“Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on here, but well I’ll forgive
your ignorance just this once, but only once as the fact remains that Guy
is taken and it’s painfully obvious,” Mindy snapped moving forward stepping
in along side of Cathy as she threw her a solid well place glare.
“So back off.”
“Who the hell are you,” Cathy glared at her.
“I’m the woman that’s going to pound your face in if you even think about laying a hand on Guy again,” Mindy flicked at Cathy’s hand wrenching it off of Guy’s arm.
“Ouch, you’re hurting me,” Cathy whined releasing her hold on Guy as her lip curled in a pout, “Look I didn’t know okay. I just assumed…”
“You know what they say about assuming,” Mindy glared back at her, “So just back off, bitch.”
“Well now I think we’ve had quite enough of this,” Brooke scowled unable to contain her displeasure about having Mindy at her little gathering, “I’d hoped we wouldn’t get off to a rocky start, but well, this,” she waved her hand between the two women, “was just a simple misunderstanding.
“Yeah no kidding,” Cathy growled over in Mindy’s direction before turning her eyes towards Guy, “perhaps you should put your bodyguard on a leash here, Guy.”
“Why don’t you just shut the…” Mindy warned with a hiss as Gabe stepped towards the group.
“You know this is Christmas Eve and I think it would be best if we keep the spirit of the holidays in mind. Don’t you all agree,” he suggested smoothly as he turned his attention to Cathy, who was now directly in front of him, “I don’t believe you and I have had the pleasure. I’m Gabriel Teague and you are?”
“Cathy,” she batted her eyelashes at him as she stood taller puffing out her chest as to draw his attention to her ample cleavage as she extended her hand out towards him, “Cathy Ashley…”
“Well Cathy,” Gabe reached out for her hand drawing it up to his lips in a suave gesture before placing a tender kiss upon the top of her hand, “it’s a pleasure to be meeting you.”
“Likewise Gabriel,” Cathy turned the wattage up on her smile as she turned her blue eyes up towards him.
“Please,” he held her hand in his for a brief moment before reciprocating the smile, “Call me Gabe.”
“Alright,” she paused fluttering her eyelashes again, “Gabe.”
“Shall we get to dinner,” Brooke cut in frowning at the way things were going as her eyes remained fixed upon her son with Mindy.
“That sounds like a great idea,” Mindy beamed with energy as she threw an icy smile out at Brooke, “I’m starving.”
“Of course you are,” Brooke rolled her eyes as she turned towards the dining area.
“Come on,” Cathy tugged on Gabe’s arm, “I’ll show you where we’re headed,” Cathy explained brightly leading him along as Mindy felt the tension dominating every inch Guy’s body at the vision of the man he loved with another woman on his arm.
“What just happened here,” Guy blinked back in confusion.
“I’m only guessing, but I’d imagine it’s damage control on Gabe’s end,” Mindy suggested seeing the jealousy brewing behind Guy’s eyes as his gaze followed Gabe and Cathy out of the room, “Hello, Earth to Guy here. We need to stay focused…”
“That’s easier said than done considering that Cathy’s found her next target and it just so happens to be the man I love,” Guy frowned as envy Mindy tugged on his arm once again.
“Guy, if you go in there looking like that then your mother is going to see right through to the heart of the matter so unless you’re feeling especially brave about opening up to her, I strongly suggest you put your jealous side in check and you remember that I’m your date tonight. You and I are supposed to be together, remember?”
“I know that was the plan, but I don’t understand why Gabe did that…”
“He was probably trying to make this situation easier so that we could all get through the night without anyone being murdered, although I have no objections to taking on Brooke or even that Cathy tramp for the hell of it,” Mindy shrugged her shoulders before offering up a tiny giggle, “That would be worth the jail time I’m certain.”
“Mindy,” Guy gave her a disapproving look as his thoughts were clouded by what he’d watched take place, “I just don’t see why Gabe would…I mean sure I get what you’re saying, but with Cathy…”
“Guy, if she had it her way, she’d have thrown down on you right here in the foyer and for the cat who ate the canary expression, your mother would’ve loved every moment of it. Gabe didn’t like what he saw either, so he stepped in to prevent it…” Mindy defended Gabe’s move to him.
“Is that what it was,” Guy frowned wondering if his lover had an ulterior motive in playing up the flirting with Cathy as Guy recalled the various conversations he’d had with Gabe about coming clean with his family. Could Gabe be playing on his jealousy to back him into a corner where he would explode and reveal all to his mother in a fit rage or on some level was Gabe attracted to the woman who’d pulled out no stops about wanting to seduce any man that had paid her any kind of attention? Would Cathy be enough to make Gabe reconsider the newfound independence and freedom that their lives together had brought to them, or was this merely his way of satisfying a craving that had been buried inside from the moment Noelle had left him?
“Guy,” Mindy nudged him in the ribs, her eyes drifting up to him as she forced him to turn to her and face her, “listen to me. You have to focus on what’s important tonight. If you go into that dining room looking that way your mother is going to ask a lot of questions.”
“I know,” Guy shook his head trying to ignore the doubts and fears that were controlling his every thought as he began to ponder what the man he loved was up to, “I really do, but it’s easier said than done.”
“Then let me be your guide,” Mindy winked up at him, “I mean hey look how far we’ve made it,” she whispered looking over his shoulder as she saw Brooke peering out into the hallway. Unable to prepare Guy for the moment, she ran her fingers up the lapels on his jacket before tipping up on her toes to collect his mouth in a heated kiss.
At first Mindy felt hesitance, but then as his arm curled around her squeezing her in against him, she realized that Brooke was getting far more than Mindy had hoped on when she’d threw in this latest jab. Now as Guy squeezed her in his arms, she felt him pull her up off of her toes as his tongue teased over her lips coaxing her to deepen the kiss as he hugged her in up against him so that they were on the same level with one another. Her arms quickly wrapped around his shoulders as she realized that this was one of the reasons she’d hated that Guy had been gay as he was still one of the best damn kissers on the planet and that in itself brought a rush of disappointment over her as she felt him spin her in his arms carrying her towards the dining room as his lips continued their exploration over hers, teeth tugging on her lower lip before setting her down at the foot of the doorway to the dining room as all eyes fell upon them. As they parted Guy brushed his thumb over her swelled lower lip as he leaned in to give her a quick, chaste kiss, “Hungry baby…”
“Starving,” Mindy replied breathlessly as she slid her arms around his waist taking the opportunity to snuggle in against him as she could almost feel the weight of Brooke’s eyes shooting daggers into her back. Still as a tiny laugh erupted from inside of her, she winked up at Guy knowingly, “This is going to be a great Christmas party. I can feel it.”
“So can I,” he touched her chin, tracing her jaw line with his index finger before turning her away from him so that her spine rest against his chest as he pulled her completely into his arms for full effect. However, as he held Mindy, he was well aware of the plan for the night, but even with his mother’s heavy displeasure, his eyes fell upon the intended target of the passionate display between him and Mindy as he noted the expression on Gabe’s face and in that instant a brief flicker of guilt flooded through him, but when the insecurity returned as Guy watched Cathy pawing at Gabe once again, he realized that maybe a little game playing would be good for the night considering that his lover had suddenly become a flirt with entirely the wrong person and as reason left Guy, he pressed his lips over the side of Mindy‘s neck unable to contain the green eyed monster of jealousy that took over him at the sight of Gabe interacting with Cathy as if the goal of the night was to make Guy miserable for keeping his silence, then Guy would be damn sure to make it clear that Gabe was in the same boat with him one way or the other.
