Episode Fifty Five

The whooshing sounds outside the cabin called out to Diane from her slumber as she was certain that there was still some kind of storm brewing outside.  However, after finding herself safe in the warm arms wrapped around her, she had no desire to ever check back into reality--to leave this moment in time even if it meant forgetting all else for the time being.  After last night, she’d wanted nothing more than to savor every moment with Ben, hoping that somehow they’d find a way to reconnect and reconnect they did as her body was still tingling with all the wonderful ways he’d aroused all of her senses.  Even now a warmth spread out over her as her eyelids fluttered open and she felt him tucked in beside her beneath the blankets.
“Morning,” Ben spoke up lazily as he curled his arm around her, “sleep well?”
“Like heaven,” Diane confessed drawing lethargic circles over the center of his chest before her lips pressed down upon his perfect skin.  A moment later, a sigh passed over her parted lips, “though I’m certain I shouldn’t have considering…”
“Now why would you ruin a perfectly good morning and say something like that,” he frowned down at her tightening his hold upon her, “I thought that we worked through our issues last night with one another.”
“No, we had amazingly wild sex,” Diane explained pointedly as she propped herself up on her elbows and rolled over on top of him.
“There’s a difference?” he teased throwing a wink up at her as she nudged his ribs.
“You’re damn right there’s a difference,” she poked at him again, “this doesn’t change anything about how I feel about you.”
“Not even a little bit,” he held his fingers up in a pinching motion, “I mean you don’t think even the tiniest more of me after last night?”
“Ben, honey while I appreciate the orgasms, I think you’d best start talking,” Diane threw out firmly as her face became a mask of seriousness.
“Already?” Ben groaned in response as his head dropped back into the pillow, “I was hoping we could skip over this for a while--at least until breakfast was over.”
“Not a chance,” Diane shook her head as she reached out to him turning him to face her again, “You owe me a lot of answers.”
“You’re right,” he conceded with a sigh, “I do.”
“You’re damn right you do,” Diane shifted her position over him sitting on his stomach as she looked down at him expectantly, “so start talking.”
“Diane, I don’t really think this is something we can do with you on top of me looking so very delicious like that,” his greedy eyes caressed her curves as he thought of all the secret hotspots he’d learned over the previous night.  His fingers fanned out towards her ready to touch her as she captured his wrist mid-movement planting herself firmly against his center.
“Talk or I swear we’ll never have another night like last night,” Diane warned with a hint of menace in her voice as she clenched his wrist tighter.
“Fine,” Ben sighed as his eyes connected with hers, “what do you want to know?”
“Why did you lie to me?” she demanded quickly.
“You just cut to the chase there, don’t you?” Ben shook his head at her.
“I don’t like to waste my time when I know what it is that I want and right now, well I want the truth,” Diane explained flatly seemingly unaffected by the nakedness of him beneath her.
“Fine,” he replied with a tiny groan aware of her squirming over him, “I didn’t have a choice.”
“Wrong answer,” she made a buzzing sound before shaking her head at him, “there’s always a choice.”
“Not in this situation,” he insisted with a frown, “you see I never meant to be wrapped up in this, but then when Isabel put me in to the position…”
“And how did you just so happen to fall into that position?” she questioned again not appreciating his evasiveness.
“Out of college, I was recruited by Isabel,” he confessed with a hint of reservation in his tone, “I’d just finished up my run at UCLA.  I’d gotten this scholarship playing football,” he paused thinking back to his college years, “and I’d had a great run with it as football was my life.  There was just something about the game…something about what it did to you, but in the same respect my parents urged me to keep my options open, so unlike most of the guys on the team, I worked on getting a degree in criminal justice.  At the time I hadn’t thought much about it as while it was an interesting topic, I thought I’d become the next big thing as the NFL was already sending scouts my way…”
“So you wanted to be in the NFL?” Diane gave him a strange look, “And this brought you to BBK how?”
“I’m getting to that,” Ben explained impatiently, “As I mentioned, my parents wanted me to have some kind of backup and well it came in handy as the last game of my would be football career ended five minutes before halftime my senior year.  I’d suffered a knee injury that well, it put me in a position where I wasn’t a hot topic with the recruiters if you will.  Needless to say that was fate’s way of showing me that I wasn’t meant to be an athlete like I’d dreamt of being.  Shortly after I finished up my senior year at UCLA and found my way back to Coral Valley.  I’d contemplated what was next and there were some options put my way, but well when given the circumstances I hadn’t given much thought to them until one of my college professors approached me about going to Quantico…”
“You mean you’re…” Diane’s jaw dropped as she fought the urge to allow the gasp escape from her throat.
“Diane, I wanted to tell you, but well, around the time I was training out there, I met Isabel and she offered me a place in this operation she’d had going in Coral Valley.  Since my family had been associated with the Ashfords, well it put me in a position that not many others were qualified for.  At the time I was young and stupid and eager to make some kind of mark and at the time what seemed better than taking a powerhouse like Nicholas Ashford down?  I mean sure, I know that sounds horrible considering, but I knew that man was pure evil and Isabel made everything sound so noble.  She’d convinced me that my time at BBK would be this big thing that changed the face of life as we knew it as a man like Nicholas Ashford would be brought to justice,” he paused thinking back to the offer that had been laid out before him, “but before I got the chance to help her with that, well Nicholas died and Brant took control of BBK.  Time and time again I tried to explain to Isabel that things weren’t as they were when Nicholas was in charge, but she won’t hear of it.  She’s still insistent about there being something shady happening…”
“And that’s why you’re spying on all of us?” Diane reasoned feeling her heart sink, “That’s what you’ve been lying to us all and pretending that you care…”
“Diane, I do care,” Ben sat upright reaching out to her as he feared she’d walk away, “I care more than I should’ve and you have to believe me when I say that the last thing I ever wanted was to get you caught up in any of this.  I never wanted to hurt you.”
“Why should I believe a word of that,” she questioned harshly, “Why should I believe anything you have to say ever again?”
“You really have no reason to, but I swear to you despite the things that I wasn’t up front about, my feelings for you weren’t one of those things I lied about,” he touched her face gently, “Diane, I wasn’t ever supposed to fall in love with you, but you kept pushing me and pushing me until I couldn’t turn you away anymore and now, well now that I have you in my life, I refuse to live without you.  I know that sound selfish and careless considering, but damn you, you have this way about you and I swear for the first time in five years I feel like I’m living.  I feel like I can be myself and maybe just maybe there’s a way that I can reclaim my life again--that maybe we can have something together.  Diane, that‘s what I want more than anything.”
“How can we have something together when you couldn’t be honest with me,” she sighed heavily as her heart sank, “How can I ever trust you knowing that you lied to me--that you could still be lying to me to get some kind of information about Brant out of me for your boss.”
“To hell with my boss,” Ben declared pulling her more completely into his arms, “I could lose everything in being here with you like this, but I don’t care.  I don’t give a damn about what Isabel wants or what this case is about as all that matters is holding you in my arms just like this.”
“I want to believe you Ben, but…” Diane began again as he turned her over on the mattress.
“If you believe nothing else, then believe this,” he whispered his mouth over hers as there eyes connected, “I love you Diane and I don’t want to lose you,” he finished kissing her eagerly as he hoped the words that had come from his heart would be enough to make things right between them as there would be no turning back from this moment on as he’d laid it all on the line.  He just hoped that in the end Diane would be able to forgive him as losing her would be the worst thing that could happen as he wouldn’t be able to deal with that kind of disaster in his life.


Blake sat on the library floor in the Ashford mansion watching Rusty as he played with a small cat toy. She smiled as the little furry bundle pounced upon the toy and rolled over from his frenzied attack. She lifted the kitten into her hands and smiled, “You certainly have a lot of spunk, don’t you?”

The phone on the desk behind her rang, gathering her attention away from the kitten. Blake placed Rusty back on the floor to play while she answered the phone, “Hello?”

“Just the Ashford I wanted to speak to.”

“Well,” Blake smiled as she recognized Zack’s voice over the phone, “I’m certainly glad you wanted to speak with me. You wouldn’t have been able to get in touch with anyone else here.”

“You’re all alone?”

“Except for the kitten, yeah. Annie’s gone to the vet’s office to check on Peanut, and I’m kitten-sitting. Ken and Caitlin went to find out what’s going on with Brant and Avery. So I’m all by myself here.”

“That’s just a tragedy,” He teased before smiling, “I might have a solution to that problem though.”

“Oh really? And what would that be?” She asked as she watched Rusty circle the toy on the floor, preparing for his next attack.

“I need to go apartment hunting. I promised Cait I wouldn’t stay at her place long, and I think I’ve already worn out my welcome. Think you could tell me the good parts of town and help me find a place that suits me?”

“I think I might be able to work you into my hectic schedule,” She teased, “So what are you up to today?”

