Episode Sixty Five

Blake stepped into the parlor as Ben gently stoked a fire in the hearth. She made her way to the sofa and watched him, “Ben, can we talk for a few minutes?”

“I don’t think you’ve got anything to say that I want to hear,” Ben finished his work with the fire and placed the poker in its holder near the fireplace. He turned and studied Blake for a moment, “Why can’t you put what you think aside for just tonight? Just let this Christmas go by and you can be pissy towards Diane tomorrow.”

“You act like I’m feeling all of this on a whim,” She frowned, “Ben, that’s not the case at all.”

“I don’t want to hear it, Blake,” He declared firmly, “I just want to enjoy what’s left of this evening. Is that too much to ask?”

“I don’t want her interfering in my family, Ben. Is that too much to ask?” Blake asked as Diane and Annie stepped into the room.

“You two knock off the fighting,” Annie shook her head as she carried a tray with coffee cups and saucers while Diane followed behind her carrying the coffee carafe, “I swear. You’d think you two were kids again. Don’t make me roll up a newspaper and swat at you again.”

“You did that?” Diane asked with a chuckle, “I thought my mother was the only one who took hints from dog trainers.”

“Hey,” Annie grinned, “I figured if it could train a dog it might make an impact on my two stubborn babies,” She glanced between them, “Somehow I think maybe it didn’t do as much good as I’d hoped.”

“We’ll behave,” Blake smiled as she looked to Annie, “Have a seat and I’ll pour the coffee. I want you to open the present I bought for you,” She said as she stood and placed the bag near the chair she knew Annie would choose.

“Do you think you can do that without starting a fight?” Annie mused as she placed the tray down on the coffee table.

“I’ll try,” Blake flashed Annie a smile before moving to Diane and holding out her hand in offer, “May I?”

Diane placed the carafe in Blake’s hands, “Sure,” She said before she moved aside, even while gritting her teeth as she’d really wanted to dump the contents of the carafe over Blake’s head.

Ben reached out and took Diane’s hand, drawing her into his lap as he sat in a nearby high backed chair. He smiled at her in reassurance as he squeezed her close to him, “Well come on, Annie. Open it.”

Annie smiled as she untied the ribbon on top of the bag and opened it. She drew a crystal figurine from inside and gasped, “Oh…Blake…how did you…”

“I took a picture of Peanut to an artist in town. He said that he could make a figurine for you from that, and I knew that you just had to have one,” Blake smiled as she filled each cup with the hot coffee.

“It’s beautiful,” Diane admired the figurine as it shimmered in the light, “Where’d you have that done at? I’d love to see their stock.”

“You couldn’t afford it,” Blake said boldly.

“Blake,” Annie cast a nasty glance towards her youngest charge, “Behave.”

“I am behaving,” Blake shrugged innocently.

“Not from where I’m sitting,” Annie assured her as she placed the figurine back into the soft mound of tissue paper in the bag, “Thank you for the gift. It really is beautiful.”

“My turn,” Ben said boldly as he offered Annie a large box, “Open this one.”

“Ben, what have you gone and done now?” Annie asked as she cast a smile in his direction. She tugged at the ribbon and slipped it away from the box, opening it only to reveal a smaller box within. She frowned, “Okay, how much of this do I have to go through?”

Ben chuckled, “Keep going. I promise you I’m not giving you an empty box for Christmas.”

“You’d better not be,” Annie warned with a laugh as she opened the smaller box to reveal a smaller box, “Ben, I’m too old for this.”

“I promise you’re not. Just open that one,” He instructed with a grin as he squeezed Diane to him.

Annie looked at him skeptically before she opened the last box and found an envelope waiting for her. She removed the envelope from the box and dropped the empty packaging to the floor as she opened the envelope carefully. She gasped, “Ben…I…oh my…”

“You’ve always said you wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise,” Ben smiled as he held Diane lovingly in his arms, “And this is your chance. There are two tickets there as I’m sure there’s a certain gentleman you’ve been flirting with for quite some time who might want to go with you,” He teased, “And don’t worry. I got you two cabins, but that doesn’t mean you two can cozy up in one.”

“Ben,” Annie blushed slightly as she looked to the tickets complete with itinerary, “I can’t believe you did this, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to go,” She began.

“Don’t worry. The tickets are good for six months. You can take your time planning the trip and convincing your boyfriend to go with you,” Ben grinned, “I wanted you to have the vacation of your dreams considering you’ve been putting it off for years.”

“Oh...you are too much,” Annie said as she stood and looked to Diane, “You’re going to have to move for a second or I’m going to crush you while hugging him.”

Diane laughed softly as she moved out of Ben’s lap while Annie hugged him, “I think that was worth moving for.”

Annie kissed Ben’s cheek, “I love you, my boy. You’re a doll.”

Ben smiled, “I love you, Annie. You deserve the best.”

“And you do too,” Annie pointed out before she plucked a gift from beneath the tree, “This is for you and Diane, I think,” She smiled as she sat back in her favorite chair.

Ben glanced to Diane, “Are you as afraid as I am?”

Diane grinned, “I don’t know. Should I be?”

“Oh gag me,” Blake rolled her eyes, “Just open the damn present already, Ben.”

“If you’re going to be such a spoiled sport, young lady, you can leave,” Annie declared as she looked to Blake, “I have never seen you behave so atrociously towards a guest, and I’ll not have it. So shape up or ship out!”

Blake looked away as if she was unaffected by Annie’s lecture. Annie shook her head as she looked back to Ben, “Go ahead and open your gift.”

Ben nodded before he removed the ribbon and opened the box. He frowned as he cast a look towards Annie, “Is this what I think it is?”

Annie chuckled as she sat back in her chair, “Turn about is fair play.”

“Is this a family tradition or something?” Diane asked as Ben removed a smaller box from the one he’d just opened and began to open it as well.

“We’re just like to have a good time even if we do make you work for it,” Annie winked towards Diane before Ben opened the box and removed a smaller one again.

“Okay, Annie, I think I’m getting too old for this too,” He teased with a laugh before he opened the box and found two plane tickets to Florida waiting for him, “Annie…”

“This gift is for your parents as much as it for you. You should go see them, Ben, and take Diane with you. I know they’d love to see the woman who’s captured your heart,” Annie smiled.

“Stolen it is more like it…like everything else in her life,” Blake muttered.

“That’s it,” Diane declared as she moved towards Blake, “I’m tired of your insinuations. You think you know me, but you don’t have the first clue about me. You have no right to sit on some high horse and think you own the world. Just because you’re an Ashford doesn’t mean you know everything, Blake.”

“I know that you’re a gold digging whore, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let you screw your way into my house and my family,” Blake declared as she stood and met Diane eye to eye.

“What the hell is your problem? I haven’t done anything to you or your damned family. All I’ve ever wanted was to do my job, but you always thought I was going to take away some of the men in your precious little world,” Diane bit out, “I never wanted anything that belonged to you. Not a thing!”

“You took Eric from me,” Blake accused.

“Eric didn’t belong to either one of us,” Diane reminded her, “And I damn sure wish you had gotten him. It would have saved me a lot of pain, and maybe then you would gotten the ass kicking you deserved for screwing around with a married man.”

Blake let out a guttural yell as she lunged forward and grabbed Diane by her hair. As she started to pull Diane’s hair, Diane reacted by grabbing a handful of Blake’s hair to return the favor. The two women began to tussle about the room, each one beginning to throw slapping motions towards the other.

Ben groaned as he moved to get between the women and struggled to pull them apart.

“Blake, let go! Diane, stop!” Ben yelled at them as he tried to pry them apart.

Blake reached out and threw a punch towards Diane but instead sent Ben tumbling to the floor. Diane screeched as she lunged at Blake and tackled her to the floor.

“I swear. I thought I was through with raising kids,” Annie grumbled as she took a newspaper and rolled it up. She swatted at the girls before they rolled apart from one another. Annie stepped in between them and glared at Blake, “Knock it off. Right now!”

Diane quickly moved beside Ben and lightly touched his jaw where Blake had hit him, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Ben said as he glared across the room at Blake, “But you’ve gone too far this time, Blake.”

“Bite me, Ben. You got what you deserved for defending her,” Blake bit out.

“Oh you!” Diane started towards Blake again before Ben seized her by the waist and pulled her down beside him, “Let me go.”

“Tearing Blake apart won’t help anything,” Ben reasoned with a sigh, “Perhaps we should just go.”

“But you wanted to spend Christmas with Annie,” Diane said sadly.

“I’ll visit Annie again later,” Ben spoke even as he looked to Annie, “I think we’d be better served with some peace and quiet for our visit.”

“Good point,” Annie agreed.

Ben stood from the floor and helped Diane to her feet. He kept her hand in his as he plucked the airline tickets Annie had given him from the end table and smiled, “Merry Christmas, Annie.”

“Merry Christmas,” Annie smiled, “To you both.”

“Merry Christmas,” Diane said with a soft wave with her free hand before Ben led her out the door.

Annie turned her attention back on Blake, “What the hell is your problem? I’ve never seen you act like such a brat, but you have really shown yourself this evening, young lady.”

Blake pulled herself off the floor and ran her fingers through her hair, “I was only doing what I had to do in order to protect this family.”

“If that’s the way you’re thinking, you’d best change your attitude,” Annie warned, “That’s the kind of thinking that gets Brant in trouble.”

“Maybe Brant’s right. Everyone wants to take advantage of us, and I’m sick and tired of it,” Blake declared boldly.

Annie shook her head with a heavy sigh, “I really thought I’d done a better job in raising you, but obviously it wasn’t good enough to break through that Nicholas Ashford born to rule attitude,” She frowned as she looked towards the young woman she thought of as a daughter, “Blake, you’re better than that. And somewhere deep down, I think you know it. You just need to grow up and realize it,” Annie gathered the gifts the kids had given her before she glanced back to Blake, “Merry Christmas, Blake. Good night,” She said before leaving the parlor for the evening.

Blake groaned openly as she ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. She wasn’t about to give up in keeping Diane out of her house and family. She would never give up when it came to keep her family safe from gold diggers and opportunists, especially the ones like Diane.


