Episode Fifty Nine

“Excellent,” Russell beamed with excitement as he looked over to the door Avery had slipped into while he’d began with the necessary arrangements for the night they’d had ahead of him.  Unable to contain his nervous energy as enthusiasm rushed over him making him feel on top of the world as this was really going to be happening for him, he’d rushed to get everything together to make their wedding the most perfect, wonderful moment for them as Avery had been the once in a lifetime he’d waited to find and now, well there was no turning back and he never intended to.  He barely heard the voice on the other end of the line as his thoughts of happily ever after danced in his head, but as he heard the sounds of Avery emerging from the tiny bathroom, he softened his tone a bit turning his back to her.
“Yes, give me twenty minutes and we’ll be all set.  Thanks again.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much this means to me.  I owe you huge,” he finished turning off his cell phone as he spun around to face his beautiful bride to be as she stood before him, hair quickly tossed up in a haphazard bun, as her sexy black dress hung over every curve of her body accentuating all the places he’d longed to explore again and again as after tonight she’d be his in every sense of the word, heart, body and soul.
“Hey,” she smiled at him sheepishly as she motioned to the dress she’d been wearing when he’d picked her up, “I know when I’d tried this on earlier, I had you in mind, but I hardly think black is the right color for our wedding.  Last time I checked black was kind of fashion faux paux as it was deemed only appropriate at funerals and…”
“You look beautiful,” Russell tried to assure her seeing the nervousness that rose upon her features as she fidgeted with her loosely tied back hair.
“And you’re biased,” Avery argued with him toying with a loose strand of hair that hung beside her ear, “you’d say just about anything to make me feel beautiful even if we both know I look like I’ve been through a war zone here with all my crying and the blotches it’s left on my face…”
“Avery,” he stepped forward cupping her face in his hands as his lips dropped soft, soothing kisses upon hers, “you’ll always be beautiful in my eyes.”
“Russ, it’s just…well, I wanted to be…well, not in harlot onyx on our wedding day for one thing,” she searched for the right words as she groaned inwardly pulling the small clip from her hair as her dark tresses fell around her shoulders and she exhaled a frustrated sigh, “Oh who am I kidding?  I’m never going to be the bride you always imagined me to be…”
“Avery, would you stop that,” he shook his head watching her pace around the floor as though she could crawl into it as they spoke.  With a sigh, he picked up one of the shirts he’d brought with him off of the bed with one finger and he stepped in beside her easing one arm around her slender waist to still her mid-movement, “here…try this on for size,” he urged sliding her arm into the silken material.
“Russ, what is this,” she looked over her shoulder at him as he helped her into his shirt completely.  She looked down at it for a moment watching in confusion as he buttoned up the front of it, unable to contain the smile that lifted over his lips as he whistled a soft tune that somehow resembled the wedding march, “Russ?”
“Who knew I’d have this much fun dressing you as I do undressing you,” he couldn’t help but tease with a wink when he’d finished with the small buttons.  His green eyes fell upon her as his smile widened in explanation, “Now you’re no longer in harlot onyx.  You’re in tempting teal.”
Avery shot him a scathing look as the arms of his shirt extended well beyond her finger tips and she flopped her hands out beside her, “Now you’re mocking me.”
“No, I wouldn’t dream of doing that,” he answered unable to contain the little chuckle that filled him in that moment.
“Russ,” she threw out that warning tone as he raised his own hands in the air defensively.
“Okay, so maybe I’m poking a little fun at your expense,” he admitted laughter sweeping over him as he pulled her into his arms, “but can you blame me for finding you too adorable for words right now?”
“Now you’re making me sound like a puppy instead of your frumpy bride to be,” Avery’s lip curled in a pout as she lay her head against his chest.
“You’re not frumpy,” Russell whispered kissing the top of her head as he squeezed her in his arms, “you’re a great many things Avery Morrison, but frumpy doesn’t even fit into my vocabulary where you’re concerned.”
“I sure feel frumpy,” she sighed closing her eyes as she listened to the solid beating of his heart beneath her.
“You don’t look it,” he breathed lowering his head to nuzzled her ear gently as he whispered warmly against her soft skin, “in fact if anything you have the distinct quality about you that tells the world that you’re a very satisfied, generously loved woman as you have that certain glow about you.”
“I do not,” she objected tilting her head up towards his.
“Oh yes you do,” he nodded in confessing watching the way her nose scrunched up at the thought.
“So now you’re saying that I look like a woman who just hopped out of bed after some really great sex,” she huffed in response throwing her hands out in the air once again, “wonderful.”
“Avery, that’s not exactly what I said, though if memory serves me right that’s what you are,” he couldn’t help but tease as he took a seat at the edge of the bed watching her race around the room in a tizzy.
“Oh God, I know that, but we’re going to a church…you know a holy place where the bride is supposed to virtuous and in white and well, we both know that I’m not following any of the rules especially considering that we’re pregnant…well, I’m pregnant and you know what I mean…” she shook her head at the thought, “here I was raised a Catholic and I’m getting married to the man I loved only after he knocked me up and I look like a woman ready for sin…”
“Avery, calm down,” Russell reached out to her tugging on her arm as he pulled her onto the bed with him.  Easing her onto his lap, he positioned her so that he could cup her face in his hands as their eyes connected, “Sweetheart, your virtue is safe with me and I’m sure somewhere in the world of Catholicism that you grew up in, there’s some clause that states it’s perfectly okay for the bride to be to have been deliriously in love with her groom to be for so many years that their passion for life and each other has lead them to the miracle that’s created that child of ours growing anxious inside of you.  I know you’re concerned about us doing this right, but the fact to the matter is that we’re doing this baby.  We’re finally making this dream of ours come true and yes, maybe we’ve done this a little backwards, but it’s where we are now with one another that really matters.”
“I know,” she nodded in response tears misting over her eyes as he held her, “I really do know this, but I’ve just been such a mess lately that…”
“I understand sweetie,” he leaned forward brushing his lips against hers in a tender sweep, “but I promise you that nothing is going to take away from our wedding.  Nothing at all…”
“And you’re not only doing this because I’m pregnant, right?” she bit on her lower lip as they parted.
“Honey, do you even have to ask that question considering,” Russell gave her a very pointed look as he shook his head at the thought, “Baby, I’ve been trying to get you to be my wife for more years that I can remember and if you think that we’re only doing this because you’re pregnant, then well, maybe we should reconsider this whole marriage thing for a little while because you clearly aren’t aware of the depth of my feelings for you at all, are you?”
Her eyes widened upon his words, “Russ, you can’t be serious,” she paused, “Can you?”
“Oh I’m very serious,” he nodded emphatically fighting to keep a straight face as his arms dropped loosely around her hips, “I mean if you think for an instant that my only reasoning behind marrying you is this family we’re about to embark upon, then clearly I’m not doing my job here.  I mean certainly I’d thought that what we had was about passion,” he leaned forward dropping a teasing kiss over her neck, “feeling,” his hands curved in over her hips sliding up over to her waist as his mouth beckoned hers, “intensity…”
“Russ…” she breathed against the buzzing sound of his words just above her lips as he continued to talk to her.
“Love…” he murmured curling his arm around her in such a haste that a gasp fell from her lips as he pinned her down on the bed beneath him in a blink of an eye.  Now as he hovered over her, she could see the full blown smile carry over him as his fingers teased at her sides, “and laughter.”
“Russell,” she squealed as he began his tickle assault on her and she squirmed beneath him on the mattress, “Russ, stop it…”
“Not until you’re ready to listen to reason,” he argued with her as his fingers danced over her body eliciting chuckle after vicarious chuckle from her full, parted lips as she bucked beneath him.
“Russ, knock it off…” Avery pleaded with him the tears bursting from her eyes as her laughter became too much.
“Not until you admit that I’m marrying you for all the right reasons…” he stood firm in his position as her fingers sought out his hands attempting to stop him from taking her over the edge with the laughter he’d brought about in her.
“Alright, alright,” she answered behind a laugh induced whimper as her brown eyes glazed over with love for him, “I know you’re marrying me because you love me and we’re meant to be together.”
“Damn right we are,” his tone shifted from playful to sincere as he tipped down to taste her laughter induced smile.  Nibbling on her lower lip as his hand eased over her side, he felt a slow murmur rise within her as she arched up to his body, melding herself against him as his kisses traveled down over the eloquent curve of her neck as he tried to assure her, “Don’t worry about tonight baby because I have it all taken care of…”
“I’m not worried,” she breathed as her head tipped back into the pillows beneath her as she found herself enjoying his attentions, but almost as soon as she’d begun to lose herself in them, his kisses stopped and her gaze snapped upon him as a frown touched over her lips, “hey, what’s all that about?  I was enjoying myself…”
“So was I,” Russell confessed with a heavy sigh, “probably too much considering we have a schedule here.”
“Since when,” she gave him a sideways glance.
“Since I decided that I was marrying you tonight,” he stated matter of fact as there was a knock at the door alerting them that they were no longer alone as a smile lifted over his features.
“Russ, what’s that,” she questioned wearily as he began to tear himself away from her.
“You’ll see,” he answered with a cryptic smile as Avery propped herself up on her elbows as she lay on her back trying to catch a glimpse of what was waiting for them outside the door as Russell slipped away into the darkness of the night.  She started to sit upright, but before she could leave the bed, Russell returned with a black garment bag in hand and a goofy grin pressed over his handsome features.
“What’s that?” Avery asked dropping her legs to the floor as she readied herself to investigate the new arrival.
“Part one of your surprise,” Russell winked at her handing the bag over to her as her eyes widened in surprise and confusion.
“What is this?” she questioned accepting the black garment bag as she began to unzip it eager to see what he’d had brought in for her.  Her eyes fell upon the teasing peek of the white satin material hidden beneath the garment bag before her eyes returned to him wider than he’d ever seen them before this moment in time.
“What,” he shrugged his shoulders as a laugh built up inside of him, “you didn’t honestly expect me to have my bride to be wearing harlot onyx to our wedding, did you?”
“Russell,” Avery squealed his name as she tore the wedding dress from the garment bag to reveal it to her more completely.  “I can’t believe that you…I mean how could you…Russ, this is a wedding dress.”
“I know it is,” he nodded in confession motioning to the dress before him, “and it’s even in your size too.”
“Oh Russell,” Avery rushed forward throwing her arms around him as she doused him with excited kisses, “thank you…thank you so very much.  I don’t know how you did this, but it’s absolutely perfect.  It’s the most beautiful wedding gown I’ve ever seen and…” she stopped herself as a gasp spilled over her lips.
“Avery, what is it?”
“You’re not supposed to see this,” Avery hugged the dress to her body as she took a step back bringing the garment bag up over to shield the material of the dress from his eyes, “It’s bad luck for the groom to see the wedding dress before the actual wedding…”
“Avery, considering the bad run of luck we’ve had in the past, I think this time we can make an exception,” he pointed out.
“No, the bad luck is all the more reason why we have to be cautious,” she shook her head emphatically, “We don’t want anything to spoil this and if you see the dress…”
“Avery, I don’t think this is going to be a problem for us…I mean I didn’t really get a good look and though we’re going to the ceremony together, well I promise I won’t look at you on the ride over.  How’s that?”
She frowned as she began thinking it over in her head, “Well, it’s not exactly how it should be because I know you well enough to know that you’ll still look at me.”
He shrugged in open admission, “You’re probably right on that and while we’re on the subject I’m more than likely going to kiss you too.”
“Exactly which is why if you see me in the dress,” she began again in a frenzy.
“Well, you can’t exactly go naked now can you?  Not that I would mind, but I think the place we’re going to might have a few thoughts on that subject…I mean if you were worried about the black dress, well then naked might be making more of a statement.”
“Oh I’ll give you more of a statement,” she waved her finger at him as her eyes searched the room for some kind of solution.
“Here,” Russell headed over to the doorway pulling up yet another garment bag that Avery hadn’t noticed in his return.  He set it down on the bed and unzipped it before carefully tinkering with the contents within.  A few seconds later he pulled out a long, black overcoat that he’d had sent over and he handed it to her, “Now I know this isn’t your size, but it’ll have to do until we get to the church.”
“Oh Russell, you’re brilliant,” she snatched it up from his hands as excitement spilled over her features, “You’re absolutely brilliant and I knew there was a damn good reason I was marrying you.”
“Aside from the fact I’m good in bed,” he threw out a playful wink as she shook her head at him.
“Russ, we both know you’re damn good in bed, but that isn’t the reason I’m marrying you,” Avery threw a quick kiss on him before stepping back, “it’s only one of the added perks.”
“I’ll give you added perks,” he reached out to her teasing at her sides once again as she squirmed against him.
“Russell, stop,” she laughed as his tickling always seemed to get the best of her, “Russ, I mean it.  If I don’t get changed, then we’re not going to make that deadline of yours, now are we?”
