Episode Forty Five

Blake stirred gently in the lounge chair she had taken residence in last night. The events of last night were mostly a blur of tears, panic, and shock, but she remember a few key events. Number one, Seth had asked her for a second chance, and number two, Zack had kissed her. While both seemed beyond the realm of possibility, they had both happened right before her very eyes.

She adjusted the blankets covering her before she turned and spotted Zack sitting at the lab table nearby. He seemed to be hard at work, and Blake wondered just how long she’d been asleep. She lifted her wrist and glanced at her watch which alerted her to the early hour of the morning. So she had really spent the night in Zack’s lab after pulling her sulled up routine. Oddly enough, the idea of being here wasn’t at all uncomfortable as she could think of a thousand other places which would have been much worse.

Zack looked up from his work and raised a questioning brow, “So how are we this morning?”

“I don’t know,” She sighed as she pulled the blankets more snuggly around her, “Where…”

“After you fell asleep, I went down the hall and got you some warm blankets and a pillow. I figured if you were going to spend the night in my lab, it might as well be as comfortable as possible,” He said as he put his pen down and turned to face her, “So, how are you?”

“I’m okay, I guess,” She shrugged, “I’ve had much better nights.”

He nodded, “I can imagine, but since you chose to doze off on me, I retrieved the microfilm from your briefcase and I made hard copies of the entire thing,” He said as he pointed to the pile of papers before him, “I’ve been looking over it just with a preliminary glance. Some of this stuff is very impressive.”

“Can you make head or tails of it?” She asked as she shed the blanket and made her way to stand beside him, glancing down at the papers before him.

“Yeah, basically, it’s a chemical formula for a new drug to treat cancer. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks promising.”

“If I retrieve some files from BBK, do you think you could compare these two to see how close they are?”

“What will I be comparing?” He asked as he looked up to her.

“I think that there’s a mole at BBK. I don’t know who it is or who would even be brave enough to do it. Anyway, BBK is working on a new drug to treat cancer, and I’m wondering if these two aren’t one and the same.”

“You think someone’s stealing the formula?”

She nodded, “And if that’s the case, it would seriously hurt BBK. Brant’s had the research and development guys working on this one for a while.”

Zack nodded, “In other words, this is all about money.”

“That’s what most of life’s little problems boil down to, isn’t it?” She said with a hefty sigh, “I’ll get those files for you. It probably won’t be today though. Brant’s party is tonight, and…”

“And you have to go home and get beautiful for me,” He said with a grin.

“Excuse me?” She asked with a slightly taken aback look.

“You did ask me to this party, and I’m not going to let you squirm out of this invitation. I want you to be absolutely gorgeous because I want to have the best time tonight showing everyone just what a knock out you are,” He smiled, “If that doesn’t work, I could always turn around and moon everyone to show them the bruise you gave me by dumping me off the chair last night.”

A slow smile crept over Blake’s lips, “You deserved that.”

“For what? For attempting to cheer you up? For telling the truth? Damn woman, you’re hard to get through to.”

“So you’ve been telling me for years,” She said as she turned and leaned back against the table, “Still, Zack, I don’t want you to pity me. I can deal with what Seth’s done, and I can deal with my own stupidity, but your pity is one thing that I could never deal with.”

“And why would I pity you?”

“Zack, don’t play stupid. Last night, you were humoring me, and it was all out of pity. You don’t have to do that.”

Zack scratched his head, “You must be seriously confused because last night, I wasn’t pitying you nor was I humoring you. Last night, I kissed you because I damn well wanted to, and that kiss was certainly not about pity. It’s true that I don’t like to see you cry, but if you think what happened was my gut reaction, you’re wrong. My gut reaction was to go out, find Seth, and beat the living hell out of him.”

She shook her head with a slight smile, “You’re not going to fess up to this so you should probably just stop while you’re ahead.”

“I’ll stop when I’m damn good and ready,” He informed her as he stood and peered down into her crystal blue eyes, “Everything I said to you last night was the truth. I know I have a really sorry sense of timing, but that’s beside the point. The point is that you’re a beautiful, vibrant woman. Don’t ever let some two bit hustler like Seth make you think you’re anything less than that. You’re Blake Ashford, remember? You’re the princess of the Ashford empire, and you’ve proven to me more times than I can count that you don’t give up easily. So stop acting as if you’re giving up. Prove to me one more time that you’re the Blake I adore.”

“God, that’s a killer pep talk,” She teased as she let out a soft chuckle, “Okay, okay, I guess I have been acting like I’m going to just lay down and take this. But I’m not going to. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself,” She frowned.

“Then let’s tell the rest of the world that as well. What do you say? Think we can have some fun tonight and make the world believe that you’re back in the saddle?” He asked as he gently nudged her.

Blake smiled brightly as her smile finally reached her eyes, “Yeah, I think we can.”

“Good because I’m ready for some fun in this town. First Cait is attacked, and then your heart gets broken,” He shook his head, “Who does a guy have to kill to have some fun around here?”

She chuckled as she wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug, “You won’t have to kill anyone. I promise that tonight I’ll show you just how much fun Coral Valley can be and that the Ashfords throw one hell of a party,” Blake promised as she hugged him, thankful that there was someone in her life who wasn’t going to treat her with kid gloves and would make her take a stand…whether she really wanted to or not.


The sunlight crept in through the sheer curtains hanging in Russell’s bedroom as Avery snuggled into his chest savoring the warmth of him wrapped around her as she embraced these quiet moments with him.  Somehow waking up in his arms after a night with him always seemed to put her mind at ease as there was something so very special about his hold on her.  His arms had always been a source of great strength and security for him, but it was his heart that had truly touched her time and time again as she now came to the realization that no other man had ever made her feel as alive as she did with Russ.  Never before had things felt so completely right as they did in this moment knowing that the man in bed beside her was about to become a special part of her life--one that would stay with her from here on out as they lived their lives together lost in their love.
“Good morning beautiful,” he whispered a smile teasing over the corners of his mouth as a soft yawn fell from his lips.  He traced her spine lovingly with his fingers as he curled her in closer to him, needing to feel her body melt against his as he’d thought to how mesmerizing she’d been when he’d first waken up over an hour ago.  Just holding her like this had been enough motivation to stay in bed a bit longer as it had been the perfect beginning to the first day of the rest of his life with her.
“How long have you been awake,” Avery questioned tracing lazy circled over the center of his chest as his arm coiled around her.
“Just a little while,” he admitted kissing the top of her head gently, “Like maybe an hour or so…”
“You were awake for an hour and you let me keep sleeping,” she questioned bringing her eyes up towards his as she saw the way he was beaming with happiness as they held onto one another.
“What can I say,” he shrugged his shoulders offering up a tiny chuckle, “I thought it would be good practice for me to hold my wife to be like this for a while.  Plus I wanted to make sure that last night wasn’t just a dream--that I wasn’t just fantasizing again as this is everything I’ve wanted for so very long.”
“But it is a dream,” she repositioned herself over him, laying on top of him as she laced their fingers together as she admired their rings, “a dream come true…”
“One that’s bound to last a lifetime and beyond,” he agreed his voice full of hope and promise as he held her, “and I can’t wait to let the world know you’re mine.”
“Neither can I,” she confessed thinking about the beautiful dreams she’d had of them together the previous night they shared together in his bed, “I want nothing more than to be your wife as it’s something that I never stopped thinking about--never stopped imagining since we drifted apart.”
“This time it’s going to happen for us, sweetheart,” he hugged her against him, “I know it is.”
“Last time I didn’t really want to leave,” she thought back to their failed attempt at matrimony, “it’s just that I’d had so many wonderful plans for us and then on our wedding day…”
“Shh…” he placed his finger over her lips to silence her as he shook his head at her, “No looking back, only forward.”
“But I really think that…” she began again as he tipped up to kiss her tenderly.
“I think that we should focus on now…on the love we have between us and how beautiful you’re going to look going down the aisle at our wedding,” he explained in between kiss after tender kiss, “I can see it now as I watch you make your way towards me and with each breath I take, I’m thinking to myself that I’m the luckiest man in the world to have such a beautiful, amazing bride and then when we say our vows, I can just imagine how wonderful that moment is going to be because then we’ll have finally made it.  We’ll have come full circle and in that moment of perfectly wedded bliss, we’ll truly have that new beginning that we’d always wanted…”
“It sounds like heaven,” she confessed melting against him as her arms wrapped around him.
“Heaven is in being this close to you,” he reminded her turning her onto the mattress as he hovered over her, “Everything about you is like a breath of fresh air, reaching into my system and making me whole at long last…”
“I love you Russ,” Avery turned her head towards his hand kissing the center of his palm as happiness flowed through her veins, guiding her racing pulse and opening heart up to the one thing she’d denied herself for so very long, “I’ve always loved you and I can’t ever imagine my life without you in it as you’re the man of my dreams.  I knew that from the first moment I kissed you back on that playground and when we made love that first time, well, I knew even then that we were bound to one another, but I was afraid…” she explained taking in a slow breath, “When you spoke about destiny and happily ever afters, well I started thinking about us and about the time we’d been apart.  I’d always thought if you and I were truly soul mates, then we’ve wasted so much time with one another on the road to happily ever after, and that always had me thinking that I was a fool--that if I’d opened myself up to the possibilities of true love, then I’d somehow realize that my whole life was nothing but a lie--that somehow the chains that were holding be back from giving myself to you completely would weigh me down, but now that I’ve embraced the possibilities of us together and opened myself to the warmth of your love pouring into my heart, I know now that I was only denying myself the greatest thing I’ve ever known as you are my one true love and I never want to lose you again.”
“You’ll always have me in here,” he pressed his hand over her heart affectionately, “and while us getting married solidifies what we have, we don’t need to make that trip down the aisle to know that you and I are meant to share eternity with one another.  We’re two souls bound forever and nothing can keep us from returning to our love--even when the odds are stacked against as you and I are the greatest part of one another.  Knowing that will be the beacon from any storm that may come our way because when we finally find our way home, it’ll be to each other as it was always meant to be,” he coaxed her mouth into sweet surrender as he laced their fingers together savoring the moment between them, “You’re my serenity, my fantasy and my one true love rolled into one, Avery Morrison.”
“And you’re mine,” she answered his tender words as she threw her arms around him never wanting to leave the moment, “I love you so very much and now that I can say that, it just makes me feel so…”
“Amazing?  Incredible?  Joyous?” he offered eagerly.
“Alive--lost in the enchantment of it all--in love,” she breathed her voice a mere whisper as she clung to him, “as if in being with you I have the freedom to stop being what everyone expects me to be and I can just lose myself to the miracles you’ve brought into my life,” she reached out to touch his face lovingly, “and that’s what they are Russ…nothing short of miracles.”
“There are going to be so many more of those ahead for us,” he vowed thinking to the plans to be made for their wedding, “Why soon we’ll be buried in guest lists and decorations and all the other things that come along with the ceremony.”
“I’d trade it all for a quiet little place on a beach in some exotic local where you and I exchange vows with our closest friends and family there.  Nothing too grandiose, but simplistic and beautiful and personal so that we won’t feel like our wedding day has been taken from us without us having a chance to savor it and then,” her touched eased over the muscled contours of his body, “we can work on the most erotic, sensual honeymoon in our own private little place near the water where we can savor what it means for us to have our happily ever after as Mr. And Mrs. Russell Denton.”
“It sounds beautiful, Avery,” he nibbled on her lower lip gingerly, “and perfect for us considering.”
“It will be, but before we get to that,” she urged him to meet his eyes with a twinge of something hers that he couldn’t quite read behind them as a seriousness laced in her tone, “you need to find a way to mend fences with Grady.  I know he’s your brother and your best friend and the last thing I want is for our life together to be the thing that further alienates you from your brother.  I couldn’t live with knowing that I was the key of your undoing with him…”
“Grady’s being stubborn right now, but…” he began as she covered his mouth silencing him.
“But nothing.  I know that he’s the only man you want at your side at our wedding as he’s been your best man for years and without him, you’d always feel as though something special was missing from one of the happiest days of your life--from our lives as I’m sure that a relationship with Grady is something that means a great deal to you as well as what you mean to him.”
“Grady will come around eventually,” he shrugged his shoulders thinking about his brother’s issues with Avery, “though I don’t understand why you are so worried about it considering that…”
“That he’s your brother and I love you,” Avery interrupted honestly, “Don’t you think I want you to have all the happiness the world can offer?”
“Even knowing that my brother is going to try to railroad you with this case he’s working on,” he paused thinking about the way things had escalated between him and Grady over the last few weeks.
“Especially knowing that.  Russ, I know Grady hates me and on some level he’s probably right about my not being good enough for you, but regardless of how Grady and I feel about one another, the fact remains that we both have something in common--something that goes beyond this stupid feud between us and that’s the fact that we both love you and we both want what’s best for you.  I know that in your heart you’ll always be thinking about how things went wrong with Grady if you don’t at least take the time to fix things now and I can’t live with that on my conscious because I want our marriage to be filled with happy memories that we can cherish from our wedding day forward.”
“Avery, I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll have that,” he promised thinking about how his life had transformed from the nothingness he was living before Avery came back to him, “and I’m certain that when our wedding rolls around, it’ll be as perfect as we both envisioned it would be.”
“I hope so,” she smiled pondering the wonderful things ahead of them as bliss filled her up inside.
“I know so.  Our wedding is going to be perfect,” he promised running his fingers through her dark hair as he kissed her in a slow, intimate fashion offering up hints of seduction with each tender caress and teasing sweep of his tongue against hers creating that same vivid rhythm and air of romance that seemed to exist solely for the two of them as he held her, “although I must confess that this morning I was thinking about something along the lines of our honeymoon.”
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me,” Avery couldn’t help but smile as he touch dropped over her thigh lifting it up against his firm body before curling it around him as he entered her in one surprising thrust.
“Russ,” she gasped his name, feeling sensations of pleasure trickle over her as he joined them as one.  Their eyes connected as she saw her own thoughts and emotions reflected in his eyes, “I love you.”
“I’m always going to love you,” he promised losing himself to the magic of their being together like this as he made love to the woman he was going to share his life with.  Slowly he began to move inside of her, touching her, kissing her, savoring her as in being one with her he was reminded again why true love was worth waiting for as this bumpy path on the road to romance with Avery was the one thing that had kept hope alive in him all these years as there would never be anyone else in this world that touched him in the way she had.  She was his heart, his home, his destiny and as they made love, he knew that this time with this second chance they’d been given was the beginning of their forever.


