Episode Fifty Eight

“Just a little bit further,” Kenneth urged Caitlin on as the two of them struggled to get Brant onto the couch before them.  While they’d been concerned about him at the club after Avery’s disappearance, Kenneth had decided to bring his brother home and call the doctor in after the day they’d had.  Now as he and Caitlin shifted Brant’s body forward, feeling his dead weight as he fell upon the couch cushions, Kenneth began to wonder if his brother had a case of too much to drink or if something more was at work at the moment.
“Ken, this doesn’t look good,” Caitlin admitted breaking her long silence for the first time since they’d left the club, “I mean sure Brant isn’t my favorite of people, but look at him,” she motioned to the way Brant lay face down in the couch cushions muttering meaningless things in his slumber.
“You’re right which is why I’m going to call over the doctor and then we’re going to work on getting the police over here so that we can find out what happened to Avery,” Kenneth fished into his pocket pulling out the small note that the bartender had offered up to Caitlin in explanation to Avery’s sudden disappearance.  His eyes skimmed over it once again noting the barely legible scrawl upon the napkin that was to inform the group that Avery was taking some time away for the night to collect her thoughts.  Sure, Kenneth knew that Brant had given Avery a run for her money lately and pressed her into a very tentative position, but for her to take off on an island she was completely unfamiliar with especially when she’d been worried about Brant’s change of demeanor, well, it just didn’t make sense.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Caitlin nodded in response breaking through his thoughts as she turned her attention away from Brant, “Go make the calls and then we’ll try to figure out what’s going on with him.”
“Alright,” Kenneth agreed with a sigh, “but if you need me…”
“I know you’ll be in the next room,” Caitlin rubbed her hands together as a chill rushed over her bare arms and her stomach was suddenly tied in knots, “I’m sure Brant is harmless, but I’m not so sure about the person who handed the bartender that note.”
“You don’t believe this either, huh?” Kenneth motioned to the small napkin.
“Not even on my worst day,” she confessed with a heavy frown, “while I was hoping we could find a way to get Avery away from Brant, I don’t believe she’d just up and leave like that.”
“Neither do I and since I’ve known her for a long time, well, I think it would probably be best if I get right on this.  If Richard finds out that we’ve lost her…”
“Just make the call, Ken,” Caitlin urged him on, “We will find her.”
“I hope you’re right,” Kenneth nodded in response glancing over at his brother as he shook his head, “and I’ll have the doctor called over as well.”
“Considering that he’s like this,” Caitlin watched as Brant’s face remained buried in the cushions, “it might be worth investigating.”
“Unfortunately I happen to agree with you on this one as I know the limitations Brant has with alcohol and this shouldn’t be happening,” Kenneth reasoned casting one last worried glance over in his brother’s direction before going to retrieve the doctor’s phone number.
Caitlin watched as Kenneth left the room and as she felt her own breath spill over her lips, she wondered how something like this could’ve happened when they’d all been out together.  Safety in numbers was the theme of the evening considering Caitlin had been worried about Brant preying on Avery’s vulnerability, but as she turned her eyes to the heap of a man before her on the sofa, she wondered if perhaps she’d given him far too much credit as it seemed someone else was already one step ahead of the game.
“Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone,” Caitlin shook her head at Brant with heavy disapproval as she stepped in towards him realizing that he was bound to slide off of the couch cushions with the way he was laying.  Reluctantly she knelt down beside him hoping to ease him back onto the cushions, but as her hand touched his shoulder preparing herself for the shove she was certain he’d needed in more ways than one, his head popped up off of the cushion causing her to yelp in surprise.
“Hey beautiful,” Brant’s words slurred as he looked over to Caitlin with glazed eyes.  He offered up a flirty smile as he cocked his head to the side looking up at her, “Where have you been all my life?”
“Carefully avoiding men like you,” Caitlin remarked wishing she’d just left well enough alone as she nudged him back onto the couch cushions.
“Oh you think you’re cute, don’t you,” Brant chuckled with mild amusement as she turned him onto his back focusing on the task at hand instead of the overwhelming urge to strangle him for just being…well Brant.  He reached out to her brushing his fingers against her arm before curling them in over her, “Come here.”
“I don’t think so, Brant,” Caitlin wrinkled her nose in response as she tried to uncurl his fingers off of her arm.
“Oh come on,” Brant whispered in a low, seductive tone, “You can’t really hold this morning against me.”
“See now that’s where you’re mistaken,” Caitlin answered flatly, “as you’ll soon learn that I have no problems holding a grudge.”
“Tsk, tsk,” Brant shook his head at her as he attempted to rise up the couch cushions before falling back with a drunken laugh, “Now why would you want to hold a grudge against me when you and I both know we’d be much more open to one another should you let that grudge go and you hold that beautiful body against me instead as I’m sure I can change your mind about me.  I mean hey I‘m sure if you see how hard I‘m invested in showing you my finer points, you might be compelled to enjoy something I could give you.  I‘m certainly up for the occasion.”
“I sincerely doubt that,” Caitlin rolled her eyes at his innuendos as he reached out for her hand guiding it over his body taking it straight to his intended mark as a proud smile curled over his lips.
“Want to retract that statement,” he questioned lifting a curious brow as he teased her hand over the obvious evidence of his clearly drunken arousal.
“Brant, even if you were the last man on the planet, well, not even then…” Caitlin grumbled pushing him further back onto the couch with a groan.
“Oh sweetie,” Brant’s lip curled in a pout, “Don’t you like me even a little bit?”
“Come to think of it, when you were passed out, I didn’t mind you at all, so if you’d like to do that again, well hey I’m down with that,” Caitlin shot back with an icy glare as she started to rise up to her feet again only to feel his hand tug upon her arm pulling her down onto the couch with him.  Within a blink of an eye, she felt him shift his weight over her as he looked down at her with a certain twinkle in his eye as his body skimmed over hers teasingly.
“Now do you really think that’s necessary,” Brant shook his head at her as his finger brushed in over her lips, “We could be so much better off if we’d just stop playing these games with one another.”
“I’m counting until three and if you don’t get off me Brant, so help me God,” Caitlin warned anger overriding her tone as she felt the weight of him hovering above her, pressing her into the couch.
“I think we should really work on renegotiating these terms of our relationship.  I mean sure hatred works as it inspires passion and sexual heat all in it‘s own, but do we really have to go through all this when it’s obvious that you’re hot for me.”
Unable to contain herself, Caitlin felt an outrageous laugh spill over her features despite the situation she was in.  Seconds ago, she’d wanted to murder Brant and well, while the feeling still remained, she couldn’t help but find herself amused at his obvious ignorance in dealing with women.  Surely a ladies man like Brant would know when to quit, but as he kept talking, his foot kept getting further and further lodged down his throat.
“You’re really beautiful,” he touched her cheek lazily as his glossy-eyed expression shifted, “Has anyone ever told you that?”
“Brant, get off me,” Caitlin grumbled shoving her hands into his shoulders as she managed to push him off of her, but as his body plopped down beside her, his arm curled around her waist drawing her in against him.
“Oh come on,” Brant whispered in the back of her neck, “what’s the fun in playing hard to get?  I can show you what a real Ashford man is all about.  All the things a bad boy can do for a good girl like you…”
“Gee, is that the line you tried to use on Avery because if it was, you‘re seriously flawed in your notions,” Caitlin tossed her head back over her shoulder to look at him with a glare, but before she could get another word out, his lips descended towards hers, capturing her mouth in a drunken kiss.
Gasping in shock Caitlin staggered beneath him, feeling his fingers ease into her blonde hair as his tongue teased over the crease in her lips urging her to open herself to his invasive touch, but as she found herself caught up in a moment of protest, Brant took advantage of that movement and she silently cursed herself as she felt him slip inside her parted lips tasting and teasing her with a hot fire that clearly marked the signature move of a confidant man.  Brant’s kiss was neither timid nor passive as his lips commanded her complete surrender, his hot and wild taste thrusting into her with the same passion his heated words came from that very talented forked tongue  as she couldn‘t help but find herself reciprocating the same intensity for a millisecond almost appreciating the talent and skill behind such a bold move on his part.
Much to Caitlin’s dismay she had to give him credit for being a good kisser--a damn good kisser as a matter of fact.  Not that she’d ever allow something this horrible to happen again, she reasoned as she pressed her thumbs into his collarbones attempting to dislodge him from her mouth, severing any ties he’d had with her as she fully intended to let him know his advances were anything, but wanted or needed, but before she could allow herself the pleasure of putting Brant Ashford in his place, the kiss abruptly ended and she felt him collapse over her with a resounding thud.
“Brant,” Caitlin breathed in a heavy gasp finding herself winded from his kiss and the weight of him over her as she immediately registered how bad this would look should Kenneth return.  Suddenly panic swept over her even with the knowledge that nothing had been doing on between her and Brant…at least not on her end…at least not intentionally.
Frowning as she used all of her strength to shove him back into the couch, Caitlin carefully untucked her body away from his and inhaled a slow breath as she crawled out onto the floor looking up at him with confused eyes.  Sure, there was no denying she’d loathed the man and she was certain if he’d ever tried to kiss her like that there would be hell to pay--more hell than he’d could imagine as the next time he’d tried to touch her, he could kiss his sexually active days good-bye, but still, she’d be lying if she could say that she honestly didn’t admire his skill in the kissing department.  Sure his technique left a lot to be desired, but then again, maybe his skill was part of what clouded the heads of otherwise intelligent, strong-willed  women like Avery.  Regardless of what it was, Caitlin was not going to just sit around accepting the strangely perverse buzz that came from kissing a drunken Brant Ashford.
Pulling herself up off her feet, Caitlin threw out one last look in his general direction before opting to leave him on the couch to sleep off whatever was going on as she sought out Kenneth realizing that it was much better to retreat to safer territory because she couldn’t promise herself what she would do the next time Brant woke up and tried something.  Kissing him was out of the question, but after the time she’d spent on the island with him, fighting with him, well homicide didn’t seem to be quite that off base and that in itself was all the more reason to leave him alone.  With that thought in mind, she flipped the light off in the room and went in search of Kenneth hoping his time away from her had been more productive than the time she’d just spent with Brant as she was certain that those last few minutes would be minutes in her life she‘d just as soon forget from here on out.