“I love you,” Avery snuggled into Russell keeping her arms wrapped around him securely as she sank back into his chest enjoying the lush bubbles that surrounded them in the tub as the warm water seemed to melt the tension away in her shoulders.  Then again the man seated behind her could have everything to do with the feeling of peace and serenity filling her up inside, she reasoned as she tilted her head upwards to take a look at Russell.
“Feeling better,” he questioned tipping down to collect her lips in a leisurely kiss as his arms curled around her tighter.
She nodded as they parted and a smile touched over her beautiful features, “Much better now.  This was a divine idea, Russ.”
“Somehow I knew you wouldn’t be able to pass up an opportunity to spend some time in my arms,” he teased with a playful wink as his fingers drew lazy circles over her abdomen beneath the water’s surface.
“Well, when you laid out such a tempting offer, how could a girl refuse,” Avery sighed sinking her head back into his chest as she closed her eyes savoring these moments of quiet between them.
“She couldn’t,” he nibbled on her shoulder as his massaging fingers dipped down over her thighs, “especially when I happen to have the magic touch.”
“That you do,” she sighed in response as the soft floral scent of the bubble bath intoxicated her senses sending her to a state of bliss as the man she loved kept her close beside him.
“As far as I’m concerned you’ve always been the one with the magic touch,” he whispered smoothly against the base of her neck, “as you’ve always been the one who managed to turn my world around with just a look…”
“That’s because you’re easily persuaded darling,” Avery teased with a tiny laugh, “you’d find just about anything I did or said to be a turn on.”
Russell gave her a sideways glance before a hearty laugh erupted from within, “Okay, so I’m guilty as charged, but can I help it if you make me hot all over…”
“Russ, we’re never going to have any kind of conversation without you getting all hot and bothered, are we,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh as she wiggled in closer to him.
“Hmm…well maybe, but I seriously doubt it,” he shrugged his shoulders as his fingers rose up from the bubbles cupping her breasts as he began to trace lazy circles over her swollen flesh, brushing his finger tips over her velvet peaks in a playful gesture as she nearly leapt out of his arms with a tiny squeal pressing over her lips.  He released her almost immediately confused by her reaction, “Avery?”
“That was different,” Avery gasped in response as her eyes widened.
“Different how,” he questioned in concern as he touched her shoulder gently, “Did I hurt you?”
“No, no that wasn’t it,” she reached for his hand bringing it up over her breast once more, “it was just…well, different…”
“Okay,” he began tentatively not quite sure how to react as he cupped her with his palm.
“It just felt really…well…” she bit on her lower lip for a second, “try it again…”
“Are you…are you sure,” he paused not really clear on what was going on as she guided his hand over her.
“Yeah, just not so…well, like this,” Avery coaxed his hand over her as her head fell back into his shoulder, “oh God, Russ…this feels…really…”
“Really what?” he questioned in confusion as she stilled his hand once more.
“Different,” she explained turning to look up at him.
“Different as in bad different?” he paused dropping his hand down to her waist, “Maybe this is a sign we should just take it easy for a little bit here.”
“Come again,” Avery blinked back at him in surprise, “Russ, what are you trying to say?”
“Well, we have been kind of pushing it lately since it’s our honeymoon and well, I know that with you being pregnant…” he began nervously, “Well maybe we shouldn’t be fooling around as much as we have been.”
She shifted in his arms turning to face him wide eyed as his words astonished her, “Are you saying that you don’t want to touch me now?”
“Avery, that’s not what I’m saying, it’s just well,” he shook his head as his gaze dropped down over the swell of her breasts barely revealed to him over the bubbles that pooled around her, “I’ve touched you that way a million times in the past and well, you’ve never looked ready to go through the roof before now…”
“It’s not that I was ready to…” she groaned as a sigh spilled over her lips, “Russ, it’s just that all of a sudden everything feels really, really heightened in sensitivity and I wasn’t really expecting it…”
“You mean that you,” he gave her a sideways glance, “when I…”
“Russ, it was well, it…it was like…wow…” Avery nodded in response, “I mean normally it’s well, you know how it is, but for some reason I’m on sensory overload here and just the brush of your finger and, well, it’s almost too much…”
“So then we should probably refrain from doing that for a while,” he suggested watching her slide in towards him.
“Um, no wrong answer,” Avery shook her head as she wrapped her arms around his neck, “actually I was thinking that maybe we should give this another try, except with a little variation…”
“Such as,” he inquired lifting a curious brow as she rose up from the water repositioning herself over him as she was high up on her knees settling in over his lap as her thighs straddled his.
“Such as we should maybe start with me here like this,” she suggested as she rose up higher, bringing her body up to his line of vision as he bit back a gulp watching the bubbles taper off over her body revealing her shapely curves to him as a wicked smile pressed over her flirty features.
“Hmm…and maybe if I bring you in like this,” he offered up pulling her in against him as his lips dropped down take whisk her lush peak between his lips as a soft cry emerged from her lips.
“Oh yeah,” Avery dropped her head back as her hips settled in over his, teetering with the thought of completion in mind as his tongue lashed out at her body, driving her to new levels of insanity as his arm curled around her joining them as one in the oversized bathtub.
“Better,” he questioned dropping kisses over her damp skin as her enthusiastic cries encouraged him on and he realized there clearly wasn’t going to be any debate about their making love as Avery had already stopped that discussion before it really started.
“Much,” she nodded enthusiastically as his lips returned to her swelled flesh tasting her as the new level of sensations raced over her, “oh God, Russ…I think I’m enjoying this different…”
“Funny thing,” he murmured against her skin as his lips wandered up towards her collecting her mouth in a heated kiss as she rocked over him drawing out the incredible sensations of their union as the water lapped around them building in frequency with their connection, “so am I.”
“Good,” she threw her arms around him bucking her body over his as his hand dropped down beneath the bubbles caressing her hot spot as she rose up on her knees before completely sheathing him inside of her once again.
“Avery,” he groaned her name holding her hips as her tongue lashed at his and he focused on the tantalizing rhythm between them, “oh baby…”
“We’re never going to be able to have a conversation without resorting back to this you know,” Avery cried out sinking her nails into his muscled flesh as the sensations built wildly inside of her.
“I don’t really see a problem with that, do you,” he groaned in response arching up to meet her movements as her body pumped over his wrapping him up inside of her snugly.
“Only if we intend upon on having any kind of social life beyond the one we have with each other,” she whimpered biting on her lower lip as he pushed forward in the tub coaxing her legs around him as he attempted to gain some control over their movements.
“Who needs any other kind of social life,” he half questioned nibbling on her shoulder as he moved inside of her.
“Well, you might need to think about these things considering that you have a…a…paper to run and we have…” she began broken up by soft cries as her body was under his complete control, “well…we do have a baby on the way…”
“Yes, I know we do,” Russ dipped his hands down over her bottom pulling her against him, “all the more reason for us to keep up a healthy relationship between us…”
“I think there isn’t going to be any doubts about our relationship as we’re to the point of being, well…” Avery breathed in shallow, erratic pants, “well…unhealthy…”
“Loving you could never be an unhealthy thing for me,” he assured her collecting her lips in a heated kiss as the heat of the moment expanded carrying them both away with the frantic pulsating of their bodies as their lovemaking burned them out of control as her cries filled the bathroom, causing the last shred of Russell’s restraint to carry over as he lost himself to the woman he loved.
Moments passed by as Avery’s shivering died down and she kept her arms around Russell unwilling to let go of him as she closed her eyes sighing heavily as her thoughts lingered back from the heavens to the man who’d taken her there moments earlier, “Russ…”
“Yes, sweetheart,” he whispered hoarsely as his finger tips teased over her spine.
“Don’t ever scare me like you did earlier,” she pleaded with him thinking back to the incident that had nearly taken them both out of this world, “Don’t ever do something so stupid to reach me.  If you would’ve fallen off that ledge…”
“Baby, it’s okay,” Russell hugged her closer to him, “everything’s okay now although I do think I should call someone here about that railing because it shouldn’t have done that…”
“Well, the castle is older and,” Avery began to remind him.
“Older or not, that shouldn’t have come loose like it did,” he shook his head in response as he cupped her face in his hands, “When I saw you going over the edge all I could think about was losing you and our baby and it scared the hell out of me because you two are so very important to me.”
“I was so afraid,” she confessed openly, “and in that instant, my whole life flashed before my eyes and I thought about all the mistakes I’d made…all the things I never told you and the things I’d never say and then when the reality of the moment hit me that I may never see you again,” tears glistened in her eyes, “Russ, I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from you.  The last time we split up, it tore me to pieces and I tried to go through the motions of living, but I was only fooling myself.  Even when you and I first reconnected and I kept trying to tell myself that I didn’t want you--that I didn’t need you, well, baby I was such a horrible, pathetic liar because you’re everything to me,” she squeezed her arms around him, “Russ, I have never loved anyone in my life the way that I love you and now that we’re about to have the family we always dreamt about, well…”
“I know sweetie,” he leaned in to kiss her, “I feel it too and I want you to know that I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that you and our baby are safe from here on out.  I want you to have the kind of life that we’d always talked about, which is why I’ve been doing some serious thinking here…”
“About?” she questioned keeping close to him.
“About some of the choices we have ahead of us,” he paused as if contemplating his words as he met her eyes with a sudden seriousness, “Avery, there’s something we really need to talk about.”
“Such as?” she questioned with concern feeling a chill race up her spine.
“While you were away, well Johanna came back to town,” Russell began as he watched her face twist with anger.
“As in Johanna Larsen,” she frowned stiffening upon his words.
He nodded, “Avery, she offered me this position over at the Standard Reporter and it’s a really, really good opportunity…”
“I see,” she paused for a long moment, “so that was what my father was referring to when he threw out that proposal for you, huh?”
“Avery, I know you don’t like Jo, but well, they’re offering me a position that is something I’ve always dreamt about and given that things haven’t been easy for us in Coral Valley, well I got to thinking that maybe I should take her up on the offer.  You know I mean maybe we should check it out while we’re in Europe and see what the position entails considering that…”
“That what?” Avery blinked back at him, “Russ, our lives are in Coral Valley and with my father offering you that deal for the paper…”
“Avery, I’m not denying it’s a great deal…an amazing deal, but the fact that your father gave it to me like that and I didn’t earn it, well…” he shifted uneasily beneath her.
“Well what?” she huffed in response, “You’d rather accept the offer that slut laid out to you instead considering that she was one of the reasons you and I split up in the past?”
“Actually Avery you were the reason we split up,” he reminded her watching as she began move away from him, “You were the one who wanted to see other people back in college, remember?”
“I only said that so that you wouldn’t go through that need to go out and find someone else to replace me once we’d been together for a long time.  I was trying to get you to say that you were head over heels in love with me and that you didn’t want to see anyone else, but instead you decided to take up with her,” she shoved her hands into his chest pulling herself up out of the water, “I think we’re done in here.”
“Avery, come on,” he watched her retreat as a frown built upon his features, “I didn’t bring this up to piss you off, but I was just thinking that…”
“That what?” Avery spun around to face him as she quickly wrapped a towel around her body, “that I’d just gleefully accept the offer Johanna gave you and just leave my life behind because she would like to see you do that?”
“I was thinking that maybe just maybe we could keep our options open considering that we have our child’s future to think about,” he sighed getting up out of the bathtub as he saw the anger burning behind her eyes.
“And what’s wrong with the options my father gave us,” Avery challenged with a huff, “Are you too good to think about taking him on as someone who’d like to help us?”
“Avery, you know it’s not that.  I appreciate your father’s help, but with him doing so much for us, I don’t want you to think that I can’t provide for us and our family,” he began as he snagged a towel up off of the rack, “Avery, I want to prove to you that I can make it for us…that I can give us the kind of life we need.”
“By letting Johanna put it into your lap and whatever else she deems fitting,” she groaned in response throwing her hands in the air, “I can’t believe you’d even consider listening to anything she’d have to say…”
“Avery, I thought I lost you so when she came to me with the offer, well I wasn’t in the mood to listen, but now that I think about the problems we’re having with Grady and Brant…”
“Aha, so we get to the heart of the matter,” Avery chirped in response, “This isn’t about your wanting us to relocate for a chance at a new and exciting life for our family, but more so your attempts to keep me away from my job because you feel threatened by Brant.”
“I don’t feel threatened by Brant,” he argued the point as he watched her waving her finger at him.
“You do.  I can see it in your eyes and that’s the only reason you’d toss my father’s proposal aside and get me out of Coral Valley unless of course Johanna is offering more than a job opportunity for you…maybe she’s looking to pick up where you two left off years ago with one another,” Avery spat back at him as her eyes narrowed with rage.
“Oh Avery, please,” he rolled his eyes in response, “It was never like that with Johanna and besides I’m a married man.  That’s something that means everything to me.  Brant on the other hand has sex on the mind every time he’s near you.  You can’t blame me if I’m a little pissed off at the guy for trying to keep you from me or for him throwing me in jail in the hopes that he’d find a way to put some more distance between us…”
“He wouldn’t have done that,” Avery argued with him, “Brant isn’t like that.”
“Ask my father,” he urged her, “He’ll tell you because he bailed me out after your mother and Brant put me in jail for trespassing the night of the party.  You know the night that he took you to the island here and decided it was time for you two to take things to the next level in your relationship.”
“Russ, he was just trying to be a friend to me,” she insisted with a huff, “He was trying to mend my broken heart and…”
“Yeah, I’ll bet he was,” he grumbled in response, “Just how long did it take him before he tried to get you into bed with him Avery?”
“Russ, now you’re taking a leap here considering that you know nothing about…” she began again.
“About the fact that you said you were tempted once upon a time,” he arched a curious brow, “That somehow Brant had stirred up some kind of interest in you.  I recall us having a discussion about that the night of the quake and then I also recall us going back to my place and you calling me by his name…”
“It was an honest mistake and I can’t believe you’re even bringing it up now considering that…” she glared at him, “You’re the one who slept with Heather.  You’re the one who went out on a limb and cheated on me.  You made me feel like the lowest of low when I saw you two in bed together and when Grady told me how you played me…”
“Grady was full of it and you know that I would never do something like that if I could help it,” Russell insisted firmly.
“Oh so you’re saying if you just happen to get drunk sometime while a beautiful woman is around and you just accidentally fall into bed with her, I’m just supposed to sit back and say, ‘Hey that’s okay baby.  I know it wasn’t your fault since alcoholism runs in your family so go on and have another affair because I don’t really mind’.”
His features darkened upon her words, “Avery, that was uncalled for.”
“No what’s uncalled for is your trying to make my decisions for me about my career,” Avery insisted sharply, “I’m happy where I am at BBK and I’m not leaving my position and if you have a problem with that, well then it’s your problem because I’m not leaving my job.”
“Not even for the sake of our marriage and our child’s future?” he replied placing his hands on his hips as he saw her defiance spill over her features before another look swept over her unlike any he’d ever seen before in her.
“Is that what you’re trying to tell me,” she questioned as her voice was laced with something that was a mixture of anger and could it be…hurt, Russell wondered as she stepped towards him, “Are you telling me that I have to choose between my career and our family?  Is that what you’re saying?”
“Avery, it’s just…” he frowned wanting to kick himself for even bringing any of this up as the look in her eyes said it all about the chord he’d struck in her, “No, that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m just trying to tell you that the offer Johanna gave me is something that I think can really give us that new start we always talked about.”
“So can the deal my father is offering you if you’d just stop letting your pride get in the way,” she reluctantly took a step towards him, “Russ, you are everything to me, but for us to just up and leave everything we love.  I mean how would your parents react to the news you’re going away because we can’t face the problems we have in Coral Valley.”
“They’d understand,” he grudgingly responded.
“But could you?  I mean can you honestly tell me that you’d take Johanna up on her offer and think that you made it on your own?  That this was a better option than staying and watching your newspaper turn into something far beyond anything you’d ever imagined?  Russ, you brought that paper back to life again from the bottom and for you to walk away from it now, well you’d only be giving up on the real dream you’d had for your career.  The Courier is your home…not the stupid Standard Reporter.  Why give that all up because you’re too full of pride to just think about what my father offered to help you with?”
“Avery, it’s not just your father’s offer.  It’s the thought of you and Brant being so close to one another,” he sighed shaking his head as he reached out to her, “Don’t you understand that I’m afraid of what might happen?  That I’m terrified that he’ll find a way to come between us and…”
“Do you really think so little about my love for you?” she questioned in confusion, “Russ, from the moment you and I made love, there’s been no one else in my heart and I thought when we were married you’d see just how much you truly mean to me.  I love you…I’m having your baby and I don’t want to be anywhere, but with you…”
“Then why won’t you think about this European offer?”
“Why won’t you think about what you’re really doing,” she insisted as her eyes filled with sadness, “Russ, please don’t run away from our lives because you’re afraid of what isn’t ever going to happen.”
“Avery, I know that if I hadn’t come out here, that Brant would’ve found a way to manipulate you into staying away from me…that he would’ve taken the life that belonged to us…” he explained as his fears came to the surface, “He would’ve found a way to keep us apart and I never would’ve had this opportunity with you,” his hand brushed up against her face as he closed the distance between them, “I never would’ve been able to be here with you loving you and dreaming about our future with our child.”
“Russ, I would’ve come home to you,” she sighed heavily, “I know that it felt like we’d never be together again, but Caitlin and I were talking and I knew that somehow you and I needed to do something about this together.  Sure, Brant proposed to me and there was a moment when I’d contemplated what a life with him would be like, but you’re the father of our baby,” she reached out to touch him as well, “You’re my heart and my one true love.  How can you think for an instant that I would willingly walk away from that when our love created something so very right between us,” she reached for his hand bringing it over her abdomen, “Russ, we’re having a baby…a son or daughter and that changes everything for us.  We’re going to have that family we both thought slipped away from us and if we start running afraid now, when are we going to stop?”
“Avery, it’s just…” he paused as a sigh spilled over his lips, “I just love you so very much that the idea of anyone taking you away from me…”
“Russ, we’re bound to one another for eternity,” she brought his hand up over her heart, “what we have no one can take away unless we allow them to and I have to tell you, I’m not ready to let you go without a fight.”
“I’m never letting go of you, Avery,” he scooped her up into his arms, “I meant every word I said to you the night we were married.  You’re everything to me…”
“And you are with me,” she explained tearfully, “but if we keep trying to find quick fixes to take us away from the life we love, then we’re only deceiving ourselves.”
“I just worry…” he began again.
“Brant isn’t going to be a problem,” she insisted firmly, “and while I do owe him the truth about you and I, I don’t want to stop working for BBK.  I make a difference there and it’s something I’m very proud of in my life.  That doesn’t mean that you are any less important to me as you and our baby are at the top of my list and if by some chance when I talk to Brant, I think that things are a problem, then well, then I’ll consider my next move, but for now I don’t see it being the problem you imagine it to be.”
“I just hate the way he tries to bulldoze you considering that…” he began to argue once again.
“Russ, I’m a married woman who only has eyes for her husband and I don’t care what kind of temptation Brant tries to lay upon me,” she wrapped her arms around his neck, “my heart belongs to only you.”
“I just love you so damned much, Avery,” he confessed dropping a tender kiss upon her lips.
“Which is why I know we can make this work,” she whispered warmly against his skin, “We can find a way to get our careers in focus and hey, maybe we can even persuade Grady to come to our side.”
“Now, that might take a miracle,” Russell sighed heavily, “as I know how impossible me can be…”
“Even so, I’m not going to let him ruin the best thing in my life and if I have to bite my tongue and suppress that desire I have to strangle him every time I see him, well I’m willing to give it a try for us,” she admitted openly, “It’ll be hard, but I will try.”
He pressed his forehead against hers as a sigh spilled over his lips as well, “And I’ll do my best not to murder Brant the next time he looks at you like he’s imagining all the ways he can get you naked.”
“I know you can do it,” she wrapped her arms around him, “We can do this baby.  I have that much faith in us.”
“So do I,” he decided pulling her more completely into his arms as the faint sounds of tapping on the door to their room registered in his mind.
“Sounds like we have company,” Avery groaned sinking her head against his shoulder as she hugged him tighter.
“Your father said he’d be returning about now,” he whispered against her neck, “We invited him and Judy back, remember?”
“I know,” she nodded in response holding him tighter, “but I hate it when we have these tiffs between us and then we have to cut this short without properly making up…”
“Oh don’t think I haven’t already planned on us properly making up later,” he threw out a teasing grin, “as I’m thinking that our make up session should involve that little number Judy bought for us…”
“Somehow I had a feeling it would,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh as she swatted at his chest, “but for now, we need to go answer the door for my father.”
“I’ll take care of that as I’d like to have a few words with him about what happened earlier,” he explained as her eyes widened in response, “No, not about what went on in the tub, but more so about the railing incident.”
“Oh,” she let out a breath of relief, “well I don’t know how much help he can be on that.”
“Well he’s a lawyer and if I’m planning to have a lawsuit going,” he shrugged his shoulders putting her down carefully on the floor.
“Hey, I’m a lawyer too,” Avery’s lip curled in a pout.
“Yes honey, but your father is so much more intimidating,” he winked at her, “Believe me I would know first hand on this one considering that time and time again I thought he was going to murder me for things that happened similar to what we just did in that tub.”
“Point taken,” she couldn’t help but smile at the look on his face, “Now go let him in so that I can get dressed before we have to explain ourselves again.”
“Baby, we’re on our honeymoon.  I think that speaks for itself,” he winked at her leaving the bathroom as Avery thought about the future they had ahead of them back in Coral Valley.  Despite the things going on beyond their honeymoon suite, Avery realized that one way or another she’d find a way to make things work as her life with Russ and their baby was her top priority even if that meant changing the way things were back home.  One way or the other she was bound and determined to make things as perfect as possible for them as she’d come too far to have this happiness in her life and she refused to let it slip away without a fight.


