Episode Forty Three

“Thea,” Seth breathed her name as he took in a slow shallow breath.  Her lips scorched over him as his pulse was racing, his body springing to attention as her mouth moved over each toned ripple of muscle graciously covering his taut abdomen.  The hot fire of her desire left no room to his imagination about her level of need as he thought to all the threats she’d laid out to him in the past.  While indulging her would be foolish, denying her would be deadly.  His fingers crept in through her dark hair as he fought for strength--to keep his physical reaction to a woman he feared and loathed from being the end of him as she tantalized him in ways he’d never expected or craved from her.  He tugged on her tresses a bit harsher than he’d anticipated as her head bucked back, her eyes glazed over with desire as a hiss rose over her lips from behind a perfectly sculpted smile, “wait.”
“Mmmm…” she purred feeling him ease up on her hair as she crawled her way up his body once again as his hold on her seemed to spark something that was quite the opposite reaction than what Seth had hoped for.  Impatiently she threw her arms around his neck and leaned forward to nibble on his lower lip, “I love a man who likes to play rough.  It makes things so much easier that way, wouldn’t you agree,” she sank her teeth into his lip causing him to wince as a jolt of pain rushed through him.
A laugh poured over her as Seth felt the warmth blood upon his lip alerting him that she’d broken the skin with her nip.  He opened his mouth to speak, to say something that might fan the flames of her unleashed desire, but much to his dismay his words were brought to a screeching halt as she leaned forward tracing her tongue over his bottom lip with a growl.
“Very nice,” she suckled on his lip, teasing over the wound she’d created before her teeth bit down again tugging on his lip drawing it out with her as she pulled away from him.
“Thea,” Seth placed his hands on her hips stilling her movements over him as he prayed for some kind of miracle to get him out of this current situation he’d found himself in.  As if last night wasn’t bad enough, now he sat in the middle of his apartment with one of the most sadistic women he’d ever met knowing full well that she was ready to tear him apart in her own ways with the promise of sexual fulfillment attached to it.  Suddenly a thought sparked through his mind, “Not here…not now.”
“Yes now,” she gripped her fingers tightly through his hair pinning him beneath her as her body seemed to cage him down on the cushions of the chair.  Despite her delicate frame, there was power behind her movement as she demanded control of him, her blood red lips seeking out his obedience, “Kiss me.”
“Thea,” he spoke her name as she pulled at his hair, tearing a few strands from his head.
“Now,” she ordered as Seth felt the push of her hold on him urging him to comply with her wishes.  He leaned up into her kissing her with an air of fear and reluctance as her tongue darted between his lips tasting and teasing him as her fingers left his head dropping down over her blouse.  She tore it open as they parted and her eyes penetrated him throwing out yet an order as she rose up on her knees placing the sheer material of her lush, lace covered breasts before him.  Her gaze darkened as she inched towards him throwing out yet another demand as she tangled her fingers through his hair in a painful motion, “Kiss me again.”
Seth leaned forward feeling her wrench his head towards her with a strength he’d never imagined a woman of her size to possess before now as his lips traced over her collar bone.  She threw her head back a sigh escaping her wicked mouth as she directed his kisses down her body, urging him over her breastbone.  He pulled away from her ever so slightly as a breath filled him, but that only seemed to irritate her as she shoved his head against her once again demanding his full attention.  Suddenly an idea filled through his mind as he eased his palm up over her spine, feeling her rock against him as he tugged harshly on her hair yanking her backwards off of him.
“I don’t think you’re quite ready for pleasure just yet,” Seth’s voice roared in a tight whisper as he pushed her forward onto the floor hoping to get the upper hand in the situation as she didn’t seem to voice too much protest about the power being handed off.
“And why is that?” her eyes challenged keeping him with her as he pushed forward on top of her caged within her arms on the floor.
“Because you haven’t received your punishment properly,” Seth hissed in response yanking at her hair again as Thea let out a hearty cry of encouragement.
“Punish me, Seth,” Thea pleaded with him writhing beneath him wildly like a caged animal that had been freed from the prison she’d been kept in for so very long.  Her hands glided over her body as she caressed her own curves giving him quite a visual as he braced himself up on his arms placing a distance between them, “Hurt me, Seth.  Give me something to think about…”
“Oh I’ll give you something,” he promised maneuvering himself up off of her as his eyes fixed firmly on her, “but first I want to watch you. I want you to show me how naughty you’ve been and then and only then will I give you what you crave.”
“Don’t toy with me,” she warned watching as he started to walk across the room making his way towards the kitchen, “because I won’t be played with.”
“I’m in control Thea and if you want me to punish you like you deserve to be punished, then I expect you to do as your told,” he explained keeping his eyes on her as he continued towards the kitchen finding himself surprised by the eagerness behind her eyes as he threw out orders at her.  He half wondered if that was the appeal she had for Cameron…in him taking charge of her as she began to slowly rise to her feet before standing motionless before him.  He expected her to lunge at him, to find a way to torture him for backing away, but as his eyes remained fixed upon her, she stood still, desire washing over her body as she remained frozen awaiting his command.
“Dance for me,” Seth threw out at her trying not to let the shakiness about the situation get the best of him as he laced his arm around the doorway reaching for the bottle of sleeping pills Jade had around that he knew was laying on the counter top.  Thea’s eyes seemed to question his movement as he fumbled with the lid of the pills hoping she didn’t catch on to what was going on.
“What are you doing,” she asked her voice less menacing and more subservient as Seth watched her transform before him, her tone filled with eagerness and frustration as she stood still.
“I’m getting myself a beer because you make me hot baby,” he threw out in a sexy, flirty fashion as he quickly slipped a few of Jade’s sleeping pills onto the counter top.  Reaching behind him, he pulled out a couple of Coronas from the refrigerator careful to keep his eyes on her as a frown touched over his lips, “I told you to dance for me.  Don’t make me ask you twice.”
Thea stood still a moment longer before she began to sway her hips to some unheard of seductive melody that played for only her.  She began to ease her blouse over her shoulders eagerly as Seth frowned back at her, wanting to buy himself some time.
“Slower,” he demanded popping the lid off one of the bottles as he dropped in the pills he’d swiped from his sister’s bottle.  Thea did as requested and she allowed her hands to play over her body teasing over the parted material of the blouse as she spun around, tossing her hair with the movement as she turned into the perfect vision of a temptress before him.
Seth quickly turned his attention to the bottle before him seeing he’d managed to dissolve the pills as Thea had her back to him.  She spun around once again to face him and he forced a possessive smile as he moved towards her, “Very nice.  Now keep going,” he ordered holding both bottles of Corona in his hand as she continued to dance.  He sipped from his bottle watching her continue her strip tease as he held a bottle towards her, “Drink.”
Thea opened her mouth in what Seth thought would be that of a protest, but instead she parted her lips accepting the bottle as she circled the top of it with her tongue teasing the rim as Seth mustered up a pleased expression.  He sank back into the chair watching her toy with the bottle, making love to it in her own way as he shifted a bit, leading her to believe he was becoming more aroused by the moment in her role playing game.
“Drink,” he spoke evenly once again as Thea tipped her head back allowing the cool liquid to sink down her throat.  Seth sipped his own drink watching the ways in which she seemed to be enthralled by her own performance, loving the ways in which Seth had shifted gears upon her as she drank half the bottle.  Finally tearing it from her swollen lips, she traced her tongue over her lower lip as she leaned in towards him moving towards the chair.
“I want to dance for you baby,” she purred setting the bottle down on the tabletop beside his as she crawled onto his lap once again.
“I didn’t say you could touch me just yet,” Seth’s voice cut back sharply as she ground her hips against him.
“I know this is what you want,” she began in a slow hiss offering up a lap dance as Seth could feel a shift in the power play between them.  While Thea had been content to play for a minute or so giving Seth the freedom to call the shots, with each movement of her body over his, she was seeking out a way of reminding him that she was still very much in control.
Thea’s fingers eased over his body, dropping into his lap as Seth wondered if he’d ever get out of this situation.  Sure a woman throwing themselves at him would’ve been nice if it had been another time with another woman that meant something to him, but Thea was the one thing that spelled disaster and having sex with her would truly turn him into the monster that Blake believed him to be.  He struggled with himself noticing that she’d only drank half of the Corona at best and he feared that the effects of the sleeping pills wouldn’t run their course on someone as powerful as her after all, but before he could muster up any kind of new form of protest, a buzzing sound from Thea’s belt brought the moment to a halt.
Thea’s eyes penetrated him, her passion nearly exploding from within as the thought of claiming him raged over her--commanding her every movement, but as the ring followed the vibration coming at her hip, she realized that there was only one man with that particular ring on her cell and it seemed he was about to make her playtime go away.  That in itself made her less than thrilled as she pulled herself off of a very relieved Seth.  He watched as she stood upright, turning her back to him as she answered her phone sounding very agitated.
“What,” she demanded roughly as the faint mutterings of the person on the other end of the line seemed to be snapping at her, “I’m on it.  Yes, I’m well aware of what’s going on, but…” a sigh spilled over her lips as she began to pick up her blouse slipping into it once again as the conversation continued, “Of course…yes, fine.  I’m on my way,” she hung up the phone turning to face Seth again, frustration mounting behind her eyes as she sized him up for a long moment, her tongue dragging over her lip once more.  “We’ll have to continue this later lover.”
“Who was that,” he questioned curiously as she finished up with the buttons on her blouse.
“Someone who’s going to be less than thrilled if you don’t start working on getting that microfilm,” she explained her eyes devoid of the lust that was there moments earlier as it was now replaced with something darker, something colder, “and I strongly suggest that you get working on it or else…” she trailed off as she stammered a bit as her footing seemed to stagger a little, but almost as soon as it happened, she recovered standing taller than before as she threw out a warning, “Don’t disappoint me, Seth.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Seth promised watching her make her way towards the door as if her attempts to ravish him and make him bend at her will hadn’t happened.  She gave him one last look before tossing her dark hair over her shoulder and walking out of the apartment as Seth felt a breath of relief wash over him.  Never in his life had he been grateful for Cameron Stone, but in this moment he realized the irony of the moment as Cameron had somehow gotten him out of one of the stickiest situations he’d found himself in.  Now he just had to find a way to recover from this near disaster and repair the one that had still been waiting for him with Blake.  One way or another he had to find a way to make things right again before he was in over his head and unable to reach the only person that had ever given him a chance at happiness.  Somehow he had to win Blake back because his future was riding on the hopes that his heart wouldn’t lead him astray--that somehow love could beat the odds for them one way or the other.


Jade lay against Grady, holding onto him as if he might slip away. She eased her hand over his heart and smiled, “I can’t believe this is happening. I mean…I’ve wanted to hear you say that for so long…”

“I should have been honest with you and with myself. I should have told you before,” Grady said as he caressed her cheek and tipped her chin so that he could meet her eyes, “I was afraid to risk everything, but the truth is that I was already in love with you.”

She searched his eyes for a moment as she touched his cheek, “What made you decide to tell me?”

“Last night, you revealed something you never wanted to speak about again. You were so candid. And it occurred to me that I had no right to keep my feelings from you. You deserved to know the truth, and I knew that I had to tell you what I felt.”

She eased forward and captured his lips in a lingering kiss, “You made my dreams come true, do you know that?”

“You made mine come true,” He assured her, “When you gave me back my life. I had no idea that I was so aimless until you showed me what it was to enjoy life again. I was only going through the motions. I wasn’t really living. But you loved me, and you made me love you. You’re persistent and stubborn and a basic pain in the ass,” He teased with a smile, “But I love all of that about you and so much more.”

“God that’s romantic,” She teased before he pulled her across his lap. She burst into laughter as he cradled her in his arms.

Grady squeezed her to him as her laughter was contagious. As their laughter subsided, he caressed her cheek, “I think we’ve pretty much destroyed this work day, don’t you?”

“I told you before. You’re the boss. You can make all the rules,” She pointed out before kissing him gently, “But that does remind me. I need to call my therapist for an appointment.”

“Your therapist? Why?” He asked in confusion.

“I’ve been seeing a therapist since the attack. Dr. Hernandez has always been so good to me. He’s helped me understand that I could make my own decisions, and no one could take that from me. He taught me that it was okay to fight for what I want instead of just letting people take whatever they want from me. He has really helped me through so much, and I speak to him ever so often. I want to talk to him now because of Seth. This isn’t the first time that Seth has exploded on a man I was interested in, and I want to speak with Dr. Hernandez about him. I’m hoping he can give me some advice.”

“Diego Hernandez?” Grady asked as she nodded.

“Yeah, do you know him?”

“Yeah we went to college together before we each chose our grad schools,” He smiled, “I’m glad he’s doing so well, and I’m especially glad that he’s doing good by you. He was always a fairly level headed guy.”

“He is, and I respect him like you wouldn’t believe. He’s never steered me wrong even though there have been times that I thought he was crazy.”

“It’s good that you have someone impartial who can be in your corner. I’m glad you see him though I’m not quite sure how much he can help you with Seth.”

“He probably can’t give me any help directly, but if he can at least give me some advice about how to handle this situation, maybe I can handle the rest.”

“Do you really think that Seth will allow it to be so easy? I got the distinct feeling last night that Seth thinks you’re incapable of protecting yourself, and he feels like he has to do the job for you. He’s not going to think you learned how to do that no matter what you do or say. He’s going to think you’re making another mistake no matter how good your decision is.”

“I know, but there has to be some way I can convince him. He has to see that I’m not the same naïve little girl I was when Dad betrayed me. There has to be some way I can convince him that I’m an adult whose fully capable of taking care of herself. I’m not going to let him rob me of a chance to lead a normal life. It’s all I’ve wanted since the attack, and it’s finally within my reach,” She touched his cheek gently, “I’m making this decision of my own free will, and I absolutely love that,” She smiled as she leaned forward and kissed him gently.

Grady smiled as he kissed her once more, “I’m proud of you…on so many levels, Jade. You fought to make me see the light. You’ve stood up to Seth as he tried to take control away from you. You’ve become a strong and independent woman of your own. For all those things, I’m genuinely proud of you.”

“You don’t know what that means to me, Grady,” She said with a smile, “It makes me feel as if I’ve really accomplished something.”

“And so you have,” He agreed before dropping another kiss upon her lips, “Why don’t you go ahead and give your therapist a call? And while you’re seeing him, I think I’ll speak with my father.”

