avery defended firmly, “He’s a wonderful man and while Grady’s a bit uptight, Russell is nothing short of amazing.”
“Great, but amazing or not, he’s not involved in this case, so let’s move on to other more important things.”
“Fine,” Avery motioned to the stack of articles before her, “and truth be told I’ve been researching on Cameron and his history and it only shows me that he’s worked with council that guaranteed a victory when he was up against any kind of challenge.  Grady’s the wild card for him as it’s not an instant assurance of victory.  Don’t get me wrong as I’m not trying to undervalue Grady’s importance or ability because as much as I hate him, he’s a damn good lawyer, but that being said, Cameron’s hiring Grady makes me think that he’s not really looking for a victory, but more so as a means of shaking things up for us here and top that off with the fact that one of Cameron’s companies is also going up against Kenneth, well it makes one have to wonder…”
“Kenneth was going up against Midlands from what I understood from his brief ramblings in passing,” Brant pointed out with a hint of a frown, “How could Cameron be bringing it on when Kenneth was the one who followed through on the case to begin with?  I mean if you’re saying that Cameron’s out to get the Ashford family, then wouldn’t you think that he’d have initiated the battle with Ken instead of Ken leading the fight against him?”
“Maybe, but then again maybe not,” Avery frowned in response, “Brant this man is the kind of guy who would set his own buildings complete with tenants on fire just for the kicks and giggles that would come with an insurance pay off.  He’s not exactly the most stable of players there.”
“Well that’s just morbid, but Cameron really isn’t my concern.  Preserving BBK is at the top of my list as it’s something that’s important to my family,” Brant admitted honestly thinking about the weight of his company’s future upon him, “While my father wasn’t good for much other than being a pain in the ass, this was part of his legacy that he wanted to keep alive for Ken, Blake and I along with the Ashford generations to come and I don’t want to be the one to put an end it just because I let the wrong guy think he could find a way to piss away my company from me.”
“You’re not going to lose the company,” Avery promised thinking about the lawsuit before them, “and if I can, I’d also like to say that you’re doing much better with it than your father did and I’ll even go a step further and tell you that working for you has been a pleasure from the word go…harassment and all,” she couldn’t help but smile as she looked to him, “and truth be told I’m proud of how you turned this company around and made it yours.”
“Now you’re just kissing up so that I won’t nag you about the lawsuit and what you’re doing to fix the problem,” Brant teased back at her.
“On the contrary,” Avery rubbed her neck as a smile built over her features, “I’ve seen you do a lot of things over the last couple of months that your father wasn’t man enough to do and for that alone, you should be very proud of how far you’ve come.”
“You mean by blowing a chance at a fortune with a deal that my father would’ve had in the blink of an eye?” he questioned with a hint of sarcasm.
“No, for keeping your integrity and doing the right thing without sacrificing your morals to get ahead,” Avery pointed out thinking to the disaster that had taken place with Steven Davies, “You could’ve very well taken that money and tried to barter me off as you said yourself your father had it in him to do that sort of thing, but you didn’t…”
“And I wouldn’t,” he answered firmly as his jaw tightened even at the mention of his father’s business dealings, “I don’t care how much was on the table as in a situation like that, there won’t be anything like that going on.  I refuse to let you or any other woman working for me endure that kind of harassment as while it might’ve been par for the course before, it won’t be tolerated by my version of BBK.”
“Which is exactly what I’m trying to commend you on,” Avery reached out across the desk to take his hand gently as there was a sudden darkness behind his eyes, “You’re really doing some amazing things here.”
“I just wish that they didn’t have to had such tarnished beginnings,” Brant frowned deeper as his mind began to drift on to other things that extended far beyond this room and the lawsuit at hand.
“Hey,” Avery gave him a sideways glance as she waved her hand in the air at him, “everything okay?”
“Huh?” he returned to the moment as he blinked back at her, “Oh yeah…no, not really but…”
“But what?” Avery questioned in confusion.
“You know, maybe this isn’t helping…”
“Brant, if you have something on your mind and you want to talk about it, well the floor’s open,” she offered sensing there was something bothering him beyond the lawsuit.
“It’s nothing,” he shook his head quickly, “I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately with Stone Corp trying to take us on and with all else that’s been going on.  You should know first hand as my foot in mouth syndrome seems to be on overload lately.”
“It’s easing up a bit I’d imagine,” she threw out with a teasing air about her.
“In that case perhaps it’s time I take that as a cue to get back to sniffing around the archives as I might find what we’re looking for, but if not, well maybe there’s something at home,” Brant explained finding himself suddenly distracted as he rose from the chair he was in.
“If you need any help going through the old things,” Avery offered as he took a step towards the door.
“I think we’ve got it covered, but you keep doing what you’re doing,” Brant urged her on, “as for me, well maybe I’ll stop by Ken’s office and pay him a visit since he’s a part of this company as well in a round about way.  Maybe he can add some insight on all of this along the way.”
“His input is always welcome and if you’d like I can ask my father to step in as well to consult,”  Avery suggested sensing Brant’s need for something concrete in this lawsuit to get his spirits lifted again.
“Actually I think Ken’s thoughts should be more than enough as I wouldn’t want to bother your father,” Brant answered quickly as he thought to himself, “or let him near what’s going on with us for that matter.”
“Well if you’re sure…” Avery started once again.
“I’m positive and hey maybe later we can catch up on things and see where we stand,” Brant suggested eagerly.
“I think I’m going to be late tonight getting back to the mansion,” Avery bit on her lower lip almost as soon as the words came out.
“I promised a pal of mine that I’d stop by later and help with something,” she tossed out feeling a twinge of conscience pang in the pit of her stomach as her illusiveness with him.
“Well I hope she realizes that she’s stealing you away on a night when I need you,” Brant threw out with a smile, “though if you promise me we can have breakfast in the morning with one another, I might be able to forgive her this once as there are a few things I wanted to talk with you about before this whole party thing came about.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Avery smiled back at him, “as you’re probably right about us needing to talk.  We’ll have to do some damage control before Brooke turns this into some kind of circus huh?”
“You’re going to love it as I’m sure it’ll be everything you’d imagined an engagement party to be and then some,” Brant threw out with a confident grin before offering up one last wave.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Avery admitted sinking back into her chair as Brant left her office and she pondered just what it was her mother had in store for her as she was certain that whatever it was, it would be something far beyond anything she could muster up to imagine.  She just prayed that disaster didn’t follow as it usually did when Brooke was involved with something.


