Episode Sixty Three

Cheryl Denton finished preparing the coffee before she began making her rounds through the house to wake its occupants. Her first stop was to place a kiss upon her husband’s cheek and wish him a Merry Christmas to start his day. Elliot’s sideways smile always warmed her heart and made her believe that Christmas truly was a joyous time of year.

While Elliot was tying the sash on his robe and making his way into the living room, Cheryl knocked lightly upon the door to Grady’s room, “Everyone decent in there?” She asked as she opened the door and glanced at the bed. She noticed Grady sleeping on his stomach but saw no sign of Jade, “Jade?”

“Yeah,” Jade spoke up softly as she waved towards Cheryl from a chair across the room. She smiled as she waved for Cheryl to step inside.

“What are you doing over there?” Cheryl asked in a soft voice as she closed the distance between them.

“I was just watching Grady sleep,” Jade admitted with a smile as she looked back to the man in the bed, “He’s so peaceful when he’s sleeping. I just like to watch him.”

“I used to watch him when he was little,” Cheryl smiled as she directed her gaze to her son, “I guess I can pass that torch to you now.”

“Can’t a guy try to sleep here?” Grady grumbled in a teasing tone as he turned and glanced back towards the women watching him.

“Merry Christmas,” Cheryl greeted with a smile.

“Merry Christmas,” He replied with a smile before he focused his eyes on Jade, “To you too.”

Jade smiled as Cheryl glanced between them.

“Coffee will be ready when you two are,” Cheryl spoke softly before she stepped out of the room and closed the door behind her.

“Come here,” Grady requested as he extended his hand to her.

Jade stood and placed her hand in his as he pulled her onto the bed along side him. He hugged her close to him as she giggled softly. She squeezed him in return and smiled, “You’re feeling very warm and fuzzy this morning, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I suppose I am,” He confessed with a happy sigh, “But holding you like this makes everything in the world seem perfect this morning.”

“Hmm,” She grinned as she raised her face to look at him, “I could get used to this side of you.”

He eased his fingers across her cheek, “I love you, Jade.”

“I love you too, Grady,” She spoke as she searched his eyes for some sign of what was going on within his mind.

He smiled as he gently lowered his lips to hers. He caressed her lips with his, lightly teasing her with the soft stroke of his tongue. Jade eased her fingers through his hair as she accepted his kiss and invited more from him.

“Grady…the coffee is going to be cold. Get in here!” Elliot called out to his son.

Jade couldn’t help but giggle as she tore her mouth from Grady’s, “Somehow I never imagined we’d be getting yelled at by your father.”

“Funny how you never get too old for that one,” Grady chuckled as he rolled away from her and grabbed his robe from the end of the bed, “Come on. We’ll go get some coffee and exchange presents.”

“Sounds like fun,” Jade smiled as she readjusted her pony tail and took his hand to go into the kitchen, taking one last glance over her tee shirt and pajama bottoms. Somehow she felt suddenly awkward with the prospect of joining his parents for Christmas morning.

“Jade,” Elliot smiled, “Merry Christmas,” He said happily as he held out a mug of fresh coffee for her.

“Thank you. Merry Christmas to you too,” Jade smiled as she accepted the coffee.

“Here you go, Grady,” Cheryl smiled as she placed a mug of coffee in Grady’s hands.

“That’s not quite going to cut it, Mom,” Grady said as he bent down and kissed her cheek, “Now that’s better.”

“Oh would you get out of here,” Cheryl slapped his shoulder as she laughed softly, “Let’s go open some presents already.”

“Fair enough,” Grady replied as he and Jade stepped into the living room.

Jade placed her mug of coffee on an end table and moved to the Christmas tree where all the present lay. She lifted one from the bottom of the tree and presented it to Cheryl, “This is from Grady.”

“Actually, I can’t take full credit for that. Jade should get her mention in on that as well,” Grady said from his position at the tree as he sorted through the presents and handed it to his dad, “And this is from us as well.”

“You guys are too sweet,” Cheryl said as she sat down on the sofa and placed her coffee on the end table. She took the present from Jade and smiled as she began peeling off the wrapping paper.

Jade smiled as she watched Cheryl open the present. She’d never had the feeling of a traditional family Christmas, but this was the real thing. After all these years of hoping and praying that she could be part of a real family, here she was fully immersed in a traditional family.

“Oh…oh my…” Cheryl gasped as she drew the delicately crocheted afghan from the paper, “Where…”

“Grady told me that you’ve been looking for years for the pattern to a certain kind of afghan and with a little help from Elliot,” Jade winked in his direction, “I found out that it was this particular pattern. There’s an old lady that lives in my building who can’t drive any more and spends most of her time at home. She always knits, crochets, and sews for extra spending money around Christmas. So I asked her if she knew of this pattern, and it just so happened that she’d finished one a few weeks before I spoke with her. So I bought the afghan from her and a copy of the pattern,” She smiled, “You’ll find it tucked in the afghan.”

“Oh…this is just…” Cheryl smiled happily as she piled the afghan in the floor beside her chair and rushed across the room to kiss Grady’s cheek and hug him. When she was done with her son, she grabbed Jade in a big hug, “Thank you, Jade. That was so thoughtful.”

“It was Grady’s idea,” Jade pointed out.

“But you saw it through,” Cheryl smiled as she met Jade’s eyes, “Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome,” Jade said with a slightly embarrassed smile. She’d never expected Grady’s mother to react with such happiness over the gift Grady’s chosen, but it felt good to receive some appreciation for her part in helping him find the item his mother had wanted.

“Your turn, Dad,” Grady smiled as he drew Jade down on the arm of his chair and gently hugged her towards him.

“Okay,” Elliot smiled as he tore off the paper and opened a leather case before his eyes jerked up towards Grady, “Where the hell did you find this?”

“Ebay,” Grady chuckled, “I love the internet.”

“What is it?” Cheryl asked as she glanced over at her husband.

“A set of Confederate gold coins from the same mint and in every denomination,” Elliot informed her as he turned the case to show her, “Grady, just how much did you spend on this?”

“Not as much as you’re thinking, but enough to know that they’re genuine,” Grady assured him.

“Well that is going in the safety deposit box, I can tell ya,” Elliot said proudly, “Thank you, son.”

“You’re welcome,” Grady smiled.

“Here, open this one,” Cheryl said as she passed a present to Grady, “It’s from your father and myself.”

“Okay,” Grady spoke as he took the box and began to untie the ribbon.

“And this is for you, Jade,” Cheryl said with a smile as she placed a box in Jade’s hands, “I had a feeling Grady would be bringing the woman he loves with him to Christmas, and I wanted you to feel like part of our family.”

“I…” Jade started to speak but found tears stealing her voice, “I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say a thing. Just open it,” Cheryl smiled as she sat down on the sofa beside her husband and draped the afghan over their legs as she curled up against him.

“Okay,” Jade agreed through a tearful smile as she began removing the ribbon and wrapping paper.

“Where did you find this?” Grady asked as he examined his gift, “A complete boxed set of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works…how…”

“You were always reading them, Grady,” Cheryl smiled, “And since I know that you never do anything especially nice like this for yourself, I figured I’d do it for you. Once we passed by them in the store, your dad said that if I didn’t get them I’d be thinking about it for the next year. So there you go,” She laughed softly as she took her coffee from the end table.

“Thank you, Mom, Dad,” Grady smiled, “You know I’ll have these worn out by next Christmas, right?” He winked at them as he began looking at the books one by one.

“Somehow I doubt that one,” Elliot smiled as he turned his attention to Jade, “Jade, are you all right?”

“I…” Jade smiled as tears slipped down her cheeks, “I think so.”

Grady’s features twisted in confusion as he placed his books aside and turned to Jade, “Jade?”

Jade looked across the room to Cheryl, “Thank you.”

“What did she give you?” Grady asked as he looked into the box and saw the book his mother had given to her, “Angels in the Dark…A guide for women who want to help the men they love overcome addiction,” He frowned, “Mom…”

“What?” Cheryl asked as she looked at Grady pointedly, “Hey, don’t look at me that way, young man. She loves you, and I know that she wants to help you overcome your addiction whether you want that help or not. If nothing else, she can use that book to hit you upside your stubborn head when you won’t listen to reason.”

Jade snickered softly as she glanced to Grady from the corner of her eye to catch his unpleasant scowl, “Well, she’s right. Though I don’t think this book is big enough to make a dent.”

“Hey,” Grady seized Jade by the waist and drew her into his lap as she burst into giggles while he began tickling her.

Cheryl smiled as she leaned against Elliot, “Think we should get breakfast started?”

Elliot smiled as he hugged Cheryl close to his side, “Probably.”

“Okay, come on, old man,” Cheryl spoke as she stood and held out her hand to him, “Let’s get started.”

“Old man? Hey, I’ll have you know that I still have a lot of good years in me,” Elliot pointed out as he stood.

“Hmm, we’ll see about that,” Cheryl teased.

Elliot pulled her into his arms and dipped her to the side as he sealed his lips to hers in a passionate kiss. When he placed her back upon her feet, he grinned, “Now let’s see if you can keep up with me, sweetheart.”

Cheryl whistled, “Hmmm, okay maybe you still have a few good ones left,” She teased as he patted her bottom into the kitchen.

Jade shook her head as she lay against Grady as they occupied the same chair, “Your parents seem to be very good together. It must have been nice growing up in a house where there were parents who actually loved their kids.”

“It was,” Grady admitted, “You might not have grown up in that kind of household, but I promise you that you’ll always have that kind of love here.”

She raised her eyes so she could meet his eyes. She lightly eased her fingertips along his jaw line, “I love you, Grady. I hope you know that.”

“I do,” He assured her as he lost himself in her dark eyes, “And I love you, Jade. I want you to always know that. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I can be pretty stubborn about my perceptions of the world, and I make an ass out of myself when I’m trying to defend what I feel to be right in my heart. But I love you with all my heart, and that is something you need to know above all else.”

“I know,” Jade smiled as she kissed him tenderly.

Cheryl smiled from her position in the kitchen as Elliot kept his arms around her waist while looking over her shoulder at the happenings in the living room, “Do you think they can make it?”

“I think Jade is a force of good in Grady’s life, and if anyone can jerk him back into living a life on the straight and narrow, I think it’s her,” Elliot concluded as he pressed a kiss to his wife’s temple, “I just hope that when Russ comes home Grady won’t revert to his earlier behavior and ruin everything for himself and his brother.”

“That makes two of us,” Cheryl sighed heavily, wondering just where her youngest son was and if he was having a Merry Christmas like the rest of the Denton family.


