“Have you gone mad? Never mind I think your actions speak for
themselves as you‘re insane,” Diane spat out harshly as she tugged on her
wrist upon finding herself handcuffed to the headboard behind her.
Somehow despite her struggles Ben had still managed to overpower her as
he’d dragged her out of her apartment complex kicking and screaming and
no one had a word to say on the matter it seemed as they’d just allowed
her to be kidnapped. Now as she looked around this small home in
the middle of the woods, she wondered why in the world she’d found Ben
to be interesting to begin with as he was suddenly showing some very twisted
tendencies in her mind.
Once again tugging on her wrist, Diane looked at Ben as he beckoned the flames of the fire in the fire place to a full crimson and copper shade before adjusting them one more time. He was crouched over clearly ignoring her words as she could see the way the shadows danced off of his features suddenly making him appear dark and mysteriously sexy. No, Diane cursed herself as she pulled at her wrist again feeling the cold metal upon her. There’s nothing sexy about a man that kidnaps you so wake up, she reminded herself as her lips curled in complaint.
“Who the hell do you think you are? You can’t keep me here locked up like this,” she shouted her voice raising with each word as Ben slowly eased up into an upright position setting the fire poker down beside the fireplace as he spun around to face her, “You won’t be able to get away with this. My mother will realize I’m missing and then when she does, oh boy buddy your ass is grass,” she continued in a rant.
“Diane, would you just calm down for five minutes,” he pleaded with her as a frown touched over his lips. “This really isn’t nearly as bad as you’re making it out to be.”
“Not nearly?” her eyes widened in surprise, “Ben, you’ve not only invaded my home, but you’ve kidnapped me and handcuffed me to some bed in the middle of no where to do heaven knows what. That in itself says you’re demented…”
“A few weeks ago you would’ve begged for me to take such drastic measures here,” Ben threw back at her in a teasing tone as his eyes fell over her involuntarily allowing himself to take in her sexy curves.
Diane felt a heat rise over her features as his eyes began to make love to her, but as she shook the thought and the memory of what it had been like to be with him, she let anger take control and she kicked her legs out over the comforter in protest, not causing much more than a wrinkle despite her efforts to cause some kind of damage to this place he’d decided to hold her hostage at.
“You’re sick,” she threw out in a blatant attempt to goad him, “I mean I knew you were a pervert, but this, well this takes you into the ranks of psycho and when my family discovers I’m missing…”
“Your family knows you’re in good hands,” Ben eased down on the bed taking a seat beside her as he watched with mild amusement before throwing out a teasing wink, “After all your mother gave us her full blessing when she left us alone before.”
“My mother didn’t know what a demented freak you are,” Diane spat out at him kicking her legs in his direction once again as he just barely avoided being blasted with her raging blows.
“Diane, would you knock it off,” Ben questioned maneuvering himself over her in an attempt to keep her from causing either one of them anymore bodily harm than necessary.
“Not a chance,” she began to shift beneath him putting up a fight as he tried to hold her, “I’m not going to let you rape or murder me out here in the middle of no where just because I was stupid enough to ever believe in you.”
“Diane,” Ben groaned nearly leaping off of her as he backed away from the bed, “I’m not going to rape or murder you.”
“Oh right. Like I’m supposed to believe that or anything else that comes out of your mouth,” Diane glared up at him, “I hate you Ben Walters and I want nothing to do with you.”
“Now I know you don’t mean that and when you hear what I have to tell you, then maybe just maybe you’ll see why you were wrong about me,” Ben began with a heavy sigh.
“Oh I was wrong about you indeed. I was wrong about ever thinking that you could be someone special or that you were the kind of man I needed in my life--you know the kind with a heart and a good, solid head on his shoulders because clearly you’re a sociopath.”
“I’m not a sociopath,” he argued with her.
“Oh yeah like it’s really sane to not accept rejection and kidnap your ex-girlfriend like this and take her away from the life she knows and loves…”
“Damn it Diane,” Ben marched over towards her unable to reach her with his words as he leaned down capturing her mouth in a demanding kiss hoping to just find a way to shut her up for a few minutes so that he could say what needed to be said. He felt her anger, her bitterness and spite against his mouth, but as the hot fire of her rage scorched him, the kiss transformed into something wild--something spontaneous and arousing all rolled into one as the sweetness of her strawberry lip gloss offered enticing hints of passion in her kiss. Half expecting her to cause some kind of damage upon him, Ben felt shock, surprise and encouragement when he felt Diane’s free arm slink around his neck pulling him in closer to her as her mouth coaxed him into a deeper, more intimate gesture as her tongue teased over his lips.
“Ben,” she whispered his name leaning forward as a slow whimper rose up inside of her.
“Shh…” he mouthed as he reluctantly tore himself away from the kiss allowing himself to take in the moment as his finger tips swept over her full, throbbing lips as she sought out the connection between them once again. He eased his fingers into her hair holding her face as her eyes were wide with her own astonishment as she’d found herself so readily accepting of his kiss, but before she could come to her senses again, he spoke to her in a pleading tone, “Diane, just hear me out…”
“Ben, I…” she began still visibly shaken by the kiss as he eased down onto the bed beside her.
“Diane, I didn’t lie to you,” he pressed his index finger over the center of her lips, “That woman you saw at my apartment, well, she wasn’t the other woman--at least not like you think.”
Anger flashed behind her eyes as though his words had extracted the memory from the dark recesses she’d tried to bury inside her head and a frown touched over her lips, “Don’t you even start with me mister.”
“Diane,” he cut her off quickly, “listen to me. What you saw at my apartment wasn’t the other woman, but well, she’s someone that I…” he struggled for the right words, “Diane, there’s no easy to put this…”
“Of course there isn’t because you’re a jerk. An honest to goodness jerk and if you don’t let me go right this instant…” Diane demanded with a hiss.
“Fine,” Ben replied with a groan reaching into his pocket as he sought out the key to the handcuffs, “though if I do that, well it’s going to be a long walk back to Coral Valley and if you haven’t noticed it’s snowing right about now.”
“What?” Diane questioned her eyes turning towards the window on the opposite end of the room as she noticed the soft white flakes outside the window, “No way…”
“That’s right,” Ben explained simply, “not only is it snowing, but up here it’s been that way for hours and these parts aren’t that busy this time of year considering…”
“You are a lunatic, aren’t you? You’ve brought me up here to kill me haven’t you?” she questioned in a mini-panic, “Oh God, I had sex with you and then you snapped. You’re some kind of axe murderer and I just let you kiss me and…”
“Diane, I’m not an axe murderer,” he paused feeling the weight of the moment upon him as he inhaled slowly, “that woman you saw in my apartment wasn’t my lover. She’s someone I’m involved with, but on a professional level.”
“Gee and that includes house calls? Ben, I so don’t think so,” she rolled her eyes, “Sure I might’ve been blind about what a jerk you were before, but I’m not stupid.”
“You sure like to insult me for a woman fearing for her life, don’t you?” he challenged throwing out a strange look.
“That’s because I won’t let you have the satisfaction of allowing you to get the best of me,” she huffed tossing her hair over her shoulder as she wrenched at her wrist, “You can try, but I won’t let you have that pleasure even if you‘re out to hurt me.”
“I’m not out to hurt you. Diane, that’s the problem in all of this,” Ben rose to his feet again pacing around the room nervously, “You see the fact to the matter is that I’m not what you think I am. I’m not some jerk that just picked you up for the hell of it to toy with you when I had another life on the side. Granted I do have another life--a life that goes beyond BBK and beyond what I have working there and no that life didn’t include you, but now,” he groaned as he faced her again, “Diane, you forced me to compromise everything and even now I’d be in a world of trouble if anyone knew what I was about to do.”
“You’re already in a world of trouble mister,” she snapped in response as her eyes darted to his hand seeing the key to the handcuffs before her, “Let me go Ben.”
“Diane, you’re not getting this,” Ben blurted out, “I’m not some kind of lunatic. Okay, I’m not even supposed to be feeling this way about you as it’s not at all what I was sent here to do. You see my working at BBK was only temporary because I’m not just Avery’s assistant. I mean sure she’s nice, but that’s not who I really am.”
“I don’t understand,” Diane gave him a sideways glance, “Ben, you’re not making any sense. Not that you were before, but still…”
“Diane, the woman you saw in my apartment that morning was Isabel Chavez. She’s Coral Valley’s District Attorney and I’m sure you’ve heard of her.”
“I’ve heard of Chavez, but you can’t convince me that woman in your apartment was the District Attorney unless…” her jaw dropped in realization, “Ben, are you in some kind of trouble with the law? Is that why she was making a house call there?”
“No Diane, I’m not in trouble with the law…at least I wasn’t before I decided to bring you here,” he rubbed his hands together as he took in a breath, “You see I wanted to tell you the truth the night we made love, but then you told me about your father and then, well the timing wasn’t right. After that well Isabel showed up and you got the wrong idea about things and I wanted to explain, but you wouldn’t let me and then when I saw you with that loser at the party…well, I realized I had to tell you the truth and let things fall into place one way or another…”
“Ben,” Diane watched him take a seat beside her as he reached out to her gently releasing her wrist as he undid the handcuff.
“Diane, I hated deceiving you. I never wanted the lies to get so far out of hand, but I didn’t have a choice as Isabel forced me to keep a lid on what was going on, but now…well, the truth to the matter is that I work for the District Attorney’s office. I’ve worked for Isabel for a couple years now and…”
“You what?” Diane’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Diane, I’ve been undercover for a while as she’s working to expose some things I’m not at privilege to tell you about at BBK as even my telling you at this much puts my position at risk…”
“You mean to tell me you’re some kind of spy?” Diane’s eyes widened with surprise.
“Not exactly, but well…Diane, none of that matters. What’s important is that I care about you and I can’t bear the thought of being without you. The other night when I saw you with that loser, it did something to me. I didn’t like it and I couldn’t stand not being able to hold you…not being able to be with you…”
“But you lied to me? You were supposed to keep your cover from being blown and I was never part of that plan? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Diane, I wanted to stay away from you--to stay focused on what was being required of me, but you were so relentless that I couldn’t walk away. I couldn’t just pretend that you didn’t get to me because you did something to me and even now, Diane, I can’t imagine not being around you. You’re an amazing woman and despite the fact that I’ve fought like hell not to feel anything for you, you managed to find a way to break through my defenses,” he reached out to touch her face gently, “and now I know I can’t be without you.”
“Ben, I…” Diane began at a loss as she saw the sincerity behind his eyes.
“Diane, I’m sorry,” he apologized feeling her reach out to him.
“You shouldn’t have lied to me and even now I don’t know what to think,” she confessed looking to the door just beyond them, “I mean knowing that you aren’t what you seem…”
“Diane, I wanted to tell you but…” he touched her shoulder as she turned to look at him once again.
“But nothing. You shouldn’t have lied to me and that’s unforgivable,” Diane admitted raising her voice with anger as she found herself unable to quell the urge to lash out at him. Almost instinctively she threw her fist into his jaw knocking him back off of the bed and onto the floor as she rose to her feet glaring down at him, “If you think for one second that I’m going to buy any of this bull, then you’re even stupider than I took you for Ben Walters,” she huffed turning on her heel as she headed for the door, “I’m out of here.”
“Oh no you’re not,” Ben replied stammering to his feet again despite the pain that ripped through the side of his face. As he felt her going towards the door, a desperation flooded over him and he pulled her into his arms vowing to do whatever it would take to keep her with him.
Diane gasped as Ben spun her in his arms, pressing her up against the door as their eyes connected. She found herself wild with anger, overcome with rage as she leaned in against the door frame refusing to budge on the issue with him as his pensive eyes reached down into her. She opened her mouth to speak hoping to find the right thing to say to him--the words to protest any attempts he made to keep her with him, but as she felt his arms around her, her voice failed to rouse up any kind of fighting words. Instead she threw her arms around him kissing him as if she’d never let go as the truth to the matter was that she never wanted to leave his side--never wanted to find a way to be without him as despite the misery she’d been through, Ben had moved her in ways she couldn’t even begin to put words to.