“No, the furniture is moved into the basement, not into the pool house,” Brant shook his head as he directed traffic around the mansion. Between movers, florists, and caterers, he’d had his hands full since the break of dawn. He knew that putting together a party such as this would be hectic, but he’d forgotten just how much trouble the preparations could become on the day of the big event. He stepped out of the living room just as the front door opened and Kenneth stepped inside. Brant met his brother’s eyes, “Am I the only one living here these days?”

“Blake isn’t home yet, huh?” Kenneth frowned as he joined his brother at the side of the foyer as movers stepped past with furniture.

“No, she isn’t home, and I’ve called her cell phone. Either she’s turned it off, or she doesn’t have it with her because she would have called home by now,” Brant frowned as he crossed his arms and watched men with furniture pass by.

Kenneth nodded as more men carried items from the room, “It’s a madhouse around here, huh?”

“Yeah, it is, but this party has to be absolutely perfect. I want tonight to be the kind of night that Avery can always remember.”

“You really do have a thing for her, don’t you?”

“You haven’t figured that one out by now?” Brant asked before spotting one of the man walking haphazardly with a crystal vase, “Be careful with that,” He groaned, “I swear…if this doesn’t kill me…”

“The wedding might?” Kenneth teased, “If it ever gets that far. I’m waiting for this little scheme of yours to come tumbling down on your head, Brant.”

“Let’s try not to be so pessimistic, shall we?” Brant replied, “I want everything to work out for Avery and myself. I want it all with her.”

“Doe she want it with you?”

“She might not know it, but she does.”

“That sounds a lot like a no.”

“Ken, is it really so impossible that I might be able to provide Avery with the kind of happiness that no other man in her life has?”

“No, it’s not, but I’m not so sure that Avery is open to that kind of commitment, Brant. She’s seems awfully skittish if you ask me,” Kenneth shrugged, “Call it instinct, but I don’t think she’s nearly as involved in this illusion as you would like her to be.”

“It’s true that she’s been distracted lately with the lawsuit and with Russell Denton hanging around, but I’m going to make sure that both are taken care of.”

“What does that mean?” Kenneth asked as he eyed Brant closely, “Brant, I wouldn’t go making matters any worse for myself if I were you. You’re already a suspect in one murder…”

“Who said anything about murder?” Brant rolled his eyes, “I’m merely talking about getting Denton out of the way, not killing him. If that was my plan, I think I could entrust that privilege to my future mother in law.”

“Yeah, she’s his number one fan, huh?” Kenneth chuckled, “She never did like Russ.”

“What’s with this Russ stuff? Are you two buddies now or something?”

“Not at all. We’re merely polite acquaintances, but I’ve heard all of the scuttlebutt and Richard let me in on what’s really gone on behind the scenes in that family from time to time.”

“You and Richard…you two are pretty close, huh?”

“He’s the kind of man I wish Dad would have been,” Kenneth shrugged, “He’s my mentor.”

“Could you possibly put in a good word with him for me? He seems intent on seeing the worst in me without giving me any chance to redeem myself in his eyes.”

“Brant, you have a reputation that you’ve worked very hard to create for yourself. Now, you’re telling me that you’re ashamed that reputation has earned you some parental disdain?” Kenneth laughed, “Now that’s rich.”

“Spare me the condescension, Ken,” Brant spoke as he watched florists begin taking flowers into the now bare room, “I was just hoping you might help me in that aspect of my relationship with Avery.”

“I think you’d be best helped by having a frank discussion with Richard. He might not like everything you have to say, but at least he’d know it was coming from you and not some mouthpiece.”

Brant frowned, “Okay, fair enough. I’ll talk to him,” He said with a sigh as he glanced to him, “So what are you going to do today?”

“I’m picking up my tux here before I go to pick up a dress for Caitlin.”

“She’s feeling like attending?” Brant asked in surprise, “She must be a very strong woman.”

“Stronger than I think even she knows,” Kenneth smiled, “So, is there anything you need from me?”

“Yeah, how about finding Blake? You know her haunts. Maybe you can find her,” Brant suggested as he fidgeted, noticing more crystal vases being handled precariously.

“I’ll see what I can do about that for you. In the meantime, just try to relax,” Kenneth advised as he patted Brant on the shoulder before ascending the stairs.

Brant nodded quickly as he shot some of the movers a displeased look about their fumblings. They understood instantly and began treating each piece of furniture with respect. Brant, on the other hand, was still displeased with his family situation and wanted at least that to be resolved before the evening began. He didn’t need to be worrying about everyone he cared about during the party. He needed to be happy and put forth the air of a proud and excited fiancé. It was a role he was more than happy to fill by Avery’s side.


Richard entered the dining room at the Ashford mansion hoping to get a word in with Avery as tonight’s festivities left him more than unsettled.  After he’d talked to her in her office the previous day, he was more certain than ever that Brooke’s railroading her into putting on a show for the public was a mistake.  Avery knew where her heart was and the last thing she needed was Brooke toying with her emotions.  Unfortunately when Richard had gone to the room Avery had been staying in, he discover that she was absent and now he was hoping to find her somewhere in this madhouse before this joke of a party began.  Scanning the room and discovering that it was filled with movers rushing here and there, he turned to seek out his daughter elsewhere when he hear Brooke’s voice rising above the chaos.
“No, not there.  A little to the left,” Brooke instructed as Richard stepped out of the dining room only to discover his wife dictating her version of perfection to the workers she’d brought in as they kept adjusting things to her liking, “just a little more.  Now down a little and…yes that’s perfect.”
“Brooke,” Richard reached for her arm pulling her aside as he struggled to keep his anger from exploding at the pleasure she was taking in putting together this façade of a party for the media, “we need to talk.”
“Later,” she waved her hand at him impatiently as she motioned to the men before her wiggling her finger in the direction that she wanted the image to be in, “I’m busy right now.”
“Not anymore,” he pulled her away from the workers hastily, “we need to talk.”
“I’m waiting for the ice sculptures to arrive and…” she turned her eyes towards him, “Dick, I’m not in the mood for you or your incessant nagging…”
“I don’t care what you’re in the mood for,” he sneered back at her turning his attention to the others in the room, “I’d like a moment alone with my wife, starting now.”
The men stared blankly at Brooke awaiting her orders as if her voice alone was the only sound they’d heard--the only power they should follow.  She nodded appropriately realizing that Richard wasn’t going to leave this be until they’d had it out with one another and as she waved her hand at them dismissively, each man ceased work on the tasks before them.
“Give us five minutes,” she decided watching the room clear out before she turned to Richard, her eyes narrowing with impatience and annoyance as she glared up at him, “What now, Dick?”
“Why are you doing this to Avery,” he demanded feeling his anger rise with the moment as he looked around the room they were standing in, “This isn’t what she wants and you know it.”
“Our daughter doesn’t know what she wants, but when she starts thinking clearly, she’ll see that this is it,” she argued back, “Avery’s being ignorant about things, but this is everything a girl could ask for--a dream come true for any woman and I want tonight to be perfect for our little girl.”
“It’s not Avery you’re worried about.  You’re thinking about yourself Brooke and how you can use Avery to get you one step closer to where you want to be,” he snapped as the heat behind his words pierced her, “You can’t even see what’s going on right before your eyes about how Avery feels.  You have no idea how she’s been suffering because of the pressure you’re compiling upon her.  I mean honestly it’s bad enough that the media is hounding her left and right about her association to Brant, but then to have you throw this upon her now when she’s already lost in so much chaos.”
“A party is what we all need,” Brooke interrupted brightly, “Once everyone is here and celebrating Avery’s good news, then all those petty little things outside the celebration won’t be on her mind.  Tonight will be the kind of night out of a fairy tale and our daughter will see that this is only the beginning of things to come for her and Brant as they plan the road to matrimony with one another.”
“She doesn’t love him, Brooke,” he reminded her harshly, “She doesn’t want any of this and you’re being unfair to her because if you gave a damn about her like you’re trying to make everyone believe you do, then you’d take a step back and get to know our daughter--to see where her heart is.”
“Her heart is with Brant and I don’t need anything to see it as it’s clear when they’re together.  Brant is the kind of man that Avery’s waited to find in her life and right now instead of lecturing me on what I’m doing, you should be embracing this day as our daughter has finally found true happiness in her life.”
“That’s right and she’s found it with Russell Denton whether you like it or not and it’s time you face facts Brooke,” he threw back at her watching her shudder upon his words as she sneered in response.
“Don’t you dare say such an ugly thing,” Brooke growled bitterly as she clenched her fists at her sides struggling to restrain herself, “Are you purposely trying to sabotage our daughter by spreading such ugly lies about her in Brant’s home?  Do you care so little about her well being that you’re willing to destroy her relationship with the man she truly loves?”
“She doesn’t love Brant,” Richard remarked simply, “She may feel gratitude for him, but that isn’t enough to tie her down to a loveless marriage and the misery that follows.”
“Just because you feel that way about your life, doesn’t mean that you have to press your ill-conceived notions on Avery.  She’s happy Dick and I won’t let you stand in her way even if you’re out to destroy me with your hatefulness.”
“My hatefulness?” he repeated with an ironic laugh, “Brooke, I’m not the one who never knew how to love.  Maybe just maybe if you gave yourself a minute to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, then you’d see that there’s something more out there that you’ve been missing out on our years together.”
“You sucked away my youth and now you’re trying to turn my family against me,” she accused standing taller as she stepped up closer to him, “You’re trying to hurt me with your whore and even now you’re working to take my daughter away from me.  You’ve filled her head with lies and you’re trying to rip her happily ever after away from her by being your overbearing condescending self…”
“Brooke, you don’t know the first thing about Avery.  You were never there for her like a mother should’ve been and she’s well aware of the fact that you don’t love her--just like you don’t love me.  Avery and I are only one thing to you and that’s a nice financial backing that’s keeping you in the lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to over the years.  That’s all this has been about in our marriage and now in your sudden concern for our daughter and that’s all it’ll ever be.”
“I gave you the best years of my life--I devoted my all to making Avery’s life something wonderful, but you always bad mouthed me to her.  You found a way to pervert the truth so that it fit your needs with our daughter so you could play her against me…”
“Oh please,” he rolled his eyes at her words.  “Brooke, are you ever going to snap out of your own little pity party long enough to see that the world doesn’t revolve around you?  Tonight is a mistake and this is all about you using Avery’s situation to glorify yourself.”
“Our daughter is engaged and I’m happy for her.  I’m ecstatic that she’s found the love I never knew in you because you were too callous to really care about me,” Brooke answered emphatically.
“I couldn’t have loved you even if I tried because you don’t know the first thing about love,” he tossed out at her.
“My heart was yours from the moment we met one another and I gave my all to you.  I had your children and played the role of your wife doting on you in every which way and then you choose to repay me by flaunting off your whore around town,” her tone shifted to a wounded pitch as he gave her a strange look.
“Judy isn’t a whore,” he argued with her, “She’s a kind-hearted, beautiful woman with a heart--you know that one thing that you’ve been missing most of your adult life…”
“Ah yes, you’ll say anything wouldn’t you just to stick it to me.  To make me feel berated so that you can find a reason to run off with your tramp because you’ll do anything to turn this around on me and make me look like I’m the one to blame, but the truth to the matter is that this all lays on you. You’re the one who walked away from our marriage, who tried to run out on me and our children before, but I still tolerated it.  I’ve struggled to keep us together as a family and even now that’s all I really want from you.”
“What you want is your chance to hold the reins on my life as well as Avery’s and that stops here and now.  I won’t let you hurt her, Brooke.  I’ll be damned if you think you can run up in this mansion and break our daughter with your manipulative, deceptive…”
“Enough,” Guy’s voice roared through the room as he stomped towards his parents, “You leave her the hell alone.”
“Guy,” Brooke turned to him with crocodile tears as he stepped in beside her protectively.
“Son,” Richard’s voice changed, surprise evident in his tone as he looked to his estranged child, “what are you doing here?”
“Making sure that you stop hurting my mother when all she’s done is tried to make you happy all these years,” Guy explained abrasively as he wrapped his arms around Brooke, “It’s okay Mum.”
“Guy, you don’t understand…” Richard began watching Brooke break into tiny sobs in their son’s chest.
“Oh I understand and it’s more than enough,” Guy growled up at his father, “I’m tired of you hurting her and abusing her like this.  She’s doing everything in her power to please you and like usual you’re shunning and chastising her for trying to reach out to you.”
“Your father doesn’t mean to be so cold and unfeeling,” Brooke sniffled bilking her son’s attention as she clung to him, “We were just talking before…”
“No you weren’t and I’m not going to sit back and let him hurt you this way.  It’s bad enough that he’s trying to destroy our family, but to allow him to stand here and belittle you is wrong and I won’t tolerate it knowing how hard you’re trying to make tonight perfect for Avery.”
“Your mother and I…” Richard began again knowing all too well of Guy’s loyalty to Brooke.
“You’re not saying another word to her,” Guy cut him off harshly, “and if you even think about hurting her again tonight, well, then you’re going to have to answer to me, Richard.”
“Guy,” Brooke gasped feigning shock and surprise as she threw out more tears, “Don’t say such things to your father.  Please, you’re just misunderstanding the situation.”
“Mum, I’m not going to let him do this to you again especially when he’s gone out of his way to try to make a fool out of you with his new girlfriend,” Guy’s eyes threw daggers up at Richard, “It ends now.”
“You don’t know the first thing about what’s going on tonight son, but if you take a moment to look at the situation, you’ll see that I’m not the one in the wrong here.  What’s important to me is your sister’s happiness,” Richard explained trying to reach his son.
“That has to be the biggest lie I’ve ever heard as the only person you’ve really worked to please is yourself and your running out on my mother proves that.  The last thing you can be considered is someone who’s trying to look out for our family,” Guy added with heavy disdain.  “It’s always been about you and your trying to turn Avery against Mum.”
“I don’t believe this,” Richard threw his hands in the air, his anger about to explode as he shook his head and he took in Brooke’s performance, “On second thought, yes I do…” he trailed off before taking in a slow, calming breath, “I don’t need this…” he turned towards the door.
“That’s right.  Just keep running away Richard as it’s what you always do best,” Guy tossed back at him coldly as he watched his father’s retreat and he turned his attention back to his mother as he vowed not to let his father’s act of indiscretion and his cruelty break his family apart.  One way or another he’d see to it that his mother had a sense of peace in her life without the endless misery that Richard Morrison put her through.


