“Avery, tell me that you didn’t marry him,” Brant pleaded with her not
bothering to wait for her words as his brown eyes reached out to her, “Tell
me this is just a mistake…”
“Brant, I tried to tell you in the past, but you wouldn’t listen,” Avery explained tearfully, “I wanted to be honest with you about everything, but…”
“But what? Avery, come on. This guy has been out to keep you away from me from day one and if you let him…” Brant started once again unable to believe what his own eyes had shown him as he tried to reach out to her with no avail as the handcuffs kept him from touching her.
“Brant, I told you that Russ and I were almost married before. We were going to have a baby together and a future, but then I thought those dreams had died down--that somehow they’d vanished forever, but then,” Avery choked up on emotion as tears swirled in her eyes, “Brant, it all happened so fast and…”
“I know he played tricks with your mind. I know how he’s been manipulating the situation in his favor and I don’t care what it takes, I’ll get you the best divorce lawyer and we’ll get him out of your life forever so that…” Brant started once more ranting as he fought the urges inside of him that wanted nothing more than to tear Russell apart limb by limb if it wasn’t for the handcuffs he was in.
“Brant, that’s just it. I don’t want that,” Avery paused biting on her lower lip once again as she felt the truth upon her lips at long last, “I love Russ. A part of me has always loved Russ and as much as I hate the thought of hurting you, Russ and I are going to have a family with one another. We’re having the baby and…”
“No,” Brant shook his head refusing to hear her words, “No, I don’t believe that. Avery, you and I both know that the baby belongs to…”
“Russell,” Avery finished poignantly hating to see him like this as her heart ached for the confusion she’d caused, “Brant, the day that Bruce attacked me, well the night before I was with Russ and we…”
“No,” Brant cut her off, “No, Avery that’s not true. I don’t know how he put you up to this, but…”
“Brant, it’s really the honest truth,” Avery reached out to touch his leg tentatively as a sigh swept over her lips, “I wanted to tell you so many times and heaven knows you deserved to know sooner--to know in another way, but I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t want to do something that would break your heart when you’re such a wonderful, amazing man…”
“Avery, I love you,” Brant pleaded with her as his brown eyes fixed upon hers, “Doesn’t that mean anything?”
“Brant,” she opened her mouth straining for the right words before a sigh overcame her, “You don’t love me. You only think you should love me because that’s what you’ve programmed yourself into believing…”
“No, Avery, I love you. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life than I am when I’m with you,” he teased the tips of his fingers over her hand that lay upon his leg, “Never in my life have I felt this way about a woman and if you’re going to just walk away from that…”
“Brant, Russ is my husband,” Avery reminded him tearfully, “I love him and we’re about to…”
“Avery, can you honestly tell me that you’re able to walk away from me? To walk away from what it was that you know we have with one another because of him,” he motioned over to Russell, “Do you really believe that you can ever be satisfied without ever having given us a real chance at love?”
“I’m pregnant with his baby,” Avery insisted firmly, “Brant, Russ and I are…”
“Pregnant,” Brant huffed shaking his head at her, “Don’t you see that’s what he’s always wanted? He and Heather were manipulating the situation so that we wouldn’t be together and now, well he took advantage of the fact that you were afraid--that you were terrified of what loving me could do for you. You kept running away and he used that--he used that to put you into a position where you’d have no other choice but to be with him…”
“Brant no…” Avery shook her head as a heaviness built in her shoulders.
“Avery, think about it. He wanted us apart and what better way to do it then to get you pregnant,” Brant declared boldly, “He knew that you’d feel obligated to be with him once you found out about the baby because you try so hard to do the right thing, but…”
“Brant, this isn’t just because of the baby,” Avery squeezed his leg gently, “This is because my heart tells me that the one place I was meant to be in this world was with Russ. He’s my destiny and if I were to walk away from that, well it would be unfair to you as you deserve a woman who can love you for all that you are--a woman who doesn’t have someone else and who can give you what you need…”
“You are what I need Avery,” Brant pleaded with her desperately, “Can’t you see that we’re meant to be together?”
“No, we aren’t,” Avery sighed unable to contain her tears at the situation before her, “we really aren’t.”
“Avery yes we…” Brant began again as Russell marched up to the two of them reaching out for Avery.
“You don’t have to take anymore of this,” Russell blurted out sweeping her up from off of the chair, “Come on…”
“Russ wait,” Avery shoved her hand into his chest as she glared at him, “I’m not finished just yet.”
“Yes, we’re finished here,” Russell explained looking around the airport, “as it’s not safe here.”
“I said I’m not done speaking with Brant,” Avery repeated boldly as she tried to wrench her arm out of Russell’s reach as Brant began to twitch in an attempt to get out of the handcuffs Shannon put him in.
“Avery, it’s not safe considering that…” Russell began desperately glaring at Brant.
“Piss off Russell. Avery wants to be with me and if you can’t get a clue, well then…”
“That’s enough drama for today,” Shannon piped in stepping forward and casually stomping on Brant’s foot in the process like it was nothing as he winced in response before Shannon looked over her shoulder throwing him an icy smile, “Oops, I didn’t mean to do that. I should really be more careful where I’m walking it seems…”
“You…” Brant began as pain shot up his leg and he strained to focus on Avery, “Avery, just come back with me to the mansion and we’ll get this worked out. I’ll get you the best therapist that money can buy and we’ll work to fix whatever it is he did to you…”
“She loves me Brant and while you can’t seem to get a grip on that in your demented line of thinking, well, the fact remains that Avery is my wife and that won’t be changing,” Russell declared reaching out for Avery once again, “Come on. We’re going home.”
“Russ…” Avery started ready to protest as the situation left her feeling anything but settled as Jenna approached the group.
“There you are,” Jenna began breathlessly looking over Shannon and Avery, “I stopped by the station with the results I found when I looked over those toxicology reports and you were right Shannon. I did find the presence of something that went in correlation with your suspicions. I don’t know how I must’ve missed it before unless the FBI’s tampering…”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Shannon frowned in response motioning to Avery, “It would really be in your best interest if you escort me downtown right about now Avery.”
“We’re not going anywhere, but home unless of course you’re taking him downtown to lock him up for the sick and twisted things he’s doing to my wife,” Russell announced his voice full of animosity as he turned to Brant.
“I love her and despite the fact you’ve twisted her head all around, she’s going to remember how she feels about me as well and when she does, you’re history Denton,” Brant promised seething in the moment as Kenneth approached his brother once again.
“Brant, shut up,” Kenneth warned sharply, “Just stop making things worse.”
“Avery loves me. You know that as well as I do Ken as you saw us together on the island with one another. You know how she feels about…” Brant started desperately.
“You’re delusional Brant,” Russell retorted his voice raising with anger as Shannon stepped in the space between them once again.
“Right now I don’t care about any of this,” Shannon waved her hands in the air to silence the crowd, “as all I want is to take Avery downtown so we can talk about a few things.”
“I’m not interested in going downtown Shannon as I’ve done nothing wrong,” Avery stood taller channeling her anger on the woman before her despite the fact she had a great many other concerns weighing over her in a moment like this.
“Avery, you really should listen to Shannon here,” Jenna reached for her arm, “it’s in your best interest that you just go with her and…”
“Jen, don’t you start too,” Avery pleaded turning to her best friend, “I told you that I had nothing to do with Bruce’s murder and that Shannon’s just out to get me because of…”
“Avery, I don’t think Bruce is dead,” Jenna blurted out cutting to the chase as Avery’s jaw dropped in response.
“What?” Avery blinked back in confusion, “But I thought…”
“I don’t think he was ever dead as Shannon came to me with a theory that perhaps Bruce had faked his murder as ultimately, well, it’s not every day that someone gets up and walks out of the morgue…”
“Yes, but you said that it could’ve been someone else. I thought that there was someone trying to frighten and intimidate me because on the island I got a package with…”
“We know about the package Avery,” Dave explained with a frown, “and given the nature of it, we have reason to believe that Bruce was the one who sent it.”
“What?” Avery shook her head in astonishment, “No, no that can’t be possible…Bruce wouldn’t just…”
“Avery, we found a few things in his apartment that lead us to believe that he’s been watching you for quite some time,” Shannon paused as a frown touched over her lips, “but I would really rather we do this somewhere else where there is less of a chance of someone making some kind of move to blindside us…”
“But…” Avery started once more.
“Avery, she’s right,” Richard insisted stepping up to bring his arm around his daughter, “We need to do this somewhere else.”
“I just…” Avery felt the tears returning to her eyes as horror filled up inside of her.
“Just come with us for a little bit,” Dave softened his tone hating to have to be the one to break the news to her like this, “You can have Russ accompany you and…”
“You’re damn right I’m going with her,” Russell reached for her as he saw the fear behind her dark eyes, “Come on baby. Let’s get out of here.”
“Russ, but how…how can Bruce be?” Avery felt her throat go dry as her hands began to shake at the thought.
“Avery, listen to me,” he touched her cheek urging her to meet his concerned green eyes, “If Bruce is alive and doing this, then we have to go with Dave and Shannon. We’ll figure everything out at the station because right now you’re getting upset…”
“No kidding,” she huffed in response at the ridiculousness of his statement as her own worries were taking over. She took a step back unable to get the air in her lungs fast enough as she started to hyperventilate under the stress of the hits that just kept on coming her way.
