Blake felt fingers sliding down her arm. She smiled as she felt a kiss pressed to her neck, “Hmmm.”
“Good morning,” Zack whispered as he pulled her back tight against his chest.
“Morning,” She replied as she held his arm around her waist, “What time is it?”
“Early,” He answered as he pressed a kiss to her ear, “How are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m good. I still feel like I’m floating on air,” She smiled as she relaxed back into his embrace.
“What are your plans for today?” He asked as he rubbed his nose along the curve of her neck.
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead,” She admitted, “You have to work, don’t you?”
“Yes, but this evening I want to take you out.”
“What about your apartment? Aren’t you ever going to get it furnished here?” She laughed as she looked around the bare room, “I think someone promised me a dinner once he got a table.”
“I did, didn’t I?” He grinned as he held her tight, “Well my furniture is coming from storage today. The super is going to let them in, and I’ll work on getting everything in place tomorrow.”
“You’re such a procrastinator,” She groaned as she turned to face him, “Do you ever do anything in a timely manner?”
“How about kissing you good morning?” He winked at her before he drew her into a loving kiss.
Blake smiled as their lips parted, “Okay, you scored points with that one.”
“Good, I was beginning to think I didn’t do everything in my power to win you over last night.”
“I wouldn’t say that. You did a very thorough job,” She chuckled as she snuggled into him.
Zack lay on his back and drew Blake to his side as he encircled her in his arms, “So what do you say to tonight? Think you can stand to go out with me again?”
“Gee, I don’t know,” She teased as she drew circles with her fingertip upon his chest, “I don’t want you to think that I’m always going to be at your beck and call now that we’ve made love. I’m not going to follow you around like a little lost puppy.”
“That’s cute…considering you used to chase me like a hungry dog.”
“Oh you,” She smacked him before she raised up to meet his eyes, “You are just horrible. I should leave here on that one.”
“So why aren’t you?” He asked as he met her eyes, “Something tells me that you want to stay a lot more than you want to go.”
“I hate you. I really do,” She said with a frown.
“No, you don’t. You actually love me but you’re just not going to admit it now that I’ve finally given in to you.”
“No, I won’t admit it. Why should I admit anything in that vein as long as you think you know it all?”
“Because you want to keep my ego nice and inflated dear.”
“That’s not the part of you I’d want to keep inflated,” She teased before he hugged her tightly to her and began tickling her sides, “Whoa, stop…hey,” She giggled as she rolled to her back.
Zack gave her a reprieve as he positioned himself over her, “You are so beautiful.”
“Flattery? A bit late for that, isn’t it?” She asked as he smoothed her hair from her face.
“It’s not flattery because it’s not just lip service. You are beautiful, and you should be told often. I’m sorry I’ve been such a nitwit about everything through the years. I just thought I knew what was best for the both of us, and in my usual manner, I was wrong.”
“So what about now? Are you wrong about making love to me?” She asked as he met his eyes. She eased her fingers across his cheek, “You’re not having second thoughts about this, are you?”
“My only thought about this is why the hell did I wait so long,” He informed her with a slight smile as he lowered his lips to hers. He kissed her tenderly before he exhaled in disappointment, “I so don’t want to leave you.”
“Now Dr. Vaughn, you have lives to save, remember?” She teased while holding him close.
“Yeah, I know. It’s just that I hate thinking I have to wait to see you again,” He caressed her cheek with a fingertip.
“You might get lucky. I might come by and surprise you for lunch,” She suggested as she drew him into a kiss.
“Now that’s something to look forward to,” Zack grinned as he kissed her once again, reluctant to let go and get on with the day ahead of him.
A soft breeze blew in from the window causing the soft white lace that covered the canopy bed to sway with each beckoning movement the morning made as Avery grew aware of the strong arm that curled around her body. Snuggling into the warmth behind her, her finger tips teased over the smooth muscled expanse of the arm that hugged her so completely. A smile lifted over her lips as her eyelids fluttered open and she inhaled the sexy scent of the man beside her, cherishing the feel of his perfect masculine form behind her as his lips dropped down over the back of her neck tickling her skin as she shifted against him unable to suppress the giggle that burst from within.
“Good morning beautiful,” Russell whispered sexily as he nuzzled the back of her neck with his nose, before his kisses drifted lazily upward towards her earlobe.
Avery opened her mouth to respond as he began to nibble on the sensitive spot that he knew made her melt into him time and time again in the past and as a slow purr swept over her, she felt his hold on her constrict as his hand eased up over her curves through the soft, silken nightgown she’d been wearing.
“It’s a very good morning indeed, Russ,” Avery whispered his name, pressing back into him grinding against his hips as his body grew tight with readiness awaiting the moment he could claim her again as he turned her in his arms finding himself gazing down at her beautiful brown eyes as her smile widened.
“How’s my wife this morning,” he questioned lazily tracing a finger over her features as a tiny shiver raced over her.
“She’d be doing oh so much better if you’d kiss her already,” Avery hooked her arm around his neck drawing him in against her as their mouths melded in a mixture of passion and longing. She teased her tongue over the crease of his lips, creating an opening into him as their kiss deepened. Her palms flattened out over his shoulders, gliding down the smooth expanse of his spine as his arms clenched her into him with an involuntary pull.
“Better?” he inquired with a huskiness in his voice as she nodded eagerly.
“We’re getting there,” she nodded teasing the tips of her fingers over the pajama pants he’d been wearing, “although I have to confess that I hardly think it was fair that exhaustion kept us from savoring the true meaning of the wedding night with one another…”
“Baby, I told you that I had no qualms about making love to you last night…or rather this morning once we found ourselves in bed here,” he pressed a teasing kiss over the tip of her nose, “I’m always ready where you’re concerned.”
“Mmmm…so I’m seeing,” Avery offered up a knowing smile as a sigh spilled over her lips, “but while dancing until dawn on the beach was horribly romantic, it seemed to drain your ole wife here and I couldn’t find it in me to keep my eyes open a moment longer.”
“Which explains my carrying you up to bed,” Russell reminded her as his fingers drifted to her dark hair now splashed out around her on the pillows as he shifted his weight maneuvering himself over her as his lips dipped down to collect a kiss from her, “as even a princess can need time to sleep.”
“Yes, but this princess picked the wrong time because all she dreamt about was making love to her prince,” Avery confessed in a naughty tone, “and oh the dreams I had about this handsome prince before me…”
“Care to share?” he inquired raising a curious brow as he smiled down at her.
“Oh well I would love to do nothing more than just that, but alas,” she sighed heavily feigning an air of seriousness, “I am a married woman now you see.”
“And you think that your husband would object to you taking on a very skilled, talented lover like myself,” Russell questioned mocking her tone as he watched her nod emphatically.
“It’s forbidden,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “as well, my heart belongs to him.”
“Yes, but the rest of you is here in my arms and mine for the taking,” he pulled her in against him rolling over on the blankets until she was over him swatting at his chest playfully.
“Russ, you’re a goof,” Avery shook her head at him unable to contain herself.
“But I’m your goof and you my darling are all mine for the taking,” he explained tipping up towards her as he nibbled on her lower lip, “as truth be told I’ve had nothing, but the notion of making love to my wife in my mind from the moment I felt her awaken in my arms…”
“Hmm, well it’s a pity that she isn’t here and you’re stuck with me,” Avery sighed tossing her hair back over her shoulder, “as well, the way I see it, I’m a married woman and you’re a married man which means that we clearly shouldn’t step out into that territory with one another as I am on my honeymoon you know.”
“Funny thing about that,” Russell winked at her as he pulled himself up into a seated position while holding her in his arms, “I’m on my honeymoon as well.”
“You don’t say,” her eyes widened in mock surprise as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, “so you’re a newlywed like myself?”
“That’s right,” he nodded cupping her bottom in his hands as he maneuvered her into his lap completely urging her to wrap her legs around his torso as he looked up into her dark brown eyes, “why just last night I found myself lost in love with the woman of my dreams and I married her here in this very castle.”
“Really, well that is truly amazing considering that my husband and I were married in this very place,” she smiled back at him as his fingers curved over her sides, gliding the satin material of her nightgown up over her body.
“You don’t say,” he winked back at her, “Now that is a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“Why yes it is,” Avery nodded bringing her hands down over his as she pressed her nightgown back into place with a shake of her head, “which is all the more reason why I can’t allow you to seduce me.”
“Because of your husband?” he played along as his thumb slipped in beneath the thin strap of her nightgown coaxing it down over her shoulder with a heavy sigh.
“Yes,” she explained matter of fact as her fingers danced over the center of his chest, “because well you see the man that I married, he’s someone who’s very important to me. Last night he showed me the true meaning of magic and when he held me in his arms and we danced the night away with one another, well it was then that I knew just how lucky I was. I mean sure, I’d come to that conclusion a long time ago,” she breathed leaning forward as her lips hovered over his shoulder, a whisper away from his heated skin as his palm pressed down over spine drawing her in closer to him, “you see he and I are soul mates.”
“Soul mates you say,” he nodded appropriately gliding his lips over her collar bone as his hands cupped her bottom offering up a gentle squeeze as he tasted her creamy flesh, “now that is very interesting.”
“Yes,” she sighed dropping her head forward onto his shoulder as she felt him easing the material of her nightgown up over her body once again, “it is because that kind of love only comes once in a lifetime and I’d be a fool to do anything to screw things up for us as we’ve come so far with one another.”
“It would be a tragedy to lose something like that,” Russell halfheartedly agreed pooling the nightgown up over her waist as his fingers skimmed over her smooth abdomen. He nibbled on her shoulder taking in the soft, floral scent of her as his lips cascaded over her body, “I must confess my wife and I also have a similar situation as I find myself in a position of not being able to live without her. You see I have loved her from the first moment my eyes happened upon her and I need her like the air that I breathe. She‘s so deep in my system that I‘m unsure of where I end and she begins,” he continued to drag the material of her nightgown up over the swell of her breasts as Avery leaned back a few inches and their eyes connected.
“Sounds like true love,” Avery replied feeling his thumbs brush against the inner part of her arms urging her to lift them as he discarded the nightgown tossing it across the bed, through the soft, lace canopy before it fell to the floor.
“Oh but it is,” he explained pulling her in against him as the heat of the contact between them stole his breath from his lungs and his heart pounded in his chest, feeling hers so very close to him. He curled his arms up over her spine until his fingers tapered off into the tips of her dark hair and he coaxed her towards him for a tender kiss, “as she’s the most amazing woman I’ve ever known and all I can think about is loving her…being with her as she’s the most beautiful creature in the universe.”
“The universe you say,” she felt a smile rise over her as a heat flooded over her cheeks, “my that is putting a lot of pressure on a gal with all that praise, isn’t it?”
“She’s worth all of it and more,” his lips skimmed over her neck as her breath escaped from her mouth with a beautiful mixture of a sigh and a hum. He massaged his hands up over her spine to her shoulders and down again as his lips glided down over her breast bone, feeling the warmth of her heated skin against his. He could feel her toes curl against his spine as his lips skimmed over the dusty peak before him taking his time in tasting the tortured peak before him.