“I’m the attending in the emergency room today, but it’s kind of slow. I’m in lab right now trying to figure out just who has been in here poking around,” He explained.

“What? What do you mean poking around?”

“There are some things out of place around here. My guess is that someone came looking for your microfilm.”

“I was afraid that would happen. Did they find it?”

“No, it’s not here for them to find. I put it in a very safe place, and all the hard copies I made are under lock and key. They didn’t get what they were looking for, but I have a feeling they’ll be back again.”

“You think it’s Seth, don’t you?”

“Did I say anything about him?” Zack countered.

“No, but I can hear it in your voice, Zack. You think he’s the one who was in your lab, don’t you?” Blake demanded an answer.

“The thought had crossed my mind,” He admitted, “But I get the feeling you don’t think that’s the case.”

“I’m just not sure anymore,” She breathed a heavy sigh, “Though if he didn’t do it, it’s a safe bet that Cameron could have employed someone else to do his bidding.”

“So no matter who it was, the microfilm is hot property, right?” Zack frowned, “What does this Cameron guy want from all of this anyway?”

“I don’t have a clue, Zack. My guess is he’s just another corporate big wig who thinks he can put himself and his company on the map by blowing BBK out of the water. Though I’m not sure that’s his only motive.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why would he get Seth involved in this and turn it into something personal if he was only about business? Why would a man like Cameron Stone employ an amateur to do his dirty work for him?”

“Those are all excellent questions, but who says Seth is an amateur? He was doing quite well with you for a while.”

“Zack, shut up while you’re ahead, okay?” Blake frowned, pausing for a moment before she spoke again, “Sorry I bit your head off. I just don’t want to think about what could have happened.”

“Hey, I’m glad he screwed up so badly. I’d hate to be on death row for killing the guy.”

“Zack,” She chuckled despite herself, “You’re awful.”

“I’m not awful. I’m truthful, and there is a difference,” He teased as his tone lightened, “Let’s make a deal. You help me go apartment hunting this evening, and we won’t mention Seth again, okay?”

“Deal,” Blake agreed, “I hope this means you’re going to treat me out to dinner since we’re going to be running around town to find you a place to live.”

“I should make you spring for dinner with your millions, kid. I’m just a working stiff.”

“An attending physician kind of stiff though,” She reminded him, “Don’t try to pull that starving selfless act with me, Zack. I know you like making the money in your profession.”

“Okay, of that one, I am most decidedly guilty,” He laughed softly, “So what do you say I pick you up around five? I’ll treat you to dinner before we go looking for my new pad.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Blake agreed, hoping they could live true to their word and leave Seth as a part of the past best left unspoken of.


Cameron picked up his messages as he entered his office sorting through several and dumping them into the trash on the way to his desk. He sat down and switched on his computer to check on the status of Stone Corp’s stock before he started the day.

“Taking it kind of leisurely today, aren’t we?” Thea asked as she entered the office and closed the door behind her, “You’re usually here bright and early.”

“I had other business to attend to. What are we looking at today?” He asked as he looked up from his computer.

“I got information on Caitlin Vaughn for you. She’s a reporter over at Russell Denton’s newspaper, and it was kind of a step down for her considering she used to write for Casual Travel Magazine.”

“Really? What the hell is she doing writing for Denton?”

“She had some trouble. Actually, let me rephrase that. She has some trouble with an old flame of hers. This is Jimmy Cordell,” She spoke as she opened a folder and placed it in front of Cameron, “He apparently likes to get rough with his women. He was arrested once because the neighbors called the cops. Caitlin seems like the pacifist type though. She left town and took the traveling job. I guess that means she prefers to run from her problems.”

“Do you think he’s the reason she was in the hospital recently?” Cameron asked as he skimmed over the file in front of him.

“The CVPD seem to think he’s their guy.”

“Let’s see if we can’t get him before the police do, okay?” He advised, “Any news on Kipp this morning?”

“He’s a vegetable. What kind of news are you expecting?” Thea asked blandly.

He grinned, “You really do despise him, don’t you?”

“I’ve never really made a secret of that, now have I?” She asked as she crossed her arms.

“Well don’t worry. If he stays in this coma, you’ll be free of him forever.”

“I have a feeling I couldn’t get that lucky. Though I’d be happy to put the word out to rid the world of him once and for all.”

“No, he’s much more valuable to us in his current state,” He shook his head, “No one lays a finger on Kipp.”

“Why do you think he’s so valuable now? He’s a shell in a bed just wasting there waiting for someone to put him out of his misery.”

“Normally I would agree with you, but we have two things working for us. Number one, Douglas is in town, and this is a chance for me to enjoy watching him squirm.”

“And number two?”

“Heather Gibbons is pregnant with Kipp’s love child,” Cameron grinned, “Though Douglas doesn’t believe the kid could possibly be Kipp’s.”

“Why? Wishful thinking on his part? From the time he spent with her, how could the kid not belong to the little troll?”

“Yes, well, I think Douglas is hoping his darling Kipp wasn’t that stupid, but I’ve figured out a way to make things even worse for Douglas,” His grin grew, “I’m going to marry Heather.”

“What?!” Thea’s jaw hit the floor, “Are you out of your mind?!”

“I knew I’d get that reaction from you.”

“What? The reaction that I think you’ve lost it? Cameron, the woman is the biggest slut I’ve ever encountered in my life, and believe me, I know more professionals than you can shake a stick at.”

“I’m not marrying her for her virtue, Thea. I only want to be able to control her every move and watch Douglas squirm when he finally realizes that I’ll be raising the next Mahoney heir. It’s a fitting kind of punishment, don’t you think? He did everything he could to keep me from my own father, and now I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure he never gets to know his grandchild. I think the punishment fits the crime.”

“Cameron, there has to be a better way,” Thea began with an unpleasant sigh, “Please tell me you’re not serious about this.”

“I’m very serious. I want a pre-nuptial agreement worked on as soon as Susan gets into town, understood?” He asked with a pointed glare as he met Thea’s determined eyes.

“Understood, but I’m damn sure not happy about it. Just promise me one thing.”

“What’s that?” He asked as he glanced back to his computer.

“Just tell me I don’t have to pretend to be her friend.”

“I would never ask that of you. I don’t want you worrying yourself with Heather. I can control her. It’s just a matter of playing all the angles,” Cameron grinned as he thought ahead to his next move in securing all the power he’d ever dreamt of against his enemies.


