Episode Sixty Four

Ben escorted Diane back into the dining room and stood firm at the door as he glared at Blake, “Blake, I need to talk to you for a minute.”

“Ben, if you’re going to give me a lecture, you can save it,” Blake began.

“Shut up and get in here!” He demanded as his anger darkened his handsome features.

“Fine,” She conceded as she stood and stepped out of the room with him.

Zack lifted the wine bottle in offer for Diane, “Can I pour you a glass?”

“A big one,” Diane frowned as she held out her glass for him to fill.

“I take it that you and Blake don’t get along.”

“No, we don’t,” She sighed.

“I’ll try to keep her on a leash for you, but that’s not easy as Blake’s pretty strong willed,” He shrugged as he placed the wine bottle aside and sat back, “Though I get the feeling you can hold your own.”

“Damn right I can,” Diane said as she looked into the wine glass for a moment, “I just hate being looked down upon, and Blake has always done that to me. To top it all off, she thinks I was trying to sleep with her father,” She shuddered, “Not in a million years.”

Zack chuckled softly, “I just think Blake’s more insecure than anyone thinks. Maybe if we can just get through this evening, we can all go our separate ways unscathed.”

“You’d better hope so for your girlfriend’s sake,” Diane frowned as she took a long sip of the wine, hoping to douse the burning anger and hatred she felt towards Blake.


“Ben, before you get started, I just want to say something in my defense, okay?” Blake spoke as they entered the study and she turned to face him.

“No, it’s not okay, Blake. You’re acting like a spoiled brat. I thought you’d outgrown that tendency, but obviously not,” Ben frowned as he closed the sliding doors behind him. He turned to face her and shook his head, “Do you have any idea how asinine you’re being?”

“Don’t insult me, Ben. You don’t know the whole story, or you wouldn’t be defending her so,” She crossed her arms as she prepared herself for a battle, “That little harlot has been trying to get into every bed in the Ashford family, and if she thinks she’s succeeded in finding a way into this house, she’s crazy.”

“There you go with that high and mighty act again,” He said bluntly, “In case you didn’t notice, I’m in love with Diane. It has nothing to do with you or your family. Okay, so we met while working at BBK, but she didn’t even know that I was in any way connected with your family other than being a loyal employee.”

“Oh please, is that what she told you?” She rolled her eyes, “And you bought it too, didn’t you? How thick are you, Ben? She uses her cute little flirty act to woo every man she comes across. Did you really think you were so special? Get in line, pal. There’ve been about a hundred before you, and I’ll guarantee that you won’t be the last.”

“Damn it, Blake. Listen to me,” He ordered as his anger got the better of him, “I love her. So stop thinking so highly of you and your precious family. Not everyone wants something from you guys. What Diane wants is me.”

Blake sighed with a heavy frown, “You’ve really bought into this act of hers, haven’t you? God, Ben, I gave you credit for having a brain, but apparently a few bats of the old eye lashes and you’re practically panting like a dog. All Diane wants is to find a way into the Ashford fortune. She tried with my father, then my brother, and now she’s after you. It’s a trend, and if I don’t get back in there, she’ll be trying to get her claws into Zack.”

Ben shook his head as a dry smile tickled his lips, “I cannot believe you’re this insecure.”

“I am not insecure,” She declared firmly.

“Oh really?” He asked in curiosity, “Well what do you call being so threatened by Diane?”

“I’m not threatened by her. I just see through her act while others who obviously don’t think with the brain,” She emphasized the word heavily, “God gave them just fall prey to her every little whine and pout.”

“You are threatened,” He chuckled in irony, “And here I thought all you high and mighty Ashfords were invincible.”

“Go to hell, Ben. I’m here to have Christmas with Annie. I really don’t care if you screw up your entire life with that slut, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let her or you stand in my way of a happy Christmas dinner. Now get out of my way,” Blake demanded as she shoved Ben out of her way and threw open the doors of the study as she left him standing alone in the room.

Ben rubbed his temple. He certainly hoped Annie had some aspirin on hand because he had the sinking suspicion that it would be a migraine kind of evening ahead of them all.


“So tell me, what brings you to paradise?” Christian questioned leaning in across the table from Deidra as an ironic smile lifted over his features, “Please tell me it wasn’t an anniversary that brought you here, though if it was, I think it would explain a lot about what I saw down by the water.”
“No, it wasn’t an anniversary,” Deidra shook her head as a sigh spilled from her lips and she tucked a loose strand of hair from her face, “unfortunately it was worse.”
“What could possibly be worse than anniversary plans to a divorcee who had to follow through on the reservations to this beautiful place alone?” he questioned with obvious interest as she began to toy with the tiny, pink umbrella in her pina colada.
“Speaking from experience,” her eyes drifted up to his once more as she shifted in her seat nervously.
“More or less,” he offered up with a heavy sigh as he leaned back in his chair, “You could say I gave her my all and she decided to walk away from what we had for someone who clearly meant nothing to her altogether.  I mean, when you think of the years we spent together and all the things we’d planned for the future…” he raised his hand in the air to silence himself, “I swore I wouldn’t do this…that I wouldn’t go down this road again especially when I’d worked so hard to bring myself here this week.”
“Believe me, I understand,” Deidra reached out across the table to take his hand supportively, “I wouldn’t even be here right now if it wasn’t for my mother as I’d planned to spend Christmas tucked away in some tiny room at her apartment drowning myself in misery.”
“So what changed your mind?” Christian inquired tracing his finger against hers in a soft, supportive brush, “If it’s too painful…”
“No, it’s not really,” Deidra shook her head as the let out a tiny, muffled laugh, “Would you believe that a wedding of all things brought me here?”
“A wedding you say?” his eyes grew wide with surprise before he shook his place, “Oh what a horrible situation to be in for someone who’s experienced the pains of a divorce.”
“You’re telling me,” she agreed with a heavy sigh thinking to the happiness that had filled the room she was in earlier in the day, “but then, well I was fortunate enough to miss out on the actual ceremony, however being surrounded by newlyweds isn’t much better either.”
“I can’t imagine it being better at all,” he agreed motioning for the waiter to bring them another round of drinks as Deidra finished off her pina colada thinking of all the times she’d dreamt about being in such a place with Andy before he decided to disregard the vow to remain faithful for the rest of their lives together.
“So who got married?” Christian probed once again breaking her from her thoughts as she tried to stay focused on the conversation at hand.
“My mother’s boyfriend’s daughter,” she explained simply.
“Sounds like a mouthful there,” he teased with a wink, “though you know I think we’re the real lucky ones here.”
“How do you figure?” Deidra questioned curiously.
“Well, here I was ready to lose myself to the misery that surrounded me, but then there you were,” he flashed her a sexy smile as Deidra couldn’t help but notice the certain sparkle behind his eyes as his hand stretched out to take hers once again, “Tell me Deidra, do you believe in fate?”
“Honestly,” Deidra paused before shaking her head, “not anymore.”
“Neither do I,” he replied honestly, “which is why I tend to take matters into my own hands these days.”
“Hence your take charge, straight forward approach,” she lifted a curious brow feeling a warmth spread over her cheeks as she wondered if it was the company she was keeping or the drinks they kept drowning themselves in.
“Something like that,” he nodded, “and while I’d like to sit here and dwell on what I lost in my life, well I know that life’s too short to live on if only.  I mean I could try to go on and on about all the things I could’ve changed to make her stay--to make her see how our years spent with one another were the kind of things that you only get once in a lifetime, but in doing that I’m only letting her take the best of me all over again.”
“And she doesn’t deserve that,” Deidra piped in deciding that she was certainly starting to feel the buzz of the pina coladas as she focused on the row of empty glasses before her.
“No, she doesn’t,” he lowered his voice a bit as he leaned in towards her boldly brushing his fingers over her cheekbone as his eyes fixed upon hers, “and neither does that loser that let you go as he was perhaps the biggest fool I’ve ever heard of.”
“I seriously doubt that,” she sighed heavily leaning into his touch as she closed her eyes thinking about Andy’s numerous affairs, “as I was the one who was foolish enough to believe that happily ever after was something that could thrive and flourish in a world like the one we live in.”
“Maybe it can,” his words whispered over her surrounding her with a warmth as she could feel his breath upon her and she let out an ironic laugh.
“Somehow I sincerely doubt that,” she answered opening her eyes as her laughter rumbled over the two of them into the beautiful, beach atmosphere surrounding them.
“Okay, now you’ve gone and done it,” he shook his head at her leaning back in his chair as he made a sound of heavy disapproval, “you had to go and spoil the mood I was going for.”
“And what mood might that be?” she inquired as their next round of drinks arrived.
“That of self delusion and I was almost there,” he pinched his fingers in the air, “that is until you brought reality crashing back into the moment.”
“I have a horrible, nagging tendency to do that,” she confessed with a sigh, “It’s one of my downfalls.”
“Then how about we work on bringing about some kind of remedy for that,” he reached for his camera lifting it up towards her, “In fact, how about we start right now by making the conscious decision to change our lives.”
“Right now?” she repeated in confusion as the shutter on his camera began to snap away while she brought her hand up in the air covering her face as he turned in his chair trying to get a clear shot of her, “What are you doing?”
“I’m taking a picture so that I can remember this moment from here on out knowing that it wasn’t just my imagination that I’m sitting here with this beautiful woman in the middle of this island paradise talking about the possibilities of changing my life,” he explained lowering his camera a bit as he threw out a daring look, “What do you say?  Wanna throw caution to the wind in this miserable situation we’ve found ourselves in and give this a try for a change?  You know, maybe try to enjoy ourselves on Christmas in our own way?”
“You mean like being scrooge with one another since everyone else is so blissfully happy in love,” she rolled her eyes heavily in response.
“That’s exactly what I mean,” he lifted his glass from the table holding it out towards hers, “I say piss on love altogether.”
“I say you’re on,” Deidra reciprocated the gesture lifting her glass to his as well, “Who needs all the heartbreak that comes along with that mind numbing emotion?”
“Exactly,” he goaded her on, “and who needs to cry over those people who will no doubt be mourning the loss of the best things they ever had?”
“Well, I don’t know about that as I don’t see Andy mourning any of this,” Deidra sat up straighter, “but you’re right.  Forget him as I was the best thing he ever had.  He’s never going to find anyone else like me and that in itself makes his live an empty, shallow pit of nothingness.”
“Right on,” he toasted along with her watching her down her drink as he raised his camera again focusing upon her beautiful features, “What do you say?”
“I say to hell with yesterday,” she raised her glass to pose for him, “as I’m going to start living for the moment, starting right now,” she decided throwing caution to the wind as she vowed not to let thoughts of Andrew destroy the atmosphere that this beautiful Christmas morning in paradise had given her.
“There you go,” he saluted her finishing off his drink as he looked around the quiet seaside bar, “here’s to living life again.”
“I’m all for it,” Deidra agreed with a nod, “as what else do I have to lose?”
“Nothing as far as I can see, though I do think that if we both give this new outlook on life a go, that we’ll have far more to gain.  In fact, I was thinking about taking a tour of the island this afternoon, but going myself didn’t seem like much of a thrilling adventure,” he explained after a moment’s hesitation, “I’d rented a Jeep and brought my camera along to capture the moment, but well, I didn’t really have the enthusiasm to give it a try until now.  That is if you’d care to join me.”
“Well, I don’t know if…” Deidra began again pausing for a moment of contemplation as her head was already spinning with the alcohol she’d consumed.
“Come on Deidra.  Remember what we said about living life,” Christian winked at her with that same self, assured confident gaze that had captured her attention down by the water when they’d met a short time ago, “What do you have to lose by taking a chance on me?  You might find that we’ll be able to take the reigns on destiny and kick it down a peg or two instead of the gears turning on us.”
“I say,” she bit on her lip for a moment before smiling brightly, “why not?”
“Really?” he grinned eagerly, “well, now this is my lucky day indeed.”
“You have no idea just how lucky it’s going to be,” Deidra threw back in a flirty tone unable to believe the voice she was hearing was her own as Christian clenched his camera closer to him lifting it up once again to take another picture of her as she leaned forward, taking a sip of her drink before licking her lips as she would take her time showing this man all the things that Andy would be missing out on.  Certainly there were plenty of things she could dwell on, but as the cool liquid of her drink provided some relief from the tropical heat, she batted her eyelashes and threw out a sensual smile at the handsome man before her as she vowed not to let life without Andy be the end of her.  Sure, she might be divorced, but starting now, she was going to learn to live and Christian was the man that was starting to show her how to do just that.


