A heat rose over Avery’s features, causing her cheeks to undoubtedly
flush as Brant Ashford had managed to give her something to think about
and something that certainly set her body ablaze--with anger that is.
Just thinking about how he’d forced his kiss upon her in the midst of the
crowd, displaying her to the world as his own property--no better than
a piece of meat as he claimed her for most of Coral Valley to witness,
it sent her seething with rage as she pressed her palm into his chest trying
to be nonchalant as she shoved him away from her.
“Don’t mind her,” Brant spoke out to the crowd doing his best to keep his voice light and charming as he was clearly offering up a show to the audience that just loved eating up all of his raciest exploits and that‘s exactly what it was. In that moment of bravado, he’d managed to take Avery and turn her into that proverbial pound of flesh to goad the rest of the party with--indicating that she belonged to him and that in itself had her fuming with rage.
“We need to talk,” she hissed at him sharply as Brant’s voice rumbled with laughter, “now.”
“Well everyone, my beautiful bride to be would like a few moments alone to recover from that kiss, so if you’ll excuse us,” Brant lead Avery off the stage dropping his hand down over her pert bottom and offering a shameless squeeze for the cameras that were no doubt eating up every minute of this brazen display.
Avery said nothing feeling her animosity towards him grow with each step they took away from the mindless crowd before them and their undivided interest in Brant pissed her off as well. What was so damned special about a man who couldn’t just be honest enough to do things the right way--to put an end to the rumors about them without making her feel like nothing more than his latest piece of ass to flaunt off until she’d lost her effectiveness in his eyes? Now as she stormed out onto the balcony, knowing that Brant’s adoring followers were awaiting more on the juicy gossip between Brant and his latest sex kitten, she spun around to face him a fire burning behind her eyes as fury overtook her.
“You had no right!” she demanded harshly growling up at him as the night sky was bright with the moon and the stars above. “How dare you do such a thing to me?”
“Oh Avery, relax,” Brant threw out a sexy smile as he adjusted his cufflinks, “That’s exactly what they’ve been salivating over in anticipation of all night and I have to say that the kiss we gave them is over the top and a five star kiss that will no doubt make headlines for weeks to come.”
“So that’s what this is about, huh?” Avery shook her head at him wondering how in the world she’d been able to tolerate him and his games for this long, “You were just seeking out another attention nabber and throwing down on me out there was your means to an end in the quest for yet another Brant Ashford scandal.”
“Avery, it wasn’t like that,” Brant stepped forward reaching out to her as her voice rose to a pinched cry.
“Don’t touch me,” she shouted tears burning behind her eyes as she hugged her arms over her chest keeping the barrier between them as the last place she’d wanted his hands was on her in any way, shape or form, “Don’t you dare touch me again.”
“Avery, it wasn’t like that in there,” his eyes shifted and a wounded expression crossed over his features, “That’s not what I was trying to do in there…”
“Of course you were because that’s all this is about. It hasn’t been about the way you feel about me or about your wanting to change, but more so it’s your way of trying to give your audience something they so desperately crave from you,” she stood taller her body tight with tension as she spat out at him, “but I’m not your flavor of the month. I won’t ever be that Brant and this ends right now,” she turned to leave as he tugged on her arm pulling her back to him again.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he ordered as she turned her eyes up towards him seeing the intensity behind the darkness building behind them, “I’m tired of you running away from me Avery and that’s going to stop right now because we both know that I’m what you want and you’re only making this increasingly more difficult by pushing me away.”
“I wouldn’t want you if you were the last man on Earth,” Avery spat back at him, a fire burning inside of her at the thought of how he’d embarrassed her, “I wouldn’t dream of it when I needed a real man who knows about love and devotion and how to be a grown up instead of bilking his reputation for all it’s worth--a man who doesn’t have to brag about what’s there for the world to take notice. I need someone who knows about love and Brant, that’s one thing you’ll never grasp as you’ve never once seen me as anything more than just the next mark on your hit list so that you can add another notch on your bedpost.”
“Avery, you know that’s not true. After everything I’ve done for you…” Brant tossed out at her, “I’ve been good to you--better than I’ve been to any other woman and this is how you repay me with your ingratitude? By chastising me for not withholding my heart? For not being like your saintly ex? Avery, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m the golden boy that you believe Russell Denton to be, but I’m also not going to let you pretend that you don’t give a damn about me. You want me and I want you and that’s what’s really bothering you. You liked kissing me as much as I liked kissing you back at the party and damn you for denying it,” he reached out to her sliding his hand around the back of her neck and pulling her towards him harshly as his mouth covered hers savagely demanding her compliance as he crushed her against him seeking out some kind of response from her.
“Brant stop,” Avery shoved her fist into his chest straining to place a distance between them as his kisses grew more urgent, more demanding. Feeling the weight of the moment upon her, she stomped on his foot watching him wince as he tore himself away from her cursing her under his breath.
“Damn woman, you drive me crazy when you do this,” Brant threw his hands up in the air stomping around the balcony as the ache she’d caused in his foot rose up his leg. He spun around a few times trying to ward off the pain as he thought to how mad with desire he’d been for her, but as he finally faced her again seeing her standing in the far corner of the balcony, arms wrapped around her body as she shivered despite the warmth of the night with the wounded combination of fear and vulnerability behind her eyes, Brant felt as though his breath had been knocked out of him. He took a step back stumbling as he saw the tears glistening behind her eyes.
“Avery,” he reached out to her watching her sink into herself as she refused to let him near her.
Seeing Avery so bottled up as the pained expression swarmed over her, his heart nearly broke as he was reminded of another time in his life--a time when he’d seen the madness that had surrounded the Ashford family--when his father had found a way to force himself on a woman that clearly hadn’t anticipated such horrors. As the fear revealed it’s horrible reality behind Avery’s eyes, Brant found himself standing beside himself feeling Nicholas Ashford and his hold on him as Brant realized he’d overstepped his boundaries. Somehow he’d become the one thing he’d fought so hard against and it was then when Brant realized how horrible the moment had been. Avery’s lip quivered as a tear spilled down her cheek and Brant looked to his own hands thinking of how he’d held onto her, forcing her to comply to his hunger for her as she’d tried to get him to stop. How so many others must’ve made the same request of his father and just like tonight when Brant felt himself fueled by the need to convince Avery of his desire, Nicholas hadn’t stopped. Nicholas had gone on and did as he pleased tearing apart the woman who’d been foolish enough to trust him and as Avery trembled before Brant, he realized he’d finally become the thing he’d loathed most of his adult life.
“Avery, I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” Brant stammered, his hands shaking as he struggled with the awareness that had overcome him, “I never meant to…”
“You never mean to, Brant,” she turned away from him facing the night as she shunned any contact between them, “You just do.”
“Avery, I never, ever wanted to hurt you,” he paused struggling for words, “or to have you look at me like that when I never, ever wanted to fall so far…I was wrong and I apologize, and I know that it’s not enough…” his voice quivered as the beginnings of a panic attack began to overtake him and he found himself needing an escape--needing a way to keep from hurting the one woman in this world he’d ever truly given a damn about, “It’ll never be enough and for that I apologize…” his voice faded into the night.
Avery felt a wind rush over her spine causing a chill to race over her as she closed her eyes wishing this night away forever as it had been too much, too hard on everyone. Tears swelled in her eyes despite her struggling to keep them from falling. This party had been wrong on so many levels and now as she saw how hard this was going to be for everyone, she wanted nothing more than to run away, to hide from the disaster she’d created as her heart ached for the trouble she’d caused in not being brave enough to face the truth about the situation. Brant was hurt and clearly Russell would in the same boat after that display just as Bruce had been and now, well now nothing seemed to be turning out for the best as things were slipping downward faster by the moment. She felt the brush of a hand over her shoulder as a tiny sob filled her throat.
“Just leave me alone,” she pleaded half heartedly as the fingers fanned out over her arm slowly spinning her around to face the intense green eyes before her. There was no denying the fury behind them as she gazed up at Russell, but before she could find the words to explain--to make things right, she found herself lost in the moment as she buried her head in his chest breaking into tiny sobs as tonight she’d done what she’d been dreading as she’d found a way to hurt both men in her life all over again.
Brooke stood near the back of the room, watching the party guests begin to mingle with one another as the band began to play once again. She had thoroughly enjoyed seeing Brant and Avery together, and now she was more certain than ever that drastic measures had to be taken to ensure their future would be a smooth one. She wouldn’t let Avery’s childish fantasies ruin the reality of a future with Brant.
Brooke lifted a glass of champagne from a waiter who offered the tray to her for inspection. She flashed the waiter a smile before she held the flute of sparkling wine close to her. She opened her secret vial and lightly dabbed some more of the powder into the glass. She swirled the liquid in the glass and smiled as she tucked her vial away once again.
She began looking around the room for signs of her prey. Tonight would be the beginning of a happy future for the Morrison family. Of course she would have to separate Dick from his whore, but everything could be taken care of given time.