“And what do you need to speak with your father about?” She asked as she reached over and grabbed the telephone to dial her therapist.

“I’m alive again for the first time in a very long time. I think he’ll be thrilled to hear about that,” Grady admitted.

“Well you just be sure to put in a good word for me with him,” Jade chuckled as she pressed a kiss to her lips and made an appointment with her therapist, hoping she could get some advice about how to change her luck, especially where her brother was concerned.


Blake turned on the sofa and looked at her friend, “How stupid am I? Go ahead, lay it on me. I can take it.”

“You’re not stupid, Blake,” Caitlin spoke as she reached out and touched her hand, “You’re not stupid at all. This man took advantage of that,” She paused, “Which begs the question of when are you going to tell Ken?”

“Oh my god, can you imagine his reaction? The other night, I thought he was going to rip Seth apart just when he thought Seth was working with Cameron. If I tell him about Seth now, there’s no telling what he’ll do, and I don’t want to lose my brother over this too.”

“Granted Ken wasn’t too happy with Seth, but do you really think he’d do anything rashly?”

“Yeah he would,” Blake frowned, “He’s done it before when people have tried to hurt me. Kenny’s very protective, and I’ve only seen him act like a total jerk when he’s trying to protect me. The last thing I want is for him to do anything that might put him in danger.”

“He’s going to want to know, Blake. I think you really need to tell him what has happened.”

“I can’t do that, Caitlin. I’ll just tell him that Seth and I had a fight. That’ll be all.”

“Do you think he’ll leave it there? He’s going to want to know what started the fight.”

“I can’t tell him,” Blake shook her head as she broke down into tears, “I don’t want Kenny to get involved in this. I don’t want to bring anyone else into this misery. And I most definitely don’t want to rehash the lies that Seth pushed on me.”

“Okay,” Caitlin said with a reassuring smile, “You just relax. We’ll figure this out somehow.”

“I don’t know how,” Blake replied as she wiped tears, “It’s not like we don’t have enough on our hands with Cameron Stone and his agenda towards our family.”

“Right now, you have to focus on you.”

“I don’t have the time to focus on me. We have to find out what Cameron Stone is up to, and I have to find a way to stop Seth from making this problem any worse.”

“Forget about Seth…just for the moment. We have to heal you,” Caitlin said as she squeezed Blake’s hand, “We have to find a way to make this better for you before we can do anything else.”

“I don’t think there’s any way to make this better,” Blake said with a deep frown.

“We’ll find a way, sweetheart. I promise you will,” Caitlin said softly.

Kenneth stepped into the apartment and closed the door behind him, “I picked up the medicines, and this beautiful bouquet of flowers that jumped out at me,” He said with a smile as he presented Caitlin with the flowers. He kissed her cheek before he moved into the kitchen to set her medicines aside.

“Damn it, Kenny,” Blake pouted as she folded her arms in a huff, “Why can’t I find a guy like you?”

Kenneth smiled as he stepped back into the room and knelt beside her near the sofa, “So are you going to tell me what really happened with Seth? Come on, maybe I can help somehow.”

“No, there’s no way you can help, Kenny. I wish there were, but I’m just going to have to live with this,” She said sadly.

He took her free hand and kissed the back of her hand, “You don’t have to do this alone, Blake. You know that I’m always here for you.”

“I know, and that’s what makes you such a good brother,” Blake smiled before patting his cheek, “But it also drives me crazy because I’d really like to meet a guy like you that I could date.”

“Maybe it’ll happen for you. In fact, I know it will. You just have to be patient.”

“Patient? You’re joking, right?” Blake said before she tossed her hair off her shoulders, “I have never had any patience.”

“Hmmm, you know, I think that’s one of those rare traits that you and Brant share,” He teased.

“Hey now,” Blake defended as she shoved him back onto his behind.

Kenneth laughed softly, “And your temper is another.”

“Kenny, you’re really pushing it now,” Blake growled with a laugh as she smacked him with a throw pillow.

Caitlin smiled, knowing that Ken had provoked Blake into a good natured sibling spat to distract her from the pain. She’d been through enough of them with Zack to know all the signs, and she was sure that there was some kind of handbook for big brothers, teaching them how to draw their sisters out of a world of pain.

The telephone rang, drawing Caitlin’s attention away from the feuding siblings. She lifted the phone and answered, “Hello?”

“And how is my beautiful sister today?” Zack asked with a beaming voice.

“I’m doing good though I must admit that I was a little confused when I found Blake here saying that she’d spent the night here with you last night,” Caitlin teased, “Just what is the big idea taking advantage of my friend like that?”

“I didn’t take advantage of anything. Now, I will say that I did provide her with some comfort,” He replied, “But I didn’t do anything to be ashamed of.”

“How would you know? You don’t even know what same is,” She said as she shook her head, “Why aren’t you in an operating room somewhere?”

“It’s a slow day,” He admitted, “Besides calling to check on you, I was kind of hoping Blake would be there. Is she still around?”

“Yeah, hold on, and I’ll let you talk to her…only if you promise to be good.”

“Cait, I’m always good.”

“Only when you’re asleep and not having bad dreams,” Caitlin sighed as she held out the phone to Blake, “Zack wants to talk to you.”

“Okay,” Blake said before looking to Kenneth, “To be continued,” She declared before answering the phone, “Hey Zack.”

“Hey Blake, how are you today? Better I hope,” Zack said with a smile.

“Yeah, I’m good. I’ve been better, but still thank you for asking,” She replied, “What’s up?”

“You wanted me to look over some stuff for you, right?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“If you’ve got it handy, I have a lot of free time on my hands over here. Why don’t you bring it by?”

“Okay, where can I find you?”

“Just come through the ER. They’ll tell you where to fine me.”

“Okay, I’ll be there in just a bit,” Blake said before switching off the phone. As she placed the phone back on the stand, she stood from the sofa, “I’m going to go. Zack’s going to take a few minutes to help me out, and I think I’ll take him up on it,” She said as she looked at Caitlin, “I’m coming back by here later to check on you, Missy.”

“Yes ma’am,” Caitlin chuckled as she saluted her friend.

“And you,” Blake demanded as she looked at Kenneth who was picking himself up off the floor.

“What?” Kenneth asked blankly.

“I love you, you moron,” Blake said as she hugged him, “And thank you for making me laugh. It helped.”

“I just wish you’d let me in on this. I might be able to help you,” He urged her.

“I know you want to, but this time, Kenny, I really think I have to deal with this on my own,” Blake kissed his cheek, “Thanks anyway.”

“You just promise me that if you need me, you won’t hesitate to come to me,” He said as he met her eyes.

“I promise,” Blake smiled, “I’ll see you guys later,” She said as she picked up her purse and left the apartment.

Kenneth slipped his hands into his pockets as he watched the door close. He frowned, “Did she tell you anything about what really happened?”

“She did, but she’s so hurt and confused right now, Ken. You’ll have to give her time to tell you on her own,” Caitlin said as she held out her hand to him, “Come here and sit down with me.”

Kenneth walked to the sofa and sank down beside her. He gathered her into his arms and squeezed her gently, “Are you feeling okay? This drama isn’t adding to your pain, is it?”

“Would you stop worrying for just a minute? Just hold me,” She ordered with a smile as she held onto him.

“I get you home, and you think you’re the boss now,” He teased which earned him a nudge in the ribs, “Ouch...hey now,” He laughed.

“You just remember where you’re at, bub. In this apartment, I am the boss,” She teased in a haughty voice.

“Okay, okay,” He smiled as he kissed her forehead, “Do you need me to do anything for you? Clean? Cook?”

“Awww, you’re such a good housewife,” She said as she looked up to him.

“Just go ahead and make fun,” He said as he met her eyes, “But you know I’d do anything for you.”

Caitlin caressed his lips before she raised her lips to his for a lingering and loving kiss, “I do know, and it means the world to me.”

He smiled as he drew her to him for another kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck as she returned his every kiss, enjoying the warm comfort of his arms and kisses. The vibration from Kenneth’s jacket forced them apart.

“What is that?” Caitlin asked with wide eyes.

Kenneth frowned as he drew his cell phone from his pocket, “My cell phone. I turned off the ringer at the hospital, but it appears that I should have turned the entire thing off.”

“You should answer it,” She said with a frown, “With everything that is going on, it could very well be important.”

“It had better be,” He said as he answered the phone, “Hello?”

“Ken, good, I’m glad I caught you. I really need to speak with you. Can we meet at your office in about fifteen minutes?” Brant asked quickly.

“Brant, right now isn’t a good time.”

“You know I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t really important, but it is. Come on. Just spare me about fifteen minutes of your time.”

Kenneth rubbed his temple, “Okay, meet me at the office in about fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks, Ken,” Brant said before the phone call ended.

Kenneth groaned, “Damn, he has poor timing.”

“I guess that means you have to go, huh?” Caitlin frowned.

“Only if you’ll be okay without me,” He said as he searched her eyes, “I won’t leave if you’ll be uncomfortable here alone.”

“I’ll be okay. Your family needs you,” She said softly, “If I need you, I can call you.”

“Okay, I’ll be back soon,” He kissed her gently before he left the apartment. He made his way down the hall and stopped as he spotted Seth approaching him, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I need to speak with Blake,” Seth said as he attempted to step around Kenneth.

“The only thing you need to do is leave,” Kenneth said firmly, “I won’t have you upsetting Caitlin or Blake, and right now, Blake definitely does not want to see you. So just turn around and hit the road.”

“You can’t order me around, Ashford,” Seth said as he attempted to step around Kenneth again.

Kenneth blocked Seth’s path again, “I’m not ordering you to do anything, but I am telling you that Blake doesn’t want anything to do with you. If you don’t leave, I’ll call the police, and trust me, I have a lot of pull with the police around here. I can keep you locked up indefinitely. Don’t make me have to pull any strings, Seth.”

“You all think you can take what you want, boss everyone around, and we’ll all just enjoy it. Guess again,” Seth snapped as he tried to push Kenneth aside.

Kenneth grabbed Seth’s arm and shoved him back against the wall. He pinned Seth there, forearm across his neck, “I’ve tried to be nice. Now I won’t be nice anymore. Get out of here, and don’t ever come back. If I ever hear that you’ve so much as spoken to my sister again, I’ll make sure that you regret it for the rest of your short life.”

Seth met Kenneth’s raging eyes before he nodded in reluctant surrender. Kenneth slowly backed up and stood his ground.

Seth walked down the hall towards the exit. He wouldn’t stop in his quest to make Blake see the truth. She had to see that he was telling the truth, even if she didn’t want to. No matter what her brother said, Seth would talk to her, and he wasn’t giving up trying to get her back. She meant far too much for him to simply walk away without a fight.