“Russ,” she cried out her body at his mercy as his tongue whisked over her causing her to arch up into him. He gently kneaded and stroked the other aching breast before him as another tremble rushed over her causing her to cry out. He continued his thorough exploration of her body with his teasing tongue, his erotic mouth and his skilled hands before urging her onto her back once again as his mouth collected hers in a hungry display of passion and longing.
“Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited to make love to you,” he questioned in a low rumble of desire as his hand dropped down over her hip, imprinting the feel of her in his mind as he pushed the soft, silken panties down over her curves, “How long I’ve waited to say that I could make love to you…my wife…”
“Your wife,” Avery repeated her face flushed with desire as her swelled lips sought out his words wanting to delve into the meaning of what it would be for them to make love with one another like this after all the years they’d come so close to happiness, but let it slip away from them.
“That’s right,” he nodded rubbing his nose against the curve of her neck as the scent of her intoxicated him, “my wife…as it always should’ve been…”
“Oh Russ, you have no idea how long I wanted for us to have this…for you to be my husband and for us to be here together just like this,” she glided her hands down over every perfectly sculpted line of his back, savoring the tensile muscle beneath her touch before her fingers dipped down over the waistband of his pajama pants and their eyes connected, “I want to know what it’s like for us to be together as husband and wife…to know that whatever happens after this, that we’ll be together…that our love will keep us with one another forever…”
“Forever isn‘t long enough for us, Avery,” he confessed drinking up her soft cries as he worked to alleviate the barriers between them, “A love like ours is never ending…”
“I was a fool to think that I could go through my life without loving you,” she whispered seeking out his mesmerizing green eyes as his lips returned to hers, “Russ, when I think of how close we came to losing it all…”
“Shh…” he brought her to silence with a kiss as his hands sought out hers, intertwining their fingers as he positioned himself over her ready to experience their first morning as husband and wife with one another, “none of that matters anymore. We have each other and that’s all we need,” he finished he finished feeding from the sweetness of her mouth as he intended to spend the morning making love with his wife and proving to her that their dreams for happily ever after with one another were finally coming true at long last.
The distinct taste of saltwater skimmed over the corners of Brant’s mouth as he sat up with a jolt looking to the water beside him. He shuffled backward on his hands as his butt remained firmly planted on the ground, but as he made another quick move he found himself seated upon a box of empty Coronas beside him.
“What the…” he tossed the empty package away from him as he shimmied himself up on the beach a bit further away from the water as his aching head seemed to override any sense of logic that was stirring inside of him. Suddenly the sun’s invasive rays blinded his eyes as he heard someone calling out to him from the distance.
“Brant,” her voice spoke warmly as he lay back on the sand seeing the shadow of the woman before him as her long, flowing skirt danced in the wind, rustling with the breeze as a groan spilled over his lips. He squinted taking in her darkened silhouette as she stood over him, blocking him from the blinding light.
“Avery,” he reached out to her grasping at her ankle in an attempt to pull her down with him as she tumbled forward atop of him in the thick of the sand and mud that caked over his body. His arm curled around her as a drunken smile slipped over his features, “I was just thinking about you,” he whispered loosely as his fingers teased through her hair and he nudged her lips towards his in the hopes of sharing a kiss, but as he felt her hand press into his chest shoving him back into the sand, an oomph escaped from his mouth as a frown replaced his smile, “Hey, what did you do that for, Avery?” he grumbled as the woman before him came clearly into view along with the throbbing in his head, “Caitlin, what the hell are you doing here?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” she frowned motioning to the discarded bottles beside him as she rose to her feet dusting her skirt off as she shook her head at him, “but I think I have the answer to my question.”
“Where’s Avery?” Brant questioned puling himself up off of the ground as Kenneth approached the two of them noting his brother’s condition.
“What’s going on here?” Ken asked concern evident in his tone as he looked to Caitlin, “are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” she nodded quickly continuing to brush at her skirt, “but it seems that Brant here decided to swim with the fishes and one too many beers last night after we left him to sleep off his joy kill there.”
“Brant, hey,” Ken approached his brother kneeling down beside him, “are you okay?”
“Do I look okay,” Brant grumbled shoving Kenneth away as he stammered to his feet, “I just woke up on the beach and your girlfriend assaulted me. How the hell do you think I’m going to be?”
“I didn’t assault you. I tried to make sure you weren’t drowning, but now that I think about it, I should’ve left you there,” Caitlin placed her hands on her hips impatiently, “It would’ve served you right for your behavior.”
“Caitlin please,” Ken threw out a beseeching look in her direction as she threw her hands in the air.
“Fine,” she huffed reaching for the bottles before her as she picked them up off of the beach before keeping an eye on the interaction between Ken and Brant.
“Brant, how did you get out here,” Kenneth questioned as he offered his hand to help his brother out.
“Who cares,” Brant growled up at him finding his own strength to move forward as he surveyed the beach angrily, “Where’s Avery?”
“She’s not here…” Caitlin piped in quickly.
“What do you mean she’s not here?” Brant demanded glaring at her, “Where is she?”
“She’s with…” Caitlin stepped forward ready to tell Brant exactly what was going on as Kenneth stepped in between them keeping his eyes on his brother as he braced himself for Brant’s reaction.
“She’s gone to get some peace of mind,” Kenneth blurted out quickly knowing that he was going to burn for this, but considering the condition his brother was in, he just hoped he was doing the right thing.
“What?” Brant and Caitlin questioned in unison both giving Kenneth a strange look.
“She said she needed some time on her own to clear her head,” Kenneth lied hating that he had to sink to this level as he spoke to Brant, “When you passed out, she was worried about you, but she was also worried about what the stress of everything is doing to her. I recommended a spa that Blake used to go to from time to time and she agreed that maybe checking into something like that would be good for her for a little while.”
“So you had her leave?” Brant’s voice rose with anger, “Ken, why would you do that to me?”
“I was trying to think of a way to help Avery. Brant, she needs some time right now to clear her head and here with what was happening, she didn’t feel safe. I’m sure you would’ve suggested the same thing if you’d been sober enough.”
“Avery was safe with me,” Brant glared at him, “She and I need one another.”
“Brant, what she needs right now is clarity and she wasn’t getting it here. I’m sorry that you don’t agree with my decision, but it was what was best for Avery.”
“The hell it was,” Brant marched off towards the house as he cursed at Kenneth, “When I find Avery, I’m going to have to tell her how my family is against me and against us considering that I’m the one person who can help her right now…”
“Being stone cold drunk you aren’t helping her,” Kenneth called out to him as Brant spun around to glare at him icily.
“It wasn’t your decision to make Ken. You had no business interfering in my life,” Brant growled stomping up to the back porch and going inside as Caitlin moved in beside Ken.
“Why did you do that,” she questioned in confusion, “You and I both know that Avery and Russ are…”
Kenneth raised his hand in the air to silence her words, “I know where she is, but I can’t bring myself to tell him.”
“Then I will,” Caitlin decided with a quick huff, “he should know that all his manipulations didn’t stand in the way of true love. He should see that he can’t force a woman to bend at his will…”
“Caitlin, I know my brother can be brutal at times, but he’s still my brother and despite his impossible exterior, well he does have a heart. Yes, I know it’s unfair to keep the truth about Russell and Avery from him, but in his own way he did believe he loved her. I can’t bring it in myself to be the one to break his heart…”
“So you’d rather let him believe that you sent her away?” she gave him a strange look, “You’d rather him think that you were responsible for what happens next?”
“If it can give him a few moments to collect himself and stop getting so worked up at least until we get back to Coral Valley, then yes I’m willing to risk that,” he sighed in confession, “Caitlin, I know my brother is abrasive at times, but he is my brother and the truth to the matter is that unless he hears the news from Avery himself he’s not going to believe it. He’ll just find a way to seek her out and that’s the last thing any of us need at a time like this.”
“Even so,” she frowned thinking about Brant’s odd behavior, “I just don’t think it’s healthy for him to carry on like he’s been doing.”
“No it isn’t, but neither is his seeking out Russell and Avery considering how deep his feelings seem to run on the subject,” he stepped forward hearing a cracking sound beneath his foot as Caitlin looked down to the sand beneath his toes.
“What the…” she looked at the piece of glass beneath his foot, “Ken you’re bleeding. I must’ve not picked up the last bottle there…”
“It’s not a bottle,” he bent down picking up the fragment that he’d slipped upon. A curious expression built upon his features as he held it up for inspection, “It looks like some kind of camera lens.”
“A camera lens?” she repeated shaking her head as a sigh spilled over her lips, “Why is it that people think they can just discard anything and everything on a beach like this?”
“I don’t know, but right now that’s not my main concern,” Kenneth looked to the house before him, “I need to work on keeping Brant calm before things take a turn for the worse.”
“I think it’s a little too late for that,” Caitlin sighed offering her arm out to him, “Come on Ken. Let’s get you back inside and we’ll clean up that cut.”
“It’s my fault for not putting on some shoes,” he let out an ironic laugh, “I guess that teaches me for not being prepared.”
“Maybe it’s some kind of omen about putting your foot in your mouth there with Brant,” she added before biting on her lower lip as she softened her tone, “Sorry…”
“No, maybe you’re right. Maybe I am making a mistake,” he shook his head as he looked to the broken lens in his hand, “but he’s my only brother and I have to find a way to help him…even if this will hurt him down the road. I can’t turn my back on him now.”
“I know you can’t,” Caitlin wrapped her arm around him as they headed back towards the mansion, “and it’s part of what I love about you.”
“Well hey, at least it fits in the positive category somewhere,” he replied with a light smile wishing that somehow he could find a way to spare his brother any of the pain that would come with the truth about Russell and Avery, but knowing that this situation wouldn’t be easy, he found himself more concerned about what could happen to Brant’s mental state as he feared the ghost of their father was invading upon them more and more each day.
Elliot yawned as he walked into the kitchen, finding Grady standing at the stove. He paused as he watched his son, “You’re full of energy this morning.”
“Oh, you’re up,” Grady flashed his father a smile, “The coffee is fresh if you’d like a cup. Breakfast will be ready in a minute.”
“What’s this all about?” Elliot asked as he took a mug from the cupboard and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Can’t I just be nice to my parents?”
“You have never been a morning person, Grady,” Elliot pointed out as he leaned back on the counter.
“This is true,” Grady agreed with a grin as he emptied the contents of his pan into a serving bowl, “But I felt guilty for waking you guys last night. So I figured that I, at least, owed you a good breakfast for your trouble.”
“Hmm, it smells wonderful in here,” Cheryl smiled as she stepped into the room, “When did you learn how to cook?” She teased as she sidled up to her husband’s side.
“I have learned how to take care of myself over the years,” Grady grinned before he opened the oven and removed a pan full of muffins, “Have a seat. Breakfast is served.”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” Elliot noted before he and Cheryl made their way to the breakfast nook. He assisted his wife into her seat before taking his own seat beside her.
Grady entered the room with an armful of dishes. He placed the dishes upon the table after barely keeping them all balanced. He smiled as he went back to the kitchen to retrieve his own mug of coffee and sat on the free side of his mother when he returned, “Bon appetite.”
