Episode 425

“Kevin, I think you need to take it easy,” Ria began watching Kevin attempt to put on one of the t-shirts that she’d picked up for him earlier at one of the local shops while she’d been waiting for further word on him. She saw him attempt to pull it over his head and she moved forward reaching out to touch the bottom of the snug black material, “Kevin hold on. Let me help.”

“Ria, I can do it myself,” Kevin frowned feeling her pull the bunched up material out of his hands and into her own. He watched her straighten out the material before nodding towards him again. He held his arms out in front of himself and leaned forward offering up his compliance. “I’m not helpless you know.”

“I never said you were,” Ria pointed out with a frown stepping forward to ease the material over his arms before sliding it over his thick, muscled torso. Their eyes met for a moment before she shook her head, “Kevin, Seth wouldn’t want you killing yourself to get back to him.”

“He wouldn’t want me abandoning him either,” Kevin revealed shaking his head in response, “I still can’t believe that you didn’t tell me about what happened to him sooner.”

“I didn’t know about him being in jail,” Ria divulged thinking about her best friend. “I knew about Blake and I was going to stay with him, but he wouldn’t let me. He wanted me to get to you and…”

“And what?” Kevin snapped at her finishing with his t-shirt on his own before attempting and failing to stand up off of the bed. He slumped back with a groan before cursing under his breath, “You forgetting to tell me what was probably the most important thing in my life right now?”

“Kevin, I was worried about you. When I got here you were missing. You were almost dead when we found you. I was terrified and…” Ria offered up in her own defense thinking about his anger being directed at her, “I’m sorry.”

“You should be sorry,” he snarled in response glaring up at her, “Sorry that you think it’s just okay for you to keep an important piece of information from me. Secrets like that are costly and at a time like this you should’ve been up front and honest with me. I don’t like being lied to and I thought you knew that.”

“What I knew is that when I found you in that cavern you were barely holding on. I was frightened and…” Ria blurted out throwing her hands in the air, tears threatening to overtake her, “I’m sorry. I screwed up okay? Kevin, I didn’t mean to keep it from you and had I been thinking clearly I would have told you. Seth is my best friend and the last thing I would want is for him to be hurting. I wanted to stay with him just like I told you, but he insisted I come out here to see you and…”

“And then all hell broke loose while we were waiting around here twiddling our thumbs,” Kevin huffed impatiently looking to the television that was hanging from the wall. “Damn it I’m not waiting any longer.”

“Kevin, you and I both know you can’t just walk out of here. You need to let Steve check you out before you go because I’m sure that you’ll need to be on antibiotics with IV’s and…” Ria explained thinking about the weight of his injury.

“Screw Steve. I don’t need him to tell me what I can and cannot do,” Kevin snarled in response thinking about the man he’d already grown to dislike, “If he tries to keep me here, then I’ll break his neck. Besides you’re a doctor and you know what to do in a situation like this.”

“You almost died Kevin,” Ria reminded him pointedly her dark eyes desperate with worry.

“And so did Blake,” Kevin cut her off before she could express any further concern, “Valerie killed Seth’s child and now he’s being put into a position he never should’ve been in. I should’ve been told about this long before the police had a chance to put him in jail for something that…”

“Kevin I’m sorry,” Ria blurted out unable to contain the tears that had been locked up inside of her. She threw her hands in the air before crossing the room and bursting into tears, “I know I should’ve told you. I should’ve said something, but damn it I was so concerned with the thought that I could lose you that nothing else registered. When I saw you in that cavern and then when I got the news that…”

“Ria,” Kevin paused realizing that he’d upset her. He saw the pain in her face and suddenly he’d felt like he’d been kicked in the gut. Attempting to stand up he stretched his arm out towards her only to feel pain shoot up his leg again. He fell back onto the bed with a harsh groan.

“Kevin,” she rushed forward to him ignoring her own pain now that it was clear that he’d hurt himself all over again. She reached out to him touching his arm and moving in to take a look at his leg when his other arm curled around her waist pulling her down onto the bed beside him. She felt him roll onto his side and her teary eyes widened with concern, “Your leg.”

“Is nothing in comparison to the way it kills me to see you crying,” he replied behind gritted teeth attempting to ignore the pain in his leg. He reached out to touch the side of her face gently before drawing in a breath, “Ria I love you and I know that I’ve been a real jerk lately. I didn’t mean to snap at you like I’ve been doing, but I’ve just been feeling like it’s one thing on top of the other lately. Yes, I know it’s no excuse and it isn’t your fault at all about anything that is going down with Seth, but I haven’t exactly made you feel like you had nothing to be feeling bad about. I’ve been a creep.”

“No Kevin. You were just worried about Seth and,” she started to remind him feeling him press his index finger in over the center of her lips to silence her.

“Ria, I love you and I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes--mistakes that have caused tension in our relationship. I’ve behaved like a fool and even today I was being a jerk. The least you can let me do is apologize for being wrong. I love you and I know sometimes I don’t make you feel that way…” he offered up again thinking about all he’d put her through.

“Are you kidding me? Kevin, I know you love me and I love you too which is why…” she began thinking about her mixed emotions about things.

“I swear to you that I’m going to go out of my way to try to keep from hurting you anymore. You deserve so much better and I don’t want to be the one responsible for this,” he wiped at a tear on her cheek before speaking up again, “Ria, I love you and I want you to be happy. I want to be the man that you find the kind of love and joy you deserve in your life with, not the one who is always breaking your heart.”

“Kevin, before you came back to Coral Valley I was living in this world that was just a joke for lack of a better term,” she admitted thinking of her previous relationship, “I was with a man who wanted to keep secrets, who kept everything about us a secret from the world and I fooled myself into believing that I would be okay with that. I let myself believe that was the kind of life that I deserved, but then you came and changed that for me. You made me see how much more was out there and I realized that I wanted the kind of life that I could have with only you.”

“Baby, I love you and when we’re not together it’s like a part of me is dead inside. I turn into this person that I loathe when I think I lost you and it’s a place that I never want to reenter again. You’re my world Ria and I want for us to be happy together,” Kevin sighed sliding his fingers into her dark hair, “I want for us to have a family and a life together that will make the rest of the world envious.”

“I want that too Kevin, but before we go down that road I need to tell you something important, something that cannot wait,” Ria took in a small breath realizing that while she didn’t think now was the right time, she had no choice but to be honest with him about the daughter he’d thought he’d lost. It would be the only way that they would be free to love one another without a dark cloud hanging over their heads. Yes in being honest with him she stood to lose him, but in keeping silent about her discovery she knew full well she stood far more to lose when everything was said and done.


Brant hung up the phone after having made the final arrangements to get back to Coral Valley. The Ashford jet was ready and fueled up for his departure from the island. It was only a matter of time until he was back where he belonged with his family helping take care of the situation that had arisen.

“I take it everything is in order,” Angela noted from where she’d been seated behind him with the twins. He turned around to see her, both babies close to her now that it seemed that his past and his future were both calling upon him. He stepped in closer to Angela seeing the exhaustion pressing in over her features. He reached for their son taking him from her arms.

“Let me finish with this,” Brant suggested watching Angela continue to feed Alison the bottle she’d had for her. Brant reached for the other bottle and sank into a chair with Brandon in his arms, “Angela I know that this wasn’t exactly what you or I planned on considering that…”

“Brant in case you haven’t noticed, nothing for us goes as planned,” she offered up with a thoughtful expression looking down at their daughter for a brief moment, “but then again in the same breath I think that’s just how it is supposed to work for us. As for Blake, honey I know that you need to be there with her. It’s something that neither one of us could ignore.”

“I realize that,” he paused seeing his son eagerly accepting the bottle he was giving to him, “It’s just that with the twins being so small and…”

“They’ll be fine,” Angela promised sensing the concern brewing behind his eyes, “and I will be too.”

“I wouldn’t normally insist upon you leaving the hospital with me like this now, but with Craven on the island…” Brant began again worrying about what a flight would be like for her and their children.

“Brant, it’s okay,” she explained warmly attempting to alleviate his concerns, “We’ll be fine. It’ll be our first family adventure and while it might not be a lush vacation, it’ll be good to be home again. Plus we‘ll have Ria going back with us. If I need anything I‘m sure I can count on her on the flight.”

“You can count on me as well,” Brant paused for a moment thinking about what she’d said, “Do you really feel that way?”

“Yeah, I have complete faith in Ria. I mean I know she’s probably not my biggest fan but from what I’ve seen she’s a great doctor,” Angela nodded back at him before seeing him shake his head.

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Brant confessed with a half smile, “I mean with going back to Coral Valley. Do you really feel like it’s home now?”

“Anywhere that you are is home to me,” she revealed with a loving glow behind her eyes, “Brant, you’re everything to me just like our children are.”

“I just can’t believe this finally happened for us,” Brant mused glancing down at his son. “To think that when we met we were just two screwed up losers who were searching for comfort in one another…”

“Speak for yourself,” Angela objected with a playful smirk, “I was never a loser.”

“No you weren’t,” Brant nodded in agreement realizing Brandon had finished up with his bottle. He set it aside before getting up to join Angela on the bed, “In fact the first time that I saw you I thought to myself that you were truly an angel, a vision out of my dreams come to life waiting for me to be a man and step up for what I wanted.”

“And here I just figured you thought I was Avery,” she tossed out at him with a glibness in her tone.

“Avery was special, but she pales in comparison to all that you are,” Brant reached out to touch her cheek gently. “I knew I loved you the first moment I met you and when you dumped me, I knew that I would never be able to get you out of my system. You have no idea how much money I sank into private investigators hoping to get you back.”

“You must’ve hired all the wrong ones,” Angela teased him thinking about their time apart.

“I must have because none of them came close to bringing me to what it was that I wanted--to what I needed in my life,” he motioned to his children proudly, “You gave me the world Angela which is why I want to spend the rest of my life giving it back to you as well.”

“You already have,” she reached out to him feeling him lean in to kiss her before a moment of apprehension carried over him, “Brant, what’s wrong?”

“You know if this trip is too much I’m sure you could stay with Martha. I could call some security and have them keep an eye on you for a while and…” Brant began again fearing what could be waiting for them in Coral Valley if they weren’t careful.

“Brant, we’ll be fine,” she paused searching his eyes for a long moment, “but something tells me that you’re not worried about the trip alone, are you?”

“Am I that obvious,” he confessed with a nervous expression, “It’s just that, well nothing in my life ever goes right. Anytime I have happiness…”

“You find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop?” she finished for him with an arched brow.

“Yeah something like that,” he nodded in confession feeling a bit foolish, “I mean I’m not one to admit when I’m worried, but in thinking about all I stand to lose especially after what happened with Blake and Seth…”

“You won’t lose us Brant,” Angela reached out to touch his leg gently, “We love you too much for that.”

“I believe that you mean that, but…” his thoughts lingered to everything that was waiting for them in Coral Valley.

“Craven wasn’t able to keep us apart and neither was Cameron,” she paused thinking about her brother for the first time in a while. “Even though he doesn’t understand what we have, the twins change everything. It twists his rules around and I don’t care what he believes about you. I know in my heart that you’re my destiny--the only man I was ever meant to share my life with.”

“Other than our son of course,” Brant teased attempting to bring some lightness into their conversation.

“Brant, you have to believe me when I tell you that I have no intentions on ever turning away from this--from us. I don’t care what kind of war is brewing between our families. I know that Cameron has his mind set on revenge, but I will not for a second let that destroy us. I’ll make him understand that you didn’t kill our father and…” she offered up thinking about her difficult brother.

“Cameron will always see me as the enemy and as long as we’re together he’ll be working twice as hard to tear us apart,” he reached for her free hand lacing their fingers in one another.

“Then let him try, but it won’t work,” she declared boldly her dark eyes reaching out into his. “I intend to share the rest of my life with you and our family Brant. Yes, maybe there is a history between the Stones and the Ashfords, but that isn’t part of our future. Our love will not be touched by that madness.”

“It already has been once,” he replied with an uneasiness remembering how he’d nearly lost her.

