Episode Sixty One

Jade sat on the edge of Grady’s desk while he sat in his chair. Both of them glared across the desk at their visitor who was most unwelcome.

Susan smiled as she sat her briefcase beside her chair and reclined back. She looked at Jade with contempt, “You can go now.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jade declared as she crossed her arms.

Grady grinned as he sat back in his chair, “What do you want, Susan?”

“I’m here to discuss business, Grady. So you can dismiss the little lady here,” Susan said as she eyed Jade with contempt.

“You act like you have some kind of power here,” Jade said as she rolled her eyes, “You lost all rights to that a long time ago.”

“Who do you think you are?” Susan snapped.

“Someone you do not want to piss off, Lady,” Jade said the word with hatred already evident in her voice.

“Grady, get rid of her before I’m forced to smack her for being so impertinent,” Susan demanded.

“Oh please, make my day,” Grady laughed softly, “I’d actually love to watch Jade kick your ass,” He crossed his arms as he sat back in his chair, “But let’s try to refrain from tearing my office apart, shall we? What do you want, Susan?”

“You’re representing Cameron’s personal case against BBK, and I’m about to face down Ken in court over this business with Midlands. Is Ken representing BBK in that case as well?” Susan asked.

“Wait a minute. You’re working for Cameron Stone?” Jade rolled her eyes with a groan, “Why does that just figure?”

Susan eyed Jade wearily for a moment, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, it just makes a lot of sense that he would hire the lowest of the low to represent him,” Jade replied as she shook her head.

Susan started to argue before she held her tongue and returned her gaze to Grady, “Is Ken representing BBK?”

“No, Avery Morrison is,” He replied.

“Avery? Well, I had no idea she was still going to be working seeing as how she’s married to Brant now,” Susan smiled, “Oh well, I suppose she might as well keep her job as Brant will tire of her in a short time and find a new woman to woo.”

“Hoping for the position yourself?” Jade asked with a snort.

Susan cut Jade a dirty look before she spoke again, “Good, then I won’t have to worry about your case interfering with mine.”

“Only if your boss wants to complicate things,” Grady replied, “He has a way of complicating matters with very little effort.”

“What is your problem with Cameron?” Susan asked as if she were offended.

“Besides the fact that he’s certifiable?” Jade asked as she shook her head.

“You know, I’m getting really tired of your snide comments,” Susan reprimanded.

“Too bad,” Jade said firmly as she turned and looked to Grady, “You know what this is all really about, don’t you?”

“I’m afraid I do, and that scares me more than I want to admit,” Grady frowned.

“Would someone like to let me in on this secret communication here?” Susan asked as she stood and stepped to the side of the desk so she could get a clear view of Jade and Grady.

“As if you didn’t know already,” Jade sighed heavily.

Susan crossed her arms and directed her gaze at Grady, “What the hell is she talking about?”

“How long have you worked for Cameron Stone?” Grady asked as he glared at her.

“That’s none of your business,” Susan replied, “And I suddenly feel like I’m under some sort of interrogation. I don’t like that at all.”

“Then do us all a big favor and leave,” Jade suggested as she hopped off the desk and walked around to stand beside Grady, “And don’t come back without calling first.”

Susan scoffed, “You think you’re big and powerful, don’t you?” She laughed softly, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”

“Neither do you,” Jade pointed out coldly as she held Susan’s eyes, “I suggest you leave now before I decide to escort you out myself.”

Susan rolled her eyes before looking to Grady, “I’ll talk to you later when your little pet isn’t trying to be the boss.”

“Pet?” Jade repeated with an amused grin.

Grady stood as he knew he’d better intervene before a catfight ensued in the midst of his office, “Susan, just go.”

Susan picked up her brief case and glanced at Jade once more before she rolled her eyes and left the office.

Jade tightened her fists as she crossed the room and slammed the office door closed, “Oh, that woman. She’s got a lot of nerve.”

“Yes, she does,” Grady nodded in agreement as he slipped his hands into his pockets, “And so does her boss.”

“You know why Cameron brought her here. He’s just itching to find some way to get between us,” She exhaled before throwing her hands into the air, “What the hell does he want from me?”

“You,” He said simply as he looked at her with fear evident in his eyes, “Just you.”

“Well he can’t have me,” She said as she took a deep breath and slowly let it out as she tried to calm down from the anger Susan’s visit had inspired, “What am I going to do about him?”

“I don’t know, Jade, but we’ll deal with Stone together,” He said as he crossed the room and gently placed his hands upon her shoulders, “I was serious about making sure you know just how much I love you. I want you to know that I would do anything to have you in my life, and I’m going to start making a very serious effort to show you my love. I’ve been pretty negligent in that area as of late, and you deserve so much more.”

“Grady,” She began as she met his eyes. She began to speak but decided that no words were necessary as she drew his lips to hers for a tender and reassuring kiss. If they were ever going to be able to make it together, Cameron and Susan would be the true tests of their love.


Deidra stepped into the police station and stopped at the front desk. It had been so long since she’d been in Coral Valley, but some things never seemed to change. The CVPD still ran like organized chaos with people moving in all different directions doing ten million different things. How Dave ever managed to keep up with it all was beyond her.

“Can I help you?” Patrick Sharpe asked as he leaned onto the counter.

“I’m looking for Dave Warner.”

“Can I tell him who’s asking for him?” He asked as his eyes moved over her body in a not so subtle perusal.

“Deidra Byrne,” She said with a sigh instantly sensing that the deputy was not to be trusted.

“I’ll see if I can find the chief, but you do realize that he’s a busy man.”

“No kidding,” She muttered as she crossed her arms, “Could you go find out if he’s available?”

“Of course I’m available,” Dave said as soon as he spotted her from across the squad room. He closed the distance between them and scooped her up into a big hug, “You are certainly a sight for sore eyes.”

“Well now,” Deidra chuckled as she hugged him in return, “If this is the kind of reception I get, I think I’ll go out and do that again,” She teased as he put her at arm’s length to get a good look at her.

“Florida did you a lot of good. You are looking hot, woman,” He informed her with a whistle.

“Oh god, spare me the falsehoods, okay?” She said with a light smile.

“I’m serious,” He smiled before he pulled her tightly against his side and escorted her through the squad room towards his office, “What are you doing back in town? Miami getting too hot for you?”

“No, not really. I’m coming home for good.”

“Really?” He asked in surprise as he closed the door to his office. He motioned towards the sofa where they both took a seat, “Somehow I don’t get the feeling you’re coming home for good reasons.”

Deidra shook her head, “I hate it that you were always able to read me.”

“So why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” He asked as he situated himself to look at her.

“Andy and I are getting divorced.”

“What? How come?” He asked in shock and dismay.

“I caught him with another woman in our bed,” She said as she closed her eyes at the painful memory, “And she wasn’t the first he’d been with according to the nurses at the hospital. More than a few of them had been with him as well.”

“Dee, I’m so sorry to hear that. Damn, I thought he had really straightened out with you. He was always different with you than with any other woman,” He said as he gently patted her shoulder, “I thought you two were going to make it.”

“I thought things would work out for us too,” She admitted, “But I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to start my own practice here in Coral Valley. I’m starting at the hospital soon, but I’ll be looking for office space in the meantime.”

“You should damn well make Andy pay for all the trouble too,” Dave frowned, “You know, you were always too good for him.”

“Okay, suck up,” She teased as she rolled her eyes, “Then why do I not feel good enough?”

“Because Andy has this terrible habit of using and abusing the people around him and then discarding them like garbage. I never in a million years would have believed he would have done that to you though. He really loved you.”

“Yeah? Then how could he do something like this if he loved me, Dave? How could he betray me? In my own house?”

“I don’t know, and that pisses me off,” He admitted, “Hey, if there’s anything I can do to help you out, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”

“My god, Dave, you’ve been helping me out since we were neighbors back in grade school. Aren’t you tired of always helping the poor little girl down the street?”

“You weren’t just any little girl down the street. Yeah, you were a few years younger, but gosh you were cute. Besides, I’d never seen anyone dump a carton of milk over John Reeves before.”

“Oh god, don’t remind me.”

“I’m afraid I have to,” Dave grinned, “I mean hey, it’s not every day that one of the most timid girls in school walks right up to the school’s biggest bully and dumps her carton of milk on him. That was priceless, and I swear I wish I had a picture of it even now.”

“I’m glad you don’t. I couldn’t believe I did it either, but sometimes people just go too far.”

“Yes, they do,” He agreed, “So I’m curious,” He smiled, “Do you still have any of that spark in you? To try to right the wrongs of the world right in the face of the biggest bully?”

“No,” She said with a slight laugh, “I’m doing good to just take care of myself these days.”

“I don’t think you give yourself enough credit, Dee. You never did, and that’s part of what made you so damn attractive. You never let your intelligence or your good looks go to your head.”

“And now you’re turning on the flattery again. Do I really look that desperate?”

“How did you get desperate from that?” He asked in offense, “Hey, I was trying to tell the truth, but if you’re going to be defensive…”

“Sorry. I’m just always on defense lately. Unfortunately when I decide to let down my guard, it’s at the most inopportune moments.”

“Such as?”

“I visited Diane this morning. I can’t believe she still hates me so much after all this time.”

“Diane doesn’t hate you.”

“Believe me, Dave, she hates me,” Deidra assured him, “She wishes I would vanish, and she’d never have to see me again. The sad thing is that I really wanted to spend the holidays with her and mom, and I was hoping we could try to mend some of the problems in our past.”

“But Diane doesn’t want to hear it, right?”

“Exactly. God, she can be so stubborn,” She groaned, “Still, I’m not going to push her. If she doesn’t want to talk to me, I won’t make her. I’m not going to push my misery on her.”

“Hey,” He said softly as he put his fingers under her chin and made her look at him, “You’ve got to stop this self-defeating attitude.”

“I can’t help it. I’m miserable, and I feel like everything I touch turns to crap. I’d be sparing the world a lot if I just crawled in a hole and never came out again.”

“Knock that off!” Dave demanded, “Dee, you’re a beautiful, bright, sexy gal with loads to offer the world. Why you can’t see that I’ll never know, but I swear to you that I see it and so does everyone else. Not everyone knows how to appreciate it, but I guarantee you that they see just how wonderful you are.”

Deidra met his eyes for a moment, “I think I should just go home. I’m just upsetting you, and that’s not why I came here. I just wanted to let you know that I’m back in town.”

“You don’t have to leave, Dee,” Dave said as he stood with her, “Why don’t you go to dinner with me?”

“I can’t. Mom’s having dinner at her house, and I want to be there. Diane might not want me there, but she’s my mother too,” She sighed heavily, “Just do me a favor and wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” He offered as he drew her into a hug, “Don’t you dare be a stranger now that you’re back in town.”

Deidra smiled softly as she hugged him in return, “I won’t be. I’ll take a rain check on that dinner invitation, and you can bet I’ll be taking you up on it very soon,” She said with a smile as she gently squeezed his hands and left the office.

Dave frowned as he watched his friend close the door behind her. Now he had no choice but to worry about her and try to do something to cheer her up. While she’d never admit it, he could read devastation clearly across her gentle features. That was something he’d never be able to tolerate and would have to move quickly to change.