As they began dishing out their servings, Cheryl observed her son closely, “You’re pretty chipper for a guy who was feeling very low last night. What’s the difference?”
“After you guys went back to bed last night, I spent some time thinking about my life, and I came to a conclusion that really should have hit me like a ton of bricks without me searching for it,” Grady frowned.
“And what conclusion would that be?” Elliot asked before taking his first bite of breakfast.
“That I love Jade, and my life has been a million times better with her in it. She’s given me love, and she has never given up on me.”
“Until now,” His father corrected.
“That’s just it. I realized last night that Jade wasn’t giving up on me when she walked out. She was forcing me to make a decision about my life, and she knew that when it came down to it…I’m a prisoner of my own habits,” Grady explained, “I’ve made a lifetime of allowing my habits to control my life…alcohol, Susan, playing big brother to Russ. But Jade sees into me more than anyone ever has. She sees that more than anything in the world, the thing that I most want and need…is to escape that prison that I am constantly letting myself fall into. Jade wasn’t walking out on me so much as she was forcing me to see that it’s time to escape or die. If I let myself fall into the same old habits, I’m going to be losing everything that I care about…again. I can’t do that to myself or to Jade. I love her, and all I ever wanted to was to make her happy. I’m going to find a way to do that, and I’m going to turn everything around.”
“Sounds like you were really inspired last night,” Cheryl noted with wide eyes, “But aren’t you rushing into this?”
“Rushing? Is that what you consider a lifetime of making the same mistakes over and over again?” Grady shook his head, “It’s taken me a long time to come to this point, Mom, and I’ve hurt a lot of people in the process. You, Dad, Russ, Susan, Jade,” He frowned, “It has to stop, and I have to start making amends for the things I’ve done. The best way for me to do that is to stop wrecking my life with bad habits.”
Elliot smiled proudly at his son, “I’m glad to hear you talking with some sense again, Grady. I was beginning to worry that you were headed back the same dark dangerous path you’re prone to.”
“To be honest, I was,” Grady admitted, “But yesterday really pushed me to the edge of my limits. I have never wanted a drink as bad as I did last night, but in coming here, I realized that I can deny that urge to drink. There are other ways for me to deal with the pain. I never really understood that before.”
“We’ve always been here for you,” Cheryl said sadly.
“I know that you have, Mom, but I never understood that I could come to you. I guess I always wanted to be the strongest man I could be, and I thought that dealing with all my problems would make me even stronger. The only problem with that is that I would only halfway deal with a problem before I decided to forget about it by drinking,” Grady sighed, “I’ve been sober for three days, and I’m going to remain sober. I need to prove to myself that it’s possible.”
“I know you can do this,” Cheryl reached over to take her son’s hand, “And your father and I will be right here to support you every step of the way.”
“I know,” Grady smiled as he stood and leaned over to kiss his mother’s cheek, “I hate to cook and run, but I need to get to the office.”
“You’re working on Christmas Eve?” Elliot asked with a frown.
“Just for a little while. I have some things I need to take care of, and I want to attend an AA meeting before I come back here for Christmas Eve dinner,” Grady explained, “I’ll see you guys this evening,” He waved goodbye to the both of them before he left the house.
Elliot took a sip of coffee before he looked to Cheryl, “Do you think he means it?”
“I’m not sure,” Cheryl replied honestly, “But I sure do hope so,” She said as she smiled hopefully, wanting nothing more than happiness for the both of her sons.
Jade opened the door to her apartment and lifted the newspaper from the floor before stepping back inside and closing the door behind her. She adjusted her belt slightly as she read over the morning’s headlines and proceeded into the kitchen.
Seth stood at the coffee maker and noticed his sister’s entrance. While he had expected her to be torn apart after yesterday’s turn of events, she appeared to be acting as normal as any other day. He frowned, knowing that she had to be doing her best to internalize everything as she often did.
“Yoo Hoo, Jade,” Seth waved his hand before her, “What are you doing?”
“I’m reading the newspaper,” She said as if it were obvious. She stepped beside him and plucked a mug from the cupboard. She filled it with coffee before stepping to the table and continuing to read the headlines.
“I can see that. What I mean is why are you dressed like that?” He asked as he crossed his arms.
“Like what?” She asked as she glanced down to her dress slacks, button down white shirt, and Christmas cardigan, “What’s wrong with this?”
“It’s a little uptown for laying around the house, isn’t it?”
“I’m going to work,” She shrugged as she looked back to the newspaper.
“To work? I thought you were heartbroken last night, and to top that off, don’t you work with the guy? Isn’t that a little like rubbing salt in a wound?” He asked as he pulled out a chair and sat beside her.
“No, I have a job to do, and I happen to enjoy my work. I’m not going to quit just because Grady can’t figure out his own life from his brother’s,” She said as she pushed the newspaper aside and looked to her brother, “It’s okay, Seth. Everything will be fine.”
“You’re taking this exceedingly well, you know. I would have thought you’d still be in bed giving me the cold shoulder while crying your eyes out,” He frowned.
“Well aren’t you glad you were wrong?” She asked as she flashed him a smile. She began to explain as her smile faded, “I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t hurt. Lord knows I’m not happy with Grady right now, and I’d like to do him some serious bodily harm. But I’m trying to get over that, and just focus on getting through the day.”
“It’s not going to be easy if you’re going to be at his office all day. Though if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll be groveling the second you walk through the door,” Seth declared as he leaned onto the table.
“You haven’t done anything threatening to Grady, have you? I swear, Seth, if I find out you have I’ll have to beat the sh…”
“Whoa,” He held up his hand, “Anything I’ve done, I’ve done because I want to see my little sister happy. You remember that emotion, don’t you? It’s when you bounce around here singing goofy songs and making me want to crawl under the sofa.”
Jade giggled, “What did you do?”
“I just paid him a visit and told him that any man who had it as good as you shouldn’t screw it up by acting like an idiot.”
“Awww, Seth, that’s so sweet,” She laughed softly.
Seth smiled, “Now see, that’s how I like you…smiling.”
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she smiled, “You know, you’re really a good guy. And Blake Ashford is an idiot for not holding onto you.”
Seth shrugged, “It’s hard to be this wonderful.”
“Don’t tell me that you’re giving up on Blake.”
His eyes widened in response, “Don’t tell me you’re actually telling me to go after Blake Ashford.”
“I’m just saying that if you really love her, which I’m sure that you do,” Jade spoke knowingly, “You should do everything possible to show her that love.”
“Are you trying to convince me to do something that you want to do for yourself?” He asked as he met her eyes.
“No, I’m just telling you not to let real love slip away. You deserve the kind of love that dreams are made of. If you think that’s what you feel for Blake, you should do everything in your power to make sure that it doesn’t slip away,” She said with force as she reached over to take his hand, “Seth, love is worth fighting for.”
“Then, you better set a good example for me and fight for your own,” He reminded her, “I know that you and Grady have issues right now, but life isn’t always smooth. You have to get through the bumps in the road to enjoy the smooth sailing.”
“Do you have any idea how many clichés you just butchered and spliced together there?” She asked with a chuckle.
“Jade, I’m serious.”
“I’m sure you are, but I’ve told you a thousand times. I’m going to make my own decisions and live my life according to the way I want to. I appreciate your advice, but in the end, I have to live with myself and I’ll do what I think is best.”
“Seth…” She countered before she leaned over and kissed his cheek, “Thank you for worrying about me, but I promise you that I’ll be all right.”
He took a deep breath as he sighed, “You’re not going to budge, are you?”
“Have I ever?” Jade grinned, “I’ve got to go to work. You remember what I said, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Seth sighed as he watched his little sister leave the apartment. He knew that no matter what he said Jade would ultimately have the final say. The only problem with that was he knew her decision making skills weren’t as sharp as they should be considering the situation, and Jade could be as stubborn as the day was long.
Brooke stood outside Avery’s apartment hoping that she hadn’t caught Guy at a bad time as she’d had plans for the morning and they included having him boost her mood somewhat after Richard’s rude retreat. Despite the ways that man infuriated her, nothing would take away from the knowledge that her daughter had finally done something right in her life. Marrying Brant was an excellent choice and as Brooke knocked on the door to Avery’s apartment, she wanted to share the moment with Guy and perhaps work out the details of an intimate little Christmas Eve with him as she needed someone to share her spirits with.
After a few minutes of knocking, a frown touched over Brooke’s lips as she waited impatiently wondering what was taking her son so long to answer. Certainly Guy had always been a morning person and as she checked the time, she wondered if he’d taken off already in the hopes of starting his new day or worse if he’d gone off seeking out that Mindy girl that suddenly became an annoyance once again.
With that thought in mind, Brooke’s smile faded and she reached into her purse ready to pluck out her cell phone and call Guy’s cell to uncover where her son was, but before she had the chance, the door to Avery’s apartment opened and Guy stood before her clad in a blue, cotton towel tied loosely around his waist as his eyes widened in obvious surprise. Taking note of his wet hair, Brooke realized the reasoning behind his delay and her smile returned as she invited herself into Avery’s apartment.
“Mum,” Guy spoke up uneasily as he watched her move through the living room with a bright fluidity, “what are you doing here?”
“What is this?” she wrinkled her nose in obvious displeasure, “No hello or good morning kiss for your mother?”
“Mum, of course. It‘s good to see you,” he reluctantly closed the door behind her as a breath filled his lungs. Stepping forward, he placed a quick peck on her cheek as his worried eyes struggled to hide his apprehension, “I’m just surprised that you were out and up so early considering that it’s Christmas Eve.”
“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Brooke began as her eyes cascaded over her son’s damp hair, “though it seems to me you’re off to a late start yourself, aren’t you?”
“I had a late night,” Guy offered with a simple shrug of his shoulders as his gaze drifted beyond her towards the hallway.
“Clearly,” Brooke nodded as she waved her hand at him, “well no matter because I have a day planned for us that you’re going to love just as soon as…” she paused listening for a moment before her eyes fell upon him once again, “Did you leave the shower running?”
“I was in the middle of shampooing,” Guy nodded in response as his hand clenched over the top of his towel, “You kind of caught me off guard with the knocking. If you just give me a second,” he stepped in towards her offering a quick smile.
“Of course,” Brooke decided with a nod of her own, “I’ll just make myself at home,” she announced as her gaze lingered over Avery’s apartment before a frown touched over her lips, “or at least I’ll try.”
“I’ll be right back,” Guy promised waving his finger at her as he raced back into the bathroom entering quickly as the sounds of Gabe humming an old show tune in the shower captured his attention and caused his heart to race faster than he’d imagined as the bathroom walls seemed to close in around him. Nervously he stepped towards the shower, drawing open the door as Gabe spun around to face him with a sexy, white smile.
“I was wondering when you were going to return,” Gabe’s arms extended out of the shower as he pulled Guy towards him, “It was getting lonely in here without you.”
“My mother is here,” Guy confessed stiffly as his eyes fell over his lover, “She’s out in the living room right now.”
“Really?” Gabe inquired lifting a scrutinizing brow, “I suppose this is the time when you want me to do what exactly? Pretend that I’m not here with you?”