Hungrily Ben drank up her kisses as Diane hugged his body to hers. Feeling his arms drop down over the small of her waist, she leaned forward rubbing up against him eager to be closer to him. He coaxed her up into his arms completely and in that moment of surrender, Diane realized that despite the way he’d ripped her from her apartment, the way he’d handcuffed her to the bed, leading up to the way he was carrying her back towards the bed no doubt eager to explore the same desires still burning inside of her, she still wanted him--still craved him and for the time being she decided that good sense of reason be damned because she was going to have him all over again even if it wound up burying her in the long run.
In the blink of an eye, Avery felt one of the most impossible dreams
coming true followed by the warmth of Brant’s arms surrounding her as his
lips coaxed hers into submission, plummeting over her with their hint of
cinnamon before Avery could register some kind of reaction about the situation.
Suddenly her words were muffled, her surprise and enthusiasm curbed by
Brant’s tongue teasing over the crease in her lips urging her on to play
a part of his spontaneous display of enthusiasm as she pressed her palms
into his shoulders shoving him away from her with an exaggerated groan.
“Get away from me,” Avery hissed glaring up at Brant as the doctor offered up a tiny chuckle in response.
“Normally they wait until delivery to give you that kind of response,” he offered up in obvious amusement as Kenneth cleared his throat stepping aside as he could see now was not the time for a crowd to gather in the room.
“Um, how about we give them a few moments alone,” Kenneth suggested exchanging concerned glances with Caitlin who nodded accordingly.
“If you need anything,” the doctor began again as Kenneth reached for his arm urging him out of the room.
“They know where to find you,” Kenneth interrupted as he looked to his brother, “We’ll be downstairs if you need us,” he explained closing the door behind him leaving Brant and Avery alone with one another as a thick silence filled the air surrounding them.
“What the hell were you thinking?” she demanded harshly her eyes full of a mixture of rage and something else he couldn’t quite place in her.
“What was I thinking,” Brant repeated surprised by her response to him, “Avery, I was doing what we both knew needed to be done in this situation.”
“This situation is…” Avery’s eyes narrowed at him as she found herself so readily eager to lash out at him, but alas that emotion was secondary to the one that her impending motherhood held over her. She turned away from him wrapping her arms around her body as she tried to come to terms with what the doctor had thrown upon her. Sure, she’d supposed that there was always a chance of a pregnancy--well in most cases for most women, but she’d never been most of anything. She knew how the cards were dealt in her direction and with that knowledge came the acceptance of where her life should go and damn her it shouldn’t have been like this. No, she’d had dreams about motherhood, but there was no point in them as she was certain she’d never find herself in this position, never be experiencing this kind of miracle first hand considering that the odds were most certainly stacked against her. There was just no way to believe that she, Avery Morrison, was about to have a child--Russell’s child no less. The irony in that thought brought her back to the moment as Brant reached out to her touching her shoulder gently.
“Avery, I was just trying to do what was best. Everyone was expecting me to react and well, given that we’re about to have a baby…” Brant began with a heavy sigh, “I just thought…”
“Brant, there’s no we about this. I’m having a baby,” Avery spun around to face him unable to believe the words as they fell from her lips, “I wasn’t expecting this and I never dreamed that I would be pregnant, but now…”
“Now it changes thing,” Brant interrupted quickly seeing a distance behind her eyes as the wheels in his head were already clicking away, “Avery, you’re about to bring a life into this world and I think it’s time we start talking about what that means for the future…for our future together.”
“Our future?” Avery gave him a sideways glance as her lips curled in confusion, “Brant, what are you talking about?”
“Avery, it’s quite simple,” Brant deduced bringing his hand up to touch her cheek as he felt her pull away from him. Not allowing this distance to happen between them, he reached out to her once again, “Avery, I know you’ve been running away from me all this time and sure maybe a baby wasn’t something you’d planned on--something that we planned on this early on considering, but my feelings for you haven’t changed. In fact, they’ve only intensified now that I see how much you need me--how much we need each other…”
“Brant, I’m not following,” Avery openly admitted as this sudden twist of fate was far more overwhelming than she’d ever imagined it being.
“Avery, right now I’m sure you’re going through a mixture of emotions especially now that you aren’t with the baby’s father,” Brant explained reaching out to her with his soothing tone and concerned eyes, “and I know he’s hurt you, but with this baby, well it’s a new chance to start over again. You can take the one good thing he gave you and we can make something of it. We can make a life together…a life that we both can learn to love…”
“Brant, you’re not suggesting what I think you are,” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise as a sudden feeling tugged at her insides, “don’t tell me that you’re…”
“Proposing,” Brant nodded eagerly as he reached for her hand and he began to lower himself to his knees before her, “oh yeah…”
“Brant, don’t,” she begged of him trying to pull him up before he went and complicated the situation in ways she wasn’t ready for, but much to her dismay, he refused to budge as he lifted her fingers to his lips offering a tender brush over her skin. “Brant please…”
“Avery Morrison, I know you’re been fighting me on every twist and turn, but the truth to the matter is that we need each other. I need you more than you can even begin to realize and with this baby, well it’s a chance for a family--a real family for us and I know this is what we both need.”
“Avery, just hear me out,” Brant pleaded with her squeezing her hand in his, “I know I’m not exactly the most upstanding guy in the world and sure I’ve let you down time and time again, but I swear to you that I’ll change. I’ll do whatever it takes to prove to you that we belong together and that I can be the father this child needs in his or her life. I mean hey I like children and that has to count for something.”
“What kind of experience do you have in dealing with children,” Avery couldn’t help but question doubtful as she watched him pouring his thoughts out to her.
“Avery, I was around when Blake was little and hey, I’m a fun sort of guy.”
“Brant, your idea of commitment is a return phone call after a night of sex and maybe a second date if the girl is interesting enough,” Avery reminded him harshly as she managed to coax him off the ground, “You couldn’t stay with one woman for the rest of your life if you tried because that in itself would kill you…”
“Avery, I’m willing to try if it means that I can be with you--that I can be there with you through this every step of the way sharing each and every moment of this child’s life,” he explained bringing his hand over her abdomen in a tender gesture as a gasp spilled from her lips and he massaged her stomach gently, “Avery, I’ve been a spoiled son of a bitch all my life, but I’m ready to change. I’m ready to settle down and start living out all those dreams that everyone else kept talking about all those years. I’m tired of being alone and having empty meaningless relationships with women who couldn’t give a damn about anything more than the millions I have or the prestige that being around an Ashford can bring them. I want someone in my life who challenges me on an intellectual and spiritual level. I want someone who entices me and seduces my senses in every sense of the word and Avery, I know that you’re that woman. You’re the woman I’ve waited a lifetime to find and I refuse to walk away from it now when we need one another more than ever.”
“Brant,” Avery felt tears in her eyes upon his words as her heart sank and she thought back to the man who should’ve been sharing this miracle with her, “but you’re not the father and for me to ask you to take on that kind of responsibility considering…”
“Avery, none of that is important,” Brant offered up quickly desperate to find a way to break through the barriers she’d had surrounding her heart, “All that matters is that I love you and I want to be able to find a way to share my life with you and this baby.”
“Brant, it’s not love. It’s a classic case of lust and that’s all and the fact that I’m pregnant with another man’s child says that,” she started to argue with him as he pulled her into his arms, coaxing her against him as his dark eyes penetrated hers.
“It’s more than lust and you should know that by now,” Brant whispered heatedly his lips just above hers as he swore he could feel her heart pounding wildly against his, in the same frantic rhythm that had lead him to his spontaneous proposal. He watched her sensual mouth part in what felt like it could be a moment of protest, but as he squeezed her closer to him, he bridged the distance between them capturing her mouth in the tantalizing beginnings of a kiss.
Brant felt her whimper against him, tense and unsure of his intentions as the kiss continued, but as his fingers fanned out over her spine keeping her safe within the confines of his arms, she seemed to melt against him. Her lips kept the contact between them as the saltiness of her tears tasted upon his lips. Ever so slowly he pulled away from her seeing the mixture of sadness and something else he couldn’t quite read behind her eyes as her lower lip quivered and a breath escaped her lips.
“Marry me, Avery,” he extended his arm out towards her hoping to coax her into seeing the dreams he’d had for a future between them.
“Brant,” she began looking down at his outstretched hand as the last few months of her life flooded before her. She thought about her troubled relationship with Bruce, to her attraction to Brant, back to the reunion with Russell that had made all of her dreams come true, only to have them come crashing down around her once she’d discovered him in bed with her worst enemy, back to the present as the news of her pregnancy hung over her as a sign of hope with Brant’s proposal laid out on the table as an alternative course of destiny as the one she’d planned on had been ripped away from her. It was in that instant that the pain and misery she’d felt in Russell’s betrayal hung over her and suddenly she found herself bursting into tears as she pulled away from him, “I can’t…”
“Avery,” Brant watched her hugging her arms over her chest falling further away from him with each backward step she took.
“Brant, it’s too soon,” Avery broke into sobs as she saw the confusion over his features, “I just can’t do this now,” she blurted out fleeing into the master bathroom as the weight of the moment took it’s toll on her as suddenly everything she’d thought she’d known about her life had thrown her for a loop--one that she wasn’t quite sure how to deal with. Locking the bathroom door behind her, she sank to the floor overcome by the moment as her dreams of happily ever after felt closer than ever, yet further away all at once as her world closed in around her leaving her more confused than ever as she‘d finally succeeded in losing the control that had dictated her life for so very long. Suddenly she felt like a stranger in her life and it felt as though she’d never be able to find her way out of the misery that surrounded her as with this new miracle came a sense of emptiness that was far more than she’d ever anticipated.
Heather followed Cameron into his mansion while Franklin, the butler, quickly converged on them.
“Can I get you anything, sir?” Franklin asked as he held their coats over his arm.
“Yes, prepare a guest room for Ms. Gibbons, and fix her a quick bite to eat,” Cameron spoke as he dismissed the butler.
“Just who do you think you are?” Heather asked as they were left alone. She followed Cameron into the den where she took a defensive stance far across the room from him, “Well?”
“Well what? You’re not asking the right questions, Heather. You should be asking me how I can help you,” He said with a dry smile as he sat upon the sofa.
“I highly doubt there is anything you could do that would help me in any way.”
“Really?” He shrugged, “I guess Kipp didn’t tell you how he and I know one another.”
“It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that he works for you, could it?” She asked dryly as she crossed her arms.
“He only came to work for me because I offered him a prestigious job. Kipp and I have known each other for much longer than that, however. He’s my step-brother.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Heather groaned in disgust, “No wonder Kipp doesn’t trust you.”
“He knows that I’ve always tried to protect him. Douglas never did know how to be a parent.”
“And you do? Yeah, you’ve been real parent like since I’ve met you,” She snorted as she made her way towards the window to gaze outside.
“In business, I’m ruthless. I never pretend otherwise. With family, however, I can be a completely different man.”
“And that’s why you think I’m going to accept your marriage proposal?” She asked as she looked at the ring he’d slipped on her finger, “Or was I right when I figured you weren’t exactly giving me a choice in the matter.”
“You do have a choice. You can go back to the hotel, be miserable, and never get the chance to see Kipp ever again while the second your child is born and Douglas figures out the kid really is Mahoney, he’ll snatch the kid from you quicker than you can blink an eye,” Cameron warned, “Or there’s my offer.”
“What exactly is your offer?” She asked as she turned to face him.
“I need stability in my life, Heather, and we can have that together. Kipp would want me to take care of his child and since he’s out of commission for the foreseeable future, I think you’re going to need my support more than ever. Your career isn’t exactly flourishing right now, and Douglas won’t give you a dime as long as he thinks you’re carrying another man’s child. I, on the other hand, know that you’ve been with Kipp since he got into town. I know that this child is his because if it wasn’t, you’d be chasing down Brant Ashford begging for him to take you and the baby back into his good graces. Now, wouldn’t you?” He spoke as he watched her eyes drop to the floor, “I’m offering marriage. I’ll give the child a home, a name, a fortune to inherit,” He paused, “And I’ll make sure you’re well taken care of.”
“And just what are you going to get out of all of this?” She asked as she rubbed her arms in an attempt to ward off the chill sweeping through her.
