Episode Fifty Two

Zack thanked the Ashford gardener as he stepped into the house. After having spoken with security, he had learned that Blake hadn’t left the mansion and yet he’d received no answer at the front door. He didn’t want to intrude, but considering there was a lot of drama around the Ashford mansion lately, he knew the chances of Blake being upset were high.

He ran up the stairs to Blake’s room and knocked upon the door. Hearing no response, he opened the door and stepped inside. He didn’t find her in her room as he looked around. He took a deep breath and frowned, wondering where she could be found. In an instant, an idea occurred to him.

He left the house and made his way towards the stables. Knowing how Blake had retreated there last night, it was always possible she would return there if she was troubled. He made his way into the stables and ran up the stairs into the loft.

Blake sat on the bed hugging her knees to her chest as tears cascaded down her cheeks. Zack closed the door behind him as he looked to the gas heater along the far wall. He ignited the heater and rubbed his hands as heat began to fill the room.

Zack slowly approached the bed and sat down beside her. He lightly reached out to her arm, “Blake? Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Everything,” Blake cried as she rocked gently, “It’s just not fair. Why does life have to be so cruel? I don’t understand why this all has to happen.”

“What happened?” He asked as he watched her continue to break down.

“It’s not like I asked to be born an Ashford. I had no control over that, but people always think I can turn off my loyalty to my family. Why would they ever think that?”

“Blake, whoa, who would want you to turn you against your family?” Zack asked as he tried to draw her attention back to him.

“Seth,” She snapped as she swung off the bed and marched across the room. She rubbed her arms to warm them as she spoke, “He came by here today.”

“He what? What did he do? Did he hurt you?” He demanded quickly as he followed her across the room.

“No more than he already has,” Blake groaned, “How could he believe I’d just turn my back on my family and believe every word he says? What would make him think that I am actually that numb where my family is concerned? I love my family, and there is no way I’d just blindly believe anything he’d say against my family.”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” He agreed.

“I don’t understand,” She shook her head as she moved closer to the heater to warm herself, “How could he think we could have a second chance? How could he ever even dream that I’d want to give him that kind of chance after what he said to me?”

“I don’t know, but it’s pretty obvious the guy didn’t deserve you.”

“Maybe not, but still, I don’t understand why he would even believe he’d get that kind of chance with me. He’s smarter than that…I know he is.”

“Maybe not. He didn’t exactly strike me as the smart type.”

“Zack, you’re not helping,” Blake groaned as she sank to her knees in front of the heater. She exhaled slowly as she closed her eyes, “Why did he have to come here? Why would he invade my home to expect a second chance from me?”

Zack frowned before he knelt beside her and slipped his arms around her in a comforting gesture, “Sometimes guys can be a little hardheaded when it comes to losing a beautiful woman.”

“Still, he knows that I was devastated with the way he spoke to me. He should have known that I would never take him back again or much less give him the time of day.”

“Blake,” He began, “We sometimes don’t think rationally when the woman we want slips through our fingers. Seth knows that he screwed up and though it was a very slim chance that you would listen to him, he had to give it a shot.”

“Why are you defending him?” She shrieked as she turned her anger towards him, pulling out of his arms.

“I’m not defending him. You’re the one asking why he was acting like an idiot,” He replied quickly.

“You’re not supposed to defend him. You’re supposed to be supporting me. God, are all you men just the same?” She snapped as she pulled herself off the floor.

“Okay, I understand you’re pissed off, but direct it at Seth not at me. I haven’t done anything to you,” He said as he allowed his eyes to caress her curves as a grin formed upon his lips, “At least not yet.”

“Oh you,” She flew into a rage and began pounding his chest with her fists.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Zack fended off her attack before he seized her wrists in his hands and stopped her, “Stop it!”

“I…Argh!” She groaned as she struggled to pull her hands away from him, “I just….”

“Okay, time to cool off,” He said as he bent to heave her over his shoulder.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Blake shrieked as she wiggled against him, “Let me go!”

“Not until I can get you cooled off which is just what you need!” Zack declared as he carried her out of the loft with a plan in mind to cool off Blake’s raging temper.


“Well,” Jenna questioned tapping her foot impatiently as her mother’s dramatic silence was a bit overwhelming.  She could see the hesitance in her mother’s posture, but this time she refused to let things slide as something was most certainly going on between Dorothy and Douglas and Jenna demanded answers, “I’m waiting.”
“Jenna, it’s just…” Dorothy began shifting uneasily on her feet as her eyes scanned the hospital corridor and she wondered how she was going to be able to break the news to Jenna about her father.  After all the times Dorothy had dismissed the thought of giving Jenna knowledge about her less than savory past, now hardly felt like the moment in time to reveal such a truth.  However, as she saw the impatience behind her daughter’s features, she realized that there would be no more hiding from the truth.
“Mom,” Jenna’s lip curled in a frown as she shook her head in confusion, “I don’t understand what’s going on, but whatever you did or said to him must’ve been bad because I’ve never seen you like this--even when you’d chased away men before.”
“Jenna, it’s just that I never wanted you to get hurt.  You see all these years I’ve worked so hard to protect you--to keep you from going through some of the things I went through in my life…”
“Mom, I already told you that you can’t save me from everything,” Jenna sighed seeing the concern in her mother’s features, “I know you were upset when things went down how they did with Patrick, but that was a once in a lifetime mistake--at least I hope it was and well, it’s just…I can’t have you fighting all my battles and pushing men away from me constantly.  Douglas is a good man and I just wish…”
“Jenna, I’m not saying he isn’t, but it’s just that Douglas is different than the others,” Dorothy replied rubbing her palms together as a heat rose up through her body.
“Different how?” Jenna questioned again, “I saw you embracing him which leads me to believe that there’s something really strange going on because you have never done something like that with any other man that I’ve gotten close to.  In fact, when I saw you two together, I could’ve sworn that…”
“Jenna, it’s not what you think it was,” Dorothy began exhaling a breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding, “You don’t understand what was…”
“Make me understand.  Make me see how you could go from cursing the man the other night to finding a way to comfort him like you are,” Jenna decided firmly as she placed her hands on her hips, “Well?”
“Fine,” Dorothy sighed in response, “the truth to the matter is that I did have a talk with Douglas.  You see he’s…” her words were interrupted by the signature ring of her cell phone alerting her of the one caller who’d had that particular ring.  She opened her mouth to speak again as Jenna’s gaze dropped down to the source of the sound and Dorothy threw her daughter an apologetic look, “Jenna, can you just hold on a moment? It’s…”
“Preston,” Jenna nodded taking in a breath as she took a step back, “I know.”
“Normally I wouldn’t answer but,” Dorothy started to explain thinking of her long time love as he’d been away from Coral Valley for quite some time.
“But you haven’t seen him since last Christmas,” Jenna finished with a knowing expression, “Given that I know you miss him, I suppose I’ll let this conversation slide for a few more minutes, but don’t think that it won’t be continued…”
“I promise you that it will,” Dorothy vowed answering her phone as she began to speak to the man on the other end of the line.
Jenna waited for a few moments watching her mother speaking with Preston as she realized that despite her mother’s unusually sour demeanor, there was something about Preston Rhodes that seemed to put her mother’s mind at ease.  Sure, Dorothy had spent most of her younger years helping to shape and mold Jenna into the woman she was today, but it seemed that despite Dorothy’s need to remain focused, Preston had found a way to break through those walls Jenna had witnessed her mother keeping up over the years.  Sure, Dorothy might not have been easily persuaded by Preston’s displays of affection, but once he’d found a way into her heart, Jenna couldn’t have been happier for her mother as Preston was an amazing man.
“Tell him I said hello,” Jenna piped in watching her mother’s features seem to glow as Preston must’ve said something wonderful on the other end of the line.
“Jenna says…” Dorothy began into the phone before a knowing smile pressed over her lips, “he says hello and he hopes that you’re not getting into trouble while he’s away.”
“Tell him where would the fun be in that,” Jenna teased back laughing at how Preston always seemed to keep tabs on her--much like a father would’ve.  Sure, he wasn’t actually Jenna’s father, but since he and Dorothy had been involved with one another for almost all of Jenna’s adult years, she couldn’t help but feel attached to the man.  He was firm, but supportive and somehow having him around made their lives a bit easier as he’d always had a way of saying the right things and making their family feel more traditional.  Even now Jenna wondered if he was going to make good on his plans for Christmas as he’d made a point to call her earlier in the month asking her opinion on the right way to go about taking his relationship with Dorothy to the next level.
Now as Jenna watched her mother talking with the man who’d managed to melt her heart, she wondered if maybe Preston’s marriage proposal would be the thing to keep Dorothy from worrying about her so much.  She certainly hoped so, she thought to herself as she turned her attention to the things she’d picked up earlier on the Mathis case.  She skimmed through the pages ready to give her mother some privacy as she walked through the hallway buried in the pages before her, but before she could make it to one of the chairs to absorb what she was reading, she ran into someone.
“I’m sorry,” Jenna apologized looking up from the folder in hand as she looked into the sad eyes before her immediately recognizing the man she’d nearly knocked down, “Douglas…”
“Jenna,” he spoke her name, his voice trembling with emotion as she saw the tears building behind his eyes.  Clearly something was wrong--something hadn’t gone right with Kipp, but she wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“How’s Kipp,” she questioned reaching out to touch his shoulder.
“It’s hopeless.  I’ve lost him,” he confessed as he reached out to her pulling her into an embrace and hugging her tightly as his tears overcame him.  Silently, she allowed her surprise to pass over her before wrapping her arms around him as the man who’d been so sure of himself days earlier and so determined to prove his power and status was now falling to pieces in her arms.  Instead of asking the questions she was certain she already knew the answers to, she kept her hold on him wishing that there was some way she could remedy this situation for him as she couldn’t imagine facing something so horrible--especially with someone she loved.  Sure, she’d seen it time and time again, but to actually experience it first hand, it was never easy and as she hugged Douglas she just wished she could find a way to help him through this as she knew in times like these the only things that could ever truly change the situation was a miracle and it seemed that those didn’t come along too often these days.