“Good morning beautiful,” Russell leaned over Avery placing a tender kiss upon her lips as her eyelashes fluttered with the first hint of the morning’s awakening.  As they slowly parted from the kiss, he felt her arms ease around his shoulders hugging him above her as a smile lifted over her lips.
“It is a beautiful morning indeed,” she answered unable to contain the happiness that had carried over her from the previous evening they shared with one another reliving the magic of the past as they held their hopes for the future with them with the beautiful gift he‘d given her.
“Merry Christmas,” he tipped down to kiss her once again unable to contain himself as the pride and joy involved in holding his wife in his arms carried him to places he’d never thought possible before this moment in time.  Tentatively his hand dropped down over her soft abdomen as curiosity spilled over him, “How’s my beautiful wife and my little one feeling this morning?”
“Hungry,” Avery confessed leaning up to nibble on his lips as a soft rumble rose up inside of her.
“Somehow I get the feeling that hunger isn’t all for me, huh,” Russell teased with a wink as he rubbed her stomach gingerly as another sound came from inside.
“As much as I wish it were, I must confess I had the most wild fantasy last night and it’s carried over into the waking hour,” Avery confided with a solemn expression.
“Oh?” he lifted a curious brow as a smile widened over his features, “I take it you did have some hunger pains for me working there, didn’t you?”
“Not exactly,” she pulled him into another kiss taking his lower lip between her teeth and suckling gently, “but if you can work on getting me some bacon, well I think we can work on fixing that little problem.”
“Bacon?” he repeated in confusion giving her a strange look as he broke away from the kiss, “You want bacon?”
“Yeah,” she nodded in response laying back into the pillows, “I do.”
“You’re sure about that one?” he asked again unable to contain his surprise at her request as she gave him a sideways glance.
“What’s wrong with bacon?” she curled her lip in a pout as he propped himself up over her on the mattress.
“Nothing, except for the fact that you don’t ever eat bacon,” he tapped her nose lightly with his index finger as a teasing grin filled his features, “unless of course this is a sign that our little one is starting to take after me…”
“God, I hope not,” she groaned feigning an air of seriousness as she felt his fingers travel down to her sides once again to begin that same tickle assault that seemed to happen every time he was in the mood to torture her.
“I’ll give you, you hope not,” he teased as his fingers danced over her sides and she twisted and turned into his tickling despite her various attempts to get away.
“Russ,” she squealed extending her arm out across the bed reaching for the pillow beside her as she brought it up into the air amidst a flood of laughter and clumsily she swatted at his head with it as tears of laughter spilled down her cheeks, “knock it off.  Russ, I mean it…”
“Not a chance,” he tried to duck out of the way of the pillow attack as his fingers tortured her mercilessly and he dropped his lips down to her neck offering up teasing bites upon her skin as she kicked wildly beneath him trying to gain the upper hand in the situation as he teased her.
“Russell, I mean it,” Avery tried to sound firm with him as his fingers stopped playing over her body while his mouth took charge changing the feel of the moment altogether as she dropped the pillow on his back and her fingers crept up his spine, reaching out to his shoulders as a sigh spilled over her lips, “Okay…this isn’t fair either…”
“What isn’t fair, darling?” Russell questioned in mock innocence as his kisses continued to distract her.
“You’re trying to turn me on here,” Avery announced with a huff as her fingers curled over his shoulders.
“And it’s working, isn’t it,” he half questioned as she could just hear the pride that overtook him in the knowledge that he had the power to make her melt with such a small gesture and a few skilled caresses.
“That’s beside the point,” Avery forced herself to stay focused as she forced herself to bring her hand up under his chin to lift his eyes to hers once again, “I want some bacon and some pancakes and if I’m not getting it, then neither are you,” she finished with an expression that said it all as Russell reluctantly pulled himself off of her.
“Being denied of love making this early on into the marriage,” Russell shook his head as he turned away from her unable to suppress the smile that lifted over his features, “this can’t be a good sign.”
“Not when your wife’s needs aren’t satisfied,” Avery watched him moving away as she took in the moment admiring the view before her as she shifted over the blankets, “so I strongly suggest if you’d like a remedy to this situation, you get working on those pancakes and bacon, sexy.”
“Sexy,” Russell repeated glancing over his shoulder at her briefly as he reached for the phone, “now we’re getting somewhere.”
“As soon as you call for room service, you’ll find you’re going to get a lot further than that,” she promised with innuendo in her voice as he dialed for room service and began to place an order.  She watched him for a moment before crawling up behind him drawing her arms around his torso as her lips dropped down over his neck offering up the same torture he’d given her moments earlier.
“And some pancakes…” he explained in a strained tone as the heat of her breath was killing his concentration faster by the second.
“And some eggs sound good as well,” Avery murmured taking his earlobe in between her parted lips as her hands roamed eagerly over his muscled chest.
“Eggs,” Russell added eagerly as he closed his eyes wanting so desperately to focus on Avery’s touch, but still struggling to remember why he was on the phone in the first place.
“And perhaps some fruit…strawberries perhaps…” she traced her tongue over the hotspot on his neck as a lump formed in his throat and he spoke up again with a gulp.
“Strawberries too…” he barely got out as her fingers eased over his abdomen taunting him as he was all too aware of the payback she was laying on him.
“And whipped cream…” she dropped her hand into his lap immediately getting the reaction she’d wanted from him as her fingers teased him through his pajama pants, “lots of whipped cream.”
“Whipped cream,” he yelped unable to contain the strain in his voice as her hands dipped in beneath his pajamas, her skin directly against his in the most tantalizing fashion as he could almost feel her smile behind his head as she was getting the reaction she’d wanted from him in more ways than he’d hoped for while he was on the phone.
Russell closed his eyes feeling a soft moan build in the base of his throat as Avery crawled up on her knees, tugging on his hair as she urged his head back a big claiming his mouth in a wildly delirious kiss as Russell dropped the phone unable to contain himself as he pulled her into his lap with one quick tug.  Finding himself powerless against her method of persuasion, he crushed her over him, hands tearing at her nightgown as the voice on the other end of the phone called out to him bringing him back to reality from the floor.
“Mr. Denton,” the voice questioned in confusion, “Mr. Denton, are you there.”
“That’s all for our order,” Russell shouted out using his toes on the phone cord to hoist it up off of the floor far enough so that he could reach out and haphazardly toss it on the phone base before his arm curled around Avery possessively,  “You’re so going to pay for that one…”
“Who me?” she questioned innocently, a tiny laugh accompanying the flirty shrug of her shoulders as her hands dropped down to the waistband on his pajama pants.  Her eyes glazed over with passion as she shifted over him, trying to maneuver him out of his clothes with little to no success with the way he’d been holding her.  She curled her lip in a pout turning her eyes up towards his as her frown deepened.
“Having problems?” he inquired with a hint of smugness in his tone as Avery’s frown deepened.
“You’re damn right I am,” she nodded eagerly ready to put an end to the games as she leaned forward lowering her voice in a sultry tone for his ears only as she whispered, “Baby, I want you naked starting now.”
“Oh honey, I so do love a woman who knows what she wants,” Russell growled more than eager to comply with her request as he lifted her up from his lap just enough to give her what she wanted, but before he could get her exactly where he needed her, he felt her get off of the bed heading towards the bathroom door.  He watched in confusion as she leaned up against the doorframe batting her eyelashes at him.
“I was thinking something along the lines of maybe you joining me,” she explained with heavy emphasis as she placed one foot in the bathroom, “in here.”
“In there,” he managed to get out as he watched her shimmy her way out of her nightgown holding it up over her body as she disappeared behind the door.  A moment later he remained frozen on the bed as her arm came back into sight.  He felt his body grew tight with passion and anticipation as she waved her nightgown at him before tossing it out onto the bed, catching with him directly as she popped her head out of the bathroom revealing only a fraction of herself to him as her teasing grin lit up her features.
“Think you’re up for it or will there be a problem with a new location?” Avery questioned not bothering to wait for an answer as she slipped in behind the bathroom door and Russell shook his head in response realizing she would be the death of him at this rate as he rose up from the pile of blankets on the bed.
“You know I’m more than up for it honey,” Russell called out to her unable to contain himself as his own goofy grin filled his features and he reflected on the fact that this would be something they could spend the rest of their lives savoring with one another.
“Then get your sexiness in here and prove it,” she ordered as he couldn’t help but chuckle in amusement making his way towards the door.
“Oh how I love being married,” Russell mused to himself making his way towards the bathroom door when he heard a faint tapping sound coming from the door to the suite.  Pausing as he felt himself in a moment of dilemma, he realized that this was so not the time for visitors as he heard Avery turning on the water to the shower.  To choose between lust and answering the door, well that was an easy quandary to work himself out of, but still as he thought to Avery’s desire for breakfast, he realized that maybe just maybe now was not the time to worry about what was in the shower just yet.  He’d just answer the door, give the man on the other end a really big tip and then he’d finish what his wife had so shamelessly started with him.  Reaching for one of the sheets on the bed, Russell quickly draped it around his waist, bunching it up in a sloppy fashion as he headed towards the door.
“Wait a second,” he frowned realizing he’d left his wallet on the night stand as he quickly backtracked and he swiped it up from the table top grabbing a couple of bills before rushing over to the door to get this particular moment over with as his beautiful wife was awaiting his company in the hot, steamy filled shower.  Why just the image of her wet and naked and waiting for him was enough to carry him over the edge as he nearly ripped the door open ready to rip away the tray with their order and shove the worker out of the room, but as the door swung open, Russell found himself face to face with Richard Morrison and in that instant it was as if he’d been hit by an icy cold blast of water as his father-in-law stood before him with a scrutinizing eye.
“Russell,” Richard cleared his throat as Russell noted the two women standing behind him, both looking just as shocked and surprised as Russell was certain he looked in this moment as he clenched the loosely wrapped sheet around his body as if his life depended upon it.
“Richard,” Russell gulped nervously as he fought for the right words, but all that came was, “you’re early.  I wasn‘t expecting you for a while…”
“Yes, I can clearly see that,” Richard nodded motioning to Russell’s attire, “and I take it this is a bad time.”
“Well ye--” Russell started remembering that he was treading through rough waters with his father-in-law after the last time they’d come face to face as he shook his head in response, “No, no you aren’t.  Avery’s just finishing up in the bathroom and if you give me a minute to let her know that…well, if you just let me go in and…,” he paused as he was certain this would go in the top ten list of embarrassing moments for him as he reluctantly opened the door wider, “Come on in.”
“If this is a bad time,” Judy began uncomfortably as she looked between Russell and Richard.
“No, no it’s not,” Russell insisted as he bunched the sheet up careful not to trip on it as he stepped backward into the room quickly swiping up a few of his and Avery’s things as he looked around the room, “Just give me a minute and…”
“Russell, it’s really okay.  We can wait downstairs,” Richard couldn’t help, but laugh in spite of the situation as he knew all too well the things that must’ve been taking place on his daughter’s honeymoon, but before he could say much more, Avery stepped out into the bedroom area with a tiny towel tied around her body.
“Russ, it’s going to get cold in here if you don’t get a move on things as right now your top priority should be finding your way into this bathroom and into the shower so that you can spend your morning making love to your…” Avery’s eyes dropped as she noticed the crowd of uncomfortable visitors in the room and as her gaze drifted over to her father, a squeal fell from her lips, “Daddy….oh my God, what are you doing here?  I um, well, we um…oh boy…” she trailed off nervously before another squeal overcame her.  She clenched the towel tighter against her damp skin before she rushed back into the bathroom completely mortified.
Russell watched in horror as his wife left him alone to face their visitors and as he forced himself to offer up what he was certain was a goofy grin, he motioned to the sitting room area attached to the suite he and Avery were in, “Why don’t you just make yourselves comfortable and we’ll be right with you?” he offered up quickly grabbing Avery’s bra absentmindedly before he realized what he was doing and he swiftly tucked it in underneath the pile of clothing in his arms, “We’ll be right out.”
“Take your time,” Richard offered unable to contain his amusement as the bathroom door closed and he turned his attention to Judy, who was grinning herself.
“Well, I’d have to say we picked the wrong time to take an earlier flight huh,” Judy couldn’t help but chuckle as she shook her head, “They look terrified.”
“He’s probably in there wondering if I’m going to tear him apart for what’s going on with him and my little girl,” Richard admitted in a light, amused tone, “I suppose we should’ve called first.”
“Somehow I think seeing us was the last thing on their minds,” Deidra broke her silence as embarrassment overcame her, “I knew you two should’ve just come here without me considering that…”
“Deidra, don’t think anything of this,” Richard offered stepping towards her, “Despite the awkward situation, well I think Avery will enjoy meeting you.  You know she’s pregnant and your mother mentioned to me what an excellent doctor you are…”
“She did, did she?” Deidra looked to her mother.
“That’s right and considering Avery hasn’t had the best of luck with doctors as she’s probably the worst patient in the world, well I thought maybe you could coax her into coming to see you,” Richard suggested lowering his voice, “Now normally I wouldn’t meddle in these type of things where my daughter is concerned, but given some of the troubles she’s had in the past, well I can’t think of anyone better for the job…”
“You made this assessment of me based on what my mother’s told you,” Deidra questioned skeptically.
“Well, that and the fact I know that your mother is one of the most amazing women in the world, so why would I come to expect anything less from her daughter, whom I was fortunate to discover was just as charming and beautiful as Judy is,” Richard offered in a smooth tone as Deidra couldn’t help but smile at his words as a heat rose over her features far beyond what had overtaken her in seeing Russell and Avery in a state of undress.
“I can see why you keep him around,” Deidra laughed lightly turning to Judy, “he’s a keeper.”
“I’d like to think so,” Judy stepped forward, bringing her arms around Richard’s waist in an intimate gesture as she looked up to him, “then again, he always was.”
“I sure hope so,” he leaned down to give her a quick kiss as the door to the bathroom opened and a now completely dressed Avery timidly stepped out into the room with Russell trailing behind her.
“Um, hi,” Avery shifted on her feet not quite sure what to say as nervousness settled in the pit of her stomach and she strained to find a way to open up any kind of conversation as she felt Russell step in closer to her, “Daddy, what are you doing here?”
“Well actually…” Russell cleared his throat before Richard could answer, “remember how I told you I have a few more surprises around the corner?” he paused as Avery looked up over her shoulder at him and he offered up a sheepish grin, “Surprise.”
“You mean you…” Avery’s jaw dropped as she looked to her father once again.
“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” Richard opened his arms inviting an embrace as Avery rushed towards him taking a moment to forget about the mortification that had almost kept her from returning to the room until Russell coached her out to see her father once again.
“Oh daddy,” she hugged him tightly squeezing her arms around him, “it’s so good to see you.  I’m just well…”
“Surprised,” Richard couldn’t help but laugh as he looked down at her, “but I suppose that comes from the fact that it’s not every day a father intrudes upon his daughter’s honeymoon.”
“You aren’t intruding at all,” Avery replied with heavy emphasis as she reached for his hand as she looked over at Judy, “as I’m so happy to have you here--to have all of you here…”
“I hear that double congratulations are in order,” Judy smiled back at her as Avery moved in to hug her, “I’m so happy for you.”
“Thank you Judy,” Avery hugged her unable to contain the joy that had surrounded her over the last few days, “I’m so glad that you’re here as Russ and I were really hoping to share this with our family and you know, that’s what I consider us now seeing as you were one of the few people out there who urged me to follow my heart.”
“I was only trying to help as I saw something very special that night when I met you and Russell,” Judy glanced over in Russell’s direction, “When two people have something like that, it’s wise to try to hold onto it.”
“Yes it is,” Avery nodded in response, “and I hope that I can trust you to follow your own advice in the future especially where my father is concerned.  He cares about you very deeply you know.”
“Avery,” Richard spoke her name surprised as she turned to face him.
“What?  I’m only speaking the truth considering that well I want you to be happy too…” Avery added with a grin before turning to Judy, “Don’t let Brooke give you trouble as I’ll tell you right now my father is happier with you than he’s ever been in all the years I’ve been around.  You bring out the best in him and I love to see my father smiling.”
“As do I,” Judy’s gaze traveled affectionately to Richard before she thought to her daughter beside her, who’d remained silent from the moment Russell and Avery had returned the room, “Oh, Avery, this is my daughter Deidra.  She just came into Coral Valley recently and we thought we’d treat her to a tropical holiday.”
“Oh you’re going to love this place,” Avery offered up her hand to her, “as it’s simply paradise.”
“So I’m seeing,” Deidra shook her hand politely, “and for what it’s worth, congratulations as well.”
“Thank you,” Avery smiled reaching out around her body, to draw Russell’s arms around her, “We really appreciate that.  Oh, where are my manners.  Deidra this is my husband…gosh, how I love saying that,” Avery beamed at the thought, “Russell Denton.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Deidra reached for his hand as well as Russell offered up a bright smile.
“It’s great to have you here Deidra,” Russell greeted her cheerfully before addressing the group, “and while we all got off to a bit of a shaky start, I was thinking how nice it would be for us to have breakfast say out on the terrace so we can catch up.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Avery agreed with a nod.
“Oh I don’t know if we should intrude considering,” Richard began again as his eyes traveled over to Russell.
“You’re not intruding,” Avery insisted tugging on her father’s arm, “as this is the best Christmas ever and now that I’m with my two favorite men, I intend to enjoy all of this.”
“Well, since you put it that way,” Richard gave in to his daughter’s request, “I don’t see why not.  What do you say Judy?”
“I think it sounds like a wonderful idea,” Judy agreed with a smile of her own.
“Excellent,” Russell rubbed his hands together quickly, “Let me just call and modify the breakfast order and you all can go outside to catch up with one another.”
“That sounds good,” Avery agreed guiding the rest of the group onto the terrace area hoping to avoid any kind of embarrassment as she noticed one of her lacy, silken nightgowns on the floor.  Quickly kicking it under the bed, she held her hand out hoping to keep anyone from paying attention to what she was doing, “So Deidra, what brings you to Coral Valley?”
“Well I…” Deidra began at a loss as she threw Judy a pleading look.
“She’s a doctor,” Judy added quickly, “She relocated from Florida.”
“Oh where about,” Avery questioned as they four of them exited the room stepping out onto the balcony.
“Miami,” Deidra answered simply.
“Wow, then coming to Coral Valley will be a big change,” Avery continued making conversation, “I mean you really must’ve been ready for a new extreme if you came all the way from Florida.”
“You could say I was ready for some new beginnings,” Deidra offered with a sad smile.
“Believe me, we know what that’s all about,” Avery replied with a knowing nod as Russell stepped out onto the terrace area.  “Isn’t that right honey?”
“Isn’t what right,” he asked moving in beside her and taking a seat as he reached for her hand.
“That sometimes new beginnings are the best,” she explained as he lifted her hand to his lips.
“In our case, it’s an amazing thing,” he offered up with a sexy smile as the intimacy between them brought on an uncomfortable silence with everyone else that Avery soon picked up on as she looked to Deidra again hoping to start up another conversation.
“So what was your specialty again?” Avery questioned with interest as she felt Russell’s hand drop down over her leg offering up a light squeeze.
“She’s an ObGyn,” Richard piped in quickly as Russell’s eyes widened in response.
“Really,” Russell directed the conversation in Deidra’s direction once again, “then you’re exactly the woman we need to talk to as well, Avery had some doctor look at her when she was first out here, but well, I’d like to know that everything is going well with our little one…”
“Well I…” Deidra began as she eyed Avery.
“He’s just a bit eager as we had complications with my first pregnancy,” Avery paused taking in a breath as she felt Russell reach for her hand supportively, “You see I had a miscarriage and the doctor I was seeing up until now had me convinced that pregnancy wasn’t an option for me.  Now that we’re having this baby, well we were thinking maybe it was time for me to see someone else,” she bit on her lower lip shifting on her chair uncomfortably before adding, “though I’m sure you didn’t really come all this way to talk about this, right?”
“Actually I don’t mind at all as I’d like to settle in at the hospital soon enough and maybe work towards my own practice,” Deidra offered up with a soft smile, “and maybe we can set something up back in Coral Valley when I get things in place.”
“I think that would be great,” Avery nodded in confession.
“So do I,” Richard piped in as he looked to Deidra, “as I have no doubts that you and the baby will be in good hands with Deidra.”
“All this praise so early on,” Deidra felt a blush coming on, “I don’t know how I’m going to handle this.”
“Believe me this is only the beginning,” Avery offered up with a tiny laugh.
“Hey now,” Richard objected, “I’ll have you know that all my words are truth here and not just a form of flattery.”
“Or maybe they’re a little bit of both,” Judy added with a knowing wink, “but hey keep it up.  I’m enjoying it.”
“Good because so was I,” Richard admitted turning to Russell, “so have you two thought about what’s going to happen when you’re back in town?”
Another long silence swept over the group as Russell and Avery exchanged glances.  Avery took his hand in hers as she drew in a slow breath before answering.
“Actually, Russell asked me to move into his home before things happened like they did and well, now that we’re married, I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be,” Avery confessed with a hint of a smile, “I mean sure there are other things that need to be taken care of such as the lease on my apartment, but if Guy’s planning on staying in town, I suppose I can work something out with him for a while and then, well, there will be a few other things to attend to, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
“I’m sure you will,” he nodded hating to ask the burning question that had been on his mind since his daughter left town with Brant on that fateful evening, “but what about Brant?  What should we be prepared for where he’s concerned?”
“That,” Avery hesitated not really knowing what to say as she looked to Russell, “is an altogether different story.”
“One we can get into at another time,” Judy piped in trying to lighten the mood as she turned to Avery, “as I want to hear everything about the wedding as I’ve got this thing about details.”
“Well,” Avery began exhaling a slow breath as she felt Russell squeeze her hand, “it’s quite a story to tell.”
“Quite a story indeed,” Russell added as they began to retell the tale of their fantasy wedding unaware that these quiet moments over breakfast were anything but private as the camera’s eye was taking in the scene from the beach below.