“Would you hurry up already?” Diego frowned tapping on the door to the room Heather had disappeared into in order to change into her costume more than twenty minutes earlier.  Knocking once again he felt his patience slipping away as he wondered just how long she was going to play games with him for forcing her to come along with him as he distributed presents to the children in the hospital, but before he could lose himself to the agitation that was building up inside of him, he heard the clicking of impatient heels on the linoleum behind him.
Slowly, Diego spun around his eyes coming into contact with the stiletto heels that snapped against the off white flooring as his gaze traveled involuntarily up over the long, slender legs before him.  Unable to mask his surprise as he took a second to appreciate what felt like the most desirable, endless legs he’d ever encountered in his life, his eyes fixed on what had to be the shortest red skirt he’d ever seen in his life and as he tried to quickly regroup as his eyes traveled appreciatively over the woman before him, he heard her offer up a tiny laugh as she circled before him.
“I made a few modifications to the costume,” Heather explained with the skirt whooshing up to a dangerous level before she faced him again placing her hands on her hips as he noticed that the top of the costume dipped down over her arms exposing the soft, creamy skin of her shoulders as she threw out a sexy smile, “and judging by the drool coming out of your mouth I’d have to say I did good.”
“I’m not drooling,” Diego argued regaining his composure as he glared at her, “I was just waiting for you to get yourself together so that I can go do what I came here to do.”
“Sure you were,” Heather threw him a look of disbelief, “and besides I’ve been waiting for you for like ten minutes now and you’re the one who’s been slacking.”
“I’ve been sitting here waiting for you,” Diego argued with her trying to keep an air of professionalism about him as he couldn’t help but notice how the costume dipped down over her breastbone offering up a sinful hint of the beautiful body Heather had prided herself on over the years in her career.  Shaking the thoughts that had stirred some very unwelcome sensations particularly in his groin area, Diego pushed past her pretending that he hadn’t been noticing just how sexy Heather Gibbons could be.  “I have to pick up the packages and…”
“Terrance already showed me where we could find them.”
“Terrance,” he gave her a strange look as she nodded quickly.
“That’s right.  Terrance…as in Dr. Forbes,” Heather stated matter of fact folding her arms in front of her chest, “and while you were slacking off, I was taking down the instructions on what goes where for these children.”
“Were you now?” Diego lifted a curious brow, “You mean you actually paid attention to something someone was telling you that involved any kind of work?”
“I can do things like that when necessary,” she shrugged her shoulders in a nonchalant fashion.
“That would be a first for you,” Diego remarked with a chuckle as he shook his head at her, “Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Heather.”
“Not where you’re concerned,” she huffed adjusting the shoulders a bit more on her costume before stepping forward and tugging on the white beard he’d had hung loosely around his neck.  She pulled it up into position as her lip curled in a frown, “Now get with that program Diego because you still owe me dinner as soon as we’re finished here.”
“Is that so?” he questioned in mild amusement.
“That’s right and considering it’s Christmas, well, we both know that things aren’t going to be open all night, so let’s get a move on it,” she motioned to an open doorway across the hall, “The bag is in there and don’t think for a second that I’m going to be carrying it, as it’s your job fat man,” she poked at the stuffing in his stomach as she spun on her heel making her way down the hallway adding extra emphasis to the way her hips swayed with each movement as Diego wondered just what he was getting himself into with her.
“What was I thinking,” he grumbled to himself reaching for the giant red back of presents as he grudgingly followed Heather into one of the rooms straining to remember the real reason he’d brought her here.  He was hoping to teach her a lesson, not the other way around as she was making his libido do flip flops…something that in this particular situation with this very particular woman was completely unprofessional in more ways that he could recount.  Still as he watched her slip into the first room up ahead he knew he was in trouble as Heather was certainly going to be giving him hell for the duration of their time here.
“Ho, ho, ho,” Diego shouted out in a robust tone as he entered the first room on the left as he found Heather over by the bed already speaking with the little girl before her attached to various machines as her tired face turned towards him.
“Santa,” the girl cheered excitedly as she sat upright flashing him a bright smile as she turned her attention to Heather once again, “You were right.  I can’t believe he’s here.”
“Of course I’m here, Melissa,” Diego stepped in beside her, “Would Santa forget about such a pretty little girl like you on Christmas?”
“I sure hope not,” she beamed with excitement as he leaned in towards her, noticing how her brown eyes grew wide upon his arrival, “as I’ve been really good this year even if I’ve been stuck in the hospital a lot.”
“I know you have, but hey Santa’s here to make sure that you have some fun this Christmas,” he looked over to Melissa’s parents who stood beside her hospital bed watching him curiously.
“Has Melissa been a good girl this year,” Diego asked as her mother nodded emphatically.
“Tell him I have mommy.  Tell him I’ve been very good,” Melissa pleaded shifting in her bed as her IV grew tangled in the move and she leaned in towards her mother.
“Oh yes, she’s been very good,” her mother nodded as she placed her hand on Melissa’s shoulder as Heather watched the exchange, “although she is a little restless tonight with it being Christmas and all.”
“I can see why,” Diego touched her head gently as a smile lifted over his features, “and since you’ve been such a good girl for Christmas, what would you like for Christmas?”
“I’d like,” Melissa pondered it for a long moment, “well actually I’d like a pony…you know a real pony that I can ride and maybe, well…never mind…”
“No, not never mind,” Diego shook his head, “After all I am Santa and you know what Santa does for good little girls and boys, right?”
“He gives them what they want more than anything in the world,” she questioned unsure of her own words as Diego eased in to sit beside her on her hospital bed.
“That’s right,” he nodded, “and what do you want more than anything this year, Melissa?”
“You mean other than the pony,” she inquired with curious eyes, “Like the other wish I was hoping for?  You know the one about my getting a new kidney so that I can go home again?  Can you really get me that for Christmas Santa?”
“Melissa, you know that you can‘t ask Santa for something like that…” her mother gasped in surprise as Heather watched the little girl before her asking Diego for something that she was certain wasn’t in his bag of toys as her heart went out to the small girl.
“Normally Santa would need a little time for that particular request,” Diego replied after a moment’s hesitation, “but you know for this Christmas, well, I pulled a few strings and I think we’re going to make that particular Christmas wish come true…”
“Santa, I really don’t think that,” the father began as Diego reached into his jacket withdrawing a few papers he’d carried in with him.
“This time Santa promises you a Merry Christmas,” he assured Melissa’s father as the man opened the folded page to see the information inside as his jaw dropped in surprise.
“But I thought that…I mean we were told about the waiting list and…” her mother blinked back in surprise tears in her eyes as she turned to Diego, “It’s just…”
“Miracles can happen every now and then,” Diego assured her as he rubbed the top of Melissa’s head gently, “but for a little while longer I’d like to see her take it easy as she’ll be having some surgery soon enough.  However, until then, well I suppose that this will just have to do,” Diego reached into his bag pulling out a box as Heather watched Melissa accept it excitedly.
“What is it?” she squealed already tearing open the paper as she saw the pink Pretty Princess Pony in the package before her, “Oh my gosh.  This is like what I’ve always wanted,” she threw her arms around Diego’s shoulders hugging him excitedly as she almost pulled her IV out once again, “Thank you….thank you so very much.  This rocks and you’re the best!”
“You’re the best Melissa,” Diego assured her giving her one last hug before he wiggled his finger at her, “and now that you’ve gotten some presents from me, I want you to promise me that you’ll keep up being a good girl so that next year I can bring you even more wonderful presents.”
“This is one of the best ever,” Melissa’s mother confessed wrapping her arm around her husband’s waist, “I don’t know how we can ever thank you enough.”
“Just take care of this pretty little princess here and we’ll call it even,” Diego assured her with a smile, “Dr. Forbes will be in here shortly to talk details about those papers, but I trust that things will work out the way we were all hoping for as Santa has big plans for Melissa here since she’s such a good little helper.”
“See I told you this was going to be the best Christmas ever,” Melissa boasted to her parents, “but you didn’t believe me, did you guys?”
“We do not,” her father replied overcome with emotion as he looked to Diego, “I don’t know what to say…”
“Just promise me that you’ll keep in touch through one of my helpers Dr. Hernandez,” Diego suggested quickly.
“You know him?” Melissa questioned with wide eyes, “Does he work for you?”
“Yes, yes he does and he gives me a report every now and then, so you make sure to tell him if you need anything,” Diego reminded her quickly, “Merry Christmas, Melissa.”
“Merry Christmas to you too,” she waved as Diego led a very silent Heather out of the hospital room.
“You’re quiet,” Diego noted unable to contain the smile that had filled him inside at being able to deliver such wonderful news to Melissa’s family.
“I just can’t believe…I mean how did you…” she stopped mid-step, “How did you pull something like that off in there?  I mean I thought for sure when you promised her something like that, well, I thought that you were full of shi--”
“Heather, you know sometimes miracles can happen and if you look hard enough, you know where to find them,” Diego offered cryptically before adding an explanation, “I’ve been speaking with Melissa’s family for the past year and time and time again they’ve been bumped back on the waiting list in this situation.  Coming to Coral Valley was the final straw for them as it was their last hope and when they came to me, well I made a few calls, pulled a few strings and said a lot of prayers.”
“And just like that, you made it happen,” Heather’s eyes widened in response.
“Well, not entirely that easy, but in this case, I was able to help get the wheels turning in the right direction,” he nodded before pausing, “but Heather I have to warn you that not everyone we see today will be as fortunate as Melissa is.  There are a lot of children who are still very much in need of miracles and this, well this is a minority of the cases and I just want you to…”
“To what?” she questioned giving him a strange look, “Behave?”
“No,” he shook his head, “be prepared.  Some of these children don’t have much left, but the hope they carry inside of them and for some of them, well time is their enemy which is why I want them to have a special, magical Christmas you see.”
“So this is why you’re here?” Heather questioned finding herself at a loss as she suddenly found herself looking at Diego in a whole new light, “Because you want to give them that?”
“Sure, it’s not a five star dinner and a night on the town, but it’s where I’d want to be right now as these children need me,” Diego reached into his pocket pulling out a piece of paper, “Here, this is a number for a taxi service that can come and pick you up should you decide that you want to leave.”
“No,” she answered quickly, “no that’s not necessary,” she paused noting the expression on his face before she added sharply, “because if this is how you think you’re going to get out of taking me to dinner, well then you’re way off because it’s not happening Diego.  You owe me and you aren’t off the hook that easily.  What’s next?”
“You’re serious?” Diego blinked back in surprise.
“I never joke about things like this especially when you owe me,” Heather nodded emphatically, “so who’s next?”
“Well, next is Kevin Martin,” he explained turning down the hallway once again.
“What’s he in here for?” Heather questioned picking up the pace to catch up with him.
“He has leukemia,” Diego answered quickly lowering his tone, “and he’s just gone through a very strenuous period of chemotherapy, so we can’t stay in with him too long.”
“Alright,” she nodded taking in a deep breath as she watched Diego slip into another room.  Stepping in behind him, she found him standing beside the hospital bed as a very fragile, tired looking boy with a baseball cap looked up at Diego with glossy eyes.
“Santa,” he questioned groggily as Diego stepped in towards him.
“Merry Christmas Kevin,” Diego greeted him cheerfully, “How are you feeling?”
“Horrible,” Kevin sighed, “but I guess you already knew that huh?”
“Well Kevin, I’m sorry to hear about that, but maybe I can help take your mind off feeling bad for a little while,” Diego suggested as he reached into his bag, “as I brought you a very special present this year.”
“You did,” Kevin questioned in a raspy tone as his gaze traveled over in Heather’s direction, “Who’s she?”
“Why, she’s Mrs. Claus,” Diego answered brightly.
“No way,” Kevin’s voice perked up as he shifted positions on the bed, “She’s too hot to be Mrs. Claus.”
Heather couldn’t help but smile as she stepped in towards the hospital, “And you’re a smart little man, aren’t you Kevin?”
“I know you,” his face lit up with excitement, “You’re Heather Gibbons--the model.  I’d know your face anywhere because my older brother Lucas has your calendar up in his room.  You’re like his favorite model ever and I can’t believe you’re really here.”
“Well, I made this special trip just for you.  Just to tell you Merry Christmas,” Heather winked at him before leaning down to kiss his cheek gently.
“Wow, this is like the best Christmas ever,” his eyes turned to Diego, “Lucas is going to be so jealous.  Can I keep her?”
“Now Kevin, you know you can’t keep Mrs. Claus as she and I have some presents to deliver to other children at the hospital, which reminds me,” Diego extracted a package from his bag, “this is for you.”
“Gee thanks Santa, I really appreciate it, but you know if I can keep her instead,” he flashed Diego a knowing look, “I could spent the rest of my Christmas a very happy man,” Kevin looked to Heather, “So what do you think about guys that like cartoons and pizza?”
“Sounds like my dream date and on any other occasion, well I’d love to stay here with you Kevin, but Santa and I have a couple other patients to visit, but if you’re extra good, maybe I’ll stop by again to see you before I leave,” Heather promised with a flirty smile, “What do you say?”
“I say that Sponge Bob is on at five thirty and I’ll save a seat right here for you,” he patted the bed beside him excitedly.
“You’re on,” Heather agreed with a laugh as a woman entered the room taking in the scene before her.
“Mom, look who’s here.  Santa brought Heather Gibbons,” Kevin explained with a squeal, “isn’t it like the greatest Christmas ever?  I mean here I thought that it would suck because I wasn’t home with everyone else, but man when Lucas hears about this, he’s going to be so jealous…”
“I’m sure he is,” Kevin’s mother nodded looking over at Heather curiously as she took note of Heather’s skimpy costume.
“I’m Mrs. Claus tonight,” Heather offered up uneasily as she stood upright well aware of the way the woman was scrutinizing her in this moment in time.
“I see,” she nodded as she turned to Diego, “Well Santa this is a surprise.”
“We just thought we’d pay Kevin a visit and bring him his Christmas present before dinner time,” Diego explained in a hearty tone, “and along with that, here’s a little something for you as well.”
“Santa, you didn’t have to,” Kevin’s mother looked to the small package in her hand before facing him again, “Really…”
“Yes, I did after all it is Christmas,” Diego winked at her, “and I’d like to see a little holiday spirit here.”
“Thank you,” the woman smiled as her son beckoned her once again.
“Mom, do you still have that camera that Aunt Julie gave you earlier?  Do you think we could maybe take a picture of me and Heather so that I can show Lucas she was really here with me?”
“Sure,” his mother reached into her small purse pulling out a disposable camera, “we can do that.”
“Awesome,” Kevin patted the bed beside him, “Come here Heather babes as we’re about to have a great photo op.”
“In that case,” Heather laughed sliding into the bed next to him bringing her arm around his small shoulders as she smiled for the camera.  After a few more shots, she placed a tiny kiss on his cheek once again and rose from the bed, “I’ll see you later Kevin.”
“You can count on it,” he replied excitedly as Heather turned towards the door to follow Diego out of the room.  “Wait a second.”
“Kevin, I said I’ll be back soon,” Heather promised brightly.
“I know, but still,” Kevin motioned to the doorway, “You and Santa are under the mistletoe and if you want everyone to really believe you’re Mrs. Claus you’re going to have to be convincing you know.  It is Christmas.”
“Oh well we…” Diego began breaking his silence as Kevin’s eyes turned to him.
“Don’t be shy about it,” Kevin urged on, “as she’s a great kisser and hey, I just know Lucas will be jealous of that one too.  Mom, why don’t you take a picture to show how Santa brought her here.”
“I don’t think that…” Diego started again as Heather turned to him.
“Oh what can it hurt, Santa,” her eyes dared him lowering her voice to a whisper, “it’s only one little kiss and if you’re going to want everyone to think I’m your wife as even he doesn’t believe a guy like you could manage to capture the attention of someone like me, well this might be your one and only shot to do the one thing that all mean dream about.”
“You really think far too much about yourself Heather,” Diego replied with a harsh whisper, “as not all mean fantasize about kissing you.”
“Maybe not, but you do and if you don’t stop talking you’re going to miss your opportunity to do so,” she smiled sweetly at him, “so just shut up and kiss me while you’re ahead so that we can get this over with.”
“Fine,” Diego tipped forward pressing his lips to hers in a quick, barely there peck of a kiss before pulling back.
“You call that a kiss,” Kevin groaned in response, “I’ve seen more action in a game of chess.  I mean my goodness this is Heather Gibbons…”
“Just what kind of kiss is this,” Heather couldn’t help but laugh as Kevin chanted out instructions for a better kiss on their end.
“It’s the only kind you’re getting right about now,” Diego offered up, “but rest assured I’ll bring her back for later.”
“You’d better,” Kevin waved as Diego sped out of the room in record time with Heather at his heels.
“What was that all about,” she frowned chasing after him.
“We have more patients to visit,” he explained trying to curb the awkward feeling that had stirred up inside of him as he’d fought to contain himself in kissing Heather.
“Yeah sure whatever,” she rolled her eyes as she chased after him, “though Kevin was right about one thing.”
“What’s that,” Diego questioned trying to think of who was next on his list of patients to visit.
“You’re a lousy kisser,” she shrugged her shoulders as Diego stopped mid-movement and spun around to face her.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I said that you can’t kiss to save your life,” Heather wrinkled her nose in response, “I mean with all that teasing you were doing earlier I expected at least a little something on your end, but well, you were about as full of life as a dead fish.”
“I can kiss just fine when properly motivated,” Diego threw back at her with heavy irritation.
“Not from where I’m standing, but then again, hmm, maybe that explains a lot about you,” Heather threw out a wicked grin, “You’re gay, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not gay,” Diego hissed back at her.
“Of course you are.  I mean you spend your time alone or in hospitals and you don’t even bother to get a rise out of a beautiful woman when she’s right before you,” she shook her head as a laugh spilled over her, “That’s the only reasoning behind your lack of enthusiasm.  You have to be gay.”
“I’m most certainly not gay, nor do I lack any enthusiasm when it comes to kissing,” Diego argued with her, “I know how to kiss a woman and when I put my mind to it, I can assure you that she’s very content with the reactions that I stir up inside of her.”
“Whatever,” Heather waved her hand at him dismissively, “I know first hand how pathetic you are in that area and it’s okay if you aren’t interested in women because…” her words were brought to a screeching halt as Diego dropped the bag he’d been carrying, pulling her into his arms before tugging down the beard he’d been wearing.
Before Heather could utter another word, she felt Diego’s lips press down upon hers with a heated frenzy unlike the barely there caress he’d offered moments earlier.  This time as his arms curled around her slender waist, she could taste the exotic spices upon him as his hand teased up her spine cradling her against him as his tongue dipped between her parted lips and she found herself unable to contain the moan that crept up inside of her as he caressed the contours of her mouth taking his time to taste every inch of her as she teased her tongue over the warm recesses of his mouth finding this intimate taste of him far more pleasing than the initial touch between them.  Their mouths tangled and touched in an absolutely sinful display of heat and passion as there was no denying the skill and talent of this surprising man whose arms held her with the greatest of ease.  Heather felt him suckle her lower lip for one moment longer before he pulled away from her leaving her breathless as the kiss came to a close.
“Diego,” her eyes widened in surprise as her face was flushed with the sense of heightened passion he’d stirred up inside of her.  Sure, she’d been pushing his buttons daring him to prove her wrong, but when he had, well she’d been completely unprepared for what came next.  Now as he stood before her, his eyes dark with desire, she found herself on shaky ground as she leaned up against the wall feeling her knees grow weak in an aftershock of the kiss he’d just laid upon her.
“As I said,” Diego cleared his throat as he struggled to regain his composure after what they’d just shared, “there’s nothing wrong with the way I kiss a woman,” he declared turning away from her as he ripped his bag up off of the ground leaving Heather to watch his retreat.
Heather fought to still the racing of her heart as she was certain she’d pushed all the right buttons in a man who clearly was never meant to be pushed by hers as she realized that she’d highly underestimated Diego Hernandez as suddenly he’d become a mystery far greater than she’d ever dreamt of as that kiss was only a hint of all the things he’d kept from her up until now.  Suddenly a warmth filled her from her head to the tips of her toes and she realized that daring a man like Diego could be dangerous especially after the way he’d rocked her world in the blink of an eye catching her off guard as she began to doubt the real reason she’d hunted him down tonight.  Could it be that maybe she was looking for an excuse to spend some time with him because he’d been nice to her or maybe on some level she’d seen a hint of that passion he’d repressed until that stellar kiss moments earlier?  Either way all thoughts about leaving the hospital became secondary as Heather decided it was time to learn more about the ever so mysterious Dr. Hernandez on a more personal level.