“Jenna,” Hart murmured her name as his lips teased over her neck, teeth grazing upon her warm skin as a soft sigh escaped from Jenna’s parted lips.  Her nails raked down his back as she closed her eyes savoring the sensations that this sexy, dangerous man over her had elicited in her.
“Oh yes,” Jenna purred bringing music to his ears as her finger tips trailed down over his spine, fanning out over his tight bottom as she offered an assertive squeeze over him, “Hart, you have no idea how much I want you right now…”
“Why don’t you try to make me understand,” he coaxed her into another frantic kiss as his fingers pressed in over the beige colored bra she was wearing.  His palm caressed her fullness, testing her responsiveness through the fabric as her soft sounds of pleasure indicated he was certainly headed in the right direction with her.  Trailing his lips over her body, drawing a thin line over her breastbone with his tongue, his mouth moved in over her fullness pressing a soft kiss over her body through the satiny material of her bra as Jenna arched up to him.
“Oh Hart,” she cried out his name feeling the warmth of his teasing kisses setting her body on fire as she longed to feel his breath upon her skin, to have him taste her and tease her as she’d dreamt about in the past, but just as she found herself ready to lose herself to the fantasy, his mouth moved in over her body, lips tickling in over her abdomen as she curled her fingers over his shoulders, “please…”
“Jenna, I promised you an experience of your lifetime and I’m not about to keep that from happening here and now.  Although I must confess that right now you‘re wearing entirely too much clothes here,” he murmured against her skin as his fingers made quick work of the clasp on her slacks before haphazardly tearing them off down her body before he rose up over her smiling down as his eyes took in every perfect inch of her, “See now that’s much better…”
Jenna’s eyes traveled up over the contours of his chest as she gave him a very firm look and her lip curled in a pout as she reached out to him, “Hart, quit talking and just get over here.”
“As you wish,” he dipped down to kiss her enjoying the intensity of her mouth against his as he realized that Jenna Carpenter was clearly as demanding a lover as she’d been in dealing with him, but this new uninhibited side of her was something that Hart was finding himself appreciating more and more by the moment as her tongue lashed out at his driving him wild with the intensity of her kiss before he forced himself to focus on the seduction he’d had plotted out for her.  Sure, taking her fast and hard and now seemed like a great idea, but considering the fight she’d given him in the past, well he was determined to make her feel some of the agony he’d experienced as he tore his mouth away from hers.
“Hart,” she spoke his name in protest, but before he’d allow a complaint to register from her lips, his mouth eased on over her curves nibbling on her shoulder as his fingers dropped down over her aching breast, kneading and stroking her as he felt her nipple peak beneath his touch.
“Very nice,” he smiled proudly as his other hand dipped in over the front clasp of her bra as his eyes met hers once again, “although I think I’d like a little more than a sneak preview right about now.”
“By all means,” Jenna released him dropping her arms out by her sides as she sank her head back into the pillows awaiting his reaction to her as he began to work on the clasp before him.  She closed her eyes for a moment feeling the silence surround her as Hart let out a bit of a groan.  A moment later, she could feel him tugging on her bra clasp in frustration as another groan washed over him.
“No,” he cursed pulling back a bit as Jenna reopened her eyes in surprise as she looked up at him.
“No?” she repeated in confusion as she blinked up at him, “What do you mean no?  Did you change your mind about doing this?”
“No, not at all,” he explained quickly, too quickly as his eagerness got the best of him and he turned his eyes to the latest roadblock for them, “it’s just that,” he motioned to her bra as his fingers pressed in over the clasp once again, “well, I haven’t had this kind of problem before…”
“What kind of problem is that,” she gave him a sideways glance as he motioned to her bra and she offered up a knowing smile, “oh, allow me.”
“No, I’ve got it,” he promised taking another try as he found himself unable to pull it open.  He tugged harder, shaking Jenna with the movement as she brought her hands up over his wrists.
“Hart, it’s okay,” Jenna began feeling herself bounce on the bed as he continued to tear at the clasp.
“I’m almost there,” he promised focusing completely on the impossible bra clasp as he strained to free her up to his impatient eyes.
“Hart, it’s okay.  Let me just…” Jenna started again a bit on edge as the bed beneath her bounced with her body as he applied more pressure to the stubborn clasp.  “Hart…”
“I’ve got it…at least I will in a minute….” he struggled once more as Jenna curled her fingers around his wrists tightly stopping him from his efforts.
“Allow me,” she smiled up at him seductively offering up a knowing look as he reluctantly released her.
“Alright,” he agreed sitting back a bit as he watched her bring her hands up over her own curves caressing herself for the briefest of moments as Hart found himself more turned on than he’d ever been as Jenna parted her lips with a soft sigh clearly enjoying the way she’d been able to touch herself with such confidence before her fingers dipped down over the clasp and she licked her lips preparing to open it when suddenly she felt herself in the same predicament Hart was in moments earlier.
“Oh hell no,” she groaned tugging and pulling at the clasp as she realized that it hadn’t been a case of nerves on Hart’s end.  “This is so not happening…”
“Here let me help,” Hart reached out to her working with her to dislodge the jammed clasp as a frustrated sigh spilled over Jenna’s lips as she felt the mood shifting with her annoying under wire bra.
“To hell with it,” Jenna decided throwing her arms around Hart as she kissed him heatedly pushing him down on the mattress beneath her as she straddled him.  She leaned forward teasing her tongue over his parted lips as she refused to let a little thing like satin get in the way of what was happening between them.  She felt his hands rise up over her hips in compliance as his touched tapered off over her curves.
“Oh yes,” he watched her sit upright as she grinded over him giving him a preview of what would be between them as he leaned forward squeezing her body against his as he began to guide her movements going through the motions with the barriers between them as his mouth pressed in over her neck with teasing bites.
“Tell me you’ve got protection on you,” Jenna breathed in his ear suckling on the lobe as she bumped her body over his.
“Of course I do,” Hart explained gingerly as his gaze drifted up towards hers while her body rocked over his.
“Well, now would be a good time to think about getting it,” Jenna announced point blank as she ceased movement over him.
“Right,” he scurried out from beneath her fishing through his pants pocket before a curse fell from his lips, “I don’t believe this.”
“What’s wrong,” Jenna questioned sprawling out over the bed as her eyes watched him eagerly, “Hart, what are you waiting for?”
“I don’t have it on me,” Hart frowned as he tossed his pants on the ground bitterly.
“What do you mean you don’t have it on you,” she frowned sitting upright as she looked over at him.
“I thought I did, but I guess I must’ve left it in the car,” he explained impatiently, “but I suppose I can make a quick run out there and…”
“In your soaking wet slacks?” Jenna wrinkled her nose in response as she shifted on the bed.
“Well unless you’ve got some alternative for us,” he tipped in towards her collecting her lips in a heated kiss, “as I’m sure you’ve got something around here…”
“Hart,” she withdrew from the kiss biting on her lip nervously, “actually…I don’t…”
“You don’t,” he repeated in surprise as a moment of frustration passed over him and he searched her eyes, “You’re sure?”
“Hart,” she frowned contemplating her words as she threw caution to the wind and decided honesty was the best approach with him, “it’s been a really long time for me and I wasn’t expecting that I’d have someone over so…”
“So you weren’t prepared,” Hart deduced as she offered a quick nod, “So how long has it been?”
“I’d really rather not talk about it,” Jenna admitted easing out of his embrace, “as it’s been too long.”
“Well, then we’ll work on fixing that one,” Hart leaned forward kissing her quickly, “I’ll just go out to my car and then we’ll pick up where we left off, okay?”
“Hart, I don’t know if that’s such a…”
“I’ll only be a few minutes.  I promise,” Hart vowed throwing on his pants and his shoes not bothering with his shirt as he looked to her seeing how sexy she looked laying on her bed as he flashed her a bright smile, “Don’t you go anywhere.”
“I’ll be right here waiting for you,” she promised shifting on the blankets as he took one last glance in her direction before rushing out of her apartment into the snowy morning.
Silently cursing himself for his lack of preparation, Hart raced through the snow, hoping to find a quick fix to this unfortunate twist of fate considering that he’d worked so very hard to get that very close to Jenna.  Even now his blood was boiling with the thought of being able to finally make love to her and the idea in itself made it difficult for him to think of anything else…that is until he realized he’d left his keys upstairs in her apartment.  Spinning on his heel, he rushed up the stairs and pushed himself into her apartment as he heard her calling out to him.
“Oh Hart,” she beckoned him in a seductive tone as he popped his head in the doorway to her bedroom discovering that she’d managed to fix the situation with the impossible bra as she brazenly lay on the blankets holding the bra up in the air for his inspection before dropping it to the floor, “Problem solved.”
“Almost,” he held his finger up in the air as his gaze drifted over her perfectly sculpted breasts as visions of tasting her flooded his mind and he gulped, “I forgot my keys and I had to come back and…oh hell, I’ll be right back…”
“Hurry up,” she curled her lips in a pout as Hart scooped up his keys from the floor before marching out into the frigid weather to seek out the one missing essential for their morning of passion.
Placing the key in the door, Hart found that his locks had frozen over in the short time from his return to Jenna’s apartment after his trip to the store.  Feeling his mounting frustrations as he struggled with the lock, his thoughts turned to the image of a nearly naked Jenna and in that instant nothing mattered more than getting into his car like pronto.  Kicking and screaming as he fought with the door handle, he was suddenly aware of the looks he was getting from those in the apartment complex who’d come in from their mornings away from home.  Sure, he knew he looked ridiculous as the snow came crashing down over his naked chest, but he didn’t care as there was a hot, sexy woman waiting upstairs for him to unleash the sexual side that she’d tucked away for so very long and nothing mattered more.  With that thought in mind, Hart jammed the key into the lock and he heard a snapping sound as his key chain dropped down and he found himself looking at half of a key as the other was now embedded in the frozen lock.
“Son of a,” Hart slammed his fist into the top of his snow covered car as it set off the alarm system and the piercing sound of his car alarm cried out through the parking lot alerting everyone outside and those inside of his predicament.
“No, no, no,” Hart dropped his head forward as he realized he’d been holding the alarm remote in his hand and in that instant he wanted to kick himself for forgetting all about that very keyless entry that had done him a favor time and time again.  Yet as the idea of a very naked, impatient Jenna waiting for him upstairs filled him, he realized that his brain had gone south for a while replaced by his lust as he practically ripped open the car door and dropped inside seeking out the box of condoms he knew he’d kept in the glove box.  Second later, he retrieved the box carrying it proudly upstairs with him as he entered Jenna’s apartment ready for a day of passion between them.
“Oh Jenna,” he spoke her name in an excited tone as he dangled the box of condoms in the air upon entering her bedroom, “I’m back,” he explained as his eyes fell upon an empty bed, “Jenna?”
“In here,” she called out to him stepping out of the adjoining bathroom as she was now completely dressed with her hair tucked back in a responsibly looking ponytail.
“Um, hey, what’s going on?” he looked to her in confusion, “I thought that we…” he paused a sly expression crawling over his features as he stepped towards her, drawing his arms around her waist, “ah I know…this is another attempt to start over from the beginning and do it right this time.”
“Unfortunately,” she frowned as he leaned forward to kiss her and she stopped him mid-movement, “no.”
“No?” he gave her a sideways glance, “Like really, really no?”
“Like no this isn’t happening right now,” she nodded regretfully before explaining, “while you were outside work called and…”
“No,” Hart groaned, “not now…”
“Hart, I don’t have a choice.  The Feds are having me work with them and I have to go.  Given my shaky position at work, well I can’t just tell them that I’m not ready to come in just yet.”
“Can’t you try,” he pouted realizing that their moment was slipping away for them as he reached out to her.
“They aren’t exactly going to be sympathetic to my having a sexy lawyer in my bed wanting to ravish me especially when that same lawyer put me on shaky ground to begin with,” she remarked matter of fact, “I can’t afford not to be there, Hart.”
“So I guess this is another brush off, huh,” he sighed slumping his shoulders as the melted snow hung over his body from his trip outside.
“It’s not a brush off,” she reached out to him touching his cheek, “but more so a to be continued…”
“Really?” he questioned skeptically.
“Yes really,” Jenna tipped up on her toes to give him a quick kiss, “I mean sure I might regret saying that later, but I’m not finished with you yet.”
“Good because I haven’t even started with you,” Hart curled his arm around her claiming her in a possessive kiss, “as I owe you a whole new world of pleasure.”
“And I’m going to collect on it,” she promised feeling herself grow weak in the knees at his kisses, “In fact, why don’t you take me to work and we can talk about rescheduling on the way over…”
“Actually I think I’m going to have to decline,” he grumbled thinking about the key in his door, “as I have a little situation with my car.”
“Such as?” Jenna arched a curious brow.
“You don’t want to know, but hey, if I can stay here for a bit and clean up while I’m waiting for someone to get out here,” Hart began with a heavy sigh.
“Sure, but I can’t wait.  I have to get going,” she offered up on last quick kiss.
“Alright, but don’t think you’re getting out of any of this,” Hart reached for her hand stopping her from leaving.
“That hadn’t crossed my mind at all,” she promised with a soft smile before stepping towards the door.  Stopping mid-movement she turned to face him as her eyes sparkled with a new kind of pleasure that he hadn’t fully appreciated before now, “and for what it’s worth, you were great.”
“I’ll be even better when we can follow through on this,” he sank onto the bed watching her retreat.
“Oh we will,” Jenna winked at him, “Mark my words on that.”
“Sure,” Hart nodded watching her leave the apartment as he silently cursed the moment and he began to wonder what he did to deserve this as it began to feel like he and Jenna were tempting fate in more ways than he’d ever imagined as their timing left much to be desired.


Blake whistled a Christmas carol as she walked into the atrium of the hospital. She dangled a bag of Chinese food as she glided down the hallway. As she began to turn the corner, she almost ran into a person in front of her, “Oh…I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”

“Obviously,” Ria frowned as she crossed her arms, “We need to have a talk.”

“I don’t think we do,” Blake began as she started around Ria.

“Actually, we do,” Ria said firmly as she grabbed Blake’s arm and swung her into a supply closet.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Blake shrieked as her eyes widened, and she began to glare at Ria, “Do you have any idea who I am?”

“Unfortunately I do,” Ria nodded as she crossed her arms, “You’re the woman who broke Seth’s heart, and I want to know why.”

Blake let out a slow breath, “I really don’t think that’s any of your business.”

“It is when I’m having to watch him mope around because of you,” Ria declared.

Blake eyed the woman before her, “Look what happened between Seth and myself is just that. It’s between us, and if Seth wants to talk about it, that’s his prerogative but I’m not going to get into this with you.”

“Fine, but you’re damn well going to listen to me. I don’t know what it is you’ve done to him, but he loves you. Don’t you get that? He still loves you, and you could at least give me the time of day.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Then help me understand it, Blake, because I don’t understand how you could turn your back on a man like Seth and walk away. Not when he’s so obviously head over heels in love with you.”

Blake looked away as she thought about her situation with Seth, “We come from two very different worlds, and he made the mistake of trying to turn me against mine,” She said as she straightened her spine and held her head high, “It’s over, and that’s all you really need to understand,” She said firmly as she pulled Ria away from the door and walked out of the closet, leaving Ria in the same state of confusion in which she’d found her.


Zack slipped a chart into its slot at the admissions desk before deciding he’d go down to his lab until paged. He told the nurse to page him if needed before he turned to walk down the hallway towards his lab. Instead, he found himself headed directly towards trouble as he saw Seth walking towards him.

“Oh hell,” Zack scowled as he watched Seth approach.

Seth grinned as he heard Zack’s curse, “I’m not happy to see you either.”

“Good, then I’ll be going,” Zack started to walk down the hall.

“Not so fast,” Seth stepped in the doctor’s way, “We need to have a talk.”

“I don’t think we have anything to talk about.”

“Actually we do,” Seth said firmly, “We need to talk about Blake.”

“No, we really don’t,” Zack stated without hesitation, “You have no reason to even worry about Blake.”

“This might be hard for you to comprehend, but I love her and I know that she loves me. She’s upset with me, but she’ll see one day that I’ve done nothing to warrant her anger with me,” Seth frowned.

“If you really expect me to believe that you’re in love with her, then you’re dumber than you look,” Zack spoke with disdain.

“I don’t care if you believe me or not.”

“Good, then this conversation is over,” Zack shrugged as he walked by Seth.

“Blake’s in danger,” Seth blurted out as he turned and watched the doctor stop in his tracks, “That’s right. You heard what I said. Blake’s in real danger, and if we don’t find a way to protect her, she could be in for a lot of pain.”

Zack turned and glared at Seth. He closed the distance between them. In a flash, he had seized Seth’s collar and slammed the man’s back against the wall, “Don’t you ever threaten Blake.”

“I’m not threatening her,” Seth declared calmly as he struggled against the doctor’s fierce grip, “I’m trying to protect her.”

“Did you really think you could come here and try to somehow blackmail Blake? I saw the write up in the Inside Track. I know what you’re all about, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let you hurt Blake anymore,” Zack gritted his teeth, “You stay away from her, or I swear to god you’ll be sorry.”

“Now who’s the one making threats?” Seth asked as he met Zack’s deadly stare, “I’m trying to warn you that Cameron Stone is…”

“Aren’t you working Cameron Stone?” Zack interrupted, “Blake says you even admitted to that part of it. How dumb do you think I am? Did you really think I’d buy some story about your boss threatening Blake? More like you’re the one with a score to settle, but I’ve got news for you. If you want a fight from Blake, you’re not going to get it. From me, on the other hand,” He grinned devilishly, “That’s a whole other story.”

“I’m looking for a fight,” Seth said as he struggled against Zack once again, “Let me go.”

“You stay away from Blake or I swear to god…” Zack began.

“What is going on here?” Blake asked from down the hallway as she ran towards the two men, “Zack, stop it. Let him go.”

“Blake, I was just warning Seth about putting his nose where it doesn’t belong,” Zack said as he shoved himself away from Seth.

“More like doing the deed yourself, weren’t you Zack?” Seth asked as he adjusted his collar.

“You son of..” Zack started forward until Blake darted between the two men.

“Calm down,” Blake demanded as she looked between both men, “Zack, do me a favor and give Seth and I moment.”

“Blake,” Zack began to argue.

“Please,” Blake begged as she met his eyes, “Just give me a minute.”

“Okay,” Zack nodded before he stepped down the hallway and stood at a nurse’s station.

“He’s very protective of you,” Seth noted as he took a moment to admire every inch of Blake. It was these rare moments when he could actually see her without conjuring her up in his mind that made the world worth living for. She was everything beautiful in his world, and while he longed to pull her into his arms and make her believe in their love again, he knew she would never be welcoming to such a gesture at this state in their relationship. Right now, he was simply lucky to have these few moments to speak with her.