Deidra glanced beside her as Christian lay on his back with his eyes closed, basking in the tropical evening sun. She turned away from him and felt her heart quiver within her chest.

What had she done? She’d never engaged in casual sex, not even in college. And yet somehow she’d flung off her inhibitions and jumped the bones of the first man who’d shown interest.
She sat up and glanced around for her clothes. She quickly pulled her shirt on and swept her hair from under the collar. She glanced back to Christian and felt regret hit her with a harsh chill. She’d never been very good when it came to alcohol, but she’d never found herself so desperate as to engage in casual sex.

She took a deep breath as she stood and tugged her shorts into place. She ran her fingers through her hair and fashioned a makeshift bun at her neck as she glanced around, wanting in this moment to get as far from this place as possible.

“Deidra?” Christian asked as he turned on the blanket, reaching out for her. When he didn’t find her, he opened his eyes and looked around, “Deidra?”

“Christian,” She spoke softly, “Uhm, I need to get back to the hotel.”

“I’ll take you,” He volunteered quickly as he sat up and reached for his shorts.

“No, that’s okay. I could use the fresh air,” She said quickly.

“Deidra, did I do something wrong? Have I upset you in some way?” He questioned as he pulled his shorts over his hips and started to stand.

“No, I just don’t do this sort of thing,” She stammered as she spotted headlights down the road, “And I’m afraid this was all a huge mistake,” She said as she started down the road towards the source of the lights.

“Wait,” He called out, “I’ll take you back to the hotel. I owe you at least that much.”

“No, that’s okay,” Deidra said as she ran faster towards the lights and flagged down a passing truck, asking quickly for a ride. The driver agreed, and she walked around the truck to get in. As the truck began down the road, Deidra looked out the window and allowed her tears to fall. While she had been heartbroken before, she now felt somehow more lonely than she had ever been before.


Christian cursed as he tugged his shirt into place. He placed his hands on his hips and glanced towards the camera case nearby. He nudged the case with his foot and the flap fell open, revealing a long jagged blade lurking within. While he hadn’t been able to conclude his business with Deidra, he’d soon make his presence known to his beloved…and be sure to make her honeymoon unforgettable.


“Oh this is good,” Angela murmured unable to contain the moan that spilled from upon her lips as she closed her eyes taking in the sensations that rippled through her body as the warmth of the sun seduced her senses.
“And to think you had your doubts,” Brant shook his head at her as a tiny laugh erupted from the back of his throat, “I told you I was the best baby and I meant every word of it,” he leaned in closer to her his voice darkening with desire as his hand pressed upon her thigh, “in and out of bed.”
“Alright I stand corrected,” she reopened her eyes seeing the pride the washed over his features, “Your culinary talents are amazing.”
“As I promised you they would be,” Brant boasted proudly reaching out under the small table that was set up on her patio as his finger tips teased over the hint of her leg now peaking out from beneath the white robe she was wearing.  As she lifted another forkful of omelet to her passion swelled lips, his grin expanded and he urged her foot up into his lap, “See, I told you that today was your lucky day as you’ve gotten a taste of heaven all around as you know it’s not every day you’re with a man like me.”
“So you keep reminding me,” she laughed feeling his finger tease over the bottom of her foot as a tiny giggle erupted from within, “Brant, stop…”
“Stop what,” he questioned massaging her foot as he rested it upon his lap, “this…” he teased his fingers over her ankle taking his time to play over the top of her foot, down to the bottom once again, “you’re not enjoying this?”
“I’m trying to eat here,” she explained squirming beneath his touch as he tugged on her leg gently urging her to lean in towards him so he could ease his fingers more completely up over her, “and you’re a distraction.”
“The best kind of distraction I’m sure,” he inched his chair in towards her as he tipped forward seeking out her mouth as she just finished dropping another bite of omelet between her lips.  Swiping at the bite as his tongue dipped between her parted lips, he swallowed the stolen morsel before leaning back in his chair with her foot in his lap, “Damn I am good, aren’t I?”
“You know I almost regret overworking your ego today,” Angela teased in response as she wiggled her toes in his lap feeling his body respond to her as she feigned an air of casual conversation pretending not to notice his immediate reaction to her teasing, “because I’m starting to think you believe you’re some kind of sex god here.”
“Sweetie, we both know just how good I am and how hot for me you are,” he leaned in towards her collecting another kiss from her and with a quick tug dropped her foot from his lap replacing it with her in one swift movement, “and boy now that we’re on the subject are you ever hot yourself.”
“Brant,” she felt a heat rise over her features as he beckoned her for another kiss, “you don’t need much down time, do you?”
“Not at all,” he shook his head proudly as his lips played over the curve of her neck, “especially not when I’m alone with such a beautiful woman.”
“And here I thought that I was making some progress in getting out here on the patio,” she teased in response as a sigh escaped from her now parted lips.
“Oh we’re making progress here, though I’m thinking that maybe we’ll still have to take a return journey to that waterbed of yours,” his eyes lit up with mischief as he held her, “You failed to mention that minor detail when I took you to bed the first time.”
“I think you handled yourself quite well considering,” she shifted in his lap offering him a forkful of the omelet he’d prepared for her as a smile touched over her beautiful, passion spent features.
“Of course I did,” he boasted proudly, “Santa wanted me to give you a Christmas to remember as he had a very big present for you this year…”
“That he did,” she kicked her legs out over the side of the chair straddling him as their eyes connected, “and I must confess that you’ve learned the art of mastering that amazing equipment you’ve been given very well.”
“It takes skill,” Brant sighed heavily as his fingers dropped over her thighs teasing open the robe she was wearing at the bottom, “and not every man is as fortunate as I am as a lot of them fall short in some areas.”
“Hmm…what ever are you referring to,” she teased taking a bite of the food on the table before offering him another forkful.
“Well, for starters take this guy who left this robe here,” he motioned to the navy colored robe he’d been wearing as Angela had pulled it out of her closet for him when they’d opted to go outdoors, “What ever was he thinking in leaving such an erotic woman like you when you’re every man’s fantasy.”
“There you go again with all that flattery,” Angela chuckled in response, “You don’t ever give up, do you?”
“Not when I know I’ve got a sure thing in my arms,” he answered openly as his hands curled around the knotted sash of her robe, “So tell me, how did Mr. Navy Robe size up in the grand scheme of things?”
“You really want to know,” she lifted a curious brow.
“Sure, why not,” he nodded in response, “I mean I have to find a way to bide my time while you work on getting some protein in your system before I have my way with you again, so sure go for it.  Lay the awful truth on me about the moron who let you go.”
“Well, for starters,” her fingers fanned out over his shoulders as she offered up a heavy sigh, “He was a boxer…”
“A boxer you say,” he eyed her curiously, “as in someone who gets paid to beat other guys up for sport.”
“As in exactly someone who gets paid to beat up other guys,” Angela teased tasting of his lips again, “and he’d often try to beat up the guys who wanted to sleep with his girlfriend for the sheer thrill of it…”
“Hence the root of his insecurities,” Brant teased with a wink, “as they say that men who are trying to overcompensate with violence are lacking something…shall I say that’s quite useful in the sack?”
“Awfully presumptuous, aren’t you?” she slide her pale pink colored finger nails down his shoulders over the hem of the robe.
“Given the way you were screaming back in the bedroom, I’m pretty sure I’m dead on that he wasn’t cutting it for you there,” he winked back up at her as a heat rose over her cheeks and the crimson color filled her features.  He dropped his hands in beneath her robe, kneading her full bottom gingerly, “Okay so score one on my end.”
“Okay, so he wasn’t the greatest in bed,” Angela conceded with a half smile, “but for a while he seemed like he was someone I could enjoy spending time with.”
“So what happened to tinkle toes,” Brant inquired further, “Come to your senses and ditch him in the hopes that you’d one day meet a man like me?”
“I dreaded the day I’d meet a man like you because Brant you’re nothing but trouble,” she confessed openly as his fingers dipped in between her thighs.
“But we both know that you love trouble,” he brushed his finger up inside of her as a soft moan built up in the back of her throat.
“Brant please…” she hissed looking around the beach as he continued to stroke her leisurely.
“Oh honey, I love it when you beg,” he hummed at the base of her throat with teasing nips as she placed her hands on his shoulders putting a distance between them.
“Is sex the only thing you ever think about?" she questioned straining to suppress the slow moan building up inside of her.
"Today with you it is," he assured her proudly, “and from what I’ve seen so far, you’re rather enjoying my one track mind.”
“Even so,” she shook her head as her damp, dark tendrils of hair swept around her face, framing it beautifully, “you think you’d be able to fake it for a few minutes here so that I can fully appreciate this cooking of yours…”
“Okay you’ve got me on that one,” he agreed stilling his fingers for the briefest of moments before gazing up into her dark eyes, “so what’s on your mind beautiful?”
“Well for starters how is it that I wound up with you practically on my doorstep,” she questioned lazily as his fingers began to stir up the same familiar sensations inside of her, “Brant…”
“Some call it fate,” he whispered bringing his free hand up into her hair as he pulled her into a savory, tantalizing kiss, “I call it destiny.”
“Hmm…well tell me then what kind of man did destiny bring upon my doorstep,” she replied in a low, throaty whisper as she eased her fingers down over the center of the blue robe he was wearing tapering inside over his chest, “considering the only thing I know about you is your first name…”
“And the fact that I’m an excellent chef,” he winked up at her, “and that I have this little trick that I can use to bring you to orgasm again and again if you’re willing to play nice…”
“Besides all that,” she coaxed further, “Brant, tell me something about you…something real…”
“Doesn’t that go against the game we’re playing?” he lifted a curious brow ceasing movement as he eyed her intently.
“I thought you were all about breaking the rules,” she threw his words back at him, “Feeling fearful now?”
“Never,” he shook his head defiantly, “so tell me, what do you want to know?”
“Well for starters how about your last name?” she suggested gingerly fingering the hair on his chest.  “How’s that?”
“Too risky,” he shook his head in response, “considering that I’m quite certain you won’t give me yours.”
“Point taken,” she nodded in response, “Okay so how about a more neutral ground here?”
“Such as?”
“What do you do for a living, Brant?” she inquired as curiosity brewed behind her brown eyes.
“You mean other than spending my time seducing beautiful women such as yourself,” he winked up at her as she poked at his ribs.
“I knew you were such a player,” she rolled her eyes at his response, “but seriously…what do you do…”
“Honestly,” he paused contemplating his words for a long moment, “I work for the family business.”
“Gee, that’s all the information you’re going to give me,” she shook her head in heavy disapproval, “that’s not saying much.  You make it sound cryptic like it’s the mob or something you’re tied in to.”
“Would that frighten you if that were the case?” he raised a curious brow.
“No, not really because you wouldn’t be my first boyfriend with mob ties,” she paused thinking about her words, “well you know what I mean…”
“Boyfriend huh,” Brant teased back tickling at her sides, “is that what you’d like me to be today?  Your boyfriend?”
“Brant, stop,” she laughed heartily as she wiggled in his lap, “Brant…”
“Well?  I’m waiting for an answer,” he tapped his foot on the top of the patio impatiently.
“What do you want to be, Brant,” she questioned seriousness flooding over her as their eyes reconnected.
Brant paused for a long moment contemplating his words as he memorized her beautiful features.  In so many ways she was incredible--everything he’d envisioned his time with Avery to be as he held her, but as she questioned him on what was next, he found himself at a loss as he wasn’t quite certain what direction they were suddenly taking with one another.  Instead of being honest about the conflicting thoughts in his head, he threw her a sexy, suave smile and spoke out smoothly.
“I’m rather enjoying the role of your lover,” he tipped in towards her nibbling on her neck once again.
“I just bet you are,” she sighed bringing her fingers through his hair as she urged him to meet his eyes once again, “Brant, come on.  Quit playing games.  Tell me something real so that I’ll have something to go on here when you break my heart and leave me missing what we have…” she feigned seriousness as she placed her hand to her chest with heavy mocking emphasis.
“Okay,” he sighed taking in a slow breath, “my family has a pharmaceutical company.  It’s not much, but it’s something to do…”
“So you work for the family pharmaceutical business?” she arched her brow curiously, “Doing what?”
“I thought this was give and take here.  You know tit for tat,” he began to unknot the sash on her robe, “Tell me Angela, what do you do?”
“You haven’t given me a sufficient answer yet.  I’m not playing along with you,” she shook her head in response bringing her fingers down over his to stop him mid-movement.
“Okay,” Brant offered up with a heavy sigh, “I do promotions mostly.  You know going place to place trying to push the product we‘re plugging at the moment.”
“I knew it,” she chuckled with obvious amusement, “With your suave, smooth words, I should’ve known you were in sales.”
“Oh you should’ve huh,” he tickled at her sides again, “You think you’re so smart, don’t you?”
“I have my good days there,” she nodded in confession, “and sometimes I have a knack for reading people, though lately I’ve been a bit off on that.”
“But you think you’ve got me read huh?”
“Like an open book,” she divulged as she released his hands and her own returned to his chest, “though you’ve pulled a few surprises on me since I’ve met you.”
“And I plan to keep on surprising you,” he promised collecting her lips in another tantalizing kiss, “but first tell me what keeps your days busy other than walking through my fantasies all the time when we‘re not living them out.”
“Well since I’m such a busy girl,” she winked at him, “I do try to find the time to do some work for the family business as well.”
“Hmm, hence your mafia ties?” he questioned playfully.
“That would excite you wouldn’t it considering how you live to flirt with danger, huh,” she traced his lips with her index finger.
“I love danger and the kind of trouble a woman like you brings,” he pulled her more completely into his arms discarding with the sash on her robe.
“I just think you like my enthusiasm where you’re concerned as it does wonders for your massive ego,” she retorted with a sexy smile.
“You just reaffirm all the reasons why I think you and I belong together,” he shrugged his shoulders, “and if along the way we give each other something good to think about well, who am I to challenge that?”
“You somehow strike me as the kind of guy to challenge everything,” Angela shook her head in response denying him access to her as he tried to open her robe.
“Come on baby,” he curled his lip in a pout, “you know you want to give something new a try.”
“At the moment, I think I’m taking a risk with your cooking,” she explained finishing off the omelet before directing her full attention on him once again.
“You know you loved it,” he touched her cheek gently before a seriousness fell over his features, “so are you going to tell me what my dream girl does for a living or are you going to keep me guessing about all those hot jobs you have on the side driving men wild with desire like you do me?”
“I wish it was that exciting, but I must confess I’m not the vixen you think I am as I make it a rule never ever to get involved in something like this,” she leaned forward nibbling on his bottom lip, “this breaks every one of the guidelines I’ve set for myself.”
“And you’re loving living outside the boundaries you’ve set for yourself, aren’t you,” he cajoled her as his eyes lit up with that same look of madness that Angela was sure would be her undoing.
“You know I think maybe it’s time we finish with the truth telling for now,” she pulled herself up from his lap untangling her legs over him as she turned in the direction of her beach house, “but this has been fun, Brant.”
“I’m not finished with you yet,” he tugged on the tie of her robe that was still in hand as he rose up from his seat catching her off guard as he pinned her in beneath him and the door wall to the beach house. His lips dipped down over the back of her neck as his words heatedly struck against her soft skin, “I didn’t say you could leave just yet…”
“And I wasn’t asking your permission,” she cut back sharply feeling his fingers slide open her robe as she inhaled a slow breath struggling to find the courage to keep Brant begging for more, but as his palm pressed in over her breast, she felt her robe fall to the base of the patio pooling around her feet.  His body pressed in against hers as she felt a lump build in the back of her throat at the skin to skin contact between them as she spun around to discover he’d dispensed with his robe baring all to anyone who dared to walk by on the beach as he wrapped his arms around her.
“You don’t really want to leave just yet do you,” he whispered warmly against her lips as he kissed her urgently.
“Brant,” she felt a heat rise over her body as she threw her arms around him peeking over his shoulder as she realized what a risk they were taking by being out in the open with one another, “someone’s going to see us out here.”
“Good, then they’ll see all the good things they’re missing out on as we sizzle when we‘re together,” he promised collecting another heated kiss from her as he sensed her apprehension about making such a bold move, “Sweetie, you know you’re just dying to break free of all those inhibitions that have been holding you back.  You’ve done so good thus far,” his dark eyes beckoned hers as he eased his fingers over the soft skin of her shoulders before dropping his tone a bit, “if you really want to back inside we can…if that’s really what you want to do…”
“No, I don‘t want to go back inside just yet,” she shook her head feeling her stomach tied in knots as she squeezed him closer to her kissing him as she allowed Brant to peel away at her reservations and turn her into the one thing she’d never imagined being as his kisses were the sweet torture that seemed to melt away all the rules she’d set for herself as she realized that Brant was changing her life in the most unexpected ways as he’d turned her world upside down.
“Good girl,” he encouraged her proudly realizing that his time with Angela was exactly what he needed to bring back that thing that had been missing in his lackluster life for so very long and as he pulled Angela over to him ready to live out a few more wild fantasies that played in his mind, he realized that he was back again and better than ever.


