Episode Sixty Seven

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Avery spoke up tugging on Russell’s arm as she began breaking the long silence that had filled the small jet on the ride back home to Coral Valley.  Her father and Judy were seated a little ways away from her and Russell with Deidra near them as all three of them seemed to be worn out from this sudden shift from the island, but now as Avery had time to think about what was happening, an idea sparked inside of her.
“About what sweetheart,” Russell questioned turning his attention away from the window as he faced her reaching out to touch her cheek gently, “I thought you said that you were going to try sleeping.”
“I was, but well I got to thinking about things,” Avery confessed with a hint of a frown, “as I can’t stop obsessing over what happened in our hotel room.”
“Neither can I, which is why I think we really need to consider our options here as there’s no way I want you going back home to face that lunatic,” Russ began with a heavy sigh as Avery opened her mouth to protest, “and while I know you think Brant is uninvolved in what happened, well maybe you should just try to see where I’m coming from on this issue…”
“Russ, I really don’t believe Brant did it and that’s what I’m trying to tell you here,” Avery explained adamantly as she took in a breath preparing to test her theory out on her ever so stubborn husband, “You know I really started to think about the people out in this world who would do something like this and well, I got to thinking about my list of possible enemies…”
“Avery, I told you that I think…” he began as she lifted her hand to silence him almost as soon as his words started.
“Russ, just hear me out on this one,” Avery continued determination brewing in her voice despite the exhaustion that had carried over her from the lack of sleep the night before, “You and I both know that when people are trying to bulldoze someone they tend to exploit their weaknesses, right?”
“Yes which is why I’m certain that Brant…” Russ began again collecting her hand in his as he began to argue with her.
“Russ, just think about this for a second,” she paused giving him a firm look, “In terms other than your theory that Brant wants me enough to do something so twisted…”
“Well, it’s a good theory,” he remarked offhandedly, “and if you’d just listen…”
“No, you listen,” Avery cut him off sharply, “We both know that lately there’s been a lot of strange happenings going on…especially since Bruce was murdered.”
“Right, which is all the more reason that I’m concerned about this,” he added with a frown, “Someone is clearly targeting you and…”
“And when Bruce’s body disappeared from the morgue we suspected foul play.  You and I both thought there had to be some kind of connection as there aren’t many people with that kind of power around Coral Valley to just up and make a body disappear…”
“Yes, but in that case I told you that I felt Brant…” he interjected as she once again covered his lips with a frown.
“Baby, just hear me out,” Avery urged on with a grumble, “You and I both realize there were only a handful of people who could do something like that and not get caught the moment they tried and right now, well I got to thinking about this case that your brother is heading up against BBK.”
“Avery, I know Grady’s got some serious issues, but I don’t think that he would even sink that low considering that…” Russell insisted thinking about his brother’s pure hatred for Avery.  While he’d wanted to think the best about Grady, even at his worst, he truly believed that Grady wouldn’t sink to that disgusting level in an attempt to bully Avery.
“It’s not Grady,” Avery remarked breaking through his thoughts, “Not that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind after the way he tried to rough me up at the mansion, but then I started playing with that idea and you’re right.  Grady has some major issues, but he wouldn’t endanger your life in an attempt to get at me.  Add that up with the fact that you mentioned when Caitlin was hurt that Cameron Stone isn’t above bullying people to get what he wants in certain situations…”
“I’d thought we’d established that Cameron had nothing to do with Caitlin’s attacks as you mentioned that it was more of a personal nature in those instances,” Russell frowned thinking of his friend’s run of bad luck that had lead her into the hospital not so long ago.
“In Caitlin’s case, yes it was, but in ours, well don’t you think it’s possible that Cameron is targeting me?  I mean think about it.  He hired your brother to pull out the big guns of intimidation against me and then well, Bruce just up and vanishes from the morgue which is something that ultimately would shake up the balance of my life…”
“All of those are very valid points, but do you really think that Cameron would find a way to tap into our honeymoon and…”
“Think about it Russ.  I really believe that he has no case against BBK.  We’ve been searching through everything and I can’t for the life of me find any indications that Stone Corp and BBK had any kind of arrangement with one another.  In fact, from what I’ve seen the biggest thing he has is Grady being his sounding ground which isn’t saying much.  I mean sure it looks like this is case has some legal validity, but if we keep digging, well I have a feeling we’re going to discover that there was no arrangement between Cameron and Nicholas and that worries him.  In fact, I think it worries him so much that he’s willing to find a way to try to intimidate me.  When it didn’t work on a professional level with him hiring Grady, well I think he started to work a more personal angle.  I mean honestly, why else would he have someone try to tamper with that railing and have someone attack me like that out in the open?  That was a bold statement which was warning me…I mean you said it yourself that he‘s not above those kind of scare tactics with someone who he perceives as a threat…”
“Avery, even if what you’re saying is the case, well, honey, I think this is all the more reason why us going home is a bad idea.  I mean sure having him send pictures of you and Brant to upset the balance of our lives is one thing, but to go out of his way to frighten you like that--to use a possible threat on your life to intimidate you…honey, I’m starting to think my theory on Brant is the lesser of two evils,” he frowned touching her face as concern flooded over him, “because if Cameron’s targeting you…”
“Then I must be on to something,” Avery announced with a huff sitting up straighter as she continued to think about her theory aloud, “He’s afraid of what we’re going to dig up on BBK and he knows he’s fighting a losing battle.”
“No Avery,” Russ broke through her words, “Cameron Stone never fights a battle he doesn’t intend to win.  You saw what he did in New York to those tenants…”
“Yes, but that was then and now with BBK backing up this battle, well, there’s no way he’s going to get what he wants…” Avery explained pointedly, “If he thinks that sending some invasive pictures is going to make me back down then…”
“Avery, damn it.  It’s more than the pictures,” Russell reminded her sharply, “The man sent you a human heart.  On top of that he tried to sabotage us both with that terrace…”
“Maybe…I mean the hotel said they really couldn’t be sure about that terrace.  I mean who’s to really say it was for us…”
“Avery, just stop,” Russ frowned as she shook her head in response.
“Russ, if Cameron’s been watching us, he would know about our history--about the animosity between you and Brant and what better way to get things started than to let you believe Brant did something that sick and twisted.  It would stack the deck in his favor because he’d know that you wouldn’t want me at BBK and as a part of this lawsuit and that’s exactly what Cameron wants.  He wants me far from this case because he knows that even with your brother’s hatred for me, Grady doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning.”
“No Avery, I think it runs deeper than that and if you’re thinking about following this through, well, not only are you in danger, but so is our child and Avery, that‘s the last thing I want for us,” Russell began with determination in his tone, “If he’s stooped to this level in order to intimidate you, I know he’s not above putting our child at risk as well and I refuse to give him that opportunity.”
“Russ, I’m not going to back down from my job just because some psycho thinks he can push me around and get away with it,” Avery declared boldly, “I’ll just show him that I’m not to be messed with and then we’ll put him behind bars where he belongs.”
“Avery, men like Cameron may belong behind bars, but they seldom end up in that position,” Russell reminded her quickly with a heavy sigh, “There are things that they do to avoid ever having to have been touched by the hands of justice and I refuse to let my wife become another victim in his reign of terror.  If he was the one who sent the package, then you can make damn sure that he’s not above hurting you and I’m not going to let that happen.”
“Russ, I…”
“Avery, Cameron exploit’s a weakness as you said and he sees love and happiness as a weakness,” Russell began desperately, “If he knows about our baby and he’s ready to pull out all the stops, then sweetheart, our child is at a bigger risk than we ever thought possible and given what happened during your first pregnancy, well baby BBK’s fate is not worth the price if it costs us our child.”
“Russ, I don’t really think he’d go that far.  I mean…” Avery started to argue.
“He’s right, Avery,” Richard piped into the conversation after overhearing a bit of it.  “This is something that puts you and my grandchild at far more risk than need be especially in dealing with someone like that man.”
“Daddy, I’m just saying that,” Avery started once more.
“Avery, listen to me,” Richard moved in closer to her, “If a man like Stone is out to make a statement, he’s not above going after you which is why Russ has a point.  You need to think about what’s going on at BBK if this is going to lead to disaster.”
“Daddy, I’m sure that this was just something that he was doing to…” Avery began again trying to explain herself to her father.
“Wait a second,” Judy added with a frown, “is that the same Stone that runs Stone Corp?”