“But it won’t be that way ever again,” she swore to him with a solemn vow. “We have far too much to chance by falling into that kind of cliché.”

“So it’s just you and me against the odds, yes?” Brant smiled over at her seeing something build behind her eyes.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way because the fact remains that you’re home to me Brant. You are my destiny and neither Cameron nor anyone else can change that for us. I love you,” she promised leaning in to kiss him hoping that he would finally believe that there was nothing but happiness waiting ahead of them after they found a way to reclaim their life together once again.


“So I was saying to myself at the bar after a slow day that clearly a sweet thing like yourself must’ve been going out of her mind with the storm. I remember hearing you say that you were terrified of them, so I thought maybe I could come over here and help. Plus with the little ones,” Martha nodded over to the kittens who were now playing with a few of the toys she’d just brought over for them, “well, I figured I would help you keep them busy for a while since at that age they are always getting into trouble.”

“That was very thoughtful of you,” JT nodded half listening to what Martha was saying as he glanced over at Evie. He noticed the way she was seated on the sofa, her legs carefully tucked underneath her body as she too seemed lost in her thoughts. She was wearing his blue shirt and had it out hanging over the slim fitting pair of beige Capri pants she had shuffled into after Martha’s surprise visit. She twined a piece of her long hair between her thumb and index finger all the while nodding over at Martha every so often so that Martha believed she had Evie’s full attention.

“I just wanted to play my part to…” Martha’s words were lost as JT kept his eyes on Evie. He felt a warmth carry over him at remembering how close to making love they’d been with one another. In the past he’d been terrified by the very notion of opening up to her in such a way given his history, yet there was something about being with her--about holding her in his arms that set his mind at ease. Never before had he found himself feeling sentimental or nervous about the idea of sharing that part of himself with another person.

“So as you can see I cooked up a few things that I thought you might enjoy,” Martha circled around the kitchen before nodding over at Evie, “This you have to see.”

“I guess I have to see it then,” Evie forced a smile before stealing a glance in JT’s direction before following off after Martha.

While she’d been trying hard to concentrate, Evie had to admit to herself that there wasn’t anything more that had her focus than JT and the memory of his kisses over her. Even now she felt her face flushed with desire, her mind imprinted with memories of them with one another so much so that she’d been ignoring poor Martha from the moment when she and JT had opted to join her in the living room area. While Evie tried to rationalize that they were doing the right thing in spending time with Martha and ignoring the still untapped passion between them, she couldn’t help but find herself focusing on the lines of his chest through his t-shirt remembering the warmth of the muscular planes beneath her finger tips, of his kisses and hot breath against her aching flesh, her body longing to have him with her again and again, but….

“Ta da, it’s strawberry,” Martha pulled the lid off of a container in front of Evie with a proud smirk, “I whipped this little pastry up myself right before heading out over here. JT said strawberry was your favorite, so I thought I would do what I could to make you feel at home with all of the storms.”

“Thank you very much,” Eve tipped her head to the side and greeted Martha with a smile, “I really appreciate your making this for me because you’re right JT is my favorite. I mean…um strawberries are my favorite.”

“Sweetheart if I was your age JT would probably be my favorite too,” Martha teased with a hint of laughter in her tone watching as Evie’s cheeks grew red with obvious color.

There was a crashing sound from the bedroom and JT perked his head up snapping out of his daze long enough to realize that two of the kittens had disappeared. He sprung up from the chair he’d been in and glanced over at Evie before pointing towards the hallway.

“I should probably go check on that,” JT cleared his throat nervously before heading off in search of the sound before the kittens caused any more disasters.

Martha watched JT walk down the hallway in his tight fitting jeans before letting out a laugh herself, “Yep I can say without a doubt that if I was your age, then I would certainly want to get lost in a little bit of that. He’s got a cute butt on him.”

“Among other things,” Evie blurted out without hesitation. Realizing what she’d said she brought her hand up to the side of her face and gulped, “I mean…”

“I know what you meant honey and it’s okay. Hell, I can’t say I blame you for wanting to get rid of me so that you can get back to that. Heck, I would’ve pushed myself out of the door just as soon as I walked in after that flub on my end,” Martha offered up giving Evie and easy out before she met Evie’s eyes again. “I really didn’t mean to cause a stir…”

“No you didn’t,” Evie felt embarrassment flood over her, “I guess we were just kind of jumping the gun and…”

“Is that what you kids call it these days?” Martha couldn’t help but tease further watching Evie’s face turn a bright shade of crimson. “Look I’m sorry for intruding and I’ll get out of your hair in a second if…”

“No, it’s not that,” Evie touched Martha’s arm gently, “Honestly you’re not bothering us and I’m sorry if I seem distracted.”

“Honey, if I was in the position you were in when I walked in, I would’ve kicked my own ass for spoiling the moment,” Martha offered up with a tiny chuckle, “I still can’t believe what I was thinking in doing that.”

“Maybe it was a sign,” Evie sighed slumping down over the countertop and thinking about what transpired with JT.

“Are you okay sugar?” Martha questioned looking over at Evie for a long moment, “Is something wrong?”

“Not exactly,” Evie felt a nervousness build in the pit of her stomach before she glanced up at Martha again, “I mean it’s just that we…well, how can I put this without sounding stupid?”

“Nothing you could say would sound stupid,” Martha replied hearing another sound from the bedroom. Her eyes turned towards the source of the sound before JT popped his head out and offered up a small smile.

“Everything is going to be okay in here. Bradshaw and Spunky just knocked one of the shelves down and,” JT was interrupted by another crashing sound, “I’ll be right back.”

“We’ll be here,” Martha waved over at him before turning to Evie again. “So what’s on your mind sugar? What’s troubling you?”

“It’s not that anything is troubling me really,” Evie began to fidget with her fingers before taking in a breath, “It’s just that well, you see JT and I have never actually, well, you know…”

“Know what?” Martha replied catching the pointed expression on Evie’s face and her jaw dropped. “Oh my word. Are you saying that you and he have never hit the sheets before and…”

“I wouldn’t say that we haven’t hit the sheets, but we just never followed through on anything,” Evie revealed feeling more foolish than ever for opening up to Martha about something that was so obviously not meant to be talked about. She circled around the counter before reaching for one of the boxes Martha brought in and putting it in the refrigerator.

“So when I walked in on you both that was supposed to be something special,” Martha’s jaw dropped in realization, “Oh boy do I feel horrible. I just assumed that since JT mentioned you were engaged that I was just interrupting some play time that…”

“Once again didn’t take it’s natural progression,” Evie sighed leaning in against the refrigerator door. “Although I’m starting to wonder if maybe that’s something in itself that I should take into consideration. I mean JT has this reputation behind him and I know how hot he is, but I’m just…”

“Just what honey?” Martha questioned seeing Evie’s expression shift.

“I’ve just never…” Evie began to fumble her fingers nervously wondering what was wrong with her to even think about opening up to Martha. “Well, I guess you could say that I’ve never actually ever made, well love to a man before.”

“No shi…” Martha practically spit out the gum that she’d replaced the old piece with earlier before she cleared her throat and shifted direction. “So you’re saying that not only was it your first time in the making with JT, but that you’ve never actually…”

“Sounds stupid doesn’t it,” Evie let out a nervous laugh, “I can’t even believe that I would even admit it to you considering that I don’t think I would even be comfortable talking to my own mother about this. Then again it’s not like she was around to ask about anything.”

“Well, I um, wouldn’t necessarily call myself an expert, but if there’s anything that you want to discuss,” Martha offered up sensing Evie’s nervousness, “Oh sweetheart, I know it sounds like a crude kind of conversation, but I talk about stranger things with my son, who happens to be gay by the way. You can’t even begin to imagine having sex talks with my son when we’re both gushing on men.”

Evie couldn’t help but laugh, “Sounds like a unique conversation.”

“It is and nine times out of ten my little brat has a hotter guy then I do,” Martha laughed lightly attempting to throw humor into the situation. “For what it’s worth though, do you mind me offering up some advice?”

“What’s that?” Evie couldn’t help but ask.

“When you’re ready you’ll know,” Martha explained with a small smile, “and when the time is right the last thing you need to be worrying about is measuring up to anyone else in JT’s eyes. I can see that he loves you and obviously he cares enough about you to make sure that things are right for you. Hell, I’ve never seen him look at anyone like he looks at you so there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he loves you.”

“I just wish that I had more to offer him going into this,” Evie revealed her own insecurities for the first time since she’d started pursuing JT. “He’s just had so many women falling at his feet and I’m…”

“The one who has the ring on her finger,” Martha noted motioning to the ring on Evie’s hand. “Remember that sweetheart because when it gets down to it that’s what is important.”

“I know,” Evie finally decided with a nod thinking about her relationship with JT.

“And just be sure when you’re ready to delve into that territory with JT that it feels right for the both of you. Granted you might’ve felt that way earlier when I barged in, but maybe as you said fate had other plans for you,” Martha suggested catching the sadness behind Evie’s eyes, “Trust me the last thing you want to be do is remembering your first time in the back of a Chevy parked outside some bowling alley.”

“Are you serious?” Evie’s jaw practically dropped in Martha’s confession.

“Unfortunately so and the second time, well we won’t even get into the strangeness of that one,” Martha couldn’t help but shudder at the memory, “but for what it’s worth, I will tell you one thing. It gets better with time. Practice and patience makes it something that can be very enjoyable especially if someone has all the right parts like it‘s abundantly clear that JT does.”

“JT does what?” JT questioned reentering the room only to watch Martha and Evie burst into a tiny set of giggles. He eyed them both suspiciously before shaking his head at them, “Okay, I’ll bite. What did I miss? What aren’t you telling me?”

“You don’t want to know,” Evie offered up with a cryptic smirk.

“We were just talking about how hot you are. No biggie,” Martha waved her hand dismissively, “and with that thought in mind I think I’m about to get on my way. I have other people to bother and…”

“Martha, you’re never a bother,” JT circled around the kitchen to offer up an embrace, “It’s always great to see you.”

“You’re a horrible liar kiddo, but I still love you,” Martha patted him on the cheek before turning to Evie once again, “Just remember what I said.”

“I will,” Evie nodded as Martha gave her a hug before walking away.

“Just remember you two don’t do what I wouldn’t do,” Martha teased with a wink before letting herself out of the small beach house. Once she was outside JT turned to Evie catching the expression on her face.

“You’re not going to tell me what you both just talked about, are you?” JT couldn’t help but question her.

“Nope, not a chance, but I can tell you this,” Evie began circling around the counter to slide her arms around his shoulders. She felt him pick her up off of the ground into his arms and against his chest as their lips met in a tender kiss, “It’s good to have you all to myself again.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more on that,” he replied kissing her once again and savoring the first moment of quiet that carried over them since Martha’s arrival. However, with another crashing sound JT was alerted to the craziness in the bedroom once again. “Hold that thought.”

“Holding it!” Evie promised watching him retreat to the bedroom again before she turned her attention to the ring on her finger knowing full well what kind of symbol it was of JT’s emotions for her. Smiling to herself she couldn’t help but feel as if she’d finally found something real in her life--something that would lead her to the happiness she’d never truly known.


“Hey you…,” Jason moved over toward the bed where Deana was sitting on the edge of it, seeming to be staring off in space while he watched her. Heather had just left to go check in with Kyle on a few things leaving the two of them alone together for a bit. “You okay? You’re looking a little blank here.”

“Blank?” she looked to him feeling his arm wrap around her shoulders in a supportive manner and she took in a deep breath. She looked to him seeing the way he was mocking her expressions and she reached out to hit him. “That’s not funny.”

“I’m not trying to be funny,” he chuckled a bit before his blue eyes became very serious and she shrugged while staring out at her. Squeezing his arm around her a bit tighter, he shrugged and spoke up again. “I just…I want to know what’s going on in your head. You’re my sister and I should know these kind of things. Especially if you are nervous like this.”

“Like you really want to hear about my problems,” Deana huffed catching the glare that Jason gave her and she tossed her hands up in the air knowing that he didn’t hand out those looks often. “Okay, so maybe you do.”