Brooke spotted Heather standing across the room with a distressed look upon her face. Little did she know that the night was about to become an adventure.
“Excuse me, Steven,” Brooke said as she called forth a waiter she’d met earlier, “Could you take this glass of champagne over there to the blond? The one who looks like a model?”
“Sure,” Steven flashed a smile at his boss before he made his way across the room.
Brooke stood taller with a smile as she continued to plan for not only her future but for her daughter’s as well.
Zack escorted Blake into the room, watching her closely as she surveyed the crowd before her. He knew she would be looking for Seth, but he was hoping she wouldn’t see any sign of the man who’d broken her heart. He’d come to the party tonight to have fun not to commit murder with his bare hands.
“Well look at what we have here,” Heather said as she came upon Zack and Blake, “How much did you have to pay him? And what escort agency did you get him from? He looks like he could be a keeper.”
“Go to hell, Heather,” Blake snapped, “Why are you here anyway? Shouldn’t you be out walking the streets for a new john?”
“I can see you two are friends,” Zack said dryly as he stuffed his hands into his pockets.
“Oh yeah, Heather and I are old pals. We have been ever since I caught her banging a producer in my brother’s bed,” Blake said as she crossed her arms, “Which brings me back to the question. Why are you here?”
“I was invited,” Heather said proudly, “So just how did you get a date, Blake? I guess you dug into Daddy’s trust fund after all, huh?”
“You cold hearted bitch,” Blake spat as she attempted to lash out at Heather.
Zack slipped his arm around Blake’s waist and squeezed her back to him, “Whoa there, hoss. Let’s not get into a catfight here. Save that energy for bigger prey.”
“And he’s a security guard too,” Heather grinned from ear to ear, “My, he does have his uses, doesn’t he? So tell me, Blake, have you gotten your full dollar’s worth yet?” She leaned in towards Zack, “Do be sure to spare a little extra attention on her. She needs all the help she can get in loosening up.”
“That’s it,” Blake declared as she tried to wiggle free of Zack’s grasp, “Let me go. I’m going to end her precious modeling career by stomping her face,” She shrieked as she tried in vain to wrest free.
“Stop fighting me. I haven’t done a thing to you…yet,” Zack said as he grabbed a glass of champagne from a waiter who was presenting the glass to Heather, “Here, drink this and calm down.”
“Hey, that’s mine!” Heather huffed.
“Tough,” Blake sneered as she yanked the glass from Zack’s hand and downed the entire contents in one drawl. When the glass was empty she pressed it into Heather’s hand, “It’s all yours, Heather babe…and, it’s just what you deserve. Nothing.”
“Why you!” Heather shrieked as she squeezed the glass in her hand.
“Let’s go take a walk, shall we?” Zack asked as he practically carried Blake towards the door. He shoved her outside as he closed the door behind him, “What was that all about?”
“That tramp betrayed Brant and for her to even be here,” Blake seethed, “She has no right.”
“I think you’ve had enough stress for one night. How about we take a walk and get you all calmed down?” He suggested as he approached her.
“I don’t want to calm down. I want to go back in there and tear her apart,” She declared as she tried to walk around him towards the door.
Zack seized her shoulders in his hands and held her firmly in front of him, “Absolutely not. Is there somewhere around this place where we can talk without being interrupted?”
She pouted for a moment as she sighed, “The stables, I guess.”
“Good, now start walking,” He said as he spun her around and gave her a little push to get her on her way.
Blake huffed as her anger boiled over. She could practically feel her blood boiling despite the chill in the night air. As heat rose through her body, she shook it off and led the way towards the stables and hopefully towards some peace and quiet.
“So then that’s when the door opened and I was given more than my share
of an eyeful,” Douglas finished hearty laughter roaring inside of him as
Jenna chuckled in response.
“I don’t know how you find a way to keep yourself sane around those people all the time,” Jenna shook her head at him, “Hollywood so doesn’t seem like my kind of scene.”
“It could be if you had the right man behind you supporting your career,” Douglas stated plainly as he leaned in towards her, “and I could find a way to make that happen for you…”
“Somehow I get the distinct feeling that’s exactly what you’re trying to convince me of, aren’t you,” Jenna teased back tilting her eyes up towards him as a smile filled her features, bringing out a warmth with her words.
“That was the general idea,” he tipped in towards her bridging the distance between them as he anticipated what it might be like to savor the sweetness of those soft lips when a voice roared through the thought pulling him out of the moment completely.
“There you are, Jenna,” Hart remarked dryly stepping forward as he reached for her arm, “I’ve been looking for you all night and we need to talk--now.”
“Hart, I’m a little busy,” she began agitated finding her words falling upon deaf ears as he dragged her away from Douglas. Once they’d made it a safe distance away, she frowned up at him placing her hands on her hips impatiently, “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Jenna, he’s old enough to be your father--your grandfather even and I don’t see why you’d even think of dating that man,” Hart explained pointedly as if his word was the end all, tell all answer to the way things should be.
“Don’t you dare get started with me about my date,” Jenna sneered back at him, “as I’m well aware of your being here with Teen Dream Barbie.”
“She’s not as young as she looks…” Hart began as a hint of a sly grin crept over his handsome features, “So you noticed I was here with someone else?”
“It was kind of hard not to when she was fawning all over you,” she shook her head in heavy disapproval.
“Really? So you were wondering about me, weren’t you?”
“Only in the ways I could avoid you tonight,” Jenna scoffed in response, “because I could care less what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with unlike your incessant need to stalk me like you do…”
“I’m not stalking you,” Hart explained matter of fact, “but rather I’m saving you from a lifetime of misery that you’d experience with Gramps over there. He’s not what you need Jenna and whatever he’s promising you, he’s full of shi…”
“Just stop,” she waved her hand at him, “Of all people to give me a lecture on bull, well you’re the last person to lead this one.”
“Jenna, I’m just trying to help you…”
“What’s this really about, Hart?” she frowned back at him, “Do you even know?”
“I just would hate to see you assign yourself to such misery,” Hart replied simply, “as you deserve better.”
“Well thank you for your concern, but no thanks as it’s not necessary,” she began to turn away from him as he reached for her arm in an attempt to stop her.
“But maybe it is,” he urged again hoping to keep her from leaving as a desperation filled his tone, “I mean what kind of guy would I be if I let you run right into disaster.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time as I do recall you leading the crusade against me once before,” she reminded him sharply.
“Even so that was a lifetime ago and I’d hate to see you go down that road again,” Hart begged of her struggling to find the key to keeping her away from the Hollywood big wig waiting for her.
“Jenna, please,” he threw out once again as he realized he’d hated the idea of her walking away--of Douglas getting a chance at winning her heart when she should be his.
“What,” she questioned her voice holding a faint challenge as her eyes
fell upon him, “What do you want now, Hart? What is it you really
“I want…I need…” he stammered at a complete and total loss as he threw his hands in the air defeatedly, “Oh hell,” he reached for her pulling her close to him as his lips collided with hers offering up the first taste of the kiss Jenna had found herself anticipating for far longer than she’d cared to admit. Hart’s arm slinked around her waist squeezing her in against him as his other hand teased over her face, tracing her soft skin. The surprise that rose from her lips, melted into a soft moan as she curled her fingers over his shoulder encouraging the kiss as his hold on her inspired so many dangerous notions. With each tender brush of his lips against hers, she felt herself melting into the spell he was weaving as kissing him had been so very right--far better than she’d anticipated as her heart was pounding in her chest and it was in that moment, she knew it had to end.
“This is insane,” Jenna severed the connection pushing him away from her as their eyes connected and she took a step back, “that so didn’t happen,” she remarked spinning on her heel and rushing away from him before her heart reminded her head just how very wrong she was about things.
Hart watched her leave as he raised his fingers to his lips still tasting the honey sweetness of her kiss upon him. The taste of her was like a drug--addictive and unyielding in the desire it had stirred inside of him. If her kiss had left him this shaken up, then to have all of her would be nothing short of pure ecstasy and it was in that moment Hart vowed to himself that he’d find a way to win over at Jenna at any cost as suddenly she was the one thing in this world he wanted more than anything.
Douglas frowned as he made his way to the bar. He’d known there were just as many rude people in Coral Valley as there were in Los Angeles, but at least in L.A., they all knew not to cross him. Perhaps he would have to put his foot down so to speak in this little town in order to make his presence and stature known.
“You stay away from Jenna.”
Douglas’ jerked his head up as he heard the sultry voice of the past reaching out to him. Her voice wrapped around him and made him wonder for a moment if he were dreaming. He turned slowly and found himself face to face with the woman he’d thought had vanished from his life forever.
“I don’t believe this.”
Dorothy stared at him, struggling with her first impulse to shiver at the sight of him. Many years had passed since she’d seen the man before her in person, but time had not changed just how handsome he was. She’d tried to forget how he’d swept her off her feet, but when he’d met her eyes, every memory of their time together crashed upon her.
“I want you to stay away from Jenna,” She said calmly as she continued to meet his eyes.