“The one and only,” Richard nodded in response, “His father was a tyrant and from what I gather Cameron picked up the same reputation over the years.  His company owns one that’s in a battle with Kenneth right about now as well and I have a feeling that case is also tied into what’s going on at BBK.”
“They aren’t really related, but I had thought that maybe Cameron was targeting the Ashfords…” Avery explained with a frown, “which would mean that is a reason he went after me.  I mean sure I’m not really his main target, but given that I’m working this case for Brant…”
“Avery, I don’t like any of this and I don’t want you putting yourself in the line of fire,” Russell added once again, “Our child’s life isn’t worth this case…”
“I don’t think it’ll get to that,” Avery began with a frown, “I mean sure what happened on the island was horrible…”
“Avery, sweetheart I know I taught you to never back down from a fight, but if this is Stone’s way of going after you, well I’d just as soon see you walk away rather than watch you experience something like you did the last time you lost your child,” Richard pleaded with her as he reached out to touch her face gently, “Sweetheart I know that you can’t go through something like that and if Stone gets word of what happened, there’s no telling what he’d do to you or the baby.”
“Daddy, I don’t think…” Avery started up once more.
“Honey, he’s right,” Judy insisted making a voice in the current situation, “Whomever sent you that package clearly has malicious intent behind the threat they sent.  If they’re after you and the baby, well, honey that’s something to be very worried about…”
“I’m not going to leave my job because some stupid jackass thinks he can frighten me,” Avery hissed feeling her anger build up inside of her at their suggestions, “I’m not helpless you know…”
“No, you aren’t honey, but our child is,” Russell pleaded with her reaching for her hand, “If you think about this…really think about what something like this could do to our baby,” he turned to Deidra throwing her a pleading look, “Given that Avery’s had a miscarriage once in the past, isn’t it possible that there’s an increased chance of something going wrong this time around…”
“Well, I…” Deidra began at a loss as she saw the horror behind Avery’s eyes.
“Russ,” Avery squealed in response swatting at him upon his words, “how could you even say such a thing?  Why would you even bring up a subject like that considering…”
“Considering that you were told that you’d never be pregnant again,” he lifted a concerned brow, “Gee, I can’t imagine why concerns about our child would slip into my mind there.  Avery, I just don’t want us to lose the family that we’ve worked so hard for…”
“Russ, I wouldn’t let it get to that,” Avery promised as tears filled her eyes and she placed her hand over her abdomen protectively, “Nothing is going to happen to our baby.”
“Which is why I don’t think you should be taking this kind of risk at BBK if Cameron is the one targeting you,” Russell pleaded with her, “Honey, we’ve spent so much time awaiting this second chance and if anything took that away from us…”
“It’s not going to,” Richard decided firmly, “because we’re not going to give Cameron the chance to take it from you both.  I refuse to let my daughter be in the line of fire…”
“Daddy, I’m sure that…” Avery bit on her lower lip now fighting the fear that the thought of losing her child brought on in her.  Suddenly all her bold words seemed empty as she thought to the baby she’d prayed for over the years.  She looked to Russell realizing that maybe he had a point, but she still found herself too stubborn to admit it.
“I’ll take over for you on the case,” Richard declared firmly, “that way if Cameron wants to take someone on, well he can do battle with me.”
“Daddy, you can’t just throw yourself into this case considering,” Avery gasped in response, “if I’m in danger, then you’d only be…”
“Avery, I spent the last thirty years of my life doing battle with your mother,” Richard declared with an air of firmness about him, “and no one can be worse than she is.  I know all the tricks and the manipulations and I also know that I’m in a position where if Cameron tried to take me on, it would raise some serious eyebrows as I have some connections that he wouldn’t want to have work against him.”
“But…” she began again.
“Honey, I know that I always taught you to stick to your guns, but in this case, well my grandchild should take top billing,” Richard explained worry creasing over his brow, “You shouldn’t gamble with your life or the little ones.”
“But I can’t just walk away from BBK,” Avery argued once again.
“You won’t be walking away from BBK,” Richard offered up seeing the objection behind Russell’s eyes as he realized that while his son-in-law wouldn’t enjoy Avery still working with Brant, there would be no pushing her away from her job as she was far too determined to walk away, “but it will take you away from this case in particular.”
“And you think Brant’s just going to up and agree to it?” Avery questioned with wide eyes, “We both know that he’s not going to…”
“Avery, honey, while you were away on the island with Brant, he’d asked me to look into things.  I’ve been doing some research of my own and given my expertise on the subject, well I don’t think Brant is going to decline my offer to lend a hand since I’ll be doing it on a voluntary basis requesting nothing more than a chance to keep an eye on things for my little girl through the duration of the proceedings.”
“So you’re saying that I can still keep up doing what I’m doing, but when it comes to court you’ll be the one holding the reigns?” Avery gave him a strange look.
“If we find out that Stone is behind this, then yes, I would very much like to be holding the reigns in public,” Richard nodded quickly.
“And given that Grady is the one on the other side of the battle, Richard’s stepping in for you makes sense,” Russell offered up as well, “because despite the fact I love my brother, I don’t think he’s going to back down from this one.”
“Because he’s just itching for a chance to stick it to me,” anger bubbled over Avery, “which is all the more reason why…”
“Why I don’t want my wife going head to head with my idiot brother.  That in itself is reason enough for you to let your father lend a hand,” Russell pleaded with her.
“I can handle Grady.  He thinks he’s tough, but when it gets down to it, I know how to bust his balls in more ways than he can ever begin to imagine as that arrogant son of a bitch has it coming to him,” Avery paused biting on her lower lip as she saw the way Russell’s eyes seemed to respond to her words, “Sorry honey, I know he’s your brother, but where I’m concerned, he’s got this killer instinct and if I don’t find a way to fight back, well then he thinks he wins…”
“If something happened to you or the baby, well,” Russell sighed heavily, “Avery, I just don’t want to risk it.  I mean I can try to talk to Grady…hell, maybe I can convince Jade to reason with him, but for now, well I don’t want you to be put in a position where he upsets you like he did earlier…”
“Russ, I just wasn’t ready for it when…” Avery began thinking back to the situation that had taken place on the island.
“What happened earlier?” Richard questioned in confusion.
“Grady isn’t happy about the marriage,” Avery blurted out with a frown fighting to keep herself from reacting the way she had before as she realized that aspect of her life with Russell would always be difficult, “and he had no problems expressing the level of his discontent with me.”
“He’ll have to learn to deal with things because I’m not about to give you up,” Russell announced boldly as his arm draped around her shoulders, “as you and the baby are absolutely everything to me.”
“You’re everything to me as well Russ, but if I just walk away from my obligations,” she sighed shaking her head as the eerie image of the package she’d received flashed through her mind, “this isn’t going to be easy, is it?”
“Until we know exactly who sent that package, nothing is going to be anything less than complicated,” Russell hugged her closer to him, “and I’m not about to let you walk into danger unless I know without a shadow of a doubt that the threat has passed.”
“I wouldn’t willingly put our baby’s life on the line.  I hope you know that,” she replied choked up on emotion as the more she thought about the situation, the more she found herself concerned with the way things were.
“I know that sweetheart which is why as soon as we get back home, I want us to look into what’s going on with the baby,” he insisted dropping his arm around her waist as his other hand reached for her abdomen settling over it protectively, “I just want to know that everything is going okay with the two of you and then we’ll work on what’s next.”
“We can do that,” Avery nodded in response looking to Deidra, “We can do that, right?”
“Of course we can,” Deidra agreed feeling the tension in the air surrounding her as the group was consumed with the hideous gift that had arrived on the hotel door step.  “I can get working on your records right away too when we get home and see what went on before and we can work on keeping that little one in tip top shape.”
“I’d like that,” Avery threw out a grateful smile, “as my baby is the most important thing right now.”
“As it should be,” Richard felt a breath of relief spill over his lips, “We’ll go home and make sure that everything is going good with the two of you and then maybe you can take some down time to relax a bit and I’ll speak with Brant.  We’ll work something out so that things aren’t as tense as they could be if we sat back doing nothing.”
“I think regardless of where we are tension is going to follow,” Avery sighed in confession realizing that despite the fantasy wedding she’d had on the island with Russell that things were about to take a drastic turn for them.  Now as she reached for his hand, seeing the concern behind his vibrant green eyes, she just hoped that above all else that their family would come out on top of things stronger than ever as their baby was the one thing that had renewed her faith in the world around her and she was bound and determined to see this pregnancy through to the very end when their child was born into the world happy and healthy.  She just prayed that regardless of what was waiting for them back home, that they’d find a way to come out on top of the situation as nothing was worth the cost of losing the happiness they’d found in their lives together.