“Guy, what is it,” Brooke questioned panic evident in her tone as she watched her son pacing around Avery’s apartment.  Certainly something had to be bothering him as she’d never seen him this wound up before.  Granted he’d had his moments, but this, well this was completely unlike him. “Is something wrong?”
“Mum, I’m afraid something’s been wrong for a very long time,” Guy sighed running his fingers through his hair nervously as he tried to remember what had gone down in his mind the millions of times he’d practiced the speech he’d prepared for a moment like this.
While he’d wanted to find the right setting with the most appropriate time to reveal his truths to his mother, she’d placed him at a point where the only way out of the situation was with brutal honesty--which was something he hadn’t quite been ready to face, but as he watched her expectant eyes, he inhaled slowly hoping he wouldn’t be the disappointment that she’d clearly viewed Avery to be.  Sure, it had been bad enough that Brooke was seeing that Avery wasn’t leading the life that she’d wanted for her, Guy was certain it would break her heart to know that he wasn’t capable of giving Brooke the kind of life that she’d wanted for him either.  There was just no way about it and now as he prepared for the one thing he’d kept from his mother all these years, he found himself at a loss.  Surely there had to be easier ways than this, he reasoned with himself thinking about the many times she’d tried to push some seemingly willing and appropriate woman upon him in her attempts to give him some semblance of happily ever after, but despite all her attempts the truth to the matter was that those moments she’d been wishing upon him were the furthest from his mind and now he had no choice.  He had to tell her.  He had to do this as it was now or…well, he couldn’t bear to think about the other choice as it was far too much to bear.  Still in breaking her heart…
“Guy,” Brooke beckoned him from his thoughts once again as he rubbed his hands together feeling an icy chill coursing through his veins as his own voice sounded hollow and distant.
“Mum, the truth to the matter is that I don’t need you setting me up with someone,” Guy cleared his throat feeling the tension constrict the muscles within as he shifted on his feet nervously, “You see I’m already, well…I’m already involved with someone…someone special you see…”
“You are,” Brooke’s eyes widened in surprise as the momentary shock passed and her face lit up with enthusiasm.  She clapped her hands together excitedly as she rose from the sofa, “Well that’s wonderful!  Why, I’d wished you’d told me sooner because now,” she placed her hand over her chest, “well I guess I should’ve picked up on the signs even though you told me you weren’t seeing anyone as a young man such as yourself would clearly be interested in finding a companion unless of course he was already involved and now suddenly here we are and you’re telling me that you have met someone despite your initial denial…”
“I wanted to tell you,” Guy interrupted earnestly, “I’ve been wanting to tell you for months--years even, but the fact to the matter was that in between what was going on between you and Richard, well I just couldn’t bring myself to explain things.  Then when all this confusion came to life with Avery, well Mum, the timing just felt so off, but when you sent Cathy here, I just knew that I couldn’t keep you in the dark.  I couldn’t hide from the truth any longer as you were kind of forcing me to face myself…”
“I suppose I was,” Brooke began to reason beaming with the news, “although now in retrospect I’m glad I have as it’s finally given you the courage to fess up to the fact that you are seeing someone special and that your long, lonely nights in Europe haven’t been nearly as maudlin as I’d anticipated them to be.”
“They’ve been far from maudlin I can assure you,” Guy offered up a half smile as she reached for his hand giving it a light squeeze.
“Which is truly wonderful to hear as someone in our family should be experiencing the joys of romance without all the drama that seems to take place.  So tell me about her…” Brooke urged on patting his arm gently, “What is she like?  Who are her parents?  Do I know this lucky young woman?”
“Actually…” he started realizing she wasn’t quite grasping what he was about to tell her when there was a pounding at the door to Avery’s apartment calling his attention away from his mother.
“What in the world…” Brooke frowned as the pounding continued, “Guy, are you expecting someone this morning?”
“No, I’m not,” he shook his head in response as he looked to the door, “but maybe it’s another one of those media hounds chasing after Avery.  They’ve been coming around every now and then after the party last night…”
“Well I’ll just see to it that they don’t keep on hassling you especially when you and I have so much to talk about,” she decided firmly marching towards the front door to the apartment and reaching for the knob.  She thought twice of it as she wrinkled her nose while reaching into her pocket.  She withdrew a small handkerchief of sorts and turned the doorknob with it uneasily before standing taller ready to face whatever media hound was waiting on the other side to hear all about Avery and Brant as she would be certain to give them a good story indeed before she turned her attention back to her son’s lady love.  A smile built over Brooke’s features as she prepared to spin a tale of ultimate romance between her daughter and Brant to whatever salivating gossip monger on the other side of the door as she was certain her words would do wonders for Brant and Avery’s engagement now that Russell Denton was out of the picture, but just as she was about to offer up her first words of eagerness, her smile faded as she saw that pesky little newsgirl Mindy Carmichael standing before her.
“Listen I just need five minutes of your time,” Mindy began breathlessly as a confused expression pressed upon her features, “You’re not Avery.”
“No I’m not,” Brooke reached for the door preparing to close it, “and you’re not worth my time.”
“Mum,” Guy rushed forward seeing his long time pal out in the hallway as he stopped Brooke from closing Mindy out of the apartment, “Mindy, what are you doing here?”
“I was hoping to get a word in with Avery,” Mindy explained her eyes drifting between Guy and Brooke, “as I really needed to speak with her.”
“What’s wrong,” Guy questioned seeing the way that Mindy was looking at Brooke as Mindy’s obvious hesitance sent a flag up in Guy’s mind.
“Well, I was just…” she paused turning her attention to Guy once again as she tried to ignore Brooke’s domineering presence, “You know maybe we should step out into the hall for a moment.”
“Don’t mind me,” Brooke added glibly, “as you never really did before when you were spreading your shameless gossip with my son…”
“Actually,” Mindy began nervously before she looked up to Guy with pleading eyes hoping to avoid any kind of confrontation with Brooke.
“Mum, we’ll be right back,” Guy announced tugging on Mindy’s arm as he lead her out into the hallway before Brooke could protest.  Quickly closing the door behind them, he focused on his pal, “Mindy, what’s wrong?”
“Have you heard the stories going around on the news about Russell?” Mindy’s eyes widened in shock, “Guy, I need to talk to Avery.  Russell hasn’t shown up at the office and he promised he’d at least check in this morning as there was something we were working on there.  I haven’t been able to reach him all day and I‘m worried.  If she knows anything about what went down last night…”
“Last night that man cheated on my sister,” Guy answered flatly, “I think that speaks for itself.”
“That’s just it,” Mindy frowned in response, “I don’t buy that for a second…”
“Mindy, it happened at the party,” Guy remarked bitterly, “Half the world saw it whether you wanted to buy into it or not.”
“No, it couldn’t be.  Guy, I saw your sister and Russ together.  They were back together again stronger than they were in the good old days and I’m telling you, there isn’t a thing short of an act of God that could have gotten him to turn away from your sister…”
“Apparently it took the form of a blonde bimbo,” Guy’s voice tightened as he thought to the misery his sister must be facing as she’d lost the one man she’d placed all of her faith into.
“No, he wouldn’t do that,” Mindy argued with him, “Russ might’ve been chummy with that bitch, but he certainly wouldn’t have dropped Avery for a romp with her like the rest of the papers are saying.  I know him better than that…”
“I thought I did too, but Mindy, he broke my sister’s heart yet again last night and I could care less what’s happened to him.”
“Guy, look I’m not going to argue this with you, but if you know where Avery is, I need to speak with her.  I need to find Russell because I’m worried about him and…”
“Why would my sister have anything to do with that lowlife after he humiliated her like that?” Guy challenged with a sharp hiss, “He could’ve had the world in my sister and he chose to hurt her in the word possible way.”
“He loves Avery and you didn’t see what I saw.  He would never jeopardize what they had going together.  They were both so happy and Guy, I’m telling you they had the perfect fairy tale romance down to a tee.”
“Yeah including the concubines on the side,” Guy folded his arms in front of his chest.
“Guy, would you stop being so stubborn for two seconds and just hear me out,” she curled her lip in a pout, “You know I’m right and if you’d just open your eyes…”
“My eyes don’t need to be opened as Russell proved how little my sister meant to him last night when he wound up in bed with that model,” Guy insisted refusing to take her thoughts into consideration, “Avery’s heart is broken and she’s miserable.  That’s all I need to know about this situation.”
“But what about true love?  Romance and happily ever after?” Mindy urged him on, “Don’t those things hold any importance to you?”
“Mindy, just because you believe my sister and Russell Denton are the ultimate super couple doesn’t mean that’s the way things are,” Guy shook his head at her as a sigh spilled over his lips, “Things in the real world don’t work out like they do in fiction.  In fact, they’re a hell of a lot scarier.”
“That’s because you’re too busy keeping your happiness under lock and key,” Mindy challenged harshly tossing her over her shoulder, “Just because you have to keep lying to the world about where your heart is and about the love you’re feeling doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to live by the same archaic notions.”
“They aren’t archaic,” Guy defended simply, “but more so practical.”
“By keeping your heart hidden from the world,” Mindy rolled her eyes, “Guy please would you just stop living in this mountain of denial you’ve buried yourself up in for so very long and just start being honest with yourself?  Hell, I’ll bet you haven’t even told your mother, have you?”
“Mindy, I…” he began as a sudden gasp rushed through the hallway and Guy looked towards the apartment door seeing his mother standing before him.
“Oh my please tell me this isn’t what I think this is,” Brooke clasped her hand over her chest as she stepped out into the hallway, “Tell me that this little peon isn’t the woman you were telling me about.”
“Excuse me?” Mindy blinked back at her in surprise, “What did you just say?”
“Mum, I can explain,” Guy began as Brooke marched out in between him and Mindy her eyes narrowing with anger as she glared down at Mindy.
“Listen little girl, I don’t know how you’ve managed to poison my son’s mind yet again, but I will not sit back and allow you to destroy his life.  It was bad enough that he felt the need to tap into the spoils of the other side of the track years ago, but Guy is an established business man now and he doesn’t need to have his reputation ruined by the likes of you…”
“The likes of me,” Mindy’s face darkened with anger as she stood taller ready to face down Brooke Morrison after the many years of having said nothing to the woman she’d deemed the Wicked Witch of Coral Valley, “Just who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m the one person in the world that can promise you that you won’t be with my son after today,” Brooke shot back bitterly, “as I forbid this relationship.”
“You forbid it,” Mindy repeated with a haughty laugh, “Do you honestly think that your word means so much these days?  On second thought don’t answer that because I already know you do, but I’ve got news for you Brooke,” she placed heavy emphasis on Brooke’s name as she inched in closer to her, “If Guy wants to spend time with me or be involved with me in any way, shape or form, well the truth to the matter is that it’s a free country and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.”
“Oh there you’re wrong because I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my son from being brought down by the likes of your white trash, trailer dwelling kind,” Brooke growled in response standing her ground as Mindy’s eyes widened in surprise at her words.
“Why you,” Mindy lunged forward ready to tear Brooke into pieces for her insults as Guy rushed forward drawing his arms around Mindy’s waist.
“Mindy don’t,” he pleaded with her as Brooke stood taller, her words biting back at Mindy as she continued to rant.
“That’s right.  You get her out of here Guy because she’s not worthy of your time,” Brooke dusted her sleeves off, “Have this little tramp escorted out of the building right away.”
“I’m not taking her anywhere Mum,” Guy explained as his arms constricted around Mindy keeping her from ripping Brooke’s throat out.
“What?” Brooke blinked back at him in shock, “Guy, you can’t possibly be saying that you want her to stay here…”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Guy continued further defying his mother for one of the first times in his life much to her shock and dismay, “She’s not going anywhere.”
“But of course she is,” Brooke insisted raising her voice with each syllable, “as she can’t be the woman that kept you from pursuing a relationship with that charming young woman I sent over to see you…”
“Actually Mum,” Guy began realizing he’d once again been backed into a corner as he stood on the threshold of the truth once more, but before he could confess his secret, Mindy’s rage got the best of her as she stomped her foot down over his freeing herself from his arms.
“You’re damn right I am,” Mindy blurted out immediately, a wicked smile building over her features as she glared at Brooke, “and there isn’t a thing you can do about it because Guy has no intentions of letting me go this time, right honey?” Mindy spun in his arms laying a kiss on him knowing full well that Brooke would no doubt be having a heart attack or worse as Mindy assaulted an unprepared Guy with her kisses.  Sure, she knew what she was going was going to cost her in the long run as Guy would be furious, but as she could feel Brooke Morrison’s eyes penetrating through the back of her head, she threw caution to the wind and vowed to give Brooke the one thing that she was certain would drive her over the edge and in those moments of kissing a reluctant Guy, Mindy couldn’t be happier as she’d suddenly found a new way to stick it to the one woman in Coral Valley who needed to be shot down a few pegs and in that moment victory was all Mindy’s at long last.