“Yeah, of course I do. I may have not been the best person my whole life, but I would like to think that I was a good brother to you,” Jason explained moving his arm as he knelt down on the floor in front of her. Reaching for her hands, he squeezed them softly before shrugging. “I know you want to marry Grady, yet you seem to be worried or…I don’t know. I can’t read what you are thinking.”

“I don’t know,” she sighed heavily thinking about her life as a whole and the small amount of time she had actually spent with Grady. “Grady is amazing and it seems like everything is perfect you know. Us together and being able to share this, it’s just…I can’t help it when I think about all the things that have gone wrong in our life.”

“You can’t really think about that though,” he tried to assure his sister in a calming tone as he shrugged. “You know we have had bad moments in our life, but we can’t base all of our choices on what has happened in the past. I have seen you with Grady sweetheart and I’ve never seen you happier. I can see why you could be scared, but this is a good guy you have Deana. I wouldn’t worry.”

“I know Grady is everything I’ve wanted in a guy. He’s been nothing, but good to me. I just…I know I always dreamed of only doing this once. Getting married once. I just want it to go right, you know?” she muttered watching her brother’s jaw tighten a bit before he moved up to give her a small hug. Watching him for a moment she sighed and took in a deep breath. “I want everything to be perfect.”

“Everything isn’t going to be perfect, but that’s what makes life worth living. Making it perfect yourself,” Jason informed her with a sigh seeing the way she watched him as he reached for the water he set aside for himself. “You have everything to lose, but that makes it all the better knowing you will be doing it with Grady.”

“I think that’s the most inspirational thing I’ve ever heard you say,” she pointed out watching the way he smiled before shrugging and taking a sip from his water. Usually Jason wasn’t someone who had much of a heavy input on what was going on or a big opinion, but what he just said to her set her in place a bit. “Wow.”

“Thank you,” he simply said with a small laugh before closing up his bottle while moving toward the window to look outside noticing that it looked pretty good for a wedding. “I do happen to have a brain…sometimes.”

“Put a bit of emphasis on the sometimes part,” she teased him as he glared back at her over his shoulder and before he could bicker with her, she could hear the sound of someone knocking on the door as she sighed. “Could you please get that? I don’t want anyone who isn’t supposed to see me, see me.”

“Yeah, that’s not confusing,” he mocked her a bit before moving over toward the door to check on who it was at the door for Deana. Opening the door up slow enough to make sure he kept Deana blocked from anyone’s sight, he saw a pair of familiar blue eyes in front of him. “Don! Hey.”

“Don?” Deana’s voice pressed in from behind of Jason as she stepped in closer to the door almost shoving Jason aside as he grunted a bit when she opened the door more for Don to come in. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“Is that a good or a bad thing?” Don questioned with a wide smile stepping into the hotel room while taking a long glance over her. “Wow Dee, you really look beautiful. I mean you look really good.”

“You think?” she sighed looking over her dress before shrugging and throwing her hands up in the air. “I hope so. I’ve been really worried about this all day having it perfect and everything.”

“Worried is an understatement. She’s gone into like super panic mode or something,” Jason blurted out dropping down on the bed while he waited for time to pass. “She keeps freaking out about getting married.”

“And why is that?” Don noticed the glare that Deana had shot her twin brother as he reached out to grab a hold of her hands softly. “There is nothing to be afraid of when you are stepping into marriage with the person you love. Seriously, when you are married…it’s exactly like you are dating. Life doesn’t change that much.”

“I know, it’s just an over all thought you know. Of what could happen,” she watched Don roll his eyes a bit before he moved forward and wrapped his arms around her tightly hugging her against his muscular body. “Why does everyone find me ridiculous?”

“You’re not ridiculous sweetheart, it’s just always think about the what ifs…lead you away from what you really can do,” Don’s breath pressed in over her eat as he held onto her making her close her eyes as she listened to him talk. “You have to push yourself and realize that the what ifs don’t matter. It’s what you make of your life now. That’s all that ever really matters.”

“I know, you just…you know me. I worry about everything,” she pulled away from him staring up into his light blue eyes while he glanced down at her with a wide smile. She could feel his fingers nudge her chin a bit as she sighed and squeezed his hands in hers. “I’ve never been able to drop that habit.”

“Ah, I see. You know though, it’s one of the things I like about you. It makes you cute. Always worrying about everything makes someone want to prove to you everything will be okay. It makes the perfect relationship for someone who wants to save another,” he teased her feeling her hit him in the chest and he laughed taking a step back away from her. Noticing that she was wearing a ruby necklace that shimmered against the light, he placed his hand over his chest and feigned being injured. “Hey…that’s no way to treat the man that bought the necklace you are currently wearing right now. I might think about taking it back.”

“You got this for me?” Deana gasped looking down at her necklace that Jason had brought in earlier. She hadn’t known who had gotten it for her, but as she saw Don nod and smile widely she jumped into his arms giving him a hug. “I can’t believe you would buy something like this for me.”

“Wow,” he laughed feeling her holding onto him extremely tight as he spun her around a little bit and took in a deep breath. “I must say it looks rather good on you and I’m glad you liked it. I figured you would, but this…oh this is nice. Getting hugs like this.”

“You should ask for them more because there isn’t a single person I would want to give them to more,” she muttered pressing a kiss over his cheek before squeezing him tightly again in her arms. “Thank you so much Don, you have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I think I might and just considering it a wedding gift,” he set her back down on the ground seeing the way she stepped in front of the mirror on the dresser to look over the necklace again. “After everything you’ve been through, I figured after this long of knowing you that it was worth it.”

“Kiss up,” Jason choked out the words from the corner of the room as Don glanced over at him laying on the bed and he tossing an empty plastic glass at him hearing him grunt as soon as it hit him. “Hey! You kiss up to her, but you want to hurt me?”

“It’s because I’m the cuter one,” Deana stuck her tongue out at her brother in a teasing manner before moving back over toward Don to give him another hug. “Really Don, thank you so much. I owe you.”

“No, no you don’t,” Don reached out to brush his fingers over her cheek before pressing her blonde hair back behind her ear letting out a heavy breath. “Just be happy. That’s all I ask. And….well, it should also be known that if Grady breaks your heart, I’m going to kill him. He’s a dead man if that happens.”

“I love you Don, but you worry too much,” Deana was thankful to have someone like him in her life as she felt him hugging her close to him and she sighed heavily.

Maybe tonight wouldn’t be bad after all.


“I hope this isn’t a boy’s club only,” Avery announced popping her head into the hotel room suite and taking a look at Grady and Kyle with one another getting ready for the upcoming ceremony. Her brown eyes surveyed the room as she looked over at the two men curiously, “Hey, where’s my husband?”

“With your daughter,” Grady explained with a hint of laughter in his voice, “it’s diaper duty.”

“Laugh it up now, but the day will hit you soon when you have to face that yourself,” Kyle joked with a hearty laugh. “Then Russ and I will be the ones laughing it up at you because we’ve done our time.”

“Hey, I’m not poking fun at either one of you,” Grady paused for a moment before cracking a hint of a grin, “though I won’t pretend not to be relieved that my future stepson is far from being in diapers. I’m happy that’s one stage of life I didn’t have to endure.”

“Always taking shortcuts in life,” Avery shook her head at his words. “You don’t know what you’re missing out on Grady.”

“I’m at the point in my life where I think I’ve moved past hoping for that experience,” Grady turned towards her watching as Avery stepped forward in an attempt to help him straighten up his tie.

“You never could get this one right,” she shook her head at him with a laugh. “Formal never worked for you.”

“I’m getting better at it,” Grady replied with a hint of a smile.

“So you think,” Avery unknotted his tie before glancing over at Kyle. “You let him put it on this way huh?”

“I was just giving him room to hang himself so to speak,” Kyle shrugged his shoulders simply. “Can I help it if he hasn’t picked up on the essentials of formal wear?”

“What are you talking about?” Grady rolled his eyes at Kyle. “You still wear clip on ties every opportunity you get.”

“And you haven’t heard anyone complain about it thus far,” Kyle winked over at his friend as Zane rushed out of the bedroom area excitedly.

“Kyle, you have to see this! You have to look! I made it to the next level!” Zane squealed with delight while bouncing up and down. “Grady, I beat the level!”

“Great job Zane,” Grady smiled over at Zane proudly. “I knew you could do it.”

“I’m awesome,” Zane beamed enthusiastically, “I knew that zombie didn’t stand a chance, but now I’m stuck. Kyle, will you help me?”

“Sure buddy,” Kyle nodded and then looked to Avery. “You have this covered with him?”

“I’ll try my best,” Avery insisted focusing on the groom to be once again. “Though he might be a lost cause.”

“Don’t be long,” Grady urged Kyle on further, “I would hate to have to use my tie to strangle my sister-in-law before the ceremony.”

“For your sake I wouldn’t advise it,” Kyle noted, “although she seems to be the one in control with the tie at the moment.”

“I like it that way,” Avery smirked as Kyle reentered the bedroom at Zane’s side. “You know Grady I don’t think Deana’s going to approve of zombie killing.”

“It’s one game,” Grady protested as he felt her reworking the knot on his tie. “He’s just unwinding a bit before the ceremony.”

“Breaking the rules already huh?” she shook her head at him. “You should know by now that parenting involves being able to balance the rules and entertainment.”

“Trust me one game of zombie killers isn’t going to hurt him,” Grady couldn’t help but laugh, “now Jason, on the other hand, well I might have to worry about nightmares if he ever gets a hold of the game.”

“Sounds like you’re picking up two children in this marriage,” she joked.

“It feels like it sometimes, but with Zane I have no worries. Jason, well that’s another story,” Grady explained with a lighthearted tone. “Though I have to admit I never anticipated finding my way to this place again.”

“You’re doing good so far,” she patted his shoulder gently. “You’re making the right move.”

“I hope so,” he confessed, his green eyes searching hers once again, “I just don’t want to screw things up like I did before with Susan.”

“Deana’s nothing like Susan. We both know that,” Avery reminded him with a smile. “She’s got a good heart.”

“Which is all the more reason why she deserves someone better than me,” he sighed outwardly.

“You love her, don’t you?” she questioned taking a small step back.

“Of course I do. Why is that suddenly the question of the hour?” he asked defensively.

“Hey, I didn’t mean anything by it, but rather I was just making conversation considering that…” she stopped herself and gave him a strange look. “Is everything alright Grady?”

“Everything’s fine,” he nodded.

“Why don’t I believe that?” she asked again. “Something’s bothering you.”

“Nothing that can’t wait until another day,” Grady dismissed her worries, “although I do have one favor to ask of you.”

“Anything,” she answered before rethinking the words, “well almost anything.”

“Gee, afraid you opened the door to something unsavory with that response?” he laughed lightly.

“Nah, but you never know with the way your mind works,” she explained pointedly.

“In this particular instance it’s a good thing. I was wondering if you could take Zane down to Deana. He was supposed to be in the suite a short while ago, but we were a little busy in here with…” he began.

“Zombie killing,” she finished for him. “Yeah, I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“She really doesn’t need to know about that just yet,” he half pleaded with her. “I mean we would want the wedding to run smoothly, yes?”

“So I’m told,” she joked, “but for what it’s worth your secret is safe with me.”

“I knew I could count on you,” he smiled bringing his arm out around her waist and pulling her to him for an embrace. “I always seem to be able to have you when I’m in a crisis.”

“I don’t really think this qualifies as a crisis,” she admitted returning the embrace, “but for what it’s worth you’re very welcome. I just hope today goes off even better for you than anticipated.”

“So do I,” he closed his eyes taking in the scent of her shampoo as he held her closer to him. “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?”

“You and Deana have come so very far with one another,” she nodded pulling away from him. “You deserve this.”

“I know we do, but I wasn’t actually talking about Deana at the moment,” he reached out to touch her cheek gently. “I was referring to you and I. I mean look at us. A few months ago we probably could’ve killed one another and now…”

“I’m just waiting for the right moment to choke the life out of you,” she teased with a wink.

