A smile tickled over Brant’s lips as he snuggled into the warmth beside him savoring the sweet floral scent that hung in the air as Avery curled in against him snugly. His eyes opened gently as he felt her dark hair tickle against his face and it was in that moment that he realized he’d been holding her, arms wrapped around her body in tender embrace as they were spooned against one another. His smile widened as he squeezed her lightly, his palm pressing over the soft fullness of her and it was in that instant that he realized just where he’d settled in on holding her.
A half gasp pressed over his lips, as Brant realized Avery had slipped out from beneath the blanket and his hand now gently rested upon the fullness of her warm breast and while the movement had been anything but sexual at the moment he’d done it, now all he could think about was the way she felt against him, her spine curling into his chest as her bottom fit snugly against him. A heat rushed over his body, bringing him instantly on edge as he contemplated the best way to ease out of this situation. Granted letting go probably was the most logical idea, but in holding her, his fingers felt the involuntary urge to brush over her soft flesh reveling in her body’s instant response to him as a soft purr fell from her now parted lips.
“Avery,” he whispered her name heatedly straining to keep from following through on the thoughts that were screaming over his every synapse.
“Mmmm…” she shifted beside him bringing her hand up over his and encouraging the touch as her head fell back into his chest receptively.
“I’m going to go to hell for this,” Brant murmured unable to resist the urge as he dropped his lips over the curve of her shoulder leading to her neck as her soft moans continued and he carefully massaged her aching flesh, feeling her body tense and writhe against him as his kisses continued up over the side of her neck before he nibbled on her ear teasingly.
“Oh yes,” she whispered his name as her eyelids fluttered in response to what he was doing. She arched back into him, a slow pant building as he tentatively brushed the finger tips of his free hand over her thigh, memorizing the beautiful lines of her body as his heart thudded in his chest and his head found a million and one reasons why he shouldn’t be doing this to her now like this.
“Mmmm…” she purred again reaching for his hand and guiding it over her hip up over the lace hem of her white silken panties as her mouth parted in anticipation, “Brant.”
“Oh Avery,” he breathed her name, feeling himself on fire as he accepted her open invitation to touch her. Carefully, he situated himself behind her before dipping his fingers in beneath the fabric to brush over her center as a slow whimper rose from within and she bit on her lower lip shifting to accommodate his heavenly touch.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured intensely against her body as his fingers danced over her moist heat teasing her with every skilled caress as she bucked against him, building a slow rhythm as her head dropped into his chest again and again.
“Oh Brant,” she whispered easing her arm around his neck before turning her head to collect his mouth in a desperate kiss.
“Avery,” he mouthed her name as her tongue darted inside of him, teasing him with each and every ferocious movement before she turned completely on the bed wrapping herself around him as they lay face to face. Her dark eyes shown with desire as she withdrew from the kiss revealing her passion swelled lips.
“I’ve wanted you for such a long time,” she confessed in between slow, shallow pants as her fingers pressed in over the button on his jeans popping it open before making quick work of the zipper, “You have no idea how hard it’s been to keep from showing you just how you effect me. I’ve tried to stop what I was feeling--to keep from touching you because I knew that if I had just one taste,” she nibbled on his lower lip gingerly, “I knew it would never be enough and there would be no way for me to stop when we opened the door to passion…”
“There’s no reason to stop now,” Brant urged her on as she climbed over him tugging his jeans down over his knees before returning to him her thighs straddling him as she’d also kicked out of her panties, now offering herself completely to him as her mouth claimed his hungrily.
“I know that now,” she confessed heatedly, “but last night I was confused…I really thought that Russ was different, that he could give me what I needed, but Brant,” her eyes sought out his as she fanned her fingers out over his chest, “he couldn’t give me what you can. I know that now.”
“I want to give you everything,” his hands reached out to her hips collecting her body over his as she slowly moved in over him, enveloping him in her hot, wet heat as a groan spilled over Brant’s lips as the moment he’d waited so very long to happen with her was finally coming to life.
“I know that now,” she rocked her body over him, arching her back as her finger tips squeezed at his body, teasing him with every movement as she rose up on her knees, almost completely severing the ties between them before crashing down upon him again as his pulse raced in his chest and he squeezed her attempting to guide their movements as Avery leaned forward kissing him savagely.
“I love you Brant,” Avery murmured against his mouth, “I’ve always loved only you as you’re the only man I’ll ever need,” she cried out throwing her head back as she reached for Brant’s hands guiding them over her body as they drove each other to new heights again and again. As she guided his fingers to her mouth, he watched her devote attention to each digit as her body’s gyrating threatened to overtake him, driving him beyond the edge as they were as one at long last.
“Yes,” he whispered curling his fingers over her hip as her lips played over his palm lavishing him with one of the most erotic displays he’d ever experienced as she called out his name again and again.
“Brant,” she cried out offering the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard as their pace quickened and he closed his eyes finding himself so very close to feeling the earth move beneath him, but almost as soon as her cries of need overwhelmed him completely, her tone changed and her impatience grew with the moment, “Brant…Brant…”
“I’m almost there,” he whispered feeling her slip away as his eyelids fluttered open and he found himself in bed beside her, her head arched back as she looked up at him less than enthused.
“Um, I think your hands are wandering with your thoughts,” Avery cleared her throat uneasily as she motioned to where he’d palmed her breast squeezing her in against him. She shifted a bit trying to make this situation less uncomfortable for them as she could feel full well where Brant’s dreams were taking him, “Maybe you should let go because I’d really hate to have to hurt you this morning.”
“Let go,” he repeated realizing that his thoughts of them making sweet love to one another was nothing more than a dream as disappointment flooded over him. Still as he felt her full, rounded breast caged beneath his touch, a hint of a sly smile teased over his lips, “are you sure you want me to do that?”
“Brant, I can’t believe that you’d even consider taking advantage of me after the night I had,” she began to object as her frown deepened, “I know that I said some things before that were really stupid, but…”
“I wasn’t thinking about taking advantage of you Avery,” he replied matter of fact as he kept his hand upon her, “not that I wouldn’t mind showing you a few things I could do to make you feel better about the situation, but right now I don’t think it’s the time for that and besides,” he motioned to the blanket she’d discarded onto the floor, “if I let go, I’m about to get a very nice glimpse again.”
She looked as though she was contemplating the thought before capturing his hand in hers and removing it from her body with a shrug, “It’s not like you haven’t had one before,” she threw out at him scurrying out of bed.
“You’re right about that,” Brant couldn’t help but muse with a smile as she reached for the blanket quickly covering herself before turning to face him again, “and I must confess that it gets better each time.”
“Well consider that your last look,” Avery grumbled running her fingers through her dark hair as she held the sheet tighter between her fingers bunching it up against her body, “because it won’t be happening again.”
“We’ll see about that,” he decided with a quick shrug of his own before collecting himself to sit up. He saw the words of protest in her eyes before he waved his hand at her dismissively, “but that’s another argument for another time. Right now we’re going to work on what happens next.”
“Which should be us taking the first flight back home to Coral Valley,” she pointed out matter of fact, “not only because I don’t want to be here, but also because we have a lawsuit to think of. Our up and leaving isn’t going to exactly show that we’re doing everything we can to prevent the disaster that’s waiting for us.”
“I’ve already covered that one,” he promised with a bright smile, “I made sure that it was taken care of before we left town.”
“What?” she blinked back at him in surprise, “How?”
“I have my ways,” he chuckled in mild amusement at the expression on her face, “though right now that should be the least of your concerns as we have an agenda today.”
“Wait a second. Brant, I have work to do and you just said you did something that I really feel I should be given some input on considering that I’m the one running this case for you,” Avery frowned back at him, “it’s in my job description to be able to be on top of what’s going on and if you’re ignoring my obligations because…”
“Avery, it’s taken care of and that’s all you need to know,” Brant threw out a teasing wink, “now as your boss I’d like to take this moment to inform you that you have the next couple of weeks off, but rest assured that our dealings are in good hands as I’ve hired the best to step in while we’re out of town.”
“Brant, you can’t just bring some newbie in and hope for them to know what’s going on with our situation as it’s tentative at best and considering that Cameron Stone is not exactly the kind of opponent that you should just try to ignore, we could be in some serious trouble if you just brought in a temporary fix when you know that I’m the one that should be…”
“You’re still running the show, but not now. You’ll be brought to speed when we get back to town,” Brant promised with a bright smile, “though for now, I’d strongly suggest you get dressed because we have a full day ahead of us and I wouldn’t want us to miss a thing because you’ve decided to protest getting out of bed,” he paused as a hint of mischief swept over his features, “unless of course you’d like to extend that offer a bit and then I can show you a few of my specialties,” Brant teased with a hint of seduction in his tone.
“I think I’ll pass,” Avery groaned in response clutching the sheet closer to her chest, “but don’t think that this ends the questions I have for you buddy because I’m not finished with you.”
“God I hope not,” he offered up one last long appreciative glance in her direction before walking out of the room ready to prepare for their day of adventure together.
Avery watched him wondering what in the world Brant Ashford had gotten her into as she was certain that being away from the world was the last thing she wanted or needed in her life right about now. Still as she thought to the misery waiting for her in Coral Valley, she wondered if she’d be able to face Russell again knowing how much they’d lost in such a short time. Even now her heart ached at the thought of him turning to another woman--of him making love to another woman when he’d promised her forever. Oh how she wished things hadn’t turned out differently, she sighed as she slumped down on the edge of the bed lost in her misery. She’d had such high hopes for them, but now, well now she was left with nothing as she hadn’t been what Russell needed yet again. If only she could take back so many things…so many horrible moments, she pondered to herself as she felt the tears pooling in her eyes.
“Stop it Avery,” she instructed trying to stay tough despite the way her heart had been shattered, “You lived without Russell Denton once before and you survived. You’ll do it again and this time you won’t look back because you can’t do that. You can’t live on what ifs when the man you loved didn’t love you back. You can’t dwell on this,” she urged herself as she looked at her reflection seeing the horrible ghost of herself staring back at her in the mirror. If only she could’ve changed things so many years ago, then maybe she wouldn’t be in this position now trapped in a tropical paradise with a broken heart on her mind and misery hanging over her.
“Enough already,” she threw her hands in the air as she decided it was time to stop pitying herself. Brant had taken her away for a reason and while she was certain she wouldn’t give him what he was hoping for, maybe some time away would do her good. Maybe being in such a beautiful place would mend her broken heart. She had serious doubts about it, but what she was certain of was that the longer she sat on the bed feeling sorry for herself, the more likely it would be that Brant would return to find her in all her nakedness and vulnerability all over again and that was the last thing she wanted as Avery vowed to herself that after last night’s disaster with Russell, she would never open herself to that kind of pain with another man as long as she lived. From here on out she was putting her heart under lock and key as the only love she’d ever known left her like this and if she couldn’t be with the man she loved more than life itself, then she wouldn’t dare dream of giving her heart another chance at taking her under. That much she was certain of as her days of being played for a fool were over.
“Do I have to go inside?” Jade asked nervously as she studied the house before her. She’d agreed to take the trip to his parents with Grady, but now that they’d arrived she wasn’t quite sure she was prepared to go inside to meet his family.
“Yes, you absolutely have to go inside,” Grady grinned as he looked over to her. He smiled as he saw the nervousness upon her face, “Are you nervous?”
“You are,” He chuckled, “I’ve never seen you nervous about anything so mundane as meeting my parents. I promise you that they won’t bite.”
“Grady, this is serious. What if I’m not good enough for you?” She frowned.
“Trust me. They won’t think that at all. In fact, they’ll probably point out that I’m not good enough for you,” He said with a frown, “But I don’t want to think about that. So come on. Let’s go inside.”
While Grady got out of the vehicle, Jade took another moment to compose herself and try to think the best about this meeting with his parents. She could only hope they wouldn’t think ill of her in this first meeting. She got out of the car and joined Grady along the front path.
Grady took her hand and smiled with encouragement as he knocked on the front door before stepping on inside, “Anybody at home?”
“That depends. Are you going to behave this time?” Elliot asked as he put down his newspaper and stood with an inquisitive smile.