“This can’t be happening,” Avery tried to rationalize again and again in her mind as her pulse was racing, her heart pounding in her chest as though it would burst at any minute as the sizzling heat of Russell’s kisses scorched her down to the core, causing her otherwise infuriated demeanor to burst apart at the seams unraveling with his every skilled touch--his every well planned caress.  His finger tips teased over her soft curves, imprinting her body to his as he gently guided her up off of the mattress into his solid strength.  A low murmur fell from her lips indicating her openness to him as his mouth dropped down over her shoulder offering up teasing bites and nips over the places he was certain would drive her mad with desire.  The moist heat of his breath upon her caused her to tingle from her swirling head down to the tips of her toes as her fingers thread into his dark hair crushing him in over her with a longing she hadn’t known she’d possessed before now.
Another moan erupted from within as Avery arched her head back into the thick blankets allowing him complete access to her neck as his tongue traced wildly erotic patterns over her skin again and again.  His hands glided up over her thighs, cupping her rounded bottom up against the undeniable evidence of his own aggressive arousal.  His fingers fanned out upon her with a spark of electricity easing her dress up over her hips until his fingertips connected with the satin material of the scarlet colored panties she’d been wearing.  Her breath caught in her throat as his thumb skimmed over the tiny birthmark that marked the sensitive spot over her inner thigh bringing tremors over her before dipping in beneath the fabric and skimming over her moist heat.  Her tiny cries transformed into a whimper as he touched her, tantalizing her with the magic of his ever impressive knowledge of her every secret hotspot.
“Russ,” she breathed his name forcing herself to look into his sparkling green eyes as he continued to delve into her realm of desire increasing the intensity of his movements as his mouth melded with hers, mimicking the same torturous rhythm with his tongue as his fingers explored and indulged in her completely.  Her skin was on fire, her insides ablaze, but as she felt herself teetering on the edge of all rationalization, she forced herself to press into his shoulders putting a distance between them, “stop.”
“Avery,” he gave her a confused look seeing something was wrong behind her passion-laden eyes as her breaths came out in short, agonized breaths.
“We can’t do this,” Avery shook her head urgently refusing to allow herself to sink back into the same routine with him as her every synapse cried out for her to make love to the man who’d claimed her heart all those years ago.  Using every ounce of remaining strength inside of her, she slid her hand down the smooth muscled expanse of his powerful chest--immediately realizing that was a huge mistake as the feel of him beneath her finger tips even through the fabric of his shirt was enough to drive her wild with desire as a whimper escaped from between her parted lips.  She felt him shift over her in the simplest of movements as his fingers still held their intimate contact with her, but despite all the protests her body was about to make for this sudden decision, she captured his wrist in her hand forcing him to break the contact as she slid out from beneath him on the bed cursing herself over and over again as her breath came out in shallow pants.
“Why,” Russell questioned sinking back onto the bed as her refusal surprised him more than anything else since he’d swept her away from the club.
“Why?” she repeated spinning around to face him, anger evident behind the chocolate flecks of her eyes as her face was still flushed by their intimate reunion, “Why do you think, Russell?  I found you in bed with another woman and don’t think that I’ve forgotten.  Your seducing me doesn‘t make me forget just how much that hurt to walk in on you and Heather together…”
“Avery, that was a mistake--one that I can explain,” Russell began with a heavy sigh forcing himself to forget about the tension coursing through his body as his need for her remained unquenched leaving him with an obvious ache.  He reluctantly sat up staring at her with determined eyes.
“Oh right,” Avery rolled her eyes in response to him, “Let me guess.  You just tripped into bed naked with Heather, right?”
“Avery, it wasn’t like that,” Russell stood upright ready to defend his position as the passion that had swept over her moments earlier was replaced by the same pain and betrayal that had filled her the moment she’d walked in on him and Heather at the Ashford mansion.
“Oh of course,” she huffed bitterly, “You just figured that would be the fastest way to tell me that you didn’t want to get married, right?  You just enjoyed screwing around with me until you could find a woman to give you what you really needed in bed because I couldn’t give you what you really longed for, right?  Tell me Russ, was this just part of some twisted revenge plan you and Grady cooked up to get back at me for what I did years ago?”
“Avery, that’s not what this is about…” he started again trying to explain himself as she continued to scream at him.
“Oh no of course not,” she threw her hands in the air wildly, her own untapped rage bursting from the seams as she found herself irritated with how easily it would be to fall into his arms once again--to make love with him and accept him in her life without consequence as she’d been wanting him--needing him from the moment he’d forced himself back into her life again.  “Tell me is Grady waiting around the corner to remind me again what a horrible person I am for breaking your heart because if he is I can save you the time and energy of trying to pull one over me.  I get it Russell.  You hate me for what I did to you and I can’t say I blame you, but please, please…stop interfering with my life because I can’t take this anymore.  I can’t take your coming around trying to teach me a lesson because this is one lesson I can’t bear to live with,” she fought for a breath as tears came to her eyes and she found herself unable to contain her frustrations and fears.
“Avery, that night wasn’t about punishing you.  I swear to you I don’t know how I wound up in bed with Heather considering that all I’ve ever wanted,” he stepped forward emphasizing each word as he bridged the distance between them, “all I’ve ever needed was you and I can’t bear the thought of being without you.  Avery, I love you and that’s the only reason I’m here right now.”
“No, you’re here because you want to win.  You want to show Brant once again how much of a fool for you I truly am and how you can turn me into this with just a look,” she cast her words out at him as she wiped at her tears, “You’ve won Russell and believe me I hate what I’ve become…but I understand.”
“No, you don’t,” he shook his head refusing to allow her to slip away from him as his hand eased in around the back of her neck coaxing her towards him, “Avery, you’re not listening to what I’m trying to tell you here.  You’re not hearing me.”
“Oh I hear you loud and clear,” she threw her fists into his chest as her tears overcame her, “I hate you Russell Denton.  I hate you.  I hate you.  I hate you…” she broke down into full blown tears as her flailing fists slowed down to a halfhearted swing until finally she collapsed into his chest overcome by the moment between them.
“No you don’t,” he whispered bending down to kiss the top of her head as he placed his finger beneath her chin urging her to meet his eyes, “You love me and I love you and that’s why we both know that my being here is the right thing for us both.”
“No, you’re wrong,” she argued with him shaking her head defiantly, “I don’t love you…I don’t want you in my life…I won’t do this again…I can’t…” her protests were put to rest as his lips drank up her words coaxing her to sweet surrender as her tears consumed her.
Avery felt a whimper rise up within her as she halfheartedly pounded on his shoulders wanting to hate him the way she was hating herself for loving him too damned much, but as his strong arms enveloped her and he lifted her off the ground up into his arms, she felt her resolve slipping away.  His kisses set her soul at ease as her heart was driving on with the rhythmic protest to her words and as his green eyes penetrated her once again, she found herself lost in him.
“Avery, we were meant to be together and I don’t care what it takes, I’ll do anything to make you believe that,” his voice was calm and filled with a warmth despite the assault Avery had launched on him, “After all these years, we both know that we’ll never feel complete without one another.  Our hearts will never truly have that happiness we’ve longed for unless we‘re with one another where we belong.”
“Russ…” she breathed his name, tears cascading over her as he squeezed her in his arms.
“Avery, heaven knows I don’t deserve you--that I don’t deserve a second chance at your heart, but I love you and I’m lost without you.  I’ve never needed anyone as much as I need you and without you, I’m not living at all as you are the only woman who’s ever made me feel this way.”
“Don’t say that…” she pleaded with him, “Don’t say such things as it clouds my head and makes me think…”
“You’re everything I could ever ask for and more as you’re my every dream and fantasy come to life,” he continued with an impassioned plea holding her in his arms, “You’re the woman I want to wake up to each morning--to make love to and hold through the night--the woman I want to have with me each day as we spend our years together growing old with one another…”
“It’s too late for that,” Avery argued with him, her heart sinking as the words fell from her lips despite the inner voice that ate away at her resolve, begging her to just give in to what it was she’d waited so very long to have in her life.
“No, it’s not too late.  Avery, I know that you and Brant aren’t married and I don’t intend to stop trying to prove to you what a mistake it would be if you and I aren’t together.  I want to show you that we can have that happily ever after--that we can share our lives together--our dreams…our family…”
“Our family,” she repeated suddenly thinking about the child she was expecting as the thought forced her to put a distance between them.  She felt him begin to protest her need for space, but as if he’d sensed the urgency in her movement, he released her still keeping her within arm’s reach as she turned away from him.
“Russ, we’re only fooling ourselves to believe that we can have any kind of a normal life with one another,” she closed her eyes fighting to keep the truth from spilling from her lips as she could feel the warmth of him behind her, desperately wanting him to hold her in his arms forever.
“Avery, the last time you walked out on me I was a fool.  I didn’t do everything in my power to bring you back, but this time, well this time I refuse to make the same mistake again.  I don’t care what I have to do as I’ll do anything to have you back again…”
“Russ, that’s just it,” she felt her heart betraying her as she faced him once again, “You never lost me because even when I walked away before a part of me was still with you at that church.”
“And I wish that part of me had done something to bring you back to me--to find you before you ran off and your fears put a wedge between us…” he explained his voice overcome with passion as he reached out to her, “Avery, if I could go back and erase that mistake I made on our wedding day, I would…”
“You didn’t make a mistake,” she felt her eyes clouding over again as she sucked in a breath of air, “I did and that’s why I left.”
“No, Avery I should’ve made you feel more secure about my love.  I should’ve fought like hell to prove to you that I wasn’t going to let anything keep us apart, but I was a coward…”
“No, I was the coward Russ because I left you without giving you the opportunity to know what was really happening--to know the truth and I can’t do that to you any longer,” she inhaled a pained breath as she forced herself to own up to the past that she’d tucked away from him all these years, “Russ, I left you on our wedding day because I was pregnant.”

“What?” Russell blinked back at her words as a stunned expression washed over his features, “Avery, are you saying that you left me because you were having my baby?  Our baby?”
“No Russ,” she shook her head poignantly, “I left you because I lost our baby…because right before our wedding--that day at the church I had a miscarriage and I couldn’t bring myself to break your heart like that.”