Jenna stepped off the hospital elevators thinking about how she was
starting to feel like she’d been at this place more and more lately.
Sure, it was typical for her to be spending time in such a place, but given
the circumstances, she wished this was work related instead of what it
had turned out to be knowing that her brother was laying in a hospital
bed fighting for his life. As she turned around the corner to Kipp’s
room, she noticed Diego stepping out into the hallway as his eyes turned
up towards her.
“Jenna,” he smiled at her politely, “what are you doing here on Christmas Eve,” he paused softening his tone as his smile faded and seriousness replaced his welcoming glance, “work related?”
“As much as I’ve found myself spending Christmas Eves much like this one in this place because of work,” she motioned to the door behind him with a soft sigh, “this one’s personal.”
“I take it you know Mr. Mahoney,” Diego questioned casting a brief look over in the direction of the room.
Jenna nodded simply, “He’s my father…”
“Your father,” Diego’s eyes widened unable to mask his surprise as he spoke with her, “I see.”
“It’s okay,” Jenna offered a smile noting his expression, “I know what you’re thinking and believe me finding out about this is quite a shock for me indeed as I never knew that I had another brother out there, let alone a father who was very much alive and breathing…”
“So this has been quite an ordeal for you, yes,” Diego gave her that same scrutinizing look that he’d been notorious for in the past when she’d paid him a visit on a professional level a couple of times during the trial when Patrick was making her miserable.
“It’s been something,” Jenna nodded before shaking her head at him, “but you know you’re not on the clock with me here. I really don’t need any of your expertise on this one as I’m doing fine with it,” she assured him.
“Even so, there are a few people who aren’t,” he paused for a long moment.
“You mean my father,” she questioned already knowing the answer by the expression on his face, “He’s taking this hard.”
“And with good reason, but well, there are some other things I’d wanted to discuss with him, but he’s just not open to hearing right now…” Diego started after a moment of hesitance.
“I’m really not at liberty to discuss what is going on with one of my patients, but there is a situation taking place with your father and I feel it would be in your brother’s best interest if…”
“What would be in my brother’s best interest?” Jenna questioned with a hint of a frown as his cryptic words left her feeling unsettled.
“Jenna, I can’t really say and even bringing it up like this was completely unprofessional…”
“But I know you enough to know that you don’t lack professionalism in anything Diego unless there’s something you wanted me to know on a more personal level,” Jenna reminded him sharply, “so what’s going on with my brother?”
“He’s going to be a father,” Diego blurted out uneasily, “as I said before it’s not my place to be telling you this, but…”
“But Douglas doesn’t want to hear of it, yes?” Jenna arched a curious brow, “And let me guess, the woman who’s claiming she’s pregnant with Kipp’s baby is Heather Gibbons, yes?”
“I can’t tell you…” he started again.
“You don’t have to say it as I can read you like an open book, Diego,” Jenna frowned slightly, “Do you have any idea what that woman put my brother through? How she drove him to where he is right now?”
“Jenna, she’s not asking for anything from your father or Kipp, but a chance to share the news about the baby with Kipp. She thinks that if she can speak with him, if somehow she can reach him, that maybe just maybe it can help bring him back. I know it’s a stretch…”
“You’re damn right it’s a stretch considering how she not only ruined my brother’s life, but she destroyed one of my closest friends in the process,” Jenna stood taller thinking about all the talk about the happenings at the engagement party, “Diego, I don’t think my father is going to listen to any of this.”
“Jenna, it’s his grandchild. I know that you of all people understand the importance of family especially now I think about all the times we’d talked about your father and how you’d felt something was missing all those years you’d lost when you’d thought he’d passed on…” Diego began urgently.
“You’re pushing it Diego and playing my sympathy card and using my history to twist it against me won’t work,” she grumbled in response folding her arms in front of her chest, “That was a step lower than I’d ever thought you’d go.”
“Jenna, I’m just saying that maybe we should think about what’s best for your brother,” Diego explained matter of fact, “If he was so driven by grief at the idea of losing Heather that he wound up taking such extremes, then whose to say that he won’t pull another extreme and come back to those he loves in knowing that he’s going to be a father?”
“That’s a stretch even for you and probably one of the most unprofessional things I’ve ever heard you say,” she gave him a sideways glance, “what gives?”
Diego sighed in response, “Maybe it’s the spirit of Christmas talking or the idea that there’s a child here in this equation and that baby deserves a chance to know his or her father even if Heather isn’t a welcome part of the family. A baby deserves that kind of opportunity and I just think…”
“Diego,” Jenna touched his arm gently, “Is this coming from your view of what’s best for my brother or about what we both know was lost in our lives?”
“Jenna, if you think about it, you’ll see that I’m right here in all of this,” Diego sighed as a frown touched over him, “and maybe science isn’t backing me up here, but there isn’t a moment that passes by when I don’t think about the things that I lost there all by closing out the woman I once loved from my life. If I’d known then…”
“That wasn’t your fault and with Kipp, well, I just don’t know if Heather can make a difference,” Jenna confessed as she saw the passion behind his words building behind his eyes.
“A father has a right to know his child even under the most tense of circumstances. He should be given that opportunity especially at Christmas time and this just might be the thing that helps your brother hold on…” Diego insisted reaching out to take her hand in his. “You know I’m right.”
“What I know is that as soon as you’re done pulling a double shift here, you’re going to find your way back to that cemetery and mourn the loss of a family you felt slipped through your hands,” Jenna sighed unable to contain her empathy for a man she’d come to have as a friend over the years, “Torturing yourself won’t bring them back…”
“Even so if I knew about that baby. If I’d had a chance to share that with her before…” Diego’s voice choked up with emotion as he stepped away from her angry with himself for getting so involved, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe this is more about me and I’m out of line…”
“No, you’re not out of line and I do believe you’re right about a father’s rights,” Jenna reached out to squeeze his hand gently, “He does deserve a chance.”
“Then don’t let your father take Kipp’s away from him,” Diego pleaded with her, “Don’t think of this as it being for Heather, but for Kipp.”
“I’ll give it some thought,” Jenna nodded in response, “but I can’t offer up any promises.”
“I’m not asking you to as I’d just like to see you try,” Diego offered up a sad smile before turning to leave, “and for what it’s worth your family will be in my prayers this holiday season.”
“As will yours,” Jenna added poignantly watching as he turned away, “and Diego?”
“Yes,” he faced her once again.
“It’s time you forgive yourself as I know that she’d want that,” Jenna offered up a sad smile, “I miss her too you know.”
“I know and I’ll tell her that you’re thinking of her when I visit her tonight,” Diego nodded in acceptance as he turned to leave and Jenna felt her heart sink at the thought of the misery he’d endured because of a simple misunderstanding. Now as she stood outside her brother’s hospital room watching Douglas interact with Kipp, she wondered if she would be able to convince her father that Kipp’s seeing Heather Gibbons again would be the right thing and furthermore she wondered if she could convince herself.
Quietly stepping into the room as she felt Douglas sit up straighter, Jenna watched as he spun around and looked as though he was about to lash out at the newcomer before he saw his daughter standing before him and his features shifted with her arrival.
“Jenna,” he spoke her name in surprise as a smile lifted over his features, “what are you doing here?”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” she offered up with a smile, “You didn’t think I wouldn’t make a visit to see you and Kipp, did you?”
“Well, I just assumed that…” Douglas began as she took a seat beside him.
“That what? You’d think I’d let you get away without sharing a night like tonight with me,” she shook her head as a tiny laugh bubbled up inside of her, “Not on your life.”