Russell stepped into his home, feeling the silence come crashing over him as the emptiness of his living room surrounded him.  A day earlier this place had been filled with hope and the promise of the life that had passed him by time and time again, but now it was just plain lonely as the woman he loved refused to take his calls--to accept his words and just hear him out.  Certainly he’d tried to reach her at the mansion, but after his confrontation with Blake and the removal that followed, he was starting to wonder if there was any truth to her words.  Surely Brant would take a moment like this and work it to his advantage, but where would that take Avery?
Granted Brant had a great many resources, but now wasn’t the time to let that defeat him, Russell thought to himself as he forced his misery aside long enough to make his way into his kitchen determined to find a way back to Avery at any cost.  He entered his kitchen looking to the phone that hung on the wall as he drew in a slow breath wondering if he could give things one more shot.  Quickly Russell dialed Avery’s cell phone number only to discover that the message spoke of Avery being out of the service area.
“Damn it,” he cursed sending his phone across the kitchen floor as it collided with one of the cabinets shattering upon impact as he marched into his bedroom refusing to give up hope.
“Avery, where are you,” he questioned looking around his room as his eyes fell upon the bed--to the very place where they’d shared so many beautiful memories with one another as making love to her suddenly flooded over his senses taking him back to the night they’d found their way back together again after so many years.  He sank onto the bed, reaching for the sheet as the scent of her perfume still hung over the air, tantalizing his every synapse as his heart raced with the images of holding her, touching her, tasting her as they’d made love to one another on that special turning point in their lives.
“Russ,” Avery breathed his name arching her head back as his kisses traveled over her body, their fingers laced together as her body pounded against his, perspiration misting over the both of them as their bodies came together in complete unison understanding their connection far more than either one had been willing to face at the time.
“Avery,” he moaned her name, the intensity being far too much to bear as she lost control, clenching his hands in hers as her nails dug into his skin leaving their imprint as he buried himself more completely within her drowning desire.  His lips teased over her shoulder nibbling on her damp skin before he collected her mouth in a kiss spiraling the both of them out of control as the world as they knew it exploded around them creating another chance that would pave the way to the road to their hearts.
“Oh Russ,” Avery gasped in uneven breaths as he collapsed over her, feeling the erotic sting of her enthusiasm wash over him as she hugged him in against her, “oh how I needed you…I needed this…”
“I’ve needed you for so very long,” he’d whispered wanting to seal that night in his memory forever as he had anticipated her leaving him the next morning, but now as Russell returned to the present, he thought to the great many twists and turns that they’d taken with one another.  Even now, he couldn’t believe that it was all gone--that the one night she’d taken a chance on him--taken the opportunity to seize the moment that came along with his dinner invitation--had gone from completely right--the quintessence of a perfect dream only to have it transform into the absolute nightmare.
“Avery,” he whispered her name feeling the tears sting in his eyes as he lay back onto the mattress hugging a pillow as it was a horrible replacement for the warm, beautiful, stunning woman he should’ve been married to at this moment in time.  Even now his heart ached as he prayed that there would be one way to reach her--one chance to make things right, but as his thoughts and desires raged over him, reality came crashing down around him.  She was gone.  She was really gone and he couldn’t find a way to bring her back.  Brant had stepped in and prevented Russell from explaining.  He’d taken away Russell’s happily ever after and now after one mistake, he’d finally lost it all.
“No,” he cursed himself his eyes opening as he refused to believe that the woman he loved was gone.  He began to sit upright when he noticed a piece of paper on the floor.  He eyed it curiously realizing it hadn’t been there before as he leaned forward reaching out for it.  Collecting it in his hand, he took note of the crimson colored lipstick imprint upon the folded page as his breath caught in his throat and his eyes fell upon the page.
“Russ,” he spoke aloud immediately recognizing the handwriting as Avery’s as his heart skipped a beat, “I’m sure that by the time you read this note you and I will probably be returning from our honeymoon as I have no doubt in my mind that as soon as we get this ridiculous party over with, you and I will be well on our way to becoming husband and wife and I couldn’t be happier about it.  I know that I pushed you away time and time again in the past, but I see now that I was so very wrong.  On our wedding day--well, I know you don’t like to look back on that day as it has so many painful memories for the both of us, but I really believe you deserve the truth about why I left.  Maybe it doesn’t matter now considering that this time we’ve finally made it to the altar and to one another, but I need you to know one thing before I can leave that one horrible day behind us.  I need you to understand that I didn’t leave because I didn’t love you because my love for you was never in question.  Your love was the only thing that kept me alive for so many years and when I left, well I felt dead inside--as if the greatest part of me was still at that church with you wanting to pledge eternity to you.  Time and time again I wanted to reach out to you--to hold you and never let go because Russell you’re the only love I’ve ever known and you’re the only man I’ve ever given my all to.  You have my heart and while I might’ve blown off your thoughts on destiny and soul mates, well I’m admitting that I was wrong.  Yes, I said I was wrong and don’t let it get to your head because you won’t be hearing that too often--especially now that we’re married as your first duty as my husband will be to agree with everything I have to say regardless of how impossible it might be and of course pampering is also a very nice bonus, but beyond that,” he paused feeling himself choked up on her words, “don’t ever change because you are the greatest man I’ve ever known and in loving you, it’s made my life complete at long last.  I finally believe in miracles and in happily ever afters and it’s all because of you Russell Denton, my white knight, and I know now that I was a fool to ever believe I could go through my days without your love.  You’re my heart, my soul and my one true destiny and I swear to you that I’m going to do everything in my power to make you as happy as you’ve made me over the years.  I love you with all my heart and I swear I’ll even try not to tease you too much about being a blanket hog now that we’ll be settling into our new roles as husband and wife.  All my love--your loving wife (oh how I‘ve longed to be able to say that).  Avery,” he finished feeling his heart crushed at her words as he thought back to the look on her face at the party.
How could things have gone so horrible wrong when they’d just about had it all, he asked himself as he felt the faint buzzing of his cell phone in his shirt pocket.  Suddenly his despair took a backseat as he reached for the phone eagerly answering as hoped his prayers had suddenly been answered, “Avery?”
“Um, not a chance.  Try again,” a woman’s voice replied over the line sourly.
“Johanna,” Russell frowned wishing that he’d had Avery on the phone instead of the one woman he hadn’t given a second thought to since he’d returned her phone call earlier in the week, “I was kind of hoping that you were…”
“Someone else,” her voice sounded with heavy irritation, “Yeah I caught that much, but since I’m not the woman of the hour, I was thinking that maybe you and I could get to talking about that offer I threw out on the table for you.”
“Jo, now really isn’t the time,” he began uneasily as he looked to Avery‘s note once again.
“Russell, I told you that I wasn’t going to wait forever for an answer.  I need to know something…”
“I already told you my answer,” he reminded her with a frown.
“Yeah I heard what you said, but I also caught wind of the latest gossip from your end of the world,” she pointed out matter of fact, “and given the state of disarray that’s surrounding your life, I thought that maybe a change might do you some good.”
“Jo, this really isn’t the time,” he replied once again pulling himself up off of the bed as he reached for his jacket vowing to find a way to reach Avery as he contemplated heading down to the airport to check in with a few of his connections, “I’m really busy…”
“Chasing the wrong woman no doubt,” she remarked offhand, “Russell, why don’t you stop making the same mistakes you made before and start thinking about your future?  About the future that you can have if you’ll only take a moment to think about what it is that I’m offering you.  I know this is the career opportunity of the lifetime and I can’t believe that you would just walk away from…”
“Jo, some things are worth more than a career opportunity,” Russell cut her off abruptly as he reached for his car keys.
“Like chasing after someone else’s fiancée?  Russ, I know about what Avery’s done to you--about how she’s turned your world upside down and I’m offering you a chance to break away from that.  With this position you could finally be free of her and you could make a name for yourself…”
“Jo, I have to go and I’ve already told you time and time again now is not the time,” he argued with her hanging up the phone abruptly as he reached for the front door opening it only to come face to face with a very agitated looking Johanna much to his surprise.
“Well it looks like you’re going to have to make the time,” she replied her eyes narrowing with anger as she shoved her hand into his chest preventing him from leaving, “as I’m not giving you any other options right about now.”