Caitlin adjusted her throw blanket over her sock clad feet before she took a cup of chamomile tea from Blake. Blake sat down beside her with a cup of her own in hand.

“Now that Ken’s gone to the pharmacy, are you going to tell me what really happened with Seth?” Caitlin asked as she stirred her tea gently.

“It all comes down to one thing,” Blake said simply as she exhaled a heavy breath, “I’m an idiot. I wanted to believe in love, and it bit me in the ass.”

“Blake, whatever happened it isn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it is. I wanted to find love. How often have I said that I would never be able to find a man who wanted me for me? I will always fall short of being wanted and why? Because I’m an Ashford.”

“You just completely lost me. How about backing up and telling me what happened?”

Blake took a sip of her tea before she wrapped her fingers around the cup. She closed her eyes before she spoke, “When Seth first told me about Cameron Stone, he said that Stone wanted to hurt his sister, Jade.”

“The girl at the hospital the night of the quake, right?” Caitlin asked as she put the pieces together.

“Yeah, Seth said he had to work for Stone to protect her. He said that Jade had been hurt in the past, and that Stone wanted to bring that up again. I thought he was so sincere. So I believed him. Yesterday, he call me and asked me to go to dinner with him. He was going to a dinner with Jade and her boyfriend, and he wanted some moral support. I agreed and went to the dinner. Things were tense all night, but later on, things exploded. Seth made a reference to her past, and Jade slapped him. She ordered him out, and we left. He gave me the silent treatment for a while, but eventually he opened up. He told me that Jade had been raped,” She stopped as she shook her head.

“I don’t understand. Why did that tear you two apart?”

“He said that my father was the man who raped her,” Blake said painfully as she looked to Caitlin.

“What?” Caitlin gasped.

“It was a nasty despicable lie,” Blake sobbed, “He said I had to accept facts. Oh I accept them. He’s a lying bastard, and I wish I’d never met him.”

“Blake, I’m so sorry,” Caitlin frowned as she placed her hand upon her friend’s shoulder, “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to move on with my life,” Blake sobbed softly, “It’s all I can do.”

“What about Cameron Stone? What now? If he knows that we have the microfilm…”

“I don’t know,” Blake bit her lip, “I haven’t even thought that far ahead. I’ve just been hurting.”

“Oh Blake,” Caitlin drew her friend into her arms for a comforting hug, “I’m so sorry about this.”

“So am I,” Blake sobbed brokenly, “Why can’t I ever find a man who wants me for me? Am I really so horrible?”

“No, Blake, you’re not horrible at all,” Caitlin said sadly as she felt her friend’s pain.