“Who knew that Mai Tai’s and martinis could bring on such an eventful evening,” Angela questioned unable to contain her laughter as she jiggled the keys to the beach house in her hand as she leaned up against the door, turning her attention fully to Brant.
“I had a strange suspicion that we’d come up with something to keep us amused for the evening,” Brant confessed bringing his arm out over the archway as he leaned in towards her, “although I must confess that dancing the night away at the bar wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“Oh my whatever did you have in mind, Brant,” she questioned in response tilting her head up towards him as a soft smile lifted over her features.  Reaching out to his pale blue, halfway unbuttoned loose fitting shirt, she teased her fingers over the center of his exposed chest in a playful fashion.
“Well, it was something along…these…lines,” he confessed dropping down to taste the lips he’d been admiring all night long as he bridged the distance between them tasting the hints of pineapple juice lingering over her mouth as his arm slipped around her drawing her in against him.  Easing his hand down over her spine as his tongue dipped inside of her parted lips, he heard the sound of her dropping her keys as she instinctively threw her arms around him reciprocating the kiss in full force.  He squeezed her closer dropping heated kisses down over her neck as he pressed her in against the door.
“Brant,” she murmured his name as his lips teased over her earlobe causing her to react as her fingers curled over his shoulders and she felt as though she’d melt away at the sweet temptation he’d provided her with.
“How about we go inside and see what else we can come up with,” Brant whispered suggestively against the base of her throat, his words humming over her excited skin as she tipped her head back squeezing his shoulders with anticipation.
“Brant, I just need you to know…” she bit on her lip fighting to suppress the impulses racing through her, “I don’t…I don’t normally do things like this…”
“Neither do I,” he nibbled on her earlobe, bringing his hand up underneath her tiny t-shirt as his finger tips connected with the erotic heat of her spine as he pressed himself in against her bumping his body over hers.  He dropped his lips down over her shoulder as he whispered against her skin, “God, you even taste like her…”
“What?” she questioned in confusion as his lips collected hers once again.
“Just kiss me,” he instructed ready to devour her alive as she leaned back against the door giving herself to his kisses as his palms glided up her back, pulling the fabric of the t-shirt up with his tempting touch.
“Brant,” she spoke his name feeling his lips capture hers in another demanding kiss as her fingers slipped through his hair holding him against her as a slow, moan erupted from within her causing her to draw back as his fingers unsnapped the clasp on her bra much to her surprise and her eyes widened in response.
“You’re so beautiful,” he brushed his thumb against her lower lip as a smile lifted over his features.  He noted the way she seemed to tremble against his touch and he thought to another time when he was in a very different place experiencing the same reaction from a woman who could easily be confused with her, “You take my breath away,” he dipped down unable to contain himself as he kissed her again with more determination before muttering, “you look so much like her…”
“Her?” she questioned catching his words as she placed her hands on his shoulders to bring a distance between them, “Brant, what are you talking about?”
“You,” he answered simply, his tone laced with enticing innuendos as he held her, “You remind me of the woman of my dreams…”
“Oh please,” she couldn’t help but laugh as her dark gaze fixed on his, “you don’t mean that.”
“Oh but I do,” he nodded in confession as he cupped her face in his hands pressing his thumbs over her cheekbones as he memorized her features, though he could explore every inch of her without bothering to see her as he already knew her curves long before this moment in time and now in touching her, well it reminded him of why he’d come to the island to begin with, “I’ve waited a lifetime to find you.”
“Brant, I…” she started again a bit unsure of herself as she reached out to him touching his face as she felt the need to remind him over again of what she was telling him, “I don’t normally do this kind of thing…”
“I know, but rest assured that this will be worth your taking a chance on me,” he nodded in response lazily dropping his hands down over her hips.
“Somehow I don’t doubt that,” she replied breathless as a seductive smile swept over her features, “and you know I was looking for a reason to enjoy Christmas again.”
“And you just found it,” he boasted proudly shaping his palm over her soft curves as he enjoyed every sensation she brought out in him, “Now how about we work on getting you inside?”
“I…I dropped…my keys…” she stammered feeling her every synapse ablaze at the promise of passion between them.
“I’ll get them,” he suggested dropping down to his knees before her as his lips traveled over her exposed abdomen as his tongue fluttered over her, causing her to tremble as his breath brought chills racing over her body.  She ran her fingers through his hair as his hand leisurely dropped down to the ground as his kisses moved up over her body once again, drawing up her pink t-shirt over her curves with each movement he made.
“Brant, I really think we should…” she started again as he bunched the fabric of her t-shirt up over the swell of her breasts.
“How about you do me a favor and try something wild for a minute here,” he suggested easing her arms up over her head as he discarded the t-shirt on the front porch before diving in to capture her mouth in a heated frenzy not bothering to care about who or what could be happening around them.  He leisurely pressed the keys into the door making no attempts to leave the position they’d found themselves in just yet as he slipped his thumbs in beneath the straps of her bra, taking a step back as he peeled it away from her body, his eyes capturing every irresistible inch of her.  His hands followed suit melding her against his touch as her body responded to his every burning caress until his lips dropped down to taste her taking her tense peak into his mouth as her fingers gripped onto his shoulders tightly and she gave in to the passion he was bringing out in her.
“That’s a good girl,” Brant assured her showering her with his complete attention as his palm pressed over the unattended mound in front of him before his arm curled around her pert bottom and he hoisted her up into his arms pushing open the front door to her beach house as he was prepared to make his fantasies a reality one moment at a time as he was going to savor every erotic second spent with this sexy woman in his arms as Christmas had turned out better than he’d hoped for after all.