Hart Steiner made his way into the Denton legal offices with one goal in mind--finding a way into Jenna’s world.  He need to work an angle and last night when he’d watched her with Shannon, it had finally dawned in on him.  He’d had an epiphany and suddenly it was all very clear in what he must do.  Now as his eyes fell upon Grady Denton’s secretary he’d realized the key to unlocking Jenna’s hidden desires lay in the one woman before him.  Sure Dorothy Carpenter had no real reason to trust him, but that never stopped him in smoothing on the charm with women in the past.  Why there wasn’t a woman that he hadn’t been able to persuade to his line of thinking--well other than Jenna, but he highly doubted that her mother would prove to be the same kind of impossible challenge…at least he hoped not.  With that thought in mind, he painted on his most impressive smile and stepped forward determined to win over Dorothy as his plans for Jenna were only beginning.
“Good afternoon,” Hart’s voice rumbled through the waiting area of the Denton offices as Dorothy looked up from her desk, a less than impressed expression on her face as she set down the pen she’d been writing with.
“Can I help you with something,” she questioned casually in her most polite and professional tone.
“Actually I think you can,” Hart extended his hand out towards her, “I’m Hart Steiner and you’re exactly the woman I was looking for this afternoon.  I was hoping we could have a word with one another if you don’t mind.”
Dorothy’s eyes dropped down to his hand as she threw out a bored expression, “Mr. Steiner, I know who you are and unless you’re here to see Mr. Denton, then I think it would be safe to say that there isn’t any business between us,” she finished flatly.
“So Jenna has been talking about me, has she now,” Hart’s grin widened as he ignored the obvious irritation in her tone.  He leaned in closer to her, “So what has she said?”
“Other than you’re a vain, arrogant son of a bitch bent on destroying the lives of innocent women in the name of glory, then not a whole heck of a lot,” she leaned back in her chair folding her arms in front of her.
“So then you see why I’m here,” Hart replied his smile fading a bit, “as Jenna and I have some serious issues we need to work through.”
“I highly doubt that,” she remarked flatly, “Though I could say that you clearly have quite a few to work out within yourself there.”
“Oh now don’t you think that’s a bit harsh,” Hart feigned injury, “We’ve spoken for what a whole thirty seconds here and you’re ready to throw the towel out on this one.  I think I deserve at least five minutes to present my case here.”
“What you deserve is something that if I’d said it to you, well then I’d be stooping beneath myself as it’s very unladylike,” she responded flatly, “but if you’d like however, I can muster up security and I’m sure that they’d love to give you five minutes of their time…then again probably not.”
“Now is that really necessary considering we’re both on the same side of this one,” Hart sat on the edge of her desk making himself comfortable as he continued, “The way I see it you and I have a common interest in mind.”
“Oh?  Now why do I seriously doubt that,” she replied skeptical as a frown touched over her features.
“Because you aren’t opening yourself up to the possibilities of what I might have for you today,” Hart explained matter of fact, “as you and I both have the same thing in mind where Jenna is concerned.”
“Her never having to deal with you again?” she lifted a curious brow.
“More like her vindication.  You see Jenna and I have become very close lately and she’s been helping me with a few things and well,” he flashed her another award winning smile hoping to melt the ice he’d have to break through with her, “I’d like to do something to surprise her--you know something wonderful that might make up for the hard times she’s been facing lately.”
“I assume dropping dead isn’t on your list of good deeds for the afternoon, now is it?” Dorothy lifted a curious brow, her voice remaining cool and even as she eyed him with intense scrutinization.
“You really don’t like me, do you?” he frowned in response.
“Given that you and your client worked hard to trash my daughter’s reputation, not to mention make her life a living hell, no, I don’t particularly feel a fondness towards you, but given that you’re rumored to be a smart man, that should come as no surprise to you,” she folded her arms in front of her chest, “and if that’s the only thing you’re here for this afternoon, then I’ll start by telling you that your time has run out.  We’re finished here.”
“Just like that?” he questioned curling his lip as she waved her hand at him to shoo him off of her desk.
“Just like that,” she nodded in response as he rose from the edge of her desk.  He turned to leave as her scowl deepened, but as he seemed to accept defeat, a thought passed over her and she called out to him again against her own better judgment, ““Though I do have one question for you.”
“And what might that be?” Hart spun around taking it as a positive sign as he looked to her again.
“Why my daughter?” she threw out with a frown, “Why has she suddenly become an object of interest for you?”
“Contrary to what you’ve heard of me, I’m not a heartless man,” he explained stepping towards her, “and I’ve learned a lot the last few weeks thanks to your daughter.  She’s helped me see things in a different light and I’d like to find a way to thank her for that.”
“So you just expected me to what?  Divulge all her secrets after this ‘openness’ you’re giving me here and then you can use it when the next go round comes along with that jerk of a client that has you on retainer,” Dorothy raised a scrutinizing brow, “I’m sorry Mr. Steiner, but what you’re trying to sell this afternoon, I’m not buying.  My daughter doesn’t need your kind coming around and mucking up her life yet again.  The damage you did once was bad enough, but with this new angle you’re working, well truth be told, I’m not interested in hearing about it and I can assure you that neither is Jenna.”
“Did it ever occur to you that it might be genuine on my end?  That maybe I’m hoping to make up for the mistake I made,” he threw out with a frown and a heavy sigh, “Your daughter is a very special person you know.”
“I’m well aware of that, but I’m also well aware of what it means to be a lawyer in Coral Valley--especially one with your reputation and you’re the last thing I want in my daughter’s life on any level.  You tried to ruin her once before and I won’t sit back and let you give it another go round so whatever game you‘re playing Mr. Steiner, it would go well under advisement for you to stop it now.”
“And if I don’t?” he posed a challenge to Jenna’s mother as he saw the intensity of displeasure burning behind her eyes for him.
“Have you ever watched a mother bear with her young?” Dorothy threw out at him in a well mannered tone.  He gave her a strange look as she continued, “You see the way a mother bear is, well she tends to take after her children--you know to do everything in her power to ensure their safety and to protect them against the potential predators out there as they may be strong in their own way, but they still need some assistance in dealing with the potential threats to their world and well, when a mother senses a threat, she does anything and everything in her power to eliminate that threat no matter what the cost.”
“I see what you’re saying, but I can assure you,” Hart began sensing the hatred behind her words.
“No, I don’t think you do Mr. Steiner,” she cut him off abruptly, “I don’t think you can even begin to fathom what I’m saying to you as a man with a narrow mind like yourself has no idea what the real meaning of loyalty is in this world and that in itself is the reason why you’ll never have a shot at being near my daughter on a personal or professional level.  Whatever it is you think you’ve bonded with Jenna over, it’s about high time that you lose that notion about gaining some leverage with her.  It’s not going to happen and I can assure you that I’m certainly not going to play a hand in your manipulating my daughter so it would be in both our best interest if you turn around, walk out that door and pretend that this meeting never took place.  No wait--” she decided pondering her words, “Remember this talk between us--especially the next time you have a run in with Jenna and know this.  Know that if you even think about attempting to forge some kind of friendship, bond or whatever you’d like to call it with my daughter that the mother bear I spoke of will seem like child’s play compared to the length in which I’ll go to in order to make your life miserable, Mr. Steiner.  Is that understood?”
Hart took note of the seriousness in her tone as he wondered if he’d only done himself more damage than good in paying Dorothy a visit.  At a loss for some kind of witty comeback as he saw Jenna’s mother was far more impossible than Jenna could ever be, he offered up a simple nod.
“Good, I’m glad we understand one another,” Dorothy relaxed a bit in her seat turning her attention back to her work as her cool and calm demeanor returned as it was business as usual, “Have a good day, Mr. Steiner,” she tossed out at him as Hart realized that he’d have a hell of a lot of work head of him in trying to reach Jenna without Dorothy’s input.
With Dorothy working against him, Hart was as good as doomed in this latest mission to win over his latest object of interest.  Somehow, he’d have to find a way to work around the latest roadblock as he was never one to back down when he wanted something.  Giving one last look in the direction of Jenna’s mother, he decided another course of action was in order as one way or another he would find a way to win Jenna over.  After all he was Hart Steiner and no woman could resist him--well at least no woman with eyes and a healthy untapped libido like he was certain Jenna Carpenter was.  Sure, her mother might’ve fit that kind of build, but her years must’ve made her far too rigid to be reached by the hand of a good man which was all the more reason Hart was determined to save Jenna from the same fate.  He’d find a way to melt her defenses and show her that the world was full of promise and pleasures that clearly Jenna had been denying herself thus far in life as after his meeting with Dorothy he was determined that saving Jenna from becoming her mother was his latest mission in life.


Jenna made her way out of the coffee shop ready to return to the task at hand waiting back at her morgue for her.  While Callaway had offered to take her out to lunch, she’d politely declined realizing that there was no need to take her chances on getting close to yet another bozo in the law enforcement field who’d probably be sizing her up in an attempt to access her competency down the road.  The last thing she wanted was for anyone to use her personality against her yet again as Patrick had done enough damage to her career.
Now as Jenna began to walk back towards the morgue enjoying the crisp autumn afternoon before her, she thought of how she’d never really taken the time to appreciate such things before her suspension.  Sure the world went on around her day in and day out, but she’d been so buried in the lab that it hadn’t actually occurred to take moments like these to go out and seize the moment.  Usually lunch consisted of some delivery from the mediocre Chinese place down the street with the delivery boy who’d always make some corny joke about the bodies she’d been working with.  Sure, she’d taken the simple pleasures in making him turn green on a few occasions when he’d come around during one of her autopsies.  That had been about the highlight of her social life--well until she’d taken a chance on Patrick.
Ugh, just the thought of that man made her blood boil after all this time as she still wondered if he’d prepare some backlash to her assault on him the other night.  Still he’d been asking for it in his own way when he wouldn’t stop harassing her.  Of course in the eyes of the good old boys in Coral Valley that wouldn’t matter as all they’d see was Jenna in her defiance again going against that joke of a restraining order that Patrick obtained thank to Hart.  Oh and that thought, well it only doubled the anger she’d been feeling earlier as she was suddenly distracted from this autumn day before her.
With a frown, Jenna stopped on the sidewalk looking around for a moment as she realized maybe she should’ve taken Callaway up on his offer for lunch.  Perhaps he’d be the exclusion to the big boys sticking together rule and he’d find a way to help her with the situation she’d found herself in with Patrick as he did after all seem almost human.  Oh who was she kidding, she thought to herself chastising the thought for even entering her mind, Callaway wouldn’t be someone she’d lean on to get out of the mess that Patrick was bent on putting her in as she didn’t need anyone’s help--just the good grace of God and the patience to work her way through whatever curve ball was thrown out in her direction.
Of course the curves just kept on coming, Jenna realized knowing that as long as she kept in contact with Hart.  Which brought her back full circle to the latest headache that had come her way.  Hart Steiner was the absolute last person in the world she’d wanted to connect with on any other level--well other than they were both part of the human race and even at that, she wasn’t all so convinced about his role in that side of nature half the time.  He was arrogant, stubborn, annoying as all hell, pushy, abrasive, ignorant, demanding and incompetent half the time, yet somehow Jenna found herself drawn to him.  Ugh, that thought alone made her realize that clearly it had been far too long since she’d gotten laid.  That had to be it because there would be no other reason for her to even fathom the idea of considering Hart Steiner to be an almost attractive specimen of man.  How she’d have to seriously rethink this whole abstaining from dating thing if it had finally come to her feeling any sort of attraction to Hart.  He was so not anything she was looking for in a man.  All the things she’d noted about him made him more a candidate for the least wanted list, yet it was all those reckless impossible things that had immediately turned him into the right man for her.
Time and time again Jenna had wound up in an intense, physical relationship with a man who couldn’t carry himself in a day to day environment, let alone a discussion about the finer things in life.  Usually the extent of her dates consisted of a few laughs, mediocre dinner and lackluster to average sex until her libido was satiated enough for her to realize she’d been dating losers.  She’d wizen up and show them to the door and then move on writing off men until her sexual appetite stirred up the same longing in her once again and she was stupid enough to branch out to the next guy who looked good in a pair of tight jeans and a T-shirt and given that her last encounter had gone horribly wrong with Patrick now almost a year ago, her libido was kicking up again in full gear.  Much to her dismay she was thinking that Hart might be just the kind of pleasure ride she’d needed to pull her out of her slump and that in itself made her VERY nervous.
“This is just awful,” she silently cursed biting on her lower lip as she shook her head at the notion that she’d even considered any kind of sexual fantasy about Hart Steiner.  Yes, the other night’s dream she’d had about him, which had prompted her to pull out Freud’s written interpretation of dream analysis was just a fluke.  Still the way he kept hunting her down, always finding a way to push his presence onto her life, it was a bit overwhelming and almost a completely unwelcome distraction.  Sure, being out of work had prompted some less than savory thoughts to stir over her every now and then, but given that she was back on the job and expected to remain focused, her traces of lust for Hart would certainly have to take a major back seat.  Okay more like they should be locked away in the trunk and drown in the lake much like Bruce Mathis was…
Okay that did it, Jenna decided her mind focusing back on the missing person case before her as she clenched her brown paper back closer to her as a sigh spilled over her lips.  Time to get back to work and forget about daydreams, about flukes in judgment and most certainly to forget about Hart Steiner.  That in itself would be something that she could torture herself about later as the FBI was waiting for her to prove she lived up to her reputation that had been surrounding her before Patrick tarnished it.
Stepping out into the middle of the road at the crosswalk, Jenna’s thoughts came to a screeching halt as the squeal of brakes rose beside her.  She turned her eyes to find herself staring down a black, stretch limousine only inches away from her.  An initial fear swept over her before an angry scowl built upon her face and she slammed her fist on the hood of the car before her realizing that the driver had failed to pay attention to the crosswalk sign alerting her she could continue walking.
“Learn how to drive jerk off,” she hissed at the man behind the wheel before standing taller and attempting to collect herself as her panic died down.
“Are you alright,” a voice beckoned her as she spun around dropping her coffee in the process as a man started emerging from the limo concern evident behind his distinguished features as he made his way towards her, focusing completely on her.
“I was fine until your idiot driver decided he’d forget how to drive,” Jenna confessed looking to her coffee now splattered over the ground where she stood, “You know you should really be more selective in who you have driving you around as it’s a felony to hit a pedestrian.”
“I must confess he’s not my usual driver,” he began honestly as he watched her wiping at the brown stain that had spilled down the front of her ivory colored blouse, “I sincerely apologize for that one considering that…” he reached out to her touching her shoulder gently, “Are you alright?”
“I’ll be fine, but your driver over there,” she turned her eyes up towards him realizing that he’d been the man she’d ran into the other night at the bar.
“It’s you,” he spoke in a surprised tone as his eyes widened in response to her.
She gave him a strange look before his face began to register, “From the bar the other night, right?” she thought back remembering their previous run in, “Of course that night I was trying to plow you down, right?  So I guess this makes us even, huh?” she wiped at her blouse frowning at the stain as he withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket.
“Here you are,” he offered it towards her watching as she continued to use the paper napkin in her hand to dab at the stain, “Take this.”
“Thanks, but it really isn’t necessary,” Jenna explained as he held it out closer towards her.
“Trust me, this will be a lot more effective than that napkin and it’ll save the blouse in the long rung,” he urged further as Jenna’s eyes looked up at him skeptically, “Go on and take it.  It’s clean.”
“Well, if you insist,” she accepted the handkerchief as he held his other hand out to her expectantly, “What?”
“Your bag,” he motioned to the brown paper bag she was still holding, “I’ll hold it for you if you like.”
“Oh thanks,” Jenna handed it to him as she began to blot at her shirt once again, “I’m sorry about this.  I can’t believe we keep running into one another like this.”
“This time it’s my driver’s fault so there’s no apology necessary,” he answered with a hint of a smile, “Although I must confess that I’m not going to apologize for our meeting up again as I’ve been thinking about you since we first met the other night.”
“Excuse me,” Jenna blinked back at him surprised by his words as he must’ve felt some kind of strangeness behind his words.
“You have a very beautiful face--an unforgettable beauty if you will,” he explained seeing the further guarded expression wash over her as he added quickly, “I’m not saying that as some kind of come on.”
“Hmm, then what are you saying it for,” she questioned immediately on the defense as she stood taller.
“Truth be told, I was looking for a woman when I came to town and I think you’re exactly what I’m looking for,” his eyes cast over her appreciatively sizing her up with each passing moment.  Even with the spark of fire behind her eyes, she was breathtaking--everything he’d ever imagined his next beauty to be as she took a step back placing a distance between them.
“Look buddy, I don’t know what kind of pervert you are, but if you’re looking for your kicks with some kind of working girl and you think I fit the bill, I have to tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree,” she threw out bluntly as she snatched her bag away from him and offered up his soaked handkerchief.  “Here, you can have this back now.”
“Keep it,” he kept his hold on her bag refusing to let her walk away just yet as his gaze lingered upon her, “and for your information I’m not some kind of pervert, but rather a movie producer and I think you‘re exactly the fresh face I‘m looking for to be the star in my latest production.”
“In Coral Valley,” she rolled her eyes, “Get real.  I’ve heard a lot of lame lines in my life, but that one takes the cake.”
“I’m serious,” he offered his hand out towards her.
“And I’m the President of the United States,” she shook her head at him, “You know I don’t know what your goal is, but I’m really not interested,” she started to turn away from him as he chased after her.
“The name’s Mahoney--Douglas Mahoney,” he threw out at her, “Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”
“Douglas Mahoney,” a laugh spilled over her lips as she faced him once again, “Right, like I’m supposed to believe someone like the infamous Douglas Mahoney would be cruising the streets of Coral Valley like this seeking out a fresh face when Hollywood is just oozing with self absorbed twits ready to dote on your every whim.  I so don’t think so,” she shook her head at him, “but I’m sure if you look hard enough you’ll find someone who fit’s the bill of what you’re looking for much better.”
“I’m only looking for you.  I have a movie coming up and I‘ve been seeking out a fresh face for it and when we ran into one another the other night, I was mesmerized by you.  You‘re beautiful and I‘d like to have a chance to talk with you about the role--perhaps over dinner,” he suggested reaching into his pocket withdrawing his wallet and handing it to her, “and I am Douglas Mahoney as you’ll see right there in my wallet.  If you open it, on the right hand side is my identification, so see for yourself.”
Cautiously Jenna reached out to accept the black leather wallet and almost immediately her eyes fell upon the license that he’d promised would be there for her perusal.  Looking up at him for a brief moment before her eyes skimmed over the identification once again along with the wad of cash contained within the fine leather casing, she quickly closed the wallet and handed it back to him with a shrug of her shoulders.
“So what?” she threw back at him, “So your name is Douglas Mahoney.  I still don’t believe you’re some big Hollywood producer trying to scout and up and coming actress and besides I’m not an actress,” she explained standing taller as she watched him closely.
“You could be a star if you’d open yourself up to the possibilities I have in store for you,” he stepped forward drawing his arm out towards her, “Tell me that you’ll have dinner with me tonight--that you’ll give me a chance to convince you that I am who I claim to be.”
“Why should I?  Given that you are someone I ran into at a bar and now we’ve met again with your driver trying to run me down and here you are giving me this silly story about being the famous Hollywood producer--which is a bit much to take I might add, well that doesn’t give me a lot of faith in what plans you might have in store for me over dinner and besides I don’t take offers from strangers.”
“But we aren’t strangers anymore after our two encounters,” he took it upon himself to move in closer towards her as a smile pressed over his handsome features, “and besides, you could say that fate had a hand in all of this as our meetings have been by pure chance.”
“Chance you say,” she thought it over for a moment, “Well then I guess your next words will be something about destiny making this happen and how we should seize the moment, correct?”
“I’d like to think destiny played a hand in this sudden inspiration that’s fallen upon me,” he nodded eagerly a smile touching over the corner of his lips.
“Then how about we bank on destiny having us meet up for dinner tonight.  If in fact it was meant to be, then somehow tonight we’ll meet up for dinner in our own way,” she threw out at him with a playful expression.
“Now we’re talking,” he began to reach into his pocket withdrawing a pen, “Just let me tell you where I’m staying and…”
“Oh no,” she stopped him from grabbing the pen as her hand pressed over his wrist, “If you’re a firm believer in destiny, then let’s play it that way.  You think of a place in town where you’d like to have dinner--a place fit for Douglas Mahoney big Hollywood producer and when you find that place, you show up and wait for me at say around six.  If it was truly meant to be, then I’ll show up through the doors and we’ll have a dinner together where you can tell me all about this sudden inspiration of yours, but if fate has it that we wind up dining in different locations, then well, you can see that clearly neither fate nor destiny played a hand in our meeting and it shall be something we put behind us.”
“So you’re asking me to put blind faith in the fact that you and I shall choose the same restaurant for this evening’s dinner,” he half questioned thinking over her suggestion as Jenna could see by the look in his eyes that he was at least a slightest bit intrigued.
“That’s correct,” she nodded in response, “and if we do happen to find ourselves in the same place, then I shall take you on your word and believe you to be who you claim to be.  Then we can get back to anything that you have your mind set upon.”
“That sounds fair enough and in it’s own way I see you’re issuing me a challenge--one that I’d be foolish to refuse,” his tone softened as a playful air swept over him, “and believe me young lady I am no fool.”
“Neither am I,” Jenna winked back at him, “and if things are truly kismet as you believe them to be, then I’ll be seeing you around six,” she waved at him taking a step back as it dawned on him that she hadn’t offered a vital piece of information to him.
“Wait a second,” he called out to her, “What about your name?”
“If you’re really Douglas Mahoney, then you’ll find a way to get my name,” she teased crossing the street as Douglas found himself completely seduced by  the offer his mystery beauty threw out at him.  While he’d never been a man to take things to chance--at least not over the recent years, something about her brought a sense of curiosity back to him amusing him very much to say the least.
“Boss,” his driver spoke above his thoughts as Jenna continued to walk away, “What do you want me to do here?”
“Find out everything you can about that alluring woman,” Douglas replied making his way back around to the limousine, “as she’s about to become my dinner companion this evening,” he concluded realizing that one way or another he would find out more about this Coral Valley beauty and he’d turn her into the kind of vision that had haunted his dreams for years.