“Then why is there always an ulterior motive? Why do they never want me? Why is it always something about my family?” Blake broke into torn sobs as she fought for air versus her words, “Why can’t anyone love me?”

Caitlin smoothed Blake’s hair as she held her, “Because the men you’ve met have been jerks, Blake, but I’m sure that there’s one out there who is meant for you. When you find him, all of this will seem like small potatoes.”

“It doesn’t feel like that now,” Blake sobbed, “It hurts like hell.”

“I know it does, baby, and it will for a while. But I promise you, it will get better,” Caitlin assured her as Blake sobbed. The pain was excruciating, and both women had their own symptoms. But they would survive as long as they could hold on to their friendship and one another.


Douglas Mahoney sat in the restaurant of the Pointe Hotel, reading the local newspaper while sipping a glass of orange juice. While the local news wasn’t the most interesting thing in the world, it did provide some distraction from his own problems.

Kipp. How in the world was he going to get his son to see reason? While Kipp had often displayed fits of rebelliousness, he had never called his father’s bluff where money was concerned. Now, he was willing to give up his trust fund for the imagined love of a model who only wanted him for a stepping stone on her ladder to success.

Douglas knew heartbreak. He knew it all to well, and he’d only threatened Kipp in an attempt to protect him from that kind of pain. If he could spare his son the emptiness of a broken heart, it would be worth paying off the tramp who’d decided Kipp was fair game.

He folded the newspaper and placed it on the side of his table before spotting a familiar face across the room. Cameron Stone, his one-time step-son, was a very familiar yet very unwelcome face to see. He’d always known that Cameron was trouble, and in adulthood, Cameron had proven him right repeatedly.

Douglas sipped his orange juice again while Cameron approached him. Douglas could already feel indigestion setting in at the very prospect of speaking with his former step-son.

“Douglas,” Cameron said as he stood near the table, “What brings you to Coral Valley?”

“Business,” Douglas replied simply, “What are you doing here? Isn’t this a little low class for your taste?”

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you,” Cameron smiled coldly before he unbuttoned his jacket and sat across the table from Douglas, “I guess you’re here to chase after Kipp, aren’t you?”

“That’s none of your concern.”

“Actually, he is my in house counsel at Stone Corp as well as being my step brother. So I think that our bond requires me to look after him.”

“Look after him? You must be joking. You were always plotting ways to get rid of him.”

“True, but it made him stronger,” Cameron shrugged before stopping a waitress to request a cup of coffee. After the waitress departed, he spoke again, “Your methods only made him more of a weakling.”

“I’ve done everything within my power to teach Kipp that hard work will get him ahead. You only know how to rape and pillage to get what you want. Your father did set a poor example for you, didn’t he?” Douglas asked before he sipped his juice.

“I am not getting into a pissing match with you over my father. He did what he had to do in order to get ahead, and I admire him for that,” Cameron replied as his coffee arrived.

“And following in his footsteps as well,” Douglas nodded as he carefully watched Cameron, “Your reputation is almost legendary.”

“That’s good to hear,” Cameron declared before sipping his coffee.

“Your reputation for getting rid of those in your way as well as stealing everything you covet.”

“I’ve never stolen anything in my life.”

“It might have been legal, but it was still theft, Cameron,” Douglas shook his head.

“Like you haven’t taken advantage of opportunities that have come your way,” Cameron said with a knowing grin, “I know all about your own reputation, Douglas.”

“I have a reputation for getting what I want without rolling over people in my way,” Douglas shrugged, “I can’t see anything wrong with that.”

“Then you’re willingly blind to your own faults. What was it you used to tell Kipp all the time?” Cameron paused, “Ah yes, I know. Men who fail to see their own mistakes are weak and unfit to wield true power. So what advice do you have for hypocrites, Douglas?” He asked before taking another drink of his coffee.

“There’s no advice in the world that could save you, Cameron,” Douglas stood and tossed several dollars upon the table, “You’ll be your own downfall, and I can’t say that I won’t be cheering when it happens,” He finished as he gathered his newspaper and walked away from the table.

“Bastard,” Cameron frowned heavily as he gazed into his dark coffee. He’d always hated Douglas Mahoney, and he always would. Perhaps it was time to lean on Kipp a bit harder to get rid of Douglas before there was hell to pay for everyone involved.


Kipp accepted the package from the messenger before tipping him and sending him away. He closed the door and smiled as he opened the envelope. He withdrew the small felt box and smiled. Now was the moment he had waited for, and he had to seize it.

He crossed the room and sat beside the room service table. He placed the box upon the clean white plate sitting on Heather’s side of the table. He couldn’t wait to spring his latest surprise on her and see the look on her face.