“I really wish you hadn’t done that,” Kenneth began with a hushed whisper as he looked over at his brother across the plane.  While Brant had a few sharp words to throw out at the both of them upon leaving the beach house, he’d also made quite certain to stay far from Kenneth and Caitlin on the plane as it seemed he was stewing over the situation in his own cryptic way that had Kenneth on edge in more ways than he’d planned on.
“I was upset with him,” Caitlin offered up in her defense, “He came into the house saying all these ridiculous things and it just came out.”
“Even so I really don’t think it was our place to break the news to him,” Kenneth reminded her with a frown, “This was Avery’s news and…”
“Well look on the plus side.  We made this easier for her,” Caitlin offered up not really believing her words as she thought about the exchange that took place between her and Brant, “I mean maybe by the time she returns from the honeymoon, Brant will already have time to adjust to what’s happening and he’ll have moved on as I get the distinct vibe that won’t take much for him with his history with women.”
“I really don’t see it being that easy, Caitlin,” Kenneth frowned turning his attention to Brant once again as Brant looked up from the papers that were in his lap.
“What the hell are you two staring at,” Brant grumbled in response throwing a glare in Caitlin’s general direction, “don’t you have something better to do than obsess over me.”
“Like I would waste any of my time even giving you a second thought,” Caitlin replied sharply unable to retract the claws where Brant was concerned, “as you aren’t worth my time.”
“Caitlin,” Kenneth piped in with a disapproving look as he watched her eyes darken with anger.
“Well it’s true,” Caitlin added with a huff, “I’m tired of us having to tiptoe around Brant because of what temper tantrum might come out from inside of him.  I mean honestly, he’s an adult and it’s time to grow up and face the reality that things don’t always go his way.  It’s time to see that not every woman in the world is going to bow down to his wishes just because he pushes them upon her…”
“Ken, would you just shut your whore up,” Brant glared back at her, “She doesn’t know when to quit.”
“Brant, she’s not a whore,” Kenneth defended as his jaw clenched with anger, “and if you say something like that again…”
“Oh that’s right,” Brant threw his hands in the air bitterly, “You’ll defend a woman whom you hardly know and you’ll take up for her, but heaven forbid you take up for family.  I mean one good lay and clearly you’re turned to the other side,” Brant rose from his seat, “but I know her kind and you’re only going to get burned Ken.  She’s poison.”
“Brant, we just…” Kenneth began watching his brother disappear to another area of the jet as worry creased his brow.
“Let him go pout.  It just shows you how immature he really is,” Caitlin insisted touching Kenneth’s arm gently, “He needs to grow up.”
“Caitlin, this is serious,” Kenneth remarked with a frown facing her once again, “and the last thing we need right now is your goading him.”
“Please don’t tell me that you think he’s right in all of this,” her eyes widened in surprise.
“Of course not, but I’m worried about my brother,” he sighed heavily, “maybe you don’t think too much of him, but he is my brother and given what’s happened in our family, well I don’t want to see Brant fall into the same madness that overtook our father.”
“It might be a little too late for that one,” Caitlin confessed as she looked to the curtain Brant disappeared behind.
“God, I really hope not,” Kenneth admitted with a frown wishing that things were different with his brother.


Brant shoved the curtain closed behind him cursing the day that Caitlin Vaughn stepped into his brother’s life and now as he found himself wanting to tear her apart piece by piece he realized it was time to take matters into his own hands.  Quickly withdrawing his cell phone from his pocket, he dialed the private investigator he’d worked with in the past every now and then.  As he heard the familiar voice on the end of the line, he quickly explained the situation.
“I need you to check up on three things for me,” Brant began as he peeked out into the other area of the plane seeing Kenneth and Caitlin talking with one another.  “That’s right…money is no object in this particular matter.”
“What can I do for you this time, Mr. Ashford,” the man on the other end of the line questioned.
“First off, I need you to locate Russell Denton as soon as possible and I mean this in the sense that I want the information like yesterday as this can’t wait,” Brant informed him point blank.
“Consider it done,” the man promised, “I’ll have that information before you get back home.”
“Good, and then I’ll need another favor,” he paused tossing the curtain shut once again as he lowered his voice even further, “I need you to look into a woman for me…”
“Any woman in particular,” the voice teased over the end of the line.
“Actually, there are two women I need you to run a check on,” Brant admitted with a sigh, “the first one is named Caitlin Vaughn.  I want you to dig up everything you can find on her and get that information my way as soon as you can…”
“A potential new leading lady?” the man on the other end of the line inquired.
“Not in the least,” Brant adjusted his tie, “She’s more of a headache that I’d like to see fit to get rid of more or less.”
“So you want me to find anything and everything I can to erase the problem for you?” the man asked a hint of amusement in his voice.
“Now you’re catching on,” Brant nodded as he took a quick look out from behind the curtain once again, “as I’d like to see this problem fixed as soon as possible so things can get back to normal around here.”
“And the third request,” the man began again as Brant found himself envisioning the moment when Caitlin was booted from his brother’s life forever, “Mr. Ashford?”
“Oh right,” Brant closed the curtain once more remembering the other thing that had been on his mind for a while here beyond Caitlin’s lies about Avery, “I need you to get me some information on a woman named Angela Meloni.”
“Another problem?”
“Not exactly,” Brant replied cryptically, “but more so it’s an area of great interest for me and as with the Caitlin Vaughn situation, I expect you to be discreet about it.”
“When have I failed you, sir,” the man inquired with an air of smugness about him.
“Now wouldn’t be the time to start,” Brant replied curtly, “so you’d better get a start on it.”
“I’ll have the information on Mr. Denton before your plane touches down at home,” the man promised eagerly.
“Excellent,” Brant threw out before hanging up the phone and taking one last look out at his brother and Caitlin.  A wicked smirk built upon his features as he realized that now was no longer about tempting fate as he would certainly take destiny into his own hands from here on out and as it stood Caitlin Vaughn and Russell Denton were at the top of his hit list.


Diane sat at her desk at BBK tapping furiously at her keyboard. While Ben had decided to try his luck with Blake, Diane knew the likelihood of Blake selflessly helping out was slim to none. She knew that the only way she could help Jade was to look for the microfilm herself.

“Hey,” Ben flashed her a smile as he sat on the edge of the desk, “Has it been a busy morning?”

“Not really. With Brant out of the country, things have been quiet,” She replied as she kept her eyes on the computer screen. She took a moment to jot down some information before she continued to tap away at the keyboard.

“So what’s keeping you so busy?” He asked as he moved to peer over her shoulder.

“I’m looking up any new microfilms that have been checked in within the last two weeks,” She said before she looked over her shoulder to him, “I take it you went to speak to Blake.”

“Yeah, I did,” He nodded, “She’s reluctant to say the least.”

“I knew she would be. She doesn’t give a damn about anyone but herself,” Diane sighed as she looked back to the computer screen.

“She wasn’t completely opposed to the idea, but she’s not willing to just hand it over without some assurance that it won’t come back to bite her in the ass,” He crossed his arms as he sat back on the corner of her desk, “Which you have admit is smart on her part.”

“Please don’t start defending her. I don’t need to throw up this morning,” She groaned as she rolled her eyes and wrote down some more information on a pad before her.

“She might find a way to help us, Diane. We can’t turn any help down at this point,” He reasoned.

“I know,” She frowned, “I really do, but the thought of accepting anything from her just turns my stomach.”

“Maybe it’ll just be a one time deal,” He offered, “And then we can go our separate ways.”

“It can’t happen soon enough if you ask me,” She said pointedly before she cleared her screen and turned to face him, “Well I’ve finished going through the newest microfilm to be logged in. Now I just have to go down the vault to pull the archives.”

“Want some help?” He asked with a smile.

Diane grinned, “As much as I would adore that, one of us needs to be here to handle the phones, and since I already know where to look, that means you get phone duty.”

“Come on,” He pulled her close to him, “Admit it. You’d love for me to be down there with you, the two of us all alone.”