“In that case, I’m glad you’re here,” Douglas replied before shaking his head as well, “Scratch that, I’m more than thrilled to see you.”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” Jenna leaned down to offer up a quick kiss on his cheek, “Merry Christmas, Douglas. I had a feeling that you weren‘t getting out much so I brought us something in.”
“What is it,” he questioned noticing the plastic bags in her hand.
“It’s some of the best of the best cuisine from Pavilion,” Jenna explained reaching for one of the makeshift tables that was set up for the empty bed beside Kipp’s as she motioned for Douglas to come sit with her. She pulled out various containers as he took a seat beside her and as she opened up the packages, the aroma of dinner filled the hospital room, “Now I know this isn’t exactly a home cooked meal, but I had the feeling that I couldn’t tempt you over to my apartment just yet and truth be told I’m not much of a cook…”
“A trait we do share I must confess,” Douglas couldn’t help but smile at her as she handed him a package of plastic silverware that had come with the take out, “but I must admit that I would like to spend some time at your apartment when things settle down as I’d like the opportunity to get to know more about you.”
“I’d like that,” Jenna turned her eyes up towards him as her features lit up at the closeness she’d felt to him. She thought about Diego’s words for a brief moment, but as she realized that some of her father’s tension had eased up in the short time they’d spent with one another, she decided that perhaps it was a time for her to just savor the spirit of the moment with him as she tried to keep his mind away from Kipp’s tentative condition on a night like this. Despite the things she had been so eager to ask, so eager to share with him, right now was about pulling together and as they began to have their own Christmas dinner with one another, she decided to leave it as is as she was certain the rest would fall into place later one way or another.
“I don’t believe this,” Caitlin gasped in surprise as the delivery men
left the Ashford beach house after having dropped off a very grandiose
looking Christmas tree that now stood in the center of the living room
before her. “This is beautiful. I can’t believe you ordered
this Ken as it’s absolutely perfect.”
“I didn’t order it,” Kenneth began in confession as Brant entered the room looking over at them smugly.
“I did,” Brant grumbled making his way past them over towards the bar area, “but don’t worry I won’t be expecting any thank yous from either one of you because I know where you stand on the issue of having any kind of gratitude towards me.”
“Brant, you know that’s not…” Kenneth started with a frown as he looked to his brother.
“Save it,” Brant held his hand up in the air, “I don’t want to hear what you have to say right now…”
“It’s Christmas,” Kenneth pleaded with him as he motioned to the tree before him, “and clearly you’d had some ideas on how to spend it when you ordered this tree…”
“That’s right I did,” Brant filled himself a glass of scotch emptying off the bottle before discarding it, “and they didn’t include either one of you,” he answered sharply downing the drink before slamming the glass on the countertop.
“Well, maybe you should just learn to take the lemons that life gave you and make lemonade with it,” Caitlin offered up cheerfully, “as I think this is turning out to be a beautiful holiday in so many glorious ways.”
“And I think you should put a sock in it, Blondie,” Brant grumbled swiping another bottle from underneath the bar as he gave his brother and Caitlin one long, disgusted look, “You’re both pathetic. I hope you realize that,” he finished storming out of the room despite Kenneth’s pleas as he found himself needing some air and time to himself after the power play Kenneth had pulled over him.
How dare he send Avery off like that, Brant muttered to himself storming out onto the beach as he tore the cap off of the long neck bottle in hand. He took a long drink of the stale, burning liquid as he struggled to dull his senses after the last twenty four hours of hell on the island. While he’d been so convince that he’d been making progress with Avery, she’d up and vanished thanks to his brother’s intrusion and he had no doubt in his mind that this latest setback would be the thing to do him in for sure. Avery had come so far with him in such a short time and now this distance couldn‘t be any good for them as there was so much at risk.
“Leave it to Ken,” Brant grumbled shuffling through the sand as the sounds of the ocean faintly registered in his senses over this lackluster holiday eve.
As Brant headed beyond the Ashford property line off into the other areas of the sandy beach, he realized he didn’t care how far he walked just as long as it was away from what was waiting for him at the beach estate. It was at this moment that Brant could honestly say he was miserable and there was no one around to change that. With Avery gone, his Christmas surprise was wasted on Kenneth and Caitlin and now he had to sit back and tolerate them until he could get the hell off the island and soon he was certain he would as the last thing he wanted was their incessant yipping giving him yet another migraine headache after all their meddling. Oh Caitlin would get hers. That much Brant was certain of, but for now, he was going to enjoy this vodka and the walk that took him away from the nosiest people he’d ever known.
Now as Brant looked out onto the water prepared to douse himself in alcohol until he passed out, he pondered all the missed opportunities between him and Avery, but before he could truly lose himself to yet another wonderfully erotic fantasy, the sounds of shouting broke through his concentration level. Turning his eyes in the direction of the sound, Brant noticed a man and a woman no more than fifty feet away from him arguing with one another. Their shouts grew louder by the second until Brant watched the man lash out at the woman striking her before he marched off in the direction he must’ve come out from.
Brant watched the woman stagger a few feet forward before falling to her knees in the sand clearly off balance as he inhaled a slow breath and decided to investigate the situation. Moving in towards her, Brant watched as she lowered her dark head down towards the sand as though she was thinking about burying herself beneath it as her soft sobs captured his attention. Stopping right before her, he loosely held the bottle in hand as her dark hair blew with the breeze and he cleared his throat to alert her of his presence.
“Are you alright,” he questioned gently as her sniffles began to die down a bit and she started to wipe at her face while refusing to look at him.
“I’m fine,” she got out shakily before Brant knelt down before her not believing her words.
“Let me take a look,” Brant urged unable to contain himself as he reached out to her drawing her face up from the sand as his eyes connected with hers and a gasp fell from his lips as he stammered backward on the sand falling to his bottom with a thud.
She watched him for a long moment before giving him a scrutinizing glance as she wiped at her face in an attempt to remove any traces of her tears, “It looks like I should be asking you that question considering you’re about as light on your feet as I am it would seem,” she offered up a sad smile before pulling her legs up from beneath her as she stammered to her feet once again. She dusted herself off trying to rid her navy colored shorts of the sand that had coated them seconds earlier. As her eyes returned to Brant’s once again, she couldn’t help but take note of the puzzled expression on his face as her lips curled in a frown.
“You have a problem?” she questioned harshly placing her hands on her hips as she glared down at him.
“No, not at all. It’s just…” Brant started at a loss as he couldn’t help but stare at her in confusion. His eyes turned to the bottle in hand for a long moment and he wondered if his head was playing tricks on him or if he’d just drank too much as he was clearly having one of those out of the moment experiences that thanks to Kenneth and Caitlin’s meddling, he was certain shouldn’t be happening. Unable to contain himself, he watched the woman before him as she finished dusting herself off and she reluctantly moved forward offering her hand out to him.
Her hand hung in the air for a long moment before she offered up a sideways glance, “Are you stoned or something because if you are…”
“No, I’m not stoned,” he answered quickly finding it in him to speak as he looked to her still unmoving. He offered up a hint of a teasing grin before adding, “but I might be a tiny bit drunk right now.”
“In that case,” she leaned forward swiping the bottle from his hand
as he caught a whiff of her soft, floral perfume as she lingered over him
before standing upright, “it looks like your poison is mine now.”
Brant watched in silence as she used the bottom of her form fitting pink T-shirt to wipe at the bottle top before she raised it to her full, luscious lips and took a long drink. Seconds later, she wiped at her lips with her hand smearing a bit of her lip gloss in the process as Brant continued to eye her intently. She took another drink of his vodka before finally speaking once again.