“I want to talk to Russ. Someone needs to talk some sense to him,” Grady declared as he started to plug the phone back into the wall.

“No, Grady!” Elliot shouted as he tore the phone out of his son’s reach, “You are not talking to Russ in this mood that you’re in. He is on his honeymoon, and you’re not going to ruin it for him.”

“How about I save him from the rest of his life spent with that woman?” Grady grimaced in disgust, “I’ll work up the annulment papers for him to sign.”

“No, you won’t. This isn’t your concern, Grady,” Elliot informed him as he tossed the phone aside.

“Like hell it isn’t. While everyone else is humoring him in this idiotic behavior, I’m the only one thinking with reason, and I need to talk to him about this,” Grady declared as he started towards the kitchen before Jade stood in his way.

“Don’t even dream that you’re going in there,” Jade warned as she stood in his path, “You are not going to ruin Russ’s dream come true.”

His face darkened as he met her fiery eyes, “Not you too.”

“Me most of all,” She said with determination, “If you think for one minute I’m going to let you slip back into this old habit of yours, you’re nuts.”

“Jade, this is different. He’s married for Christ sakes.”

“Exactly, Grady. He’s married. There’s nothing you can do about his feelings for Avery. It’s out of your control. I know that has to be a real kick in the ass for you, but you’ll get over it with time.”

“Don’t act like this is something I can easily get over, Jade. He’s married the woman who destroyed his life.”

“And put it back together again in case you haven’t noticed, Grady. This isn’t like you and Susan. She isn’t poison to him like Susan was to you. Russ is happy with Avery, and you should see that. Stop projecting your trouble with relationships on Russ.”

“This isn’t about me…”

“That’s right, Grady. It isn’t about you,” She declared adamantly as she refused to back down, “It’s about Russ and his happiness…not what you think his happiness should be.”

“Jade, I’m just trying to warn him,” He began.

“Really? And just because you say so he should listen to you?”

“Well…yeah,” Grady said as if it were an obvious statement.

“So he should just take your word as gospel because you’re the big brother?” She rolled her eyes.

“Yes, he should,” He said as he placed his hands on his hips.

Jade shook her head, “Okay, fine. Following that line of reasoning, I’ll be leaving now, Grady,” She said as she spun on her heel and walked down the hallway.

“Where are you going?” He questioned as he followed her.

“Home. My brother says you’re a horrible influence for me, and he doesn’t want me involved with you in any way. So I’ll be leaving so that I’m being a good girl and following along with what my big brother has to say,” She flashed him an angry smile before she continued into his bedroom. As she began disrobing in order to change, she threw her tee shirt across the room and hit him directly in the face, “Do you mind? I’m trying to do everything I can to follow my brother’s advice since he’s speaking the gospel.”

“Stop turning this around on me,” Grady ordered as he slammed the door behind him.

“You stuck your own foot in it this time, Grady,” She reminded him as she stepped out of her pajamas and tossed them aside, adjusting the tiny band of panties as she flashed him a good look at her backside, “I’m just following your reasoning. Since my big brother says that you’re a bad guy, I’m doing what he thinks is best, and I’m leaving,” She said before she stepped into a skirt and pulled it over her hips before zipping it into place.