Caitlin hummed to herself as she stepped into the bedroom carrying a breakfast she’d prepared in the estate’s rather luxurious kitchen. While the cook wanted to protest at first, she had explained that it was Christmas, and the cook shouldn’t have to work. She’d sent the cook home to be with her family, and that would probably cause Brant to throw a fit…whenever he made his way home. Thankfully, however, he wasn’t home at the moment which left Caitlin plenty of time to spend Christmas morning all alone with Ken.

She eased the door closed with her toe before she proceeded to the end of the bed where she placed the breakfast tray upon a cedar keepsake chest. She crawled onto the bed and slowly crept over Ken’s body so her lips were slightly above his.

In a flash, Ken wrapped his arms around her waist and spun their positions so that he was on top of her. He smiled as he met her eyes, “Good morning.”

“Merry Christmas,” She twinkled with a smile as she wrapped her arms around him, “Just how long have you been awake?”

“Not long,” He admitted, “I was a little bit worried there for a minute that Santa had kidnapped you.”

“Now why would Santa do something like that?” She asked with a grin.

“Cause he knows if you’ve been good or bad, and I’m sure that if he knew what was on my mind where you’re concerned he’d know that I’m thinking of being very, very bad,” He said with a grin as he lowered his lips to hers in a tantalizing kiss.

Caitlin slipped her fingers through his hair as she returned his kiss hungrily. She opened her mouth in hot invitation as she wanted nothing more than to devour and be devoured by him. It seemed that she had wanted him more with every passing day just as her love grew for him in equal increments.

Ken dropped his kisses to her neck, learning every inch of her skin by taste alone. She sighed softly as she arched her neck to allow him more access.

The sounds of a telephone ringing brought them out of their morning explorations as Ken raised his head and met her eyes, “That isn’t mine this time.”

“I know,” She frowned as she rolled over and opened the drawer to the bedside table. She opened her flip phone and spoke, “This had better be good.”

“Well Merry Christmas to you too,” Zack quipped with a laugh, “Let me guess…I put a kibosh on a little Christmas morning foo-foo.”

“Zack,” Caitlin rolled her eyes as she sank back into the pillows, “Shut up.”

Zack laughed a bit more, “Good. Your boyfriend shouldn’t be putting the moves on you this morning anyway. It’s Christmas for Pete’s sakes.”

“Oh right, like you’ve never been caught with a woman on Christmas morning,” She retorted.

“This isn’t about me, Cait,” He grinned, “But I was calling to say Merry Christmas. I guess you’re not quite in the Christmas spirit though, huh?”

“Not right at the moment, but I was getting there before you called.”

“I don’t want to know what you were getting, Cait,” Zack teased as Blake’s voice in the background warned him to lay off his sister, “Hey, Blake’s here defending you.”

“Good for Blake,” Caitlin grinned as Ken discovered the breakfast tray and moved it to the bed where they could enjoy the meal, “How is she anyway?”

“She’s in a better mood than you,” He replied, “Blake, I think my sister is going to want to talk to you. Hold on, Cait. And Merry Christmas, you big scrooge.”

“I am not a scrooge,” Caitlin defended adamantly as Blake got on the phone.

“He knows you’re not. He’s just being his regular difficult self this morning. Ignore him,” Blake said as the sounds of her smacking his arm could be heard over the phone, “I take it Christmas on the island is going well.”

“It could be better, but yeah, it’s nice,” Caitlin replied, “My brother is being nice to you today, isn’t he? Cause if he isn’t, you have my full permission to send him back to Seattle.”

“No, I’m not going to send him back to Seattle. I might beat him though,” Blake warned Zack even as she spoke to Caitlin, “Hey, my brothers wouldn’t happen to be around, would they?”

“Ken’s here, but Brant is…well, I have no idea where Brant is. But I will let you talk to Ken,” Caitlin smiled, “Merry Christmas, Blake.”

“Merry Christmas,” Blake replied with a smile before Ken took the phone.

“Merry Christmas, kiddo,” Ken greeted with a happy smile, “How’s the weather in Coral Valley?”

“Well at least I have a white Christmas, Kenny,” She teased, “I guess you’re having a sunny one, huh?”

“Yeah,” He answered as he glanced out the open French doors to the side of the bedroom, “It’s rather nice here.”

“Don’t rub it in,” She warned.

“You could always come out here, you know,” He reminded her before taking a sip of his juice.

“Nah, besides Zack has to work tonight anyway, and I’m going to spend Christmas with Annie.”

“Hey, be sure to kiss Annie and tell her Merry Christmas for me, okay?” Ken spoke fondly as he thought of their caretaker.

“I will. Zack’s over here about to freak out cause the lights on our brand new tree quit working so I’d better go make sure he doesn’t hurt something or himself,” She chuckled, “Merry Christmas, Ken.”

“You too, Blake,” Ken said softly before he ended the phone call. He placed the phone aside as he looked back to Caitlin, “What do you say that one day very soon we take a holiday from cell phones?”

“I’d say you are on,” Caitlin agreed wholeheartedly with a soft laugh as she toasted him with her own glass of juice. Despite their convenience, cell phones were becoming a matter of great frustration in her relationship and that simply wasn’t going to continue if she had anything to say about it.


Ben knocked on the door to Diane’s apartment and leaned into the door frame. Whatever had been going on with Diane and her sister, he just hoped that it was over with. He wanted today to be a nice event for himself, Diane, and Annie who had been nice enough to extend an invitation to Diane. Now, he just had to see if Diane was feeling like behaving long enough to share Christmas dinner with Annie.

Diane opened the door with a yawn as she glanced at him before shrieking and closing the door in his face.

He frowned as he knocked on the door, “Diane, what was that about?”

“You can’t see me like this,” She cried out as she ran through the apartment.

He laughed softly as he opened the door and stepped inside, “I’ve seen you in a hell of a lot less,” He reminded her.

“Yeah, but I look like I just woke up,” She grumbled from her bedroom.

“I’ve seen you like that too,” He pointed out as he knocked on the bedroom door, “Come on, Diane. Open up.”

“Not yet. You just go to the front room, and I’ll be in there in a minute. I swear, couldn’t you call first?”

“I didn’t know I needed to. I thought I’d drop by, give you some flowers, and invite you to dinner with my aunt,” He said as the door suddenly opened.

“Flowers?” Diane asked as she finished pulling her hair back into a pony tail.

“Flowers,” He repeated as he produced the bouquet of white and red roses from behind his back.

“Oh Ben,” She smiled brightly as she accepted the bouquet, “They’re lovely.”

“Not nearly as lovely as you are,” Ben smiled as he dipped his head and stole a quick kiss from her, “Even if you did just roll out of bed.”

“Don’t say that,” She smacked his arm as she walked by him and proceeded into the kitchen.

“Are you over your snit from last night?” He asked as he followed her into the kitchen.

“It wasn’t a snit, Ben. You just don’t understand how my sister can be. She just sneaks right in and steals everything I’ve ever wanted,” Diane frowned as she removed a vase from beneath the kitchen sink and began to fill it with water, “She’s taken every man I’ve ever loved away from me.”

“And you think she could do that with me?” He shook his head, “Do you really have so little faith in me?”

“This isn’t about you, Ben. It’s about how deceptive Deidra can be. You just don’t know her like I do,” She placed the flowers in the water and set the vase upon the kitchen counter.

“But you do know me, right? The man who loves you, remember?” He urged her before he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back into his embrace, “I love you, Diane, and that’s not some fleeting feeling for me. I’m not going to turn my head at any other woman because you are absolutely all that I want.”

“But Ben…”

“No,” He placed his fingertip over her lips, “No buts. I love you, and I don’t want anybody else. You’re it. Don’t you get it? I don’t want anyone but you,” He gently caressed her cheek, “Only you.”

She opened her mouth to begin again but found her words cut off by his endearing kiss. She wanted to argue that she knew how Deidra could worm her way into a man’s heart, but Ben was doing an amazing job of convincing her that she had nothing to worry about.

As their lips parted, Ben smiled before he spun her around and gave her a gentle push, “Now go get dressed and make yourself beyond beautiful. We’re going to dinner with my aunt. Hurry up,” He urged as he led her directly into her bedroom and closed the door behind her.

Diane blinked in surprise at Ben’s direct approach. While she hadn’t been expecting to go out this evening, she figured she might as well make good of it and dazzle his aunt to no end as she went to her closet, preparing to make this Christmas dinner one that Ben would never forget.