“What?” she questioned again impatiently as she handed the bottle out to him, “Want it back?”
“No, it’s yours, although you probably shouldn’t be drinking considering that you’re pregnant…” he started in a state of confusion as she nearly choked on the swallow she’d just taken.
“What did you just say?” she spat out with a chuckle, “I so don’t think so…”
“Avery,” he half questioned as there was no mistaking those dark, penetrating eyes before him, the succulent lips that had filled his every erotic fantasy for months on end down to the very luscious curves of her body as this woman standing before him was a living, breathing vision of Avery brought to life and back on the island.
Her nose wrinkled at his words as she shook her head in response offering him the bottle once again, “No, it’s Angela.”
“Angela,” he repeated in confusion blinking once again, “You’re sure about that?”
“Unfortunately, it’s been a title I’ve been stuck with ever since I can remember,” she explained with a heavy sigh as she tucked a loose strand of hair from her face behind her ear, “I wish it was more exotic, but then again we can’t pick and choose those things, now can we?”
“No I suppose we can’t, but…” he began at a loss, “it’s just that you look so very much like…”
“Like what?” she questioned tipping off another drink from the bottle in her hand.
“Like someone who could use a listener tonight,” Brant covered still trying to make sense of what was happening as she stepped in towards him offering her hand once again.
“You’re right about that,” she decided giving up on helping him as she sank into the sand beside him, “and I have to admit this vodka is a good start as this is the perfect ending to a horrible evening.”
“That was my theory when I decided to bring it along with me,” Brant admitted unable to keep his eyes off of her as he looked up to the house she must’ve come out from, “If you don’t mind me asking…um, what was that all about?”
“What was what all about?” she questioned following his line of vision before a sigh spilled over her lips, “Oh that. Well, let’s just say there’s a major difference of opinion going on right now.”
“With your boyfriend?” he asked unable to quell his curiosity.
“Oh hell no,” she shook her head as a tiny chuckle erupted from her shimmering lips, “Not in this lifetime. Let’s just say that was a raving egomaniac that doesn’t know how to take the word no for an answer.”
“Sounds like an awful kind of guy,” Brant turned to face her planting his hand into the sand just behind her as he leaned in towards her.
“You don’t know the half of it,” she grumbled in response as she leaned back in the sand.
“I’d like to,” Brant confessed unable to curb his need for information about this woman beside him.
“Oh I’m sure you don’t,” she shook her head as another groan erupted from inside of her, “I mean that jerk just thinks he can up and bust into my home and make a scene and not expect me to react. I mean sure it’s bad enough that I was trying to take a time out from the real world for a while, but then to have him show up…”
“It’s a tragedy indeed,” Brant nodded halfheartedly taking in her every word as the resemblance between her and Avery was uncanny, beyond anything he’d ever imagined as he was starting to question his tolerance to alcohol. He leaned in closer to her taking in the scent of her perfume once again as it reminded him of Avery in so many ways.
“And the worst part is that here it is Christmas Eve and I’m stuck here alone and dealing with his nonsense when…” her words brought Brant back to the moment as she gave him a strange look, “You’re not really interested in any of this, are you?”
“Of course I am,” Brant nodded quickly realizing that he’d made the mistake of letting his thoughts get the best of him as he’d been focusing on the similarities between her and Avery instead of paying attention.
“No you aren’t, but it just figures,” she grumbled in response, “Far be it from a man to actually lend an ear to a woman when she’s got something really important on her mind. Then again, I suppose you don’t owe me anything considering that…”
“Do you have plans for dinner tonight?” Brant blurted out unable to contain himself as he watched her.
“Excuse me?” she blinked back at him caught off guard from his words.
“Well, I think it’s only fair that since we shared my vodka, that the least I can do is treat you to a real martini,” Brant motioned to the bottle she was holding as he reached for it himself bringing it up to his lips taking a long swallow himself.
“Hmm, since you put it that way,” she pondered the thought for a moment, “but only if you’re buying.”
“As long as you’re giving me a yes, then I’ll buy as many martinis for you as you like,” Brant promised as she reached out to the bottle bringing her fingers over the neck of the bottle.
“As long as I don’t have to hurt you for not taking no for an answer by the end of the night, then you’re on,” she threw out a warning look as her eyes cast over him as though she was taking him in for the first time since they’d encountered one another.
“By the end of the night, I can guarantee that you won’t be saying no as I’m pretty certain we can work on a yes,” Brant offered up in a suave, seductive tone as he reached for her hand, “So what do you say?”
“I say the offer still stands about that bodily harm issue, but since my publisher ran out on me without dinner…” she began.
“That guy was your publisher?” Brant questioned in confusion, “As in you hire him to help you get your books out there?”
“That’s right,” she nodded with a heavy sigh, “though he’s not really doing the best of jobs with it.”
“Obviously,” Brant remarked with a huff, “so what was that all about
“I can tell you what it wasn’t about as it wasn’t about my book,” a scowl touched over her lips once more, “and the more I think about it, the more I realize that sitting home plotting all the ways I’d like to tear him apart isn’t going to help anything considering that…”
“That you have a very tantalizing offer on the table,” Brant winked at her, “One that could change your life forever.”
“It’s just dinner and I don’t see it being a landmark turning point for me, but well for what it’s worth, I say you’re on,” she decided snatching her hand away from his, “I mean why the hell not.”
“Exactly,” he laughed wildly, “Why the hell not? I mean it’s Christmas Eve and things clearly suck for the both of us, so why not enjoy that old adage of misery loves company.”
“Funny I hate to ask, but does misery have a name since you know mine,” she inquired lifting a curious brow as she shifted in the sand to get a better look at him.
“In this particular situation yes he does,” he offered his hand to her, “the name is Brant.”
“Well Brant, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she accepted his hand taking it in hers in a firm, yet determined shake as she wondered what she was getting herself into with this handsome stranger before her.
“The pleasure it all mine,” Brant answered wondering if somehow someone out there was looking out for him as tonight was starting to feel more promising than it had hours earlier. Maybe fate really did have a few tricks up it’s sleeve where Brant was concerned and for now, well as much as he wanted to stew in misery, he realized that this was certainly company worth keeping as there was no telling what the night could bring his way.
Jade unlocked the door to her apartment, feeling giddiness threaten to bubble over. She was feeling more hope than she had felt in quite a while. Somehow Grady had turned his behavior around and was acting like the man she had fallen in love with. She could only hope that once Christmas was over he wouldn’t revert to his obsessive behavior over Avery.
She turned and smiled at Grady as she opened the door. Just this morning, she had been terrified that things would be awkward between them and that she wouldn’t be able to face him. Now, she was about to spend Christmas with him and the entire world seemed as far from awkward as possible.
Grady closed the distance between them and pulled her into his arms. He smiled just as she did…with hope and love. He lowered his lips to hers in an endearing and tender kiss.
“Are you two going to actually come in or just stand there and make the neighborhood nauseous?” Seth teased from his position on the sofa.
“Oh shut up,” Jade chuckled as she stepped inside and pulled Grady along with her.
“Hi Seth,” Grady flashed him a smile as he closed the door to the apartment, “How are you?”
“Doing better since I see my sister has a smile on her face,” Seth grinned as he watched Jade pull Grady further into the apartment, “So, I guess the Christmas spirit has finally made a visit to you two, huh?”
“Yeah,” Jade smiled, “I’m going to spend tonight with Grady and his family, but we’ll be back for Christmas dinner tomorrow, Seth. I’m just going to go in here and pack an overnight bag,” She waved to the guys as she walked down the hall and into her room.