“Dottie?” Douglas stepped towards her and lightly reached out to touch her arm, “Is this real?”
“It’s real enough,” She said as she took a step in retreat, “I’m serious, Doug. I want you to stay away from Jenna.”
“I can’t believe my eyes,” He said as his hand dropped to his side, “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“That’s what I had been hoping for,” She said before she crossed her arms, “Why don’t you just go back to L.A.?”
“I have business here. My son, Kipp, is in town, and I came to make sure he doesn’t get himself into any trouble,” Douglas said as his eyes swept over her, “You’re just as beautiful as the day we met.”
“Don’t try to flatter me, Doug. I’ve heard all your suave lines, remember?” Dorothy held her head high, “Besides, isn’t your son a grown man? I think he can handle his own life just fine.”
He smiled wryly, “Aren’t you asking me to stay away from Jenna? Just what interest do you have in my relationship with her?”
“You’re not going to have a relationship with her,” She declared firmly, “She’s my daughter.”
“Really?” He asked in surprise, “Well, she certainly has your beauty and poise. I knew she had star quality in the instant that I laid eyes on her.”
“That had better be all you lay on her,” Dorothy warned, “She’s my daughter,
and I swear if you try any of your smooth talk on her…”
”She’s a grown woman, Dottie,” He threw her words back at her, “Can’t she handle her own life?”
“I mean it, Doug. Stay away from her.”
“Give me one good reason why I should,” Douglas demanded as he slipped his hands into his pockets, cementing his position for a fight.
Dorothy met his eyes as she felt her heart racing, knowing that her ultimate moment of truth had finally come, and after tonight, there would be no more peace in her life as her carefully constructed house of lies would come tumbling to the ground.
Brant closed the doors behind him as he entered the library wanting
to shut the world and the party out as his breath rushed through his lungs
over his lips as his thoughts took him outside himself. The moment
with Avery played over and over again as he could still feel the fear behind
her eyes as he’d pushed himself upon her. The desperate need that
had filled him for her had driven him past the edge and now thinking back
on how terrified she seemed once he’d forced the issue between them, it
made him shudder at what he’d become.
Brant clenched the neck of the bottle he’d collected from the bar on the way into the library as he sought out the solitude that his memories couldn’t ran away from. He looked around the room, feeling the shadows on the walls watching him, clinging to him as they dirtied them with the filth of the past as he’d managed to give it back a breath of life. Bringing the bottle up to his lips, he took a long swig wanting to burn the demons out of his head as the hot liquid spilled down his throat. To just make it go away--to fall out of his life as he downed the alcohol wanting to numb the horror, but as he thought to the look on Avery’s face, his heart ached as he’d feared he’d lost her forever. She’d been terrified when Bruce had tried to take her life from her, but now as he remembered the feel of her cries against his mouth as she’d tried to stop him from kissing her, he realized he too had been a monster as he’d tried to turn her towards what he wanted.
“No,” Brant cried out feeling an ache rush through him throbbing at his temples as he dropped the bottle in his hand and clenched his head tightly trying to will the pain away. He shuffled around the room, fighting with the images that plagued him as he could hear the sounds of muffled sobs overtake him--only now it wasn’t Avery’s cries that had haunted him.
“Please,” the tiny whimper filled his memory as the picture transformed into a much darker room at another place he’d sworn he’d never revisit after that night. He could see it all clearly as he’d entered the room not knowing what he’d fine. His night had been put to an abrupt halt when he’d received a phone call from his father’s assistant alerting him to come over to the hotel--to take care of things the Ashford way, but he was unprepared for what he’d discovered as he’d never believe that his father would cross that line--that somehow his shameless exploits would become something more--something darker and demented as Brant could still see the broken beauty before him.
“No,” he gritted his teeth wiling the images from his head as he threw his arm out across his desk sending it’s contents spilling to the floor as the throbbing continued in his head. He could hear her cries, feel her shivering in his arms as he’d prayed he’d done enough to help her--that he could save her from the nightmares she must’ve experienced, but now…
“Stop,” he shouted to himself not caring about those partygoers just outside his door no doubt wanting to hear more about Brant’s happily ever after with Avery. How he’d wanted tonight to be perfect--to be a new beginning with Avery as he’d had so much in store for him, but he’d ruined it. He’d turned this night into something ugly and for that he would forever be haunted by the misery behind her eyes. Wishing that he could take that moment back--that he could’ve thought before behaving like a wild animal, he struggled to find some kind of eternal focus to help him push the past back where he’d buried it all this time. He searched the room hoping to reach some clarity and sense of ignorance about the past when his eyes fell upon the portrait before him and his father’s mocking eyes stared back at him.
“You wanted me to become this--you turned me into a monster like you,” Brant accused the portrait as he stood taller, his hatred for the man displayed before him growing more vivid with each passing moment, “You couldn’t bear the thought of my becoming more than you’d ever be. With all your secrets and your lies, you managed to destroy me--to turn me into the one thing I hated more than life itself. Because of you I’ve never been able to give her what she needed--never been able to be me because it was always too damned important to be Brant Ashford, son of Nicholas and oh what an icon they thought you were father, but the truth to the matter is you were nothing more than a loser. You were the monster that some thought you to be and more, but you tried your hardest to keep that from the world--you really thought that you could rise above it as your sins were irrelevant, but they weren’t. Your sins touched every one of us and now they’re haunting our lives--my life..” Brant sneered as he stepped in towards the portrait tearing it from the wall in a fury, “but I won’t let you destroy me. I won’t let you take the one thing in my life that could make me alive. I won’t let you break me,” Brant slammed the painting against the wall hearing the crackling of the wood with every heated blow against the rich drywall. With each breath he took, his rage expanded building up inside of him as the painting exploded into tiny fragments at his feet leaving him nothing more than the skeletal remains of the frame in his hands.
“Brant,” Annie’s voice called out to him breaking him from the trance his fury had buried him in. Slowly his wild eyes lingered up to hers, seeing right through her as she realized he was somewhere else--lost in something that clearly took him far from the engagement party. Wearily she closed the door behind her knowing that while the noise had been heard out in the hallway, it was nothing compared to the chaos taking place behind these walls. She saw Brant’s hands trembling as he dropped the frame, causing it to crash to the floor as he sank to his knees before her.
“Brant, honey,” she reached out for him touching his shoulder as his sobs overtook him.
“Annie, what have I done,” he questioned mournfully as his sobs overtook him, “Am I so lost that I’ve become the thing I hated the most in this world?”
“No Brant,” she answered wrapping her arms around him as she felt him slip back into that lost child she’d known him to be over the years, wounded and vulnerable to the world around him as her arms hugged him. Her eyes fell upon the bare spot on the wall where Nicholas’ grand portrait once hung, “You’re nothing like him…”
“Then why do I feel like I’m making the same mistakes? That I’ve found myself living his life all over again torturing those I care about,” he questioned more to himself than anything as Annette tried to soothe him knowing in her heart that Nicholas Ashford had committed a crime in the way he’d tortured his children over the years as poor Brant had carried the burden of the man who’d worked so hard to conquer the world by destroying the lives of those who should’ve meant the most to him.
“Shh…” she ran her fingers through his hair, moving in closer to him as she rocked him in her arms wishing above all that she could somehow take away the ache that Nicholas had burned his son with, but as Brant was lost in his own private hell, she feared that a wound that deep may never be completely healed.
Avery’s tears subsided as Russell’s arms kept her safe and protected
from the world around them. While she hadn’t said much of anything
from the moment he’d stepped out onto the balcony with her, she feared
what might come out as her heart was breaking for the ways in which she’d
managed to make a mess of things in her life. Even now as she thought
of the way Brant had looked at her--the pain in his eyes at her refusing
him, she was reminded of Bruce all over again--about how she’d put a good
man through so much pain when in her heart she’d never been interested
in giving him the chance he’d deserved. Meeting Bruce was her way
of escaping her heart where Russ was concerned, but with Brant, well she
hadn’t anticipated that she’d allow this lie the media presented them with
to get to his head. She’d thought he’d understood, but the wounded
expression on his features made her see differently.
“Avery,” Russell’s voice sounded through her thoughts as she slowly turned her head up towards him, “what’s going on?”
“Tonight was a mistake,” Avery blurted out thinking to the way things were going.
“Brant kissing you was a mistake--one that he’s going to pay for considering that you’re my fiancée,” Russell’s eyes lit up with anger as his jaw clenched with tension, “Just watching him with his hands all over you…”
“Russ, don’t get worked up over it,” Avery pleaded with him as her fingers pressed into his chest gently.
“Don’t get worked up over it,” he blinked back at her in heavy disapproval, “Avery, the man practically staked his claim to the world tonight in the way he was groping you and seeing as you are the woman I love, how can I not get worked up over it?”
“Brant knows he was wrong,” she offered up weakly.
“Oh he’ll see just how wrong he is once I’m through with him,” Russell vowed as Avery shook her head in response.
“No, he won’t. Russ, don’t turn this into something it’s not,” Avery urged further as she took a step out of his arms struggling to regain her composure.