Avery hung up the phone putting the final touches on her plans for tonight’s surprise she had in store for Russell.  He wasn’t even going to see it coming with the way she’d worked it out, but she was certain that he’d love every minute of it as she was about to indulge some of his fantasies for a change.  That thought alone sent thrills of anticipation racing over her body as she realized she’d truly enjoyed the lighter side of romance.  Romance, she thought to herself as a smile expanded over her features as she realized that’s truly what it was with Russell.  They’d overcome some really horrible obstacles to be together again, but now that they’d found their way, she was finding herself enjoying the plunge that came along with giving her heart away to him and opening herself up to all that he’d brought out in her.  Just knowing that they’d reconnected again, it filled her up inside with something that she’d never anticipated feeling again as the sheer thrill of it all enveloped her taking her to new places as she’d at long last opened herself up to love again.  And that’s truly what it was all about…loving Russell and being with him like they’d always were meant to be.  As she thought about her plans for the night, she was starting to realize that Russell’s dreamy side had to be rubbing off on her as she was filled with hope and promise of things to come between them.
Still as her thoughts had her wrapped up in the moment, Avery was still focused on the work at hand for BBK.  Somehow she’d begin on her strategy and then focus for a while before tonight.  Yes, that was certainly the way to go, she decided as she heard a tapping on her office door.  Looking up, she watched the door open before her father’s face popped in through the crack in the door smiling at her.
“Ben said you weren’t busy,” he explained as she waved for him to join her.
“Of course not,” Avery beamed upon his arrival standing from her chair as she approached him, “Come on in.”
“How’s my little girl,” he greeted her with open arms taking her into an embrace as she hugged him in return.
“Swamped,” she confessed enjoying the embrace for a moment before pulling back, “but never too busy for some time with the greatest father in the world.”
“Hmm, the greatest father in the world you say,” Richard noted the smile on her face, “I’d have to say someone is having a good day.”
“I’m having a fantastic day,” Avery admitted motioning to her desk, “Lawsuit excluded of course.”
“Yes, we’d talked about going over that with one another last night,” he nodded as she circled around towards her desk, “but given that you were exhausted...”
“I didn’t mean to skip out on you,” she apologized after a moment, “I know you said you’d come to see me, but…”
“When I saw you sleeping there, I thought it would be best to let you have your rest,” he confessed taking a seat across from her as her eyes widened in surprise and she took in a gulp.
“You came to check in on me, last night,” she questioned nervously thinking to where she’d been and who she’d been with.  Suddenly a worried feeling built up in the pit of her stomach as she wondered if Russell had been hiding when her father had checked in on her since her exhaustion had taken her from cautiousness earlier than she’d planned on.
“That’s right,” he nodded unable to suppress the chuckle that built up inside of him at the expression on her face, “and from the looks of things, I think it was safe to say you were in good hands for the evening…”
“Good hands,” she repeated noting the curious expression on his face, “I don’t know what you mean…”
Richard leaned forward bracing his hands on the edge of her desk as his eyes narrowed upon her, “Avery, now don’t start fibbing to your father as you were never any good at it and you’d be best not to start now considering that I know you better than you know yourself at times.”
A frown curled over her lip as she let out a reluctant sigh, “You saw Russ, didn’t you?”
“I more than saw him,” he nodded in confession, “He and I had a bit of a conversation with one another.”
“You did?” she questioned curiously as she eyed him closely, “About what?”
“About what you haven’t been telling me,” Richard remarked giving her a pointed look, “which is what prompted this visit as I’d like to know why you’re allowing your mother to bully you into this engagement party considering that your heart is anything, but in it.”
“You know how Brooke is,” Avery shifted uneasily in her chair as she avoided his questioning eyes, “She won’t stop pushing until she has it her way.”
“And when have you ever backed down and let her have it, Avery,” he challenged back at her a frown touching over his lips, “Why not just tell her and Brant the truth about you and Russell?  Why not tell them that you two are in love with one another even after all this time?”
“It’s not that simple,” Avery tossed back at him as she began to fidget with the things on her desk, “Daddy, there’s really a lot going on that you wouldn’t understand and…”
“Then enlighten me,” Richard challenged leaning back in his chair as he watched her, “You know me enough to know I have all the time in the world for you, so why not fill me in on what’s really been going on, Avery?”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” she threw back at him, “and besides, I’d much rather hear about you and Judy.  Clearly there’s a juicy story to tell as I’m so happy to hear that you’re taking the time to find some enjoyment in your life.”
“I’m working on it, but I’m also working on helping my daughter find the same kind of happiness that she clearly deserves in her life,” he answered unwilling to let her shift the conversation on him, “Avery, why haven’t you put an end to this charade when we both know it’s painfully obvious where your heart is?”
“Daddy, how can you say that considering all you saw was Russ and I sleeping together,” Avery challenged realizing she hadn’t been ready to answer questions about her relationship with Russell to her father just yet.
“Avery,” he spoke her name in that same firmness that as a child reminded her that he meant business as she felt a sigh build up inside of her, “talk to me.”
“Daddy, it’s complicated,” Avery threw out once again knowing that Richard Morrison wouldn’t accept that as her final answer.  “Bruce and I broke up only a short while ago--during the quake here in Coral Valley and then Brant and I had this deal we were working on.  The guy we were about to ink a contract with was a real creep and he tried to make a move on me, so Brant concocted this story about us being engaged and neither one of us thought anything of it…”
“Avery,” he began again as she cut him off quickly.
“Before you start giving me a lecture on how impulse is nothing but a road to trouble, the truth to the matter is that neither Brant nor I imagined that the story would hit the tabloids.  I mean sure there was his reputation that kept him in the public eye, but I didn’t think that it would come into play from that one little lie and then by the time we found out that the media went with it, the wheels were already in motion and Bruce was dead.  With Shannon Pryce sniffing around, we had no choice, but to keep up the charade and now with Brooke, well we’re back to square one.”
“And how does Russell fit into this…other than clearly he’s still in your heart,” he questioned his tone softening a bit as he noticed the expression on her features.
“Oh daddy,” Avery found herself unable to keep the truth from him as tears pooled in her eyes, “right before Bruce died, Russell and I spent some time together.  I don’t know how it happened or why we decided to go down that road again with one another, but we did and then the next morning, well Bruce was waiting for me in my apartment,” her words were broken up as her tears overtook her and Richard rose from the chair he’d been seated in making his way over towards his daughter in an attempt to comfort her.
“Princess, what happened,” he questioned feeling her sobs as he held her.
“Bruce tried to kill me,” she blurted out painfully remembering the madness behind his eyes as he’d tried to choke the life out of her, “He was waiting for me when I came home and he’d been under the impression I was with Brant the night before.  He’d seen the news on the engagement and he was furious.  He started to hit me and then he had his hands on my neck…” she broke down in her father’s arms as the truth came out, “He would’ve killed me if Brant didn’t come in when he did.  Brant saved me from Bruce that morning and I know in my heart if he hadn’t walked in that morning, then I wouldn’t be here right now having this conversation with you.”
“Oh Avery,” Richard held her tighter, “I had no idea.”
“I never wanted you to know.  I didn’t want anyone to know and I begged Brant not to go to the police after it happened.  I didn’t want anyone to see me like that--to see me as weak and broken by something that I brought on myself…”
“Avery, you did not bring this on,” Richard knelt before her, “You listen to me on this one.  Bruce Mathis was a monster and I wish he’d never found his way into your life.  You deserved so much more and when you were with him, I saw that your heart was still very much with Russell,” he wiped at her tears, “much like it is in this very moment.”
“Daddy, I love him.  I love him with all that I am, but when I think about what happened last time and about Brant and how he cares about me…” Avery sniffled as Richard urged her to meet his concerned eyes.
“Avery, I know now why you’re reluctant to break Brant’s heart, but you can’t let that be the reason to keep Russell at arm’s length.  Yes, Brant may have saved you much like Bruce did when you first met him, but you can’t let your gratitude be the thing that keeps you from love.  I know how it is to miss out on that once in a lifetime and if you have found happiness with Russell, then you can’t let your mother or Brant get in the way of that.”
“Russ deserves better,” Avery admitted painfully forcing herself to face the demons that had plagued her all these years, “Grady hates me and they’re at odds because of it and…”
“None of that matters,” Richard pleaded with her, “Not after what I saw last night…not after what I’m seeing right now.  Tell me that the smile you had on your face before wasn’t because of Russell--that he hasn’t been the source of your happiness these last few days.”
“You know I can’t do that,” Avery offered up taking in a slow breath, “even now all I can think about is being with him--about the way he makes me feel when we’re together.”
“It’s a feeling that you should always hold onto,” Richard offered up gently wiping at her tears, “Avery take advice from an old fool and listen to me when I tell you that true love comes only once in a lifetime and when you have the opportunity to hold on to it, you should never let it go.  If you feel you’ve found that thing in your life that you’ve been seeking out and you’ve found it with Russell, then hold on to it with all that you are.  Don’t let obligation or gratitude be the things that keep you from your heart as you’ll wind up lost in the years you can never get back again.”
“Why do I get the feeling we aren’t talking about me and Russ anymore,” Avery questioned regaining her composure a bit as she searched her father’s eyes, “Daddy, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Avery, you know when your mother and I were together, we were very young,” he began clearing his throat.
“I know,” she nodded, “and your marriage happened because she was pregnant with me.  I know that I’m the reason your father forced you two to marry.”
“Avery, having you was the greatest experience of my life,” he promised reaching for her hand, “even in having had to deal with your mother, it was worth it just so that I could be sharing this moment with you right here and now.”
“But it wasn’t because you were in love with the woman you spent your years with, right?” she lifted a curious brow, “It was because you felt a sense of duty and you let the woman you loved slip away because of it, didn’t you?  It was Judy, wasn‘t it?  That‘s why Brooke is so wound up about her.”
“Avery, it’s…” Richard’s eyes told a tired tale of love lost as he touched her cheek gently, “Avery, you’re very much my daughter and I see a lot of myself in you.  That being said, I don’t want you to live with the kind of pain that I’ve harbored all these years.  I don’t want you to lose yourself in a sense of duty and doing what’s expected of you from other ends.”
“In other words you’re telling me that the longer I keep pretending with Brant, the more I stand to lose what I have with Russ,” Avery decided squeezing his hand as she felt his strength beneath her touch.
“I don’t want history repeating itself when I can see how happy Russell makes you.  While I know you two had circumstances tear you apart in the past, I don’t want those circumstances to prevent you two from finding your way home again.  You two spent a lot of years in love--years that I might’ve made difficult for you when I realized that he’d taken a special place in my little girl’s heart, but now, well now I see that he loves you--that he’d be willing to do anything to keep you happy and I want you to know that I’ll support you in any way you need me to.”
“Thank you,” Avery offered up a tiny smile, “and maybe you’re right.  Maybe I am making a mistake in keeping this charade up as both Russell and Brant deserve more than I’ve been giving them in all of this.  Tonight I’m going to have a talk with Russ and once this ridiculous engagement party is over with, I’m going to tell Brant.  I’m going to let him know everything and then I’ll let it ride wherever in whatever direction it was meant to be in.”
“That’s my girl,” Richard smiled back at her hoping that he could help her find a way to face what was in her heart before it was too late.  Now that he’d had a second chance at happiness, he wanted nothing more than for his daughter to have that same opportunity as it was time for the healing process to begin and for love to finally find a way of working itself out.