“No, we’re not,” he conceded releasing her, “so what are you waiting for?  Get moving.”
“Hey, don’t think for a second that you can start bossing me around now that we’re about to be married,” Avery poked at his chest, “because that’s not how it’s going to be, Bucko.”
“Bucko?” he gave her a sideways glance, “Where did you pick that one up?”
“I don’t know, but it seemed fitting for the moment,” Avery shrugged her shoulders with a tiny laugh.
“Yeah well I think I’m going to strongly object to Bucko,” he snatched her back into his arms again, “Handsome, sexy, darling…those things I can handle, but that Bucko comment simply will not do.”
“You’ll love anything I call you as long as I’m the one saying it,” she promised stepping up on her toes and rubbing her nose against his in a playful fashion, “Bucko.”
“I’ll give you Bucko,” he picked her up off the ground spinning her in his arms as the energy of the moment surrounded the both of them.
“Okay okay…I’ll rethink that endearment for a little while at least,” she patted her hand against his chest as he set her back down on the ground again.
“Maybe we can renegotiate the terms of that one and find a much more desirable alternative,” he suggested with a huskiness in his voice.
“Mmmm…how I do love the way you think,” Avery offered up a quick kiss before wiping at his lips, “but before we delve into that twisted psyche of yours, I need to get dressed for my wedding as I’m getting married,” she did a little hop, skip dance towards the bathroom throwing out one last bright smile before blowing him a kiss.
Russell brought his hand up beside him catching the air kiss as his bride to be disappeared behind the bathroom door.  As soon as she slipped out of his sight, he did a little dance wiggling around the room as he chanted the word yes over and over again eager to have this moment become a reality for him.
“Get a grip,” he tried to tell himself as he noticed the mirror at the far end of the darkened room, “You’ve got a lot to look forward to.  You don’t want to scare her away this early on with your enthusiasm,” he chuckled thinking about how his heart was bursting with love in the moment for Avery and their life with one another, but as his eyes fell upon the cell phone he’d discarded upon the small end table earlier, he realized that there was still one last detail to take care of before they could be free and clear at long last.
Reaching for the phone, Russell dialed a familiar number hoping that the intended caller would answer as while he was certain there would be a lot of explaining to do, there would be one person who’d certainly be willing to help him out in all of this amazing situation he’d found himself in.  As soon as he heard her voice on the other end of the line, his mood elevated even more at the thought of sharing his news with someone else.
“Hey beautiful, how’s it going,” Russell beamed with excitement as he sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Russell, is that you,” Caitlin questioned a bit unsure as her voice was quieter than usual.
“The one and only,” he answered eagerly, “How’s my star reporter doing these days?”
“You could say I’ve found myself in a bit of a situation that needs a fix,” Caitlin confessed after a moment’s hesitation, “Russ, I’m on an island with Kenneth here and he and I came out because Brant and Avery…”
“Caitlin, I’d love to help you with this particular situation you’re in, but unfortunately I’m previously engaged at the moment which is why I was calling you,” he admitted with an air of seriousness, “You see I have this really hot lead on this very promising story.  It’s not only bound to make my career if you will, but it’s going to change my life from here on out.  I know this is kind of short notice, but seeing as you’ve had a taste of the paper for a while and you know how things are run at the Courier, I was hoping that maybe you could take over for a little while…say a week or two…”
“Russ, you don’t understand.  I’m at the Ashford mansion and I was going to call you earlier, but then things just happened and Avery,” she started to explain.
“Caitlin, I really don’t have time for this as well, to be honest with you I have a honeymoon to plan in the next half hour so…” he threw back at her unable to contain the excitement in his tone as her silence hung over the other end of the line, “Caitlin, are you there?”
“Russell, did you just say honeymoon?” Caitlin questioned with an air of uncertainty.
“That I did Caitlin which is why I’m going to need you to look after things at the paper for a little while…just until my wife and I can get things settled…”
“Russ, where are you?” her questioned demanded an answer immediately as he couldn’t help but laugh at her straight to the point demeanor.
He lay back on the bed an exaggerated sigh spilling over his lips as his smile widened, “You could say I’m close enough that if you were willing to take a chance at sneaking out of the Ashford fortress, you could make my wedding…”
“I knew it,” Caitlin blurted out excitedly before dropping her voice down to a hushed tone once again, “You took Avery from the club, didn’t you?”
“Yes I did and before you even start with me about the theatrics of it all or how this sets back the equality of the sexes in pulling a chauvinistic move, I’ll have you know…” he started ready to defend his position as she interrupted.
“Actually I was thinking of something along the lines of ‘go you‘, but to each his own I suppose,” she teased in response, “although I must say that I never thought you’d do something like that.  Sure, I’d hoped considering that, well that you and Avery clearly belong together, but…”
“But nothing,” Russell grinned goofily, “Caitlin, I’m going to be a father…Avery’s having my baby and we’re finally where we should be right about now.  There’s no buts about it here.  I‘m a lucky man.”
“Russ, I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am for the two of you,” she confessed brightly, “as I was so hoping that you two could find your way back to one another again and your coming out here, well despite the scare you gave us all, well it’s horribly romantic indeed.”
“I’d hoped it would have that effect as I’d like to think I’m a bit of a romantic at heart,” he answered proudly before another thought crossed his mind, “though I have to ask…how’s Brant doing?”
“Brant,” she paused an uncertainty filling her up inside before she spoke up once again, “why do you ask?”
“Well, as much as I hate to admitting to this,” he began realizing that he had to fess up sooner or later, “I slipped him a couple of sleeping pills at the club just so I could find a way of getting Avery out of there without a big battle.”
“So that explains it,” Caitlin half laughed, “then he’s going to be alright?”
“He might be out for the evening and then he’ll probably wake up feeling like he’s got a hangover, but other than that he’ll be his usual self I’m sure,” he offered in response.
“Lucky us,” Caitlin groaned.
“Hey look at it this way,” he teased with a tiny laugh, “It’ll give you and Ken some free time to enjoy with one another for a while.”
“Something we desperately need,” she admitted with another half groan, “the way we’ve been watching Brant lately…”
“Consider yourself off Brant duty tonight as I don’t think he’s going to hassle anyone except maybe in his dreams,” he offered thinking about his ingenious plan to get Avery back.
“I’m not so sure about that one,” Caitlin frowned on the other end of the line thinking about the kiss she and Brant had shared.
“Well as I said before the offer still stands for you to come to the wedding as I’m sure Avery would love to have you there with us,” he threw out the offer once again.
“As much as I’d love to be there, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea considering the circumstances.  I mean I would love that so very much, but with Ken, well while he’s not too happy with Brant, I don’t think he’d be able to rush off to your wedding when his brother is conked out.”
“No, I suppose he wouldn’t and actually,” he hesitated thinking about the situation for a moment, “Caitlin, it would probably be best if you don’t tell anyone what’s going on with Avery and I tonight.  Not that I mind the world knowing we’re going to be married, but well, this is our third real try at this and…”
“Say no more,” Caitlin promised eagerly, “your secret is safe with me as long as you promise that when you and Avery return from the honeymoon you both give me the opportunity to make up for not being at the wedding.”
“It’s a deal if and only if you can keep an eye on the paper for a bit as well,” Russell decided with a grin.
“Hey, I’ll even keep on eye on Brant if you’d like and make sure that he’s not a problem either considering I know what a thorn in your side he must be,” she offered eagerly.
“You have no idea,” Russell confessed with a half sigh, “but I must say you’re one hell of a woman for wanting to take on the world like that.”
“Let’s just say I’m a believer in true romance and I don’t think Brant Ashford can get in the way of something when it’s meant to be like you and Avery are,” she replied with a warmth and sincerity that made Russell realize he’d made the right move in giving her a call.
“Caitlin, you’re one in a million.  I hope you realize that,” Russell admitted brightly.
“Damn straight I am and I hope when it comes time for that Christmas bonus, well you keep that in mind,” she teased in response.
“Honey, if I wasn’t already taken, I’d sweep you up in a New York minute,” he replied with a tiny laugh of his own.
“Don’t say such things or I might be half tempted to come to that wedding after all and have a few words with Avery for snatching up one of the last great guys in the world,” Caitlin answered in response with a hearty laugh, “Then again, I wouldn’t dream of suffering that kind of wrath.”
“Oh now we both know you’ve got one of the last great guys there with you now, though I’m sure he’s going to want my head if he knows what I did to his brother even considering the situation,” Russell frowned at the thought.
“In the name of love you can get away with a lot of things,” Caitlin offered brightly, “but for tonight, let me handle Kenneth and Brant.  Don’t let those thoughts even intrude on your big moment for even a second there.”
“Believe me, when I hang up, it won’t even come to mind again,” Russell promised as he looked to the suit on the bed beside him, “After tonight, there’s going to be no turning back.”
“Good for you,” Caitlin cheered him on, “and for what it’s worth, I’ll be sending both you and Avery all my love tonight.”
“Thanks Caitlin.  You have no idea just how much that means to the both of us,” Russell smiled as the warmth of her words touched his heart.
“Hey, you both are a prime example at love at it’s finest…and if it can happen for you, then hey, it gives the rest of us something good to hold out for…” Caitlin replied dreamily.
“Kenneth Ashford better realize how lucky he is there,” he pointed out as he reached for the suit before him.
“I’m the lucky one, Russell,” Caitlin sighed, “I can honestly say for the first time in a long time I feel truly blessed and happy with the way things are going in my life.”
“You have no idea how much hearing that means to me, Caitlin,” Russell reached for the tie within the garment bag, “I really hope that stays with you from here on out.”
“The feeling is mutual,” she answered with a teasing laugh, “Now quit stalling with me and get yourself married before I have to get wicked with you.”
“Wicked?” he repeated in amusement, “What is with you women tonight?  First Avery starts calling me Bucko and you’re talking about getting wicked with me?  This just doesn’t feel right.”
“Neither does spending your wedding night on the phone when I’m sure Avery’s just as jittery as you are,” Caitlin pointed out.
“I’m not jittery,” Russell argued with her, “I’ve waited my whole life for this day to happen.”
“My point exactly.  Hang up the phone and get going with this as dreams of that kind of proportion shouldn’t be put on hold,” she chastised him quickly.
“Alright, I’m going.  I’m going.” he laughed back at her, “and Caitlin?”
“Thank you…for everything.”
“You’re very welcome,” Caitlin replied warmly, “Now get a move on it.”
“I will,” he promised unable to contain the silly mood that had him buzzing as he hung up the phone and quickly worked to get dressed before Avery finished up in the bathroom.  Moments later he heard another knock at the front door alerting him that his other surprise had arrived just in time for Avery and a smile lifted over his features as he stepped over to the bathroom knocking on the door gently.
“Oh Avery, darling are you almost ready,” he questioned with an eagerness in his tone as he heard her clear her throat on the other side of the door.
“Almost,” Avery announced before opening the door a few seconds later and stepping out into the room draped in his overcoat.  She grinned up at him and circled to display herself to him as she lifted a curious brow, “Well what do you think?”
“Definitely not frumpy,” he pulled her into his arms unable to contain himself, “So what do you say baby?  Ready to get married?”
“More than ever,” she nodded eagerly as he lead her towards the doorway stopping before they could step outside.  Pausing as they stood together, she felt his thumbs brush against the hollow of her cheekbones as he leaned forward dropping a tender kiss upon her lips.
“I love you Avery and I want tonight to be everything you’ve ever dreamt it to be,” he whispered against her lips.
“As long as I’m with you, then it’s everything I ever could’ve hoped for,” she promised as they parted, “I love you, Russ.”
“Tonight is going to be the beginning of our forever,” he promised opening the door to reveal the horse drawn carriage before them as he reached for her hand offering his arm, “Shall we milady?”
“Russ,” Avery gasped as her eyes fell upon the shimmering white and gold carriage before her, “is this for us?”
“Yes, yes it is,” he answered proudly with a nod as he wrapped his arm around her securely, “You like it?”
“I…I can’t believe you did this.  I mean,” she looked to him in confusion, “How could you do this?”
“I have my ways,” he answered with a cryptic wink as he offered her his arm again, “Are you ready to go?”
“Now just wait a second,” she placed her hand in the center of his chest, “Russ, how could you…”
“Let’s just say I’ve been known to work a few miracles of my own even on such short notice,” he revealed refusing to offer up any more explanation as he lead her out into the night, “Let’s get married.”
“There’s nothing I could want more than to do just that,” she replied letting him help her into the carriage as she realized that suddenly all the childish fairy tale dreams she’d had about happily ever after were coming true one by one with Russell Denton at her side as he was Prince Charming and in this moment as they prepared to pledge their lives to one another, making their way to the mystery location he’d set up for their wedding, she realized that there was no where else in this world she’d rather be, but where she sat beside him ready to pledge her life to him.  Russell was right about them all along as she finally found herself believing that they were in fact meant to be and tonight would seal that for them forever.