Blake met his eyes and felt his gaze literally reaching out to love her. She turned her eyes away from him, afraid that if she gave him even a moment to gaze into her soul that he would reveal to her secrets which she didn’t even want to know about at the moment. She took an uneven breath before she spoke, “Seth, you shouldn’t provoke Zack.”

“I wasn’t provoking him,” He replied honestly, “I was going to ask him to protect you, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to be a problem unless he’s just acting so vigilant because it’s me.”

She finally willed herself to look back at him, “Why would I need protecting?”

“Do you think for one minute that Cameron Stone was going to give up if we didn’t work out? He still wants what he hired me to get for him, and he’s being very persistent about it,” He frowned, “I just think that you need to be extra careful, Blake.”

“And the person I needed to be most careful about was you, Seth,” Blake said sadly as the thought occurred to her. Realizing she’d voiced it aloud, she searched for words to follow, “It’s just…I mean…”

“I did go about telling you the wrong way, Blake, and I don’t blame you for being more than a little upset.”

“A little upset? You must be joking,” She rolled her eyes, “You told the mother of all lies, and you expected me to just be a little upset?”

“No,” Seth ran his fingers through his hair, “You had every right to be pissed off at me for the way I blurted it out, but what I said was the truth.”

“Here we go again,” Blake sighed.

“You’re still not willing to believe me, huh?” He frowned, “Okay, fair enough. You don’t have to believe me, but maybe you’d believe your own brother.”

“What?” She asked in confusion, “What are you talking about?”

“Brant,” He offered, “Brant’s the one who took Jade to the hospital. He knows what happened. Ask him.”

“Brant will say that you’re crazy,” She said indignantly.

“Not if you ask him for the truth,” Seth said before he slipped his hands into his pockets, “I won’t keep you any longer. It looks like Zack is about ready to charge down here and finish what we started.”

Blake stared at Seth as if he were insane as he started to speak again then shook his head in defeat and walked away from her. She watched Seth walk down the hall and turn a corner, out of her sight. Why would he ever ask her to speak to Brant about his lie? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to will herself into enjoying what she’d originally planned for the day.

Zack gently placed his arms around her and drew her back against his chest as he rested his chin on her shoulder, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Blake declared as she turned and slipped her free arm around him, “I’m going to be. Let’s go eat this Chinese I brought before it gets totally cold and inedible,” She forced a smile as she vowed not to let thoughts of Seth and his lies ruin her Christmas.


“So this is what heaven feels like,” Avery snuggled into the warmth of Russell’s arms as she lay her head against his chest listening to the strong, solid beating of his heart as they lay together in the aftermath of their morning of love making.
“I’ve waited a lifetime for this and now that I have it,” Russell whispered teasing his fingertips over her spine, “I’m never letting go of you again.”
“Please don’t,” she breathed taking in the sexy scent of him as she found herself at peace in his arms as the weight of their situation fell upon her, “We really did it this time, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we really did,” he mused proudly, “and now that you’re my wife, oh Avery, this is like a million dreams come true for me.”
“Only a million, huh,” she lifted her head to look up at him with a teasing wink, “I think I must be slipping here.”
“Okay it’s more like a bazillion,” he winked down at her pressing a kiss on the top of her head, “but I figured I wouldn’t want you overwhelmed by my need for you.”
“I think overwhelmed is the wrong word for me right about now,” Avery settled in against him enjoying the comfort his arms provided as his fingers massaged her body slowly.
“And what word would you use?” he inquired lifting a curious brow as she repositioned herself over him propping herself up so that her lips hovered over his.
“Completely satisfied comes to mind,” Avery dipped down to kiss him tenderly, “utterly lost in the love you bring to me…”
“Hmm…” he pretended to ponder the thought, “I think I like your wording much better.”
“Now, why doesn’t that surprise me,” Avery questioned with a soft smile as she felt a low rumble in her stomach and her lip curled in a bit of a frown, “although I have a feeling that our child is trying to tell us that we aren’t going to be able to live on love alone here.”
“You know, I was actually thinking the same thing,” Russell confessed with a bright smile as he rubbed his nose against hers in an affectionate gesture, “as it seems having you with me like this has worked up quite an appetite in me, Mrs. Denton.”
“Already?” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise as her gaze fell upon him.
“Not that kind of appetite,” he couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on her face as he leaned forward tracing his tongue over her bottom lip before gently nibbling upon it, “though now that you mention it I do feel an elevation coming on in terms of the temperature in here…”
“It’s not the temperature that’s experiencing the sudden elevation,” she shook her head at him, “and as much as I’d like to indulge in what is rising to the occasion, I think I need to eat something before your ravishing me turns us both into next to nothing…”
“I wouldn’t let that happen,” he touched her cheek gently as he turned her in his arms urging her underneath him on the mattress as he kissed her tenderly, “as my darling I’m going to enjoy you for a very long time and I need my beautiful wife to be healthy for our little one,” his hand dropped over her abdomen in a tender motion before he leaned forward kissing her gently.  His kisses trailed down over her body as Avery felt a sigh escape from her lips.
“Russ, you’re pushing it again,” Avery groaned in protest as her body was warming up to him, but as he his lips centered over her abdomen, she felt him steady over her as his breath tickled over her navel.
“So what is my little one in the mood for on this beautiful day,” he whispered over her skin as he lay a soft, airy kiss upon her abdomen, “What can your daddy get for you?”
“Believe it or not I feel a request for some chocolate ice cream coming on,” Avery blurted out as he lifted his head, his green eyes sparkling up at her.
“Chocolate ice cream?” he repeated with a half grin before turning his attention to her abdomen once again rubbing it affectionately, “Well, it seems you’ve already picked up on mommy’s good taste there, but we’ll also work on giving you something healthy so that you can grow big and strong inside there…not to mention we want to keep mommy in tip top shape,” he pressed a quick kiss over her abdomen before crawling up beside her on the bed, “I’ll just have something brought up here that can make both my beautiful babies happy…”
“You’re just too good to be true, aren’t you, Russ,” Avery couldn’t help but smile as she leaned forward to kiss her handsome husband, but before she could fully savor the moment the ringing of his cell phone broke through and she gave him a strange look, “Could they be reading our minds downstairs?”
“Maybe,” Russell winked at her, “After all I do have my connections everywhere.”
“So I’m seeing,” Avery smiled admiring the view as Russell retrieved his cell phone from the floor.  A few moments later, he crawled back onto the bed with the phone in hand as he curled his arm around her.
“Oh good morning Caitlin,” he spoke up brightly as he hugged Avery in against him, “Yes, we’re having a wonderful time with one another.  Last night couldn’t have been more perfect for us…oh sure, sure she’s right here.  Wanna talk to her?  Okay, here she is,” Russell held the phone out to Avery, “It’s for you.  It’s Caitlin.”
“Oh good.  I can’t wait to tell her the news,” Avery beamed excitedly as she reached for the phone lifting it up to her ear, “Caitlin, hey how are you?”
“Not as good as you’re doing right about now, huh?” Caitlin’s voice beamed with vibrance as Avery looked over in Russell’s general direction as he stepped out of bed and made his way over to the phone across the room to call for some room service.
“We’re having a wonderful time this morning and you were right,” Avery explained quickly, “Telling Russ about the baby was the right thing to do as he whisked me away and brought me to this place…to this castle and now we’re married…”
“I heard,” Caitlin replied with a tiny laugh, “and I’m taking it that all is going well.”
“Exceedingly well,” Avery nodded in confession unable to take her eyes off of her husband, “this morning and last night was nothing short of magic and now…” she paused thinking about things for a moment, “Caitlin, you weren’t in on this, were you?”
“I wish I could take the credit, but Russ did this all on his own.  He called me last night to let me know that you were safe as Ken was ready to call the police after you vanished and Brant passed out…” Caitlin began to explain.
“Oh my God.  How is Brant,” Avery questioned concern evident in her tone as Russell looked up from the telephone he’d been standing at, “Is he okay?”
“He’s well, he’s Brant, but don’t worry he slept it off,” Caitlin answered in a neutral tone, “but you girl are on your honeymoon and Brant should be the last thing on your mind…especially now.  Even I shouldn’t be intruding on this morning…”
“No Caitlin, it’s fine.  I mean last night I was about to,” Avery paused biting on her lip as she took in a slow breath, “Brant’s okay, right?”
“He’ll be fine.  I think he just had a few issues in dealing with his alcohol there,” Caitlin offered simply, “Besides, Brant isn’t why I called you…”
“Is something wrong?” Avery questioned with concern.
“Your father called Ken last night and he wants to speak with you.  He’s really worried and while Ken told him that you were fine and safe with Russ, well Ken thinks it might be best if you give him a call.”
“Oh God, I haven’t even thought about anyone back home.  I didn’t even realize that,” Avery began as a million and one thoughts entered her mind, “I’ll give him a call as he deserves that much from me as I can‘t believe I didn‘t even think about giving him an update on how I‘m doing.”
“Well, I can’t really blame you considering that you and Russ have some catching up to do,” Caitlin offered up in a knowing tone, “and that’s really all I called for this morning to let you know about your father…”
“Caitlin,” Avery interrupted almost afraid to ask as she bit on her lower lip.
“Does Brant…” Avery hesitated thinking about the man she’d almost given her life to less than twenty four hours ago, “does he…well, does he know about Russ and I?  That we’re…”
“No, he doesn’t and Ken doesn’t feel it’s place to tell him,” Caitlin confessed with a sigh, “though if you’d like me to, I’d be more than happy to let that caveman know exactly where he can stick it…”
“No, please don’t do that,” Avery sighed thinking about what her marriage would mean to Brant once he found out about her reunion with Russell, “I’ll take care of it as soon as I can as I think I owe him that much considering.”
“Avery, you don’t owe him a damn thing after all that he’s put you through.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more willing I am to help out in letting him in on the truth…” Caitlin offered once more.
“No, I need to tell him about this and I’ll do it in my own way,” Avery vowed to herself more so than Caitlin, “Thanks for calling.”
“Avery, please don’t let Brant ruin your honeymoon for you,” Caitlin offered up once again sensing a change in Avery’s tone as she continued, “He’s so not worth being upset over and given the way he is, he doesn’t deserve to take this away from you.  Just enjoy the happiness you’ve found and don’t let Brant Ashford take that away from you.  Don’t let him have that kind of power when you and Russ are so obviously meant for one another.”
“It’s not that Caitlin,” Avery softened her tone a bit as she could already feel the weight of Russell’s eyes upon her for daring to mention Brant on their honeymoon, “it’s just…”
“Avery, Brant’s a dog.  He’s so not worth your time,” Caitlin paused as if contemplating her words for a moment, “Look I’m sure he’ll heal from all of this as last night he was already making a pass at me.”
“What?” Avery’s eyes widened in surprise, “When?”
“When we brought him home.  Ken stepped out of the room and Brant was big in his delusions thinking he’s God’s gift to women.  He kissed me and played it off like he was having a drunken stupor, but knowing what I know about the guy, I have my doubts on that one.  He’s a creep and believe me he’s not worth worrying about when you have a man like Russ there with you as he’s one in a million,” Caitlin remarked in a matter of fact tone as Avery’s eyes returned to her husband who was now seated beside her on the bed looking a bit uptight about the conversation she and Caitlin were having.
“That he is,” Avery reached out to take his hand as she offered a gentle squeeze over it, “I’d be lost without him in my life.”
“Then promise me you won’t let some peon like Brant Ashford ruin things for you.  You two just enjoy one another and be happy and find a way to give us all something to live vicariously through you for,” Caitlin bubbled over with excitement as Avery turned her eyes up towards Russell’s handsome features.
“We’ll find a way to do just that,” Avery promised, “Thank you for calling,” she finished saying her good-byes as she hung up the phone.
“So,” Russell cleared his throat hating to ask, but needing to know what was happening, “what was that all about?”
“It was about my father,” Avery explained with a sigh as she ran her fingers through her dark hair, “He’s worried about me and since I haven’t talked to him since I fled from the party, I think I owe him a phone call.”
“Oh,” was all he said as his silence filled the room surrounding them, “I see.”
“Russ, don’t do that,” Avery frowned watching his face drop as he looked down at the blanket beneath them, “Russ…”
“Do what?” he asked attempting to play things cool as he shrugged his shoulders, “What am I doing?”
“You’re pouting and I don’t know what this is all about,” Avery frowned again.
“It’s about nothing,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I’m not pouting.”
“Yes, you are.  I know when you’re pouting and you’re upset about something and this is one of those times,” Avery shook her head before watching him look away.
“No I’m not,” he argued with her as his eyes fell to the floor.  “I’m fine.”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes unable to contain the urge she had to knock some sense into him as she crawled into his lap straddling him on the bed as she reached for his face, turning it to look up at hers, “You’re upset because I asked about Brant, aren’t you?”
“Well it’s kind of a joy kill there when my wife is asking about the man who worked so hard to keep her away from me,” he answered simply as his green eyes met her dark, penetrating stare, “and you can’t blame me for being even the slightest bit upset considering that he whisked you away from me and no doubt had intentions of keeping us apart.”
“Brant was just trying to help me, Russ,” Avery explained with a heavy sigh, “when I was upset about finding you with Heather, I didn’t know how to deal with the situation.  I was so brokenhearted that all I wanted to do was run away…”
“So you let Brant take you out of the country and away from me,” Russell remarked bitterly as his eyes darkened with animosity, “You let the man who’s been trying to seduce you for heaven knows how long take you away from me…take our baby away from me without giving me a chance to explain myself…”
“Russ, I didn’t think there was much to say after Grady told me that you’d done what you did to get back at me for leaving you at the altar,” Avery explained with a huff, “After he got his kicks off tormenting me, well let’s just say finding you in bed with Heather was just the tip on the iceberg.  Your brother hates me and he made damn sure that he let me know just how much that night I found you with Heather.”
“My brother is an ass,” Russell replied with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “what more can I say about him?”
“Well you can say that you can see why I might’ve been blinded by misery when I thought that you’d betrayed me,” Avery shot back angrily, “I mean I know Grady hates me, but then to find you with another woman.”
“And I told you that it was a mistake,” Russell argued with her, “one that I wish never happened.”
“But the fact remains that it did happen and I couldn’t face the pain of having lost you, Russell.”
“So you ran away with Brant, huh?  That was supposed to be the quick fix remedy, huh?” his voice rose with emotion.
“It sure beat the hell out of killing myself over losing you once again,” she shook her head at him, “You have no idea how much seeing you with Heather hurt me…”
“And you have no idea what it felt like to know that you left Coral Valley to be on some romantic getaway with Brant,” he retorted with a huff.
“It wasn’t a romantic getaway.  I just wanted to forget the pain that I felt when I knew you were gone from my life,” Avery explained raising her voice with anger.
“Oh well you know I can see just how hard you were working to forget on the dance floor with Brant before I picked you up,” Russell remarked sarcastically, “I just have to wonder how much longer it would’ve taken him find a way to help you forget in his bed there at the rate he was going when he was practically screwing you on the dance floor…”
“Go to hell, Russ,” Avery shoved her hands into his chest as she pushed off of him and attempted to get off of the bed.
“Oh I’ve been there time and time again when your so called hero had me thrown in jail so that he could take you away,” Russell threw out at her watching her retreat, “Did he tell you how he did that to ensure that I wouldn’t put a crimp in his plans for seducing you?”
“Brant wouldn’t do that,” Avery argued with him tossing her hair back over her shoulder as she looked at him, “He’s not like that.”
“The hell he isn’t,” he let out an icy laugh, “Avery that man would do anything and everything to keep us from one another.  He knows how much you love me, but he didn’t give a damn about that when he took you out of the country because all he wanted was to find a way to manipulate you to bending to his will.”
“Brant’s not as bad as you think he is,” Avery threw back at him, “He was good to me when he found out I was pregnant and he took care of me when I was sick…”
“And let me guess.  He suggested that you keep the news about our baby from me so that he could step in and play the white knight for you, huh?  Did he even offer to be our baby’s father just so that he could keep me out of your life?” he lifted an inquiring brow.
“He was just trying to help me out when I felt so miserable which is more than you’re doing right now by getting on me about being concerned about Brant,” Avery spat back at him plopping off of the bed with a huff, “You know I don’t see why you’re so worried about him considering that…”
“Considering that the man let the world believe that you were his fiancée?  Hell, did you know that back in Coral Valley the news is reporting that you’re Mrs. Brant Ashford right now?  That the whole world thinks you ran away to marry him?”
“What?” she spun around to face him, “Don’t be ridiculous.  That’s entirely not true.”
“I know that and you know that, but Brant doesn’t want the world to know that.  He wants everyone to know that he claimed you as his possession and he had no intentions of letting go of you.  Even last night I had to work my hardest to find a way from having him get in the way of my getting through to you,” he announced getting up and moving in over towards her.
“And just what does that mean?” she questioned placing her hands on her hips as she noted the guilty expression that swept over his features as she could tell he regretted letting those words slip.
“It means I had to do whatever I had to do in order to get a few moments with you because Brant wouldn’t have allowed it,” he answered evasively.
“And just what was that Russ?” she demanded stepping towards him, “What did you do?”
“I made sure he wouldn’t be a problem,” he answered cryptically as her eyes widened in realization.
“Oh my,” Avery gasped, “You did something to him, didn’t you?  You were the reason he’d gotten sick on the dance floor…why he was acting so strangely…”
“I had no other choice,” Russell defended his position.
“There’s always a choice and you chose to do the wrong thing.  I can’t believe you would sink to that level considering that…” she shook her head at him in dismay, “Russ, I don’t even know you anymore, do I?”
“Avery, don’t give me that line of bull.  You and I both know that Brant wouldn’t have allowed me to be near you…that he wouldn’t have let us find happiness with one another because he wanted you all for himself…”
“And once again you thought me so weak that you didn’t believe I could stand on my own so you decided it was time to take action and make me see your line of thinking, right?  I mean marrying me wasn’t because it’s what you wanted, but more so it was what you thought you should do in order to protect me from Brant, huh?”
“Now you’re being ridiculous,” he rolled his eyes back at her.
“I’m ridiculous,” she repeated with a haughty laugh, “Oh please…you’re the one who’s been hell bent on making me miserable since you found out that Brant had any kind of interest in me.  You were the one hounding me and pushing your way into my life until I couldn’t take it anymore because you wanted me to see that you were right and I was wrong.  That’s really what this has been about, hasn’t it?  Your showing Brant that you’re the man with the balls here so to speak.”
“You weren’t complaining about my ballsy side a few minutes ago when we were making love, now were you?” he shot back at her sarcastically.
“Now that was a low blow and I don’t have to put up with this,” she huffed marching past him as he inhaled a frustrated breath.  Spinning around he caught her arm with his hand as he whirled her towards him seeing the anger behind her dark eyes.  “Let go of me..”
“No,” he answered shaking his head in response, “you’re not going anywhere.”
“The hell I’m not,” Avery sneered up at him, “I don’t even want to look at you right now.”
“That’s too damn bad because I’m not going anywhere and you’re going to have to deal with that,” Russell pulled her towards him commanding her full attention as their eyes locked and they began this stand off with one another, “I think you need to take a moment to step back and reevaluate this situation and the things you just said.”
“My husband’s being a jerk and there’s nothing to step back and think about in that respect,” she growled up at him as she tugged at her arm once again, “I have nothing to say to you.”
“Well that’s too bad because I’ve got plenty to say to you and you’re going to listen,” Russell explained matter of fact, “For starters Avery while you think Brant’s an okay kind of guy, he’s worked overtime to keep us away from one another and while I might’ve put up with it in the past, the fact to the matter is that I’m not going to let him step in and ruin our honeymoon.”
“He doesn’t have to as you’ve already done that,” she glared at him shaking her arm once again in an attempt to loosen it from his touch.
“No, Avery, we’re not doing this now,” he sighed softening his tone as he reached out to her touching her face gently, “Avery, I love you.  I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my life and if I get a little worked up about a guy that’s tried repeatedly to come between us, you can’t blame me for being upset…not when I think about how much we have together and how close we came to losing it…”
“That’s just it, Russ,” Avery sighed heavily, “we didn’t lose it and that’s what you have to remember.”
“I do, but at the same time, it scares the hell out of me at how close I came to losing everything with you.  Avery, you have no idea how much it hurt to be without you.  Those years that we were apart, I felt like I was dead inside and that nothing mattered.  All I could think about was the mistakes I’d made and how I swore to myself if I had another chance with you that I wouldn’t blow it…that somehow I’d find a way to make up for what I did…”
“Russ, you didn’t do anything.  I’m the one who so foolishly walked away and now, well now,” she paused biting on her lower lip, “I love you, you moron and I hate that you could even let the thought of Brant get you that worked up.  Yes, there might’ve been a time when Brant had aroused a certain curiosity in me, but Russ, I love you…I’ve always loved you,” she leaned in towards him, “and you should know by now you bonehead that I’ll always love only you.”
“Really?” his features softened as she touched his cheek gently.
“Of course, you idiot,” she shook her head at him, “I mean hell you’re the man that’s bound to me for the rest of my life.  You’re the man I married and the father of my baby…how could I possibly let another man enter my mind when I have all that?”
“But when you were on the phone with Caitlin I just thought that…”
“That somehow I was having second thoughts about where I am,” Avery eased her arms around his neck while tipping up on her toes, “Let me just set the record straight here on this one starting now.”
“Okay,” he breathed watching the way her eyes fell upon him as his pulse rate quickened.
“Russell Denton, I was made to love you…only you and I don’t intend on taking back the vows I made to you last night.  Don’t think for a second that I want to undo the path that destiny set us on all those years ago,” she explained tears pooling in her eyes, “I love you and I can’t imagine myself not loving you…not being with you as you’re everything to me.  You’re my heart, my soul and my one true love and if you think for one second that I’d want to throw that away for anything, well then you don’t know me nearly as well as I thought you did.”
“Avery, I…” he found himself at as loss as his arms curled around her waist pulling her in against him, “Oh hell,” he lifted her up off her toes as he coaxed her lips into a fiery kiss.
“Russ…” she whispered his name against his lips as he hoisted her more completely into his arms.
“You drive me crazy…I hope you realize that,” he whispered in between kisses as he carried her back over to the bed.
“And you think you don’t do the same for me,” Avery questioned threading her fingers through his hair as she reluctantly tore her lips away from his, “You’re too damned impossible for me not to have you as my husband because at least now I have an excuse for what it is you do to me other than complete and total insanity…”
“And just what might that be,” he questioned bringing his knee down on the mattress as he toppled forward taking her down with him.
“Love silly,” she shook her head at him, “Something this insane could only be labeled as love…”
“Avery I do love you…I just want you to know how much you and our child mean to me…how much I need you both…and when I think about how close we came to losing this because of Brant…”
“Russ, the only way we’ll lose it is if we stop fighting for it…if we stop believing in the passion we have between us…” she touched his cheek gently, “Russ, I love you and that isn’t going to change for me.  After all this time, I don’t know how you can even imagine it would…”
“I’m just…it’s just that I wanted this for so long…” he confessed his voice tight with emotion, “I mean do you have any idea how it is to want something so bad that every fiber of your being aches at the thought of losing it now that all your dreams have come true?”
“That’s just it,” Avery sighed bringing her fingers through his dark hair as she urged him to look at her, “Now that I have it, I don’t think about not holding on.  I don’t dwell on how it could all slip away.  I think about how right this feels and focus on how lost in love I am for you.  Russ, we really do have it all now well within our reach and as long as we focus on that, then we’ll be okay…”
“I want to believe that, but with Brant…”
“Russ, I’m not Mrs. Brant Ashford.  I’m Mrs. Russell Denton and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Avery reminded him pointedly, “Marrying you was my ultimate dream come true and even if you’re a pain in the ass, well your jealousy shows me that you care…”
“You have no idea…” he tipped down to kiss her again, “Avery, you’re everything that I’ve ever needed…that I’ve ever wanted and I don’t want to screw this up again…”
“Then stop worrying about Brant and start thinking about how you’re going to find a way to make it up to me after this first fight we’ve had as a married couple,” she ordered touching his chin as she urged his eyes back to hers once again.
A moment passed as he flashed her a sexy smile and he tipped down to kiss her tenderly, “Was that what this was?”
“Oh yeah and I think it’s about time you give me an apology,” she leaned up to kiss him once again as her arms slipped down over his body, “a really good one…”
“Hmm…now that is something I think I can arrange as I can feel a very good apology coming on right now,” he glided his hands down her sides tracing her curves as his mouth beckoned hers once again.
“Um, Russ, honey I don’t think that’s an apology I feel coming on,” she breathed against his mouth as his teeth tugged on her lower lip tasting her heatedly.
He paused for a moment catching her dark eyes with his gaze as a teasing grin spread over his features, “Is that a complaint I hear coming on?”
“On the contrary,” she shook her head in response as a laugh bubbled over her, “I believe that was a form of encouragement as you do have some serious making up on your end to do here…”
“Hmm…well since you put it that way, Mrs. Denton, how about I start here and then work my way to dessert while we wait for room service,” he nibbled on her neck as her nails teased over his spine.
“Well, I suppose this is one form of an apology we can work with,” she teased with a tiny giggle as his fingers danced over her ribs tickling her.
“I’ll give you suppose,” he laughed in response continuing his tickle assault on her as her laughter filled the room surrounding them and he found that somehow despite the exchange that had taken place between them, they’d found a way to come out on top of their first tiff with one another since they’d become husband and wife.  Now her laughter seduced his senses reminding him all over again why their love was worth fighting for.  His lips beckoned hers as their playfulness hung over them and he whispered the words that had carried over his heart from the moment he’d first met her, “I love you, Avery.”
“I love you, Russ,” she promised as they took the time to savor these moments on their honeymoon with one another as in one another’s arms, they realized that the outside world was irrelevant as all that mattered was the love they’d found in one another and that was the one thing worth fighting for.