“I want a family life, but my career takes up most of my time. But if you’re here with your baby, I can have some semblance of that life. Besides that,” He shrugged as he sat back on the sofa, “I can get you in to see Kipp any time you’d like.”
“Let me get this straight. You want me and my baby to just be a surrogate family for you?”
“That’s right,” Cameron nodded, “Of course, I wouldn’t mind if you and I became better acquainted along the way. You truly are a beautiful woman, and I could see us sharing more than just a marriage in name only.”
“Only in your dreams,” Heather warned.
“Heather, you don’t have anything to lose in this arrangement, but you have everything to gain. I’ll give you free access to my wealth, my homes, and my prestige. I’ll let you live the life that you were born to live,” He encouraged her with a slight smile, “Tell me that the idea of flaunting a little wealth and class off to the Ashfords wouldn’t make you feel like queen of the world.”
Heather paused for a moment as a smile tickled the corners of her mouth, “It does sound tempting.”
“You and your child would never want for anything, and I’d make sure that everyone knew not to get in your way,” He offered as he stood and made his way towards her. He took her hand and adjusted the ring slightly upon her finger so that the light glimmered within the diamond, “You would wield enough power to have anything you wanted and to crush those who have treated you wrong. Just say yes…just say that you’ll be Mrs. Cameron Stone, and I promise you that this town will never forget just how powerful you are.”
Heather met his eyes and felt a cold chill ripple through her veins. She’d always been sure that she knew how to handle Cameron, but now she wasn’t so sure of that ability. He was laying out an offer that was too good to be true, and if there was anything she’d learned during her modeling career, if something looks to good to be true it is.
Still, his offer was tempting. And yet, every fiber in her being was telling her to reject him. She couldn’t betray Kipp so soon after his suicide attempt. It would only be cementing in concrete what he’d thought of her as truth. But then again, it wasn’t just her life she had to think about now…
“Well? Are you going to give me an answer to my proposal?” Cameron asked as he stroked the back of her hand with his thumb.
“Actually, I’m feeling very tired. Could you give me the night to think about it?” Heather asked, hoping to buy herself at least a little time to think about his offer.
“Very well. I’ll have Franklin show you to your room,” He began before squeezing her hand a bit tighter in his hand. He raised her hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss upon her skin, “I just want to give you what every other man in your life has failed to, Heather. I want to give you everything you want and maybe just a fraction more,” He said with a soft smile before releasing her hand, “Franklin,” He called out, “Show Ms. Gibbons to her room.”
“Very well, sir,” Franklin bowed curtly as he led Heather out of the room and towards the stairs.
Cameron crossed the room to the bar and poured himself a cognac. He knew Heather wouldn’t be able to refuse him. Now he just had to be sure that she knew it too.
Judy led Richard into her apartment as she shed her jacket, “Have yourself a seat. I’ll make us some coffee.”
“Thank you,” Richard replied as he removed his jacket and began looking around the room. Judy’s impeccable taste and talent for homemaking had served her well over the years. She had turned what could have been an impersonal apartment into a loving home with photographs showing special moments with her family.
He approached a bookcase and looked at several photographs housed in delicate frames. He lifted one frame with a photo of Judy and two girls by her side. He smiled as he looked at the happy trio as they huddled together in one big hug.
“The coffee is on,” Judy announced as she returned to the living room.
“I was just looking at your photographs,” He spoke as he showed her the picture he had in his hand, “Are these your daughters?”
“Yes,” She smiled as she joined him and looked proudly upon the picture, “This is Diane. She works at BBK, and that is Deidra. She’s a doctor.”
“They’re both lovely young women. You must be very proud.”
“I am,” She assured him, “They both have so many talents, and I find myself in awe of them from time to time.”
“Children do have a way of doing that to you, don’t they?” Richard smiled as he looked at the picture once more, “Do they live in town?”
“Diane does, but Deidra is in Miami. She and her husband moved down there a couple of years ago. I see them on holidays, but they both live very busy lives.”
“What about Diane? Is she married?”
“No, but I have a feeling that could change in the future,” Judy smiled as she thought of her youngest, “She’s dating a young man who has swept her off her feet though I’m not quite sure she’s ready to admit to that.”
“Sounds like you approve.”
“I do,” She nodded, “At least I think I do. Right now, they’re going through a rough patch, but I have a feeling that things will work out for them.”
“I wish I had your optimism about my own children,” He frowned as he placed the frame back in its place on the book shelf, “Avery and Guy are caught up in so much drama that I worry sometimes about their welfare. I know that they’re adults, but it’s so difficult to let go.”
“I know all about that one,” Judy agreed as she motioned for him to join her in the kitchen, “Still, you have to believe that things will work out for the best. Avery’s in a lot of pain right now, but when that passes, I’m sure she’ll be able to figure out what’s really going on in her life and what’s important to her.”
“I’m not so certain. Things were very difficult for Avery when she and Russell separated the last time. I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to recover.”
“But she did,” She pointed out, “And now Avery’s a stronger woman. She’d be much stronger if she’d throw Brooke out of her life.”
“Now there is something I can wholeheartedly agree with,” Richard sighed as he leaned back upon an island countertop, “Brooke meddles too much.”
“I told you that years ago,” Judy shook her head as she took two mugs from a cupboard and began to fill them with the freshly brewed coffee, “Brooke is a manipulator, and she will try to use any situation to her advantage…even Avery’s broken heart.”
“I know. It’s why I let Brant take her out of the country. God knows it’s the only reason, and even now I find myself doubting the sanity of that decision. Brant doesn’t exactly strike me as the nice guy type.”
“Brant’s exploits aren’t nearly as juicy as the tabloids make them out to be. You’ve been the victim of the papers a time or two. You’d think you’d be more skeptical,” She pointed out as she offered him a mug of coffee.
He took it as he met her eyes, “It’s not the tabloid tales that worry me. I don’t trust him.”
“Spoken like a father,” She chuckled as she moved to her small dinette table, “Brant isn’t a bad guy. If he was, Diane would have already been fired for giving him a piece of her mind. She’s his secretary.”
“Really? Well, maybe she can give me all the good gossip on him. I want to know what really makes him tick.”
“Don’t expect to get it out of Diane. She feels some strange sense of loyalty to him which I don’t really understand, but that’s not really the point. The point is that right now, the best thing for Avery is to be as far away from Brooke as possible.”
“I know,” He nodded as he sat across from her, “I really do. It’s just that I’m having a hard time not being there with her myself. I worry about her.”
“Avery will be fine though I’m still not convinced that what we saw was really what we saw.”
“Okay, Judy. Speak English.”
“It’s just that it was very similar to our situation years ago, Rick,” She frowned, “You can’t really expect me to believe that a man who was so in love with a woman would just bounce into another woman’s bed in the blink of an eye…especially when they were planning to leave together.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Richard frowned.
“Yes, I guess they have…like you and Brooke falling into bed together for instance,” She said pointedly.
“That was different,” He began to defend himself.
“How so? Only because you were Brooke’s victim instead of Russell? I’m telling you that I don’t trust this situation, Rick. I don’t believe for one minute that he willingly got into bed with that woman.”
Richard began to speak when the telephone interrupted his train of thought. Judy excused herself and answered the phone, “Hello?”
“Hi, Mom!” Deidra said happily as she heard her mother’s voice.
“Deidra, hey baby, it’s so good to hear from you,” Judy smiled brightly, “How are you?”
“I’m doing okay, but hey, I was wondering if I could have your couch for a few days.”
“Of course you can, but why?”
“I’m coming home to Coral Valley. I’ll need a few days to find an apartment, and my things will be arriving sometime next week. If it’s okay, I’d like to stay with you until then. I could stay with Diane, but I don’t think she would want my company for that long without one of us committing murder,” Deidra teased.
Judy chuckled softly, “So is Andrew coming with you?”
“No,” Deidra said as her voice died down. She paused for a moment before she continued, “We’re getting divorced.”
“What? Why?” Judy asked quickly in concern for her daughter.
“It’s a long story, Mom, and I’d rather not get into it over the phone. My plane arrives tomorrow evening, and I’ll tell you everything then, okay?” Deidra asked softly.
“I’ll see you then, Mom. I love you,” Deidra said quickly before hanging up the phone.
“I love you too,” Judy spoke as the phone went dead. She stared at the receiver in her hand for a moment before she hung up the phone, “That worries me.”
“What’s wrong?” Richard asked as he saw the tension tighten Judy’s features.
“That was Deidra. Something’s happened with her and her husband. She’s coming back to town, and she said they’re getting divorced,” She explained as she sat back at the table, “They seemed so solid. I don’t understand how this could happen.”
“Sometimes things aren’t always what they appear to be,” He pointed out as he sipped his coffee.
Judy took a deep breath as she thought about her daughter. Richard had spoken the truth, and she feared that once Deidra arrived in town, there would be a lot of explaining to do about appearances and the way situations truly had turned out to be.
Brooke’s jaw dropped in astonishment and repulsion as she watched Mindy
Carmichael throw herself upon Guy like a cheap suit. Suddenly she
found herself overwhelmed with rage and anger as she stomped her foot down
on the ground and tapped at the floor impatiently as her words came out
in a harsh demand.
“Get your lips off of him right now you--you hussy,” Brooke belted out at Mindy as she watched in horror as her son made no obvious efforts to peel the twit off of him. She stepped forward ready to take drastic measures as Mindy turned towards Brooke smiling wickedly as she squeezed Guy in her arms and spoke up in a daring tone.
“Make me,” Mindy goaded Brooke further as Guy snapped out of the shell-shocked moment that had overtaken him as one of his best friends had suddenly thrown herself upon him in an effort to upset his mother. Still as Guy felt the tension in the air surrounding him, he realized he’d better speak up soon before things got ugly with his gal pal and his mother.
“That’s enough,” Guy announced stepping forward placing a distance between his mother and Mindy as a frown touched over his features.
“You’re damn right it is,” Brooke seethed with animosity towards Mindy, “I want her gone like pronto,” she stomped her foot down into the ground defiantly.
“Well isn’t it a bitch to want,” Mindy cut back sharply, “but then again the truth to the matter is we white trash as you put it don’t give a damn what pompous, self-righteous, snotty, superficial witch types have to say as the world does not bow down to someone as pathetic as you are just because you say that’s how it should be…”
“Mindy,” Guy’s eyes widened with shock as he turned to her, “that’s enough.”
“That’s not nearly enough. Guy, when are you going to stop letting her dictate your life? She has no right to do such a thing when it’s obvious that she lives and breathes to rule over you. Guy, you have to stop allowing her that kind of control over you and the sooner she sees that you’re willing to take a stand against her…”
“Mindy, now isn’t the time,” Guy reached for her arm dragging her towards the door to the stairs outside Avery’s apartment as Brooke stood taller dusting off her sleeves on her jacket as though she was happy to be rid of Mindy’s intrusion upon her life.
“That’s right son. Show her the door where she belongs,” Brooke piped in smugly.
“Mum please,” Guy begged of her wishing that this moment hadn’t gone so horribly wrong as he waved his hand in Brooke’s general direction, “Go back inside please.”
“Fine, but just get rid of her because we have real things to discuss,” Brooke remarked wryly.
“Don’t think you’re getting rid of me Brooke,” Mindy glared back at her, “because Guy and I are together and that’s not going to change. Is that Snookems?”
“Mindy, come with me,” Guy tugged her along down the hallway as he tried to come to terms with the mess she was creating, but with every step he took away from his sister’s apartment he found his discontent about what Mindy had done take over. Almost as soon as he heard the door to Avery’s apartment close, he pulled Mindy aside giving her a firm look, “Just what did you think you were doing?”
“Saving you from becoming her eternal doormat,” Mindy blurted out with a heavy scowl, “and if you had any sense about you, you’d stop trying to do things the way she wants them all the time.”
“Mindy, I was trying to have a civilized conversation with my mother, but then you had to go and make things more complicated now by saying that we’re a couple…”
“Oh yeah and you saw how well she handled that one,” Mindy rolled her eyes as a groan spilled over her lips, “Guy, if she had that much of a fit about the thought of us being together,” Mindy waved her hand between the two of them, “then imagine what she’d do if she learned the truth about you and Gabe.”