Jade stepped into Grady’s house and shed her coat onto his recliner, “Grady, give it up. It’s obvious that you and I are not going to agree about Russell.”

“Only because you’re not seeing the entire picture here, Jade,” Grady complained as he shed his own coat upon the arm of his sofa, “I’ve seen Russell’s misery and I don’t want to have to relive that.”

“Well look at what’s happening now, Grady. Russ is miserable, and that’s because he isn’t with Avery. Why can’t you just see that he loves her and move on?”

“Because he’s my brother, and I want the best for him.”

Jade groaned, “Forget it. We’ve been through this a hundred times already, and I’m really sick and tired of talking about Russell’s love life.”

“Well so am I.”

“Good, because we have other things to think about,” She said firmly as she crossed her arms.

“Like Cameron and what happened last night?”

“I’d really rather not talk about that,” She frowned as she moved to the sofa and sank into the cushions, “It was just horrible, Grady, and he scares me more every time he’s near me.”

“I’m so sorry, Jade,” He sat down beside her and put his arm around her, drawing her close to him, “I should have been there for you.”

“Yeah, you should have,” She said pointedly as she raised her head and met his eyes, “You should have been focusing on me, or more to the point, you should have been focusing on us.”

“I know,” He nodded as he met her eyes. He eased his hands gently across her cheeks, “I’m so sorry that I’ve been so wrapped up in Russ’s life. I never meant for it to get so far.”

“I know you didn’t, but Grady, you have to refocus. I need to know that you are focused on us. I love you, and I’ve made no secrets about that since I’ve gone after you. You said you love me, and now, it’s time for you to show that not just to me, but to the world.”

“You make it sound so easy,” He said as he looked away from her.

“It is just that easy,” She assured him as she slipped her hand across his cheek to direct his eyes back to hers. She leaned forward and sealed her lips to his. She wrapped her arms around him as she slipped into his lap and continued to deepen the kiss.

Grady squeezed her to him as he returned her kiss, caressing her cheek as he tasted of her sweet mouth. She was hot, sweet, and completely decadent as his tongue danced alongside hers.

When their mouths finally parted, Jade smiled a tantalizing smile as she slid her fingers down the front of his shirt, plucking open buttons as she continued onward, “I love you, Grady.”

“I love you too, Jade,” He whispered as she parted the cloth of his shirt and spread her fingers across his chest.

“Then it’s time for us to take the next step, Grady,” She whispered against his lips, “I want you. No, it’s more than that. I’ve wanted you for a long time, but now it’s so much more. I need you. Make love to me, Grady.”

Grady searched her eyes for a moment to make sure she realized the implications of what she was saying. All he saw within her eyes was love and the unmistakable flames of desire burning within her. He drew her lips to his as he agreed with her decision to take their relationship to an entirely new level of intimacy.


Gabe stepped into the tavern and made his way to the bar. He sat upon a stool ordered a scotch while rubbing his neck.

“Mack, tell me something. Why is it some women always seem like they’re out of reach?” Seth asked as he looked to the bartender from down the bar.

“Some of them were always meant to be out of our league,” Mack, the bartender, replied.

“Really? It’s strange, but I really thought she was in my reach. I thought we had connected, and I thought we were going to make it,” Seth shook his head before downing the last gulp of his beer, “Give me another.”

Mack complied and rubbed his hands on a towel, “So what pulled her out of reach?”

“Her family,” Seth frowned, “It always comes back to family.”

“Amen,” Gabe nodded as he joined in the conversation. He looked back to the two men, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I’m in a similar situation myself.”

“Family getting in the way?” Mack asked.

Gabe nodded, “The mother. That woman wants to control every aspect of her children’s lives, and she reacts harshly if they try to defy her.”

“It’s the father in my case. He’s dead, but even from the grave it seems he has a reach that far exceeds mine,” Seth rubbed the bridge of his nose, “Why is it that some people can’t break free of their families to strike out on their own?”

“That’s a good question, but I’m afraid I don’t have the answer,” Gabe frowned.

“I suppose that makes us even,” Seth frowned as he raised his beer in the air, “Here’s to finding the way around a family.”

“Here’s to getting the ones we love away from their families,” Gabe agreed before he sipped his scotch. Afterward, he moved down the bar and extended his hand to Seth, “My name is Gabe.”

“I’m Seth,” Seth replied as he shook Gabe’s hand, “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Gabe smiled, “So she’s not being receptive to you because of her family?”

“She’s not even going to listen to me because of her family. It’s just that there are things I know about her father, horrible things, and I can’t forget them. She had no clue about these things, and now, she refuses to even acknowledge that they happened.”

“Sounds like a difficult situation,” Gabe sympathized.

“It is. I love her more than anything, but she’s not even giving me a chance to tell her that.”

“Give her time. The old adage that time heals all wounds is truer than you think.”

“It won’t heal this one,” Seth frowned, “What about you? What’s your problem?”

“Secrets. And the mother absolutely domineers her children in every situation. It’s difficult, and I’m at a loss as to what I can do to persuade my lover to reveal these secrets so that we can get on with our lives.”

“Patience is a virtue, you know,” Seth flashed a teasing grin.

“Okay, I deserve that for spouting off platitudes to you, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, I think you did.”

Gabe chuckled as he raised his scotch, “Here’s to kissing platitudes goodbye.”

“Amen to that one,” Seth agreed as he sipped his beer.

“So where does that leave the two of us?”

“In a bar, by ourselves, drinking ourselves into some sense of solace,” Seth pointed out, “It could be worse.”

“How so?” Gabe questioned.

“We could be talking to the bartender instead of each other,” Seth teased, knowing that there was at least one person in the world who understood a little of what he was feeling. He could only hope that both he and Gabe would find things working out for them in the long run.