Brant stepped out on the balcony looking down at the crashing waves below on the shore of the beach as his fingers curled around the railing before him.  Somehow despite the headache he’d awakened with earlier in the morning, he realized that he had to stay focused as in keeping his focus he would only then find the clarity he needed to fix the problem at hand.  As a sigh spilled over his lips, he focused on the day before him as his fingers played over the buttons of his telephone hoping that somehow one thing would go the way he’d planned, but as he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he began to have his doubts.
“Tell me that the situation has been taken care of, Johanna,” Brant demanded upon her answering the phone, “Tell me that Russell Denton won’t be a constant thorn in my side.”
“Well hello to you too,” Johanna muttered sarcastically rolling her eyes at him, “it’s nice hearing from you considering you‘re ready with all the pleasantries today.”
“Look Johanna, I’m not in the mood for games,” he rubbed his aching temple as he looked out onto the ocean, “Tell me you have good news for me.”
“Brant as much as I’d like to tell you that things are taken care of, well I’m trying to be a realist here,” she answered flatly after a moment’s hesitation.
“And just what the hell is that supposed to mean,” he demanded his fingers curling around the telephone as his knuckles grew white with the motion, “I thought you said you knew how to work Russell.”
“I thought I did, but he’s such a damned idealist that it’s not working as smoothly as I’d intended,” she confessed with a strong air of distaste, “Getting him to up and leave Coral Valley is proving to be quite the task since he’s back on his Avery kick again.”
“You swore to me that you could change that,” Brant frowned deeply, “You told me that I wouldn’t have to worry about his fixation on Avery because you knew how to handle him.”
“Brant, he’s not filled with a quest for power and money.  I offered him the deal…even upped it, but he wouldn’t hear of it,” she answered with a grumble, “but he’s so wrapped up in some fairy tale world that he’s created for him and Avery…”
“And the papers?  Did they run the story,” Brant paced around the balcony, “Did he see the news about Avery and I?”
“It didn’t do a damned thing Brant because as long as she’s around, Russell is going to keep pushing to reach her,” Johanna sighed, “It’s a broken record with him.”
“One that you swore to me you’d work on fixing as I’m paying you good money to take care of this one.”
“Brant, I’m doing my best, but what more can I do?” she huffed.
“You’re a beautiful woman.  I’m sure you can use your power of persuasion to find a way to get him looking in another direction.”
“When it comes to Avery, there’s always a catch,” Johanna explained simply as Brant turned his attention to the beach once again, “He’s an addict where she’s concerned and I can’t seem to break him of the habit.”
“You assured me that you would when we agreed to come into this arrangement and now you’re telling me that it was too much,” he paused the corners of his mouth curving in heavy displeasure, “I paid you to make sure that this situation didn’t get out of hand.  I put the wheels into motion and now you’re telling me that you realized you weren’t woman enough for the job…”
“Oh I’m woman enough for it, but that bitch has a habit of snagging the plans you made,” Johanna replied icily, “You know I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you and Russell considering you’re both so obsessed with her.  I hardly think she’s worth the sacrifices you’re both making…”
“My feelings on Avery are none of your business,” he cut back sharply, “but what is your concern is getting rid of Russell as I don’t need him mucking up what I worked so hard to obtain with Avery.”
“Brant, he’s not bending on this.  I’ve called and pulled out the stops, but…”
“But nothing I expect Russell to be taken care of by the time I return to Coral Valley.  I don’t want him interfering in my relationship with Avery.  She and I belong together and I’m not going to let some peon like Russell Denton get in the way of that.  He’s not part of my happily ever after and I’d like to see to it that he doesn’t put Avery in a position where she’s having her opinions clouded.  Do I make myself clear?”
“I’ll do what I can, but I can’t work miracles,” she snapped back at him harshly.
“I’m paying you to make them happen, so see to it they do or else I swear Johanna, Russell won’t be the only one wishing that he never crossed paths with me,” Brant threw out a warning before hanging up on her as he looked out onto the water vowing that one way or another he would have things his way.  Sure, Avery might be taking some time to herself now, but in the end, they would be together and no one in the world would stop that from happening as it was truly meant to be for them.  That much he was certain of.