“You were pregnant and you…” Russell’s face dropped in surprise, shock and sadness all at once at the reality that carried with her words.  He took a step towards her, his sad eyes reaching out to her, “Avery, wh-why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to hurt you anymore than I had,” she offered lowering her head at the thought, “I couldn‘t expect you to give up on your dreams of happily ever after because I was broken.”
“Broken,” he repeated after a long moment of silence taking in the weight of her words as the sadness behind her eyes spoke volumes about the impact her secret had carried over her all these years, “Avery, how could you ever think that?  Do you have any idea what my knowing the truth would’ve done for us?”
“It would’ve destroyed us and your dreams for a family because after I lost our baby, they told me that I wouldn‘t ever be able to give you that family you always dreamt about--that I‘d never be able to be pregnant again and I couldn‘t bear the pain of breaking your heart.  I left you believing that I was afraid because I knew that eventually my inability to give you all of your dreams would keep you from having the kind of life you truly deserved--the one you wanted more than anything,” Avery blurted out shamefully as she found the strength that had carried her off the bed and out of his arms leaving her as her knees grew weak.  She felt herself buckling under the pressure, but almost immediately his arms swept around her catching her before she could fall.
“Avery, don’t you know by now all of my dreams revolve around you,” he whispered kissing her cheek as the saltiness of her tears tasted upon his lips.  He cupped her face in his hands dropping feathery light kisses on her forehead, upon her cheeks, over the tip of her nose before collecting her lips in a tender display of passion as he longed to reach out to her and bring her back home after the distance that had separated them for so very long.  He felt her heart pounding in her chest in rhythm with his as his arms enveloped her, wrapping her up in the warmth their love provided them as he breathed into her, “It’s always been you and that’s what matters to me…”
“But…” she began again choked up in emotion as he hoisted her up into his arms carrying her back over to the bed as his need to prove to her the depths of his love carried over him.
“Avery, it’s always you--” he pressed her upon the blankets, unable to bear the barriers between them a moment longer as he lingered over her kissing her tenderly, “only you…”
“Russell, I…” she began in between tiny sobs as his thumbs skimmed over her cheekbones brushing away the damp remains of her misery before his lips dropped down to kiss away her pain.
“Shhh…” he whispered against her soft, moist skin, “just let me love you…”
“I just want to love you, Avery,” Russell whispered in confession claiming her mouth with a tenderness that caused her insides to turn to putty as he touched her, caressed the contours of her body before his fingers sought out hers interlacing their hands with one another as their kisses continued.  He lifted her hands up towards his mouth breathing in over her finger tips before seeking out her lips once again, “Let me love you forever.”
“I want that…oh how I want that,” Avery cried out drowning in her desire for him as his hands erased the pain that had consumed her all these years.
“Then tell me we can try to love again--that we can find our way back home with one another,” he pleaded with her squeezing her against him as her arms surrounded him.
“I want that so much…” she confessed feeling his touch reaching down into her soul as his kisses trailed over her body, pressing down over her breastbone lavishing her with kiss after tender kiss.
“You’re so beautiful, Avery,“ he whispered his hands sliding down her arms, beneath the thin straps of her dress before pushing them off her shoulders and down her arms as he freed her beautiful body up to his hungry eyes.  A breath caught in his throat as he shifted over her, pulling her dress down to her waist as his lips teased over her heated skin.
“Russ,” she cried out leaning into his kisses as she felt his mouth settle in over her naval, enticing her body with teasing flicks of his tongue as her fingers nested in his hair, gripping tightly as he pushed her dress and panties off of her hips in one swift movement before he settled in between her legs ready to lavish every erotic inch of her.  His hands poured liquid warmth over her, deep into her core as his kisses tickled over her thigh, lapping up every inch of her before she arched up off of the bed, biting on her lower lip in anticipation of his most intimate caress, but as her heart beckoned her, she tugged on his hair drawing him up to meet her mouth again before she allowed herself to lose sight of her thoughts as her body turned itself over to the pleasures she was certain only Russell could provide her with.
“Nothing else matters but my being with you,” he whispered against her mouth as her arms encircled him, holding him against her as though she’d never let go, “The past can’t hurt us anymore…”
“Russ, that’s just it,” she confessed in between kisses squeezing him against her as her heart pounded with love, “I was wrong…”
“Avery, none of that matters,” he promised her as she pulled open his shirt tearing it down his shoulders in between kisses, “all that matters is that you’re with me and that we have one another.  I know how going through all of that alone must’ve hurt you, but you’re not alone anymore.  We have each other…”
“We have more than that,” she broke away from his kiss as their eyes connected and tears misted behind her dark gaze, “Russ, they were wrong…I was wrong…the doctors…”
“Avery, that’s not important anymore,” he placed his index finger over her lips to silence her, “I don’t care about any of that.   I know we’d talked about a family in the past, but Avery in my heart, you’re that family…you’re that dream come true.  All I care about is being with you…loving you…”
“Russ,” she spoke his name urgently as the pad of his thumb brushed up against her lower lip in a seductive movement meant to silence her as she pressed a kiss upon his excited skin, “we need to talk…I need…”
“I need you,” he collected her lips again wanting to seal the moment between them as in holding her again, in feeling her body against his, he felt so very alive and it made everything else disappear.  Thinking of how very close he’d come to losing her, he wouldn’t allow anything to tear them apart--not the past, not the pain they’d both endured and certainly not Avery fears or doubts about his love for her.  She was his everything and he wanted to make sure that she realized that, but as he moved up enough to discard his pants, her eyes fell upon his with a sudden seriousness.  Fearing she’d changed her mind about him, he mouthed the words his heart had been telling him again and again since the moment he’d thought he’d lost her, “I love you, Avery.”

“I love you,” she answered in confession unable to contain herself feeling her love for him take over everything as he held her, prepared to give her his all.  As he began to love her, lavishing his attentions over every inch of her, she gave in to passion following her heart as it lead her back to the man who’d turned her world around as in making love with him, she’d felt her dreams of happiness returning after they’d seemingly slipped out of her reach.


Gabe stepped into the apartment behind Guy and closed the door. Guy hadn’t spoken during their ride from the restaurant, and Gabe was sure he was stewing in his resentment of his father. He’d heard plenty about Richard Morrison’s indifference towards his wife and cold shoulder towards everyone but Avery. Gabe wasn’t sure how Guy remained so loyal to his sister after all the resentment he had pent up over the years, but Guy’s love for his sister had always played heavily into their discussions about their families.

Guy sat down on the sofa and closed his eyes. Gabe walked into the kitchen and placed some ice within a dish towel. He returned to the living area and passed the makeshift ice pack to Guy.

“Put this on your jaw,” Gabe instructed as he sat beside his lover, “Then you can start telling me what that was all about.”

“I just lost control. But he just doesn’t care about anyone but himself. He doesn’t even care about Avery. He’s out living it up with that harlot while Avery’s heart is breaking, and he’s making a fool out of my mother,” Guy shook his head while he held the ice pack to his jaw, “He’s a bastard, and I hate him.”

“You don’t hate him. You might want to beat him to a pulp, but you don’t hate him,” Gabe reasoned.

“Yes, I do. He’s never done anything for me other than hate my mother. What good is that supposed to do for my psyche?”

Gabe raised a slightly bemused eyebrow, “Trying to make rationalizations now about your sexuality? If anything, his actions would have driven you into every female’s arms that was available…not make you gay.”

“That wasn’t what I meant, but I’m sure my mother’s first thought will be that it’s all Richard’s fault,” Guy rolled his eyes, “As if I’d attribute anything good in my life to him.”

“If it’s so good, Guy, why haven’t you told your mother yet?”

Guy flinched, “About that…we need to talk.”

“Okay, I’m waiting.”

“I can’t tell my mother right now. She’s freaking out too badly about Avery and Richard, and she just couldn’t handle any more surprises right now.”

Gabe groaned as he stood and stepped across the room, “You’re making excuses again, Guy. When are you going to just let yourself be who you are? When are you going to stop living under your mother’s expectations and start living your own life?”

“I am living my own life. It’s just that right now things are very complicated. Look, my mother was over here this morning, and she was throwing a tantrum.”

“A common practice for her from what I hear,” Gabe noted as he crossed his arms.

“Don’t start,” Guy warned before he continued, “Anyway, Mindy was here to ask me about Avery. Somehow in the midst of all of the chaos, Mum got the idea that Mindy and I are lovers.”

“And you didn’t do anything to disavow that notion for her, did you?” Gabe shook his head with a disappointed smile, “You let her believe it was true, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did, but it’s just until things have calmed down with Avery. I will tell her, Gabe.”

“Sure you will,” Gabe nodded with disdain, “And we’ll get the chance to be together and live happily ever after too, right?”

“Gabe, please, just try to understand my position.”

“Understand mine, Guy. I was married for seven long years trying to live up to everyone’s expectations of me. I hurt a woman who truly cared about me, but I had to do it to set us both free. In the end, Noelle understood that. At least I hope she did. Don’t wait until you’re caught in a situation you can’t get out of.”

“It’s never going to go that far,” Guy huffed as he tossed the ice pack down on the coffee table.

“I never thought my marriage would go far enough so that I’d be a father. My little girl has to grow up knowing that I spent part of my life lying to everyone about who I was.”

“I know,” Guy sighed heavily as he sank back into the cushions, “But she can grow up learning about who you are. She never has to know anything different. My situation is completely different. My mother has dreams for me.”

“And my father did for me as well, but I have dreams of my own and they take precedence,” Gabe sat on the coffee table and faced Guy, placing his hands upon Guy’s knees, “Please don’t hide from yourself forever. You have an advantage that I didn’t have when I came out. You have me to love you and support you. I didn’t have anyone. Please, Guy, set yourself free and just tell the truth about who you are.”

Guy met his lover’s eyes, “I only wish it were that easy.”

“I never said it was easy, but I can make it a little easier by being here for you. And I will be because there is nothing in the world that could tear me away from you,” Gabe touched Guy’s cheek gently, “I love you, Guy. I just want to be able to live our lives together without looking over our shoulders.”

Guy covered Gabe’s hand with his own as he met his lover’s eyes, “I love you too, Gabe. You just have to let me do this in my own time.”

Gabe sighed as his eyes drifted to the floor, “I know. I really do. I just…I’m tired of hiding.”

“It’ll only be for a little while, Gabe. We will be together, and we’ll be able to live our lives freely. I promise you that,” Guy assured him as he leaned forward and kissed Gabe, sealing his vow with a kiss while feeling doubt flooding his soul that he would ever be able to reveal himself to his mother.


Richard switched off the engine to his car before he looked to Judy who stared silently out the window. He reached out towards her, “Judy? Will you talk to me?”

Judy looked to him and met his eyes as she let out a slow breath, “I don’t think this is going to work out, Rick.”

“Don’t worry about Guy. He shouts, yells, and screams, but he’s really harmless.”

“He’s not harmless to you, Rick. He is hurting, and it’s obvious that he’s lashing out at you to cause you pain. We’re not doing him in favors by going out in public. It can only make things worse for him.”

“Then maybe we should just take this slower.”

“I think, right now, what we need to do is just stop.”

“What?” Richard asked in shock, “Judy, you can’t be serious. We’re just re-connecting.”

“And that’s the problem, Rick. You’re still married to the woman who drove us apart in the first place,” Judy reasoned, “I swore that I’d never interfere in that marriage, and look where I am, right in the middle of it. I can’t do this…not to myself, my children, you or your children.”

“We both know that my marriage to Brooke is in name only, Judy.”

“But it’s still a marriage,” She met his eyes, “And you’re still legally bound to her. I can’t be in a relationship with a married man.”

“Then I’ll push the divorce, but Judy, don’t turn your back on me.”

“I never turned my back on you, Rick,” She stated evenly, “I was always there waiting for you.”

Richard felt an emotional charge to her words as he frowned, “I’m sorry, Judy. I never meant to insinuate that you did. I’m the one who screwed up last time we had our chance together, and I’ll fully admit to that.”

“And I’ll tell you that I won’t screw this up this time. I will wait for you, but I won’t make your relationship with Brooke any more strained due to my involvement. If you are looking to divorce her, then let it be your own decision.”

“It’s been my decision for the last dozen years, but she won’t listen to me. I’ve tried to reason with her, but that woman is stubborn as hell.”

“Rick, listen to me,” Judy said firmly as she took his hand, “I love you. I always have loved you, and I’m willing to wait for you. Just tell me that we’re worth waiting for.”

“We always have been,” He said firmly as he caressed her cheek, “I love you, Judy. That never changed for me.”

“Then I’ll be here waiting for you,” She said tearfully. She leaned forward and placed a kiss upon his lips, “Goodnight, Rick.”

“Goodnight,” Richard watched as Judy got out of the car. He let out a ragged breath before he decided his next move. He only had one destination in mind and one demand to make upon the vile woman he called a wife.


“So tell me,” Jenna leaned in over Hart as a the music drowned out everything else but the shouting of her words as she craned her neck in closer to him, “Why was it you loved this place again seeing as it’s hell to have any kind of conversation?”
“Considering that I offered you an open door to my own personal humiliation, I figured that this place would be best considering you might not catch every little word I say as that could be damning to my reputation,” Hart placed his hand over his chest in mock relief.
“Oh heaven forbid that,” Jenna rolled her eyes as a laugh erupted from behind her lips that now had curved into a smile.  The song that had pounded over them finally ended before being replaced by a slow, melancholy tune.  She shook her head as she lifted her beer to her lips and sighed, “though you were right about one thing here.”
“What’s that?” Hart asked leaning forward himself as the cracked voice of the singer wailed through the bar.