“Lower your voice,” Guy urged her as he heard one of the doors down the hall open and he hoped that Brooke wouldn’t return to take in what was going on, but as he saw one of Avery’s neighbors in the hallway, he pulled Mindy out onto the landing of the staircase quickly closing the door behind her before facing her once again. “Now isn’t the time for this, Mindy.”
“Guy, it’s never going to be the time for you because you’re always so concerned about pampering her and catering to her every whim. When are you going to just live life the way you want to without having to step on eggshells every time you’re around her.”
“My mother is complicated,” Guy began in his own defense.
“Your mother is a bitch. Plain and simple,” Mindy huffed folding her arms in front of her chest defiantly, “There’s no way around that Guy and once you stop living in your world of delusion you’ll see that as well.”
“I’m all she has in this world as you know my father isn’t worth his weight around here and Avery’s completely turned her back on Mum.”
“With good reason,” Mindy pointed out, “Your mother has lived to make her miserable and she thrives on doing the same to you.”
“She just cares about me,” Guy defended his mother thinking of the bond they’d had with one another.
“It’s manipulations under the mask of concern,” Mindy huffed waving her hands in the air wildly, “I mean you saw the way she looked at me just now…she would’ve killed me if you didn’t step in the way and I’m not talking figuratively…I think your mother really would’ve ripped my head off and spit down on my corpse if she had the chance because she really feels I’m so far beneath her that I’m surprised she hasn’t suffocated in the cloud of her prejudice there.”
“She’s really not that bad…” Guy began again.
“No she’s worse and as long as you allow her to run your life, well…then you’re never going to learn to live,” Mindy threw out at him with a huff.
“Oh that’s rich coming from a girl who had to pretend in front of my mother in order to feel superior,” Guy answered flatly as Mindy glared up at him.
“You’re such a bastard. Maybe I should‘ve just let you bury yourself back there,” she growled in response spinning towards the stairs to leave when he let out an exaggerated breath before reaching out to her.
“Mindy wait,” he groaned catching her arm in his hand, “Let’s just talk about this.”
“I think you’ve said all there is to say,” she answered anger evident in her tone as a scowl overtook her beautiful features. “Brooke would be proud as you put me in my place.”
“Mindy, look I’m…I’m sorry…” Guy blurted out desperately, “and yes, you’re right. My mum wouldn’t understand about Gabe. I can see that now and I know that I can’t tell her the truth…at least not now…”
“Well then once again she’s putting you in a position where you have to pretend to be something you’re not and it isn’t right,” Mindy sighed running her fingers through her hair, “Guy, she’s not going to quit until you tell her the truth.”
“Like you were trying to do?” Guy gave her a pointed look.
“Okay, so maybe I let things get a little out of hand there, but still I didn’t want her trying to run your life.”
“She’s not going to run my life, but you were right about one thing,” Guy frowned thinking of his mother’s reaction to Mindy, “She’s never going to accept my relationship with Gabe.”
“No she isn’t and that’s why you need to…” Mindy began.
“Keep her believing that you and I are a couple…” Guy interrupted.
“Exactly,” Mindy nodded in triumph before his words hit her and her jaw dropped, “What?”
“Mindy, come on. You said it yourself if she’s having trouble accepting us together, she’s never going to accept Gabe. Maybe if you and I pretend we’re seeing one another then she’ll be more open to the truth when I find the right time to tell her.”
“Guy, would you listen to yourself? You were just telling me less than five minutes ago how your mother wasn’t evil and I was convinced you were delusional, but now you’re actually listening to me?” she stepped forward placing her hand on his forehead, “What gives?”
“Look,” Guy sighed shaking her off, “It’s not that I’m delusional here, but my mother keeps pushing this woman on me….this insufferable woman and while I want to tell her about Gabe, we both know that she’s not going to accept it at all and right now given what Avery’s life had brought to the table, well maybe I shouldn’t throw this on my mother now.”
“No you should throw a lot worse for her--like maybe her into the middle of the ocean surrounded by sharks.”
“Mindy,” Guy threw out a disapproving look.
“I’m just saying,” she shrugged her shoulders.
“Even so she’s my mother and I love her. I just need to find the right time to tell her the truth and until then I need to keep that woman she thinks is so right for me away.”
“And you think I’m the key to that, huh?” Mindy gave him a curious look.
“Well you did just throw down on me there before I could protest,” Guy pointed out with a half smile, “and hey if I’d been attracted to any woman, you’d be the one.”
“Now you’re just kissing up because you want me to play along,” Mindy half laughed at him.
“Okay, so maybe I am, but you were the one that started this,” Guy reminded her quickly.
“And now I’m expected to finish it,” Mindy lifted a curious brow pondering the thought for a moment, “Tell you what. I’ll do it on one condition.”
“What’s that?” Guy inquired after a moment’s hesitation.
“That you tell me as soon as you know where Avery is because I need to speak with her. I need to know what’s going on with her and Russell,” Mindy decided folding her arms in front of her chest.
“Because you’ve got an eye for gossip even though the story is going no where?” Guy reminded her with a frown.
“No, because I care about the both of them and despite your cynical views I believe in real romance and soul mates and I want them to be happy with one another,” Mindy answered quickly, “and also I want a chance to show you that real love does truly conquer all.”
“And my sister is suddenly your pet project?” Guy lifted a skeptic brow, “Mindy, what aren’t you telling me about Russell and Avery?”
“I’ve told you almost everything,” Mindy answered with a cryptic smile, “and when we spent quality time together posing as lovers, well I’ll fill you in on the parts I skipped over before.”
“Why does this suddenly feel like blackmail?” Guy frowned in response.
“Hey, you’re the one asking for me to put on the performance of a lifetime…not that I mind making out with a handsome stud like you, but still…you want me to help you, so help me help Russ and Avery.”
“Somehow I have the feeling I’m about to agree to something I certainly am not interested in agreeing to,” Guy frowned deeper as he eyed her closely.
“Just trust me,” Mindy tipped up on her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek, “it’ll all make sense soon enough and besides you know you’re just itching to spend more time with me.”
“You’re trouble,” Guy shook his head at her pulling her into an embrace.
“Maybe I am, but I can promise you that I’m the best kind of trouble you’ll ever find,” she hugged him in return, “Though I will say you might want to tell Gabe what’s going on so that I don’t become the top of his hit list considering.”
“Gabe,” Guy repeated his name as his thoughts returned to his lover, “I didn’t think about what this will do to him.”
“Well maybe now is as good of a time as any to start considering that you care about him,” Mindy pointed out, “if he knows what Brooke is all about…”
“I don’t know if he’ll understand this considering,” Guy’s mood darkened as his thoughts lingered back to his lover and he wondered if he’d be able to pull off this kind of rouse with his mother and have the man he loved at his side as well. Either way it seemed he was in a no win situation.
Jade gazed into Grady’s eyes as she stood from the sofa and extended her hand to him. He took her hand and stood to follow her wherever she would lead. She smiled as she led him towards the bedroom. Grady stopped and pulled her back into his arms as she let out a giggle.
“I thought I could be patient,” Grady smiled before dropping his lips to hers, “But I was wrong.”
She laughed softly against his lips as she received his kiss, opening herself to his passionate exploration. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he lifted her from her feet. She encircled his waist with her legs as he cradled her bottom against him. He took steps towards the bedroom while never relinquishing his firm hold on her.
Jade threaded her fingers through his hair in an attempt to draw him closer. All she wanted was to melt into him, become a part of him, and forget the rest of the world even existed. She had wanted him for so long, and now all the waiting would come to an end. She would finally have the absolute culmination of her perfect dream, and Grady would provide that for her.
Grady hovered over the bed as he lowered Jade back onto the comforter. He lay beside her and gazed down into her eyes. He traced her facial structure with the fingertip of his forefinger, “God, you’re beautiful.”
Jade felt a smile touch her lips as she eased her palm over his chest and settled over his heart, feeling the throbbing organ pump beneath her hand. She met his eyes and smiled, “Aren’t we worth focusing on? Aren’t we worth taking the time to spend together rather than dwelling on everyone else’s problems?”
“Of course we are,” He assured her as he took her hand and drew her palm to his lips. He placed a soft kiss to her palm before he laced his fingers with hers, “I’ve just been so caught up in Russ’s life that I haven’t really focused on you like I should. I’m sorry about that, Jade.”
“I know you’re concerned about him, but he’s a grown man with his own life to lead. You,” She drew his lips down to hers for a passionate kiss, “Are also a grown man with a life to lead, and I’d like to be a prominent part of that.”
Grady smiled, “You are, and I have a very strong feeling that you always will be,” He lowered his lips to hers once again. He flattened his palm along the back of her shoulder and slowly began drawing his hand along the curve of her back. He drew her thigh over his hip as he began to slowly ease his lips down her neck while plucking open the buttons of her blouse.
The door bell echoed throughout the house as it rang. Grady groaned as he raised himself above her and met her eyes, “Now who the hell could that be?”
“Don’t ask me,” Jade frowned, “Though I’m likely to go answer the door and murder whoever is standing there.”
“In that case, I think I’ll go,” He teased as he pressed a kiss to her lips. He raised off the bed and slipped a few buttons back into their holes as he made his way towards the front door. When the doorbell rang again, Grady called out, “Coming,” He opened the door to meet the eyes of a man he’d never met before, “Can I help you?”
“Do you know a man named Seth?” The man with an accent asked, “I’m Gabriel Teague. I had a few drinks with the man, and he was in no shape to drive himself home. I was able to get him into my car, and this is where he directed me in his drunken haze.”
“Yeah, I know, Seth. Hold on,” Grady replied as he looked back towards the bedroom, “Jade, Seth’s here and he’s drunk.”
Grady heard her curse plainly from his position at the door and met Gabe’s eyes, “So where is he?”
“In my car,” Gabe nodded as he led Grady outside as snowflakes began to fall, “I wasn’t sure he was leading me in the right direction. A couple of times he just pointed and said, there, there, there. I’m so glad you know him.”
“He’s not going to be so glad when he comes to in the morning,” Grady pointed out as Gabe opened the passenger side door of his car and leaned inside to unfasten Seth’s safety belt.
Gabe tugged on Seth’s arm as he limply fell towards him. Gabe heaved Seth onto his feet while Grady helped support Seth’s free side. The two men haphazardly helped Seth into the house and dumped him onto the sofa.
“Thank you for bringing him here, Mr. Teague,” Grady replied as he extended his hand to Gabe, “Do I owe you anything for your trouble?”
“It was no trouble. It was worth my time to see him home safely,” Gabe replied as he drew a card from his breast pocket and placed it into Grady’s hand, “This is my card. I’ll be in town for a while, and if you or Seth need to contact me in any way, I’ll be at the hotel.”
“Thank you,” Grady flashed an appreciative smile before seeing Jade emerge from the bedroom.
“What the hell is your problem?” Jade shouted at Seth’s limp form as he slept off his booze on the sofa.
“He’s passed out. It’s not going to do any good to yell at him tonight. If you really want to get at him, tomorrow morning will be the perfect time to scream. Trust me,” Grady assured her.
Jade rolled Seth’s body onto the sofa more securely before removing his shoes and draping a throw over his body, “I swear…what exactly am I going to do with you men? You both like to drive me crazy with the drink.”
“Sorry,” Grady replied as she turned to face him.
“I won’t say it’s okay, but at least, we’re working on that. Seth, on the other hand,” She shook her head, “I may have to kill him in the morning.”
“Let’s not think that way. He’s probably got a lot on his mind right now with your estrangement and everything going on over at the Ashfords.”
“It’s not an excuse.”
“There never is an excuse. I’m just trying to help you see his reasoning,” Grady sighed as he slipped his hands into his pockets, “What do you say we turn in and get some sleep ourselves? It’s been a long day, and tomorrow morning, you’re going to want to be in top condition to nurse Seth through his hangover and give him a good lecture.”
“I love how you support me,” Jade teased as she leaned into his side, “I’ll turn down the bed. You lock up,” She instructed as she made her way back into the bedroom.