Jenna began to put the coffee grounds into the pot as she decided that a nice, piping hot coffee was exactly what she needed to make it through this morning.  Certainly last night had been some kind of strange adventure that she wasn’t really feeling too proud about as she’d managed to somehow regress to the mentality of a child in avoiding Hart like she’d done.  Even now she was kicking herself for even playing along with him enough to hint that she’d consider dinner with him, when she knew first hand that it wasn’t in the cards for them.  She’s been in a strange mood earlier in the day and when Hart rolled around, it just seemed to carry over, but now reflecting on the previous day, she felt foolish and pathetic.  Clearly any sane woman would’ve just backed down and said no to Hart, but nope, not Jenna as she had to play games with the man and it turned out to be a gamble that she was certain would come with some serious repercussions.
Turning her attention to the newspaper before her, Jenna noted the headline about Avery and Brant’s engagement party and she had to admit that her curiosity had gotten the best of her.  While she’d managed to keep in touch with Avery more since Bruce’s death, it seemed that life had a habit of getting in the way, but tonight she was certain that she’d find a way to be there for her friend sharing the moment.  Of course Jenna wasn’t quite sure what that moment was supposed to be as Avery had been in a state of turmoil during their last visit.  Just thinking about the talk she’d had with Avery, she wondered if her best friend would be able to go through this kind of party knowing that there was so much more going on than met the public eye.
“I’m sure Avery will pull through,” Jenna muttered to herself realizing that maybe she’d find a way to get a few words in with Avery about her own romantic situation as right now Jenna certainly felt like a fool.  Then again, she wasn’t quite sure that now was the time and even if it was, what would she say?  Would she tell Avery about her dreams of Hart?  About the way she’d secretly longed for Hart to kiss her in her office and how she’d run away from him last night because of her fears about what would happen if she allowed the man to get near her?  Would she be willing to admit to herself and to her best friend that she was strangely attracted to the man that had worked so hard to make her life miserable with Patrick or would she just skip that route all together and go for a psychological examination as it was starting to feel like that was where this was headed for her in her even contemplating Hart’s presence in her life.
Just as Jenna decided she was bound to lose herself completely to her obsessive thinking, there was a knock on her front door and she finished up with her coffee before going to answer only to discover her mother there carrying a box of doughnuts with her.
“Mom, what are you doing here,” Jenna greeted her mother surprised to have an early morning visitor, “I thought you were going to that meeting down at the church for the fundraiser this morning.”
“It ended earlier than I’d anticipated, so I figured with a little time on my hands, I’d see my baby girl and look into how she was feeling after last night,” Dorothy explained making her way into Jenna’s home as Jenna closed the door behind her.
“You mean other than my feeling like a complete and total idiot for doing what I did,” Jenna groaned following her mother into the kitchen, “I still don’t know how I’m going to face the situation come Monday morning when Hart shows up in my office as I’m certain he will demanding answers.”
“If he does, then you just tell him that you are not interested under any circumstances,” Dorothy explained making herself comfortable in Jenna’s kitchen as she reached for a couple of mugs for coffee.  “Given the history that have with that man, it should come as no surprise that you have no desire to be around him after he lead the campaign to ruin your reputation with that dreadful Lieutenant Sharpe.”
“Well yes but…” Jenna started thinking about the ground she and Hart had made with one another recently.
“No buts about it.  That man is trouble from the word go and you really shouldn’t have to deal with it.  You can do so much better where a man is concerned as there are plenty of them out there that would love a chance at spending some time with you.  They‘re good men with kind hearts who won‘t give you nearly as much hassle as that dreadful Hart Steiner would,” Dorothy explained motioning for Jenna to take a seat at the table as she continued to prepare things for their talk over breakfast, “I was actually talking to Edith at the church this morning and she was telling me about her grandson that just started working over at the hospital…”
“Mom, I don’t need you to set me up,” Jenna offered with a simple shrug of her shoulders, “I’m not that hard up for a date.”
“Honey, you haven’t gone out in a long time and that worries me.  I know that you’ve been a bit concerned about getting involved with a man after that incident with Patrick and well with Hart chasing you around, I can’t really blame you for being a little gun shy, but perhaps if you got a bit more involved you could find some time to spend with someone who could appreciate an intelligent, independent woman like yourself…”
“Mom, I really don’t have the time,” Jenna answered as Dorothy poured a couple mugs of coffee for them before joining Jenna at the table, “Why this morning I was just thinking about all the work I have ahead of me at the hospital and…” her words were cut off by the ringing of the phone.
“I’ll get it,” Dorothy offered reaching across the counter top and answering, “Hello…no, but she’s right here.  Hold on a second,” Dorothy covered the mouthpiece before explaining, “It’s someone for you and he sounds like a handsome young man.”
“Then it must be a telemarketer or a wrong number,” Jenna groaned reaching for the phone as she thought to the hopeful expression in her mother’s eyes.  Taking the call, she greeted the person on the other end of the line, “Hello.  Yes…oh hi…of course…uh huh,” she stepped aside continuing the call.
Dorothy looked to her daughter wishing that somehow Jenna would find a way to have more time for enjoying her youth instead of working it away.  Last night she’d seen first hand just how horrible Jenna’s social situation had gotten in her having Hart Steiner chasing her, but even now as she looked around her daughter’s lonely kitchen, she wished that somehow her daughter could find some kind of happiness in her life that extended beyond work.
“Alright then,” Jenna’s laughter filled the air surprising Dorothy as she looked to her daughter once again seeing a whole new level of color rise over her features, “I’ll be ready by six then and not a moment later,” she finished hanging up the phone and shaking her head as her laughter continued, “You will not believe what that was all about.”
“Considering that you’re smiling like that, I’d have to guess that it’s a good thing,” Dorothy offered up encouragingly, “maybe even a date there?”
“Something like that,” Jenna nodded a whole new sense of unexpected giddiness flooding over her as she returned to her small kitchen table, “That was about my date to Avery’s party tonight.”
“A date huh?” Dorothy smiled encouragingly, “and here I was ready to give you the lecture on how you should be getting out more so that you can avoid men like Hart, but it seems you’ve already got someone else in mind huh?”
“It’s not exactly a romantic type situation,” Jenna explained quickly, “At least I don’t think that’s what it’s about considering we just met and I’ve blown him off more than really indulged his interest…”
“Hmm, you’re playing hard to get,” Dorothy teased back, “It sounds like the makings of a potential romance.
“Well I’m not looking for romance even if Douglas is planning to give me the world there,” Jenna chuckled in amusement, “Even after my putting him off, he’s sending a limo over here around six to pick me up for the party…”
“Douglas,” Dorothy repeated the color draining from her features, “as in the man from the restaurant last night?”
Jenna nodded, “That’s right.  Douglas Mahoney apparently is what he said to be as I was researching him over the net last night.  While I’m sure that his whole silly notion about me being an actress in one of his films is just his attempt at flattery, I figure my taking him to the Ashford mansion tonight can’t hurt anything.  I mean it’s better than going alone under the circumstances.”
“It most certainly isn’t,” Dorothy insisted adamantly, “Jenna, you can’t go with that man to the party tonight.”
“Why not?” Jenna gave her mother a strange look.
“For starters he’s far too old for you,” Dorothy began hurriedly.
“Age really is of no consequence to me especially considering the losers I’ve crossed paths with over the last couple of years.  Besides it’s just one date--it’s not like we’re getting married,” Jenna teased.
“Don’t even say something like that,” Dorothy snapped in response.
“Mom I was kidding,” Jenna frowned at her mother’s reaction, “I don’t know why you’re getting so upset about it considering that Douglas is quite a few steps up from Hart.”
“How well do you and Douglas know one another?”
“We’ve only met a couple times before,” Jenna shrugged her shoulders, “So you don’t have to worry about planning a wedding…”
“Stop that,” Dorothy demanded, “Jenna, you can’t go to that party tonight with that man.  I won’t allow it.”
“Mom, I’m not sixteen anymore,” Jenna argued with her, “You were just telling me to get out more and now that I am, you’ve decided yet again that the man I’m spending time with isn’t right for me.  What’s up with that?”
“You don’t need to be hanging out with those Hollywood types as all they know how to do is exploit and destroy those around them,” Dorothy added quickly, “I’ve seen what his kind can do to a beautiful woman like yourself if you sit back and listen to their persuasion long enough.”
“Mom, I don’t know why you’re worried about me as I have no interest in being in his film.  I wouldn’t have even considered taking him tonight except for the fact that it would give me a reason to have Hart get off my back.”
“That’s a terrible thing to do,” her mother shook her head in response, “and you should stop it before it’s too late.”
“It’s only a date to the party.  I don’t know why you’re worrying considering that you were so wound up about my spending time with Hart.”
“Jenna, you’re setting yourself for disaster and you shouldn’t be going out with a man like Douglas Mahoney under any circumstances.  You’re not prepared for what he has in store for someone like you…”
“He’s just taking me to a party,” Jenna reminded her once again, “that’s all.”
“And then what happens next?  He tells you a few sweet words and whisks you away to Los Angeles to become his next beauty queen?”
“I’m not like you,” Jenna threw back at her, “I’m not going to risk my career and my family for something so ridiculous as the dreams of becoming a star.”
“Maybe not, but I taught you to be smarter than I was.  I’d hoped you’d learned from my mistakes,” Dorothy frowned deeply, “If nothing else, I thought I’d taught you that.”
“I realize that you had it rough, but you wound up making it.  You found my father and you had a love that went beyond the Hollywood hustle and bustle that you left behind.”
“Your father and I had a hard life.  Raising you on my own was not something I’d intended upon doing, but I did and it taught me that life isn’t about glamour and glitz.  You should be responsible and think about the consequences of your actions which includes your not spending time with some Hollywood big wig who’s here to offer up what feels like a dream come true, but it’ll only be something of a nightmare in the long run.  Douglas Mahoney is not going to make all of your dreams come true and he’s not the kind of man you want to spend any time with.”
“I can’t believe you’re making such a big deal out of this,” Jenna shook her head back at her, “I really don’t know what you’re getting so excited about.  I’ll go to the party, realize I’m bored with him and then I’ll probably come home envying the way things are going for Avery.  I don’t see anything life changing coming out of this.”
“Jenna, I’d really rather you didn’t get wrapped up in that kind of situation,” Dorothy sighed seeing the impossible way her daughter stood before her, “It’s not what you need right now.”
“Maybe not, but tonight none of that really is important as I’m going to try to have a good time for my best friend and I already promised Douglas that I’d go there with him.  There’s nothing I can do to change that now,” she finished determined as the phone rang again, “Hold on,” she answered before covering the mouthpiece, “Mom I have to take this in the other room.  It’s about work.”
“Of course,” Dorothy nodded politely as her daughter left the room and she tried to think of a good enough reason that would work to persuade Jenna away from going to the party with Douglas.  A chill rushed over her as she sank into the chair before her and she wondered if there was going to be any way to prevent her daughter from coming upon something she was never meant to find.  The walls began to close in on her as she realized in saving Jenna from the one man who could tear her world apart, it could still wind up being the thing that destroyed Jenna if Dorothy intervened as some things were best left unsaid…even if she’d never anticipated them coming to light again.  Still if Jenna was interested in spending time with Douglas, she’d have to find a way to stop that situation before it started as it would be the one thing that Dorothy was certain Jenna would live to regret.


Cameron knocked lightly upon the door of Heather’s hotel room and leaned into the door frame. He wasn’t in the mood to negotiate, and he wasn’t about to take any more of her delays. He wanted results, and he wasn’t going to play Mr. Nice Guy any longer.

Heather opened the door, expecting Kipp to be there with more gifts to lavish upon her. Just when she was about get back into Brant’s graces, here came Kipp talking about their future together. She didn’t know how he could have any kind of delusions about marriage, but she wasn’t about to marry anyone but Brant.

And now she was face to face with a man she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to see again. She crossed her arms and glanced at him, “So what’s the story, Cameron? Have to take a second job at the hotel? Did you bring my room service?” She asked with a sideways smile.

“Oh I brought you something alright,” He declared as he seized her arms within his hands and pushed her back into the room. He closed the door behind him with his foot as he shoved her towards the bed.

Heather stumbled and fell across the foot of the bed. She turned quickly and looked back to him, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Funny you should ask because it seems that you have failed to produce on your end of our bargain,” He warned as he stood menacing above her, “So tell me, Heather, what exactly do you think I should be feeling?”

She slinked backwards around the corner of the bed putting the bed between Cameron and herself. She watched him carefully as she spoke, “Why are you here?”

“I’m here to remind you that we had an agreement. I’m not used to failure, Heather. In fact, that word doesn’t even register with me. I want results, and I want them immediately.”

“So you want the ring. Why don’t you just buy one? With your resources, I’m sure…”

“I want this particular ring, and you are going to get it for me,” He declared violently.

“And how am I supposed to get that ring? Do you really think I can just waltz up to Avery the night of her engagement party and ask her for it?”

“I don’t care how you get it, Heather, but you are going to get it. If you don’t, I can guarantee that the rest of your short life will be very unpleasant.”