“Jade, Seth changed his mind about me.”

“Well what do you know?” She spoke as she turned to face him, “Big brothers can change their minds?”

“Don’t patronize me. We have two very different situations here,” He said as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“What’s so different about them? We both have a man and woman who believe with all their hearts that they love one another. We both have big brothers who would do just about anything to keep those couples apart. How is that different?”

“I’ve never broken your heart before,” He said simply.

“Yes, you have,” Jade replied as she plucked a shirt from her overnight bag, “Granted, you didn’t leave me at the alter, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t broken my heart, Grady.”

Grady frowned, “Does it really make me so horrible that I want to spare my brother the pain of what he’s lived through before? Is it so bad that I want to keep him from all the heartache he went through the last time he thought he was going to live happily ever after with Avery?”

“It’s not bad to want to help your brother. You just suck at how you choose to go about it,” She finished buttoning her shirt and sat down beside him on the bed, “You can’t storm into a room full of glass like a charging bull. You have to use some finesse, Grady. It’s just like in court. You know how to go in with an even temper and work the jury members to win your case. You have to do the same thing with Russ. If you’re going to make any kind of impact on him, you have to do it with some reason about you…not like this raging moron you’ve been portraying lately.”

“Raging moron?” He frowned, “Is that really what you think of me?”

“When you’re acting like this, yeah, that’s what I think of you, but most of the time you aren’t like this. Why is it that the idea of Avery and Russ being happy together makes you crazy?” She asked as she studied his features.

“I just know Avery. She doesn’t have it in her to be loyal to Russ.”

“Even if she’s pregnant with his child?” She questioned, “Grady, they’re going to have a baby. Doesn’t that change everything?”

“No,” He replied simply, “It doesn’t change a thing because until paternity can be established, you can’t convince me that the kid belongs to Russ.”

“Why not?” Jade asked in surprise.

“Because Avery’s been shacked up with Brant Ashford since Bruce died, and it wasn’t that long ago she was with Bruce. Any one of them could be the father.”

“You just are not going to give Avery even an inch of slack, are you?” She shook her head as she exhaled, “Look, Grady, you said that you wanted to change your life and stop living for your bad habits. AA is a good step for your alcoholism, but it’s time to just accept what’s going on with Russ. I think now is the perfect time for you to find a way to bury the hatchet with Avery…” She paused, “Just preferably not in her back, okay?”

“Jade, it’s just…”

“No,” She said forcefully, “No excuses, Grady. It’s now or never, and I mean that. If you can’t start turning this around, I will walk out this door and there won’t be any more chances for us. I love you, but I’m not going to play second fiddle to your obsessive hatred for Avery.”

Grady took a deep breath as he stood and shrugged out his robe. He peeled out of his tee shirt and moved to his closet.

“What are you doing?” She asked as he remained quiet.

“Changing to go to your apartment for Christmas dinner with Seth,” He replied as he looked back to her with a smile. He moved back to the bed and knelt down in front of her, taking her hands in his, “I love you, Jade. You’re first and foremost in my heart. I meant what I said about always showing you that from here on out.”

“Good,” Jade smiled as she leaned forward and kissed him with a loving kiss, “So get dressed,” She winked at him before giving him a quick kiss again, happy that she could use some sort of manipulation to spare Russell any more arguments from his brother while on his honeymoon.