“I just can’t believe this is happening to him,” Douglas confessed after Jenna had managed to coax him to take a seat with her.  She’d handed him a Styrofoam cup of coffee that he held in his shaking fingers, but up until now it remained filled to the brim as the steaming liquid didn’t seem to phase him with his current frame of him.  His words were trembling as Jenna reached for the cup once again deciding that perhaps now wasn’t truly the time for coffee.
“What happened in there,” she questioned setting the cup down on the small magazine covered table beside her before turning her focus upon him completely.  Gently she reached for his hand squeezing it as she watched him inhale a slow breath.
“They don’t know if he’ll ever pull out of the coma,” he recalled the news that had shattered his world when he’d learned of his son’s condition, “After all these years between us of his feeling alienated from me--after all the times when I tried to get him to see things my way, but only wound up pushing him further away, this is what I’m left with.  My son may never come back to me and I’ll never be able to share with him all the things I should’ve said…all the moments we should’ve shared…”
“I’m sure Kipp knows how much you care about him,” Jenna tried to soothe him as his eyes filled with such intensity and regret that even Jenna’s heart sank in watching his misery surround him.
“I always told myself that I was a good father--that I did all I could with my boy and that he was just stubborn,” Douglas recounted the many times he’d come head to head with Kipp over the years, “but now, well now I see that I was the one that failed him.  I wasn’t the father he needed or deserved as my son wouldn’t have felt compelled to pull that trigger if I hadn’t driven him to it with all my expectations and my…”
“Don’t do this,” Jenna interrupted refusing to allow him to sink deeper into his misery, “You can’t blame yourself for what happened.”
“Of course I can,” Douglas argued with her, “I practically drove him to it with the way I tried to get him to open his eyes about that whore and now, well if I’d only found another way…”
“Kipp’s heart breaking wasn’t your fault.  He wanted to believe in something--to believe in someone…”
“Someone who did her damnedest to rip him to shreds without batting an eyelash,” his voice grew tense as an anger darkened his tone, “He gave his heart to a woman who cared next to nothing about him and I just sat back and let the chips fall as they would around Kipp causing his world to come crumbling apart…”
“Heather’s infidelity if you will was not your doing,” Jenna offered gently placing her hand on his shoulder, “You couldn’t have predicted her behavior and beyond that, well…”
“Jenna, I know you’re trying to help, but the fact remains that my son tried to kill himself and now, well now he may never be able to come back to me again.  He might not ever have all those chances, all those dreams he’d worked so very hard for and I have no one to blame, but myself.  Had I been more of the parent he’d needed, I could’ve helped him to see through women like Heather Gibbons, to see past those who’d set out to destroy him and I could’ve helped his heart shield itself from the kind of misery that drove him to thought of taking his own life…”
“Kipp was confused and while we may never know what he was thinking in that moment, I am certain that he doesn’t blame you for any of this,” Jenna began again trying to find some words of comfort despite the strain the situation had put on Douglas.
Douglas offered up an ironic laugh, “I never thought I’d be here with you having you try to help me…then again I never dreamt I’d have you here at all…”
“Well, you know you did say it was kismet,” Jenna offered up a tiny smile as she squeezed his hand gently, “and maybe that in itself should tell you something about why I’m here.  Maybe you were looking for someone that could be a shoulder and that’s what I’d like to be for you Douglas.”
“Jenna, you’re too good to me,” he half smiled bringing his hand up to her face as he searched her eyes seeing hints of himself reflected behind her concern, “I’ve never been there for you and yet you’re here for me wanting to share my suffering…”
“I’d much rather us sharing your joys, but until that moment in time, we can find a way to pull together through this and pray for Kipp,” she offered gently.
“He could use all the prayers he could get right about now,” Douglas sighed thinking about his son’s condition.  “He’s a good boy and he needs all the love he can get right about now.”
“He sounds like he’s an incredible man,” Jenna noted thinking about what she knew about Douglas as she wondered if his son had half of his charisma and heart, “It’s too bad I wasn’t able to meet him when he came to Coral Valley.”
“I wish you had,” Douglas replied his thoughts filling him up inside with a sudden notion as he watched his daughter realizing that they’d missed far too much time with one another.  He allowed his fingers to taper off into her hair as a soft smile pressed over his lips, “as I know he would’ve loved you.”
“If he’s anything like you, then I have no doubts the feeling would be mutual,” Jenna smiled in response.
“Oh he’s hardly anything like me,” Douglas couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of Kipp’s contrary attitude with him, “but I’d imagine you two might’ve hit it off--well maybe not considering you both seem to have a lot of similarities, but still…”
“Oh?” Jenna lifted a curious brow.
“You both are very determined,” Douglas nodded, “and you’re very set in your ways about being your own person…”
“That’s always a good trait to have,” Jenna replied feeling a heat rise over her features.
“I just wish Kipp would’ve been blessed with some of your fight, though I’d imagine you got that from your mother, haven’t you?”
Jenna smiled at the thought, “Well, I’d like to think so, but then again it might’ve come from my father…”
“Oh?” Douglas couldn’t help but keep his surprise from being masked, “Your father you say.”
“That’s right,” Jenna nodded, “I mean sometimes my mother wonders where I get half my personality quirks, so I just imagine that they’d come from him…”
“Oh I don’t think he has the strength that you have,” Douglas offered up as she gave him a strange look.
“Why would you say that?” Jenna questioned eyeing him closely.
“What I meant to say was that I don’t see you as being the type to get that kind of spunk from your father,” he answered quickly before adding, “though I’m sure that he was a wonderful man.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Jenna shrugged her shoulders, “He died before I was born.  My mother was pregnant with me when his plane went down in a crash, but she doesn’t speak of him much.  Though what I do know was that she always told me he was a wonderful man.”
“I don’t think I’d go that far,” Douglas felt his thoughts slip out before he could contain them as Jenna’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You knew my father?” Jenna questioned with a gasp, “Douglas, is that why you and my mother seemed so close before?  Because you knew her and my father?”
“Jenna, I…” he stammered as he fought for some kind of easy explanation without revealing the truth Dorothy had recently presented him with, but Jenna’s eyes absorbed what his physical characteristics were straining to hide.
“That’s it,” Jenna noted her voice rising with excitement, “That’s why my mother was acting strangely…because you know her…”
“Yes,” Douglas sighed in confession lowering his head, “I know your mother and I’ve known her long before this trip to Coral Valley.”
“How long before?” Jenna questioned eager to seek out the answers her mother had kept from her all these years.
“Long before you were born,” he admitted expelling a nervous breath, “as it feels like a lifetime ago.”
“And my father?  Did you know him as well,” Jenna asked quickly wanting to know something about the man she’d lost long before her time in this world.
“Jenna I…” he began struggling to find a way to share with her the very thing that he’d just come upon during this trip to Coral Valley.
“Have no idea poisoning her mind with your words,” Dorothy broke through the moment--her eyes filled with anger and bitterness as she stepped towards the both of them, “You have no right.  This isn’t your story to tell!”
“Mom,” Jenna looked to mother in confusion.
“I was just,” Douglas offered up in his defense as Dorothy sneered down at him.
“Don’t you dare.  Don’t you say a word…not a one,” Dorothy replied harshly hoping that she hadn’t arrived at a time when it was too late to find a way to break the news to Jenna herself as this was the last way she’d wanted her daughter to come upon the secret she’d kept for so very long.


“Zack, where the hell are you taking me?!” Blake demanded as she continued to struggle against him.

“Would you stop wiggling? You’re not exactly easy to carry anyway, you know,” Zack called out in reply as he carried her across the yard.

“Zack, I’m serious! Put me down! Put me down now!!” She screamed.

“You want down?” He questioned.

“Yes!” She shouted.

“Are you sure?” He asked once again.

“YES!” She screamed.

“Okay then, remember you asked,” He warned her before he released her from his arms.

Blake suddenly felt his arms loosen from around her and felt herself slipping away from him. In the next instant, she felt the warmed water of the pool surrounding her as she sank into the water. She kicked against the water to force herself back to the surface. She emerged and flipped her hair out of her face, “What the hell?!”

“I warned you,” Zack replied from the pool’s edge as he looked down at her, “I told you that you needed to cool off, and this was the perfect way to do it. I remembered you said this pool was heated so I know you’re not going to have hypothermia, but it would suit you right for getting so worked up about that loser Seth in the first place.”

“Oh!” Blake slapped against the water in rage as she began making her way towards the edge of the pool, “Are you completely out of your mind?”

“That’s more of a question I should be asking you. You should have your head examined for not calling security on that moron the instant you saw him here,” He lectured as he walked around the pool to match her movements, “You knew that he was only going to get you worked up, and then you just let him do it.”

“You don’t have the right to tell me what to do, Zack!” She barked at him.

“Well someone should because you’re letting yourself get hurt where he’s concerned. Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason a man like Seth hurts you is because you let him?”

“That’s rich coming from you! You broke my heart more times than I can count,” She shouted.

“Yes, I did, but I did it for your own good…never to hurt you, Blake.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that you did it that matters. I loved you, Zack. I wanted the world with you, and you turned me down at every turn,” She said as she began to emerge from the pool.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get back in that water, young lady,” Zack ordered as he pushed her away from the ladder.

“Zack,” She said his name as daggers shot at him from her fiery eyes, “I’m going inside to dry off and get changed. You can leave whenever you take a notion.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” He said as he toed off his shoes and pulled his shirt over his head.

“What are you doing?” She asked as she watched him incredulously.

“I’m joining you,” He said before slipping out of his pants and diving into the water wearing only his skin tight white briefs.

“The man is crazy,” Blake said to herself as she made her way towards the ladder again.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Zack declared as he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her back to him as he eased them towards the center of the pool, “I’m not letting you get away from me that easily.”

“Now I know you’ve lost your mind,” She said as she turned to face him, “Zack, it’s cold out here. Damn near freezing, and I think we should go inside.”

“It may be cold in the air, but it’s mighty warm in this pool,” He pointed out as he plucked at the buttons of her shirt and tugged the wet bundle from her shoulders, “So why don’t you just relax and enjoy this.”

“Why should I?” She countered.

“Because it’ll be fun,” He whispered as his eyes swept over the swell of her breasts only barely covered by the black lace of her bra.

“Yeah I can see what you had in mind,” She said as he lifted his eyes to meet hers.

“Truthfully the idea of getting you naked did appeal,” He flashed a sexy smile, “But really, just take a few moments and let the water soak your cares away.”

“Are you into new age healing or something?” She asked as he winked at her and ducked beneath the water, “What are you? Oh!” She shrieked as he tugged her slacks down over her hips and slipped them down her legs. She lifted her feet from the bottom of the pool to let him sweep her pants from her.

Zack emerged from the water and shook water droplets from his hair with a smile, “ God you have nice legs.”

“So you’ve always said,” She said as she attempted to turn her back on him.

“Don’t you dare turn away from me,” He urged as he pulled her into his arms and met her eyes. He smiled as he flattened his palms along her back and hugged her tighter to him, “I want to hold you.”

“You could have held me inside…with us both being nice and warm,” She pointed out.

“You weren’t going to listen to me, so I had to get your attention,” He said with a sly grin, “And I think this did it.”

“You are such a sh..” She was cut off by his lips capturing hers. She melted into his kiss as she wrapped her arms around him.

Zack squeezed her gently in his arms as he caressed her mouth with his own and allowed his fingertips to dance over the small of her back. He swept his palm over the curve of her hip and drew her thigh over his hip, his fingertips tracing delicate patterns over her thigh.

“Blake…Sweetie…whoa…” Annie stopped at the patio doors and grinned, “Never mind. I can see that you’re in good hands.”

Blake pulled away from Zack and swam towards the ladder. Zack shook his head as he watched her climb out of the pool and run into the house.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt such a…well…intimate moment,” Annie said as she looked to Zack.

Zack shrugged, “I think it was for the best.”

“Perhaps it was,” Annie said with a motherly smile, “Don’t hurt my little Blake, or I swear there will be hell to pay.”

“Yes ma’am,” Zack nodded as she turned and walked back into the house. He closed his eyes and sank back into the water, needing to allow the stress, not to mention the desire, be washed away by the warm water of the pool before he had to take drastic measures to relieve it himself.


Heather took a deep breath as she walked down the hallway alongside Diego. He’d been with her every step of the way, and she felt a since of appreciation for his presence. It wasn’t often someone had gone out of their way to help her, but Diego had been so nice….

Nice like Kipp. She stopped as she closed her eyes. Maybe she had done this to him. Maybe Douglas was right. She was responsible for the event which pushed Kipp over the edge. She was now responsible for finding a way to help him recover from his wounds.

“Heather?” Diego asked as he stopped alongside her, “Are you okay?”

“I am,” Heather replied as she met his eyes, “Thank you for your help, but I think I need some time alone here. I think I’ll just go home and draw a nice warm bath and just think.”

“Are you sure that’s the best thing?”

“Not really, but I’m not sure what the best thing is right now. I’ll just go have some time to myself here.”

“Okay, but do me a favor?”

“What’s that?” She asked softly.

“Come by and see me tomorrow. I want to help you.”

“That’s really very sweet of you,” She said honestly, “We’ll see, okay? That’s really the best I can do right now.”

“Fair enough,” Diego answered with a smile.

Heather patted his shoulder gently before she walked down the hallway to the hospital exit. She stepped outside and wrapped her jacket tighter around her. She walked on the sidewalk before a limo pulled alongside her.

“It’s warmer in here,” Cameron called out from his limo, “Why don’t you come in here and have a seat?”