Grady locked the front door and looked back to Seth who slept on the sofa, “I wouldn’t want to be you in the morning,” He sighed as he switched off the lights and made his way to join Jade in the bedroom. While the night hadn’t turned out the way he and Jade had planned, he had a feeling that Seth’s morning would turn out to be a lot worse than the night had been for Jade and Grady.
Thea sat in Kipp’s office sorting through his files as she attempted to make some sense of the chaos she’d been thrown into. While she wouldn’t waste any time grieving for the schmuck’s loss, she now had to deal with the mess he’d left behind in the office.
She sorted files between several piles, hoping that their New York counsel could make heads or tails of the mess. She frowned as she thought of their NYC counsel. She would have to make the call, but at least she was on good terms with this lawyer.
Thea lifted the phone from Kipp’s desk and dialed a familiar number in New York City. The phone rang for a moment before it was answered.
“Susan, it’s Thea. How are you?”
“Thea, it’s been a while. So how is it being in the backwoods there?”
“You should know,” Thea pointed out, “Besides, I’m calling on professional business that you’re probably not going to like.”
“That sounds ominous,” Susan replied.
“Well, the truth of the matter is that Kipp shot himself, the moron, and it’s left us in a bad situation. We’re going to need a chief counsel here, and you’re the one we want. You’re familiar with all the business practices of Stone Corp, and we’re going to need you here…as soon as possible.”
“You want me to come back to Coral Valley?” Susan groaned, “I’m going to demand some extra pay on that one.”
Thea grinned, “Cameron’s already reserved a penthouse apartment for you in town, and we’ll pay your regular traveling fee as long as you’re in town.”
Susan’s tone seemed to lighten immediately, “Well, then it seems I’ll be on the first flight out.”
“I can’t wait for you to be in town. It’ll be nice to have someone of a like mind to converse with. We’ll have a limo waiting for you at the airport, Susan. Have a nice flight,” Thea finished as she hung up the phone and sat back in her chair. She couldn’t wait to have someone else in town who would do whatever it took to make sure Cameron’s ventures were successful and profitable as never before.
Zack sat in the kitchen nursing a hot cup of tea with a towel over his wet hair. The pool had been rather inviting until he’d decided to get out of the water. Then, he’d wished he’d never decided to dive in as the chilly air cooled the water upon his skin to freezing levels. At least Blake had the benefit of running upstairs to a warm shower and fresh clothing.
As if she’d known he had been thinking about her, Blake appeared in the doorway. She smiled as she watched him nurse the mug of tea. She drew the towel from her hair and let the damp tendrils spiral out over her shoulders. She made her way towards him and slipped her arm around her shoulders, “So, how was the swim?”
“Good until I got out,” He replied as he dropped the towel from his head to his shoulders and looked to her, “I’m sorry I dropped you in there like that.”
“Well, it did stop me from ranting,” She sighed as she sat upon the adjacent stool, “I’m just sick of being noticed for my family and not for me. And I don’t even know where to begin with the Seth situation.”
“You really are in love with him, aren’t you?” Zack asked as he met her eyes.
Blake looked as if she were struggling for words as she shrugged gently.
“It’s okay. I kind of figured that out with the way you were carrying on about him.”
“You don’t have to explain anything,” Zack stopped her as he spoke, “You and I weren’t involved, and that’s my fault. I should never have turned you away like I did. We could have been married with kids if I hadn’t been trying to protect you. I just wanted to keep you away from me and my drama as Cait likes to call it. And then what happened? You got involved in a drama all your own. Damn, Blake, what I wouldn’t do to have saved you from that heartache and pain.”
“Don’t you dare blame yourself for this. I fell in love with Seth on my own. You had nothing to do with that.”
“Then why does it feel like I should have stopped him from hurting you?”
Blake smiled as she ran her fingers through his damp hair, “Because you’ve always been looking out for me, and it’s in your nature. I thank you so much for that. I appreciate you watching out for me, Zack.”
“Funny,” He halfway smiled, “At one point, I would have been happy to hear you say that’s all you felt. Now, though,” He paused as he met her eyes. He eased his thumb over her cheek, “It’s not enough.”
“Do you believe in second chances?” She asked as she gazed into his eyes.
“I guess that depends.”
“Oh whether a man deserves a second chance with you,” He offered as he met her eyes.
She leaned forward and placed a soft kiss upon his lips, “I think you do,” She caressed his cheek, “Besides as many times as I kept coming back to hit on you, I think we’re way beyond second chances.”
Zack grinned slightly before the grin faded, “What about Seth?”
“The only thing I can say about him is that I want to move on. I want to forget about him and move on with my life. I don’t want to think about what he did or said. I don’t want to think about him at all. I just want to move on with my life. I want to do that with you,” Blake said firmly as she met his eyes, “Tell me we can do that.”
“I believe that we can,” Zack assured her as he drew her into his arms and hugged her close to him. He squeezed her tightly within his arms and kissed her temple as he hoped that they could make good on this second chance or whatever numbered chance it was.
Kenneth felt a shiver race over him as Caitlin turned around to face
him, her features a mask of concern as his thoughts slipped past his lips,
“Something doesn’t feel right about this.”
“No it doesn’t,” Caitlin agreed thinking to the conversation she and Avery had with one another upstairs, “It’s not right at all.”
“I just wish…” Kenneth sighed trying to come to terms with whatever thought it must be running through his brother’s head at a time like this, but as his own concerns haunted him, Caitlin broke through his thoughts.
“Does he not see how important it is for Avery to be with her family and loved ones at a time like this,” Caitlin questioned her voice rising with an intensity that Kenneth hadn’t quite expected out of her as he turned to face her, “She really needs to be home right now and Brant should see that. He should know…”
“Caitlin he knows,” Kenneth sighed shaking his head at his brother’s actions, “but once again he’s choosing to do what he feels is best for whatever plans he’s laid out for him and Avery.”
“But what about what Avery wants?” Caitlin threw out at him thinking back to Avery’s open conversation with her, “Doesn’t that matter to him?”
“He cares about her in his own way and in his mind he’s doing what’s best for her. Brant truly believes that if he can persuade Avery to feel the same bug that’s hit him that somehow they’ll make their way to happiness with one another for the duration that Brant deems fitting for the romance,” Kenneth sighed realizing that the stakes were higher this time with Avery as Brant was walking into a completely different situation than any that he’d tinkered with in the past.
“Avery and I are happy together and I just wish all of you would accept that,” Brant interrupted Kenneth’s train of thoughts as Kenneth looked around to see his twin brother standing in the doorway taking in the conversation between him and Caitlin. “She’s just shell shocked by this recent turn of events, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t happy together. I mean sure a pregnancy wasn’t something we’d planned on so soon, but now that it’s a reality, well it’s something we’re ready to face together.”
“Brant, you need to wake up and see that the reality surrounding you isn’t the reality you wish it to be,” Kenneth pointed out with a heavy sigh, “What you’re doing with Avery…”
“Is giving her everything she needs and showing her that my love for her will be the very thing that keeps us happy for years to come,” Brant’s gaze listlessly traveled in Caitlin’s direction, “as I’m sure that’s what she was trying to tell you upstairs when you spoke to one another.”
“Actually,” Caitlin began biting on her lower lip as Brant’s gaze penetrated her as if offering up a silent warning not to spoil the fantasy life he’d had going between him and Avery. Caitlin rethought her words as she realized that Brant Ashford suddenly felt like an opponent that she wasn‘t ready to take on as his eyes issued a statement that warned Caitlin against defying him and in that moment, Caitlin drew in a breath and motioned towards the winding staircase, “I really think that maybe I should go have a few words with Avery. I’m sure she could use some support right about now.”
“That’s a good idea,” Kenneth agreed feeling the tension in the air as the room suddenly became an edgy environment. Caitlin offered up a simple smile before leaving the two brothers alone once again. As Caitlin made her way up the stairs, Brant turned his attention to Ken, his eyes darkening with something Kenneth couldn’t quite read out of his twin as Brant’s lip curled in a frown.
“Avery probably should be left alone right now as she needs some time to rest and relax,” Brant threw out at Kenneth as his eyes drifted up to the staircase once again, “She really doesn’t need your girlfriend playing reporter on her.”
“Caitlin’s been a pal to Avery and I think they both appreciate one another’s company,” Kenneth answered simply watching as Brant crossed the room, “She’s not going to push Avery in any way.”
“How can you be so sure?” Brant challenged his voice rising just a pinch, “I mean when I left Avery before she wasn’t feeling well and she was tired, but she wasn’t nearly as upset as she was when we walked in there. Whatever Caitlin said to her…”
“Brant, Caitlin didn’t say anything to Avery that could hurt her and we both know that,” Kenneth interrupted thinking to the current state of affairs, “We both know that Avery’s being upset has nothing to do with Caitlin and everything to do with being away from her family especially at a time like this. What were you thinking?”
“So here we go again,” Brant rolled his eyes throwing his hands up in the air in disgust, “You’re ready to nail me about taking Avery out of the country when the world as she knew it was being thrown in an uproar,” Brant grumbled as he made his way over to the bar once again mimicking the earlier song and dance with his brother before the news of Avery’s pregnancy came out. He pulled out the long neck bottle before him as he realized he’d needed some kind of buffer to deal with Kenneth’s morality speech as he continued to defend his position, “Of course you do realize that Richard agreed that it was in Avery’s best interest for me to bring her here before he decided to send you sweeping in on my coattails there.”
“Brant, I don’t think you’re realizing the seriousness of this situation. Avery’s pregnant,” Kenneth marched over towards the bar watching his brother mix up a drink. “She’s having a baby.”
“Ken, I was in the room when the doctor told us,” Brant answered flatly, “I’m not deaf, dumb or stupid there so I don’t need a reminding about my fiancée’s condition.”
“Maybe you don’t, but Brant you need to think about the seriousness of the situation…about the things that will come about in the future. Brant, you can‘t keep playing games with her and making her this object of lust that you‘re out to conquer. She‘s not just some trophy for you to collect and use for your own personal pleasure…”
“Don’t you think I’ve thought about that,” Brant snapped in response looking up from the martini mix, “Don’t you believe me when I tell you that Avery’s important to me? That she’s not just another woman who will pass in and out of my life randomly?” Brant paused seeing the doubt on his brother’s features, “Of course you don’t because you don’t think I’m capable of that kind of emotion or feeling.”
“I never said that,” Kenneth argued with him, “but what I am telling you is that Avery’s pregnant and you need to think about what’s best for the baby…”
“I am thinking about what’s best for the baby,” Brant insisted firmly, “as I’m doing everything in my power to give our little miracle the kind of life that an Ashford should have. One filled with opportunities and happiness…”
“Brant, we both know that the child Avery’s carrying isn’t an Ashford and that Avery doesn’t love you,” Kenneth remarked with heavy disapproval laced in his tone.
“Why? Because I’m not squeaky clean like you? Because I’m not good old Ken who can do no wrong?” Brant challenged lifting his glass to his lips before he threw out an irritated sarcastic laugh, “Are you so jealous of me that you’d rather throw my flaws in my face and join the bandwagon against me instead of just accepting the fact that I’ve found a good woman with a kind heart--a beautiful woman that could no doubt make me the envy of any man on the planet--that loves me? Is it so hard for you to think that Avery could feel something for me that goes beyond anything I’ve ever had with another woman?”
“Brant, I saw her reaction to you upstairs,” Kenneth sighed realizing Brant still wasn’t getting what he was trying to say, “She wasn’t exactly enthused about the situation…”
“That’s because we weren’t planning on a pregnancy this early on, but now that I know we’re having a baby, well I think it’s only appropriate that we take our relationship to the next level which is why I’ve asked her to marry me.”
“Brant, you’ve got to be kidding.”
“Why would I joke about something like this?” Brant challenged taking another swig of the numbing liquid, “I think it’s only appropriate that Avery take her place at my side and we bring our child into this world with every opportunity that comes along with the Ashford Empire.”
“There’s only one problem with that, Brant. The baby Avery is carrying isn’t an Ashford and you have to face up to that. Brant, we both know that the father of that child…”
“Is standing right before you yet you refuse to believe the truth when it’s presented to you,” Brant argued with him as a thought registered in his mind, “Ken, why do you think Bruce Mathis lashed out at her like he did? Why do you think Avery came back wearing my diamond--the red diamond…”
“Because you let the media turn something simple into yet another fiasco,” Kenneth reminded him simply, “You said it yourself that you gave her that ring to help her from being the object of Davies’ twisted desires.”