Heather swallowed quickly as her heart raced, “Are you threatening me?”

“As a matter of fact, yes I am. I will tear you apart if you don’t get that ring for me. I want it delivered to me first thing tomorrow morning. If I don’t have it, I will find you, and I promise you that you’ve never been as miserable as I will make you,” He warned as he glared at her.

Heather met his blazing eyes as he turned and slammed out of her room. She closed her eyes as she felt her heart racing. She knew that Cameron was serious in his threat, and she knew that he would also make good on it. She simply had to find a way to get the ring and save herself from Cameron’s wrath before he brought her life and career to an end before it could take off in the way she had always dreamt.


Blake stepped in the kitchen entrance to the Ashford mansion and watched as caterers moved about the room in a flurry. She walked over to the refrigerator and removed a single serving of orange juice before she skirted around the edge of the room and attempted to duck away.

“Hold it right there, little miss,” Annie said from her corner in the breakfast nook. She placed down the crossword puzzle book she’d been working on and removed her reading glasses, “Come here.”

Blake grinned as she stepped into the nook and placed her juice upon the table, “Am I about to get a dressing down for staying out all night?”

“I could,” Annie began, a soft smile lighting upon her features, “But I thought you might want to talk about the young man who broke your heart.”

“Gee word travels fast,” Blake sighed as she sank into a chair beside Annie, “I guess you probably know all the details too, huh?”

“No, not really. All I know is that your heart was broken, and I’m wondering if I need to go into town and beat the young man over the head with a newspaper while Peanut chews on his leg,” Annie said as she reached out and gently squeezed Blake’s hands, “Are you okay?”

“To be honest?” Blake questioned before meeting Annie’s concerned eyes. She attempted a half hearted smile that fell flat upon her beautiful features, “I’m not really sure yet.”

“My poor little girl,” Annie said as she slid her chair closer to Blake and wrapped her arm around her, “What happened?”

“He turned out to be nothing like the man I thought he was. He lied to me, and all he was really after was some way to hurt our family,” Blake said as she leaned into Annie’s motherly embrace, “Why do I always fall for the wrong guys?”

“You have a good heart, Blake,” Annie said softly as she stroked Blake’s hair gingerly, “You have so much love to give, and you’re not frugal with it. Your heart wants to share its abundance of love with the world, but some people just aren’t ready to have that kind of beauty in their lives.”

Blake smiled through a sniffle, “I always love coming to you. You always know just what to say to me, and you make it sound so poetic.”

“It’s not poetic at all, Blake. It’s just the truth,” Annie kissed Blake’s forehead and smiled, “You’re a strong woman now, but you’ll always be my little girl no matter what happens.”

Blake’s smile grew as she turned and hugged Annie within her arms, “I probably haven’t said it lately, Annie, but I love you. Thank you so much for always being here for me.”

“Well, where else would I ever want to be?” Annie asked as she returned the hug.

“So someone finally decided they could come home, huh?” Brant accused as he stepped into the nook. He crossed his arms as he nailed Blake with an interrogative stare, “Do I need to have a hit taken out on the creep, or would you rather I kidnap him and bring him here so you can beat him to death?”

“Brant,” Blake chuckled as she held out her hand to her big brother, “I guess Kenny told you, huh?”

“He just told me that this guy really did a number on you,” He said as he took the free chair at her side, “Seriously, do I need to hunt him down and put a hurt on him? Cause I will, you know.”

“I know you would,” She shook her head, “But that isn’t what I need at all. I just need some time to get over this. I really thought I was in love with him, Brant. To be honest, maybe I still am and that’s why this hurts so much. He was so good , and that’s all I could see in him.”

“What did he do, baby?” Brant asked as he touched Blake’s cheek lightly.

“He just told me this huge pack of lies that I know couldn’t possibly be true, and some of them were outright despicable. He just wanted to hurt our family, and he did manage to hurt me,” She said as tears rolled down her cheeks, “He broke my heart.”

“So where have you been for the last two nights? Don’t tell me you’ve pulled one of my routines and gotten drunk somewhere with some nameless face.”

“I’m not as shameless as you, Brant,” Blake teased as she wiped tears, “The first night I spent over at Caitlin’s. Her big brother, Zack, was there, and I knew him pretty well from college. He’s a great guy and a close friend. He helped me nurse my wounds by pouring me hot chocolate all night,” She sniffled as a smile crept over her features, “He’s been really great to me through all of this. He even threatened to find Seth and beat him to a pulp.”

“Hmm, sounds like he has promise. I hope you’ll introduce us soon,” Brant smiled.

“You’ll get your chance. I invited him to the party tonight. I want to prove to the world that I won’t be held down by anyone or anything…including a broken heart,” Blake said proudly.

“Now that’s my girl,” Kenneth smiled proudly as he joined the group in the nook, “So you made it through another night, huh? Where were you anyway?”

“I was with Zack at his lab. I went down there to speak with him, but then Seth was at the hospital and there was a scene,” She flipped her hand in dismissal, “Anyway, Zack was there for me, and I fell asleep on him. So he took care of me.”

“I’m beginning to really take a shine to him,” Kenneth said with a smile, “So, did Zack feed you breakfast?”

“No, I just grabbed a juice and figured I’d save my appetite for some of the food Brant got for this party. It’s enough to feed a small third world country,” She said as she nailed Brant with an accusatory glare.

“Hey, don’t blame that one on me. That was all Brooke who, I might add, wants this night to be very special for her daughter,” Brant smiled as he looked back to Blake, “And when the time comes, Ken and I are going to go all out for yours. My party will pale in comparison to what we’re going to throw for you.”

“Yep, Brant and I have been talking about it for years. We want the whole nine yards. We’re talking ice sculptures that will take ten years to melt, cakes that even a group of overeaters anonymous can’t demolish, enough booze to float the Titanic,” Kenneth listed off as he leaned against the back of a chair.

“And we’re going to have every dignitary here that is possible. We’re already had standing invitations into the Windsors,” Brant said with a sigh.

Blake groaned as she put her head in her hands, “Oh puhleaze spare me.”

Kenneth chuckled as he watched Blake’s slight embarrassment from her brothers’ teasing, “So why don’t you let me fix you some breakfast?”

“Kenny, do you really think you’re going to get anywhere near that stove? That chef over there looks kind of mean,” Blake teased as she looked back up to her brother.

“You know how I get about my kitchen,” He said with a proprietary air as he turned and made his way towards the stove.

Blake chuckled as she sat back in her chair, “You guys are too good to me.”

“We’re your big brothers,” Brant reminded her, “We’re supposed to spoil you rotten.”

“Still, you guys really go above and beyond sometimes,” Blake leaned over and kissed Brant’s cheek, “Thank you.”

“No problem,” Brant smiled in return.

“Okay, Chef Juan Paul Pierre Alfredo Whatever Your Name Is, move it. That’s my stove, this is my kitchen, and if you don’t get your hands off of my omelet pan, I’ll have to seriously harm you,” Kenneth’s voice boomed from the kitchen.

Blake and Brant leaned into one another with a chuckle as Annie watched her surrogate children enjoy some family time. It wasn’t often they had the chance to share smiles, but today was one of those rare occasions. She could only hope that the party would bring more happiness to her family and drive away some of the pain from their lives.