“What do you think you’re doing here?” Jenna questioned harshly as she glared over at her mother, “You have no business being in my apartment like this.”
“I most certainly do considering you’re with someone like him.  Jenna, haven’t you learned anything through the years?  Have I taught you nothing?” Dorothy demanded with heavy disapproval as she shook her head at her daughter, “Why would you want to ruin your life like this?”
“When I gave you a key to my apartment it was so that you could have it in the case of an emergency, not for you to use it as an excuse to spy on me whenever you deemed appropriate.  You have no business being here,” Jenna shouted in response dropping her arms down at her side as she clenched her fingers into fists struggling with the anger her mother had awakened inside of her.
“When I see you doing this, I’m more than grateful that I was able to stop this before it starts,” Dorothy insisted with a heavy frown, “considering that I couldn’t reach you, I thought you’d been hurt or worse, but now seeing you like this with this man of all people…”
“Don’t you dare stand there and give me a lesson on morality,” Jenna threw back at her, “You have no business telling me what to do as you’re the last person who can lecture me considering the lies you’ve been telling me my entire life.”
“Jenna,” Preston began breaking his silence as he stepped in beside Dorothy placing his hand upon her shoulder, “Perhaps if we could have a moment to talk with you…”
“I have nothing to say to her and I don’t mean to be rude, but I think it would be best if the both of you left now,” Jenna glared over at her mother straining to keep from losing it as she was suddenly aware of Hart at her side silently showing his support for her.
“That would probably be best,” Hart added as Dorothy glared at him.
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do where my daughter is concerned you…” Dorothy marched towards him as Jenna stepped between them with a scowl.
“Don’t you dare,” Jenna waved her finger in her mother’s face, “because if you even think about touching him, I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” Dorothy’s eyes widened in surprise, “You’d turn on your own mother for someone like…” Dorothy motioned to Hart, “him?”
“Unlike you, he’s never lied to me and he hasn’t treated me like an invalid my whole life,” Jenna replied bitterly as she felt the tears she’d worked so hard to suppress building behind her eyes, “He hasn’t kept something so vital in my life away from me all these years.  Unlike you he hasn’t hurt me in the worst possible way.”
“That’s only because I’m here now to keep you from making a huge mistake,” Dorothy reached out to her tugging on her arm.  “You’re coming with me.”
“No, I’m not,” Jenna shrugged out of her touch, “I’m not going anywhere with you ever again.  I’ll do what I want.”
“Jenna, you can’t keep being so stubborn…” Dorothy pleaded with her.
“You kept my father out of my life and you had no intention of ever telling me he was alive.  You lied to me all those years…” Jenna began emotionally.
“I was trying to protect you,” Dorothy defended.
“From what?  Having a family?  From knowing the man I needed in my life for so very long or from knowing that I had a brother who’s desperately fighting for his life right now?” Jenna questioned tearfully, “Were you ever going to say anything, or would you have just let Kipp die without me even having a chance to know that I had a brother out there?”
“Jenna, I did this to keep you safe.  There’s a lot about Douglas that you don’t know…” Dorothy began once again.
“And who’s fault is that,” Jenna questioned harshly folding her arms in front of her chest, “You kept me away from my father and you would’ve kept the lies going as long as you could because you never wanted me to have this.  You never wanted me to have anyone else, but you because you made so many mistakes in your life that you were afraid if I knew what a lying, manipulative woman you really were that I’d walk away from you like Douglas did, right?”
“Is that what he told you?” Dorothy’s eyes widened, “That he walked away from me?”
“He didn’t have to,” Jenna spat back at her, “Your actions speak for themselves and as far as I’m concerned you and I have nothing more to say to one another.”
“Jenna, you’re my daughter and I’m not going to sit back and do nothing while you make your own assessment of this situation.  There are a lot of things you don’t know--things I didn’t share with you because you weren’t ready for them.”
“In your eyes I was never ready for them and even now you stand here before me not wanting to tell me the truth, but your own skewed version of things as you sit back and judge my life,” Jenna remarked with a hiss, “You never cared what this would do to me as all you were worried about was preserving your own reputation with your lies.”
“Jenna, I was very young and confused when Douglas and I were together.  He and I were, well it wasn’t a fairy tale romance and I was making a mistake.  I was so damned stubborn like you’re being right now and I made a bad decision and it cost me my life…” Dorothy declared boldly.
“Your life?” Jenna blinked back in surprise, “So what?  Now I’m the mistake you made with Douglas?  I’m what made you give up your career and all that you hoped for?”
“Jenna, that’s not what I’m saying…”
“Save it.  I’m not interested in hearing it, Dorothy,” Jenna shot back at her icily, “and if you aren’t out of my apartment in the next thirty seconds…”
“Jenna, I’m not leaving you.  I know you’re upset but…”
“You have no idea just how much you hurt me,” Jenna’s eyes narrowed in her mother’s direction, “but given what you’ve put me through I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of running through all that with you here and now.”
“Jenna, I’m your mother,” Dorothy threw out desperately.
“Which is why this hurts so much,” Jenna replied feeling a tear slip down her cheek.
“Jenna, baby…I’m so sorry,” Dorothy’s eyes misted over with tears as she reached out to her.
“Don’t touch me,” Jenna jumped back shaking her head in refusal before darting off towards her room, “Don’t you dare.”
“Jenna,” Dorothy called out to her as the bedroom door slammed behind Jenna.  She turned her eyes to Hart before falling to the floor, “what have I done?”
“Darling,” Preston stepped forward bringing his arms around Dorothy, “maybe it would be best if we leave.”
“I don’t want to go…” Dorothy shook her head in dismay.
“I know that, but Jenna needs some space,” Preston urged once again, “we have to give her that.  Coming here wasn’t a good idea…”
“I don’t care,” Dorothy insisted, “I just wanted to reach out to her again.  I just wanted…”
“I know,” he urged her to look into his eyes, “but right now isn’t the time.  She’s in good hands,” he motioned over to Hart, “You’ll let us know if she needs anything, yes?”
“Sure,” Hart replied with a nod feeling the weight of the situation as Jenna and her mother’s fighting had killed the mood for the evening he’d worked so hard to get Jenna into.  Granted the thought of them making love had been an added perk, but most of all Hart was hoping to lift her spirits.
Now as Hart watched Preston guide Dorothy over towards the apartment door, he wondered just how he was going to approach Jenna in a moment like this when things were just so complicated.  He tapped on her bedroom door hearing the soft cries from inside the room.  Slowly, he opened the door finding her laying on the bed as his heart sank just watching her lost in her misery.  Unable to find the right words, he approached her making himself comfortable on the bed beside her as he reached for her bringing his fingers through her dark hair.
“Why did she have to be here,” Jenna questioned curling up into him as his arms held her more completely.  “Why did she pick now to do something like this?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered kissing the top of her head, “but she’s gone.  She just left…”
“It still doesn’t change what she’s done…” Jenna sobbed into his chest as he held her wishing that somehow he could fix the problems that had come her way, but for now he did what he could as he just kept her in his arms trying to soothe the pain that her mother’s unexpected visit brought about.  Suddenly the only thing that seemed to matter was protecting Jenna from the pain her mother had given her and in this moment as he held her, he vowed to do whatever it took to keep her from ever being this torn up again.

Heather held the mug of warm milk in her hands as she walked up the stairs towards the guest bedroom she now occupied in Cameron’s mansion. She hadn’t been able to sleep and decided that some warm milk was in order. Feeling restless, she had opted to walk to the kitchen instead of summoning Franklin to get the milk for her.

She walked down the hallway and stopped at the door to Cameron’s bedroom, noticing the door was ajar. She knocked lightly upon the door as she pushed it open a bit further.

Cameron sat on his bed in his pajamas, reading a book from which he diverted his attention upon Heather’s arrival. He placed a bookmark in the book he’d been reading and placed it aside as he stood, “Is something wrong?”

“No,” She replied as she watched him stand. His shirt fell open as he had apparently just pulled it on his shoulders but failed to button it. She paused for a moment as she admired the solid planes of his muscular chest. She glanced down to her mug of warm milk, “I just couldn’t get off to sleep.”

“So you opted for some warm milk? That’s a rather traditional remedy, isn’t it?” He smiled softly as he led her to the sofa near the fireplace, “You seemed like a much more progressive woman of the world than that to me.”

“I usually am,” She admitted with a slight smile, “I usually take herbs and things like that, but since I’m pregnant, I don’t think those would be such a good idea.”

“Probably not,” He spoke as he sat beside her, “I know things seem awkward right now, but they will improve. We’ll learn about one another every day, and we’ll soon feel right at home in our marriage.”

“I know, and I just wanted you to know that I appreciate what you did this evening. William has never known when to take no for an answer. He always thought he was the only one who knew what was right for me. He thought he could order me around. He thought he owned me.”

“No one owns you, Heather.”

“I think you did a great job proving that to William,” She smiled as she met his eyes, “Thank you, Cameron. No one has ever really stood up for me that way before.”

“I’ll always protect you, Heather. I don’t let anyone close to me suffer, be bullied around, or be denied anything they want. I promise you that you will have all the power you’d ever wanted.”

“How is it you’re willing to give me everything like this? You never really struck me as a giving kind of guy.”

Cameron grinned, “I’m not known for being the most generous person on the planet, but there are times when family matters mean more than anything. This is one of those times. Kipp would want to see that you’re well taken care of and that his child is given every opportunity in the world. I want to do that for Kipp.”

She eyed him wearily, “What about Douglas?”

“What about him? He’s being hard headed, and that’s his loss. In the end, we both know that you and Kipp were deeply involved, and your child is without a doubt a Mahoney.”

“Do you think Douglas will try to fight for custody?”

“I doubt it. The man isn’t willing to even think that you might be having a child belonging to his son, but that’s his loss. You and the baby will be taken care of, and if Kipp recovers, he’ll be happy that you’ve done everything possible to take care of your child.”

Heather nodded as she tried to convince herself of Cameron’s argument, “I just hope things will work out in the long run. I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I can handle business men, power players, and new young models who think they’re god’s gift, but being a mother? That’s completely new to me.”