The dull ache in Jenna’s left temple had risen to a full out pulsing throb as she opened her eyes feeling herself immersed in a sense of darkness.  Her fingers fanned out over the silken texture beneath her as an eerie chill raced up her spine and a groan spilled over her lips.  What ever had she been thinking, she thought to herself as she vaguely recalled making her way into one of the bars in town once her anger had overtaken her.  That thought in itself caused another groan to rise in her as she remembered her mother’s betrayal and as her eyes slowly began to open, she was met by a horrifying image as her own tired reflection hung over her.
“What the…” Jenna gasped realizing she’d been looking into some kind of mirrored ceiling as the half naked body beside her draped only by the black silken sheet at his waist revealed that she hadn’t stumbled home like she’d planned on once her drinks had gotten the best of her.
“Oh God,” Jenna muttered sitting upright as she looked to her appearance as she realized she was still completely dressed.  That had to speak for something, didn’t it, she thought to herself as she began to register images of her arrival at Hart Steiner’s place and as a yelp built up in the back of her throat, she felt him move beside her.
“You’re awake,” he spoke smoothly as Jenna refused to look at him--not wanting to see whatever disaster she’d initiated as while she was quite certain she was dressed, she knew from the mirrored reflection that Hart was at least half naked and she wasn’t ready to find out what else was going on underneath the sheet.
“I, um,” Jenna began fidgeting with the sheet that hung over her legs before she picked at the hem contemplating throwing it off her legs, but she stopped short as she imagined that movement would reveal a naked Hart to her.
“Feeling better I can see,” Hart’s voice chuckled with mild amusement as Jenna felt him sitting up beside her.  His fingers brushed over her shoulder as the warmth of his breath struck against the back of her neck gingerly, “Though I can see you’re still speechless from what happened earlier and I can’t blame you considering that I’m still taken by the things you do,” his voice slurred with obvious innuendos, “as you’re quite amazing.”
“We so didn’t do anything,” Jenna closed her eyes tightly willing this moment away as she hoped this was just a bad dream--something to punish her for feeling so angry with her mother, but as she felt Hart’s heated breath near her earlobe, a tremor rushed over her.
“I wouldn’t call it just anything,” he teased sweeping her hair up over her shoulder, “as something that incredible could only be classified as perfection.”
“Oh God,” Jenna groaned inwardly tossing the sheet aside as she scurried out of bed not wanting to endure another moment of this with Hart as embarrassment flooded over her.  She was half way towards his bedroom door, when the sound of his laughter stopped her dead in her tracks and she slowly spun around to face him finding him seated on the bed looking highly amused as she noticed his pajama bottoms.
“Jenna, relax we didn’t do anything but sleep,” he promised as his laughter died down and his eyes did a quick once over her savory curves, “not that you weren’t trying to go for the gusto, but really, I’m not one to take advantage of a situation like the one we were in together.”
“We weren’t in any kind of situation,” she waved her finger at him wildly, “this isn’t anything even remotely like what you’re alluding to.”
“Hey, you were the one who showed up drunk on my doorstep, remember,” he shrugged his shoulders as her as he stepped out of bed, “Not the other way around.”
“I most certainly did not,” she argued with him shaking her head, “I wouldn’t do something like that.  Not even at my worst…”
“I think I’m offended,” Hart placed his hand over his chest in mock agony, “and here I thought we were getting along so well.”
“Only in your dreams,” Jenna balked back at him standing her ground, “because I would never…”
“Oh yes you would,” he marched in towards her, “and you wanted us to when you came here.  You practically begged me to make love to you and if it wasn’t for me…”
“I’m not going to stand here and listen to this for one minute longer,” Jenna turned away from him reaching out to the door knob as his hand pressed upon her shoulder stopping her.
“Jenna, come on.  Don’t walk out like this,” Hart’s tone shifted from the teasing one he’d had seconds earlier, “I know you’re upset and I’m sorry if I made that worse.”
“Hart it’s not…I just…” she sighed feeling her heart pounding in her chest, “I just can’t deal with this right now.”
“Jenna, you came here for a reason last night and I don’t think it was for us to wind up in bed together since I can clearly see how you feel about that,” he motioned towards the bed before turning his attention to her completely, “Last night you’d mentioned Douglas Mahoney and you were upset.  What happened?”
“Hart, I…” Jenna started again rubbing her hands together, “I don’t really want to talk about this.”
“Of course you do,” he tried to encourage her, “and I’ll put on some coffee so that we can do just that as I’m sure whatever that bastard has done to you, we’ll find a way to get him for it.”
“He hasn’t done anything to me,” Jenna blurted out simply, “and he’s not a bastard.”
“Of course he is,” Hart decided, “anyone that gets you that upset clearly has something wrong with them and deserves to get what’s coming to him.”
“He’s not what I’m upset with.  I’m upset with my mother because she lied…because she…” she struggled for her words before finally releasing the truth that had haunted her from that turning point at the hospital, “Hart, Douglas Mahoney is my father.”
“Your what?” he blinked back in surprise.
“He’s my father,” Jenna explained painfully, “You see all these years my mother told me that my father had died in some plane crash--that he was this great love of her life and a part of her died with him that day his plane went down, but apparently that was nothing but a lie as all this time my father’s been very much alive and out of my life living in California as Douglas is my father.”
“You mean that he…” Hart found himself holding in a breath of relief as his competition for Jenna’s attention had been cut down, but then it was followed by an after thought, “You mean all this time Douglas has known you’re his daughter?”
“No,” Jenna shook her head, “My mother kept that truth from him as well as she felt it was in my best interest to keep him from my life, but I don’t see why.  I mean I’ve met Douglas and now to think of what she did…” Jenna choked up as tears filled her eyes, “I thought she’d never lie to me because she was my mother and my best friend, but now, well now…I feel like she’s a stranger…like my whole life has been nothing, but one big, fat lie after another…”
“No, Jenna, that’s not the case…” Hart watched her tears fall freely.
“Yes it is,” she sniffled as he reached out to her, “my whole life that’s all it’s been.”
“No it isn’t,” he embraced her, “because regardless of your mother’s reasoning behind keeping this from you, she’s loved you.  She cares about you and she wanted you to grow up to be the wonderful woman you are today.  That’s what really matters.”
“Oh please,” Jenna groaned in response, “you’re just saying that to try to make me feel better about this situation.”
“No I’m not,” he reached out to her lifting her chin to meet his eyes, “I mean sure maybe I’m trying to make you feel a bit better, but you really are an incredible woman.  Difficult as all hell, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Now I know you’re trying to flatter me,” Jenna couldn’t help but laugh.
“Whatever it takes to see that pretty smile on your face,” his thumb skimmed over the track of tears upon her cheek, “In fact, how about I work on that coffee and maybe we can talk for a little while?  I mean hey at worst case scenario, you can have some time to get a few pot shots in at me, right?”
“That always is something to look forward to,” Jenna couldn’t help but tease in response, “though I don’t know how it’ll make this situation any better.”
“It probably won’t, but it’ll give you a few laughs,” he winked at her, “and besides I think you owe me a few there for all I did.  I have it coming my way.”
“Still beating up on you even if only verbally doesn’t change what my mother did,” Jenna grumbled in response.
“Maybe not, but you know talking it out can’t hurt either, even if you only have me here to listen to you,” Hart shrugged his shoulders, “I mean worse things could be happening.”
“Could they?” Jenna grew skeptic.
“Well, I suppose, but you know we could skip over this talking all together and just go back to bed and I could find another way to take your mind off of this,” he couldn’t help but tease as another half smile touched over her lips.
“I think I’ll stick to coffee,” she threw back at him.
“Then coffee it is,” Hart promised walking out of his bedroom as Jenna wondered what had compelled her to come here of all places.  Still as she looked around Hart’s home she realized that maybe in being here, she was about to learn more about the man who’d plagued her for so very long.  Maybe just maybe this was the beginning of a new life for her as the one she’d clearly had before was filled with nothing but lies--lies her mother had inflicted upon her and somehow despite her mother’s recent bout of truth telling, she realized that she’d never be able to get back the years her mother had taken from her and that’s what hurt her the most as suddenly her life was no longer the one she’d hoped it to be.