“The music is absolutely horrible,” Jenna wrinkled her nose as she motioned to the plate before her, “and the food leaves much to desired.”
“Well yes, but I warned you ahead of time,” Hart pushed his own plate away from him, “However, there is one thing about this place that truly has a strong sense of appeal.”
“And what might that be,” Jenna questioned taking another swig of the lukewarm beer in hand.
“The dance you’re about to have with me,” he rose from his side of the booth and extended his hand out to her, “Come on.  You owe me one Carpenter.”
“No way,” Jenna shook her head emphatically, “I don’t dance.”
“Tonight,” he reached for her hand pulling her out from her side of the booth, “You do.”
“Hart,” she began to argue as he lead her out onto the dance floor bringing his arms around her as she felt a tiny shiver race over her spine.  She looked around the crowded bar and shook her head in protest, “this is hardly the kind of music to dance to.”
“Maybe not, but with the way that last one was going, I figured you’d have a heart attack if I even suggested bringing out here,” Hart confessed bringing her in closer to him, “though with this song I thought that maybe just maybe I’d have a fighting chance at getting a dance with you.”
“That was a cheap shot considering,” Jenna gave him a strange look as she noticed people moving off the dance floor, “See, people don’t dance to this stuff.”
“We do,” Hart squeezed her in his arms as his eyes fell upon her, “Come on Jenna, don’t tell me that my being this close to you makes you nervous.”
“More like nauseous,” she lied bringing her arms around his shoulders as they moved to the slow, poignant beats of the song that played.
“You’re such a horrible liar,” Hart shook his head spinning her around before pulling her in closer to him.  “You’re having a good time.  Admit it.”
“I’ll admit nothing,” Jenna replied keeping firm in her position as his finger tips dropped down over the small of her back, massaging her body gently as she tried to distract herself from the sensations he was stirring up inside of her, “Besides, you haven’t really given me enough humiliation on your end for me to truly enjoy this.”
“Fine,” he answered as his eyes sparkled with something that Jenna found absolutely sensational despite her head’s warning about Hart Steiner, “What do you want to know?”
“What do you dread telling me the most,” Jenna threw out in response as they continued to move with one another, letting the music be their guide as her hands eased out over his shoulders, tapering down his arms a bit as she found herself enjoying the feel of him beside her far too much.
“Honestly,” he half questioned softening his tone as his gaze penetrated her.
“Honestly,” she nodded in response, “After the week I’ve had, I wouldn’t settle for anything less than the truth.”
“Fine,” Hart took in a slow breath as he found the courage to bring his hand up over her curves as he felt her tremble beneath his touch.  Lifting his palm up in to caress her cheek, his eyes wandered listlessly to her lips as he spoke up in a low, bewitching voice, “Right now the last thing I want you to know is how much I can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to kiss you.”
Jenna felt a heat rise over her features at his open admission as she involuntarily licked her lips at the thought.  Sure, she’d kissed Hart more times than she’d care to admit, but now as he held her in his arms, opening himself up to her in ways she never dreamt of before now, she found herself wondering what it would be like to kiss him--really kiss him without all the games and the anger that was associated with their prior encounters.  His fingers teased into her hair as he curled his arm around her slender waist pressing her in closer to him as he continued to reveal his thoughts.
“Right now I can’t stop but obsessing over how sweet your lips are, or the way in which you sigh after we touch, when you’re teetering on that edge of savoring the moment--of allowing the pleasure to trickle in over through your thick resolve and you finally find it in yourself to be free--uninhibited…” he whispered inching in towards her, “Like last night…”
“Last night I was drunk,” Jenna corrected thinking about how she’d wound up at his place and in his bed when she’s certainly known better than to seek him out, “I didn’t mean whatever it is that I might’ve said…”
“Maybe not now, but when you said them before, well…you meant them,” Hart concluded as his breath cascaded over the contours of her face, “Sure, you might not have had the courage to have been as forward as you were when you showed up on my doorstep, but for a brief flickering moment I saw a woman unafraid--a woman ready to take on the world and who was ready to stop hiding behind all the expectations the world had upon her,” his fingers returned to her face, his thumb brushing over her lower lip gingerly, “For the first time I saw you…the real you and I have to admit, I’ve never seen anything sexier in my life…”
“Hart,” Jenna felt a blush rise over her features as somehow he’d managed to turn the conversation around on her making her feel as though she’d revealed some hidden secret about herself to him--putting herself out on the line as his touch caused an inferno to spread over her skin, forcing her thoughts to the faintest of contact they’d had between them.  “I’m not…I wasn’t…that’s not how I…” she drew in an uneasy breath as her heart rate sped up and her stomach was doing flip flops, “I’m not like that.”
“Yes, you are, but you’re too afraid to admit to yourself just how truly amazing you are,” he leaned in closer to her, fanning his fingers out over her spine as his thumb skimmed over her bottom lip eliciting so many erotic sensations from within as he’d managed to take her so completely off center with his words.
“No, I’m really not,” she shook her head as her mouth went dry, her throat constricted at the way he was looking at her…the way his eyes were savoring her as though she was the most scintillating he’d ever encountered.
“Jenna, if I can’t kiss you, then I’m going to burst,” he offered up in open admission as Jenna fought for some kind of witty retort, but instead her eyelashes fluttered as she found herself leaning up into the brush of his lips over hers, the soft, silken caress of his intoxicating mouth over hers and in that instant of total bliss with his arms around her, Jenna realized that the most horrible thing in the world that could happen happened.  Not only had she had a falling out with her mother about the lies she’d told, but she also found herself falling for Hart Steiner.  In that instant nothing was more terrifying or exhilarating than that knowledge, but as their kiss continued, she realized that somehow she wasn‘t quite ready to let go of him just yet.


Zack smiled as he lazily drew his fingertips along Blake’s spine while she lay facing the fire. He slipped his arm around her waist before resting his chin in the curve of her neck, “Have I mentioned how beautiful you are?”

“Aren’t you supposed to woo me before we make love?” Blake teased as she covered his hand with hers and pulled him more snuggly behind her, “I think it’s a little late for all those pleasantries.”

“You hush up, lady,” He teased as he nibbled on her ear lobe.

She giggled softly as she sighed, relaxing into his embrace after the pressure was off. Sex was out of the way and they were relaxing together which was by far much more rewarding. Still she could feel his need for some kind of confirmation about the moment they shared and she offered up a smile., “This has been absolutely perfect.”

“Well thank you.”

“Not you, you egotistical nerd,” she groaned with a chuckle, “But hey, you weren’t so bad. I was talking about the evening as a whole though.”

“Well, I still get to say thank you,” He grinned as he raised up slightly to glance over her shoulder, “You’re glowing you know.”

“Oh spare me. I do not want to hear about how wonderful you think you are now.”

“I never said anything about how great I am. I was talking about you seeming to be genuinely happy, but hey, I know I’m wonderful. I don’t need to brag about it.”

“Oh god,” Blake rolled her eyes as she shoved Zack to his back. She rolled over him and braced herself upon his chest as she stared down into his smiling eyes, “I can’t believe this is happening. It’s all very surreal.”

“Oddly enough, it’s the same way for me,” He agreed as he tucked a wild tress of her blond hair behind her ear, “I always promised myself that I’d never let this happen between us, and believe me, that was not an easy promise to live up to after all those times you popped up in my bed in college.”

“Don’t remind me,” She whined as she looked away.

“Hey,” He gathered her attention as he cupped her cheek in his hand and drew her eyes back to his, “I was flattered more than you can possibly imagine. I wanted you so badly.”

“And yet every time I made a fool out of myself by throwing myself at you, you turned me down.”

“Cause I was afraid of what I would do to you, Blake.”

“Meaning this?” she asked in confusion thinking about the awkward exchange between them earlier. While she'd hoped that he hadn't picked up on it, seeing the xpression on his face made her wonder if perhaps she hadn't been as good at hiding what she was thinking as she'd hoped for.

“No, I mean,” He turned slightly so he could meet her eyes evenly, “Caitlin says that I have a lot of drama, and I’ll admit that I do tend to get myself into some trouble,” He frowned, “And I never wanted to hurt you with any of that trouble that tends to visit my door.”

“So why now, Doctor Vaughn?” Blake asked with a slight smile, “Why did you decide to throw your promise to the wind and give in to me?”

Zack grinned, “I love the way you put that,” he said as he began towards her for a kiss.

“An answer, please,” she smiled as she dodged his attempt.

He sighed, “Well, when I left Seattle, I left behind my trouble making days. I decided that it was time to grow up and settle down. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking to get married tomorrow, but I’m willing to explore the possibilities now.”

Blake smiled as she reached out to lightly trace his lips with her forefinger, “So why me?”

He kissed her fingertip before taking her hand and placing it over his heart, “Because you’re my dream girl, and if there’s anyone in the world that I might be able to truly connect with, a woman who could see through all my craziness and still find a part of me that’s worthy of love…it’s you. It’s always been you.”

She felt the truth of his words and felt tears pool slightly within her eyes. She leaned forward and captured his lips in a soft adoring kiss knowing those words outweighed any kind of sexual experience between them, “You’ve always been worthy of love, Zack. You might need to be smacked around a bit every now and then to keep you in line, but you’re the guy that I always dreamt about spending my life with. You’re the one man I’ve always wanted to want me.”

“I always have,” He assured her, “Lord knows it’s been hard to keep myself under control. And to be honest, I’ve compared every woman I’ve spent time with to you. You’ve been my epitome of what a good woman is, and I swear that there’s not another woman out there that even comes close.”

“Now you’re just flattering me,” She said doubtfully.

“I’m not. I swear to you, Blake,” He said as he tipped her chin to meet her eyes, “You’re who I want in my life.”

“I’m not perfect, Zack. Half the time lately, I don’t even know which end is up.”

“But you’re honest about that when most people aren’t. I’m not asking you for a lifetime commitment, Blake, but I do want you to know that you’re who I want to be with. I want to take my second chance with you and make something real of it.”

Blake allowed him to draw her into a loving kiss as he gently eased her back onto the pillow. She ran her fingers through his hair as she felt his body so warm and inviting against hers. As their lips parted, she breathed against his lips, “And I want to be with you, Zack. I always have. Just…”

“Yes?” Zack asked as she hesitated.

She met his eyes reluctantly as she considered the request she was about to make. She wasn’t sure it was even possible to ask such a thing of anyone, but she had to hear him agree to it now or she knew she would fall apart.

“Blake, what is it?” He asked again, bringing her out of her thoughts.

Blake met his eyes and spoke softly, “Just don’t hurt me. I’ve had enough pain to last me for a really long time.”

Zack nodded in agreement as he lowered his lips to hers again, promising that he would do everything he could to spare her from pain in the future and protect her from the pain of her past. He moved in for another kiss as Blake pulled back ever so slightly.

"Will you just hold me for a while?" she questioned sensing that their exchange was leading towards sex once more. An anxiety carried over her as she turned towards the fireplace again.

"Sure," Zack nodded as Blake felt him slide in closer to her. His arms draped around her as she found herself thinking about the beautiful words he'd offered her. Surely that was enough to convince her that he could very well be the handsome prince she was hoping for.