“I think I’ll have to, or Jade here will whoop me,” Grady teased as he drew Jade in close to him, “Jade, this is my father, Elliot Denton.”
“Mr. Denton, it’s nice to meet you,” Jade smiled as she extended her hand.
“Mister? Pffft, girl, you’re practically family,” Elliot snorted as he grabbed her hand and drew her in for a hug, “Russ tells me that you have a way of making Grady happy even if he wants to deny it.”
Jade grinned as she hugged Elliot in return, “It’s good to finally meet you.”
“It’s good to finally meet you,” He smiled as he held her out at arm’s length, “You’re absolutely everything Russ said you would be.”
“Wow,” She smiled, “I’m not quite sure what to say about that.”
“You don’t have to say a thing. It’s good to have you here. Please, come in. Sit down. Cheryl will be in here in a few minutes. She’s making some tea in the kitchen,” Elliot motioned towards the sofa.
“Is Russ here?” Grady asked as he and Jade sat down on the sofa, “I kind of figured he’d come home to deal with everything.”
“He’s here, but not particularly because he wants to be. I had to bail him out of jail this morning,” Elliot informed them.
“What? Who had him arrested?” Jade asked quickly.
“Who knows?” Elliot frowned.
“I know who it was. It was that horrible Brooke,” Cheryl frowned heavily as she stepped into the room with a tray complete with tea pot and cups, “I brought tea for everyone.”
“Mrs. Denton,” Jade stood and extended her hand towards Cheryl once the tray had been placed upon a coffee table, “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Honey, it’s nice to meet you,” Cheryl smiled as she patted Jade’s hand in her own, “I’m glad to finally meet the woman who put a smile back on my Grady’s face.”
Jade blushed as she looked towards the floor, “Oh my…”
“You two should be honored,” Grady teased as he pulled Jade to sit at his side, “She never blushes.”
Cheryl smiled, “It would take a woman with a strong constitution to put up with you,” She winked at her son as she sat down near her husband, “Russ said you two would suit one another if only you’d let that stubborn streak go for a bit.”
“You know that’s something I’ve never been very good at,” Grady exhaled, “My stubborn streak is unrelenting.”
Jade nudged him in the ribs, “So I’ve learned.”
Elliot grinned as he poured them each a cup of tea, “Looks like she has your number.”
“I think she always has,” Grady smiled as he hugged her close, “So where’s Russ?”
“He’s in his room. He won’t talk to us,” Cheryl frowned, “He’s crawled into his own shell, and I’m afraid of what might happen if he doesn’t let someone…anyone in.”
Jade thought for a moment, “Maybe I can talk to him.”
Elliot looked towards Jade, “Do you think he would talk to you?”
“I do,” She nodded, “Because I know where he’s coming from, and I think I can talk to him.”
“You know where he’s coming from? You haven’t piled into a bed with someone else and showed it off to the whole world,” Grady countered.
“No, but you did in a round about sort of way, now didn’t you?” Jade accused. She met his eyes before she finished, “So I know how much it hurts to have that happen with someone you love. I can let Russ in on that pain, and we can share that. So, do me a favor and don’t patronize me for what I’ve felt.”
“Okay, okay,” Grady replied as he held his hands up in surrender.
Cheryl looked to Elliot whose wide eyes held a smile. Elliot allowed a slow grin to play across his lips, “Looks like she really does have your number.”
“Sometimes I wonder if that’s really a good thing or a bad thing,” Grady frowned.
Cheryl looked to Jade with a hopeful smile, “Could you really speak with him?”
“I’d love to give it a try,” Jade smiled, “Where can I find him?”
“Down the hall, last door on the right,” Cheryl smiled as she met Jade’s eyes, “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Jade made her way down the hallway out of sight.
Elliot smiled as he looked to Grady, “Looks like you finally found a woman who can handle you.”
“Yeah, but somehow I wonder if I can handle her,” Grady said wryly as he thought about the woman he loved and if she could really reach out to his brother in his time of need.
“Coffee’s ready,” Blake announced as she placed the thermos upon the table while Ken gathered mugs from the cupboard.
“Good, I could use some,” Caitlin smiled as she took a mug from Ken and extended it towards Blake to be filled, “So, Zack, are you being a good boy and leaving Blake alone?”
“Are you trying to dissuade him from pursuing me?” Blake accused as she glared at Caitlin.
“Moi? Would I ever do something like that?” Caitlin asked innocently.
“Better question, why would she do something like that?” Ken asked as he provided Zack with a mug to be filled.
“Because she thinks I’m going to break Blake’s heart, and that’s the furthest thing from my mind,” Zack said as he pointed his words towards his sister, “Don’t you get it yet? I don’t want Blake to be hurt at all.”
“Then why don’t you think before you act, Zack? If you really don’t want to hurt her, don’t drag her into your drama,” Caitlin countered.
“Why must you always think the worst of me?” Zack asked as he crossed his arms and sat back in his chair.
“Because I know you better than anyone, big brother,” Caitlin reminded him as she stirred sweetener into her coffee, “It’s not that I think you would do anything to hurt Blake on purpose. It’s just that most of the time you go into things head first, and you don’t really think about the consequences. I don’t want to see anything like that happen with Blake. She’s too important to me for you to hurt like that.”
“Uh, hello, remember me? I’m still in the room here,” Blake called out as she waved her hand in the air to gather everyone’s attention, “Don’t I get a say in this?”
Ken chuckled as he sat at the end of the table and opened the morning’s paper, “You’ve done it now. She’s going to demand a vote in this,” He grinned as he began reading over the morning’s stories.
“Blake,” Caitlin said softly as she placed her hand upon Blake’s forearm, “It’s not you I doubt.”
“So you don’t think that Zack could really find me attractive? Does that insult me or what?” Blake asked with wide disbelieving eyes.
“I’m not insulting you,” Caitlin sighed, “I’m actually just saying that my brother could change his mind in the blink of an eye and decide that he really didn’t want to pursue a relationship with you after all. Come on, Blake. You know how flighty Zack can be.”
“Hey, I am not flighty,” Zack declared as he re-entered the conversation, “Blake, don’t listen to my sister. She’s paranoid.”
“It’s not paranoia if you prove my worries to be based in fact,” Caitlin argued.
The phone rang as the Vaughn siblings faced off. Ken folded his paper as he moved across the room to answer the phone, “Hello? Yes, he is. Okay, hold on just a moment,” He carried the phone to Zack and extended it towards him, “They must want you bad. They tracked you all the way here.”
Zack frowned as he took the phone away from Ken and held the phone to his ear, “Zack Vaughn.”
“Zack, I’m glad I finally found you. I need you to come down to the hospital. We have an emergent case, and I need a top notch surgeon,” Isaac spoke urgently.
“What’s the case?”
“Kipp Mahoney, he’s the son of Douglas Mahoney…the Hollywood producer. It’s a single gunshot to the chest, and he’s already coded twice. We need your talents here, Zack.”
“Okay, I can be there in ten minutes. I’ll scrub in immediately. Have the patient prepared, and we’ll begin immediately,” Zack sighed as he hung up the phone, “Damn, I have to go to the hospital.”
“What’s up?” Blake asked as she watched Zack stand from his chair.
“Some producer’s son was shot,” Zack shrugged.
“Producer’s…” Ken frowned, “Kipp Mahoney?”
“That’s the one,” Zack nodded as he cleared his plate and coffee mug from the table, “Apparently, he’s in bad shape.”
“That’s bad news all around,” Ken said as he began putting pieces together in his head, “This is going to postpone the Midlands case again. That won’t make the Hendersons happy.”
“Midlands? What would that have to do with Midlands?” Caitlin asked.
“Kipp Mahoney is the in house counsel for Stone Corp. Midlands made a motion last week to put the case in the hands of their parent company,” Ken frowned as he looked at his coffee, “I’ll have to go see the Hendersons in person. They need to know that things are being put off once again.”
“I’d ask who the Hendersons are, but I have a life to save,” Zack said as he pulled Blake aside, “I’ll see you later, understood?” When she nodded, he dropped a kiss upon her lips, “I’ll see you guys later,” He waved before he exited the mansion.
Blake sighed happily as she turned to see both Ken and Caitlin staring at her, “Oh why don’t you go see your clients or something. Stop staring at me,” She snorted as she held her head high and walked out of the room.
Caitlin shook her head, “I hope I’m wrong about them, Ken. I’d love for them both to be happy, and it’d be even better to see them happy together. I just worry that they won’t be able to pull it off.”
“We’ve done it,” Ken reminded her, “Maybe we’re setting a precedent,” He said with a hopeful smile, “Come on. Let’s go see the Hendersons. They won’t be happy about this.”
“No, I don’t suppose they will,” Caitlin sighed as she joined him as they made their way out of the mansion to deliver some unpleasant news to a family already under distress.
Diane slumped down in her plush recliner dreading the thought of the lonely morning ahead of her. Last night’s party had been a complete and utter disaster after Ben struck and right now the last thing she’d wanted was to deal with men at all. Sure, Patrick had offered to take her out sailing on his friend’s boat so that they could enjoy one of the last warm days in Coral Valley, but her heart just wasn’t into faring the weather and the water when all she really wanted to do was sulk. Certainly Ben had pushed her buttons last night and she was even more convinced that was the reason she’d turned Patrick down on his offer this morning.
“Ugh,” she groaned really to pull her hair out as her frustrations mounted and as if someone up above was trying to keep her from driving herself from going mad, she heard a knock on the door.
Almost immediately Diane popped up from her chair ready to do anything to escape the thoughts that plagued her…well, almost anything as long as she didn’t have to leave the apartment. Making her way towards the door she opened it quickly hoping that it wasn’t an overzealous Patrick ready to sweep her off her feet and onto the water as she really had no intentions of going anywhere, but as she looked to her unexpected arrival a breath of relief swept over her lips.
“Mom,” Diane smiled greeting her mother with an open embrace, “what are you doing here?”
“Well, I didn’t get a chance to run into you at the party last night, so I thought I’d come in and check on my little girl,” Judy explained looking around the apartment, “I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“Not at all,” Diane shook her head closing the door behind her mother before following her into the living room area, “I was just having a lazy day so you know company is always welcome.”
“Hmm, a lazy day huh,” Judy turned to look at her curiously, “I take it your date didn’t go so well last night, huh?”
“Mom, why would you say a thing like that,” Diane’s lip curled in a pout as she wondered if she’d been too obvious.
“It was just going around,” Judy sighed thinking to the disaster that Avery had faced and the heartbreak that followed.
“I take it your date sucked too huh,” Diane frowned making her way across the room to return to her chair as she plopped herself down.
“Not exactly as Rick was charming as ever, but we had a situation later on,” Judy paused seeing the look of sadness in her daughter’s eyes, “but I really don’t need to get into that as I’d rather hear about how your night went.”
“Honestly,” Diane grumbled wiggling her fingers in her lap as a sigh escaped her lips, “Patrick was incredible. He’s really a wonderful guy…”
“Patrick huh?” Judy lifted a curious brow as she took a seat on the small rose colored sofa in the middle of Diane’s living room, “I take it you still aren’t speaking with Ben?”
“Why should I? He lied to me and he made a fool of me,” Diane reminded her mother sharply, “And then to top that off he’s nothing but an inconsiderate, selfish jerk who doesn’t have any sense of decency.”
“Let me guess. Ben was the reason your date didn’t go so well, huh?”
“Mom, you would not believe the things he did at the Ashford mansion. I mean it’s bad enough that he’d even consider behaving that way out in public, but when he punched my date at Brant’s house of all places, I was mortified. Plus, Patrick is a police officer so you know…”
“You’re dating a police officer?” Judy’s eyes widened in surprise as Diane nodded quickly.
“Don’t give me that look.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Judy raised her hands in the air simply, “it’s just I know how you felt about things because…”
“Mom, I’ve played it safe. I’ve tried dating the guys that wouldn’t bring me misery like the misery we found with daddy leaving us, but you know what? I’m done dealing with the losers of the world and yes, so Patrick might be a Lieutenant but you know he’s a great guy and I happen to enjoy his company…”
“Then there’s nothing wrong with that,” Judy offered in response.