“Don’t tempt me,” She warned as she kissed him quickly, “We need to focus here. I know that I’m usually the one lacking focus as you’re about all I can focus on,” She stopped her rambling as she met his eyes seriously, “But this is about protecting Jade. She’s my best friend, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that she’s safe…even if it means sacrificing some alone time for us,” She said before kissing him gently.

“You are a dedicated friend to make such a sacrifice,” He teased before he drew her into one final kiss, “But we’ll just store up that energy for our date tonight.”

Diane’s smile illuminated her face, “Our date…you did ask me out, didn’t you?”

“I did,” He nodded.

“Hmmm,” She paused, “Well, I hope you don’t expect anything improper to happen tonight. I’m not the kind of girl to put out on a first date.”

“First date, huh?” He asked with slight amusement, “Well, since I did extend the invitation I guess I can struggle to be on my best behavior.”

She chuckled softly as she adjusted his tie slightly, “As well you should. I happen to think you’re a gentleman at heart. You wouldn’t want to disappoint me, now would you?”

“Of course not,” Ben teased as he leaned forward and kissed her again, “Now get going down to the vault, or we’re never going to get any work done around here.”

Diane winked at him before she walked down the hall on a mission to protect her friend and get the day’s work done so she could focus on the romantic evening ahead of her with the man she adored.


Seth knocked lightly on Jade’s office door before peaking inside, “Hey, got a second?”

“Sure,” Jade smiled as she saved for him to enter, “Come on in. What brings you buy? I thought you were working today.”

“It’s later today at a Christian prep school. I guess they want some kind of class photo or something,” He shrugged as he closed the door, “But I thought if you had a few minutes we could talk.”

“Sure,” She nodded as she leaned onto her desk, watching as he took a seat across from her, “This sounds serious.”

“It is,” He began as he sat forward, “The deal I made with that powerful man we’d talked about…”

“Yeah, what about it?” She asked as she watched the tension mount on her brother’s features, “Seth, what’s going on?”

“The man was Cameron Stone, Jade. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I could see was a chance to get back at the Ashford’s, and now I’ve put you in danger. That was never my intention.”

She sat silently for a moment before she spoke, “What is he holding over your head, Seth?”

“He’s threatened you, and he’s threatened Blake.”

“And what is it he wants so badly?”

“Some microfilm,” He explained, “From what I can understand, it’s something to do with a drug that BBK is researching. I think Stone hopes to get his hands on it and get it on the market first.”

Jade nodded, “He’s not going to hurt me, Seth.”

“And how can you be so sure?” He asked boldly, “The man is a walking time bomb, just looking for someone to be his next victim. It’s how all the rich and powerful work.”

“I know because he wants me,” She sighed as she met his eyes, “He’s been pretty forward in letting me know that he wants me in his bed. He’s not going to screw that up by hurting me.”

“Jade, you can’t be around him.”

“I’m not,” She assured her brother, “I don’t ever want to see the sick bastard again in my life, and I’m doing my best to avoid that situation. Unfortunately, he has ways of getting to me before I can figure out how to escape.”

“What’s that mean?” Seth asked in confusion.

“He was at the Ashford party,” She explained, “He cornered me, and he made a play for me again. I’m telling you, Seth, he may want to hurt Blake, but he’s not going to lift a finger against me.”

He shook his head, “I think you’re putting too much faith in him.”

“It’s not really faith in so much as it is that he’s trying to win me over. Yeah, he’s been forceful about it, but he’s never resorted to violence,” She paused as she took a deep breath, “Men like Cameron Stone have no qualms about taking what they want if they want it badly enough,” She looked at her brother reluctantly, “I don’t think he’s willing to cross that line. I don’t know why but he wants me to willingly be his.”

Seth’s jaw tightened, “That son of a bitch…he just keeps finding ways to work this,” He shook his head, “I don’t even know why I thought it was a good idea to accept his offer.”

“Because we needed the money, Seth,” She frowned, “We still do.”

“It shouldn’t be this way. Dimitri never should have left us with the burden of his debts.”

“No, he shouldn’t have,” Jade walked around the desk and took her brother’s hand, “We’ll get Stone’s money, and when we do, we’ll be able to clear all of Dad’s debts. We’ll be able to finally be free.”

“I don’t understand how you can be so optimistic about this, Jade, especially since this psycho nutcase is focused on you,” He said in concern.

“Optimism is all I have, Seth,” She answered sadly, “Without it, I’m faced with the horrible reality of everything that our father did to us and left us with. I’m not ready to deal with that, and I have to think positive just to get through it.”

“Jade, I’m so sorry about all of this,” Seth drew his sister into his arms and hugged her tightly, “I don’t know how, but we’re going to figure a way out of this. I promise you that.”

“I know we will, Seth,” Jade agreed as she hugged him tightly, putting her faith not only in her brother but in destiny that it wouldn’t allow tragedy to visit their family again and tear them apart.


Dave whistled a tune to himself as he walked through the squad room. Sharing a meal with a beautiful woman always put a little spring in his step. He would have to get back to the complicated business of dealing with the case that could now be called the Harold Abrams case.

“It’s about damn time you got back here,” Shannon grumbled as she slapped a file in the center of his chest, “Meet Harold Abrams.”

“And what a nice welcome back that was,” He quipped as he held the file out so he could read it. He glanced over the page, “Ouch…how did this guy ever get into medical school?”

“He was juvenile when he committed all the violent acts you see on that list before you. Multiple charges of cruelty to animals and arson. This guy was destined to be a serial killer,” She waved her hand at him as she proceeded back into her office and rifled through files on her desk.

“So we’re moving him from victim right up to suspect, huh?” He asked as he continued reading over the charges before him, “Wait a second, this offense was after his eighteenth birthday. How did that slip by the admissions department at the medical school?”

“If you’ll notice he was charged with arson, but the charges were dropped. You can’t throw someone out if they weren’t convicted of something. Isn’t justice beautiful?” She picked up a slip of paper from her desk, “We need to meet Avery Morrison at the airport. She was out of the country, but she’s on her way back. I think we’d better be there to welcome her back and tell her that she’s in danger.”

“Sometimes I really hate this job,” He frowned as he placed the file on her desk, “Do we have any idea about this guy’s movements after medical school?”

“Oh you’re going to love this,” Shannon said as she moved to the board, “Mathis and Abrams planned to open a medical practice together. When Mathis was murdered, Abrams left town considering his best friend was now dead and his career plans had to change,” She pointed out Bruce Mathis, “My guess is that Abrams murdered Mathis, but I don’t exactly have a motive yet. Anyway, since Mathis was the most clean cut guy on the planet and had absolutely no record whatsoever, not even a parking ticket,” She emphasized, “Abrams must have seen the chance to start fresh with a new identity and leave this checkered past behind him.”

“How can you classify him as a serial killer though?” Dave asked as he looked to the board, “In case you haven’t noticed, there’s only one victim on that board.”

She plucked a file from the stack on her desk, “Here. One of Abrams’ advisors was murdered while he was in medical school. While there were he was never a suspect, it has Abrams’ signature on it.”

He looked over the file and nodded, “The severe beating, found near a body of water,” He glanced up to the board, “I guess this is number one.”

“No, there are others,” She spoke as she took a photo of the advisor and posted it on the board, “These killings were too methodical, too calculated. Flawless. He’d perfected his act already.”

“We need to look on VICAP. There may be other bodies out there that belong to Abrams,” He frowned as he glanced to his watch, “What time was Avery’s plane due in?”

Shannon glanced to her watch, “We’ll have just enough time to get to the airport and meet her at the terminal. Let’s go,” She said as she grabbed her coat from the back of her chair.

Dave nodded as he took one last glance at the board. Somehow they’d stumbled upon the worst possible scenario for any case to take, and now he has the unpleasant duty of letting Avery know just who she had been involved with and how dangerous he truly was.


Cameron sat behind his desk, looking over a prenuptial agreement Susan had drafted for him. There were a few changes to be made, but overall, Susan had done an outstanding job of protecting his assets as well as providing for Heather in case of some sort of disaster. He almost laughed at the clause that began “in event of husband’s infidelity” as his plans for Heather didn’t include anything about monogamy.

He penciled in his changes while Thea stepped into his office with a file in hand, “Hello Thea.”