“Well maybe I wasn’t completely up front with you,” Brant argued with him, “Did it ever occur to you that Avery and I have something special between us? That our making love created that child she’s carrying?”
“Brant, I highly doubt that you and Avery…”
“Ken, when we flew out of town together something happened,” Brant explained weaving out a tale of all tales, “When we were alone at that hotel with one another something changed for us. One minute things were as they’ve always been where we were just Brant and Avery at odds with one another, but then after Davies did what he did to her and she saw how I was willing to drop the deal because I didn’t want any man hurting her, things took on a whole new level between us.”
“Brant…” Kenneth began again.
“Listen to me Ken. Avery and I weren’t just two dueling minds anymore. We were in perfect sync with one another and when I took her to my bed, we were together mind, body and soul and in making love to her,” Brant exhaled offering emphasis to his words as a smile lifted over his features, “It was like heaven. Just holding her and touching her…Ken, I knew that our coming together was perfect in every way imaginable…that in our making love we opened the door to something that neither one of us could even begin to explain. For the first time in my life I felt this connection with someone--beyond the physical pleasures we’d provided one another with and after I’d had a taste of that, well I never wanted to let go…”
“Brant…I just can’t see,” Kenneth tried to take in what his brother was saying to him as he thought to what he’d witnessed back in Coral Valley, “It just doesn’t add up.”
“Avery was afraid,” Brant thought to the issue that remained between him and Avery, “She had a taste of what it was we had with one another and it scared her because she felt it too. She felt how powerful of a connection we had so she ran away. She tried to ignore it and when we returned to Coral Valley, I promised myself I wouldn’t push her or the issue, but now, well now that she’s having my baby,” Brant allowed sentimentality to seep into his tone as from this moment on there would be no other father for Avery’s child as he would be the only father the child would ever know, “well it just proves how right we are together.”
“Brant, I hear what you’re saying, but there are things that just don’t add up. Things that…”
“Ken, quite frankly I don’t give a care what you think about the situation nor do I care what Richard Morrison sent you here to tell me. He’s not interested in what Avery and I have with one another and if you think long and hard about it, do you really believe that knowing how her father hates me that Avery would let him know what she’s been hiding from in her heart? That she’d openly admit to her father that she and I have found love with one another like we’ve both dreamt of now that he’s constantly finding reasons to berate me and make me the enemy in her eyes? He’s constantly trying to turn her against me and I’m sure once he sees she’s having my baby, he’ll find yet another way to get in between us.”
“Richard’s a good father and I don’t think…” Kenneth began again.
“Ken, he has made no bones about the fact that he wants his daughter marrying you instead of me,” Brant paused issuing his brother a challenge, “unless that’s what this is really about.”
“What are you talking about, Brant,” Kenneth frowned at his brother’s words.
“Well it’s no secret that you and Avery were buddies at Harvard. I mean it could very well be that you wanted the shot with her that I have and that you wish my bride to be was yours? I mean maybe that’s where this sudden desire to protect Avery is coming from,” Brant shot out bitterly, “I mean what isn’t Blondie good enough for you, Ken?”
“You know that isn’t what this is about,” Kenneth argued with him, “and Brant I’m just trying to get you to listen to reason for a minute here. We both know that Avery and Russell Denton are…”
“History and I’m going to make sure that it stays that way,” Brant cut him off harshly as he finished off his drink, “and I’m going to have my happily ever with Avery without Russell, her father, you or anyone else getting in the way of that. We’re going to get married and raise our child together and if you have a problem with it, then to hell with you,” Brant grumbled stepping out of the room.
Kenneth watched his brother’s retreat fearing that his brother was far more gone in the fairytale romance he was weaving in his head about him and Avery. While Kenneth was pretty sure he knew where the truth ended and fantasy began in Brant’s tale, he began to see traces of their father in Brant and that had Kenneth far more worried than he’d anticipated. Suddenly the thought of Brant keeping Avery on the island away from civilization went from bad to worse as somehow Brant’s fixation with making things the way he felt they should be was making the situation far more complicated then it should’ve been. Sure, maybe there was some truth to Brant’s words--maybe Avery had made love to him, but then again given what Kenneth knew about Avery, he had his doubts and perhaps it was time to find a way to coax Avery into returning to Coral Valley before his brother crossed a line that Kenneth feared Brant was teetering on with his unhealthy obsession of wedding Avery.
Avery emerged from the bathroom feeling a breath of relief escape her
lips as she realized Brant had left the room. While she knew he’d
meant well in his proposal, right now that kind of suggestion was the last
thing she’d needed to ponder, but suddenly as the reality of her pregnancy
began to set in, she realized that she did need to start pondering the
direction her future would head in. Gently she placed her hand over
her abdomen thinking of the life growing inside of her and it was in that
moment that she realized this was no longer about her--or about what she’d
been running away from or miserable about. It was about what was
best for her baby--regardless of how complicated that answer would be.
“If only your father were here to share this with me,” Avery whispered to herself returning to the window that had taken her from the world she’d been surrounded in time in time again since her arrival on the island. Now as the cool waters seemed almost peaceful with an unmatched serenity, she felt the soft breeze of the tropical winter wisp over her and her heart sank at the knowledge that something so important, so special of a turning point in her life wasn’t what it should’ve been. Curling her fingers over the railing of the balcony, she closed her eyes taking in the scintillating scent of the tropics as she imagined what the road ahead of her might’ve held in store for her if only Russell were there beside her.
“Russ,” she whispered his name fighting the tears that threatened to overtake her as her heart sank with the reality of how far apart they truly were at this moment in time, “how could we come so close, only to be so far away?” she sighed, her eyelashes fluttering with the steady rhythm of her pulse as she looked out over the ocean again wondering if he was missing her anywhere near as much as she’d been missing him--if he too would’ve been moved by this miracle that had come into their lives or if he was with Heather Gibbons right now laughing about what a fool they’d made of her as he’d finally found a way to make her believe in love and romance again only to have her world come crashing down around her. Sure, she loved him and there was no denying it now…especially with the knowledge she was carrying his child, but would that really matter now that Russell had discarded her for the one woman in the world she’d grown to despise? Could it be that he’d only been using her to get his ultimate revenge as Grady had put it? Would he have held her actions against her while not knowing what had motivated them those years ago and now that she found herself in a familiar, unexpected position, would that be reason enough for her to open herself to the risk that could accompany returning to share her news with him?
As Avery’s thoughts danced through her subconscious, she thought to the sincerity behind Brant’s proposal and that in itself had her stomach tied in knots. Certainly Brant Ashford wasn’t the marrying type, but for him to lay it all out on the line like that telling her all the right words--all the things she’d hoped to experience with Russell, she wondered how she’d found herself in such a position. Granted she’d been attracted to Brant once upon a time and there was certainly no denying his appeal, but from the moment she and Russell had reconnected that had been her focus--been her reason to believe in love, yet Brant had poured his heart out to her wanting her even with the knowledge that she was pregnant with another man’s child. That all seemed irrelevant in his proposal as Avery found herself contemplating his words. Certainly Brant deserved more in a wife and Avery deserved…well, she wasn’t quite sure what she’d deserved, but she was certain that her child needed a chance to know his or her father. The baby shouldn’t be subjected to the same kind of loveless, tumultuous lifestyle that Avery had grown up in. Sure, things could work out with Brant and the more Avery thought about it, the more the idea filled her head and that in itself made her very nervous especially when less than twenty four hours ago she was ready to spend her days with Russell. Still as the knowledge of Russell’s betrayal hung over her and the fear of his rejection even with the news of their child coming to light, she found herself in a confusion as the haze of it all threatened to overtake her.
“Avery,” Caitlin’s voice beckoned her from her thoughts as Avery glanced over her shoulder to find Caitlin standing behind her, “I just came up to see how you’re holding up.”
“Did Brant send you up here,” Avery questioned with a light-hearted smile, “because I really didn’t mean to scare him before if that’s what I did.”
“No, Brant didn’t send me,” Caitlin shook her head in response, “I came on my own, though I got the feeling he probably wasn’t really thrilled about my coming up here.”
“Why’s that,” Avery asked curiously, “unless of course I upset him in not being able to give him what he was looking for…”
“And what might that be?” Caitlin inquired raising a curious brow as the breeze blew over her, causing her blonde hair to move gently in the wind as she watched Avery.
“It’s nothing,” Avery answered quickly rubbing her hands over her arms as she motioned to the water once again, “You know there’s something to be said about the way a place like this can make you feel.”
“I suppose there is a certain peace about it,” Caitlin offered up glancing out at the ocean for a brief moment wishing that she and Kenneth had come their together under different circumstances, “but the question is, how does it all make you feel?”
“The island?” Avery questioned looking to Caitlin for a moment before her voice dropped a bit, “or the pregnancy?”
“Either one,” Caitlin shrugged her shoulders, “It’s up to you.”
“Well, the island is beautiful and this pregnancy, well,” Avery felt tears cloud her vision as she looked to Caitlin unable to contain the smile that lifted over her lips, “well this baby is a miracle.”
“I can see that,” Caitlin nodded in response, “as a child’s arrival brings a sense of hope in the world and it is something that can change a woman’s life in so many ways.”
“All in a matter of moments,” Avery replied in agreement feeling the tears slip past the corners of her eyes as she lifted her hand to wipe at the dampness upon her cheeks, “you must think me foolish to be crying like this all the time.”
“Avery, you just found out that you’re going to be a mother,” Caitlin offered up a supportive smile, “I can’t think of another reason in the world more worthy of some tears of happiness. I mean it’s not every day that a woman is blessed with that kind of miracle.”
“No it isn’t,” Avery nodded in response, “especially not when the woman is me--not when my life is so…well, I don’t know what it is anymore…”
“Complicated?” Caitlin suggested watching as Avery looked down to the white sandy beach just beyond the gates of the Ashford home.
“That’s one way of putting it,” Avery decided pondering the thought for a moment, “though that doesn’t quite seem to fit either.”
“Maybe not, but I realize you have a lot on your plate right now,” Caitlin spoke smoothly, “and if you need anything right now--anything at all, then you know you don’t have to hesitate to ask because I’ll be more than willing to do what I can to help.”
“Caitlin I appreciate the offer, but I don’t know what more you can do as this situation, well it’s a bit…” Avery sighed running her fingers through her hair nervously, “you probably think I’m pretty flighty about now, don’t you?”
“Not at all,” Caitlin replied quickly, “I mean given the amount of stress you’ve been under and the things that have been thrown at you, I don’t know how any woman could hold up under the circumstances especially now when the man you love is far away and not able to share the discovery of this pregnancy with you.”
Avery opened her mouth to speak, but found herself at a loss as she tried to come to terms with what was going on in her life, yet somehow nothing seemed to fit as she turned her attention to the water once again finding her misery about the situation creeping in.
“Avery, it’s okay to be confused at a time like this,” Caitlin reached out to touch her arm, “as you have a lot of decisions ahead of you, but maybe before you make them, you should think about how this baby impacts your life and Russell’s.”
“You think I should tell him, don’t you?” Avery questioned turning her eyes towards Caitlin again.
Caitlin remained silent for a moment before offering up a nod, “I think he has a right to know about his child, but what I think isn’t what matters. It’s what you feel you should do…though I will admit I really believe that you and Russell need to sit down and talk with one another even if things aren’t easy. I think you both owe that to one another considering…”
“Considering that he’s been sleeping with Heather Gibbons while promising his heart to me all this time?” Avery let out an ironic laugh, “Then again who the hell am I to judge considering I’ve let the world believe I’m engaged to Brant? I mean I’m not exactly the most moral of women in this world, now am I?”
“Avery you were in a tough situation,” Caitlin offered up in response.
“One that I made worse by the deceptions and the lies,” Avery groaned inwardly, “and now well maybe I brought this on myself.”