“You’ll be fine,” He assured her as he lightly touched her hand, “You’re a strong determined woman who will never let anything get in her way. That alone says that you are the perfect mommy material.”

“I don’t have your confidence.”

“You will,” He smiled, “You have plenty of time to build up that confidence, and I’ll help you.”

“I just hope you can rub off on me,” Heather sighed, “I think I’ll go to my room now. If nothing else, maybe this milk will help.”

“Get some sleep and maybe have a few sweet dreams too,” Cameron wished her well as he watched her leave his room. His plans were going perfectly, and things were going to work out just the way he’d wanted them to.


Elliot heard the pounding at the front door as he made his way through the house. He tightened the sash on his robe as he shuffled towards the door. He switched on a light before opening the door to see his son standing beleaguered before him.


Grady nodded before he stepped into the house.

Elliot escorted Grady to the sofa as he sat down beside him, “What’s wrong?”

“Everything, Dad,” Grady sank onto the sofa heavily before he shook his head, “My entire life is falling apart, and I don’t have the first clue about how to stop it.”

Elliot watched his son for a moment before he asked the most obvious question, “Have you been drinking?”

“No, that’s just it. I haven’t been drinking at all, but I wish I had. I want to drink so badly. I went to an AA meeting tonight, but then I went home and Susan was there,” Grady rambled, “And I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to just go down to the bar and drink until dawn, but I’m trying so hard not to do that.”

“Grady?” Cheryl asked as she stepped into the living room and noticed her son on the sofa with her husband, “I thought I heard your voice. Is something wrong?”

“Susan’s back in town,” Elliot sighed as he looked up to his wife.

“Damn,” She frowned as she took a seat on the sofa on the opposite side of Grady, “Did you run into her?”

“She was waiting for me at the house,” Grady said blandly, “This day has been one of the worst days of my life.”

“My poor baby,” Cheryl frowned as she lightly brushed her fingers over his hair, “Tell me all about it.”

“I’ll put on some tea,” Elliot patted Grady’s knee as he stood and made his way into the kitchen.

Cheryl slipped her fingers through Grady’s hair, “What happened?”

“I guess Dad told you about Russ and I this morning, right?”

“Yeah, he told me,” She nodded.

“That was the first part of the day. When Dad took me home, it wasn’t too good because Jade gave me a piece of her mind. Although she didn’t just yell at me. She walked out on me. Then her brother came over and demanded that I fix things. So I wasn’t in such a great place at that point. I went to an AA meeting. That went okay except I got a dressing down by a friend there and told to either embrace the program or drink. She was right. I should stop sitting the fence.”

“And then?”

“Then I went home, and there was Susan…just waiting like a predator for the prey. Damn that woman. She always knows just when to strike to rip my heart out.”

“What did she say?”

“The usual. She tried to remind me of just how passionate we were, but all I could think of was how much I drank when I was with her. We did have a fire between us, and I loved her. I did love her, but she was like poison to me.”

Cheryl frowned as she watched her son’s inner turmoil, “She worked on you much the same as alcohol. She was a temporary fix to a much larger problem,” She swept the backs of her fingers along his cheek, “Grady, you have to stop this cycle you go through.”

“I don’t even know how to begin, Mom,” He admitted, “How do I stop being who I am? It’s a little late to change my entire life, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t,” She declared firmly, “You’ve come to a point in your life where you want to change. That in itself shows an amazing amount of progress.”

“But what I do about it?”

“First of all, you can do what you’re doing now, and that’s coming home to family instead of drinking,” Elliot spoke as he stepped back into the room with a tray full of cups and a teapot. He sat down and began serving, “You’ve done good by coming here instead of drinking.”

“It’s not easy, especially when I know if I drink, all the pain will go away…even if just for a little while,” Grady frowned.

“I know you think that, but in the end, doesn’t it just make the misery that much worse?” Cheryl asked.

“Of course it does, but that doesn’t mean that the relief isn’t worth while,” Grady groaned as he looked to the tea before him, “And Jade…I can’t think of anything to say to her that would make a difference.”

“What happened with Jade?” Elliot asked as he placed a cup of tea in his wife’s hand.

“She accused me of not caring enough about her to give up my anger towards Avery,” Grady frowned, “That’s just not true.”

“Isn’t it? I’ve seen how intense you are about Avery,” Elliot pointed out.

“I just don’t want Russ to go through what I’ve gone through. I let Susan back into my life once after she’d wrecked it. I thought that everything was going to be perfect, but what did that get me? It got me a lot of heartache and more headaches than I’ll ever be through with. I just don’t want Russ to go through the same thing with Avery.”

“How can you be so sure that Avery will do that to him?” Cheryl asked as she gently stirred her tea.

“She and Susan share a lot of the same traits, and I can’t imagine that ever changing,” Grady frowned.

“If Avery does break Russ’ heart, there’s nothing you could do to stop it, Grady. You had to learn the hard way, and if that’s to be Russ’ lot in life, there’s not a thing you can do about it. Russ is a grown man, and he’s following his dreams. Maybe it’s time you stopped being a big brother and started following your little brother’s lead,” Cheryl suggested.

“Now you sound like Jade,” Grady sighed.

“Then she’s a smart woman,” Cheryl smiled, “And you’re lucky to have her in your life. Maybe you should work more on appreciating her and less on what might happen with your brother.”


“Grady, don’t back talk your mother,” Elliot said with a slight grin.

Cheryl smiled as she took her son’s hand, “Grady, it’s time for you to be happy in your life. You can only do that if you’re living your life instead of putting it on hold for your brother.”

Grady frowned, “You’re not going to cut me any slack on this, are you?”

“No, not really. I’m just telling you what you already know. You didn’t come here to be schmoozed on. You knew I’d tell you the truth even if you didn’t want to hear it,” Cheryl pointed out, “I love you, Grady, but sometimes you are hard headed as hell.”

Grady grinned, “I think I inherited that particular trait.”

Cheryl leaned over on Grady’s shoulder and hugged his arm to her, “Maybe you did.”

Elliot smiled as he watched his wife and son after their talk. Despite Grady’s condition when he arrived, Elliot was sure that his son would now make it through the night without retreating to the bottle.


Caitlin whistled to herself as she walked through the house. She knew Avery was in good hands now that Russell had called her, and she also knew that Avery was safe from anything Brant might have planned for her. If she’d ever doubted that her worries about Brant had been unfounded, that would have changed when he laid that kiss on her. If he had been sober, she’d have beat the snot out of him in an instant. Being that he was obviously intoxicated, she couldn’t take his outrageous behavior personally…or could she?

She stepped into the bedroom she shared with Kenneth and closed the door before she saw him standing on the balcony. She smiled as she made her way through the room and stopped at the balcony doors, “Brant’s asleep on the sofa downstairs.”

“Good, I just spoke with some of our security people on the island. They’re looking for Avery as we speak,” Ken replied as he turned to spot her large smile, “What’s with you?”

“Avery called me on my cell phone. She’s fine. She just needed some time of her own away from Brant and his relentless persuasion tactics,” She walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, “So you can call off the manhunt.”

“What? Avery called you?”

“She’s fine. She just wanted to be alone for a while,” Caitlin said, feeling bad about lying to Ken and noting that he didn’t seem to quite believe her, “You don’t believe a word of this, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” He frowned, “So what really happened?”

“Russell called me. He’s with Avery.”

“Russell? What? How?” Ken began to stammer.

“Shhh,” She smiled as she placed her forefinger over his lips, “They’re together, and they’re happy.”

“How can you be so sure? After what happened at the party and…”

“Ken, trust me. Avery’s never been safer than she is right now with Russ. I have a feeling that everything is about to work out for the best.”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know. They’re somewhere on the island, but they’re safe and sound. And now it’s our turn to have some happiness too,” She said as she drew him into a kiss.

Ken held her soft form against him as he returned her kiss though he seemed quite taken aback by the situation. When their lips parted, he met her eyes, “I don’t understand any of this.”

“Then let’s focus on us and not worry about understanding anything else,” She suggested as she met his eyes with a sparkling smile.

“You’re trying to distract me,” He pointed out.

“Is it working?” She asked as she began gently plucking at the buttons on shirt.

“Actually,” He began in surprise as she finished the buttons and tugged the shirt loose from the waistband of his pants, “Yeah, it is.”

“Good,” Caitlin grinned as she pushed the shirt from his shoulders and discarded it upon the floor. She eased her palms across the firm muscles of his chest and smiled, “Your focus should be right here on me.”

“You’re being rather…well…” He began as she drew his lips back to hers.

She caressed his lips with hers before teasing him with a gentle sweep of her tongue over his lower lip. He parted his lips while she accepted the invitation and stroked his tongue with hers. Kenneth eased his palms down her back and found the zipper easily accessible along her spine. He eased the zipper down before their lips parted.

Caitlin smiled, “Hmm, it seems you’re a talented boy.”

“I haven’t even begun to show you my many talents,” Ken assured her as he eased his arms around her waist and hugged her close to him. He lifted her off her feet while his lips found hers, carrying her towards the bed and lowering back onto the mattress as he hovered over her.

She smiled as he eased his palm down her leg, sweeping her high heel from her foot before his hand slowly slid back along her tender skin, “Are you a leg man?”

“No,” He said with a smile as he repeated the process with the other leg, “I’m a you kind of man. All I interested in is you…all of you,” He smiled as he sealed his lips to hers once again. He eased his tongue along hers, gently coaxing her into a tantalizing dance with him.

Ken dropped his lips to her neck, placing delicate kisses upon her skin while his hands encircled her waist before flattening his palms along her back. He eased his hands up her back and drew his fingers along her shoulders before his lips followed suit. He began gently drawing the straps of her dress down her body.

“Hmmm, talented indeed,” She smiled as she nibbled her lower lip, slipping her fingers through his hair.

He eased his palms down her arms and gently around her waist. He slid his hands up her body and gently cupped her still clothed breasts in his hands.

She drew in a ragged breath while Ken tenderly kneaded her soft mounds. He pressed kisses to her breast bone while gently drawing the dress down to her waist. His palms returned to her breasts, softly cupping her fullness while he began placing soft kisses along the curve of her breast.

“Ken,” She breathed softly as his mouth began creating soft patterns over her sensitive skin.

Ken swept his thumb in a circular motion around her nipple while his lips slowly closed the distance towards the hardened bud. He gently darted his tongue along her skin as he cupped her mound to his mouth.

A loud classical music tune began to echo throughout the room. Ken groaned as he lay his cheek upon her breast bone and held her body close to his.

“Yours?” Caitlin asked as she heard him murmur against her skin in the affirmative, “Think you should get it?”

“It’s probably Richard, and he’s probably going to kill me,” Ken sighed as he raised his head and glanced over at the phone upon the bedside table as it sat in the battery charger.

“No, he won’t. He might chew you out, but he won’t kill you,” She teased as she drew his lips to hers for a sweet kiss, “You go ahead and take it. I’ll change clothes while you’re getting a lecture,” She said as she rolled away from him, holding her dress over her as she stepped into the adjoining bathroom.

Ken crawled across the bed and grabbed his phone, “Hello Richard.”

“How’d you know it was me? Perhaps it’s your guilty conscience telling you that you should have checked in by now,” Richard warned.

“Avery’s fine, Richard.”

”Then why haven’t I heard from you?”

Ken frowned as he lay back on the bed, “I was just taking care of a few things. Avery was still upset when we got here, but she’s doing much better now.”

“Where are you, Ken? I want to see my daughter, and I’m coming to make sure she’s okay.”

“Richard, trust me. It’s better if you don’t come here right now.”

“How can you say such a thing? Avery needs me.”

Ken sighed, “Richard, she’s with Russell.”

“What? How did that happen?”

“I’m not exactly sure, but they’re together and happy. They’ll be okay, Richard.”