“She looks very happy,” Seth concluded as he looked to Grady, “I suppose this means you’ve had a change of heart.”
“What you said made a lot of sense to me, Seth, and the truth is that Jade was right about walking out on me. I was acting like an ass, and I’ve resolved to change my ways especially where Jade is concerned,” Grady sighed as he sat down on the sofa near Seth.
“Hence this little turn about?” Seth asked as he glanced down the hallway, “Is it going to last?”
“It has to,” Grady reasoned, “I’m not willing to break Jade’s heart. I love her, and I just want to make her happy and keep her in my life. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make both of those happen.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear it.”
“What’s with your turn around? How come all of a sudden you approve of Jade and I being together?” Grady asked in confusion.
Seth glanced down the hallway before he met Grady’s eyes, “It’s not that I approve necessarily because I still wish Jade was interested in someone her own age,” He shrugged, “But, at the same time, maybe you can keep her safe.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?” Grady asked seriously as he sat forward.
“Jade’s in danger, Grady. You know who Cameron Stone is, don’t you?”
“Yeah, he’s a client. What does he have to do with anything other than his being hot for Jade?”
“What?” Seth questioned, “What do you mean?”
“He’s sent her flowers and asked her out to dinner several times, Seth. I thought you would have known all about this,” Grady said before he watched Seth carefully, “If this isn’t what you’re talking about, what exactly is going on?”
“It’s a long story, but let’s just say that Cameron is trying to get me to do his dirty work by threatening to hurt Jade,” Seth frowned.
“He’s not going to hurt Jade,” Grady shook his head, “He’s way too adamant about wanting her to ever hurt her.”
“Are you sure about that?” Seth asked skeptically.
“No, but with the way he acts towards her, I think hurting her is the last thing on his mind. In some twisted way, I get the feeling he thinks that he could be everything she ever wanted or needed. I don’t understand why, but he’s sort of fascinated by her,” Grady shrugged, “But with Stone, anything is possible.”
“So I’m learning more and more every day,” Seth sighed as he sank back, “Just do me a favor and keep an extra close eye on Jade. If anything happened to her…”
“Nothing is going to happen to Jade. With you and I looking out for her, she’ll be just fine,” Grady assured him.
Seth nodded in agreement as Jade stepped out of her bedroom.
She looked at the two most important men in her life and frowned immediately as she adjusted her Christmas themed pullover sweater she’d changed into along with a pair of blue jeans, “What is going on in here?”
“A little male bonding,” Grady announced as he grinned at Seth, “We’re finally beginning to learn what we have in common.”
“Oh lord, should I leave again and come back?” Jade teased while swinging the strap to her overnight bag over her shoulder.
“No, I think we’ve had enough for one evening,” Seth grinned in response to his sister’s good mood, “You two have a good time.”
“We’ll do that very thing,” Grady shook Seth’s hand before he stood and escorted Jade out of the apartment as she waved goodbye to her brother.
Seth watched them leave and smiled. Apparently Christmas was going to be good for Jade after all.
Zack watched as Blake ascended the stairs ahead of him. He frowned as she turned around and winked at him, “Don’t you stand up there all happy. Open the door woman.”
“Oh quit complaining. You’re the one who said we needed a tree. So drag it up here already,” Blake commanded as she opened the door and stepped inside the loft. She placed the bags they’d acquired along the way home down on a bookcase before she turned and glanced down the stairs towards Zack, “Do you want me to help you get that tree up here?”
“No, I can handle this tree. You just wait,” He said firmly as he drug the tree up the remainder of the stairs and pulled it inside the loft. He tugged the tree across the floor and leaned it against a wall, “What did you do with the tree stand?”
“Here,” She said as she handed it towards him.
“Thanks,” He said as he placed the tree stand where he wanted it to be. He lifted the tree into the stand and tightened the stand to hold the tree in place, “Okay, is it straight?”
“Perfect,” She smiled, “Now we can decorate.”
“You can decorate. I’ll watch.”
“Oh no, you don’t. You’re the one who said we should get a tree. You’re going to help me decorate it. Now get over here,” Blake instructed as she placed a box of the Christmas decorations in his arms, “Get started.”
“Whoever dreamed that you were this bossy,” He teased as they began opening the boxes and placing decorations on the tree.
“Hey, why don’t you reach over there and plug the tree in? What’s the good in buying a pre-lit Christmas tree if you’re not even going to bother to plug it in?” She teased as she continued to hang ornaments on the branches.
“Hmm, I’m beginning to wonder if bringing a Christmas tree into your little loft here was a good idea. You’re being all bossy and everything, and it worries me,” He winked at her as he plugged in the tree. As the lights brightened the corner of the room where the tree sat, he smiled, “Wow, not too bad.”
“You’re not kidding,” Blake said with wide eyes, “This is beautiful,” She added another ornament to the tree, “I’m glad you wanted this tree. It really does make this place feel very Christmas-like, doesn’t it?”
Zack looked around the room before he nodded, “Yeah, actually it does.”
“I’m glad we’re feeling like Christmas here. I was worried that Christmas just wasn’t going to feel right since Kenny and Brant are gone to the islands. Now this feels like a good holiday,” She said triumphantly.
“I think we’re going to make this a very good holiday for us both,” He announced while placing his last ornament upon the tree, “What do you think?”
“I think it’s gorgeous,” Blake smiled before walking across the room and gathering another box, “This is the last one. It’s the angel we picked out for the top of the tree,” She informed him as she opened the box, “Will you do the honors?”
“I most certainly will,” He smiled as he took the angel and set her atop the tree. He stood back and slipped his arms around her as she tossed away the box and leaned back against him, “What do you think of our finished product?”
“I think it’s perfect,” She smiled as she hugged his arms around her a bit tighter, “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.”
“Going to start singing now?” He teased, placing a kiss to her temple.
“I just might. I’m feeling very light and happy right now. You’d be surprised what I might be inspired to do,” She said as she spun around with a kiss and kissed him passionately.
“Well…you just boggle my mind,” He winked at her before kissing her again.
“I could say the same about you,” She pecked him gently on the lips, “How about we sit down and eat dinner?”
“Maybe we could enjoy dessert first?” He grinned wickedly as he nipped at her lips.
“Hmm, it’s tempting, but what do you say we eat dinner first so we have the fuel for dessert,” She winked before slipping out of his arms to grab the bags they had picked up from Irvan’s.
“You’re a tease,” He chuckled softly as he closed the distance between them and took a bag from her, “So what exactly are we going to do tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. Annie usually has a Christmas dinner, and we always have a good time. You should join us,” She said as they sat in front of the fire place.
Zack placed his own bag of food down before he built a fire. Once the fire was well on its way, he sat back down beside her, “I wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else.”
“Good. I know Annie will love having a chance to really get to know you. She’s sort of like a second mother to me.”
“I’ve heard you talk about her a lot, and she did seem mighty protective of you,” He said with a slight chuckle as he opened a bottle of water.
“She’s always been there for me, and I came to always count on her to be there. After Mom died, Annie became the parent who would always be there for me. Dad was always involved in his business or some damn affair,” She shrugged, “So Annie made us feel like a family.”
“It’s good that you had that. I’ll have to call my parents tomorrow and with them a Merry Christmas.”
“How long has it been since you spent Christmas with them?”
“Last year actually. We all got together, and it was great,” He smiled, “It’s too bad we didn’t get to do that this year, but we’ve all got a lot going on in our lives.”
“Yeah, that does tend to happen,” Blake said before she reached over and kissed him, “But we have each other this year.”