“I can’t deal with this today,” Avery threw the phone at Russell unable to contain the tears that stung at her eyes as she ran into the bathroom slamming the door to a close behind her.
Looking down at the phone in hand, Russell lifted it to his ear again before speaking up, “What’s going on?”
“Russ,” Cheryl started apologetically, “where’s Avery?”
“She just ran off,” Russell answered suddenly realizing what must’ve upset her.  His fingers clenched around the phone tightly as his voice darkened with rage, “Mom, put Grady on the phone.  I’d like to have a few words with him alone right now.”
“Russ, I’m not going to do that,” Cheryl answered with a heavy sigh, “I realize that your brother was out of line, but this is Christmas and…”
“And nothing.  Avery is my wife and she deserves respect from my family,” Russell remarked sharply, “so put Grady on the phone so he and I can take care of this issue.”
“Russ, you’re on your honeymoon and you don’t need to start bickering with your brother over old war injuries,” Cheryl pleaded with him.
“He just made my wife cry and I think that’s more than plenty of reason for me to have a few words with him,” he tried to keep his temper under control as he wanted nothing more than to tear his brother apart limb by limb for his inability to accept Avery as part of the family, “put him on the phone.”
“Russ, you can’t very well expect him to change over night considering that…”
“That nothing.  Grady has no right to talk to Avery the way he does and I want it to stop.  That being said this is between me and Grady so mom please put him on the phone…”
“No, I won’t do it.  It’s Christmas day and I refuse to let my boys tear one another apart even when they’re miles away from one another,” Cheryl’s voice cracked with tension, “Russ, I know that your brother is out of line, but he means well.  He was just so upset about before and…”
“My life is none of his business and for him to treat Avery the way he does,” Russell repeated unable to contain the anger rising in his voice as he thought to the great many ways his brother had made Avery miserable.  Time and time again Grady had found a way to make a mess of things and while Russell was furious with Grady for saying something to hurt Avery, he was even more furious with himself for putting her on the phone knowing that Grady was at the Denton home to begin with.
“He knows how she hurt you before when she walked away on your wedding day and it’s things like that which cause him to be so protective of you because he’s your older brother and he cares about you Russ.  When she left you…” Cheryl began desperately.
“She was pregnant mom,” Russell cut her off abruptly, “She wanted to surprise me, but the day of our wedding she had a miscarriage.”
“What?” Cheryl grew silent for a long moment.
“She was having my baby mom.  She wanted to tell me on our honeymoon, but then at the church something happened,” Russell explained poignantly thinking of the secret that had kept him and Avery apart for the last few years, “She was too ashamed to tell me the truth because she spent all these years feeling as though she failed me…that she failed us on our wedding day and rather than break my heart and let me know that she’d lost our child, she kept silent letting me think the worst of her all these years.”
“But why would she do something like that?  Why not share the truth with you?” Cheryl questioned in confusion, “Wouldn’t she want you to be there with her after all the plans you made together?”
“The doctors she saw at the time told her that she’d never be able to get pregnant again--that we wouldn’t be able to have a family and after that, she didn’t want to destroy my dreams for a future,” he sighed heavily, “and you can’t blame her for not saying anything because maybe in my not seeking her out when she walked out, I wasn’t really searching for the truth either.”
“But Russ honey,” Cheryl was at a loss as he could hear the faint sounds of bickering in the background between his father and Grady.
“Mom when I came out here and found Avery a miracle happened for us.  She found out that she was pregnant and now, well now this baby and Avery are everything to me.  When the doctors told her before that she couldn’t be having this child, well, you have to see how important this is for us.  This baby is something that proves to me that even against the odds Avery and I belong together.  Your grandchild is a sign that things are finally on track for us and I don’t need Grady stepping in and mucking this up.  It’s bad enough that we lost our first child on our failed attempt of a wedding, but I swear to you that I won’t let Grady get her so worked up that history repeats itself.”
“Russ, he’s not trying to do that.  It’s just…” she paused contemplating his words, “well if he knew the truth about Avery--about what really happened, then maybe his outlook would change a bit.  Maybe he’d see that she’s not the woman he thought she was and…”
“No, Grady wouldn’t care.  That wouldn’t matter to him as he’s already formed an opinion and he’s stubborn as hell.  None of what I told you would phase him because he’s too set in his ways to believe the truth when it hits him right smack in the face,” he replied sharply realizing that he’d have to deal with his brother when he returned to Coral Valley as this particular attack on Avery wouldn’t go unpunished.
“Russ, if he knew…” Cheryl started once more.
“He doesn’t deserve the truth mom,” Russell cut her off sharply, “He isn’t in control of my life and given the lack of respect he’s given my wife, he doesn’t have any rights to one of the most painful moments in her life.  He hasn’t earned the privilege to be aware of something that tore her heart apart and as far as I’m concerned I don’t have a brother anymore if this is the way he wants to play it.”
“Russ, don’t say that.  You don’t mean that,” Cheryl begged of him desperately, “I know you’re upset, but…”
“Mom, I love Avery and I’m not about to let her or my baby become the next victim on Grady’s hit list and if he isn’t going to change his ways, then I’m through with him.  I’m done fighting and I’m not going to pretend that I approve of how he’s treating my wife.  I love you and dad and I always want you both as a part of my world and as a part of my family as Avery and I both want nothing more than to have you both to play an active role in our child’s life.”
“Russ, I know you’re upset, but you can’t really mean that about Grady.  I know you’re angry, but…”
“Mom, I’m through with him and truth be told I’m sorry that I ruined your Christmas by calling,” he sighed heavily.
“You didn’t ruin anything and son, I’m happy for you.  I know how badly you wanted this with Avery, but I also want you to know that Grady loves you and in time he’ll realize that he’s making a mistake.”
“By then it’ll be too late,” he sank down onto the bed as he looked to the bathroom door, “but right now, well I need to go check on Avery.”
“I know you do and honey, for what it’s worth your father and I are very happy for the both of you.  We love you very much and we want the best for you,” Cheryl offered up poignantly, “and having a baby, well that’s wonderful news and I meant what I said to Avery.  When you both get home we’re going to have a big celebration as we prepare for that little one‘s entrance in the world.”
“We’d really like that mom,” he couldn’t help but smile upon her words, “I love you mom.”
“I love you too son and please, be safe,” Cheryl offered up quickly, “as you know how I worry about you when you’re away like this.”
“I’ll be fine,” he assured her, “as I’m living my dreams now with Avery and I couldn’t be happier.  Good-bye mom,” he hung up the phone sighing heavily as tension coursed through his body and he turned his attention to the bathroom door wondering how his brother‘s hurtful words affected his wife.
Rising up from the bed, Russell slowly made his way over to the bathroom door tapping on it gently as he could hear the soft sounds of sobbing from inside the bathroom.  Leaning in against the door, he checked the knob finding it locked as a sigh spilled over his lips and he placed his hand up against the door speaking to her softly.
“Avery, honey open up the door,” he pleaded with her wondering what his idiot brother said to upset her.
“I think I just want to be alone right now,” she answered broken up by the sobs she was straining to keep him from hearing as Russell was well aware of each and every tear he could feel in her tone.
“Baby please, don’t shut me out,” he begged of her, “Just let me in so we can talk about this.”
“I don’t want to talk right now,” she answered stubbornly.
“Avery, please don’t do this.  We need to talk about what happened and if you won’t let me in…” he began with a sigh, “Avery, I love you.”
“I love you too, but Russ, what if it isn’t enough?  I mean maybe Grady’s right.  Maybe I don’t deserve you,” she broke into full blown tears as Russell reached for the door knob once again still feeling it locked beneath his touch.
“Avery, come on honey.  Just open up the door so I can hold you.  You know that Grady’s an idiot and he’s completely wrong.  Whatever he said, we both know it was nothing, but bull and if you let him upset you…”
“No, he’s right Russ,” Avery sobbed harder, “He’s absolutely right about me and why you’re so devoted to me is something I can’t quite understand either because I’m absolutely horrible to you…”
“Sweetie, you are not horrible,” Russell argued with her words, “You’re the most amazing, wonderful, beautiful woman in the world and I love you more than mere words can even begin to describe.”
“All the more reason for you to listen to Grady and end this now because I so don’t deserve you,” her tears broke his heart as he took a step back away from the door.  He looked at it for a long moment before turning his attention to the terrace once again.
“Avery, honey please let me in,” he begged again hoping he could find a way to reach out to her as he heard the sounds of the shower water running and he felt a profound feeling of déjà vu settle in as he remembered a time not so long ago when she’d used the same method to block him out so that they couldn’t talk.
“Not this time Avery,” Russell declared taking in a breath as he marched out onto the terrace determined to find a way to reach out to his wife.  He looked down at the beach below realizing what a leap he was about to make, but damn him if he’d let Avery shut herself off after Grady’s harsh words.  This wasn’t like her and now as he prepared to take a crazy risk in the hopes of reaching her, he pulled himself up onto the edge of the terrace as the window to the bathroom was just beyond his reach.  Taking in a slow breath he looked to the heavens above saying a soft prayer, “Help me out here, would you?”
With that, Russell pulled himself up over the edge of the terrace carefully maneuvering his footing as he eased along the outside realizing that while initially he’d thought this was a smart idea, the less than six inch platform he was balancing on was less than ideal for what he’d had in mind when he’d decided he was going to risk it all to get to Avery.  Now as he slid along the platform letting go of the protection the railing provided him with, he just prayed that he wouldn’t go under as his eyes focused on the window to the left of him.
“Just don’t look down,” he instructed himself pressing his hands against the stone wall of the castle’s exterior as he wondered if anyone else had ever been foolish enough to try such a daring move in the hopes of reaching through to the woman they loved.  He was almost on his way to the bathroom window when he heard Avery cry out in horror and he nearly fell off the ledge as she shrieked at him.
“Russ, what are you doing?” she questioned the color draining from her face as she now stood on the terrace watching his latest act of stupidity in vivid color.
“I was trying to get your attention,” he answered shakily as one of the stones beside him on the wall wobbled beneath his fingers.
“Russ, look I’m sorry about what I said before, but please don’t do this,” Avery begged of him as she rushed over to the edge of the terrace, “I love you too and I don’t care how right about me Grady may be, I don’t want to be anywhere, but with you.  Please don’t jump.”
“Avery, I’m not jumping,” he looked at her incredulously as he pressed himself up against the stone wall behind him.
“You’re not?” she gave him a strange look, “Then what are you doing?”
“Trying to get into the bathroom since you locked me out,” he stated matter of fact as he felt a breeze zip on over him leaving him on unsteady footing as he inched in towards the terrace once again.
“How were you planning on doing that,” Avery inquired turning her attention to the small window beside him, “Even I couldn’t fit through that if it was unlocked.”
“I guess at the time I was just trying to be gallant in my ways,” Russell sighed turning his head in her direction as the sunlight began to temporary blind him.
“Well why did you have to go and do a thing like that,” Avery chastised him, “Russ, do you have any idea how dangerous what you’re doing is?”
“At the time the thought hadn’t occurred to me, but now, well now I’m starting to come to grips with my own mortality which tells me that maybe I should get the hell off this ledge,” Russell decided as his gaze traveled down to the world below where he stood and a lump formed in his throat.
“That sounds like a damn good idea from where I’m standing,” Avery leaned over the side extending her arm out towards him, “Take my hand.”
“No,” he shook his head defiantly, “I won’t do it.”
“What do you mean no?” she blinked back in confusion, “Russ, take my hand so that you don’t fall.”
“Avery, you and I both know that under normal circumstances you can’t carry my weight and I’m not about to let you do it now considering that you’re pregnant and…” he began to state plainly.
“Russ, I might be pregnant, but I’m not helpless and if you don’t get your ass back on this terrace then we stand to lose so much more…” she shot back at him.
“I’m not going to put my baby at risk because I’m a bonehead,” he shook his head in response as he started to slide in towards her, “All I have to do is stay close to the wall here and…”
“And nothing.  Give me your hand,” she stretched her finger tips out towards him again.
“Avery, get back inside.  I’m almost there…”
“Russ, don’t argue with me.  Give me your hand.”
“I’m not going to let you fall and then have us both go under,” he insisted firmly, “This was my stupid mistake and you’re not going to pay for it.”
“Just give me your hand already Russ because this is getting really…” she started pressing in against the rod iron railing as her fingers fanned out desperately, “please…”
“No Avery, I’m not going to do it when…” his words were cut short as he watched her bend over the railing just an inch more when the piece beneath her began to wobble and jiggled forward before crashing down over the edge as Avery went down with it.  “Avery!”
“Russ,” she cried out feeling herself hanging over as his arm wrenched around her waist holding her against him as her feet hung in the air over the nothingness that was beyond the ledge that Russell had been dangling from moments earlier.  Her gaze shot down to the rocks beneath her and a whimper built up in the back of her throat as she involuntarily squirmed in his arm.  “Oh God.”
“Just hold on to me,” he instructed sensing her panic as he held her wishing that he hadn’t yet again put her in a horrible situation.  “Avery…”
“Russ, we’re going to fall,” she began with a gulp, her heart pounding in her chest as fear consumed her, “This is all my fault because I was being stubborn and now we’re going to die because I caused you to do this…”
“We’re not going to die,” he tried to assure her, keeping his arm curled tightly around her as he looked to the edge of the terrace once again, “Just put your arms around my shoulders and trust me.”
“Russ, you’re not going to be able to make it back if I do that,” she met his eyes as his arm squeezed her closer to him.
“Yes, we will,” he pleaded with her, “Avery, just look at me and we’ll be able to make it back inside.”
“Russ, I just…” she focused on the intensity of his green eyes as she nodded refusing to allow herself a moment to dwell on what was happening in the world below them.
“We’re going to be okay,” Russell promised her slowly inching towards the terrace once again, “Hey, have I ever told you how much I love you?”
“I love you too baby and I’m so sorry for all of this,” Avery offered up her voice cracked with apprehension as she held onto him as though she’d never let go of him as long as she lived, which could very well be the next few seconds if they weren’t cautious.
“There’s no need to be sorry.  Just know that my brother is a jackass and we don’t need any of his nonsense,” he reminded her as a seriousness took over his features, “You and I have something special and Grady doesn’t understand because he’s never been able to have something like this in his life.  He doesn’t know what it’s like to have the love of your life step out of your dreams and into your world.  He hasn’t experienced what we have and as far as I’m concerned no one else ever will because what we have is nothing short of magic Avery.”
“Oh Russ,” tears built behind her eyes as felt his other arm wrap securely around her and a whimper built up in the back of her throat, “Russ, what are you doing?”
“We’re on the terrace baby,” he explained pulling her in against his chest, “We’re okay now.”
“What?” she questioned looking out to the world behind the terrace as a tremor raced over her and she realized that they’d made the transition to safety smoothly despite her fears.  Turning to look at Russell, she saw the smile that lifted over his features as she couldn’t help but give into the urge that took over her as she swatted at his chest.
“Ouch, what was that for,” he frowned in response as he watched the anger build behind her beautiful features.
“For your being so damned moronic,” Avery growled back at him placing her hands on her hips for a moment as she let out another huff, “What were you thinking?”
“I told you that I was…” he began to remind her as she threw her arms around him kissing him in a frenzy as he stumbled back into the room, nearly tripping over onto the floor as her kisses plummeted over him.
“You stupid, foolish,” she chastised him between kisses as Russell wrapped his arms more completely around her lifting her up to his level as he returned her eager kiss, “how could you think that…”
“Avery, honey it’s okay,” Russell mumbled beneath her lips as he tried to regain his footing, “We’re okay.”
“No, we’re not okay,” she sobbed running her hands over his shoulders as she hugged her body against his, “I could’ve lost you just then and…and…oh God, I don’t even want to think about it…”
“Then don’t,” he plopped down on the bed holding her in his lap as he wiped at her tears, “Don’t think about what almost happened.  Just think about how lucky we are that we have one another.”
“Russ, if I ever lost you,” she kissed him desperately running her fingers through his hair as she held him, “When I think about how close we came to losing it all…”
“We didn’t lose it all, although I think we should call someone about what just happened,” Russell pondered the thought in between kisses as his hands tapered off over her body, appreciating the curves that had tempted him time and time again over the years.
“I don’t even want to think about that right now,” Avery played with the buttons on his shirt fumbling with them before her hands pressed the material off of his shoulders, “Russ, all I want to do is hold you and feel your arms around me knowing that we’re still here--that everything is okay and that I didn’t lose you…”
“Hey,” he cupped her face in his hands as he urged her to meet his concerned eyes, “Avery, you’re never going to lose me because I’m not going anywhere.”
“But with what just happened out there…” she sniffled as he brushed his thumbs over her cheeks wiping at her tears.
“Avery, listen to me,” he spoke soothingly, “I love you and I swear to you that as long as I can help it, we’re never going to be without one another.  I’ve waited far too long to have you in my life and I promise you that I’m not going to let anything get in the way of what we have.  Baby, you’re my forever,” he leaned forward dropping a tender kiss upon her lips, “My serenity…my own piece of heaven on earth…”
“I love you, Russ,” she breathed against his lips, feeling his pulse racing in his chest where her hand settled over him, “I love you so much and I don’t ever want to be without you.  Do you hear me?”
“I hear you loud and clear baby and hey,” he urged her to meet his gaze once again, “I told you that we’d be okay--that everything would be fine for us, didn’t I?”
“Well yes but…”
“But nothing.  We didn’t fall and here we are in each other’s arms,” he smiled at the thought, “That’s all that matters as we have each other and our little one on the way.  We don’t need anything else to make life complete for us.”
“No we don’t,” she agreed tearfully, “as I know I have it all when I look in your eyes as in our being together, well Russ, when you hold me like this, I know I’m in the safest place in the world and I don’t ever want to leave it,” she sighed sinking into his chest wrapping her arms around him fully as she listened to the steady beating of his heart as he held her.
“You won’t ever have to.  I love you, sweetie,” he promised kissing the top of her head as he vowed to himself that he’d never let anything so trivial get in the way of their happiness again.  If Grady wanted to hold a grudge, then so be it, but from here on out his love for Avery was top priority and he’d do anything and everything to keep his family safe and happy as that was the one thing in this world he was truly meant for.