Avery tiptoed into the back door of the mansion grateful that her entrance had gone undetected as a breath of relief spilled over her lips.  While she’d hated the idea of deceiving Brant, she’d been too reluctant to leave Russell early in the morning as she’d planned.  Even now she hated the idea of having to spend the day away from him as they had so much to talk about with one another.  She’d been so sure that staying with Russ would’ve been the best place for her, but then as they’d both come to the reality about tonight’s party, Avery finally let the situation set in and she tore herself away from her fiancé--though as she watched the workers busily moving through the room, she wondered if that had been a smart idea as being in this place with people coming in and out planning and preparing for a party she’d just as soon not be having somehow left her unsettled and on edge.
Looking to the door before her, Avery drew in a breathe thinking about the talk she was going to need to have with Brant as Russell’s kisses still lingered over her reaching down deep into her insides and filling her with a warmth and happiness that had been absent from her life for so very long.  With his love in mind, she realized that she could be strong enough to make things right.  She could set Brant straight on the truth and then there wouldn’t be any more lying or deceptions taking place.  Yes, that was the best route to take she decided as she realized that maybe waiting until after the party was too long.  Brant deserved the truth and she was going to give it to him just as soon as she found him.  That would be best, she thought to herself as her cell phone began to buzz and she slipped her hand into her pocket pulling it out as she immediately recognized the number.
“Hello handsome,” she breathed smoothly into the phone picking up a moment later.
“I miss you already,” Russell offered up tenderly as his voice glided over her, sending shivers over her spine as she hugged the phone closer to her ear.
“I miss you too,” she confessed as a heat rose over her features.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave like that,” he revealed openly as she leaned up against the wall beside her closing her eyes as she imagined the warmth of him beside her.
“Part of me is still there with you right now,” Avery offered up a soft sigh spilling over her lips as her heart fluttered, “Open the top drawer of your nightstand.”
“Why?  Are you going to pop up out of it and surprise me,” he teased back at her as she could hear him shuffling through his house towards his bedroom.
“Not exactly, but you might appreciate what I left for you,” she murmured seductively as a silence spread over on Russell’s end and she was certain he’d discovered her surprise.
“Oh Avery,” his voice beamed with excitement as her own smile tickled over her lips, “I had no idea that you…”
“That was the point,” she confided, “you like?”
“Do I ever,” his eager voice tempting her over the line, “but I must confess I’ll enjoy them all the more when you’re back home with me and we can share this together…”
“That was the idea,” Avery chuckled in response, “and I could’ve just told you about that, but then again, I figured that you might just enjoy the imagery I left behind for you as I know your writer’s imagination is on overload lately with my being your muse and all…”
“Honey, you have no idea how much this inspires me right about now,” he beamed as he dropped his voice a bit, desire and innuendo behind his words, “the things I’m going to do to you when this party is over…”
“It’s enough to get your juices flowing,” she laughed heartily thinking about her well planned surprise for him, “although I will say that it does feel like it’s a long time away until we can indulge in those particular notions I planted in your mind…”
“Believe me by tonight I’m going to remind you over and over again just how much I love you and then maybe we’ll work on that practicing for our wedding night,” he teased gingerly.
“I thought that’s what this morning was about as it was very, very electrifying,” Avery breathed moistly, her pulse quickening at the memory.
“That was just the beginning of what I have planned for us, though if you’d like I could give you a preview of tonight,” he suggested eagerly as a laugh spilled over her lips.
“If you do that, I’ll be tempted to come back over right now and explore those dirty little thoughts with you,” she teased feeling giddy all over.
“That was the general idea,” he blurted out breathlessly.
“As much as I’d love to make you mine over and over again, I think that maybe you should work on that other thing we talked about,” Avery reminded him simply, “as I’m sure I’m going to have my hands full here for the next few hours.”
“As long as after everything is over at the end of the party, then I will endure the wait,” he sighed heavily, “though I don’t know if I’m really ready to kill my good mood by talking with Grady.”
“Russ, I don’t think anything’s going to kill your mood considering the circumstances as I’ll admit I’m still floating on air,” she paused thinking of the future ahead of them, “and maybe if you work on burying the hatchet now, then we can have less to stress over later.”
“I know you’re right and truth be told I was getting ready to see him, though I’m dreading it,” he explained after a moment’s hesitation, “I just needed to hear your voice before I took this kind of plunge with my idiot brother.”
“Well I’m glad you called because I think I needed this,” Avery decided realizing that her life had changed in so many ways over the last few days, “and Russ?”
“I love you,” she admitted freely thinking about how wonderful it felt to share this emotion with him as her heart filled with love for him.
“I love you too baby,” he answered tenderly, “and tonight, you owe me a dance…even if Brant’s going to argue about it.”
“I’m sure we can arrange that,” Avery agreed, “as there’s nothing I could want more than to be lost in your arms.”
“Holding you tonight will be all I need to make it through my talk with Grady.”
“I know you’ll feel better after you do it,” she promised hoping Russ and his brother’s could somehow mend fences with one another.
“I wish I had your confidence, but my brother can be stubborn,” he pointed out.
“Yes, but so can I and look how you managed to win me over,” Avery reminded him with a tiny laugh.
“Well yes, but I don’t think I can use my traditional methods with my brother that I did with you as I don’t think seduction would work in this particular scenario,” he teased back at her.
“I should hope not as I’d say we have some really big problems ahead for us if you were inclined to proceed that way,” she laughed in response shaking her head at him, “though I’m sure you’ll figure something out with him.”
“As long as we don’t kill one another, I’m sure I can think of something,” he agreed heartily, “and I swear to you that the only seduction secrets I’ll be divulging from here on out are to you baby.”
“Hmm, well in that case, I’ll fully expect us to do some intense revealing tonight after the party.”
“I’m all yours sweetheart,” he promised again.
“That’s the only way I’d have it,” she smiled proudly thinking of how wonderful her life with Russell was going to be, “Now quit stalling and go see your brother.”
“I will,” he said unwilling to let her go just yet as their conversation had just began, “and Avery…I love you.”
“I love you too,” she answered hanging up her cell phone despite the urgent feeling to keep talking to him.  Just thinking about him made her tingle all over as happiness filled her heart and she slipped her phone into her pocket thinking about the magic of things to come for her after tonight.
“I can see you’re still getting yourself into trouble,” a voice piped in as Avery’s eyes snapped open and she found her younger brother standing before her with curious eyes and a teasing grin.
“Guy,” Avery rushed over to him embracing him almost immediately as excitement flooded over her, “What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t really think that I’d miss out on such a major event in my sister’s life, did you?” he questioned squeezing her in his arms.
“Of course not,” Avery smiled excited about her brother’s arrival, “Though I wish we’d gotten a chance to talk about this first as there are some things that I really would’ve loved to let you in on…”
“You mean like the fact that you and Russ are together again despite the hype that is going on about you and Brant?” he raised a curious brow as surprise crossed over her features, “I assume that’s who you were whispering sweet nothings to before on the phone when I walked in on you.”
“But…how could you…” Avery’s jaw dropped wondering if she’d been that obvious as a smile teased over his lips.
“I ran into Mindy before coming here,” he explained putting her confusion to rest, “She kind of filled in the blanks for me about you and Russ.  She made some references about this time being better than before and that if I thought you were happy back in the day, well that it was nothing compared to what is happening for you now.”
“She said all that,” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise.
“And then some,” he nodded, “which I must confessed threw me for a loop considering that the last time you swore it was never going to happen again especially not after the way it ended with you so miserable and…”
“Things have changed,” Avery interrupted hope evident in her tone as she squeezed his hand, “So many things have happened and I never anticipated Russ and I getting close again, but then, well then he wouldn’t stop pushing his way into my life and then finally…”
“He managed to wiggle his way in again?” he finished seeing the sparkle behind her eyes, “Which brings me to tonight.  If things are going as good as Mindy said they were, then why are you staying at the Ashford mansion about to become the diva who makes tabloid covers all over the world?”
“This was Brooke’s idea,” Avery curled her lip in a pout, “Somehow she managed to manipulate this situation into happening…”
“Avery,” he gave her a disapproving look, “you know that our mother would never…”
“Yes she would and she did,” Avery insisted firmly, “She saw an opening and she went with it.  Brant just went along with her because…”
“Well because he’s kind of got this crush on me,” Avery shifted on her feet, “You see we were at this party and this creep was trying to well, he seemed to think that I wouldn’t mind being his own personal sex kitten and Brant lied saying we were engaged and then the tabloids ran with it and…”
“Here we are,” he nodded taking in her words.
“Pretty much,” she offered in response, “but that’s going to change after tonight.”
“Oh?  How so?”
“I’m going to tell Brant about Russ and I and then, well then Russ and I are going to…” she paused looking around the room before biting on her lower lip, “maybe I shouldn’t…”
“Shouldn’t what?” he prodded seeing the cryptic glow spread over her features, “Avery, what are you holding out on me with?”
“Well, I shouldn’t be saying anything yet because it’s a secret and…” she explained nervously.
“Avery, you’ve always been able to tell me your secrets and vice versa,” Guy reminded her reaching out to touch her cheek, “You know you can’t hold out on me little lady.”
“Hey, who’s the older one here,” Avery challenged at his words.
“Who has the better sense of style,” Guy teased with a wink.
“Even so, who should be probing for answers about the other’s life considering you’ve been in Europe far too long for you to have to endure any of my drama…”
“Your drama could be quite refreshing as I’ve been out of the rumor mill for a while and I could use some juicy gossip,” he threw out playfully, “and usually where you’re concerned there’s always something sinfully delicious stirring.”
“And here I thought you had such a high opinion of me,” Avery rolled her eyes in response.
“Darling I look up to you in every sense of the word,” he doted on her wrapping his arm around her, “although you could use a little work and I know just the thing to highlight that glow you have about you.”
“I’m not glowing,” Avery nudged him away from her, “and I wouldn’t dream of letting you get your hands on me for tonight.”
“And just why not?” He curled his lip in a pout, “You know that I’m by far most talented employee with the most sought after hands at Beholder.  I could turn you into a fairy princess tonight even if your date for tonight isn’t the man that has you ready to burst into show tunes.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Avery shook her head as laughter filled her.
“Honey, I know the look of love anywhere and despite what you aren’t telling me, the truth to the matter is you have it,” Guy teased his finger over the tip of her nose, “and you’d better start talking or else I swear I’ll have to find a way to make you talk.”
“Guy, I’m not just going to open up right here considering that…” she paused searching his eye, “Now wait just a second. When did you become such an expert on the look of love here?”
“Hmm, well it comes with my line of work as I know what it is that love does to a woman…how it makes her the most sensual creature on the planet and how that sparkle in her eyes can create the most beautiful canvas…” he touched her dark hair, flipping it with his fingers, “and I like how you’ve grown this out as this gives us plenty to work with.”
“I’m not letting you give me a make over tonight, Guy,” Avery decided firmly, “The last time we did that, you took four hours at least.”
“And you were stunning,” Guy reminded her quickly, “and besides if you don’t let me take care of it, then you know Mum will want to.”
“Ugh,” Avery groaned at the thought of their mother, “I don’t want here anywhere near me.”
“Avery, you really shouldn’t be so hard on her.  She’s trying with you,” Guy’s smile faded as he saw the discontent behind her eyes, “She loves you.”
“No, she doesn’t.  She loves that I’m spending time with Brant on some level that could possibly give her more cloud in the fashion world.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you? Beholder is doing quite well on it’s own,” he offered in his mother’s defense.
“But it would do even better if Brant Ashford was backing it as his name alone would set sales skyrocketing.”
“Even so, I don’t really see what the problem is with your being around Brant Ashford.  From what I’ve seen he’s a handsome, daring man who likes to embrace life while indulging in the pleasures it can offer,” he shrugged his shoulders, “which would be reason enough why Mum might want to see you two happy together.”
“Except for the fact that she wants me to be something I’m not,” Avery argued with him, “She sees Brant as the ticket to high society and she refuses to see what I truly need in my life.”
“And you believe you have it with Russell?”
She nodded, “I do and the truth to the matter is that I love him.  You know that’s never changed for me even after our last wedding day.”
“I also know how your heart was broken after things went sour,” he reached out to her, “and I don’t want to see you in that kind of misery ever again.”
“I won’t be in it as long as I’m true to myself.  Brooke doesn’t want to see what it is that is alive in my heart, but I know who I am and how I feel and I can’t just pretend to be something I’m not to appease her,” Avery sighed as he pulled her into an embrace, “I’d be cheating myself out of happiness in my life if I did that.  Don‘t get me wrong Brant‘s a wonderful man, but with Russ and I, well we almost had it all and then we lost it so suddenly…”
“I know,” he squeezed her in his arms, “and all I want for you is to have you happy sis.”
“I know you do and I want that for you as well,” she looked up at him searching his eyes, “I so want you to be able to live your life the way that you want it to be without worrying about how things will go or in the constant state of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“Avery, we’re both realists here and you know how it is for me,” he sighed releasing her as his fingers crept up through her dark hair gingerly, “No one is ready for me to start doing things the way I want them…”
“And you think they’re ready to see me doing it?” Avery offered eagerly, “Brooke would kill me if she knew what Russ and I had been planning, but I made the decision not to run from my heart any longer.”
“I know where my heart is Sis, but I just don’t know if I’m ready to take that giant leap,” his lips curled into a hint of a smile, “besides you were the gutsy one of the two of us all these years.”
“So you want me to be the recipient of Brooke’s wrath first so that you won’t even make a blip on her radar?” she chuckled lightly, “I see how it is.”
“It’s something like that,” he nodded in confession, “though I will say that I admire your strength and conviction about things Avery.  You’ve always found a way to take life by the reigns and make your way to what it was you were passionate about.”
“And I also had a tendency to blow it up just when it was within my reach as well,” Avery answered flatly, “I’m a walking train wreck half the time.”
“Well maybe tonight that is all about to change for you as that sparkle in your eyes is saying something that you aren’t,” he placed his arm around her shoulders, “and I expect all the details when we’re transforming you into a princess tonight.”
“It’s a deal, but if and only if you clue me in on who it is that made you such an expert on love as I’m sure you found someone in Europe,” Avery decided curiosity brewing inside of her.
“Who said that,” he feigned innocence upon her words.
“A sister knows these things and I won’t let you keep me in the dark any longer as we have a lot of catching up to do,” she informed him realizing that having her brother around again was just the added boost she needed to make it through the party as it seemed that tonight was the beginning of something wonderful for the both of them as love was in the air.


Zack used his key to open Caitlin’s door and step inside. He glanced around for any sign of his sister as he jangled his keys and slipped them back into his pocket, “Cait?” He asked as he stepped into the kitchen of the small apartment and placed the bag of groceries he’d bought upon the counter, “Cait, are you here?”

“Yeah, I’m here,” Caitlin said as she stepped out of her bedroom, pulling her hair back into a pony tail. She adjusted the scrunchy before she placed her hands upon her jean clad hips and stared at him, “Where have you been?”

“Uhm, gee, let’s see,” He tapped his chin with his forefinger, “I don’t know…work, maybe?” He asked before he stepped back into the kitchen and began removing groceries from the bag.

“I mean, where were you last night?” She asked as she leaned against the door frame leading to the kitchen, “You were supposed to come home around ten, but you never did.”

“I was at the lab with Blake,” He shrugged as he placed a carton of milk into the refrigerator.

“With Blake? All night?” She asked as she crossed her arms, “What’s going on with you two?”

“Don’t worry. It’s not what you think. She’s down and out, and she just needed a friend. She fell asleep at the lab, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I made her comfortable before I caught some sleep on a cot,” He replied as he placed a loaf of bread in her bread box.

“Zack, I know you care about her, but please don’t set her up to have her heart broken again,” Caitlin spoke with concern in her voice.

“Why would I do anything like that?” He asked as he turned to face his sister, “And what makes you think I would do anything of the sort?”

“It’s not that you would do it intentionally, but you know how Blake feels about you. She could very easily fall head over heels for you all over again, and she’d be heartbroken all over again when nothing comes of it. I don’t want to see her hurt, and I don’t want you to play into something that isn’t there.”

“I’m not doing anything wrong, Cait. I’m just being a friend to her,” He shrugged as he plucked a muffin from a carton he’d bought and extended towards his sister in invitation. When she glared at him coldly, he put the carton down and shook his head, “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“No, not particularly,” Caitlin frowned, “Come on, Zack. Do the right thing for once in your miserable life. Don’t give Blake any more drama to deal with. She’s got enough on her mind right now.”

“I am not going to do anything to make Blake miserable. In fact, I had quite the opposite in mind,” He said as he began to peel back the muffin cup away from the pastry, “I’m her escort to the party tonight.”

“You what?” She asked as she followed her brother into the living room, “Are you out of your mind?”

“It’s just a friendly gesture. I want to have a little fun, and Blake needs some fun in her life. I think with the two of us together we might be able to pull it off,” He stated simply as he sank onto the sofa.

“It’s a good thing I’m going then. I can, at least, keep an eye on you two.”

“You’re going?” Zack asked as he suddenly sat up, “Are you sure you’re up for that?”

“It beats sitting around here feeling sorry for myself,” She replied as she sat down in a nearby recliner, “Besides, Ken has plans for us to leave early. He told me he doesn’t want me pushing it.”

“Good for him,” He replied before taking a bite of the muffin.

“So, how was the first day of work at the hospital?”

“It would have been okay except there’s this resident,” He rolled his eyes, “I have a feeling that we are not going to get along.”

“Bad first impression, huh?”

“Let’s just say that I already have a nickname for her and leave it at that, shall we?” He said as he looked back to her, “Are you sure you’re up to going to this party? You just got out of the hospital yesterday.”

“Zack, you’re a doctor for pete’s sakes. You should know that I’m not endangering myself by getting out a little while. I only have bruises and a faint headache which I’m treating with some mild pain killers. I wasn’t seriously injured. I’m going to be just fine.”

“Does that mean you’re going to stay safe? This guy isn’t going to come after you again?”

“I hope not,” Caitlin frowned as she fingered the fringe of a throw blanket draped over the chair, “The police are looking for him, and Ken’s warning security at the Ashford estate to be on the look out. I’m going to be okay.”

“So are you going to tell me what happened to you and who did this?” Zack asked as he met her eyes.

“It was an old boyfriend, Zack,” She blurted out, knowing that if she didn’t use her courage now she might not be able to muster it again for a while, “He used to hurt me when we were together, but now, he’s trying to teach me a lesson.”

“Cait,” He moved into the floor beside her and placed his hand on her knee, “I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want anyone to know, and I tried to deal with it on my own. I spent a lot of time and energy making myself strong and independent again. I thought I could get away from him on my own, but he’s proven that no matter where I go, he’s going to follow,” She said as her voice cracked.

“Cait, he’s not going to hurt you again. I can promise you that,” Zack declared boldly.

“Hey, I don’t want you going on some vendetta in my name, do you understand?” She demanded as she met his eyes, “I love you, Zack, and I refuse to lose you because Jimmy won’t leave me alone. I mean it, Zack. Don’t do anything. Let the police handle this.”

He frowned, “But Cait…”

“Zack, I want you to promise me that you won’t do anything in an act of revenge,” She squeezed his hand, “Promise me.”

He exhaled in surrender, “Okay, I promise.”

“Now, I want you to make one more promise for me.”

“God, I give you one and you think you’re entitled now,” He teased, “What is it you want me to promise?”

“I want you to promise that you won’t break Blake’s heart.”

“I already told you that I have no intention…”

“I know what you said,” She said as she held up her hand to cut him off, “But I also know that sometimes you act without thinking. So I want you to promise me that you won’t break her heart.”

Zack met his sister’s eyes as he spoke deliberately, “I promise you that I won’t break Blake’s heart.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” She frowned as she searched his eyes.

“Because you worry too much,” He stood and kissed her upon the cheek, “I have to get some things done before I get ready for the party tonight,” He said as he walked towards the bathroom, effectively putting an end to the conversation.

Caitlin took a deep breath, saying a silent prayer that both her brother and her friend’s hearts would emerge unscathed from the current situation. The last thing she wanted was to nurse either one of them from a heartbreak though she suspected that Blake would be a lot more susceptible to the pain than her brother would ever be. She could only hope that Blake wouldn’t allow herself to get that far down the path to heartache.