“Don’t do that,” Caitlin frowned her voice shifting a bit as she watched Avery’s dismay clouding her rationalizations, “Don’t start saying things that we both know aren’t true. You and Russell clearly have some things to work out, but I know for a fact that you both care about one another. Call me crazy, but I don’t believe for a second that he would do something like he did at that party without a damn good reason behind it. It’s not like him to turn on someone he cares about in such a hurtful way.”
“Caitlin, you didn’t see him with her…”
“No I didn’t, but I still don’t believe he’d throw away the chance of happiness and a future for someone like Heather,” Caitlin’s frown deepened as she thought to her dear friend, “Russell is a loyal person and we both know that he loves you and that you love him. That kind of love is worth fighting for and asking the questions that lead to the answers--to the heart of the matter and it’s that kind of love that requires a second chance.”
“Caitlin, you don’t understand,” Avery insisted with a heavy sigh, “Russ and I were down this road with one another before and I left him at the altar. I broke his heart and maybe he never got over that…”
“Of course he wouldn’t. He loves you and wants to be with you. That in itself should say something…” Caitlin offered up in response.
“I hurt him,” Avery blurted out painfully, “really, really hurt him and I didn’t give him any reasoning behind it. I walked out of his life because I was too afraid of what was happening and to this day he doesn’t know the truth. He’s never known why I left and now that I’m pregnant with his baby, well it just brings back so many painful memories…so many things I pushed out of my life…things that I swore I’d never return to, but now…”
“Now I think it’s time you get back into bed,” Brant suggested interrupting the moment between the two women as Avery nearly jumped at the sound of his voice.
“Brant, what are you doing up here,” Avery questioned as a gasp spilled from her lips, “I thought that you’d…”
“Left?” he questioned offering up a dazzling smile before he joined the duo on the balcony, “Well I had, but only because I was hoping to find something to help settle your stomach as I know you’re still feeling a bit queasy.”
“Brant, you really didn’t have to,” Avery started at a loss as she began to wipe at her tears.
“It was the least I could do considering that I have to look out for my beautiful baby and the baby she’s carrying,” Brant stepped in behind Avery placing his hand on her shoulder protectively as his eyes darted over towards Caitlin, “Caitlin, I’ve got things covered up here. You can go back downstairs as I’m sure Ken’s eager to give you the grand tour of the island.”
“Avery and I were in the middle of a conversation,” Caitlin stood her ground standing taller as she suppressed the urge to tell Brant what she really thought of him in this moment in time as she watched him prey in upon Avery during her confusion.
“Caitlin, I’m sure it can wait,” Brant remarked with a hint of warning in his tone.
“Actually,” Avery began reaching out to touch Brant’s arm, “we really did have a few things we were hoping to discuss.”
“Avery, I’m sure you and Caitlin will have plenty of time for that soon enough, but right now I’m going to have to insist that you get some rest and take it easy. If not for yourself, then for our little one,” Brant’s eyes reached down into her as Avery thought about the news that had come upon her. Instantly a shiver raced over her as she nodded in response.
“Maybe you’re right,” she replied lowering her voice as her thoughts took her to another time and place. She glanced over at Caitlin, offering up a weak smile before speaking up again, “We’ll talk later.”
“Avery, are you sure,” Caitlin frowned trying to hide the dismay that Brant’s interruption had stirred up inside of her.
“She said she’ll be up for more talking later,” Brant remarked quickly escorting Avery back into the bedroom, “Maybe the four of us can get together later for a late supper or perhaps for brunch tomorrow.”
“I’d really rather just stay here for a little while with Avery,” Caitlin began standing her ground as she realized that some things weren’t meant to be put off.
“My fiancée needs her rest as she’s had a very rough day,” Brant cut back sharply, “and as I’ve told you time and time again I’m fully capable of being here for her, so you can tell my brother that everything is fine up here. You don’t have to worry about Avery.”
“I’m starting to have my doubts about that one,” Caitlin muttered under her breath as Brant stepped into the bedroom leaving her alone on the balcony for a moment longer. It was in that instant Caitlin thought full and well what it would be like to give Brant a piece of her mind, but as she returned to the master suite, she noticed that Avery had moved over towards the bed seemingly overcome with exhaustion. Deciding dealing with Brant could wait for another time, Caitlin spoke out to Avery once again, “If you need anything Avery, I’ll be downstairs.”
“Thank you,” Avery smiled weakly watching Caitlin leave as Brant followed her to the door, closing it swiftly before locking it behind her exit in the hopes of getting some alone time with Avery.
“Well, she seems like she’s up to trouble right about now,” Brant remarked offhandedly, “You know I was never too fond of the idea of Ken dating a reporter as that’s just asking for trouble.”
“Caitlin’s a good person,” Avery shrugged her shoulders as she sank onto the mattress sitting across from the window, “She’s just trying to be a friend.”
“But at what price,” Brant grumbled making his way towards Avery as he watched her slip into her thoughts, “I just don’t trust that woman.”
“She’s a good person, Brant,” Avery defended Caitlin, “and besides right now I could use someone like her in my life. Someone who understands and doesn’t judge me…”
“I don’t judge you. I would never judge you,” he stated simply as he looked to the steaming mug he’d brought up for Avery. He began to reach out to it, hoping that it would soothe her nerves, but instead of offering it up to her, he just watched her for a long minute, taking in her sad features. After a moment’s contemplation, he stepped in behind her desperately seeking out a way to reach her.
“It’s not the same, Brant,” Avery sighed returning to the silence that had lingered over her from the time she’d discovered she was pregnant.
“Talk to me, Avery,” Brant touched her shoulder gently as he felt the distance between them. He could see that she was buried inside herself from the moment she’d discovered she was pregnant, but still he feared that if he didn’t reach her somehow he’d never find a way to get her back. Bringing his fingers over her hair gently, he urged her to meet his eyes as he saw the tears threatening behind hers and it broke his heart to see her in so much turmoil, “Please…”
“Brant, I…” Avery closed her eyes fighting to keep from losing control as she took in a shivering inhale and her hand pressed over her abdomen, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Make me understand,” he pleaded with her, “I want to understand what it is that’s hurting you like this. I need to know what’s going on so that I can help you through this.”
“It’s not that something’s hurting me,” she began to argue as a sigh spilled from her lips, “at least not like it once did.”
“Talk to me beautiful,” he wrapped her up in his arms ready to face any wrath that might come of the gesture as he felt she’d needed something, anything to hold onto as tears fell down her face.
“I’ve never talked to anyone about this,” she confessed painfully as she sank into his chest accepting the comfort he’d provided her with, “No one other than my parents and Guy know the truth and even then we never spoke of it after that day.”
“Avery, you can trust me,” Brant whispered kissing the top of her head as he felt her tremble in his arms, “I hope you see that by now.”
“I had my doubts at first, but you’re not what I expected Brant,” she turned her eyes up towards him with a tender smile, “and thinking about what you’re offering me--Brant, it’s such an amazing, tender, beautiful selfless gesture…”
“Avery, in asking you to be my bride, I have to admit it’s not entirely selfless,” he threw out a teasing smile as his finger tips traced over the hollow of her cheekbone, “as I’ve waited a long time to have you in my life--to show you that I could be the man you needed and more.”
“Brant, I’m a mess and I can’t see how you’d want a woman like me especially one that’s having another man’s child,” she blurted out tearfully thinking to the news about her baby, “A child that I never dreamt I’d be having.”
“Avery, I don’t care about that. I care about you and this baby is a part of you…a beautiful part of you that I’m going to love and cherish as my own should you become my wife. Hell even now I feel like the father considering we were there together when you found out about the little one,” he dropped his hand over her abdomen lacing their fingers together, “Avery, I want to be the father of your baby.”
“Brant, you don’t understand,” Avery took in a harsh breath as she struggled for the words, “this baby was never supposed to happen…I was never supposed to be having a child…”
“Are you saying that you want this pregnancy to end,” Brant questioned unclear of what she was saying as the sorrow filled her eyes.
“No, I’m not saying that at all,” she sat upright clutching her abdomen protectively, “That’s not what I’m saying at all as this baby is everything to me.”
“Then what’s going on?” he questioned watching as tears glistened in her eyes pooling over onto her beautiful face.
“This baby is a miracle,” Avery inhaled as she prepared to share with Brant that hidden part of herself that she’d kept inside for so very long, “as I was told that I’d never be able to have a child.”
“What?” Brant questioned in confusion, “When?”
“After my miscarriage,” Avery explained painfully as she met his dark, comforting eyes, “When I found out I was pregnant, well, it was a week before my wedding day. Before that point in time I wasn’t really thinking about having children anytime soon in the near future, but then when I got used to the idea of being a mother, well I kind of anticipated all the things that would go along with it and as excited as I was about it, I knew that Russ would be even more enthused about the idea of being a father. He’d always talked about having a big family and I’d planned out this honeymoon adventure where I’d tell him about the baby over this romantic getaway as I was sure it was the greatest gift I could give my husband…”
“But that never happened,” Brant half questioned thinking to what he’d learned about Avery’s almost wedding.
“Right before the ceremony I knew something was wrong. I was in back at the church and I started bleeding and then…” she broke into tiny sobs as she clenched onto him, “My parents were there with Guy and they knew about the baby…” she tapered off as the pain of the past haunted her.
“Oh Avery,” Brant hugged her realizing what she must’ve gone through as what she’d thought would’ve been the happiest day of her life turned into misery.
“Russ didn’t know about what was happening because it was happening so fast,” she explained tearfully her words broken by the moment, “and I lost my child. My baby was gone and so was my wedding day and the man I loved never knew,“ she paused a hollow tone overtaking her as her eyes were lost in some distance that neither time nor place could reach.
“You never told him,” he questioned watching her shake her head.
“I couldn’t destroy him with what had happened,” she confessed painfully, “and it was easier to lead him to believe that I was afraid and I ran away. I couldn’t bring him to see what had happened as I knew it would kill all of his dreams for the future…”
“But he was the man you were going to marry,” Brant felt a twinge of guilt flood over him as he could only imagine what that kind of loss could bring to a man.
“He was a man with hopes and dreams of a beautiful family and more. He wanted to have children and everything that a normal woman could give him, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t give him the one thing he wanted Brant, so I pretended that I didn’t care--that I’d moved on,” Avery sobbed harder as she explained, “After that day, well the doctors told me that I’d never be able to have a child--that I’d never be a mother and you know I’d gotten used to the idea and I dealt with it, but now…”
“Now you’ve been given a miracle,” Brant finished collecting her in his arms, “We’ve been given that miracle.”
“Brant, you don’t understand,” she began again, “I was so sure I wouldn’t be a mother and now…” she thought back to another time, “with this baby…”
“Avery, we’re going to see to it that this baby has a chance at a full and happy life,” he cupped her face in his hands, “This time I’ll do anything and everything in my power to give you that because I refuse to let you go through this alone.”
“Brant, I can’t ask you to…”
“Avery, listen to me. Last time you didn’t believe that you could share your pain with those that loved you, but here we are and you opened up to me. You told me about what happened because you knew that I would be here to support you, to help you through what you experienced,” he wiped at her tears with the pad of his thumb, “and this time, baby, we’re going to see to it that you can hold on to that dream.”
“Brant, it’s just I never expected to be having this baby,” she admitted still blown away by the discovery the doctor had made, “After the miscarriage I resolved to never embrace the idea of carrying a child as it was something I knew I couldn’t do…that I wouldn’t have all the things that motherhood entails, but now…”
“Now you are going to have this baby and I promise you we’re going to give this child the best possible life ever…” Brant vowed squeezing her in his arms.
“Brant, it’s just…” she looked up to him again, “Last time I made so many mistakes…”
“This time won’t be the same. I’m here and we can do this together. We can have this baby and I’ll give him or her everything that I possibly can. I promise you’ll never have to feel alone or frightened again if you marry me. I’ll be the husband you need and maybe just maybe you’ll start to see that I’m the kind of man you can love,” he skimmed his touch over her salty cheeks, “Avery, I know if you give me a chance, I can prove to you how right we are together.”
“Brant, that’s asking a lot out of you considering that this baby is…” she began thinking of Russell as her heart ached at the knowledge that this child was the miracle they’d been given before disaster struck.