“I’m being serious Avery,” Grady’s fingers tapered off over her cheek. “You’re probably the one person in this world that remindeds me I needed this in my life. Had you not tried to keep my head above water I never would’ve found this in my life.”

“You deserve it and more,” Avery smiled up at him. “Love should never be something you have to live without.”

“I don’t intend to find myself in that position ever again now that I have Deana,” he admitted honestly, “and I owe that second chance at life to you for being able to pull me outside of my own selfish, little world of self loathing.”

“Hey, what can I say?” she winked up at him. “I’m incredible.”

“Yes, you truly are,” he whispered warmly leaning forward to pull her into another tight embrace as the hotel room door opened once again.

“Well, what do we have here?” Heather blurted out smugly as Avery stepped back to discover her long time rival observing the two of them. “Come over here to ruin Deana’s day before it began Avery?”

“Excuse me,” Avery blinked back at her.

“I mean you’ve got Russ, but maybe he’s not enough for you now that another woman is in the spotlight capturing all the attention,” Heather folded her arms in front of her chest. “And here you pretend to be so much better than everyone, but here you are trying to butter up the groom for something.”

“You’re out of line Heather,” Grady frowned over at her, “that’s not at all what was going on.”

“No Grady, go ahead and let her keep talking,” Avery waved her hand around in the air, “because sooner or later Kyle’s going to hear her spouting off and he’s going to see just how delusional she truly is about the world around her.”

“The only delusional one around here is you from the looks of things,” Heather’s green eyes narrowed down at Avery, “especially if you think you can come in here and persuade Grady to follow you around like a puppy dog again.”

“Heather, that’s not at all what’s going on,” Grady argued with her. “Avery was helping me with my tie and…”

“I’ll bet,” Heather rolled her eyes.

“It’s the truth,” Grady argued further, feeling his face grow hot at the accusations.

“You don’t have to explain anything to her,” Avery insisted with a hiss in her voice, “Come to think of it, what are you doing in here Heather?”

“Deana wanted me to bring her son to visit with her,” Heather informed Avery bluntly. “She figured he got a little lost with Grady and was looking forward to seeing him before the ceremony.”

“In that case you’re in luck sweetheart because the game just ended,” Kyle announced holding Zane up on his shoulders, “and we’re looking at the next champion here.”

“I won!” Zane bubbled over with enthusiasm, “but only because Kyle helped me be the master on the last level.”

“It’s the least I can do for your little buddy,” Kyle bounced Zane up around on his shoulders before lowering him to the ground again, “although it looks like your beautiful escort is here to take you to your mom.”

“I was going to take him over to Deana for Grady,” Avery informed him while ignoring Heather’s presence in the room.

“Actually Deana asked me to take him over to her,” Heather announced firmly. She moved in closer to Kyle and placed her hand on his arm, “Honey I’d be more than happy to return there with Zane.”

“Can you take me Kyle?” Zane questioned with wide eyes. “I want to talk about Zombie Killers.”

“I guess we can do that if Grady doesn’t mind,” Kyle glanced over to his best friend.

“No, not at all. Send Deana my love,” Grady nodded in agreement. Grady walked over to Zane and gave him a big hug. “You give your mom one of these for me.”

“I will,” Zane promised before rushing over to Kyle. “Come on we have a lot to talk about and little time.”

“You’re on,” Kyle accepted Zane’s hand readily before offering the other one to Heather, “You ready beautiful?”

“More than ready,” Heather nodded taking Kyle’s hand as the trio left the hotel room.

“I swear I’m going to strangle that woman. What in the world does Kyle see in her?” Avery questioned throwing her hands up in the air. “Does he not realize that she’s poison?”

“Kyle’s happy Avery. You can’t fault him that,” Grady pointed out as he adjusted his tie once again.

“No, but with the way she carries on I can’t see how in the world he could find any inkling of happiness with her,” she wrinkled her nose at the thought. “She’s miserable.”

“Hey, it’s not our place to judge,” Grady shrugged once more, “and the way I see it, maybe she’s just uncomfortable being around all of us since we’ve been friends for a long time. She’s sort of the outsider if you will.”

“With good reason,” Avery huffed. “She’s a bitch Grady.”

“Whether she is or not, Kyle loves her and we can’t fight with her,” Grady pointed out with a firm expression on his face. “Today is supposed to be a day of happiness, remember?”

“I know that, but…” she stopped herself. “Never mind. I’ll let it go for now.”

“Smart thinking and I’m sure Russ will approve,” Grady added brightly.

“Approve of what?” Russ questioned as Avery turned around to see her husband in the hotel room.

“Enjoying the day for all it’s worth,” Grady explained as Avery rushed over to embrace Russell.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Russ offered up leaning down to kiss Avery tenderly. “Everything is working out as it should today.”

“That it is,” Grady agreed turning his attention to his reflection once again as he vowed that today was going to be the day to start over again. He paused for a moment catching a glimpse of the wax figurine on the table next to where he stood. Silently, he walked over to the table, reaching for the lid on the box and closing it knowing that tonight was going to spark a new life for him--one that no longer had the same regret and misery hanging over his head. Glancing over at Russ and Avery embracing one another, Grady vowed that he and Deana were going to have all that and more together.


“So, I guess this means I’m going to have to start calling you uncle Kyle?” Zane spoke up looking back at Heather and Kyle who were sitting behind him while he sat on the ledge looking outside at the beach and the water. “I mean, you are Grady’s best friend which would make me call you uncle Kyle…right?”

“Well,” Kyle leaned forward on the bench he was sitting on watching Deana’s son glance back out the window and he shrugged. “I think you should be able to call me whatever you want. Uncle Kyle. Kyle. K-Swiss.”

“K-Swiss?” Heather laughed seeing the way that Zane looked back at him and shook his head letting out a tiny chuckle himself as she looked to Kyle. “That was tacky.”

“Hey, if we are going to be friends he should be comfortable to call me anything,” he whispered reaching around her to wrap his arm around her shoulders pulling her in closer to him as they sat on the bench waiting to take Zane back to Deana when he wanted to go. “I think it’s just essential for that.”

“Is Grady pretty much done?” Heather sighed leaning in closer to her husband as they sat and relaxed for a few minutes. Zane had stopped by to see Grady for a few minutes when Jason arrived to the hotel, so Kyle promised to take him back to Deana. Just Zane wanted to watch the water for a little bit while it was still light out. “I imagine he might take longer than Deana.”

“Why is that?” Kyle gulped down looking over at Heather as she shrugged and thought about how long it took her husband to get ready in the mornings.

“He is your friend Kyle, I would imagine he would be at least a little like you in the getting ready department. You take forever, always wanting to look good,” Heather pointed out with a small nod while thinking about Grady. “And the fact his hair never looks out of place gives me that reason.”

“Oh, I see…,” Kyle winked at her before squeezing her closer to him letting out a heavy breath. “It’s my job to look good. I’m your husband and you are gorgeous, so it only seems right.”

“He’s right, you’re bootiful,” Zane mispronounced the word in a child like manner while he looked back at Heather seeing her smile widely at his comment. He nodded before taking in a deep breath. “You’re a pretty lady miss Heather.”

“And you’re a cutie yourself Zane,” she muttered seeing the way his cheeks seemed to blush over before he looked back toward the beach again. Sighing heavily, she was enjoying spending time with Zane, but she found herself thinking about her own son. “I wonder how Charles is doing.”

“I’m sure Kellen is teaching him…such great things,” Kyle spoke up in a teasing tone as she reached over to poke him in the side hearing him gasp before grabbing a hold of her hand tightly. “Hey, don’t beat up your husband here. That hurt.”

“You two are married?” Zane spoke up looking over at Kyle and Heather as he saw Kyle nod and look to Heather for a moment. “Do you like being married? I’ve never really heard mommy talk about it much other than on TV shows and stuff like that. But that’s fake you know. TV things aren’t real. So, do you like being married.”

“There is no better feeling,” Kyle answered truthfully as Zane moved down from the ledge he was on and crawled up next to Kyle staring out at the small linked chain necklace he had around his neck with a small silver charm at the bottom. “You want to see it?”

“Yeah,” Zane watched Kyle reach for the item from around his neck pulling it off and handing it to him. Zane looked it over before tilting his head to the side. “This is cool.”

“You like it?” Kyle watched Zane nod and look it over liking the design that was over the silver charm at the bottom. Reaching for the necklace, he motioned Zane to step in closer to him. “Lean forward buddy.”

Doing as he was told, he felt Kyle put the necklace on him and he looked down at it before looking back up at Kyle with a huge smile on his face.

“Take care of it, it’s yours now,” Kyle informed him seeing the way that Zane took it in his fingers looking at it before nodding proudly. “That’s a special one though, it’s supposed to bring you good luck.”

“What about you though?” Zane held onto the charm at the bottom for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. “Don’t you need good luck?”

“I have all the good luck in the world sitting next to me little guy,” Kyle informed him looking over at Heather for a moment with a smile before feeling Zane crawl up in his lap to wrap his arms around his neck hugging him tightly. “So make sure you don’t lose it okay?”

“I won’t take it off,” Zane boasted proudly before getting back down to the ground and looking over toward the window again. “Thank you.”

After a moment of silence, Heather smiled and moved in closer to Kyle pressing a small kiss over his cheek. She could see that she caught him off guard a bit as she reached for his hand to squeeze it in hers tightly.

“Do you realize how sweet that was?” she muttered knowing that she felt lucky to be with a man like this. Someone who loved her more than anything. A man that was amazing with kids and was perfect all around. She didn’t know someone better than him and she knew that she never would.

“He liked it, it was a good thing to do,” he replied to her in a whisper before staring into her light green eyes for a moment. Letting out a heavy sigh, he squeezed her hand tighter while blurting out what he was thinking. “You and I should add to our family Heather. Have a child. One of our own.”

“Kyle…,” she sighed heavily seeing the way he was looking at her and she wrinkled her nose a bit and shook her head. “You have no idea what it’s like to be pregnant. I’ve been pregnant one too many times.”

“You’ve only had Charles,” Kyle pointed out wrinkling his nose in response to her answer and she nodded slowly and let out a heavy breath. “So then why is it one too many times.”

“One is enough…trust me. You are a male and you wouldn’t understand,” she could tell that he didn’t like her answer and she shrugged her shoulders before taking in a deep breath. “We should talk about this another time.”

“Alright,” he shrugged knowing that she obviously wasn’t eager to have another child, but he was ready to have one of his own soon. He wanted a child to call his own. A baby that represented a part of him and her. Everything perfect in the world. The one thing that he thought he could do right in life. “I guess.”

“I think you two would make a pretty baby,” Zane offered up his opinion showing that he was clearly listening to the two of them talking. “You should have a little girl or a little boy. It would be awesome to be your child.”

“See, even he thinks so…,” Kyle teased feeling Zane come up and sit next to him on the bench while Heather stared out at him. Gulping down, he shrugged and let out a heavy breath. “It was just an idea.”

“I know,” she moved forward to kiss him quickly knowing that it was something he really wanted, but she wasn’t even sure if she was prepared for that again yet.

Hopefully he would be able to understand that because she was just enjoying being in love with him right now. The world felt fine the way it was and she wasn’t eager to change the way everything was. Not anytime soon.


Taking a look around Mindy’s apartment, Nate took in a deep breath wondering to himself if he would be there to just talk or if he was there to get lectured. Not that he had a problem with a friend’s opinion, but he could tell by the way Mindy looked at him after he talked to her about what happened with Cori and what was going on that she was disappointed with him.

Hearing the sound of Rusty meowing behind him, he saw the cat trying to reach the feather teaser on the table and he reached for the toy swinging it around in the air a bit.

“Is this what you want little guy?” Nate sat down on the edge of the couch arm carefully starting to play with the kitten seeing him lunge for the toy while he shook it above him. Hearing the sounds of Mindy walking into the room, he smiled and looked up to see her watching him play with Rusty. “Oh hey.”