“Gabe, you know how she is. If she finds out that we’re together like this,” Guy began uneasily, “if she knew that…”
“That we were spending our morning together, enjoying one another’s company at your sister’s apartment?” Gabe threw out at him.
“She wouldn’t understand it. I told you last night how she felt about things…” Guy started as he looked away from Gabe.
“And I told you how I felt about things,” Gabe touched his cheek urging him to look into his eyes, “Guy, tell me something. How long are we going to have to pretend? Why can’t you just let her know that I love you and you love me?”
“It’s not that easy with my Mum. You know this…” Guy shifted on his feet as he inhaled a slow, agonizing breath, “She just couldn’t take this now because of Avery and…”
“Avery’s only an excuse. You said it yourself that Avery supports you, so why would you think your mother would be any different?” Gabe challenged with a frown.
“Avery and Mum are nothing alike. They’re like night and day and while Avery believes in true love, well my mother has a real problem understanding things that aren’t…it’s just…well, she had this dream about having grandchildren and these hopes for me, but now that Avery can’t give her that…” Guy sighed heavily.
“It all rests on your shoulders, so you’re going to just throw away what we have to make your mother happy,” he huffed in response, “You’ll live through the lies and create this picture perfect world that your mother imagined, but when it all comes crashing down around you, well then you’re going to see that living out her dreams wasn’t what was meant for you, Guy. The longer it takes you to do that, the harder it’s going to be.”
“Gabe, please just bear with me,” Guy pleaded with him, “while I know that you want me to just come right out and tell my mother what’s going on with us, you know yourself that in doing something like that it’s not an easy thing. When you made your move to truth telling, it nearly cost you everything…”
“Yes, it did, but if I’d only been honest with myself sooner I would’ve spared Noelle some of the pain she experienced because of my misgivings about our relationship,” Gabe reminded him sharply before exhaling a frustrated breath, “but you’re right about one thing. This is not the way for your mother to find out about us. Do what you have to in order to get her out of here and then you and I will have a talk…”
“Gabe, I do care about you,” Guy reached out to him touching his cheek, “No one has ever made me feel the way you do. You mean so much to me…”
“Which is all the more reason we shouldn’t allow ourselves to give in to what it is everyone else believes is right for us,” Gabe reached out to him touching his face for one last lingering moment before dropping his hand to the shower controls as he turned the water off, “Go speak with your mother. By now she’s sure to be climbing the walls wondering what’s taking you so long.”
“You’re probably right on that,” Guy quickly slipped into the pair of jogging pants he’d discarded earlier and stepped towards the door casting a glance over his shoulder at the man he loved before a heaviness fell upon him. He stepped out of the bathroom ready to face his mother despite the pain that the secrets had brought about in his life.
“There you are,” Brooke called up from behind Avery’s kitchen counter as Guy realized she was going through some of Avery’s things, “I don’t know how your sister could’ve ever called this place home?” she pulled a few protein bars and diet shakes out of the cabinet before her. “You’d think she wasn’t my daughter with the way she does things…just look at how much this place is lacking…”
“Mum, what was it you wanted to talk about for tonight?” Guy questioned trying to dismiss the thoughts of Gabe that were running through his mind.
“Tonight I was thinking perhaps we could have a family gathering of sorts. I know that your father might be stubborn about it and with your sister off on her honeymoon, well I don’t really expect her to be with us, but seeing as it’s Christmas Eve I thought that you and I could come up with something together…”
“Wait a second,” Guy frowned in response, “Did you just say Avery’s on her honeymoon?”
“Haven’t you seen the news?” Brooke beamed with excitement, “She and Brant ran away and got married. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing you’ve ever heard?”
Guy remained silent for a long moment before offering up, “Surprising is more like it. I didn’t think that she would go out and do that considering…”
“Considering what? You saw the two of them the other night at the party. They’re so lost in love that it was only a matter of time before Brant would sweep her off her feet completely with something so completely and utterly romantic and I for one couldn’t be happier,” Brooke commented tossing a few of the things she’d pulled out of Avery’s kitchen cabinet into the trash can, “Now if we can work on finding you a fine, young woman in your life instead of that thing that’s become attached to you once again.”
“Mindy isn’t a thing. She’s a beautiful woman with a heart of gold,” Guy argued with her.
“And a reputation that leaves much to be desired,” she grumbled in response, “I told you the first time you stepped out of our social circle to be with her that she would be trouble, but now, well I’d hoped that you’d grown wiser than you were in your youth. You don’t need a woman like that to bring you down. You need someone who can bring out the finer things in life…someone who is up to your level and can give you the kind of life I’ve always dreamt about for you.”
“Mum, I don’t need you planning my life. I have my own dreams and in regard to my heart I can make that decision about who I want to be with.”
“Guy,” Brooke shook her head as she approached him reaching for his hands, “I’m not as youthful as I once was and I only want to see my children settle down. Your sister is just starting to get on track with her life that Brant has given her and I want to see that for you. I want you to find yourself a good, young woman who will make you happy and who can work on providing you as a wife should. Not to mention I would love to have some beautiful grandchildren running around the house and since we know where your sister is on that issue…”
“What happened to Avery isn’t her fault,” Guy answered tightly watching the way his mother shrugged off his sister’s situation, “You know she wanted to have children more than anything.”
“Yes, but it was God’s way of keeping her and that awful Denton boy from wrecking her life when she lost that baby,” Brooke answered flatly, “and I can’t say I’m unhappy about that twist of fate as having his brat would’ve ruined your sister for sure. She most certainly wouldn’t be Mrs. Brant Ashford right now had I allowed that nonsense to go on…”
“Come again?” Guy blinked back at her, “Mum, why would you say that?”
Brooke raised her hand to her chest apologetically, “What I meant was that Avery was so torn apart by what that man did to her life and if I hadn’t been there to help her through that period in her life…well, Guy you know what it was like for me watching your sister lose her child and then find out that she would no longer have any of those babies I’d hoped she could have in her life,” Brooke’s tone was laced with a heavy air of well thought out poignancy, “I mean you have no idea what it is like to learn that you only have one last chance at normalcy for your children and now that legacy of our family lies on you. You will make all those beautiful dreams come true.”
“Mum, right now the last thing I’m interested in is settling down and starting a family just yet,” Guy tried to explain.
“That’s because you haven’t met the right woman yet, but you will,” Brooke insisted eagerly, “In fact, come to think of it, maybe it is the right time for this…”
“For what?” he questioned wearily.
“I just remembered I have a few things to take care of. They’d completely slipped my mind at the mansion before I came over, but now I must attend to them,” she announced circling around him into the living room, “but I meant what I said before. We are having something tonight with one another. Just the two of us because we need something festive even if your father is hell-bent on ruining the holidays for us.”
“Mum…” Guy began chasing after her.
“Come to the mansion at around six,” Brooke offered up a quick kiss on his cheek before stepping back, “Just trust me on this…”
“But…” Guy started once more as Brooke opened the door to leave and came face to face with a surprised Gabe.
“Well good morning,” Gabe smiled down at her as Brooke ran into his chest.
“Gabe,” she flashed him a dazzling grin, “what in the world are you doing here?”
“Well, I was in the neighborhood,” Gabe offered as his eyes momentarily pressed across the room to Guy, “It seems Avery and I are neighbors…at least temporarily as I’m staying with a friend while I’m in town.”
“Really?” Brooke’s eyes widened in surprise, “My that is good fortune, but as you know my daughter was recently married to Brant Ashford, so I don’t know how often you’ll be seeing her around.”
“Actually I had no idea about her nuptials, but I wish her and her husband the best of luck,” Gabe motioned towards Guy once again, “although I was hoping to have a word with your son.”
“Oh?” Brooke lifted a curious brow, “What about?”
“Well, we’d talked business the other night and I was hoping on working out something with Beholder as I’m very interested in the company,” Gabe explained flashing her a dazzling smile as she reached out to touch his arm.
“I’d be more than eager to hear what it is that’s on your mind since it is my company after all,” Brooke flirted as she patted his arm, “as your ideas are always more than welcome. In fact, tonight Guy and I were having a small get together at the Ashford mansion. It’s nothing out of the ordinary…just an intimate gathering of family…well, that it what family we have in town. However, since I know you’re not really familiar with things in town, well, we’d be delighted to have you join us.”
“I’d be honored to be there,” Gabe answered eagerly, “as it sounds delightful.”
“Excellent,” she leaned in towards him as she softened her tone, “and then perhaps we can work on expressing some of those ideas you’ve shared with Guy in private.”
“Believe me, there’s nothing more that I’d love to do than just that,” he leaned in towards her offering up a playful wink, “as I’m sure there’s a lot about the ideas your son has that you’d find very fresh and coming of age for the company.”
“My Guy is a brilliant business man,” Brooke teased her fingers over his muscled arm as she pulled him into the apartment, “but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.”
“Mum, please,” Guy broke his uneasy silence, “He doesn’t want to hear you build me up.”
“But you’re worth it, Guy,” Brooke motioned to him eagerly.
“That he is,” Gabe agreed, “which is why I was hoping to get a few words in with him.”
“Well don’t let me stop you, but you must join us this evening. I simply won’t accept a refusal,” Brooke pleaded with him curling her arm around his, “It’s been so long since we’ve had such handsome company…well except for Brant of course.”
“I’d be delighted,” Gabe nodded in response, “as I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Excellent, then it’s a date,” Brooke clapped her hands together, “It’ll be a Christmas Eve you won’t forget.”
“Somehow I don’t doubt that one,” Gabe smiled down at her as Brooke gave him a strange look.
“Is it snowing again?” she asked noting his wet hair, “Here I thought the weather had predicted that we wouldn’t get snow until after midnight.”
“Actually, I just got out of the shower,” Guy ran his fingers through his damp hair, “This building has an issue with the pipes so I’m seeing as I was in the midst of a very hot, invigorating shower turned arctic in the blink of an eye,” his gaze traveled over in Guy’s direction as Brooke seemed to go without noticing the look shared between them.
“Oh I knew this place wasn’t up to speed, but fortunately for me I’m staying at the Ashford mansion which is a gem to say the least,” Brooke continued oblivious to the moment as she looked to her watch, “and as much as I’ve enjoyed catching up, I really must be on my way, but do remember to be at the mansion by six this evening.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Gabe promised leaning down to give her a quick kiss on the cheek. “As always you look amazing.”
“As do you,” Brooke smiled up at him before turning to Guy, “Whatever he has on his mind, I want you to sit down and listen to his ideas. He’s a man with a head for business…”
“You’re too kind,” Gabe raised his hand to his chest.
“It’s the truth,” Brooke beamed with enthusiasm, “My son can learn a lot from you.”
“I’m sure I have a lot I can teach him,” Gabe smiled cryptically as Brooke stepped over to Guy giving him a quick kiss before heading towards the door.
“He’s all yours,” she finished with one last wave as Guy closed the door behind her exit.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Gabe mused with a smile watching as Guy spun around to face him, anger evident behind his eyes, but before he could say what was on his mind, Gabe pulled him into his arms throwing on a passionate embrace as their lips meshed into one another.