Jenna felt a warmth beside her as her eyelids drifted open and she looked down to find herself snuggled over Hart as they lay together on her couch after having spent the night watching the DVDs he’d purchased for her.  Now as she took in the sight of him sleeping beneath her, she couldn’t help but appreciate the serenity that filled her at the thought of sharing a moment like this with him.  Sure, it sounded crazy that she could be enjoying this to put it mildly, yet it felt like the most comfortable thing in the world as she tipped down to kiss him tenderly rousing him from his slumber.
“Good morning beautiful,” Hart murmured as his arm hugged her over him more completely.
“Merry Christmas, Hart,” Jenna smiled down at him, the tips of her hair teasing over his neck as his eyes opened completely and he took in the moment admiring her beautiful features.
“That it is,” he agreed his fingers drifting up over her spine, “although we’re not completely naked here, so I must be losing my touch.”
“On the contrary,” she poked at him with a tiny chuckle, “I was just thinking how sexy you looked in this moment in time just laying there all peaceful with your arms wrapped around me.”
“Really,” he hugged her against him, “In that case, maybe we should keep working on this for a while as I don’t have anywhere else in the world that I need to be today, nor would I want to leave this very spot for that matter.”
“Funny, neither do I,” Jenna confessed snuggling in against him as she took in the rugged scent of him with his arms wrapped around her.  Somehow she’d never imagined spending her holiday in such a blissful state with Hart, but the more she was doing it, the fonder of the situation she was becoming.
“Good, I’m glad to hear that because I have so many things in mind for us today,” Hart confessed running his fingers through her hair, “Starting with maybe a little breakfast in bed…”
“But we never made it to bed last night after we started watching the movies,” Jenna teased with a hint of a smile.
“Well see now I was thinking that maybe we could work on fixing that certain situation considering that Santa Claus has told me that you’ve been a very good girl this year,” he winked in response.
“Oh did he now?  Well truth be told, I heard you’ve been very naughty,” Jenna tickled her fingers over his chest as his eyes lit up with the same wicked thoughts she was having dancing through her head.
“All the more reason to give me proper punishment,” he leaned up to kiss her nibbling on her lip as there was a knock at the door and he fell back onto the couch with a tiny groan, “Please tell me that Santa Claus isn’t making a house call for you.”
“Not that I’m aware of, but maybe I should tell him to try next door because I think I have all the man I need right here,” Jenna offered kissing him once again, “as we never got to your unwrapping your present last night.”
“You have a present for me,” Hart’s eyes grew wide with curiosity as Jenna tore herself away from him and she nodded brightly.
“That’s right,” she threw out a flirty smile, “me and I trust you’ll love the unwrapping process.”
“I’m sure I will,” he nodded in response thinking about all the ways in which he would enjoy sharing this Christmas with Jenna as she opened her apartment door to reveal a tall, broad looking man on the other side of it.
“Jen, hey beautiful, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all week.  Where have you been,” he questioned kissing her cheek as Hart sat upright immediately not liking this new arrival that now stood in Jenna’s living room pulling her into an embrace.
“I’ve been really busy, but I’m so glad to see you.  I‘m sorry I missed your calls,” Jenna answered tipping up on her toes to hug him, “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you as well,” he replied as they parted and Jenna’s guest noticed Hart for the first time, “Well, what do we have here?”
“Oh,” Jenna stood straighter turning to Hart, “Wayne, I’d like you to meet Hart.  Hart this is Wayne, my brother.”
“Your brother,” Hart half questioned as relief poured over him and he crossed the room to shake Wayne’s hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Wayne offered up a warm handshake before turning to Jenna, “So Jen, tell me if everything is set for tonight?  I called my father and he gave me a briefing on what he’d planned on before he came back to Coral Valley, but I trust you have the last minute details…”
“Details,” Jenna gasped as his words suddenly dawned in on her, “Oh you mean about the proposal.”
“What else did you think I was talking about?” Wayne gave her a strange look, “I thought we agreed we’d give them a little time this morning and then go over when he decided to make things official…”
“Well actually,” Jenna paused biting on her lip as she realized that her current situation with her mother changed things a bit, “I’m not going.”
“What do you mean you’re not going?” Wayne gave her a confused look, “I thought we agreed that…”
“I’m not talking to mom right now,” Jenna confessed knowing that he’d expect more of an answer than that from her considering the holiday.
“What do you mean you’re not talking to mom?” Wayne’s eyes widened in confusion, “Since when?”
“Since she lied to me,” Jenna stated matter of fact, “It’s really complicated, but I don’t want it to ruin the holiday for you.  You go be there with her and your father and share this with them.  They’d want you to be there…”
“They’d want you there too,” Wayne frowned in response, “Jenna, you can’t just not show up considering…”
“Wayne, you don’t understand,” Jenna hesitated as Hart piped in hoping to ease the situation.
“What’s going on tonight?” Hart questioned as Wayne looked to Jenna as if asking her permission to tell the story.  When she nodded Wayne turned to him again.
“My father’s been trying to find the right time to propose to our mother and he planned out this big thing for Christmas that Jenna was helping with, but now that she’s saying that she’s not going to be there…”
“Wayne, trust me on this.  My being there would be bad for everyone considering what’s been happening,” Jenna began again with a heavy sigh.
“Jenna, I’m sure it can’t be that bad.  I mean hey it’s Christmas and I’m sure whatever is going on between you and mom can be overlooked for the occasion.  In fact, I’ll bet if you just show up tonight, then you’ll find that whatever went wrong isn’t all that important anyways.”
“Wayne, it’s not that simple,” Jenna argued with him.
“Of course it is.  It’s always that simple where family is concerned,” he reached out to her, “Just get something on and you can come with me.  Bring your friend too if you like…”
“Wayne, you don’t understand,” Jenna started again before finally letting go of what was bothering her, “Wayne, I met my father a short while ago.”
“You what?” he blinked back in confusion, “Jen, how is that possible when we both know…”
“Wayne, she lied,” Jenna blurted out painfully, “My father isn’t dead at all.  He’s here and alive in Coral Valley and she never had any intentions of telling me the truth about him.  She wanted me to keep believing the lies she told me all those years and that is why we‘re not talking and it‘s the reason behind why I won‘t be going over there tonight.”