“So what’s next on the agenda,” Heather questioned in a cheerful tone keeping up with Diego as she was well aware of the fact that he’d been trying to keep as minimal contact between them as possible after he’d laid that kiss on her earlier in the day.  Even now she could feel the distinct sizzle of his lips upon hers as she was more curious than ever to get a moment alone with this man who’d somehow made it his mission to be a part of her life.  Strangely enough after that kiss, Heather was finding the idea not to be entirely awful if they’d give kissing another try, but with the wall Diego had put up in his retreat, she realized getting another kiss like that might be a bit of a battle, but then again was he really worth that kind of attention?  As he spun around to face her looking less than enthusiastic, she wondered if maybe he wasn’t after all she was about to be Mrs. Cameron Stone and a psychiatrist like Diego Hernandez certainly couldn‘t compete with a man like that.
“We have one more patient to visit,” he answered politely as an edge of agitation filled his otherwise cool and patient tone, “and I must admit that I’m quite impressed with how you’ve been holding up today…”
“I think you’re more impressed with what it was like to kiss me considering the way you’re looking at me,” Heather wiggled a bit to get a reaction out of him as he shook his head at her.
“Right now, I’m ready to pay Randy Henderson a visit, so please behave yourself,” Diego warned sharply.
“You’re the one who’s been bent on misbehaving Santa as you felt you had something to prove,” she huffed tossing her hair back over her shoulders, “and now that you got it out of your system, know that was your last opportunity to do something like what you did earlier in kissing me.”
“Trust me, there won’t be a repeat performance,” Diego announced heading into Randy’s room as he saw Randy with his parents at his side, with Randy’s father Jay reading a Christmas book to their son.
“Why hello,” Kelly’s eyes perked up as she saw Diego dressed in the costume before her, “Randy, look who’s here.”
Randy’s eyes darted up from the game he’d been playing while listening to his father and as he gave Diego a once over, he shrugged his shoulders before turning his focus to the game again, “Hey Dr. Hernandez.”
“Hey, I’m supposed to be Santa,” Diego teased stepping towards him.
“Yeah well I appreciate the attempt, but I’m not like all the other kids out here,” Randy turned to look up at him once again, “I know who you are and I could know it without having to look up as I’m really a smart kid you know.”
“There’s no getting anything past you huh,” Diego tugged at the itchy beard he’d been wearing, “So how are you feeling Randy?”
“I’d be better if I was at home because I hate having to spend Christmas in here,” Randy confessed as Heather suddenly came into his line of vision and he perked up almost immediately his demeanor shifting as his smile grew in wattage and he greeted her with a bright eyed expression, “Why hello beautiful.”
“Hey cutie,” Heather stepped in beside him as she motioned to the game in his hand, “What are you playing?”
“Tetris,” he answered holding his gameboy out towards her, “I know it’s pretty old school, but it’s an okay game when there’s nothing else to do.”
“Hmm, well I happen to think Tetris is more than okay,” Heather reached for his gameboy, “as I happen to love the game.”
“Really?” his eyes widened in surprise as he looked to Diego curling his finger for Diego to come in closer to him as he whispered, “Who’s she?”
“This is my helper for the day,” Diego explained with a hint of a smile, “Her name is Heather.”
“Well hi Heather,” Randy grinned up at her, “How’s it going?”
“It’s going pretty good right about now,” Heather replied cheerfully as she watched Randy scoot over on his bed a bit.
“I’ll bet Dr. Hernandez has kept you busy all day long huh?” he nodded to the empty part of the bed beside him, “You can take a seat if you’d like as I’m sure you’ll want to take a load off your feet.”
“Hmm, well I suppose I could do that, but only if you let me challenge you to a game of Tetris.”

“You’re on,” Randy agreed as Diego watched the exchange between Randy and Heather for a moment.
“Dr. Hernandez,” Jay cleared his throat standing up from the chair he’d been perched in for quite some time, “Could we have a word with you for a moment out in the hall?”
“Of course,” Diego nodded looking to Heather, “Will you be okay for a few minutes alone here?”
“She’s in good hands with me,” Randy waved Diego away as he scooted in closer to Heather watching as she continued to play his game.  Once the adults left the room, Randy spoke up to Heather again curiously, “You’re pretty good at this game.  I mean for a total babe you’re like majorly breaking my high score today.”
“We babe have a tendency to have a knack for these sort of games every now and then,” she laughed in response, “but then again I have a secret to tell you.”
“What’s that?” Randy questioned brimming over with curiosity.
“Tetris was one of my favorite games when I was younger and I still play it a lot when I have a lot on my mind,” Heather confided handing the game over to him as Randy nodded in response.
“Me too,” he sighed heavily, “and in being in this hospital all the time, I think about to wear this thing out as I’m always trying to get things off my mind in between having my parents being worried about what’s going to happen to me and where we’ll be once I’m out of the hospital--if I wind up getting out of the hospital.”
“Oh I’m sure that things will be okay,” she offered supportively not quite sure what to say as a sadness filled behind his eyes.
“Now you sound like the doctors,” he sighed heavily, “and my parents, but you know I’m not a little kid anymore.  I know more than they think I do and I think that my mom and dad really believe that I’m going to die eventually and hey, I guess I’m okay with that…”
“Why would you say that, Randy,” Heather gasped unable to contain her surprise at hearing someone so young sound so at ease with the thought of his own mortality, “You’ve still got a lot of living to do you know…”
“Yeah well, I don’t think being stuck in this hospital is much living, but my parents want me to get better and when I’m here, well they’re not living their lives the way they should be because they worry about me and with the bills, well I heard my mom crying last night because of everything that’s happened because of our home making me sick.  My dad thought I was sleeping and I heard my mom say that she wished this was all over, so maybe if somehow I didn’t have to be around anymore…”
“Don’t say that,” she interrupted firmly, “Randy, don’t ever say anything like that because your parents love you very much and I’m sure with you being here, well they only want what’s best for you…”
“How can it be what’s best when they are losing everything because I got sick?  I mean I know that everyone said it’s not my fault, but even if our house was the reason why…It’s just not fair you know.”
“No, it’s not fair and I won’t lie to you and tell you that life is fair because it’s really not,” Heather offered openly, “But Randy, you seem like a really bright guy and I think you’ve got a lot going for you.  I mean hey I’ve never seen someone so good at Tetris before….well, besides myself and all.”
“Well it comes from a lot of practice,” he shrugged his shoulders, “It’s nothing to really brag about…”
“Of course it is,” Heather argued with him, “In fact, I now know why Santa had this up his sleeve for you,” she pulled out a few small packages and handed them over to Randy, “as I think that you’re going to enjoy them.”
“What is it?” he questioned curiously.
“Well, if you want my guess, I’d say they’re games and if I were you, I’d open the box that’s second from the bottom there as that’s one of my own personal favorite,” Heather offered up watching as he tore open the package and his eyes fell upon the latest edition of a racing game that was new on the market, “I have that one at home and it rocks.”
“Seriously,” he pulled open the package quickly inserting it into his game boy, “then we totally have to try it out.”
Heather watched him getting into his game as she looked out into the hallway catching little bits and pieces of the conversation going on between Diego and Randy’s parents.  While she wasn’t able to make out much more than the fact that they were worried about Randy’s medical bills and some lawsuit that was pending due to Randy’s condition, she could see that both of his parents were clearly going through some kind of turmoil as Diego spoke to them in his usual, cool and caring demeanor and as she watched Randy’s mother break into tears, she looked to the boy beside her again wondering just what was wrong with him.
“This game rocks.  You were so right, Heather,” Randy held the Gameboy out towards her, “Want to give it a try?”
“Actually, I have it at home myself,” Heather reached into her purse pulling out the wad of bills that Douglas had thrown at her not so long ago.  She’d kept it in the bottom of her purse as a reminder of his heartless attitude and the way he’d tried to buy her way out of Kipp’s life.  At one point in time, she’d thought about spending it, about blowing it shamelessly on something she’d probably discard later, but once she’d learned she was pregnant, she’d held onto it thinking about her unborn child, but now that she was on the threshold of becoming Mrs. Cameron Stone, well she decided it was time to let go of that piece of her past.
“So you don’t want to try it then,” Randy’s lip curled in a pout.
“Not now, but Randy I do need to ask a favor from you,” Heather lowered her voice as a seriousness slipped over her tone.
“Sure, anything,” he nodded eagerly.
“When Dr. Hernandez and I leave, will you give this to your parents,” she handed him the wad of bills she’d extracted from her purse, “Don’t tell them where it came from other than it was a gift from Santa.  Do you think you can do that?”
“I sure can,” he nodded his eyes widening in surprise.
“Good, then you can also keep a fifty for yourself and have your dad get another game for you when you get bored of the others,” Heather rubbed the top of his head gently, “That way you can say that you had some fun this Christmas even if you were stuck in the hospital.”
“This is like so cool…” Randy looked to the money that filled the palm of his small hand, “but I don’t know if I can accept this considering that…”
“Consider it a present from a friend who wants to see you stop thinking the worst and start getting better,” Heather encourage him, “Think you can give it a try for me?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he nodded after a moment’s contemplation before giving her a sideways glance, “Heather, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, go for it,” she replied with a soft smile.
“Why are you doing this?  I mean why are you just giving me money like this,” he inquired curiously, “as grown ups don’t just do those sort of things you know…”
“Let’s just say that a long time ago I felt like you do,” she explained with a sad smile, “I know what it’s like when Christmas isn’t what you want it to be and your family is having a rough time and it’s no fun at all.  I told myself a long time ago that I’d never watch another kid go through that and I don’t want to see you have to do it either.”
“Thanks Heather, but…”
“But nothing,” she smiled at him, “Can’t a girl do something nice for a cute guy like you?”
“Well since you put it that way,” he beamed as he eyed her closely, “So do you have any kids?”
“Not yet,” Heather replied as she thought of her unborn child, “but soon I probably will.”
“Well when you do, I think you’re going to be a great mom,” he decided with a smile, “and you know I think you and Dr. Hernandez make a cute couple…”
“Dr. Hernandez,” she repeated surprised by his words, “Oh no Randy, we’re just friends and that’s why I’m here because…”
“Heather, I saw him kiss you in the hallway,” Randy confessed as a blush rose over his features, “I was out there when I saw him take off the beard and that’s how I knew he’d be coming around later.  When I saw you two kissing, well my mom and dad are that way too and I’m happy for you.  Dr. Hernandez is really cool and I never knew he’d have such a hot girlfriend.”
“Well, we’re not…” Heather began again.
“Well if you’re thinking about having kids with him,” Randy continued ignoring her words, “He’s a fun guy and he’s going to make a great dad.  And I just know you’re going to be an awesome mom as well so there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll have a very happy kid as well.”
“You sure think a lot about things here, don’t you,” Heather couldn’t help but laugh thinking about his enthusiasm for her non-existent relationship with Diego.
“Hey, I know fireworks when I see them,” Randy shrugged his shoulders, “and I tell my parents that all the time, but they think I’m just being silly.  Still when Dr. Hernandez kissed you before my mom even agreed that was something and she was happy too.”
“She was huh?” Heather lifted a curious brow.
“Yeah because Dr. Hernandez doesn’t smile as much as he should, she said.  Though I see him smiling a lot tonight and hey, I’d be smiling too if I had a girlfriend like you.”
“Well, maybe we can work on that,” Heather winked at him, “How would you like a girlfriend for the next few minutes here?”
“Seriously?” his eyes widened in response.
“Sure, I mean Dr. Hernandez won’t mind if I’m your honorary girlfriend right now and we play a few video games together,” she flashed him a bright smile.  “What do you say?”
“You’re on,” Randy reached for his Gameboy settling into a racing match with Heather as she felt the spirit of Christmas reaching out to her in spending time with this little boy even if she truly hadn’t wanted to be in such a place on Christmas, though maybe all in all tonight wasn’t so bad…though she was still certain she’d give Diego hell for bringing her here, but for the moment Randy was at the top of her list of priorities as she was about to engage in a heated game of racing--one that she was determined to win.