“And we’re going to make this Christmas one for the record books,” Zack assured her as he kissed her once more with love in his heart. This Christmas really would be a great one as he was with the woman he had always cared about, and she was with the man of her dreams.
Judy knocked on the bedroom door hoping that Deidra would answer as
the horrible turn of events played again and again in her mind between
her two daughters. While Judy had hoped that the animosity Diane
had harbored towards Deidra would’ve gotten out of her system, she could
see now that it was far from happening. Knocking once again Judy
was greeted by the sounds of silence as she checked the door knob finding
“Deidra, honey please open up,” Judy begged of her daughter as the silence worried her. She knocked again, but before she could say another word, she heard Deidra from the other side of the door.
“Mom, I’m really tired. We can talk later,” Deidra’s hoarse voice spoke up on the other side of the door, “please…just let me rest a bit.”
“Deidra,” Judy began again at a loss as she hated to hear her daughter in such pain. She reached for the door once again ready to say something, anything to make the situation better as Diane appeared in the hallway.
“I think I’m going to go now,” Diane spoke up quietly as Judy turned her attention to her youngest daughter and her eyes narrowed with rage.
“Oh no you don’t,” Judy replied walking away from the door as she marched towards Diane grabbing her arm as she pulled her out into the living room.
“Ouch,” Diane frowned as Judy finally released her with a huff.
“What were you thinking back there?” Judy demanded roughly, “How could you humiliate your sister like that?”
“I wasn’t humiliating her. I was putting her in her place,” Diane insisted placing her hand on her hips, “She was just asking for it in doing what she was doing…”
“She was just talking with Ben,” Judy reminded her harshly.
“No, she was flirting with him and trying to win him over just like she does with every other man that comes her way…” Diane argued with her.
“No Diane, she was trying to be nice to your boyfriend so that you could be happy about things. She was doing the normal sisterly things, but you took it upon yourself to take things too far.”
“Mom, she was…” Diane began again in her own defense.
“She wasn’t doing anything wrong, but you on the other hand,” Judy shook her head at her, “After all the things you’ve gone through yourself you’d think that you would be sympathetic to your sister’s problems…”
“It’s always about Deidra’s problems and I’m sick and tired of her using them to get sympathy from everyone around her,” Diane hissed in response, “Time and time again I’ve watched her charm the man I was interested in and…”
“Diane, she isn’t interested in Ben. She’s going through a messy divorce and right now she needs the support of her family and clearly you have a lot of growing up you need to do if you can’t find it in your heart to be compassionate about what’s going on…”
“Mom, you and I both know that she finds a way to take what’s mine and then I’m left to pick up the pieces,” Diane shot back angrily, “It’s always Deidra this, Deidra that and I’m so sick of having to think about her feelings…of having to do things her way because that’s the only way there is to do it while she takes all the attention and…”
“Diane, you’re not six years old anymore and this behavior was completely uncalled for,” Judy replied with a heavy frown, “you know better and you owe your sister an apology for what you did.”
“Well, she’s not getting it,” Diane folded her arms in front of her chest defiantly, “I won’t do it.”
“Oh yes you will and then you’ll stop with these childish antics because you’re out of line. Diane, you know better and…”
“And nothing. I know what Deidra’s all about and just because you’re too busy thinking she’s your perfect daughter that you don’t want to see it, well that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that I think she’s some wonderful image of beauty and perfection…”
“Diane, she’s your sister and not your rival. All she’s ever wanted was for the two of you to bond with one another and have a relationship…”
“The only thing Deidra wants is to be the center of attention and I’m not going to give her the luxury or satisfaction of making me the outcast all over again. She chose to leave you after daddy died, but I stayed her and I’m the one that made all the sacrifices. She just went off and lived her life stomping on everyone she could in the process and now, well now you can’t expect me to sit back and praise her considering I was the one who picked up the pieces. I was the one who took the slack and carried the weight of all the imperfections around her and quite frankly I’m tired of it.”
“Diane,” Judy sighed heavily, “You’re making this something it isn’t…”
“No, you’re just not seeing the heart of the matter…”
“Mom, why do you always defend her? Why can’t you stand in my corner for a change,” Diane questioned with a pout, “Why can’t you just admit that she’s in the wrong?”
“In this particular situation, you were the one in the wrong,” Judy answered with a look of heavy disapproval, “Not only was it rude and childish, but it was a horrible, hurtful thing to do that makes you look like less of a person, Diane.”
“Mom, I was just protecting what was mine from the enemy,” Diane sighed in frustration.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Judy softened her tone as a sadness swept over her, “Your sister isn’t the enemy.”
“I’m not going to let her steal Ben like she did with Andy,” Diane pouted with a huff.
“Diane, she had no idea about the way you felt about Andy. None of us did until he had married Deidra and by then I’d hoped you’d gotten over that crush…” Judy began hoping to talk some sense into Diane.
“Mom, you don’t understand. It’s more than just the crush. It’s the whole principle behind…” Diane argued her point.
“Diane, this situation isn’t about Andy and if you think for one second that your sister is out to ruin your life, well, then you’re looking at this the wrong way. Sisters are supposed to protect and care for one another and if you haven’t learned that by now, well I feel as if I failed in my role as your mother.”
“You didn’t fail me, but mom, you have to see where I’m coming from,” Diane pleaded with her.
“What I see is my little girl tearing her sister apart for something that was completely out of context. She wasn’t trying to hurt you, Diane,” Judy offered up sadly, “She’s dealing with a world of heartbreak right now and this is the last thing she needs.”
“Well this is the last thing I needed in my life too. Who said we wanted her back? I mean why bother with us now when she couldn’t be there before?” Diane questioned tears pooling behind her eyes, “It’s not fair…”
“Diane,” Judy reached out to her.
“No, save it mom. I’m not up to anymore talks on how great Deidra is,” Diane retreated turning on her heel as she ran out of the apartment leaving Judy with the emptiness and the remains of a failed Christmas dinner as she wondered how she’d managed to have two very amazing daughters that were taken worlds apart by an irrational jealousy. Now as she surveyed her apartment, she realized that it seemed nothing was going right for any of the Stevens women and as she reached for a family photo on one of the end tables, she sank into a chair tears overcoming her as she wondered if there would ever be a way to repair the damage that had been done.
Ben stepped into the Ashford mansion via the back door and glanced around for any signs of life. He made his way through the house and knocked lightly upon Annie’s door. The sound of a soft bark alerted him that Peanut was ready to welcome him.
The door opened and a smile burst upon Annie’s features, “Ben,” She exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around him in a welcoming hug, “How are you?”
“I’m doing good. How are you?” Ben hugged her in return before they stepped into her room, “How’s Peanut doing?”
“She’s doing better. She’s still guarding her tummy, but at least my baby is home,” She smiled, “Come on in and sit down. You have to tell me what’s going on with you.”
“Not a lot,” He said as he sat down beside her on the sofa, “I’ve been busy with work, and I’ve got a girlfriend.”
“You do? Who is she? Do I know her? What’s she like?” She asked with excitement.
“You’re worse than Mom,” Ben chuckled, “Her name is Diane Stevens, and I happen to think she’s amazing. She is everything I could ever want.”
“Why do I sense a but in there somewhere?” She asked as her eyes searched for the answer.
“It’s just that I went to her family’s Christmas Eve dinner, and things did not turn out very well. I saw a side of her tonight that I’d never witnessed before. She was insanely jealous over her own sister,” He frowned, “I’ve never seen Diane act that way. She just went off the deep end and was so rude to her sister. Admittedly I don’t know the entire history between Diane and her sister, but the way she went off on her sister,” He shook his head, “I really don’t get it.”