Diego slowly made the walk through the cemetery over the snow covered ground, listening to it crunch beneath his feet as his heart filled with the same profound feeling of remorse that always hung over him this time of year.  While the holidays had generally been a time for family and happiness, each year he lost himself in the sea of regret that followed this season’s arrival.  Now as he silently took the path towards her final resting place, his heart ached at the memory of the things he’d allowed to slip away.  A few feet more and he’d be back to where he’d spent the holidays over the last few years and even now he knew that time wouldn’t heal the wounds that had come his way.
“Merry Christmas,” he spoke hoarsely trying to keep from allowing his emotions to get the best of him as he held out the Christmas bouquet he’d brought with him, “I’m sorry I’m late, but I was held up a little while at the hospital last night as you know the holidays are always the busiest time of year for me,” he dropped down to his knees unconcerned about the snow as he touched the headstone before him thinking of the woman he’d laid to rest only a few short years ago.
“I tried to think of something extra special this year as there’s so much I wanted to tell you, so many things that have changed since you’ve gone, but somehow when I get here, none of that really matters anymore, does it,” he set the flowers down on the ground shuffling with the bouquet as he tried to find the words that had haunted him for so many years, “I ran into Jenna last night.  She wanted me to let you know how much she missed you as we’re all thinking about you.  You know there’s not a day that goes by when you’re not in my thoughts.  Sure, they say time changes things, but not for me…” he sighed heavily wiping at the snow on the stone before him, “and I don’t think they ever will considering that we never had our time to fix things.  If only I’d known,” he paused letting out an ironic laugh, “I know what you’re saying.  We can’t live life on if only, but then again I haven’t really been living either without you.  I mean sure, work has had me busy, but it’s not the same.  It’s just not worth trying for when you know that there’s nothing at home…”
He paused choked up on emotion before he motioned to the flowers again, “Although you’ll be happy to know I’m really trying to keep someone else from making our mistakes.  You see, there’s this woman and she’s, well she’s impossible and stubborn and a real pain in the butt,” he offered up a tiny laugh, “in some ways she reminds me of how you once were which is why I’m trying so hard to help her.  You see she’s pregnant and she’s so lost right now that well, I can just see her going down that dark road alone and after what we lost…  Sure, I know how completely unprofessional it is to be sharing this with you and even thinking that her situation is like ours was, but still if I can help her…if I can make a difference in her life then maybe…” he trailed off as a poignant silence surrounded him, “I know…it doesn’t bring you back and it won’t change what happened, but Maria, I’m not sure anymore why I’m the one still here when it should be you…why I was left to bear this alone when you were the one with all the love to give…I just wish…,well I just wish it was easier and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas,” he finished dusting himself off as he rose to his feet giving the grave site one last look before he headed off towards where he’d parked his car hoping to get some more work done at the hospital as at least there he could keep his thoughts away from the misery that had consumed him.
Slowly, Diego tried to calm himself down as his mind drifted to the work that was waiting for him, but as he approached his car, he noticed a woman in white standing against his car rubbing her mitten covered hands together as confusion swept over him.  He picked up his pace as he realized she’d been waiting for him as she lifted her head and he came face to face with a very cold looking Heather Gibbons.
“Heather,” he spoke her name unable to contain his surprise as he looked to her, “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” she explained motioning to his car, “Are you going to open that thing or just let me stand out here and freeze to death?”
“I wasn’t aware that you were tracking me down for a ride especially here at the cemetery,” Diego gave her a strange look as she nodded towards the car once again.
“Would you just stop trying to be cute and open the damned door already?” Heather remarked gruffly as disengaged the lock on the door with his keyless entry and Heather stood there eyeing him expectantly.
“What?” he questioned as she nodded towards the door.
“You could at least be a gentleman here and open the door for me since you left me to freeze her for like fifteen minutes already,” Heather huffed impatiently tapping her foot on the snow, “well, what’s the hold up?”
“Gee considering that I thought I was alone, I can’t imagine how I could be so rude as to let you freeze,” he shook his head as he walked around to open the car door for her and she spun on her heel to face him with big, blue-green eyes as a smile pressed over her rosy colored cheeks.
“That’s better,” she nodded before getting into his car as Diego eyed her curiously.
Unable to keep from wondering what was going on, Diego circled around his car getting into the driver’s side as Heather was already barking out orders at him.
“Don’t you have heat in this thing,” she hissed with high irritation, “I mean really you’d think you wanted a girl to freeze to death.”
“I wasn’t aware that I was being followed,” Diego reminded her as he put the key into the ignition, “or that I’d be your chauffer for the evening.”
“Well, you weren’t supposed to be, but then I decided to give mine the night off considering that I was waiting for you and,” she stopped herself mid-sentence, “and for the record I was so not following you.”
“No, then what would you like to call it?  Stalking?” Diego teased with a hint of a smile.
“Oh please,” Heather rolled her eyes, “Like I would waste my time stalking someone like you when it’s obvious that you can’t seem to get me out of your mind.  I’ll even bet that you’re having one of your psycho-shrink fantasies about being alone with me right now.”
“Come again?” Diego blinked back at her.
“Oh it’s no surprise,” Heather waved her hand at him, “and quite honestly I can’t blame you because I’m quite a catch, but well the fact to the matter is that I’m about to be married so you’re just going to have to curb those feelings you have for me.”
“Feelings?” Diego repeated in mild amusement before feigning seriousness, “Well, in that case I’ll try to control myself.”
“Good, then while you’re doing that, let’s get out of this place.  It’s creepy,” Heather shuddered as Diego put the car into drive, “Which reminds me to ask.  Are you some kind of weirdo that gets his jollies off of spending time in these places or something?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I was visiting a friend of mine,” he answered simply turning his attention to the road.
“Yeah, well I can see why your friends have to be dead to tolerate listening to you because you’re really too much most of the time.  In fact the first time I met you, well I thought you were quite infuriating and then with you offering your unsolicited advice all the time…”
“Heather is there a point to this visit you’re paying me,” Diego questioned pulling out of the cemetery as he cast a look in her direction.
“Actually, yes, yes there is,” she nodded quickly, “I wanted to have a talk with you…and no it’s not a social call…”
“Then you’re finally admitting you need my professional help?” he inquired lifting a curious brow.
“Oh you’d like that, wouldn’t you?  You’d just love to get me on that little, black couch of yours in your office where I can share my deepest, darkest fantasies with you while you get your jollies off of it by living vicariously through me,” Heather huffed offended by his suggestion as she rubbed her palms together again.
“Is that how you tend to get your entertainment,” Diego questioned in a neutral tone as he glanced over at her once again, “So where exactly am I taking you?”
“Well, I’d thought about going home, but I’m much too cold for that, so I think it would be best that you take me out for a while.  I’m thinking dinner and somewhere nice.  You know not one of those cheap little places that you’d take just any other date you pick up off the street as I’m a woman of taste and I deserve nothing but the best, so you should take note of that.”
“I wasn’t aware that this was a date considering that you’re about to be a married woman,” Diego gave her a strange look, “which I might add is a unexpected turnabout since Kipp is in a coma--or at least he was the last time I checked.”
“Oh Kipp is still in a coma,” Heather paused contemplating it for a moment, “At least I think he is, but right now that’s not really relevant….well, I suppose it is, but it really isn’t considering that he has absolutely nothing to do with this marriage proposal I’ve accepted.  Well, he sort of does, but not really as it’s not entirely the reason I said yes and…”
“So whose the unlucky, um, lucky groom to be,” Diego couldn’t help but tease as he watched the way her eyes narrowed with anger.
“He’s a man of taste and great character and someone who knows how to treat a lady unlike a man like you who clearly is living in the dark ages,” Heather hissed back at him, “As I’m sure he wouldn’t dream of making me sit out in the snow like that freezing my butt off for nearly half an hour while he was off doing God knows what in some creepy cemetery.”
“First of all I had no idea that you were hunting me down and second of all…” Diego began again.
“I was not hunting you down.  If anything, you’re the one who’s stalking me,” Heather insisted adamantly.
“So you were the one spending your time in a creepy cemetery as you put it just waiting around for what?” Diego inquired, “Me to annoy you?”
“Well, no, but that’s certainly what you’re hell bent on doing right now, isn’t it,” Heather watched as he pulled off the main road leading to a smaller, quieter street before them, “Hey, where are we going?  I said you owed me dinner and a good one at that buddy.”
“Heather, it’s Christmas and while you might have nothing better to do than chase down your doctors on the holidays, I have things on my agenda.”
“Like spending your time soaking up the conversation from six feet under,” Heather rolled her eyes in response as he glared at her.
“You know you’d be best to drop it while you’re ahead so that we can get to why you’re here, so that I can get rid of you and be on my way.”
“Get rid of me,” Heather repeated with a grumble, “My that is very rude of you to say and unprofessional too I might add.”
“I thought you were saying you didn’t come out all this way to seek out my professional help,” Diego reminded her.
“Well, I didn’t, but…” she frowned deeply, “Would you stop doing that?”
“Doing what?” he asked curiously.
“Turning this around on me because you’re twisting my words here,” she scowled once more.
“I’m not twisting anything.  I’m just repeating what you were telling me earlier when you approached me…”
“And now I’m wishing I hadn’t because you’re clearly in a mood to be impossible,” she sank down into the seat as she surveyed the insides of his car wrinkling her nose at what she saw, “Ugh, don’t you ever clean this thing?”
“Sorry, but my maid was off for the week since it is Christmas after all,” he threw back at her as Heather ran her mitten over his dashboard checking for dust.
“Ugh, you know this is highly unsanitary here and if you think you can just entertain and impress a woman with something as disgusting as this, well then you’ve got another think coming…”
“I’ll make a mental note of that the next time I find a stranded woman to leave her where I found her so that she won’t be offended by the state my car is in during her impromptu visit,” he threw back at her with heavy sarcasm.
“You know I’m only telling you this to save you the embarrassment of having your next date never go out with you again because she feels that you’re a slob and you’d be wise to listen to me because I know all about women and what they like and what they don’t.”
“Yeah, I bet you do,” he muttered under his breath, “Seeing as you’re an expert and all.”
“Well, I am a woman and I have to tell you that this car is doing anything, but turning me on or impressing me,” Heather sank back into the chair once again.
“I didn’t realize that my car was supposed to turn you on,” Diego gave her a strange look, “Maybe we should get down to the heart of what you’re following me around now since you’re talking about what’s mine having any kind of impact on your sexual arousal…”
“Oh please like anything you have would arouse me in that way,” she chortled shaking her head, “Could you be any more obvious about wanting me?”
“Heather, I’m not the one who brought it up,” Diego reminded her once again, “You were the one who wanted to probe into my dating pastimes and you brought up how my car induced certain feelings of arousal…”
“A certain lack of arousal,” she piped in, “Get it right, Diego.”
“Well, you know what they say when someone brings a topic of conversation to the table, as it’s said that they have something on their mind that they want to discuss when they work so hard at avoiding it.  Often someone will displace their feelings about themselves on another person…”
“And would you quit with the psycho-babble.  It’s giving me a headache and if I have to stomach it for one second more, I swear I’m going to throw up,” Heather groaned.
“Would you like me to let you out of the car,” Diego suggested as he played with the dial on the radio turning on a Christmas station.
“In this neighborhood,” Heather wrinkled her nose in disgust, “I think not.”
“Then I strongly suggest you enjoy the ride and tell me what’s on your mind,” he offered up once again, “because we don’t have long before we get to where we’re going.”
“Where we’re going?” Heather repeated giving him a strange look, “Surely there aren’t any five star restaurants in this neighborhood…at least none that I would want to go to.”
“There we can agree on that, but truth be told that’s not where I’m taking you,” Diego explained matter of fact.
“And just where the hell do you think you’re taking me because I’m not going to just accept you taking me to some dump here…” Heather began to argue as he pulled off of the road into a small, nearly empty lot that lay behind what appeared to be a very weathered, broken down looking building.
“No, I wouldn’t expect you to,” Diego noted as he pulled into a parking spot that had been cleared of some of the snow as he turned the car off.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Heather squealed looking at him with a rage, “I told you that you owed me dinner and I’m not going to let me dump you off at a place like this considering…”
“I’m not dumping you off,” Diego promised her with a quick flash of a smile, “However, if you’d like to have that dinner with me, you’re going to have to come inside for a little bit as I have some work that needs my attention right now.”
“Here?” Heather questioned in confusion, “Now?”
“Yes here and now,” he pulled his keys out of the ignition as he turned to her once again, “and you have one of two choices.  You can sit out here in the car for the next couple of hours or you can go inside with me and try to enjoy yourself.”
“I’m so not going in there,” Heather shook her head in refusal, “There’s no way you’re getting me in that dump.”
“Fine, have it your way,” Diego shrugged his shoulders stepping out of the car as Heather waited for him to return, but as he disappeared into the building before her, a sense of panic overcame her as she took in her surroundings once again.
“Damn you, Diego,” Heather cursed as she marched out into the cold, Christmas morning chasing after him until she found him standing near a small receptionist area before him.
“Ah, I see you changed your mind,” he chuckled not bothering to turn around and look at her as the clicking of her heels on the tiled floor gave her away while he signed in.
“You didn’t leave me much choice in the matter and just for the record,” Heather leaned in over his shoulder to hiss in his ear, “I truly hate you.”
“Hmm, well I suppose we can work through that issue another time, but first,” he stepped in behind the counter top before him before pulling out a big, red Santa suit that had been tucked in behind the counter, “Make yourself useful and hold this for a second, would you?”
“Oh this is absolutely hideous,” Heather wrinkled her nose at the weathered looking costume before her, “You don’t actually want me to believe you’d wear this thing.”
“That’s right,” Diego bent down behind the counter once again, “It’s for the children here at the hospital and I have every intention of wearing it for them…”
“Well, it’s just awful,” Heather grumbled as he stood up once again holding yet another tired looking costume in hand as her eyes widened in horror, “What’s that?”
“I hope you like red,” Diego took the costume from her hand before offering up his latest find to her, “As you’ve just nominated yourself to be my Mrs. Claus.”
“I most certainly will not,” Heather shook her head in defiance, “There’s no way that you’re getting me into this thing.”
“Hmm, well you don’t have to wear it, but then again if you don’t, perhaps you should try to call for a cab starting now and tell them where to find you as it looks like it’s going to be the beginnings of a very long day for you,” Diego reached out to take the costume from her as she clenched it against her body after weighing her options for a brief moment.
“Fine,” Heather scowled, “I’ll wear this stupid thing, but don’t think for one second that you’re not going to pay for this, because I promise you will.”
“I have no doubts about that one,” Diego chuckled in response turning down the hallway to show her where she could change.
“And for the record I absolutely hate this,” Heather huffed stomping up behind him as he opened the door to one of the small offices for her to change in.
“I’ll take your complaint into consideration,” he spun around to face her as his eyes penetrated hers and he leaned in towards her, “and just for the record, I have a feeling if you quit trying to hate this so much, you might actually find you’re having a nice time.”
Heather started at him for a long moment before her eyes darkened with rage, “Not likely,” she stomped past him slamming the door behind her as Diego wondered if he’d done the right thing in bringing her to the children’s hospital with him.  Of course with Heather Gibbons only time would tell as it seemed he was going to have his hands full for the day in more ways than he ever imagined possible.


Deidra walked along the water’s edge, wiggling her toes as the waves tickled upon her feet then retreated into the ocean. She needed this time alone after seeing two happy couples enjoying Christmas together. Any other time, it would have been heartwarming, but today it was heartbreaking. She couldn’t tolerate being around such buoyant happiness…not when all she wanted to do was break down and cry.

She stopped for a moment and inhaled the salty sea air. It reminded her of Miami and of a time when she had thought her dreams were becoming reality. As she looked out at the ocean’s waves, she realized that those dreams had all gone away, and she felt as if she had been the last to know about it. Now, all she could feel was the overwhelming loneliness that came with that realization.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Deidra nearly leapt out of her skin as she instinctively drew away from the sound of the voice. She turned slightly and exhaled when she saw a man nearby looking as if he was just as spooked as she had been.

“I’m so sorry,” He apologized as he started to reach out to her then nervously put his hands in his pockets, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s okay,” She said as she exhaled, trying to still the rapid beating of her heart, “I just wasn’t expecting anyone to be out here.”

“I should have known better than to just walk right up like that. I’ve never been very good at subtlety though,” He frowned with a shrug, “I guess it’s a character flaw.”

“Not really,” She said with a slight smile, “At least you’re direct.”

“In that case, maybe I’d better be direct and introduce myself,” He smiled as he extended his hand in greeting, “Christian Fowler.”

“Deidra Byrne,” She said as she shook his hand, “Are you a native?”

“I wish,” He chuckled softly as he moved to stand near her as they looked out at the ocean, “Imagine waking up this paradise every day of your life. That would be something of a dream, wouldn’t it?”

She nodded with a sigh, “Yeah, it would be, but I’ve learned the hard way that dreams aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.”

“Damn that’s cynical,” Christian shook his head, “Here I thought I was the only one who didn’t believe in anything but reality.”

“I wasn’t always like this. I used to have dreams, pretty grand ones,” She smiled then her smile faded, “But then came my divorce and that pretty much demolished each and every one of those dreams.”

“Divorce, huh? Me too,” He admitted with a frown, “Three years and then boom, one day she just walked out,” He shook his head, “And I thought we had it all. I thought we had the perfect life, and I thought I was giving her everything she’d ever wanted. Apparently I was wrong.”

“I know I was,” Deidra crossed her arms as a breeze tousled her hair, “I thought we had made the life together that we’d always talked about. It turns out I was the one living that lie, and he was out with about a dozen girlfriends.”

Christian glanced down the beach, “You know, here we are in paradise being absolutely miserable. We should be finding a way to cheer one another up. It is Christmas after all.”

“No thanks, Christian. I’ve had about all the cheering up today I can handle,” She replied.

“Fair enough,” He grinned, “Then what do you say we go get ourselves a drink and at least drown our miseries together? I hate to drink alone, but I damn sure could use one right about now.”

She chuckled at his frank admission, “With an invitation like that, how could I refuse?”

He offered her his arm and smiled, “You can’t. Hey, you know what they say about misery loving company. Well then it ought to love us,” He teased.

Deidra laughed at his joke as they walked up the beach towards a seaside bar as Christian adjusted the strap of his camera bag as it hung over his shoulder. Perhaps if he couldn’t get up close and personal with the subject he wanted to capture, he could at least get personal with someone who could.


“Ben!” Annie exclaimed as she opened the door wide and hugged her nephew, “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Ben smiled brightly as he hugged her, being careful to hold his bag of gifts from being crushed by their hug, “Annie, I’d like for you to meet my girlfriend, Diane.”

Diane smiled brightly at the mention of the word girlfriend.

“Well, she certainly is just as pretty as you described,” Annie smiled, “Come right on in, Diane. Make yourself at home.”