“And how did you know it was me?” She asked in amusement as she crossed the room.

“You’re the only person bold enough to step in here without knocking,” He pointed out as he glanced up as she tapped lightly on the file in her hand, “What’s that you’re holding?”

“You could call it an extra Christmas gift,” She smiled as she extended it to him, “I found out all about Jimmy Cordell, and more than that,” She grinned, “I found him.”

“Well,” Cameron smiled as he took the file from her, “Where is he?”

“He’s in a hotel just outside of town being well looked after,” She informed him as she sat across from him and crossed her legs while adjusting the hem of her skirt, “He’s willing to play ball in any manner we choose.”

“Good,” He read over the file, “He’s been busted a few times for assault and battery. We certainly can’t have that.”

“Which is why I’ve also put a lawyer on retainer for him…just in case he gets in over his head,” She added, “The question is…just what do you want to do with him?”

“I figure that if little miss curious reporter has her hands full with Mr. Cordell then she won’t have time to trash Midlands in her paper. Besides, she makes Kenneth Ashford much too happy.”

“So this is your angle for getting to Kenneth?” Thea asked skeptically.

“It’s only part of it,” Cameron said lightly as he leaned onto his desk, “Susan is my ace in the hole.”

“Care to explain that one?” She asked as she crossed her arms.

“Susan and Kenneth were involved in an illicit affair,” He grinned with a shrug, “Or as illicit as Kenneth was ever involved in. I’ve asked her to intentionally not file an entry of appearance until Monday before court. I want her presence to hit Ashford like a ton of bricks.”

“You think he’ll really be that affected?” She asked, not buying it, “If he’s anything like Brant, he won’t give a rat’s …”

“Ah, but he’s nothing like Brant, and that’s what is going to be his undoing. He’s not used to dealing with sexual politics, but he’s going to have to take a crash course courtesy of Susan.”

“Are you expecting her to fall head over heels for him again?”

“Hell no,” He answered quickly, “In fact, I don’t expect Susan to have much of a reaction at all. She’s a smart woman who knows how to deal with a sticky situation. It’s my guess that she’s going to have a lot of fun watching Ashford squirm.”

“What are her feelings towards Ashford? That isn’t going to get us into trouble, is it?”

“No,” He said without worry, “Susan doesn’t care about Ashford. I just think she enjoyed the thrill of turning the good boy into a bad one,” He grinned, “And what better woman to tempt him to do it all over again.”

“You want them involved?”

“Not necessarily. I just want Ashford distracted while I destroy his entire family,” He shrugged with a grin, “A distracted enemy is a weak one, and I know just how to distract him.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing, Cam,” Thea warned, “Because if this blows up in our faces, I’d hate to have to deal with Susan. I almost like her.”

“I know,” Cameron nodded, “But we both know better than to get too involved with the pawns on our board, don’t we?” He asked with a smile, “Which is why you have absolutely no reason to worry about my bride. She’s nothing but a pawn in my plans to see Douglas destroyed,” He said with anticipation in his voice, “And I must admit that I can’t wait to see Mahoney get what he so richly deserves,” He grinned with predatory intent evident in his eyes. Nothing pleased him more than hurting those who had hurt him or his family, and no one had betrayed them more than Douglas Mahoney. Yes, destroy Douglas was going to bring him a special kind of pleasure that he would savor for years to come.


Guy stepped into the foyer of the Ashford mansion looking for any signs of his mother as she’d called him up requesting that he make an emergency trip over to see her. While he and Gabe had intended on spending the rest of the day with one another enjoying this quiet time that they had after the holidays, but when his mother called in a frenzy, well he realized that his quiet time with Gabe would have to be put on hold yet again.  Now as he looked around the Ashford mansion he wondered what in the world could’ve had his mother so worked up.
“Oh thank heavens you’re here,” Brooke emphasized coming down the spiral staircase into view, “I was so afraid you wouldn’t make it here and then, well then I don’t know what I would’ve come up with…”
“Mum, what is it?  What’s wrong,” Guy raced over to the stairs meeting up with her at the bottom as he reached out to her, “What happened?”
“You have to come up here right away,” Brooke tugged on his arm pulling him up the stairs as he reluctantly followed noting the apprehension in her tone, “I just couldn’t decide what to do on this issue and well, I just knew that the only person who would truly give me the most honest answer would be you and given the nature of importance behind this, well Guy, this just couldn‘t wait…”
“What is it Mum,” he questioned as she lead him into the room she’d been staying in.  She motioned over to the bed where two pant suits lay out before him on the comforter.
“Well, what do you think?” she questioned curiously, “The black or the red?”
“You called me all the way over here to help you pick out a pant suit?” Guy gave her a strange look, “Mum, you’ve never asked me to pick out your wardrobe like that before…”
“No I haven’t and I realize that, but tonight, well tonight I have a very important meeting with Marc Ashley.”
“Tonight?” Guy gave her a strange look.
“That’s right,” she nodded eagerly, “and this is exactly what Beholder needs considering the way your father has been running around town trying to shame me and my company wit his hideous behavior.  I figure that a big name tied in to Beholder can only bring about good things.  Granted Douglas Mahoney and I have some work ahead of us as we’ve worked out an arrangement as well, but given that his son is still laid up in the hospital in a coma, well I hardly think that’s the kind of publicity that Beholder needs at a moment like this,” she shuddered lifting the red suit up from the bed, “What do you think?  Does it spell victory?”
“Mum, it doesn’t matter what you wear as I’m sure you’ll charm the pants off of Marc Ashley and come out on top of the situation,” Guy replied politely, “now if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get back to…”
“Oh no you don’t,” Brooke pulled at his arm, “You’re not going anywhere as I promised Cathy that you’d be going to dinner with us tonight as this is a very important meeting for Beholder.”
“Mum, I already told you that I’m not interested in Cathy that way because…” Guy started desperately.
“Guy, listen to me.  You can’t waste your life away on a nothing like that Mindy girl.  She’s completely wrong for you and while you’re so stubborn about Cathy, well if you look at your future, you’ll see that you’re much better off in courting a proper young woman like Cathy Ashley instead of wasting your time on a girl who is destined to lead you to failure.”
“Mum, I realize that you don’t like Mindy, but she’s got a good heart and she’s a wonderful woman,” Guy insisted with a frown.
“Not wonderful enough for my boy,” Brooke reached for his arm, “and I want to see a great many wonderful things for you Guy as I’m hoping one day you’ll make me a grandmother with beautiful babies running around here.  I want to see you with a wife who enhances all your fine points and makes you truly happy.  Granted slumming has it’s place in a young man’s life, but you’ve outgrown that and…”
“Mum, enough,” Guy snapped at her, “I don’t want to hear it.  I’m tired of listening to you go on and on about the choices I make in my life.  Mum, it’s my life and I can’t let you live it for me.  You and I both know it doesn’t work that way and…”
“Guy, why are you yelling at me,” Brooke raised her hand to her chest with a gasp as tears built behind her dark eyes, “Can a mother help it if she loves you so much that she’s only wanting the best for you?  For her only son considering that you’re the most important thing in my life?”
“Mum I…” Guy began struggling to remain firm with her.
“Your sister has told me time and time again just how little she thinks of me as your father runs around town with his whore showing the world what a failure he believes me to be as his wife and now with you joining the ranks of the others in your attacking me…”
“Mum, I’m not attacking you.  I’m just trying to say…” Guy started once again.
“Guy, haven’t I done a good job with you?  Haven’t I tried to give you everything and love you to the best of my ability?” she questioned as the tears began and she took in a heaving breath, “You’re my world and my last chance in this world to prove to myself that I’m not a failure as a mother.  Your father is making damned sure that the world thinks I’ve failed as a wife and you know your sister would just as soon snub her nose at me for the things your father has put into her mind.  She’d love nothing more than to see my alone and miserable and if you start thinking like they do…”
“Mum, that’s not it,” Guy reached out to embrace her, “I love you very much and I’ve always tried to do what would make you happy.  You’re very important to me and I just, well I want to give you everything you’ve dreamt of, but sometimes things don’t work out that way.  Mum, there’s so much I want to tell you, but…”
“Guy, please promise me that you won’t take away the last chance in my life for me to really be proud of something.  I mean sure I have the company, but you, well you’re the apple of my eye,” she reached up to touch his cheek gently, “and I just want to see the best in your life…”
“Mum, I…” Guy felt a sigh fall from his lips, “Alright, I’ll go to dinner tonight with you and the Ashleys, but eventually we’re really going to need to sit down and talk about things because I…”
“I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” Brooke threw her arms around him excitedly, “and I promise that tonight is going to be amazing.  This means so much to me that you’re here to support me at a time like this when the world is against me.  I’m so glad that you’re still here as I love you so very much…”
“I love you too, Mum,” Guy replied with a hint of a frown as he continued to hug her realizing that things were never going to change for them as his mother would always be the one thing that kept his life and love a secret from the world.  While he’d wanted so desperately to believe that he could come clean with her, he feared that he may never be able to share the truth in his heart with his mother about the man he loved and now as he held onto his mother, he felt an ache inside of him at the knowledge that he could very well spend his life being the man he was never truly meant to be.