Heather emerged from the bathroom and smiled as she secured the sash on her robe. She approached the table and sat down before she spotted the black felt box upon the white plate.

“What’s this?” She asked as she looked up from the box.

“It’s a step towards our future together,” Kipp said happily, “It’s a step in the right direction.”

She glanced back to the box, wondering what luxurious token Kipp had purchased for her now. Whatever it was, she knew it would be beautiful. However, she was afraid she knew exactly what awaited her in the box, and it wasn’t something she would be receptive to.

“I don’t understand,” She said softly as Kipp slipped out of his chair and knelt down beside her, confirming her worst fears.

He gently took her hand and looked up into her eyes, “Heather, you mean the world to me. Being with you has been a dream come true, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without you. The truth is I don’t want to imagine it. All I want to imagine is a life with you, to hold onto you for the rest of our lives, to make love to you every night and wake up every morning with you in my arms, reminding me that I’m the luckiest man in the world. I want to spend the rest of my life making your dreams come true, and I know that I could do that if you’d allow me the privilege,” He said as he took the box from the plate and opened it. He turned it towards her as he took her hand, “Allow me that privilege. Allow me to love you for the rest of our lives, Heather. Please,” He said as he offered her a hopeful smile, “Please grant me the privilege of being your husband. Marry me?”

Heather blinked as she swallowed a lump in her throat. While she’d never felt an emotional connection to Kipp, he’d certainly stirred a few emotions within her with his speech. He’d been heartfelt, sincere, and oddly enough spoke as if he were actually in love with her. While his proposal had been much more romantic than Brant’s, she couldn’t give him the same answer she’d given her former fiancé.

“Kipp…I don’t think now is the time,” She said brokenly.

“What? Why?” He asked as his face became a mask of pain and confusion.

“Because you and your father are divided right now, and an engagement should be a time of celebration and of families coming together. I really think you should reconcile with your father before we take a step like this.”

“But Heather…don’t you see? You mean more to me than he does. I don’t need him to make us complete. This is about you and me.”

“I know that, but I think you’re just reaching out right now to make some kind of connection.”

“No, I love you, Heather.”

“I know you do, baby,” Heather touched his cheek, “But I really think you need to think about this before you make any rash decisions.”

“Please,” Kipp said desperately.

“Kipp, I don’t want you to regret me,” She lied smoothly as she searched his eyes, “And I couldn’t live with myself if we pledged to be married only because you’re pissed at your dad.”

He reached out and caressed her cheek, “You really do care about me, don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” Heather said softly, leaning forward and capturing his lips in a tender kiss. If Douglas thought she wasn’t a good actress, he should have seen this performance. Then again, after this weekend when she was back in Brant’s arms, none of this would matter. She would be on top of the world, and she would never ever look back.