Richard frowned, “Well, I don’t like it, but I’ll trust your judgment on this. But I want to hear from her tomorrow. At least have her call me, okay?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good,” Richard declared, “Good night, Ken.”

“Good night, Richard,” Ken frowned as he switched off his cell. He turned the power off before setting the phone beside the bed.

Caitlin returned to the room wearing a pair of bulky shorts and a plain white tee shirt. She sank onto the bed beside Ken and met his dark features, “What’s wrong?”

“We have to find a way to get in contact with Avery. Otherwise, Richard just might come out here and kill all of us,” Ken frowned as he crossed his arms over his chest, knowing that Richard wouldn’t give up until he heard from Avery herself that everything was working out for the best.


Judy stepped into her home refusing to allow this current setback in her relationship with Richard get to her despite the way the night had become nothing short of disaster.  Sure, she wanted to believe that somehow love would find a way, but after each encounter with his family, she began to wonder if maybe his optimism was ill placed, but before she could allow herself to dwell on her own state of misery she heard the sounds of soft sobbing coming from behind her couch.  Slowly circling around the sofa, she noticed the discarded Kleenex tissues on the floor as she found Deidra wrapped up in a throw blanket with the box of tissues on her lap as tears streamed down her face.
“Deidra, what’s wrong,” Judy questioned rushing over to her daughter’s side as concern overtook her.
“Mom, it’s just so wrong,” she motioned towards the television, tears spilling down her cheeks as she waved her hand in the air once again, “It’s just awful.”
“What’s awful honey,” Judy glanced over at the television seeing the image onscreen as a strange look passed over her, “What are you watching?”
“Port Charles,” Deidra confessed breaking down into tiny sobs, “I know Diane used to watch it all the time and well, I found this tape and…and…Eve died,” she blurted out in tiny sobs, “She’s dead and her husband was a jerk.  He cheated on her time and time again and she tried to be a good wife to him, but then instead of having a second chance at freedom, she died.  She died without ever knowing that someone else was out there that loved her…she died before Chris,” Deidra motioned to the screen, “could tell her that she was the only woman for him.  She died without that great romance in her life all because she chose to marry the wrong man.”
“Oh Deidra,” Judy reached for the remote stopping the tape as she looked to her daughter once again, “You shouldn’t be watching soap operas like that at a time like this.”
“Why not?” Deidra questioned with a sniffle, “I mean that’s how it goes, doesn’t it?  Eve married Ian thinking that he would be the man to make all of her hopes and dreams come true, but instead he just found a tramp like Lucy to cheat on her with and in the end, she died and wasn’t able to find the kind of love she’d dreamt about.  She’ll never be there to watch her child grow up…”
“Dee, sweetheart it’s only a show,” Judy reminded her daughter watching as Deidra extracted a tissue from the box and blew her nose once again, “One that clearly wasn’t meant to be watched at a time like this.”
“Mom, don’t you get it,” Deidra looked up at her, “Andy was my Ian.  He was the one who was supposed to make my dreams come true, but then he shattered them and moved on as soon as I was gone.  Only the difference was that Eve had Chris all along and she didn’t realize it.  She never knew just how much the man truly loved her and when she died, it killed him as well,” she began to cry harder, “and that’s the one thing I don’t have.  I don’t have a Chris to miss me.  All I have is Andy and that’s not even mine anymore…”
“Oh honey,” Judy pulled her daughter into her arms realizing that despite the strong front Deidra had been putting on, she’d been taking the divorce harder than Judy thought, “I know that things seem hopeless right now, but…”
“They are hopeless,” Deidra looked up at her mother with confused eyes, “I mean what was wrong with me?  Why wasn’t I enough for Andy?  Why couldn’t Andy have been my Chris instead of my Ian?”
“Well for starters I think it’s time you stop going through your sister’s soap opera tapes,” Judy decided tucking a strand of Deidra’s hair away from her eyes, “because they aren’t helping at all.  Your life is not like that woman’s on television.”
“No it’s worse because Andy found a way to humiliate me with all my friends and colleagues as there wasn’t a one that he wasn’t sleeping with.  They all had been seeing him behind my back…the women I thought were my friends were all laughing at me because I’m sure Andy was telling them all how I didn’t measure up as a wife.”
“Andy was the one with the problem,” Judy tried to assure her daughter, “Not you.  You just thought you’d found the right man, but he was wrong and in time this pain will pass.”
“I wish I had your faith, but I really believed Andy was my soul mate.  I thought that he was the man I’d be spending the rest of my life with…the man who would be the father of my children, but now those dreams are gone.”
“See now that’s where you’re mistaken.  Your dreams aren’t gone.  They’re just altered a bit as that was fate’s way of telling you that you can do so much better than Andy,” Judy encouraged her, “One day you’ll meet the right man who turns your world upside down in all the right ways and when he comes into your life, you’ll be glad that you were smart enough to let go of Andy.”
“It just hurts so much,” Deidra blurted out unable to contain herself, “I mean I tried everything.  I did all that I could to make him happy, but it just wasn’t enough.”
“With some men it’s never enough, but I promise you that one day you’ll find someone who treats you better than Andy ever could.  You’ll meet a man who can love you for all that you are and who can appreciate the blessing you’ll bring to his life.”
“Mom, you don’t have to try to build me up,” Deidra couldn’t help but smile, “I know that I’m pretty pathetic right now and I shouldn’t be doing this.”
“Honey, it’s okay to feel a loss and I don’t mind your getting emotional, but I just wish you would’ve talked to me about this sooner.  We could’ve spent the night with one another keeping each other company,” Judy explained with a soft smile, “You know that always made things a little bit better in the past.”
“I know,” Deidra smiled, “but I just didn’t want to spoil your night once you mentioned that you had a date.  I really thought I could control this on my own.”
“Well, I wish you wouldn’t always feel the need to take the weight of the world on your shoulders because your family loves you,” Judy wrapped her arm around her shoulder offering it gentle squeeze.
“I realize that, but I hate having to make you deal with me all the time when I act like this.  I don’t want you to be so worried about me that you don’t enjoy your life,” Deidra confessed with a sigh, “I hate having to put you through this.”
“You’re my little girl,” Judy reminded her, “when you’re in pain, it doesn’t make me happy and I want to help you.”
“I just hate feeling helpless like this,” Diane confessed reaching for another tissue, “I just feel so pathetic.”
“Well you aren’t.  A broken heart is never something to feel that way about,” Judy squeezed her gently before rising off the couch, “In fact I think this calls for some ice cream.  What do you say?”
“Actually,” Deidra paused as she bit on her lower lip, “I tried that first before the soap operas and I pretty much cleaned out what you had.”
“Hmm…” Judy paused in the doorway to the kitchen, “Well we can always see what we can fix up as a substitute.”
“Okay,” Deidra mustered up enough energy to pull herself up off of the couch and follow her mother into the kitchen, “So what happened on your date tonight?”
“Nothing really,” Judy shrugged her shoulders opening the refrigerator as she looked around to see what she had to work with.
“Don’t tell me that,” Deidra curled her lip in a frown, “You haven’t been gone long, so something tells me that things didn’t go too swell for you either.”
“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” Judy sighed as she collected a few things from the refrigerator and stood upright once again, “I think Rick and I just have a knack for bad timing.”
“Sounds like you’ve been down this road before with him, huh?” Deidra made her way over to the counter and leaned on it, “You have history together I take it?”
“We dated a long time ago,” Judy nodded in confession, “before your father came into the picture.”
“So what happened?” Deidra questioned with obvious interest.
“Life happened,” Judy shrugged her shoulders as she carried over some of the chocolate cake she’d brought out for the two of them.  “It just wasn’t meant to be for the two of us back then.”
“But now might be that other chance for you?” Deidra asked with obvious interest.
“He’s in the middle of a messy divorce,” Judy confessed with a heavy sigh, “and while he’s optimistic about the future ahead of us, I have my doubts about the situation.”
“Because of his soon to be ex-wife?”
“Among other things,” Judy nodded, “His family is in turmoil right now and I just don’t think we’re going to be able to really make something of a relationship between us at a time like this.”
“Sounds like I’m not the only one with less than high hopes for the future,” Deidra offered up curiously.
“Let’s just say at my age you start to think about things you didn’t when you were younger,” Judy sliced a piece of cake, “and besides, I had a very full and happy life with your father.  That is something that only happens once in a lifetime.”
“Even so, you’re still living.  Daddy would want you to keep doing that,” Deidra reminded her with a half smile, “I mean hey if you’re trying to get me to believe in second chances then you can’t give up yourself because that would put you in a bit of a hypocritical light, right?”
“I suppose it would,” Judy decided with a nod offering her daughter a piece of cake before cutting herself one, “so what do you say?  Should we say a toast to new beginnings?”
“I think that would be in order,” Deidra nodded pouring the two of them a glass of milk before handing one of them to her mother.  A moment later she held up her glass with a half smile, “To new beginnings…may they bring us the happiness that skipped over some of us the first time around.”
“May they give us what we’ve been looking for with a life full of love and happiness as some of us truly deserve,” Judy replied toasting with her daughter as she wondered if there would be any way to change the state of things in her relationship with Rick.  Whether or not they’d find their happily ever after, she just prayed that somewhere out there Deidra would get that second chance as if anyone deserved it, Deidra did as she had a heart full of love for the right man.  She just prayed that one day the right man would come along in her daughter’s life as it was something that was long overdue for her.


Seth put his feet up on the coffee table in front of him and frowned, “I can’t believe this has gotten so complicated. This wasn’t supposed to go this far.”

“Sometimes things just spiral out of control, Seth. You can’t blame yourself for that,” Ria pointed out as she watched him deal with all the demons he was facing.

“I don’t. I blame Cameron Stone. That bastard has already caused more trouble in the short time he’s been in town than I’ve been in for a very long time.”

“You always did find a way to get into trouble,” She teased.

“I did not,” He said as if offended as he looked to her.

“Seth, come on. Remember who you’re talking to here. I got into a lot of trouble with you, remember?” She chuckled.

“Okay, we did find our way into some tight spots, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, we did,” Ria smiled, “How did I ever let you drag me along with you?”

“Drag you along? Hey, I seem to remember a certain cheerleader who was more interested in football than actually cheering,” He pointed out as he turned to face her, “You knew more about football than any girl I ever met.”

“I was a tomboy my entire life. What can I say?” She grinned, “It was a great way to meet guys.”

Seth looked at her skeptically, “You never hit on any of us.”

“Correction, I never hit on you or Ben. That doesn’t mean I didn’t go out with some of the other players.”

“Like who?” He demanded as he crossed his arms.

“Joe, Woody, and Vince.”

“No way,” Seth shook his head, “You did not go out with Vince.”

“I did. It’s horrible to say, but I did. It was just once, and nothing happened. Heavy emphasis on nothing there.”

He chuckled, “He didn’t light your fire, huh?”

“He couldn’t strike a match,” Ria groaned as she met Seth’s eyes, “So how come you never hit on me?”

Seth looked at her in surprise, “I…I don’t know.”

“Yeah, you do. You just thought of me as one of the guys, didn’t you?” She asked as a smile appeared on her features, “It’s okay. I always knew you just thought of me as a friend.”

“You make it sound like I thought you were nobody. I didn’t. I always thought you were very pretty.”

“Seth, when you say it like that, it makes me sound like a toy doll,” She said blandly.

“I can’t help it if it’s the truth. You’re a very attractive woman, and I always kind of wondered what it’d be like to be with you.”

“Now you’re patronizing me,” She declared as she rolled her eyes.

“I am not,” Seth defended himself as he drew her chin around so their eyes met, “What would you do if I kissed you right now?”

“I’d probably think you’d lost your mind,” She dead panned.

“Well then, prepare to have me committed,” He said boldly as he leaned in and captured her lips in a kiss.

Ria was startled for a moment as she accepted his kiss. She responded for a moment before their lips parted and they stared at one another for a long while. Silence filled the room while their eyes held one another.