“Sweetie, I know it’s not easy, but you need to calm down,” he cupped her face in his hands trying to get her focus upon him completely as he spoke to her in a soothing tone, “Think about our little one and how right now the last thing our baby needs is to be upset. Baby, you have to listen to me…”
She nodded as tears slipped down her cheek and she raised her hands up over his trying to think about what he was saying as she felt a chill race up over her spine. Her eyes drifted behind his as she looked around the airport wondering if Bruce was there watching her in this very moment plotting his next move and in that instant she flashed back to the night he’d tried to take her life--to the moment she thought it was all falling apart and then in that instant, she turned to Russell again opening her mouth to speak, but nothing more than a whimper came out before she collapsed in his arms.
“Avery,” he cried out to her feeling her body slump into his as he pulled her up into his arms completely, “Avery…hey…baby talk to me…”
“Avery,” Brant strained against the handcuffs as he threw Dave a pleading look, “Dave, you have to get me out of these things. She needs me…”
“Avery, talk to me…” Russell began again as he tried to shake her a little bit.
“Let me take a look at her,” Jenna announced as Russell carried Avery over to one of the small soft type benches in the airport. Reluctantly he set her down as Jenna knelt before her.
“She’s pregnant,” Russell explained worry evident in his tone as his green eyes turned to Jenna, “She’s been under a tremendous amount of stress and…”
“Russ…” Avery whispered his name breathlessly as he reached for her hand lacing their fingers together.
“I’m right here baby,” he raised her hand to his lips, “I’m right here with you…”
“Let me take a look,” Deidra piped in joining the group.
“Who are you?” Jenna gave her a strange glance as Deidra knelt in beside her.
“I’m her doctor,” Deidra explained moving in alongside Jenna as she attempted to see what was happening with Avery, “and right now she doesn’t need any of this stress. Given her medical history, well…right now I want to have her taken to the hospital so I can run a few tests just to be sure…”
“Sure of what?” Russell questioned panic evident in his tone, “What’s going on with my wife?”
“Probably nothing more than stress, but we need to be sure,” Deidra explained rising to her feet once again as she looked over the crowd, “which means that we’re not going to be having anymore of this. The last thing Avery needs is to have everyone around her acting like rabid dogs.”
“Dee, we really need to talk to her,” Dave began pleading with his pal as he realized this news being thrust upon Avery may be difficult, but it couldn’t wait.
“Not until I’m done doing what I have to do,” Deidra announced firmly feeling a boldness in her tone as Russell had already scooped Avery up off of the bench and into his arms.
“I’ll go get the car,” Richard decided as Russell followed with Avery in his arms.
“I’m coming with you,” Jenna offered up wanting to be there for her friend as Shannon reached out to her.
“Jenna, we need to let her know the seriousness of this situation,” Shannon frowned thinking of the chaos that followed the trip to the airport.
“You’re more than welcome to join me at the hospital, but I don’t think that the time is right for this now,” Jenna explained with a sigh realizing that Avery had quite a lot on her plate as she followed off after the group.
“Well this is just wonderful,” Dave grumbled wanting to kick himself at how the situation played out, “This was the last thing I wanted.”
“And you think I was thrilled by how this went down?” Shannon shook her head at him, “I just wanted to talk with her…”
“And a fine job of it we did, huh?” Dave frowned feeling a hesitance in following the group to the hospital.
“Look, I don’t know what you’re beating yourself up about, but I’m here to do a job and that’s my main priority,” Shannon announced marching off after Jenna as she was bound and determined to get to the bottom of the case one way or another.
“Shannon…” Dave called after her as Brant growled up at him.
“Get me out of these handcuffs or so help me God I’ll throw a lawsuit on the police department so fast your head will spin,” Brant roared up at him.
“Oh right,” Dave bent down to unfasten the cuffs before Brant rose to his feet to chase after Avery.
“Brant, stop,” Kenneth grabbed his arm keeping him from going after the crowd.
“I have to check on Avery. I have to be there for her,” Brant pleaded desperately, “I need to be at the hospital…”
“Brant, no,” Kenneth shook his head poignantly, “It’s not your place. This is over.”
“It’s never going to be over,” Brant vowed trying to break free of Kenneth’s hold on him, but much to his dismay Kenneth wasn’t letting loose, “Ken, let me go…”
“I can’t do that,” Kenneth shook his head, “Not this time Brant. I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Brant challenged as his gaze traveled over to Caitlin who stood in the shadows and in that instant as Brant’s world came crashing down around him, he vowed that Caitlin would pay as no one crossed Brant Ashford and came out on top of the situation. From this moment on, she, Russ and anyone else who tried to stand in his way on the road to winning Avery’s heart would be going down as he’d take great pleasures in burying each and every one of them.
“Now remember tonight is all about making an impression,” Brooke reminder
Guy as they entered the restaurant and her eyes scanned the crowd seeking
out the infamous Marc Ashley as her thoughts about a business union gave
her the enthusiasm she needed to make tonight nothing less than fabulous.
“I realize what tonight is about Mum,” Guy nodded in response checking the time as he just prayed that Gabe would understand about this little change of plans his mother had pushed upon him. He opened his mouth to speak once again as he noticed Cathy approaching them from over by the bar wearing a tiny red halter type dress as her bright smile filled her flawless features.
“Brooke, I’m so glad you could make it,” Cathy greeted Brooke with outstretched arms as the two women exchanged kisses upon the cheek with one another.
“Cathy, you look fabulous tonight,” Brooke complimented her as Cathy waved her hand in the air in response.
“In this old thing,” she feigned a tiny laugh, “Oh Brooke, you’re so
full of flattery tonight…”
“I mean every word of it as you’re truly a vision, isn’t she Guy?”
“Yes, you look rather lovely,” Guy nodded appropriately trying to be civil enough with Cathy to make it through this dinner with her father for his mother’s sake.
“Why thank you,” Cathy’s blue eyes sparkled with eagerness as she stepped beyond Brooke to stand before Guy, “and you look as handsome as every tonight.”
“That’s awfully thoughtful of you to say, Cathy,” Guy replied in a neutral tone as Brooke turned to eye the both of them.
“Now, see I knew that this would be a wonderful evening,” Brooke announced excitedly as she scanned the restaurant once again, “Oh look, there I see your father right now by the bar. I think I’ll just run up ahead and let you two get better acquainted for a moment while Marc and I catch up with one another.”
“That sounds great,” Cathy replied in a perky tone taking the opportunity to get closer to Guy as she fluttered her eyelashes up at him, “Care to get me a drink.”
“Why not,” Guy shrugged his shoulders, “I could use one myself.”
“Excellent,” Cathy moved in stride with him as they stood beside the bar.
“What can I get for you both,” the bartender questioned looking between the both of them as Cathy leaned forward giving him a glimpse of her very ample curves and the man‘s eyes beamed as a smile lifted over his features.
“I’ll take a cosmopolitan,” Cathy explained reaching out to trace her index finger over the center of the bartender’s hand, “and my date will have…” she lifted her eyes up towards Guy.
“I’m not your date, Cathy,” he stated flatly before looking to the bartender, “I’ll take a scotch on the rocks.”
“Do people really even order that anymore,” Cathy questioned with mild amusement as the bartender headed off to get their drinks and she took the opportunity to slide herself in between a barstool and Guy. “I would’ve taken you more for a Sex on the Beach kind of guy.”
“Then you’d be wrong,” Guy replied looking to the mirror in front of him that was on the wall behind the bar. Wondering why he’d opted to go through this torture yet again, he was beginning to question if maybe he enjoyed punishing himself over and over again, but before he could revel in the thoughts that consumed him, he felt Cathy’s hand upon his leg, tapering up over his inner thigh. “Cathy please…”
“Guy you don’t have to beg,” Cathy rubbed her leg up against his as her fingers dropped down into his lap, “as I’d be more than willing to devote some very special attention to you.”
“Cathy, look,” Guy frowned as he casually dropped down to collect her wrist in his hand.
“Okay,” she giggled pressing her lips in towards him as her fingers pressed in over his pants, “you show me what you want and we’ll work on making it happen. I love a man who can take charge…”
“Cathy, do you really think so little of yourself that you have to go for the gusto first thing and throw sex on the table,” Guy questioned removing her hand from his lap as he stood up once again, “I mean honestly what are you hoping to accomplish here when I’ve told you in so many different ways that I’m really not interested.”
“Why do you hate me so much,” Cathy questioned curling her lip in a pout, “what have I done to make you be so mean to me?”
“I’m not trying to be mean to you Cathy, but in all honesty I don’t really appreciate what you’re trying to do here,” he took in a slow breath, “because as you know I’m involved in a relationship…”
“With someone who isn’t worth wasting your time with,” she added knowingly, “Your mother told me all about Mindy and I have to say that I really think you can do better. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m seeing that you and I are a perfect match…”
“You’re not my type,” Guy insisted honestly thinking about how many times it would take for her to get a hint, “and even if you were, which I’m telling you now that you aren’t, well it wouldn’t happen because I’m very happily involved with someone else.”
“Happy men don’t show up with their mothers on a night like this when they could be out with the one they love,” Cathy remarked sharply.
“I came here because it was a business meeting with your father,” Guy reminded her curtly, “That’s why I’m here…”
“Ah yes because Beholder is so important to you and your mother,” she shook her head tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder, “Guy, there’s no fooling a woman who knows all the tricks of the trade. I can see that you’re here because your dedication to work is a way of avoiding the person you claim to care so much about…”
“I’m afraid that’s completely wrong,” he replied snatching up his drink from the bar as Cathy curled her lip in a pout.
“Guy, why don’t you just give this a chance? I mean honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is…” she chased after him, “I could show you a really good time.”
“Cathy, despite what my mother has told you about me, I’m not looking for a fling, or whatever it is in your definition of a good time. I’m happy with my life and I’d just as soon keep things the way they are with the one I love because this is just an unrealistic challenge for you.”