Thea knocked lightly upon the door before she stepped inside, “Cameron?”

“You’re here. Well, it’s about time,” Cameron declared as he turned from the windows. He turned to face his assistant and crossed his arms, “We have to talk.”

“I got that impression,” She said dryly, “I was just doing some brainstorming with Seth about our progress with the microfilm.”

“Brainstorming? I’m surprised he even has a brain.”

“Really? Then why did you enlist his help in the first place?”

“Because I thought he might be able to make some progress with Blake Ashford, but obviously that isn’t happening,” He frowned, “Did you two come up with anything?”

“We were making progress before you called,” She declared before she sat upon his sofa and crossed her shapely legs, “Why exactly did you call, Cameron?”

“I’m growing impatient. We’re not making progress as I would have hoped, and we have to do something immediately, especially since Douglas Mahoney is in town.”

“I take it this is because Step-Daddy stepped on your toes again, huh?” She chuckled softly, “You are much too easily agitated where he’s concerned.”

“And you don’t know when to be quiet,” He declared with warning in his tone, “Douglas’ presence in this town will only hamper our efforts…then again, it’s not like anyone is working except for me anyway so what’s the difference?”

“I beg your pardon,” Thea demanded as she stood quickly, “I have been busting my ass in one way or another for you since we got into this paltry little excuse for a town. I’ve set up Grady Denton, I’ve made sure all the files you’ve asked for are upon your desk, and I’ve been looking into the cute little blond that you asked about. I’m waiting for information from out west about her, but dammit, Cameron, I’ve done everything you’ve asked for. So don’t act like I’m falling down on the job here.”

“Then why are things falling apart?”

“Maybe because you aren’t taking enough steps on your own?” She countered, “You need to put some pressure on where the Ashfords are concerned and announce your presence. You also need to push Kipp to renew his ties to Blake Ashford. We need that microfilm, not to mention that ring.”

Cameron watched Thea carefully before he took a step towards her, “Are you saying that I’m the weak link?”

“If the shoe fits, Cam, you should wear it,” She smiled as she slipped her hands into her pockets, “Maybe it’s time you took a good long look at your own work ethic here.”

He sneered as he turned and made his way to the bar. He poured himself a drink before he turned back towards her, “You know, maybe it’s time I did take a more hands on approach to this town.”


“Meaning you are going to sit on the bench, and I’m going to step forward. It’s time Coral Valley knows just what it has to deal with in Stone Corp, and in Cameron Stone,” Cameron declared firmly before throwing back a stiff drink and glaring across the room at Thea. While she didn’t know it, she’d just given him permission to do what he’d been dying to do…He was about to take the entire world in his hands and make everyone bow to his will.


Russell stepped up to the front porch of his parent’s humble home and he braced himself for this moment before knocking on the door as he thought to how long it had been since he’d sought out any kind of advice from his father.  Sure his father and Grady had been closer over the years than Russell and Elliot Denton had been, but the truth to the matter was that right now Russell needed his father’s help in dealing with the situation that had presented itself.  Being at odds with Grady when Grady was so clearly heading down a path of destruction was something that left Russell on edge--fearing the worst for his older brother.  As the same concerns flooded over Russell, the front door opened and Elliot greeted Russell with the same pleasant expression that he’d always carried with him over the years.
“Russ, come on in,” Elliot greeted his son brightly opening the door further as Russell stepped into the cozy living room, “Your mother is out back in her garden--not that it should surprise you considering that she spends half her time out there these days, though I’m sure you were hoping that she’d be in here to speak with you once you’d called, right?”
“Actually,” Russell began watching his father head towards the doorway to the kitchen to retrieve his mother, “I came here hoping to speak with you for a little bit.”
“With me,” Elliot turned to face his son, noting the seriousness on Russell’s expression, “are you sure about that considering that most of the time when you call you’re mom seems to have all the answers?”
“Not this time,” Russell confessed making his way over to the modest sofa in the center of the room as Elliot watched his son sensing something was brewing behind his troubled features as he joined Russell in the living room.
“So what’s on your mind, son,” Elliot questioned patiently as his eyes fell upon his youngest child in a state of inner turmoil.
“I’m worried about Grady,” Russell explained with a heavy sigh as he turned his attention to his father, “I know that the two of you are close and right now he’s not really speaking with me, so I thought perhaps you could help me reason with him as he still listens to you.”
“What’s going on,” Elliot questioned the lines of his face turning with distress, “Has he gotten into some kind of trouble?”
“Unfortunately he’s found himself wrapped up in a bad situation and I’m worried about him.  He won’t listen to reason and I’m afraid that it’s only going to get him in over his head,” Russell began thinking to the situation his brother had found himself in with Cameron.
“I could say the same about you,” Grady threw out at him as Russell looked up to find his brother standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, “I guess it’s a good thing I checked in with mom first otherwise neither one of us would’ve made it through the front door, huh?”
“Grady,” Elliot’s eyes perked up as he looked to his son, “I didn’t realize that you were here.”
“Mom was showing me a few things she’d just added to her garden, but I was on my way in,” Grady looked in Russell’s direction, a tension spreading over his features, “and it looks like I came at the right time, didn’t I?”
“Well maybe since you’re here, you can tell dad all about your arrangement with Cameron Stone,” Russell folded his arm in front of his chest.
“Cameron who?” Elliot looked between his boys before settling in upon Grady, “Son, are you in some kind of trouble?”
“I’m not the one you should be worried about,” Grady frowned back at Russell, his eyes shooting daggers at him, “Your youngest child is up in over his head again with Avery.”
“Avery?” Elliot turned his attention to Russell once again, “What does she have to do with Grady’s being in trouble?”
“Nothing other than the fact Grady’s made it his mission to try to destroy her just to spite me for being in love,” Russell remarked offhandedly as he glared right back at his older brother.
“To spite you,” Grady repeated with an ironic chuckle, “Russ, when are you going to open your eyes and see that Avery’s the one that’s going to do all the destroying where your life is concerned?  I’m just trying to save you…”
“From love?” Russell’s voice raised with emotion, “From being happy for the first time in a long time?  Sounds like one hell of a horrible thing to save me from.”
“Now boys calm down,” Elliot frowned feeling the tension hang over the air between his sons, “I’m sure we can find a way to talk this out in a civilized fashion as clearly something is happening here beneath the surface that’s bothering the both of you.”
“Yeah Grady’s sold his soul to the devil in the hopes of hurting the woman I love,” Russell tossed back angrily.
“And you’re being an idiot,” Grady grumbled in response focusing on his father, “I don’t know what his problem is, but he’s just begging for trouble again with Avery considering that she’s engaged to Brant Ashford these days.”
“Avery’s engaged again?” Elliot repeated turning his attention fully to Russell, “Is that what brought you here?  To talk about Avery’s moving on with her life?”
“Dad have you not heard a word I said,” Russell frowned in response, “Avery and I are together again, but Grady’s decided to make it his own personal mission to see to it that we don’t stay together.”
“You won’t stay together Russ considering she’s engaged to another man not to mention she only likes screwing with your head when the mood suits her,” Grady folded his arms in front of his chest, “Top that off with an impending murder investigation with Russell being the prime suspect there and you tell me that him being around Avery is a good thing again, dad.”
“Is that true,” Elliot took everything in as he stood between his sons, “Are you in some kind of trouble, Russell?”
“I didn’t kill anyone nor did I do anything wrong,” Russell pleaded with his father, “I just chose to open my heart up to love again which is clearly something that Grady is too stubborn to do since Susan left him and now he wants me to be as miserable as he is.”
“You son of a,” Grady lunged forward unable to contain his mounting frustrations as Elliot moved in between them stopping a fight from breaking out.
“That’s enough out of both of you,” Elliot ordered, his otherwise patient voice transforming into something more authoritative and firm as he eyed his children with a stern look, “You’re not children anymore and this won’t be settled with a fist fight in my living room.  Your mother isn’t going to want you tearing one another apart and I’m not going to sit back and allow it to happen.  That being said if either one of you would like to start talking like a civilized rational adult, then I’ll be more than happy to hear this one out, but until then, neither one of you is going to take one step forward.  Is that understood?”
Grady and Russell locked eyes for a long moment before Grady took a step back shrugging his shoulders, “Fine,” he muttered taking a seat in one of the chairs.
“Whatever,” Russell moved to the opposite end of the room slumping down in a chair.
“See, at least we’re getting somewhere,” Elliot took in a breath of relief thankful that his sons still listened to him to some degree as he stood between them, “Now would someone like to start from the beginning here and explain what’s going on here to me?”
“Russell’s thinking with his libido instead of his head these days,” Grady quipped with a deep frown as a crease fell upon his otherwise handsome features.
“And Grady’s too busy damning the world and cursing the women in it to see what’s really happening in my life,” Russell answered sitting up straighter as he looked to his father, “Dad, Avery and I are back together again and we’re thinking about moving in with one another.”
“Oh that’s just wonderful,” Grady quipped with a groan, “Gee, does that include your sneaking into the Ashford mansion to sleep in the closet like her play toy while Brant pampers her spoiled ass time and time again?”
“Grady,” Elliot’s voice held a warning tone as he raised his hand in the air to silence his older son for a moment while taking in what Russell had to say.  A soft sigh spilled over his lips before he looked to Russell, “So you say you and Avery are together again, yet she’s engaged to an Ashford like Grady claims?”
“It’s not like that,” Russell began to argue noting the expression on his father‘s face, “and before you even lay into me about how I should be careful around Avery, you should at least hear me out on this--without his interruptions,” he motioned towards Grady with a grumble.
“That’s because you know I’m the voice of reason here even if you’re too snowed by Avery to see it,” Grady threw out taking in the look his father gave him before settling back in his chair before waving his hands at Russell, “fine, go ahead and tell him about your fairy tale with Avery.  I’m sure he’ll buy into it as much as I did when I managed to talk the police into letting you out of jail.”
“You were in jail?” Elliot lifted a concerned brow, “Russell, what have you gotten yourself into this time?”
“It’s not nearly as bad as Grady makes it sound,” Russell began quickly, “Look, you’ll hear about it sooner or later so I’ll just tell you before Grady puts his own spin on things.  Avery’s ex wound up being pulled out of Lake Cardinal not so long ago.  No one knows who was behind the murder, but the FBI is involved and saying that it was indeed murder.”
“And you’re tied into this how?” Elliot questioned further.
“Because he’s too stupid to stay away from Avery when she’s needing a scapegoat for all her problems,” Grady remarked bitterly, “She’s going to be the end of him one way or another and if he keeps this up, it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.”
“Dad, Avery had nothing to do with what happened to Bruce Mathis and neither did I,” Russell explained desperately, “As for her engagement with Brant, well it was just some stupid rumor that spun out of hand before the FBI came to down.  She and I were going to clear up the rumors, but with this investigation, well we decided we’d keep the façade up for a little longer before we told everyone else about what was happening with us.”
“Yeah and they’re really smooth about it too considering that Brant Ashford believes that Avery is his one true love and from the vibe I’m getting from her, she doesn’t seem any less determined to keep him believing it either,” Grady offered up shaking his head, “Russ, when are you going to see that she’s just playing you all over again just like last time?”
“Last time her mother did things--things you wouldn’t understand, but then again I wouldn’t expect you to even try to understand since after Susan you’ve viewed every woman as nothing short of pure evil.  Hell, you won’t even give Jade the time of day when she’s practically begging for your attention because of it, and then you sit here and judge me for following my heart.  Maybe you should take a good, hard look at yourself before you criticize me there Grady.”
“Oh please, Russ you’ve always been so naïve where Avery’s concerned that you can’t even open your eyes up to what she’s trying to do to you all over again,” Grady threw out as he glanced over at his father, “Tell him that he’s making a mistake.  Maybe if he hears it from you, he’ll start thinking again.”
“Russell,” Elliot took in a breath as he focused on his youngest son and he began to weigh in what his children were telling him.
“Before you even begin taking his side, know that he’s working for a thief and a murderer that’s trying to take down BBK.  Grady’s the one who’s making the bad decisions here--not me.”
“I’m only trying to protect you and if you’re too blind to see that, then maybe you deserve to have Avery dump on you again,” Grady replied his voice raising with anger, “and my working for Cameron isn’t the issue here, so stop trying to turn this on me.”
“Boys, boys,” Elliot frowned deeper as he looked over to Russell, “Russ, do you really believe in your heart that Avery’s the one…even if she’s tangled up with the Ashford family?”
“She’s not tangled up with them,” Russell defended, “I mean sure she works for Brant and the guy doesn’t seem to get a clue when she tells him she’s not interested, but the truth to the matter is that I love Avery and Avery loves me.”
“Only in your dreams,” Grady muttered under his breath, “Avery’s one true love is herself.”
“Enough,” Elliot warned as he searched Russell’s eyes, “You feel very strongly on this issue with Avery, don’t you?”
Russell nodded in response, “I’d lay down my life for her if need be as I’ve seen what it’s like in being without her and I don’t ever want to go there again.”
“Yet Brant Ashford has also laid his intentions out on the table by proposing to her,” Elliot noted further.
“It’s not a real engagement.  He gave her some stupid ring to make some jackass they were doing business with think that Avery was off limits, and knowing Brant I’m sure he had some kind of ulterior motive there when the story leaked to the media, but Avery’s heart is with me--it’s always been with me.”
“I’m sure that’s the same line of bull she’s feeding Brant as well and when she dumps you…” Grady began unable to take listening to his brother’s fairy tales about Avery, “When are you going to wake up Russ?”
“When are you going to learn that you can’t live my life for me?  That you can’t make my decisions and change my mind when it doesn’t suit you?” Russell growled back at him before throwing his hands in the air, “This is ridiculous.  I shouldn’t have bothered,” he rose from his chair, “I’m sorry to have wasted your time, dad.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Elliot stood quickly, “You can’t just leave like that.  Clearly this is anything but over between the two of you…and I hate to see you at odds with one another over this.”
“Which is why he should wizen up and kick Avery to the curb before he jeopardizes our entire family for her,” Grady added smugly, “It’s the only right thing to do.”
“Oh you would say that, but you know what I don’t care,” Russell shot back at him with a glare, “I love Avery and there isn’t a damn thing that you or anyone else can do to change that.”
“Russell, no one is trying to change that,” Elliot piped in quickly feeling the tension hanging in the air between his sons, “Grady’s just trying to understand the situation.”
“He doesn’t want to understand.  He just wants to eradicate any trace of Avery from my life,” Russell answered icily.  “He doesn’t want to give Avery another chance.”
“Why should I when she damn near destroyed you once before when she left you at your wedding?  On your wedding day no less Russell!”
“That was a lifetime ago,” Russell threw out as he turned to Elliot, “and before you lecture me on…”
“I’m not going to lecture you, so just get that out of your head right now,” Elliot replied firmly, “The truth to the matter is that you have to do what you feel is right and if that means you and Avery finding your way back together again, then so be it.  I just hope that this time fate won’t play you both a bad hand especially now that there’s an Ashford involved.”
“Yeah, so maybe you can take that and think for a change,” Grady piped in when his father’s words suddenly dawned in on him, “What did you just say?”
“I said that your brother needs to follow his heart and if his heart is with Avery, then so be it,” Elliot replied with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “Who are we to judge matters of the heart especially when your brother feels so passionately on the subject?”
“Um, hello am I the only one that remembers what she did before,” Grady blinked back at his father unable to believe what he was hearing, “Does everyone else remember how she tore Russ apart and we were the ones left to pick up the pieces?”
“The past is sometimes best left in the past and if Russell is happy again, then who are we to try to keep him from that happiness,” Elliot began facing Grady, “I remember not too long ago I was in the same position with a son of mine who was dead set on following his heart to the altar with a woman he’d so desperately loved.”
“And if I’d have been spared the agony of having to have lived through that, I might’ve been better off because of it,” Grady replied with a heavy look of disapproval raising his voice with each word, “I can’t believe you’re going to sit back and pretend that this is okay when it isn’t.”
“What’s going on in here,” Cheryl Denton entered the living room only to discover her three men all together again as her eyes widened in surprise, “Russell, darling what are you doing here?”
“I came over to talk with dad,” he explained setting aside his frustrations long enough to greet his mother.  He reached out to her with open arms, pulling her into a steady hug, “but I’m glad you’re here too.”
“It’s good to see you son,” she squeezed him against her, “and I must say that while I was surprised to see Grady, it’s an even better thing to have you both here.”
“I’m not staying,” Grady began stubbornly with a huff, “since clearly today’s not a good day to be around.”
“Nonsense,” Cheryl waved her hand at him, “I want you to stick around as it’s been so long since we’ve had the both of you here.”
“Actually I’m only on a break from the newspaper,” Russell began, “which reminds me, you should come down once in a while and I’ll give you the grand tour now that I’ve cleaned up the place a bit.”
“I would love to, but you know how busy the animal hospital has been,” Cheryl smiled at him as she patted his arm, “but I suppose that’s no excuse, now is it?”
“Mom, you can use as many excuses as you like just as long as you and dad find yourself over for dinner with me and Avery some night as we’d love to have you,” Russell flashed her a bright smile.
“Avery,” her eyes widened in surprise, “now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.”
“And probably one that you were hoping we wouldn’t hear again,” Grady added with a full frown.
“Grady,” his father threw out a warning tone.
“Oh come on.  Don’t pretend that it didn’t bother you as much as it bothered me when she walked all over Russell.  I know it did and I also know that none of you would be happy about this under normal circumstances, but then again since Russ came over here to skew this in his direction,” Grady shook his head with heavy disapproval, “I’m obviously not going to get in my side of things, so what’s the point?”
“Grady,” Elliot began watching his son get ready to walk out the door.
“It was nice seeing you again, mom,” Grady kissed his mother on the cheek before walking to the front door and opening it.
“Wait a second,” Elliot spoke sternly, “Grady, don’t even think about leaving just yet.”
“I think we’ve said all there is to say,” Grady grumbled in response, “so what’s the point?”
“The point is you and I need to have a talk son,” Elliot began as Cheryl tugged on Russell’s arm gently.
“How about I show you my flowers out back?  I just planted some red ones that I’m certain you’re going to love,” she promised sensing the need for her husband to have some alone time with their oldest son.
“Sure,” Russell followed his out into the backyard hoping that somehow his father could talk some sense into Grady as Grady’s obsession with hating Avery was leading him down a path of self-destruction that would only lead to misery as working for Cameron Stone was nothing but a dead end for him.