After a few awkward minutes had passed, Ria frowned, “Nothing, huh?”

“Not a thing. You really are just one of the guys,” Seth concurred with a frown.

She grabbed a throw pillow and smacked Seth right in the face with it as she laughed at his observation. While she and Seth had always been friends, it was painfully obvious that friends was all they were ever meant to be. Still, it didn’t hurt Ria’s feelings as Seth had always been one of her best friends, and she would never be alone as long as she had him for companionship.


“I don’t like this,” Diane blurted out unable to help herself as Ben stopped in front of her apartment complex, “I don’t like any of this at all.  I hope you realize that.”
“Diane, I know that you aren’t exactly happy about the idea of me snooping around at BBK, but you know…” Ben began with a sigh knowing that this was bound to happen sooner or later.
“What I know is that you’re risking your neck in seeking out that microfilm and believe me I’d do anything and everything in my power to protect Jade and Seth, but crossing Brant…” she hesitated biting on her lower lip nervously, “Ben, if were telling the truth when you said you were working undercover for the D.A., then…”
“Diane, that wasn’t a lie and I’m not happy about the things I’ve done to get where I am, but you have to believe me when I tell you that I never wanted any of this.  I never wanted to be in a position that could ultimately ruin so many people that I’ve grown to care about…”
“All the more reason you shouldn’t be nosing around BBK for this microfilm,” Diane folded her arms in front of her chest, “If Brant even suspected for one second what you were all about, not only would you be out of BBK, but you’d probably wind up in jail along the way.”
“I wouldn’t wind up in jail,” he argued with her, “Isabel isn’t going to let that one happen.”
“Somehow I don’t have the unwavering faith in her that you do considering how hard she’s tried to break us apart,” Diane stated matter of fact with a tiny huff.
“Okay, so you might have a point there,” he conceded thinking about the difficulty he’d had in dealing with his boss lately, “but still there has to be a way we can help Seth and Jade without getting caught by Brant or by exposing my cover.”
“Which leads us back to your speaking with Blake,” she curled her lip in a pout, “and I’d just like to add that I strongly object to that one as well considering.”
“Considering what?” Ben lifted a curious brow.  “What is it about Blake exactly that has you in such a tizzy all the time?”
“I just don’t like her, okay,” she shrugged her shoulders shifting in the seat as she looked out the window once again.
“No, it’s not okay.  There’s more to this story and I think if you and I are going to be honest and open with one another, you’d better share it with me because I don’t see a problem with my talking to Blake about this.  I invited you along for the talk if you wanted…”
“Blake Ashford just isn’t the kind of person I enjoy spending time with,” Diane blurted out reluctantly, “She’s just a self-centered, spoilt brat who thinks she can charm any and every man she encounters.  She pours out this whole good girl routine for the object of her interest and she sucks everything out of him until finally she leaves him in a heap of ruins…much like she’s doing to Seth.”
“You make her sound like some kind of monster there, Diane,” Ben replied giving her a sideways glance, “Something about this just doesn’t add up considering that I’ve been friends with Blake most of my life…”
“Yeah well you’re a man--of course you’d see how wonderful Blake is,” Diane rolled her eyes in response, “that’s all men ever see about her, but when it gets down to it, she’s a vindictive, spiteful witch and if she knows you’re even remotely involved with me, then she’s sure to turn you against me.”
“Are we talking about the same Blake Ashford here?” Ben questioned in confusion watching the anger that rushed over her features.
“Look, this isn’t something I really enjoy talking about, but Blake and I have some issues between us,” Diane answered flatly, “It was before you came to BBK, but she made a point to humiliate me in front of everyone at a Christmas party when she accused me of sleeping with her father.”
“Come again?” Ben blinked back in surprise.
“Look it’s totally untrue, but before you came to BBK, I was working for Nicholas Ashford.  Sure, he had a reputation for being a charmer and a ladies man, but I really didn’t pay any attention to it as I was trying to prove myself at BBK considering I’d just dropped out of nursing school there and well, let’s just say it was a really ballsy move in my part.  Anyways to make a long story short, Nick started buying me gifts…nothing too out of the ordinary considering that he always had me running favors for him, but one day around Christmas Blake spied on us when he’d given me a scarf.  I mean sure he was flirty at times and in that particular instance we were working on something and it was completely innocent, but well, Blake didn’t see it that way.  Instead of confronting us at the time she’d seen Nick giving me the gift, she approached me at the office Christmas party and called me just about every name in the book for my obvious shameless exploits as she put it.  She went on to call me a whore and belittle me in front of everyone until Brant stepped in and put an end to it.  Never in my life was I more humiliated than I was in that moment when the entire office saw me as Nicholas Ashford’s play thing considering that I would never…”
“Diane, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Ben began reaching for her hand, “I’m sure if Blake knew the truth…”
“Oh she knew the truth, but she wasn’t interested in hearing it.  All she was focused on was making sure that she didn’t wind up with a step-mother who was her age as she was so convinced that I wanted to get my hands on Nicholas and his fortune.  It got so bad after that party that I’d almost resigned because I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone believing that I’d actually be sleeping my way to success at BBK.  I was going to give my two weeks notice to Nicholas when Brant pulled me aside and asked if I’d consider working under him instead of Nicholas.”
“So you opted to work with Brant instead?” Ben deduced from her tale.
“Damn right I did because I realized that I wasn’t going to let Little Miss Princess kick me out of the job that I worked so very hard for.  I stayed at BBK and with Brant and I found my way to make sure I didn’t let Blake ruin my life.  In fact, a few months later, BBK started doing some work with Langley Corp. and it was pretty obvious that the CEO was interested in more than just business at BBK as he was always flirting with me.  I came to find out that Blake was interested in getting her hooks in on him and well, let’s just say it became a race to see who captured his attention first,” Diane recalled her time consuming rivalry with Blake over Eric Langley‘s attention for a moment.
“And judging by the expression on your face, I’m guessing you were the one who finally succeeded with that quest huh,” he questioned an air of annoyance in his tone.
“You’re damn right I did,” she declared boldly as she faced him taking note of the expression on his face, “Look Ben, as I said it was before your time and Eric turned out to be a creep, but if I had to go back and do it all over again, well I would just to see that look on Blake’s face when she saw that all her money and prestige couldn’t get her everything.  Sure, she might’ve seen me as the hired help, but when she saw me with Eric, well she knew that I was more than she gave me credit for.”
“So all in all this is just your way of getting back at Blake for insinuating that you were sleeping with her father,”  he lifted a skeptical brow as a sudden frown spilled over Diane’s features.
“Contrary to what she said about me and to what I’m sure you’re thinking, I’m not a whore.  Ben, what happened with you and I, well it was impulsive yes, but it’s not something I would normally do.  I just don’t jump into bed with a man on a whim and I certainly don’t do it to boost my career because I don’t have to sink that low.”
“Diane, I wasn’t saying that…” he began in his own defense.
“You know maybe this evening is just one of those crash course disasters and we should call it quits.  Seeing Jade so upset, I feel like I should at least call and check in on her because I’m worried.  You can just do whatever it is you do and I’ll see you when I see you,” she reached for the car door ready to get out.
“Diane, wait a second,” he reached out to her stopping her from leaving, “Why does it suddenly feel like we’re fighting here?”
“We’re not fighting,” she paused biting on her lip before adding, “though I suppose that’s not entirely true as we never officially made up either.”
“Now see there’s where you and I are at a difference of opinion as I thought we were making up last night,” Ben leaned in towards her stealing a kiss from her pouting lips.
“If you think that’s the only method of making up, then you’ve got to seriously re-evaluate your skills in the art,” she offered breathlessly batting her eyelashes at him, “I think there are a few more things necessary in that kind of situation.”
“Such as?” he questioned lazily skimming his finger over her lower lip.
“Groveling,” Diane whispered in response immediately forgetting about her feud with Blake as she focused on the man before her, “it’s a must.”
“I’ll take note of that,” he promised kissing her quickly, “What else?”
“Well there is that whole art of pampering which includes gifts and various temptations due to get the girl in question to think about your softer, more romantic side…”
“Hmm…well I think I could certainly work on that one as well,” Ben teased his fingers through her hair, “maybe starting upstairs in your apartment.”
“Now this is where you’re really off,” she shook her head moving away from him, “as this is the part where I turn you down and make you think about all those things you need to work on while I walk upstairs leaving you to dream about me all night.”
“Sounds kind of a severe punishment for a man who is trying so hard to win you over here,” he curled his lip in a pout, “Can’t we compromise a bit?”
“These aren’t my rules.  I didn’t make them,” she answered with a shrug of her shoulders, “but as a woman it’s well within my rights to enforce them.”
“Kind of like a female code of ethics?” he lifted a curious brow.
“Something along those lines and if I took you upstairs right now and let you do the things you’re thinking of, well they might strip me of my honorary badge of sisterhood and it could get pretty ugly, so you see this is why I should get going,” she reached out to open the door stepping out into the night before closing the door behind her.  She took a step away from the car before turning around and motioning for him to roll down the passenger side window.  He did as instructed and as she leaned in the car, she gave him a quick kiss before pulling back with a teasing smile, “Dream about me.”
“That I will,” Ben promised watching her walk up to her apartment as he wondered how in the world he’d wound up head over heels with a woman like Diane.  Sure, she had enough complications and issues to drive any man bonkers, but still as she made her way up to her apartment, he realized there was just no avoiding the way she made him feel.  Slowly he began to pull away from the spot he’d been in, but instead he thought for a moment about her rules of sisterhood and decided it was time to enforce a few rules of his own.

Putting the car into park, Ben pulled his keys out of the ignition and chased after her approaching her door just as she’d closed it.  He tapped on the door quickly spinning the keys on his finger casually as she opened the door looking somewhat surprised to see him before her.
“What are you doing?” Diane gave him a sideways glance.
“Ensuring that I don’t kicked out of the brotherhood for not following the rules of making up in a relationship,” Ben answered with a nod of his head as her eyes widened.
“Oh?” she curled her lips as she stepped forward closer to him, “And just how do you intend to do that without compromising my position on this particular situation?”
“Quite easily,” he reached out to her curling his arm around her waist as he pulled her into his arms, “with this,” he explained kissing her heatedly as he decided that there was no way he’d be home alone tonight dreaming about her when he had the real thing in his arms.  Diane might’ve seemed unyielding in the car, but now, well now he’d staked his claim on his position in terms of their making up.  It seemed that tonight he’d played the right card as Diane was clearly in no hurry to get rid of him as she pulled him into her apartment closing the door behind them as they prepared for a night of getting their relationship back on track again.


Shannon stepped into her office and sat down behind her desk. After her talk with Grady, she had decided that getting out of Coral Valley had to be her top priority. To do that, she would need to solve the matter of Bruce Mathis’s murder. Following that train of thought, she had returned to the police station to go over the evidence retrieved from the Mathis apartment.

She logged onto her computer and read over the inventory of items that had been removed from the victim’s apartment. Nothing had jumped out at her before but she was determined to find something…anything…that would help her find a way to nail the killer.

She paused on the inventory when she found the a box listed full of pictures. She decided that another glance at the photographs couldn’t hurt and might provide her with some insight into the victim’s state of mind.

She walked down the hall to the evidence locker and used her key to step inside. She closed the cage behind her before making her way towards the cabinet holding the Mathis evidence. She removed the box of pictures and walked to a table to begin examining the photographs.

“Didn’t you ask me one time if I ever went home? I’m beginning to think you don’t either,” Dave spoke from outside the locker, “What are you doing here this late?”

“Trying to find a way out of this town,” She shrugged, “You?”

“Insomnia,” He replied with a heavy sigh, “So what are you looking at?”

“The photographs in the lock box from Mathis’s apartment. Want to help or just stand there?”

Dave unlocked the cage door and stepped inside. He sat across the table from her as she passed him a large stack of pictures, “What are we doing exactly?”

“Sorting them out. I guess by who they’re of.”