A trail of clothing began at the front door of Angela’s beach house leading to the newly tipped over sofa that she and Brant lay behind basking in the aftermath of the impromptu round of passion shared between them.  As Angela closed her eyes feeling the warmth of Brant’s chest nestled in against her back, he cupped her breast in his hand and she felt a sigh carry over her now parted lips as her breathing slowly returned to normal.
“That was…” she began at a loss as his leg tangled in between her thighs snugly.
“Extraordinary,” he whispered heatedly in the nap of her neck as his nose nuzzled her earlobe as she let out a tiny giggle.
“That’s one way of putting it indeed,” she sank back into him bringing her hand up over his as he held her, “Brant, I’ve never felt anything quite like that before…”
“All the more reason why you should’ve believed me when I told you I’d change your life from here on out,” he boasted dropping tiny, wet kisses over her damp skin.
“And to think I had my doubts,” she teased back feeling his other arm slide around her waist as he held her urging her to turn around and face him again, “what ever was I thinking?”
“That seems to be the question of the hour now doesn’t it,” he mocked her with a wink as he coaxed her into another slow, savory kiss appreciating the moments they shared with one another.
“You know you’re really messing up my life here, Brant,” she sighed as their eyes connected once again.
“Gee, I wasn’t aware that multiple orgasms warranted as messing up your life,” he teased again nibbling on her swelled bottom lip.
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” she swatted at his chest playfully as her dark eyes searched his, “but for starters you did a bang up job in my living room here.”
“Well what can I say?  I’m a man who knows what he wants and how to get it when opportunity presents itself,” he explained proudly as his finger tips teased over her spine, “and I must admit I’m beyond thrilled about how things turned out withstanding the couch being tipped over of course.”
“Have you no shame,” she giggled in response as his palm pressed over her bottom squeezing her flush against his body once again.
“Not where you’re concerned today,” he spoke earnestly.
“You had all of this planned from the moment we encountered one another on the beach, didn’t you?” she searched his eyes seeking out the truth behind his response.
“Of course I did, but then again can you blame me considering how hot you are,” he flirted back cupping her bottom with his powerful hands as he teased her with the evidence of his own blossoming arousal once again.
“Oh you,” she swatted at him once again as a sigh spilled over her lips and she shook her head dismayed with the direction this situation was leading them to once again, “You know Brant I’m not really tuned in on the proper etiquette of these situations here as it’s not every day I wind up bringing some sexy stranger home with me to have what could quite possibly be labeled as the greatest sex of my entire life.”
“What do you mean quite possibly,” he tickled at her sides as his lips dropped down to nibble on her neck once again, “you know I’m the best you’ve ever had.”
“Okay, so you are,” she paused as a seriousness filled her voice, “and that’s what scares me.  Brant, I’m not someone who just jumps into some kind of casual thing.  I mean sure this was fun, but when I came out here, I wasn’t looking for anything even remotely close to this…even now,” she stopped herself contemplating her words as his lips ignited a warmth inside of her whenever he touched her, “I know I’m playing with fire in allowing this to happen as sex was never the plan with me.”
“So plans change,” Brant suggested with a wiggle of his brow, “and I’d have to say that things have changed for the better between us.”
“You’re only saying that because I let you sleep with me,” she couldn’t contain the laugh that built up inside of her.
“Darling, I don’t think sleeping had anything to do with what was happening here a little while ago,” he touched her cheek in a gesture that sent tremors racing through her spine.
“Brant, don’t do that,” she shied away from the intimacy of the embrace, “you and I both know that these things never last beyond the thrill of the moment.”
“I don’t see a problem with living in the moment,” he coaxed her to look at him once again, “because the way I see it I’m with one of the most beautiful women in the world right now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Do you really mean that?” she questioned searching his eyes, “Is that what you’re really feeling right now?”
“When I saw you on the beach, it was as if you stepped out of my dreams and made my fantasies a reality,” he brushed his finger tips up over her shoulders, “You have no idea how long I’ve waited to make love to a woman just like you and now that you’re here, well truth be told I was thinking that somewhere Santa must’ve deemed me a very lucky boy to have a guy like me to be sharing a day like this with a woman just like you.”
“I’d have to say naughty boy seems more appropriate considering,” she felt a heat rise over her features as she brushed her body against his, “though you know Brant this almost feels too good to be true considering…”
“That’s because we’re a match made in heaven,” he whispered over her skin as his mouth collected hers in a daring kiss, “but I must admit we burn hotter than hell when we’re together like this.”
“You are dangerous, aren’t you,” she laughed lightly in response as she pulled away from him, “Why me?”
“What do you mean why you?” he gave her a sideways glance, “Why not you?”
“Brant, I’m serious.  I mean a guy like you clearly has to have plenty of women chasing him around wanting to spend time with him especially if they know anything about your bedside manner,” she sighed as heavy innuendos laced over her words, “but still, how is it a man like you is alone on a day like this considering that it’s Christmas?”
“I was asking myself the same thing about you,” he confessed as his fingers slipped into her dark hair, “How is it I managed to get you all to myself like this?”
“Because you had the vodka at the right time,” she teased gently as his eyes beckoned hers once again.
“I’m serious,” his smile faded as he watched her closely, “How is it that fate brought you back to me from out of my dreams when I needed you more than ever?”
“Well, I suppose fate knew we were both looking for something like this,” she offered up before tearing her eyes away from him, “then again I’d planned on just being here for the holiday alone considering.”
“Considering that you weren’t smart enough to step outside a short while before you did and snag me up sooner,” he poked at her ribs as she smiled back at him.
“I wish it were that easy, but in this particular situation I was really hoping to spend the holiday alone,” she sighed heavily, “as I really hate Christmas.”
“How can you hate Christmas?” he gave her a sideways look, “How can anyone really ever hate Christmas especially after what we just shared with one another?”
“It’s easy,” she frowned, “but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about it.”
“Enlighten me,” Brant threw out at her, “unless of course you’d like me to give you a spanking there for keeping the reason you’re less than jolly about the holidays from me.”
“Fine, if you really want to know,” she paused turning her eyes away from him, “I hate the holidays because it’s when I lost my father.”
“What?” he gave her a strange look, “but I thought that…I mean I just assumed…” he grew silent for a long moment before speaking up again, “what happened to him?”
“He trusted the wrong people and it killed him,” she answered in a hollow tone as her eyes darkened with something that went far beyond the casual sex they’d shared a short time earlier, “I found him in his office face down in a pool of his own blood when I went to coax him into coming home for Christmas.  I had no idea I’d find that when I went to see him, but now, well even at this moment I can’t forget what I walked in on as I saw my father slumped over his desk…”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Brant offered up slowly coming down from the sex induced high he’d been on, “I didn’t mean to bring it up considering that…”
“Well, you wanted to know why I hated Christmas,” she shifted in his arms as she offered up an ironic smile, “and now you know.”
“I…I really…I’m sorry that I kept pushing the issue,” he watched her for a long moment feeling an air of guilt sweep over him as he thought of the reasoning he’d had behind taking her to bed so to speak, “and the rest of your family?  Your mother…”
“My mother’s dead too,” she answered with a sigh, “She died during childbirth--having me actually and well, my father was my world.  When I lost him, well, nothing was really ever the same.”
“I…” he began at a loss as she sat up and he felt compelled to say something, to do something to lighten the mood, but as he rose up to reach out to her he offered up a piece of information about himself despite his vow to keep things light and fun, “I lost my father not too long ago as well.”
“Really?” her dark hair cascaded over her shoulder as she turned slightly towards him.
He nodded poignantly, “He was a mean son of a bitch, but he was my father and while I spent most of my life cleaning up his mistakes, well, he was one of the few people in this world that understood me…though that’s not saying much considering that the man was a lunatic, but still…”
“And your mother,” she questioned facing him once again.
“She died when I was younger,” he confessed openly, “She was visiting my aunt out in Los Angeles and there was a quake.  You know, I never really had a chance to say good-bye to her either because my father was so set in his ways.  Time and time again he was firm in his approach and everything had to be the way dad wanted it.  He wouldn’t just let his children be children and now, well I’m starting to wonder if I turned out just like him…”
“Sounds like he was a monster,” she replied taking in his words, “and you’re no monster, Brant.  You’re an incredible man.”
“No, I’m really not,” he shook his head in response, “I’m no where near that and if you really saw me like everyone else does, well you’d see the truth…”
“What I see is a man who managed to turn my world around with a smile and now, well, now I think that I’ll take something with me about today and keep it with me from here on out,” she leaned forward kissing him tenderly, “as you’re one in a million, Brant.”
“Now I know those words are the orgasms coming back to haunt you,” he teased in response drawing his arms around her.
“Maybe a little, but you know the way I see it, we can work on giving us both something more to make me delirious with passion induced madness,” she offered up with a hint of laughter.
“Hmm…now that sounds like something I could learn to appreciate,” he decided with a low growl as he pulled her into his lap, “although I do have one confession to make.”
“What’s that?” she questioned breaking the contact between them as their gazes locked once again.
“I’m feeling a little guilty about giving you the rug burns I know you’ll wake up with tomorrow after our earlier love making,” he admitted openly as he cupped her face in his hands, “so I was thinking maybe we could take this to your bedroom--assuming that you have one here that can accommodate us.”
“I think we can work on making that into a very distinct possibility for us,” she nodded in agreement, “and Brant, just for the record…before this turns sour on us, I just want to say thanks…”
“For the orgasms,” he teased back with a wink, “hey, it was all my pleasure believe me.”
“No not for that silly,” she chuckled in amusement swatting at his chest playfully before growing serious, “For making my day a bit less miserable as I really thought I’d be spending today lost inside myself.”
“So did I,” he confessed realizing that things had turned out quite the opposite of how he’d envisioned them from the moment Kenneth had informed him that Avery had left the island.  Now as he held Angela in his arms, he thought of all the ways she’d reminded him of Avery and in that moment he realized that she was the closest thing to what he’d dreamt about for so very long.  Her smile melted his heart and in making love to her, he’d felt that same ache that had haunted him when he’d thought about Avery and while he was quite certain how this fling would end, he was going to spend his time appreciating the twist of fate that presented itself to him.
“Good,” she offered up breaking through his thoughts as she leaned back extending her arm out over the carpeting as she snatched up the package of condoms that were tossed haphazardly on the floor in their previous haste.  She smiled up at him as she sat upright dangling them in his face, “It looks like we’ve got our work cut out ahead of us here.”
“Hmm, well since you put it that way,” he winked at her lifting her up over his shoulder as he pulled himself off of the floor looking around the beach house, “which way to the bedroom?”
“That way,” she pointed him in the right direction as Brant decided he’d find new ways for the both of them to enjoy themselves for the day before life went back to how it was before he met her and he focused his energies on the reason that had lead him out onto the beach in the first place as this Christmas was suddenly full of oh so many possibilities for him for the time being.


Caitlin glanced over a stack of CDs before choosing one she wanted to listen to. She slipped the CD into the changer and pressed the play button. While the soft Christmas music began to fill the room, she smiled and made her way to the Christmas tree to admire the decorations upon the limbs.

Ken smiled as he watched her stand before the tree. He had wanted her to enjoy their first Christmas together, but he’d never expected them to be on this island. He hadn’t quite made plans for Christmas as there was always something happening in the Ashford realm, but he hadn’t planned on them being so far away from all of Caitlin’s loved ones.

He closed the distance between them and wrapped one arm around her waist while he presented a present to her with the other, “Merry Christmas.”

“Oh Ken,” She smiled as she took the present in her hand and looked up to him, “Thank you.”

He kissed her temple, “Open it.”

“No, I have to get yours first,” She said as she turned and placed the present back in his hand, “Let me get it.”

“Caitlin,” He began as she ran out of the room.

“Just wait,” She called out from the other room. A few moments passed before she returned to the room, “Okay, I’m back. Now see, that didn’t take long at all, did it?”

“No, it didn’t,” He smiled as he offered the present to her, “I think we’re even now.”

“We’ll see,” She winked at him, “Now open yours.”

“Okay,” He nodded, “Let’s sit down over here on the sofa.”

Caitlin nodded as they sat down on the sofa and she nudged him, “Quit stalling. Open it.”

Ken grinned as he tore open the paper before he opened the box, “What is this?”

“It’s a Celtic pendant,” She informed him, “On the back, it’s meaning is engraved on it. The symbol means steadfast and strong. There’s no one else in the world who is more steadfast and strong than you. You’re there for everyone when they need you, and that makes me love you all the more.”

“I love you,” He said with a smile as he leaned in and kissed her gently, “Now open yours.”

“Okay,” She agreed with a smile as she tugged on the ribbon and peeled off the paper before she opened the box, “Oh Ken…”

“Let me put it on you,” He said as he took the bracelet from the box and fastened it around her wrist.

Caitlin took a moment and examined the charm on the bracelet as its solitaire diamond charm sparkled in the light, “Ken, it’s beautiful.”

“Only because of the lovely lady wearing it,” He said with a smile, “When I saw the bracelet, I thought it was pretty, but then I saw this charm and I knew I had to get it for you. You are my heart, Caitlin, and you’re the sparkle in my life. This charm represents your powerful presence in my life, and I wanted to you always remember how much I love you and appreciate you.”

“Oh Ken,” She said brightly as she threw her arms around him and began assaulting him with kisses, “I love you.”

“Hmmm,” He chuckled as he fell back on the sofa as she continued dropping kisses all over him, “I should buy you jewelry more often.”

“Oh I do love you,” She smiled as she drew his lips to hers with a passionate kiss.

Ken hugged her tightly to him as he returned her kiss and slowly turned them over to lay above her. He met her eyes with a smile, “Dare I chance getting too happy about this moment alone with you?”

She grinned as she slipped her hands under his shirt to caress the strong expanse of his back, “It is Christmas, and we have been very good this year. Surely we can have a few moments together.”

“Surely,” He winked as he lowered his lips towards hers. Before their lips could meet, the telephone rang. Ken glanced towards the phone, “I hate phones.”

“So do I,” Caitlin groaned in frustration as Ken leaned over and plucked the phone from the end table.

“Hello?” Ken answered.

“Ken, I hate to interrupt your holiday,” Judy began, “But you’re going to need to get back to Coral Valley by Monday.”

“Why?” He replied as he glanced back down to Caitlin who eyed him expectantly.

“The case against Midlands is going forward with a new attorney,” Judy replied.

“Do we know who it is?” He asked as he moved away from Caitlin and sat on the opposite end of the sofa.

“Not yet. There’s been no notice of appearance filed, but I thought you should know that the case is moving ahead.”

“Thanks, Judy. Merry Christmas,” Ken said softly.

“Merry Christmas,” Judy greeted softly before she ended the conversation.

“We have to get back to Coral Valley,” Ken sighed, “The Henderson case is going forward, and I need to get back to prepare. We’ll have to find Brant and take him with us.”