“Avery, there’s something wrong with that guy in the head,” he blinked back at her surprised by her passiveness in this situation, “The way he kissed you…”
“It’s over and done with and it won’t be happening again,” Avery promised closing her eyes as she felt the moonlight fall upon her.
“You’re damn right on that because I’m going to pound him to a pulp if he even considers trying it again…” he promised with a low growl.
“Russ, it’s over with,” she spun around to face him again.
“Avery, why are you defending him? Why even bother when he made a spectacle back there unless…” his words daunted off, “unless of course you wanted to be kissing him like that.”
“Of course I didn’t want to be kissing him,” Avery scoffed back at him, “Why would you even think that?”
“I saw the way he was holding you--touching you…” he began jealously. “He flaunted you off all night as if saying that you were his and his alone…”
“Russ, you are the only man in my heart,” she reminded him quickly placing her fingers over the ruby tenderly, “It was your ring on my finger and your necklace I kept close to my heart like you’d asked of me.”
“My necklace,” he offered up a sideways glance as his eyes dropped down to the gemstone she’d caressed, “Avery, I didn’t give you that necklace.”
“Yes you did,” she nodded in response, “Russ, I know you sent it earlier as your note said it all.”
“What note?” he frowned back at her.
“The one about my wearing this close to my heart while you wore your red tie--our red tie,” her gaze lingered appreciatively over to his tie as a gasp fell from her lips, “Russ, where is your red polka dot tie?”
“Probably on the floor near the bed where we left it before,” he stepped in closer to her inspecting the necklace for a moment, “Avery, I didn’t give you this…”
“But if you didn’t…” she gasped as a harsh realization fell upon her, “oh my God.”
“Avery, what’s wrong,” he noticed the color had drained from her beautiful features as she stepped back surprise overwhelming her.
“He knows,” her voice blurted out in a tight whisper.
“Who knows?” he gave her a sideways glance as her eyes shifted with panic.
“Brant,” she blurted out quickly, “That has to be why he sent this necklace. He must know about us because how else would anyone know about the tie…”
“Avery, are you sure that you didn’t read this situation wrong as you thought I was the one that gave you the necklace before, but now you think that Brant…” he trailed off pondering the notion about Brant being aware of their relationship, “Hey if he knows, then it’ll make things a hell of a lot easier as we can end this charade now.”
“Russ, I don’t understand…don’t…” she stammered a bit trying to comprehend what Brant was trying to say with the gift if it had in fact come from him.
“There’s nothing to understand here other than the fact that I love you and I can’t bear to watch you pretend with him a moment longer,” Russell reached out to her pulling her into his arms, “Avery, I was wrong before when I said you should go through with this--so very wrong. Forget the party--forget about anything I said before because right now all I want to do is to take you away from here--to start our lives together without Brant getting in the way…”
“Russ, no one could ever get in the way of what we have,” she touched his face gently, “I love you and I’ll always love you, baby.”
“Then let’s do what our hearts are begging us to do,” he urged his voice laced with passion as he held her, “Avery, I was going to wait to suggest this, but let’s forget about waiting as we’ve waited for far too long already. Time and time again we’ve left things to chance and I’ve come so close to losing you forever. I know before I promised we could tell Brant everything after the party--that we’d break the news to him slowly, but Avery I can’t wait. I’ve spent my whole life wanting to make you my wife and tonight, well there’s nothing more that I could want than to come into the morning with you as my bride--as the woman at my side forever…”
“Russ, are you saying that…” her jaw dropped in surprise.
“Let’s throw caution to the wind and just go for the gusto,” he inhaled a desperate breath as he held her, “Forget what I said before and just follow your heart. Don’t let any obligations you feel you have here stop us from doing what we’re meant to do.”
“Are you suggesting…” she trailed off blinking back in astonishment as the passion in his voice stirred up a feeling of nervous anticipation in her.
“We say to hell with this party and we get married tonight,” he threw out at her laying his cards out on the table as he searched her eyes seeing the surprise behind them, “Avery, marry me tonight. Make me the happiest man alive and be my bride--be my Avery forever.”
“Oh Russ,” she threw her arms around him excitedly as tears glistened in her eyes, “Yes, yes…oh yes, I’ll do it. It’s completely insane, but so completely everything I’ve ever wanted. I want to be your wife--to love you forever and have you as my husband,” she squeezed him tighter as he hoisted her up off the ground spinning her around as he held her, “I don’t want to pretend anymore--don’t want to live the lies as you’re everything to me. I love you.”
“I love you, which is why I want us to get the hell out of here like now,” he whispered against her neck as his breath sweeping over her as his lips grazed against her skin, “I want to marry you as soon as possible.”
“Then what are we waiting for,” Avery looked up at him as her eyes sparkled with excitement, “I’ll go speak with my father and then let’s do it. We can deal with everything else that happens next later, but first, we’ll get Rusty and we’ll hop the first flight out of Coral Valley and make this happen.”
“I love you,” Russell kissed her excitedly, “I love you so very much which is why I know this is so very right for us. In fact, how about I go up and get Rusty while you talk to your father. Just let him know you‘ll be in good hands and I‘ll get our baby ready for the greatest moment of our lives.”
“It’s a deal,” Avery nodded in agreement thinking of all the things she couldn’t wait to share with the man who’d held her heart for so many years, “and Russ…”
“Yes?” he questioned brushing a strand of hair from her eyes as his arm still kept firmly around her waist holding her against him.
“I love you baby and I can’t wait to have all my dreams come true with you,” she confessed tenderly, “and I have no doubt that somehow they will for us.”
“I know they will,” Russell whispered keeping her in his arms as he leaned forward offering up a tender display of his love for her as they sealed the promise of their forever underneath the moonlight. Not wanting to let go of the moment just yet, each one of them savored the beauty of their love as they held onto one another filled with hope for the future at long last unaware of the eyes upon them as Judy felt a smile tickle over her lips.
To be young and in love, Judy thought to herself returning to the party as she realized that Avery had picked up Richard’s sense of romance. After witnessing that display of passion between Avery and Russell she thought of how she’d felt that same very way about Richard once upon a time and how much promise the future had held for them as she prayed that Avery was able to capture the love and happiness that had passed Judy and Richard up the first time.
“There you are,” Richard interrupted her thoughts as he approached her, “Did you see my daughter out there?”
“As a matter of fact I did,” she nodded in confession, “and I don’t think she could be any happier than she is right now, Rick. You don’t have a thing to worry about…”
“If Brant hurt her…” Richard began icily as Judy reached for his arm tugging on it gently.
“She’s out there following her heart just as you’d hoped she’d do,” Judy explained offering up a knowing look as Richard exhaled a sigh of relief grateful that Avery had finally allowed herself to put an end to the charades.
“Then she’s with…?”
Judy nodded in response thinking to Richard‘s concerns about his daughter, “She’s with the man she loves and I must confess, it reminds me of us when we were younger,” Judy laced her arm in his, “only this time I think they’re going to make it where we failed…”
“I hope you’re right on that,” Richard replied hoping above anything that his daughter would take hold of the happiness in her life and never let go as in his years away from Judy he’d learned the hard way just how miserable a life without real love could be.
Shannon weaved through the busy party goers as she approached her mark. Nothing was going to stop her from following a hunch, and right now, she had a huge one. Something about the man made her wonder if perhaps he weren’t trying to get someone’s attention. His bold red tie made him stand out amongst all the others in attendance, but there was something else…something she couldn’t put into words, but he had caught her attention. And now she would investigate.
She spotted him nearby and brushed up against him, reaching out to lightly touch his arm, “Oh…pardon me. I’m so sorry,” She said with a perky smile, “I get so clumsy in a crowd. You know how these things tend to make everyone a little skittish,” She explained as she met his eyes, “I don’t think we’ve met.”
He eyed her for a moment before he turned and walked away. If Shannon had been hitting on him, she would have been offended. Instead, she was intrigued by her investigator’s instincts. She knew something was up with that man, but she had nothing to back up her hunch. Perhaps if she followed him, her case might get a much needed boost of answers, She thought to herself as she slowly merged into the crowd with her mark in her sights. She wasn’t going to let him out of her sight until she figured out why he’d intrigued her so.
Ken squeezed Caitlin to him as the music slowed to a soft lulling tune. He cupped her body against his as he led her in the dance, easing his cheek against hers, “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“More than I even thought possible. This week has been a huge emotional roller coaster for me, and now,” She smiled as she snuggled into his embrace, “Now I feel like I’m walking on air.”
“How about dancing on air?” He teased as he eased her about the dance floor before dipping her.
Caitlin burst into giggles as she hugged him tightly as he stood upright once more, “You are too much, Kenneth Ashford.”
“Hmm, I’m beginning to enjoy these compliments you lavish on me,” He smiled as he met her eyes.
“You deserve every single one,” She smiled.
“In that case, I’ll gladly accept them,” He laughed softly as he took her hand in his and began leading her off the dance floor.
“Where are you going?” She asked as she followed along after him.