Russell took in a slow breath contemplating his words as he wondered if he had any chance at all at reaching Grady.  He was seriously doubting the fact that he and his brother would ever find a way to see eye to eye with one another, but then again he never would’ve imagined that he’d wake up this morning engaged to Avery, so perhaps miracles did happen after all.  Ringing the bell as he stood on Grady’s front porch, Russell stood taller hoping to keep from allowing his reservations about the situation to overtake his self control.  He reached for the bell once again, ready to ring it as Grady opened the door looking exhausted as his hair was rumpled as though he’d just awaken.  One look at Grady’s pajamas and Russell realized his assessment was right as he looked to his older brother.
“Can I come inside,” Russell questioned drawing in a nervous breath.
“That all depends,” Grady eyed him closely, “are you here to fight again?”
“Not exactly,” Russell shrugged his shoulders offering up the box in his hands to his brother, “and besides I brought breakfast if you’re interested.”
“Well I haven’t gotten to that yet,” Grady remarked opening the door wider as he stepped aside allowing his younger brother access to his home.  “Somehow I didn’t imagine I’d be seeing you for a while.”
“I honestly didn’t plan on making the trip over here for a long time, but I guess you could say I had a twinge of conscience.”
“So you finally see what I’m telling you about with Avery,” Grady’s voice perked up hopefully.
“Not at all because you’re completely wrong,” Russell tossed back at him, “but given that you’re allowed to make a mistake or two through the years, I decided that maybe I should spread my good cheer around your way and maybe it’ll rub off on you.”
“Good cheer huh,” Grady eyed him intently as Russell made his way through Grady’s home, “I take it you got laid last night, huh?”
“Grady, I’m in love and I’ve embraced it for all that is can be and I really wish that you’d stop hating Avery long enough to see that I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life,” Russell stated matter of fact as he looked around Grady’s quiet home.
“In other words you did get laid,” Grady rolled his eyes in response crossing the room, “Russ, when are you going to see that having a lot of sex with a woman like Avery doesn’t equate to love and it certainly doesn’t lead you any closer to logic in the long run because it always takes you two steps behind.”
“Grady, can you just for one second not try to rain on my parade as I came over here to invite you to the party at the Ashford mansion tonight,” Russell sighed heavily.
“Come again,” Grady blinked back at him in surprise, “Okay clearly you’re on something right now, aren’t you?”
“I’m high on love and I’d like you to be there to support me tonight as Avery and I have something we’d like to share with you--something that’s important to us,” Russell explained promptly.
“So Avery wants me to be there when she plays you for a fool tonight, huh?  Well that is on the top of my list for sure,” Grady grumbled shaking his head at his younger brother’s nativity, “Russ, when are you ever going to learn with her that the best thing to do is just walk away and never look back?  She’s with Brant so how much more torture must you put yourself through in the process of coming to that harsh realization?”
“Grady, there is a lot about Avery that you don’t understand.  This situation is complicated and after tonight that’s all going to change,” Russell promised thinking to the morning he’d shared with Avery, “You could say we had an awakening this morning with one another.”
“You mean before she got dressed and ran out the door to go home to Brant?” Grady grumbled in response, “Russ, when are you going to open your eyes and stop letting your libido lead you back to misery with that woman?  She’s no good for you and she’s never been.  We both know that…”
“What I know is that I’m in love with her and she loves me,” Russell stated his voice filled with passion and devotion as his thoughts of a future with Avery moved him on in the conversation, “While I realize that it might be hard for you to grasp that concept, the truth to the matter is that I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“That’s because you haven’t looked at this any other way.  It’s always been about how you were going to win Avery over--about how you were going to keep her happy and how you two were going to ride off into the sunset together and live your dream of perfectly wedded bliss, but the truth to the matter is that the world doesn’t work that way little brother.  Avery doesn’t work that way and we both know it.”
“Avery’s been through a lot in her life,” Russell began simply, “She’s had a lot to endure and…”
“And you’re here to defend her to the end of time,” Grady shook his head impatiently, “I get it.  Russ, I know that you’re a sucker for that woman and I hate it, but I see that you’re not going to let go of this obsession with her until she buries you and stomps on your heart again and I hate the idea of that happening.”
“Grady, do you remember when you and Susan were going through the divorce?  Do you remember how heartbroken you were that things didn’t work out,” Russell interrupted bluntly, “Remember when I tried to tell you that things happen for a reason and that somehow even that doesn’t always make sense to us at the time…”
“Susan and I ending was a blessing in disguise and the fact that I got so worked up over it tells you just how far gone in my darkness I was there because in retrospect I don’t know what the fuss was about.”
“The fuss was that you were afraid that it was the end for you--that somehow with the new twist of fate you’d found yourself standing on the threshold with no where left to go but down.”
“But I didn’t go under like I’d thought I would.  I saw that without Susan I’d be better off and now I’ve moved on…” Grady began to argue with him.
“Yes, you did, but because that was right for you.  You found something with Jade because that was something that was meant to happen--just like I was meant to find my way back to Avery,” Russell remarked simply, “I know that you think because your situation didn’t work out, then it means that I shouldn’t take a risk like the one you know wasn’t something you could live with.  With Susan you two had a lot going on before you reached the end.  You admit you were bad for one another and that it never should’ve lasted as long as it did because of it…”
“Because Susan brought me down.  She made me irrational and I made so many mistakes…” Grady began.
“Yet you found your way to fix your life. You turned things around and there was light at the end of the tunnel for you…”
“Which is exactly what you can have Russ if you just let go of Avery.  She’s not what you need in your life.  She’s no where near the kind of woman you deserve to have happiness with,” Grady sighed shaking his head back at him.
“Grady, I love her and one day Avery and I are going to be together.  We have plans for the future and this time we both fit into the equation.  I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible it’s been over the last couple of days with her, but the truth to the matter is that things have never been this good for me.  She’s the one person in this world that really makes me feel happy to be alive.  Since we’ve reconnected it’s as if everything I’d been praying for has finally come my way…”
“Nothing is as good as it seems and with her hanging around Brant, pretending to be in love with him…” Grady started bothered by the dreamy eyed expression over his brother’s features.
“She loves me Grady and I love her,” Russell declared boldly, “and we both want to give you an opportunity to see just how much we mean to one another.  Tonight there’s something special in store for the world and I need you there to share it with me.  I need you to be supporting me when I prove to Avery just how far I’d go in the name of love--”
“Russ, it’s her engagement party to Ashford.  I don’t think your crashing it or mine will be something that is going to get the response you’re seeking out.  She’s not about to cause a stir when she’s been doting on Brant left and right…”
“She asked me to come over here and try to reach out to you as she didn’t want me to not have you in my life,” Russell sighed taking in a slow breath, “Grady, I’m asking you to be my brother--to be the best friend you’ve been to me over the years and just trust my decisions.  I want you to support me even if you might not agree with what’s going on--not because you like it, but because you care enough to want to see me find some happiness in my life just like I want that for you.”
“Russ, what you’re asking me,” Grady thought it over momentarily, “I don’t think I can give you that knowing where this is going to lead you down the road.  I don’t want to watch you in the same kind of misery she put you in before.”
“Grady, it’s not going to be like that and tonight you’re going to see just how far Avery and I have come with one another.  We both want to share something extraordinary with you and it would mean a lot to me if you came to this party…”
“I’m not going to stand there and watch her tear you apart while she fawns all over Brant.  I can’t do that because I hate knowing that you’re going to put yourself in that position over and over again.  It’s not going to be any easier this time than it was the last and I don’t want you to take the fall for her again.  I don’t want her to break you like she did before when she tossed you aside.”
“Grady, you’re not getting this and if you took time out of your animosity towards her to really see what’s going on with us, then maybe you might feel differently about the situation.”
“And just what is going on with you Russ?  She gets into trouble with Bruce and comes crying to you in between latching on to Ashford and then what?  Then she uses you and screws all logic away from you as she sets you up for a murder rap as in all likelihood that‘s what Ashford has been banking on all along in this situation.  Oh yeah that sounds like love to me,” he rolled his eyes, “If you’d only stop being so damned sentimental and start thinking for a change…”
Russell’s jaw tightened as he groaned inwardly, “I knew coming over here was a mistake.”
“Falling for Avery all over again was a mistake.  Your coming here should’ve made you think,” Grady folded his arms in front of his chest, “She’s only going to shatter you again and again until there’s nothing left.”
“No Grady that’s what you’re doing by not extending me the same courtesy I’ve given you.  When you were lost inside yourself about Susan or hell even about Jade, I gave you the support you needed.  I tried to put my own personal feelings aside and I steered you in the direction that you wanted to go in even when it lead to disaster…”
“Well maybe if you hadn’t have been so stupid, then I wouldn’t have gone through so much misery along the way,” Grady tossed back at him harshly, “I’m doing you a favor Russ and if you can’t see that, then Avery’s warped your mind more than I even imagined.”
“If you can’t see that I need you in my life to be the brother I thought you always were, then this conversation is pointless,” Russell started toward the door, “If you’re going to spend your time hating Avery and pushing me away, then we obviously aren’t as close as I’d imagined us to be as the last thing I want is for you to carry on like this.”
“Lose Avery and then we’ll talk,” Grady muttered unyielding in his opinion on the subject, “Sure dad might be trying to make you feel better about this, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m enjoying watching you play the part of Avery’s lap dog.”
“You don’t have to enjoy it, but what you should do is try to understand and if you can’t do that, then don’t bother with the party tonight as the last thing Avery and I need is to deal with you,” Russell opened the front door ready to walk out.
“Oh here we go,” Grady rolled his eyes, “Once again you’re running out the door avoiding the obvious because it doesn’t fit into your fairy tale.  Funny how Avery tends to help alienate you from the people of real importance in your life these days.”
“Avery’s not the one alienating me from you,” Russell threw back at him, “as you’ve done more than enough for the both of us.  I’ve tried to reason with you.  I’ve asked you politely to just trust me and I’ve even gone to blows over this, but the truth to the matter is that I’m tired Grady.  I don’t want to fight with you and I certainly don’t want to go this over and over again.  Either you want to be a part of my life or you don’t, but I’m telling you now that whether or not you choose to be in it, Avery is always going to be a part of me.”
“So that’s how it is,” Grady frowned deeper.
“That’s exactly how it is and if you think that you can put your own stubborn side away for a little while and just try to accept the way things are, then I’d love to see you tonight at the party, but if you’re going to ridicule Avery and chastise my decisions again and again because they aren’t what you want for me, then don’t bother as neither one of us need that kind of negativity now,” he finished leaving Grady’s home slamming the door behind him as Grady slumped down in a chair wondering when his brother was ever going to see any kind of reason in this situation.  As Grady heard the sounds of Russell’s car peeling out of the driveway, he realized that his brother was never going to learn and this time he feared that the results of Russell’s obsession with Avery would be far more disastrous than the last time.