“I don’t think so,” She replied as she continued down the street.

“That wasn’t a request,” He said as two men quickly converged on her from behind and pushed her towards the car. Cameron opened the door as Heather was shoved into the car. He smiled, “Isn’t this better?”

“Hardly,” She groaned as he closed the door and raised the window, “What do you want?”

“You,” Cameron said calmly, “I think you and I have a lot of things to discuss.”

“We have nothing to discuss. I didn’t get your ring so you’re just out of luck.”

“The ring will come around in time. Right now, however, I’m more concerned about your welfare.”

Heather rolled her eyes, “Please don’t insult my intelligence. What do you want from me?”

“I want you and that precious baby you’re carrying,” Cameron declared as he sat forward.

“What?” She asked as she sat back in her seat and placed her hand over her abdomen.

“Kipp’s in a coma, and you want to see him, correct?”

“How does that concern you?”

“I can get you in to see him, but it’ll cost you.”

“Getting that damn ring?” She questioned.

“No, I’ll help you see Kipp, but we’ll have to come to a legal arrangement first.”

“Get to the point, Cameron. Just tell me what it is you really want,” Heather demanded as her patience wore thin.

“Okay,” Cameron smiled as he sat forward and took her hand, sliding a diamond solitaire onto her finger, “We’re going to be husband and wife, and then you can see Kipp whenever you’d like.”

Heather felt her stomach churn in knots as she saw the seriousness in his eyes as he held her hand within his. It didn’t seem real that he was actually proposing to her…no, it wasn’t a proposal. It was a demand, and she somehow knew that there would be no way she could refuse him and escape safely from his clutches.


Brant stepped into the foyer of his island paradise home away from home hoping to find a way to keep himself busy as Avery took the time she needed to rest up after their failed attempt at a morning adventure.  Now as he looked around the house, he found himself relishing in the serenity that the ocean provided through the grandiose windows just beyond where he was standing.  The sights and sounds of the afternoon surrounding him brought a smile to his lips as he realized that he’d been right about the magic this place held in store for him.  This was without a doubt the place where he would succeed in seducing Avery Morrison on every level.  In between the atmosphere and the privacy that this pleasure filled island would provide them, he had no doubts or uncertainty about where they would be in terms of their relationship when it was time to return to Coral Valley.  He would have her on his arm, truly his in every sense of the word as her heart would no doubt be his.
“Oh Avery,” a smile tickled over his features as he thought of all the effort he’d put into winning her over thus far.  Sure, it might not have been the most conventional of courtships, but he swore to himself that it would be the most memorable as she would be his--that much he was certain of.
Now as he looked to the table beside him, he noticed her purse that had been lifted with her belongings in the quick jaunt out of Coral Valley.  Certainly he’d planned on taking it up to her room with the rest of her things, but right now as his fingers teased over the thin leather strap, well it wouldn’t hurt to take a glimpse at what she’d been carrying around with her for so very long, he reasoned a glimmer of curiosity brewing over him as he crossed the room, clearing a space to empty it out for further inspection.  Dropping down to the chair beside the coffee table, he looked around the room making sure that he was alone before spilling out the contents.  Much to his surprise and dismay there wasn’t much of a tale to tell as Avery’s purse, much like her office and everything else in her life was neat and organized, down to the tiny blue plastic box of Q-tips he dropped back into her purse, before reaching for yet another curious container.
“What is this,” Brant questioned plucking open the container as his dark eyes fell upon the familiar foil condom packages inside.  Plucking one of them up as a smile teased over his lips.
“Now we’re talking,” he eyed his latest find thinking of the many good uses he would have for this particular trinket of Avery’s on this island paradise.  Though he was far certain that they’d have to have a lot more than these select few she carried with her as he would without a doubt offer up some of the most pleasurable experiences of her life sure to make her forget her former lovers--namely Russell Denton.
Just as Brant started to return the condom package to it’s original resting place, he heard the soft buzzing sounds of a vibration coming from across the table.  Almost immediately his eyes fell upon Avery’s cell phone and as it continued it’s dance over the glass table top, he stretched over, capturing it mid-movement as he lifted it up towards his curious eyes.  A tiny chuckle broke past his smile as he realized her phone was a similar model to the one he’d had which made it very easy for him to nose around and see just who was trying to reach her.  Shortly after his eyes fell upon the familiar name and number and a frown touched over his lips.
“So Russell, you’re still not giving up this fight huh,” Brant pressed the playback button ready to hear Russell’s pathetic groveling when the sound of footsteps brought him back to the moment--to the not so empty living room area as he quickly shoved the contents of Avery’s purse back into the leather casing before Kenneth entered the room looking less than enthused to find his brother before him.
“What the hell are you doing here,” Brant scowled rising to his feet before Kenneth could catch him in the act of doing something nefarious--something that had tempted him from the moment that he’d realized Russell was trying to reach Avery.
“I could ask you the same question, but given that I’m your twin, I already know the answer,” Kenneth answered flatly seemingly unimpressed with finding Brant before him, “Brant, how could you do this?”
“Do what,” Brant shrugged his shoulders feigning innocence, “Take my fiancée away for a romantic vacation?  I hardly see the reason for you to get worked up about that.  Speaking of which, what are you doing here?”
“Richard is worried about his daughter,” Kenneth confided with a frown.
“So of course he would send you,” Brant rolled his eyes thinking of the man who’d been a thorn in his side since his arrival in town.  “I knew his words were too good to be true when he said that he trusted I’d do what was best for Avery.”
“It’s a little hard for me to even buy that one considering I know how obsessed you are with her,” Kenneth replied folding his arms in front of his chest.
“It’s not an obsession,” Brant argued with him stepping in closer to his brother, “and further more you have no business being here when Avery and I are looking for some privacy.”
“Brant, what she needs right now is her family,” Kenneth reminded him harshly, “I think she’s been through more than enough the last couple weeks and I don’t think that this…”
“This is none of your concern and for you to fly on in ready to give me a lecture that Richard Morrison has prepared for me, well it’s just…” Brant’s words stopped as his eyes moved beyond Kenneth to the attractive blonde behind him.  Suddenly his features shifted as he offered up a knowing look, “Well, speaking of obsession…”
“Brant, don’t you even think about it,” Kenneth warned fearing where his brother was going as he saw that spark of determination behind Brant’s eyes.
“So you aren’t entirely here to save Avery from my clutches for Richard, are you,” Brant raised an inquiring brow before motioning to Caitlin, “Darling, did my brother bring you here to romance you?  Perhaps show you the magic that the tropics have to offer?” he looked to Kenneth once again, “I have to commend you for taking a page from my book, but you should’ve called first considering that I have someone waiting for me upstairs in the bedroom.”
“I’m sure she’s waiting for something, but it’s not going to be your taking advantage of her,” Kenneth remarked as the lines of his face creased with the obvious tension he was carrying with him.  He turned to Caitlin forcing a smile as he fought the urge to strangle his brother right on the spot, “Caitlin, why don’t you head on upstairs?  I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
“Of course,” she nodded quickly seemingly eager to avoid the confrontation between the Ashford brothers.
Brant watched Caitlin’s retreat up the stairs, admiring her for a moment before turning to Kenneth, “Your taste is improving,” he remarked with a simple shrug of his shoulders before moving towards the bar across the room.
“And you’re making a mistake right about now,” Kenneth informed him bluntly watching the ease at which Brant carried himself around.
“How do you figure?” Brant challenged mildly interested in what Kenneth had to say as he continued to pour his drink.
“For starters you had no business taking Avery away like you did,” Kenneth pointed out, “considering that…”
“That my fiancée had to witness Heather and that idiot Denton disrespecting us in our home?” Brant piped in with a look of disgust, “I’d say that now was the perfect time for us to get away as the media being all up on that one is more than I think either one of us wants to deal with.”
“Brant, you need to own up to the fact that things aren’t the way you’d like them to be with Avery.  She’s not your fiancée and we both know that,” Kenneth tried to reason with him.
“She’s not officially my fiancée yet,” Brant corrected with a hint of a smile, “but we’re working on changing that.”
“No Brant, you’re working on changing it, but Avery isn’t,” Kenneth sighed realizing that his brother needed a reality check and as much as it killed him to be the one to do it, Brant needed some perspective, “She’s not in love with you.”
“Of course she is,” Brant threw back at him eagerly, “She just hasn’t realized the full potential of her feelings yet.”
“No Brant, she’s not in love with you and she’s not going to…”
“Look Ken, do I tell you how to run your love life?  No, I don’t think I do and considering that you’re here with that blonde beauty I really think that the last thing you need to be doing is telling me how I should run the course of my relationship with Avery.  Sure, I’m not thrilled about the idea of you being here with us, but if it has to be that way, then whatever.  Just stay out of our way and we’ll stay out of yours.”
“Brant, would you just take a minute to listen to reason here,” Kenneth pleaded with him, “Think about everything that’s been going on.”
“I have been thinking about it and that’s why I brought Avery out here.  She was in hell back in Coral Valley and now I’m giving her an escape.”
“You’re giving yourself a moment to take advantage of the opportunity that presents itself in your direction,” Ken insisted.
“Do you really think so little about me, brother?  Do you really feel that I’d bring Avery all the way out here if I felt she didn’t love me?  If I thought for a second that she didn’t feel something for me?”
“Avery doesn’t know what she feels right about now and you of all people should see that Brant.”
“What I see is a beautiful woman that I can have a real chance at a future with and if you think for one second that I’m going to let go of that Ken, well you’ve got another think coming because it isn’t happening.  Not for anyone and most certainly not because you want it to be that way.”
“I’m not saying that’s what I want, but Brant, you have to be a realist here…” Kenneth sighed shaking his head at his brother’s stubbornness.
“I’m very much a realist and I can tell you that I know that Avery loves me,” Brant announced boldly, “She and I were meant to be with one another and I’m not going to let you or anyone stop that from happening, so if you came here via Richard Morrison to convince me to give up what I have with Avery, then you can pack it up now and go back to Coral Valley with a message for him.  You can tell him to go straight to hell because Avery and I belong together.”
“Listen to yourself Brant,” Kenneth frowned deeply, “You sound like a man possessed.  Have you taken the time to think for one moment what Avery might want?”
“I know what Avery wants and it’s me,” Brant explained his voice full of passion and determination, “I knew it from the first time I looked at her that she was the one and then when I finally touched her, held her in my arms…”
“Touched her?” Kenneth repeated with wide eyes, “Brant, please tell me that you didn’t…”
“Didn’t what?  Make love to the woman that holds my heart?  To the woman that I’ve waited a lifetime to find?” Brant questioned his eyes narrowing with rage, “What of it if I had?  What is it to you?”
“Avery’s not…” Kenneth sighed shaking his head at his brother, “You just shouldn’t be…”
“Ken, would you stop lecturing me and just be happy for a change?  Weren’t you the one who was always preaching the joys of commitment and all that it entails?  I finally take you up on that mantra of yours and I find the right woman, but now the world is telling me that I’m not sincere…that my intentions are all wrong…”
“What I’m saying is that right now Avery’s confused and anything that might happen will be based on that confusion and you don’t want that,” Kenneth took in a slow breath thinking of his promise to Richard.
“I want Avery and that’s all that matters,” Brant vowed as he lifted his glass to his lips, “I will have her Ken and there’s nothing that will keep me from being with her.”
“Not even what she wants,” Kenneth challenged in response watching Brant drown himself in his drink, “Well?”
“She wants me.  You’ll see,” Brant promised dropping the empty glass down on the bar top as the bell rang interrupting the conversation between both men, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I should get that.”
“Brant,” Kenneth began finding himself at a loss as his brother began to retreat.  Worrying about his brother’s unyielding declaration of love for Avery, he wondered just how far gone Brant was in this situation.  While Ken had been pretty sure about where Avery’s heart was, he was unclear on just how far his brother would go to win her over.  Even now with the way Brant was talking, it was something that left a very unsettling feeling in the pit of Kenneth’s stomach as Brant began to walk away and he realized he couldn‘t just leave it at that.  “Wait.”
“What,” Brant spun around to face him anger rushing over his features.
“Just think about this before you do something that will only make things worse,” Kenneth pleaded with him, “That’s all I ask.”
“I’m only making things better,” Brant began taking in a slow breath as the two men were joined by the doctor Brant had called over earlier.
“Excuse me,” the doctor began looking between the two brothers, “am I interrupting?”
“Not at all,” Brant turned his focus away from Kenneth as he threw out the charming look of confidence that Brant was known for over the years, “though I must confess I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon.”
“I wasn’t planning on returning, but well, I think it would be best if I had a word with your fiancée,” he answered shifting on his feet as he nodded in Kenneth‘s direction.  “It’s good to see you again, Mr. Ashford.”
Kenneth nodded not saying a word as he wondered what the island doctor was doing over at the house at a time like this.
“Is something wrong,” Brant asked as if he’d been reading Kenneth’s thoughts.
“I think it would be best if we spoke about this with Avery as it‘s rather important,” the doctor explained as Kenneth began to wonder just what was really going on with Brant’s quick getaway from Coral Valley.