Seth stepped into his apartment and peeled off his jacket as Ria and Ben turned to face him, “Is Diane in with Jade?”

“Yeah, we came as soon as Ria called,” Ben nodded, “Where have you been?”

“Paying Grady Denton a visit,” Seth sighed as he sank down into a nearby recliner, “How’s Jade?”

“I have no idea,” Ria shrugged, “She didn’t say a word while you were gone unless Diane got through to her.”

“I did,” Diane spoke up as she joined the group in the living room. She looked to Seth, “Jade’s asleep. She’s upset, but she managed to drift off.”

“Anyone want to let Ria and I in on what happened?” Ben asked as he waved for Diane to join him. He drew her into the recliner with him as she sat half across his lap.

“Jade and her boyfriend had a disagreement, but they’re going to work things out,” Seth declared as he watched Ben and Diane, “Like I think you two have.”

Diane cocked her eyes towards Ben, “I don’t know that I’d go that far.”

“Oh come on,” Ben began to pout before Diane chuckled.

“This isn’t about you,” Diane grinned as she looked to Seth, “Where have you been anyway?”

“I went to see Grady,” Seth admitted.

“What? You didn’t go and screw things up, did you?” Diane glared at him.

“I didn’t do anything but tell Grady to get his head out of his…well, I just told him he needed to start paying attention to Jade and get back together with her.”

“You did?” She asked skeptically.

“I did. Don’t worry. I still don’t like the guy, but I like my sister being unhappy a lot less,” Seth frowned.

Diane’s features softened as a soft smile graced her lips, “There might be hope for you yet, Seth Alexander.”

“Not if we don’t save his butt,” Ria spoke candidly as she cast a glance in Seth’s direction, “I’ve asked Ben to help us.”

“Help with what?” Diane asked as she looked to Ben.

Ben frowned, knowing he couldn’t keep anything from Diane if he wanted to keep her in his life, “You’re not going to like it.”

“I’m not going to like secrets either, Ben. Spill it,” Diane demanded.

“Jade’s in trouble, and if we don’t help her, both she and Seth could end up hurt by Cameron Stone,” Ben began.

“What? How’s Jade involved?” Diane asked quickly.

“Stone had threatened Jade if I don’t get some microfilm for him,” Seth joined in the conversation, “The only problem is that the microfilm has gone missing.”

“What do you mean missing?” Diane asked as she looked to Seth.

“I had it, but I was with Blake then. She and I took a look at it, but then she and I had a falling out. So now Blake has it, and I can’t get my hands back on it,” Seth frowned.

“Blake was getting help from Dr. Vaughn at the hospital, but I already checked his lab. Seth went to the estate yesterday, but that didn’t help things. So now, we’re screwed,” Ria added.

Diane frowned as she looked to Ben, “So where do you come in?”

“The only logical place the microfilm could be. BBK,” Ben spoke as he met her eyes.

“BBK? You mean you’re going to look at BBK for some microfilm? Do you have any idea how many archives are on microfilm there?” Diane asked in astonishment, “I’ll tell you. Thousands. Unless you know exactly where to look, you can forget finding it there.”

Ben frowned, “We have to try, Diane. This is for Jade.”

“Or there’s another option,” Ria began as she looked to Ben, “You could talk to Blake.”

“What? Why?” Diane questioned quickly.

“We grew up together. She might listen if I try to reason with her,” Ben thought for a moment, “It’s worth giving a try.”

“She’ll blow you off,” Seth frowned, “She’s not going to want to hear anything about me, Jade, or that microfilm.”

“Why? What did you do to her?” Ben asked directly.

“I didn’t do anything. I might have blurted out something she didn’t want to hear, but I swear that I didn’t actually do anything,” Seth defended himself, “But she’s not going to want to help me in any way.”

“I know Blake better than that. If she knows someone is in trouble, she’ll want to help,” Ben declared as he squeezed Diane’s hips, “Want to go visit Blake with me?”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Diane said in surprise.

“No, I’m not. Trust me. We can reason with Blake,” Ben assured her.

Diane frowned as she met his eyes, no where near as sure as Ben was about how their meeting with Blake would go. While she’d met Blake from time to time, the only Ashford she knew personally was Brant, and he’d never been known for his altruistic nature. She just wasn’t sure that asking Blake Ashford for help would get them anywhere but to the unemployment line.


Grady rubbed his hands together as he stood outside in the snow after the conclusion of the Alcoholics Anonymous he’d just attended. He’d needed the meeting more than he could even begin to explain tonight, and now the bitter cold bit through him, reminding him that he wasn’t nearly as numb as he wanted to be.

Shannon tightened her scarf around her neck as she looked to Grady and approached him as he watched the snow fall around him. She tucked her hands into her coat pockets and looked up to him, “Enjoying the cold?”

“Not really. I’m wondering why I’m bothering to stand here and be cold.”

“How about we walk down the street and get ourselves a cup of coffee?” Shannon offered, “You look like you could use someone to talk to.”

“Am I that obvious?” He asked with a frown, “Okay, but I’m buying.”

“Good because I wasn’t offering,” She teased as they took the short walk down the street to Irvan’s. As they stepped out of the cold and into the warmth of the restaurant, Shannon shivered one last time and began peeling her scarf from around her neck, “I’ll take mine black.”

Grady nodded towards a waiter, “Two coffees, black,” The waiter nodded before Grady and Shannon took a booth near the front window. He removed his jacket before the waiter delivered their two cups of coffee.

“So what’s got you all worked up?” She asked as the waiter left their table.

Grady frowned, “I’m just not in a good place right now.”

“The story of my life. So out with it. What’s going on?”

“My girlfriend walked out on me tonight,” He began as he stared into his coffee, “She said she didn’t feel like I cared about her, but she means more to me than she’ll ever know.”

“Then why doesn’t she know? Haven’t you told her?”

“Yeah, I did, but she doesn’t feel like that’s enough.”

“It’s not a lot of times,” Shannon informed him, “Without actions to back it up, it comes off just being lip service.”

“I don’t think that’s what I wanted to hear,” He frowned, “She says I’m trying to run my brother’s life, and that’s not what I’m doing.”

“So what are you doing to make her think that?”

“I’ve just been trying to make Russ see reason.”

“About what?”

“Avery Morrison.”

“Oh,” Shannon sighed as she sipped her coffee.

“Oh? What is that supposed to mean?” He asked as he nailed her with a heavy glare.

“It’s just that he was pretty adamant about protecting her, and she wasn’t all that keen about my interest in him during my investigation,” She shrugged, “They must have a history.”

“The history is that she left him at the alter and broke his heart. She doesn’t do anything but spit on him, and he always wants to go back for more,” Grady groaned as he sat back in his bench of the booth.

“Sounds like he’s in love,” She smiled slightly, “But somehow you don’t seem to like that fact at all.”

“It’s because while he may love her she doesn’t love him. Her involvement with Ashford proves that one.”

“Maybe she’s just using Brant,” She suggested, “She wouldn’t be the first woman to use him to advance her career while keeping a lover on the side.”

His frown darkened, “I don’t like that scenario any better.”

“Okay, let me put it this way. You can worry about your brother. That’s completely natural, but if you’re so involved with his love life that you’re neglecting your own, that’s unnatural to the extreme.”

Grady took a sip of his coffee before placing the cup upon the table, “I just don’t want to see Russ torn apart like he was before. I don’t want him to end up broken and alone. I don’t want him to…”

“End up like you?” Shannon volunteered as she met his eyes, “Grady, maybe this isn’t about Russ at all.”

“Of course it’s about Russ.”

“Really? Because I get the real feeling that you’d rather be alone than risk loving again. So you get a girlfriend and then you screw it up by obsessing about your brother’s attempt to actually find love? Come on. Any shrink in the country would tell you to turn that focus on yourself for a while.”

He sighed as he looked back to her, “This isn’t about me,” He repeated his declaration.

“Okay, but I’m just offering the possibility. You need to think about it, Grady. Part of the program is to take a moral inventory. That means really examining yourself. I think right now you really need to sit down and do some of that.”

“Are you volunteering to be my sponsor?” He asked as he crossed his arms.

“No, I’m not. You’re not ready for that because you still have this ‘piss off’ attitude, and besides AA frowns on female/male support relationships. You need to get yourself together and to a point where you really want help…not just trying to keep your head above water.”

“Is that what you think I’m doing?”

“I think you’re wondering about really committing to the program, and I think a part of you really wants to. But there’s a part of you that is running for the hills every single time you step into a meeting. You’ve still got your hand on the bottle. You’re just waiting for the right moment to take a drink.”

Grady frowned, “Sounds like you’re taking a moral inventory on me.”

“No, just making an observation, but Grady, you really need to take this step for yourself. You’ve made it this far. All you have to do is really decide to change your life for the better. It’s not the easiest step to take, but I promise you that it will the best step of your life,” Shannon stood, gently patting Grady on the shoulder, “Think about taking that step.”

Grady watched as Shannon left. He turned his eyes towards the empty coffee cup before him, and he could only thank heavens that it was an empty coffee cup instead of an empty bottle. He could only hope that he would get through the night and be able to count this day as another day of his sobriety.