“Do you really think he’ll be willing to go?” Caitlin asked as she tucked her feet under her.

“No, but he’s going whether he likes it or not,” Ken declared, vowing to get his brother back to Coral Valley and out of trouble involving Avery.


“I can’t believe our mother would do something like this.  Jenna, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Wayne shook his head in heavy disbelief, “She wouldn’t just make up some story about your father considering how hard losing him was for her.  Even now it’s painful for her to even mention what happened to him…”
“That’s because it was all a lie,” Jenna quipped in response as she took a seat on her couch beside Hart, “She knew all these years that my father was very much alive and willing to play a role in my life.  She left him without so much as telling him that she was pregnant and he never knew I existed and had he not come to town to pay his son a visit, he never would’ve known about me.”
“So you’re telling me that mom just omitted the fact that your father was here in Coral Valley and alive because…well, I haven’t figured that part out yet,” Wayne remarked in confusion, “as this whole story sounds too hard to believe.”
“Wayne, it’s the truth.  A man named Douglas Mahoney is my father…”

“Douglas Mahoney,” Wayne’s eyes widened in surprise, “You mean the film producer?”
“The one and only,” Jenna nodded in confession, “apparently they met when mom was out in Los Angeles and she left him without so much as a well, I don’t know exactly what happened considering that it was like pulling teeth to get what I got out of her thus far.  Even at that I don’t think I’ll ever get the truth from her considering that she was bound and determined to keep me from it.”
“I’m sure if she did it, she had a good reason behind it because it’s not like mom to…” Wayne began in their mother’s defense.
“Wayne, she’s not the woman I thought she was.  After all these years, I just wish she would’ve told me the truth,” Jenna sighed heavily as she felt Hart’s hand upon her shoulder.
“Well maybe you should talk to her and see why that is because you know mom wouldn’t just try to go out of her way to hurt you,” Wayne began again.
“That’s exactly what she did in keeping me from the truth all these years,” Jenna argued with him, “She blatantly kept me in the dark with her lies hoping that I’d never be smart enough to figure this one out.  It didn’t matter to her how I felt or how the truth might effect me.”
“Maybe there was something in the truth that kept mom from telling you as she could’ve been worried that it would upset you,” Wayne offered up once again, “I mean that sounds like something mom would do.”
“Wayne, she did this to be malevolent and there’s no other excuse for it,” she snapped back thinking about the life her mother had kept her from all these years.
“Maybe you’re brother’s right,” he offered up breaking his silence, “maybe you should give her a chance to tell you her side of things.”
“Hart, why are you defending her right now,” she turned to Hart with astonishment taking over her features, “She’s been nothing, but nasty to you, so why even try taking up for her now?”
“Because despite the way your mother views me, well, I think that you should at least hear her out considering it’s Christmas,” Hart suggested in response, “I mean I know I don’t have much room to talk given what I‘ve told you about my family, but I’ve seen how you and your mother are together.  This is probably breaking her heart just like I know it’s breaking yours and if you two can find a way to reach one another half way…”
“No,” she shook her head in refusal, “I won’t do it.  I’m not going to come crawling back to her and let her think she can dictate my life.  She’s kept my father from me and she’s constantly trying to pick and choose the direction I should take with my life and I’m tired of it.”
“Even so, she’s your mother and I know she’s important to you Jenna,” Hart sighed reaching for her hand, “This situation can’t change the relationship you’ve had all those years together in the past…”
“That’s right Jen,” Wayne piped in, “You and mom were always the best of friends and she’d do anything for you…”
“Yeah anything, but tell me the truth about who I am,” Jenna shook her head in refusal to hear her brother or Hart’s words, “Look I know you mean well, but Wayne I just can’t be around her right now.  Tonight is supposed to be something special for her and your father and if I show up, well I can’t promise things won’t get ugly.  In fact I know they will because she’ll say something and then I’ll say something and then the night will be ruined…”
“Jen, you know that if you and mom give it a try, you can fix this,” Wayne stated hopefully.
“Wayne, think about what you would do in my shoes.  How would you feel if you spent your entire life living a lie?” Jenna threw back at him, “How would you feel if she’d kept your father out of your life and told you he was dead all these years?”
“Jenna, you know I can’t give you that kind of answer considering that…” he began again.
“Which is why I’m telling you it’s in everyone’s best interest that I don’t go anywhere near mom’s place tonight,” Jenna sighed reaching out to him, “but know that I do love you and I hope that what’s going on with mom and I doesn’t cause a problem for us.”
“Jen, I just wish…” he paused as a frown touched over his features, “I’m not going to be able to change your mind about this, am I?”
“Not this time I’m afraid,” she shook her head in response, “but trust me it’s for the best.”
“It’s never for the best for anyone when their family is being torn apart, Jen,” he sighed as he threw out one last pleading look.
“I didn’t start this Wayne,” Jenna reminded him quickly, “and by staying at my apartment tonight I’m going to keep from finishing it because I don’t want to say something I might live to regret.”
“Don’t you think in refusing to go you’re doing the same thing?” Wayne questioned again.
“Maybe I’m taking the easy way out, but it’s what I have to do in order to preserve my own sense of self here,” Jenna rose up from the couch as she offered a hug to her brother, “but let your father know I wish him a lot of luck tonight.”
“It already feels like it’s off to a bad start,” Wayne sighed hugging her in response as a poignant silence hung in the air surrounding them, “I really wish that you’d reconsider this.”
“It’s really for the best,” she squeezed his hand before throwing out a soft smile, “now don’t you be late because your father’s going to need a lot of support tonight.”
“I’ll try not to be and hey if you change your mind,” Wayne began again as she lead him towards her front door.
“I won’t be,” she answered interrupting him, “but for what it’s worth Merry Christmas.”
“You too Jen,” he sighed before turning to look at Hart in his exiting, “It was nice to meet you, Hart.”
“Likewise,” Hart nodded in response watching Jenna close the door behind her brother as she stood there for a long moment making no attempts to return to him in the living room.  A sense of worry flooded over Hart as he rose from the couch making his way over to Jenna as she stood next to the door in perfect stillness.  As he moved in closer to her, he could hear the soft sounds of her tears as he realized that this situation was clearly tearing her apart despite her attempts at being firm in her position.
“Hey,” he touched her shoulder urging her into his arms as she spun around to face him with tears spilling down her cheeks before she buried her face in his chest, “It’ll be okay.”
“No, it won’t,” she shook her head into his shirt as her tears consumed her, “It’ll never be okay again after this.”


Thea stepped into Cameron’s house and winked at Franklin, “Merry Christmas, Franklin,” She smiled as she kissed his cheek.

“Merry Christmas, Ma’am,” Franklin smiled, “He’s in his study.”

“Thank you,” She said as she turned and walked down the hallway, her stiletto heels clicking upon the marble tile.

“Can I take your coat ma’am?” He asked after her.

“No, I’m quite happy wearing my coat at the moment, Franklin,” She smiled as she continued down the hallway and turned towards Cameron’s study. She knocked lightly upon the door before she stepped inside and closed the door behind her, “Don’t you think you should at least take the day off for Christmas?”

Cameron looked up from his papers and allowed his eyes to slowly make their way up the length of leg she exposed from the opening of her coat, “I didn’t have any reason to stop working…have you brought me one?”

She grinned as she untied the sash of trench coat and began plucking open the buttons, “You know I couldn’t allow Christmas to go by without giving you a present,” She said as she opened the coat, revealing her white fur trimmed, red bra and panties set, “Merry Christmas.”

Cameron grinned as he put his pen down and sat back in his chair, “It’s certainly beginning to look that way.”

“I thought you might say that,” She smiled as she locked the door and began making her way towards him, “What had you so busy with work on this holiday?”

“I was looking over some of the papers from the Midlands case. Susan better have some rabbit up her sleeve,” He pushed back from the desk and waved for her to sit on his lap, “Though I have known her to work miracles.”

“Let’s not talk about Susan,” Thea smiled as she straddled his lap and began unbuttoning his shirt, “Let’s focus on giving you a Merry Christmas.”

“Thea, we’re going to have to re-examine our relationship,” He said as he ran his palms along her thighs.

“Why’s that?” She asked as she fanned her fingertips over his chest, “Don’t you enjoy our relationship?” She asked as she began dropping kisses along his neck and chest.

“I’m about to be married,” He pointed out as he eased his fingertips along her spine and unhooked her bra.

“So?” She asked as she lowered her fingers and began unclasping his slacks, “What’s your point?”

“My point is that I’ll have a wife, Thea,” He spoke as he pulled her bra away from her body and tossed it aside.

“And a mistress,” Thea smiled as she captured his lips in a kiss.

Cameron raised his eyebrows for a moment as their lips parted, “I don’t want you to upset Heather. She’s important to me.”

“I’m not Douglas Mahoney, Cam,” She pointed out, “You don’t have to try to con me as well.”

“She’s important to my plans,” He reminded her, “I don’t want her pulling away from me, Thea.”

“Fine. I won’t push her then, but if she gets in between you and me,” She seized the lapel of his shirt and pulled him within a breath of her, “I’ll bury her.”

“That’s what I love about you,” Cameron grinned, “You are possessive.”

“You bet your hunky ass I am,” Thea smiled before she seized his lips in a possessive kiss, vowing to give him the Christmas present she’d promised him and get one of her own.


Zack took Annie’s hand and placed a tender kiss upon her skin, “Annie, my dear, are you single? Cause I’ve been looking for a good woman, and you have all the qualifications.”

“Hey,” Blake spoke up as she swatted his arm, “What about me?”

“Well,” Zack shrugged, “Annie and I would let you live here still.”

Annie chuckled as she pulled her hand away from him and swatted him on the opposite arm, “You are nothing but trouble, my boy.”

He winked at her, “I’ve been told that from time to time, but seriously, this meal was outstanding.”

“Thank you,” Annie smiled as she looked down the table to Ben, “You haven’t said very much this evening.”

“I was too busy eating,” Ben smiled as he took Diane’s hand, “And watching my beautiful date.”

Diane shook her head and smiled as she looked down the table to Annie, “I can assure you that he did more eating than looking at me.”

“I don’t know. I’ve noticed him looking at you quite a bit,” Annie smiled, “I think it’s beautiful to have two young couples together in this house again. It’s been so long since love and happiness have been in the house.”

“I’d say happiness, Annie, but don’t bet the house on love,” Blake noted as she kept her eyes focused on Diane, “I don’t think everyone seated at this table has that emotion in mind.”

“Blake, knock it off,” Ben warned, “I already told you not to start a fight.”

“I’m not starting anything,” Blake defended, “I’m just stating the facts.”

“If you knew your facts like you think you do, you’d know that I don’t want anything you have,” Diane said boldly.

“Oh please. You wanted my father. You tried to get Brant, and now you’ve decided that you’d sink your fangs into Ben,” Blake laid out her case, “If you think for one moment that I’m going to let you bring your gold digging ass into my family, you’re dead wrong.”

Diane turned to Ben and shook her head, “You thought she would try to help us. She doesn’t give a damn about anyone but herself,” She crossed her arms and sat back, “I’m glad that you and Seth didn’t work out. Lord knows he doesn’t need your heartless kind in his life.”

“Seth ruined it for himself. I didn’t,” Blake declared as she looked down to Annie, “I’m sorry about this, Annie. I didn’t want this night to turn out this way.”

“If that were true, you would have behaved yourself,” Ben declared before taking Diane’s hand, “Annie, I brought you a present. If you’d like to go into the parlor, I can give it to you.”

“I think that might be nice,” Annie said as she stood, “Diane, would you like some coffee? I think I could use a cup.”

“Yes, I think I would, Annie,” Diane smiled.

“Come along. We’ll get the coffee and join you in the parlor, Ben,” Annie said as she led Diane out of the room.

Ben cast Blake a nasty look, “I cannot believe you’re acting like such a bitch, Blake. I really thought that you had grown up. Hell, Seth even defends you, but you just keep proving to me that you can be the Ashford brat that everyone in town thinks you are.”

“I’m not being hateful, Ben. I just know what Diane is all about,” Blake defended.