“I had no idea you lived here,” Diane noted as she glanced around the Ashford mansion on their way towards the dining room, “I mean Ben said that you were the caretaker, but I had no idea…”

“I’ve lived here since the children were little,” Annie smiled, “And it’s just my home,” She shrugged as they stepped into the dining room, “Ben, will you and Diane help me set the table?”

“Sure,” Ben smiled as he placed the Christmas gifts he’d brought with him to the side before they all entered the kitchen, “Are we all alone?”

“Well, Brant and Kenny are out of town, and Blake…” Annie began.

“That’s me,” Blake announced with a smile as she and Zack entered through the rear entrance, “Merry Christmas.”

“Blake,” Annie smiled as she set a stack of plates upon the counter before hugging her, “Merry Christmas.”

“You don’t mind if we join you, do you? I mean, you always say it’s an open invitation, but I just…” Blake began.

“Of course you’re welcome,” Annie cut her off, “You can take this plates and set the table, young lady. Ben, here’s the silverware. You two go set the table, and we’ll treat our guests right.”

“Annie, you are a beauty,” Zack grinned as he bent and pecked her on the cheek.

“Don’t think you get to be lazy, young man,” Annie grinned as she opened a drawer and removed a corkscrew, “You get to open the wine,” She said as she pointed out the wine bottle at the end of the counter.

“Hmm, and here I thought I was a guest,” Zack quipped as he twirled the corkscrew between his fingers, moving to the bottle.

“Guess again,” Blake teased as she picked up the plates and led Ben into the dining room.

“Have you two met?” Annie asked as she looked into the oven.

“No, we haven’t,” Diane said as she smiled towards Blake’s date, “I’m Diane Stevens.”

“Zack Vaughn,” He replied with a smile as he popped the cork on the wine bottle, “I haven’t met Ben either…not formally, but Blake sure did tell me a lot about him.”

“Really?” She asked, “What did she have to say?”

“Just that they got into a lot of trouble growing up,” He said as he glanced back to Annie, “Where are the glasses?”

“Just up there,” Annie pointed out.

“Diane, could I borrow your hands for a moment,” He smiled as he opened the cabinet and began taking some wine glasses down.

“Sure,” Diane agreed as she took several glasses from him and walked with him to the dining room.

“So this is Zack,” Ben began as he extended his hand to Zack, “You’ve certainly got your hands full with Blake.”

“Hey,” Blake said as if she were offended.

“Yes, I do,” Zack grinned as he shook Ben’s hand, “I think Diane has her hands full with you as well from what I hear.”

“What have you been saying about me?” Ben asked as he glared at Blake.

“Just the truth,” Blake chuckled, “But I did tell on myself with a few tales of our youth. I didn’t act like I was completely innocent.”

“That’s different,” Diane murmured as Blake glared at her.

“Diane,” Blake said her name tightly, “I suppose you’re thrilled to finally worm your way into my house, aren’t you?”

“Oh gees,” Diane rolled her eyes, “Here we go with this again. Let me just put your mind at ease, Blake. I don’t want anything you have.”

“That would be a change, wouldn’t it?” Blake asked as Zack poured her a glass of wine.

“Blake, behave,” Zack warned.

“I’m behaving just fine, but I wouldn’t promise that little miss Diane will do the same,” Blake quipped as Zack pressed the glass into her hand.

“Don’t you worry about me,” Diane seethed as she looked to Ben, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I wouldn’t want to intrude upon the princess’s perfect world.”

“Ladies,” Ben began.

“You wouldn’t want to?” Blake scoffed, “Please, it’s what you’ve been after for years. First with my father, then my brother, now you’ve set your sights on poor Ben. How he hasn’t seen through you is beyond me.”

“Stop it,” Ben demanded as he looked to Blake, “I won’t take you insulting Diane any more. I love her, and I expect you to have enough respect for me to curb your tongue.”

Blake rolled her eyes, “Fine, but I may demand that she be frisked before she leaves.”

“That’s it. I’m sorry, Ben. Enjoy your evening,” Diane spoke as she stood from the table and ran out of the room.

“Are you happy now?” Ben snapped at Blake before he ran out of the room after Diane.

“Great job, Blake. Really cleared the house on that one,” Zack spoke softly as he raised his wine glass to his lips.

“Shut up, Zack. I know what I’m doing. I’m protecting myself, my family, and my household. She can’t be trusted, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let her use Ben like she’d tried to use every other man in my family,” Blake stated as Annie stepped into the room carrying the Christmas ham upon a large ornate platter.

“Where’s Ben and Diane?” Annie asked in confusion as she placed the platter upon the table.

“They’re just stepping outside for a bit,” Zack replied as he cut Blake a harsh glare, “I’m sure they’ll be back in just a moment,” He said with the hopes that he wasn’t making a liar out of himself and saving some semblance of a Merry Christmas for Annie.


“Diane, wait,” Ben called out after her, catching up to her just as she reached the front door.

“I told you that she hated me and that this would be nothing short of disaster. I’m not going to just sit there and take her abuse,” Diane declared as she met his eyes.

“Then don’t,” He agreed, “But please don’t run out on dinner. It means the world to me to be able to spend Christmas with Annie, and I don’t want Blake to ruin it for you or for me. I want you with us,” He said with a heartfelt plea, “Please just stay…for me?”

She frowned, “You’re making puppy dog eyes, and that’s just fighting dirty, Ben.”

He smiled as he drew her into his arms, “Please, Diane? I promise I’ll make it up to you later,” He said as he dropped a kiss to her neck and proceeded with kisses along the curve of her throat.

“Now that’s fighting really dirty,” She laughed softly as she drew his lips back to hers and kissed him to seal his promise, “I’ll take you up on that promise later, Mister.”

“Good,” He smiled as he offered her his arm, “Shall we?”

“Let’s,” Diane nodded as she took his arm, preparing herself to face Blake once more and try to get through dinner without committing an act of extreme violence against the blond princess.