Tousled sheets and tangled limbs surrounded Russell as he kept Avery in his arms, refusing to allow anything to ever come between them again as her arms draped around his chest, hugging him tightly.  He closed his eyes taking in the sweet scent of her after the flames of their passion slowly began to taper off, keeping the memory of their love making alive and burning inside of him as he’d thought of how he’d imagined he’d never be with her again.  He thought of how he’d feared he’d never hold her, never taste her, never be able to love her and as her perspiration laced body clung to his as a reminder of the magic that had transpired between them, he kissed the top of her head wanting to savor every second of their reunion.  The sexy scent of her inebriated his senses as her finger tips traced soft patterns over the center of his chest and he felt a sigh fall from his lips as he massaged her spine gently.
“I love you, Avery,” he breathed cradling her against him as he felt her sink into his body, the warmth of her bringing out the sweet serenity that had escaped him from the moment they’d parted.
“I love you too,” she sighed against his damp skin as she closed her eyes, “I always have you know.”
“I know,” he admitted brushing his finger tips over her silken contours, “Deep down I’ve always known we were meant to be together like this, but I was just waiting for the day you’d come around--to the time when our second chance would finally pan out instead of just teasing us.”
“I wish we didn’t take so long to get to this,” Avery confessed painfully thinking of all the years they’d missed out with one another, “If only…”
“We can’t live on if only…” he tried to remind her noting the sadness in her voice as he curled his arm around her more completely, “Avery, I wish more than anything I would’ve known about our baby…about what really happened…”
“I just didn’t want to hurt you,” she sighed recalling the day she’d walked out of his life, “I wanted to spare you the pain of knowing what we lost.”
“Avery, I should’ve been there with you,” he whispered feeling the knowledge she’d bestowed upon him taking a hold of his thoughts, “I would’ve been there…”
“I just wanted to surprise you on our honeymoon.  When I found out I was pregnant,” Avery sighed feeling the tears building behind her eyes, “I was so happy--so excited that we were finally having our dreams of a family coming true, but then when our wedding day arrived…  Russ, I wanted to tell you so many times, but I’d convinced myself that this was for the best--that I could make you believe I ran because it was the way I did things…that somehow I could be something you could do without…”
“Then you were dead wrong because Avery I’ve never given up on you,” he urged her to look up at him as he grazed the pad of his thumb over her cheekbone, “Even when I saw you with Bruce, well, I was hurt and upset that you two were together, but that wasn’t nearly as bad as knowing that I couldn’t be with you.  That I couldn’t ever hold you again--that I’d never touch you--never be free to open my heart to you and love you…”
“Bruce was a mistake,” Avery admitted tearfully, “He was there when I…” she looked away from him thinking back to the day her life had changed forever, “He was there at the hospital and when I lost our baby, well, he knew everything.  He knew about what was wrong with me and he was kind to me…” she paused choked up on emotion, “I told him about what I’d done to you--about how I couldn’t bring myself to hurt you and then, well…I let you think I ran off to some bar to meet him and that I was a shallow, heartless bitch because that was easier than the truth…”
“That you still loved me and that Bruce was just…” he half questioned as her eyes met his once again.
“A mistake that I let go too far.  I just wanted to have him around long enough for you to move on--for you to think I’d gone on with my life, but then things got complicated when Bruce started feeling something that went beyond our arrangement.  He knew all my flaws and he didn’t care.  He wasn’t bothered by the fact that I’d never be a mother--that I’d never give him a family or any of the dreams that you and I had with one another and somehow I forced myself to believe that could work--that somehow that kind of life was what I deserved.”
“Avery, we belong together.  I hope you realize that now and I need you to know that none of what happened changes what we have with one another,” he tried to assure her holding her in his arms.
“For so long I wanted to believe that was possible, but I refused to let you in,” Avery shook her head thinking to the years they’d lost with one another, “Then you forced your way into my life again.”
“That’s because a life without you was one that I didn’t want,” he teased his fingers through her dark hair, “When I saw you the night of the quake, I had to fight like hell not to take you in my arms and keep you with me until you saw how much I needed you.”
“And I wound up making a mess of things, didn’t I?” Avery sighed thinking back to their failed night of passion at his house.
“It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but I will confess it got me motivated,” he felt a smile tugging over the corners of his mouth as his hold on her constricted, “because I knew it was now or never and I wasn’t about to lose you again.”
“Which is why you annoyed the hell out of me in stalking my every move?” Avery wrinkled her nose at the memory.
“It wasn’t stalking you…it was protecting you and in the end,” he noted the blankets surrounding them, “It worked out, didn’t it?  I mean here we are together again and more in love than we’ve ever been.”
“Are we?” Avery questioned shifting over him as she lay atop of his body propped up on her elbows looking down at him, “Russ, is that really what we’re doing?”
“How can you even begin to ask something like that after all we’ve been through,” he questioned unable to contain the surprise at her question as he reached out to her seeking out her complete understanding at how he felt for her.
“What about Heather?” she questioned her voice a bit more uncertain as her eyes filled with that same sadness that had lingered before, “Why did that happen if we’re so much in love?”
“Avery, no matter what I say it won’t be good enough,” Russell sighed thinking back to the same questions that had been running through his head again and again since he’d found himself in bed with Heather, “but I know that if I’d been thinking clearly, I never, ever would’ve allowed something like that to happen.  Even now when I think about what happened, I can’t believe that I would do something like that--not when you’re the only one I could ever want.”
“But I know you two were working together…” she began to argue as a frown spilled over her lips.
“No, we weren’t,” he argued with her, “I mean sure at first she offered to help me show you what Brant truly was, but that was it.  She started to come up with these outlandish, foolish notions about how to recapture Brant’s attention, but I warned her not to cross that line because if she did…well, I didn’t want any part of it.”
“So why were you with her then?” she questioned in confusion, “That doesn’t explain her calling you at your house or your being in bed with her.”
“Avery, when she was calling, I’m sure it was to get me back on her side, but I knew that if I was going to win you over, it had to be because of the love we have and not because of some kind of manipulation that Heather came up with.  I wanted to show you that my heart was still yours and it could never belong to anyone else,” he paused knowing that he still owed her so much more as his foolish actions had put him in a position to lose her and now as he held her, he refused to allow that to happen again, “That night I was drinking a lot.  The only thing I can think happened was that when I went to your room Heather thought I was Brant and I thought that she was you…”
“And why would she do that?” Avery questioned with a skeptic look.
“Because it wasn’t the first time she made that kind of mistake as I do recall a certain moment in time when you paid someone to lead her to believe I was Brant,” he threw out a pointed look.
“That was different,” Avery shifted over him, “That was because I was trying to prove a point…”
“And what point might that be?” he lifted a curious brow.
“At the time I said I was trying to teach you a lesson, but in retrospect, maybe it was my way of proving to myself that I didn’t need you--that I didn’t still love you…” her eyes fell to his lips, “That night when you came to my rescue…I was furious with you.  I hated that you felt you had to protect me like that and more so I hated that you felt compelled to come back into my life when I worked so hard to push you away.”
“Your pushing didn’t change how I felt,” Russell answered matter of fact, “I’ve never stopped loving you Avery and even during those few moments at the mansion when I was with Heather, you were the only woman on my mind.  I know that given the circumstances, you have every reason in the world not to trust me on this, but if you look inside your heart you’ll know that I would never betray you like that.  I shouldn’t have drank that much considering and it’s not an excuse by any means, but in watching Brant paw at you--Avery, it did something to me.  Even in knowing we were going to get married, I didn’t like him touching you--flaunting you around like you were his property when you’re the woman I love--my soul mate.”
“Your soul mate?” Avery repeated with wide eyes, “You really believe that don’t you.”
“I know it in my heart,” he whispered caressing the smooth contours of her body, “and if you look inside yourself you’ll see it too.  What we have goes deeper than anything I’ve ever known.”
“It’s almost borderline insanity,” Avery couldn’t help but smile at his words, “I hope you realize that.”
“No baby, it’s love and there’s no escaping it,” he tipped up towards her collecting her lips in a tender kiss.
“Love you say,” she murmured against his mouth as a sigh escaped her parted lips.
“All the love that you could dream of and more is yours for the taking, Avery,” he promised squeezing her gently in his arms.  “I know that we can have it all.  Somehow we’ll find a way to have a family together as there are other ways than the traditional methods and I know in my heart that however it happens, as long as we’re together, well, we’ll have everything we ever needed.  I know we can have it all just as long as we‘re with one another…”
“That’s just it,” Avery sighed shaking her head in response as his sentimentality sent a warmth running through her, “Russ, it’s not that way.  We don’t have to do without your dreams…”
“You are my dream, Avery,” Russell promised her solemnly, “I hope you see that…”
“Russ, you don’t understand.  You gave me the greatest joy I’ve ever known and now, well I’ve spent this time on the island realizing that I couldn’t just walk away from you especially not now that we’re going to have a baby,” Avery blurted out unable to contain the tears that swelled behind her eyes.
“A baby,” he repeated searching her eyes, “Avery, I know how special our child was even if I wasn‘t there.  Though you‘re right we‘ll always have the memory of our baby…”
“No Russ, you’re not getting it.  I’m pregnant,” Avery blurted out bracing herself for his reaction as she realized that for the first time since he’d taken her from the club, he’d finally been rendered speechless by one of her open admissions.  While she’s imagined the revelation of the loss of their first child would be the one thing to bring a moment of awakening upon them, her latest revelation had him staring down at her with surprised green eyes.
“Pregnant?  Are you…are you sure?” he blinked once, twice, three times after the moment of silence had passed.  “I mean you just said that…”
She nodded, “I found out a couple days ago…I didn’t think it was possible, but I was wrong and…”
“You said that the doctors told you that you couldn’t be pregnant--that when you had a miscarriage they said…,” he replied thinking about her words as the weight of the situation hung over him.  He reached out to her finally thinking about everything she’d said to him as touched her cheek gently.
“That’s what they told me, but then…” Avery explained thinking to the moment that had changed her life forever, “I wasn’t feeling well and Brant called this doctor in to do some blood work on me and well, I didn’t believe him when he told me because I thought I knew the truth, but Russ, I’m pregnant.”
“Really?” his eyes glazed over as the thought hit him hard and suddenly a whole new emotion took over him, “You’re saying that after all these years, we were able to have…”
“A miracle,” she nodded eagerly, “I was so torn up inside for so very long, but when I got the news…oh Russ, you have no idea what this did to me.  Here I was far away from you and I found out we were having our own little miracle.  I mean the signs were there when I started getting sick, but at the time I thought…”
“I…I…” he stammered as his thoughts were racing inside his head a mile a minute, “When we were in Coral Valley you were…we are…” a smile lifted over his lips, “I’m going to be a father?  Avery, do you have any idea what this means?”
“It means things are probably even more complicated now,” she threw out with an ironic smile trying think about what this would mean for their future.
“Complicated?” he repeated giving her a strange look, “Oh hell no that’s not what it means,” he sat upright pulling her up with him as his arms squeezed her tightly, “Avery, this only proves how right we are together.  It shows how strong our love is and I can’t let you walk out of my life now.  We need each other more than ever…I mean clearly this is a sign…” he continued raising his voice with excitement, “It’s proof that against the odds, we’re back to where we belong with one another and I swear to you that I’m going to be the best father to our baby.  Starting now I’m going to do everything in my power to make things right for us…” he pulled her more completely into his arms throwing wild kisses upon her as he hoisted her up in the air.
“Russ,” Avery gasped feeling him move off of the bed, keeping her in his arms as he danced around the room humming a goofy tune as he continued to kiss her repeatedly.
“We’re having a baby,” he blurted out excitedly over and over again as he swung her around in his arms circling the room.
“Yes we are,” Avery replied out of breath as he danced along the small area, “and if you don’t stop spinning right now, I think our baby’s going to tell you just how much we’re prone to motion sickness these days.”
“Oh right,” Russell repositioned her into his arms nearly tripping over the bed sheet on the floor before he sank back down onto the mattress keeping her in his lap as his eyes fell upon her abdomen lovingly.  Saying nothing, he reached out to her caressing her soft skin as a bright smile filled him up inside and Avery placed her hand over his feeling the energy of the moment between them as he spoke in a dreamy tone, “my baby…you and I we’re really doing it…this is really happening, isn’t it?”
“It really is,” Avery nodded in confession tears spilling down her cheeks as the weight of the world seemed to be lifted off her shoulders, “though if this is only a dream, well I don’t want to be waking up anytime soon as I’ve dreamt a lot about this moment.”
“So have I,” he pulled her in closer to him kissing her tenderly, “and right about now there’s only one thing that could make this more perfect for us.”
“What might that be,” she asked wrapping her arms around him gingerly savoring the feel of him beside her after all this time.
“Marry me,” he coaxed her lips into another heartfelt union as he hugged her in his arms.
“Russ, I…” Avery breathed as her heart pounded in her chest at the very thought.
“Marry me now…tonight,” Russell pleaded with her as he kept her close to him bringing her hand up to his racing heart, “Let’s not chance things again especially not now when we have the whole world ahead of us.  Time and time again we’ve tried to do this and each time there’s been something that’s kept us from making that move together.  The first time we were young and impulsive…the second time, well we given a terrible twist of fate, but tonight…well, tonight the magic is alive and in the air.  I can feel it calling out to us shouting out that this is it…this is that once in a lifetime moment--that chance for us to seize the day and hold on to one another with everything we have.  We have each other and our baby and given what we both know now about the odds being stacked up against us, this only solidifies my belief that you and I were destined to be together.  I love you Avery Morrison and I’ll spend every day giving you the world and being the kind of husband you’ve always wanted and needed in your life.”