“Dinner smells great,” Grady announced with anticipation as he and Jade shed their coats, “I take it Seth dabbles in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, that’s me. Chef Seth Alexander,” Seth grinned dryly from the kitchen doorway, “Merry Christmas.”

“To you too,” Grady said as Jade crossed the room and hugged her brother.

“Merry Christmas, Seth,” Jade said as she hugged him.

“You’re feeling very gushy today, aren’t you?” Seth asked with a raised eyebrow as he held his sister at arm’s length, “What’s that all about?”

“You know how I am. Show me a little Christmas spirit and I’m floating on air,” Jade grinned as Ria stepped out of the kitchen wiping her hands on a dish towel, “Oh, now see, there’s the actual chef,” She chuckled as Seth gave her a nudge, “Grady, this is Ria. She and Seth went to school together, and she’s always been a part of the family.”

“Glad to know someone appreciates me,” Ria noted as she smacked Seth with the towel, “Get back in there. The potatoes need smashing, and you’re the muscle in this place.”

“Bossy,” Seth rolled his eyes before he stepped back into the kitchen.

Jade smiled as she glanced to Ria, “I take it your family is out of the country once again, huh?”

“Aren’t they always?” Ria shook her head as she motioned towards the table for them all to take a seat, “Dad’s in Africa, and Mom is in Indonesia. I didn’t want to have to take that much time off from the hospital to travel all over the world to see them.”

“What do your parents do?” Grady asked as he held out a chair for Jade to sit before he and Ria sat down at the same moment.

“My father is with Doctors Without Borders,” Ria explained, “And my mother is with the UN’s medical relief agency. They’re two do-gooders out to save the world,” She shook her head with a grin, “When I said I wanted to do my residency state-side I thought they were both going to flip.”

“Still, they must be proud that their daughter followed in their footsteps in pursuing medicine,” Grady smiled.

“Yeah, they are,” Ria nodded, “But they’re a little disappointed that I don’t want to live in some third world country doing public service for the rest of my life,” She shrugged, “Oh well…I get enough poverty cases in the ER at the hospital to know that there’s plenty of work to be done here in the US.”

“Sounds like you might have a little of their noble sense of mind after all,” Jade teased, “Can I get everyone something to drink?”

“Soda, please,” Ria smiled before shrugging, “I have to work in the morning, and the last thing I need at five am is a hangover from wine.”

“I’ll second that one,” Grady announced as Jade stood and went into the kitchen.

Jade smiled as she moved to the cupboard, watching as Seth finished spooning the smashed potatoes into a serving bowl, “Grady’s right. It does smell good in here.”

“Thank you,” Seth said proudly as he placed the empty pot into the sink and ran water into it, “You two look like you’ve made up quite nicely.”

“We still have a ways to go,” She replied, “But we’re working on it,” She said as she began placing ice in four glasses, “What about you? Are you going to sit around and mope about losing Blake for the rest of your life? Or are you going to move on with it?”

“Ask me that question tomorrow,” He answered as he placed a serving spoon in the potatoes, “Right now, I don’t know quite how I would begin to go about it.”

She looked to her brother for a moment before she poured soda into each of the glasses, “Fair enough. I won’t push it.”

“Are you sure you’re feeling alright over there?” He teased, “It’s not like you to let a subject drop.”

“Yeah well, maybe I’m feeling generous because it’s Christmas,” She teased before she gathered the four glasses in her hands and precariously made her way back into the dining area.

Seth smiled as he moved to the stove and uncovered the ham he’d cooked earlier. He lifted the tray and carried it into the dining area, “If I can get a few hands in the kitchen, we’ll get all this food out here a lot sooner,” He teased as he placed the ham on the table.

“I’ll help,” Grady volunteered as he stood and followed Seth back into the kitchen.

Ria smiled as she looked towards Jade, “He seems like an okay guy.”

Jade smiled proudly, “He is. He can be difficult at times, but who isn’t?” She rolled her eyes teasingly.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Ria teased in return as she sipped her soda.

Grady and Seth returned each carrying several bowls of various food items. After the men placed the dishes upon the table and took their seats, they all joined hands and said a blessing for their food. After the blessing was complete, Seth looked towards Grady, “Did you have a good Christmas gathering with your family?”

“Yeah we did. My mom was thrilled to have a lady in the house to dote on,” Grady teased, “It was just me and my brother growing up. I think all the testosterone has intimidated her for years.”

“I can see why,” Jade teased as they began to pass the dishes around and take their servings, “All those guys around and not enough females to balance them out. That’s always scary.”

“I don’t know,” Ria said with a grin, “I always kind of liked it.”

“Oh god, just because you were one of the guys anyway,” Seth grumbled as he passed her the potatoes.

“Be careful with that tongue of yours, Seth, or I swear you’ll be wearing these pretty little spuds before the night is over,” Ria warned before she dipped out a small serving and passed the bowl around to Grady.

“Ouch,” Grady frowned as he looked to Seth, “Do you ever win an argument around here?”

“Not often,” Seth replied as he looked between the girls who smiled proudly at their sisterhood.

“Well that just isn’t right,” Grady declared, “It looks like you and I are going to have to bond here just to ward off the estrogen brigade.”

Seth grinned as Jade cut Grady a nasty look, “I’m liking you more and more all the time.”

Jade raised an eyebrow towards Seth, “There just might be hope for you yet, big brother,” She teased before grabbing a role, pinching off a bite and tossing it at him.

“Hey, knock that off. You don’t want a repeat of last year, do you?” Seth warned.

“No,” Jade giggled, “I’m still finding green beans under the sofa cushions.”

“What happened last year?” Grady asked as he took a sip of his soda.

“We got into a huge food fight because my sister can’t seem to keep her food on her plate,” Seth teased, “It got more than a little out of control as it left this general area and took over the entire apartment.”

“Sounds like you had a good time though,” Ria noted as she nibbled on a roll.

“We always do,” Seth smiled as he winked at Jade, “Even if she does get a little rowdy with her food.”

“Hey, I have a partner this year, pal,” Jade warned as she looked across the table to Ria, “And we’ll take you out if you don’t behave.”

Grady grinned as he leaned forward a bit, “If war breaks out, I’ve got your back,” He assured Seth as Jade kicked him under the table, “Hey…what was that for?”

“Fraternizing with the enemy,” Jade said seriously.

“Well I just can’t sit back and watch you double team the poor guy,” Grady said honestly.

“Try…hard,” Jade warned as she tossed a green bean towards Seth.

“Okay little sister, you’re asking for it,” Seth said as he flung a spoonful of potatoes towards her.

“Oh!” Jade squealed as she took a handful from her plate and slung it towards her brother.

Grady chuckled as he sat back, “Something tells me that dinner is going to more of a take what you can get affair.”

Seth took a handful of yams and threw it at Jade. Ria shook her head as she took a spoonful of gravy and slapped it towards Seth. Grady shook his head as he stood from the table and took a handful of stuffing in his hand ready to engage in battle. Food began to fly furiously as all involved decided war was officially declared. Giggles, shouts, victory cries, and laughter echoed throughout the apartment, announcing that a Merry Christmas was to be had by all.


Wayne smiled as he stepped into the house and hugged his mother, “Merry Christmas, Mom.”

“Wayne!” Dorothy shouted as she hugged her son close, “I had no idea you were coming tonight,” She admitted as she held her son tightly, “It’s go good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too,” He said as he returned her warm hug, “You look like a million dollars.”

“We both know that’s a lie, but I’ll let it slide,” She teased as she looked at him, “You look so good. I guess graduate school isn’t keeping you completely tucked away from getting out and about, huh?”

“It does its best, but I’ve always been determined to have my own way,” He teased as he took off his coat, “Where’s Dad?”

“He’s upstairs,” She said as she led him to the sofa, “When did you get in? I thought you had a thesis that you would be working on.”

“Well, I was, but I did enough before I left to buy me some quality time with my family,” He informed her, “Besides, I think spending the holidays with my family means more than a paper.”

“Okay, what’s brought about that philosophical observation?” She asked pointedly.

“I stopped by to see Jen,” He explained, “She’s pretty upset.”

Dorothy’s expression faded, “Is she okay?”

“She’s dealing with it…in the kind of way that only Jen can, but I have to tell you, Mom, that I don’t understand any of this,” Wayne searched his mother’s eyes, “Can you explain it?”

“I’m not really sure it would do any good, Wayne. The more I try to explain everything, the less it makes sense, but I know that I did what I had to do,” She assured him, “It doesn’t seem like it now, but I did what I thought was best for everyone involved…especially Jenna.”

“She’s hurt right now, Mom. I tried to convince her to come tonight, so did her boyfriend,” He began.

“Her boyfriend?” Dorothy sighed with a frown, “White guy? Real cocky?”

“Yeah, I guess,” He said in confusion, “I guess you don’t like him, huh?”

“Hart Steiner is a troll,” She declared firmly, “I’ve seen him in action, and he’s the one who led the fight against your sister when her job was in trouble. Why she would choose to spend time with him is beyond me. Maybe it’s just to thumb her nose at me,” She offered, “But he’s going to do nothing but cause more trouble for her. It’s all that man is good for.”

“Mom, I didn’t mean to bring up something that was going to upset you. I just wanted you to know that I did see, Jen, and she seems to be getting along,” He frowned, “I’m sorry to upset you.”

“You didn’t,” She assured him, “It’s just…well…things have been very complicated as of late.”

“I can tell,” He noted as Preston descended the stairs.

“There’s my boy,” Preston said as he spotted Wayne. He crossed the room and hugged his son, “Welcome home, son.”

“It’s good to be home, Dad. I could say welcome home to you too,” Wayne said as their hug ended, “How was Iraq?”

“Sandy,” Preston grinned, “How have you been?”

“Good,” Wayne smiled, “Things are going pretty much the way I’ve always wanted them.”

“Me too,” Preston turned towards Dorothy, “Except something’s missing.”

“Jenna,” Dorothy said with a frown.

“Jenna too, but there’s something else,” Preston said as he sat down beside his longtime companion, “And it’s been missing for a very long time.”

She searched his eyes for a minute in confusion, “Pres…what are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about us, Dottie,” Preston began as he took her hand, “I’m talking about our family. We’ve been together for a lot of years, and while the subject of marriage has been bandied about a few times, we’ve never really given it a lot of serious thought…at least not until lately,” He said as he searched her lovely dark eyes, “When I was in Iraq, I missed you like crazy, and all I could think about was getting home to you. Now that I’m here, I want to make our relationship official on every level. I want to have that beautiful commitment between us that puts us beyond the reach of all others,” He continued as he drew a navy velvet box from his jacket pocket and opened it towards her, “Now it’s all up to you, Dottie. It’s all about knowing what you want,” He began as she looked to the ring. He watched her for a moment before he spoke again, “Will you marry me, Dorothy Carpenter? Will you be my wife?”

Dorothy struggled against the torrential onslaught of emotion that overwhelmed her sense. While this moment had been coming for such a long time, she’d never imagined the timing would be so awful. She had never wanted to be married, never wanted to tie herself to a relationship that she couldn’t find some means of escape from, and yet here it was before her, beckoning her as if it had wanted her to partake of it her entire life. While she loved Preston more than she had ever thought she could love a man after her time with Douglas, it still wasn’t enough.

She shook her head as tears fell from her eyes, “I’m sorry. I can’t. I just…I…I can’t,” She said as she leapt from the sofa and ran up the stairs.