“Here’s another one,” Avery finished distributing the Christmas presents before slipping down into Russell’s lap once again as she watched her father eye the package she’d handed him moments earlier closely.
“You know I really wish Deidra had stayed for a while as we had a few things here for her that we‘d love for her to have,” Russell motioned over towards the tree once again.  “After all it is Christmas.”
“That’s right,” Avery agreed cheerfully, “but I suppose Deidra wants to explore and who can blame her as it is paradise here, but the moment she gets back, we’re forcing her to sit down with us and open her gifts.  Got it?”
“Well I don’t know how big she’ll be on that, but we can try,” Judy couldn’t help but laugh at Avery’s determination as she turned her attention to the package on her lap, “Though you both really didn’t have to this as you weren’t really expecting us and…”
“Are you kidding,” Avery beamed with excitement as she turned to the woman before her, “I wouldn’t dream of not having you all here as this is turning out to be the best Christmas ever.”
“It has been nice,” Judy leaned into Richard enjoying the open intimacy between them as she motioned for Avery to the packages before her, “though I’m rather enjoying watching the two of you enjoy this holiday.”
“Believe me, we’re enjoying it as well,” Russell hugged Avery in his arms as he placed a kiss on her shoulder, “why don’t you open your present, sweetheart?”
“Okay,” Avery nodded in agreement tearing at the package until she came face to face with a small Boston Red Sox jersey pajama set with a matching baseball hat and a tiny red pillow shaped like a baseball bat.  She dropped her head back into his shoulder giving him a pointed look, “What’s this?”
“Well, you said our little one takes after me, so I thought we should get an early start with baby Denton here since you know how I feel about baseball and our son could very well…” Russell started with a teasing grin as she poked at his ribs.
“Don’t you mean our daughter,” Avery challenged with a huff, “because there’s nothing saying that we’re having a boy, sweetheart.”
“Either way our baby is going to be a Red Sox fan,” Russell tipped down to kiss her tenderly as his hands pressed over her abdomen massaging her gently as she sank back into his arms with a soft sigh.
“I suppose you’re right on that one,” Avery agreed with a smile as she held up the little pajama set, “and it’s absolutely adorable.”
“That it is,” Judy agreed with a nod, “and really you know when Deidra was younger, she wouldn’t leave home without her baseball hat, so you know it is possible there for girls to enjoy it too.”
“Believe me I know,” Avery’s gaze traveled to her father affectionately, “as we never missed out on any of the good games there when I was younger.”
“That’s right,” Richard boasted proudly, “My Avery and I had the best seats in the house.”
“That’s because you knew all the right people,” Avery laughed lightly, “and for a long time I thought you were king of the world there.”
“Boy were you wrong,” Richard chuckled in response.
“Hey now, I don’t think I was way off,” Avery reminded him with a huff, “as you’ll always be number one in my eyes, which is why I want you to open your gift from me as it‘s something I‘m sure you can put to good use.”
“Oh really?” Richard questioned as he tore open the wrapping paper and he looked inside to find a t-shirt that with the saying, WORLD’S BEST GRANDFATHER printed on it, “Oh Avery, I‘ll wear it with great pride…”
“It only made sense considering that you are the best father a girl could ever hope for,” Avery leaned over to kiss him on the cheek as she hugged him gently, “I love you daddy and I just know that my baby is going to think the world of you as well.”
“I already think the world of my grandchild,” Richard promised with a smile as he hugged her tighter, “as I know you’re going to be an incredible mother, Avery.”
“I really hope so,” Avery confessed as she sank back into Russell’s lap, “considering what I had in my life growing up, I had my doubts for a long time…”
“Don’t let Brooke take that from you, honey,” Richard reached for her hand offering up a tender squeeze, “as you’re nothing like her.  You‘re going to be a wonderful parent.”
“That’s because I learned from the best with you,” Avery explained unable to contain the tears that filled her eyes as Russell squeezed her gently.
“I only hope that one day I can be at least half the man that you are Richard as you’ve set a really good example in Avery’s life,” Russell piped in respectfully.
“I have no doubt in my mind that you’re going to make my daughter and my grandchild very happy,” Richard admitted with a soft grin, “and I think even with all that’s happened, I was always aware of the fact you two were meant for one another.  Though there was a time when I must confessed I would’ve liked to have taken my shotgun to you for some of the things I knew you and my daughter were doing behind my back, but now that you’ve done right by her, well I think we can leave those days in the past for now…”
“I appreciate that,” Russell offered up a sheepish grin as Judy leaned forward producing a package from behind her.
“Well, since we’re all feeling very forgiving right now, I think it’ll be safe to give this to you with your father in the room,” she explained with an air of mystery as she looked to Richard, “though it’s for the honeymoon and if you think you two should wait to open it later…”
Avery’s gaze drifted to her father as he waved his hand at her urging her on.
“Go on, I’ll just find a way to keep myself busy here while you two take a look,” Richard pulled Judy into a kiss as Avery opened the box before her peering into the contents before her eyes widened and she showed the gift to Russell.
“Well now,” Russell’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm as Judy and Richard parted from their kiss, “Judy, I think I’ll be the one thanking you for this gift,” he continued carefully tucking it away behind the chair he was seated in.
“You’re very welcome,” Judy replied unable to contain the chuckle that built up inside for her as she noticed the blush that rose over Avery’s features.
“Okay, now I know I missed something,” Richard began looking between them.
“Honey, you don’t really want to know,” Judy turned him towards her stealing a quick kiss.
“Something tells me you have a wild one in her over there,” Russell teased watching the two of them together as Avery snuggled into him.
“Well…now that you mention it,” Richard boasted as Judy swatted at his chest.
“Rick, your daughter is in the room,” Judy chastised him with a tiny laugh.
“All the more reason to keep talking as I’m enjoying this change in him,” Avery encouraged him, “but of course don’t get too graphic, although if you really want to, I guess Russ and I would deserve it for what happened earlier considering that…”
“That it’s your honeymoon and you should be alone right now instead of sharing today with your father,” Richard added knowingly.
“Daddy, you know I love having you here,” Avery began to argue with him, “as today has been wonderful and…”
“And how about we open a couple more gifts and then Judy and I will be on our way getting settled into our rooms and we can regroup for dinner later,” he suggested exchanging glances with Judy.
“Somehow I get the feeling they’re trying to get rid of us here,” Russell couldn’t help but laugh.
“I was thinking the same thing as something tells me our care package wasn’t the only one Judy brought with her,” Avery teased further as Judy waved her hand at Avery.
“Just you hush now,” Judy offered up as her own face grew a pale crimson color.  “In fact, why don’t we get on to another gift there?”
“Alright then,” Richard cleared his throat as he turned his attention to Russell, “This one right here is for my son-in-law.”
“For me?” Russell’s eyes widened as Richard motioned to a rather large looking package on the floor.
“That’s right.  You’re part of the family now, so I think it’s vital that you get what I brought for you,” Richard explained seriously, “as it’ll be the key to happiness with my daughter here.”
“Uh oh, should I be afraid,” Russell shifted out from beneath Avery as he moved to the floor to open the box.  He paused looking up at Richard for a moment before continuing, “There isn’t a bomb in here or anything for old time’s sake?”
“Not this time, but maybe for next year,” Richard chuckled in amusement as Russell opened the box peering into it’s contents as a hearty laugh erupted from within him.
“What?” Avery tried to peek over his shoulder, “What is it?”
“Well, there are a lot of things,” Russell pulled out a family sized can of decaffeinated coffee, followed by another can of regular.
“For during and after the pregnancy as I know my daughter’s addicted to that stuff,” Richard explained with a hearty laugh.
“You’re telling me.  If she doesn’t have her morning dose there, well she’s unbearable,” Russell laughed in agreement.
“I am not,” she made her way down to the floor poking at the contents within the box as she lifted a pair of earmuffs in confusion, “What are these for?”
“When you’re bound and determined to get your way about something knowing full well you’re in the wrong, but you still want to argue,” Richard explained matter of fact.
“I don’t do that,” Avery began to argue with him as a pout curled over her lip, “okay, so maybe I do sometimes, but still…”
“Thanks Richard,” Russell continued to laugh as he pulled out a couple of packages of chocolate bars, “I already know what these are for and if I‘m not careful where I put them…”
“Give me those,” Avery snagged them away from him hugging them to her chest, “You’re so not going to keep away from me…”
“I wouldn’t dream of it sweetheart,” Russell promised going through the box as he came upon an envelope complete with a letter written directly to him.  His eyes skimmed the page before he turned to Richard again, “I…I don’t know what to say…”
“Say you’re going to take the offer and that you’ll work on making my daughter very happy,” Richard urge him on as Avery tried to read the letter.
“Russ, what is it?” Avery questioned curiously, “Russ?”
“Your father just bought some stock in the paper and apparently he’s approached a few people about having it syndicated and well…” Russell’s eyes widened in surprise, “not only will the Courier be expanding, but he’s arranged for a meeting with a few publishers for my book and a possible magazine deal…”
“What?” Avery reached for the letter as she read a few lines, “Daddy, how did you…”
“Well, I know that Russell works hard for his paper and I think it’s a great little place and I’d like to see it flourish which brings me to where I’m at as my grandchild does need a legacy of sorts.  Plus not so long ago Russell was telling you a fairy tale and it gave me reason to believe that we could work on arranging for him to get his foot in the door with that book offer…”
“Richard, I can’t accept this,” Russell began shaking his head, “I mean it’s a wonderful offer, but…”
“But nothing,” Richard insisted firmly, “Don’t think this is just going to be handed down to you as I’ve just arranged a few meetings the rest is up to you.”
“But I just…” Russell started again, “I mean I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but…”
“No buts,” Richard explained waving his hand at him, “Rumor had it that a magazine was trying to snag you up and I got to thinking that maybe it was time for us to work on giving that publication a run for it’s money as I’m certain the Courier can exceed anything else out there.”
“That’s taking a big risk,” Russell started thinking about how his small paper had slowly grown over the years, “To branch off like this and do what you’re suggesting…”
“I’m sure you can handle it,” Richard assured him, “as I have faith in you starting with that interview I promised you.”
“I just…wow…” Russell was at a loss as Avery embraced her father.
“It’s a wonderful gift,” Avery whispered in his ear, “One that we’ll certainly have to think about…”
“There’s no thinking to it.  This way you can stay where you want to and be your own boss with more benefits,” Richard explained motioning to the box once again, “and there’s one more thing in there.”
“Oh?” Avery inquired looking down at the bottom of the box as Russell pulled out a couple of plane tickets.
“Europe?” Russell’s eyes widened in surprise.
“I thought since you didn’t sound like you’d planned anything for the honeymoon, that might be a good start,” Richard stated as he wrapped his arm around Judy, “as I can recall the short time I spent in Europe being one of the best times of my life.”
“Oh Daddy.  Thank you so much,” Avery smiled as she felt Russell curl his arm around her.
“We truly appreciate it as I know we‘re going to have an amazing time as this is something we‘ve both been dreaming about for a long time in being married and having a honeymoon to remember,” Russell added as Richard rose from the couch taking Judy’s hand.
“I think this is our cue to get going,” Richard explained as Judy stepped up beside him.
“I think you’re right,” she agreed wrapping her arms around him.
“So soon?” Avery stood upright reaching out to him, “Are you sure because you don’t have to…”
“Avery, honey we’ll meet later for dinner so that you two can have some time together,” Richard kissed the top of her head, “but don’t think that means that we’ll be gone forever here as we’ll be right down the hall.”
“This place is beautiful,” Judy added, “I don’t know how you ever found it Russell.”
“I did some interning out here in my younger years,” Russell explained, “and when I found out Avery was out this way, well I knew it was going to be the place where we finally met destiny full force and got married.”
“And it’s a wonderful place indeed,” Richard nodded in response, “I approve completely.”
“That means a lot to me, Richard,” Russell reached out to shake his hand.
“Call me dad,” Richard pulled him into an embrace.
“Okay dad,” Russell hugged him in response as the group said their good-byes and Russell and Avery were left alone once again.  Slowly he turned around to face her astonishment still creeping over him, “Can you believe this?”
“Believe what?  That I married the most incredible man in the world and that our lives together are turning out to be better than I ever dreamt possible?” she questioned throwing her arms around his neck.
“That your father would go out of his way like that to help me,” Russell answered still in shock over what Richard had laid on him, “I mean I never expected or imagined…”
“He was feeling generous and that’s a good sign,” Avery tipped up on her toes to kiss him tenderly, “It means he likes you.”
“Yes, I understand that, but Avery you know I don’t take charity from…” he was cut off as she kissed him again eagerly.
“Russ, it’s not charity.  He was just trying to give us something special,” she paused pulling away from the kiss, “You don’t have a problem with it, do you?”
“Well, I don’t want your father to think that…”
“He doesn’t,” Avery hugged him in against her tighter, “he doesn’t think that at all and if you really don’t want to accept it, then just tell him and I’m sure he’ll withdraw the offer.  I mean hey who needs the added exposure and the promoting like that right?  I mean, it’s not like it’s really necessary,” she paused feigning seriousness, “In fact, I think you should totally give it back.  Don’t take the offer at all…that’s really what you should do.”
“Now you’re mocking me,” Russell squeezed her up into his arms lifting her up off of her toes.
“Maybe a little,” she pinched her fingers in the air, “but you don’t mind, do you?”
“Not as long as you and I can take a closer look at that present Judy gave us,” he wiggled his brow at her as she burst out in laughter patting at his chest.
“Down boy,” she instructed firmly, “as you and I have a phone call to make to your parents, remember?”
“Of course I remember, but well, I was hoping we could put it off for a while to explore the honeymoon possibilities there,” he sighed dropping his lips down over her neck.
“Sweetheart, call your parents,” Avery urged lifting his chin once again, “You know you can’t put it off forever and besides from what you’ve told me your father is going to be very happy for us.”
“I know, I know,” he reached for her hand lacing their fingers together as he lifted her palm to his lips and he pressed a tender kiss up on her, “I suppose we have an overwhelming bit of wonderful news to share, but I know there’d going to love hearing how good we have it.”
“I know they will,” she agreed as he lead her over towards the bed urging her to take a seat as he moved in beside her reaching for the phone.
“Here goes nothing,” Russell smiled ready to share the news he and Avery had with the people who mattered most to him in this world.


“Now just give me a second to get the camera,” Cheryl pleaded with a hearty laugh as her husband broke out into the latest round of charades amusing the family as the ringing of the phone broke through the moment while Elliot was doing his best chimpanzee imitation.  Picking up the phone she answered with a hearty laugh, “Merry Christmas…oh Russ, Russ, where are you,” she put her mouth over the receiver before shouting to the group, “Russ is on the phone.”
“He is,” Elliot stopped hobbling around on one leg as he rushed over to the phone, “Let me talk to him.”
“Okay, just a second…okay…okay hold on…” she set the phone down as she looked to her husband, “He said he wants to go on speaker phone as it’s important.”
“Is he in come kind of trouble?” Elliot questioned with concern as Grady’s ears perked up.
“What’s wrong with Russ?” Grady inquired tension rushing through him as Jade touched his arm gently.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Jade answered praying she was right as Cheryl walked over to the speaker phone that sat in the middle of the living room.
Turning it on, she called out to her son once again, “Russ, are you there?”
“Yeah, mom I’m here,” Russell answered quickly, “Is dad around?”
“I’m right here son.  What’s going on,” Elliot asked patiently trying to brace himself for whatever was happening with his youngest son.
“I wanted to wish you both a Merry Christmas and apologize for not being there to share today with you, but well, you see I’m kind of on my honeymoon right now…”
“Your what?” Cheryl gasped in response, “Are you saying?”
“Mom, Avery and I got married on the island here and we’re having the time of our lives,” Russell explained proudly, “Dad, you were right and I followed your advice and we did it.  We really did it this time and nothing stopped it from happening.  We‘re together at long last…”
“You mean you and Avery are…” Elliot began in surprise, “Well, son I’d have to say congratulations are in order.”
“Come again,” Grady blinked back in surprise, “You and Avery are what?”
“Grady, is that you?” Russell questioned after a moment’s hesitation.
“You’re right it’s me and please tell me that you haven’t gone off the deep end and lost your damned mind?” Grady demanded, “Tell me you’re smarter than you’re pretending to be right now?”
“Look Grady, I’m not going to get into this with you considering that I’m on top of the world,” Russell snapped in response, “Mom, dad there’s more.  Avery and I are having a baby.  You’re going to be grandparents…”
“Grandparents,” Cheryl squealed excitedly, “Oh Russ, you have no idea how happy I am for you both.  Is Avery there?”
“Yeah, she’s right here,” there was a sound of shuffling before Avery nervously spoke up.
“Hello,” she half questioned unsure of herself as Elliot greeted her cheerfully.
“Merry Christmas Avery,” he spoke out as a smile lifted over his features, “Russ tells us that you’ve gone and made us proud grandparents to be here with another little Denton soon to be running around…”
“Well, actually I can’t take all the credit for that considering your son played a big hand in making this all happen.  Russell is a dream come true and he’s the most amazing man ever and I’m so proud to be his wife,” Avery’s voice rang over the line choked up with emotion as Cheryl leaned in closer to the phone.
“Now honey you just listen to me here.  You take it easy and when you all get back home we’re going to have a big old celebration since we couldn’t be there to share this with you,” Cheryl began unable to contain the excitement she felt in hearing her son full of happiness at long last.
“Like hell,” Grady reached for the speaker phone, “Listen Avery, I don’t know what your game is with Russell, but I swear to you when you get back to Coral Valley, you and I are going to have a….” his words were cut short as Elliot pulled the phone cord out of the wall and he motioned for Cheryl to finish up the phone call in the other room as Grady looked at him in confusion, “What was that for?”
“You know what that was for,” Elliot threw him a warning look.
“No, I don’t and if you all are going to sit back and allow this chaos, then you’re even more foolish than I thought,” Grady snapped back at his father feeling the Christmas spirit slipping away as he feared his brother was ruining his life with the one woman Grady wouldn’t wish on any man.

...to be continued...