Jade sat in her office, trying to concentrate on getting some work done after the run in with Susan. Knowing that Grady’s ex-wife was back in town only made the entire situation that much worse.

Still, it seemed as if Grady was sincere in the way he had presented himself this morning. He had been honest and upfront with his feelings, and for Grady, that alone seemed like a great triumph. But she just wasn’t sure if it was enough for her wants and needs. Grady had spent so much of their time together worrying about his brother’s love life that he hadn’t taken a moment to even think about his own, and Jade felt as if she were being neglected. As far she was concerned, it was a downright tragedy that Grady hadn’t appreciated what he had before him because she was sure that she could have made him the happiest man in the world…if only he could let go of his obsessive hatred towards Avery Morrison.

Jade groaned as she sat back in her chair and tossed her pen down upon the desk. She wasn’t getting any work done as concentration was utterly futile…especially when every thought drifted down the hall to the office where the man she loved had been working earlier. She could at least take comfort in the fact that she was alone in the office now, and while it had almost seemed as if they had reconciled, so much of their relationship remained in chaos…a state that Jade was becoming quite familiar with.

But Grady had left by himself and said that he had something that he had to do. Unfortunately, Jade couldn’t help but wonder if that something hadn’t been his ex-wife. While Grady and everyone around him had spoken of his volatile relationship with Susan, Jade couldn’t quite put down the feeling of jealousy that raged within her heart over the thought of Grady being with Susan. While he’d given her the heave-ho this morning, Jade didn’t exactly feel secure of where she stood with Grady. She couldn’t even get him to stop obsessing over his brother’s girlfriend. At least Susan had been able to wrangle him long enough to get married.

She chastised herself as she decided to turn some music on. She needed something to remind her that there was life in the world on this Christmas Eve. While she might not be out enjoying all that Christmas had to offer, she still felt warmed by the idea that miracles were happening for people in the world and someday her miracle would happen for her as well. It was just a matter of faith.

She switched on the radio and decided to listen to a station playing around the clock Christmas carols. She smiled as the soft tones of “Please Come Home for Christmas” played through her office. It had always been a favorite, and now, oddly enough, it seemed ironically poetic that it would be playing now.

She sat back at her desk and began working on some papers that she needed to send to various clientele. She began to sing to the tune as she worked, finding it easier to work with a little music in the background to remind her of why she might want to get out of the office early.

Then again, that brought back reminders of the Christmas she wouldn’t be spending with Grady. It was a ugly vicious never ending cycle that was driving her nutty.

Jade slammed the pen back down upon the desk and groaned, feeling the pressure beginning to weigh on her.

“Careful there. You don’t want to break your pen.”

Jade looked up and spotted Grady standing in the doorway in blue jeans and a blue pull over sweater. She looked at him in confusion, “I thought you left.”

“I did. I went to an AA meeting, and I went by the house for a shower and a change,” He informed her before he produced a wrapped gift from behind his back, “And I needed to pick this up as well. Since things have been kind of difficult for us the last few days, I was kind of afraid I wouldn’t get another chance if I didn’t bring this to you now. I know it’s actually the day before Christmas, but I want you to open this today.”

She took a deep breath before she stood and crossed the room to meet him. She looked up into his eyes and felt an overwhelming need to cry. She felt tears welling up in her eyes as she took the gift, “I don’t have mine for you here. It’s at my apartment.”

“We’ll worry about that later. Now open it,” He instructed with a smile.

Jade smiled as tears slipped down her cheeks. She tugged on the ribbon and watched as the bow fell apart. She tore open the edges of the paper and removed a square velvet jewelry box. She dropped the paper to the floor as she opened the box and her eyes fell upon the gift Grady had chosen for her.

“Grady,” She gasped as she studied the ruby pendant on a gold chain. She bit her lip gently as tears slipped down her cheek.

“I wanted you to know that you have my heart,” He said softly as he lifted the pendant from the box and moved to stand behind her. He draped the pendant on her chest and clasped it around her neck, “And I want my heart to be near yours forever.”

Jade turned to face him and threw her arms around him, “I love you, Grady.”

Grady held her close as a warm smile crept over his face, “And I love you, Jade. I don’t want you to ever forget that. I know I’ve been an ass about showing it, but that doesn’t mean that you haven’t been first and foremost in my heart.”

“I…I don’t even know what to say,” She sobbed softly as she eased herself away from him.

“Say that you’ll spend Christmas with me. I’m going up to my parents tonight and staying there through tomorrow. Come with me, Jade. Let’s spend the holiday together, and we can use the time to just be with one another,” He begged with hopeful eyes.

She nibbled her lip, “Well…I did promise to have dinner with Seth tomorrow evening.”

“Then I’ll bring you home in time to fulfill that promise.”

“And you’ll join us?” She asked hopefully, “Please?”

He smiled and nodded, “I’d be honored.”

“As I will be to join you at your parents’ house,” Jade smiled, “This is turning out to be a pretty good Christmas after all.”

“It’ll be the best Christmas ever,” Grady smiled as he drew her back in his arms for a strong hug. He knew that finally things were about to turn around for him, and he would be able to make a good fresh start with Jade at his side and her love growing stronger in his heart.


Judy looked around her kitchen doing her best to put together the final touches for the dinner she’d prepared for her family.  While she’d tried her best each year to keep the holidays alive after her husband’s passing, this year would be especially important to her as she had both her daughters back home again.  This time of year was always emotional, but now, well now with Diane’s newfound romance and Deidra’s broken heart, she hoped that somehow she could find a way to help her family come together stronger than ever as she prayed that both her girls could find some happiness in their lives.  Finishing up with the last touches for the meal, she pulled a few things out of the oven when she heard Diane’s voice call out to her.
“Mom, are you here,” Diane beckoned her as moments later Diane stepped into the kitchen with Ben behind her, “There you are.  Somehow I knew you would be in here slaving away over the stove.”
“What can I say,” Judy smiled politely as she wiped her hands off on a dish towel, “I wanted tonight’s dinner to be special.”
“Oh Mom you know it is,” Diane embraced her quickly as she was beaming with energy, “and because I knew you’d be working so hard Ben and I brought some dessert with us.”
“That was very thoughtful of you both,” Judy smiled as Ben stepped forward offering up a box.
“It was the least we could do since you went out of your way for dinner,” Ben explained brightly as his smile lit up his features, “I just want to thank you again for extending the invitation to dinner to me considering…”
“Oh it was nothing,” Judy waved her hand in the air before reaching out to embrace him, “After all anyone who can make my Diane smile like you do, well, you’re just more than welcome to come around here any time you like.”
“Thank you.  I appreciate that,” Ben hugged her in response before looking around the kitchen.  “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“No, I think I pretty much have it all under control,” Judy explained quickly as a she waved the two of them out of the kitchen, “but why don’t you two just go enjoy yourselves for a few minutes while I finish up in here?”
“Oh mom, I’m sure you could use my help,” Diane looked to Ben for a moment, “Why don’t you go make yourself comfortable and I’ll be there in a second to join you?”
“Are you sure because I’m always willing to pull my weight around a kitchen,” Ben winked down at her, “as I do have a knack for it.”
“That you do, but right now I think we’ve got it covered in here,” Diane tipped up on her toes to give him a quick kiss on the lips, “though if you want to be a dear, you could take those presents I brought with me out of the bag and put them under the tree.”
“I suppose I can do that,” Ben nodded disappearing into the living room as Judy gave her daughter a knowing look.
“I take it your time with him went well,” Judy beamed turning her attention to the pot before her.
“It was amazing and thank you so much for talking some sense into me,” Diane mused with a glazed over expression as she thought about her time with Ben, “I mean we still have some things to work through, but well, I’m glad he managed to get through to me before I wrote him off completely.”
“I just want to see you happy, sweetheart,” Judy stirred the gravy before her as she paused for a moment, “You know Deidra should be back any time now…though I’d thought she’d have arrived with you both considering she’d mentioned stopping by to pay you a visit.”
“Oh she stopped by,” Diane offered up quickly tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, “but she didn’t stay long.”
“Then I trust she spoke with you about what’s going on with Andrew,” Judy questioned as Diane pulled some dishes out of the cabinet and began to set the table.
“Yeah I heard that Andy finally woke up and got a clue that Deidra wasn’t all he hoped she’d be,” Diane rolled her eyes as she set the plates down on the table top.
“Diane,” Judy frowned stopping what she was doing as she looked to her daughter, “now you and I both know that your sister loved him very much and they seemed happy together…”
“Yeah it’s because he didn’t know what Deidra was all about, but when he discovered the truth about her, well I can’t say I blame him for walking out the door,” she shrugged her shoulders as she finished with the plates before her, “I mean the little miss innocent act could only go on for so long before a man gets tired of it and quite honestly I don‘t feel a bit sorry for her as she was asking for it with the way she carried on.”
“Diane, you and I both know that your sister is a good person with a kind heart and she doesn’t deserve any of this,” Judy frowned shaking her head in heavy disapproval, “You know I’d think that considering that this is the holidays you’d find it in your heart to let old grudges go as you’ve moved on with your life and found happiness…”
“Which Deidra already has put a foot forward in using against me,” Diane grumbled in response, “Mom, I know you are trying here, but Dee is counterproductive to my life as every time she’s around things go from bad to worse…”
“Well maybe you should think about what she’s going through for a change instead of sulking over the things that really didn’t matter to you in the long run,” Judy sighed as she turned her attention to the simmering pot before her, “otherwise you might miss out on something between the both of you that you can’t ever get back.”
“Yeah sure,” Diane shrugged her shoulders as her mother’s words slipped on over her while she began to put the silverware on the table as hearing about Deidra’s virtues was the last thing she wanted at a time like this.