“Dottie!” Preston called out after her as he made his way to the base of the stairs, looking up after her as she ran out of his sight. All his hope came crashing down as he looked to Wayne, “I don’t understand. What just happened?”

Wayne frowned as he glanced up the stairs in the direction his mother had taken, “I don’t know, Dad, but I have a feeling it’s more of the past coming back to haunt us all,” He mused as he wondered just what could be going through his mother’s heart and mind and if their family would ever be the same again.


Zack walked through the ICU and picked up a chart from the nurse’s station. Deciding to check back in on Kipp Mahoney, he walked down the room and lightly knocked upon the door before stepping inside, “Merry Christmas,” He greeted Douglas softly as he stepped into the room.

“Hmm,” Douglas nodded as he looked to Kipp, “It doesn’t seem like Christmas at all.”

Zack silently moved around the bed and looked to the monitors. He made several notations on the chart as he opened Kipp’s gown and checked the incision site, “Everything seems to be healing cleanly, and in the last twenty four hours, his vital signs have become more stable. That’s always a good sign.”

“Does it mean he’ll wake up soon?” Douglas asked hopefully as he looked up to the doctor.

“Unfortunately, no, it doesn’t,” Zack admitted, “But that doesn’t mean anything. He could regain consciousness tonight, or,” He paused, “He may never wake up.”

“It can’t be that bad. I mean…the trauma was to his chest not his head…” Douglas stammered for words as he looked to his son.

“The physical damage was to his torso. That’s something we can see and repair, but his mental wounds,” Zack looked to the man laying in the bed, “We can’t see them nor can we know just how extensive they are. I can tell you that there are no physical reasons why Kipp shouldn’t regain consciousness, but that doesn’t mean he will. His mind has to heal, and that is on a time frame which none of us can predict.”

Douglas took Kipp’s hand and gave it a tender squeeze, “Does it help if I talk to him? Can he even hear me? Or am I just wasting my time and his by sitting here talking to myself?”

“There’s no scientific way to tell if he can hear you, but in my own personal experience with coma patients, they say that it makes a difference when there’s someone there to talk to them. I know patients who have been in comas, and they wake up knowing everything that was said to them. Others don’t have as clear a memory but they recognize a presence that’s with them. I believe that they need reminding of what they’re fighting for. So my advice to you,” Zack said as he met Douglas’s eyes, “Don’t stop talking to him. Remind him of what he’s fighting for. Remind him that he has people who love him. Remind him that there are a lot of beautiful things to live for,” He said as he patted Douglas on the shoulder and left the room.

Douglas studied Kipp closely as he felt tears tickling his eyes, “Kipp, son, please come back to me. Please wake up and we’ll be a family again. I promise you that I won’t take any of it for granted. I promise you, Kipp. Just…just wake up,” He said as he lay his head on the bed near his son’s hand and allowed himself to mourn not only for his son’s condition but for all the time he’d lost with his son in the past.


“Hey,” Hart nudged Jenna gently as she remained in his arms allowing him to hold her long after the tears died down on her end.  Though as he felt her sadness lingering in the air surrounding them, he wished he could find some way to make the situation easier for her, “you know there’s no rule saying that you have to keep away from the party tonight just because you’re upset with your mother.  I mean if you really want to be there, well you know it wouldn’t be a crime if you showed up for a little while.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jenna tilted up to look at him with wide eyes, “Hart, you can’t be serious after everything that’s happened.”
“Jenna, I know how much your family means to you and if you want to be there, then just do it.  Take the time to just forget about what’s happened and just savor the holiday because one day, well you never know how you’ll feel about this Christmas in reflection upon it,” Hart offered simply as he traced his fingertips over her spine.
“Hart, I can tell you right now if I go, well it’s going to get ugly because while my mother and I aren’t alike in so many ways, in other ways well it’s uncanny how much we have in common,” she sighed heavily as she dropped her head against his chest once again, “I mean when we both have a position we stand behind, well nothing is going to change the way we feel.”
“So you’ll spend years fighting over a mistake and then later on the moment for the words you’ve been longing to say will pass you by and you’ll be left with regret,” Hart pressed his hand over her hair, touching her gently, “Jenna, I would just hate for you to beat yourself up over what’s going on now because later you might…”
“Hart, this isn’t like she just told me that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.  It’s not like she revealed that my pet parakeet really died instead of flying away to join a choir.  This is my father we’re talking about and the fact that she lead me to believe for all these years that my father was this amazing man that she fell head over heels in love with.  She spun out this story about how he’d touched her in ways no man had ever come close to and then when they’d finally come so close to having it all, he died in a plane crash leaving us on our own without one of the most incredible men she’d known.”
“Well, it sounds like she had some fond feelings about Douglas, even if she spun the tale of him being dead,” Hart shrugged his shoulders, “I mean she admits she loved him.”
“No, she admitted she loved the man that ‘died’ in that crash, but that man never existed.  Even now when I think of all the times we’d talked about time in her life, she’d always find a reason why we had to stop.  She always had her way of saying that I couldn’t know anymore--that she didn’t want to say anymore because it was just too painful for her.  She made it sound like when my father died, a part of her died with him and she was just enduring what little life had left her, but now when I hear about how she’s the one who ran away--how she purposely kept Douglas out of my life…Hart, it’s just so wrong.  I mean why would any mother do that?”
“Maybe at the time she was confused,” he suggested with an afterthought, “I mean you said she felt those years were the most painful in her life…”
“But the stories she told me were all lies,” she emphasized once more, “Hart, for all I know she could’ve been making all that up as well seeing as the man I believed was my father never existed.”
“Jenna, you said it yourself that she was very young when she had you.  You also mentioned that she went out to Hollywood to be an aspiring actress.  Given what I know about the Hollywood industry it’s not exactly on the up and up.  Maybe she and Douglas met under those false fronts and things didn’t turn out like she’d planned…”
“You mean she got knocked up and decided to run away from Hollywood to raise her bastard brat in peace and quiet as she made up her own fairy tale story on life,” Jenna questioned harshly.
“Jenna, that’s not what I’m saying and I don’t think your mother meant it that way either.  Look, I knew a woman a while ago and she wanted to be a star.  She met with some producers who promised her the world and a smarmy agent who offered her what she thought was this great thing, but it turned out to be anything, but the golden dream there.  I mean sure, she had her thoughts about how it would be once she hit her big break, only after a series of unmentionable films and a drug addictions, well she wound up dead, so you know sometimes the Hollywood dream is a more of a nightmare where your only escape is to run away.”
“Hart, I know that, but you’ve met my father.  He doesn’t seem like the type who would do something like that to my mother.  I mean if you even speak with him, you can see that he’s not vindictive and cruel like that,” she frowned upon his words, “Sure, he might be a Hollywood big-wig, but family seems important to him…”
“Jenna, I hate to be the pessimist here, but as much as you care about your father, you really don’t know much about him as you’ve only known him for a short time and only half of that time you’ve known him as your father.  Hell, you even told me yourself when you first met him, you thought he had an angle…”
“Now you’re twisting my words against me,” she sat upright giving him a disapproving look, “Doug has been nothing but good to me and if you see him with Kipp…”
“Jenna, maybe you should ask yourself how Kipp got that way to begin with.  You and I both know that happy people don’t go around playing Russian Roulette with pistols,” Hart frowned thinking about her half brother, “Something was clearly not right with him when he did that and maybe that reflects some of what Douglas isn’t telling you…”
“Hart, my brother was upset because he found the woman he loved in bed with another man.  That is bound to upset anyone who truly cares for a person,” Jenna argued with him.
“Yes, I understand that, but Jenna, if you found me in bed with another woman, you’d kick my ass, tell me where I could go, offer up a few choice words and beat the hell out of me all over again before refusing to ever speak to me.  Sure you might be upset and take it hard, but you’d have gone to your mother and healed given time.”
“Sometimes people take things harder than others and they try to deal with it on their own,” Jenna insisted, “especially with men when they…”
“Jenna, trust me on this.  No one decides to blow a hole in their chest just because of a broken heart if all else is kosher in their life.  It just doesn’t add up Jenna and given how many times you’ve seen this in your line of work, you should know that,” he reminded her simply, “Maybe there’s a lot more going on than you’re seeing because you’re inside of this situation too closely.”
“Hart, you’re talking about my father here not some lunatic off the street.  I know you might have your preconceived notions about movie producers, but you know he’s a good man,” Jenna defended her father.
“What I know is that he’s your father and you want to believe he’s a good man and hey, maybe I’m way off base.  Maybe he’s a great man and a wonderful father, but maybe it’s the lifestyle with Hollywood that your mother wanted you to avoid.  Maybe she was looking for a better option for you and in leaving, well she felt it was the only way out.”
“I just wish…” Jenna slumped in over him on the couch, “None of this is going to get any easier is it?”
“Of course it will,” he tried to encourage her, “You just have to have a little faith and hope that things don’t get worse than they are.”
“Oh that’s encouraging,” she grumbled giving him a harsh glare, “You know you’re so not helping at all here.”
“Not even the tiniest bit,” he pinched his fingers in the air before pulling her up towards him collecting her lips in an impromptu kiss.
“No, not at all,” she shook her head as he captured her mouth in another less chaste kiss.
“Are you sure about that,” Hart questioned lazily, “because if you don’t think I’m trying hard enough here…”
“Well, your technique could use a little work,” Jenna conceded with a half grin forming upon her lips as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, “and if you promise me that you’ll stop talking about my mother and my family, well, then maybe I’ll give you some of the practice skills you’ll need to make an impact on a woman.”
“You know there’s never been a woman who’s complained this far,” he feigned insult as he squeezed her in closer to him.
“That’s because they were all being polite,” she teased with a wink as her fingers drifted up into his hair, “although I have to say I’m not all about being polite as I’d much rather go for that straightforward direct approach.”
“I like a direct woman,” Hart’s eyes twinkled with the prospect of spending the rest of the night kissing her.  Hell, he could go for days just losing himself in her tantalizing kisses if it was allowed.
“Good, because tonight I’m going to teach you a thing or two about kissing a woman so that way the next time you’re wondering if you’re making an impact on her, you won’t have to ask because you’ll just know,” she explained her voice filled with determination as she found herself making up any excuse she could think of to lay her lips on that sensual mouth of his as right now she was exactly where she wanted to be with the one man who could quite possibly be deemed the best kisser she’d ever encountered, but she’d be damned if she’d give him that much of an ego boost this early on in their relationship as well, she didn’t need to be getting ahead of herself.  She was just now learning to enjoy things the way they were between them and enjoy them they would tonight as right now the last thing she wanted to dwell upon was the failed Christmas with her family when she had such an incredibly sexy man beneath her.


Diane stepped into her apartment and threw her keys on an end table with an angry groan, “I swear I could go back over there and just…”

“Now, now, let’s not threaten a person in front of the law enforcement officer, okay?” Ben teased before his face turned serious as he closed the door, “But you’re right, Blake was way out of line. I’ve never seen her act like that before.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s typical Blake Ashford,” She said as she sank onto her sofa, “She’s always been that way.”

“I swear to you, Diane, I’ve never seen Blake behave that way,” He sighed as he sat beside her.

“She’s always acted like she was better than everyone else,” She said as she kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her, “She used to march through BBK with her nose stuck up in the air like she couldn’t be bothered with any of us for any reason. Then the whole Eric thing,” She shook her head, “I was so stupid on so many levels, but Blake…does she see what a disaster it was? No, you’d think I ran off with him into the sunset to have a happily ever after. Not even close,” She huffed as she crossed her arms, “And the gall of that woman…to suggest that I’ve ever stolen anything from her,” She snorted, “Or want her father or brother. Okay, granted Brant is kind of sexy in a strange peacock kind of way, but when I flirt with him it’s just to lighten things up a bit. He doesn’t take me seriously. I mean look at Brant’s long list of conquests. Does she really think that if Brant had ever wanted me I wouldn’t be history by now?” She rolled her eyes, “I swear, I don’t get her at all.”

“I don’t either,” He admitted, “Obviously, she’s gone nuts.”

“No, she’s just being herself,” Diane snarled, “I hate her,” She turned towards Ben, “And you honestly thought she would help Seth with protecting Jade? She’d probably bend over backwards to help Cameron Stone if it meant hurting me in some way.”

“We have to give her the benefit of the doubt,” He began before stopping suddenly, “Though I’ll admit that it does seem like a hard sell at this point.”

“Hard sell? Try impossible, Ben. She won’t help us,” She nibbled on her thumbnail, “I guess we have to go to plan B and rifle through things over at BBK.”

“I’m still going to try to get through to Blake,” When Diane started to protest, he held up his hand, “I have to try. Then we can look at BBK.”

She frowned, “I really don’t like the idea of revealing that we’re involved in this to Blake. She pull some strings and get us both canned,” Her frown darkened, “Though you won’t have to worry. You already have a second job.”

“Diane, about that,” He started, “I hope you understand why I couldn’t tell you.”

She sighed, “I understand, but I still don’t like it. I just don’t want to be left out of such a significant part of your life, Ben. My most disastrous relationship ever happened because of lies. I don’t want to every feel like we’re based on lies or even half-truths.”

He gently caressed her cheek, “We’re not, and I promise to let you in on every aspect of my life.”

“Really?” She asked curiously as a smile played over her features, “So, does that mean we might actually get to have a date instead of this craziness we’ve been calling a relationship?”

Ben looked confused for a moment before he grinned, “It has been sort of chaotic, hasn’t it?”

“Uh, that’s an understatement, babe,” She patted his cheek gently, “So how about it? Dinner, dancing,” She offered with a hopeful smile.
“Sure, tomorrow night?”

“Sounds like Christmas is going to come twice for us this year,” Diane smiled happily as she gathered him close in a kiss, looking forward to exploring every aspect of the man she called her own.


"Somehow I get the distinct feeling that dinner’s going to be out of the question with you, isn’t it?" Heather frowned eyeing Diego closely as they left the hospital with one another after their visit with Randy Henderson and his parents.

"I would’ve thought you’d be thrilled at the idea to get rid of me after the torture I put you through," Diego shot back at her sarcastically, "I mean with my bringing you to a place like that one and forcing you to do something for someone else and all…"

"Listen Diego," Heather glared at him as she shifted in her seat, "for your information, you should be thanking your lucky stars that I don’t have kidnapping charges slapped on you for your taking me here."