“Take a look at this,” Caitlin urged motioning for Avery to follow her over to take a glance at one of the store displays before them, “this is incredible.”
“This whole place is amazing,” Avery noted as she inspected the crimson colored dress before her, “In fact, that would look great on you especially for tonight.”
“You really think so,” Caitlin contemplated the thought as she felt Avery tug on her arm pulling her into the store.
“There’s only one way to find out,” Avery announced as she weaved her way through the crowd locating one of the salesclerks before them, “Yes, we’d like to take a look at the dress on display as I think it would be perfect for my friend here.”
“Of course it would,” the woman nodded eagerly ready to make a sale, “Let me get it for her.”
“Excellent,” Avery clapped her hands together thinking about the morning she and Caitlin had shopping together even if it was with a chaperone as one of Brant’s island security guards stood in the doorway of the store watching the two of them like a hawk.  A smile lifted over Avery’s lips as she nudged Caitlin eagerly, “I forgot how much fun shopping could be.”
“See now there’s a simple pleasure I could never forget,” Caitlin laughed in response thinking about the stops they’d made along the way to this point, “though I don’t feel right trying that dress on if you aren’t going to try something yourself.”
“I would, but you know, there’s really no point in my getting something because how long could I really wear it,” Avery scanned the racks before, “I mean soon enough I’ll look like I’m ready to take off as I’ll be big and round…”
“And beautiful,” Caitlin reminded her quickly as her eyes skimmed over the rack before her as well, “as you’ll be having a baby.”
“It still seems like a dream, doesn’t it,” Avery sifted through the dresses before her, “I mean after all this time for me to be having a baby…”
“Russ would be so happy,” Caitlin pointed out plucking up a sheer black dress from the rack and holding it up for Avery’s inspection, “What do you think?”
“Russ, would love that one,” Avery confessed reaching out to touch the dress as she thought to the man she’d left behind in Coral Valley.
“Then that’s all the more reason to try it on,” Caitlin handed the dress to her.
“I don’t know about that,” Avery frowned as she felt the smooth texture over her fingers.  “I mean I know Russ would love it considering that he always appreciated things like this,” she paused for a moment thinking about her words, “How pathetic am I?  Here I am shopping and I keep going back to Russ when I’m trying not to think about what’s waiting back home.”
“Maybe that’s because you’re heart is trying to tell your head something,” Caitlin glanced over her shoulder at the man Brant had tag along with them, “You know it’s not too late to try to contact him.”
“Caitlin, I don’t know if I could considering….” Avery bit on her lower lip nervously.  “I mean what would I say?  What could I say?”
“That you love him and you want to find a way to work through things,” Caitlin offered quickly as she returned her attention to Avery, “that maybe you saw there were some things in this world worth second chances.”
“You mean with the baby,” Avery felt a frown tickle over the corners of her mouth.
“Well you can’t keep him in the dark forever even if Brant’s trying to steamroll you into something you don’t want,” Caitlin allowed her obvious displeasure with the situation come to surface.
“Caitlin, Brant’s not a bad man.  There’s a lot that most people don’t know about him and sure, he’s a bit hard to take some times, but deep down he has a good heart,” Avery defended him, “He’s helped me through some tough times and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here telling you this today as I could be dead.”
“Avery, just because he saved your life once doesn’t mean you owe him your life.  It’s obvious where your heart is and for Brant to even push himself upon you like this, well it’s just wrong.  If he really wanted to do what was best for you, then he’d take you back home and give you a chance to reconcile with Russell.”
“I just don’t know if that’s possible after what happened,” Avery sighed as she turned her attention to the dress before her, “I mean when I saw him and Heather together…”
“Look I realize that hurt you, but you have to think about everything before you make a big decision like this.  You and Russ are about to have a baby and that in itself will bond you together for life.  Top that off with the fact that you’re still very much in love with him even if Brant refuses to see that and well, that just shows me that there’s a lot more to the story between you and Russell before you throw in the towel.”
“Maybe that’s what he wants me to do,” Avery met Caitlin’s concerned gaze, “I mean maybe his falling into bed with Heather was his way of telling me that he wasn’t ready to commit to me.”
“I don’t think that was it…” Caitlin began to argue.
“Caitlin, how would you feel if you were in my shoes?  If you walked in and found Ken in the same kind of position on the night you both decided to throw caution to the wind and get married?” Avery challenged with an arched brow, “How would you react?”
Caitlin remained silent for a long moment, “I don’t know, but I do think that if I was pregnant and Ken was the father that I’d have to tell him the truth because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I kept something like that from him.”
“Even if you felt he’d moved on and he didn’t love you anymore,” Avery questioned her voice a bit shaky as the thought slipped past her lips.
“Do you really believe that to be true in Russell’s case?” Caitlin inquired.
“No,” Avery shook her head as a sigh spilled over her lips, “but I wish I did as that would make this all so much easier.”
“Avery, I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I really think you should follow your heart because this time, well this time I think it’s going to send you in the right direction,” Caitlin offered wishing there was more she could do to help Avery.
“I wish I had your faith as that would be the first time it put me down the right path,” Avery smiled back weakly.
“Maybe it was always telling you where you were supposed to be, but you were too busy ignoring it,” Caitlin suggested as the salesclerk returned with the red dress in hand.
“Here you are,” the woman interrupted handing the dress over into Caitlin’s arms as though it were some kind of precious jewel, “and if you don’t mind me saying, I truly believe this one was made for you.”
“There we’re in agreement,” Avery piped in encouragingly as Caitlin couldn’t help but feel a heat rise over her features.
“Then I guess I was meant to try it on,” Caitlin decided as the warmth flooded over her cheeks, “and my friend would like to try that one she’s holding on as well.”
“I’ll get some rooms ready for the both of you,” the woman nodded taking the dresses into the back of the store as Avery gave Caitlin a pointed glance.
“I told you that I wasn’t going to try anything on,” Avery explained with a soft hiss.
“No, you never said any such thing and besides, if the dress could inspire so many wonderful thoughts in you, then it’s all the more reason to try it on,” Caitlin winked at her before reaching into her purse and pulling out her cell phone.  Caitlin looked over her shoulder making sure the man that had come along with them wasn’t looking as she set the phone down in Avery’s hand.  “After all, first comes trying on a dress and maybe next will be the phone call that starts you on the right path towards your future.”
“You really are a hopeless romantic, aren’t you,” Avery couldn’t help but smile as she looked to the phone in her hands.
“I tend to think of myself as being hopeful,” Caitlin confessed noticing the salesclerk was beckoning them with a curl of her finger, “Come on before she gets overzealous and tries to sell us everything in here along with those dresses that are made for us.”
“Heaven forbid that happen,” Avery chuckled following Caitlin along to the dressing rooms as she wondered if maybe Caitlin had a point about things.
“Right this way,” the salesclerk motioned for Avery to follow her to the next fitting room as she threw open the red curtain to reveal where she’d hung up the dress for Avery’s inspection.  With a smile, Avery slipped Caitlin’s cell phone into the pocket on her frail looking white, knit pullover and thanked the woman for helping her find a fitting room before she was alone again and she pondered whether or not she‘d give the dress a chance.
“You’d better be trying that on,” Caitlin instructed through the thin wall as Avery fought the urge to laugh as it felt like Caitlin was reading her thoughts.
“I’m working on it,” Avery announced pulling off her pullover before turning her attention to the thin straps on the pink floral sundress Brant had provided her with on the trip.  Somehow she’d never really saw herself as a pink kind of gal or a floral print kind of gal for that matter, but this particular dress did seem to accentuate the positive aspects of her figure--well, what she’d have left of it for the short time remaining in this stage of her pregnancy.
Quickly Avery released the straps of her sundress allowing it to slip to the floor as the faint buzzing of Caitlin’s cell phone captured her attention.  She reached for the phone half hoping it was Russell on the other end, but as she saw the number, she realized she wasn’t familiar with it.  Still, she picked up the phone on the third ring.
“Hello,” Avery spoke cheerfully into the phone as there was a long silence on the other end, “is anyone there?”
“Um, is Caitlin around,” the male voice on the other end of the line questioned uneasily.
“Sure, she’s right here.  Hold on a second,” Avery turned her attention to the top of the small fitting room as she spoke out to Caitlin, “You have a phone call, Caitlin.”
“Who is it?” Caitlin questioned behind a muffled sound.
“It’s not Ken and not Russell,” Avery confessed wishing that it had been one of the two nonetheless.
“Then it has to be my brother.  Tell Zack, I’m half dressed,” Caitlin replied as Avery brought the phone up to her ear once again.
“She’s half dressed,” Avery explained promptly.
“What?” Zack’s voice sounded with even more confusion as Avery fought the urge to laugh.
“She’s in the middle of changing here as we’re shopping,” Avery answered with a hint of laughter in her voice, “Just give me one second and I’ll give you to her.”
“Okay thanks,” Zack sounded a bit more relaxed as Avery bent down towards the opening underneath the fitting room, “I’m sending you your phone back.”
“Okay, I’ll get it,” Caitlin’s voice moved down with Avery’s as her hand popped out from underneath the fitting room as she collected the phone in her outstretched fingers, “Got it.”
“Okay,” Avery shook her head as she rose to her feet again and her eyes fell upon her reflection as she took a mental inventory of herself.  While she hadn’t planned on this trip or the things that happened, she noticed that her coloring was all wrong as the lacy white strapless bra she’d been wearing only accentuated how poorly spent her time had been on the island as the sun had done nothing for her.  Slowly her eyes cast a glance over her abdomen as her fingers drifted with the movement of her eyes as she realized that while she was still about the same size in terms of her body, her stomach wasn’t quite as flat as she’d remembered though thinking about Russell’s bombarding her with bear claws she couldn’t be sure if it was the indulgence in sweets or the pregnancy that brought about the change.
“Oh would you just get dressed already,” she whispered to herself turning away from the mirror as she took the dress off of the hanger and she felt a whoosh of air surround her in the small fitting room followed by the feel of a hand clasp down upon her mouth before she could sound out.  She cried out against the rough skin over her lips as she felt an arm wrap around her waist pulling her tightly against the hard male form behind her.
“Did you really believe I’d be that easy to forget,” a low raspy voice questioned harshly beneath her ear as the heat of his breath stung at the back of her neck as he used his arm to force her head backward up towards the top of the fitting room ceiling as his hand remained firmly clamped over her mouth.  She tried to scream again, but his hold on her intensified as his other arm draped around her settling in over her abdomen, “because I haven’t forgotten you.  I would never forget someone like you,” his voice grew darker as his touch began to travel up her body with some menacing delight as she tried to catch a glimpse of her attacker.
“Ooohhhhh….” was all that barely sounded from her screams as his fingers bunched over the fabric of her bra continuing his assault on her.
“You can imagine my surprise in seeing you here, but now that I know where you are, I hope you see that you’ll never be without me--that we’ll never be apart,” he squeezed her breast for a moment before his fingers pressed over the front clasp and in that instant Avery’s survival instincts kicked into full overload thankful she’d left her shoes on as she stomped down on his foot as hard as she could allowing the back of her heel to penetrate his foot.  She felt him release her head and she caught a glimpse of his sandaled foot before he cursed and ran out of the fitting room as Avery’s scream rose through the store.  She threw open the curtain ready to face her attacker as she saw a brief whirlwind of him as he ran out the back exit of the store.
“Avery, what is it?” Caitlin questioned racing out of her own fitting room as Avery motioned to the door, her voice rising with panic and fear.
“He was just in there….he was…” Avery pointed to the door, “That man…he was in here with me and…we can’t let him get away.”
“What’s going on,” Brant’s escort for them arrived on the scene taking in the moment as Caitlin pointed towards the door.
“He went out there,” Caitlin explained stepping in front of Avery to cover her up as the man Brant had ordered to tag along with them pulled out a gun and ran out the back door to the small shop.  Watching him retreat, Caitlin turned her attention to a very shaken Avery, “What happened?  What did he do?”
“One minute I was alone and then he was in there and…” Avery shivered at the way he was touching her--holding her and in that instant her stomach tightened with queasiness, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Okay,” Caitlin turned her attention to the clerk standing before them who’d arrived in all the commotion, “where are your bathrooms?”
“Right over there,” the woman motioned to Caitlin quickly, “to the left.”
“Thank you,” Caitlin looked to one of the racks pulling off a robe that had been hanging there all by itself before handing it to Avery as she lead Avery to the bathrooms wondering who in the hell had decided to scare the life out of her at a time like this.
“I’ll be okay from here,” Avery explained as she and Caitlin arrived at the bathroom door to discover there was only one toilet in there as it was a private bathroom of sorts.
“Alright, but if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask because I’ll be standing right here waiting,” Caitlin assured her as Avery closed the door and Caitlin looked around the store seeking out signs of what could’ve happened.  A few moments later Brant’s escort for them returned shaking his head in defeat.
“I didn’t see anything out there,” he admitted with a heavy sigh, “but I think maybe this is a sign that it’s time to call it a day.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Caitlin agreed with a nod.  “When Avery’s finished in there, we can get going.”
“Excellent,” he nodded in response motioning to the dress Caitlin was wearing, “Shall I put that on the charge?”
“Huh?” Caitlin looked down to her dress before shaking her head, “Oh no I don’t think that…”
“Mr. Ashford would want the both of you to have those dresses,” he explained matter of fact, “I’ll go work on getting them paid for and then we can start thinking about calling it a day.”
“Okay,” Caitlin replied in no mood to argue as her nerves were on edge.  Slowly her gaze drifted over the store as she thought about what had just transpired during a seemingly harmless shopping session with Avery.  Granted they were somewhere foreign to them, but the odds of attacking Avery out of the blue, well they just didn’t seem so coincidental and as Caitlin thought to Brant’s protests about her and Avery out shopping with one another, she wondered if this was just some random attack after all.  Either way, Caitlin wasn’t going to let this situation go unresolved and furthermore, it was in that moment that she made the decision that if she couldn’t get Avery to call Russell by the end of the day, then Caitlin would make the call herself as it was time for the games to end.