Brant knocked lightly before he opened the door and looked around the interior of the office, “Ken?”

“Yeah, come on in,” Kenneth replied as he stirred a pitcher of martinis, “I figured I’d better prepare the good stuff if you wanted to talk.”

“You know, I really hate that you can read me that well,” Brant sighed as he closed the door behind him. He shed his coat and tossed it over the arm of the sofa before casually stepping around the room, “It’s been a while since I’ve been by here.”

“Yeah, it has,” Kenneth nodded as he filled two glasses. He dropped two olives into each glass before he extended one of the glasses to his brother, “So what is this solemn occasion all about?”

“I’ve just been doing some thinking about our family.”

“That’s never a good thing,” Kenneth sighed as he sat on one of his plush leather chairs, “Have a seat and tell me about it.”

“It’s just that this lawsuit is really bringing up some bad memories of the way things used to be,” Brant frowned as he sat on the sofa and stared at the olives within the glass, “Dad never did business with any shred of ethics.”

“This is no surprise,” Kenneth said simply as he finished a sip of his drink. He looked to his brother as he sat his drink aside, “Why did you really come here, Brant?”

Brant continued staring into his drink, “Do you think I’m turning out to be like Dad?”

“Why would you even ask that?”

“There are times when I wonder if I’ve done enough to change BBK since Dad died. With this lawsuit, I’ve been rummaging around in the archives at BBK,” Brant paused, “It brought a lot of memories back.”

“Brant, you are nothing like Dad, and I should slug you for even thinking about it,” Kenneth sighed, “You’ve done everything you could to change BBK and the way people perceive the company.”

“It doesn’t matter. Dad’s old associates still expect things to be business as usual,” Brant placed the drink upon an end table before sinking back on the sofa, “With Cameron Stone coming out of the woodwork now, there’s no telling what other dirty little secrets of Dad’s are out there lurking, just waiting to bite us all in the ass.”

“You’re really concerned about this guy, aren’t you?” Kenneth asked as he sat forward.

“Aren’t you?” Brant asked as he looked towards his brother, “This guy files a lawsuit against you, and then it just so happens that he owns a controlling interest in Midlands? Don’t you think that’s just a bit more than coincidental?”

“It does seem that he’s gunning for our family,” Kenneth paused for a moment as he considered his next words, “And it’s not just us, Brant.”

“What? What do you mean?” Brant asked in concern as he sat up and focused on Kenneth, “Something happen with Blake?”

“Nothing that she won’t get over eventually. The guy she was seeing, did you meet him?”

“Seth? I ran into him a couple of times, gave him a pretty firm warning where Blake was concerned as well. Don’t tell me he was truly stupid and ignored my friendly suggestions to keep Blake happy?”

“I’m afraid it goes deeper than that. He was working for Cameron Stone.”

“He what?” Brant demanded as he stood, “That little bastard was…what did he do to Blake? Did she find him out?”

“Sort of,” Kenneth shrugged as he raised his hand towards Brant, “She had found out about his alliance with Cameron, but she thought he was on our side of things and only being forced to work for Cameron. I didn’t particularly buy it, but she wouldn’t hear me out.”

“Wait, you knew about this?”

“Yes, I did,” Kenneth nodded.

“Have I suddenly been voted out of the family? Don’t I get to know what’s going on anymore?” Brant demanded.

Kenneth sat back in his chair, “There you go, Brant. Pull the brat routine. It always scores lots of points with me,” He crossed his arms, “Now would you shut up and let me finish explaining this story?”

Brant frowned before sinking back onto the sofa with his displeasure obvious upon his features.

Kenneth took in a deep breath before he spoke again, “When I took Caitlin home this morning, Blake was there. Apparently, she went there last night after something happened between Seth and her. She hasn’t gone into details as she says she doesn’t want to get into it, but I get the feeling that whatever he did or said to her, it was very rough.”

“Is she okay?” Brant asked with concern thick in his voice.

“Physically, she’s fine, and I think she’s going to be emotionally. It’s raw right now, but I think she’ll get over him. Still,” Kenneth began, “I don’t think it would hurt if you were to have a talk with her.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’ve done the relationship merry-go-round more times than I can count, and you have some experience in dealing with the after effects of a break up.”

“Ken, I hate to point this out, but I’m usually the one doing the dumping, not the one being dumped.”

“True, but you still know all the steps in the break up dance. Besides that, you’re the fun brother, remember?”

Brant shook his head as he exhaled, “Does this mean she’s going to cry on me?”

“That’s generally what women do when they have broken hearts, Brant,” Kenneth said dryly.

“I know that,” Brant rolled his eyes, “I just hate seeing Blake cry. She’s one of the few women whose tears really get to me.”

“Yeah, Blake does have a way of really making it all hit home, doesn’t she?” Kenneth asked as he thought of their little sister, “She has no idea what true horrors are in the world.”

“Do you think we’ve gone too far in protecting her?” Brant asked as he glanced to Kenneth, “I can’t imagine what she’d do if she knew even half of the things that have happened in this family.”

“And I hope we never have to tell her. We’ve done the right thing, Brant. Blake should never have to know what’s happened in the past. Hell, if I had the option, I’d forget all of it and live my life in blissful ignorance too,” Kenneth shook his head as he picked up his drink.

“Me too,” Brant admitted, “But the fact is that I know too much,” He scoffed and rolled his eyes, “I’ve seen way too much, and I’ve cleaned up too many of Dad’s messes to ever be able to forget.”

“Then let’s make sure that Blake never have to live with what we know,” Kenneth said as he met his brother’s eyes.

Brant nodded as he lifted his martini into the air, “To protecting Blake,” When Kenneth nodded and took a sip of his drink, Brant added, “And to protecting our family’s future from the stupid mistakes of the past,” He concluded as he had a feeling that his future would somehow meet his past full circle in any dealing involving Cameron Stone.


“Jade, please come in,” Diego smiled as he held the door open in welcome of his patient, “It’s been a while since I’ve heard from you. I was actually a little surprised when I received your call this morning.”

“Well, I know it’s been a while since I’ve had a session with you, but something’s come up and I could really use your advice,” Jade explained as she placed her jacket and purse upon the sofa before turning towards him.

“You’re certainly looking very good,” He smiled as he approached her, “And you seem happy, happier than I’ve ever seen you in fact,” He stopped as his smile radiated outward. He nodded towards the sofa, “Have a seat and tell me what’s made life so wonderful.”

She sat down and smiled as she folded her hands upon the arm of the sofa, “I’m in love.”

“I thought that might be the case. You look like you’re walking on air.”

“I am,” She smiled brightly, “I’ve never been so happy as I am now. And this morning, things just got better when he told me that he loved me for the first time. I really thought my heart was going to explode I was so happy.”

Diego smiled, “Then I don’t understand. If you’re so happy, why do you need any advice from me?”

“Actually, not all my life is going so well. Of course, I’m in love and the very fact that Grady loves me as well just completes the package. However, there’s a glitch.”

“What glitch?”

Jade frowned, “Seth.”

“I take it he disapproves…again.”

“That’s just it. I don’t understand why he could possibly disapprove of Grady. He’s successful, steadfast, loyal,” She shrugged, “I don’t understand why Seth won’t even give him a chance.”

“Have you tried to speak to him about your romance?”

“Yes, even though I knew it wouldn’t work,” She groaned, “Last night, he came over for dinner with Grady and I. Seth lashed out at Grady and practically accused him of setting me up for an attack exactly like the one I endured. Grady didn’t know what the hell Seth was talking about, but I was livid and I threw Seth out. I don’t want that to be the end of it, Dr. Hernandez. I love my brother, and he’s all I’ve got of a family. I can’t lose him, but at the same time, I can’t lose Grady either. How do I make Seth see that Grady is not like any one of the men who attacked me?”

Diego studied Jade closely, “Had Seth met Grady before?”

“Only in passing,” She pled with him using her eyes, “I don’t know what I can do about the situation. I’ve tried reasoning with Seth, but all he sees is the same naive girl who fell into Dad’s trap. I’m not that person anymore. Don’t get me wrong. She’s still a part of me, but I’m stronger, smarter, and a lot more street wise.”

“You don’t have to defend yourself to me, Jade. You never did. It was never your judgment at fault. It was your father’s.”

“I know. I really do. But I don’t think Seth sees it that way. He just sees me as a stupid kid chasing some older man, just begging to be hurt again.”

“What does Grady have to say about the situation?”

“He’s the one who suggested dinner for everyone to get to know one another. I told him it was a stupid idea because Seth is never going to change his ways. He’s always going to see me as the same helpless stupid little girl who didn’t know she was being used.”

“It sounds like Grady wants things to work out then.”

“Of course he does, but does Seth even bother to see that Grady is trying? No, he just starts in with the insults and accusations.”

“Then let’s try something,” Diego said as he sat forward a bit, “Perhaps we can convince Seth that things aren’t the way he believes them to be.”