He thumbed through several pictures before he frowned, “These are all of Avery.”

“Okay, how about we do this?” Shannon began, “If she’s with people we can readily identify, we’ll break them down by each person. If she’s with people we don’t know, we’ll put them here. If she’s by herself, they’ll go here. How’s that?”

“Fair enough,” He sighed as he began sorting the photographs into piles according to who Avery was with.

“This guy had an unhealthy obsession with Avery,” She frowned, “Do you think she knew?”

“I kind of doubt it. This kind of thing could seriously screw with a person’s head,” He commented.

“You’re not kidding,” She shook her head while tossing a few more pictures into various piles, “How did this guy ever work at the hospital? He was spending all his time taking pictures of Avery.”

“That’s a good question. Maybe we should look over that personnel jacket again,” He spoke as he sorted through more pictures.

Shannon tossed a couple of pictures aside before she stopped, “Hold it.”

“What?” Dave asked as he looked up from his photographs.

“We have a problem. A big problem,” She said as she allowed the other photographs in her lap fall into the floor.

“What is it?” He asked as he placed his pictures down and moved along side her.

“This picture,” Shannon spoke as she looked up to him, “I only met Avery Morrison the morning I went to the Ashford mansion to question her. I’d never met her before,” She said as she handed the picture to him.

Dave looked over the photograph of the Ashford mansion. A telephoto lens was obviously used to focus in close to get the view through the curtains in the Ashford den. Shannon stood in the living room while Avery and Ken sat nearby.

“That photograph was taken after Bruce Mathis was murdered,” Shannon informed Dave, putting a whole new spin on their investigation.


Avery felt a rush of sensations tickle over her as she looked to the man beside her in the moonlight.  A smile touched over the corners of her lips as she was mesmerized by the very sight of Russell as the soft, tropical winds wisped through his hair on their intimate carriage ride over to the place he’d designated for them to get married at.  Even now as she took in her surroundings, she found it hard to believe that Russell had pulled all of this off on such short notice.  Not only had he managed to make her feel like a princess on today of all days, but he’d gone the extra mile to make her dreams of happily ever after into the perfect fairy tale reality starting with this romantic ride with him.
“You’re breathtaking,” Russell touched her cheek gently as she turned her head to find his sparkling eyes upon her.
“And you’re the most amazing man I’ve ever known,” she leaned forward brushing her lips against his in a chaste kiss, “I still can’t believe you did all of this.”
“Well, you know what they say,” he smiled at her sexily, “a man in love will stop at nothing to be with the woman who’s captured his heart…and then, well top that off with the fact that the woman he loves tells him that he’s going to be a daddy and the sky is the limit.”
“You really are excited about this, aren’t you?” Avery couldn’t help but feel herself glowing with the anticipation of what lay ahead for them.