Kenneth watched his brother as he sat across from him at the small café and judging by the tension coursing over Brant’s jaw line, it was obvious that Kenneth was still in for a long day between them as Brant was less than eager to initiate any kind of conversation.  Still Kenneth hoped he’d find some way to reach his brother before it was too late as Brant’s clearly diminishing sense of right and wrong was something of great concern to him.
“How much longer do you think they’ll be,” Brant grumbled tapping his fingers on the table top impatiently, “because I’ll have you know I was totally against this from the beginning.  I don’t think that Avery should be out and about like this considering that she passed out in my arms on the yacht and then spent the day feeling nauseated.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine with Caitlin,” Kenneth tried to assuage his brother’s concerns as he leaned back more casually in his chair sipping his coffee before adding, “You know how women love to shop.  Just think about how Blake is when she gets out here.”
“This isn’t about Blake,” Brant snapped back at him with heavy irritation, “and you know it.”
“Well maybe it should be,” Ken answered quickly eliciting a strange look from Brant.
“How do you figure,” Brant frowned back at him.
“Well for starters her life is in shambles right now due to the fact that some loser broke her heart and I think that she needs to know that we care about her more than anything.”
“Blake knows I love her and I already offered to take out the loser that was bothering her, so I don’t see the problem in any of this,” Brant shrugged his shoulders simply finally taking a sip of the coffee he’d ordered over an hour ago, “She’s a fighter and I know she’ll be fine and if she’s not, well I’ll take care of it so she will be.”
“That’s just it,” Kenneth sighed, “Brant, you don’t really think about how your taking care of it effects the rest of us.  I mean, I understand you mean well, but some of the time you only make matters worse.”
“Ken, don’t tell me how to deal with Blake because we both know that I’m a good brother to her,” Brant scowled in response, “I’d do anything to spare her broken heart and you know that.”
“I do and while I realize that you think you’re doing what’s best for her, how do you think she’s going to react to what you’re doing with Avery?” Ken threw out at him.
“I’m not doing anything with Avery that will effect Blake,” Brant shrugged his shoulders in response, “so I don’t see where you’re headed with this one.”
“Brant, you’re making a mistake in what you’re doing with Avery.  Right now she’s confused and she needs to be with the people that love her,” Kenneth tried to appeal to his brother hoping that this time he’d be able to get through to him.
“I love her and she’s in good hands,” Brant stated icily as his fingers curled around the mug before him, “I’m not going to let anything happen to her.”
“That’s just it.  Brant, it’s not your place to be making decisions for Avery,” Ken sighed in response shaking his head at him, “Take this morning for example.  That was a perfect moment to show you how out of line you are.  I mean really, what’s the harm in Avery and Caitlin going shopping with one another?”
“I can’t believe you even asked that,” Brant rolled his eyes in reaction to Kenneth’s words, “I mean really are you so blinded by that woman that you don’t see what she’s trying to do here?”
“And just what is that supposed to mean,” Ken’s voice rose in Caitlin’s defense.
“Oh come on Ken.  Think about it for a moment.  Just out of the blue one day this hot little reporter that happens to work for Russell Denton shows up on your doorstep and wants to be with you.  She throws out a little charm and the next thing we all know, you take her in like she’s some kind of lost little puppy dog who uses her wounded dove act and of course you being the hero type you buy into it because you want someone to need you.  Then, the next thing I know, you show up with her on the island and she puts her nose where it doesn’t belong trying to turn Avery against me.  You can’t tell me that she’s not doing this for her boss considering that we’ve all heard the rumors about how close Russell Denton likes to get with his employees,” Brant sipped his drink in a nonchalant fashion before adding, “I have no doubt in my mind that she’s sleeping with him considering how far she’ll go to try to turn Avery against me for him.”
“She’s not sleeping with Russell, but maybe if you’d open your eyes for a second, you’d see what’s going on there, Brant,” Kenneth answered flatly trying to keep his anger under control as he clenched his fist tightly struggling to keep from losing it in this small café.
“What I see is a woman possessed with meddling in affairs that don’t concern her and you’re just letting her trample upon our family because you’re just happy to be getting some for the first time since Wendy walked out on you,” Brant threw back at him bitterly, “Well Ken, I’ve got to tell you it’s time to stop thinking about what tricks Caitlin might be trying to dazzle you with in the bedroom and start thinking about what her interference will do to our family.”
“That’s it,” Kenneth slammed the coffee cup down that he’d been holding as his eyes narrowed with disgust at his brother’s words, “Don’t you ever speak about Caitlin in that disparaging fashion ever again.”
“Or what?” Brant challenged equally matching Kenneth’s wild tone, “What are you going to do about it, Ken?  Going to fight me over a woman who isn’t worth it in the long run?”
“Caitlin loves me which is a hell of a lot more than I can say about Avery’s feeling for you,” Kenneth replied callously.
“Avery and I have something real and just because you can’t accept that,” Brant growled in response as he pushed his own coffee mug aside.
Kenneth let out a hollow laugh at his brother’s words, “Oh and what love it is considering that she can’t wait to get away from you.  Just one look at Avery and you can tell where she’d like to see you and it isn’t with her.  Every time you touch her, she cringes and when you sit there and try to force her to love you, well there’s only one observation I make about the situation and that’s the clear cut obvious one that Nicholas Ashford is standing right before me plowing down anything and everything that stands in his way.”
“The hell he is,” Brant’s jaw tightened with anger, “I’m nothing like him and you know it.”
“Do I?” Kenneth growled in response, “Listening to you talk about women…about how little they mean to you…tell me Brant, how many of them did you have to drug to do your bidding?  Did you pick that trick up from dad there?”
“Shut up, Ken,” Brant’s eyes grew wild with rage, “You’re out of line.”
“I’m out of line,” Kenneth snorted in response as he shook his head at Brant, “Tell me something Brant.  If you really are the father of Avery’s baby, then am I to assume that you’ve taken her by force just like dad would’ve when a woman told him no and he didn’t like the answer?”
“You son of a…” Brant shoved the table aside as he rose to his feet ready to tear his brother apart as Kenneth matched his movement.
“Go ahead Brant,” Kenneth taunted him further, “What are you waiting for?  Hit me because you know what I’m saying is the truth and I’ve waited a long time to put your in your place.”
“And I’m going to teach you yours brother,” Brant lunched forward ready to attack as Kenneth dodged the movement pounding his hands into Brant’s abdomen as Brant fell back onto one of the other small tables in the café knocking it over upon impact.
Brant’s eyes grew frantic with animosity as he rose to his feet rushing to plunge into Kenneth as his fury mounted and exploded upon his brother’s words.  The force was enough to sent Kenneth crashing through the bottles of syrups lined up in front of the windows as Brant pressed on throwing his fists out as Kenneth matched his movements with flailing limbs.  Both brothers grabbed one another’s collars ready to make the next move as the force of their movement sent them both flying through the window of the small café and the sounds of shattering glass sounded all around them as they hit the ground with a crashing impact as someone let out a scream.
“Oh my God,” the voice of a woman could be heard as another rose through the crowds gasps.
“What are you doing,” another woman cried out as Brant looked up from his blood stained features to find Avery and Caitlin rushing towards the both of them before Kenneth punched him square across the face.
“Brant, stop,” Avery instructed as the escort Brant had provided the two of them with was now tearing the two brothers apart.
“Kenneth don’t,” Caitlin pleaded rushing to his aid as she knelt down beside him touching his shoulder.
“What’s going on here,” Avery questioned her voice shaky and confused as she looked down to Brant before the escort began to help him to his feet.
“He was just begging for this,” Brant spoke tightly as Kenneth glared up at him.
“On the contrary you brought this on yourself,” Ken answered with a hiss.
“I don’t care who started this, it ends here,” Avery shook her head in disgust, “this can’t be happening.”
“Avery…” Brant reached out to touch her arm as she stepped away from him.
“No, don’t touch me,” Avery shook her head as she turned to the man who’d been with her and Caitlin all day, “I want to go back to the house.”
“Avery wait,” Brant pleaded with her watching her turn away from him.
“Just leave her alone already, Brant,” Caitlin grumbled in response, “as it’s obvious she doesn’t want you around.”
“You can just go to hell,” Brant spat out at Caitlin before looking to his brother, “the both of you,” he finished marching off after Avery in a haste.
“What just happened here,” Caitlin questioned turning her attention back to Kenneth as worry consumed her.
“My brother’s lost his mind, that’s what,” Kenneth replied disappointment evident as he watched Brant chase after Avery.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Caitlin remarked helping him up off the ground as she thought to what had just taken place in the store a few moments earlier, “Ken, we really need to talk.”
“You’re right about that,” Kenneth nodded, “but more so we need to get Avery out of here before Brant loses any shred of control that he’s still got inside of him.  He’s dangerous to everyone like this.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Caitlin sighed feeling that nervous feeling inside of her expanding with the moment as she turned her attention to Brant and Avery as he’d finally managed to catch up to her.