Jenna stepped into the lab feeling a sense of relief to be back at work again despite the circumstances.  While she’d hated being taken out of her morgue to begin with, being back again things felt different, more impersonal somehow as the FBI had taken the place.  Slowly she turned her attention to the man standing in the far corner of the room maintaining his typical bored look.
“Excuse me,” Jenna approached him using her best professional tone as she cleared her throat, “Um, hello?
“Yes,” he turned to face her though his eyes offered up nothing more than an emotionless expression as he seemed like he’d be much more interested in watching paint dry.
“I was told that you were the last one to see the body, is that correct?” Jenna questioned as she tried to come up with some kind of reasonable explanation of how Bruce’s body had vanished rather than just the obvious FBI’s lack of competence.
“That’s right,” he nodded in response, “What of it?”
“Well, I was hoping that perhaps you and I could have a talk about things since I’m trying to figure out how something like this could happen under the watch of the FBI.”
“I’ve already issued a statement to those that need to know and I’m sure if they want you hearing about it, then they’ll tell you as much,” he answered sharply as his eyes shifted with arrogance.
“Look pal, I don’t know what your deal is, but you’d better start talking as from what I gather you owe me some answers if you and your idiot co-workers want to find a way to locate the body…”
“As if you’re going to be the one to make that happen,” he rolled his eyes in response, “considering that you weren’t even deemed fit to work this case to begin with.”
“Listen you,” Jenna’s eyes flared with anger as she found herself hating this man standing before her much to her surprise.  She lifted her hand ready to lash out at him verbally as a voice rose from behind her.
“Perhaps I can help you with what you’re looking for,” he suggested turning his eyes towards the man standing before her, “You’re dismissed for now Lawson.”
“Whatever,” he rolled his eyes walking out of the room as Jenna turned to face the man behind her.  She noticed his pressed suit, and his bored and useless expression that the other agent seemingly wore so well, but this time, well this man did have an air of authority about him as Jenna stood taller not allowing him to use his FBI title to intimidate her in any way.
“Look I don’t know who is in charge here, but I’m going to need some answers here,” she threw out at the man before her.
“The FBI understands that Dr. Carpenter which is why we’re going to do all we can to keep you in the loop.”
“It sure doesn’t feel that way.” she snapped back at him.
“Then how about we work on changing that,” he offered throwing out a polite smile, “Shall we try this again?”
“And how do you propose we do that?” Jenna folded her arms in front of her chest watching him closely.
“We’ll start with this,” he offered his hand to her, “Dr. Carpenter, it’s a pleasure to meet with you today as your reputation speaks for itself in this neck of the woods.  I’m Assistant Director Callaway and I’m here to help you with anything you might need as the FBI is more than welcome to cater to your needs considering that right now your help is greatly appreciated.”
“It didn’t feel that way a minute ago with your Agent Lawson,” Jenna frowned motioning to the guy who’d just left the room.
“Lawson is in some pretty deep water for letting things happen like they did,” Callaway explained openly, “and given the pressure that he’s facing, I don’t think I’d want to be in his shoes for the world right now.  That being said however, I’ll be more than happy to help you with anything you need here.”
“Hmm, now this is a change,” Jenna thought it over for a moment as she looked at him, “Are you sure you’re in the FBI?”
“Find it hard to believe that I could be?” he countered with a hint of a smile.
“Well you seem almost human and that’s a rare quality especially from someone in the field of law enforcement,” she shrugged her shoulders as she looked around the morgue.
“I’ve heard you’re not too keen on law officials around here,” he added watching her inspect the area after a moment.
“You’ve been here what a few days?” Jenna glanced over her shoulder at him, “Can you tell me if you were in my shoes that you’d feel that way?”
“I can’t say I could,” he replied with a nod, “but maybe we can work on changing that for the time being.”
“I suppose it’s possible,” she decided as an after thought, “but for now, how about we start with what I need to know and we’ll work from that?  Maybe then we’ll be able to get the answers you’re looking for,” Jenna threw out realizing that perhaps dealing with the FBI might not be as impossible as she’d imagined it to be a few minutes earlier.  Either way she was hoping that she’d uncover the truth as she was very curious to find out what happened to the infamous Bruce Mathis as clearly corpses didn’t walk out of the morgue everyday…especially when she was around as that was completely unheard of.


Dave sipped his coffee as he stepped into his office. He spotted the blond hair behind his desk, stopping abruptly, “Who invited you in here?”

“I didn’t wait for the invitation,” Shannon replied as she thumbed through the files before her.

“Obviously,” He frowned as he stepped inside and kicked the door closed behind him, “What brings you in here anyway?”

“My bosses keep calling me in my office and sending emails via my computer. I decided to take a break from it and come in here to look through some paperwork that came in this morning.”

“What kind of paperwork?” He asked as he discarded his gym bag in the floor and made his way to the stand behind her, looking over her shoulder.

“Lab results, fingerprint findings, and some results of the license plates taken from the video tape,” She opened a case file and scanned down the page, “This is a dead end.”

“Want to half em?” He asked as he held out his hand in invitation.

“Here you go,” She said as she took the first half of the stack and placed them in his hands, “Happy reading.”

“I don’t think I like it when you hand over things too easily,” He noted as he stepped over to his sofa and sank down into the cushions. He placed his cup of coffee on an end table before he began looking through the files, “Did you speak to Jenna last night?”

“I did,” She confirmed as she continued looking through the paperwork, “I hope she can help shed some light into this body disappearance thing. I swear…something like this could only happen in Coral Valley.”

“Only when the feds are screwing with proper procedure,” He noted as he read through some more of the files and stopped, “Holy…”

“What?” Shannon asked as she looked up and watched him stare agape at the file before him, “What is it?”

“You’re not going to believe this,” He shook his head as he placed the remainder of his files on the sofa and approached the desk.

“What?!” She demanded.

“Bruce Mathis isn’t Bruce Mathis after all,” Dave said as she placed the file before her, “The fingerprints from our corpse come back to a Bruce Mathis who spent time in jail for drunk and disorderly in Houston, Texas,” He slid a picture towards her, “But that was not the picture of the man who was found in Lake Cardinal.”

“I’ll be damned,” Shannon exclaimed as she looked at the picture, “This doesn’t solve anything. It only gives us more questions,” She groaned, knowing that their case just became a lot more complicated.

...to be continued...