"Kidnapping charges?" he repeated with a tiny chuckle, "Oh please. I told you that you were free to go anytime you pleased…"

"Like I was going to just walk out of that dump in the middle of winter and wait for just any old cab to pick me up," she shuddered at the thought, "You don’t know who is driving those things these days…"

"Yes, well considering how much you hated what was happening, I must say you did a great job tonight," he finally cracked a smile as he couldn’t help but be amused with Heather, "What you did for those children, well it helped make their Christmas a little brighter."

"Hmm, well consider it my charity work for the week," she answered coldly as she slumped back in her chair again, "and don’t think that your approval is going to be reward enough for what I did as you still owe me dinner."

"You can’t just pretend for an instant that you have a heart, can you Heather," he inquired turning on the road ahead of them, "I mean I saw you with Randy Henderson. Even if you thought I wasn’t paying attention, well, I was and what you did for him…it was an incredible gesture."

"I have no idea what you’re talking about," she shrugged her shoulders feigning innocence, "All I did was talk to him for a few minutes and show him a few tricks with the Gameboy and that was only because you didn’t leave me any alternatives about going elsewhere."

"Sure," Diego sighed giving her a strange look as he never could quite understand Heather Gibbons. While he’d tried, she seemed to be so set on trying to make things far more impossible than they should be, "whatever you say."

"What is that supposed to mean," Heather grumbled back at him, "I already told you that I was there because…"

"Yes, I know because I left you to freeze in the cemetery and then you had no choice in the matter about where you were going. I mean after I practically forced you to put on the costume, you were only doing your civic duty until I could take you to that five star restaurant you’ve been talking about all day, right?"
“You know the more you keep talking that way, the less inclined I am to spend time with you as I really don’t appreciate your tone,” Heather huffed in response giving him a sharp glare, “You really have far too much time on your hands if you really put that much effort into figuring me out you know…”
“It’s my job to read people and quite frankly Heather after spending the day with you, I think that you’re not what you want the world to believe you are.  I mean sure you’re abrasive and demanding as hell, but I think beneath all that, there’s a woman who has a lot of love to give and who wants to share that with her son or daughter as her heart is seeking out that acceptance that she’s never really had.”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes, “Diego, just because I let you see me upset when I first discovered I was having this baby, doesn’t mean that I’m inferior.”
“I never said that you were inferior.  I don’t believe those words every fell from my lips, but what I’m saying is that you seem to be a hell of a lot more than you want the world to believe,” Diego noted keeping his eyes on the road ahead of them, “I mean I get the distinct vibe that you’ve spent most of your time letting everyone believe you’re just another pretty face--someone’s whose outer beauty has guided her through life and she’s gotten just about everything she’s wanted because of it, but when you do that, you feel empty inside because the real Heather--the Heather that was with me tonight is the Heather that you want to be.  It’s that woman who was with me that’s the woman that you always wished you were and it’s that same woman whose about to become a mother that came seeking me out tonight because she didn’t want to make a mistake that the other Heather was getting ready to jump into.”
“What is that supposed to mean,” she gave him a strange look.
“It means that you came to talk to me tonight because you’ve gotten this marriage proposal and the more you started thinking about it, the less you wanted to do it,” Diego stated point blank as he cast a quick look in her direction, “I mean that is what you wanted to talk to me about, right?”
“Hardly,” she rolled her eyes, “the man I’m marrying is a powerful, strong, wealthy man who has my best interest in mind.  He’s willing to be a father to my child and give us both the world and I for one couldn’t be happier about becoming Mrs. Cameron Stone I’ll have you know.”
“Cameron Stone,” Diego nearly slammed on the brakes as he looked over towards her, “as in head of Stone Corp. Industries?”
“What of it,” Heather shrugged her shoulders, “I mean hey here you are saying that I don’t want to get married, but you had a reaction to the name yourself so why wouldn’t I want to be with a man like that?”
“Because he’s not a good man, Heather,” Diego announced his voice full of concern, “He’s not someone you should be marrying as he’s not to be trusted.  He‘s done so many things to so many people that you should just as soon avoid the kind of horrors he brings with him.”
“Gee, sounds like you’re intimidated by him too.  That must be something considering you don’t strike me as a man that’s easily intimidated.  All the more reason why Cam is perfect for me,” Heather teased back gauging herself for his reaction as she continued to praise her husband to be, “Cameron is a man that makes people stop and think and they don’t dare try to cross him.  When I’m his wife, I won’t have anyone like Douglas Mahoney telling me where my place is or how to live my life.”
“No that’s because Cameron will be doing it for you.  Heather that man is pure evil and if you marry him, well, you’re only setting yourself up for disaster.  You and your child will be in more danger than you ever dreamt imaginable,” worry drifted through his words as he reached out to her touching her shoulder gently, “Heather, you have to listen to me.  Marrying Cameron Stone is a very bad idea.”
“I thought your role as my psychiatrist was to give me unbiased opinions to help guide me through the choices I make in my life,” Heather reminded him with a frown, “You know to be a sounding board for me instead of a judgment maker.”
“I didn’t realize you wanted me as your psychiatrist,” Diego’s eyes shifted with surprise as he fought to suppress the emotional weight of the reaction that her announcement brought upon him.
“Well of course I want you,” Heather answered simply watching the darkness brewing behind his intense eyes as she leaned in towards him, “Why else would I be here right now?”
“I just don’t want to see you destroy your life with a man like Cameron, Heather,” Diego sighed unable to fight the involuntary need building up inside of him as his gaze lingered over her lips, watching the way they slowly parted as she leaned in towards him.
“But you think it would be much better if I refused his marriage proposal and took a chance on someone else…someone like, say you for example,” she questioned lazily bringing her fingers up over his shoulder as a smile lifted over her lips and she scooted in towards him on the front seat of his car.
“Heather I’m not trying to tell you how to…” he began again as she pressed a perfectly sculpted nail over the center of his lips to silence his words.
“Right now I’m not really interested in having you tell me anything,” Heather’s words held an air of playfulness as her soft, blonde hair framed her face with each movement she’d made towards him, “as I’d really rather get back to what I was saying before about wanting you…”
“Heather,” he began as she released his lips with her finger and her mouth brushed up against his in a slow, tentative move reminding him of the kiss they’d shared at the hospital.  Unable to mask his surprise and enjoyment at such a bold move on her part, he curled his arm around her waist reciprocating the kiss as he thought of how hours earlier Heather was cursing him for having brought her along with him.  Now as her lips teased over his, the sweet cherry flavor of her lip gloss flooding over his senses, he couldn’t help but be drawn to her.
Heather smiled inwardly as she realized she still had it and sure, she’d never intended on kissing Diego, but as he started spouting off of his need to see her, to protect her in his own way by discouraging her from marrying Cameron, she couldn’t help but be touched.  Okay, so that and the fact that she’d been thinking about kissing him again from the moment their lips locked at the hospital had prompted this current kiss, but suddenly his lackluster lifestyle and less than adequate car seemed to be the most erotic place in the world as she felt his arm ease over her spine drawing her more completely into his lap as the kiss continued, deepening with the same intensity that had stolen her breath from her at the hospital, but before she could truly savor it all for what it was worth, Diego pulled away cursing at himself as he released her abruptly.
“I can’t do this,” he announced wanting to kick himself on so many levels for allowing himself to enjoy kissing her.  Now as his pulse was racing, his heart pounding in his chest at the taste of her over his lips, he wanted to beat himself up for crossing that line with her to begin with.
“I think you were doing a stellar job thus far,” Heather traced her tongue over her bottom lip before a smile lit up her features, “Granted, you could use a little work, but you’re not as hopeless as I thought you were.”
“Heather, you said it yourself.  You want me to be your psychiatrist,” Diego replied straining to keep his breath even as her kiss surely sent logic back a few points inside of him, “That still holds true, doesn’t it?”
“Well of course, but…” she started with a simple shrug of her shoulders.
“And you’re still going to marry Cameron even after my telling you that he’s a dangerous man,” Diego questioned closing his eyes as he wondered what in the world he was getting himself into again.
“Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t find a way to get closer as I’m sure we can work out some kind of arrangement between us,” Heather extended her finger tips out over his shoulder, “I mean hey, isn’t that how this usually works anyways?”
“Tell me something,” he forced himself to meet her passion filled eyes once again, “is this how every other man in your life has ‘helped’ you?”
“Diego, it’s not like it’s a big deal,” Heather gave him a sideways glance, “I mean plenty of other men would love to be where you’re at right now and you’re a hell of a lot better looking than some of the others I’ve dealt with.”
“Heather, let’s just start by setting some ground rules here,” he frowned in response realizing that in allowing himself to kiss her he’d made more mistakes than he’d known at the time, “Rule number one if you and I are to see one another on a doctor/patient level, it’s going to be completely professional.  No impromptu visits outside of my office, nor will I have you following me around when the urge strikes you as that’s not how I conduct business and rule number two…” he inhaled slowly trying to ignore the way being near her effected him, “I don’t have affairs with my patients or married woman.  Are we clear on that?”
Heather watched him for a long moment before a sense of understanding fell upon her and almost immediately her defenses were back in place, “Oh please,” she rolled her eyes in response, “did you think I was actually going to sleep with you?  I was merely putting pity on you for having such a pathetic life.  Here I thought I was doing you a favor, but ugh, you’re right that so would’ve been a mistake.  Kissing you was a mistake and believe me I’m so done with my charity work for the year as it’ll take me at least another year to recover from that pitiful round of kisses you laid on me there.”
“Heather…” he started again reaching out to her gently as she scooted away from him wrinkling her nose at him in disgust.
“I’d like to go home now,” Heather announced with a huff, “You can just take me to Cameron’s estate and we’ll be finished from here on out.”
“Heather, this is not what I…” Diego began in a half hearted attempt to clear things up with her, but as his own thoughts of turmoil consumed him, he put the car back into drive returning to the road as she directed him to Cameron’s place and he wondered if he’d made more of a mess of things in spending time with her today than he would’ve if he’d just left well enough alone.  Somehow he felt far worse than he did before her arrival at the cemetery as it seemed his desire to help her was only reopening the old wounds that had haunted him and with Heather, he had a feeling things were going to be far worse than they‘d been the first time around if he didn‘t stop this before it began.