“I thought we’d go ahead and get on the with the night I actually had planned for us,” He admitted as he led her to the coat room.
“You can’t be serious. We’re just going to run out…just like that?”
“Just like that,” He smiled as he accepted their coats from the attendant.
“You don’t think we should stay a bit longer? Just for appearances?” She asked as he draped her jacket around her shoulders.
“Screw appearances,” He said simply as he stepped beside her and slid his own coat over his shoulders, “I say we get out of here and enjoy ourselves…away from this crowd.”
Caitlin met his eyes and smiled, “Okay, lead the way.”
“I knew you’d see my way of thinking,” Ken winked at her as he took her hand in his, leading her out of the Ashford mansion and on the way towards a romantic evening all their own.
Seth tossed his keys onto the end table as he led Ria inside his apartment. He tugged off the tie and tossed his tuxedo jacket aside as he began to remove his cumber bun. He wadded the accessory in his hand as he sank into a recliner and began rubbing his head.
“Take something for that headache before I have to start playing doctor with you,” Ria ordered as she sat down upon the sofa. She slipped off her high heels and rubbed the arch of her foot as she glanced at him, “Come on, Seth. You’ve been quiet ever since we left the mansion, and I’m itching for some answers. So why don’t you go ahead and get started?”
“I’m in over my head. That’s what’s going on,” He admitted as he stood and made his way into the small kitchen, “I’ve been an idiot, but dammit, if my father had been just a small measure of a man, none of this would have been necessary.”
“You lost me, Seth,” She said as he reentered the room, tossing back a couple of pills and chasing them with a long drawl from a soda pop.
“You remember when Jade was attacked, right?” He asked as he sat back in the recliner, “Well, my father was responsible, but that’s not the worst of it. Now, there’s a man who apparently had some dealings with my father who is demanding I do some things for him. If I don’t…” He frowned, “Then he’ll take out what my father owes him by going after Jade.”
“Can’t you go to the police?”
“And say what? This guy is slick, Ria. He hasn’t put anything in writing or made any outright threats.”
“What does Jade have to say about this?”
“She doesn’t know.”
“What? Does she even know you’re working with this guy?”
“No, she thinks I’m working with a powerful man who could either make or break us.”
“Don’t you think she has the right to know?” Ria shook her head, “Seth, this is bad.”
“You don’t even know the half of it. I was supposed to get some microfilm from the Ashford mansion, but now Blake has it and God only knows what she’s done with it by now considering she hates my guts.”
“What’s on this microfilm?”
“Something to do with BBK,” Seth shrugged, “I didn’t really understand it, but I do know that I have to get it. If I don’t…Jade could suffer the consequences.”
Ria paused for a moment before she reached out and took his hand, “Seth, is there anything I can do to help?”
“There are too many people involved with this one already, Ria. I can’t involve you too.”
“You aren’t. I’m involving myself. Now, this microfilm…where was it?”
“It was at the mansion, but Blake said something about getting Zack Vaughn to take a look at it for her.”
Ria raised an eyebrow, “Really…well, in that case, I suppose I’ll have to do some investigating at the hospital.”
“Don’t get yourself in trouble because of this,” Seth ordered, “I don’t want anyone else getting hurt or being in danger because of my father’s stupidity.”
“Don’t worry, Seth,” Ria grinned, “I know exactly what I’m doing, and I promise you that there’s nothing to worry about,” She smiled, loving the idea that she might be able to bring Dr. Vaughn down a few pegs off of the pedestal he had himself on.
Brooke scanned the party crowd wondering where her daughter had disappeared
off to as it was vital that Avery be around for the grand finale.
Turning her eyes off in the direction she’d spotted Heather in moments
earlier, Brooke wondered if somehow it was time to get Heather into position
as this night called for Heather playing the role of her lifetime--with
Brooke’s aid of course. Heather would be the star tonight as she
would certainly bring things full circle for Avery and Brant--not to mention
those others with a vested interest in Heather’s downfall. A smile
touched over her lips, but soon faded as she witnessed Heather standing
near the bar chatting away with partygoers as though she hadn’t had a care
in the world.
“This shouldn’t be happening,” Brooke frowned wondering if her wonder cocktail hadn’t done the trick as she fished into her pocket ready to administer another dose for the blonde who’s soon help her get one step closer to where she wanted to be before the night was over. Quickly mixing up the concoction in the glass before her, she took a step forward.
“Mrs. Morrison,” a voice beamed as Brooke’s attention dwindled to the petite blonde before her, “I was hoping to have a word with you as I wanted to thank you for suggesting I speak with Guy. He’s so very handsome and charming and tonight, well I have to admit I’ve never had a better time,” she boasted bubbling over with enthusiasm.
“Cathy, right?” Brooke remembered the striking young woman that she’d sent over to capture her son’s much needed attention.
“That’s right,” Cathy nodded eagerly, “I know you said Guy was shy, but I had no idea that Avery had such an amazing brother. He’s really a wonderful, scintillating person to be around and I can’t believe he’s not been taken up yet.”
“Well my guy has been waiting for the right woman,” Brooke smiled back at her, “and with your being an Ashley…”
“Born and raised that way all my life,” she grinned proudly, “which is why my family has prided me on accepting nothing but the best in those around me…”
“And my Guy is all that and more,” Brooke smiled excitedly, “I’m very glad to hear you two have hit it off so well. Perhaps you should return tomorrow after all of this dies down and have breakfast with us all as I’m sure Guy would love to have you around.”
“Oh well I don’t want to impose,” Cathy flashed Brooke an eager smile, “but if you insist…”
“Oh I do and I can’t wait to hear all about your father’s fashion line,” Brooke reached for her hand, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need to catch up with a few people before I get accused of being a poor hostess for the evening.”
“But of course,” Cathy nodded stepping aside as Brooke tried to focus on the goal before her. Like a cat on the prowl, she was ready to attack and Heather Gibbons would be her bait as after the tales Brant had given her, she had no doubts about how beautifully things would go in the grand scheme of things.
“Heather, how lovely to see you. I’ve been looking for you,” Brooke gushed excitedly as she approached Heather, her agenda on the top of her mind.
“Brooke, I’ve been wondering where you’ve been,” Heather confessed a slight frown upon her features, “As I’d thought tonight was about the campaign.”
“Well it is, but Brant didn’t want that to be overshadowed by this display,” Brooke rolled her eyes as she offered up a flute of champagne to Heather. Heather readily accepted as Brooke watched her lift the glass to her lips.
“I could so use another one of these tonight,” Heather confessed sipping the drink, “So what’s the plan?”
“Well in all honesty, my asking you here tonight has really less to do with Beholder and more so with Brant,” Brooke offered a cryptic grin, “You see he heard that you and I were in the process of working out some kind of arrangement and he really was interested in your place in all of this.”
“Really?” Heather’s eyes widened in surprise as an eagerness spilled over her.
“Yes really,” Brooke nodded thinking to the things she’d had waiting for Heather as tonight was about to change life as everyone knew it.
“So what did Brant have to say,” Heather beamed at the idea enthusiastically.
“Something about meeting him upstairs in fifteen minutes,” Brooke shrugged her shoulders feigning innocence as Heather continued to down her drink, “He’d mentioned something about the guest suite as it would provide you both some,” Brooke paused with innuendos in her tone, “private time with one another. He said you’d know what that meant?”
“I do,” Heather nodded eagerly realizing that she’d had Brant pegged all along. This engagement party was nothing but a farce as clearly he’d wanted her all along and now was his time to beg her to come back to him. That thought in itself had her beside herself with enthusiasm, “as you see Brant’s a very avid fan of mine.”
“I bet he is,” Brooke nodded watching Heather finish off the champagne as Brooke motioned to the stairs, “He said give him about fifteen minutes and he’d be ready for you.”
“Excellent,” Heather practically giggled with excitement, “I suppose I should get ready for him.”
“That you should as you’ve more than earned the honor you’re about to have tonight,” Brooke encouraged her further.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” Heather confessed brightly.
“Then you shouldn’t keep the man waiting too long as he expects you in fifteen minutes once he finishes up with some loose ends,” Brooke divulged realizing that Heather was taking the bait and very soon all of her prayers would be answered and there would be nothing standing in the way of what Brooke wanted.
Dorothy glared at Douglas for a moment, wondering just how much destruction would follow the admission she was about to make. The last thing she had ever wanted Jenna to face was Douglas Mahoney or the horrible truth of her mother’s past. Still, if she didn’t do something now, a bigger mess would follow.
“Well, Dottie,” Douglas asked impatiently, “Give me one good reason why I cannot pursue Jenna.”
“You want a good reason? Fine, I’ll give you one,” She began as she held her head high, “Jenna’s your daughter, Doug. How’s that for a good reason?”