“Sometimes the stories behind family squabbles can never quite be clear to outsiders. Our family has their share of them, Ben. You know that if anyone were to step into our family, they couldn’t understand the half of what has happened over the years,” She explained, “Perhaps it’s the same way with your Diane.”
“My Diane,” He repeated, “She’s beautiful and intelligent. She’s everything I ever imagined was beautiful in the world, and sometimes she drives me crazy. Sometimes all I ever want to do is just choke her, but then she gives me that fiery temper of hers,” He sighed, “Then I just want to…”
“I can tell she really gets to you, doesn’t she?” Annie smiled, “Good, I’m glad. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten all about women on your quest to have a wonderful career.”
“It’s true that I put off having a relationship for my work, but Diane…” He smiled, “She was persistent and relentless. She went after me, and truth be told I went after her. And I couldn’t deny her. She’s made my world a thousand times better, and all I want is to be with her.”
“Then why are you here talking to me?” She asked boldly through her smile.
“I thought maybe she could use a little time to sort out her issues with her sister. Tonight was a little heavy as far as I was concerned, and I just didn’t want to interfere. I thought that maybe things would work better for the entire family if I wasn’t there.”
“What about Diane? Isn’t she going to need your support?”
“No,” He replied, “She knows that I was upset when I left, and she needs some time to sort out her issues. Besides, it’s Christmas and I thought I’d come here to see how you were doing,” He said as he directed the conversation back to her, “Christmas is about family, and I just wanted to come here and spend time with you,” He said with a smile as he pressed a kiss to her cheek.
“You are such a suck up,” Annie chuckled softly, “How about I go get us a couple of mugs of warm cider and we can talk about everything that’s been going on with you?”
“Sounds good,” Ben smiled as Annie stood and left the room. He glanced down to Peanut as the dog wagged her tail happily upon the floor. He leaned down and scratched behind the dog’s ears. At least he could make a couple of women happy on Christmas…it was just too bad that that one of those women wasn’t Diane.
Jenna entered her apartment thinking about the time she’d spent at the
hospital with her father and Kipp. Somehow in knowing that there
was another part of her family out there, it had given her a sense of completion
that she’d been without for a great many years. Now she could say
that she had an amazing father and a brother that she may never know, but
she at least had one last chance to make things right with them.
Thinking about the talk she’d had with Douglas, she realized that in her
own way despite the tragedy, she’d been given a miracle of sorts as her
father was now a part of her life--a part that she could hold onto and
learn more about with each day they shared together.
“Oh good you’re home,” Hart’s voice beckoned her from the darkness of her apartment as Jenna looked around in confusion wondering what was going on as she set her keys down on the table top beside her.
“You’re still here?” Jenna questioned in confusion as he emerged from inside her apartment greeting her at the door, “I thought you would’ve left by now.”
“You wouldn’t believe how impossible it is to get a locksmith out here on Christmas Eve,” he chuckled in mild amusement drawing his arms around her waist without hesitation as he pulled her into his arms.
“So you stayed here all day because you were waiting for a locksmith?” Jenna gave him a strange look.
“Not exactly,” he motioned to over her head, “as there’s more.”
“Oh?” Jenna followed his line of vision as she noticed the tiny piece of mistletoe hanging over them. She quickly looked to Hart again seeing the sexy grin that filled his features and before she could voice any words in response to this new revelation, he leaned forward collecting her mouth in a slow, surprising kiss.
“Mmm…I’ve been waiting for this all day long,” Hart confessed keeping her in his arms as his breath spilled over her features, “You have no idea what kind of torture I’ve been going through here in not being able to see you…”
“Really?” Jenna’s eyes widened in surprise, “You don’t say?”
“Oh but I do,” Hart nibbled on her lip in a teasing fashion, “I mean how could I not have spent the day dreaming about you when well, there isn’t much else to do around here considering you don’t even have cable television.”
“Oh well considering that I don’t spend much time in this place,” Jenna began apologetically, “I guess I never saw the need considering that…”
“That work was your life?” Hart inquired lifting a curious brow, “You know what they say about all work and no play Jenna.”
“Yes and I also know what they say about men like you as well,” she winked back at him as she took a step back out of his arms, “I have to wonder if you’re worth the risks involved.”
“I’m well worth the risk and more,” Hart promised extending his arms out towards her as he collected her once again, “and deep down you know that…”
“What I know is that it’s not every day that I come home to a strange man in my home complaining about my lack of cable television,” Jenna reminded him quickly.
“I’d like to take that complain and state that it was more of an observation and besides, you don’t really think I’m strange,” he paused a bit unsure of himself for a brief flickering moment, “do you?”
“You certainly have your quirks,” Jenna confessed with a simple shrug of her shoulders.
“But you love me,” Hart smiled brightly as his finger tips teased over her spine.
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Jenna blurted out with a soft sigh.
“Maybe not yet, but we’ll get working on it,” he reached for her hand leading her into the apartment, “though for now we should work on warming you up as I’m sure you’re freezing right about now.”
“Honestly I’m anything but feeling a chill,” she confessed watching his fluid movements as he lead her into her living room, to the Christmas tree she’d had set up earlier only unlike before it now had a mountain of packages underneath it.
“Take a seat,” he urged pressing her back onto the sofa, “I have a few things in the kitchen to tend to.”
“Hart, what is this,” Jenna questioned in confusion unable to believe the sight before her.
“Just a little something special to mark the holidays,” he answered from her kitchen as Jenna realized that somehow in her day away, he’d made himself at home in her place. An eerie feeling settled in the pit of her stomach as she wondered how it was possible for her to allow herself to get this close to someone like Hart after all the things they’d been through with one another, but as he returned from the kitchen with a couple of mugs in hand, she looked up at him trying to keep her concerns to herself.
“What is this?” Jenna inquired as he held a mug out towards her.
“It’s eggnog,” he offered up while joining her on the couch, “an old family recipe there that’s guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirits.”
“If you’re trying to get me drunk, it’s not going to work,” Jenna gave him a pointed look.
“Jenna, you and I both learned this morning that I didn’t need to get you drunk to have you where I want you,” he winked at her before shuffling down to the floor over by the tree, “but that’s not really what this is about. This is about the holiday spirit, right?”
“And the fact that you won’t leave my apartment, yes,” she nodded watching him lift one of the packages up from the floor as her eyebrow ached with curiosity, “What’s that?”
“It’s a present for you,” Hart explained holding it out towards her, “Go on. It won’t bite you.”
“Are you sure about that,” she questioned in a hint of laughter.
“You’ll never know if you don’t open it,” he urged once more, “Go on. Open it.”
“If it’s anything lewd and obscene,” Jenna began with the beginnings of a frown.
“Then you’ll know there was some heart put into the package,” he offered up cheerfully.
“Yeah I’ll just bet about where that was directed,” she shook her head before pulling at the bow on the top of the package. A moment later she opened the box finding a Star Wars boxed set of DVDs before her. Her eyes widened in surprise as she pulled it out to inspect it, “Hart, how did you…”
“I heard you kind of mention it to Douglas the other day at the hospital,” he shrugged his shoulders, “and truth be told it was one of my old vices too there as a child…”
“But you…you didn’t have to do this considering that we…” Jenna stammered at a loss as she looked to the present realizing that he had put something extra special into it as he went out of his way to do this for her knowing that it was something that she enjoyed as a child--something that might’ve seemed silly to anyone else, yet to her it was an amazing gesture, “I…I don’t know what to say…”
“Tell me that you like it,” he leaned up towards her, “I didn’t mean to snoop, but looking around I didn’t see any of those around here…”
“I don’t have any,” Jenna confessed as a heat rose up over her features, “though truth be told I don’t have a DVD player yet either.”