Avery rubbed her hands over the exposed skin of her arms as she tried to stay focused--to keep the feeling of exhaustion from overtaking her as in sleeping, it was the one place she was certain she couldn’t escape the man that had dominated her dreams--not to mention her waking hours for so very long.  Even now the idea of allowing herself to get lost in another ridiculous fantasy of Russell Denton would be the one thing to do her in as she most certainly was not going to let her feelings for a man who could care less about her bring her down.  It was over and as if his bedding Heather hadn’t been proof enough about that, then the fact that she was away from Coral Valley, away from his silly notions of romance was quite enough to show her that this was for the best.  Sure, she might’ve always wanted him--might’ve never given up the dreams of sharing her life with him, but that wasn’t what he’d wanted.  It wasn’t what he’d needed and the fact that he’d set out to destroy her for her actions once upon a time proved that they weren’t meant to be.
Still as Avery’s thoughts lingered to the way it felt to be in his arms--to having him hold her and promise her forever, she found herself tempted to drift away--to melt into the madness that stirred up all those foolish notions in her subconscious.  If only she’d give in to her discontent and open herself up to the world her dreams would readily provide her with, she could have that slice of heaven with Russell.  She could have him back again and life would be perfect just as soon as she hit the sheets and sank back into the pillow.  In her dreams there would be no Heather--no false promises--no broken hearts and failed marriage attempts.  It would be just Russ and Avery together forever as it always should’ve been and there she would find the thing that had slipped away the night before at the party.
“Stop this,” she brought her hands up over her head feeling the madness sweeping over her as the insanity of her thoughts were bound to drive her over the edge with emotion as she tried to stay focused.  She turned towards the bed, glaring at it for taking away a peaceful sleep--for not allowing her to rest without being haunted by the memory of him, but before she could take her fury out on the one thing that kept her from erasing him from her subconscious, she discovered that she was no longer alone in the cozy bedroom.
“Caitlin,” Avery gasped blinking her eyes once, twice, three times as she wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her.
“I knocked before I came in,” Caitlin admitted gently, her tone laced with concern as she slowly approached Avery, “I thought I heard crying when I was outside and…”
“And you thought you’d come in and see the nervous wreck I am, huh,” Avery sighed slumping down into the chair beside the window she’d been in moments earlier, “Well, what do you think about what you see?”
“I think it looks like you could use a friend right about now,” Caitlin noted continuing to make her way towards Avery.
“Are you offering one,” Avery forced a half smile.
“Only if you’d like me to,” Caitlin replied watching Avery motion towards the chair across from her.
“Right about now, what I could really use is a miracle,” Avery confessed turning her eyes out upon the crystal waters beyond the Ashford home.
“I wish I could say I had one of those in my back pocket right about now,” Caitlin offered up with a soft smile, “as I think I’d enjoy spreading a few of them around.”
“You and me both,“ Avery sighed turning her attention back to Caitlin once again as she struggled to make polite conversation, “So what brings you to paradise?”
“Is that really what you think this place is?” Caitlin questioned feeling the words slip past without thinking about them.
“I suppose it could be construed as a fantasy come to life,” Avery gazed out upon the water listlessly as she struggled to keep her thoughts from following her heart’s direction back to Coral Valley, “I mean hey how many women dream of a romantic getaway like this?  It’s romantic, beautiful and it makes you believe that everything and anything can happen when you‘re with the man you love.  I’d imagine a great many women would give so very much to be where I am right about now.”
“I suppose they might,” Caitlin thought it over for a long moment, “but then again I’m sure that if Russell was the one that brought you here, then you’d be lost in the beauty of this place rather than trapped in the misery you‘ve surrounded yourself with.”
Avery’s eyes returned to Caitlin, questions brewing behind them as Caitlin continued to explain.
“Russell told me that you two were almost married a while back and then after I saw the two of you at the hospital when you paid me a visit,” Caitlin paused trying to show Avery that she wasn’t passing any kind of judgment upon her, “well even though I wasn’t up to speed if you will, I could feel the chemistry there.  I guess you could say that my keen sense of observation comes along with being a reporter.”
“So we were that obvious, huh,” Avery sighed not bothering to deny the truth as she felt the tears pooling behind her eyes and she bit on her lower lip trying to keep from crying all over again, “You know I never expected any of this to happen…”
“I’m sure you didn’t,” Caitlin reached out to take her hand supportively, “but love doesn’t follow the path that we chart out for ourselves.  Even the best laid plans tend to take a turn every now and then…”
“I just don’t understand why they turned in this direction,” Avery sniffled closing her eyes as she thought to the night her world fell apart, “We had so many plans…so many dreams…but now…”
Caitlin remained quite for a moment of observation as she watched Avery fighting with herself, “You still love Russell, don’t you?”
“What kind of fool does that make me,” Avery nodded unable to contain her tears as she thought to the image of him with Heather in his arms.
“You’re not a fool,” Caitlin informed her honestly, “You’re a woman in love…”
“With a man who was just waiting to find a way to hurt me for the way I hurt him so very long ago,” Avery inhaled an uneven breath of air as her heart sank, “I knew I shouldn’t have let him back into my life.  I shouldn’t have given my heart to him again after all the misery that we had before…”
“Avery, look I don’t know the details of what was going on with you and Russell, but I do know that he cares about you,” Caitlin offered gently thinking to her friend, “while I wasn’t there last night when everything happened, I do know that you’re very special to him.  Sure, he might’ve tried to keep it inside considering the circumstances, but there was no mistaking he was a man in love.  I mean hey I haven’t known him for too long, but he had that look about him, that certain spring in his step and when he spoke about you, well he seemed to light up all over.”
“Then why was he with her?” Avery questioned painfully as she curled her fingers into her palm feeling the ache of her nails into her skin as she strained to feel something--anything, but the misery that losing Russell had brought her, “How could he do something like this to me when we had so many plans for the future,” she let out an ironic laugh as she shook her head, “You know he asked me to run away with him.  We were going to get married last night…”
Caitlin couldn’t help but allow the surprise to slip through her features upon Avery’s words as Avery continued her tale.
“We agreed that we’d go away for a while--that we’d put Coral Valley behind us and that we’d tell everyone the truth, but now…” Avery broke into tiny sobs, “it’s gone.  Everything we thought we had together is gone and now, well now all I want is to have it back…to be with him and it kills me that I can feel that way knowing that he hurt me like he did.  I mean how can I still love him like this?  Still want him like I do when he broke my heart?  Why am I so stupid?”
“You’re not stupid,” Caitlin reached out to her offering up an embrace as she tried to comfort a very confused Avery.  While she wasn’t quite sure how Brant Ashford played into all of this, there was no mistaking the level of intensity between Russell and Avery and even now as she witnessed Avery’s heart breaking, she too wondered how Russell could do something so out of character.
“Yes I am,” Avery cried harder unable to contain the pain that had been buried inside of her, “I mean honestly how can you spend your whole life knowing someone, loving them and then have it all wind up like this?”
“Maybe there’s something that you’re overlooking,” Caitlin suggested a faint glimmer of hope in her voice, “Maybe if you talk to Russell…”
“And say what?” Avery questioned pulling away as she wiped at her tears, “That despite the fact he broke my heart by turning to someone like Heather Gibbons that I’m ready to play a fool for him again and again?” Avery shook her head defiance in her tone as she rose from her chair, “I can’t do that.  I won’t do that.”
“Then how will you ever really know what happened,” Caitlin posed the question as Avery stepped towards the balcony again, “How will you ever truly find closure in this situation if you don’t allow your heart to be your guide?”
“I tried it before and look where it got me,” Avery threw her hands in the air wildly, “Russ and I tried this time and time again and something’s always gotten in the way.  I mean the first time we…” Avery stopped herself refusing to go down that road again.
“What happened?” Caitlin questioned sensing Avery’s desire to talk, but her uncertainty about opening up.  “Avery, please…you need to speak with someone…”
“It’s not that easy,” Avery closed her eyes feeling the tears sting at her face, “I mean after that day I walked out on him, I never anticipated I’d look back again…never thought that I’d allow him to see what was in my heart, but then when Bruce and I were over,” she felt a tiny smile tug at her lips despite the pain that filled her heart, “Russ was just so damned stubborn.  He was so persistent and impossible…”
“I can see that about him every now and then,” Caitlin offered in response.
“He’s relentless when he’s got his mind set on something,” Avery sighed thinking of how he’d pushed his way back into her life again, “Did he tell you that he followed Brant and I out of Coral Valley?  That he found a way to get under my skin and drive me crazy by following me?”