“Hey…,” Mindy found herself somewhat charmed by the fact that Nate was playing with Rusty as she heard him gasp when the feather teaser was pulled from his fingers when he wasn’t paying attention. Looking to Rusty rolling on the floor playing with it, she sighed and moved in next to Nate on the couch. “Don’t worry about it. Cats do that all the time.”

“Spunky little fella Russ has there,” Nate pointed out with a wink leaning further back into the couch. Sighing heavily, he ran his hands in over his knees knowing that Mindy wanted to have a talk about his life, but he wasn’t quite sure he was ready for that. “So…thanks for inviting me over. I could use some company.”

“Yeah, me too…,” she bit down on her bottom lip not eager to really tell him what she thought about his life. Rather she was more interested in knowing what he thought, but she didn’t want to step over her boundaries. “Are you happy about this whole Cori thing? I mean…is it working for you?”

“Honestly…no. I’m not happy,” he explained with a heavy sigh kind of shocked that she asked him that. It wasn’t one of the things he was expecting to hear from her lips. “I though I would be. I thought she was everything I’ve ever wanted, but now…I think it was a mistake. I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into.”

“Something very stupid,” she blurted out quickly catching the glare he gave her and she shrugged her shoulders before speaking up. “I’m sorry, I’m just saying. This whole thing is wrong. Cori is a freak.”

“I’ve noticed,” he sighed heavily for the first time admitting to someone else that he though something was wrong with Cori. He wanted to believe that there was something inside of her worth saving, but he was beginning to realize that you couldn’t save her. She was the person she wanted to be and he wasn’t going to change her. She wouldn’t change unless she wanted to and now he was stuck in a position he couldn’t get out of. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I guess love makes you do stupid things,” she explained catching the look he gave her again and she tossed her hands up in the air letting out a small laugh. “My bad, I guess I should be using a different word other than stupid.”

“No, you shouldn’t. You are right. It was stupid. I should have never pretended to be the father of her child. It has gotten me no where other than to get hit a few thousand times by her,” Nate informed her with a heavy breath knowing that when he had come up with the idea to take care of her and offer to be there for her, it seemed like a good idea. Now that he knew who she really was, he knew to be a good friend he might have helped, but over all he would really have to think about it. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“You know, lying more is only going to hurt people. Including you,” she reached out to place her hand over his knee seeing the way his eyes glanced down at her hand before looking into her eyes for a moment. “She will only end up hurting you Nate. You don’t need that. I don’t want to see her hurting you.”

“What makes you think she would be hurting me?” he spoke up softly knowing that he saw real worry behind her eyes as she paid close attention to him. “I don’t think she could hurt me.”

“She already has. You were so in love with the idea of what she could be and you found out what she really was. The more time you spend dedicating your life to doing things for her, the more you are going to fall in love with her. And she will break your heart,” Mindy explained knowing that he was about to bicker with her over him falling in love with her by the look on his face when she said it. Before he could say another word she cut him off and shook her head slowly. “I know what I’m talking about Nate. You are a good guy. Good guys fall for the bitches that only end up stomping on their heart in the end.”

“Yeah…” was all he could say because he knew she was right. The more he stayed in this, the more hurt he would end up being. “Well what do you suggest me do?”

“Get out of it Nate. You are such a good guy, so very good. You deserve so much better and you could get better. Cori is a self absorbed bitch that is only going to be thinking about herself for the next few years. What’s good for her, what she wants…,” Mindy continued to ramble on thinking of the best way to get him to realize he deserves better, but she only found herself flustered as she tossed her hands up in the air. “You can do better than being someone’s back up guy. I know who you are. I like who you are and I think you should be someone’s one and only. Even if it’s a build up. I see no future with her.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Nate sighed heavily knowing that he could dream up some fantasy world with the future having Cori in his life. But now that he had been brought to reality multiple times, he knew that this was no longer a dream. It was reality and reality was…there was no way that they were going to survive as some kind of relationship. “So I guess what I need to think about is--what’s next?”


“I told you that I would win that contest,” Diane slurred dropping her head down as Shane carried her out of the elevator over his shoulder.

He approached Deidra’s place thinking about just how readily Diane had leapt into the battle of wills against Cathy. It wasn’t until she and Cathy had finished off the bottle and were starting into another that Shane discovered how relentless Diane was. Their drinking binge could’ve gone on all night except for the fact that the bar was finally closing and Cathy seemed to be less than coherent when her friends had pulled her away. Diane, on the other hand, was convinced that she was in control of her actions, but halfway through the ride home, she’d almost passed out in his car twice.

“I told you that you wouldn’t have to spend the night with that skank,” Diane blurted out triumphantly as she stretched her arm out to slap his butt in a blatant movement. “You get to be with me tonight.”

“And what an adventure that has proven to be,” he couldn’t help but laugh carefully setting her down outside of the door to Deidra’s apartment.

He could see the glossiness behind her eyes and the warmth in her face as she leaned in against the wall. Her hair was wild and unruly, but the smile on her face was worth watching her take on her rival back at the bar. Even now he couldn’t help but find himself admiring her determination to drink herself silly in the hopes of relinquishing him from any ties he might have had to Cathy for the night.

“You should’ve known that you’re safe with me Shane,” she slurred tipping her head back as her lips parted further in an attempt to take in a breath.

“But are you safe with me?” he questioned pushing her long, dark hair away from her face. He took a moment to memorize her features as he found himself taken by an uninvited moment of sentimentality.

“Of course I am,” she smiled lazily, “and when you think about it Cathy didn’t stand a chance.”

“I could see that,” Shane dismissed his thoughts and reached for her purse, carefully opening it up to search for her key, “and after tonight I’ll never doubt you again.”

“I don’t know why you doubted me in the first place,” she stepped forward throwing her arms around his shoulders clumsily. “I haven’t lead you astray thus far, have I?”

“Not at all,” Shane hesitated seeing the warmth of her brown eyes before him.

Although he was quite certain she was heavily intoxicated there was something about the way she looked at him that had him questioning his motivation behind the evening they’d shared. The corners of her mouth were tipped upward in the same, soft smirk that had caused him to question himself a great many times in the past. Even now he couldn’t help but find himself drawn to her luscious lips and the taste of temptation that she’d provided him over and over again in the past. She was indeed leading him to the fire. She leaned into his touch upon her cheek, he found himself wondering if he’d made a mistake in agreeing to the terms of his arrangement where Diane was concerned.

“Then why haven’t you kissed me yet?” she softened her tone to a low, sultry whisper as her fingertips tapered off into his hair. “Don’t I deserve a victory kiss for being able to have my cake and eat it too?”

“I don’t know if cake is what you should be eating right about now, but I can whip something together to help you sober up,” Shane dismissed her words knowing only too well what kissing her would do to his agenda for the evening in this moment. He needed to stay focused and kissing her now wouldn’t help him achieve that. Instead he continued to search her purse until he felt her keys beneath his fingers.

“Right now I’d rather stay just as I am,” she arched up on her toes eagerly meeting his eyes with a newfound determination. She licked her lips and sighed, “right here with you.”

“Trust me. You don’t want to stay in the hallway all night,” he assured her. He carefully maneuvered his arm around her slender curves using the movement to press open the door behind her. “Come on. Let’s get you inside.”

“Good idea,” she nodded falling back against the wall once again with an exasperated breath and closing her eyes.

“Diane,” he spoke her name worriedly. He watched her momentarily slip out of consciousness, her lashes fluttering with the moment as he reached for her. He pulled her into his arms again, this time scooping her up into his chest to carry her inside. Carefully he moved through the door and sought out the lights in the hopes of avoiding any kind of collision with the furniture. Her head dropped in against his chest and he looked around realizing the Deidra wasn’t anywhere in sight thus proving that the setting was in order for his plans. Still as his dark eyes fell upon her, he couldn’t help but question if he could follow up as he’d promised earlier in the evening. It was too easy, too simple and even in it’s simplicity, something felt off.

“It just makes this easier in the long run,” Shane reminded himself knowing full well what he must do. Ben calling tonight had put the pressure on him all over again and he knew he would have to move quickly if he was going to make any kind of impact. It wasn’t how he planned working things out and perhaps it was a bit sloppy, but it would serve it’s purpose, he reasoned as he carried Diane into her bedroom knowing only too well how agreeable she would be for the evening.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you Shane,” Diane murmured sinking into him more completely as he approached the bed. Her hair cascaded across his shoulder and her breath skimmed across the side of his neck drawing out tiny sensations he’d fought to suppress most of the evening.

“You’d be much better off,” he confessed as a moment of guilt tugged at him. He hesitated briefly, feeling himself drawn to her as his hungry eyes imagined what life would have been like had he met her under different circumstances. If he’d only found his way into her life before he’d made his agreement, yet…

“There’s no use in trying to moralize this,” he thought to himself before placing her down on top of the comforter.

He stepped back tentatively observing the way she lay before him completely unaware of her surroundings, yet he was well aware of what he needed to do to complete the task at hand. She was blissfully unaware of what he‘d agreed to and even with her beauty mesmerizing him, he was well aware of the complications ahead for him. He leaned forward cautiously maneuvering her onto her side so that he could slide the zipper down over the back of her dress in an attempt to stay focused on what he must do. He had it halfway down the curve of her spine when he’d found himself distracted by her soft giggles as his fingertips touched her skin.

“That feels good,” she slurred, her voice muffled by the way she’d turned her face into the plush comforter.

He hesitated momentarily taking the time to memorize the lines of her body before he skimmed his fingertip over her warm flesh. She sighed resituating herself on the bed. He continued to peel the material of her dress from her soft curves as she laughed again.

“It’s warm in here,” she purred wiggling on the comforter before him.

“We’ll work on fixing that,” Shane assured her leaning forward just enough to ease her hair away from her neck. He dipped down to press a kiss against the newly exposed skin of her neck, savoring the sensual taste of her. He listened to a breath escape from her lips as he found himself memorizing the sweet taste of her.

“Mmm,” Diane purred arching back into him, “that’s nice. Very nice.”

“I was hoping for something more along the lines of naughty,” Shane divulged dipping his fingers in beneath her dress to wrap his palm around her abdomen. He felt her breathe in causing her soft stomach concave in as his fingertips teased over her.

“I think I like the sound of that,” Diane admitted leaning back to offer herself up to him once again. She wiggled on the comforter, awkwardly pushing the dress away from her arms while pushing it down her upper half as she lay beside Shane.

“I thought you might,” he whispered trailing his lips over her until he started to nibble on her earlobe causing her to let out a soft moan.

“I do,” she breathed hotly, her body writhing back towards his. She reached for his hand guiding it up over her breast as a soft cry escaped from her lips. “Oh Shane…”

“You have no idea how much I wanted you to win tonight,” Shane confessed gently biting down on her earlobe. “Victory is yours.”

“You’re mine,” she smiled shifting in his arms on the bed. Turning towards him, her eyes fought to focus on the feel of him beside her. She reached out haphazardly to touch his cheek and nearly poked him in the eye in the process. “All mine.”

“That’s right,” he guided her wrist closer to him leading her to his structured jaw, “as it should be.”

“I’ve wanted you for so long,” she continued with a pout, “and when I saw Cathy with you I didn’t like it.”

“Cathy’s nothing to me Diane, but you’re everything,” he assured her leaning forward to steal a forbidden kiss from her. He could taste the alcohol on her breath, feeling the weight of her challenge upon her, but before he could take the lead, he felt her push him back onto the comforter in a brazen rush of eagerness.

“I didn’t want her touching you,” she explained crawling in over him, her hands roaming over his chest, tearing and clawing at his shirt much to his surprise.

A moment earlier he’d thought that she was about to pass out and leave him open to what he needed to do without actually having him cross into that territory that he wasn’t certain he could control any longer. A few sweet words, some tender coaxing and he was certain she would have passed out giving him the window to make things look as they should before he would walk out of the door and never look back Now, however, it seemed Diane was complicating things once again.

“She couldn’t take you when I want you so bad,” she dropped hot, wet kisses across his chest, teeth grazing his nipple. Soft moans fell from her lips as her hand dropped down upon his thigh sliding upward with a determined exploration. “Shane, I need you…”

“Diane,” he pulled his head up towards her feeling her fingertips pressing in over the zipper on his slacks suddenly changing all of the rules in this game he’d initiated between them.