“You sure about that?” Hart motioned to the pile of packages, “Santa might’ve worked on fixing that for you.”
“Oh Hart, I don’t know what to say. I mean you didn’t have to do all of this and I really wish you hadn’t considering that I didn’t get you anything…” she started overcome with emotion as he reached out to her touching her cheek gently.
“Being able to share this time with you is all the present I need,” he confessed leaning in to kiss her tenderly, brushing his lips over hers in a soft, yet determined press. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders drawing him in closer to her as their kisses grew in intensity until he breathlessly parted from her.
“What’s wrong?” she questioned taking in a slow breath.
“If we keep this up, well we won’t get to the presents and that was something I was looking forward to all day,” he explained with a sigh, “As much as I want nothing more than to take you in your room and pick up where we left off this morning, I think I owe you a bit more than that as this,” he motioned to the tree, “is waiting for you.”
“I just feel bad that I wasn’t able to get anything for you considering…” Jenna began again as he pressed his index finger to her lips to silence her.
“Forget about all that because right now I have everything that I ever could’ve wanted for Christmas,” he promised her realizing that things seemed to be on the right track with them at long last as he was opening his heart up to the one woman he’d deemed the impossible challenge. Now that they were sharing Christmas Eve with one another and he saw he was the reason behind the smile that filled her beautiful features, he realized that there were endless possibilities for them as this was only the beginning.
Caitlin smiled as she watched the lights flicker on the amazing tree Brant had ordered. While she and Brant were at odds on a great many issues, she could appreciate his taste in decoration. Still, his display upon the tree’s arrival hadn’t exactly been tasteful, but with Brant that was pretty much the status quo.
Ken slipped his arms around Caitlin’s waist and gently squeezed her back to him, “Penny for your thoughts.”
“I was just thinking about Brant. He’s just not going to learn to behave, is he?” She sighed as she leaned against him.
“No, he’s not, and that worries me,” He paused as he turned her around to face him, “But I don’t want to think about Brant tonight. I just want to think about you and how beautiful you are.”
A smile spread over her features as she wrapped her arms around his neck, “You sure do know how to make a girl feel appreciated.”
“Oh I haven’t even begun,” He said with a smile as he squeezed her to him, “Come here. I have something I want to give you and it absolutely cannot wait until tomorrow.”
“Ken,” She chuckled as she followed after him, “Where are we going?”
“We’re going right out here,” Ken said as he tugged her out the doors and across the sand, “Come on.”
“Are you nuts? Where are we going?”
“Just have a little faith,” He laughed as he tugged her along after him, “I promise it’ll be worth the wait.”
“Ken,” She giggled with anticipation as they crossed over a small dune of sand. She gasped as she spotted his surprise, “Ken…”
“Come on,” Ken smiled proudly as he led her towards the dinner he’d set up on the beach while a solo violinist played a soft tune nearby.
“How did you set this up?” She asked as she squeezed his hand gently.
“Brant isn’t the only one who can pull some strings,” He assured her as he led her to the table. He pulled out the chair for her and helped her sit down before he took his own seat. A waiter arrived and poured them each a glass of wine before taking his position away from the table. Ken raised his glass and smiled, “Here’s to us.”
“Here’s to you being absolutely amazing, Ken,” Caitlin smiled, “I can’t believe you did all of this.”
“I thought that after the last few days and all the stress we’ve had, we should have a chance to enjoy Christmas Eve with a little romantic dinner,” He said as he took a sip of the wine. He placed his glass back upon the table, “Besides, this is a beautiful place and I don’t want you to have only bad memories associated with it.”
“I don’t,” She said with a smile, “I can promise you that.”
“Still, you have to admit that we didn’t exactly come here with happiness in mind. I don’t want you to associate this place with all the chaos that has gone on since we’ve been here.”
“Ken,” She reached out to take his hand, “I love you, and I’ve enjoyed our time together here. Yeah, there’s been some chaos, but there’s been a lot more of that in Coral Valley than here. And I love that place because it’s where I found you. And I love this place because I’ve shared it with you. Nothing could change that.”
Ken lifted her hand to his lips for a gentle kiss, “I love you, Caitlin.”
“I love you,” She smiled, “I had no idea that Christmas Eve was going to be something this grandiose.”
“Grandiose? You just wait until tomorrow morning when I let you open your real present,” He teased with a smile.
“You can’t tease me like that, and then not tell me what it is,” She urged as she squeezed his hand, “Hey, give me a hint.”
“Nope,” He shook his head with a smile, “You’ll just have to wait, but I promise you that the anticipation will be worth it.”
“You are such a tease,” She pouted through a smile.
“No I’m not. Calling me a tease implies that I don’t deliver. I fully intend to deliver,” He winked at her as he raised her hand to his lips once more.
“Now you’re talking about a whole other delivery that I fully expect to receive,” She smiled at him suggestively.
“Don’t tempt me, sweetheart,” He said as his eyes swept over her hungrily, “Or you might get that a lot sooner than expected.”
“Oh I’ve been waiting patiently, but I’m just not sure how much longer I can hold out here before I have to go after it myself,” She said with a grin.
Ken let out a slow heavy breath, “We need to behave. If I go walking around the house walking on cloud nine with Brant in the dumps, he’ll kill me.”
“And so we’re back to worrying about Brant,” She frowned, “Just promise me one thing.”
“What’s that?” He asked seriously as he looked to her.
“When we get back to Coral Valley, we’ll quit being Brant’s keepers and start living our own lives again. Can you promise me that?” Caitlin asked hopefully.
“I promise,” Ken assured her as he leaned across the table to kiss her gently. He couldn’t wait to get back home so they could focus on their own relationship and leave Brant to his own designs.
Judy finished putting all the food away after the disastrous outcome of their supposed family dinner. What had gotten into Diane, she had no idea, but it wasn’t good for Deidra. The kids had always had their issues with one another, but it had never been the full on hatred as had been displayed this evening.
Judy closed the refrigerator and made her way back through the apartment. She was about to turn out the lights and retire for the evening until the doorbell rang. She could only hope that Diane had come to her senses.
She opened the door and her eyes widened as she saw the face of the man she hadn’t expected at all, “Richard?”
“Judy, good you haven’t gone to bed yet,” Richard spoke as he stepped inside the apartment, “Look, I know this is sudden but I need you to pack a bag and come with me.”
“What? Where? Why?” She asked quickly as she watched him glance around the room.
“Just come with me. This is important, and I really want you to come with me,” He declared, “Judy, this is really important, and I need you to be with me for this.”
“Has something happened? Is something wrong?”
“No, but I want you with me,” He took her hand, “Please Judy. I need you to come with me.”
“Rick, I have issues with my family right now. Deidra is very upset, and I’m worried about her. I can’t leave her right now.”
Richard thought for a moment before he made a decision, “Then we’ll take her with us. It’ll be good for her, and I’m sure that you’ll both have a good time. Come on, Judy. I really want you to go with me, and I’m sure that Deidra will able to get some rest. Please,” He entreated her, “Just say you’ll go.”
Judy took a deep breath as she thought about his invitation. While she
wasn’t quite sure what Richard had planned, she was sure that getting Deidra
away from Diane right now was probably a good idea. She nodded in agreement,
hoping that her acceptance of his invitation would work out for all concerned.