“That’s right. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and in fact he asked me to go out sailing with him today you know so he’s not the typical adrenaline junkie cop like so many of them,” Diane continued quickly trying to reason with herself about her latest string of decisions.
Judy watched her daughter trying so hard as she waited patiently for Diane to finish up her speech before she tossed out an observation, “Diane, who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?”
“Mom, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything because there’s no need to…”
“Then why are you here this morning instead of out with Patrick if that’s where you really wanted to be,” Judy questioned lifting a curious brow.
“Oh well, I…well…you see I don’t really think that the weather is what it should be considering that…” she saw her mother’s look of disbelief before a frustrated sigh finally escaped her, “Oh alright I’m mad as hell about what Ben did last night to make a fool out of me.”
“Well maybe that was his way of trying to reach out to you as you aren’t exactly the most cooperative person in the world when it comes to offering up an open mind about certain things,” Judy admitted gently.
“Hey, whose side are you on here? I’m your daughter, remember?”
“Honey, I’m not taking anyone’s side, but after what you’ve told me about Ben, I just assumed that you might want to find a way to work things out as they seemed pretty important to you.”
“What’s the point in trying when it’s only going to lead to misery,” Diane slumped further in her chair, “Ben’s just like the rest of the men in the world and they all just suck plain and simple.”
“Now I know you don’t believe that,” Judy gave her a pointed look, “especially considering that you’re my daughter that was planning her wedding since she was old enough to know what that was.”
“And look where it got me. I’m not the one with a perfect life and a perfect husband. That’s Deidra’s world not mine which really sucks considering that she wasn’t the one that wanted to have the family and the fairy tale love story growing up. She was so serious and into her own little world, but does that stop her from finding happiness? No, of course it doesn’t because she meets the man of her dreams and he sweeps her away into the kind of life that was meant for me--the life I always wanted, but do I happen to have her good fortune? No, of course not because it never works out that way for stupid Diane.”
“Diane, you’re not stupid,” Judy frowned heavily, “and for you to even try to compare your life with your sister’s, well it’s like night and day.”
“Exactly because she gets everything and everything goes her way and it’s all perfect because she’s perfect and then you have me. I don’t ever have anything go the way I want it because I’m just little ditzy Diane and no one could ever take someone like me seriously and hey why would they want to when there’s Deidra the Great with all her amazing skills and talent and her knack for having everything come so easily to her.”
“That’s not true,” Judy shook her head in response, “Deidra has had to work for what she has and even then she’s still trying to prove herself…”
“Ah yes the woes of the prodigy in the family,” Diane rolled her eyes as she rose from her chair, “To be blessed with it all and burdened with the task of being perfect when there’s the little sister around doing everything the wrong way.”
“Diane, don’t do this. Don’t start turning this into something it’s not because you’re feeling down about the current romantic situation you’ve found yourself in,” Judy replied firmly, “This has nothing to do with your sister’s successes or anything along those lines…”
“But why can’t it happen for me? Why can’t I find the right guy and be happy in love and have the one thing I’ve always wanted? I mean why do I always have to go through things like this when it’s always dropped into Deidra’s lap like that?”
“Diane, I don’t think…” Judy began again as there was a knock on the door causing both women to returned to silence before Judy finally spoke up again, “Were you expecting company?”
“Maybe it’s Patrick,” Diane shrugged her shoulders, “Maybe he decided that he wasn’t taking no for an answer this morning.”
“That might be good for you considering your sour mood,” Judy noted as Diane rolled her eyes turning to open the door before she found herself on the receiving end of a lecture that she was certain she didn‘t want to be hearing.
“Diane,” Ben spoke up desperately as their eyes connected and she felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight of him, “I’m glad I caught you.”
“I’m busy,” Diane muttered moving to close the door as he placed his foot in the way stopping her from shutting him out of her apartment.
“Please all I’m asking for is five minutes of your time,” Ben urged again as he felt her put more pressure on the door to block him out. Unwilling to let that happen, he pushed himself in through the shallow opening he’d had and seconds later she gave up the fight and the door swung open with a thud as he stood in her living room.
“Ben, I already told you that I’m busy,” Diane placed her hands on her hips impatiently, “I have company.”
“Well then tell your company that you’re busy because we need to talk,” Ben demanded as Diane motioned over towards her sofa.
“Why don’t you tell her yourself,” Diane glared at him as Judy looked at the both of them with curious eyes, “Mom, this is the infamous Ben.”
“Ben,” Judy’s curiosity peaked as she rose to her feet, “I’ve heard a lot about you lately.”
“Mrs. Stevens,” Ben’s tone shifted to an apologetic tone as he approached her extending his hand out to her, “Sorry for the interruption, but Diane and I…”
“Need to talk,” Judy nodded in understanding as she reached for her light jacket that she’d set on the sofa, “and given the conversation she and I were having it’s probably best that you do as I have an appointment to make anyways.”
“Mom,” Diane curled her lips in protest as Judy approached her offering up a quick hug, “what are you doing?”
“I’m helping you with this one because if I don’t you’re going to spend your life miserable,” Judy whispered turning to look at Ben one last time, “It was nice meeting you Ben.”
“Likewise,” he threw out a smile as Judy walked out of the apartment and Diane spun around to face him with angry eyes.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Diane demanded harshly, “You had no right coming here and even less rights to push your way inside my apartment.”
“I needed to talk to you,” Ben explained pointedly, “You weren’t about to let me do it last night, so I had no choice.”
“I told you to leave me alone, so that was all there was to it,” Diane folded her arms in front of her chest, “That hasn’t changed overnight.”
“And neither has my needing to talk to you,” Ben explained standing his ground, “and I’m not leaving until we can do just that.”
“You don’t have a choice because I want you out of here and if you don’t leave by the time I count to five, then you’re going to be dragged out of here by the police,” she warned him with a huff.
“Diane, don’t make me do something that we’re both not going to like as I really don’t want to go to the extreme here,” Ben began with a sigh.
“Ben, I’ve just about had it,” she held her hand in the air, “Now I’m giving you until the count of five. One…two…”
“Diane, don’t do this,” he pleaded with her.
“Three…four…” she continued unwilling to listen to him as a sigh fell from his lips.
“I hate that you’ve made me do this,” Ben stepped forward reaching out to her and hoisting her over his shoulder much to her surprise, “but you left me no choice,” he explained opening the door to her apartment.
“Ben, put me down,” Diane kicked and squealed against him kicking her legs out as he carried her down the hallway.
“I’m sorry Diane, but this time I really can’t do it,” Ben explained knowing there would be hell to pay for taking such drastic actions, but one way or another he’d have to find a way to get through to Diane even if it had to be with such an extreme.
Guy felt a yawn spill over his lips as he thought to the sleepless night he’d experienced the night before. While he and Gabe had reconnected with one another to some degree as Gabe had made his way to town, there was still so much he had to come to terms with in his own life before he could finally move forward with the freedom that he’d longed for. Still as he thought to his sister’s turmoil, he realized that his own personal life would have to wait as Avery’s happiness was something of a concern for him.
Now as Guy walked around Avery’s apartment familiarizing himself with his surroundings as she’d offered him a key earlier in the week, he wondered how she was holding up at a time like this. Guy had heard the little details over the course of the night from his mother, but he’d hoped to hear it from Avery herself as he thought of the time they’d spent together and she’d shared her secret with him about her engagement to Russell. He’d seen how happy she’d been in those moments and for Russell to just blow it like that given what Guy had witnessed first hand, it left Guy reason to question what was happening with his sister. More than anything he’d hated the idea that he hadn’t been there when she needed him and more so that Richard had helped Brant whisk her away without allowing Guy a moment to speak with her.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Avery,” Guy sighed searching for the things he’d need to get a pot of coffee going for himself as he thought to his sister’s eagerness and excitement for the future. Something just wasn’t adding up, he reasoned as he began to pull things together for a morning cup of coffee before he faced the zoo he was certain was awaiting him back at the mansion as he’d have to deal with his mother’s hysterics in not knowing where Avery had gone off to in the middle of the night. That in itself was enough to irritated Guy as he’d hated the idea that his father had allowed Brant to take Avery away without bothering to let anyone know where they were going.
Guy’s thoughts began to dwindle towards his sister’s misery as he took in the air of her apartment. Certainly every inch of it was Avery to a tee as it was flawless and carried an air of order to it, but no amount of order in her apartment was going to bring her life to that state of serenity she was looking for…especially now when Guy was certain her heart was in shambles. Once again one thought lead to another and he wound up cursing his father for allowing Avery to leave without so much of a good-bye, but before he could get worked up about his father’s lack of discretion, a sound came from the door breaking through his thoughts.
“Wonderful,” Guy muttered figuring that one of the overzealous reporters followed him back to his sister’s apartment the night before determined to get the exclusive scoop the morning after, but as Guy took in a slow, calming breath, he walked over to the door ready to face the battle before him as the media had always been something he had a good hand on, but as he came face to face with the petite blonde before him, he found himself surprised to say the least.
“Guy, I’m so glad I found you,” Cathy beamed as her eyes fell over the smooth lines of his muscled chest and she involuntarily licked her lips before batting her eyelashes up at him. Her smile filled her beautiful features as she motioned to the large pink box in hand, “I was hoping we’d come in contact with one another as I brought breakfast.”
“Breakfast,” he repeated in confusion giving her a strange look as she began to enter his sister’s apartment, “Cathy, how did you know you’d find me here?”
“Well, I went to the mansion, but then when your mother told me you weren’t there and that Avery was out of town, she suggested that you might be here and look here you are,” Cathy set the box down on the kitchen counter top as she eased out of her matching pink jacket to reveal the silver sweater she was wearing as it’s fringed bottom barely covered the sleek curve of her perfectly sculpted abdomen that seemed to tease out over the shamelessly skimpy black skirt she was wearing.
“Actually I was on my way over to the mansion myself after a shower,” Guy confessed trying to keep an air of politeness about him as he’d always hated his mother’s involvement in his life.
“I’m sure you have time for breakfast,” Cathy lifted a double chocolate muffin from the box as her grin widened, “as these are quite possibly the best that Coral Valley has to offer.”
With that she circled around the kitchen counter, leaning up against it in a shamelessly seductive pose as she puffed out her chest trying to draw his attention to her ample cleavage before she threw out another eager smile, “Besides I’m sure I can tempt you into sticking around here with me for a little while longer.”
“Somehow you strike me as a woman who’s used to getting what she wants, aren’t you,” Guy deduced as she slinked over towards him tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder. Her fingers extended out over the center of his naked chest teasing over the muscle before she eased in up against him crushing her soft curves into him. She lifted the muffin to his lips.
“I do have a tendency to work things in my favor every now and then,” she admitted her palm pressing in over the center of his chest as he collected her wrist carefully withdrawing it from his skin before taking a step back.
“Cathy, you’re trying too hard here,” Guy explained with a simple shake of his head, “I don’t mean to seem unappreciative of your breakfast invitation, but the truth to the matter is that I really have a few things that I need to get working on this morning.”
“I’m sure they can wait for a minute or so,” Cathy offered shamelessly taking a bite of the muffin before urging him on once again, “Guy, I’m telling you it’s heavenly.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Guy began again watching her take a step back as a frown touched over her lips.
“I see how it is,” Cathy winked at him setting the muffin down on one of the small table top beside her before her arms wrapped around her own waist and seconds later she withdrew her sweater to reveal the tiny pink lace bra that lay beneath the flirty sweater. Reaching for the muffin once again, she winked at Guy before positioning it between her breasts in a teasing fashion before stepping towards him and speaking up in a daring tone, “maybe you’d like to try it now.”
“Cathy,” Guy felt a color rise in his features as he stepped forward reaching out behind her for her sweater and lifting it up before holding it out towards her, “maybe you should get going.”