Ben finished setting the presents down and took a moment to stand before the humble Christmas tree taking in the handcrafted ornaments that hung upon it’s forest green branches as a smile lifted over his features.  While he hadn’t intended on celebrating this holiday season with his parents in Florida and with him being up in Coral Valley, well he couldn’t help but enjoy the thought of spending this time with Diane.  When she’d extended the dinner invitation, he’d more than eagerly accepted as it was the first step that they were getting back on track with one another again although she’d seemed less than happy about going to dinner after her talk with her sister.  When he’d asked her about it, she’d gone mute refusing to tell him what had taken place, but judging by the smashed package from Deidra, he knew it must’ve gotten pretty ugly between the two sisters.
Now as Ben’s eyes scanned over the pictures hanging modestly over the wall, he saw the glimpse of the family the Stevens family was over the years as they seemed so loving and affectionate towards one another, but as the images changed, so did the look of the family as he noted the expression on Diane’s face in a photo where Deidra and Judy stood side by side at what appeared to be a graduation of sorts.  He looked over a few more photos before him as the scene revealed Deidra and a handsome man beside her with Diane standing in the background looking completely miserable as Ben noted on picture in particular that was taken on a beach of sorts.  Unable to curb his curiosity he leaned in for a closer look as Judy’s apartment door opened and Deidra stepped in holding a couple of brown paper bags in hand.
“Hello,” Ben smiled over at her motioning towards the bags she carried, “need some help?”
“No, I think I have it, but thanks for the offer,” she stepped forward feeling one of the bags starting to slip as Ben reached out to her grabbing one of them despite her refusal to accept his help.  She opened her mouth to protest, but found herself relieved that he’d lightened her load a bit and she offered up a soft smile, “Thank you.”
“Not a problem,” Ben curled his arm around the bag as he couldn’t help but take a look inside, “so what did we get?”
“It’s just some wine for dinner,” Deidra explained quickly as she looked around the room, “I take it you and Diane are here for dinner, yes?”
“She’s in the kitchen with your mom,” he nodded in confession as he gave her a thoughtful once over, “I hope that won’t be a problem for you that I’m here.”
“No, not at all,” Deidra shook her head, “as we’re always open to having company around.  The more the merrier my mother always says.”
“She seems like a wonderful woman,” Ben added unable to suppress his curious nature, “Listen, about before…when you came to Diane’s, um, I hope that everything is okay as you left before I really got a chance to talk with you…”
“Everything is fine,” Deidra lied as she headed towards the kitchen, “I just had a few things to take care of.”
“Oh well, you know it was nice meeting you as I’d heard a bit about you from Diane and well, it was good to finally place a face to the name,” he tried to continue a conversation between them as she cast a glance in his general direction.
“Yeah I’ll bet,” she nodded as she tried to find a way to avoid talking to him as she was well aware how Diane felt on the subject.
“Look, I don’t know what happened with Diane, but um, if there’s anything I can do to help,” he started with a hopefulness in his tone as Deidra couldn’t help but let out a frustrated sigh.
“I appreciate the offer Ben, right?”
“Yes,” he nodded quickly.
“But honestly right now I don’t think what’s going on with Diane and I can be fixed.  I mean she’s my sister and I love her, but right now, well I just don’t think the timing is right,” Deidra forced a half smile, “but I appreciate the offer.”
“Anytime,” he answered quickly as Diane stepped out of the kitchen to find him and Deidra talking with one another.
“Well this is just wonderful,” Diane grumbled upon entering, “Twice in one day you have to go out of your way to get Ben to notice you huh now that Andy left you?”
“Oh would you just put a sock in it Diane,” Deidra rolled her eyes realizing she was not in the mood to tolerate her sister’s petty side, “I just came in and he offered to carry a bag for me.”
“Yeah I’ll bet,” Diane glared at her before turning to Ben, “Let me guess she poured out the wounded dove routine in the hopes of getting your attention…”
“Actually I just offered to help seeing as she had a lot in her hands,” Ben began to explain as Deidra piped in.
“Don’t bother defending yourself to her as she’s going to see it as my doing something to make her miserable,” Deidra groaned as she walked past Diane, “as that’s always how it is.”
“Oh you would go there,” Diane turned around to chase after her as Ben caught her arm with his hand.
“What are you doing?” Ben demanded harshly, “Diane, what’s going on?”
“You don’t know my sister like I do.  She starts off with this sweet, innocent act, but then she moves in on the men in my life and…” Diane began frantically.
“Diane, she didn’t do anything.  I offered to carry a bag for her and that’s it,” he motioned to the paper bag in his arm, “as you can see for yourself.”
“Sure, you might’ve felt compelled to carry a bag for her, but the next I know she’ll be crying on your shoulder and you’ll be eating up as you try to soothe whatever so called crisis that’s happening in her life and then soon after that she’ll wind up in bed with you as you just can’t help but find yourself drawn to her…”
“Gee, you don’t think too highly of me here, do you?” Ben frowned down at her.
“I’ve seen it happen before.  Time after time men have tossed me aside in the hopes of getting a chance with the ice queen there and she’ll see to it that you’re no different,” Diane explained desperately.
“I don’t see it that way, but if you really must know, my feelings for you run deeper than that,” he paused shaking his head at her, “I thought you knew that Diane.”
“I do, but you don’t know my sister…” Diane urge on once more.
“Hey, why don’t you cut her some slack here?” Ben interrupted with a sigh, “It is Christmas Eve after all and I can assure you that nothing was going on with us.  We were just talking…”
“That’s how it starts,” Diane pointed out with a huff, “and then you find her charming and…”
“Diane, I’m only interested in you and if I’m talking to your sister it’s because I want to be a part of your life…to know your family,” Ben explained with a heavy sigh, “You know I don’t know why this bout of insecurity keeps coming up, but I would’ve thought after last night you’d have seen where my heart lies on this matter…”
“Sex often leads to disaster in my life especially after the man I’m involved with meets Deidra,” Diane answered flatly.  “They think she’s so wonderful that they can’t help but be charmed by her and then it’s adios Diane.”
“Well I’m not looking to replace you,” Ben informed her point blank shaking his head, “as despite the fact you’ve got a million and one issues here, I can’t seem to get you out of my mind.”
“Oh that’s refreshing,” she rolled her eyes in response, “You have such a way with words there Ben.”
“Diane, do you really think that after all the time you spent chasing me around driving me crazy that I was just going to dump you as soon as I was with you,” Ben reached out to her curling his arm around her as he pulled her into his arms, “Look I can see that you’ve had some things happen in the past that have clearly made you doubt yourself and the people in your life, but I’ll tell you point blank that I’m not into casual sex.  Sure, that’s an idea a lot of men toy around with, but I don’t do that and that’s sure not what I’m doing with you.  I’m in it for the long haul here even if it’s going to be one hell of a headache for us…”
“Ben, it’s just…” Diane sighed shaking her head at his words, “I’m acting like a possessive, jealous fool, aren’t I?”
“You said it not me,” he leaned down to kiss her tenderly, “but I do love you for it…”
“I love you too,” she admitted openly as Judy stepped out into the living room.
“I hate to interrupt, but dinner’s ready,” Judy smiled brightly as Diane led Ben into the kitchen behind her.
“It smells excellent,” Ben offered up as he turned his attention to the table before him taking in the various dishes that Judy had prepared for the evening.
“Thank you,” Judy replied as she turned her attention to Deidra who had been working on opening one of the wine bottles, “Need some help with that?”
“No, I’ve got it,” Deidra explained as she worked on removing the cork from the bottle, “well I almost had it.”
“Can I help?” Ben questioned stepping over towards her and taking the wine bottle, “I had some experience with this when I worked as a waiter a few years back.”
“By all means,” Deidra stepped aside well aware of the glare she was getting from her sister as she headed towards the table.
“So darling where were you earlier,” Judy questioned making casual conversation with Deidra as Diane joined Ben over by the other end of the small kitchen.
“I paid Dave a visit and let him know I was back in town,” Deidra admitted openly, “as I thought a friendly face would be a good thing right about now.”
“That sounds wonderful as Dave was always so enjoyable to have around,” Judy replied with a smile as she looked over to Ben, who was still struggling with the bottle.  She rose from the seat she’d been in as she walked away to help him with the opening as Diane stepped over towards Deidra.
“A friendly face or a way to get back at Andy for dumping you?” Diane questioned sourly as she approached the table, “I mean it’s obvious that’s why you came back to Coral Valley, right?  To make Andy miserable by trying to turn all his old friends against him…”
“Dave was my friend first,” Deidra wrinkled her nose up at her sister.
“Of course he was,” Diane grumbled in response, “You never quit do you?”
“Diane, why do you hate me so much?” Deidra blurted out unable to contain herself, “I haven’t done a thing to you so I don’t see what this is all about.  I mean really are you going to hold the fact that Andy married me against me for the rest of my life?”
“You’re damn right I am because you know how I felt about him,” Diane hissed back at her.
“Diane, I had no idea that you had a crush on Andy when he and I started dating,” Deidra defended her position as her sister took a seat across from the table.
“Of course you didn’t,” Diane rolled her eyes in response, “You just decided that he’d be fun to play around with since you had everyone else chasing you down right?  I mean why allow me a moment of happiness in my life?”
“I think it turned out for the best,” Deidra dropped her voice as she motioned in Ben’s direction, “You look happy now.”
“That’s beside the point,” Diane hissed as she too lowered her voice.  “You knew that Andy and I had the beginnings of something wonderful together and you found a way to crush that before it started.”
“Diane, I have no idea what you’re talking about and if you would’ve said something,” Deidra began desperately.
“Oh right like it would’ve mattered when Princess Deidra wanted it all,” Diane hissed back at her, “You know the world might think you’re pure as snow, but I see you as you really are.”
“No, I don’t think you do because if you did, we wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation,” Deidra shot back at her as her mother and Ben approached the table, “and right now I think you really need to just cool down.”
“Cool down you say?” Diane replied with a huff as she placed her hands on her hips impatiently, “I don’t think it’s your place to tell me what to do…”
“Diane, would you just knock it off,” Deidra pleaded with her, “if not for me, then for mom.  She wants to have a happy holiday and let’s give her that.  You can go on hating me later.”
“And give you the luxury of playing the martyr,” Diane grumbled in response, “I so don’t think so.”
“Diane, just chill out,” Deidra ordered throwing her a warning glance as Judy returned to the table and Deidra offered a polite smile, “This all looks wonderful mom.”
“I hope you all enjoy it,” Judy began taking her seat at the table as Ben set the wine bottle down on the center of the table.
“I’m sure we will,” Ben added taking his place beside Diane as he watched her closely seeing the tension running through her body, “Diane, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she nodded quickly sitting down in her chair despite the urges rushing over her.
“Okay,” he helped her scoot her chair in before he took his seat beside her.
“Shall we begin,” Judy questioned eagerly as she offered a bowl of mashed potatoes to Ben, “Why don’t you start?”
“Are you sure,” Ben looked at the trio before turning to Diane, “here why don’t you start?”
“No, that’s okay I don’t like mashed potatoes,” she replied turning to her mother, “though I will take some of those sweet potatoes there as I love those.”
“I made them especially for you,” Judy explained knowingly as she handed her daughter the bowl.
“In that case, okay I’ll start,” Ben decided scooping out a bit of potatoes before looking to Deidra, “would you like some?”
“Sure,” she smiled politely accepting the bowl as the spoon somehow found it’s way onto Ben’s lap in the move and a gasp fell from her lips, “Oh my…I’m so sorry…this is just not my week.  You’d think for a doctor that well, I’d have a little more tact than that, but here I am all butter fingers…”
“It’s okay,” Ben couldn’t help but laugh as he reached for his napkin in an attempt to clean up the mess that had happened upon him, “no harm done…”
“Dee, watch what you’re doing,” Diane glared at her.
“I’m really sorry,” Deidra rose up from her seat, “In fact I’ll go get you something else so that you can clean that up.”
“It’s fine…really…” Ben began as Diane rose from her chair as well.
“I’ll get you something, Ben.  Deidra I have it taken care of…”
“It’s no trouble,” Deidra began ready to leave the room as Diane grabbed her arm stopping her.
“I said I’ll do it,” Diane cut her an icy glare as Deidra raised her hands in the air dejectedly.
“Okay fine,” she shrugged her shoulders before taking a seat as Diane left the room.
“Here, have some corn,” Judy handed the bowl over to Deidra as she sensed the obvious tension in the air before she focused her attention in Ben’s general direction, “So Ben, Diane tells me that your family is down in Florida.”
“That’s right,” Ben nodded in response, “my parents bought a place out there not too long ago and that’s where they enjoy spending their retirement.”
“That sounds lovely,” Judy replied with a soft smile, “as I always enjoyed Florida.  My husband and I had talked about moving down there, but then when it came down to it, well we couldn’t bear to leave the place where we’d had so many wonderful memories over the years.”
“I can’t say I blame you as I couldn’t find it in me to leave Coral Valley either,” Ben admitted with a half smile, “there’s jus something about this place…”
“That there is, although Deidra was down in Florida for a little while,” Judy tried to include her daughter in the conversation.
“Where about exactly?” Ben inquired turning to her.
“Miami,” Deidra explained, “my husband…well, he’s practically my ex-husband and I worked down there together at one of the hospitals.”

“Oh really?  Well my parents took a trip down there a while back when they were deciding exactly where the right place would be for them, but eventually they opted for a little place in near Oviedo.”
“That’s a nice area,” Deidra replied with a nod, “Andy and I had thought about working in Orlando originally and we’d looked at a few places out there ourselves, but we wound up in Miami.  Still it seemed like a really nice place to live there…”
“My parents seem to enjoy it,” Ben explained further, “as my father has a backyard complete with a pond where he can fish and he’s like the king of fishing there.”
“Sounds like my father,” Deidra laughed lightly, “When I was younger we used to spend our summers just north of here testing the waters for the biggest catch of the day up at good old Big Cedar Lake.”
“So did we,” Ben couldn’t help but laugh, “as my dad always felt that it was the best time of year to get the biggest catch as he was always trying to beat the record they had there from the guy who caught that trophy fish…”
“The mother of all fishing there as they called it,” Deidra laughed lightly in recollection, “Oh God, my father spent hours after endless hours trying to outdo that one as he was buying into that tale they had going there about the fish who couldn’t be caught…”
“Ugh don’t remind me,” Ben groaned in response, “as I swear that I got my fingers blistered time and time again for trying to bait the line for my father in his quest to beat the all time record and catch the elusive Big Willy.”
“I think my father was hell bent on that same task,” Deidra laughed shaking her head at the memory, “and after he finally gave up on the quest I vowed to myself that I’d never go back fishing again as I’d had more than my fill.  One summer I swear you’d have thought I worked in a fish market or something…”
“Tell me about it,” Ben chuckled in response, “I swore to myself that I wouldn’t even go near a fish as long as I lived again.”
“But let me guess,” Deidra gave him a sideways glance, “a year after your father stopped doing it, you found yourself going there despite your loathing of fishing.”
Ben remained silent for a long moment before nodding in confession, “Every damn year.”
“Me too,” Deidra burst out with laughter thinking of her shameless secret need for fishing in the place her father had taken her to years ago as Diane stepped back into the room watching the exchange between Ben and Deidra.
“So you still go up there huh?” Ben questioned as his laughter died down, “Maybe if you’re around this summer, you, Diane and I can go up there and see if we can beat the record and finally catch the mysterious Big Willy?”
Deidra laughed at that thought, “It sounds like a great plan,” she agreed feeling an air of ease in the conversation as Diane stomped over towards the table in a huff.
“I just knew it,” Diane grumbled down at Deidra, “You never quit, do you?”
“Diane, we were just…” Deidra began seeing the raw hatred in her sister’s eyes as Diane circled around the table stomping towards her chair.
“Save it Dee.  I know what you were doing and it won’t work,” Diane hissed in response.
“We were just talking about fishing,” Ben explained in confusion as he looked up at Diane.
“Yeah of course you were because that was yet another thing that Deidra could do, but I couldn’t growing up,” Diane glared at her sister.  “I mean of course she’d bring up something like that knowing full well that…”
“Diane, you didn’t like fishing,” Deidra reminded her, “but that doesn’t mean that we…”
“Save it,” Diane warned her sharply, “You know you told me to chill out, but I think you’re the one who needs some cooling off,” Diane reached for her glass of wine throwing it Deidra as a surprised gasp fell from Deidra’s lips.
“What the hell…” Deidra began at a loss as the red wine stained over the center of her white blouse.
“Diane,” Judy scolded her as she couldn’t believe her daughter’s action, “What are you doing?”
“She was asking for it,” Diane answered behind a clenched jaw as Deidra looked to Diane with anger burning behind her eyes.
“I so don’t need this,” Deidra announced as she walked away from the table refusing to allow her sister another moment of humiliating her as she realized that there was no point in making an attempt with Diane.
“Deidra wait,” Judy called out to her daughter before turning to Diane with a heavy look of disapproval, “Why would you do that?”
“She was asking for it,” Diane shot back with a hiss.
“You were out of line, Diane,” Judy replied giving her daughter one last look before chasing off after Deidra.
“Oh that’s right,” Diane growled throwing her hands out in the air wildly, “there she goes chasing off after poor Deidra.”
“Diane, your mother was right,” Ben rose from the chair watching Judy’s retreat as he faced Diane realizing that what he’d blown off as a case of sibling rivalry had gone too far as the hopes that they’d all had for a quiet holiday dinner was clearly anything, but the reality for them now as Ben looked to the scattered remains of dinner before him.
“Ben, with the way she was hitting on you…” Diane began to defend herself.
“Save it,” Ben raised his hand in the air to silence her as he felt a frustrated sigh coming on, “I think I’m done here.”
“What?” Diane’s eyes widened as she watched Ben walk out of the kitchen into the living room and she chased after him, “Ben, wait…”
“Diane, I can’t deal with this right now,” he answered honestly as he faced her once again, “Look I don’t know the history between you and your sister, but what you did was wrong and I’m not going to sit back and pretend that I approve of any of this,” he motioned to the kitchen once again, “Tell your mother thanks for dinner and that I’m sorry that things turned out this way.”
“But Ben…” Diane began watching him leave her mother’s apartment as her anger boiled over her and she clenched her fists at her hands refusing to chase after him as she realized that once again her sister had managed to spoil what should’ve been a happy day for her.  Suddenly as Diane looked around her mother’s apartment, she found herself overwhelmed with anger as she cursed the day that her sister had returned to Coral Valley.


Jenna frowned as she stepped into the police station in search of Shannon Pryce. While she hadn’t exactly planned what had happened with Hart, she had found herself thoroughly enjoying the passion between them.

She walked around the corner and was greeted with the most unpleasant sight of Patrick Sharpe standing directly in her path. She groaned with frustration as he was the last person she wanted to see.

“Finally come to your senses, huh?” Patrick grinned proudly as he adjusted his gun belt, “I knew you’d come looking for a real man sooner or later.”

“Oh god, do me a favor and go file something,” She shrugged him off as she brushed by him and stepped into the office where Shannon stood. Jenna slammed the door behind her before groaning, “I hate that man.”

“Patrick, huh?” Shannon asked as she took a long drink from a soft drink, “Yeah he’s been in rare form today. I’d love to have some target practice on him.”

“How do you stand working with him?” Jenna grimaced before taking a seat across from the agent.

“I stay away from him,” Shannon grinned, “I’m sorry if I interrupted anything for you, but I need to ask you about your first impressions of the body of Bruce Mathis.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m just wondering what kind of shape he was in.”

“He had been soundly beaten, and it was pretty obvious just by looking at him that he had died from the beating and not drowning.”