“I want you inside of me,” Diane blurted out shamelessly, her fingers pressing in beneath the surface in the hopes of seeking out a deeper reaction from him. Her teeth grazed over his chest again and he felt himself let out an involuntary moan.

“You have no idea how much I want to give you that,” he finally revealed bringing his fingers through her long, dark hair. He tugged on it urging her up to meet his lips in a desperate display of raw, untamed hunger.

“Then give it to me,” she ordered commanding his attention as she climbed in over him, arching her back as he rose up from the mattress to hold her closer to him. “I want you.”

“Diane, you’re drunk,” Shane finally realized as he pulled back enough to search her eyes. Instinctively he reached out to her cupping her face in his hands as he found himself lost in that moment. “You don’t want this.”

“Yes I do,” she nodded. “I’ve wanted you since the first night you found me in the elevator.”

“You say that now, but…” Shane offered up wanting to kick himself for trying to dissuade the natural progression in their relationship.

“I didn’t want you with Cathy tonight Shane because I want you for me,” she explained with a newfound determination in her voice. “I didn’t want you to be with her because you belong with me.”

“Diane I…” Shane started feeling her press her index finger over his lips to silence him before he could say another word.

“I’m falling for you Shane,” she blurted out catching him completely off guard as she pressed forward determined to kiss him again.

“What?” he blinked back at her startling confession.

“I thought it was animal magnetism up until now, but once I saw you with Cathy I knew it was wrong. I spent all this time saying Ben’s the one, but I’m starting to believe that he’s not. He’s not remotely close to being what I need when you’re all I want,” she continued rambling on. “I couldn’t possibly feel that way if I didn’t feel a connection to you, but I do Shane. I think despite all of my protests I’m falling for you because well because you’re the one man who is always there for me. You care about me.”

“Of course I care about you,” he admitted honestly as another emotion swelled over him. “More than I should I‘m certain.”

“So what’s the problem then?” she curled her lip in a pout while smoothing her fingers across his bare chest. “You want me. I want you and we’ve been fighting it this long…”

“Because that’s what you truly want,” he interrupted thinking about what had prompted him to mislead Diane into trusting him.

In that moment all of the promises he’d made, all of the things he’d vowed to do without resistance were coming back to haunt him with a renewed nagging all over again. Carefully he resituated her in his arms, turning so that they were face to face beside one another on the bed. Silently he traced her lips with his index finger thinking about how easy it would be to finish what he’d started tonight. He could walk the line into temptation and be done with Diane. Mission over, but there was something about her eyes, about the way it felt to hold her that made him realize that he couldn’t allow their situation to get the best of them. Tonight he had to show restraint.

“Diane, we need to slow this down because I’m man enough to see that you’re intoxicated,” he whispered warmly, his words buzzing against her lips.

“Not enough to want to stop this,” she pleaded sliding in closer to him.

“Trust me Diane,” he nibbled on her lower lip. “When we make love I want you to remember every single second of it, not to feel as if it was an afterthought brought on by disappointment.”

“What disappointment?” she questioned with fluttering lashes.

“Ben,” he scowled at the mention of his one time friend, “you were thinking about Ben until he phoned you tonight. Then everything changed.”

“I don’t want to talk about that,” she pouted.

“All the more reason I have to ask what happened when he called,” he prompted further.

“He doesn’t care about me,” she explained with a heavy sigh. “Work is all that’s on his mind and his beautiful partner. She seems to be taking all of his time.”

“His partner,” Shane repeated with a frown. “What partner?”

“Alexa Ashford,” Diane groaned in response closing her eyes as bitterness fell from her lips. “I saw a news report and they were all over each other. He had her in his arms and was holding her…”

“You’re kidding,” Shane frowned.

“Why would I lie about something like that?” she questioned with a scowl. “He said nothing was going on, but I know better. I saw them…”

“On television,” Shane clarified as he found himself overtaken with a new set of emotions.

She nodded before shifting on the bed. She snuggled into the pillows and closed her eyes tighter than before.

“They were hugging one another and I could just see…” she stopped mid-sentence.

“See what?” Shane questioned nudging her shoulder gently, but instead of her finishing her statement he was met by the sound of her snoring.

“That’s just wonderful,” he grumbled sitting up on the bed and taking a long look at Diane. Although he’d found himself met with mixed emotions about bedding her, there was something to be said about her discovering Ben and Alexa with one another. Sure, maybe Shane and Alexa had split a while ago, but he’d always thought that maybe just maybe…

“It doesn’t matter,” Shane reminded himself simple. He focused on Diane beside him and sighed. He had a new mission in life and whether he was feeling the courage to see it through or not, he knew he wouldn’t be able to let this one pass him by. Carefully sliding out of the bed, he reached for the blanket, wrapping a sleeping Diane up in it before readjusting his clothing.

“I’m sorry Diane, but for a while I lost focus,” he whispered leaning down to kiss her forehead. “After tonight however things are going to change because Ben’s not going to end up on top of this--not by a long shot. When I’m through with him he’ll lose both you and Alexa. Mark my words on that.”


“You’re really not going to tell me what you and Martha talked about, are you?” JT questioned lazily holding a fork out towards Evie’s lips and watching her take a bite of the strawberry pastry that Martha had made for her.

“Nope,” she replied licking her lips and tasting traces of whipped cream on the tip of her tongue. She flashed him a smile, feeling laughter bubble up in the back of her throat at the expression on his face. Smiling, she reached out to touch his cheek gently, “but rest assured that it wasn’t bad. It was only good stuff that we had to say.”

“I’m guessing there’s something more because otherwise you wouldn’t be so reluctant to tell me,” JT probed further reaching for another forkful of dessert. He lifted it to her lips watching the way that her giggle overtook her as she accepted the bite.

“JT, you can keep asking, but I won’t be telling,” she assured him reaching down to dip her finger in the whipped cream in front of her. She raised it to his lips watching curiosity brewing behind his dark eyes. She leaned forward painting the fluffy, light sweetness over his mouth before inching in closer to him. “You’ll never get it out of me even with your best shot at trying.”

“I haven’t come close to giving it my best shot yet,” he vowed bridging the distance between them and feeling her lips come crashing down over his, her tongue tracing his mouth in erotic temptation. As he reached down between them, he set the dessert aside on the coffee table before reaching out to her and pulling her into his lap. She wiggled over him, a tiny bubble of laughter building up inside of her before she slid her arms around his shoulders.

“Nope, it’s still not going to work,” she explained solemnly her dark eyes meeting his with cryptic wonder, “Though I will tell you that Martha does have a few good points.”

“Now I know I have reason to be afraid,” JT replied with a nervous laugh, “I can’t even begin to imagine what it was she told you about.”

“Afraid your skeletons are about to come out of the closet?” she questioned searching his eyes for a moment.

“Terrified,” he admitted with a nervous laugh before shaking his head at her. “Her son Kellen was my best friend when I was younger and I can only imagine what she could tell you about me.”

“Nothing that would make me think any less of you I can assure you,” she replied sliding her fingertips over the back of his neck before tapering them down over his spine. “Unless of course there is something you want to get off of your chest.”

“I can think of something I want to get off of yours,” he replied a hint of mischief in his tone. His fingers dropped down to the buttons on his shirt that she was wearing. He began to lazily pop open the top few before winking at her, “Unless of course you have an objection to that.”

“I think you’re avoiding the issue at hand,” she mouthed in response curling her finger underneath his chin and urging his lips to hers again, “What is it you think that Martha could’ve said that has you worried?”

“I honestly don’t know,” JT undid a few more buttons before sliding his fingers inside the open material. He watched her squirm over him, a tiny tremor racing over her with the contact of his palms against her soft skin.

“Your fingers are cold,” she squealed wiggling over his lap in an innocent enough movement, but it was enough to send his thoughts back to what they’d been doing with one another before Martha’s arrival. Taking in a breath, JT fought to contain his responses before meeting her gaze again.

“I’m sorry about that,” he began apologetically attempting to withdraw his hands from her slender frame before she cupped his wrists in her hands.

“I didn’t say you had to leave,” she curled her lip in a pout opting instead to raise his fingers to her lips where she gently blew warm air over them, “I’ll just take care of heating us up.”

“You’re doing a hell of a job with it,” he confessed biting back in the groan that built in the back of his throat. He watched her whisper warmth over his finger tips with her parted lips before he watched her lips press in against him. He sat still feeling her mouth cascade over the rounded tip of his finger before her lips parted and her tongue darted out over his flesh.

“Evie,” he closed his eyes speaking her name in a muted whisper, desire washing over him completely.

“Martha said if she was me, she would be feeling very lucky,” Evie confessed lavishing his fingers with kiss after erotic kiss, “and she’s right you know. I am lucky.”

“I’m the lucky one,” he replied feeling her release his hand. He reopened his eyes and noticed that she’d discarded his shirt dropping it down to the floor beyond the sofa they sat on. She wore little more than her Capri pants and the smile that met his dark eyes with a growing heat.

He reached out to her, pulling her in closer onto his lap before their mouths meshed together in an unyielding hunger. She sank her fingers into his dark hair, curling them around the thick strands while his hands slid up and over her spine crushing her into him. He felt her wiggle her hips against his and a soft groan spilled from his lips.

“Whatever Martha said obviously didn’t turn you off from the idea of being with me,” JT noted his lips traveling to the curve of her neck while her hands roamed wildly over his shoulders. He felt her palm drop down to the center of his t-shirt and without hesitation he sank back into the sofa raising his arms up over his head to assist her in her mission. Once she’d tossed his shirt across the room, her hands flattened out over his muscled chest before her lips devoured his with a newfound urgency.

“Not even close to that,” she whispered her nails scratching lightly over his skin, biting into the flesh with tiny indents.

“I can see that,” he murmured in response resituating her over him. His fingers pushed open the button on her Capri’s before their eyes met again, “Though this time I think I should probably tell you that I’ve taken the liberty of bringing the spare key inside for a while just because I figured that the last thing we want is another intrusion.”

“Smart man,” Evie licked her lips in voracious invitation before diving in for another hungry kiss. Her palms eased over his chest, tapering off over his abdomen before she made quick work of the button on his pants. She had the zipper halfway down on his jeans when she felt him catch her wrist with his fingers.

“Are you sure you don’t want to just take a step back for a while?” he questioned searching her eyes again. “Because if you’re not convinced that this is what we should be doing, then…”

“JT, can I ask you something,” she paused meeting his gaze again, “I mean something really serious.”

“Of course,” he nodded in response sensing something behind her dark, lust filled eyes.

“What was it like the first time that you…” she paused straining to find the right words.

“Made love?” he finished for her watching her bite down on her lower lip nervously before nodding. He cleared his throat a bit uneasily before speaking up with a low, rumble of honesty, “awkward.”

“Really?” her eyes widened with a sudden interest.

“Sadly, yes,” he admitted freely feeling a dry laugh carry over him. He searched her eyes again wondering just how far he should delve into the conversation with her before he wound up cutting it off.

“Why?” she couldn’t help but ask a million and one questions pressing through her mind. “What made it that way?”

“For starters I was way too young to be doing it,” JT replied reaching out to stroke her cheek gently, “and at the time I did it for all the wrong reasons.”

“Such as?” she questioned refusing to let go of the issue now that she held onto him.

“Such as I thought it was the next logical step given the way that I’d felt about things, but after I wasn’t sure if it was the right step,” he paused a darkness pressing over him before he looked away from her. “I really don’t think we should get into this right now.”

“No, I want to,” Evie reached out to him turning him to face her again. “JT please. I want to know.”

“Women say that all the time, but the fact to the matter is that you don’t want to know. No one wants to hear about the person they love with someone else,” he explained drawing out a slow, pained breath. “It’s nerve racking and it’s something that comes up at the worst times. Trust me on this one. It’s better left unsaid.”