“Oh come on Guy,” she curled her lip in a pout, “Your mother said you were shy, but I promise I’ll make this really easy on you,” she tossed her hair over her shoulder, “I like you and I think you’re incredibly sexy and that there is certainly an obvious chemistry between us…”
“Cathy, I’m not denying that you’re a beautiful woman,” Guy took in a slow breath, “but well, the truth to the matter is that I’m seeing someone…”
“Really?” she lifted a curious brow before her lip curled in a pout, “then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised even though your mother said…”
“My mother doesn’t know about my relationship just yet as we’ve been kind of keeping a lid on it with Avery’s engagement out in the open,” Guy continued quickly as he took a step away from her.
“Well I suppose I can’t blame you for that considering that your sister really has been living the fairy tale life lately,” Cathy offered up in a dreamy tone, “I mean to have a man like Brant Ashford as your future husband. It does have a certain sense of appeal to say the least considering that Brant is quite the catch.”
“I take it you and Brant know one another,” Guy replied curiously as she nodded eagerly.
“Quite well actually,” Cathy explained with a cryptic smile, “although I must confess that I didn’t have your sister’s good fortune where he was concerned. Honestly I don’t know how she does it, but she’s really talented to keep Brant’s attention considering his reputation…”
“What reputation would that be exactly,” Guy asked taking note of her tone as she sat on the back of the couch dangling her legs at him as she crossed them eagerly.
“Oh you know,” she shrugged her shoulders casually making no attempt to get dressed, “that he’s a real ladies man and he thrives on seeking out the pleasures that the world around him can provide him with.”
“Why do I get the distinct feeling that you’ve been privy to my brother-in-law to be’s indulgences,” Guy frowned wondering just what kind of man his sister was off with as Cathy’s lecherous smile left him feeling unsettled to say the least.
“Oh well, you know Brant and I have experienced a few…indulgences with one another as you’ve put it, but I guess he really must’ve been one of the rare few who are suckers for brunettes,” Cathy shrugged her shoulders as she rose to her feet again, “not that I wouldn’t have been willing to work on that for him, but still I guess that’s where I thought you and I could be compatible.”
“Oh?” Guy lifted a skeptic brow, “is that right?”
“Of course,” Cathy nodded eagerly, “after all I’m willing and able and up for just about anything if you catch my drift. We really could‘ve been good together as there are so many things I would‘ve loved to have done to you,” she traced her index finger over the swell of her breast before snatching up the muffin and bringing it to her lips to take a slow bite. She made a soft purring sound before swallowing and turning her blue eyes up in his direction once again, “but then again I suppose it’s true what they say about the good ones all being taken.”
“That’s certainly the case where I’m concerned,” Guy moved over towards the door not bothering to wait for her to dress herself as he opened the door quickly before tapping his foot impatiently, “and I think it would probably be best if we cut this short considering that I have some things to attend to.”
“I suppose I’ll let you get away with that,” she tossed her sweater over her arm as she stepped in behind him, “for now, but don’t think that I’m done trying to win you over because I’m only warming up.”
“Cathy, I already told you,” he spun around to face her finding her right beside him as her arms hooked around his waist and she rose up on her toes collecting his lips in a demanding kiss as Guy stood frozen beside her unresponsive to the kiss.
After her attack on his mouth, she slowly stepped back tracing her tongue over her bottom lip as her grin expanded and she teased her fingers over his chest one last time, “Your mother thinks we’d be perfect together and that in itself says something.”
“That it does,” Guy answered flatly watching her walk out the door before he closed it quickly as he wondered what the hell his mother had been thinking in sending that woman sniffing in his direction. It would bad enough for Brooke to see that he wasn’t interested in women, but had he been inclined towards that persuasion, he was certain that Cathy Ashley would’ve been dead last on his list of women to date especially after the words she’d threw out about the man who was trying to win his sister over. Suddenly Guy began to question Brant Ashford’s reputation as he just hoped that the man who’d taken Avery away from her family wouldn’t be the final nail in her coffin on the collision course her life had become.
“Thanks for your help, Tom,” Jenna finished up with her phone call hating that she’d been pulled away from Douglas during his time of need as her thoughts returned to his son. She’d hoped that somehow he’d heard some good news in her absence, but given the nature of the situation that had brought him into the hospital, she had her doubts about what the outcome would be. Still as she thought to the sorrow and despair that had hung over him in those few moments they’d shared together, she promised herself that she would support him in any way possible.
Quickly Jenna scooped up the notations she’d made earlier about Bruce and she headed back towards the area she’d last seen Douglas talking to Dave Warner, but when she returned she was surprised to find him sharing in an embrace with her mother of all people. Jenna could feel her jaw drop as she watched her mother reaching out to the man she was so adamant that Jenna stay away from earlier, but now Dorothy seemed to be doing her best to comfort a man she was ready to tear apart for no apparent reason other than that he’d shown any interest in Jenna to begin with.
“Oh hell no,” Jenna frowned thinking of the words her mother had thrown out at her time and time again as she began to march forward demanding answers to her mother’s curious behavior as she felt the cold touch of fingers curl over her arm pulling her behind a curtain as she was swept into one of the darkened rooms beside her.
Jenna felt a scream build in her throat as a hand clasped over her mouth silencing any protest as a pair of strong arms wrapped around her. She began to writhe in objection ready to attack as she turned in the man’s arms and her knee shot straight up into his groin eliciting a pinched cry from him. He hissed her name and she almost immediately recognized his tone as she searched the wall for the light switch and she found Hart huddled over before her in obvious agony.
“What the hell did you think you were doing,” she demanded harshly anger filling her up inside as she placed her hands on her hips while he continued to squirm around the small room.
“Trying to get a moment with you,” he answered his tone a bit higher than she’d remembered as he tried to shake off the blow she’d given him. His eyes lifted up over her as his breath came out in short, uneven gasps, “Damn woman…you didn’t have to hit so hard…”
“I thought you were an attacker,” Jenna defended her position folding her arms in front of her chest, “because in case you haven’t noticed there have been some strange occurrences in Coral Valley lately starting with the officer you helped get a restraining order against me leading up to the missing body of a murder victim that came out of my morgue unexpectedly.”
“Well hell, what were you trying to do put me there as a replacement?” Hart demanded with a groan.
“If you keep trying stupid stunts like the one you just did, you might find yourself in that position, yes,” she nodded in response as he slowly rose to an erect position once again, his eyes darkened with the misery she’d inflicted upon him.
“You have some serious issues,” he threw back at her, “You realize that, don’t you?”
“I have issues,” she chortled as she shook her head at him, “You’re the one with some mental deficiencies as clearly you’ve lost your mind seeing as you’ve now resorted to stalking me these days…”
“I am so not stalking you,” Hart argued with her.
“Oh right, so then why else would you be lurking in a dark room ready to drag me in here when you have no business being at the hospital at a time like this,” she challenged pointedly.
“Maybe I’m visiting a client,” he threw back at her, “as that is entirely possible, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Considering the realm of possibilities that seem to circle around you, I seriously doubt that one,” she remarked simply, “but since you want to play it that way, who’s your client?”
“I’m not allowed to discuss it,” he answered quickly turning his eyes away from her.
“Right, and you just so happened to be finishing up with them when you decided to ransack me in the hallway in passing…”
“I didn’t do anything of the such and you keep twisting the situation,” Hart grumbled back at her, “You know if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were stalking me…”
“Oh please, does your ego know no limits,” she rolled her eyes in response.
“Well you’re the one with the history for doing some outlandish things there,” he shot back at her.
“Only because your client manipulated the situation so that he’d wind up winning the case against me as that restraining order was your fault for not being man enough to tell him to go to hell…”
“Maybe if you wouldn’t have been so abrasive with him, then he wouldn’t have had to go to such lengths with you,” Hart remarked thoughtlessly as Jenna’s eyes narrowed with disgust.
“You try being harassed by a man you have no interest in and you see how much you like it,” she turned towards the door ready to leave.
“Hey wait a second,” Hart reached out to her preventing her from going as he pulled her back into the room, “Jenna, I wasn’t saying…”
“You just don’t take a hint, do you?” Jenna challenged sharply as she spun in his arms coming nose to nose with him, “How many different ways to I have to tell you to get lost?”
“How many ways did you tell Patrick,” he asked knowing instantly that he’d stuck his foot in his mouth as he felt the wind pick up and her hand strike the side of his face. Her eyes were overtaken with anger as his first reaction was to capture her wrist and keep her from lashing out at him once again.
“I hate you,” Jenna spat back at him fueled with a rage as Hart’s arm slipped around her waist pushing her back into the wall behind her as his mouth moved in over hers heatedly.
“Good, keep it that way,” he urged capturing her mouth with a hungry urgency as he crushed her beneath him. His fingers eased over her hip, down over her thigh as he pressed her against the wall once again feeling her hand curl over his shoulder before her fingers thrust into his hair clenching him tighter. His mouth ravished hers, teasing and tempting her as his tongue caressed hers fueling the dueling match that began between them as her leg wrapped around him squeezing him against her tightly.
Hart groaned in response to her reaction to him as she latched onto him, taking this moment far beyond anything he’d imagined as her hand pressed hard into his chest and he half expected her to run away from him, but instead she knocked him back onto the hospital bed behind them and almost as soon as he’d landed on the mattress she was over him kissing him, touching him, ready to devour him as his arms pressed in around her. He felt her taking control of the situation surprising him in more ways than he could even recount as he seized her waist and decided to take the reigns of their situation before tumbling her back on the bed as his eagerness to seek out her passion and intensity overtook him.
“Hart,” she hissed his name as her fingers tugged at his tie, tearing at the fabric as he coaxed her skirt up over her body enjoying this sudden, surprising twist in their relationship, but before he could truly savor the latest level insanity between them, a pinched cry broke through the moment as Hart heard a woman shriek in response as he turned his eyes to discover that one of the nurse‘s had made the mistake of picking the wrong moment to enter the wrong room.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologized quickly embarrassment flooding over her as Hart felt Jenna stiffen beneath him. Slowly he drew in a slow, steadying breath before he turned to look down at her ready to pick up where they’d left off as he flashed her a sexy smile.
“Well, I guess the secret’s out about your wanting me now,” he teased with a hint of laughter as Jenna groaned in response shoving him off of the bed and onto the floor with a resounding thud.
“You wish,” Jenna moaned in response quickly scurrying to her feet as she glared at him waving her finger in his general direction as he sat on the floor looking up at her with a stunned expression, “I don’t know what the hell your problem is, but see to it that you don’t ever try something like this again because next time….oh…” she threw her hands up in the air before storming out of the room and leaving him to his confusion as he scratched his head lightly.
“You’re crazy about me,” he decided looking up to the bed as a smile touched over his lips, “and it’s about damn time that we worked on exploring that,” Hart pulled himself up off the floor deciding that he’d view this turn of events as a victory rather than a disappointment as he’d come closer than ever before to breaking through Jenna’s defenses and soon--very soon he’d have her exactly where he wanted her as even with her avid protests, victory was only a heartbeat away.
Dorothy sat down beside Douglas and offered him a cup of coffee, “I thought you could probably use this.”
“Thank you,” Douglas replied as he took the cup of coffee in hand. He glanced at the Styrofoam cup for a moment before he looked back to her, “And thank you for being here. It means so much to me.”
She looked away as she fidgeted, “Are you and Kipp close?”
“Not as close as I wish,” He replied as he swirled the coffee in the cup, “But I’ve tried so hard to guide him in the right direction. When he was a small boy, he’d take my advice without question. As he grew into manhood, he listened to my words of wisdom less and less. No matter what dangers I tried to warn him from,” He shook his head somberly, “It was almost like he would pursue the very things I tried to warn him against just to spite me.”
“Kids do have a tendency to do that,” She nodded.
He stared into his coffee as if looking to the past, “I always had good intentions though I sometimes wonder if I went about it the right way. Maybe if I’d done things differently, Kipp wouldn’t have…”
“Doug, you can’t blame yourself for what’s happened,” She urged.
“Can’t I?” He asked harshly as he stood quickly and stepped away from her, “I’m his father. I’ve been the only solid part of his life. I’ve done everything to try to do right by him. I’ve tried so hard, but…” He stopped, “Maybe I should have tried other methods. If only I’d been more firm with him. If only I’d been more insistent.”