Gabe stepped into the offices at the Coral Courier deciding it was now time to make a little visit to Mindy while Guy was away.  Certainly Guy wouldn’t approve of such a bold move on Gabe’s part, but there was no denying the need burning up inside of Gabe to clear things up between Guy’s former lover and himself.  Now as he scanned the half empty offices after the post-holiday bliss, he spotted Mindy working away at a computer, buried in whatever project had peaked her interest earlier in the day.
“So this is where you spend your days when you’re not pawing at Guy,” Gabe remarked smugly as Mindy looked up from the computer monitor before her surprise evident behind her dark eyes as she leaned back in her chair.
“Excuse me,” she blinked back up at him as a frown curled over her pale blush colored lips, “but where the hell did that come from?”
“It came from the other night at dinner,” Gabe answered sourly as he glared down at her, “Don’t think I’m not aware of what you’re up to.”
“What I’m up to?” Mindy’s eyes further widened, “I think you need to just back up a minute and turn the bitch vibe down there Gabe,” she rose from her chair looking around the offices for a moment before lowering her voice a bit, “though I have to say this isn’t the right time or place to get into this.”
“Oh I think it’s a perfect time considering that you and I have needed this one on one for a while here to set some ground rules,” he folded his arms in front of his chest firmly.
“No, you don’t understand,” she frowned reaching out to take his arm despite her own irritation with his impromptu visit.  She lead him towards Russell’s office refusing to give it a second thought before she shoved him inside the room.  Quickly closing the door behind him, her eyes shot daggers at him as her anger mounted, “Look Gabe, I don’t know what got you going today, but I think you’re right about one thing.  We need to set a few ground rules here.”
“Exactly Mindy,” his voice was thick with animosity, “and in this instance were Guy is concerned, I think you’d be best to remember that he’s not with you anymore.  What you’re doing in front of his mother is only temporary…”
“I didn’t imagine it was any other way,” she answered openly, “as I know what’s going on…”
“No, I don’t think you do,” Gabe took a seat on the edge of Russell’s desk, “as when I was watching you with him, I saw that familiar look…”
“And what look might that be?” Mindy questioned with a huff.
“The look of a woman in love with a man she can never have,” Gabe watched as she began to open her mouth in protest, “and don’t even try denying it because I saw the sparkle in your eyes Mindy.  I know you and Guy have a history with one another, but that’s all it is…”
“I didn’t say it was anything more,” she replied sharply, “as I’m doing a favor for my friend who…”
“Mindy, don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes.  I know the look of longing very well as I spent just enough time with a woman who was convinced that she could change me into her dream and in those years I learned a whole new world of heartbreak when she pleaded with me to be something I’m not…”
“I’m not asking anything of Guy except that he stand up to his mother considering how truly wicked she is,” Mindy reminded him sharply, “and for you to come here and insinuate anything further, well it’s just insulting.”
“Insulting or not, I think you need to have the lines made clear for you as Guy and I are very much in love,” Gabe replied as his tone grew dark with passion, “He and I have been involved in something for quite some time now and he’s not that love stricken teen that you fell for in high school.  He’s no longer living in those lies and now with this new one, well Mindy, I see you as a woman hoping for something that just isn’t going to be happening.  Guy isn’t going to wake up tomorrow and realize he’s not the man he believed himself to be.  He’s not going to magically turn around and realize that letting you go was a mistake because while he cares very deeply about you, it’ll never be love.  Do you understand that?”
“Gabe, this isn’t your place to be saying something like this to me especially when I’m putting my ass on the line to help the two of you out,” Mindy snapped in response, “I told him flat out to come clean with Brooke about your relationship, but he’s terrified of her.  The woman is just pure evil and she won’t stop pushing him.  Time and time again I’ve watched him be bulldozed by her and I’m not going to let it happen again.  Sure, you can tell me until you’re blue in the face that what Guy and I have is history, but it’s that history that shows me all the more reason why Guy needs me at his side.  He needs someone who can take on Brooke and put her in her place because he’s not going to do it now when that woman lays guilt trip after guilt trip upon him…”
“Guy will tell her the truth when the time is right and when he does, well I don’t want you to be in the shadows feeling as if you’ve been used because…” Gabe started softening his tone.
“Don’t pretend you came here to spare my feelings,” Mindy glared at him, “because I know a jealous lover when I see one and while you might have formed some opinions about my relationship with Guy the other night, well the truth is I know where his heart is.  I know how he’d like to be spending his nights and I’m well aware of the person he’d like to be sharing them with.  That being said, I’m not about to blow this cover story Guy has going until he’s ready and if you can’t deal with that, well maybe it’s time you take a step back and think about the emotions you’re clearly pushing off on Guy when the real problem isn’t the fact that Guy and I are pretending, but that you were the one who was married and living a lie.  You know first hand how sticky this situation is and sure, you’d love to lash out at me because Guy hasn’t come clean with his mother, but really, Gabe I saw how things were with you and Guy the other night.  You had no problems playing around with that Cathy girl at the mansion, so maybe your feelings and motives are the ones who should be questioned instead of mine or Guy’s…”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Gabe waved his hand at her dismissively, “My feelings for Guy are very solid and I don’t intend to let him slip away…”
“Then maybe you should rethink coming over here and treating me like the enemy because that’s not what I’m about,” Mindy threw back at him sharply, “Sure, I love Guy and a part of me will always care about him, but don’t think for a second that I would go out of my way to hurt him.  He’s very important to me and I want what’s best for him…even if that means a life where I’m not in it, but that’s his choice to make--not yours!”
“Mindy, I’m not saying that…” Gabe began seeing the anger behind her eyes as he stepped towards her, “All I’m…”
“I know what you’re all about Gabe and because I care about Guy’s best interest, I’m going to pretend that we didn’t have this talk with one another today because well, truth be told if I really took the time to think about this, well I’d be rather upset and given the fact that I’ve been having a really bad week here, well you really don’t want that,” Mindy opened the door to Russell’s office, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
“Mindy, I…” Gabe started once again seeing something behind her eyes that clearly indicated there was more than she was letting on to she nodded towards the door once again.
“Clearly you don’t do subtlety,” Mindy snapped turning her eyes up towards him, “That means get out…like now.”
“Fine,” Gabe sighed approaching her as he adjusted his jacket, “but for what it’s worth, I want you to understand that this is coming from the fact that I care about Guy…”
“And that’s where I’m at as well and I don’t think either one of us should forget that,” she replied with a frown watching him walk out of the offices as she slammed the door behind her realizing that while she’d hoped she could come up with some easy solution to the situation they all were in, things were becoming more complicated by the second.  Sure, maybe she’d had some thoughts after the dinner with Brooke about her and Guy, but now, well now right now she had more important things to deal with as she refused to let herself get caught up in a dream that would never be as Gabe was right, she and Guy were ancient history and it was time to look into the future from here on out.


Diane opened another file drawer and began searching for her current target. While the Christmas season was always a slow period for BBK, there had been dozens of microfilms stored in the archives over the last few weeks. She hadn’t imagined that a search of microfilm would be so extensive, but she was beginning to feel as if she were looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

She glanced over the folder of microfilm before returning it to the drawer and thumbing through more files. This wasn’t how she had envisioned being back at work, but it seemed like nothing had turned out quite the was she’d envisioned lately. Christmas dinner at her mother’s was supposed to be a wonderful first experience with Ben, but Deidra had found a way to turn that to her advantage. Then…the dinner with Annie…and that nightmare, Blake.