“You’re so much more than I ever dreamed of,” she sighed in confession leaning further into his embrace as he continued speaking again.
“My love for you grows stronger with every beat of my heart and from this moment on, I pledge my life to you and our child.  I knew in my heart that I wanted you for my wife before, but now, well now this is it.  Our time is now and we have to hold onto the reigns and enjoy the ride as it‘s an amazing turn for us…”
“Russ, you really believe that, don’t you?  That this is it and you‘re really happy about this?  Completely happy about this?” she questioned drawing in a nervous breath.
“Happiness doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling right now.  We’ve both waited so very long for this and honey, you know that they say the third time is a charm…” he touched her cheek gently, “Avery, let’s make all of our dreams come true tonight.  Let’s throw caution to the wind and just follow our hearts to where they’ve always been leading us.  Marry me…”
Avery looked at him for a long moment finding her vision blurred by tears as she nodded eagerly realizing that this was the one dream she’d been yet to experience with the man she loved more than life itself, “Yes…yes…oh God yes…Russ, I want to do it.  Let’s get married.”
“Whoo hoo,” he howled with excitement picking her up in his arms again unable to contain himself as he carried her around the room kissing her with every ounce of love bursting within him.
“Russ,” she squealed his name overcome with laughter at his animated response to her words, but as he continued to dance around the room she found herself welcoming every second of this as tonight it seemed after a long road of misery their dreams of happily ever after with one another were finally coming true.


Richard marched into the Ashford mansion determined to seek out his money hungry, power loving witch of a wife as his night had gone from bad to seemingly worse.  On the way home he’d stewed over what had happened with Judy and he found himself cursing the very thought of having allowed Brooke to bowl him over after all these years.  This time there would be no backing down as he was going to finally set things straight with her starting with the ending he was certain he would put upon their marriage from this moment on.  No more being sucked into the misery she’d brought upon him as this time he was calling it quits.
Making his way into one of the grand sitting rooms, Richard noted a crackling fire before him as the soft, melodious sounds of a saxophone hung in the air surrounding the warmth atmosphere of the room with a hint of something he hadn’t happened upon in quite a long time, but as his eyes fell upon his wife sprawled out upon one of the white leather sofas draped in a slinky, white, satin nightgown sipping champagne out of a crystal flute, he realized he was in for more trouble than he’d anticipated.  Brooke’s gaze lifted up towards him upon his arrival and much to his dismay her lips curled in a smile.
“Richard,” she greeted him warmly as she eased her legs down to the plush carpeting at her feet, her eyes sparkling with that same cat that ate the canary look she’d had in the past when she’d found ways to tear him down, only this time judging by the expression on her face and the way she’d been dressed and obviously awaiting his arrival, this was different.  Her grin widened as she stepped in towards him, “my darling husband I was hoping you’d return before this beautiful night passed us by.”
“Come again,” Richard blinked back at her unable to believe what he saw as she sipped her drink once again before discarding the glass as she approached him.  Flashing him a sparkling, white smile, she stepped up to him, bringing her arms around his neck as her words were a warm whisper against his cool, agitated skin.
“I was worried about you,” her fingertips teased over his scarf, playing with the fraying at the edges before leisurely tugging it away from his neck.  She tipped up on her toes curling her fingers around his shoulders to steady herself as she inhaled the strong, masculine scent of his cologne, “my darling husband it’s good to have you here with me.”
“Brooke, have you been diving into the scotch again,” Richard questioned with a frown taking a step back as he shook his head at her, “because I have to talk with you and I’m not going to let you use alcohol as an excuse not to hear me out on this one because this time I’m serious.”
“When haven’t I taken you seriously,” Brooke smiled as she watched him cross the room, “Rick, I don’t think I’ve ever found myself more attracted to you than I am in this moment.  I mean back in the good old days, we had fire and passion, but lately, well lately it felt as though we’d fizzled as we both had different agendas that were self-defeating, but now, well now we’re in perfect synch with one another,” she stepped up behind him wrapping her arms around waist as she squeezed him in against her, “and I couldn’t be happier.”
“Brooke, I don’t know what you’ve got in mind, but I can assure you that we’re not on the same wavelength by any means,” he pried her arms off of him as he faced her again.
“Oh darling, I know I’ve been somewhat cruel lately, but it was because I felt you didn’t understand me--that you couldn’t feel the pain that I was experiencing, but now I know that we were just fighting the inevitable truth between us,” she teased her fingers down his chest sliding his jacket off of his shoulders as her coy smile filled her face with a soft, less abrasive look much to Richard’s dismay--almost mimicking the woman he’d been married to once upon a time, “Rick, I miss the days when you’d come home from the office and we’d lose ourselves in one another. You know the days when we’d make love endlessly as though we didn’t have any cares in the world…”
“Those days usually were accompanied by your tearing my head off for the things I wasn’t doing to please you,” he shot back icily as her fingers played over his tie.
“Now yes we had our tiffs, but we did have the art of making up down to a tee.  You were so sexy, irresistible and charming and I thanked heaven that we were together as it’s not everyday a woman finds herself with a take charge kind of man who knows how to get things done, but you are all of those things,” she pushed herself up in against him capturing his lips in a heated kiss as a slow moan erupted within her, “Rick, you’ve managed to make me believe that the passion can be back between us.  You’re the man I married and more and I’ve never wanted to have you more than I do right now…”
“Now hold on a second,” he placed his hands on her shoulders stopping her before she could kiss him again, “I don’t know what this is about, but we’re not making love by any means.”
“Of course we will,” Brooke shoved her hand into his chest pushing him back onto the leather sofa, “as it’s been far too long for us and I know just how intense you can be when you’ve been victorious,” she continued scurrying onto his lap to straddle him as her lips dove in over his neck, “and victorious you have been I might add.  I’m so very impressed with all you’ve done…”
“Brooke,” Richard breathed in a slow, staggering breath having faint memories of the few good moments he and Brooke had together over the years.  Sure, she’d never been Judy, but there were those rare occasions that things had almost felt workable between them.  Now as she threw out her persuasive power of seduction, he found himself recalling those moments more vividly than he’d wanted to.  His hands pressed in over her waist to still her movements, but much to his dismay, he found himself paralyzed almost enjoying this change in his wife as a sense of guilt swept over him.  Had it been possible that Brooke was trying to change?  That she really was hoping to make their marriage work after years of misery?  Could he really end it now when she was making a conscious effort to change, but before he could really immerse himself in the thought of giving Brooke another chance, her words brought him back to reality.
“Rick, all this time I thought you were working against me when you sent Avery away, but now I see that we were on the same team…that you’re a genius,” she thread her fingers through his hair kissing him wildly as she shifted over him, “and now that I know you sent her away with Brant knowing full well that he’d manage to sweep her off her feet and make her his bride, well I must admit that’s brilliant.”
“What?” he blinked back at her feeling that icy blast from her words plunder over him, “What did you just say?”
“Avery and Brant,” Brooke smiled wider as she seemed to glow with the news, “they were married earlier and it’s all over the news.  I admit I thought you were just trying to keep her away from me, but now that I know you were looking out for our daughter’s best interest…”
“I was looking out for her best interest, but not like that,” he shoved her away as an anger boiled up inside of him.  Marching out of the room he headed towards the kitchen where he found a small television set and on the screen before him was an image of his daughter in Brant Ashford’s arms.  Rage wormed over him, snaking out through his body like never before as he clenched his fists tightly.
“That son of a bitch,” Richard cursed under his breath as Brooke stepped in behind him wrapping her arms around him.
“Look how happy they are,” she boasted proudly, “Just like I’d always imagined they’d be.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Richard declared pushing her off of him as he faced her, “and I swear when I find them, he’s a dead man and Avery, well I’m going to talk her into getting this marriage dissolved because my daughter is not marrying that man.”
“Rick, would you relax?  They look so happy…just like we did when we pledged our love to one another.  I for one couldn’t be happier.”
“No, I bet you couldn’t, but my daughter will not be tied down to that--that…”
“That what?” she arched a curious brow.
“That conceited spoiled pinhead,” he shouted out his face growing red with anger.
“She’s very happy with him and you won’t spoil that for our daughter.  Considering you sent her away with him, I thought you’d be happy for them as I knew you were a man of taste who only wanted the best for our Avery.”
“Oh I do want the best for her, but that isn’t it,” Richard stomped back into the room where Brooke had shed his coat and scarf and be began to get dressed again, “and I’m putting a stop to this right now.”
“The hell you are,” she stood in the doorway blocking his exit, “For the first time in your miserable life you’ve finally done something right for our daughter and I won’t let you stand in the way of her happiness.”
“More like her misery and I knew I shouldn’t have let that man take my daughter away.  He manipulated her and made her enter this marriage when she wasn’t thinking clearly…”
“She’s finally using her head for a change instead of wasting her time on that lowlife Russell Denton.  Our daughter was meant for more than what you were supporting in her life,” Brooke threw back at him spitefully as her mood shifted.
“Our daughter deserves love and that’s not what she has with Brant.  We both know that.”
“Our daughter deserves security and Brant can give her that along with everything she’s ever wanted or needed…including love,” Brooke argued with him.
“Russell gave her love,” Richard admitted without an afterthought.
“He humiliated her with a common whore just like you keep on doing with me,” Brooke glared at him, “You think you can get away with that just like he thought he could betray our Avery, but…”
“Granted Russell made a poor judgment call, but I know that he’s a misguided but dedicated young man who is obviously head over heels in love with Avery,” Richard threw back at her, “and while I might’ve let love pass me by when I found myself tied down to you, I won’t allow our daughter to go through that same thing in her life.  She shouldn’t have to waste over thirty years to get back to love again.”
“She’s doing something to enhance her life,” Brooke stated firmly, “and I won’t let you get in the way of that.”
“You don’t control me anymore Brooke,” Richard glared down at her as he pushed his way past her, “You don’t run our daughter’s life and you certainly don’t run mine anymore.  I’ve waited too long to let love in and now that I have it, I’m not letting go of it and I’ll be damned if I let our daughter repeat my mistakes.”
“Your mistakes all came from your bedding that whore,” Brooke glared at him chasing him out into the foyer.
“No my mistakes started when I carelessly thought marrying you would be satisfying.  I should’ve fought for custody of Avery and followed my heart, but I believed I was doing what was best.  Now I know I was wrong, but I’m not going to keep living in that same self-defeating cycle.  I’m done with this marriage and I’ll be damned if I let you suck another breath of life out of me or Avery,” he finished with a scowl as he marched out of the mansion slamming the door behind him as Brooke watched his hasty retreat.
Clenching her fists at her side, Brooke’s anger bubbled over her as she marched over to the phone picking it up and dialing a number as she would make damn certain that Richard wouldn’t muck things up for her or Avery any longer.  One way or another, she vowed to make Richard bend to her will as there was no other alternative.  Her impossible husband would be made to tow the line and if he continued to defy her, there would be hell to pay.  That much she was certain of.