“Then he would have ignored you all the more,” Dorothy cut him off as she stood to meet him at eye level, “Kipp made his own decisions. He’s a grown man, Doug. It’s time you stopped thinking that all of his decisions reflect upon you. They don’t. Sometimes kids do what they want to do simply because that’s their way of letting us know that they are their own people. They don’t need us to hold their hands anymore, and they can move forward on their own.”
“Can they? Look at what’s happened, Dottie. Do you really think that he did this to move forward?” He asked tearfully. He composed himself before he spoke again, “I’ve done things…things that affected his future that I truly thought were for the best. Now…I’m not so sure.”
“Whatever you’ve done, it was out of love for him, Doug. Don’t ever fault yourself for loving your son.”
Douglas turned towards the doors leading to the surgical ward. He wasn’t sure anymore if he’d done things out of love for Kipp or out of a desire to prove himself right in Kipp’s eyes. No matter what his reasoning had been at the time, all he could think of now was that his son lay under a surgeon’s knife with his life hanging in the balance.
“Doug,” Dorothy spoke softly as she placed her hand upon his arm and gently stepped along side him, “Are you okay?”
“No, Dottie, I’m not, and I’m not sure I ever will be again. If Kipp doesn’t make it…”
“You can’t think that way,” She lectured as she turned him to face her, “Kipp will pull through. You remember that. You chant that. You live that, Doug. Don’t let doubt ever enter your mind. You stay strong for him, and he will feel that strength and benefit from it.”
Douglas gazed into her eyes for a moment before he touched her cheek gently, “How does it happen that whenever I need an angel…you’re always standing right before me…”
She covered his hand with hers and continued to meet his eyes, “Come on. Sit with me, and we’ll pray.”
He nodded as he followed her back to their chairs. Dorothy held his hand in hers as she began to say a soft prayer for Kipp’s fast and full recovery. Douglas glanced up to look at her, knowing that in his worst times of need, God had always come through for him by sending Dorothy to look after him, and for that, he would be forever thankful.
“I dare you to tell me that you’re not enjoying this,” Brant smirked making instant eye contact with Avery as his fingers danced over the center of her palm in a feathery light movement. While he could see her hesitance to give him the answer he was seeking out, the goose bumps forming on her flesh told an altogether different tale.
“It’s alright,” Avery sighed turning her attention to the waters just beyond the smooth, blue waters beyond the Ashford yacht as the sun licked over her body offering up some of the warmth that had left her the previous night when her heart was shattered into a million pieces at the sight of the man she loved in another woman‘s arms.
“Alright,” Brant repeated wrinkling his nose as he rose from his chair, pushing aside his nearly empty plate as he shook his head disapprovingly, “Avery, if you think the view is just alright, then clearly you aren’t looking at everything that’s out here,” he decided reaching out to her as she sank back into her seat fiddling with her practically untouched breakfast. “Avery.”
“What?” she questioned turning her eyes up towards him as she noticed he’d moved in closer to her.
“You haven’t tried a bite of your meal and you’ve spent most of your time moping instead of savoring this breathtaking day before us,” he inhaled the sweet scent of the tropical paradise he’d taken her to, but much to his dismay he could feel her heart and mind were still back in Coral Valley.
“I’m not really hungry,” she answered with a simple shrug of her shoulders as she continued to pick away at the fruit before her.
“Of course you are,” he decided thinking about the situation they’d found themselves in. Unwilling to let this kind of day slip away without notice, he tugged on Avery’s arm pulling her from her chair as a gasp spilled over her lips and her dark eyes turned up towards him. “Come with me.”
“Brant, I’m not really in the mood,” Avery began feeling him guide her across the upper deck of the yacht until they stood against the railing looking out over the waters, over towards where they’d been only an hour earlier as the view in itself was truly breathtaking. Avery could feel the winds from the ocean whip up around her gently lapping over her features as she closed her eyes inhaling the promise the morning had in store for her. Despite the fact she’d wanted nothing more than to mourn the loss she’d experienced over the last twenty four hours, the tropical morning was trying to seduce her--trying to sway her thoughts away from Russ as it’s exotic temptation flooded over her senses while the winds continued to tickle over her.
“Yes you are,” Brant whispered stepping in behind her as he placed his hands out on the railing caging her beneath him as his chin rested on her shoulder, “You’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t find a way to be touched by it.”
“Brant,” she opened her mouth to protest before a reluctant sigh fell from her lips, “alright, it’s beautiful. It really is and it’s really amazing.”
“You haven’t seen amazing yet,” Brant promised urging her to turn around as he touched her cheek gently, “because we’re only starting this journey with one another.”
“Brant…” she began again feeling unsettled as his finger tip traced over the center of her lips.
“Shh,” he urged silencing her with that one simple movement, “today I want to take you to a place that I’ve never been before with any woman before now. It’s a place that I’ve kept to myself for so very long until now…until the time was right, but now, well now I’m sure it’s the perfect time and I’m with the perfect woman to share this with…”
“Brant, I don’t think,” she murmured beneath his finger as his other hand eased into her hair in a tender gesture.
“Avery, don’t think,” he insisted a smile touching over the corner of his lips, “forget about logic and your rules about where it is you feel you should be because today isn’t about that life we left behind in Coral Valley. It’s about new adventures and new explorations and I’m certain if you stop living by those strict laws you’ve laid down for yourself, you’ll find that you might enjoy yourself.”
“Brant, you don’t understand,” Avery began to argue with him.
“I do understand,” he brushed his thumb against the hollow of her cheekbone, “and I want to help you understand what it is that you’re fighting so hard. I want you to see that you’re wrong about us--about what it is that I want from you as you’re under the strange misconception that I’m in this solely for the physical pleasure that we can provide one another with. Avery, I want to find a way to chase that silly notion out of your mind and I’m going to teach you a way that we can indulge in every aspect of what we can explore in one another.”
“Brant, I’m not looking for…” she began feeling his lips press over hers to silence her protests before they came out. His mouth brushed over hers gently, attempting to persuade her with his drugging kiss, but as his kiss expanded, she thought to another kiss--a kiss she’d shared with another man less than twenty four hours ago and of the promise it had seemed to hold for her as she’d been ready to pledge her life and her heart solely to the one man that had been a part of her for so very long. She quickly broke the contact between them as she opened her mouth to continue to voice her protests on the matter.
“You need this Avery,” Brant whispered, his breath skimming over her as his arm curled around her waist, “You might want to believe that this moment isn’t meant to happen--that we aren’t supposed to be exploring this chemistry between us, but after today I’m going to have you convinced of how right we are for one another.”
“Where are you taking me,” she questioned trying to keep from allowing his words to reach her. She couldn’t bear to hear promises of forever when forever had just vanished from her life completely and now as Brant was filled with hope, all she wanted to do was to be alone, to lose herself in the misery that surrounded her life as it was that misery that was the reality her life had become.
“I’m taking you to my own private paradise,” he explained proudly, “I mean sure the house on the beach is nice, but one day when I took the yacht out in my younger years, I found this little island just off the main land--just a little slice of heaven that had been untouched by the rest of the world and once I found that place, well I kind of thought it to be mine and mine alone as I’ve never found more peace than I did in being there. Something about it held an air of enchantment and mysticism and it was there that I decided I’d make the one wish that has brought me to this moment in time…”
“And what wish might that be,” Avery questioned puzzled by this dreamy side of Brant as she had to wonder what had gotten into him. Sure, he’d had his moments, but now he was almost sounding like Kenneth as something behind his eyes told her that there was more to this little journey they were making together.
“You’ll just have to see when we get there,” Brant offered cryptically as he leaned forward prepared to offer up another tender display of his affection in the form of a kiss when Avery felt a queasiness fill inside of her and she turned her head away with a groan.
“Oh God,” Avery clenched her hand over her stomach suddenly feeling that one bite of eggs she’d had earlier coming back to haunt her.
“Avery, what is it,” Brant watched as she threw her head over the side of the railing and she began to suck in breaths of air in short, uneven gasps.
“I’m going to be sick,” she confessed closing her eyes as she prayed that she could just hold it a few more minutes--that fate wouldn’t allow her the chance to disgrace herself any more so in front of Brant, but as that prayer seemed to fill her head, the barely there contents of her stomach decided they weren’t about to wait for a proper time and spare her the humiliation that would undoubtedly follow.
“Avery, hey…” Brant touched her back just in time to witness her falling into a fit of heaving as she hung over the railing. He felt her body tense up as her fingers curled tightly around the sides of the railing and she continued to spill the contents of her stomach despite her body’s struggle to keep it from happening.
“I’m…sorry…it‘s just the water…being on the yacht…and…I…” Avery choked out in a moment of silence as she drew in a slow breath wishing that she never had to have Brant see something like this out of her.
“Avery, it’s more than okay. Sometimes people need a while to take to the water before they fully adjust. Why I remember my first time out on the ocean,” he began hearing a gagging sound flood over her as her head dropped over the side of the railing once again.
“Oh God,” she groaned in a slow whimper as her body rocked with the vibrations her stomach had brought about in her. “Why now…why here…” she questioned to herself more than anything as a shiver raced over her.
“It’s going to be okay,” he tried to assure her, offering up the handkerchief he’d had in his pocket before he placed his hand over her spine, massaging gently as she alternated between moments of sickness and stillness before he felt her body grow limp over the side of the railing. Her knuckles were white from holding on, but as her body lunged forward, Brant secured his arms around her waist feeling her ready to topple over into the water before he scooped her up in his arms. He collected her in his arms as her head plopped forward into his chest with a quick thud.
“Avery,” Brant questioned reaching for the handkerchief that he’d offered her moments earlier. Quickly he wiped at her face, seeing the color had drained from her features as he maneuvered her in his arms trying to rouse her from the unconscious state she’d wound up in, “Avery, hey…”
Brant touched her cheek feeling a coolness surround her as a panic swept over him and he turned towards the cabin area of the yacht fearing that the sun and her lack of an appetite had done her in as she remained motionless in his arms. Quickly he beckoned one of the staff members on deck as he carried Avery inside and placed her onto the bed in the center of the room.
“Mr. Ashford,” the young man questioned rushing to Brant’s aid as Brant touched Avery’s cheek, “is there a problem?”
“Get the doctor,” Brant ordered dabbing the handkerchief over Avery’s face as her eyelids began to flutter in the moment, “Ms. Morrison isn’t feeling too well.”
“Brant,” she breathed his name slowly stirring back to consciousness as a heavy breath escaped her, “wh-what happened?”
“I think you were trying to tell me that I’m being far too pushy this morning,” Brant confessed touching her face as she was still far too pale for his liking, “You never mentioned before that you were sea sick.”
“I’ve never been before,” Avery confessed closing her eyes as she inhaled a slow breath.
“I suppose that could come with this being your first time on a yacht huh,” he offered lightly as a slow groan rose from within her.
“That shouldn’t matter,” she admitted weakly before explaining, “My father used to take me fishing all the time when I was younger. It was one of the few times we could avoid Brooke,” she confessed with a tiny laugh.
“Even so, Brooke’s a million miles away so there’s no need for you to be getting sick on me,” Brant decided as he motioned to the young man standing behind him, “Have the doctor come in here and then have the captain turn the yacht around as I think the plans have been changed for the day.”
“No…Brant…don’t…” Avery began to pull herself up into a seated position as her head was suddenly spinning and she lay back down on the bed.
“Avery, you’re not up to this today,” Brant decided without any hesitation, “I should’ve waited a while to take you out on the water.”
“No, really I’m…” Avery tried to argue with him again, but as another bout of queasiness overtook her and she let out a groan.
“No you’re not,” Brant reached out to her pulling her into his arms, “In fact, come on.”
“Where are you taking me,” she questioned feeling him pull her up off of the bed and into his arms completely.
“We’ll deal with this together,” Brant vowed heading towards the bathroom as he threw out one last look in the direction of the yacht worker, “Let me know when the doctor’s available.”