“Did you do any sort of examination to suggest how long he had been in the water?”

“To be honest,” Jenna began, “It didn’t look like he’d been in the water at all. Most floaters have a green tint to their skin. Bruce didn’t. Other than the fact that his clothing was drenched, there was no evidence to suggest he’d been in the water.”

Shannon glanced at her file folder, “Did you do any preliminary toxicology?”

“I did take a sample at the scene,” Jenna said as if she’d just remembered it, “I have no idea if it’s still around. After the FBI seized my morgue, I don’t know what’s there anymore and what’s not.”

“I’ll rattle the cages of some people I know in the Bureau. If we’ve got the sample, I’ll have it turned over to you. I’ll need to know about anything unusual in the victim’s blood.”

“What exactly is it you’re looking for?”

“Some way that Bruce Mathis could have come back to life.”

Jenna’s face twisted in confusion, “The man was dead. I pronounced him myself.”

“Aren’t their drugs though that can simulate death?”

“I’ve heard of them but I’ve never seen them.”

“Still, it remains possible that Bruce Mathis could have faked his own death and when the body went missing, he could have just walked out under his own power.”

“I’ve heard of drugs that simulate death for a few hours, not days,” Jenna corrected.

“Still, you have to admit that it’s within the realm of possibility,” Shannon urged, “Come on, Jenna. This case is making no sense, and that is the only thing that would even come close to being logical.”

Jenna sighed heavily, “Okay, I’ll look for the sample and see if I can find some miracle that you’re hoping for.”

“Thank you, Jenna. I just need to find something that will put all of this chaos in perspective,” Shannon admitted with a frown.

“Good luck on that one,” Jenna frowned, knowing that what the agent was asking for was damn near impossible. But one thing Jenna had learned recently, the impossible was becoming more and more possible all the time in Coral Valley.


“I can’t believe you locked your keys in your car, Zack,” Blake grumbled as she and Zack walked down the sidewalk, “And I can’t believe I let you talk me into walking down to your apartment building.”

“Correction. They were Caitlin’s keys and it was her car,” Zack chuckled, “You know, this isn’t so bad.”

“Not so bad? It’s freezing cold, and there’s six inches of snow on the ground. Are you nuts?” She asked as she turned and looked to him, “You are nuts. I know that. It’s obvious.”

“You’re right,” He said as he hurried up to her and swept her up into his arms, “I’m nuts about you.”

“Zack!” She squealed in laughter as he spun around with her.

He eased her back to her feet and seized her rosy cheeks in his hands as he lowered his lips to hers. After a tantalizing kiss, he winked at her, “Any warmer now?”

“Yeah, I think so,” She breathed, “You’d better be planning on warming me a lot if you’re making me walk home in this.”

“Well, you know…” He began, “We could always go back to your estate.”

“I don’t think so. Avery’s mother is having some sort of dinner there, and I don’t want any part of her,” Blake said as she wrinkled her nose.

“Then why don’t we go back there and stay at the stables? You seemed to really enjoy that loft,” He suggested as he held her steadily in his arms.

“Yeah, I do,” She smiled, “But why are you suddenly so willing to go to my place?”

“Oh I don’t know,” He began, “Could be that I locked the damn keys in the car, and the superintendent to my new apartment is out of town for Christmas, so I’m screwed.”

Blake rolled her eyes as she dug her cell phone from her pocket and dialed a quick number. After speaking for a few seconds, she hung up and tucked the phone away.

“What was that?” Zack asked in surprise.

“I called Brant’s driver, Simon. He’s odd as everything, but he’s got a nice warm car that he’s bringing to pick us up.”

“And leave all this beautiful snow?” He asked in mock horror.

“If you weren’t so damn sexy, I’d have to belt you,” She said with a grin as she kissed him gently, “So what are we doing for Christmas?”

“I have no idea,” He said as he shrugged, “But I do know that I have the night shift tomorrow night.”

“On Christmas?” Blake frowned, “Though I suppose I should get used to this kind of thing, huh?”

“Yeah, you might,” He agreed, “We’re going to be together a lot, Blake,” He began, “At least if I’m not being presumptuous.”

“Oh gee,” She began in a teasing manner, “Let’s see. We slept together and now you’re worried about being presumptuous?”

“I’m really not, but hey,” He shrugged, “I thought I’d offer it up anyway.”

She chuckled as she held onto him tightly and snuggled into his warm, “It’s too damn cold to be out here. Why did you want to do this anyway?”

“Walk in the snow? Because it’s been forever for me, and it’s beautiful here when it snows,” Zack informed her, “So live with it.”

“I do. I have…ever since I was born,” Blake reminded him.

“So you don’t like snow?”

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t enjoy freezing my...well, would you look at that? Simon’s here,” She announced proudly as she turned and rushed towards the car as the driver stopped and stepped out to open the door for his customers, “Thank you, Simon.”

Zack frowned as he slowly approached the car. He stood beside Simon for a moment, “Does she absolutely always get what she wants?”

Simon smiled and nodded, “Yes, sir.”

“Zack, would you hurry up? You’re wasting all the warm air,” Blake demanded from inside the vehicle.

Zack glanced to Simon, “Pray for me,” He said halfheartedly as Blake reached for his hand and drug him into the car.

Simon closed the door and chuckled, “Better you than me, pal,” He laughed off the situation as he walked around the car and made himself comfortable to drive his charges home.


Avery stepped out onto the terrace taking a moment of calm before the storm as she held Russell’s cell phone in hand looking at it as though it was going to bite her as she anticipated calling her father.  Sure, she knew he would be wanting to hear from her, but once she shared her news about the private wedding she and Russ had with one another, she feared what his reaction would be as she’d spent her years envisioning a wedding where her father was actively included in the ceremony.  However, as Avery tied her robe tighter around herself, she realized that it was now or never as calling her father was clearly a top priority.  Dialing the numbers to his cell phone, she just prayed that he’d understand why she did what she did as the last thing she wanted was to upset her father over something like this.  He picked up on the other end of the line after the second ring as Avery’s stomach was tied in knots.

“Hello,” he repeated quickly as Avery drew in a nervous breath struggling for the right words as his voice shifted with the silence, “Is anyone there?”
“Daddy,” Avery began meekly as she tried to still the spikes of nervousness poking away inside of her as she prepared to face the music where her father was concerned, “hi.”
“Avery?” his voice changed again as concern laced his tone, “sweetheart, is that you?”
“Yeah,” she answered feeling her throat go dry as she looked onto the water, “Ken mentioned you wanted me to call…”
“Avery, I’m worried about you,” he explained openly, “I know that you needed some time to get away, but when I haven’t heard a word from you, well it had me all tied in knots because Brant wouldn’t tell me where you were going and I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to let you go even if you were upset about…”
“Daddy, we need to talk,” Avery interrupted him quickly hoping to find the courage to tell him what she’d forced herself to say as she watched the waves upon the water before her.
“Is something wrong,” Richard sensed the apprehension in her tone as she felt his fatherly presence over her, “Did Brant do something…”
“No, Brant didn’t do anything,” Avery insisted firmly, “Daddy, I’m not with Brant anymore.  You see, well, Brant and I were on the island and then Russ showed up and…”
“And you’re with him,” he blurted out knowingly.
“Yes,” she replied surprised by his tone, “You knew that we were together?”
“Ken mentioned that you’d gone off with Russell which has me wondering if…” Richard began again.
“Daddy, I’m pregnant…” Avery cut him off finding the strength to get out part of her news as it grew silent on the other end of the line and she feared that he’d hung up on her, “Daddy, are you there?”
“Avery, are you saying…” Richard hesitated unclear on what to say as Avery felt the need to explain further.
“When I came out here, I wasn’t feeling well and Brant had a doctor run some tests on me and well, they confirmed that the reason I haven’t been feeling so great lately is because I’m having a baby,” she felt tears pool in her eyes as she revealed the miracle that had fallen upon her to her father, “I’m really having a baby.  You‘re going to be a grandfather.”
“A grandfather,” he repeated in confusion, “but Avery I thought that…”
“The doctors were wrong before,” Avery insisted eagerness flooding over her as she wiped at her tears, “Daddy, I’m really going to be a mother and well, it seems that I’ve finally had a second chance at things…”
“I see,” Richard managed to get out before asking, “and Russ, I take it that he’s the one responsible for making this happen?”
Avery bit on her lower lip before taking in a slow breath as she nodded realizing that her father couldn’t see her so she spoke up again, “Yeah, he is and well, you know how things went down the first time this happened…”
“I do which is why I think it would be best if you come home now.  Avery, if you’re back here we can take care of you and…”
“Daddy, there’s more,” Avery blurted out again.
“I was afraid of that,” he sighed as a long silence followed, “but you don’t have to worry about that.  I’ll work on filing the papers for you so we can get the wheels in motion for the divorce…”
“Divorce?” Avery gasped in horror, “No, daddy I’m not getting divorced as that’s completely out of the question.  I know it was wrong not to have you in my wedding as I wanted you there more than you will ever realize, but I just can’t end this.  I love him too much and I…”
“Avery, you can’t stay married to Brant knowing that you’re having Russell’s baby,” Richard reminded her sharply, “I’m not going to let you be stuck in a loveless marriage with that man when it’s obvious that you and Russell…”
“Married to Brant?” Avery repeated in confusion, “Daddy, I didn’t marry Brant.”
“But the papers are saying that you did.  That you and Brant wed as soon as you hit the tropical locale he took you to and then well, I just assumed that Russell showed up and decided to take some action in winning you over once again considering the situation,” Richard explained quickly, “and it’s a damn good thing because I swear to you Avery if he doesn’t do right by you, then…”
“Daddy, Brant and I aren’t married.  We didn’t have any wedding, but well, Russ and I got married last night,” Avery informed him with a heavy sigh, “and it was so beautiful.  Just like a fairy tale as he whisked me away to this castle and then, well we had the most amazing ceremony and…”
“You and Russell are married?” Richard grew silent once again, “Well, this certainly does change things now doesn’t it.”
“I hope that you’re not…” she paused clenching her fingers around the cell phone tightly, “not mad at me because I went ahead with this instead of waiting to tell you because you know I would want you there with me when I married him, but because of the situation…”
“Avery, as long as you’re happy, well, I’m happy and while I am disappointed that I wasn’t there to give my baby girl away, well, we’ll just have to find a way to make up for that…like maybe a vow renewal ceremony in the near future…one that might not compare to what went on last night, but something that I can take part in…”
“I’d love that so very much,” Avery felt tears falling freely from her face as she gazed out over the view from the window, “as there’s so much I’d like to tell you…so many things I want to share with you about last night and about what’s been going on…”
“I’m sure I’ll hear all about them when you’re back home again,” Richard assured her as she heard footsteps behind her on the terrace, “My son-in-law wouldn’t happen to be there at the moment, would he?”
“Actually,” Avery turned around to find Russell standing behind her as he reached out to wipe a tear from her cheek, “he’s right here.”
“Can I have a word with him?” Richard asked politely.
“Okay,” Avery replied bringing the phone down and out towards Russell as she held it out towards him, “he wants to talk to you.”
“Me?” Russell repeated thinking about everything that had happened as he prepared himself to face whatever it was Richard had to say.  Slowly he raised the phone up to his ear as Avery watched the exchange curiously, “Hello.  Yes…yes sir…”
Russell cleared his throat before throwing Avery a quick look as he paced over across the terrace lowering his voice a bit, “Yes, I understand and I swear to you that’s my full intention from here on out.  Yes….you have my word on that…of course…I’ll do just that…yes, I know.  She’s everything to me and I swear I won’t let her down again as I’d be lost without her,” Russell spun around to look at Avery his eyes sparkling with love as he approached her, “Oh of course…I certainly will.  Absolutely…and thank you…okay…I’ll work on that…yes of course…” he finished with a smile as he handed the phone over to Avery, “He’d like to talk to you.”
“Okay,” Avery reached for the phone as Russell leaned forward kissing her tenderly before whispering in her ear.
“I’ll meet you back inside,” he promised touching her cheek gently before disappearing into the room as Avery lifted the phone to her ear.
“What did you say to Russ,” she questioned not bothering with anything else as she spoke into the phone.
“I just warned him to treat you right,” Richard promised cryptically, “and beyond that I made him promise me that he’d continue to make you as happy as you sound right now as I won’t accept anything less for my daughter and my grandchild.”
“I’m so very happy,” Avery confessed brightly, “more than you can ever imagine.”
“Which is everything I’d always hoped for where you’re concerned,” Richard admitted proudly, “You’re my beautiful little girl and you deserve the world.”
“And I have it with Russ,” Avery assured him quickly, “but something tells me that well, you weren’t just telling him to treat me right.”
“The hell I wasn’t.  The way I see it, he’s still got a lot of explaining to do, but if he’s made his case with you adequately enough that you wanted to marry him, then well, I suppose it’ll smooth over with me for now just as long as I don’t see you hurt again…”
“He’s not going to hurt me as he’s given me the greatest gift I could ever imagine possible,” Avery sighed thinking of the promise for the future she’d had upon discovering she was pregnant, “I think that this time, well this time things are going to work out the way we always wanted them to.  Russ is with me and we’re going to do this together every step of the way…”
“As it should be,” Richard agreed, “although I suppose this would be considered some time you’d like to spend with your husband instead of talking with your father considering that it is Christmas Eve.”
“Daddy, I’m so glad that I called you and that you’re the first one I told about this as you always taught me that if I believed in something long enough, the impossible would be possible and while I had my doubts, well now I know that you were right.  True love can find a way and that it‘s the one thing that makes you feel alive and oh how do I feel that way,” Avery beamed with excitement as she looked over in the direction of the window to the room, “Russ is the most amazing man and I’ve waited a long time for this…”
“All the more reason for you to take the time to enjoy it,” Richard reminded her quickly, “Just make sure that you take it easy there as my grandchild doesn’t need too much excitement in his or her life considering everything.”
“The only excitement we’re going to get is the right kind,” Avery promised before a smile lifted over her lips, “I love you, daddy.”
“I love you, Avery,” he replied warmly, “and you’ll always be my princess.”
“Oh daddy,” Avery felt her smile growing by the second, “now I feel like I’m six years old again back when I believed that only wonderful things came along with the holidays…when anything was possible and that I could have it all if I just wished for just by willing it so…”
“When you’re in love it feels like anything is possible,” Richard agreed with a soft smile.  “It’s like you can find a way to overcome all the obstacles that come your way and you just know in your heart that a moment like the one you’re having is what living is all about…”
“Is that how it was with Judy?” Avery questioned curiously, “Is that how you felt when you two were together?”
“That was a long time ago,” Richard answered caught off guard by her words.
“But that doesn’t mean the feeling ever went away, right?  I mean I saw how you two looked at the party with one another.  You looked so happy and that’s something that you never had with Brooke…”
“We all make some sacrifices along the way…” Richard began uneasily.
“But now’s the time to stop sacrificing your life and follow your heart.  Don’t let Brooke hold you back if you love Judy.  Too many years have already gone by and if you don’t take the moment to risk it all and take the chance…”
“What’s this?” he chuckled, “My daughter has turned into a romantic now that she’s in love.”
“If I’d let go of what I have with Russell…if I’d walked away…well I might’ve been regretting it the rest of my life,” Avery paused biting on her lower lip, “and daddy while I know you tried to do what was right by Guy and me, well we’re adults now and you have to start thinking about what makes you happy instead of worrying about keeping up appearances for us.  It’s time to start thinking about following your heart as I want to see you happy too…”
“Avery, I love you so very much,” Richard replied brightly, “You’ve grown up to be such a wonderful young woman and I don’t think I’ve ever told you how proud of you I am.”
“You don’t have to say it because I know and for what it’s worth, I’m very proud of you too as you’ll always be one of the number one men in my life,” she felt her eyes mist over again as she thought of the relationship they had with one another, “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, and now, well now I think it’s time you stop worrying about your old man and start enjoying that family of yours sweetheart.”
“I will and thank you for understanding everything,” Avery began again.
“Believe me I understand more than you know,” he offered as a sadness filled his tone, “I’m just happy that one of us had the strength to stay true to their hearts…”
“It’s not too late for you either you know…” Avery encouraged him.
“Maybe not, but we’ll see,” he replied gently, “Merry Christmas sweetheart.”
“Merry Christmas to you too,” Avery hung up the phone thinking about the talk she’d had with her father as she realized her nervousness was replaced with a warmth from the knowledge that her father had taken the news better than she’d expected.  Now as she entered the room, she felt her eyes strain as she was surrounded by darkness and a frown touched over her features.
“Russ,” Avery questioned in confusion, “where are you?”
“I’m right over here,” his voice sounded as Avery sought out the direction his voice was coming from, but as her eyes slowly began to adjust to the darkness, she noticed a faint multicolored glow coming from the other end of the room as she stepped forward.
“Where?” Avery questioned as her eyes fell upon the direction of the light and she gasped in surprise as she saw a small Christmas tree before her on a table with presents piled up underneath, “Oh my gosh.  Russ, how did you…”
“I have my ways,” he answered in a whisper as she felt his arms ease in around her waist as his powerful chest pressed in against her spine.  She felt his breath upon her shoulder before his lips pressed in against her neck tenderly, “Merry Christmas, Beautiful.”
“Russ, I can’t believe you did this,” Avery blinked back once, twice, three times as surprise rushed over her and she tilted her head up to seek out his eyes through the darkness.  The faint glimmer of red and green hues hung over his sexy features as she turned in his arms holding him more completely, “this is amazing…”
“You’re the amazing one,” he whispered capturing her lips in a slow, affectionate kiss, “as you’ve already given me a Christmas to remember…”
“Like you haven’t given me the greatest Christmas miracle come to life,” Avery’s dark gaze swept up over him as a smile lifted over her features.
“Speaking of our little miracle,” his hand dropped down over her abdomen, “I have a little surprise for our baby,” he whispered seeking out her hand as he urged her to take a seat on the edge of the bed, “Stay there.”
“Okay,” Avery watched him search through the boxes under the tree before returning with a Christmas tree wrapping paper covered package.
He handed the box over to her eagerly as he took a seat beside her, “Well, what are you waiting for?  Open it.”
“Right now?” she asked with wide eyes, “but Russ it’s only Christmas Eve and…”
“And nothing,” he motioned to the bow upon the box, “Just open it Avery.  I think our little one deserves an early present for being our Christmas miracle,” he touched her cheek gently pressing a dark strand of hair from her face as he nodded towards the box once again, “Come on I know you’re dying to check it out.”
“Well actually,” Avery tore into the box discarding the wrapping as her curiosity got the best of her.  Seconds later, she opened the box to reveal a small white fluffy rabbit with big blue eyes looking up at her.  Unable to contain herself she pulled it up out of the box, “Oh Russ, this is too cute…”
“His name is Buster,” he teased with a nudge, “since you felt we needed one of those in the family.”
“Hmm, well he is absolutely adorable,” Avery teased her fingers over the floppy ears before her, “but I do seem to recall giving someone else that name when…”
“Just you hush,” Russell instructed cutting her words off with a kiss as he motioned towards the box, “but you’re not done just yet…”
“There’s more?” her eyes widened in surprise.
“Much more,” he nodded in agreement as Avery turned her attention to the box before her pulling out a large photo album of sorts tied up with a red ribbon with the words ‘The Denton Family’ embossed in fancy gold lettering over the center of the cover.
“Russ, when did you…” she started at a loss as he reached out to the album untying the ribbon to open the album as he motioned the page before him.
“When we were apart, I had a lot of time on my hands and I think I started working on this to punish myself, but then when I found out that we were about to have a family, well I had a few extra touches put in,” he explained motioning towards the first page as there was a gold inscription on the crisp, white page before her.
Lifting it up for a better look, Avery’s eyes skimmed over the page as she read aloud, “To my unborn child.  I present you with this book to share with you the story of the romance that brought your mother and I together.  It’s a fairy tale unlike any you’ll ever read filled with the same old castles and fire breathing dragons, but what’s inside is so much more as it’s ultimately how you came into this world and with this book I offer up all the love that I can give as in being your father you’ve opened up my world to a happiness I never dreamt possible before now.  You and your mother are everything to me and it’s with this album that I offer you a piece of myself as we work together to fill the pages together in our years as a family.  With love from the luckiest daddy in the entire universe,” Avery choked up on emotion and tears pooled in her eyes as she looked up at him, “Oh Russ I love it…”
“I was hoping you would,” he curled his arm around her pulling her into his lap before turning the page before her, “as this story says a lot about the two of us and I think that we’ll find a way to share our love and our adventures with our little one through the years as we have so very much to give our child.”
“This is just…” she found herself at a loss as her eyes fell upon a very proper looking picture of herself at all of six years old framed in a bright, red heart, “Oh God, where did you find this?”
“In the same place I found these,” he motioned to the picture he’d had of himself encased in a heart just above an image of the two of them on the playground together with him looking like a love sick puppy as she seemed less than thrilled about being covered in mud as he stuck his tongue out at her.
“Oh this is horrible,” she chuckled unable to contain herself as she began to flip through the pages seeing the moments in their life with one another before her.  Tears misted over her as she took in the memory of their youth with one another from their time on the playground with one another, to the images of their trip to his family’s cabin where they’d gone camping together and found themselves lost in one another’s arms making love with one another at long last.  She skimmed through the other pages as Russell read some of the little captions he’d written in aloud and she felt a smile tickle over her to the tips of her toes as she came upon a blank page before her.
“And here,” he explained bringing another heart framed photo down upon the page as Avery saw the snapshot that had been taken last night after their ceremony laid out upon the page, “is where the journey begins as it’s here where you and I finally found our way back on track with one another.  It was in this moment that you and I will begin the next step in our lifetime together,” he whispered warmly against her neck as he rested his chin on her shoulder, “as this is where it all starts for us…”
“Russ, it’s just…” she ran her finger over the page, touching his finger tips as her heart filled with love for him and she sank back into the warmth of his chest enjoying the embrace between them.
“Oh wait,” Russell began excitedly, “I almost forgot,” he wiggled beneath her reaching out onto the dresser beside the canopied bed before returning with a Polaroid camera, “we have one more to go in there before we can continue…”
“One more,” she repeated as he urged her into his arms again.
“That’s right,” he nodded eagerly, “Lean back,” he coaxed her in against him holding the camera above them before ticking her side, “Smile.”
Avery couldn’t help but feel laughter tickle over her as he took a picture and it came out from the camera ready to begin the developing process.  Avery snuggled in against him running her fingers over the blank pages beyond the one where he’d placed the wedding picture.
“Those are for the moments we have from here on out and when our little one comes along, well by that time I really believe we’ll have about a dozen more of those to go through with our baby,” he spoke up excitement laced in his tone as he hugged her against him, his free arm curling around her center as he massaged her abdomen gingerly, “as we’re going to have so many beautiful memories ahead of us.”
“That we are,” Avery sighed melting in against him as her fingers laced with his holding his arm over her body as he lowered the picture he’d just taken for her inspection.
“Well, what do you think,” Russell questioned nudging her with his nose before placing a butterfly kiss upon her shoulder.
“I think I couldn’t love you more than I do right now in this moment,” she confessed urging his lips towards hers in a tender kiss as she savored the magic of the holiday wrapped up in the arms of the man she loved as it seemed that after all the battles they’d faced on the road to togetherness, their dreams of happily ever after were finally coming true and she wouldn’t trade a moment of it for the world as everything was absolutely perfect.