Jenna stepped out onto the back patio at the Ashford mansion hoping that this time the worker she’d last spoken with was right on where she’d be able to find her best friend as after her trip to the library, then to the wine cellar back up to the den again she was fit to be tied.  Opening the door wall before her she stepped out onto the back deck inhaling the sweet floral fragrance of the blossoming buds outside as her eyes narrowed in the blinding light of the sun.  Even if this place was a zoo, she realized that her best friend couldn’t have found a better day for an engagement party as the day was a beautiful one to say the least and this garden the Ashford family had, well it seemed to be well worth the praise that the town gossip had often tagged onto it over the years.
“Well look what the cat dragged in,” a voice spoke up from beside her as Jenna looked to the far end of the deck seeing Guy Morrison lounging in one of the chairs, a pair of sunglasses covering his handsome face and a drink in hand as he lifted it up to salute her.
“Now there’s a sight for sore eyes,” Jenna teased back making her way over towards him, “How the hell are you?”
“You mean other than being bored by the small town atmosphere that Coral Valley holds even with my sister’s posh engagement party taking place tonight,” he slid his sunglasses down the tip of his nose a bit as his smile widened, “I couldn’t be better.”
“Well I’m glad one of us is on top of the world,” Jenna remarked as Guy rose from his chair carefully setting his drink down on the table as he welcomed her with open arms.
“Come over here and give me a hug girlfriend before I find myself completely and utterly offended,” he threw out an electrifying smile as Jenna stepped into the embrace.
“Last I’d heard you’d lost yourself in Europe hoping to find ways to spread beauty over the planet for Brooke,” Jenna teased lightly.
“Well Avery wasn’t going to accept the responsibility so one of us had to,” Guy’s gaze traveled over her appreciatively, “Though I have to say that you’re one hell of a beauty Jenna and the things I would do to you if I had an hour or so to play…”
“I’m almost afraid to imagine where that could lead,” Jenna threw back at him, “Last time you got your hands on me you couldn’t control yourself…”
“I would ravish you in a heartbeat darling as with your structure and sense of style, you are by far one of the most sensational divas in the making,” he fluffed at her hair, “You’re beautiful and I’d love to get you all to myself over at Beholder…”
“I’m sure your mother would hold some strong objections to that one…not to mention your sister and I are both pretty similar on our standings where the fashion world has it’s place,” she paused biting on her lower lip at her words, “No offense.”
“None taken, but one day I’ll get you alone and when I do,” he threw out a suggestive grin, “I’m going to open you up to a whole new world of pleasure that you never deemed imaginable.”
“Well now,” Jenna’s eyes lit up with laughter, “Guy, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were the third man this week trying to promise me the moon and the stars…”
“But I’m the only one you know that will follow through on that as my hands are the best there are out there these days,” he boasted proudly, “and we both know that’s the truth.”
“Does Avery have any idea how smooth you’ve become over the years?”
“Avery doesn’t know the half of it, but I suppose the three of us could catch up tonight over a make over session,” Guy offered hopeful as Jenna’s laughter spilled from her lips.
“Considering that I have a hot date tonight, I’m half tempted to take you up on that offer,” Jenna revealed thinking to her plans with Douglas.
“Hot date?” Avery’s voice perked up from behind Jenna, “Did I hear someone mention those very words?”
“Yes as a matter of fact you did,” Jenna nodded eagerly, “Tonight I’m going to be arriving at your engagement party with Douglas Mahoney.”
“You so aren’t,” Guy’s eyes widened as a gasp fell from his lips, “You’re lying about that one, aren’t you?”
“Who’s Douglas Mahoney,” Avery gave them both a strange look at Jenna nodded emphatically.
“He spotted me on the street the other day and he wants to make me a star in his latest movie,” Jenna blurted out thinking of the silliness behind the notion as her laughter built with each passing moment, “Granted I thought he was some kind of whack job when he approached me on it, but now…”
“Now if you’re really showing up with Douglas tonight, then you have to let me do some of the things I’ve been working on over at Beholder for you,” Guy insisted his mind racing with ideas as he looked to Jenna and his sister, “The both of you are going to look amazing tonight and this will be my chance to show off some of what I’ve picked up at Beholder.”
“As if your shows in Paris and Milan weren’t enough,” Avery shook her head in response, “Little brother, I don’t think there’s a person on a planet that doesn’t know how talented you are--nor is there a woman that wouldn’t want you to have your hands on her.”
“I’m seeing the impossible two before me right now,” he curled his lip in a pout, “but I’m not taking no for an answer.”
“Big shocker there,” Avery rolled her eyes in a teasing fashion, “but you can start with Jenna so that way I can find a way to run out if need be.”
“There won’t be any running,” Guy stated firmly as the lightness in his tone shifted a bit, “though I am a bit concerned about that reaction you had to the tea I gave you.  I know it’s a new blend, but are you sure you’re feeling alright,” he stepped forward reaching out to touch her arm, “You look a little pale.”
“It’s been a busy week for me,” Avery smiled in response, “and besides you know how my body responds to exotic delights.”
“Which is why we need to get some protein into you as your color is telling me you aren’t getting it,” Guy motioned towards the table urging the both of them to take a seat, “Keep an eye on her Jenna as I’ll be right back with something for the both of you.”
Jenna shook her head watching Guy leave the two of them alone as she looked to Avery, “He never quits, does he?”
“With Guy doting on me, who needs Brooke,” Avery shrugged her shoulders as an ironic laugh overcame her, “Although Brooke was never much of a mother anyways.”
“Still, it’s nice to have Guy around again,” Jenna nodded in response.
“As long as he doesn’t keep trying to fill me up with his miracle cures and anti-aging remedies,” Avery took in a slow breath bringing her hand over her stomach as she took a seat across from Jenna, “then I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay,” Jenna scrutinized her for a long moment.  “Guy’s right.  You do look a little pale.”
“Jenna, I’m fine,” Avery nodded drawing in a slow breath,  “Really…Guy’s European wonder tonic just left my stomach feeling a bit queasy, but what else is new about that?”
“You’re sure,” Jenna lifted a skeptical brow.
“More than sure,” Avery replied tossing out a smile, “So what brings you here today?”
“You mean other than my constant wondering about you and how you’re doing after the mishap at the morgue,” Jenna answered honestly, “I was worried about you once I’d learned about the Feds major screw up.”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Avery confessed with a heavy sigh, “though I heard that you got back to work because of it as they saw they’d made a major mistake.”
“Even so, things like that shouldn’t be happening in my morgue,” Jenna explained with heavy irritation laced in her tone, “Things were going fine here until the FBI stepped in.”
“Still to think that Bruce’s body was the first one that managed to disappear,” Avery frowned as a shiver raced over her, “It doesn’t make any sense as who would want to take someone like Bruce?  He was quiet and tended to stick to himself.  There wasn’t really anyone who might’ve wanted to…”
“Avery, just how well did you know Bruce,” Jenna questioned thinking about the information she’d happened upon at the Cadillac Ranch, “Is there anyone out there who might’ve wanted to see him dead?”
“You mean do I think it’s possible that there was someone with a vendetta against Bruce,” Avery paused thinking about the situation she’d found herself in with Brant and Russell as she shook her head, “No, Bruce was generally a very private person and he wasn’t really a team player.”
“Which is why I never understood the dynamics of the two of you,” Jenna contemplated her words as she struggled with the knowledge she’d obtained, “Avery, if you knew something that you felt I should know, you’d tell me right?  I mean if there was something bothering you, you’d open up to me and you’d want me to know even if it wasn’t the best news out there, yes?”
“Jenna, why do I get the feeling you’re about to give me some really bad news,” Avery questioned a tension rising up over her spine, “Is something wrong?”
“Not exactly,” Jenna shifted uneasily on her chair, “but there are some things about Bruce that I thought maybe we should talk about.”
“Like what?” Avery asked curiously.
“Like maybe he was leading some kind of double life,” Jenna blurted out after a moment’s hesitation.
“Aren’t we all on some level,” Avery sighed thinking about the predicament she’d found herself in with the men in her life.
“To some degree I suppose so, but this kind of goes beyond the realm of normal,” Jenna’s eyes dropped to the ground as she began to wiggle her fingers nervously.
“Jen, what’s going on,” Avery leaned forward in her chair reaching out to her pal, “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Avery, after Bruce’s murder I knew that the Feds were pressing you and trying to pin this situation in your general direction.  I wasn’t buying it or their lame excuses about my being ripped from the case due to a conflict of interest, so I decided to do some investigating of my own.  It’s a long story, but Hart and I were looking into a few things and…”
“Hart?  As in Hart Steiner?”
Jenna nodded, “One in the same.”
“But I thought you hated him?  After the way he raked you through the coals, I’d just as soon imagined you’d want him to burn in hell before you’d even bother spending any amount of time with him,” Avery pointed out thinking to the things Jenna had to endure.
“That was the general idea, but when you were in trouble, well I thought it was time to put my feelings aside and get a little help because he’s slimy enough to get his hands on things that well, that I couldn’t do alone…”
“So you were the one who slipped him the report you did,” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise, “I knew that had to be it when he came in to give that to Ken…”
“Avery, that’s not important right now,” Jenna replied dismissively, “but what is important is that you need to see the truth about Bruce--to know what he was and what he wasn’t.”
“Jenna, I know that this might sound a bit callous, but towards the end I saw Bruce in a totally different light and I didn’t like what I saw,” Avery thought back to her attack, “He wasn’t the man I started seeing…”
“He never was that man,” Jenna confessed openly, “From the time you two met, he wasn’t who you believed him to be.  I talked to a few people and Bruce was known for frequenting bars like the Cadillac Ranch and picking up working girls…”
“What?” Avery gasped in surprise, “No, that can’t be right.”
“Avery, from what I heard he was really into the scene and a little rough with them in terms of business,” Jenna continued to reveal her information.
“But Bruce didn’t even like sex,” Avery admitted openly, “He and I rarely had it and when we did it was more of a chore for him.  In fact the only time he started pushing for it was about four months ago when we stopped having it altogether.”
“Maybe he was different with other people,” Jenna pondered the thought, “Maybe he had some kind of dark half that you weren’t privy to because from what I was told, he was into a lot of kinky things that got ugly.  Even the night he was last seen at the bar before his death, he‘d picked up some woman--a brunette and they got pretty heated in more ways than one on the dance floor according to my source.”
“So Bruce was seeing someone else,” Avery thought it over for a long moment, “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Doesn’t it?  I mean doesn’t it maybe give reason as to why someone might want him dead?  As though this double life lead him to that kind of trouble and he was having something with someone on the side?”
“It’s just…well that…” Avery bit on her lower lip, “Jenna if I tell you something, you have to swear not to say a word about it to another living soul.  You have to promise me that you won’t tell any of the Feds or anyone else…”
“Avery, you know you can trust me with your secrets,” Jenna reached for her hand supportively.
“The night before Bruce’s death, he attacked me,” Avery blurted out shamefully, “He’d read the article about the engagement and when I came home, well he was waiting in my apartment.  He’d been drinking and he went on a rampage and the next thing I knew he was telling me that if he couldn’t be with me, then no one would be and he was choking me.  If it wasn’t for Brant stepping in when he did, it might’ve been me you’d been working on in the morgue.”
Jenna’s face paled at her friend’s confession, “Oh Avery, then that’s why you were so shaken…so upset…”
Avery nodded, “I didn’t want you to know because I didn’t want to put you in a position where it would compromise your career.  I didn’t want you to be on the line because of that knowledge.”
“Avery, why didn’t you say something sooner?  You know I’m your best friend first,” Jenna squeezed her hand, “I would’ve wanted to be there for you.”
“Jen, I didn’t want you to know because the more people that knew the harder things would be and besides, when I had to tell Russell, he and Brant were both furious and I was afraid that they’d gone and done something stupid…”
“Which is what Shannon must’ve been picking up on,” Jenna deduced thinking about the way things had been over the last few weeks, “She must’ve known that something was off…”
“I wasn’t about to let the world know that my ex-boyfriend beat the hell out of me especially after I’d just gotten through spending the night with my ex-fiancé,” Avery divulged freely.
“You mean that’s when you and Russ,” Jenna’s jaw dropped as Avery nodded.
“As I said one thing lead to another and we spent the night together.  The last thing I’d expected that morning was to come home and find Bruce waiting for me as we’d broken up and I really believed it was over.”
“What about Brant?  Does he know about you and Russ?”
“Not yet, but he’s going to,” Avery promised herself as she thought of the plans she’d made for the future, “I’m going to tell him everything.”
“Which is what exactly?” Jenna questioned as Avery dropped her head somberly, “Avery, if you’re about to walk down the aisle with Brant Ashford, don’t you think he should be aware of this situation?”
“I’m going to tell him,” Avery answered simply, “After tonight everything is going to change as there’s a lot to this story that isn’t what meets the eye.”
“And you aren’t going to tell me all the details just yet, are you?” Jenna frowned in response to her pal’s cryptic words.
“All I can say is that tonight everything is going to change forever.  I’ll give Brant the honesty he deserves and with Russ,” Avery lifted her hand to her face, touching her finger over her lips involuntarily, “Well it’ll work itself out.”
“Are you so sure about that,” Jenna questioned her gaze lingering over Avery’s hand for a moment as a gasp fell from her lips.  Almost immediately she reached for Avery’s hand inspecting the ring upon her finger, “Avery what in the…”
Avery’s eyes dropped down to the ring and a tiny gulp built in her throat, “This is part of the complications,” she threw out weakly.
“That’s Russell Denton’s ring and not Brant Ashford’s million dollar gemstone,” Jenna reminded her harshly.
“I know,” Avery nodded, “and it’s this ring that’ll be bringing more truth to tonight’s affair.  It’ll all become plain as can be…”
“And Brant doesn’t have a clue that you’re still in love with Russell, does he?” Jenna reasoned seeing the expression on her friend’s features, “He doesn’t realize that like Bruce he never had a fighting chance at winning you over as there’s only been one love in your life and that’s the man who’s ring you chose to wear this afternoon.”
“I really want the best for Brant and he’s an attractive man,” Avery began thinking to her twinges of lust for Brant over the last few years, “He’s incredible and wonderful in ways that I never thought possible, but with Russ, well…we’ve both waited a long time to find some happiness with one another.”
“And you think that time is now,” Jenna remarked curiously.
“We’re hoping so, but after tonight, well I’m sure things are going to work out for the best,” Avery answered hopefully, “but enough about me, tell me about you and this date of yours.”
“Douglas and I met not long ago, but you gathered that much.  He’s bent on believing that some kind of force of destiny had us cross paths and he’s talking about making me some movie star which in itself is completely ridiculous, but it’s something I suppose…”
“Oh Jen, I can see it now,” Avery held her hand up as if framing her pal’s features, “You in every movie theater in the country working with the likes of some sexy leading men like George Clooney or Kevin Spacey…”
“Sean Connery,” Jenna added eagerly playing into the talk Avery had inspired in her as Guy stepped out onto the porch returning with two drinks in one hand and a small package in the other.
“Oh you’re talking about Hollywood Heartthrobs,” Guy mused eagerly, “You both must be in a good mood now.”
“We’re getting there,” Avery nodded turning her head to look up at her brother, “So where did you drift off to?”
“I was having a word with one of the caterers in the kitchen and we talked about how to make the best Mai Tai as the man was clearly inept, but while I was in there I whipped up these drinks for the both of you,” he set the glasses down before them on the table before nodding in Avery‘s direction, “and this one shouldn’t bother your stomach like the last.”
“Guy, if you keep pumping me with your concoctions, I’m bound to wind up sick as a dog for the party, which I suppose might not be altogether a bad thing as I can only imagine what Brooke has in store for all of us,” Avery teased as Guy shot her a scathing look.
“Be nice sis,” he circled around the table before handing the box over in her direction, “Oh and this just arrived for you.”
“What is it?” Avery lifted a curious brow as she inspected the package.
“If I knew, don’t you think I’d be telling you that as well,” Guy pointed out motioning towards the box, “It looks like someone sent you a gift, so open it and share.”
“Well, okay,” Avery tore at the wrapping wondering what was inside as she tore the paper away to reveal a black, velvety box before her.  Slowly opening it, her eyes fell upon the ruby red gemstone before her, “Oh my…” she gasped as Jenna leaned in towards her taking a look at the necklace before Avery.
“Wow, that’s…just wow…” Jenna’s eyes widened as Guy reached for the box inspecting the gift his sister had been given.
“It’s real,” Guy added almost immediately upon inspection, “and excellent quality I might add.”
“Who’s it from,” Jenna questioned looking to Avery.
“I don’t know,” Avery shrugged her shoulders, “there wasn’t a card and…”
“There’s something,” Guy pulled out the necklace, reaching for a small piece of paper that was tucked in beneath it.  He handed it over to his sister, “I think this is your secret admirer’s token for you.”
“Hmm…” Avery accepted the paper feeling a twinge of guilt overtake her as she wondered if Brant was once again lavishing upon her.  Still, as she unfolded the page, she read the few words typed before her.
“Well, who is it from,” Jenna questioned eagerly as Guy reached for the note tearing it from his sister’s hands.
“To hell with waiting,” he muttered reading the note aloud, “Tonight I wanted you to be in something mesmerizing and when I saw this, I knew it was meant for only you as it’s only a pale comparison to your beauty.  Until tonight my love,” Guy gave her a strange look before he noted the added writing, “P.S.  I’ll be expecting you to be wearing this as I’ll be wearing my red tie just for you so we‘ll be a matching set.”
“Red tie?” Jenna repeated as Avery snatched the note from her brother’s hand.
“What’s that all about?” Guy inquired, “Some story behind this?”
“None that I’m telling,” Avery felt a heat rise over her features as her thoughts immediately drifted to Russell and the adventure they’d had not too long ago at his place lost in seductions with his infamous red polka dot tie.
“Oh it must be good,” Jenna added, “She’s blushing.”
“I am not,” Avery argued with her realizing that tonight was the beginning of something she was certain she’d never forget as Russell’s surprise was just the added boost she needed to know that tonight was the beginning of happily ever after for her as nothing was going to stand in the way of her forever with Russell.