“I never back down from a challenge,” Cathy chased after him as Guy made his way towards the table Brooke and her father were seated at.
“In this particular situation, I’m not leaving you a choice,” Guy whispered under his breath painting on a fake smile as he approached the table, “Mum, sorry to keep you waiting so long.”
“Oh that’s quite alright,” Brooke reached out to her son, “We didn’t mind at all. In fact,” she motioned to Cathy’s father, “Marc, I’d like you to meet my son Guy. Guy, this is Marc Ashley.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Marc rose from the table reaching out to take Guy’s hand as a smile lifted over his features.
“Likewise,” Guy shook his hand before taking a seat beside Brooke.
“My daughter tells me that you two have gotten to know one another on a more personal level lately,” Marc opened up conversation as Cathy slid into her seat beside him.
“Guy’s a wonderful influence,” Cathy beamed winking over at Guy as she turned to her father, “I thought I’d show him around town since he’s new to these parts. I was thinking that next week we could go on your yacht for that party you‘re throwing…”
“Actually I grew up in Coral Valley, so while the offer is appreciated, it’s not necessary,” Guy began in refusal as Brooke waved her hand at him.
“Nonsense, if Cathy wants to spend time on Marc’s yacht with you, then why not accept the offer?” Brooke urged him on.
“Because I really can’t…” Guy started once more.
“Of course you can. I insist,” Marc piped in enthusiastically, “as I think there would be nothing better than for you to share in the opportunity of the invitation as there will be a few big names there that would be more than eager to hear about the union between Beholder and Temptation Enterprises. I think it would be a wonderful place to begin publicizing this incredible merging of beauty.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Brooke nodded in confession, “and now that Cathy here is willing to play such a part in Beholder’s new line of cosmetics, well I have no doubts in my mind that her beauty will be the key to this successful campaign.”
“I’m just honored that you asked me to take part in it,” Cathy smiled brightly casting a look over in Guy’s direction, “as it means Guy and I will be able to spend more time with one another.”
“Of course I’m sure that you’ll probably see me less than you’re hoping for as I do most of the work overseas in the European offices,” Guy started hoping to find a way out of the situation as Marc perked up upon his words.
“Really? Well, that is rather interesting as I too have spent a lot of time in the Temptation European offices. You’d think that we’ve had crossed paths before now,” he smiled at Guy appreciatively, “as Beholder is quite a big name out there.”
“Yes it is and we’ve done quite well and I’m sure in one way or another we’ve run in the same circles,” Guy nodded in response.
“The European offices were doing quite well from what I’ve heard,” Marc continued on with the conversation.
“That’s because Guy is the best and in having him out there, well he’s brought in a whole new clientele to Beholder and they are just loving him out there…”
“I can see why,” Marc nodded in appreciation before offering up a welcoming smile, “which is why I insist upon your coming to the gathering.”
“Well, I’d love to, but well, I’d promised my girlfriend that I’d spent this week with her while I was back in town,” Guy threw out feeling an opening coming on as Marc’s eyes widened in surprise before his otherwise cool demeanor returned once again.
“Then bring her along,” Marc waved his hand around carelessly, “as the more the merrier I always say.”
“Indeed,” Brooke nodded in agreement giving Guy a look of heavy disapproval before she turned to Marc trying to lay out her charm on him, “though I’m sure if Mindy isn’t available then Guy will have no problem escorting Cathy as they do so enjoy one another‘s company…”
“Oh she will be,” Guy insisted quickly not allowing his mother a chance to make things worse than they already were for him, “and I know she’ll be flattered that you thought to include her.”
“She sounds like a charming young woman,” Marc noted with a quick nod before turning to Brooke, “Now since you’ve been telling me all about this place for a while now, what would you recommend for dinner this evening?”
“Well…” Brooke began to impress Marc with her knowledge of the restaurant as Guy’s eyes were glued to the clock as he realized there would be no way he’d find himself back with Gabe at the time he’d hoped for. Even now as the seconds dragged out, he wished that somehow he could find a way back to Avery’s apartment and to the night he’d planned with his lover, but before he could immerse himself with worries about how Gabe would respond to the change of plans, he felt Cathy’s hand upon his leg and he leapt out of his seat with a yelp.
“Is something wrong,” Brooke questioned in confusion as Guy hovered over the rest of them.
“I forgot I have a phone call to make,” Guy politely excused himself needing some space from those around him as he headed off to a payphone dialing Gabe’s hotel room in the hopes of catching him and explaining the situation, but as he found himself met by nothing more than the ringing on the other end of the line, he wondered where his lover could’ve gone off. He hung up the phone trying Avery’s apartment on the whim that Gabe had shown up there, but as the machine picked up, he hung up the phone opting to try Gabe’s cell phone as he felt a sigh slip over his lips.
“Hey, I’m at dinner with my mother, but if you happen to check in, well, I’m going to try to sneak out as soon as possible, but so far it’s not looking too promising,” he explained into the voice mail message that answered, “but I’m thinking about you and I wish I was where you are…” he finished hanging up the phone as he struggled to find a way to make it through this meal as it seemed that he was going to have to be on the defense in between his mother’s scathing looks and Cathy’s advances. With that thought in mind, he slowly made his way back to the table hoping above hope that some kind of miracle would take him away from dinner, but since he was certain tonight wasn’t going to be one of those miracle filled nights, he vowed to grin and bear it until he could politely escape and put the nightmare behind him.
“Ah Heather,” Cameron smiled as he stepped into a guest room which had become Heather’s makeshift office, “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Oh really?” Heather asked as she glanced up from the legal pad before her, “What about?”
“I thought we could talk about our wedding,” He said simply as he sat in a high back chair, “We need to work out a few details.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” She agreed, “I guess I’ve been so preoccupied with wanting to see Kipp and starting my own agency and getting my things moved in,” She stopped, “I’m rambling. I don’t usually ramble. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately.”
“Must be the hormones,” He teased, extending a manila folder towards her, “I think we need to deal with this first.”
“What is this?” She asked as she took it from him. She opened the folder and immediately looked back to him, “A prenuptial agreement?”
“My lawyer insisted upon it, but I assure you that it’s just a standard agreement.”
“A prenup…I thought…I mean,” She paused, “I guess because I thought this was a business arrangement that there wouldn’t be any need.”
“There’s always a need,” He began, “But you are provided for in this agreement. It provides for your child, and it includes a stipulation about your business. Although I’m putting in all the capital, you’re still the one bringing modeling experience to the table. Therefore, we’ll each retain fifty-fifty ownership in case of divorce.”
“Fifty-fifty?” Heather asked, “That sounds reasonable,” She agreed.
“You can have an attorney look over the agreement and make any changes you’d like to see. I’ll then present it to my attorney until we have an agreement that’s amicable to the both of us,” He suggested, “And we can set a date for the wedding along with making all the preparations you’d like.”
She thought for a moment before she spoke, “I think perhaps a small wedding would be best. The last thing we need is Douglas Mahoney making a scene.”
“Agreed,” Cameron nodded, “And to keep up appearances, we will have to go away on a honeymoon.”
“Are you serious?” She asked, mildly amused by the notion.
“I’m very serious,” He assured her, “We can go to a little island I own in the South Pacific. We could spend a few days there and relax. Then we’ll come home, and you’ll have your chance to see Kipp.”
“Really?” She asked with a smile, “Do you really think I’ll really be able to see him?”
“You’ll be family, and I’ll take you in to see him. You’ll have your chance to tell Kipp about the baby, Heather.”
Heather smiled brightly, “Good, I think it’ll be great for him to hear about the baby. It should give him some hope and maybe it’ll help him heal.”
“I’m sure it will,” He agreed, “So take that agreement to your attorney, and we’ll go from there.”
“Cameron,” She began as she met his eyes, “Thank you. You’ve been so good to me, and I can’t think of any way to properly thank you.”
“We’ll work on that in good time,” Cameron assured her as he left the
room, thinking of many possible ways for her to repay his generosity.
Jade giggled as Grady opened the door to his truck and helped her out of the vehicle. He slipped his arm around her waist as he led her along.
“Grady, where have you taken me?” She asked as she tried to peak out from under the blindfold he’d secured to hide her eyes.
“You’ll see in just a minute,” He teased as he led her along.
“Where are we?” She asked with another giggle before she heard some noises around her, “Wait…but I thought you said a quiet night for us…”
“It will be,” He assured her with a knowing grin. While he’d had to call in a few favors to pull off a grand gesture such as this, the smile Jade was wearing had made it all worth it…and she hadn’t even seen what was waiting for her yet.
“Grady…” She began, “You know that patience is not one of my virtues,” She warned before he untied the blindfold.
“Then take a look,” He offered as he tucked the blindfold into his jacket pocket.
Jade opened her eyes and gasped as she spotted the luxury before her. Candles flickered throughout the room, illuminating the private dining room complete with lavish flower arrangements. She looked up to him with wide eyes, “Grady…”
“I thought that we deserved a nice quiet dinner out for a change,” He smiled at her, “And what better place than Pavilion for this kind of dinner.”
“But…this is…” She paused as she looked to the setting before her, “Grady, this is just amazing.”
He smiled as he led her to the table, “This is just the beginning for us,” He promised as he pulled out a chair for her.
“How did you manage to arrange all of this?” She asked as she sat and Grady moved to sit across the table from her.
“I do have a few tricks up my sleeve,” He teased as a waiter approached their table. Grady ordered a bottle of wine while he and Jade perused the menu, “Tonight is really about us. I wanted you to know that there’s not any decision to make where we’re concerned.”