“Excuse me?” He questioned as he shook his head, “I must have misunderstood because I thought you just said Jenna was my…”
“Daughter, Doug. It’s pretty simple to understand. When I left Los Angeles, I was pregnant with Jenna. I was scared, and it didn’t help that everyone around you was pushing you to have some little starlet in your pocket with you as you rose to the top. I couldn’t handle the pressure of sitting at home, wondering when or if you’d come back to me after the movie shoots. So I packed my things, and I came back to Coral Valley where my life and Jenna’s, for that matter, have been calm and peaceful and happy,” She emphasized her last word as she met his eyes, “We’ve done just fine without you, and we don’t need you now. So leave Jenna alone, Doug.”
“My god,” He gasped, “You’re serious, aren’t you?” He blinked for a few seconds, trying to come to terms with the situation.
Jenna joined her mother and Douglas with a confused look upon her features, “I see you two have met.”
“Only just,” Dorothy said blandly, “I was just trying to get a feel for him.”
“Go ahead, Mom. Lay it on me. I know you don’t approve,” Jenna shook her head.
“No, actually, I don’t,” Dorothy admitted.
“Uhm…I…I just…pardon me,” Douglas said quickly as he excused himself from the ladies.
Jenna crossed her arms as she met her mother’s dark eyes, “Okay, Mom, what did you say to him?”
“Oh nothing,” Dorothy shrugged, “I just laid out some truths for him that I don’t think he cared to hear. But that’s all behind us,” She smiled as she slipped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders, “Let’s have ourselves a drink.”
Jenna watched her mother closely as they made their way to the bar. Despite what her mother was saying, she knew there was something more to the conversation she had interrupted between Dorothy and Douglas. If her mother wouldn’t tell her, then perhaps Douglas would when she found him.
Russell tiptoed into the bedroom Avery had been staying in as he let out a breath of relief that his trip to the room had gone seemingly undetected. He’d spent so much time sneaking in and out of this room to be with her, but after tonight that would never be an issue again. Soon he would have her as his wife, in his home as they lived out their happily ever afters with one another as it always should’ve been. Smiling at the thought of having Avery as his wife, he reaching into his pocket fishing out the overpriced ring that Brant had tried to buy her with.
“So much for trying to buy her love, Ashford,” Russell muttered to himself as his eyes inspected the ring thinking about the shallowness behind the gesture as Brant had used this very treasure to keep Avery captive until now--until tonight when she’d finally broken free of the chains he’d placed upon her. Now as Russell eyed the red diamond, a thought occurred to him as he stepped towards Rusty’s small litter box dropping the ring inside, “So much for your so called tokens of appreciation,” he whispered feeling justified as he could only imagine the look on Brant’s face when he found the ring waiting for him amidst Rusty’s litter. A chuckle rose up through him as he realized that as much as he’d loved to see the look on Brant’s face, he’d much rather enjoy the look on Avery’s as they were making love as husband and wife at long last.
“Tonight is the beginning of happily ever after,” he hummed to himself as Rusty emerged from beneath the bed mewing gently as Russell looked down to the kitten he’d bought for Avery. “Hey babes,” he smiled at his kitten, “it’s time for us to break your mommy out of this prison forever,” he explained bending down to pick up the kitten as there was a crashing sound from behind him followed by a sharp stinging pain in this neck as Rusty hissed and ran under the bed once again. Immediately clasping his hand to his neck, Russell staggered to his feet turning to see the needle before him as his vision blurred.
“That won’t be happening for you ever,” Brooke vowed as Russell’s eyes widened as he looked to her with silent surprise before he toppled towards her face forward into her arms, nearly knocking her down completely as they tumbled to the bed.
A few moments passed as Brooke grumbled to herself knowing that time wasn’t on her side if she was going to play this right and as she rolled Russell onto his back, she began to pull him out of his jacket, opening his shirt and using her fingers to unhook his belt and tear his pants from his body eagerly.
“You thought you were so smart all those years when you’d tried to turn Avery against me,” she taunted him fully removing his shirt and jacket clumsily before tossing the garments aside, “but this time you won’t succeed. Avery’s going to have the kind of life that I’d dreamt of for her and there isn’t a damn thing you can do to get in the way of that,” she looked to his boxer shorts pausing for a moment as she knew this was the finishing touch to the display she’d prepared for her daughter. Sliding her fingers around the waistband, she tugged hurriedly wanting to just get this over with as her eyes involuntarily slipped over his body and a gasp fell over her lips.
“My, my,” Brooke couldn’t help but take a moment to appreciate the man before her as in his nakedness, she could easily see what had kept Avery coming back for more all these years as while Russell hadn’t been granted anything particularly worthwhile in his miserable existence, he’d been very generously rewarded with a tool of survival for any woman who’d had to go without as he was quite impressive. Still, even with his striking manhood, there was no comparison to the billions Avery would have for the rest of her days as Brant’s bank account more than compensated for the one clearly impressive trait Russell had going for him.
“Are you almost finished,” a voice demanded as Brooke looked up to find her partner in crime before her. Despite the ways in which she’d been so careful in the planning, she hadn’t been wise enough to lock the door behind Russell after the fall. Still, there was no time for worrying about the what ifs as she had quite a bit of work ahead of her in short time as she moved up off of the bed motioning to the man that had entered the room.
“Lock the door behind you and then help me get him into bed,” Brooke ordered impatiently, “as we don’t have a lot of time here.”
“Clearly,” he answered stepping forward as his eyes cast over Russell in all his nakedness and a groan spilled over his lips, “Honestly did you have to go that far?”
“For my daughter to believe her eyes,” Brooke nodded, “it’s exactly as far as I needed to go,” she finished watching as her partner helped her create the mood as she was certain tonight would be about new beginnings as Avery was about to see Russell for the low life Brooke had always known him to be.
Heather’s eyes darted up towards the staircase as she could feel herself
counting the seconds until she and Brant were reunited at long last.
Victory was well within her reach and she could taste the promise of his
kisses as life had finally come full circle for her. After tonight
she’ll have everything she’d always wanted and it was to be the beginning
of happily ever after for her.
“Heather?” Kipp’s voice broke through her enthusiasm as she reluctantly looked to him.
“What?” she questioned impatiently not wanting to be bothered with him in such a moment as she was trying to savor the glory that came from the fruits of her labor.
“Are you alright,” he questioned giving her a sideways glance, “You’ve been acting strangely tonight and I’m starting to wonder if maybe now would be a good time for us to cut out on the party since clearly this isn’t at all what we’d imagined.”
“No,” she answered quickly--almost too quickly as her pulse raced with the fear of having Kipp drag her away from Brant and her happiness, “We can’t leave.”
“Because the party is no where near over,” she reached out to tease her fingers over his shoulder, “and besides we have lots more mingling to do as I do believe I spotted your father earlier and you know how he feels about appearances.”
“Heather, I don’t think us getting anywhere near my father is a good idea,” Kipp answered tightly, “That man had no right to treat you as he did and I don’t want him hurting you again tonight which is all the more reason for us to leave…”
“Not yet,” she struggled for a good answer, “In fact, how about you go and get me another glass of champagne and then we can share another dance or so before leaving?”
“Heather, I’d really rather…” he argued with her.
“Please baby,” she batted her eyelashes at him, “I’d really appreciate it.”
“Fine,” Kipp sighed pulling her into an embrace, “though I want a kiss first.”
“Kipp,” heat rose over her features, “You know how I feel about public displays of affection,” she tried to avoid the issue as he hugged her closer to him.
“Just one more kiss and then I’ll go get you more to drink,” he pleaded with her.
Heather looked around for a moment hoping that Brant wasn’t around as she quickly leaned in to peck him on the cheek before shoving him away from her, “Now hurry.”
“Don’t you move,” he urged giving her one last look before heading towards the bar.
“I’ll be right here,” she forced a bright smile watching him step away before scurrying towards the stairs praying that Brant was ready for her as she was about to find her way back to him without having to settle for someone like Kipp. That in itself was reason enough to hurry, but as Heather climbed the stairs towards her destiny, she was unaware of the eyes upon her as a frown touched over Kipp’s lips.
“What are you up to, Heather,” he questioned panic in his tone as he debated whether or not follow her. As his worries and doubts began to fester, he thought to his father’s words on Heather and he decided it was time to prove his father wrong. He trusted Heather and she loved him. Still as she vanished up the stairs, Kipp gave in to his curiosity as he crossed the room ready to see for himself what the lady in his life was doing.
Avery’s eyes scanned over the crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of her father before she left, but much to her dismay, she’d realized he must’ve taken off--no doubt to spend a quiet moment with Judy and while she would’ve normally loved the idea of him doing just that, right now she needed to speak with him as this was so very important. She looked around the party once again realizing that there was no finding him in the crowded room and she resolved to call him on his cell phone once she’d returned to the room upstairs where Russell was no doubt awaiting her arrival. She turned towards the stairs eager to make her way up to Russell and bring herself one step closer towards happily ever after when she felt a hand clasp over her arm pulling her into the darkened landing at the bottom of the stairs.