“No, he didn’t tell me, but there were rumors about that black eye he had when he’d returned to Coral Valley,” Caitlin thought back to the newsroom gossip that had circulated around Russell and his curious behaviors.
“I was so angry with him,” Avery sighed remembering the ways in which she’d wanted to keep him at arm’s length, “but more so I was furious with myself for allowing him back in--for giving him a chance to reach me and force me to face what I was feeling for him.  Even now when I think about how we came to one another again, the way it felt being in his arms,” she shivered as the thought of never experiencing his touch again chilled her all over, “even after that night we had together, when Bruce attacked me, well I knew then that I wouldn’t have changed a thing with Russ.  When we were together, well, it’s the only time in my life that things ever felt really right for me and now…”
“Now you’re away from home with a man that doesn’t understand where your heart truly is,” Caitlin deduced as Avery spun around to face her.
“I never meant to pull Brant into this.  I never wanted to hurt him or make him go through any of this, but when that article came out with that story about our engagement, the wheels were already in motion and we couldn’t deny what was happening as Bruce was murdered and then, well it all built from that and now, well I don’t know where that takes us now…”
“Well I know it’s none of my business, but maybe right now what you need is some time to think about what you feel,” Caitlin suggested openly, “I mean as much as Brant is trying here, I don’t think you’re ready for this.  I don’t think you’re ready to push Russell out of your life just yet and until you two are able to find some kind of closure, then this situation is always going to hang over your head.”
“And what if I seek out that closure and then I realize that it’s the last thing I want from Russ,” Avery questioned poignantly, “what if in talking to him I see that I want to hold him and never let go?”
“Then follow your heart because in this situation maybe it’s the only thing you can be sure of,” Caitlin suggested running her fingers through her blonde hair, “I mean sure your head is going to tell you a lot of different things that you could do or that you should be doing, but what you need to do is follow your instinct and Avery, if it’s telling you that you should talk with Russell, then you should find a way to make it happen as that’ll be the only way you’ll ever truly know where you’re meant to be.”
“Even so,” Avery sighed slumping down into the chair again, “I gave him my heart so many times in the past and if this time is truly the end…”
“It’s something you’ll have to face,” Caitlin lowered her voice a bit as she wished there was some easy answer to this situation, “but you have to do it in Coral Valley as in being here, you’re not doing anything, but adding to the questions that are eating away at you.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Avery lifted her eyes up towards Caitlin, “maybe that’s what I need to do.”
“Only you can be sure of that, but whatever decision you make, just know that you don’t have to go through this alone,” Caitlin offered a soft smile, “If you need someone to talk to, well I might not have all the answers, but I’m willing to try…”
“Thank you Caitlin,” Avery smiled in response wiping at her tears, “Russ always said you were a special person and I can see why he felt that way as you’re one in a million.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Caitlin replied modestly.
“No you really are,” Avery insisted reaching out to embrace the woman who’d helped her through some of the toughest times she’d faced in the last couple of months, “Ken’s a really lucky guy to have found you.”
“I feel like I’m the lucky one,” Caitlin admitted thinking to the man who’d captured her heart, “He’s an amazing man.”
“He truly is and he’s been waiting a long time to find the right woman,” Avery confessed thinking of her friend as she squeezed Caitlin’s hand, “and I really believe he’s found that in you.”
Caitlin felt a blush rise over her features as she opened her mouth to speak, but before she could reply to Avery’s kind words, the door to the bedroom opened and Brant stepped inside with Kenneth and another man at his heels.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Brant spoke up as his eyes drifted over towards Avery.  His smile faded and transformed into a frown as he rushed over to her side, bringing his arm out around her shoulders, “Avery, what’s wrong?”
“Brant, I’m just…” Avery sniffled trying to wipe at her face once again, “I’m just really emotional right now considering…”
“I’m worried about you,” he confessed reaching out to touch her cheek, “Avery, this isn’t like you at all.”
“I know and we need to talk.  There are some things that you have a right to know--things that I should’ve told you earlier,” Avery drew in a slow breath realizing that she couldn’t keep Brant lost in a world of lies even if Russell was no longer a part of her life.
“We’ll have time for that, but first,” Brant squeezed her in his arms, “there’s something else we need to do.”
“Brant, this really can’t wait,” Avery urged him once again before her eyes fell upon the man standing behind Kenneth and almost immediately she was on the defense.  “What the hell is he doing here?”
“Avery…” Brant began again touching her arm as she stepped forward.
“Look I don’t know what your problem is Doc, but I’m not going to subject myself to anymore tests so you and your needles can take a flying leap,” Avery snapped at the man she’d grown to loathe in their brief encounter earlier in the day.
“She’s just upset,” Brant started to apologize to the man before them.
“You’re damn right I am.  I don’t know what his deal was in poking and prodding at me like that considering that I’m completely healthy other than the fact the water didn’t agree with this morning.  This line of bull about some virus is just ridiculous considering that you and I haven’t been here more than what twelve hours?”
“Actually,” the doctor began, “that’s why I’m here.”
“Well you can just turn around and keep on going because I’m not offering anymore blood to you,” Avery hissed in response feeling the need to lash out at someone, anyone as it made her forget her own misery for a little while.
“I’m not going to be taking anymore blood, but I do need to speak with you both about what I found,” the doctor explained flashing Brant a condescending smile, “and I’m certain that when I’m through here we can find a way to remedy those fluctuating hormones of hers and make your life together a bit more bearable.”
“Oh please,” Avery rolled her eyes as she darted forward ready to strike the grinning man before her.
“Avery, don’t,” Brant tugged on her arm pulling her back towards him as he looked to the doctor, “listen I don’t mean to be rude, but we’ve had a long day, so can we just dispense with the theatrics here?  What did you find?”
“Well after I left her, I got to thinking about your fiancée’s attitude and well I recognized some of that hostility from when my wife was going through the same thing,” the doctor offered up his smile widening as a chuckle spilled over his lips, “so I had my suspicions when I left and wouldn’t you know I was dead on?”
“Dead on with what?” Kenneth questioned breaking his silence as the doctor looked to the other Ashford brother.
“Perhaps I should wait until I can get Brant and Avery alone for this,” the doctor answered simply turning his attention back to Brant.
“Whatever you have to tell us, you can say in front of my brother and Caitlin.  Right Avery?” Brant tossed back at him.
“Whatever,” Avery grumbled in response as she realized she just wanted to be left alone.
“Alright then,” the doctor nodded quickly, “as I said before your fiancée’s hostility lead me to question a few things and I was right about my suspicions as it seems that her hormones are indeed giving you both a roller coaster ride and with good reason as it seems you both are about to become parents.”
“What?” Avery blinked back catching his words feeling as though he’d smacked her with some kind of cruel joke, “What did you just say?”
“You’re pregnant,” the doctor explained casually, “and given that you are in such a state, well I think Brant is going to be in for some eventful months.”
“No, that can’t be right,” Avery shook her head arguing with him, “You’re lying.  I’m not pregnant.”
“Yes, you are,” the doctor insisted again, “You’re very much pregnant, Avery.”
“Pregnant,” Brant repeated as the words began to register in his head.  “You’re sure?”
“I ran the test twice,” the doctor nodded, “and both times it had the same result as it seems there’s going to be a little Ashford running around very soon.”
“No, I’m not pregnant,” Avery gasped thinking of the truths that she’d known for so many years, “It’s not possible…”
“It is indeed possible as I have your results right here with me as I’d suspected I might get some kind of backlash from you,” the doctor cautiously handed over the envelope he’d had containing the test results as Avery snatched them from his hand harshly.
“I don’t believe it,” Avery tore the papers out as Brant stepped in behind her looking over her shoulder as her jaw dropped at what was before her.  Suddenly images of her and Russell together surrounded her as his talk about them growing old together, having a family with one another was becoming a reality--one that she’d never expected and it was in that instant that Avery felt her insides tug at her and she placed her hand over her abdomen protectively.  “A baby…I‘m…I‘m really…”
“That’s right.  You’re going to be a mother and you,” the doctor smiled up at Brant, “are about to become a father.”
“A father,” Brant repeated watching the change in Avery as she’d read the words before her and as he felt Kenneth and the doctor awaiting his reaction, he did the first thing that came to mind pulling Avery into his arms excitedly.  Hugging her closer to him as he felt the weight of the moment upon them, he spun her around before she gazed up at him full of confusion.  Before she could respond, he cupped her face in his hands kissing her excitedly as he vowed he would accept the responsibility that came with loving Avery even if it meant becoming the man she needed at a time like this.  One way or another he’d find a way to give her everything and more as this baby would be the key to their building a life with one another.  That much he was sure of.

...to be continued...