“What do you mean?” She asked as she looked back to him from her menu.
“You told me today that I would have to choose my hatred for Avery or my love for you,” He paused as he reached over to take her hand, “There’s no decision to be made. I love you, and that’s the most important thing in my life.”
“I love you too,” She smiled brightly as the waiter returned and poured each of them a glass of wine. She glanced over to Grady, “We probably shouldn’t be drinking this.”
“It’s non-alcoholic,” He replied, “I’m not about to risk my sobriety now…not when I everything I’ve ever dreamt of ahead of me.”
She smiled at him before they ordered their meals. When the waiter left the room, a violinist stepped inside and smiled at them with a bow of his head before he began to play.
Grady stood and extended his hand to her, “Shall we dance?”
“I’d love to,” Jade smiled as she took his hand and stood.
He slipped his arms around her and began leading her in a slow dance to the music’s rhythm. She eased her fingers through his hair as she melted into his embrace.
“This evening is something close to perfect,” She admitted as she gazed into his eyes.
“Close to perfect?” He asked as he led her in the dance, “So what would make it a perfect evening for you?”
“I don’t know,” She smiled as her gaze drifted to his lips, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
“Then let’s see what we can do to keep improving on the evening,” He teased as he dropped his lips to hers in a soft loving kiss, “I can tell you that from my point of view tonight is shaping up to be one for the record books.”
“For me too,” She drew him into another kiss, “I was afraid that our relationship was going to fall apart. I was so afraid that we wouldn’t be able to make it through this.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about us. All I could think of was how much I hated Avery. It seems that I just block out everything else that I should be thinking about and focus on everything destructive in my life. I don’t know why I do it, Jade, but I do know that I want to change it. I want to focus on everything good in my life. I want to focus on you,” He assured her as he brushed his lips over hers in a whisper of a kiss, “It’s what I’ve really wanted for so long, but I’ve been trying so hard to avoid my old mistakes and prevent Russ from making those same mistakes,” He paused, “And it turns out that I was only making matters worse for myself and everyone else. I don’t want to do that anymore. I just want to live my life in some peace and harmony for a change,” He met her eyes, “When I’m with you, I feel like I have all of that.”
“Oh Grady,” Jade eased her palm over his cheek, “I love you. I want to give you all the happiness in the world.”
“You do, Jade. You do, and now I’m going to return the favor,” Grady promised as he kissed her tenderly. He was going to start a new life with Jade, and tonight was only the beginning.
The throbbing rhythm of the music pulsated through the club goers as Ben drew Diane into The Gables along with him. He tugged her out on the dance floor as a new song began.
“What are we doing here?” Diane asked as he pulled her into his arms.
“We’re out here to dance so that I can hold you. If you’re not going to let me go all the way on the first date, I have to find some way to be within a breath of you,” He teased as he held her close. As he eased his fingers down her spine he frowned, “You are so tense.”
“After the run in I had with Blake today, it’s hard to let go of the tension,” She sighed as she attempted to get into the spirit of the evening.
“You haven’t told me what happened with Blake,” He began, “What happened that has you wound so tight?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” She sighed as she looked away from him.
“Hey,” He asked in concern as he stopped the dance and drew her eyes back to him, “What happened?”
“Ben, I know you think highly of Blake, but she doesn’t think so highly of you. If she had, I don’t believe for a minute that she would have said to me what she did today,” She glanced around the crowded dance floor, “Come on. Let’s step over here,” She took his hand and led him to an empty table, away from the pulsating music of the dance floor.
“Diane, what is going on?” He asked with curious confusion while a waiter joined them.
Diane glanced to the waiter, “Gin and tonic and bring him a beer,” She dismissed the waiter as she looked back to Ben, “Although with what I have to tell you, you may end up wanting something stronger.”
“Diane, would you please just tell me what happened with Blake?” Ben urged her as he took her hand, “Whatever it is, it couldn’t have been all this bad.”
“Yes, it could,” She advised him, “Look, Ben, she offered me fifty thousand dollars if I would quit BBK and walk away from you forever,” She finally admitted as she searched his eyes.
“She what?” He asked as his anger built from the bottom of his soul, “And what did you do?”
“I laughed in her face and told her that I pitied her because she has no idea of the value of a real relationship like I have with you,” She explained.
Ben’s anger dissipated slightly as a smile began to grow on his face. He pulled her into his arms and squeezed her tightly against him as he spun in a circle, “That’s my girl.”
“Ben!” Diane squealed in surprise as he spun her around before placing her back on her feet, “I don’t understand,” She said in confusion as she met his eyes.
“Don’t you?” He smiled as he kept her wrapped tightly in his arms, “I love you, Diane, and you showed me in the best possible way that you love me too. How many other women would have thrown that kind of money back in Blake’s face?” He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her passionately, “You’ve made me the happiest man in the world.”
“All because I turned down her money?” She asked in surprise as the waiter placed their drinks on the table and walked away, “I thought you’d be upset.”
“With Blake, hell yeah, I’m pissed off,” He admitted, “But I’m so proud of you. You showed her that you’re not in any way the woman she thinks you are, and you just proved to me that you’re the woman I’ve always thought you were. I love you all the more for it.”
Diane shrugged with a playful sigh, “Well you know, she didn’t offer me nearly enough. Now a hundred thousand…” She teased.
“Oh you,” Ben lifted her off her feet again and spun her around. He now knew that he’d have to confront Blake with a much harsher tone if he were going to keep her from hurting Diane, but he also knew that Diane could hold her own in any battle with Blake.
Blake knocked on the door to Zack’s apartment, hoping he was home so she could have someone to vent about her day to. The door opened, and Blake immediately threw her arms around Zack.
“Whoa, what’s this for?” Zack asked as he held her, “Blake, what’s wrong?”
“Oh everything,” She blurted out as she stepped out of his hug and walked into the apartment, avoiding boxes of his belongings as she glanced around before turning to him, “Why won’t people ever listen to advice?”
“Because they’re stubborn,” He said as he closed the door and followed her across the room, “So who’s not listening to your advice?”
“Ben,” She said bluntly, “He’s still with that little slut, and she thinks she’s entitled to a lot more than what she has.”
“You know from what I saw the other night, Diane really isn’t what you think she is,” He pointed out as he walked towards the kitchen, “I’m cooking dinner so if you want to keep up on this rant, you can join me in the kitchen.”
“This isn’t a rant, Zack,” She followed him, “I’m trying to protect Ben from heartbreak, and all he can do is spout off about how much he loves her,” She complained as she stepped into the kitchen after him, “It’s just that I’ve seen her in action.”
“What is this really about, Blake? You say that you’ve seen her in action, but what has she really done to you? What is it that get so under your skin about this chick?” He asked as he stirred the contents of a pan.
Blake frowned as she backed up against a counter and crossed her arms, “I don’t really think we should get into it.”
“Now, I know that we need to discuss it. You don’t dodge a question like that and not arouse suspicion, Blake.”
She tucked a loose strand of hair that had fallen from her pony tail behind her ear before she sighed, “It’s just that we’ve had some confrontations in the past.”
“About what?” He asked while adding some herbs to the pan.
She looked around the room as if searching for the right words to explain the situation, “It was over a man.”
“Aha,” He nodded, “I knew there was something sordid going on. So spill the beans, Blake. Why does this still irritate you so much?”
“It’s just that Eric was the kind of guy that my father would have approved of. I did everything in the world to get his attention,” She paused, “Everything except sleep with him.”
“And this is where Diane comes in?”
“Yeah,” She stepped near him and looked at the contents of the pan on the stove, “She seduced him and took Eric away from me.”
“Sounds like he wasn’t really yours to begin with, Blake.”
“You weren’t there, Zack. You don’t know how Eric was with me.”
“What I do know is that if a man is serious about a woman he’s not going to fall into bed with the first woman to bat her eyelashes at him,” He shrugged, “If a man is serious, he can resist temptation.”
“Not if she was relentless like Diane was. She did everything she could to get me out of the way so she could get Eric all to herself.”
“Blake, listen to me, and pay attention to what I’m saying, okay?” He instructed as he met her eyes, “I’m telling you that if he had truly loved you there would have been no way he’d jump Diane. He wasn’t as interested as you thought he was.”
“Zack,” She began to argue.
“Don’t Zack me,” He interrupted her as he took a spoonful of the dish he was preparing and slipped it between her lips, “I don’t want to hear about Diane tonight. I want us to have some time together without you pulling your hair out over some guy that’s in the past, okay? It’s over with. We’re not. Remember that, okay?”
“Well what do I do about Ben?” She asked desperately.
“You let Ben deal with his own problems and focus on yours,” He pointed out.
“No,” Zack shook his head, “End of discussion. Now get the plates from the cupboard there,” He pointed, “I’ll serve, and we’ll have dinner.”
Blake took plates from the cupboard and set the table, “This isn’t over, Zack. I can’t let Diane break Ben the way she’s done men before, and I won’t let her upset my family. Never again,” She vowed to herself and in her own way to Ben that she wasn’t about to back down in her quest to rid her family circle of Diane.
Seth finished up in the darkroom thinking about how great his latest
set of wedding photos had come out as while they certainly wouldn’t be
on the front page of any big name magazine, the people contained in the
images would have a nice reflection of the moment to carry with them for
years on out. A frown touched over his lips as he felt a tug inside
of him as the thought of Blake carried over him. While he’d tried
to focus on other things like saving Jade and keeping those he cared about
from being harmed by Cameron, his thoughts always seemed to linger back
to Blake--back to the one woman who’d managed to capture his heart in ways
he never dreamt of. Now as he held a print of the two newlyweds before
him, he imagined what it would be like to have such a magical moment with
Blake at his side as he could envision what it would be like to have her
with him sharing their lives together as husband and wife.