“When I was fourteen my father took me to this gentleman’s club. At least I think that‘s what you could call it,” Evie divulged catching him completely off guard with her words. He saw something pass behind her eyes. She took in a breath before dropping her head down, “While we were there he was speaking with the owner, you know kind of off doing his own thing. While I was there I knew that I shouldn’t be there, yet…”

“Evie?” JT questioned reaching out to touch her cheek and noticing the flushed color over her features.

“I know I shouldn’t have been spying, but there were these people,” she took in a small breath before meeting his eyes, “and they were, well…together. I knew I shouldn’t be seeing that--that it was the last thing I should be watching, yet in seeing them together it got me thinking.”

“Evie…” he started surprised by her declaration.

“I mean there they were together so naturally and she seemed so enthusiastic about what was happening,” Evie replied taking in a small breath, “but then after a closer look at her eyes--when she saw me standing there, I knew that there wasn’t anything. I could see in her cold, dead eyes that she was no more alive than the rest of that place. What they were doing…what she was doing was somehow empty and hollow.”

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” JT reached out to touch her face lightly, “Your father never should’ve taken you into something like that.”

“It doesn’t matter what he should or shouldn’t have done because it changed my outlook on life--on love,” she informed him in a small breath, “It made me see that romance and tenderness were two very foreign things in the world. I learned through him that love was something that only fools dreamt of having in their lives. It was simply going through the motions and pretending. JT, I spent my life pretending until I met you. I was just going through the motions doing what I thought was expected of me until that night I saw you in the bar. When you jumped in and saved me, JT, I’ll be honest with you no one has ever done something like that for me in my life. No one has ever put themselves out on the line for me like you did that night. No one has cared about me like you did--like you still do.”

“Evie, I…” JT paused seeing something flash behind her eyes.

“I’m tired of being like that woman JT. I’m tired of pretending and feeling numb,” she explained leaning in closer to him, her arms sliding around his shoulders once again, “I’m tired of feeling like everything in this world is empty.”

“It’s not empty Evie,” he touched her cheek gently feeling her long, dark hair cascade over his shoulder, “None of it is that way. Yes, I’ll admit I thought like that once upon a time, but I was wrong. I lived each day like the rest of the world didn’t matter--as if there was nothing in this world worth holding onto, but I was wrong. I believed so many stupid things and I almost let it take me under. Before I met you believe me I was the last guy in the world that you wanted to know. I had absolutely nothing to offer a woman as wonderful as you are. Sometimes I still think I don’t have anything even remotely close to what you need in your life.”

“That’s not true. You have a good heart JT,” she placed her hand over his chest tenderly, “and I can see so many things in you that I never believed were alive in the world until we met.”

“I can honestly tell you I was so far from what you think I am,” JT let out an ironic laugh, “I didn’t care about anything other than my next fix whether it was drugs, women or alcohol. Hell, the first time I was with a woman it wasn’t because I was thinking about romance. It was just because it was there and it was something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing. There was nothing that I invested in it other than some time to go through the motions. Damn, even saying it now makes me sound horrible.”

“No,” she shook her head sliding her palms down over his muscled arms, “You’re just being honest with me which is always something that we’ve told ourselves we would be with one another.”

“Then I’ll be the first one to say that the idea of making love with you scares the hell out of me,” JT revealed reaching out to cup her face in his hands. “You’re perfect in absolutely every way and I don’t want to lose you. When I think of where I was before you were in my life…I mean my God I was almost a father Evie. I was about to have a baby with a woman who only took me under each and every time I tried to love her. I thought that if I could get her to see how much she meant to me--how good it would be for us to be together that maybe, just maybe she would see that she needed me. I thought that if I could convince her of how our insanity with one another made everything fall into place that maybe just maybe she would realize it was love only I was the one in denial. All those years that I kept holding out for something that wasn’t there--all those times I was reaching for what I thought was my dream was only taking me further and further from happiness. When I was with Diane I confused obsession with love and in the end it nearly cost me everything.”

“I’m not Diane,” she urged him to meet her eyes again a sudden seriousness carrying over her. “She could never love you like I do.”

“And I never felt anything for her like I do when you’re in my arms like this,” JT explained in an impassioned tone, “I don’t know how or when it happened Evie, but I know now that I cannot even begin to imagine spending the rest of my life without you in it. If I had to wake up tomorrow without you in my life…”

“Shh…” she pressed her finger in over the center of his lips bringing his words to a silence. “Don’t think like that because it’s never going to happen JT. You’re not going to lose me.”

“I just don’t want to screw it all up by disappointing you…by hurting you,” he revealed in a pained tone, his dark eyes reaching out into hers, “Evie, if and when I make love to you I want it because it symbolizes that we’re ready to commit to what’s in front of us. I want it to be because we can’t live without one another and because it’s right.”

“Listen to my heart JT,” she reached for his hand placing his hand over the center of her chest, “JT, this is all for you--for us and nothing could ever change the way I feel about you--the way my heart longs for you and you alone. I love you and I want to share the rest of my life with you.”

“I want that for us,” he replied pressing his left hand against her cheek feeling her lean into his touch. He closed his eyes for a brief moment taking in the sweet intoxicating scent of her shampoo and the strawberries that she’d eaten earlier. Exhaling slowly he met her eyes again, “Kellen once said that the best things in life were worth waiting for. That used to be his mantra when we were younger, but I never bought into it.”

“In most instances I might agree with that one, but given that life waits for nothing, I guess my motto is more so living in the moment and savoring what surrounds you,” she whispered turning her head to press a kiss into his palm, “JT, I’m not going to lie to you and say that I’m not nervous about the idea of us taking our relationship to the next level, but at the same time it feels so very right.”

“You only think that because you have no idea what the next step brings to our relationship,” he whispered feeling her lips press in against his skin, teasing him with the hints of passion threatening to bubble over the surface.

“I’m saying it because it’s the truth. I don’t want to wait to make love with you JT Mahoney and deep down I know full well that you don’t want to wait either,” she declared boldly meeting his hungry eyes once again. Her arms urged him back onto the sofa before she spoke up in a low, throaty whisper, “If you can tell me without a shadow of a doubt that you think we should stop this--if we should put the brakes on what’s happening between us, then I swear to you I’ll back off of the subject, but if there is a part of you that feels it too--if there is a part of you that is dying to make love to me the ways that I’m dying to make love to you, then you need to stop hesitating and just follow your heart. Follow your instincts because I can promise you that they won’t lead you astray.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be my line?” he questioned lazily reaching out to finger a strand of her long, dark hair. “Do you have any idea what it is that you’re doing to me Evie? Do you know how much this exquisite torture of yours is killing me?”

“It doesn’t have to JT. We can put an end to both of our suffering by simply giving in and saying yes,” she dropped forward stealing a kiss from his lips. She nibbled on his lower lip before offering up a faint, erotic whisper, “yes.”

She tapered her fingers into his hair once more, her lips pushing him towards temptation, giving him a tiny taste of heaven with each passing second before her mouth moved over to the side of his neck. He felt her nibble on his earlobe before she whispered heatedly in his ear.

“Yes, yes,” she purred scratching her nails down his chest lightly before feeling his arm curl around her waist possessively.

“Yes,” he mouthed in response capturing her in his arms and capturing her lips with hungry urgency leaving no mistaking about his answer to her request. He dropped his arm down beneath her bottom carefully holding onto her before pushing himself up off of the couch. He felt her legs wrap around his waist, her arms clutching onto him as if their very existence depended on it. He pulled away briefly to search her dark eyes before stroking her mouth to ecstasy with an explosive kiss. He felt her nails scratch into his shoulders and as she offered up tiny, erotic whispers over his skin, he carried her clumsily back into the bedroom ready to stop denying what it was that they’d both been longing for since he’d fallen for her.

Hearing her soft sounds of encouragement he realized that she was right. Life wasn’t about hesitation, but rather embracing all the good things that life sent your way. Now with Evie in his arms, he realized that the best thing that had ever happened to him was well within his reach and he’d be a fool to let go of it. He would be crazy to deny his heart when his everything was screaming out that he was the one--that she was what he’d waited for. As he stammered to kick the door to the bedroom shut while carrying her further into the room, he made a silent promise to himself to show her all the ways and more as to why he knew now that he would never be able to do without her once they’d fallen into passion with one another. After this night was over, he knew that nothing would be able to take her from his system. He was lost in her and despite all the years he’d strained to keep from falling, there was no denying that he belonged to her completely relinquishing all control of himself to loving her and her alone.


“So,” Kellen dropped down next to Kipp on the couch heavily hearing Kipp let out a small grunt because he was bounced by how hard Kellen dropped down on the couch. Kellen had just gotten back from the store after running into Michelle there and he felt like he had a huge story to tell. Making Kipp the first person he had to tell about it. “Charles is asleep in his room right now, but while we were gone at the toy store, we ran into someone interesting.”

“Oh yeah?” Kipp arched his eyebrow up reaching for the remote that was under Kellen on the couch pulling it out slowly before turning off the television. “Who was that then?”

“Michelle. And while she was being her normal self for a while trying to bitch me out for some reason…,” Kellen began to explain seeing the way that Kipp nodded and his eyebrows wrinkled together as Kellen continued to speak. “But she must be on some type of medication or something because for once she was actually nice for a moment. She saw me with Charles and she said a few nice things.”

“The Michelle that is the psycho Michelle?” Kipp spoke up seeing the way that Kellen nodded over exaggerative and he let out a heavy breath. “While yes I find that shocking, I have to find myself wondering what in the world she was doing at a toy store for children.”

“You know…,” Kellen sat up straight rubbing at the side of his smooth cheek thinking about that same question. He really hadn’t thought of that before, but now that Kipp brought it up that was a good thing to ponder. “You are right. I wonder why she was there in the first place.”

Thinking about it for a moment, he wished he would have thought about that when she was there bickering with him because he would have loved to have asked her that question. What she was doing there because he didn’t imagine her to be the kind of girl to stalk kids, but his interests were sparked high when it came to her now.

“Oh well I guess, you can only imagine,” Kellen muttered looking to Kipp knowing that he looked a bit down when he walked in the door and he moved over to nudge him softly. “So tell me…what’s wrong?”

“Nothing is really wrong, I’ve just been thinking about my family and how awful they are,” Kipp huffed thinking about the past the present and the future all in one. Today must have been a negative day for him because all he could keep thinking about was all the wrong that his family had done through the years. “I just think about my family and shudder with the kind of people they are. They disgust me.”

“Why now? Haven’t they all been kind of good for a while now?” Kellen found himself at a loss knowing that the last few times he had run ins with Kipp’s father, he had been nothing, but pleasant to him. He found himself rather liking Douglas. “Or is this just a bickering thing right now?”

“It’s not bickering Kellen. My father is an awful person. He only does what’s best for him and he has been doing that for years,” Kipp spoke up in a small groan before thinking to his brother and the things he knew about him. “And JT, don’t even get me started on him and the things I know.”

“Come on,” Kellen began with a heavy sigh knowing that he had his tiffs with JT in the past, but he was close to him at a certain point so he wasn’t eager to agree. “JT really isn’t that bad.”

“Are you one some type of medication or something too? Because you must be kidding me,” Kipp saw the way that Kellen’s expression turned to somewhat offended as he sat up straight and stared out at him. “We’re either confused about the person we are talking to or you don’t know my brother at all.”

“I probably know your brother more than you do Kipp,” Kellen informed him catching the glance he gave him showing him that he didn’t believe him on that one even though it was true. “I’m just saying. Maybe you should give your family a chance when it seems like they could be changing.”

“My family is incapable of change,” Kipp tried to assure him as he saw Kellen shrug and stand up from the couch clearly uncomfortable with the way the conversation had changed over toward JT and his way of life.

“Well, I don’t know…I think JT has straightened up his life a lot compared to what he used to be,” Kellen offered up his input before clearing his throat uneasily. “I’m going to get us a drink or something.”

“Alright,” Kipp watched Kellen for a moment while thinking about his family. How was it that he could feel way and Kellen could perceive it another way?


Letting out a tight breath, Nate felt a stinging sensation in the small of his back as he opened his eyes to see that the room was a little dark around him and he grunted out. What happened?