“Excited doesn’t even begin to cover the intensity of what I’m feeling right now,” Russell beamed as his fingers tapered off into her hair, “Words can’t come close to expressing the ways I love you, Avery.”
“Oh Russ,” Avery seemed to melt at his words as he leaned in closer to her teasing his lips over hers gently.
“You know, it’s a good thing we’re getting all this practice in for the ceremony,” he cupped her face in his hands as she expelled a tiny, nervous laugh of her own.
“Maybe we should slow down on the practicing and enjoy the ride so that way we won’t be worn out when we get to the church,” Avery offered breathlessly as the nearness of him sent shivers racing through her body.
“Actually as much as I’d like to argue the benefits of our continuing with our practice, perhaps a break would do us good as there’s more to the story to tell about where I’m taking you tonight,” he reached for her hand lifting it to his lips as he placed a butterfly kiss upon her soft skin, “as tonight is about new beginnings and second chances.”
“Ah second chances,” the driver repeated with a robust chuckle, “you must be hearing the rumors of what tonight brings with the festival as this time of year always brings forth the air of whimsical romance and love.”
“Oh?” Avery lifted a curious brow looking to the driver before them, “how so?”
“Tonight isn’t just any night out here you know,” the man explained eagerly, “as you see tonight is the eve of Christmas Eve. Legend has it that on this night many years ago two young lovers struggled to overcame the odds when their families forbid them to be with one another.  The young woman’s mother promised her hand to another, but her heart was with the man she’d fallen for years earlier in her youth.  The night before the wedding to her betrothed, the two lovers risked everything running away to this very island to be with one another.  Here on the island their families were unable to find them and tear them away from one another and they lived out their years together as husband and wife.  In fact, their love story has become such a thing of legend around her considering that their years on this island were lost in love and with their love came the rich harvest and vegetation that surrounds us.  Story has it that before the two lovers came to the island, this was a place devoid of any hope--any real signs of life, but when they arrived, their love brought forth the first breath of life to the island…calling the spirits back home and each year we on the island celebrate their union around the time of their anniversary.”
“So you’re saying two people in love caused the island to flourish once again?” Avery questioned in her usual skeptic tone as Russell sought our her hand lacing their fingers together.
“Love can move mountains, Avery, and on this island that kind of love created all them,” Russell explained in a poetic tone, “Legend has it that the two lovers not only brought life to the island, but that their home is said to be blessed as their love was the purest, truest form of romance--the kind that poets write about, that muses generate inspiration from…”
“And you bought into all of this when?” Avery couldn’t help but offer up a teasing look.
“The moment I knew that you and I were going to be together for eternity,” he touched her cheek gently as he explained further, “Lovers from all over the world come to this place--to this island to pledge their love to one another in the home of those soul mates who’d found a way to escape the world that had threatened to keep them apart until they broke free from that life and created a world of love all on their own.  It’s said that when a man and a woman find themselves promising their lives to one another at the island home in the sacred vows of marriage, then nothing shall ever keep them from one another.  Their love will only strengthen and keep them together against the odds,” he whispered as he leaned in towards her, “No matter what the obstacle before them, they’ll always be together--hearts bound to one another for an eternity as their souls will be forever united.”
“It sounds like a beautiful story,” Avery couldn’t help but smile as he pressed a kiss in over her lips.
“That it is, but what’s even more beautiful is the celebration behind it when tonight we join the ranks of all the other lovers that have followed in the footsteps of the original couple,” he whispered above her lips, “as it’s said that only the purest of love can be ever set foot in such a place and prosper.”
“Really?” Avery questioned lazily.
Russell nodded tracing her cheekbone lightly, “That’s right and normally it takes months to even be considered for this place, but since I happen to a guardian angel on my shoulder, it seems that our love fits into that particular category for consideration…”
“You mean we’re getting married in someone’s home?” Avery gave him a sideways glance.
“Not just anyone’s home, but the home where love rules and where two hearts destined to be with one another can find a way to come together for eternity,” he leaned forward brushing his mouth against hers in a slow, subtle movement as his arm curled around her drawing her into his arms completely, “Avery, tonight is the night…”
“I know it is, but,” she began as he nudged her to look ahead of them at the grandiose antique castle before them just over the hill.  She turned to give him a confused look before turning her attention to the place before her as her jaw dropped in awe, “No way.  That‘s so not what I think it is.”
“A castle,” Russell inquired lifting a curious brow, “why not?”
“Because there aren’t just random castles on an island in the middle of no where for us to get married on a whim,” Avery argued with him pointedly, “That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen in real life.”
“Well what if I told you that it was this very castle that lead me back to you?” he questioned as his gaze took on that dreamy look she’d thought about night after night in their time apart.
“I’d say you’re full of…” she began doubtful as he leaned forward kissing her quickly.
“Watch your words my princess,” he whispered against her mouth, “as tonight is about magic and the miracle of second chances.”
“But Russ I…” she started at a loss as the carriage pulled up in front of the castle.
“I found out about this place a while ago when I was doing an internship,” he confessed as his thumb skimmed over the hollow of her cheekbone, “I was so intrigued with the island and the stories behind it that when I discovered where you were, I knew this would be the place for our new beginning.”
“But I just don’t see how…” she looked to the entrance before them as her eyes widened in surprise, “Russ, I mean this is a castle.”
“That’s right baby and it’s the place where our dreams are going to be coming true,” he rose up from the carriage as it came to a stop and he got down to the grown beside her.  He outstretched his hand waiting for her to accept it as a breath filled her up inside as the magic and wonder of this place began to work over her senses.
Avery gave him a long look before shaking her head at him, but before she could say the words that were dancing in her head she caught a glimpse of the multicolored fountain before her as it sparkled beneath the twilight.  A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she felt her footing go off balance as Russell pulled her into his arms completely.
“What do you say beautiful?” he questioned hugging her in his arms as her breath caught in her throat, “Ready to get married?”
“Am I ever,” she nodded eagerly wondering what in the world she’d done to wind up with such an incredible man.
After all the times their love had almost slipped out of their hands, this all felt so unreal, too good to be true as Russell carried Avery into the castle’s interior.  Looking around Avery realized that the narrow hall was lit by candles and decorated with the tropical flowers that grew along the island, but it wasn’t until they reached their destination point that Avery found herself wondering if she’d died and gone to heaven as this all felt too good to be true.  Scattered on the floor were various pink and white rose petals leading to the silken altar before them where a man dressed in white jeweled robes stood before them offering up a welcoming smile as Russell eased her to her feet once again.  She felt her knees grow a bit wobbly as she looked to the chandeliers overhead noting the way they sparkled with a surreal luster as the candles offering up the soft lighting of the room were surrounded by pale rose colored crystals that only added to the air of romance the place had about it upon entering.
“Russell, Avery,” the man up at the altar smiled at him motioning to the both of them in a welcoming gesture, “we’ve been expecting you.”
“Russ,” Avery tugged on his arm turning her eyes up towards him as if seeking out some kind of word on what to do, but as his arm surrounded her, he urged her to look up at him and he caressed her cheek tenderly.
“Just follow your heart, Avery,” he whispered lacing their fingers in one another as he lead her up to the altar eager to begin their lives with one another.
“Welcome,” the elderly man greeted them with a smile, “we knew it would be only a matter of time before you two would step through those doors and come to us.”
“Oh?” Avery couldn’t help but ask as the man’s sky blue eyes fell upon her.
“That’s right Avery,” he smiled warmly, “Rumor had it that this was going to be the year when these walls would be surrounded by the warmth of the eternal flame of love once again and here you both are at long last.”
“I..I..” Avery started.
“You’ve waited a lifetime for this moment and now that it’s here, it’s a bit overwhelming, yes?” the man asked with a soft smile.
“Something like that,” she nodded as she felt Russell’s fingers over the sleeve of his jacket that she was wearing, “but there’s no place I’d rather be.”
“So we’d imagined,” the man nodded motioning to Russell, “I trust you’re ready for what’s next?”
“Oh yeah,” Russell nodded turning to Avery and kissing her quickly, “see you soon, beautiful.”
“But…where are you…” she began to protest as he walked away from her leaving her to the man before her as her eyes filled with confusion.  She looked to the smiling man as she opened her mouth to question what was going on.
“This is only the beginning,” he explained politely as a woman entered the room, stepping to his side as Avery took note of her long, pale crimson colored gown, “but for now I leave you in Elizabeth’s hands.”
“But I…” Avery started with a frustrated sigh as she looked to the woman before her, “Okay I give.  What’s going on?  I thought I was getting married.”
“You are,” Elizabeth laughed gently, “although I’m sure you’d much rather lose the jacket before the ceremony, yes?”
“Oh,” Avery shrugged out of the jacket, “of course, but I just assumed with the altar in here and all the decorations that this would be where…”
“It is beautiful in here,” Elizabeth motioned to the surroundings, “but well while many couples enjoy the serenity of a ceremony in this very room it would seem your Russell had other plans for the evening.”
“My Russell,” Avery smiled at the thought as Elizabeth held out a bouquet for Avery to carry.
“He does have quite an air of romance about him, doesn’t he?” Elizabeth smiled as she stepped in behind Avery assisting with the veil that had accompanied Avery’s dress.
“He does,” Avery sighed in agreement, “and we’ve both waited a long time to be together.”
“And it felt as though the world had other plans for the both of you, yes?  Perhaps this isn’t the first time you’ve found yourselves in this particular place with one another, but after all these years you’re wanting to see it through?” Elizabeth questioned with a knowing smile.
“Actually, yes, it was something like that,” Avery answered quickly, “We have had a run of bad luck.”
“But the island changed that for you…the season changed it all…”
“I thought I’d never see him again,” Avery confessed thinking to the moment when she’d run away from Coral Valley and Russell forever.
“Yet here you are,” Elizabeth circled her placing a small heart shaped pendant upon Avery’s gown, “together again as the island has brought you full circle with one another.”
Avery smiled at the thought, “I suppose it has.”
“Then perhaps it’s time we stop stalling and give that handsome man of yours something to cherish for the rest of his life,” Elizabeth smiled at her brightly, “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Avery replied holding the bouquet close to her as the butterflies in her stomach had her tied in knots.  Her heart was racing, breath uneven and as she followed Elizabeth out of the room she’d entered moments earlier into a darkened hallway, she found herself thinking about all the moments that had brought her to this moment in time--to all the missed opportunities that had carried her and Russell away from one another only to draw them back to the arms of love and it was in that instant that Avery realized she’d never felt more complete in her life.  Here she was marrying the man of her dreams and that in itself felt more and more like the true miracle with each step she took towards her destiny.
Moments later Avery found herself surrounded by the night as her eyes cascaded over the stone covered patio before her.  The air was crisp and cool, but her insides were tingling with a warmth as her gaze wandered over to Russell as he stood at the far end of the long, patio beside the man she’d met moments earlier. Beyond the two of them was the black reflection of the moon upon the water and a view of a neighboring island that was breathtaking in itself.  In that moment Avery realized why Russell had chosen to get married outdoors as the view was far more incredible than she could imagine.  Softly the music began to play as Avery realized it was her cue to begin.  She looked to Elizabeth who smiled encouragingly and with that one step, she felt herself moving towards destiny as her eyes fixed upon Russell wanting to imprint this moment in her mind forever.
Russell watched as Avery began to make the walk down the makeshift aisle towards him and it was in that instant of the agonizing anticipation of being beside her once again that his heart overtook him completely focusing only on her.  She was truly a vision before him in her white, satin gown and while she’d insisted that he didn’t see her before this moment, he realized that it had been well worth the wait as he’d never seen Avery more beautiful than she was as she bridged the distance between them coming one step closer to becoming his wife.  When she’d moved in beside him, he reached out to her unable to contain himself as he leaned forward ready to kiss her.
“Not yet,” the man before him reminded Russell with a quick shake of his finger as Russell reluctantly pulled away hating not to be near her as he touched her fingers.
“Sorry,” Russell apologized quickly unable to take his eyes off of Avery as his heart flooded with love for her.
“It’s completely understandable,” the man nodded with a knowing grin, “Shall we begin?”
“Oh yeah,” Russell nodded quickly.
“Definitely,” Avery agreed with a soft smile tilting her eyes up towards him as she stood to face him feeling him take her hands in his before lifting them to his lips in a soft kiss.
“Alright then,” he replied with a refreshing nod before he began addressing the two of them, “What greater joy is there for two souls than to join together to strengthen each other in all their endeavors, to support each other through all sorrow, and to share with each other in all gladness? We hope, too, that the meaning of the vows that Russell and Avery are about to share with one another will deepen as they discover the possibilities of their life together. This is a love which is not to be tarnished by common events, but which will flower both in deepest adversity and greatest joy. Everything in your marriage can manifest your love for one another as you let it grow with you. We ask that the radiant power which first brought you together be with you always. Love is stronger than your conflicts, bigger than life's changes, always inviting you to learn, to bloom, to expand, and grow.”
Avery inhaled a slow breath as she focused on Russell thinking of how long they’d waited for this moment to arrive and before she knew it, the man standing before them had focused his attention to Russell explaining that Russell had wanted to say his own vows to Avery.  She waited watching as he lifted her hand to his lips once again before speaking.
“Avery,” he whispered her name as though it was a heartfelt promise from the deepest part of his soul allowed to break through the surface at long last, “I’ve spent my whole life loving you and now as we stand here before God on this island pledging our love to one another, well, I think it’s only fair that you know that there has never been anyone, but you in my life.  When I saw you that first day on the playground in your plaid skirt and pigtails you took my breath away and I knew then that you’d be the one woman I’d spent the rest of my life with,” he smiled as he saw the tears glistening in her eyes.  Reaching forward, he brushed at a tear that slipped down her cheek as he continued, “I know that our life together has been on a winding road that’s given us a great many ups and downs, but now that we’re standing here together at long last, I know in my heart that nothing else in this world will complete my the way your love has.  With each breath I take, I fall more and more in love with you and I know in my heart that through the years, we’ll have it all together.  Through the laughter, the tears, the joys and sorrows that may come to us, I know in my heart that our love will strengthen and through the years when we’re with our family, that I will always think of you as the one woman in this world that I was destined to find.  My heart is yours and I give you all of me as you’re everything to me.  I love you with all my heart Avery and I pledge my heart and soul to you, uniting us as one from here on out as with you is the only time I feel free…alive and knowing that we’ll have the rest of our lives to love one another, it gives me a sense of hope that I thought had left me a long time ago.  Avery Morrison, you are my heart, my soul, my one true destiny and it is here before God that I pledge my all to you for the rest of our lives on and beyond as you’ll always be my forever love.”
“Oh Russell,” she cried out unable to contain herself as he held her hand to his chest over his racing heart as she felt her own heart filling with love for him.
“I love you Avery,” he offered up tenderly.
“I love you and I hope you realize I was completely unprepared for this one,” she whispered behind blurred vision as she spoke up hoarsely.
“I think it’s okay this time,” he spoke up encouragingly, “You can wing it.”
“I hate having to wing it,” she answered with a tiny sniffle as her smile widened and she took in a breath, “Here it goes.  Russ, you are by far the most stubborn, impossible man to live with, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  You’ve given me more headaches than I ever could’ve imagined with your always proclaiming to know what was right for me.  Time and time again I told you that I didn’t need you to play my white knight…that I didn’t need your rescuing me, but now as I look back on those days, I see just how wrong I was.  You weren’t doing what you did because you were out to annoy me, but because you saw what I didn’t.  You reached deep down into me and you sought out my heart and in a way you saved me from myself.  You taught me how to love and from the first time I slugged you on the playground, well I knew that I would’ve be able to get rid of you,” she offered up with a teasing laugh as he couldn‘t help but smile at her, “but somehow I knew I never wanted to either.  Time and time again I let circumstances get in the way of what I felt for you and even now when I think of how close I came to losing you, well I know now that a life without you is one that wasn’t meant for me.  It’s true that I gave up on love a long time ago, but with you, you’ve opened my heart to that again.  You forced me to face my inner demons and you loved me in spite of them.  You always saw me for me and just when I think I can’t go on, there you are like a beacon in the night bringing me safely to shore--back into your arms and the love that’s made my life so very complete.  You’ve given me the greatest miracle in my life and I know that I’ll never be able to show you all the ways in which you’ve turned my life around.  You always talked about soul mates and happily ever after, but I never truly believed until you forced me to face my fears--until you showed me that it was all out there waiting for me with you.  Russ, time and time again I’ve foolishly blown off what we’ve had, but now, well now I can’t help but embrace the love you’ve given me.  You hold the key to my heart and my soul belongs to you as it should’ve been long ago.  From this moment on, I swear to you that I’ll be everything you’ve ever dreamt of and I won’t run from the things that truly matter in our lives as you are my once in a lifetime.  Russell Denton, you are the only man in my heart and when I think of spending the rest of my life with you, I know in my heart that just being able to do that makes me the luckiest woman alive as you’re the most incredible man I’ve ever known,” she reached for his hand bringing it up over her own pounding heart, “You were my first kiss, my first real love and now I know that you’re the only love that was meant for me.  I love you so very much…oh how I love you and I know now that loving you is where I always want to be…forever…”
“Oh Avery,” he leaned forward kissing her as the man before them opened his mouth in protest before shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.
“I give up,” he chuckled as Russell and Avery separated and he looked down at the both of them, “Would you care to continue this?”
A blush fell over Avery’s features as she nodded quickly and Russell squeezed her hand in his supportively letting her know that things would only be better for them as they took this leap with one another.
“Now for the rings,” the man before them explained as Avery’s eyes grew wide with panic.
“But we don‘t…” she started as Elizabeth stepped forward with a pillow that contained two golden wedding bands upon it.
“Yes we do,” Russell winked at her before offering a tiny chuckle, “didn’t I tell you I had it all covered?”
“Yes, but…” Avery shook her head in resignation, “I don’t know why I ever doubted you..  What was I thinking?”
“You’re much smarter than that now,” he reached for one of the rings bringing it to her finger as he drew in a slow, staggering breath.  Avery looked to his hand noting the way it was shaking as he held her wrist.  She could see the nervousness behind his eyes as she too realized the step they were taking with one another.
“I suppose I am,” she whispered watching as he began to ease the ring upon her finger.
“The wedding ring is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual bond which unites two loyal hearts in endless love. It is a seal of the vows Russell and Avery have made to one another. Bless O God these rings, that Avery and Russell, who give them, and who wear them, may ever abide in thy peace. Living together in unity, love and happiness for the rest of their lives,” the man before them explained as Avery’s lower lip trembled with emotion as she watched Russell standing before her, looking so blown away by the moment as he pushed the ring further over her soft skin.
“Avery, I give you this ring as a symbol of our love. With it I wed you, and give you my body, soul, and heart.  I love you,” he breathed keeping his hand over hers as his sensational green eyes seemed to glisten in the moonlight.
“Oh Russ,” Avery bit on her lower lip struggling to keep from coming undone as she reached for the ring she’d had for him.  Sliding it upon his finger, she spoke up choked on emotion, “I give you this ring as a symbol of our love. With it I wed you, and give you my body, soul, and heart forever.”
Russell lifted his hand to Avery’s face touching her cheek gently as the tears spilled down her face and as he listened to the faint sounds of the clock striking midnight, he barely could contain himself as he waited for those fateful words he’d waited a lifetime to hear.
“In as much as you have each pledged to the other your lifelong commitment, love and devotion, I now pronounce you husband and wife, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.
Russell, You may kiss your bride!”
“I love you, Avery,” Russell whispered sweeping Avery into his arms kissing her excitedly as his love for her poured over the both of them as they’d finally done it.
“I love you,” Avery murmured against his lips throwing her arms around him as she hugged him against her savoring the magic of the moment between them they were married at long last.
As their kiss continued, Russell realized that all his years of hoping and praying had paid off as he was here in this moment with the woman he loved more than life itself and nothing could ever take that from him again.  He and Avery were married and this was only the beginning of their happily ever after as he promised himself he’d do everything in his power to make sure that she and their child had the best of everything as Avery Morrison-Denton was the best thing that had ever happened to him and he wouldn’t trade any of this for the world as they truly had it all with one another.


Off on the beach, the slamming sounds of a beer bottle crashed upon the rocks as he lowered his camera, frowning at what he’d just witnessed.  This certainly hadn’t been part of the plan, but now as he lifted his lens up towards the happy couple, lost in their wedded bliss, he found himself enraged at what had taken place.  Russell Denton had suddenly gone from problem to something that clearly had no other alternative but to be eliminated.  Reaching for another bottle from the six pack beside him, his thoughts ran rampant as he watched Russell and Avery enjoying their first night as newlyweds with one another.
“Enjoy her while you can Denton because in the end, Avery belongs with me,” he vowed snapping away a couple of photos as he zoomed in on her envisioning the day that he would have Avery as his bride because soon, very soon he would be all she knew of love.  Russell Denton would be long gone from the equation and she would be all his at long last.  That much he was certain of.

...to be continued...