“Avery please,” Brant grabbed her arm tugging on it gently in an attempt to stop her from leaving, “I can explain.”
“I highly doubt that one,” she remarked turning to face him as tears filled her eyes, “What were you thinking attacking your brother like that?”
“I was trying to get him to see…” he shook his head in response as his tone softened, “I was being an ass and there’s no excuse for what just happened.”
“No there isn’t,” she replied with a nod motioning to the café he and Kenneth had destroyed, “there’s no excuse for any of this.”
“Avery, I’m sorry.  It’s just Ken said some things to me and…” he paused noting the reaction on her features, “Avery, what is it?  What’s wrong?”
“Brant, the last thing I wanted to witness is you and Ken trying to kill each other especially after…” she trailed off unable to contain her tears.
“After what?” worry rose in his voice, “Avery?”
“Someone attacked me,” she blurted out in between tiny sobs, “Caitlin and I were out shopping and this man…” she broke into a whimper, “He…well…he just…”
“Avery, tell me,” he grabbed her shoulders urging her to look at him, “What happened?”
“I was in a fitting room changing and…” she wiped at her face, “Brant I just want to go back to the house.  I want to get away from all of this…please…”
“Alright, we’ll go home,” he promised pulling her into his arms as she broke into full blown tears.  Wrapping his arms around her tightly, he kissed the top of her head wanting to take away whatever fear had consumed her in their time apart.  He kissed the top of her head before whispering in an attempt to soothe her, “It’s going to be okay.  You’re safe with me Avery.”
“I was so afraid…” she confessed hoarsely, “With the things he said…”
“He’s not going to hurt you again,” Brant assured her squeezing her in his arms as he cast a quick look in his brother’s direction realizing that Kenneth and Caitlin could take a flying leap if they thought they’d be able to keep him from Avery as in being with her, he was exactly where he needed to be and there wasn’t a chance he’d be letting her go--not now and not ever.

“I can’t believe you’re just going to sit back and let him get away with this,” Grady muttered reluctantly sinking back into the passenger seat of his father’s car, “and what’s worse is that you’re allowing Russ to just blatantly go out of his way to ruin his life by indulging this obsession of his where Avery is concerned.  Can’t you see that woman is poison and you’re son is just drinking it all up?”
“Speaking of drinking,” Elliot’s eyes narrowed as he offered up a quick glance in his son’s direction, “maybe you haven’t seen the papers recently, have you?”
“Oh I’ve seen all I need to see about Avery ripping Russell’s heart just by turning on the television,” Grady sneered clenching his fists together as his anger swooned over him, “That bitch has it coming and…”
“And if you don’t watch what you say and do, you’re going to lose your brother and I know that’s the last thing you want,” Elliot insisted reaching between the seat and the door to pull out the newspaper that he’d had masterfully tucked away upon arrival at his younger son’s home.  He tossed it at Grady before motioning for Grady to take a look at what he’d presented him with.  “Take a long, hard look at this, son.”
“What is it,” Grady questioned not willing to really see another Brant and Avery tale spun out before him, but as his green eyes fell upon the page before him, his jaw dropped in surprise as there were tiny black and white images of him at the Ashford mansion spread out over the page.  Grady looked up at his father in confusion, “What is this?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me, but given that talk we’d had about the alcohol, I think I know the answer,” Elliot sighed with heavy disapproval, “It would appear that someone over at the Ashford mansion felt the need to share these surveillance photos with the world via the second page after Brant and Avery’s wedding with you attacking not only Avery, but that hot shot producer’s son as well.”
“That’s not what this is,” Grady replied in horror as his eyes scanned the images, “These were taken completely out of context as Avery and I were…”
“You were laying into her like I’m sure you want to right now considering that you’re a man with a vendetta--a chip on his shoulder and it’s going to be your undoing,” Elliot remarked poignantly, “Do you have any idea what these are going to do to you and your career considering how hard you worked to build up from the bottom after the last incident that happened?”
“That was a lifetime ago,” Grady began to argue seeing the worst of him splashed out for the world to see as he looked menacing in his attack on Avery and Kipp, “and this…”
“Is just the thing that’s going to do you in.  When I’d walked into Russell’s house I’d imagined he caught wind of this, but then I realized after talking to him that he hadn’t seen it and it’s a damn good thing he hadn’t son because if he had, well I don’t know if I could’ve stepped in and stopped what might happen between the two of you,” Elliot sighed feeling his heart sink, “Avery is important to your brother and you have to let this go.”
“She married another man.  She doesn’t love him,” Grady argued with him trying to forget about the current situation he’d found himself in.
“She does and maybe if you’d stop trying to dictate your brother’s life, you’d see that Avery isn’t the enemy.  She never was and the fact that your brother loves her is reason enough for you to support him as he challenges the Ashfords,” Elliot remarked hastily, “He’s got a battle ahead of him and he needs you by his side, not tearing him apart.”
“What Russ needs is a good ass kicking because then and only then will he realize what he’s doing is wrong,” Grady answered stubbornly.
“When are you going to realize that you’re risking it all and throwing it away for this rage you have inside of you?  Grady, that night at the Ashford mansion is going to haunt you.”
“I did what I had to do,” Grady offered refusing to think about the consequences that would result from one foolish moment in time when alcohol had consumed him.
“And how do you think Douglas Mahoney is going to react to seeing this article?” Elliot challenged with an arched brow, “The man is risking the loss of his son and then to see the hours leading up to his son’s shooting where his son is being attacked by my son…”
“It’s not as bad as it looks and other than that brief moment in time I never connected with the guy before.  He was just in the wrong place in the wrong time,” Grady thought back to the hazy moment he’d fought with Kipp.
“No son you were in the wrong time at the wrong place and if you’re not careful that trends is going to continue and you’re going to lose it all,” Elliot added with heavy emphasis, “which makes me wonder if you feel it’s worth it.”
“Dad, I’m just trying to do what I feel is right by Russell…”
“Forget about Russell’s life for five minutes and start thinking about what you stand to lose by carrying on this way and needing to prove your position on things,” Elliot continued to lecture him, “You’ve finally found some happiness with a good woman and if you’re not careful, then you’re bound to lose that and I don’t think that’s something you want to face again, do you?”
“No,” Grady responded grimly as his eyes settled on the page before him.  While he’d started to ache after the adrenaline had left his body after the fight with Russell, the heavy lingering feelings of guilt began to stir up inside of him and the article on the page only exemplified that guilt as he started at the man before him wondering how it was possible to lose that much control.  Still, he had to stick to his guns about things because if he didn’t, then where would that leave him?  He was almost afraid of the answer as he sank back into the seat wishing that things could be different…that he could be different and that the situation had never gotten out of hand to begin with.  He’d had that once with Susan, but he’d sworn no more and now…
“Well?” Elliot interrupted his thoughts as he drove down the road away from Russell’s home.
“I can’t not worry about my brother,” Grady sighed closing his eyes as flashes of his life with Susan began to play in his mind, “She’s going to rip his heart to pieces and leave him shattered or worse…”
“She’s not Susan and if you open your eyes to that, then maybe this will all be easier for the both of you…”
“I still can’t believe you’re on his side about this considering that…” Grady grumbled looking to his father.
“Russell loves her and who am I to stand in the way of love?  You should know better than anyone that it’s an impossible feat,” Elliot answered honestly.
“Even so sometimes there needs to be a voice of reason in the matter,” Grady explained with a huff.
“And no one appointed you to be that voice so I strongly suggest you focus on that beautiful woman who cares so very much about you and stop fixating on your brother’s love life because I can assure you that regardless of what you do, it’s not going to change who Russell is or what he wants in this world.  He’s in love and that’s not going to change because you’d like it to.”
“He’s a fool and for him to let Avery walk all over him,” Grady repeated his mantra again and again.
“Grady, I just wish you’d stop thinking like a man of logic and start seeing this through the eyes of a man in love,” Elliot frowned over at him.
“Now you’re sounding like Jade,” he admitted slumping down in his seat as suddenly it felt as though the man he was staring down at in the newspaper before him was a stranger and he began to wonder if maybe just maybe his father had a point as it seemed all his helping did was take him further from those he cared about.