“Just who the hell do you think you are,” Grady demanded squeezing her
arm as his eyes shot daggers at her, “Where do you get off doing this to
“Grady, let go of me,” Avery shoved his hand away from her as a scowl touched over her lips. She saw the fire and madness behind his eyes as her lips curled in preparation for the battle she realized was before her. She opened her mouth to throw out something ugly and wicked, but as she thought of Russell, she bit on her tongue and turned towards the stairs again, “Just go away.”
“Like hell I will,” he pinched at her arm again tearing her from the step as his green eyes sparked with bitterness, “You’re not going anywhere until I’m finished with you.”
“That’s it,” Avery frowned in response as he’d just pushed beyond her limit and she turned to face him prepared to cut him to shreds, “what’s gotten into you? Have trouble staying sober tonight?”
“Staying sober would be an impossible task when you sit there and manipulate my brother,” his voice slurred with the moment, “and Avery I won’t let you play your games with him. This ends now.”
“You’re right it does, but it ends for you Grady,” Avery pinched at his hand watching him wince as he released her, “Clearly you’ve had one too many and I’m going to ignore this, but I would strongly suggest you sober up before you see Russ as this would destroy him to know you’ve fallen off the wagon again.”
“The only one destroying him darlin’ is you and your wounded dove routine,” Grady growled back at her.
“You don’t know the first damn thing about my relationship with Russ and given how you are, you’ll never fully understand, but then again I wouldn’t expect you to as clearly you didn’t have the first conception of what it takes to make love last according to Susan.”
“Why you…” Grady began as he stepped in towards her ready to strangle the woman before his for ruining his brother’s life. Just in watching her tonight, he found himself lost in a fury as she continued to play Russell for the obvious fool.
“What are you going to do to me?” Avery challenged taunting him, “Going to hit me like you used to hit Susan?”
“I never hit my wife and you know it,” Grady declared with a low roar, “That was a lie and we both know that…”
“Still you are ever so much the madman tonight,” Avery taunted him further, “but then again that was what this was all about, right? Tearing me down so that you could break me like you tried to do with Susan? So that you could bend me to your will? Well, I’ve got news for you Grady, it’s not going to happen,” Avery hissed back at him, “I love your brother and he loves me and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it…” she finished rushing up the stairs as Grady watched her flee from him.
“Over my dead body,” Grady chased after her determined to keep his brother from the witch that had ruined his life time and time again over the years. As he caught up to her, he reached for her as Avery nearly knocked down the man in front of her on the steps.
“Not so fast,” Grady’s voice boomed through the stairwell as he refused to release Avery, “We’re not finished yet.”
“Grady, let go of me,” Avery argued with him as the man who’d been going up the stairs before was now trapped between them, an involuntary participant in their tug of war as Avery pulled on her arm once more trying to free it up from Grady’s hold on her.
“What the hell is your problem man,” Kipp demanded as he looked to Grady throwing his hand into Grady’s chest, “Back off, would you?”
“It’s none of your business, so get lost,” Grady warned him sharply as he kept his hold on Avery.
“You just made it my business by bothering the lady,” Kipp stood taller keeping himself between the duo as his eyes darkened, “I strongly suggest you let go of her.”
“I told you before, it’s none of your business, so get out of my way,” Grady ordered again.
“Grady, stop it,” Avery called out from behind Kipp’s shoulder as she saw Grady redirect his anger towards the innocent bystander, “He’s not a part of this.”
“I am now,” Kipp blurted out sternly, “and I’m not leaving until he backs off.”
“Look I don’t know what your game is, but this is between her and I so I strongly suggest…” Grady took in a slow breath feeling the combination of the anger he’d felt towards Avery and the scotch he’d took in over at the bar build inside of him, churning into something more as he viewed Kipp as nothing more than a hassle.
“Quite frankly I’m not in the mood to hear any of your suggestions, so just back off,” Kipp pushed Grady in the chest harshly as Grady stumbled back a few steps with a grunt.
A moment later Grady’s gaze lifted to the man standing before Avery as his untamed rage burst through the surface and he cracked his knuckles as he began to ascend the stairs focused completely on the little man before him that dared to step in on Grady’s talk with Avery.
“You just made a very big mistake,” Grady roared lunging towards Kipp as Avery watched in horror realizing that Grady was about to get in over his head with the poor guy who’d stepped in to protect her from what he viewed as a danger.
Jade stepped out into the crisp night air with the hopes of calming her nerves just a bit. Just seeing Cameron here at an Ashford party had set off warning bells in her head. He was pressing his luck by being at a party for the very people he was currently suing, but that seemed to be a theme with Cameron. He enjoyed pushing the envelope as far as it could go which disturbed her as she knew the type all too well.
There was more to the man that upset her. He had a focused determination that wouldn’t bend or waiver even when all the odds were against him. She had told him more times than she could count that she didn’t want anything to do with him, and yet the man just kept coming back with a cold calculating stare that meant he wasn’t going to budge.
And then there was his cool demeanor under pressure. He seemed to command a situation even when it was totally out of his control. It was a terrifying thing to watch a man exert power in times when any normal person would accept his position as powerless.
Then, there were men like Grady. He had no power in the situation with Russell, and he accepted it. Sort of. He had spent time at the bar tonight, and she knew he’d be working off a hangover in the morning. Still, the idea of a drunken Grady didn’t frighten her nearly as much as a stone cold sober Cameron did.
“Jade, I was hoping I would get a few moments alone with you.”
Jade shivered immediately as she heard the cold tone of his voice. She spun on her heel and glared at Cameron as he stood just outside the balcony doors. He closed the door behind him as he smiled, taking a slow step forward.
“Stay away from me,” She warned as she tried to back up, feeling only the balcony’s railing behind her.
“Now, Jade, that’s not the way you really feel.”
“I know very well what I’m feeling,” She snapped as she slid along the railing, hoping she could get nearer to the railing.
“I don’t think you do,” He spoke as he eased himself closer to her, “You’re much too caught up in wishful thinking to accept the reality of the way things are.”
“I don’t know what delusion you’re living under, but I am very much in touch with my reality. It doesn’t include you!” She snapped as she attempted to dart towards the door.
“Whoa, hold on there,” Cameron said coolly as he seized her in his arms, “Don’t rush off so soon. We’re just getting started.”
“Like hell we are,” She wiggled out of his grasp and backed up against the railing once more, “If you don’t get away from me, I’ll scream.”
“Jade, why can’t you see that I’m really trying to help you? I want to give you everything you could dream of, and I’m working to give you your dreams. All you have to do is embrace that…and come willingly into my arms.”
“That’ll never happen, and you could never give me what I want. The only man who will ever do that for me is Grady.”
“Grady,” Cameron grinned, “Well, he’s been real attentive tonight, hasn’t he? I’ll bet he’s too busy chasing his brother around right now to realize that you need his attention. Is that really what you want, Jade? You want a man who’s going to run after his brother instead of lavishing his love and devotion upon you,” He spoke smoothly as he backed her against the railing. He seized her arms and pulled her tightly to him, “I would never put any space between us for any reason.”
“Let me go,” She demanded as she attempted to wiggle free of his grasp, “Let go of me!”
He looked over her for a moment before he began to lower his lips towards hers.
A group of party goers burst onto the balcony granting Jade a chance at escape. Jade slipped out of Cameron’s grasp and ran back into the party, hoping to put as much space between her and Cameron as possible.
“Ken, what are we doing at the marina?” Caitlin asked as he helped her out of the car. While she’d known he was planning something, she hadn’t imagined it would involve the lake once again.
“We’re going to have some alone time,” Ken informed her, “Since things keep coming up in one way or another, I thought it might be nice if we could get away for a little while.”
“And you thought you’d bring me out on your boat on a very cold, very dark night?” She teased.
“My boat? Yes, but not the one you’re thinking about,” He teased as he locked the car doors before tossing his keys in the air and catching them with one hand. He slipped his hand into hers and led her down a walkway towards the dock, “I have another boat.”
“Do you own the entire marina or something?” She teased as he led her down a dock as the water sloshed beneath the boards.
“No, just a few boats here and there,” He smiled as he led her down to a house boat on the end of the dock, “Here you go. Let me help you,” He extended his hand to her, helping her step onto the boat.
“You own this house boat?” Caitlin asked as she looked around the outside of the boat.
“Yeah, I do. I bought this one to have a place to get away from the house every now and then. I usually rent it to college students, but it’s vacant for now. So…” He smiled as he unlocked the door and led her inside, “Welcome to my home away from home.”
“You never fail to surprise me,” She smiled as she stepped inside and looked around, “This is cozy.”
“I’m glad you approve,” Ken spoke as he placed his keys in a bowl on an end table while removing his cufflinks and sliding his jacket off. He rolled up his shirt sleeves as he watched her take in the décor, “There’s some clothes for you in the bedroom. I had Blake do me a favor.”
“Oh…you,” Caitlin smiled as she threw her arms around him and hugged him close, “How did I ever deserve you?”
“Oh I don’t know. It could have been that you brought me the most happiness I’ve experienced in a very long time,” Ken smiled as he hugged her in return, “Why don’t you go get changed and I’ll get this place warm for us?” He suggested as he allowed her to slip from his arms to continue their night of romance all of their own.