Going to move, he found that his arm was stuck from moving and he looked down to see that Mindy was sleeping on his arm. Looking to the television, he saw a movie on realizing that they had agreed to watch a few movies together instead of heading off in opposite directions.

Both of them must have fallen asleep while watching the movies and as he saw her move a very small amount, he could tell that she was comfortable. Not eager to wake her up from her sleep, he just relaxed more back against the couch letting her sleep.

It was nice spending time with a person that actually enjoyed his company and as he watched her closely he found himself content with this moment in time. Spending it with someone nice who actually cared about his well being.

It was rare to find a person like that in the world because usually you ran into the Cori’s of the world. People that were self centered and only cared about themselves. That was the normal way people were to think about things. Think about yourself and then others. If you even thought about other people in the world.

Mindy was right about Cori. She was a bitch. An awful person that didn’t want him in her life. He was used for her to make fun of him for. He was used as a prop in her life that meant nothing, so why should he even bother.

It was no use.

Why was it that all the bitchy girls were out for the open and ready to use him at their will, but all the good girls like Mindy had no interest in him what so ever?

It seemed like he would never be able to find that one certain someone who was like her. It didn’t seem fair really, but maybe it was his decisions.

Once he started sorting out his life, the puzzles might actually start fitting together in his life. Maybe. He hoped at least and maybe by then there would be a certain someone who was just like her and loved him for who he truly was.


“What’s wrong baby,” Kevin questioned searching Ria’s eyes for a long moment as it was clear that something was bothering her. He reached out to touch her cheek gently before leaning in closer to her. “Whatever it is you have to tell me just know that I’m here for you. I understand how difficult it must seem, but there isn’t anything that you can’t say to me.”

“Kevin, what I’m trying to say is…” Ria started nervously feeling her heart hammering in her chest, “What you need to know is…”

“Yes?” he replied sensing something behind her brown eyes. He leaned forward to kiss her hoping to coax her into feeling that she could open up to him. As they parted he touched her face tenderly, “Ria it’s okay. Everything is going to be alright.”

“No Kevin, it’s not. It’s…” she began as the door to Kevin’s hospital room opened and Steve walked in.

“So I hear you’re trying to skip town on me, huh?” Steve noted glancing over at Kevin and Ria. He spotted them in one another’s arms and couldn’t help but laugh, “Once again I’m walking in at the wrong time.”

“And once again let me be the first to tell you to get the hell out of here,” Kevin snarled at him with an angry glare. He felt Ria pull away from him and it only intensified his feelings of rage towards Steve’s repeated bad timing. As Ria sat up straighter she cleared her throat uneasily and Kevin continued to glare at Steve. “Do you mind?”

“Actually I do,” Steve stepped forward ignoring Kevin’s death glares. “The fact to the matter is that I’ve been hearing rumors about your making an early departure from the hospital and I have to say that I really don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“And let me tell you I really don’t give a damn. I need to go home and nothing you can say can keep me here,” Kevin snarled up at Steve wanting nothing more than to strangle him.

“Kevin, please,” Ria gasped surprised by his agitated tone.

“Well it’s true,” Kevin shrugged his shoulders before turning to Steve again, “I’m sure you can understand that family comes first Doc.”

“Not when you’re not around to be there for them Kevin,” Steve frowned shaking his head at Kevin once again, “While I admire your stamina and spirit, the fact to the matter is that you’re far from being in tiptop shape to get out of here. You’re going to need heavy medication, therapy, iv treatments and…”

“And you can pass the information along to my personal physician and let me be on my way,” Kevin motioned over towards Ria, “I’m in good hands with her Doc so you don’t have a thing to worry about.”

“Actually I do Kevin. Considering the severity of your injury and the infection that has come from it,” Steve began again with a huff.

“I have two doctors at my side. Both Ria and Angela will be accompanying me so I am sure together they can more than do the job,” Kevin cut him off abruptly with a huff. “I’m assuming you won’t be so rude as to judge their capabilities as doctors since it’s clear to anyone with eyes that they have far more to go on than you do.”

“Ouch I think I’m offended,” Steve brought his hand up to his own chest to fend off Kevin’s verbal attack again. He couldn’t help but laugh before turning to Ria, “And you want to wake up to this each and every morning huh?”

“You’re damn right she does. Do you have a problem with it?” Kevin snapped back at him having had more than his fill of Steve in his life now that it was clear that all Kevin wanted to do was go home with Ria.

“Not really, but she might if you don’t make it to live up to that promise,” Steve replied glancing over at Ria in the hopes of getting through to her, “If he’s insistent upon going through with this trip off the island, then I’m going to have to get things in order. I’ll have to get some pain meds and things set up for his iv treatments, which he’ll have to continue in Coral Valley.”

“I’ll make sure that he does,” Ria promised standing up and stepping in closer to Steve. “He’s really not like this. He’s usually very pleasant and happy go lucky.”

“When he’s the one calling the shots I’m sure,” Steve wrote up a prescription on his pad before handing it to Ria again. “See to it that he gets this filled before you go and if I don’t see you before you leave have a safe trip.”

“Thank you,” Ria replied reaching out to embrace him, “Thanks for putting up with all of us.”

“You’ve been a dream, but Kevin,” Steve stepped back to give Kevin another look. “If you want to get rid of me and have me out of your life forever then you’re going to have to let me look at that leg before you go or else I’m not releasing you.”

“Fine, just do it and get it over with,” Kevin frowned seeing Brant over by the door indicating that he was ready to leave. Kevin nodded towards Ria and pointed over to Brant, “Tell him we’re almost ready once this is over.”

“I’ll go get this filled,” Ria nodded in agreement thinking about the trip in front of them.

“You know you’re going to have to learn to relax big guy,” Steve chuckled as Ria walked out of the room. He moved in to inspect Kevin’s leg pushing off the bandages before turning to Kevin again, “You should also work on your bedside manner. It’s very unflattering.”

“So is your face, but you haven’t worked on changing it have you?” Kevin quipped with a thick sarcasm in his tone.

“I happen to think I have a great face,” Steve glanced down at Kevin’s leg again, “No where near as nice as yours but it suits me. Just like yours suits you.”

“I guess everything looks better on me including Ria,” Kevin mouthed in a low, warning tone.

“Hey if that’s what you’re worried about, get the thought out of your head,” Steve stepped back holding his hands in the air defensively, “Ria and I are a thing of the past. Besides, I don’t see how she would even begin to fit in a guy like me when she spends all of her time catering to a drama queen like you.”

“Excuse me,” Kevin blinked back at him with a scowl.

“All I’m saying is that you don’t have a thing to worry about. Ria’s all yours as long as you treat her right,” Steve tossed at him before moving towards the door. He glanced over his shoulder at Kevin before adding, “I’ll get the papers started for your release, then I’ll hook you up with a wheel chair too since you’re in no walking condition. And remember make sure you treat Ria right because she’s a keeper.”

“Damn right she is,” Kevin mouthed in response glaring at Steve as he walked out of the hospital room and hopefully out of Kevin and Ria’s lives forever.


Grady stood outside underneath the moonlight listening to the sounds of the music filling the small area outside of the hotel. The night sky above set the mood for what was about to take place. As he took in a small breath, he felt a wind carry over him, causing him to feeling butterflies in his stomach.

“Nervous?” Kyle questioned patting Grady on the shoulder as the music continued to play on.

“Not a chance,” Grady shook his head realizing that in a few moments he would be marrying one of the most incredible women he’d ever known. He felt Kyle tap him on the shoulder again and he couldn’t help but laugh, “Something tells me that this wedding will turn out better than the last public one you had.”

“I don’t know,” Kyle quipped unable to refrain from teasing, “The bride hasn’t shown up yet.”

“She’ll be here,” Grady mouthed under his breath watching as Zane emerged from the back of the area with a big smile on his face. His blonde hair was neatly combed on top of his head while he carried the pillow with the rings on it. He waved over at Grady, who waved back at him before curling his finger for Zane to keep moving forward. Gleefully Zane rushed towards the altar finally meeting up with Kyle and Grady with an excited smirk. Zane nearly dropped the pillow in his hand as he reached out to tug on Grady’s pant leg.

“You did it buddy,” Grady leaned down to pat him on the back proudly, “You did a good job.”

“Really?” Zane’s eyes widened with enthusiasm. “I tried my best not to drop it.”

“You did good little man,” Grady whispered reaching out to embrace him as the music changed.

Looking up Grady felt his pulse racing in his throat at the thought of seeing Deana again. He could almost hear her footsteps on the ground beyond where they stood and in that moment he realized he’d never been more enthused or terrified about anything than he was in that moment. Yes, he’d gone down the road to marriage before, but with Susan it was different. With everything in his life it had been different until he’d found Deana. Yes, they’d met at a time when he’d had his priorities so far from being in order that it wasn’t funny, yet after they’d spent time with one another he realized that he’d fallen for her harder than he’d expected. That in itself made today all the more incredible. Not only was he marrying a bright and beautiful woman, but with Zane he had a family in the process.

“Hey man, how about you get a better view up here?” Kyle suggested reaching out to pick Zane up off of the ground and hold him in his arms while the music played on and Deana appeared.

It was in that moment that Grady felt as if his breath had been taken away from him. There before him he saw the vision of an angel in white, in a beautiful gown that only added to how amazing she looked. With each step she took towards him he felt as if destiny was calling in on him tempting him to release all the pain and misery of the past and look forward onto the love that was right before his very eyes. She was beautiful in every sense of the word and as Jason walked her down the isle he realized there was nothing he wanted more than to be the man who held onto her--who loved her and spent the rest of his days making her happy. She smiled at him and it caused his heart to flutter, his mind to lose himself to thoughts of her and her alone.

“Grady,” she whispered his name after Jason had stepped aside offering Deana’s hand to Grady.

“Take care of her man,” Jason warned before walking over to take his place at the alter.

As Grady turned to Deana, seeing the love radiating behind her dark eyes, he realized that this was it. This was the moment that he’d waited forever to find. Everything that he’d thought he’d lost from his life was right in front of him, burning behind her eyes now that they were about to pledge their love to one another. Unable to resist Grady leaned forward to kiss her overcome by the moment.

“Um Grady,” Kyle cleared his throat watching as Deana’s arms wrapped around Grady’s neck drawing him in closer to a more explicit kiss. Kyle brought his hand up over Zane’s eyes to block him from the view before he addressed the small crowd that surrounded them. “They’re both just a bit eager. Can you tell?”

Laughter followed drawing Deana and Grady out of the moment with red faces. As Grady took Deana’s hand in his their eyes met again and he smiled down at her, his heart full of love.

“I want to marry you so much,” he whispered in a heartfelt promise.

“I want to marry you too,” she revealed with a small laugh in the back of her throat. Her brown eyes were filled with tears and as the man at the alter stepped forward he couldn’t help but laugh.

“We can get to that if you both would let me do my job,” he teased causing another round of laughter to carry over the crowd.

“Oh right,” Grady replied squeezing Deana’s hand in his, “I love you Deana.”

“I love you too,” she assured him fighting to contain the sniffle that carried over her.

“Then let’s do this,” Grady winked at her flashing her that same sexy smile that had won her over months ago back when she’d thought she could avoid him. Now, however, as they stood before their friends and family both ready to pledge forever to one another, they both knew that they couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night to begin their life together. Everything was perfect.


The music died down, the guests falling into their seats as the wind swept over the wedding between Grady and Deana. As the man in front of them spoke up beginning the ceremony that lead to them exchanging their vows, there was a sadness in the air beyond the night. As the face in the shadows watched the two lovers recite their vows to one another leading to their first kiss as husband and wife, she knew full well it was time to let go.

“You could’ve stopped this,” she thought to herself thinking about that moment in time when there was that one fateful moment where she could’ve objected--where she could’ve said something to keep it from happening, but instead she’d took the coward’s way out and in seeing the newlyweds before her lost in one another’s arms, she retracted back into shadows ready to push this night as well as the rest of her former life behind her forever.


...to be continued...