Guy took in a nervous breath as he looked at the Ashford mansion thinking about what his mother had in store for the evening.  He wondered if he’d be able to pull off such a thing as what he’d spoken of with Gabe, but before his thoughts could get the best of him, he felt Mindy tugging on his arm gently.
“Hey, Earth to Guy,” Mindy waved her hand up at him, “I think we need to focus here if you expect to be able to make it through tonight with your mother on the prowl.”
“I know,” Guy felt the chill in the air filling his lungs as he looked down to his companion, “I just don’t know how we’re going to pull this off.”
“Let me do all the talking and I’m sure we’ll do just fine,” she offered up with a playful wink as she squeezed his arm gently, “Oh come on.  You know I can handle Brooke.”
“Tonight wasn’t about starting a new war zone,” Guy explained with a heavy sigh, “We’re supposed to get her to just back off.”
“You really believe she’s going to do that?” she asked with an air of skepticism, “Because you know if you do, then you’re clearly delusional, Guy.”
“I have to try to do this,” he sighed inwardly as she shook her understanding.
“I still don’t think it’s going to work the way you want it to, but hey it’s your call,” she released his arm as she looked around the Ashford estate, “so where’s the other half?”
“Gabe thought it might be better if we showed up at a different time that way my mother wouldn’t get suspicious about what’s going on…”
“Yeah well I suppose that makes sense, but I wish you would’ve let him and I take a moment to touch base on things here…” Mindy frowned in response, “Considering that I’m playing the other woman I’m sure it would be best if Gabe and I were in some kind of good standing with one another.”
“He knows what’s going on,” Guy began as he noticed a car pulling up into the drive, “and we’re behind schedule seeing as he’s here.”
“Then we’ll just have to all go in together,” Mindy tugged on his hand, “Come on.  I want to meet the man who’s swept you off your feet.”
“Mindy,” Guy began to protest as Mindy bounced over towards Gabe’s car watching as he stepped out into the winter afternoon.
“Gabe, why hello,” Mindy greeted him cheerfully as she released Guy, “Guy’s told me so much about you.”
“You must be Mindy,” he smiled politely as he accessed the spunky young woman before him.
“That I am and I just have to tell you that I appreciate the fact that you didn’t decide to go after me for starting all of this,” Mindy lowered her voice as she stepped in closer to him, “because well if you knew anything about Guy’s mother you’d see what a tyrant she can be and she was just pushing him into a corner and…”
“I understand,” Gabe interrupted rubbing his hands together to avoid the chill that teased over him despite the warm leather gloves he’d been wearing, “and while I’m not happy about what we’re all doing, I do understand to a degree.”
“Then we can find a way to work through this, yes?” Mindy asked again.
“I’m sure we can work on it,” Gabe agreed turning his attention to Guy, “So how are you holding up?”
“I’d be lying if I said my nerves weren’t shot,” Guy answered fighting the urge to reach out and embrace his lover, “but I guess that’s to be expected.”
“This could be easier if you were ready to face what’s really going on here…” Gabe prompted once again.
“I can’t do that now,” Guy shook his head as he looked to Mindy, “but we can do this tonight.  We can go through the evening this way…”
“Hey, I’m more than willing to deck your mother,” Mindy raised her hands in the air before shrugging her shoulders quickly, “but that’s just me.”
“I like her,” Gabe couldn’t help but laugh as he saw the tinkle behind her eyes, “You’ve got a lot of spunk.”
“That’s only the beginning of it,” Mindy boasted as she turned her attention to the house before them, “Shall we get this show on the road?”
“I suppose there’s no time better than the present,” Guy decided nervously as he and Mindy made their way up to the Ashford mansion with Gabe trailing behind him.  As his thoughts were focused on his mother, he wondered if somehow she would one day understand where he was coming from with his life and if somehow he could find a way to have her stay on his side even after finding out the truth.  Now as he looked back over his shoulder at Gabe, he just prayed that day would come for him.
“Let’s do this,” Mindy urged on brightly as she rang the bell to the Ashford mansion and the door opened seconds later as the man before them urged them to follow him into the foyer.  Mindy looked up at Guy hopefully, “See this isn’t so bad…”
“No it’s not,” Guy agreed as Brooke stepped out into the foyer greeting them brightly.
“Merry Christmas,” she cheered as her eyes fell upon Mindy and a scowl replaced her features, “Guy, what is she doing here?”
“I brought her as my guest,” Guy insisted standing taller as Gabe moved forward to greet Brooke.
“Thanks again for the invite,” Gabe reached out to her kissing her on the cheek gently, “I so appreciate it.”
“You’re very welcome, but you…” Brooke’s eyes darted upon Mindy before she turned her attention to Gabe once again, “Would you excuse me for a moment?”
“Of course,” Gabe nodded as Brooke marched over to Guy tugging on his arm as she pulled him aside and her eyes darkened with anger.
“You shouldn’t have brought her here.  I specifically told you to come alone,” she hissed sharply, “as I don’t want that woman around during a time like this.”
“Mindy is important to me and I wasn’t going to keep her from coming once she heard the news,” Guy explained quickly as he glanced over at Gabe and Mindy who’d both tried to catch wind of what Brooke was saying.
“That’s no excuse.  I specifically told you to come alone.  Guy, I had such plans for tonight and I don’t think that Mindy should be here considering that…” Brooke’s words were interrupted as another voice jumped into the conversation.
“Merry Christmas,” Cathy called out to the crowd as she stepped into the foyer, a martini in hand wearing a tiny red halter top as her eyes fell upon Guy and Brooke, “Oh Guy, you’re here.  I was hoping you’d arrive soon.”
“Cathy, what are you doing here?” Guy blinked back at her in surprise.
“Your mother invited me as she thought we might enjoy spending some time with one another,” Cathy reached out to him touching his arm in a flirty fashion, “I’m so glad you’re here now.”
Mindy’s gaze drifted up to Gabe as she watched his jaw grow tight with tension and she patted his arm supportively before leaning up to whisper, “Don’t worry I’ve got this covered,” Mindy promised taking in a deep breath as she vowed to find a way to deal with Brooke’s incessant meddling once and for all in the hopes that soon Guy would be able to live his life without her interference.  Now as Mindy adjusted her shirt, she took in a breath sizing up the blonde before her as she prepared to put in a performance of a lifetime.  She just hoped that Guy and Gabe wouldn’t try to string her up in the process as things were about to get very ugly.

...to be continued...