“What do you have in mind? At this point, I’m up for anything,” She admitted.

“Why don’t I give Seth a call? I’ll ask him his feelings about the situation, and since he’s always responded very well to me, perhaps we can bring him around. If that doesn’t work, I’d like to suggest an alternative.”

“Meaning what exactly?”

“We could have some group sessions. You, Grady, Seth, and myself. It’ll be a neutral playing field, and I’ll be the arbitrator. Seth and Grady can get to know one another, and I can mediate between them.”

“I don’t know about that one. I don’t know how either one of them would feel about that.”

“It’s just a suggestion, Jade, and it would be the last resort. But I think it would be a place to start for everyone.”

“You know, it’s not really a bad idea, but Seth is so stubborn,” She groaned.

“And so are you,” He smiled, “So something tells me that you’re not going to give up so easily.”

“Do I ever?” She teased with a grin before she stood and extended her hand to him, “Thank you for helping me. I appreciate that so much.”

“No problem. I’ll give you a call after I speak with Seth,” Diego said as he shook her hand, “I hope I can convince him that he needs to see you for the strong and independent woman you’ve become.”

Jade smiled, “I hope you can too, but either way I want things to work out for all of us,” She said before she left his office with a newfound hope about the situation with her brother.


Dave posted the picture of the real Bruce Mathis upon his cork board and frowned, “If this guy is Bruce Mathis, who the hell is dead?”

“That’s a good question,” Shannon frowned as she sat in a nearby chair, staring at the photo upon the board, “I wonder if this guy has any idea about who could have stolen his identity.”

“I suppose there’s only one way to find out about that one,” He crossed his arms, “Still, why steal someone else’s identity if you’re an upstanding guy? Bruce never seemed like a questionable guy. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone who was so uptight about always being the outstanding doctor of society.”

“Is it possible he was trying too hard to cover something up from his past?”

“Anything is possible,” He shrugged, “And there were those pictures of Avery in this guy’s apartment.”

“How about we call this guy just Dr. Doe for the time being since we don’t really know who he is?” She suggested, “So the Doc had these photos of Avery…maybe there’s more to this story. Maybe she knows more than she’s telling.”

“Please tell me you’re not thinking of traveling down that nasty little road again. Didn’t you learn the last time that the Ashfords are untouchable?”

Shannon smiled, “She’s not an Ashford…at least not yet. Besides, she’s not a suspect, a material witness maybe, but she’s not a suspect. I can ask her a few questions. And if she didn’t know that Dr. Doe wasn’t Bruce Mathis, she’s going to be just as curious about this as we are. And she could use Ashford resources to find some answers that we can’t get to legally.”

Dave’s frown deepened, “You’re suggesting a partnership with Avery Morrison?”

“Not really. I’m just saying that the Ashford name and influence opens a lot of doors that will always be closed to us. They don’t have to worry about pesky little things like the Fourth Amendment and due process. They can side step a lot of rules.”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you of all people.”

“Believe me, the idea of the Ashfords being able to do anything for me or my investigation galls me to no end. But if we question the real Bruce Mathis and come up with a dead end,” She shrugged, “We may not have any other options.”

“How do you suggest we go about this then? We go and politely apologize to Avery for ever suspecting her in the first place, and then we ask her for her help. I can tell you how that one will go. After Avery looks at us as if we’re crazy, she’ll laugh in our faces and then slam the door on us. She’s not going to want to help us.”

“Not us,” Shannon agreed before a small smile crept across her features, “But I think she’d rise to the challenge of helping Jenna. Jenna Carpenter is already in a precarious situation where her job is concerned thanks to your deputy moron there.”

“Hey, lay off Sharpe, okay?” Dave sighed.

“Fine,” Shannon frowned, “But think about this. If Jenna is concerned for her job and if she thinks Avery could help, I think Avery would comply with Jenna’s request a lot faster than she would even listen to us.”

“You have a point. Still, I hate to use one of our own in that manner.”

“I don’t like the idea either, but I hate the idea of hitting a brick wall a lot worse.”

“Okay,” Dave nodded, “We’ll question the real Bruce Mathis, and then we’ll find a way to press Jenna.”

“So let’s get started,” Shannon smiled as she stood from her seat, ready to find some answers to fit the numerous questions spewing forth from the Mathis investigation.


Jenna returned to work knowing that there would be no avoiding the mess that she’d encountered on her way back as her blouse was still stained with the brown remains of her coffee.  As if her morning hadn’t already began with a rough start considering that there was a missing corpse out in the open somewhere and the FBI would most certainly be demanding more answers out of her despite the fact that it was indeed their screw up this time around.  With that thought in mind, Jenna made her way into her office trying to dismiss her strange meeting with the man in the limo and hoping to ignore the flack she’d get from some of the agents lurking around the morgue.  Granted Callaway seemed to be pretty decent about things, but Jenna wasn’t stupid enough to believe that if she didn’t produce that he’d continue to be so generous with her.  Now as she entered her small, overcrowded office, she began to tear her shirt from her body as a groan spilled over her lips.
“You would so not believe the day I’m having,” she muttered to her reflection in the small mirror before her as she opened her small locker up pulling out the scrub top she was certain would be waiting for her.  Even if it wasn’t exactly a perfect match with her slacks, it would have to do for now, she decided discarding the coffee stained blouse with a sigh.
“I’d sure love to hear about it,” a voice rose from behind her as Jenna felt a gasp spill over her lips and she spun around almost immediately to find Hart standing behind her, a twisted smirk on his face as his eyes widened in open appreciation of her.
“Wh-what are you doing here,” she questioned harshly pulling her blouse against her chest as surprise rushed over her, “How did you get in here?”
“I told the security guard that you were expecting me,” Hart’s gaze dropped over the smooth lines of her exposed skin, “and if I’d known that this was how you’d be greeting me, well I might’ve found a more appropriate way of making my presence known around here--then again, probably not as this was a nice element of surprise.”
“Listen you pervert,” Jenna huffed, her surprise transforming into anger as she glared at him, “You have no business being in here regardless of who you sweet talked in the process.”
“Oh would you just relax,” he waved his hand at her dismissively as he sat at her desk looking too at home in her small office, “It could’ve been much worse you know.”
“The worst is yet to come if you don’t get out of here like now,” Jenna threatened her eyes darkening with anger.
“You do realize that the longer you sit back and argue with me on this, the more you’re giving me ideas about you--at least enough of them to give me some good dreams tonight,” he motioned to the book on her desk, “though I’m guessing you are having some dreams yourself here.”
“You’re beyond pathetic,” she rolled her eyes at him, “as if you’d inspire any kind of rise out of me.”
“Then what’s the problem Doctor?” he lifted a curious brow, “Why not finish what you were doing and I’ll just sit here and talk about why I’m here?”
“I’m not changing in front of you,” Jenna shot back bitterly.
“You’re already changing in front of me,” Hart leaned back further in her chair folding his arms behind his head, “I don’t mind if you continue, so don’t stop on my account.”
“Oh you,” she frowned wanting to stomp over to her desk and knock the smugness off of his features, but instead she threw her blouse at him, making her goal as it smacked him right square in the face and she quickly pulled the scrub shirt over her head just in time for Hart to realize what she’d done and he managed to miss any further peeks of her much to his dismay.
“Now was that really necessary,” he questioned still holding onto her blouse as she stepped in closer to her desk.
“You’re lucky that I’m feeling generous right about now or else I might’ve used a paper weight instead,” Jenna shrugged her shoulders, “though I doubt that would’ve brought any sense into you.”
“You know I think we’re seriously going to have to sit down and have a talk about this relationship between us.  We should really rethink the ways in which you try to deal with me--”
“We don’t have a relationship or a partnership for that matter,” Jenna pointed between them, “and I don’t know who you bribed to get in here, but it’s time for you to leave plain and simple.”
“Now where’s the gratitude for the man who managed to get you back in here again,” Hart placed his hand over his chest watching her closely, “I thought you’d at least offer up a thank you for my putting a good word in with the FEDS.”
“You’re so full of it,” Jenna grumbled back at him, “I’m fully aware of how I got my job back and it had nothing to do with you, which really doesn’t surprise me as I knew you were full of hot air when it got down to it…”
“Jenna, I told you I’d do whatever was necessary to get you back in with the powers that be and now that you’re here, I’d imagine that would show you a little bit of my sincerity in our arrangement,” Hart began with a heavy frown, “yet here you are willing to forget about all my efforts.”
“My being here was due to the fact that there’s a missing body and nothing to do with you.  That much I’m certain of,” Jenna shot back at him with an icy glare, “which doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
“So the rumors are true then,” Hart lifted a curious brow, “Mathis just vanished without a trace due to the FBI’s incompetence.”
“I never said that,” she froze up opting not to open herself up to an alliance with Hart because he couldn’t be trusted.  She had to get herself back to thinking like that again or else it could lead to trouble.
“You didn’t have to,” he rose from her chair, his eyes penetrating her as he moved in closer to her, “I can see it in the way you’re standing there trying to shut me out of what’s going on.”
“You’re a lawyer and you really have no business being here,” Jenna threw out in her best professional tone.
“What about our deal?”
“It wasn’t nearly as binding as you thought it was as you didn’t produce on your end,” she answered flatly.
“Oh I think I produced and then some,” Hart insisted making his way towards her as a smile swept over his handsome features, “and along the way I think we began working on another arrangement between us.”
“Unless you’re giving me a free pot shot at kicking your ass, then I don’t think we’ve got anything going here,” Jenna answered folding her arms in front of her chest, “although right now, I could call security and then we can have some real fun together when they work on throwing you out of here.”
“You really work hard at trying to hate me, don’t you?” he questioned.
“It comes naturally,” she shrugged her shoulders.
“I sincerely doubt that,” he argued.
“You don’t have a sincere bone in your body,” she countered feeling him step towards her, each movement cool and calculated as she tried to ignore the way her pulse stirred at the nearness of him.
“How would you know?  Don’t you think it’s a little presumptuous on your end considering how early on we are in this relationship,” he argued with her.
“There is no relationship,” she reminded him once again, “I already told you…”
“I know what you told me, but maybe it’s about time we get into what you’re not telling me,” Hart decided boldly as he bridged the distance between them, his confidence stirring up a daringness in the air surrounding him, “Given the line of work I’m in, it’s my job to figure out what the truth is and you Dr. Carpenter are doing anything, but presenting me with all the facts on this situation.”
“I’ve given you the facts, but considering your profession, you’re going to rely on your bravado to give you the verdict that you’re looking for, but in this scenario, I must admit that it’s a rather unsavory outcome that you won’t be able to come out unscathed from if you continue down this line of examination between us.”
“Hmm, well there hasn’t been a jury that I couldn’t persuade to see things in my favor,” Hart sighed casually, “So I don’t really believe my luck is going to be changing any time soon.”
“I don’t think you’re going to come even remotely close to getting lucky if that’s what you’re hoping for,” Jenna threw out at him as she placed her hand out in front of her deciding it was time to put some space between them as her fingers clutched over the center of his chest, somehow surprised by the strength beneath her palm.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Hart winked down at her as the warmth of her touch seemed to linger over him and he leaned forward opting to up the stakes in this game of persuasion as he was going to wow her with his trademark kiss.  Leaning forward, he noticed the small hint of a gasp that fell over her parted lips and when her eyelashes fluttered in response to the nearness of him, he knew he was going to continue going for the gusto as Jenna wanted to kiss him as much as he wanted to kiss her.  There was no denying that and now he’d win her over as he was certain that…
“Who the hell let you in here,” a voice demanded breaking through Hart’s shining moment of impending victory as Jenna leapt as far away from him as she could in that millisecond when the spell had been broken.  Hart slowly spun around to find the angry eyes of a man he’d never imagined he’d encounter again staring back at him.
“Callaway,” Hart tried to keep his surprise from showing as he stood up straighter adjusting his tie, “I didn’t think that you’d be back in Coral Valley again so soon--then again in your being here, it only means you pissed someone off at the agency and they’re sending you out for grunt work again, which is more your speed I suppose.”
“On the contrary,” Callaway answered unimpressed, “I’m here to do a job that I have a feeling you’re about to get in the way of yet again as Dr. Carpenter and I need to speak alone.”
“Hmm…Jenna didn’t mention that they’d hired you for janitorial work around here,” Hart tossed back at him smugly, “but then again after Beth left you, I suppose the only other option was to just admit defeat and open up to the fact you’re a failure all around.”
“Still never know when to call it quits with that mouth of yours, huh?” Callaway’s eyes darkened with something that Jenna couldn’t quite place as she watched the exchange between the two men in silence.  Earlier Callaway seemed to be calm and collected, but at Hart’s words, he seemed to look more than eager to have a fight--as if this meeting was a long time in the making even with Hart’s ignorance working on overload.
“Assistant Director Callaway was one of those responsible for my being brought back into work here,” Jenna piped in favoring Callaway’s position a bit.
“Hmm…Assistant Director huh?” Hart gave him a sideways glance, “So now their offering out pity promotions in the FBI?  Interesting…though it explains a lot about how this situation with Bruce Mathis came about now doesn’t it considering they have incompetents in charge of things these days…”
“The only incompetent I see before me is you,” Callaway shot back at him bitterly, his features devoid of all emotions except for the eyes that held so much contempt for Hart.
“That’s not what Beth was telling me the last time I saw her.  Then again the only time I think you ever really gave her pleasure was when she found her way into my arms as you were a shining example of what she didn‘t want in the bedroom or in a husband,” Hart threw back at him as Callaway’s features immediately shifted and he lunged towards Hart.
“You son of a bitch,” he growled ready to tear Hart apart as Jenna stepped in not knowing the history between the two men, but not needing to hear more before it became quite evident that there was going to be something much worse than a missing body going on in the Coral Valley morgue.
“Stop,” Jenna announced firmly planting herself between the two men as she noticed Callaway’s jaw tight with tension, “This isn’t the place for whatever it is you two want to get into.”
“He has no business being here,” Callaway warned sharply, “I don’t want him near this investigation and if you’re working with him…”
“I’m not,” Jenna threw out quickly, “He was just on his way out of here as he’d come to speak about a client of his, isn’t that right Hart?”
“Actually I had a more pressing matter that…” he began smoothly.
“This area is for authorized personnel only Hart, which by the way last time I checked, you weren’t on the list and if you are, well I’ll work on remedying that problem,” Callaway sneered in response before turning to Jenna, “You’re needed back in there and I expect there won’t be any more delays.”
“No there won’t be,” Jenna replied watching Callaway take a step back, adjusting his tie and throwing out one last glare at Hart before leaving Jenna’s office.  She turned to Hart seeing the smugness that hung over him as she frowned deeply, “What the hell was that?”
“He started it,” Hart defended to Jenna’s disbelieving eyes, “You know if he’s running things, then you’re never going to get to the truth.”
“You weren’t helping me get to it as I was doing all the work on my own,” Jenna reminded him pointedly.
“He’s a jack ass and it’s all about politics to him,” Hart frowned again.
“Like it isn’t to you,” she folded her arms.
“Jenna,” he saw the way she was watching him before he sighed, “Oh alright, the truth to the matter is that Callaway and I were up against one another on a murder trial a few years ago.  My client was innocent and he was out to let him burn…”
“Just like Patrick was innocent,” Jenna began doubtful as she thought to her own situation.
“Look this guy I was defending was squeaky clean, but Callaway was looking for a fall guy to make his name known throughout the Bureau.  To make a long story short, he threw out all the stops to help his side win and in the end an innocent man paid with his life because of it and it pissed me off.”
“Because you hate losing?” Jenna challenged.
“No because I hate when I know my client is innocent and something like that happens.  I went through an appeal and eventually the verdict was overturned in my client’s favor due to evidence that Callaway suppressed in his quest to get recognition.  After that, I wasn’t exactly on the top of his list,” he shrugged as he thought back to that moment in time, “so he and his FBI buddies harassed me for a bit until I decided to take action.”
“Meaning what?”
“Meaning I started sleeping with his wife,” Hart shrugged his shoulders, “After that Callaway seemed less interested in having his boys following me around.  Around that time Beth saw what a loser he was and well, he had other things to worry about, so I guess in it’s own way it worked out for the best.”
“You’re sick.  I hope you realize that,” Jenna groaned in response feeling her repulsion level kick in, “You know just when I think you might be human…”
“Hey, he was asking for it--practically begging for me to retaliate to him and hey, I did Beth a favor I’ll have you know.”
“I think I’m going to throw up if you even think about getting into a speech about how you saved his wife from sexual monotony.”
“I did do that among other things, but still…” Hart began.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she shoved him towards her office door, “In fact I don’t want to hear anything else you have to say there, so just go.”
“Now wait a second.  I told you what was up with him and you’re throwing me out?”
“I have work to do and you don’t fit into it, so get lost,” Jenna demanded harshly shoving him towards the door.  “I don’t have time for this.”
“Make time because I’m not going away,” he decided firmly standing taller before her, “I want to talk with you about things.”
“Hart, just leave…” she pleaded with him, “If you and Callaway do have a history, I don’t need it mucking up my work here.”
“Fine, then I’ll leave under one condition.”
“No you’ll leave because I’ll call security if you don’t.  Case closed,” she threw back at him.
“Have dinner with me tonight,” he suggested.
“No way.”
“Come on.  It’s only dinner and then we can talk openly about things.”
“There aren’t any things to talk about…”
“You know that’s not true, Jenna,” he began to argue with her, “Just one dinner.  After dinner you can toss me aside.”
“Fine, then if you want dinner, we’ll do it this way,” she decided thinking about her encounter with Douglas, “You pick out what you think is the ritziest place in town and you go there around six.  I’ll be there in something sexy,” she stepped in towards him offering a flirty smile, “and if you’re there at the same place since you believe that we’re so in touch with one another, then you won’t have any problems finding me.”
“So you’re making some kind of game out of dinner,” he lifted a curious brow watching her as he tried to figure out her sudden angle.
“That’s right and if you’re a smart guy,” she teased her fingers over his tie, “then you’ll figure out where I’ll be and we’ll have dinner.”
“You’re not going to stand me up are you because I do know where to find you,” he threw back at her as his gaze dropped over her lips.
“If you’re as good as you think you are, then you’ll find me as I will be out for dinner tonight,” she promised seeing the spark behind his eyes as he was tempted.
“Fair enough,” he slid his arm around her waist pulling her in against him in one swift movement as a breath caught in her throat.  Quickly he dropped his lips just over hers and Jenna took in a whiff of his cologne finding herself surprisingly responding to the scent of him as he held her against him, his hold on her promising so much more should she just give in as his lips hovered over hers.
Almost instinctively Jenna turned her mouth up towards his, wanting to tell him to get lost--to go to hell, but instead she found herself longing to embrace the idea of kissing him--of having him tease her, taste her, driving her mad with desire until she couldn’t take it any more and she gave in to the dreams that had been prodding at her all week.  Silently she was caving in as his breath skimmed over hers in a tantalizing fashion.
“Until tonight,” he whispered releasing her much to her surprise as he took a step back smiling as if he’d known how he’d managed to draw out into the open with her and it was in that instant Jenna realized just how much she’d hated him.  He waved once before leaving her office as Jenna silently cursed herself realizing that there was no way in hell she was going to have dinner with him or Douglas for that matter.  If they both thought they were so special, then perhaps luck would have them eating with one another as there was no way Jenna Carpenter was going to waste her time on men who clearly had less than noble intentions for her--then again while naughty was always nice, it most certainly wasn’t in the cards for her and Hart or anyone else that had crossed paths with her for that matter as this time, she was going to work on staying level headed and focused for a change.  That much she was sure of.