Zack watched Blake as she walked ahead of him. She twirled slightly as she opened the door to the stables and turned towards him. She wiggled her finger at him.
“Come here, Good looking,” She laughed softly before reaching out and seizing the front of his shirt, “I want to show you something,” She whispered before she burst into more giggles.
“Blake, I think you’re a little tipsy, sweetheart,” He laughed, loving the idea that she would let her hair down and have some fun.
“I think I’m a little past tipsy,” She smiled as she pulled him into the stables and made her way across the building. She shed her wrap on the ground as she walked towards a set of stairs, “Come on, slow poke.”
“Blake,” He spoke as he picked up her wrap from the ground and followed her, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To the loft. Come on,” She said as she bounced up the stairs, leaning upon the rail after several steps. She recovered quickly and continued to the landing. She opened the door and made her way inside.
Zack stepped into the loft a few seconds after Blake. Immediately, Blake threw her arms around him while pulling his lips down to hers. His eyes widened as she ravished his mouth.
A few moments passed before he pulled away, “Whoa there. Now I’m sure of it. You’re loaded.”
“I always have been where you’re concerned,” Blake smiled as she tugged his tie loose and began plucking at the buttons of his shirt, “I have wanted you for so long.”
“You don’t want this,” He attempted to slip away from her. He moved across the room, “Why don’t you just lay down for a while on that bed over there?” He said as he nodded towards the bed.
“Oh I’m going to that bed over there,” She said as she reached out to him and drew him close to her. She pressed her body against him, undulating against him, “And you’re going with me.”
“Blake…” He stammered.
“Come on, Zack. You said you wanted me,” She whispered against his lips, “And now you’re going to have me,” She pecked him on the lips quickly before she shoved him towards the bed.
“Why don’t we just slow down here? You’re not sober, and I wouldn’t want to…” He began before she shoved him once more, sending him back onto the bed.
“Wouldn’t want to what?” Blake asked as she stood directly in front of him, “Come on, Zack. You and I both know that this moment has always been building for us,” She slipped the straps of her dress from her shoulders before she unzipped the dress and let it slip to the floor, “And now, it’s here.”
Zack’s eyes widened as Blake quickly crawled on top of him and began ravishing him with kisses. Try as he might, he couldn’t dislodge her from her position on top of him. As her hands began to tear at his shirt, he knew that there might not be any turning back after tonight if Blake had her way.
Heather staggered down the darkened hallway thinking of the prize at
the end of the road for her as Brant was waiting for her, ready to fess
up to the undeniable truth about how they belonged together. A smile
touched over her lips as her head was spinning with enthusiasm--or was
it the glasses of champagne she’d treated herself with earlier. Either
way, she felt her knees growing weak as each step towards the room became
more of a challenge and she began to fear she wouldn’t make it back to
the love of her life. Heather stopped mid-step bracing herself up
against the wall as she closed her eyes willing her way back to Brant as
she crept on forward towards the room.
Upon reaching the door, Heather fell face forward into the heavy wood and a wince fell upon her lips as she fumbled with the door knob, “I’m almost there,” she spoke in a broken whisper to herself as she turned the knob and the door crashed open as she flopped forward into the room face first.
“Brant,” she called out struggling to regain her balance as she felt a pair of warm arms around her catching her before her movement turned into something more disastrous. A smile lifted over her lips as she turned in the protective hold he’d had over her. Her voice grew lazy as her eyelids sank downward with an exhaustion she hadn’t been aware of moments earlier. She sought him out in the darkness as she felt his arms constrict around her and her body grew limb in his embrace.
“I knew you’d change your mind,” she murmured feeling the world around her fade to black as she realized she’d made her way back home to Brant at long last.
“I’d never change my mind about you,” the voice chuckled as he carried her over towards the bed ready to put the finishing touches on tonight’s main event, “but I can assure you after tonight everyone else will,” he vowed realizing that this would be the ultimate way to rid himself of Heather Gibbons forever.
“Grady no,” Avery rushed forward placing herself between him and the
man who’d managed to help her out moments earlier. She saw the look
of madness in Grady’s face and realized that the last thing she needed
was a murder on her hands due to one man’s random act of kindness when
he’d perceived a threat on her. “Don’t do this…”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Avery,” Grady roared at her as he continued to climb up the staircase and the man with Avery took a step back moving up a stair and matching Grady’s movements.
“I’m not going to let you make a horrible mistake like this,” she pressed her hand against his chest knowing full well what could happen to her as Grady’s hate for her was growing more apparent by the moment. Still as he focused on the man standing behind her, a panic swept over her and she thought quickly, “Grady, I love your brother and there’s nothing you can do to keep me from him.”
Almost immediately his eyes shifted to her once again and a rumble sounded in the back of his throat as he spoke to her icily, “If you think I’m going to let a bitch like you destroy him, then you’ve got another think coming.”
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe this is what Russ wants? That he’s happy with me? That maybe together we found something wonderful?”
“The only wonderful thing that you ever did for my brother was leave him the hell alone when you walked out on your wedding day before,” Grady continued up the stairs as Avery took a step up as well keeping a safe enough distance between them.
“He loves me Grady and you can’t change that,” Avery argued with him hoping that her ’hero’ had taken a hint and backed off long enough to save himself.
“Wanna make a bet?” he challenged as Avery could see Kipp behind her.
“Run and get some help,” she mouthed to Kipp, who’d stayed frozen in the spot behind her.
“I’m not leaving you alone with him,” Kipp announced feeling a sudden rush of strength build within him as he eased Avery out of his way and he stood before Grady, “Get lost pal.”
“That’s it,” Grady reached out to Kipp as Kipp dodged his blows.
Kipp looked to Avery desperately, “Get help.”
“His brother is up here,” Avery explained hating to leave Kipp alone with Grady, but she knew that only Russ would be able to calm Grady down. Hurrying towards her room, she just prayed that Russell had stayed in there long enough to wait for her as she needed him now more than ever. Seconds later she heard a crashing sound as she reached for the door knob, ready to enter her room as Grady’s fingers dug into her shoulder.
“I’m not finished with you,” he blurted out harshly as he tried to pull her away from the door.
“Well I’m finished with you,” Avery explained throwing open the door as she moved into the darkened room, “Russ…”
“Mmmmm…” Russell’s voice murmured through the darkness as Avery reached for the light turning on the switch as her eyes fell upon the image before her. A gasp fell over her lips and in that instant she’d felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her as there before her lay Russell and Heather tangled up in one another beneath her blankets. She stepped forward forgetting about Grady’s assault on her as she blinked once, twice disbelieving what she was witnessing as Heather planted an eager kiss on Russell.
“No,” Avery gasped feeling Grady’s arm curl around her as he pulled her close to him ready to unleash his rage until he saw the sight before him. Suddenly his anger transformed into something more, something darker as he witnessed his brother in bed with the blonde.
“Well, well, well…” Grady’s tone taunted as he leaned forward to whisper in Avery’s ear, “I guess the joke is on you, Avery.”
“Russ,” Avery tried to move in closer to him as he continued to kiss Heather.
“Avery,” he murmured her name as his arms wrapped around Heather and Heather purred against his mouth in a slurred tone.
“Forget about her as I’m all the woman you’ve ever needed,” she spoke in a heated whisper as Avery tried to make sense of what she was seeing.
“It looks like you finally know what it means to be burned by love,” Grady sneered feeling an enthusiasm race over him as he held her, “As Russell has waited a long time for this particular payback.”
“What? No,” she shook her head tears burning behind her eyes as she called out to Russell again. “Russ…”
“Avery,” Russell broke away from Heather, his gaze wandering listlessly towards the sound of her voice as Heather’s laughter bellowed through the room.
“He’s all mine now,” Heather boasted throwing her arms around Russell’s shoulders eagerly.
“No,” Avery’s jaw dropped feeling as though she’d walked into nothing less than a nightmare.
“Avery, did you honestly believe that my brother loved you? That you’d have some kind of future with him,” Grady chuckled heavily, “Oh Avery, he knew exactly how to play you and now you know what it means to lose that dream you’d held onto for so very long.”
“It’s over now bitch,” Heather smiled back at her icily her eyes glazed over with the moment, “as he’s always been mine from the beginning.”
“No this can’t be happening…this can’t…” Avery’s breathed in horror
as she wiggled out of Grady’s arms ready to launch an attack on Heather
when another sound flooded through the room.
“Heather, what are you doing?” Kipp questioned devastation flooding over him as he watched the woman he loved more than life itself throwing away any chance of a future with him as another man lay in bed with her.
“Kipp,” Heather’s eyes widened in a realization as she fought to find a way to explain the situation, but before she had her chance, she was down on the ground feeling the impact of Avery’s punches over her as the two women began to tear one another apart on the floor as Grady watched the rumble proudly realizing that his brother had finally done something right after all as Russell had succeeded in putting Avery Morrison in her place and Grady couldn’t be happier about it.