Deidra stood outside the door to the room Russ and Avery were staying in upon discovering that no one was answering the door to her mother’s room on her way upstairs.  Sure, she knew she should’ve tried to fix herself up a bit, as she had no doubt in her mind that she looked like hell right about now, but given that she was hating herself more than ever, she just wanted to put the night behind her and that all began with getting into her hotel room once again.  Certainly the last thing she wanted to be doing was socializing with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and the couple who were so desperately in love with one another that it made her world feel even more incomplete, but in her haste, she realized she hadn’t had her hotel room key on her and the idea of facing anyone again who might question her downstairs while she ran the risk of running into Christian again, set her on edge completely so after much contemplation she felt this was the lesser of two evils as she knocked on Russ and Avery’s hotel room door hoping her mother would just slip her a key to their room before she went off to drown herself in the shower over her recent mistake.
Deidra tapped on the door once again hoping that she hadn’t missed the group here either, but before her worries could get the best of her about missing the people she knew at the hotel, Avery opened the door greeting her with a bright smile.
“Deidra,” Avery spoke her name sweetly, “I was wondering where you drifted off to as we were going to be going to dinner shortly and I was so hoping you’d join us.  Come on inside.”
“Avery, I’m not really in the mood for dinner,” Deidra began shifting on her feet uneasily, “but if my mom is here, can I just have a word with her as I forgot my room key and…”
“Actually, she’s not here at the moment as she just went downstairs to get…” Avery stopped mid-sentence as she took in Deidra’s disheveled appearance, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong except for the fact that I misplaced my key and,” Deidra stopped herself choked up on emotion as her tears overcame her and Avery pulled her into the room tugging on her arm.
“Don’t give me that,” Avery insisted closing the door behind Deidra, “Something’s wrong and it’s obvious you need someone to talk to, so spill it.”
“Avery, look I just want to go to my room and…well, I don’t need to be dumping my problems on you since it’s your honeymoon and you hardly know me,” Deidra began wiping at the tears that spilled down her cheeks.
“My husband is with my father downstairs and I don’t think your mother’s going to be back for a few minutes,” Avery lead her over to the sitting area urging Deidra to take a seat on the sofa, “so spill.”
“Oh Avery,” Deidra broke down into tiny sobs burying her face in her hands as the reality of what she’d done overcame her, “I did something really, really stupid all because I wasn’t thinking clearly and…”
“And what?” Avery questioned reaching out to her, concern evident in her tone, “Deidra, what happened?  Did someone hurt you?”
“I hurt myself,” Deidra sobbed hating herself more by the second as she forced herself to look up at Avery, “When I came here, my mother brought me along because I’m going through this divorce right now and well, I was completely miserable.  My husband was with all these other women and then, I met this man on the beach a little while ago.  He seemed really nice, but then we got to drinking and…” she broke down as her tears overcame her, “I shouldn’t have been drinking because I never handle alcohol well, but then he took me to this place and he was saying all the right things and he…”
“Oh my God,” Avery gasped bringing her arm around her, “Deidra, did he…”
“I told him I wanted to,” Deidra blurted out shamefully, “I thought it would make me forget all the things Andy’s done to me, but after it was over with…I just…I don’t do things like that as I’ve never ever just given in to a perfect stranger like that and now…”
“Oh honey,” Avery pulled her into an embrace feeling Deidra’s pain take over her, “it’s okay…”
“No, it’s not okay.  I’m not like that Avery.  I don’t just sleep with random strangers and I don’t bring myself to behave this way when I’m hurting.  It’s just wrong and when I think of what I did with Christian…of how I just let him…”
“I know,” Avery tried to comfort her keeping her in an embrace, “when we’re hurting we tend to do things we wouldn’t normally do, but Deidra, you have to realize it’s the pain that brought you to that place…”
“But I hate myself for doing something like that.  I mean I don’t just pick someone up that I don’t know and…” Deidra sobbed harder, “You must think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“No, no I don’t,” Avery shook her head solemnly, “In fact I know how you’re feeling right now.  I mean sure, Russ and I didn’t exactly have problems like that in the past…but well, the last time we tried to get married…well I’d had a miscarriage and I tried to lose myself in the pain.  I fought like hell not to let what was happening destroy me, so instead I began to destroy myself.  I met this man at the hospital…this doctor and when I left Russ, he convinced me that I should just sever the ties--that I shouldn’t bother with the truth as it would hurt Russ and I wound up making a major mistake with him.  One night I got a little tipsy and the next thing I knew, Bruce and I were in bed together and it was a one night stand that lasted three miserable years up until he tried to kill me,” she explained reaching for a tissue and handing it to Deidra, “only with you, well you’re out of the situation and it’s over with.  You don’t ever have to think about this loser ever again if you don’t want to and no one has to know.”
“But I know and I hate what I’ve done.  I mean there I was thinking about how wonderful things were going for everyone, but me and then I walked into this and…” Deidra wiped at her face, “I shouldn’t have been drinking because if I wasn’t drinking, I never would’ve…”
“And I’m sure this creep picked up on that right away,” Avery frowned thinking about the kind of man Deidra must’ve encountered on the island, “In fact, was he the one who got you drinking?”
“I could’ve said no Avery,” Deidra thought back, “I should’ve said something about stopping, but I didn’t and then…”
“Then nothing,” Avery insisted, “this creep clearly was taking advantage and given how you’re feeling right now, I’m guessing that this guy was set on violating you there permission or not…”
“He didn’t rape me, Avery,” Deidra began to argue with her, “If that’s what you’re thinking.  He just started talking about his divorce and I got to thinking about mine and then, well, things just happened, but I wish they hadn’t…”
“Even so, he should’ve known better,” Avery offered up supportively, “and Deidra, you can’t beat yourself up over this.  Yes, it might not have been the smartest thing in the world, but you don’t ever have to see him again and it’s over with.  You don’t have to think about him as you can chalk it up as a mistake…”
“That’s easier said than done,” Deidra remarked sadly as a sigh carried over her, “I mean when I think of how I just let him…”
“Then don’t think about it,” Avery tried to encourage her, “We’ll just find something else to focus on for now and we’ll make sure you don’t wind up crossing paths with this loser and hey, if you do, well, you just point him out to me and I’ll go have Russ beat him up for making you feel so bad.”
Deidra couldn’t help but laugh at the thought as she shook her head at Avery’s words, “You’d really have your husband do something like that for me?”
“Absolutely,” Avery nodded in response, “he’s not big on men who take advantage of women and besides, you’re practically family since my father is head over heels about your mother so why wouldn’t I want to help you with this?”
Deidra smiled in response, “I don’t know how much help it would be in having your husband put in jail there for beating up a perfect stranger…”
“Even so, I’m a lawyer and so is my father,” Avery teased back, “We can work on making the charges not stick there against Russ as this Christian creep deserves a good ass kicking for being an inconsiderate jerk.”
“I was the jerk,” Deidra sighed heavily, “I shouldn’t have been drinking like that and wishing that I was anywhere but here…”
“Honey, Russ and I have been completely into each other and I can see how miserable it would be for anyone who’s going through what you are dealing with,” Avery reached out to take her hand giving it a soft squeeze, “but hey you know, we don’t mind having you around as well, it is Christmas and it’s a time for family.”
“Well yes, but…” Deidra began again.
“No buts,” Avery shook her head adamantly, “besides I want to know more about your mother since she has my father on cloud nine and anything you want to know about my father, well hey I’m here to give you all the gossip.”
“They really are happy together huh,” Deidra offered up a tiny smile.
“Yes, and that’s wonderful considering that my mother is such a bitch,” Avery groaned inwardly, “Hopefully that’s one person you don’t ever encounter because well, I think my husband would love to find an excuse to choke the life out of her…then again so would I most of the time…”
Deidra couldn’t help but laugh at Avery’s tone, “You two aren’t very close, are you?”
“No, not at all, but that’s her fault.  She’s a controlling very vindictive person and when she finds out that Russ and I are married, she’s going to flip out,” Avery sighed in response, “as she’s been against us being together from day one.”
“Sounds like you have some headaches ahead of you,” Deidra noted trying to stop thinking about what happened with her and Christian as she spoke with Avery.
“Hey, headaches I can deal with.  Brooke Morrison, well that’s an entirely different issue as she’s enough to drive anyone mad,” Avery groaned in response as Judy entered the room.
“Now why are you ruining a perfectly good holiday by bringing up that woman,” Judy frowned in response as her eyes fell upon the two women, “Deidra, there you are.  I’ve been looking all over for you as I thought that you’d…” Judy stopped herself as she took note of Deidra’s appearance, “What’s wrong?”
“I just went for a walk,” Deidra began shaking her head as she refused to let her mother know what an idiot she’d been, “and I got a little jumbled up.  I started thinking about Andy and…”
“And well, we’ve decided that tonight is going to be a good night for us girls to bond since I’m sure my father and Russ are going to be downstairs for a while chewing someone’s ear off about what happened earlier out on the terrace,” Avery sighed heavily, “which means we have only one thing to do at a time like this and gossip about things, right?”
“Well, I am dying to know how you found your way to a castle of all places,” Deidra offered up playing along as she sat up straighter, “I mean believe me not many men think up something like this.  Even with my wedding, well Andy just didn’t have a creative bone in his body as well, his idea of romance was a trip to the Holiday Inn before we spent a week in a rain filled Florida preparing for work…”
“Sounds like you need a healthy dose of the right kind of guy in your life as heaven knows we’ve all dealt with the wrong ones,” Avery piped in encouragingly, “which is why as soon as we get back to Coral Valley, I’m going to help you find the right guy to help you stop letting the losers of the world get you down.”
“Avery, right now I don’t think that…” Deidra began with a soft smile.
“Hey, honey it might be good for you,” Judy piped in hating to see her daughter so upset, “I mean if Avery knows a few good men, then why not let her try.  Now that I think about it, doesn’t Russell have a brother?”
“Not one I’d wish upon any woman,” Avery wrinkled her nose in response as she thought about Grady before she explained further to Deidra, “If there’s anyone close to being the devil himself, well it’s Grady as that man has the worst possible disposition about him and I wouldn’t wish that kind of thing on any woman.  Talk about a nightmare come to life…”
“Now just how did my brother wind up becoming a topic of conversation again,” Russell inquired popping his head into the room as Avery’s face lit up at the sound of his voice.

“Russ,” Avery leapt up off of the couch unable to contain herself as she threw her arms around him excitedly, “You’re back.”
“Of course I’m back baby,” he smiled down at her hugging her in his arms as the look on her face made his heart melt and he contemplated walking in again just to get the same reaction, “and clearly not a moment too soon as I thought we agreed the rest of Christmas was going to be Grady free.”
“Well we were talking about some of the guys we know back home,” Avery explained simply, “you know since Deidra is a single woman now and we’re looking to help her find a good guy.”
“Hmm, well you know I do happen to know a few of them,” Russ piped in with a grin, “that is if Deidra’s going to let us play matchmaker.”
“Actually,” a thought lifted in Avery’s mind, “I know the perfect guy for you.  Granted he’s a bit of a workaholic, but he’s got a heart of gold and he’s friends with Ken.  I think he’d be a great choice though because well, he’s cute in his own way and loveable I suppose…” she continued on excitedly, “In fact I’ll call Ken and have him set something up for you both.”
“Oh Kenneth knows lots of wonderful men,” Judy added with a smile, “In fact, didn’t you and Kenneth know one another in high school, Deidra?”
“Kenneth Ashford,” Deidra repeated in surprise, “Well, yes he, Dave and I…”
“Dave,” Avery blurted out, “that’s his name.  Dave Warner.  That’s the guy I think Ken should set you up with as he’s really a great catch and you‘d be perfect for one another because he‘s been so buried in work there for as long as I can remember and…”
“Actually Dave and I already know each other and,” Deidra began feeling a blush rise over her features as she thought of her pal.
“Oh than that makes this so much easier,” Avery rubbed her hands together, “so when we all get back to Coral Valley I’ll work on setting something up.  Maybe Caitlin and Ken can join us and we can go out with them and Deidra and Dave as it sounds like it could be fun and…”
“And here’s my wife doing what she loves to do there in playing matchmaker,” Russell teased sliding his arms around her waist lovingly, “Get her talking romance lately and she’s ready to make the world as happy as we are.”
“Can you blame me if I want everyone to be as happy as we are these days?” Avery tilted her head up as she looked to him.
“Oh hell no,” Russ tipped down to kiss her, “As everyone should feel like this…”
“Which is why we need to get working on calling Ken,” Avery decided enthusiastically.
“Actually we don’t need to get working on it that soon,” Deidra commented watching Avery’s reaction to things as she couldn’t help but laugh at Avery’s eagerness to help her.  “I mean it is still Christmas…”
“That it is,” Avery agreed looking to Deidra, “which reminds me.  We have a few presents here for you as well as we were waiting to finish up until you came back…”
“Avery, you guys didn’t have to,” Deidra began quickly.
“We wanted to, so come on.  Let’s just go see what Santa brought for you this year,” Avery sank into Russell’s arms giving him a knowing look as the magic of the Christmas spirit filled the air surrounding them.
Avery watched as Judy lead Deidra into the other area and she lowered her voice as she looked to her husband once again, “So how did it go downstairs with the management?”
“They said they’d send someone up to check things out,” Russ confessed with a hint of a smile, “though I will admit after your father was done having a few words with them, they offered to let us enjoy the rest of our stay on the house…”
“Are you serious,” her eyes widened in response, “They did all that…”
“Well, they liked us to begin with the other night so naturally when things happened like they did, well, they said that they’ve never had such an occurrence with the guests before so they didn’t want us to be inconvenienced by it,” he nodded further, “so not only are they saying the stay is on them, but they offered a complimentary dinner on one of the finest places on the island for the five of us tonight in the spirit of Christmas.”
“You don’t say,” Avery smiled at him bringing her arms up around his shoulders, “Well now that is something.  Granted I hated the fact that we came so close to going over that edge and becoming fish food, but it is nice to see that you and my father work well together as a team.”
“You know I’ve been thinking about that a bit more and maybe you were right about what you said before,” he confessed openly.
“Hmm, me being right about something?  You don’t say,” she poked fun at him as she tipped up on her toes, “So am I to take it that you’re considering his offer back in Coral Valley?”
“Our lives are in Coral Valley and I’d be a fool to take us from that so yes, I’ve thought about it and I’m pretty sure I’m going to gleefully accept,” Russell nodded in response, “I mean having Richard Morrison in the family doesn’t hurt anything these days…”
“Not at all,” Avery agreed excitedly, “though neither does my having a strong, sexy, handsome, ever so thoughtful husband like yourself…”
“Oh flattery,” he grinned as he swept her up off the ground bringing her to his eye level as her toes dangled in the air, “now I know I’m going to be a very lucky boy tonight when we’re alone together as you’re really working to stroke my ego here.”
“Keep on behaving and that won’t be the only thing I’ll be stroking,” she assured him capturing his mouth in a heated kiss as Richard stepped into the room clearing his throat.
“I um, hate to intrude, but this was on the floor by the door for you Avery,” Richard began with a knowing smile.
“Oh daddy,” Avery broke away from the kiss she’d shared with Russ, wiping at the lipstick that had collected over his lips before he set her down on the ground again to greet her father, “you shouldn’t have.”
“I didn’t,” Richard admitted honestly as Avery reached out to the box taking it in her arms before she smiled up at Russell.
“Russ, what have you done now,” she couldn’t help but be excited by the thought of whatever Russell had in store for her as she made her way over to the sofa.
“Avery, this time it wasn’t me either,” Russell confessed eyeing the gold bow on the package closely as Avery began to open it now more curious than ever.
“Well if neither one of you did this, it only leads me to believe that one of you isn’t owning up to what you’ve done,” Avery laughed lightly tearing open the package as she noticed the card on top.  Pulling it off of the tissue paper, she gave Russell a sideways glance before opening it and reading it aloud, “To the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known,” she stopped for a second shaking her head at Russ, “oh right…like you weren’t behind this…”
“Avery, I really wasn’t,” he frowned stepping in beside her as she continued to read the card.
“From the moment I first touched you, I knew that we were destined to be together.  Dreams of making love to you again and having you beside me keep me longing for the day we’re reunited and your heart is mine.  Day after day my heart yearns to touch you, to take you in my arms and remind you of all the reasons we belong together as you’ll always be mine and there’s no escaping how we feel for one another,” she stopped suddenly struck with an eerie feeling as Russell reached for the card taking it from her hands.
“Let me see that,” he scanned it over quickly as she looked into the box pulling out a picture that lay atop of the package, “and now that you’ve tried to forget me, well I want you to know that I haven’t lost sight of you.  I haven’t stopped thinking about your or about how I’ll find a way to have you back again and when I do, well, then you’ll truly know the meaning of love.  For a long time I thought we had that until you ripped my heart out and stomped on it in your quest to ignore me, but know now that I’ll never be ignored…that you’ll never be without me as we belong together Avery and nothing’s going to change that as you’re mine and I’m never letting you go as I give you my heart…” his words were interrupted as Avery let out a scream dropping the box and it’s contents to the floor as her face was twisted in horror.
“Avery, what is it…” Richard questioned as Judy and Deidra entered the room as all eyes fell upon the now scattered box that lay on the floor.
“Russ,” Avery cried out in horror as Russell pulled her into his arms taking in the bloody mess before him.
“Don’t look,” he instructed realizing that there had been a human heart in the box surrounded by pictures of Avery in various states of undress.
Richard knelt down inspecting the photos as he saw images of his daughter out on the island with Caitlin and some with Brant followed by some of Avery in the shower unaware of the eye on her and as the pictures grew more invasive, Richard noticed images of Russ and Avery together in the very hotel room they were standing in.
“What is all this,” Judy questioned in confusion as Deidra poked at the bloody organ that fell from the box.
“I think it’s human,” she reached for a tissue as she extracted a tiny note from the side of it.
“What does it say,” Avery questioned trembling in Russell’s arms as he tried to turn her away from what had fallen literally into her lap.
“Here’s my heart and remember I‘m always watching you,” Deidra read aloud as suddenly the magic of the Christmas spirit faded away replaced by the horrors of the package that had arrived on the hotel doorstep as suddenly Russ and Avery’s honeymoon was no longer a private affair as someone was watching and waiting for a moment to strike as his latest offering was enough to make the kind of statement he was hoping for as fear consumed Avery.
“Oh God,” Avery gasped burying her head in Russell’s chest as he turned away from the bloodied contents of the package now spread over the floor as he wondered what the hell was going on. As Avery’s sobs broke into his chest, he caught a glimpse of one of the blood stained photos at his feet of Avery and Brant caught up with one another in what appeared to be an intimate moment in some kind of bathroom, but before he could allow the hint of rage that swept over him to take control, he thought to Avery’s trembling in his arms and he squeezed her closer to him vowing to make the person responsible for such a tasteless package pay for upsetting his wife and their honeymoon.

...to be continued...