As Grady stared at the images before him, he wondered just how far he’d go to save his brother as the night at the Ashford mansion was a shining example of what he hadn’t wanted to do.  Still, the thought of Russell throwing his life away for Avery made him feel out of control and jaded much like Susan had made him feel in the past…though he was certain that he wasn’t comparing Avery to Susan.  That wasn’t really what it was all about.  It was about saving Russ and even if his father was too stubborn to see it, Grady decided balling up the newspaper in his fists, he’d still do whatever it took to find a way to protect those he loved as walking away was the last thing he’d do as they were far too important to not do anything.


Guy threw open the doors to the Ashford library finding his father tucked away behind Brant’s large oak desk reviewing the pages before him until Guy’s presence captured his attention and Richard looked up from his thin rimmed glasses.
“Son, I didn’t realize you were coming over this morning,” Richard set the page in hand aside as he pulled off his reading glasses to greet his son, “What can I do for you?”
“For starters you can tell me where my sister is since clearly this hiding her away from the world was something you came up with to drive Mum insane,” Guy spat out at him bitterly.
“Your mother is already insane,” Richard stated with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “and as for your sister, I can assure you she’s in good hands.”
“I’ll believe it when I see as I don’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth,” Guy shot back icily as his eyes revealed the depths of animosity he‘d felt towards his father, “especially with the way you’ve paraded your whore around town in an attempt to break her spirit and shame this family.”
“I think you’d better watch your tone with me,” Richard’s tone shifted eerily as he looked up at his son.
“Or what?  What are you going to do to me, Richard?  Going to disown me?” Guy questioned gruffly, “If that’s where you’re headed, I can save you the trouble because you became dead to me the moment you decided to hurt my mother like you have.”
“Guy, there is a lot about your mother that you aren’t aware of,” Richard defended his position as he thought of how Brooke had managed to turn his only son against him.
“Oh and I’m sure you’d just love to enlighten me as you did Avery, wouldn’t you?  You just can’t stand the thought of Mum having any happiness in her life because all you care about is destroying her, isn’t it?  Well, I have news for you, I’m not going to let you do that.  It’s bad enough that you’ve found a way to rip her heart out repeatedly especially at a time like this when she needs her family more than ever…”
“Guy, any troubles that your mother has had, she’s brought on herself,” Richard argued with him, “and while you’d like to put me in the position of the bad guy here, that just isn’t the case.”
“Oh I think it is and if you don’t tell me where my sister is, then I swear to you that I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you pay for doing this to my mother as I’m sick and tired of your power plays.”
“My power plays?” Richard repeated raising his voice, “Your mother is the queen of manipulation and while you want to believe her words to be truth, you can ask your sister about the ways Brooke has hurt her time and time again…”
“Mum loves Avery and she wants what is best for her--unlike you with your self serving agenda,” Guy hissed as an anger rolled down his spine, “and I swear to you…”
“Son, I don’t think you should be,” Richard rose to his feet circling around the desk as he fought to keep his voice even and in control.
“I don’t give a damn what you think I should or shouldn’t be doing,” Guy declared boldly standing his ground, “as I really believe that the best thing you can do for this family is just to stay the hell away from it.  Stay away from my mother and let her have some peace and dignity about her.”
“I asked your mother for a divorce,” Richard reminded him sharply, “I don’t know how much more room I can give her.”
“She wants to hold onto you for some reason that I don’t understand,” Guy shook his head in disgust, “For some reason she feels that you are someone special and all you do is drag her name through the mud without really ever taking the time to consider what’s going on in her life or what she needs.  All you care about is the slut that you’re blatantly rubbing in her face…”
“I’m not going to let you talk about Judy that way when…” Richard began behind clenched teeth.
“When what?  She’s working so hard to tear our family apart?” Guy grumbled in response, “Yeah she sounds like a real saint,” he rolled his eyes sarcastically, “Then again given the lengths you’ve both gone to in an attempt to shame this family, you deserve one another,” Guy finished spinning on his heel and storming out of the room as Richard sat on the edge of the desk wondering where this latest ambush from Guy had come from.  There was no doubt in his mind who’d instigated this and now as he thought to his estranged wife, he felt his anger boil as he realized it was time to take out the gloves with Brooke once and for all as this nightmare of a marriage was about to end at whatever cost necessary.


“Dave, Agent Pryce, please come in,” Isaac Reynolds spoke as he stood and approached them with outstretched hand.

“We just need a few minutes of your time, Isaac. We’re trying to get a handle on this Mathis case, but we still have a lot of questions about the victim,” Dave advised the chief of staff as he shook his hand.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Isaac assured them before offering them a seat, “Can we get you something to drink?”

“No, we’re fine,” Shannon replied with a polite smile, “How well did you know Dr. Mathis?”

“Not very well, I’m afraid. We were colleagues, and of course, I brought him on board to the hospital,” Isaac explained, “His credentials were excellent, his references impeccable.”

“Do you still have his personnel file?”

“Yes,” Isaac nodded before moving to a filing cabinet behind him, “Do you have any suspects in his death?”

“We have several leads that we’re pursuing,” Shannon offered.

“This is his file,” Isaac passed off the file to Dave, “What are you hoping to find?”

“We’re just trying to step into his shoes so to speak. We need to get into his head in order to figure out who could have been so enraged as to kill him,” Dave explained, “What was your take on him?”

“He was a good doctor, perhaps a bit aggressive at times, but a good doctor on average. I never had any social relationship with him except at hospital gatherings. I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more than that,” Isaac frowned, “I wish there was more I could do to help you.”

“Did you contact his references?” Shannon asked as she looked over the file.

“Only one. The dean of the medical school where he graduated gave him stellar reviews. After I spoke with him, I didn’t see the need to proceed further,” Isaac looked between the two law enforcement officers, “Are you saying that something about Dr. Mathis wasn’t as it should have been?”

“We’re not saying anything right now,” Dave shrugged, “We’re just trying to figure out who we can talk to and trust. So right now, we’re just being cautious.”

Isaac nodded, “I can’t tell you how shocked everyone here at the hospital was when we heard of Dr. Mathis’ murder. He just wasn’t the kind of man you would picture for that sort of violent end.”

“Was there anyone around the hospital who he might have associated with? Anyone he was particularly close to?” Dave asked as he watched Shannon continue browsing the Mathis personnel file.

“No, not really. The only person I saw Dr. Mathis connect with was Avery. They seemed like a perfect couple.”

“So we’ve heard,” Shannon nibbled on her lip for a moment, “Did you know anything about his family?”

“I think he mentioned his mother once, but there was never a word about a father or siblings.”

“Did he ever have any trouble with colleagues or maybe a patient being upset with him?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Do you mind if we take this file with us?” Shannon asked as she closed the file before her.

“No, that’ll be fine. I just want whoever would do something like this taken off the street,” Isaac assured them.

“That’s what we’re going to do,” Dave flashed a reassuring smile before saying his goodbyes and stepping out of the office with Shannon.

“This guy was the epitome of being an enigma. Didn’t anyone have a handle on this guy?” Shannon sighed as she tucked her note pad in her pocket.

“I suppose it’s time we had another talk with Avery. But this time we’re going to be nice and cordial about it, got that?” Dave asked pointedly as he nailed her with an accusing glare.

“Okay, okay, I’ll play nice, but I swear if Brant opens his mouth…”

“You can kick his ass, and I’ll even make sure you can have a fair fight,” He grinned slightly as he stepped down the hallway ahead of her.