“I don’t care about how this child came to be as it should’ve been mine,” he wiped at her tears, “If I’d made love to you before, then we could be sharing this…”
“But it’s not your baby,” Avery pointed out with a sigh, “We both know that…”
“The media is going to hound you left and right thinking that you’re having my child, so why not give them what they believe to be true? Whose going to question it considering that you and I have been together for awhile? No one will ever know anything contrary to what we tell them,” he explained his voice full of hope as Avery thought to the one man who would know the truth--to the man who’d broken her heart back in Coral Valley--to the man she’d pledged her life to time and time again.
“Brant, I…” she started thinking about the wonderful man before her as the father of her child was back in Coral Valley unaware of the miracle he’d given her.
“Shh…” he placed his finger over her lips to silence her, “Don’t answer me just yet as we both know you have a lot to think about and I don‘t want to pressure you. Just promise me that you’ll take the offer into full consideration because I want to be the man to give you the world.”
“I know you do,” she reached out to touch his face, “and Brant, you’re an incredible man for that.”
“I have my good points every now and then,” he flashed her a sexy smile as he leaned in towards her, “and I hope you’ll take them into consideration.”
“I’m sure I will,” she forced a smile feeling the warmth of his breath over her as his lips brushed up against hers tenderly offering a kiss that held the promise of the future. While she felt the warmth of him reaching into her, she knew that his words were truth and his offer was more than she ever could’ve asked for from a man who had no reason to keep her around, but still as she thought to Russ, she wondered if she could go through with marrying Brant without allowing Russell a chance to ever really know his child. Somehow whatever decision she made about the course of action to take in the future, she knew that it wouldn’t be easy as she’d find herself hurting someone all over again as this child had brought on a whole new level of complication to her life. Either way, she decided, she would find a way to do what was best for the baby as that was truly the most important thing in her life and this time she wouldn‘t make any mistakes like she had before.
“What do you think you’re doing,” Russell frowned watching Johanna make
her way into his living room and swiftly bringing the front door to a close
“I’m saving you from making the ultimate mistake of your life as I refuse to let you make that kind of monumental mistake when I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime here.”
“Jo, I already told you how I felt about the position,” he reminded her as a flood of irritation rushed over him, “I’m not in the mood to go ten rounds with you when I’ve made it abundantly clear that…”
“That you aren’t thinking about this situation with your best interest in mind,” she answered flatly giving him her trademark look of disapproval as a crease built over her forehead and her eyes narrowed. Russell watched as her burgundy colored lips, curled in obvious dissatisfaction and it was in that moment he realized getting rid of Johanna would be harder than he’d anticipated.
“Jo, I don’t want to hear it,” he grumbled watching her shed her long, black trench coat over the back of his sofa as if she’d been familiar with his home--as though her being around him was as natural as ever and as her eyes scanned his living room, a small tsking sound came from her parted lips.
“Russell, you can’t honestly tell me that you’re happy with this,” she spun around to face him, her determined eyes scrutinizing the life he’d made for himself as she was no doubt ready to dissect his life--to ridicule his choices until he ultimately saw things her way.
Well, Russell decided as she pranced around his living room, that might’ve worked in the past, but this time, well this time he was certain nothing would keep him from standing his ground especially not when finding Avery was on the top of his agenda.
“In fact I can’t believe you’d be so stupid considering that I’m giving you something that most people wait a lifetime to have come their way. You don’t have to do any strenuous ass kissing nor do you have to deal with all the struggles that most men in your position have to endure because your talent has come to light with all the right people and they’re ready to watch you become a legend.”
“Jo, what I want is some peace in my life and it’s not going to come from running across the country in the form of this position you’re offering me.”
“You really are a fool these days, aren’t you,” she shook her head at him, “Tell me Russell. Is this your desire to stay in Coral Valley stemmed from your contentment with the paper or more so your hopes of a future with Avery Morrison?”
“Jo, I’m not in the mood to discuss this with you,” Russell announced his anger rising as he realized the longer he went on with her about the job, the more opportunity Brant had to keep Avery away, “I have to get going.”
“Oh no you don’t,” she tugged on his arm pulling him towards her, “you’re not going anywhere unless it’s with me back to Washington. We’ll meet with those who want me to bring you into the loop and then we can work on this relocation to the European offices which I’m sure you’re going to love once you get over this stupid, stubborn streak.”
“Look Jo, maybe I’m not making myself clear, but I’m not going anywhere. I belong in Coral Valley and nothing is going to change my mind about that,” he announced firmly standing his ground as he felt his car keys still in his hand.
“Are you sure about that one?” she lifted a curious brow, “because the way I see it Russ, you have a lot riding on this one decision. It can make or break your future and if you’re foolish, you’ll be condemning yourself for just tossing it away without an afterthought.”
“Jo, I already told you…” he began again raising his voice with obvious impatience.
“Russell, if this is because you think you have some kind of future with Avery…if that’s why you’re telling me no,” she began again with a heavy sigh.
“Jo, my reasoning behind my decision is none of your business, but to be completely honest with you I don’t indent upon on leaving Avery not now--not ever,” he answered openly thinking to his desire to find the only woman who’d ever touched his heart. One way or another he vowed to make things right between them and he wouldn’t let anything stand in his way.
“Then you’re an idiot because once again Avery’s gotten rid of you and she doesn’t want you Russell and you need to start opening your eyes about that one,” Johanna slapped him with her words as the animosity in her tone filled the air surrounding them, “Avery never gave a damn about you and from what I’ve heard, she never will.”
“Jo, I don’t know what you think you heard, but…”
“I know all about what happened at the party and all about what happened on your wedding day and what I really find myself wanting to know is when you’re going to wake up, Russell? The woman left you time and time again because she didn’t believe in things the way you do. She couldn’t ever see the vision you had for the future and even now all you’re doing is playing the fool again and again and for what? For a woman who’s so completely incapable of love that she’ll lead you on until the bitter end because you’re too stubborn to let go of the fantasy?”
“Jo, you don’t know what you’re talking about and just because you don’t like Avery…” Russell began to argue with her.
“You’re damned right I don’t like her and it’s got more to do with the fact that she took you away from me,” she stated firmly as her hands pressed upon her hips, “Russell, her ultimate goal is to destroy you and you’re falling right into the trap she’s set out for you. She doesn’t love you and she never will.”
“Jo, you don’t understand…”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Johanna reached into her purse as her dark eyes seemed to signal their heavy disapproval, “I understand more than you could ever realize and maybe it’s time for me to take those blinders off of you. Avery isn’t the woman you think she is and if you continue to throw your life away on a woman that doesn’t want you, then you’re going to lose everything that’s ever truly mattered to you. Here,” she pulled out a folded newspaper that she’d tucked inside her large purse, “take this.”
“What is it,” he questioned wearily, “if this is some kind of offer…”
“Just take it,” she ordered him as he reluctantly accepted the page. “See what your precious Avery has been up to while you’re turning down the chance of a lifetime. I dare you to.”
“This is ridiculous,” he huffed unfolding the paper as the headline stood out before him in bold writing as it read it‘s disparaging words ‘Brant Flies to the Tropics to Marry His Latest Lady Love‘. His eyes widened and his jaw nearly dropped as he shook his head in denial, “No, this isn’t true.”
“Yes, it is Russell,” she replied as he tossed the newspaper back at her.
“No, it’s not,” he argued with her as the headline , “Avery is not there. She’s not…”
“Russell, she’s Brant Ashford’s wife,” Johanna blurted out watching him turn away from her, “They ran away last night and then they tied the knot earlier this morning. She’s not worth pining over anymore.”
“That’s not true,” he insisted shaking his head in obvious denial as he thought to the image of Brant taking Avery upon the Ashford jet, “She’s never marry him. She loves me…”
“No, she doesn’t,” Johanna shoved the paper at him once again, “this proves that she doesn’t love you.”
“She does love me and I’m not going to buy into that tabloid trash when I know Avery. I know she wouldn’t do this. Even if she was angry with me she wouldn’t do this.”
“Fine, if you don’t believe me, then turn on the news,” she challenged crossing her arms in front of her chest, “You’ll find your truth in that as it’s been on the television all morning as Brant Ashford’s wedding is something that is a media delight. Or better yet,” she opened the paper up once again, “perhaps I’ll quote Avery for you. Ah yes, here it is, ‘This decision for us to leave was something that we felt was best as a private ceremony was what we’d both wanted after the fiasco at the engagement party, but now we couldn’t be happier as Brant is the man I’ve waited a lifetime to find. He’s everything a woman could dream of and more.’” Johanna paused watching the color drain from his face, “Shall I go on?”
“I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it and I’ll prove you’re wrong.,” he shook his head as he marched over to his television set and turned it on only to discover a similar tale on the station. He reached for the remote flipping through the channels seeing the same thing over and over again until one image in particular haunted him and he sank into the sofa. He felt the shock and surprise weigh over him as the news footage showed Brant and Avery together in some sort of exotic local standing on what appeared to be some kind of balcony as he had his arms around her. She was in a white nightgown leaning into his embrace as he seemed to whisper something in her ear and as the reporter spoke of the footage being something that was taken from one of the insiders at Brant’s private estate, Russell felt his heart sink as suddenly Johanna’s words began to sink in.
“Russ, I told you that she wasn’t worth it,” Johanna’s voice softened as she circled around the couch placing her hand on his shoulder to offer up a gentle squeeze.
“I don’t understand,” Russell’s eyes remained on the image before him as his hopes began to fade away one by one as the looped video footage shattered his heart to a million pieces. Could it be that Avery had finally written him out of her life forever? Was this finally the end for the two of them? As Russell sat in the middle of his living room, he was starting to wonder if he’d finally done the most unforgivable thing ultimately driving Avery into the arms of a man he’d grown to protest and it was in that instant that Russell’s reason for the life he’d worked so hard to return to disappeared and he all he was left was the memory of the love he’d lost and the hollow dreams of what might’ve been.
“Mom, what are you doing?” Jenna demanded as she stood between Dorothy and Douglas watching as the two held one another’s eyes in a solid glare, “Would someone please tell me what is going on? I don’t understand why there’s always so much attention when you two are around one another.”
Douglas watched Dorothy closely, “We have a past, Jenna, and we’re still coming to grips with it.”
“Is that what you’d call it?” Dorothy snapped, “Because I can tell you that I’m having a hard time coming to grips with anything where you’re involved.”
“You’re turning this around on me like I’ve done something wrong, Dottie. That’s not the case, and if anything I should be upset with you for not telling me the truth.”
“The truth about what?” Jenna asked as she watched the verbal sparring match take place between her mother and Douglas.
“Don’t listen to him, Jenna. Doug always has liked to tweak the truth to his favor and leave out the bits which aren’t acceptable to him,” Dorothy began.
“You’re one to talk about the truth. At least I tell part of it. You, on the other hand, keep it from a person for years,” Douglas bit out.
“I’ve done what was best for everyone,” Dorothy shouted.
“And just who put you in a position to make that kind of decision for everyone?!” Douglas snapped back at her.
“What decision?” Jenna asked as she looked between the parties involved.
“The decision to keep something from me, Jenna,” Douglas replied, “And it might be something that she kept from you too,” He said as he looked to Dorothy, “So what do you say, Dottie, don’t you think it’s time you tell the truth to all of us?”
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” Dorothy seethed, “You don’t control me, Doug.”
“No, but you think you can control me, Jenna, and the rest of the world, right? Well welcome to real life, Dottie. It doesn’t work that way, and I’m tired of being accused of ruining your life when you kept the most painful secret of all from me.”
“What secret?” Jenna demanded in a shriek.
Dorothy felt tears in her eyes as well as in the back of her throat as she began to speak, “The secret that you’re father isn’t dead.”
“What?” Jenna asked in shock, “What…I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“Douglas is your father,” Dorothy said coldly as she continued to stare down the man she spoke of.
Jenna’s jaw dropped as she looked between the two people before her. She took a step back as she trembled with the truth of what had been revealed to her. She looked between them as another startled person made his presence known.
“Dorothy, what is going on?” Preston asked as he joined the fray, having
heard enough to know he wasn’t going to like what he’d fallen into upon
his arrival back into Coral Valley.