“Of course,” the man nodded as Brant carried Avery into the bathroom and he wondered how seducing Avery had become the most impossible task in the world considering that this was only one in the many roadblocks between them. However, as he realized that she was no where near up for the surprise he’d had in store for her, he promised himself he’d find a way to salvage the rest of the day with her even if it meant the two of them bonding over something like this. Sure, it wasn’t the most arousing of moments to watch the woman he’d fantasized about in this kind of agony, but then again maybe if he could show her he was the kind of stand up guy that could deal with this terrible twist of fate, then maybe just maybe Avery would open her eyes to what they could have together. After all he’d had high hopes of them finding something together and he wasn’t going to let a minor set back like this be the thing to keep him from spending as much time as possible with her. That much he was sure of.
“How dare you,” Brooke demanded throwing open the doors to the Ashford library as she glared at her husband ready to tear him apart limb by limb.
“Well good morning to you too,” Richard’s eyes casually raised to glance at her momentarily before dropping down to the pages before him once again.
“I’ll give you good morning,” Brooke hissed in response as her voice raised with anger, “Where is she?”
“Come again,” Richard leaned back in his chair, “Who is it exactly that you’re looking for?”
“Our daughter,” Brooke growled in response, “I know you had something to do with her disappearance.”
“Now why would you think of saying such a thing,” Richard threw back at her with a tiny chuckle, “Considering that you’ve been hell bent on getting her alone with Brant, I would’ve imagined you’d be elated to discover neither one of them are around this morning, but then again you always did have a habit of putting your nose where it doesn’t belong, so I’d imagine that all this hostility is coming from your inability to manipulate the situation, huh?”
“I’m in no mood for games, Dick,” Brooke growled in response, “Just tell me where they are.”
“Not a chance,” he shook his head quickly before waving his hand at her dismissively, “Now I have some work to do before my lunch date, so I’d appreciate you just going away.”
“Not on your life,” Brooke marched forward sweeping her hand across the desk top and throwing the papers to the floor as her voice roared with anger, “Tell me where our daughter is.”
“Funny you couldn’t be bothered with her before she disappeared and you never really were too concerned with her happiness before you sniffed out the fortune that Brant has, so why in the world would you want to find Avery now? She’s doing what you want I’d imagine since she’s with the man you’ve been pushing on her,” Richard’s tone darkened, “so you have nothing to worry about…”
“I don’t need you or your games. Tell me where our daughter is!”
“She’s out of town and her location is none of your business,” he motioned to the papers on the floor, “and those are some of the things Brant asked me to look at while they were gone. Why if he knew you were in here causing such a stir, he might think twice about letting you stay here considering he wouldn’t want you upsetting our daughter any more than you already have.”
“I love Avery and I want only the best for her which is why I need to know where she is,” Brooke demanded ignoring his words as she hated the idea of not being able to keep tabs on her daughter as so much was riding on Avery not screwing things up. Even after last night she had to be sure that Avery wouldn’t make the mistakes that she’d made in the past as Brant was the one thing Avery couldn’t afford to lose.
“Oh please,” a voice piped in as Brooke spun around to find Judy standing in the doorway, “as if you had a caring bone in your body as the idea of you and love are about as far apart as night and day.”
“What the hell are you doing here,” Brooke sneered glaring down her long time rival.
“Rick and I have plans,” Judy explained with a simple shrug of her shoulders, “not that it’s any of your business.”
“It is my business when you keep coming in trying to tear apart my family like you do,” Brooke snapped in response marching towards her, “You have no right to come in here and destroy the happiness we have here.”
“Happiness,” Judy chortled in response, “Brooke, the only thing you know how to do is suck the life and happiness out of the world that surrounds you as you flourish on misery.”
“My misery comes from a whore like you moving in on my husband. He’s married to me Judy, not you.”
“Only because you tricked him into it,” Judy stood her ground, “but that’s about to change because Rick’s grown wise to your shameless displays and from what I’ve heard, he’s gotten really tired of them as well.”
“Why you…” Brooke lunched forward towards Judy unable to contain her rage as Richard stepped in between the two of them.
“Don’t even think about it, Brooke,” Richard warned turning his attention to Judy, “Are you ready for lunch?”
“It’s a bit earlier, but then again I don’t mind spending time with you,” she flashed an icy smile in Brooke’s direction, “although maybe you should give me a few minutes alone with Brooke because there are a few things I’d love to get into with her considering that she’s perked my interest lately.”
“Oh I’d love to have a few minutes alone with you,” Brooke grumbled in response, “You manipulative tramp…”
“I’m manipulative,” Judy chuckled in mild amusement, “Gee Brooke you know last night I have to admit I was struck with a strange feeling of déjà vu when Avery’s heart was breaking and it dawned on me that this situation had a feel of Brooke Downing to it. Care to elaborate on why it felt that way?”
“Because you’re a sore loser,” Brooke shot back at her with a glare, “just like the loser that was bothering my daughter when she was clearly happy with the man she loves.”
“Oh we all know what you like to do with happiness where two young lovers are involved…” Judy threw back at her, “and given that you’d do whatever it takes to have your way…”
“Richard loves me and he dumped you because you weren’t the woman he needed in his life,” Brooke hissed in response moving forward as Richard tried to prevent the movement, “Even now the only reason he’s spending time with you is to get to me--to goad me into reacting and well I’m reacting,” she looked to her husband as she reached out to his shoulder, “I see what you’re trying to show me and baby I’ll give you all the attention you need…”
“Don’t touch me,” Richard warned moving away from her touch.
“Dick, you can stop playing these games with your slut because we both know how this is going to end. You and I belong together and not even a hussy like her can change that. You married me and not her, so there’s no point in playing around like this…”
“I’m not playing this time,” Richard answered flatly as he inhaled a slow breath, “I told you what I wanted this time and I’m very serious about getting it.”
“I’m not leaving your nor am I letting you leave me so you can be with this tramp,” Brooke tossed back at him bitterly, “You’re my husband and it’s going to stay that way until the day I’m gone from this world.”
“Don’t tempt me Brooke,” he warned as he fought the urge to go ten rounds with her, but as he felt Judy’s hand on his shoulder he bit his tongue and fought the words.
“She’s not worth it,” Judy reminded him, “She never was.”
“You’re right about that,” he decided turning away from Brooke as he accepted Judy’s arm, “Come on. We have reservations to keep,” he explained walking out of the room as Brooke was left behind. She watched them leave, feeling her anger mount as she vowed to find a way to get Judy from mucking up the life she’d worked so very hard to maintain. Sure, she might’ve been preoccupied with fixing Avery’s mistakes before, but now as she thought to her husband prancing around town with Judy, she realized it was time to turn up the heat as no one got in the way of Brooke’s plans and had the luxury of savoring in the victory. This time meant war and Brooke vowed not to stop until her enemy was destroyed in every sense of the word.
Seth weaved through the growing crowd in the emergency room to find Ria. He knew that if he didn’t get to her quickly she’d do something stupid that they’d both regret. The last thing he needed was to have another person’s broken dreams on his conscience. He’d seen the horror in Blake’s eyes, fought against Jade’s defiance, and knew his own pain in the matter before him. He definitely didn’t need any more people to be harmed because of an ill advised decision on his part.
He turned to find Ria making her way through the nurses and patients towards him, “I was just coming to see you.”
“I thought you might be,” She smiled as she joined him, “How’s your outlook today?”
“That’s actually what I wanted to come see you about. I appreciate your wanting to help, Ria, but I don’t want anyone else to get hurt because of me. So whatever it was you were thinking of doing, just forget about it.”
“Actually, you’re too late because I already did it,” She announced as she glanced around and nodded for him to join her in the nurse’s lounge. As they stepped inside, she looked around the room carefully to ensure they were alone before she turned and spoke, “I took a little tour around Zack Vaughn’s lab.”
“You what? Ria, you could get into big trouble for that,” He admonished.
“I know, but I didn’t get caught so calm down. The only problem is I didn’t exactly find anything either. So we’re no better off than before,” She frowned as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“What’s this we stuff? This is my problem, Ria, not yours. Don’t get yourself involved in this.”
“It’s too damn late, Seth,” Ria declared firmly, “I’m in the middle of this whether you like it or not. I’m not going to let you get in over your head and not try to do something to help you. I’m with you in this. Get used to it.”
“Do you always have to be so stubborn?” He grumbled, “I’ve told you that the stakes are too high.”
“That’s the way I like em,” She met his stance and glared at him, “Don’t think you can intimidate me into backing down because I’m going to help you with this, buddy.”
“I hate it when you get like this,” He took a deep breath before he rubbed the tight muscles in his neck, “I’m not even sure where to begin looking for that microfilm then. The chances of me getting in the doors at the Ashford mansion are pretty slim to none,” He paused as he thought for a moment, “Actually, I might be able to get in.”
“Now, I know you’ve gone out of your mind. After you were pretty much told to never come back last night, you want to just waltz right in today?” Ria shook her head as she approached him. She touched his shoulder as she closely examined his head, “You haven’t been hit in the head recently, have you?”
“Would you knock that off?” He growled as he brushed her hand away and moved across the room, “I’m serious. If I don’t get this microfilm, there are going to be serious consequences to either myself or to Jade, and I don’t really want to wonder which one of us Cameron Stone wants to assault.”
She watched him for a moment before slipping her hands into her pockets, “So what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to the Ashford mansion. Maybe I can get in through the gardener’s entrance. I’ve done it before, and it’s possible that I can do it again.”
“If I have to bail you out of jail…” She began.
“I’ll call Ben first, okay?” Seth flashed her a soft smile, “Ria, you know I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think there were another way.”
“I know, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it any better,” Ria acknowledged
as she worried about her friend and exactly what kind of trouble he was
about to get himself into.
Ken knocked gently upon the door before stepping inside. He waved gently and smiled, “Hey, I brought company.”
Caitlin entered the room behind him and made her way over to the bed to hug Randy Henderson who lit up upon seeing his favorite visitor, “I thought it was high time I came by to see you.”
“You’re not kidding,” Randy agreed with a grin as he patted the bed beside him, “You sit right here, and I’ll think about forgiving you for staying away so long.”
She chuckled as she sat on the bed beside him and hugged him up to her side, “Have you been good while I’ve been gone?”
“I’ve tried, but hey, sometimes it’s hard to be good,” He shrugged.
Across the room, Ken shook Jay and Kelly’s hands before he stood with them, “How’s everything been?”
“He’s improving,” Kelly smiled, “The doctors think we may get to take him home by the middle of the week.”
“That’s great. What’s the prognosis?” Ken asked eagerly.
“He’s going to have bouts like this for a while, but they aren’t quite sure for how long yet. Could be months, could be years,” Jay shrugged, “All they have said is that it’s typical for people who’ve been exposed to high amounts of radiation to suffer radiation sickness for lingering periods after their exposure. The doctors say that because Randy was exposed since birth, it could be a while until he fully recovers. On the bright side though, they did tell us that the attacks will weaken over time.”
“That’s a good thing,” Ken replied with a smile, “How’s everything going in the rental house? Still going well?”
“Yeah, it’s nice, but it’ll be nice to have a home again,” Kelly rubbed her arms as if she were cold, “When we bought our house, we thought we’d be set for life, and now…” She shrugged, “It feels like we’re starting out all over again.”
“I hope it won’t last much longer, but there’s been another setback,” Ken began with a frown, “Their lead counsel is in critical condition from a gunshot wound. He’s in surgery now, and there’s no telling how long it will be until a replacement is named. The case will be pushed back at least a week, probably longer.”
“Oh no,” Kelly frowned, “I’m sorry that their attorney is injured, but…we’ve been waiting for this, and we really need that money just to get on our feet,” She shifted before turning, obviously breaking into tears though she was valiantly fighting them.
Jay placed his hands upon his wife’s shoulders before he looked towards Ken, “This is hard for us, and the longer it goes on…”
“You don’t have to explain anything,” Ken assured him, “We will get this into court. I’m not about to give up on you. I will fight for you with everything I have, and I’m not going to let Midlands use this as an excuse to have the case postponed for one minute more than necessary.”
“We know,” Kelly nodded as she wiped tears, “I’m just tired and frustrated.”