“Quit dreaming,” he chastised himself as he realized that Blake couldn’t even bear the thought of speaking with him, let alone welcoming the notion of romance after their fathers’ less than savory histories had managed to put a wedge between them far more than he’d ever dreamt of.
Sure in the beginning, he hadn’t believed he’d fall in love with Blake Ashford, but now as he realized what he lost, he couldn’t imagine moving on without her as suddenly she was the only thing he could think of--the only woman he’d truly ever desired in this way as he’d do anything to have one last chance to hold Blake in his arms again…well, that is anything except put her in any kind of danger or pain after all that had happened. Just the thought of the look on her face when he’d shared with her the news of her father’s actions, he’d wished a million times over that he could take that moment back--that somehow he could erase that horrible experience from both his and Blake’s lives as Jade’s rape had changed everything for him. Dimitri saw that nothing would ever be the same for his children after that fateful night and even now Seth realized that their lives would never truly be the same as they once were as the demons of their father’s past would always be hung over their heads as a constant reminder of what would always be so far away for them.
With that thought in mind, Seth set the print down opting to go over to the phone and dial his sister as his concerns about her started to mesh with his thoughts of Blake, but before he could get to the phone, he saw a curvy silhouette in the doorway leaning to the side as there was no mistaking the legs before him that topped off the black stiletto heels that tapped on the ground impatiently.
“My my, you are a busy boy, aren’t you,” Thea entered the darkroom, her face in hues of red with the dim lighting of the room as a sumptuous smile pressed over her features, “I was so hoping that I’d reach you at the apartment, but this darkroom does certainly hold some distinct possibilities now doesn’t it?”
“What can I do for you Thea,” Seth cut to the chase in no mood to play the usual games that followed Thea’s twisted indulgence in sadistic carnal pleasures.
“Hmm, well given the way you look today, I can think of only about a half a dozen things I’d love to indulge in with you,” her words spilled from her lips in a seductive purr before her tongue traced over her bottom lip appreciatively, but almost as soon as her hints of desire pressed past her lips, her face transformed to that same abrasive firmness that added to that menacing presence she’d carried with her, “but right now this is all about business.”
“Thea, if you’re here about the microfilm…” Seth began nervously.
“Let me guess, you still don’t have it because Blake has been spending all her time with the blonde wonder boy,” Thea rolled her eyes stepping towards him, “which is beyond my comprehension because I truly don’t understand what woman in her right mind would step away from such a savory morsel like yourself,” she reached out to him unable to resist the urge to touch him as her fingers fanned out over his chest, “She’s just an ignorant little girl who clearly has no idea what a real man is all about now does she?”
“Apparently,” Seth answered fighting the strong desire to flinch as Thea’s hand teased over his muscled torso before he reached out for her wrist capturing it before she could make any bold moves before the belt. He stepped forward pressing her into the darkroom wall as a heated gasp fell from her lips before an amused smile teased over her wicked lips. Playing the part that he was certain would help his case, he leaned in towards her his breath teasing over her skin as his mouth hovered over hers, “so if you didn’t come here to talk about the microfilm, then why are you here?”
“I have a new assignment for you,” she explained meeting his dark eyes as Seth could see the desire burning behind her, “one that I think you’ll rather enjoy as it‘s a job that will give you a break from the microfilm for a little while as this, well this one just has a much more important feel to it.”
“Oh and what might that be?” Seth questioned unable to mask his frustration as he began to step away from her, “Cameron have yet another impossible request for me.”
“This one isn’t exactly about Cameron this time,” Thea explained reaching out to him to stop his retreat, “as well, I’d like a personal favor from you considering that you and I seem to have a good working relationship with one another.”
“And just what are you asking of me Thea,” Seth inquired hoping that it wasn’t what her eyes were clearly telling him as the last thing he’d wanted was to have to submit himself to being her personal boy toy for the moment.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Thea shook her head making a tsking sound, “though maybe we’ll get to that later,” she brushed past him taking note of the pictures before her as her nails tapped on the counter top to the dark room, “this proposition I have for you is truly business related as I’ve become very fond of your talents and well Cameron’s bride to be will require someone like you under her wing.”
“Come again?” Seth blinked back in confusion, “Cameron’s bride to be?”
“That’s right,” Thea wrinkled her nose with heavy displeasure, “A high maintenance little tramp who clearly is unworthy of such a man, but nonetheless Cameron has decided to indulge her with her own little company. While Cameron seems to think very highly about giving Miss Model her own little modeling agency, well I feel it’s a complete waste of time and finances as well I’d much rather work some of the company’s play money in much more fascinating outlets…”
“Such as?” Seth lifted a curious brow.
“Such as those are really of no relevance,” she waved her hand dismissively, “However keeping an eye on Cameron’s bride to be is of the utmost importance to me as I don’t feel she’s truly Stone material. That being said, I’d like you to work for her.”
“Come again?” Seth blinked back in response.
“She needs a photographer on staff and there isn’t anyone more perfect for the job than you are,” Thea continued openly as she glanced around the darkroom, “and given our well, the nature of our relationship, I’m fairly certain that I can keep an eye on you to let me know if things aren’t on the up and up with the company.”
“So you’re saying you just want me to keep an eye on Cameron’s bride and take pictures for her?” Seth questioned unsure of what was really being asked of him.
“It’ll be fun,” she rubbed her hands together as a smile lifted over her features, “As I’m certain we can find you some opportunities to get some recognition of your talent and along the way you and I can find a way to solidify this business relationship between us perhaps on a more personal level as our mutual trust builds…”
“I don’t know Thea,” Seth paused giving her a neutral look, “considering that Cameron has been on me about that microfilm, I don’t think he’d be too willing to have me around his bride…”
“I’ll deal with Cameron and see if we can get an extension on that microfilm considering that Blake Ashford is being an impossible twit. Perhaps together we can find a way to finesse Cameron into cutting you a break if and only if you promise me you’ll work for this new endeavor that Stone Corp is being suckered into.”
“So you’re saying I just work as a photographer and then I will have more time to work on that microfilm?”
“That’s where we stand yes and given that Cameron is going to be less than enthusiastic about this lack of progress on your end, I’d say that I’m cutting you a big break--one that you’d be best not to ignore if you catch my drift,” Thea reached out to him once again, “You do understand, don’t you Seth?”
“I understand,” he nodded in response stiffening as her fingers curled over his shoulders as she stepped up on her toes claiming his mouth with a predatory kiss before breaking away with a pleased expression as she wiped at her lower lip.
“Good,” she smiled at him patting his chest gently, “I knew I could count on you and as much as I’d love to stay here and catch up, well I think I should probably get going as there’s plenty of work to be done before I can move you in to where I want you.”
“Thea…” Seth began watching her walk away as she threw out one last wave.
“I’ll be seeing you soon, Seth,” she blew him a kiss before disappearing behind the door frame and Seth let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding as somehow he had the feeling that things weren’t quite as simple as Thea were making them out to be. Somehow with Thea’s proposal he feared that he’d just been brought in deeper than he wanted to go as Cameron’s presence still hung over him trapping him in this position he’d found himself in and all that he could do was fight to hold on as his world was going under.
Richard paced around the hospital hallway awaiting word on his daughter
as he noticed Jenna, Dave and Shannon stepping off the elevators.
Immediately he was on the defense as Judy watched him transform into the
on edge combination of a lawyer and concerned father as he marched towards
the three of them demanding answers.
“What are you doing here?” Richard demanded harshly, “Haven’t you already done enough?”
“We’re here to see how Avery’s doing,” Jenna spoke up quickly stopping a situation before it started as she looked to Avery’s father, “You know Avery is my best friend and I’m concerned about her.”
“Yes, I’m well aware of why you’re here, but you,” his eyes darted over towards Shannon, “you have no business here…”
“Mr. Morrison, I can assure you that we mean no harm to your daughter,” Dave began politely taking a moment to catch his breath as he was still uneasy with the idea of being at the hospital himself, “We’re here merely as a precautionary move as we’re concerned about the man who’s been following her.”
“A man you claimed was dead and had my daughter pinned as a murder suspect if I do recall correctly,” Richard snapped in response, “which in itself is reason enough for me to have security remove the both of you as the last thing I want is you upsetting my daughter.”
“We’re not here to do that and if you’d just…” Dave started again.
“Look, I don’t really give a damn what you think about us or our timing as I have a job to do here and in this particular case that involves my speaking with your daughter whether you like it or not,” Shannon declared boldly, “as I’m not about to let her run around town blind to what kind of dangerous man is watching her every move and plotting ways to make her his latest victim just because you don’t particularly like me.”
“Listen you,” Richard began with a frown as Judy stepped up beside him bringing her hand upon his arm as she tried to get him to calm down.
“Rick, maybe you should listen to what they have to say,” she suggested with a sigh, “After what happened on the island…”
“You think Mathis was the one who sent my daughter that awful package?” Richard questioned tension coursing through his body at the thought of someone ready to cause Avery any kind of harm.
“Well, we aren’t exactly sure, but…” Dave started as Shannon cut him off boldly.
“Given what we know about him, I’m certain of it and I’m afraid if we don’t get a chance to speak with your daughter about what’s going on that he’ll find a way to make her the next target in his long list of victims so for Avery, I can’t stress enough how important it is that we speak with her.”
“Right now she and Russell are in with her doctor,” Richard explained simply, “and until I get word from them that everything is alright, I’m not going to allow you to barge in on them. Until I know that she‘s okay, I‘m not offering up any promises.”