“No, you don’t. You’re just happy to sit atop that Ashford high horse that you’ve become accustomed to. You’d better be careful, Blake, because one of these days someone is going to knock you off of it,” Ben warned before he left the room.

Zack sipped his water before he placed the glass upon the table, “Well, is the tantrum over with?”

“Don’t you start with me, too, Zack. I’m just trying to protect those that I care about,” Blake said boldly.

“Are you? Or are you just trying to be the queen of the household?” He asked as he turned to fully look at her, “I’ve never seen you act so high and mighty. What is it about this girl that pisses you off so?”

“Zack, you just have to understand. I’ve seen her do her best to weasel her way into my father’s bed as well as that of my brother’s. When she couldn’t do that, she slept with the married CEO of a company that BBK was involved with. It turned into a mess, and I’m just telling you that Diane is trouble. She can’t be trusted, and I won’t have her using Ben to force her way into this family.”

“Somehow I think there’s more to the story than you’re telling me,” Zack frowned as he glanced at his watch, “But it’ll have to wait for a while. I’ve got to go to work,” He leaned over and captured her mouth in a sultry kiss, “I think you should go kiss Annie and tell her goodnight. The last thing she needs on Christmas is you getting into a catfight in the middle of the living room.”

“Zack, I’m not going to get into a catfight with Diane,” Blake said firmly.

“You’d better not. If I find out that you did, I swear I’ll make sure you never live it down, understand?” He asked before kissing her once more.

“Okay,” She said with an unhappy sigh, “Merry Christmas Zack.”

“Merry Christmas, Blake,” Zack smiled, “And Blake?”

“Yes?” She asked as he stood near the door.

“Behave,” He warned before leaving the room.

Blake took a deep breath and sipped her wine. Somehow or another she’d get Diane out of Ben’s life…even if she had to step on a few toes to make it happen.


“This is amazing,” Deidra confessed breathlessly as Christian had taken her deep into the wooded area of the island for a picnic near a waterfall that they’d encountered.  Now as she held her nearly empty champagne glass in hand, she turned to him noticing the ways in which the sun brought out that certain sparkle behind his eyes as he lay out on his side staring lazily up at her with a sexy smile, “How did you ever find this place?”
“I’d heard stories about the island,” he admitted with a hint of a smile, “and you could say I was enamored with the idea of spending time here, well that is until my wife decided it was time to leave me for someone more adventurous and exciting…”
“Clearly she was a fool because this,” Deidra looked around her surroundings, “well this is so very beautiful.”
“Not nearly as beautiful as you are,” he sat up on the blanket reaching out to touch her cheek gently as he leaned in towards her, focusing his gaze upon her soft, kissable lips.  As he inched in towards her a breeze swept over them and tiny droplets of condensation from the waterfall carried over the both of them as Deidra let out a tiny laugh.
“Well now there’s something to be said about timing,” she offered up turning away from him as she lifted her champagne glass to her lips again.
“So I keep trying to tell myself,” he answered with a heavy sigh, “as they say timing is everything when you’re set out to find that one special thing in your life…”
“Spoken like a true romantic,” Deidra let out an ironic laugh as she faced him once again watching as he lifted the champagne bottle out of the bucket of ice it had been resting in before refilling her newly emptied glass, “and here I thought your ex-wife managed to suck that out of you…”
“Oh no, she didn’t do that,” he shook his head in response, “Granted she shattered my heart into a million pieces, but I suppose deep inside I always kept the faith hoping that one day she’d come to her senses where our love was concerned.”
“I’d often hoped for the same thing,” she sighed heavily thinking about Andrew’s numerous affairs, “and I guess on some level I should’ve seen this all coming, but I was too stubborn to just open up my eyes and call it quits before it got out of hand.”

“In falling in love sometimes it’s appropriate to let things get out of hand especially when you want to believe in that other person you’ve devoted your life to,” he lazily reached out to tuck a strand of her dark hair behind her ear, “I mean you find yourself setting things up for this beautiful future with the person you love until one day they make you feel like nothing--that somehow they find a way to kick you while you’re down and they try to tell you that your love isn’t enough…”
“And they do it again and again with everyone you know only because they love hurting you,” Deidra added sadly, “just because clearly you weren’t enough to keep them from roaming onto someone else…”
“My wife thought I was boring,” he sighed slumping down for a moment as he looked out onto the waterfall, “She never saw our life as the adventure it really was and instead of trying to stay with me on the journey, well, she found herself someone who enticed her with his promise of recklessness and the forbidden and somehow she bought into that.  She knew what kind of man he was, but she threw everything we had away to be with him and in the end, neither he nor I are with her.  With him, well I’d thought it was a passing phase and maybe on some level it was, but even then there was someone else…”
“So your wife had a lot of other men in her life too,” she reached out to him touching his leg gently, “I know how that feels.”
“To be made a fool of again and again by her,” he clenched the champagne glass in his hand tightly as his fingers curled around it, “to think of all the years I gave to her only for her to leave me for the first impulsive, most uncaring, unappreciative man to pay her attention…”
“It’s okay,” Deidra offered with a sigh, “I felt that way when I saw that my ex was sleeping with all my friends and all the while no one ever told me what was going on.  It wasn’t until after I found him with a co-worker that other women came up to talk to me about what was happening…”
“Well, at least he spared you the humiliation of doing it out in the open,” Christian sighed as his jaw tightened at the thought of the woman who’d slipped away, “I found out about my wife’s infidelity over the headline news and by then, well I had the whole town laughing at me for wanting to believe in her…”
“Oh Christian,” she gasped as she reached out to him touching his shoulder supportively, “what a horrible woman.  To think she could do that to you considering what a wonderful man you are…”
“Maybe I’m not as wonderful as I thought I was.  I mean maybe I really wasn’t enough,” he paused as he tilted his head at an angle and focused on her beautiful features, “Do you ever feel that way, Deidra?”
“All the time,” she confessed with a heavy sigh, “even after everything played out, I had one woman that slept with my husband approach me and tell me that the problem was with me…that somehow if I’d worked harder at satisfying Andy as a wife should, that he wouldn’t have had to seek out that kind of attention elsewhere…”
“No, she didn’t,” his eyes widened in response to her words.
“She did and then she went on and on to tell me all the horrible things Andy had spilled to her about our sex life,” tears clouded in Deidra’s eyes, “I was completely humiliated and doubting myself when I felt all the other women who’d been with my husband thinking the same thing--looking at me like the failure Andy had presented me to be and it was then that I knew I couldn’t stay there--that I wouldn’t be able to have them all laughing at me for the joke that he made me out to be.”
“You’re no joke, Deidra,” he reached out to her cupping her face in his hands, “You’re a beautiful, vibrant woman who clearly was stuck with a run of bad luck after marrying the wrong man…”
“Christian, you don’t have to say that considering…” Deidra felt a heat rise over her features as his thumbs brushed over her cheekbone wiping at her tears.
“That what?  That you’re revealing yourself to me like this,” he questioned leaning in towards her, “Deidra, it’s the truth and you can’t let some man ruin who you are as you’re a very sensual woman with a lot to offer to any man who is brave enough to dare a chance at winning your heart.  In fact, I have a confession to make to you…”
“What’s that,” she felt a goofy grin touching over her lips as she tried to contain the blubbering she feared would come out with the tears that had involuntarily fallen from her eyes.
“When I saw you on the beach down by the water, well, I thought to myself that you were by far one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever laid my eyes upon and even though I’d spent most of this week stewing over the things I felt I’d lost, I knew if I’d walked away from you without saying something--without approaching you in some way, that I’d risk the chance of losing more than I have until now as you were someone I had to find a way to reach out to.”
“Christian…” she felt a blush rising over her features as his fingers fanned out into her hair holding her closer to him.
“In fact, right now I’m fighting everything inside of me as my last shred of control is slipping away as I speak because all I can think about is kissing you.”
“Christian, I…” Deidra felt herself melting at his words as she too was unable to resist the magic of the moment before she inched in towards him, feeling his breath upon hers as his lips touched over hers in a gentle caress sending her head swimming with the moment as the romantic atmosphere carried her away with the kiss.  His touch was gentle, but determined as a certain longing filled her up inside at the press of his smooth mouth over hers.  She felt his tongue tease over the crease of her lips exploring the edge of her upper lip before gliding over her bottom lip to suckle her gently.  His mouth coaxed hers into submission deepening the kiss as she felt his hands ease over her spine, urging her down over the blanket as his arms wrapped around her in a protective, yet tantalizing move.
“Deidra,” he whispered her name as his palm pressed in over her leg, trailing over her thigh as his hands dipped in beneath her shorts cradling her bottom up against him as a soft moan erupted from her lips.  He collected each and every sigh of passion before his lips traced over her neck, memorizing every curve before he whispered against the base of her throat, “right now all I can think about is holding you in my arms and showing you all the reasons why you’re the most beautiful woman alive.”
“Oh Christian,” she beckoned his mouth back to hers in a heated kiss thinking of all the reasons why she shouldn’t be letting any of this happen, but as the enchanting sounds of the waterfall reminded her of this tropical locale she’d found herself surrounded by, she realized that there would never truly be a more memorable moment than the one she was having with this handsome stranger’s arms around her.  Sure, maybe it was the alcohol talking or the fact that someone finally found her to be desirable after all the ways in which Andy had torn her to pieces with his infidelity, but one thing was for certain as she felt this wonderful man holding her, wanting to love her and show her just how amazing she was, and that was that she’d wanted to feel needed.  She wanted someone to think of her as the strong, sensual woman she’d thought herself to be and as Christian’s kisses grew heavy with need, drugging her with his intoxicating nectar, she realized there would be no turning back as the words slipped from her lips, “I want that.  I want to feel your arms around me.  I want this.  I want…you…”


Jade looked over to Grady as he drove back into Coral Valley. While he had been mostly quiet since they’d left his parents house, she knew what was on his mind. She reached over to take his hand, “Grady, I promise you that things will work out with Russell. You just have to have a little faith.”

“I don’t have any faith in Avery,” Grady frowned as he stopped at a red light.

“I think you need to take a step back from the situation and try to start fresh with Avery. Russ has done that, and it’s made him a very happy man.”

“I wish I could believe that, but I think Russ is just living in a dream. He wanted things to work out with Avery, but they didn’t. Instead of learning from that mistake, he’s fought to get right back in the midst of it.”

“Don’t you believe that people can change?” She asked as the light changed and he started the car down the road again.

“I do, but not Avery,” He said with a frown, “She’s still the same woman she’s always been.”

“Maybe Avery has changed, just not to you. You haven’t exactly been real receptive to her, Grady. Maybe she’s just been trying to act the way you’re expecting because she knows that you hate her.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Actually it makes a lot of sense. When you sense someone hates you, you react accordingly…most of the time it turns into venom, and that can really cause a relationship to explode.”

“Avery and I don’t have a relationship.”

“Exactly,” Jade noted as she looked over to him, “Grady, she’s your sister-in-law now. It’s time that you two at least learned how to get along.”

“No, I don’t want to even think about getting along with her.”

“Oh boy, here we go with that brick wall again,” She said as she looked out the door.

“Jade, come on. How would you like it if your brother married someone you didn’t approve of?”

“Oh come on,” Jade looked to her, “Seth doesn’t approve of you and me. Well, he may have changed his mind, but still, he didn’t approve of us.”

“Yeah, but we changed that.”

“And Avery can change your mind too,” She said firmly, “You have to be willing to listen.”

“To more of Avery’s bull? I don’t think so,” Grady shook his head.

“Seth thought you were full of bull, but he changed his mind,” She pointed out, “You shouldn’t close yourself off, Grady. You never know what you might be missing out on.”

“Could we drop this subject? The last thing I want to think about right now is my brother and his wife,” He rolled his eyes as he pulled into an empty parking space in front of Jade’s building.

“Fair enough,” She leaned over and drew him into a kiss, “I love you, Grady. I just worry that you’re going to lose your brother if you don’t at least open your mind to the possibilities.”

“And I’m afraid that I’ve already lost him,” Grady admitted before he and Jade got out of the car and went into the building. If Grady had lost his brother over an out of control relationship, he wouldn’t let the same happen to Jade and Seth.

...to be continued...