Finally breathless Guy pulled away from the kiss, his anger having melted a bit as he gazed up at the man he loved, “What were you thinking in showing up at the door like that when I thought you were in the guest bedroom?”
“I thought I’d find a way to make sure I could spend Christmas with the man I loved and it worked didn’t it?” Gabe touched his cheek gently, “I must confess, I think I’ve charmed your mother here.”
“That’s because she doesn’t know the truth about us,” Guy placed his hands on his hips as a frown crept in over his face darkening his features.
“Not yet, but once I have a little more time to work my magic on her, I’m sure that we can find a way to bring her to see our side of things. After all she wouldn’t have it any other way than to have me at dinner tonight,” Gabe winked over at him.
“Yes, but all the rules change when she learns the truth,” Guy sighed slumping down on the back of Avery’s sofa as his heart sank, “I don’t know how we’re going to pull any of this off over dinner when I know all I’ll want to do is be holding you…”
“We can always play footsie under the table,” Gabe teased moving in beside him as his arms draped around Guy’s waist, “I’m sure she won’t pick up on that.”
“Oh she will…especially since I know how you play footsie,” Guy’s cheeks grew flushed at the memory of his lover’s erotic teasing, “We can’t do this without some kind of backup…”
“And just what do you suggest?” Gabe frowned in response relaxing him, “That I just not show up?”
“No, that wouldn’t work either, but I do have another idea,” Guy finally found a thought inside of him. While he knew it was a long shot and it would certainly leave his mother less than happy, right now it was all he had to go on. He just prayed that Gabe would agree to go along with it.
“It’s now or never,” Deidra took in a nervous breath as she tucked the package she’d been carrying with her under her arm. While she and Diane hadn’t talked in quite some time, Judy had convinced her to take the time to visit her younger sister as she’d said it might be a way to pull her out of the slump she’d found herself in. While Deidra had her doubts about how uplifting a visit with Diane might be, she decided it was worth a try as it beat another day stuck in her mother’s place watching old Port Charles tapes as clearly that wasn’t helping.
With that thought in mind, Deidra knocked on the door waiting patiently as she was certain her sister would just be pulling herself out of bed as she was never really a morning person it seemed. Sure, growing up Diane and Deidra had their share of differences, but Deidra had always tried to be the supportive older sister. That role had often wound Deidra on Diane’s hit list for one reason or another, but now, well maybe Diane would be more receptive to a visit from her since things weren’t exactly going as they should be in Deidra’s life.
“Just wonderful,” Deidra cursed herself for even thinking that her sister would be happy about her current misfortune. Sure, Diane was a great many things, but she was a good sister and she wouldn’t wish something like this upon Deidra. Deidra knew that and even indulging the thought of Diane wishing her any kind of ill-will made her less of a sister, she realized as she vowed not to let anymore of the nonsense with Andy get her head in the wrong place.
As Deidra reached out to knock on the door again, it swung open and her hand pressed into the center of a very naked, muscled chest. Her eyes widened in surprise as she quickly withdrew her palm from the warmth it had collided with and before she knew it an apology fell from her lips.
“Oh my God,” Deidra gasped as she lifted her gaze to the brown eyes before her, “I’m so sorry about that. No one was answering and I just thought I’d knock one more time and…oh I’m so sorry…”
“It’s okay,” the man on the other side of the door offered with a tiny laugh as a smile lifted over his features and he raised his hand in acceptance of her apology, “No harm done. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Actually I was looking for my sister,” Deidra began trying to stifle her embarrassment about what had happened as she strained to remember what had lead her to this doorway to begin with, “I thought this was her apartment, but I must’ve gotten the wrong address considering that…”
“You’re looking for Diane, aren’t you?” he flashed her a sexy smile as his eyes wandered over her. “You’re Deidra, right?”
“How did you know that?” Deidra gave him a sideways glance as he motioned to the package she’d tucked under her arm where the nametag gave her away. She felt a heat fill her features as she pulled the package out from under her arm and shook her head unable to believe how air headed she must‘ve looked in a moment like this, “Oh right…um, listen you wouldn‘t happen to know which apartment is hers considering my mother told me…”
“This is Diane’s place,” he opened the door for her to enter as he motioned for her to come inside and join him, “I’m just keeping her company.”
“Oh, I see,” Deidra nodded in response making her way into the apartment as she noticed the family portrait on the wall and she let out a breath of relief. She turned around to face the man before her as she offered up a polite smile, “and you are?”
“Ben,” he extended his hand out to her, “I’m Diane’s…” he paused contemplating his words for a moment before continuing, “well, it’s complicated.”
“Oh well, I’m Diane’s sister,” Deidra tucked a loose strand of hair from her face with one hand as she struggled to keep the box balanced in the other one.
“I kind of figured,” Ben smiled at her as he motioned to the wall of pictures behind her, “You looked a bit familiar.”
“Oh right,” Deidra turned her head in the direction of the wall he was pointing to as she ran smack into one of the end tables. She let out a tiny wince before she tried to recover from the blow and she found herself falling forward.
“Are you okay?” Ben questioned catching her arm as Deidra’s ankle twisted out from beneath her in her less than suave recovery and she fell face first into the same chest that she’d pounded upon moment’s earlier as Ben eased his arms around her in an attempt to keep her steady.
“This just isn’t my day,” Deidra apologized looking up from his chest as she realized her lipstick had left a distinct mark upon his bare skin. She reached out to wipe at the rose colored stain on his chest as she fought the urge to crawl under the couch and die in that moment of mortification. “I’m so sorry…”
“It’s okay,” Ben replied casually as his palms trailed off over her arms, helping her steady herself as Deidra wiped at his chest once again.
“No, it’s really not okay. I’m usually not this clumsy and…” Deidra tried to maneuver the package that had still luckily been tucked away under her arm as she fished inside her purse for a Kleenex to wipe of the lipstick stain she’d left on Diane’s companion, “Really this hasn’t been my week and…”
“It’s alright,” Ben insisted again unable to contain the smile that had tickled over the corners of his mouth as Deidra began to press the tissue she’d extracted from her purse over the center of his chest. He paused for a moment before curling his fingers around her wrist in an attempt to stop her from trying so hard as he spoke up once again, “Allow me.”
“Oh right,” Deidra replied certain that her cheeks were now that embarrassing crimson shade that had it’s way of taking over her in the most inopportune of moments. “Actually, is Diane here?”
“Actually, she’s…” Ben began blotting at his chest as a squeal rose from the other side of the room.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing,” Diane demanded bursting into the scene as she glared at the two of them. As soon as Diane registered that it was her sister standing before her, her voice rose with another high pitched squeal, “Dee, what are you doing here with Ben?”
“I thought I’d come over and bring you a present since I was in town,” Deidra offered up as the package slipped out from under her arm, “but well, I didn’t get that far just yet considering that I’ve done my best to make an ass of myself in front of your friend.”
“Think nothing of it,” Ben waved his hand at her in a nonchalant fashion before he dabbed at his chest once again, “Um, I’ll be back in a few minutes. I need to finish getting dressed.”
“Well it was nice meeting you, Ben,” Deidra smiled apologetically trying not to think about her clumsiness as she turned to her younger sister and smiled, “Diane, it’s so good to see you. You look amazing.”
“Right,” Diane folded her arms in front of her chest clearly unimpressed at Deidra’s attempt at small talk, “What’s the real reason you’re here, Dee? Mom tell you that I have a new man in my life and you thought you’d just come over and check him out so that you could steal him for yourself once you get tired of Andrew?”
“Hello to you too,” Deidra frowned at her sister’s icy reception. “It’s nice to know that things haven’t changed that drastically since the last time I saw you as I was starting to feel like a stranger here before you came in.”
“Gee, is that because you couldn’t wait to get your hands on my boyfriend?” Diane growled in response, “Because you never could stand to see my have something good in my life.”
“Diane, I didn’t come here to do anything with your boyfriend,” Deidra defended with a frown, “All I came over was to see if you wanted to go out to breakfast since we haven’t caught up in a while, but…”
“But since you saw Ben, you figured it might not hurt to cop a feel while you were at it, huh?” Diane glared at her unimpressed with her sister’s arrival, “I mean hey, why not? It’s not like anything that’s mine should stay mine, right and don‘t even try the innocent act because I saw what you were trying to do there with him…”
“Diane, I don’t know what you think you saw, but I tripped and…” Deidra began urgently.
“And you just took it upon yourself to flash your oh so sweet charm on my boyfriend and win him over, right?” Diane accused as she folded her arms in front of her chest, “Don’t think I don’t know what you were up to because I know how you play your good girl routine to the tee when you’re moving in on a guy. God, you’d think Andy would be enough for you considering how you snatched him up away from me.”
“I didn’t snatch him away from you,” Deidra argued with her finding her patience wearing thin as she began to regret this impromptu visit to her sister, “In fact, if you’re still so hung up on Andrew, then you can have him all to yourself because we’re getting a divorce.”
“Oh right,” Diane rolled her eyes, “Like I almost believe that one.”
“Believe what you want,” Deidra bent down to pick up the Christmas present she’d brought with her, “because it’s the truth.”
“As if you know the meaning of that word,” Diane bit back harshly, “then again, maybe I could buy into that. Let me guess. Andy wasn’t enough for you, was he? He just couldn’t fit into your perfect portrait of the live you felt you deserved because nothing is ever good enough for you, right?”
“You know what,” Deidra clenched the present in her hand tightly as her anger brewed over her, “this was a mistake.”
“You’re damn right it was and if you think for one second that I’m going to let you move in on Ben, then you’ve got another think coming, Deidra,” Diane explained with a huff, “he’s mine and I’m not going to let you ruin that for me.”
“Oh I think you’re doing a bang up job of it on your own,” Deidra shoved the present into Diane’s chest before taking a step back, “as you’re your own worst enemy, Diane.”
“Oh please,” Diane rolled her eyes, “I don’t need to have to worry about my own insecurities because you’re here to remind me of them each and every day of my life because you just can’t stand to see me making something of myself. You hate the fact that I’ve become important in mom’s life and just because you left her, she sees she doesn’t need you anymore. This is really what this is about.”
“No, this is about my sister who hasn’t learned to grow up,” Deidra adjusted her jacket before shaking her head at Diane, “and it’s a damn shame because I was really hoping we could work on fixing what was wrong between us. Obviously I was mistaken,” she finished turning out of Diane’s apartment and walking out before her anger got the best of her.
“Damn right you were,” Diane chased after her sticking her head out in the hallway as she watched Deidra retreat, “That’s right. Run away because that’s always been your specialty there since you feel you can do no wrong. Well to hell with you,” Diane threw out bitterly slamming the door as she looked to the present in her hands.
Throwing the present down on the ground, she kicked at it letting out a groan as she found herself filled with a fury unlike anything she’d felt in a long time. She slammed her foot into the box one last time sending it into the mini-Christmas tree she’d had set up in the corner of the room as Ben stepped out into the living room looking at her in confusion.
“What’s going on out here?” Ben inquired with a baffled expression surprised by Diane’s lashing out, “Where’s your sister?”
“Off to whine about how horrible of a sister I am I’m sure,” Diane threw her hands in the air wildly, “but you know what. I don’t give a damn. She’s not worth getting upset over.”