Shannon opened her mouth to speak as Dave stepped forward cutting her off before she said something else that set Richard Morrison once again as he spoke up smoothly, “That’s fair enough. We‘ll just stick around for a while in case Avery is up to talking…”
“I’ll let you know if she’s interested,” Richard nodded in response turning away with Judy as Shannon gave Dave a less than impressed look.
“What are you doing?” she questioned with a frown.
“Giving him the opportunity to allow us a chance to speak with Avery,” Dave motioned over towards Richard, “as that man is a pit bull and you saw what happened the last time you tried to go head to head with him…”
“That was different,” Shannon glared over in Richard’s direction.
“Even so right now isn’t about that ax you have to grind,” Dave sighed shaking his head, “I have a feeling this is going to be a long night. Can I get you a coffee?”
“No, I’m not in the mood,” Shannon waved her hand at him dismissively.
“Suit yourself,” he shrugged his shoulders looking over to Jenna, “Can I get you one?”
“No thanks,” Jenna replied politely as Dave walked off and she turned to Shannon, “You know you could try not coming across so abrasive there.”
“I wasn’t being abrasive. I was just doing my job,” Shannon stated plainly, “something that the people in this town clearly don’t want me to do as I keep hitting the wall here.”
“I think you’ve made some excellent progress now that the truth about Bruce is out in the open,” Jenna pointed out once more, “and when Avery is ready to hear it, I’m sure that she and Russ will hear you out.”
“I’m not so sure about that with her father there being her watch dog. He doesn’t realize that I’m here to help Avery because that lunatic is out there and…” Shannon explained again.
“He understands, but right now, well emotions are running high as clearly the incident at the airport wasn’t helping things. In fact, why don’t you go join Dave for that coffee and I’ll let you know if I can get you in to speak with Avery. She might be more receptive to hearing a few things from me before you come in given the nature of the history between the two of you…”
“This isn’t about any kind of history…” Shannon began once again.
“I know that, but convincing him of that is another story altogether,” Jenna explained politely, “Shannon, why don’t you just take a walk and I promise I’ll keep you updated.”
“Fine,” Shannon decided after a moment’s hesitation, “but the longer we draw this out the harder it’s going to be to catch this guy as he’s had years of practice in evading the authorities.”
“I know he has,” Jenna replied turning her eyes down the hallway as she wondered if her best friend had any idea of what was ahead for her after the nightmare had seemingly ended once before.
“Why is this taking so long,” Avery questioned with worry evident in
her voice as she turned her head to look up at Russ as he sat beside her
hospital bed. “Russ, I can’t just sit here…”
“You’re going to have to,” he reminded her stopping her from getting up off of the bed as her nervousness was getting the best of her, “because Deidra said…”
“I know what she said, but I really just want to go home,” Avery pleaded with him, “I’m feeling fine and…”
“Sweetheart, you need to relax,” Russell explained further as the door to the room opened and Deidra stepped inside.
“Sorry for taking so long,” Deidra began apologetically.
“It’s okay,” Russell replied with a soft smile, “although if you were a moment longer I was afraid that I’d have to pry her off of the ceiling here as she’s spent the entire time ready to climb the walls.”
“I had a feeling she might be,” Deidra approached her knowingly, “and while I must admit that I’d thought about taking my time in getting to work here, well Avery, you seemed to speed up that first day for me.”
“I’m sorry that you felt you had to bring me here, but, well…” Avery bit on her lower lip nervously, “What did you find out?”
“You mean other than what we talked about before?” Deidra questioned seeing the apprehension behind Avery’s eyes, “Avery, I got a glimpse of some of your medical records and given what you’ve told me, well, I’ll have to review them further as they weren’t all sent over, but…”
“But what?” Avery’s eyes widened in response as she felt Russell reach for her hand squeezing it gently.
“But nothing,” Deidra informed her, “after the exam we did and the blood work, well all things are as I indicated as you appear to be having the beginnings of a very healthy pregnancy considering though your blood sugar is a bit low, but we can work on fixing that easily with proper diet and snacking I‘d imagine.”
“Thank God,” Russell let out a breath of relief as he leaned in to kiss Avery tenderly, “See, don’t you feel better knowing that?”
“Still,” she allowed her worry to slip past, “what about the airport…with my passing out?”
“Avery, given what you’ve just been through, I can’t think of any woman who’d keep it together as well as you have,” Deidra began as there was a tapping at the door, “although I did want to take another look just to be sure…”
A moment later a woman emerged from behind the door with some machinery she’d brought with her.
“What’s that?” Russell questioned in confusion, “I thought you said she was fine…”
“She is, but well, I figured you both might like some reaffirmations about that and well,” Deidra smiled in response as the woman began to set up the machinery for her, “maybe even a first look at the little one.”
“We can do that already?” Avery’s eyes widened in response.
“Well given how far along you are and the concerns you had about your pregnancy not to mention the clout your father has in Coral Valley, well I was able to pull a few strings,” Deidra explained with a smile as she motioned towards the woman, “Melinda here is going to give you both a first look at your little one.”
“Really?” Russell’s face lit up at the thought as he squeezed Avery’s hand tenderly, “Avery, did you hear that honey?”
“I heard it,” Avery couldn’t help but smile at the thought as she watched her husband seeing the enthusiasm that filled him up inside as Melinda finished setting up the ultrasound before turning to Avery.
“I trust you’re familiar with how this procedure goes. This might feel a little strange for a moment,” Melinda smiled at the both of them as she reached out to Avery, beginning to cover her abdomen with jelly as Avery inhaled a slow breath turning her eyes to Russell as he reached out to touch her cheek gently.
“I love you baby,” he leaned forward unable to resist the urge to kiss her as he kept her hand in his.
“The little one should be making his or her big screen debut over there,“ Deidra pointed to the television monitor as Melinda stepped forward holding the transducer as she looked to the couple.
“Ready for this,” she questioned sliding the wand over Avery’s abdomen as Russell nodded emphatically.
“Boy are we ever,” he confessed eagerly turning his attention to the monitor before him as the first images were displayed on screen.
“Oh my,” Avery gasped as her eyes were focused on the latest bout of images before her.
“Well look what we have here,” Deidra offered up with a smile happy to be sharing such a moment with them as she watched Russell practically jump out of the chair he was seated in as excitement bubbled over him.
“Avery, do you see that? Do you see our baby? Look honey,” he continued enthusiastically, “There’s our baby…do you see…”
“I see,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh as she realized he looked just like a child at Christmas time as his eyes widened in response to what was taking place before him. She felt him squeeze her hand as her own eyes fell upon the screen before her in wonderment as the reality of her pregnancy finally fell upon her harder than she’d ever thought possible as she recalled all the times she’d believed that she’d never be experiencing something like this ever again.
“Well would you look at that,” Deidra piped in drawing their attention to the tiny fetus onscreen, “Not only do we have a strong and steady heartbeat, but we also have a thumb sucker it seems.”
“A thumb sucker,” Russell repeated in a giddy voice as he looked to Avery once again opening his mouth to ask the question Avery was certainly growing to expect out of him as a laugh spilled over her lips.
“I see it,” she blurted out as her eyes misted over with tears at the miracle before her.
“Our baby,” Russ said with a strong sense of pride washing over him, “our little one is so beautiful…so perfect and so…”
“Healthy from the looks of things,” Deidra added with a smile, “given what I’m seeing here, I have a strong feeling that you two are in for a very adventurous road of parenthood ahead of you.”
“I’m going to be a daddy,” Russell announced proudly his smile growing wider by the second, “that’s my baby--my beautiful baby…our baby…”
“Our baby,” Avery repeated unable contain her tears as Melinda continued with the ultrasound showing them different views of Baby Denton as Deidra assured them time and time again that Avery was in the midst of a happy, healthy pregnancy.
Once Melinda had finished with the ultrasound, Russell lifted Avery’s hand to his lips kissing her affectionately. “Our little miracle.”
“Oh Russ,” she felt herself choked up on emotion as she thought to the first glimpse of their baby and her heart filled with love and anticipation of bringing their child into the world now that they were together again.
“Avery, this is the greatest gift you could’ve given me,” he whispered solemnly, “I love you so much and our baby…well,” he turned to Deidra curiously, “Do we get to take something home with us to show off our little one?”
“I can get you a print out for you,” Deidra nodded in response, “In fact, we’ll get working on that right now while you two have a few minutes together.”
“Thank you,” Avery smiled at Deidra as she felt a sniffle rise up over her. Once they were alone, she shifted a bit on the bed and Russell moved in beside her leaning in over her as his thumb skimmed at the tears that tracked down her face.
“Baby, do you have any idea how proud of you I am?” he questioned his voice choked up with emotion as he touched her, “How happy I am for this little miracle you’ve given to me?”
“I think we both played a hand in this,” Avery sniffled in response leaning into his touch as a smile spilled over her features, “After all, you are the man who made this happen.”
“Even so, baby, when I saw our child,” he choked up on emotion, “you have no idea how much this meant to me…how much seeing my little one made me feel like everything we’ve been through--everything that’s happened, well, that somehow it was meant to be as here we are together and I’ve never been happier than I am in this moment knowing that our baby is growing healthy and happy inside of you,” his touch tapered off over her abdomen involuntarily as he massaged it gently, “Avery, this means so much to me…”
“I know and this,” she brought her hand up over his, “It’s everything to me as well Russ. This is what I’ve always dreamt about for us…”
“Now we’re living our dreams baby,” he assured her kissing her tenderly as his breath cascaded over her features, “we’re the lucky ones this time.”