“Like I said, you’re well within your rights to vent,” Ken gave them a reassuring smile, “Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?”
“You’ve already done more than we ever could have imagined, and we’re very thankful for all of it,” Jay spoke as he hugged Kelly close to him.
“If there’s anything I can do, you just let me know,” Ken instructed before he looked back towards the bed where Caitlin and Randy were discussing a video game, “Are you ready to go?”
“No, she’s not,” Randy said before sticking his tongue out at Ken.
“Hey pal, that’s my girl you’re trying to move in on there,” Ken teased as he sat on the end of the bed.
“She was mine first. Get your own,” Randy smiled big before he hugged Caitlin.
Caitlin smiled as she sighed exaggeratedly, “It’s hard having two handsome guys fighting over me, but I guess it’s a burden I’ll have to bare.”
“So there,” Randy stuck his tongue out at Ken once again.
“Hey…you keep doing that, and I’ll keep it next time,” Ken warned.
“Just you try,” Randy dared.
“Hey, I’ll help him,” Caitlin said before she tickled Randy gently.
Randy giggled as he stretched up and kissed her cheek, “You’re so sweet, Caitlin. I like it when you come to visit me.”
“Well I’ll just have to come see you more often, won’t I?” Caitlin smiled as she hugged him close and directed her gaze towards Ken to whom she winked.
Ken smiled as he watched Caitlin with Randy. She really was such a good influence to have around as she always brightened his day as well as it appeared, Randy’s. He had to find a way to make the same kind of impact in her life so she would know just exactly what she meant to him and how much he appreciated having her in his life.
“I don’t like the way this is going,” Annie confessed pacing the floor in the waiting room at the animal hospital after the quick trip to the vet had turned into something bigger than she’d imagined.
“I’m sure we’ll hear something soon,” Joseph tried to comfort her as he held Rusty in his arms, feeling the kitten lazily drift off to sleep in their warmth.
“Even so, I mean Peanut has done a lot of things in her years, but if there was something truly wrong--if she ate that glass…”
“The veterinarian said that she didn’t believe that’s what the problem was,” Joseph reminded her hating to see her in such turmoil over the situation, “I’m sure whatever it was, it’ll pass and hey you did a wonderful job getting her and Rusty here when you did…”
“Well I suppose I did alright and I’m glad that Rusty is okay, but with Peanut,” Annie sighed her concerns for her dog taking over her, “She’s been a part of my life for so very long that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her.”
“Annie, you won’t have to face that,” Joseph carefully rose from his seat keeping Rusty tucked safely in his arms as he stepped in towards her placing his hand on her shoulder supportively, “I really don’t believe that Peanut isn’t going to pull out of this. She’s a fighter and spunky as ever just like her owner.”
“Joseph,” Annie looked to him as a breath escaped her lips, “I hope you’re right on this because I can’t imagine not having her around when…”
“Don’t even let the thought get the best of you,” he interrupted reaching out to place his hand on her shoulder as the doctor returned from behind the swinging doors. She turned her attention to Annie, her face a mask of seriousness as she cleared her throat.
“What’s wrong with my Peanut,” Annette questioned quickly hoping to get some kind of answers as to what was going on with her dog.
“It appears that she must’ve eaten something she wasn’t supposed to,” the doctor explained motioning for Annette to follow as she lead her over towards a small X-ray area. She turned it on before placing Peanut’s X-rays up for Annie to see. “This shaded area seems to be some kind foreign object from the looks of it…”
“Foreign,” Annette repeated in confusion as she could see the familiar outline of the object that was now inside of her dog, “Oh my…”
“As you can see this is why Peanut’s experiencing some discomfort…” the veterinarian began to explain.
“That’s Avery’s ring,” Annette gasped realizing that her Pomeranian found herself in a world of trouble beyond anything imaginable. For the moment she pushed aside the value of the ring and she looked to the woman beside her, “Tell me that this will be okay.”
“Normally I’d say something like this will pass naturally, but given the side and the edges,” she motioned to the X-ray, “I think it would be best to operate.”
“Operate,” Annette repeated her thoughts going astray as her time with Peanut flashed before her eyes.
“Maam are you alright,” the woman tried to recapture Annette’s attention as a long moment of silence followed.
Annie forced a quick nod, “I’ll be okay, but please do whatever you can to help my Peanut.”
“I promise I’ll do just that,” the vet vowed as Annette looked over at Joseph fearing the outcome as Peanut’s curious side had suddenly opened the door to a whole new world of trouble.
Jade tapped on the door hearing a silence on the other side as she inhaled a slow breath wondering what kind of condition she’d find Russell in as she thought to the disaster that had taken place the night before. If his parents words were any indication of how hard he was taking the situation, then she wasn’t entirely sure she’d be prepared for what was on the other side waiting for her, but as she thought to how he’d opened himself up to her the previous evening sharing his hopes for the future with her, she just prayed that somehow she’d be able to reach out to him and be the shoulder he needed. She knocked once again as she slowly opened the door only to discover him seated on the center of the small bed, looking down at a photo album of sorts that he held his lap over his folded legs. He touched the page not even bothering to register the sound of her arrival as Jade gently closed the door behind her.
Saying nothing Jade stepped towards the bed, unsure how to open up conversation as Russell stared off into the image as though losing himself completely to the memory at hand. Tentatively Jade slid in onto the bed taking a seat beside him as she peered down at the image, seeing a younger version of Russell and Avery arm in arm with one another at what appeared to be some kind of formal event with one another. Clearly it was taken at a much happier time as Russell’s eyes seemed to sparkle with the same intensity that Jade had been fortunate enough to witness in him during their dance and his talks of the future.
“This was our prom,” Russell explained a hollow tone filling his otherwise cheerful voice as he traced over Avery’s image, “Brooke was so determined to keep us from going together as she’d always hoped Avery had someone else by her side, but we weren’t about to let that keep us apart,” a hint of a smile teased over his lips, “Brooke just about died when I showed up to take Avery to the dance and she had a fit--much like she’d been doing for the weeks leading to prom, but Avery didn’t care. She told her mother that either Brooke let go of the issue or it would be the last time she saw Avery as Avery would have no problems moving out.”
“And then I take it her mother laid off,” Jade inquired trying to keep the conversation going between them as Russell lifted his head for a brief moment to look over in her general direction.
“Not even close,” Russell confessed turning the page as the setting changed and he and Avery were both in a much more casual fashion with one another. They seemed to be out in the woods, on a blanket and close to one another as it was obvious that one of them had been holding the camera.
“What happened?” Jade asked gently as Russell returned his attention to the book before him.
“Avery and I took off,” he confessed with a sigh, “After prom we said goodbye to our friends, hopped on the motorcycle I’d had at the time and skipped out of town together.”
“Really?” Jade’s eyes widened in surprise as Russell nodded.
“It was perhaps one of the most impulsive decisions we’d made, but damn it was romantic,” he continued to inform her, “We drove all the way to Atlantic City determined that that was going to be our way of telling the world that nothing was going to keep us apart and we decided we were going to be married.”
“Seriously,” Jade blinked back at him, “You mean you and she just threw caution to the wind and went for it?”
“We tried to,” Russell nodded in response, “but when we got there, in all of our glory we’d overlooked the fact that she was seventeen. When we arrived, we’d talked about lying--about having us go through with the ceremony anyways, but then she realized that she couldn’t let her father miss out on that kind of moment and given how much a part of her life he was, well I couldn’t be the one to take that from her, so we stayed for the night and then went to my family‘s cabin for a while after.”
“It still sounds like a beautiful memory,” Jade offered seeing the way in which Russell clung to the pages before him.
“It was one of the many between us,” he sighed closing his eyes as he thought to the woman he’d spent a lifetime loving, “and today should’ve been about making more memories between us--not in my being here like this without her…”
“Russ, I’m so sorry that…”
“I just don’t understand,” he began unable to contain the tears stinging in his eyes as he tried to focus on the image before him, “How could I just give up something so precious? Something so wonderful in the blink of an eye without even giving it a second thought?”
“Accidents happen Russ and…” Jade tried to find the right words.
“Not for me they don’t,” he shook his head adamantly, “I mean hell look at these photo albums,” he motioned to the pile behind him that she hadn’t noticed earlier, “They speak of a love that should’ve been strong enough to last anything that came it’s way. They’re memories and reminders of the woman that I spent my life loving--of the woman I wanted more than anything and now, she’s gone.”
“Russ,” Jade reached out to touch his shoulder as his head dropped down in misery.
“I tried calling her--tried to get her to listen to me, but she won’t hear of it. She won’t return my calls and I don’t know how much more I can do,” he slumped over thinking of the situation, “and even now if I could talk to her, I don’t know what I can say to make it right. Damn me for being so stupid--for drinking so much that I allowed myself to get into that position…”
“Russ, I’m sure Avery knows on some level that you weren’t trying to…”
“Jade, did you see the way she looked at me last night? The pain in her eyes when she saw me with Heather? Hell, if I wasn’t there I wouldn’t have believed it myself as I’ve never seen her that hurt in all the years that I’ve known her. It was as if she was staring into the eyes of a stranger when she looked at me and maybe that’s what I am,” he rose to his feet pacing around the room as he ran his fingers through his hair nervously, “Maybe I’m nothing like the man she fell in love with because that man wouldn’t have done something so very stupid…”
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Jade began watching him tear himself apart as he moved around the room.
“I’m not being hard enough,” his voice was tight with passion and agony, “Avery is everything to me. She’s the one thing in this world that I can’t do without and I lost her. In a moment of stupidity and weakness, I wound up in the arms of a woman I can’t even tolerate and for what? I mean how could I do this? Why would I do this when Avery’s all I need? I know that I wouldn’t want another woman--I can’t even begin to imagine making love to someone else when Avery’s it for me…she’s my every fantasy brought to life and I was ready to have her as my wife. I wanted it--I still want it so much that I can’t let go of it. I can’t let go of her and I won’t let her slip away again--not after we came so far with one another.”
“Russ, maybe you should take a moment and think about things. If you just give Avery some time, then maybe she’ll see that your love is one worth fighting for. Maybe she’ll come around and try to work things out after the pain dies down…” Jade suggested her voice full of hope.
“The more time I give her to slip away, the harder it’s going to be to get her back. Last time when I let her leave on our wedding day, I didn’t chase after her--didn’t find a way to prove to her that she was the only thing in this world that mattered to me and we wasted so much time. We wasted so many opportunities with one another and now, well now if I lose her…”
“Then don’t stop trying,” Jade decided feeling her romantic side take over as she started rising from the bed and she reached out to him, “If Avery’s really that important to you, then don’t listen to anyone with what they have to say about the situation. I don’t care what Grady says or even what anyone else at that party has to say…because none of them matter as all that’s important is in here,” she reached out to place her hand over his heart as she felt for the man who’d been pouring his emotions out to her, “Russell, you listen to me and listen good because I know how stubborn Denton men can be, but with you, well maybe you’ll take what I say to heart…” she took a slow breath before continuing, “You find her. You do whatever it takes to get her alone with you and when you do, you tell her everything you’ve told me and don’t you dare let go until she’s heard every word--until she’s taken in every breath and every beat of your heart full of love for her. You keep showing her that you love her--that you’re meant to be with one another and that last night didn’t mean a thing…”
“Jade, I was in bed with another woman,” Russell reminded her simply.
“A woman you said yourself you have no feelings for. Clearly it was a mistake--one that you didn’t want to be making. Russ, I heard you tell Grady that you thought you were in bed with Avery. Maybe that’s what happened…maybe somehow your drinks were getting to you and you decided to take a moment to rest. Maybe what happened wasn’t your fault…”
“Jade, I was naked in bed with another woman,” Russell pointed out thinking of what Avery witnessed.
“That’s right, but she wasn’t who you believed her to be and judging by the look on that woman’s face when she saw you getting out of bed, I have to admit she looked just as shell shocked as you did. She kept saying Brant’s name when I was there and maybe…”
“Maybe what?” Russell gave her a sideways glance.
“Maybe this was all just some horrible misunderstanding that can be explained somehow--like maybe it was a case of mistaken identity,” Jade offered up encouragingly.