“Diane, I think it’s a little too late for that,” Ben bent down picking up the box as he heard the sounds of broken glass from inside, “What happened?”
“Deidra happened,” Diane sighed taking a seat down on her sofa, “All she has to do is walk into town again and everything falls to pieces. It’s the story of my life.”
Deidra stepped into the elevator trying her hardest not to let her sister’s words hit her, but as she thought to the look on Diane’s face, she found herself overcome with tears. How could she have thought that Diane would want her back in her life again after everything that had happened? Sure, the situation with Andrew had been complicated, but it wasn’t Deidra’s fault. She hadn’t known about Diane’s crush on Andrew and she certainly didn’t think that Diane had held that situation against her after all this time, but now, well as she thought of her sister’s angry words she realized that paying her a visit was a huge mistake.
“It’s time to get your life back on track,” Deidra tried to remind herself as she left Diane’s apartment complex realizing that life wasn’t about to be giving her any second chances with the mistakes that had been made. It was time to get started on moving forward and one way or another, she’d have to find a way to do that. As she looked to her mother’s car, she realized that she wasn’t quite in the mood to go home just yet as she couldn’t face owning up to what had happened with Diane. Certainly this could be counted as the top of the list in the disaster department and as she got into the car, she decided maybe it was time to take a different trip down memory lane…to a place that maybe just maybe she could find a way to forget about things for a while. Yes, that was certainly what the doctor ordered, she decided making a drive to a place she vowed she’d never visit again as it was time to have a long talk with an old friend…one that wouldn’t give her the same icy reception that her sister had.
Shannon pushed a new cork board into the largest office she could commandeer. Another cork board stood nearby with pictures of the crime scene, victim, and various suspects the police had questioned. She pushed the new board as close to the far wall as possible before lifting a stack of pictures and posting them upon the board.
“What the hell is that?” Dave asked as he stepped into the office with a bag of pastries and two coffees he’d picked up for breakfast.
“Pictures that had to be taken after Bruce Mathis was killed,” She sighed as she continued posting the pictures to the board.
“How can you tell?” He asked as he took his coffee from the drink carrier and discarded the lid.
“These are images of things that happened while I was at the mansion,” She pointed out as she finished with the pictures, “And those are of Avery’s mother’s arrival which didn’t happen until after Mathis was killed.”
“Who is taking these pictures?”
“The obvious answer would be Bruce Mathis, but since he’s dead…supposedly,” Shannon frowned as she sat back on the desk and opened her cup of coffee, “I’m all out of options.”
“What do you mean supposedly?” Dave asked as he leaned back on the desk alongside her, “The guy was in the morgue. You can see the photos of the body at the crime scene.”
“Yeah, I see those, but what about photographs from the autopsy? How come we haven’t seen any of those?” She asked before sipping her coffee.
“Good question, but you’re the one who would probably get the most answers there. It was the Bureau that did the preliminary.”
“I already called Lawson. He said that everything they had was sent over.”
He frowned as he looked at the photographs, “So where are you going with this?”
“I’m beginning to wonder if we haven’t been played somehow.”
“Meaning with the photographs and the body being missing,” She set her jaw, “I beginning to wonder if Bruce Mathis wanted the entire world to think he was dead while pointing fingers at Brant Ashford.”
“Why would he do that?” Dave asked with confusion.
“All these pictures suggest that the man is obsessed with Avery. The story about Avery’s engagement hit the news the day before your deputies fished Bruce Mathis from the lake.”
“That’s right, Shannon. From the lake…as in if he had been alive, he would have drowned,” He said before sipping his coffee again.
“Who did you say found the body again?”
“Officer Gravely,” Dave replied, “I suppose you’ll want to talk to him?”
“Yeah, and get Jenna Carpenter in here too. I want to know what her perceptions of the body were,” Shannon replied as Patrick knocked on the door.
“Agent Pryce, there’s a phone call for you on line two,” Patrick informed her before he left the office.
Shannon answered the phone, “Agent Pryce.”
“Agent Pryce, this is Dr. Reginald Dubois from Allen Medical College returning your call,” The man spoke softly.
“Dr. Dubois, I need some information about a former student of your medical school…a man by the name of Bruce Mathis,” She spoke before sipping her coffee once more.
“You said as much in your message. I did look up the information and I can fax what I have to you if you’ll just give me a number.”
“I’d appreciate that. The fax number here is 514-555-7875. I want you to know that this is a real help to us.”
“It’s my pleasure to help out the Bureau, Agent Pryce. I’ll have that information sent directly to you.”
“Thank you,” Shannon hung up the phone as she grinned, “Now that’s progress.”
“What?” Dave asked as he opened the bag of pastries.
“The medical school is faxing over their information on Bruce Mathis,” She said as she walked out of the office for a moment.
“Glad to know somebody’s making progress,” He frowned as he lifted a jelly donut from the bag and sat on the edge of the desk.
A few moments later, Shannon returned to the office. She proceeded directly to the cork board and posted one of the pages from the fax machine, “That’s Bruce Mathis.”
Dave followed her movements and recognized the photograph, “That’s the same Bruce Mathis who was murdered north of here.”
“So we’re no better off. Who the hell was our victim?”
“I have no idea,” Shannon frowned as she looked over the evidence on the board.
Dave shook his head as he put down his donut and dusted off his hands on his uniform. He fished a slip of paper from his wallet and began dialing the phone.
“What are you doing?” She asked as she focused on Dave.
“Getting a little help,” He replied with a smile, “Olivia, hi, Dave Warner here.”
“Hi Dave,” Olivia smiled as she greeted him, “What can I do for you?”
“Actually I wanted to ask you a favor.”
“Okay, what’s that?”
“Could you see if the family of Bruce Mathis has a yearbook from medical school for him? We’re running out of leads in our case.”
“Yeah I can do that. And if they do, I’ll bring it down to you the day after Christmas…if you think you can make good on that promise to show me around Coral Valley.”
Dave grinned, “I’m sure I can make good on that particular promise. Let me know what you find, okay?”
“Okay, Dave. Merry Christmas.”
“You too,” He smiled as he hung up the phone. He looked over to Shannon and shrugged, “I’m not above using my connections to get information we need.”
Shannon rolled her eyes, “Your connections are useless. What do you hope to glean from a yearbook?”
“The Bruce Mathis…our Dr. Doe, actually, knew his way around a hospital. He was a good doctor, and that leads me to believe that he had medical training. It’s a pretty safe bet that if he took on Bruce Mathis’s identity that he knew him. My guess would be from medical school since the real Bruce Mathis was murdered at a party celebrating his graduation.”
She frowned, “Sometimes you actually make sense.”
Dave grinned, “I’ll take that as a compliment,” He winked at her before returning to his donut, hoping that the day would continue to show progress in their investigation.
Jenna stretched out over her blankets finding herself stiff and exhausted as she still wore last night’s attire. Looking around her room, she realized that like her life, her bedroom had become far more cluttered and disorganized and that in itself left an unsettling feeling in the pit of her stomach. Sitting upright, she looked around the room for a moment as she heard the faint clinking sounds coming from outside of her bedroom. A moment later Hart stepped in clumsily maneuvering a tray in his arms as his eyes fell upon her.
“Oh good. You’re awake,” he smiled brightly, “I was afraid I’d have to wake you up and knowing that temper of yours, well I feared if I tried you might deck me.”
“Who says I still won’t,” Jenna tried to sneak at look at what he was carrying as she situated herself on the bed, “Hart, what are you still doing here?”
“Well last night when you drifted off to sleep, I realized that leaving you alone probably wasn’t a good idea and since someone tempted me with the idea of passion,” his eyes cast a smoldering look in her general direction as Jenna felt the heat of his gaze penetrate her in oh so many ways she hadn’t anticipated as her toes seemed to curl upon his words, “I thought I’d give in to another passion of mine for you this morning since I had some excess energy.”
“And what passion might that be?” Jenna questioned wearily as he brought the tray in beside her on the mattress.
“Cooking of course,” Hart winked at her as he motioned to the tray before her, “Once upon a time I relished the idea of making something more of these culinary talents of mine, but then well, law school came along and the pay was so much better so alas,” he sighed heavily, “I threw aside my dreams of owning a five star restaurant and instead opted to use my talents in the courtroom instead of in the kitchen.”
“I see,” Jenna eyed the tray before her as the various colored foods lay out before her, “What is all of this?”
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Hart explained simply, “some fruits, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles…You know the works.”
“Hart, I wasn’t aware that I had this much in my kitchen,” Jenna turned her attention up to him again in confusion.
“You didn’t actually, but I made a quick run to the market down the street,” he explained reaching for a fork, “as I said you left me with a lot of kinetic energy last night and I had to find a good outlet.”
“Oh,” Jenna felt a heat rise over her features as she thought of the proposal she’d laid out before him the previous night. Knowing that her flushed features clearly were giving her away, she eyed the tray once again before adding timidly, “sorry about that.”
“No apologies necessary,” he shook his head simply, “I didn’t mind getting a feel for your kitchen as it gave me an idea of what I could expect in the future.”
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean,” Jenna gave him a pointed look.
“It means I can see from your kitchen that I have my work cut out for me, but first,” he dipped the fork he’d picked up into the plate before her, “try this…”
“Hart, I…” Jenna opened her mouth in protest as he lifted the fork to her lips urging her to take a bite. Reluctantly she did as requested and as soon as the taste touched her lips, she felt herself savoring the bite as her lips parted wider ready to indulge in what he’d prepared for her, “Oh this is good…”
“I knew you’d like it,” he boasted reaching for another forkful of eggs before lifting it to her lips once more, “Come on and have another bite as you’re going to need your protein.”
“Hart, this is amazing, but,” she motioned to the tray before her, “I’m so not going to eat all of this…”
“I’m well aware of that and this,” he nodded to the contents before her, “isn’t all for you as I worked up quite an appetite myself in preparing this,” he scooted on the bed beside her as he extracted a fork of his own off of the tray, “see….”
“So there was an ulterior motive in this,” Jenna teased as she took another bite, “you just wanted to get closer to me.”
“Is that a crime?” he asked casually as he slid in beside her.
“Not yet, but if your hands start taking on a mind of their own,” Jenna nodded towards him thinking of how last night she’d wanted nothing more than to experience those hands upon her.
“They always have a mind of their own,” he reached for a strawberry plucking it up from one of the bowls on the tray before lifting it to her lips, “though last night you didn’t seem to mind that much.”
“Hart,” she felt the heat pour over her body as she was certain by now it was obvious how uncomfortable she was. Hart teased the lush berry over her bottom lip as she struggled to find words, but instead she bit down on the strawberry keeping her eyes fixed upon his as she wondered just what she was getting into with this handsome man before her.
“I knew you wouldn’t have any objections,” he winked at her wiping at the corner of her mouth were traces of juice remained before bringing dipping his finger inside his mouth as her eyes widened in response to him.
“Hart, I really appreciate you doing all this, but about last night…” Jenna started shifting uneasily as she thought to the way she threw herself at him.