“I feel blessed by the fact that you found your way back to me--back to us because if you’d have given up on finding us,” Avery sighed thinking to the time they’d been apart.
“I’d never give up on you,” Russell promised openly, “as you’re my heart and soul and my one true destiny in this world. Our family is everything Avery and not that you’ve given me the world, well I’d move heaven and Earth to keep you safe and secure and feeling loved.”
“I’ve never felt more love in my life than I do when I’m with you,” Avery whispered in response, “Being without you was hell and while I fought so hard to hide my heart…”
“It’s all in the past,” he reminded her wanting to cherish the promise of the future ahead of them as nothing else mattered in this moment than the love that they shared for one another and their unborn child, “all that matters is what we have up ahead of us as you know we’ve got a lot of planning to do.”
“How do you figure,” Avery teased with a tiny laugh as she saw the sparkle behind his eyes.
“Well first off, we’re going to have to finally turn my study into that nursery,” he began excitedly, “and then we’ll have to get a collection of toys for our little one as I want our child to have the best of everything. Maybe even put a swing set in the yard, one of those little red tricycles that you always loved playing with when we were younger and then work on getting some…”
“Russ, I’m still pregnant here,” she couldn’t help but laugh at his words as she began to get dressed once again, “I don’t think we have to worry about the swing set just yet…”
“Even so, it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead,” he pointed out with a goofy grin, “as we both know that these next few months are going to fly as we work on picking out baby names and things that we…”
“How about we just start with a kiss,” Avery suggested with a soft smile, “as right now I just want to kiss you for being too damned cute about this.”
“Cute?” he repeated bubbling over with enthusiasm, “Avery, I’m on top of the world right now and it’s all because of you darling.”
“Yeah well not so long ago you were on the floor at the airport because I wasn’t bold enough to be upfront with Brant about things before now,” she frowned as her eyes fell upon the bruising forming on the left side of his face, “Russ, I’m so sorry that I didn’t just open my mouth and…”
“Avery, none of that matters,” he tried to assure her, “We’ll deal with Brant in our own time, but, for now, well right now I want to think about our baby--about that image Deidra is bringing us because you know we’re going to have to make about a bazillion copies there as I’ll have to have one in just about every room at the house, one at the office and I’m sure my parents are going to want to have a copy to see their grandchild, not to mention your father…” his words were interrupted by a tapping at the door as Richard popped his head in a moment later.
“I’m not interrupting am I?” he questioned curiously, “As Deidra said that…”
“Come on in, daddy,” Avery’s grin expanded as she greeted her father, “Russ and I were just talking about your grandchild here…”
“I hear that my grandchild was showing off for you both,” Richard mused with a goofy grin.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Russ piped in proudly, “as our little one is such a strong little spunky one already. Half way through the ultrasound the thumb sucking must’ve caused hiccups and…”
“Those weren’t exactly pleasant,” Avery offered up in confession thinking to the little one’s responses during the ultrasound, “but I have a feeling that was stage fright setting in.”
“Are you kidding,” Russell shook his head at her, “Our baby isn’t suffering from stage fright. Just merely showing his or her mommy that they can make a statement.”
“I’ll say,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh as she looked to her father seeing something behind his eyes, “Daddy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he insisted leaning down to kiss her cheek, “I’m just so happy to hear that my grandchild is doing so well considering everything that’s happened…”
“So am I,” Avery admitted honestly, “after the last time…”
“This isn’t like the last time,” Richard assured her as he motioned towards Russ, “this is how it was supposed to be.”
“I’m going to do everything I can to keep them both safe and happy,” Russell promised still holding Avery’s hand.
“I know you will and I’m sure that we’ll all do what we can to keep them safe during this pregnancy,” Richard added quickly.
“But?” Avery lifted a curious brow, “Why do I feel a but coming on?”
“Avery, there’s no but…it’s just…the police are here and…” Richard began as Deidra entered the room with a copy of the ultrasound photo in hand.
“Look what I have,” she announced enthusiastically, “as I’m sure you’ll want to show this to grandpa.”
“Let me see my beautiful grandchild,” Richard reached out for the picture before stopping and turning to Russ and Avery, “May I?”
“By all means,” Russell nodded in response watching as Richard’s eyes widened upon seeing the image before him.
“Would you look at that,” Richard chuckled as his voice shifted with emotion, “This is by far the most amazing, perfect little baby I’ve ever seen,” he turned to look at Avery, “Princess, I’m so very proud of you as my grandchild is beautiful just like you are.”
“Daddy,” Avery felt a blush rising over her as he kissed her once again.
“This needs to be framed,” Richard handed the image over to Russell.
“I intend on getting copies made ASAP,” Russell assured him, “so expect yours soon enough.”
“I’ll count on that one,” Richard agreed with a nod, “as I can’t wait to show off my grandchild, but first I think we should work on getting you both home since it‘s been a very long day and I want my Avery to get some rest that is if her doctor agrees to it.”
“She’s more than welcome to go home,” Deidra explained with a hint of seriousness, “but I want you to work on getting some rest there and maybe a little something to eat so that we won’t have to worry about that dizziness there.”
“I’ll get her something on the way home,” Russell promised quickly, “as I think both my babies deserves something extra special for doing such a wonderful job with the ultrasound.”
“Russ, you’re going to make me blush here,” Avery felt a heat rise over her features as he wrapped his arms around her pulling her closer to him.
“Can I help it if I enjoy spoiling my wife and our baby,” he questioned leisurely bringing his arms more completely around her as he tipped down to rub his nose against hers in a quick movement before kissing her gently.
“Well no, but…” Avery felt a smile tickle over the corners of her mouth.
“I’ll go work on getting those release papers for you,” Deidra announced breaking her moment of silence.
“And I think I’ll go tell Judy the good news,” Richard decided giving his daughter and her husband a moment with one another as he slipped out of the room as there was another knock on the door and Jenna popped her head inside after a moment‘s hesitation.
“Looks like we’re drawing in a crowd,” Russell teased as Avery turned in his arms to greet her pal with a cheerful smile.
“Hey girl, come on in,” Avery waved at Jenna as she leaned back into Russell’s chest feeling the warmth of his arms surrounding her as Deidra motioned to the door.
“Hey you,” Jenna smiled in response, “What’s this I hear you two ran off to some romantic island hideaway to get married and you didn’t think to have me there?” she curled her lip in a frown, “Russ Denton, I aught to have to strung up for thinking to do such a thing with my best friend and not include me in the moment. Shame on you!”
“I know I shouldn’t have done it that way as it was very impulsive on our end, but we couldn’t wait another moment, Jen,” Russell informed her honestly, “as once I had Avery in my arms again, well there are just some things that can’t wait.”
“I suppose in this case, I’ll consider forgiving you,” Jenna teased with a wink, “but for now, well I think congratulations are in order.”
“Thank you Jenna,” Avery slipped out of Russell’s embrace reaching out to hug her best friend as Jenna’s outstretched arms wrapped around her, “You have no idea how much that means to me.”
“Yeah well we’ll work on that when you give me the opportunity to throw a party for the both of you,” Jenna insisted as they parted, “since Russ here didn’t give me enough advance notice to get you a proper bachelorette party.”
“Given how you are, well I think that’s a good thing as the last thing I needed was for Avery to run off with some studly stripper you hired since you have that kind of reputation,” Russell teased in response as Avery poked at his ribs.
“I’ll give you reputation,” Avery nudged him once again, “Be nice dear.”
“Oh, it’s okay Avery,” Jenna laughed lightly, “it’s not like I don’t already know all about Russ and his dirty little secrets. Don’t make me resort to going back to eighth grade memories…”
“You wouldn’t dare,” he feigned shock and concern upon her words.
“Don’t tempt me,” Jenna teased once more.
“Well, since you’re putting my reputation on the line there,” Russell laughed lightly, “I suppose I’ll let you throw my wife a baby shower if you want to.”
“Gee, you’d do all that for me huh,” Jenna shook her head at him as she looked to Avery, “What ever are you going to do with him and his lack of manners?”
“Don’t worry as I’m sure he’ll be properly disciplined for it later,” Avery turned her head up towards Russell as Jenna let out a tiny groan.
“Okay, I think I don’t want to know about it as this whole newlywed thing is going to take some time to getting adjusted to as I remember what it was like during the college years between the both of you,” Jenna groaned inwardly, “as you both made my being single an uncomfortable affair with all your giddy, romantic gestures…”
“Now Jenna, you know you were never alone,” Avery winked at her, “as you always had the guys chasing you around and you were fighting them off with a stick.”
“Probably because my best friend had already snagged the best ones,” Jenna mused with a grin, “although I must admit that as usual you and Russ are certainly the top gossip around the hospital as I hear that Baby Denton is making quite a statement in the world already.”
“Oh Jenna you have no idea,” Avery began as Russell pulled the photo Deidra had given them out of his pocket.
“Wanna see a picture,” he questioned eagerly holding it out for Jenna to take a look.
“Would I ever as I’d like to see what kind of trouble you both are in for,” Jenna chuckled in response as her eyes fell upon the image and a gasp fell from her lips, “Oh Avery, the baby is so beautiful…”
“See, I always knew you had taste as you know a good thing when you see it,” Russell quipped jokingly as Jenna turned her eyes to him once again.
“Well, of course the baby would be beautiful with Avery being the mother, but now that I think about it,” Jenna wrinkled her nose as she fought to suppress another teasing grin, “are you sure that the little one isn’t going to be warped by his or her father considering what a wild man Russ is here.”
“Hey now, I strongly object to that as you know my wild ways are done and over with. Isn‘t that right honey,” Russell began in his defense as Avery turned to look at him with a knowing expression.