Brooke checked the time realizing that she had to get the piece of her puzzle in place as everything depended on things working out the way she’d planned them to be.  So much was riding on Heather playing her part and Brooke refused to take any chances, especially when Avery’s future was hanging by a thread.  She had to find a way to convince her stubborn daughter that fighting what was best would only lead to misery.  Russell wouldn’t be able to take Avery’s future away from her.  Not this time, Brooke vowed as she headed towards the elevators ready to put her plan into action.
“Excuse me,” a voice broke through her thoughts as she entered the elevator, “hold the doors please.”
Brooke pushed the door open button despite her urgency to get to Heather’s room before anyone realized she’d slipped away from the mansion to make this visit.  She began to work out the details of the party in her mind when the face that entered the elevator beside her caught her by surprise.
“Twelve please,” he spoke smoothly, calmly as Brooke’s eyes widened in surprise.
“My today must be my lucky day,” Brooke flashed him a bright smile, “as you’re Douglas Mahoney.”
“Yes I am,” he nodded less than enthusiastic as he casually glanced in her direction.  “What of it?”
“I’m Brooke Downing,” she extended her hand out to him as he failed to make the immediate connection.  A frown touched over her lips as she added, “CEO and founder of Beholder Cosmetics.”
“Ah Brooke,” a smile lifted over his features as he reached for her hand dropping a kiss over the palm as his eyes fell upon her, “Of course.  I’d heard a rumor that you were in Coral Valley seeking out a fresh face for your latest ad campaign.”
“And I’d heard a rumor that you were in town as well seeking out some talent for your up and coming film,” she noted with a bright smile, “Something along the lines of your son working to produce that talent for you.”
“If you’re referring to the nasty rumor that I’d offered his girlfriend a role in my film, then I’m afraid that there is no validity in that rumor,” he offered curtly adjusting his tie, “Although I must say that I heard a curious rumor about you taking Ms. Gibbons on as your new face of Beholder.”
“Have you now?” Brooke lifted a curious brow scrutinizing him as she thought of Heather’s optimistic words.  Suddenly the scheming blonde’s lack of sincerity and honesty seemed to fall into place as Brooke could see Douglas had no feeling of fondness towards the woman who was no doubt trying to bilk his son for all he was worth.  Well, she thought to herself, this is a curious turn of events indeed.
“I should hope that those rumors prove false,” he broke through her thoughts, “As I’d been very eager to work on promoting my new face through a company such as yours.”
“So you have a leading lady in mind from Coral Valley?” she questioned with obvious interest.
He nodded, “You could say that she came up at a most appropriate moment and now that I’ve found her, well I’m willing to promote her in every sense of the word if there was a company with a reputation much like the one your company has going for it…that is if you aren’t linked to a deal with someone shall we say as unsavory as Heather Gibbons,” his tone darkened as he too was sizing her up in the moment.
“I was just about to say the same about you,” Brooke confessed wrinkling her nose appropriately, “as I’d only imagined the horrors you must’ve felt in hearing about her involvement with your son.”
“As far as I’m concerned there won’t be any further involvement between them,” he answered simply thinking of his plans to rid Heather from Kipp’s life permanently.
“That’s refreshing to hear as a woman like that is clearly lacking the character and moral fiber involved in being near someone as impressionable as your son.  Why just the other day my daughter and I were talking about how Heather seems to find a way to put a crimp on even the most well set plans.  In fact, at the moment I was on my way to put some of my innovative thinking to good use in finding a way to rid that gold digger from my daughter and her fiancé’s life as Heather has been quite bothersome to them.”
“Really?” his eyes perked up with obvious interest.  “You don’t say?”
“It seems Heather refuses to give up on the silly notion that Avery’s fiancé has moved on with his life.  In fact even with her carrying on with your son, she seems to be fixated on poor Brant.”
“Brant Ashford?” Douglas repeated even more curious by the moment.
“That’s right.  My daughter is engaged to him and it seems that Heather has been nothing more than a thorn in their happiness and I was coming here today to see that there was an end put to that,” Brooke explained matter of fact, “as I am a woman of action.”
“Funny thing as I too am a person of action,” Douglas offered his smile widening, “and it would seem that where Heather is concerned we are of the same mind which prompts some further discussion I must confess.”
“I was just thinking the same thing,” Brooke stated simply, the wheels in her head turning faster by the moment.
“Then how about we continue this conversation upstairs in my hotel room as I’m sure you and I have a lot to talk about,” he offered cryptically as Brooke realized that Douglas seemed to be exactly what she needed at her side in order to get things to the very place she’d wanted them to be.


Blake walked into the hospital with her briefcase in hand. She’d stopped by the mansion only long enough to take the microfilm from her safe and place the hardcopies she’d made into her briefcase. She was determined to get answers from the microfilm to put an end to Cameron Stone’s quest to invade her family’s peace.

“Blake, hey,” Barbara smiled as she spotted her school chum and stopped, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see Zack Vaughn. Have you seen him?”

“Dr. Vaughn, you know him?” Barbara’s eyes widened a smile grew upon her lips, “How’d you two meet?”

“We met in Los Angeles,” Blake smiled, “He’s a friend.”

“I hope he becomes my friend too,” Barbara grinned, “He’s down the hall in the trauma room at the end of the hall. He’s back there doing some chart review, and I think he’s on the verge of insanity.”

Blake grinned, “I think I’ll go save him then,” She winked gently before she walked down the hall towards the room. She passed other nurses and hospital personnel as she trekked down the hall.

“Excuse me, but you can’t be back here,” A woman stopped her in her path, “You’ll have to go back to the lobby.”

“If you’ll excuse me, I’m here to see Zack Vaughn.”

“And you are?” The woman asked as she crossed her arms.

“I’m Blake Ashford, and you’re in my way,” Blake said as she held her head high and brushed past her.

“Hey,” The woman rushed around Blake and stopped her once again, “I’m the chief resident here, and my name is Doctor Ria Mehran. I’m telling you that you’ll have to go back to the lobby.”

“Well, Dr. Mehran, you may be chief resident now, but if you don’t get out of my way, I’ll see to it that you’re the chief of trash collection by the end of the day. So move it,” Blake warned as she shoved her way by Ria and proceeded into the trauma room where Zack sat beside a gurney, reading over a stack of files, “Explain something to me. How can someone so rude be chief resident?”

“It kind of goes with the territory,” Zack frowned, “I take it you ran into Miss Congeniality out there, huh?”

“If you’re talking about the bulldog out front, yeah, I ran into her,” Blake explained as she placed her briefcase down upon the gurney, “And I was forced to use my Ashford attitude on her. I really hate doing that, but she was just…well…rude.”

He grinned, “That she is, but don’t worry about her. What have you got for me?”

“I brought the hard copies that I made, and I also brought the original microfilm. I thought it might help if you could look at the entire roll,” She explained.

“Well, I can’t view it here. We’ll have to go downstairs to the library,” He said as he closed the file before him. He placed it upon the top of the stack before picking up all the files and tucking them under his arm, “So how are you doing…really?”

“I’ve had better days,” Blake admitted as she followed him from the trauma room, “But I’m living through it. I feel like crap to be honest, and I’d really like to crawl into bed and stay there for a week. But I’m not going to let Seth get to me like that. I’m going to hold my head up and trudge through this.”

“You don’t have to act like it doesn’t hurt, you know,” He reasoned as he led her to the admissions desk and placed his load upon the counter. He began tucking the files into their proper slots, “You don’t have to act like you’re Super Woman. I mean, we all know how wonderful you are, how sexy you are, and not to mention breathtakingly beautiful, but…”

“Oh shush, stop it,” She smacked his arm as her eyes focused upon the floor, “You’re embarrassing me.”

“You? I didn’t think you could be embarrassed. I mean, come on…I have seen you in all your glory remember,” He teased as he finished the filing and turned his complete focus upon her.

“Shut up, Zack,” Blake declared before she rolled her eyes and turned, spotting an unwelcome face entering the emergency room. She quickly turned back around to face Zack, “Oh hell…”

“What?” Zack asked quickly as he saw the color drain from her face, “Blake, what’s wrong?”

“Seth just walked in,” She said, trying desperately to keep her voice from revealing her panic, “What do I do?”

“Don’t worry about it,” He replied as he looked towards the door, “Because it looks like he’s here to see someone else.”

“What?” She asked as she turned to look towards the door. There, she saw Ria hugging Seth with both of them displaying smiling faces, “What the hell?”

“Good question,” He said with an interested tone of voice, “Uh oh, here he comes.”

Blake spun away from looking towards the door and met Zack’s eyes, “What do we do now?”

“Now, we make sure he sees that you’re not defeated,” He replied as a smile slowly grew upon his features.

“Meaning what?” She asked quickly.

“Just fall in line and watch,” Zack said as he looked behind her.

“Blake? Can I have a minute?” Seth asked as he stood nearby.

Blake slowly turned and met the eyes of the man who’d broken her heart, and she prayed to god that she could muster the courage to face him without revealing just how devastated she truly was in front of the entire world.

...to be continued...