Dave posted the crime scene photo upon the board beside the photo of Dr. Doe. He sat at his desk and lifted his coffee as he stared at the board, wondering just how his victims were connected. He’d gotten to work early, hoping to get a jump start on his administrative duties before he focused on the murder investigation before him. He sipped his coffee before he placed the mug back upon his desk and plucked the stir stick from the hot liquid. He began gently sucking on the stick as he looked back at the file before him.

Shannon knocked gently on the door before she stepped inside, “Are you serious about going to this party tonight?”

“Yeah, I am,” He replied without looking up from his file, “Having second thoughts?”

“No, actually, I pitched the idea to my bosses, and they were pretty receptive.”

“Of course they are. They’re chomping at the bit to find something on the Ashfords, aren’t they?” He asked while turning a page in his file.

She took a seat across the desk from him and exhaled as she sat back, “They do seem to have a mission in mind,” She shrugged, “I don’t know what it is, but there’s definitely something they’re after.”

“So you’re finally coming around to that conclusion, huh?” He turned another page in the file.

“Well after the wagons were all circled around when the body went missing, I think it was obvious there’s another agenda here. Personally, I just want to find this killer, and leave this town behind for good.”

“And we would love to give you a farewell party,” Dave said as he stopped and glanced at her, “Do you have a dress for tonight?”

“I didn’t exactly pack one for this trip. I didn’t think evening wear would be necessary for my investigation,” She said blandly.

“Go shopping. Pick up a dress, and put it on your expense account. You’re doing reconnaissance,” He said as he began reading once more.

“What are you so interested in over there anyway?”

“I’m reading the file we got on the Bruce Mathis murder. He was in his car when it was pulled from the river bed,” Dave frowned as he removed a crime scene photo from the file and turned it towards her, “This is the positioning of the body. See any similarities?” He asked as he passed her the photograph to her.

“This is exactly the way our body was positioned,” She sat up quickly as she looked over the photograph, “Do you think this is a serial killer?”

“Serial killers kill for sport. There aren’t enough victims in between these two to support a serial killer theory,” He replied.

“But what if this killer isn’t stationary? We’d have to cheek VICAP to find out.”

“Think you can check it out?”

“Yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem,” She said as she passed the photograph back to him.

“Good, now go shopping. Buy a dress, and be ready to go at seven. I want to get there just as everyone is arriving. I want to see just who decides to show their face at the Ashford party and if anyone gets nervous by our presence there,” Dave instructed as he closed the file in front of him, preparing to scour the Ashford party for any sign of guilty parties.


Seth pressed the flashing button on his answering machine and sank onto the sofa as messages began to play. One was from a bill collector requesting payment, another from the hospital requesting that he call them to set up a payment schedule, but the last one caught his attention. He turned towards the machine as the message played.

“Seth, this is Dr. Diego Hernandez, Jade’s therapist. She came by to see me today and tells me that you two are having some trouble communicating. I’d like a chance to help you two resolve this issue. When you get a chance, give me a call at my office.”

Seth rubbed his temple as the machine switched off. While it wasn’t a direct approach, at least Jade was trying to speak with him. It was more than he could say for the other woman in his life. He wanted to speak with Blake, just speak with her. He just wanted a chance to explain things to her. He’d been callous and unthinking when he’d just blurted out things to her. He knew she had to see him now as just a mindless brute, but the truth was he loved her and would have to do something to get her attention.

He made his way to the kitchen cupboard to retrieve a bottle of headache medicine. He opened the bottle and tossed back a couple of pills before grabbing a bottle of water from the refrigerator. He swallowed the pills with a quick gulp of water.

The phone began ringing again. It was the kind of incessant ring which meant the person would keep calling until they spoke to another human being.

Seth sighed as he picked up the phone, “Hello?”

“Seth, I’m glad I caught you. I’ve been trying for a while. I even called your cell phone, but you weren’t answering,” Thea said with a sparkle in her voice.

“My battery died,” He lied as he tossed the cell that had been switched off onto the sofa, “What’s up?”

“The party tonight at the Ashford estate, you need to be there.”

“And just how do you expect me to be there without an invitation?”

“Crash the party, Seth. I’m sure you’ve done that sort of thing before.”

“At the Ashfords? Yeah, I’m sure they’re going to let me through the front door. What part of an invitation only affair didn’t you read in the newspaper this morning?” He asked as he glanced at the paper he’d brought into the apartment earlier.

“Find someone with an invitation and take it from them. This might be your last chance to get the microfilm, Seth. I’ve put distance between you and Cameron up until now, but he’s a bit hot under the collar lately. You might not get another chance if you don’t come through with some results soon.”

“Don’t worry about my welfare, Thea. I can handle Cameron.”

“You think you can, but you have no idea what Cameron is capable of…of what I’m capable of for that matter. Don’t force me to take out my wrath on you, Seth. Get to that party, get the microfilm, and bring it to us.”

The phone ended with a quick click. Seth frowned as he switched off the phone and placed it upon the base. He glanced at the newspaper, reading over the story of the party at the Ashford estate. He picked up the phone and dialed a number he’d long since left behind. He took a breath before the phone picked up, “This is Seth. I need your help, and I think it can work out for the both of us,” He said as he considered his limited options for the night and his life.


Avery looked to the dress hanging up in the bedroom for her as she entered the guest suite at the mansion.  While she’d tried to locate Brant after Guy had rushed off to pick up a few essentials for the beauty makeover he’d had planned for tonight, she decided to steer things in the right direction, but it was no use as Brant was out dealing with the caterers much to her dismay.  Now as she looked around the room, taking in the shimmering gown before her, she wondered if she could truly go on with the charade tonight as it was something she dreaded more than anything.  She’d hated that she’d been leading this double life with loving Russell and pretending with Brant because both men deserved more.  Brant wasn’t what she’d thought him to be as he truly had a good heart beneath his rough exterior and now, well now she hated the idea of breaking his heart, but her future was riding on the truth she’d withheld from him.  If only she’d gotten a chance to speak with him before now, she sighed slumping down on her bed as a tiny mewing sound captured her attention.  Avery looked to the floor seeing Rusty sitting at her feet looking up at her with green eyes.
“Hey baby,” Avery scooped him up into her arms cuddling him close to her as a smile touched over her features, “I missed you.”
Rusty purred in response rubbing his head against her chest as she massaged his ear thinking about how wonderful a surprise Russ had brought to her life in bringing Rusty to her.  Even now the idea of them starting a family together with Rusty made her hopeful and excited for the future come what may.
“Your daddy is coming over tonight,” Avery whispered eagerly in her kitten’s ear, “and then after this party is over, he’s going to take us home so that we can be a family just like he promised us,” she kissed the top of Rusty’s head thinking about how wonderful it would feel to finally be back with Russell again as they had so many things to look forward to with one another.
Suddenly an idea popped into Avery’s head as she dropped her palm into her pocket fishing out her cell phone once again, “Maybe we should give him a call.  What do you say?” Rusty meowed encouragingly as Avery dialed Russell’s cell phone number waiting for him to answer, but instead the voice mail picked up and she left a tender message, “Your baby and I were thinking about you and we just wanted you to know that we loved you and are eagerly awaiting your visit to the mansion tonight as it’s lonely without you here.  I love you,” she finished before hanging up the phone as her eyes turned to the doorway and she found her father standing before her a concerned expression washing over his features.
“Avery,” he sighed stepping into the room and closing the door behind him, “Why are you going through with this tonight when it’s painfully obvious that you don’t want to be taking part in this chaos your mother created?”
“Daddy, I didn’t realize you were in here,” she began surprised with his entrance as she thought to her phone message for Russ, “Were you alone out there?”
“Yes I was, but Avery anyone with eyes can see where you’re heart is tonight and it’s not with Brant or this circus your mother is running here tonight.”
“Daddy, I know what you’re trying to say here, but…”
“No Avery, you don’t, but you really should think about this,” Richard urged of his daughter, “It’s not too late to call this off--to end this before it turns into something more than it is as I don’t want to see tonight tear your dreams away from you.”
“Daddy I talked to Russell after you paid me a visit,” Avery confided lowering her voice a bit, “I thought about what you said and I realize that you were right.  I wasn’t helping the situation by lying to myself about how I felt and after you left, I decided I was going to change what I was doing and fix my mistakes before they got out of hand…”
“Avery…” he began again trying to get her to think about the night’s event.
“Just listen to me,” she waved her hand at him as she continued, “Last night I spent the night with Russ and we talked--about everything and I told him what I was too afraid to admit to myself for so very long about him being the only man I ever truly loved.  I explained that I didn’t want to lose him and then, well, then something wonderful happened between us,” a smile lifted over her lips, “something amazing and tonight is going to be the beginning of that happily ever after for us.”
“Avery, I don’t see how going along with your mother’s plans for the party is going to make things easy for you and Russell.  What you need to do is walk away before you’re in over your head.  I can deal with your mother and then…”
“I’m going to tell Brant the truth after the party,” Avery blurted out simply, “He deserves that much and I’m not going to keep him in the dark about how I feel.  I’ve been unfair to him and I will tell him everything, but first I need to do this tonight.  I need to find a way to spare him the pain and humiliation of my canceling the party after he’s invested so much into this.”
“He’ll get over it,” Richard scoffed with a narrowing of his eyes, “I’m sure his ego will bounce back.”
“Daddy, I can’t just leave him hanging as that wouldn’t be right, but I will tell him about Russ and I…” Avery promised thinking of the things in store for her future, “as it simply can’t be a secret after tonight.”
“Avery, I just wish that you’d see…”
“Daddy, Russ and I are getting married,” Avery blurted out excitedly flashing her engagement ring at him, “We were waiting to tell everyone after the party tonight, but seeing you look at me that way, well I see now that it couldn’t wait.  I couldn’t keep something this big from you knowing that it’s only one of the most important things that has ever happened to me…”
“But how?  When?” his eyes widened in surprise.
“Last night,” Avery explained eagerly, “As I was saying before I thought about what you told me and you were absolutely right.  I was fooling myself in thinking that I could let my gratitude lead me away from love.  I did it when I met Bruce and he helped me, but that was a mistake.  I never should’ve kept the truth about what was going on inside of me away from Russell and last night I decided it was time to change that.  We had a romantic night together and I knew that I’d be a fool to let love pass us by, so I went for the gusto and asked him to marry me.”
“You were the one to propose?” Richard’s eyes lit up at the thought and a soft laugh tickled over his lips, “My little girl was proposing last night while I was worried about finding the right words to keep you from letting love pass you by.”
“You found the right words and you helped me see that I was only denying myself happiness in the long run by not following my heart,” Avery added reaching for his hand, “I may be a fool, but I’m a fool in love with Russ and on some level I know I always have been and this time, well this time I’m not going to let anything get in the way of how we feel about one another regardless of how unsure I might be about the situations that could arise.”
“Then I take it you two talked about last time--about what happened before…” he reached out to touch her cheek.
“Not exactly,” she shook her head as she took in a slow breath, “but not because I wasn’t trying.  Russ wants to look forward and I think in our being together, we can do that and the past won’t keep us from finding the happiness that we should’ve had on our first wedding day.”
“I only want what’s best for you Avery and I know that he makes you happy,” Richard smiled realizing that his little girl had finally accepted and opened herself to the love that had been surrounding her all those years she’d pushed it away, “Russell has always loved you and I know he’s going to be there for you to support you regardless of what the future brings.”
“I know that now and I know he’s ready to have it all with me.  We have Rusty and well, he wants a family, which is something that in time we can work on together,” Avery paused biting on her lower lip, “and when that time comes, I won’t be afraid to face that with him.  I‘ll tell him everything and hope that he understands…”
“You have nothing to fear because as I know he loves you Avery and that’s something that will help you through those times,” Richard squeezed her hand gently, “Russell loves you and that’s something that doesn’t come along every day.  He’s a good man with a kind heart and that’s what you need in your life.”
“He really is and before I was so thickheaded to not realize that,” Avery sighed thinking to the pain she’d brought upon herself time and time again in the past by hiding her heart and her truths from Russell in the hopes of making his life into something wonderful without her.  “He’s an amazing man and I only want to give him as much as he’s given me.  Granted it might not be easy, but there are ways we can work on making his dreams come true now that we’re going to be husband and wife.”
“I know there is sweetheart and I’ll be here with you every step of the way,” Richard embraced her protectively, “We’ll find a way to make this happily ever after come true for you and Russell.”
“I just can’t believe that we’re getting married,” Avery squeezed her father tighter, “I’m engaged to the man of my dreams and we’re about to have a beautiful future together as Russ loves me and I love him just as it always should’ve been.  Nothing can spoil this,” she beamed thinking of her plans for the future unaware of the uninvited guest in her bathroom taking in the entire conversation she’d had with her father.
“Oh Avery how wrong you are,” Brooke thought to herself seeing the joy in her daughter at the horrendous mistake that Avery was making.  Even if Dick chose to back Avery up on this latest disaster, Brooke vowed to put an end to it as after the party tonight, Russell Denton would be the furthest thing from Avery’s mind.  That much she was sure of as she would never allow her daughter to give up the future she had with Brant Ashford for a lowlife like Russell Denton.  It simply wouldn’t do and once Brooke finished with Russell, she was certain that Avery would never think twice about him again as he would be out of Avery‘s life forever.

...to be continued...