“Jenna, last night had a very promising beginning,” he reached out to touch the side of her face, “but the timing just wasn’t right.”
“No it wasn’t,” she sighed as the memory of her mother’s arrival hung over the mood, “I didn’t expect to have my mother and Preston here with us…”
“I don’t think she quite expected to see us in that kind of position herself,” Hart couldn’t help but laugh at the memory before growing suddenly serious, “although I wish that you didn’t have to endure what you have because of circumstances.”
“You mean because she lied to me about my father and she seems to think that it’s more than fine to keep running my life,” Jenna frowned in response.
“You know maybe she had her reasons,” Hart offered up, “There might be more to this story.”
“Hart, you saw her last night. She was ready to throw you out of my apartment just because she didn’t want me being around you.”
“Jenna, while I can’t say I’d agree with that decision she was wanting to make, well you have to admit that we haven’t had the greatest of histories between us,” he offered up as he reached for another piece of fruit, “I mean any mother might have their reservations about allowing a man like me in their daughter’s life…”
“My mother doesn’t tell me who I can date,” Jenna stated firmly as she watched him for a long moment, “and unless you have some dark secret to tell me like you’re my long lost brother, I don’t intend on letting her make decisions like that for me.”
“Well last time I checked we weren’t related what so ever, which is a damn good thing because I’m sure I’d burn in hell for thinking such sinful things about a woman like you,” Hart teased with a sexy smile as he leaned in towards her. Unable to help himself he eased in towards her dropping a playful kiss upon her lips, “You know you set me on fire, Jenna.”
“That’s funny,” Jenna whispered against his mouth as she immediately lost track of the breakfast he’d made for her, “because last night I was starting to enjoy the idea of you heating things up before we were interrupted.”
“So no regrets?” Hart questioned with a lazy smile as his fingers slipped into her hair.
“Other than us not finishing what we started,” Jenna replied with a sudden rush of confidence as she smiled up at him, “none. You?”
“Not a chance,” he leaned forward unable to contain himself as he collected her mouth eagerly.
Jenna reached out to him tugging at the center of his shirt as she pulled him in closer to her suddenly remembering the fireworks from the previous evening as Hart hovered over her, his mouth tasting like fire and a mixture of spices as a sudden ache climbed up over Jenna’s body. Teasing him with her lips and tongue, she reached out to him pulling his body in over hers when a sudden crashing sound filled her ears and she heard Hart wince as he pulled away from her.
“What the…” he began to curse as Jenna noticed the two glasses of orange juice he’d had on the tray had spilled directly in the center of his pants and now as Jenna watched him trying to gracefully pull himself out of the situation she couldn’t help but laugh at how silly the moment turned out to be.
“Don’t laugh…” Hart pleaded as he jumped off of the bed trying to wipe at the juice that had splattered over his slacks. “It’s so not funny…”
“Yes, it really is,” Jenna couldn’t help herself as she doubled over with laughter unable to contain the tears that fell from her face, “I’m sorry, but this is the most amusing thing that’s happened in a long time…”
“Jenna,” he looked up at her seeing the way she spilled over the bed, body hunched over with laughter as he realized just how ridiculous he looked standing before her patting at his orange juice covered crotch as the remains of breakfast lay over her bed, smashed into her comforter. Still as he saw the sadness that had lingered over her the previous night slipping away, he couldn’t help, but be a little proud of himself as her laughter was music to his ears.
“Hart, I’m sorry…” she belted out in between laughs as her eyes turned up towards him and she found herself lost in the moment. She saw his anger melt away into an ironic smile of it’s own as he returned his attention to the orange juice stain on his pants.
“So much for being suave, huh,” he motioned to the mess he’d made as Jenna found the strength to pull herself up onto her knees on the bed.
“I don’t know,” she tossed her head over her shoulder as she crawled in towards him, “I suppose it does speak volumes about our timing there…”
“That it does,” he sighed wiping at his pants once again, “this looks bad I know, but still…”
“Here,” Jenna knelt before him as she collected the napkin from his hand, “allow me.”
“Jenna,” he spoke her name watching the mischief burning behind her eyes as she gently dabbed the damp napkin over his pants immediately making him forget about the icy cold juice as her touch began to stir up a string of wild sensations through him. He opened his mouth to speak finding himself at a complete loss as Jenna patted the area over and over again until his wrist captured hers, “um maybe you’d better…”
“Yeah,” she nodded in response bringing her hand up over his zipper as a smile lifted over her lips, “I’d better…”
“Jenna, I don’t know if…” he gulped feeling her ease down the zipper as her fingers pressed in beneath the soaked fabric seeking out the obvious heat her contact had brought about in him as his pulse raced in his chest.
“My my…” Jenna’s eyes widened as she tilted up to look at his face as her fingers came into contact with the source of his masculinity, “Hart, I must say I’m very impressed…”
“Of course you are,” he threw back in an attempt to be smooth as his hand released hers and his fingers traveled up into her hair, “as I promised you a good time didn’t I?”
“That you did,” she nodded stroking his length for a moment before her free hand devoted it’s attention to his belt, unhooking it as she continued to tease him with her skilled caress, “although I must confess it would probably be best to get you out of those pants of yours…”
“Well, the way I see it, you seem to have found yourself in a bit of a mess yourself, Doctor,” he smiled down at her as he motioned to her shirt, “Maybe we should work on getting you out of that as well.”
“You might be on to something,” Jenna rose up on her knees lifting her arms up over her head as she threw out a sensual smile in his general direction, “well, what are you waiting for?”
“Not a damn thing,” Hart explained eagerly reaching out to draw her in against him as his mouth covered hers with fevered determination as he pulled her shirt up over her body before discarding it on the floor beside her bed. A moment later, he felt her push his slacks down over his knees as his eyes fixed upon hers.
“I think we need to pick up where we left off last night,” Jenna insisted heatedly as she leaned forward nibbling on his lip tugging it between her teeth before tearing open his shirt and shoving it down his shoulders, “but this time let’s try not to have the same problems we’ve had in the past.”
“I think we can find a way to work around those,” he promised collecting her in his arms as he fell onto the bed ready to pick up exactly where they’d left off the night before as suddenly the only thing he could focus on was the sexy, wild woman before him and in that instant he realized he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cameron stepped into the breakfast nook and smiled as he saw Heather
already seated at the table. She nibbled on a piece of toast as he moved
to the opposite end of the table and sat down.
“Good morning,” He said with a smile.
“Morning,” She replied with a sigh, “I’m not sure how good it is though.”
“What’s wrong?” He asked as Franklin delivered a breakfast platter to him.
Heather smiled gratefully at Franklin as he delivered two more slices of toast to her before leaving the room, “I’m having my first bout of morning sickness.”
“I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Just talk to me,” She said softly before she took a small sip of ginger ale.
“Did you get to sleep last night with the warm milk?” He asked as he draped a napkin over his lap.
“Yeah, I did,” She nodded, “It helped to talk for a little while too. I think it took a little bit of the edge off, you know?”
“I know how that can be after an especially trying day,” He said as he began to eat his big breakfast.
“You did get me to thinking yesterday though,” She admitted, “What would I have to do in order to start my own modeling agency? I mean…what would it take to convince you that it’s a good idea?”
“Not a thing. You could just create a business plan and present it to me. I’d be sure to have my accountant write the checks.”
“How would I even begin?” She asked as the wheels began to turn in her head.
“My first suggestion would be to find a location for your office. You’ll want to have somewhere that can double as a studio as well as business offices.”
“You’re right,” Heather’s smile grew, “I have to admit that I’m getting rather excited about the possibility.”
“Then use that energy and start looking for a location,” Cameron advised as his cell phone began to ring.
“Oh…I don’t think baby is quite as excited as I am. Excuse me,” Heather said as she leapt up from the table and bolted from the room.
Cameron smiled wryly as he took his cell phone from his jacket pocket and answered, “Stone.”
“You didn’t tell me that kicking my ass was part of the deal,” William reprimanded.
“I had to become her hero, and you already put yourself in the role of villain. If everything was going to work, I had to toss you out,” Cameron shrugged as he took a sip of his coffee.
“So what’s next?”
“What do you mean what’s next? You’re going back to Los Angeles, and you’re never going to speak to Heather again.”
“That wasn’t what we discussed. You said that I’d get to be a partner in Heather’s new business.”
“Plans changed. You’ll get your money.”
“If the plans changed, my price has changed also.”
“Don’t push me,” Cameron warned.
“You promised one thing and then delivered another. I want another twenty-five thousand, or I might have to tell Heather what you’re up to.”
“As if she’d believe you.”
“She knows that you’re up to no good.”
“And she knows that I’m a hell of a lot better for her than you are. Don’t try to blackmail me. I don’t do well under pressure.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Only insomuch as you’re threatening me,” Cameron said carefully, “Don’t cross me. I promise you that you’ll live to regret it,” He hung up the phone quickly and tucked it into his jacket. He took a deep breath before sipping his coffee. He was much too close to having his plans finally working out to let any peon like William Steed ruin it. He’d never let his revenge on Douglas Mahoney slip through his fingers…no matter what he had to do in order to keep his plans on track.
Dorothy stepped off the hospital elevators realizing that she’d been here more and more over the last couple of days much to her dismay. While she’d intended to be a comfort to Douglas earlier in the week after Kipp had done the unthinkable, things had changed and a pang of guilt hung over her as she prepared to have a talk with the man she’d worked so hard to forget. As anticipated she found him in his son’s room, by his bedside and while her head tried to remind her that this probably wasn’t the best of timing, her encounter with Jenna the previous evening still remained on the front burner in her mind as she stepped into the room hoping that somehow Douglas wouldn’t hold the timing against her.
“Doug,” she spoke softly as his gaze lifted up from his son to her direction, “hello.”
“Dottie,” he cleared his throat obviously surprised to see her as he stood up from the bed, “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I actually came here because I think we should talk,” she glanced down at Kipp feeling that guilt sweep over her as she took in a slow breath, “I know the timing isn’t the best, but there are a few things that we need to speak about that really can’t wait.”
“I was thinking that myself,” he confessed as he looked at his son one last time.
“Do you think maybe we can do this out in the hall?” she questioned rubbing her hands together nervously, “I know that you probably don’t want to leave his side but…”
“I could stretch my legs for a moment or two,” he reached out to touch Kipp’s forehead, “I’ll be back soon, son,” he promised following Dorothy out into the hallway as he saw the seriousness behind her dark eyes, “Okay, Dottie, what’s on your mind?”
“Truthfully,” she hesitated before speaking, “Jenna.”
“Oh?” he inquired saying nothing more as he waited for her to explain.
“This is really important,” she paused, “and since you and I weren’t able to do any of this in her younger years, well I started thinking about things now and I realize that we need to come up with something to make this situation better…”
“I couldn’t agree more,” he added with a sigh, “In fact I spent all night thinking about Jenna…about the fact that she is my daughter and I realized that she’s a beautiful young woman and I’m ready to do what I wasn’t able to do before. I know that you had your reasons for what you did, but I really think if we try that maybe just maybe we can…” he started as she cut him off abruptly.