Hart pulled into the parking lot outside Jenna’s apartment finding himself spellbound by the beauty beside him as the taste of her kiss still lingered upon his lips.  While they’d both not mentioned that moment between them, he still found himself excited at the feel of her seated beside him.  How he’d wanted nothing more than to take her back to his place and pick up where they’d left off hours earlier when she’d shown up on his doorstep brokenhearted and confused.  Sure, the part about her being drunk had a bad feel to it, but now even after a few beers he was certain that she was still quite sober and lucid which probably explained why they were back at her place instead of his much to his dismay.
Bringing his car to a stop in one of the parking spaces, Hart cleared his throat trying to think of some catchy words to work himself into snagging an invitation to her apartment, but before he could think up just the right phrase, she broke her long silence.
“Would you like to come inside for a while,” she asked almost timidly as her voice held a soft, sexy slur to it.  He glanced over in her direction noting the way she looked out the window as though she was avoiding facing him in this moment when her question marked the beginning of a change in their relationship.
“I’d like to, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing,” Hart confessed much to his dismay as everything inside him had been begging for that very invite.
“Oh?” Jenna’s lip curled in surprise as she faced him at long last, her big, beautiful eyes fixed upon him as he instantly regretted his words.
“I mean, well, Jenna, to be honest with you,” he fumbled with his steering wheel wondering where this sudden nervousness was coming from as he’d always been cool and collected with the women in his life, but with Jenna, well she wasn’t just any woman.  She was the woman.  As crazy as that thought felt registering in Hart’s head, he realized that if he had just another taste of her, he may lose himself completely to the intoxicating warmth of Jenna and that was something he feared he’d grow to be too dependant on.  Still as the moonlight flooded down over her beautiful features in the midst of the winter evening, his heart thudded in his chest as he fought for the right words.
“Yes,” she questioned awaiting his words as she shifted in the seat to face him more directly.
“The thing is,” Hart pressed his lips together as his throat went dry and his eyes met their mark as they drifted over her soft, luscious lips, “Jenna, if I go up there with you, the truth to the matter is that I don’t know if I’m going to be able to be the gentleman I was last night.”
“Oh,” was all that fell from her lips as she dropped her hands into her lap fidgeting with them for a moment or so.
“Yeah big oh,” Hart nodded in response wondering where this sudden bout of truth telling came out in him, “because right now all I can think about is taking you upstairs and ravishing you in every sense of the word.”
A gasp sprung forth from Jenna’s lips as Hart watched her reaction not sure what to expect as her eyes traveled to the floor before she drew in a slow, uneasy breath of her own and her words came out in a mild, uncertain tone, “Well what if I told you that was something I’d thought about as well…that maybe I was hoping you’d come upstairs for something along those lines…at least for a little while…”
“Jenna, are you saying that,” he couldn’t help but reveal the surprise that struck him as she tilted her head up towards him.  Another gulp rose from within as his eyes widened in response, “Are you sure about that?  I mean I know you’re having a really rough time right now, but…”
“But nothing,” she shook her head in response as she leaned in closer to him, “Hart, if I didn’t want to invite you up, I wouldn’t have asked.”
“Jenna, I just don’t know if…” he started as she leaned forward laying a very determined and direct kiss upon his protesting lips.  As the softness of her brushed over him, he couldn’t help but feel his conscience slipping into the backseat while his mind began painting scenarios of him and Jenna following it’s lead into the back as well.  Quickly unhooking his seatbelt, he reached out to do the same with hers before urging her into his lap as their kisses grew in intensity.
“Mmmm…” Jenna murmured against his mouth as her fingers tangled within his hair and her legs surrounded him straddling him completely as his hands eased down over her spine crushing her in against him.  He took his time learning the contours of her body as his body grew tight with need beneath her wanting to learn so much more about her on a far greater level of intimacy as she let out a tiny yelp.
“Hart,” she spoke his name breathlessly, the word cascading from her beautifully passion swelled lips as he longed to hear her speak his name again and again in the throes of passion.
“Jenna,” he whispered her name leaning forward and nibbling on her lush bottom lip as a tremor raced over her and she shifted in his lap reminding him once again of his desire for her.
“The steering wheel…” she groaned as his hands wrapped around her waist possessively, “Hart…I don’t think…well it’s just that the steering wheel…”
Hart paused momentarily breaking away from the kiss as he realized their limited quarters.  His gaze drifted to her own passion glazed eyes and a hint of a knowing smile touched over the corners of his mouth, “Perhaps we should work on getting inside right about now.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Jenna leaned forward offering up an approving kiss as her hands slid over the strength of his muscled shoulders.
“Oh yeah,” he murmured feeling a slow, ache growing inside of him, “we need to get out of this car like now because I’m going to need a hell of a lot more room for what I have in mind for you.”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Jenna threw out with an excited giggle as she scurried to get off of his lap and up into her apartment for a night of nothing short of pure, unadulterated lust with him.
“My kind of woman,” Hart shifted on his seat hating the lack of contact between them, but as he thought to what would be waiting for them up in her apartment, excitement flooded over his body as he quickly got out of the car moving around to open her door for her.
“Thank you,” Jenna smiled up at him brightly accepting his hand as he pulled her into his arms, pressing her back into the door as it closed behind her.  His mouth came down over hers with an intensity that made her toes curl within her boots as she squeezed him in against her feeling her body on fire despite the frigid temperatures the winter night provided them with.
“I could take you right now,” Hart’s voice hung over her with the sinfully wicked promise of passion as his lips dropped down to nibble on her earlobe, “You taste so sweet…”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Jenna promised beckoning his mouth to hers once again as her tongue lashed out at his, throwing all sense of responsibility and consequence aside as she’d decided that tonight she was going to have Hart Steiner.  No more thinking about what was good--what was right…all that mattered was giving in to the exquisite temptation he’d offered her and there would be no turning back.  She shifted against him feeling his readiness to make her his on every physical level imaginable and in that instant sparks of electricity rushed over her, “Hart, take me upstairs.  Please…let’s not waste time teasing one another…”
“Who said anything about teasing,” he answered cryptically fully prepared to make good on his words as he noticed the headlights of another car pulling into the lot bringing him back to the reality of the winter night surrounding them.  He leaned in forward nipping at her mouth one last time, before reluctantly stepping away from her, “Come on.  I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of my patience for much longer.”
“I certainly hope your lack of patience doesn’t reflect any control issues we might encounter for the duration of the evening,” Jenna teased with a flirty wink leading him up the stairs to her apartment.
Stepping up on the landing behind her, Hart reached for her keys, helping her ease them into the door as his breath spilled over her neck teasing her as his hand eased in beneath her jacket caressing the ever so tempting contours of her body, “You’ll find I have stellar control in all the right areas…especially tonight.”
“Good, that’s what I wanted to hear,” Jenna remarked spinning around to face him as she threw her arms around him ready to give herself over to every single pleasure he laid out before her for the rest of the evening as she was no longer Jenna Carpenter the good girl who played it safe rather than sorry.  She was now Jenna, the wild woman who vowed not to be sorry by playing it safe with this sexy man before her.
“Oh you’ll be more than hearing it by the time this night is over.  You’ll be feeling just how good my control can be especially when I have you losing yours,” he promised with that same air of confidence he’d had in all their previous encounters.  Lifting her up into his arms, he held her against him as their mouths engaged in a tempting display of passion and eagerness.  He stumbled a bit as he kicked her front door shut, before he let out a tiny whisper in between kisses, “Where am I headed?”
“Down the hall…first door on the left,” Jenna replied with a kiss peeling him out of his jacket as he turned in the direction of her room, but before they could make it more than two steps further, she heard a gasp rise from her living room and the shock and dismay in her mother’s tone as her voice squealed in horror.
“Jenna, what in the world do you think you’re doing,” Dorothy shouted as Jenna stiffened in Hart’s arms tearing her lips away from him as her eyes fell upon her mother and Preston seated upon her sofa as though they’d been there for hours and it was in that instant that Jenna found herself completely mortified at what they’d just witnessed between her and Hart.  Slowly, Jenna began to ease out of Hart’s arms wanting to just crawl underneath a rock as embarrassment flooded over her, but as her mother continued to lash out at her another emotion flooded over her.
“Didn’t I teach you any better than to let someone like this…”

Dorothy’s words were lost as in that instant Jenna felt her mortification shift back to the anger she’d felt earlier in the day and it was in that instant that she found herself wanting to tear her mother apart piece by piece for yet again single-handedly ruining a perfectly good moment in her life only this time as Jenna prepared to face her mother, she vowed there would be no holding back as her mother was about to face the consequences of making her miserable twice in one day.

Grady parked his car in the drive and stepped out into the snow. He jingled his key ring around his finger before approaching the front door and sliding his house key into the lock. He opened the door and stepped inside, freezing when he saw his visitor upon the sofa.

Susan smiled as she dangled a key on a string, “You still hide the spare key in the same place.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” He demanded as he slammed the door behind him.

“Well hello to you too, Grady. It has been a long time,” She exaggerated the pleasantry as she watched his scowl harden his handsome features, “You look sexy as ever when you’re angry.”

“And you’re still the world’s biggest bitch. So why are you here? Tired of torturing some other poor bastard?” He asked as he clinched his fists and shoved them into his pockets.

“Actually I’m in town on business,” She smiled, “And it looks like we might get the chance to work together again.”

“Only if hell froze over while I wasn’t looking,” He said dryly.

“You really are a bitter man, Grady. I’d have thought you’d be over your little tizzy with me by now.”

“I don’t forget when someone turns their back on me then stabs me in mine over and over again,” He said firmly, “Now get out of my house.”

“You don’t want me to go,” She spoke as she stood and approached him. She lightly ran her sculptured fingernail along the lapel of his coat, “Admit it, Grady. You’ve never felt passion like we had together. We burned, and we knew how to get whatever we wanted. We could do that again, you know. We could take whatever we saw for our own and make the world ours, Grady. You remember what ambition felt like, don’t you? Don’t you still have that fire in your belly, driving you to reach out for what you want and making you want to dominate everything in sight?” She asked as she slipped her hands inside his coat, “Don’t you still want to rule the world? We could do that. We could be side by side owning the world.”

Grady shoved her away, “Don’t touch me. I don’t want you anymore, Susan. I don’t want you anywhere near me. You damn near killed me the last time I gave into your psychotic ramblings, but I swear I won’t make that mistake again. I will not let you drag me down the same twisted road you led me down once. I want you out of my house and out of my life. Now get out!”

Susan blinked in response, shocked by his bold outburst. She recovered quickly and stiffened her spine, holding her head high. She tossed his key towards him, “I’ll never be out of your life, Grady. I’m in your blood, and you’re in mine. When you come to your senses, you’ll find me downtown in my office at Stone Corp.”

“What? You’re working for Cameron Stone?” He asked in surprise, “That figures. It really does, but it doesn’t matter. I want you out of here. Now!”

Susan winked at him, “You’ll come around. You always do,” She said proudly as she turned and walked out of the house.

Grady closed his eyes as he tried to calm the rapid beating of his heart along with battling the incessant desire to take a drink. After a moment, he opened his eyes and glanced around. He needed something, something powerful to silence the ache within him, but he wouldn’t find what he needed here. He knew where he had to go, and he knew that once he was there, all the voices would stop as he would be able to get the upper hand he so strongly desired.

...to be continued...