“That just so happened to end up with my naked in bed with Heather,” he frowned doubtful of the scenario when another moment in time suddenly rushed through him. He remembered being out on the balcony with Avery at the Davies party--saving her from impending danger and she’d called him Brant. She’d teased him and then paid that waiter to trick him and then… “Oh my God…”
“What?” Jade questioned watching the color drain from his features, “Russ, what is it?”
“Heather mistook me for Brant once before,” he blurted out as the memory returned to him in vivid color, “She kissed me believing that I was Brant and…” his eyes lit up with a spark of hope as he reached out to Jade embracing her tightly, “Jade, you’re brilliant.”
“I am,” she questioned in confusion as he hugged her tighter.
“More than you’ll ever know,” Russell explained quickly giving her one last squeeze, “and maybe if I can find a way to let Avery see things the way you do, then there’s hope. If I can prove to her that Heather didn’t really think she was in bed with me--that she and I weren’t really…” he searched the room seeking out his jacket as an eagerness filled him, “It’s worth a try.”
“Russ, what are you doing?” Jade questioned as he began to ease into his jacket.
“I’m going over to the mansion and I’m going to make Avery listen to me,” he vowed determination in his tone as he reached out to her, “and I have you to thank for that.”
“Russ, you can’t do that,” Jade reminded him quickly as she thought to the news about his arrest, “If you go over there now…”
“I’m not going to get caught,” Russell assured her, “because heaven knows I’ve made more daring visits to her under different circumstances. I’ll just go over there, get her out of that place and force her to listen to me. I’ll take her to our cabin where we can talk and…” he couldn’t help but feel a new surge of hope race through him, “Jade, you’re absolutely amazing and so very right about this.”
“Russ, I know that I said you should talk to her, but I didn’t mean that you go bust down the doors of the Ashford fortress considering that you wound up in jail once before for trying,” Jade reminded him as she felt her stomach fill with tension at the thought of Russell winding up in a whole new world of trouble at her suggestions.
“Believe me Jade,” Russell promised determination coursing over his every synapse, “I’m not going to stop until I find a way to reach Avery and make her see that she’s the only one for me. I may have lost her once, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Ashford keep her away from me after all this time. Avery and I belong together and nothing’s going to change that…not even last night. I’ll find a way to show her I love her and then…well…” his smile widened, “I’ll have you to thank…”
“Russ, I just don’t think you should rush off now considering…” Jade watched him collect a few other odds and ends, “Everyone is out there in the living room worried about you…”
“Tell them that I’m doing fine…that I just need some time alone and you talked to me, but I’d really rather spend some time in here to think…” he suggested after a moment’s contemplation, “Just make them believe that I’m still lost in my misery and that it’ll pass. I’ll go out back and they’ll never have to know…”
“Russ, I don’t like the sound of this,” Jade began suddenly feeling as though she was playing accomplice to something she never should’ve thought up.
“Trust me, Jade,” Russell leaned forward giving her a quick kiss on the cheek as his eyes sparkled with that same determination she’d known him to carry with him in the past, “this is going to work and when it does, well Avery and I are going to be together sharing our happily ever after with one another. That much I’m sure of as she and I were written in the stars and I’m going to do whatever it takes to see to it that she believes that as well,” he promised more so to himself as he refused to let this opportunity to reach her slip away from him when his future was riding on convincing her of their love.
Grady poured himself another cup of tea and glanced down the hallway towards Russ’ room. He knew that Jade could be persuasive in a way unlike any other person in the world, but he also knew that his brother had the same unwavering stubborn streak that had kept him unhappy for a long time. He could only hope that Jade would work her magic on Russell as well.
“Jade seems very nice,” Cheryl offered as she returned to the room with some homemade cookies, “And she certainly has your number.”
“She’s always had my number,” Grady smiled, sitting back on the sofa, “She’s one in a million, and I can’t imagine not having her in my life.”
“You almost didn’t,” Elliot spoke as he caught his son’s harsh glare, “Hey, your brother has been very informative.”
“Well, it’s true that Jade is the very best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Grady smiled as he looked into his tea, “She’s the sweetest, most beautiful woman, and I’m beyond blessed with her presence in my life. She came along when I needed her most, and if I didn’t have her with me, I probably would have crawled into a bottle and lived the rest of my life there until it killed me.”
“But you’ve overcome those demons,” Cheryl began.
“I don’t think I’ve overcome them as much as I wished I had,” Grady sighed heavily, “Last night, I was drunk off my ass, and I have absolutely no excuse for it other than I had no self control. I could blame it on my concern for Russ, but that’s just an excuse. The truth is I go back to that bottle over and over again because I don’t think. I just act.”
Elliot sat forward before he spoke, “Son, does Jade know about your alcoholism?”
Grady nodded, “She does, and she gave me a damn fine lecture that brought me to my senses. I’ve destroyed everything I’ve had in my life because I can’t pry myself away from the bottle. I don’t want that same thing to happen with my relationship with Jade.”
“I’m sure if you give her time…” Cheryl began.
“That’s just the thing, Mom. I shouldn’t have to give her time. She shouldn’t have to be held at arm’s length just because I’m an idiot. It’s my weakness that brings this about. It’s my appetite for destruction that drives me to drink, and I don’t know why Jade wants to subject herself to that. She deserves better than me.”
Cheryl smiled slightly, “You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I am,” He nodded, “Though I swore to myself I wasn’t going to let that happen. I wasn’t going to risk my heart again, but now…” He paused as he looked to his mother, “She’s not a risk. She’s a blessing to me.”
“Then you should do your best for her,” She offered, “Grady, you can’t change things that happened in the past, but you can begin to build a better future for yourself. I want to see that happen for you. I want to see at least one of my children on solid ground. Since it seems Russ is on shaky ground right now, you’re my only hope,” She said with a soft smile as she patted his knee, “Grady, I only want to see you happy, and I know you can find a way to make that possible for yourself. It might take a little time and a lot of patience, but I truly believe that you can conquer your greatest demon and be a stronger man despite your struggles.”
“Mom, I so miss your pep talks,” Grady said with a grin as he moved nearer to her and gave her a strong hug, “You’ve always been such a great support to me, and I appreciate it more than I’ve ever said. I know I haven’t been the greatest son, and I’ve disappointed you more times than I’ve made you proud. I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m past the age where these mistakes are considered growing pains. Now they’re just stupidity running amok,” He kissed his mother on her cheek before he met her eyes, “But I want to be better than that. I want to be the kind of man who you and Dad can be proud of. I want to be the kind of man who Jade will never have to sober up. And I’m going to.”
“Grady, don’t make promises,” Cheryl began.
“No, Mom, you don’t understand. I’m not making this promise to you. I’ve done that in the past only to disappoint you in the end,” He continued, taking her hand in his, “This is a promise I’ve made to myself. I know that I have to fight my addiction for me before I can make amends to anyone I may have hurt along the way, and there’s a pretty long list waiting for me there. Right now, all I want to do is get myself straight and stay that way so I can enjoy all that life has to offer me.”
Elliot patted Grady’s shoulder in support, “You’ll always have our support, son. We just want to see you happy and healthy.”
“I know, Dad, and I’ve always appreciated your support. It’s been one of the few things I could always count on in my life,” Grady flashed his Dad a thankful smile, “I want you both to know that I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
“You’re our son, Grady,” Cheryl smiled, “We wouldn’t have had it any other way,” She said as she drew him into her arms once again to give him a firm hug.
Grady held his mother in a loving embrace, vowing to fulfill his promise to himself so he could begin fulfilling promises to all the people he loved.
Douglas paced the floor with nervous energy. Patience had never been one of his virtues, and it was proving harder to be patient in this instance than any other in his life. Knowing that Kipp was fighting for his life and there was nothing he could do to help him, it was more than Douglas believed he could handle.
Dorothy sat nearby as she watched Douglas pace the floor. She couldn’t imagine what he was going through. The closest she’d ever come to losing Jenna was when her young daughter had undergone an emergency appendectomy. The two situations were nothing alike, but there was an urgency every parent felt when a child was in danger. In a situation such as this, the urgency could only be worse.
“Doug, maybe you should have a seat,” She suggested, “Can I get you something to drink or eat maybe?”
“No,” He replied as he ran his fingers through his hair, “All I want is to hear about Kipp. It’s been an awfully long time since they took him into surgery. We should be hearing something by now.”
“I’m sure they’ll come out with news soon,” She held out her hand to him, “Come here. Sit down.”
Douglas took her hand and sat beside her, “I just want…I just want him to be all right.”
“Wait…that’s the doctor,” Dorothy stood as she spotted Zack emerging from the operating room.
Douglas stood quickly and approached the young man, “How’s my son? Is he okay?”
“Let’s have a seat, and I’ll explain the situation,” Zack spoke as he urged them to sit down. He pulled a chair up to them and began, “Kipp’s stable now, but he’s still in critical condition. He’s suffered damage to his heart, but we repaired the most of the damage. The heart repairs itself very quickly as well, and we’ll just have to see how he recovers once he regains consciousness.”
“When can I see him?” Douglas urged.
“There’s something else we need to discuss,” Zack swept his surgical cap from his hair and began to speak again, “Kipp is in a coma, and it may be a while before he regains consciousness. You need to prepare yourself for a wait.”
“But…I don’t understand…” Douglas stammered.
“A coma is the way our bodies help out by shutting us down long enough to repair both physical and psychological trauma. Considering your son’s injury was self-inflicted, it appears that the psychological injuries are very significant as well. Now, it’s entirely possible that your son could regain consciousness at any time. However, the longer he’s in the coma, the less likely his chances are of regaining consciousness,” Zack paused, “I just want you to be prepared if his recovery doesn’t progress as quickly as you might expect.”
Douglas nodded silently as he began to think of everything the doctor had said. The last thing he wanted to think of was his son in a vegetative state for the remainder of his days. No, he would think of a quick recovery, and he would do everything in his power to help Kipp recover. He wasn’t going to let his son’s life end over a tasteless whore like Heather. He would make sure she paid for what she done so that Kipp’s recovery could begin and proceed in a quick and healthy manner.
Heather sat on the end of the exam table and rubbed her neck. She had never expected Douglas to react so violently, but she couldn’t really blame him. She had gone about the situation in a horrible way, but none of it had been on purpose. She had never meant to break Kipp’s heart…well, not in such a horrible way. She’d never wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, but at the same time, she’d never meant to destroy him when he seemed to genuinely care for her.
She slipped her fingers through her hair as she waited for the doctor to return with test results. She knew she was fine, but Dave had insisted she get herself checked out. Now, if only the doctor would return.
“I’m sorry it took so long,” Ria said as she stepped back into the room, “There was a car accident that filled the emergency room, but I’ve got your results.”
“And they say I’m fine,” Heather sighed.
“Well, actually, there’s something we need to talk about,” Ria said as she removed her prescription pad from her pocket, “You need to get this filled as soon as possible and begin taking them immediately.”
“Okay,” Heather said with confusion, “What is it?”
“Prenatal vitamins. You’re pregnant.”
“I’m…you must have me confused with someone else. I was just in for being hit in the head,” Heather argued.
“Actually, we pulled your blood if you remember. We always run a pregnancy test before we do x-rays,” Ria explained as she passed the prescription to her patient, “And yours was positive. Now, I’d suggest following up with your OB/GYN on Monday. As soon as you sign this form, you’re discharged.”
Heather signed the form numbly as she took the prescription and glanced over the writing.
“Congratulations,” Ria flashed a smile before she left the room.
Heather felt numb as she tried to deal with the reality of her current situation. She was pregnant…no doubt with Kipp’s child…as if Douglas didn’t hate her enough. Now, they would be tied together forever…but only if she had the baby. If her situation hadn’t been complicated enough before, her complications had just grown exponentially, and she had to figure out just what her next step would be and how it would affect her future as well as that of others in Coral Valley.
Cameron stood outside the room and smiled at Heather’s news. Now, he could make Douglas suffer just as his step-father had done to him. He would deprive Douglas of his family to return the favor. And Cameron would enjoy making sure Douglas knew exactly what he was up to.