“Doug, I’m really worried about her. She’s getting in over her head and right now she’s not speaking with me,” Dorothy blurted out quickly, “I’ve tried to reach her, but she’s spending her time with this horrible man and I just think if maybe you try to reason with her…”
“Wait a second,” he blinked back at her as his features , “You came all the way over to the hospital to ask me to step in push my parental weight around with Jenna because she’s seeing someone you don’t approve of?”
“That’s right,” Dorothy nodded simply, “Normally I would take care of this one myself, but the man is hell bent on destroying her life and she’s just sitting back and allowing it to happen you see…”
“This man wouldn’t happen to be Hart Steiner now would it?” he lifted a curious brow.
“As a matter of fact it would,” she remarked with an icy expression, “That man is nothing, but trouble and considering that our daughter is upset with me, she’s turning to him to spite me because she feels betrayed…”
“So you think she’s seeing him to spite you,“ he asked his face growing expressionless as he watched her intently.
“Yes I do and if you knew half the things he’s done to Jenna, you wouldn’t be questioning my motives behind this…” she began with a huff.
“I’m not questioning your motives at all unless of course there is something you are doing that is worth questioning like keeping our daughter in the dark about where she’s come from all these years?” he shot back unable to contain the sarcasm in her voice, “It’s not like I could’ve been a good father to her, now could I?”
“Doug, you didn’t want a child in your life and our daughter would’ve only messed things up for you. I did all of us a favor in leaving and don’t you stand there and judge me because of the judgment call I made. I did what was best for Jenna and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat if I had to.”
“Did you really think that little of me?” he questioned obvious hurt in his voice, “Did our time together mean so little that you were willing to walk away without allowing me have an opportunity to be a part of our little girl’s life? Honestly, you weren’t ever going to tell me about Jenna, were you?”
“No, I wasn’t and that’s because it was what was for the best. Even now you can’t tell me that knowing has changed things for you except well now you have a reason to make me miserable again by playing her against me…” she challenged with a frown, “That is what you’re doing, isn’t it?”
“I haven’t said one thing to influence her opinion of you and you should know me better than that,” he shook his head in heavy disapproval, “I never have said anything against you considering the way I felt about you and knowing that should‘ve given you plenty of reason to think about what knowing about Jenna would‘ve done for me instead of your taking her away from me…”
“You were in it for the fun times between us. You weren’t looking for something serious as it got in the way of the Hollywood dreams you had. I was doing you a favor Doug and in the long run I think I did Jenna one as well,” she paused as she tried to keep herself from getting emotional.
“I would’ve been a good father to her if I had a chance,” he argued as the pain mirrored in his expression, “I would’ve loved her and given her the world. I would’ve given you that as well if you’d only given me the opportunity.”
“Like you gave it to Kipp?” she threw out without thinking about the weight of her comment. He took a step back as if stricken by her words and in that moment as she watched his retreat, she felt guilt eat away at her, “Doug, I didn’t mean…”
“Look, Dottie, I’m not going to tell Jenna who she can and cannot see because from what I’ve seen Hart seems to care about her. When they paid Kipp a visit, I could see a connection between them and considering how alienated from the world Jenna must be feeling upon discovering that her life was nothing short of a lie, well, I won’t discourage the only connection she feels right now to someone else.”
“The man is trouble and he’s only going to destroy her,” she stated once again trying to ignore the way his eyes still penetrated her after all these years as the old wounds were still very fresh between the both of them.
“I think the real reason you’re here to do this is because you’re afraid if you don’t stop Jenna from spending time with Hart, you’re going to lose her. You’re so afraid of her living her life that the idea of her taking a chance on someone scares the hell out of you…”
“That isn’t it at all, Doug.”
“Isn’t that what it was with me,” he stepped in closer to her, “You were afraid of taking a chance, so you ran and now you want our daughter to do the same?”
“I took a chance on you and it left me pregnant and alone,” she explained with a tight expression, “I learned the hard way that believing in someone else only lead to misery.”
“The only reason it ended up in misery was because you left me without giving me a chance to show you just how much you meant to me,” he softened his tone as he reached out to her touching her cheek gently, “Dottie, if you stop building those walls around you, you might see that there was a lot more going on than you wrote it off as.”
“Doug, you never would’ve wound up with me. That wasn’t what your family wanted and we both know it…”
“Funny because in that sense, Jenna and I are alike it seems,” Douglas threw back at her as he leaned in towards her, tipping down as though he was going to kiss her before stopping short just above her astonished mouth, “We both go where our heart leads us and the rest of the world be damned when it comes to love.”
“It’s not love,” Dorothy replied breathlessly as she fought with herself wishing that she’d be able to muster up the strength to just walk away from him, “It never was and it won’t be, but what will come out of it is misery and…”
“Passion…” he interrupted as his gaze lazily lingered down over her lips, “and excitement and freedom…”
With those words, she seemed to snap out of the spell that he’d been working upon her as she took a step away from him, “And that lead to single motherhood and a lifetime of regrets.”
“It’s not too late to change that you know,” Douglas reached out to her catching her arm before she could walk away.
“Yes it is,” she answered forcing herself to look at him as she pulled her arm out of his reach, “It’s too late for us, but it’s not for Jenna. If you won’t find a way to keep her from screwing up her life, then at least help me find a way to keep that from happening. If you won’t talk to her about this, then at least encourage her to listen to what I have to say…”
“What if I don’t agree with what you have to say?” he folded his arms in front of his chest defiantly, “What if I think she and Hart should just go where the feeling takes them?”
“Then you’re only leading our daughter to ruin and Doug, as much as you think you have a say in her life, the only fathering you’ve done is in biology. I know our daughter and I know what it is that she’s longing for. I know how she feels and how she hurts and right now she’s far more vulnerable than she’s ever been and if you care about her at all, then you’ll stop trying to compare her situation with ours and you’ll step up and do the right thing.”
“The right thing for her? Or for you?” he challenged.
“If you sit back and facilitate this reckless behavior in her, she’ll wind up far more miserable than I was and if nothing else hits home with you, just remember that our daughter deserves more than that. She should have a life with someone who can give her what she needs…not someone who’s only going to hurt her,” she explained hesitantly, “I mean isn’t that what you said you wanted for your children?”
“Of course I do, but…”
“Doug, if you don’t help me rectify this situation with Jenna, I’m afraid that somehow she’ll end up like Kipp or worse because Jenna can’t take this kind of stress. She’s not going to be able to face this on her own considering…”
“Dottie, is this really about Jenna or about you? I mean from what I’ve seen our daughter is a strong-willed woman who knows what she wants. Yes, this revelation has shaken her up, but I see her as a fighter who keeps going with the punches and comes out on top of it. You on the other hand, well, I don’t know if you’re going to be able to do this on your own.”
“I’m not on my own,” she stood taller refusing to give his words any merit, “I have Preston.”
“Ah yes, I noticed the tagalong,” he nodded appropriately, “and I’m sure he’s been there every step of the way, right? I mean certainly he’s given you what I couldn’t, yes?”
“Pres is a good man and I love him and yes, he’s been there for things you and I couldn’t have done together.”
“And that’s what you want for our daughter? A security and a life of second choices because she runs away from what she truly wants and needs in her life?”
“Hart isn’t what Jenna needs and if you open your eyes and stop romanticizing what we had, you’ll see that this is a situation where I’m right.”
“Dottie, I don’t think anything you’ve done since you found out I was back in town was right, but then again, I’m sure you were expecting that.”
“What I was expecting was for you to back me up because if you loved me like you said you did back in the day, then you’d help me repair that damage that has been done with our daughter. You’d show her that she needs to be with me and that I did the right thing in taking her away…”
“So you want me to tell my daughter that a life with me would’ve been filled with misery and hurt? That it was best that I didn’t know her…didn’t take part in her joys and sorrows…”
“Doug, don’t complicate things. Jenna doesn’t need this in her life now. She needs security.”
“Now I know we’re not talking about Jenna and Dottie as much as I loved you and hell, some part of me still might have some of that spark, I won’t convince our daughter that she’s better off without me in her life nor will I advocate that she walk away from love. You’re on your own on that one and as far as I’m concerned, we’re done here,” he snapped back at her spinning on his heel as he returned to Kipp’s room leaving her and the conversation behind him as Dorothy watched his retreat wondering if somehow she’d been wrong in the decision she’d made so many years ago.
“No,” she told herself as she refused to allow Douglas to change her mind. She did what she had to and even if he refused to help her now, she’d find a way to protect Jenna again at any cost.
Jade stood at the coffee machine and filled her mug with the freshly
brewed coffee. She was the only one in the office as most everyone had
taken the day of Christmas Eve off. She hadn’t had plans to work, but seeing
as how Grady had pretty much ruined her plans for Christmas Eve by being
a jerk, she was now forced to resort to plan B.
She turned to walk out of the break room but stopped as she spotted Grady standing in the doorway. She met his eyes for a silent moment before she diverted her attention to her coffee.
“Jade, we need to talk,” Grady began as he stepped completely into the room.
“Grady,” She began.
“Let me finish,” He urged as he met her eyes, “Jade, I’ve screwed up. It’s the story of my life, and I’m not going to try to make excuses for it. I’m a professional screw up, but I want to change that. I did a lot of thinking last night, and there’s one thing that I could never quite get past,” He paused as he gazed into her eyes, “It’s that I love you, and I don’t want to lose you.”
“And I don’t want to lose you. I love you, Grady, but I don’t know how much you expect me to just sit back and take,” She said sadly.
“That’s just it, Jade. I don’t expect you to take anything. I want you to do just exactly what you did the other night.”
Jade looked at him in confusion, “I don’t understand.”
“You walked out not only to save yourself but to make me see what I was missing out on. I understand that now,” He assured her as he reached out and took her coffee mug from her. He placed it aside and took her hands in his, “I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, Jade, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I was always a creature of habit, and all my habits were destructive ones. I want to turn my life around, Jade, and you are my gateway to doing that. You’ve done so much for me by just being in my life. I feel so unworthy of you, but I want to try to be. I want to be a man you want to have in your life.”
“Grady, you already are,” She said honestly as tears pooled in her eyes, “You always have been. Haven’t I told you that about a million times?”
“Yes, but I haven’t opened my heart enough to accept it. I’ve been closed off and bull headed and just damned stubborn,” He blurted out as he cupped her cheeks in his hands, “I don’t want to be anymore. I want to open my heart to you and show you the kind of love that you’ve brought to my life.”
“Grady,” She whispered his name.
Grady responded by lowering his lips to hers, caressing her lips with all the love that he felt for her. No matter how he’d acted before, he wanted to change his behavior for Jade and for himself. He wanted to be able to enjoy her love and to act in a manner so that she could enjoy his.
As their lips parted, Jade met Grady’s eyes and breathed slowly, “Wow.”
“Well, what do we have here?” Susan asked from the doorway, “Still romancing the hired help, Grady? I really thought you had learned a few lessons along the way.”
Jade focused upon the door and glared at the woman standing there. While they had never met, the woman who had destroyed Grady’s life needed no formal introduction.
Grady frowned as he looked to Susan, knowing his day was about to take
a very ugly turn for the worst and probably take Jade right along with