As if she’d known Diane had been thinking about her, Blake stood in the doorway and cleared her throat, “What do you think you’re doing?”

Diane spun on her heel and glared at Blake, “I’m working…not that you would have any clue in the world as to what that is.”

Blake rolled her eyes, “If you’re looking for the microfilm, it’s not here.”

“And why would I believe you?”

“Fine, don’t believe me. I don’t really care, but I’m sure there’s something useful you could be doing upstairs at your desk instead of being down here rummaging through BBK’s archives,” Blake paused, “Unless you’re down here to pilfer through our files in order to sell our secrets to Stone Corp.”

“I would never betray BBK. I love this job,” Diane defended herself, “And if the microfilm isn’t here, why would you be down here in the archives?”

“That’s none of your business,” Blake said boldly as she crossed her arms, “I don’t answer to the hired help.”

“Oh bite me, Blake,” Diane snorted as she turned back to the filing cabinet.

“How dare you speak to me that way!” Blake seethed, “I’ll have you fired so fast it’ll make your head spin.”

“I don’t work for you, Blake. I work for Brant, and he’s never once been disappointed in my work,” Diane shrugged off Blake’s remarks.

“I’m sure Brant wouldn’t be, but he’s not the sole owner of this company. Kenneth and I also own shares,” Blake reminded her, “I can get rid of you.”

“And what exactly would that do for you, Blake?” Diane asked as she turned to face her nemesis, “Make you feel like you’ve won against me? I think the fact that you live in that big mansion on the hill says it all. If you had to live my life for one day, you’d be bawling your privileged little eyes out.”

“Don’t start acting like you’re pitiful, Diane. We both know that you could always fall on your back and make money the old fashioned way…like you’re accustomed to,” Blake said sourly.

Diane took a deep breath and looked away from Blake, “You don’t know anything about me, Blake. You’re just blinded by that pedestal you’ve got yourself on. I guess the air is too thin up there for you to think clearly so I’m just going to let all the stupid things you say slide right by.”

Blake tossed her blond hair off her shoulder as she held her head high, “It’s just us girls here, Diane. Why don’t you tell the truth now and admit that you’re only after Ben to get to the Ashford millions?”

“Oh give me a break,” Diane groaned as she turned and pushed the file drawer closed. She picked up her note pad and started towards the door, “I don’t have to listen to you.”

“Right now, yes you do,” Blake declared as she stood in her enemy’s way, “I want you to stay away from Ben, and stay away from my family,” She paused, “I’ll even make it worth your while.”

“What?” Diane asked with shock evident on her features.

“I’ll give you fifty thousand to walk away and never look back,” Blake searched Diane’s eyes for a moment, “That should make a girl like you comfortable for a while.”

Diane met Blake’s eyes, “My god, you’re serious, aren’t you?” She laughed softly, “You know I pity you, Blake.”

“Pity me?” Blake asked in offense.

“Yeah, you have no idea what the value of a really enjoyable relationship is. So yeah, I pity you,” Diane brushed by Blake, “Fifty thousand doesn’t even begin to break the surface,” She snorted as she left Blake standing alone.

Blake crossed her arms as she watched Diane disappear into an elevator down the hall, “Then we’ll just have to see what will,” She said as she held her head high, more determined than ever to rid all the men close to her of a parasite like Diane Stevens.


“You ready to do this,” Shannon questioned turning to Dave as the stood at the terminal of the airport with one another.
“I’m never really ready for this kind of thing on the job, but what choice do we have here,” Dave sighed realizing that they had a less than settling task ahead of them as he watched the plane before him realizing that things were about to take a downward spiral in Avery’s life as he’d found himself in a position to deliver some bad news to a woman who’d clearly had enough to deal with lately.
“Come on,” Shannon broke through his thoughts, “we shouldn’t put this off,” she decided guiding him towards the doors where Avery and company would be coming through from their ride home overseas.


“Let me get that for you honey,” Russell reached out for Avery’s small suitcase taking it from her as they entered the airport with her father, Judy and Deidra just up ahead of them.
“Russ, I can handle it,” Avery began to argue with him holding her bag closer to her, “It’s really no big deal.”
“Can’t a husband just spoil his wife for a few minutes here,” he paused reaching out for her arm to stop her mid-step as he looked to her determined eyes, “Avery, come on.  At least let me take care of you for a few minutes here after the day we’ve had…”
“Russ, you take care of me just fine,” Avery insisted with a sigh, “but I don’t want you to feel you have to go above and beyond the normal limits here because I’m pregnant.”
“Did you ever think that maybe I’m doing it because I love you,” he wrapped his arm around her waist urging her to drop the suitcase as he pulled her into his arms more completely, “That maybe I just wanted to do something nice for my wife…”
“Hmm, well since you put it that way,” she threw her arms around his neck enjoying the warmth of his words, “well maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much.”
“Somehow I was hoping you’d appreciate that line of thinking,” he tipped down to kiss her tenderly as Richard looked over his shoulder shaking his head at the newlyweds before back tracking and scooping up Avery’s discarded bag before moving up to join Deidra and Judy once again.
“I think we’d be best to keep going for a while and give them a few minutes,” Richard offered up tickled by his daughter’s happiness as Judy turned to look over her shoulder seeing the two newlyweds wrapped up in an embrace.
“It’s nice to see them like that as love is always so wonderful,” Judy noted with a smile thinking of how she’d always wanted to have that kind of relationship in her life after her time with Richard had come to an abrupt end.
“So I’m learning,” he snaked his arm around her possessively, “and don’t think that I’ve forgotten about the promises I’ve made you darling as this trip may have been cut short, but there is so very much in store for us in the future…”
“I’m really starting to believe that,” Judy tipped up on her toes to kiss him as Deidra took in the exchange between the two of them shaking her head as while she’d tried not to let it get to her, she’d had more than her fill of happy couples in love with one another.
“I think I’m going to go look for the other bags,” Deidra rushed up refusing to look back at her mother and Richard as all she really wanted to do was work on getting back to her mother’s place where she could start looking for a new place to live as she slowly got back into the swing of things once again as it was becoming increasingly obvious that moving forward was her only option.