Shannon followed down the hall behind him, wondering if they would ever have any real answers about the man who’d been found dead and brought her back to Coral Valley.


Judy checked her watch, knowing that Deidra’s plane would be due into the airport soon. She hated not knowing all the circumstances of her daughter’s arrival as she was sure there was much more to the story than Deidra had gotten into over the telephone. While Diane thought of Deidra as the “stable” sister, Judy had worries about both of her daughters. She knew that Deidra could put on a bold face when she thought the situation warranted it, but Judy knew that Deidra was much more fragile than anyone could imagine.

Deidra had grown up with an uncommon will to be the rock of the family. She had never let anyone see her sweat in public. It had been only late at night when she thought everyone else was in bed that Deidra would break down in tears and cry herself to sleep. Judy had tried to console her daughter on many nights until she’d learn that her consolations hadn’t been any kind of comfort at all to her daughter. As years went by, Judy had felt her own heart break as she’d heard soft sobs coming from Deidra’s room in the dead of night.

Judy could only hope that whatever had driven a wedge between Deidra and Andrew wouldn’t linger on Deidra’s mind for long. Deidra was susceptible to bouts of depression, and Judy could only hope that her daughter wasn’t on the verge of slipping into a deep dark place that would take lots of time and tears to climb out of.

A knock at the door brought Judy out of her concerns over her daughter. She made her way to the door prepared to tell whoever had come to visit that she was about to leave for the airport. As she opened the door, she took in a breath ready to begin her explanation.

“Surprise,” Deidra smiled as she looked over her mother’s surprised features, “Mom?”

“I’m not late, am I? I could have sworn you said you were coming in later today,” Judy began in a quick worrisome manner.

“I did tell you I’d be in later, but I took an earlier flight, and here I am,” Deidra smiled, “Well? Think you can invite me in even though I’m early?”

“Of course, get in here you,” Judy said as she tugged her daughter into the room. She helped Deidra drag her bags inside the apartment before closing the door and sweeping her daughter into her welcoming arms, “You look so beautiful, and you’ve cut your hair. Have I mentioned how much I’ve missed you lately?”

“No, but I’ve missed you too,” Deidra chuckled softly as she hugged her mother, “I’m so happy to see you.”

“I’m happy to see you too, but I don’t understand what’s going on exactly,” Judy admitted as she held her daughter at arm’s length and took a moment to study her, “You look so good.”

“Thank you,” Deidra smiled, “You’re looking good too. What’s put the color back into your cheeks, Mom?”

“Oh boy, have you been talking to Diane?” Judy shook her head with a soft laugh, “Would you like some tea or coffee or a soft drink? Have you eaten?”

“Mom, I’m fine. I’m a little tired of traveling though so can we just sit down?”

“Oh, of course. Sit, sit,” Judy urged as they made their way to the sofa. Judy sat down beside her daughter and smiled as she looked to her daughter, “I can’t believe you’re really here.”

“It’s a bit of a change,” Deidra nodded, “But I needed this.”

“Want to talk about what caused the need?”

“Andrew,” Deidra frowned, “We’re getting divorced.”

“So you said on the phone. Dee, what happened?”

Deidra tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and kicked off her slip on shoes before she spoke, “I guess we just grew apart.”

“Why do you say that?”

Deidra shrugged, “I think it had to be what happened. I went home early…well actually it was more like late at night. I’d been helping to deliver a set of high risk twins,” She paused, “I walked through the front door, and I knew something wasn’t right. There were a couple of items of clothing on the floor, and a black bra hanging on the door knob to my bedroom. I walked in and there was Andrew in bed with his surgical nurse, Mary Anne.”

“Oh Dee,” Judy frowned, “What’d he say?”

“That he wasn’t expecting me home. He didn’t have any excuses, just wondering why I was home early,” Deidra groaned, “I was so stupid. I should have known that he was up to something a long time ago. All those extra shifts at the hospital, the little meetings he said he had with colleagues,” She exhaled in frustration, “I should have known that he was having an affair. No, wait, let me clarify that. Affairs. Plural. When I went back to the hospital after filing for the divorce, a couple of nurses told me that if I needed a witness to testify to his adultery that they’d be willing to come forward. I’ve never been so humiliated in all my life.”

“I’m so sorry, Dee. Is there anything I can do to help?” Judy asked as she lightly caressed her daughter’s hair.

“No, I just needed to come home so I can start over. I didn’t want to be in Miami any more having to see Andrew every day. If I had to face that every day,” Deidra shook her head, “I just can’t imagine what kind of basket case I’d be.”

“How are you holding up?”

“I’m holding it together. I’ve spent a lot of nights crying myself to sleep, but I really am doing okay. It’s hard, harder than I’d ever imagined, but I’m living one day at a time.”

“My poor baby,” Judy said as she drew her daughter into her arms, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

“Enough about me,” Deidra said firmly as she forced a smile and met her mother’s eyes, “What about you and this guy you’re seeing?”

“Oh. That,” Judy took a deep breath, “You’ll meet him soon enough. I don’t want to build him up because I’m going to want your honest opinion when you meet him,” She said before she paused, “I just…”

“Yeah?” Deidra asked, “Mom, what is it? Is he a serial killer or something?”

“No, nothing like that,” Judy assured her daughter before meeting Deidra’s eyes and smiling, “I’m really happy with him, and I know you’ll love him too,” She said feeling hope grow within her heart that she could somehow reconcile the family she’d always dreamt of having.


Douglas stood at the end of Kipp’s bed. The machines pinged, chirped, and chimed in a solid regular rhythm while Kipp lay still amongst the pale blue sheets of the bed. Douglas moved alongside the bed and took his son’s hand while being careful not disturb IV tubing or monitoring machinery.

“Kipp, I’m here, son,” Douglas said softly as he watched his son’s profile remain motionless. He looked away for a moment as he tried to gather courage to continue. He gently squeezed Kipp’s hand before he spoke again, “I can’t believe we’re here this way. I never imagined you’d be in this kind of condition in front of me. I always kind of figured that I’d be the one to be in some helpless condition with you standing by my side,” He stopped for a moment as he closed his eyes and sighed, “The truth is you probably wouldn’t have stood at my side if I was helpless. I haven’t exactly been the kind of father that inspires a great deal of loyalty.

“I’m so sorry, Kipp. I wish I had spent more time with you, but I was doing the best I could to make a living for us in order to secure your future. I know it’s not a good excuse, and I wish I had spent more time with you. I wish I had kept you at my side and taught you everything I know. I wish…” He trailed off before brushing his thumb over the back of Kipp’s hand, “Wishing isn’t going to help anything, is it?”

“But maybe we can work on changing that, Kipp. When you wake up, I’m going to do everything I can to make our relationship the best possible, son. I want to have the family that we always dreamt of, and I promise you that we will get through this. And there are more members of the family, Kipp,” He paused, “You have a sister, a big sister. I never knew about her until I came to Coral Valley, but she’s here and she’s beautiful. I just know that you two will want to bond as siblings, and I hope that you’ll love each other. You just have to come back to us, Kipp, come back to us,” Douglas urged his son, hoping he would hear his father’s pleas and return to consciousness.


Heather sat back in Cameron’s chair as she placed her feet upon the desk and picked up the phone. She dialed the familiar number and waited for her agent to answer the phone. He wasn’t going to like the news she had for him, but the pregnancy wouldn’t be the thing that set him off. Her marriage to anyone other than a Hollywood producer or actor would make William positively livid.

“William Steed,” The agent answered quickly.

“William, it’s Heather,” She said as she twisted the cord of the telephone between her fingers, “I have some news for you.”

“I saw the papers about Kipp Mahoney. Too bad, he was probably your ticket to stardom there, kid. But hey, since Douglas is in town there you could always snuggle up to him and skip the go between.”

“William, stop that. I’m not going anywhere near Douglas Mahoney. He’s grieving for his son right now, and..”

“And it’s your perfect chance to use his grief to secure your place in his film. Don’t you want a successful career, Heather? Or do you just want to be an adult film star? I’m sure we could still find a producer who’s interested.”

“Stop it! Just stop it!” Heather demanded as she sat upright, “You’re fired, William. I don’t need your services any longer.”

“Why? Because you’re upset with the truth?”

“No, because I’m pregnant,” She paused to let him absorb the news, “And I’m getting married.”

“You…what?” William shouted, “No, Heather, you’re not. You’re coming back to L.A. You’ll have an abortion, and we’ll get you back on the path to success.”

“No, I’m not. I’m staying here, and you can’t do a thing about it. Good bye, William. We’re through,” Heather said as she hung up the phone without letting him respond.

William slammed his phone down upon the desk as he stood and shouted at his secretary, “Get me on the first plane to Coral Valley!” He turned in anger and looked out the tiny window of his dark office, “I’ll be damned if I’ll let you squirm out of my grasp, Heather,” He declared, vowing to bring back his million dollar baby no matter what it took to make that happen.

...to be continued...