“Look all I’m saying is that you really shouldn’t have…” Kenneth began continuing the dreaded conversation with Caitlin now as they walked through the Coral Valley airport with one another, “I mean it’s bad enough that…”
“As I said before I didn’t really intend to blurt it out like that, but with the way Brant is, I just couldn’t help myself,” she explained with a heavy sigh, “I mean really in it’s own way I’m sure it’s going to even itself out as I did Avery a favor sort of.  Now she won’t have to worry about Brant freaking out on her as Russell’s assured me that he and Avery are going to take a few weeks for the honeymoon…”
“Yes, I realize this, but still I don’t think Brant’s really come to terms with the truth about the situation considering that he doesn’t believe it’s the truth,” Kenneth admitted looking back to find his brother lagging behind as he deal with the pilot for a few minutes longer.  “He’s not ready to believe that Russell and Avery are married and…”
“And nothing.  Your brother is just going to have to open up his eyes and face the reality of the situation he’s found himself in.  Avery doesn’t love him and she’s finally happy with the man she loves.  If he really cares about her, then he’ll grow up and get over it and move on with his life,” Caitlin stated matter of fact.
“You really hate him, don’t you?” Kenneth watched her closely trying to read her expressions as he realized this was so unlike the Caitlin he’d grown to care so deeply about.  Not that she was wrong, but with the way she’d raged on about Brant lately, he was starting to wonder if it was Brant she hated per se or something else that was more deep rooted by her past with Jimmy.
“I just hate the kind…you know the man who thinks he can bully a woman around because the mood strikes him,” Caitlin declared firmly as she tossed her hair back over her shoulder, “and while I know you love your brother, well the truth to the matter is that I don’t think his being around Avery is a good thing.  Clearly he’s a man obsessed and you said it yourself that you were worried about him…”
“Well, of course I am, but I still think that the timing…” Kenneth’s words were interrupted as someone ran right smack into him.  He spun around catching a woman in her fall as they both nearly toppled over in the movement.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologized quickly.
“Allow me,” Kevin began as her luggage spilled over the ground and she bent down to pick it up at the same time Kenneth did and the both bumped heads.
“Ouch,” she cried out rubbing at her forehead as Kenneth stammered backwards landing on the ground beside her as an ache built up behind his temple as well, “oh my…I made such a mess here with not looking and,” she began to apologize turning her eyes up towards him as her jaw dropped in surprise.
“Deidra?” Kenneth’s eyes widened as the pain in his forehead was replaced by a smile that lifted over his features as he reached out to her, “Deidra, hey, what are you doing in Coral Valley?”
“It’s a long story,” Deidra began with a smile of her own as she rubbed her now aching temple.  She looked to her scattered underwear on the airport floor before her as she quickly began to pluck it up feeling embarrassment flooding over her.
“I never expected to run into you here,” Kenneth’s grin expanded as he greeted her warmly taking the opportunity to help her collect her belongings as she stuffed them into the suitcase she’d been carrying.
“Here you are,” Caitlin bent down handing over a few of the things Deidra had dropped in the process as Kenneth pulled himself up off of the ground offering his hand to help Deidra once she’d finished locking up her suitcase once again.
“Thank you,” Deidra smiled up at her as Kenneth helped Deidra to her toes once again.
“You’re very welcome,” Caitlin smiled at her curiously, “You two know one another?”
“Ah yes, Deidra and I went to high school together,” Kenneth nodded brightly motioning to Deidra, “Caitlin Vaughn, this is a very dear friend of mine Deidra Byrne.  Deidra, this is Caitlin a very special lady in my life.”
“It’s…” Deidra began to correct him about her newly single status before stopping herself and smiling back at him.  She turned her attention to Caitlin before offering her hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you….”
“Likewise,” Caitlin replied with a nod as Kenneth continued to speak with Deidra.
“So what brings you back to town?  Last I’d heard your mom said that you and Andy ran off to Florida with one another to make the hospitals down there a safer place to be,” Kenneth began curiously.
“Yeah, well unfortunately for Andy he’s ancient history,” Deidra confessed with a half smile.
“Good,” Kenneth blurted out as a look of embarrassment flooded over him, “I guess I shouldn’t have said that, but the truth to the matter is that you could’ve done so much better than that jerk all those years ago.  Did you just get back in?  Does Dave know you’re back in town?”
“I ran into him a few days ago, but well, my mother’s new boyfriend had us fly out of town for a while to surprise his daughter for the holiday’s and…” she began as Dave approached the group with a look of concern over his features.
“Ken, where’s Avery?” Dave questioned cutting straight to the point as he looked to Deidra in confusion, “hey, what are you doing here?”
“I just got back in town after taking a trip with my mother and…” Deidra started as Shannon approached the group dismissing all the pleasantries as she went straight to business once again.
“Is she here,” Shannon questioned bluntly as she looked to Ken, “Where’s your brother?”
“My brother’s just getting off the plane,” Kenneth began with a frown, “but if you’re looking for Avery to be with us, well she’s not as she is off on her…” he paused as Deidra’s words suddenly began to register with him, “you just said you went off with your mother and her boyfriend which I’m guessing is Richard Morrison.”
“Well yes, but…” Deidra gave him a strange look.
“And his daughter is Avery,” Caitlin’s eyes widened in surprise as she and Kenneth exchange worried glances.
“Yeah Avery and I met on the trip but…” Deidra began in confusion as she looked to Dave, “this wouldn’t be about that horrible incident on the island, would it?  I mean the police down there said that they’d get on it right away but…”
“What incident,” Dave questioned as he looked to Shannon, “Deidra, what happened?”
“Well she got this package on her honeymoon and it had all these pictures and a human heart…” Deidra explained worry evident in her tone.  “I mean at the time, well they said they’d look into it, but I didn’t realize that they’d call all the way back here…”
“Did you just say her honeymoon?” Shannon’s ears perked up as she looked to Kenneth, “You just said that Avery wasn’t with you.”
“She’s not,” Kenneth began to explain before another thought occurred to him, “Deidra, did you just say you came in with your mother, Richard and…”
“Avery and her husband,” Deidra nodded in response, “We all came home right after the package arrived and…”
“Oh God,” Kenneth’s face paled as he looked to Caitlin realizing that fate had thrown them another curve as she gasped in response.
“Brant…” her eyes widened thinking about what she’d told him on the island as the thought of Brant, Avery and Russell coming face to face with one another brought Kenneth to a panic.
“We have to stop him from seeing them together,” Kenneth decided racing off to go seek out his brother before things could turn uglier than he’d imagined.


“So anyways as soon as I hear from Ms. Morrison I‘ll expect you to be fueled up and ready to go as I‘ve been…” Brant continued explaining to the pilot as his cell phone rang from inside of his pocket and he pulled it out ready to hear the word on the other end of the line as he recognized his private investigator’s number.  “Tell me you’ve got something good for me.”
“Well, I started looking into the situation with Caitlin Vaughn and I’m coming up with a few things that might make you happy, but this Meloni woman, well she’s not coming up on any of the local searches and I just wondered if you…”
“Keep searching on it,” Brant turned away from the pilot, “but before we get onto those two, tell me you found out something more on Russell Denton’s whereabouts…”
“I do have an answer for you on that one as he’s just come into…” the man began as Kenneth rushed up to Brant pulling his cell phone out of his hands and turning it off as Brant spun around to glare at him.
“What the hell is your problem,” Brant growled at him reaching for his phone, “Give me that back.”
“Brant, we need to get home,” Kenneth pleaded with him desperate to keep his brother from having a run in with Russell and Avery, “Blake called and she needs us right away…”
“Blake,” Brant’s tone soften as worry filled his eyes, “What’s wrong with Blake?”
“Well, she…she didn’t say.  She just indicated that it was important that we…” Kenneth began as the cell phone started ringing once again.
“That we what?” Brant’s voice grew thick with concern, “Ken, what’s going on with our sister?”
“Well she,” Kenneth’s eyes darted past Brant as he saw Russell and Avery entering the airport arm in arm as laughter consumed her.  Desperate to get Brant away from the situation, he reached out to take Brant’s arm tugging him towards the exit, “Come on we need to…”
“Hey lighten up would you,” Brant shoved his brother away from him, “I want to know what’s going on with our sister…”
“I’ll tell you on the ride home as Simon should be here waiting to pick us up,” Kenneth lied hoping to avoid disaster as he lead Brant along.
“Well, then if Blake’s in some kind of trouble,” Brant dismissed his thoughts about fighting for his cell phone as he stepped in the direction Kenneth began to lead him in.
“Mr. Ashford,” the pilot beckoned him mid-step as Kenneth felt Brant cease movement, “You forgot your wallet.”
“Oh right,” Brant started to turn as Kenneth tugged on his arm.
“Brant don’t,” Kenneth begged of him in a final attempt to avoid the chaos he was certain would follow as Brant gave him a confused look.
“Ken, I need my wallet before we can leave,” Brant shrugged out of his brother’s grasp as he spun around to retrieve the wallet only to witness the scene before him as Avery swatted at Russell’s chest before he pulled her into his arms bringing her up off of the floor into his arms as his mouth claimed hers in a heated kiss.  As Brant watched Avery throw her arms around Russell’s shoulders, anger consumed him as his wallet became an afterthought and he marched over towards the happy couple ready to give them hell.


“I love you Mrs. Denton,” Russell whispered against her lips as he squeezed her closer to him.
“I love you too,” she replied in a soft purr as she nibbled on his lower lip, “but if you don’t get us home, well I think you’re going to have an ugly situation on your hands as I really don’t feel up to giving the world a peep show with some freak watching our every move.”
“Point well taken,” Russell agreed thinking of the reason their honeymoon had been cut short as he slowly lowered her to the ground once again while keeping her in his arms, “though promise me when we get home, we’ll close all the blinds and lock up the house long enough for us to work on that honeymoon tradition that comes after my carrying you over the threshold to our home…”
“It’s a deal,” Avery agreed with a hint of a smile as he leaned down to kiss her once again and she closed her eyes anticipating the kiss, but instead she felt a gust of wind rush past her as Russell toppled to the ground before her.
“You son of a bitch,” she heard roared into the air as the scene before her unfolded with Brant on top of a confused Russell pounding at him wildly with anger surging through him as Avery blinked again unable to believe what was taking place before her.  She watched as Russell lunged forward at Brant fighting off Brant’s attack while they managed to knock over various carts of luggage around them as suddenly her worst nightmare came to life before her eyes as the two men in her life were well on their way to tearing one another apart as all hell broke loose in Coral Valley.

...to be continued...