“Russ, you don’t want me to lie to my best friend, now do you?” she stood up on her toes to give him a quick kiss. “We both know better than to believe that you’re any less of a wild man now than you were in college…”
“Even so, we could try to fake it for a moment here,” he winked at her as Avery nudged him in the ribs once again.
“Tell you what sweetheart. Why don’t you go check and see what my father’s up to so that we can get out of here sooner rather than later and while you’re gone it’ll give me an opportunity to catch up with my best friend here.”
“In other words you’re getting rid of me so you can talk about me while I’m gone huh,” he flashed them both a knowing look, “as I’m assuming this is your casual way of opening up the floor for some girl talk between you.”
“You know us so well,” Avery smiled playfully swatting at his behind as he headed towards the door, “Now hurry up because I’m looking to go home and be pampered like you promised.”
“I’ll get right on it,” he threw out one last smile before blowing her a kiss and stepping out of the room.
“Could he be anymore adorable,” Avery mused with a sigh as she sat down on the edge of the hospital bed thinking about her husband before looking to Jenna once again, “So girl, what brings you down here?”
“You mean other than worrying about my best friend after she just drops off the planet? Gee I don’t know,” Jenna teased before her face grew suddenly serious, “Actually Avery, I really shouldn’t be playing around considering that…”
“I knew something serious was going on as I had a feeling this wasn’t about girl talk,” Avery frowned in response, “So what’s going on, Jen?”
“Actually,” Jenna hesitated before continuing, “I realize that there’s been a lot going on for you lately as the last time I saw you, well it was at your engagement party and correct me if I’m wrong, but you were slated to marry Brant, yes? I didn’t just imagine that.”
“No, you didn’t,” Avery frowned thinking about the man who’s heart she’d broken, “but things weren’t as they seemed as I told you that…”
“Avery, as much as I want the details as I think we really need to get into what’s going on with you, well, there’s something else that’s been going on and I think we need to talk about it,” Jenna began again with a sudden seriousness.
“Somehow I had a feeling that I couldn’t avoid this forever,” Avery sighed once more, “Lay it on me Jen. What‘s really going on around here?”
“Things could be a lot worse if you don’t let Dave and Shannon have a few words with you,” Jenna paused contemplating her words, “as you heard me say at the airport that they have reason to believe that Bruce is still alive and…”
“Jen, how can that be?” Avery questioned in confusion, “You said it yourself that he was dead and…”
“Avery, I know what I said, but there’s been some new evidence that he was under the influence of a drug that made him appear to be dead, but…” Jenna started to explain.
“Jen, do you have any idea how crazy that sounds? I mean why would Bruce do something like that?” Avery began thinking about the package she’d received on the island as a shudder past through her.
“Avery, he has a history of violence that none of us were aware of and the police believe that he’s well, that he’s murdered women in the past,” Jenna blurted out openly hating to break the news to her best friend as her own fears consumed her, “He’s not at all what he lead us to believe and…”
“What did you just say?” Avery questioned with a startled expression.
“I said that he’s not what we thought he was as he’s got a history of violence and…” Jenna began once again as another gasp erupted from Avery’s lips.
“Oh God, you think he’s capable of murder? That’s he’s killed someone,” Avery’s hand rose up to her neck involuntarily as she remembered the feel of Bruce’s hold upon her, the madness behind his eyes as he’d tried to take her out of this world and in that instant a shudder rushed over her as a chill crept in over her spine.
“Avery, what is it,” Jenna reached out to touch her shoulder, “Are you alright?”
“I just…” Avery hesitated for a moment, “Jen, there’s something I haven’t told you about Bruce…”
“What is it?” she noticed the color drain from Avery’s features, “Avery, talk to me…”
“What I say can’t leave here,” Avery started lowering her voice, “as only a few people know the truth about what happened…”
“Talk to me,” Jenna urged her on once again.
“Jen, the day before Bruce was pulled out of the lake, well, he was at my apartment…I’d just spent the night with Russ and when I came home, Bruce was there. He’d been drinking and when he saw that newspaper article on Brant and I, he went into a rage and he…he…” she paused feeling the vivid flashes of the past come back to haunt her, “he tried to kill me.”
“Avery,” Jenna’s eyes widened in surprise, “why didn’t you say anything?”
“I was afraid,” Avery continued to recount the experience she’d had with Bruce, “He was so hurt and on some level I felt like I’d deserved what happened after I’d spent the night with Russ. All Bruce wanted was some kind of normal life, but then with that stupid article, it felt like I was single-handedly taking that dream away from him. He was so upset and he started choking me. I couldn’t breathe and then Brant showed up and pushed him out of the apartment, but then well, I refused to go to the police about it because I knew that it wouldn’t accomplish anything, but bring up an opportunity for them to poke into my private life and I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing me as a victim. I was torn up about what to do, but Brant assured that we’d find a way to repair the damage was done and then, well Bruce was dead and I was afraid that Brant and Russ had gone and done something stupid, but I couldn’t tell you because…”
“Because I was working on the case,” Jenna replied knowingly, “and I don’t blame you for not saying something, but given the fact that Bruce has a history of violence, there’s no telling what he might’ve done if Brant hadn’t shown up like he did.”
“I realize this, but when they said he was dead…” Avery’s eyes filled with tears at the thought, “Jen, he can’t really be out there can he? I mean he wouldn’t be the one who sent me that horrible package, could he?”
“Avery, when the police went into his apartment they found boxes and boxes of pictures of you,” Jenna explained reaching for her hand, “He’s been spying on you for quite some time and they have reason to believe that…”
“I don’t want to hear this,” Avery stood up from the table shaking her head in refusal, “Jen, I don’t want to think about any of this right now. I have too much to deal with and even imagining that Bruce could be out there…that he’s some kind of madman that…”
“Avery, I know this isn’t something you want to think about, but you need to be on guard considering that he’s making bolder attempts at getting you to notice he’s still around,” Jenna tried to reason with her, “if he’s out there…”
“I just can’t deal with this right now,” Avery pleaded with her, “Jen, all I want to do is go home with my husband and think about our baby. I don’t want to dwell on what could be happening outside of that as I’ve had a week like you wouldn’t believe. So many things have happened and…”
“It’s okay,” Jenna replied seeing how Avery was starting to get worked up at what they were talking about, “We can talk about this later, but you have to promise me that you’ll be careful girl. That you won’t take any unnecessary risks until the police are sure…”
“Jen, I just…” Avery started finding herself at a loss as the door opened and Russell entered the hospital room.
“It looks like we’re good to go darling as I just…” his words ended abruptly as he saw the expression on Avery’s face and he rushed over towards her, “Avery, honey what is it?”
“I just want to go home,” Avery wrapped her arms around him burying her face in his chest, “I just want to put this day behind us and go home. Can we please just do that? Can we just focus on our baby for a while and put the day behind us?”
“Of course we can,” Russell assured her kissing the top of her head as he eyed Jenna closely noting the apologetic expression that carried over her features. He wasn’t quite sure what they’d talked about, but judging by his wife’s reaction he had a feeling that he and Avery were in for a rough night as he knew her too well to know that whatever was bothering her in the moment wouldn’t just go away. He hugged her tighter opting to just give her what she requested as he whispered warmly in her ear, “We’ll go home and put the day behind us if that‘s what you want.”
“More than anything, it’s what I want,” Avery replied closing her eyes as she listened to his heart beating in his chest as she tried to dispel the images of the bloodied, lifeless threat that had been put upon her honeymoon. Now as a fear swept over her, she just prayed that somehow the police were wrong as in facing someone like Cameron when she’d believed he was behind the threat, she’d felt that she could take charge and put him in his place, but with the idea of Bruce being out there watching her every move, she suddenly felt as if her life was no longer her own as the man who’d tried to take her out of this world could still be lurking awaiting his next chance to finish the job that Brant stopped him from completing in their last encounter.
“I hope you realize that this bullying me around isn’t going to change
anything,” Brant announced sourly as he glared at his brother, “Don’t think
for a second that you’re going to be able to keep me from Avery when she
needs me at a time like this.”
“She’s with her husband,” Kenneth pointed out with a frown, “right now she’s where she needs to be and you shouldn’t be around making things increasingly more difficult for her.”
“The only reason things are as jumbled as they are in this moment is because you and that bitch over there couldn’t just leave well enough alone,” Brant glared over at Caitlin fighting the urge to tear her to pieces as she stood in the foyer at the Ashford mansion over by the doorway watching him with wide eyes, “So tell me, do you get off on messing with other people’s lives since yours is clearly so miserable?”
“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response considering that manipulation is all your game, Brant,” Caitlin shot back in response offering up a huff as she looked to Ken, “I think I should probably get going home as I’m sure…”
“That’s right. Get the hell out of here because you aren’t welcome here anymore,” Brant shouted at her, “and if I see you on the property, I swear I’ll have you escorted out of this place the moment you even try look at the estate the wrong way as you’re no longer welcome here.”
“Brant that’s enough,” Ken snapped back at him.
“Oh I’m just warming up,” Brant stepped forward in a challenging movement as his eyes fixed upon Caitlin, “you and your buddy Russ think you’ve done some big great wonderful thing here, but it’s going to blow up in your faces as I’m not about to let your lover take away the woman I love. I don’t know what he promised you, but mark my words, you’re going to pay for crossing me as I’m not one to tolerate your kind.”
“Brant, you’re out of line,” Kenneth stepped in front of his brother stopping him from any further lashing out at Caitlin as he could already see the madness building behind Brant’s eyes, “Back off.”
“Back off? Ken, how can you even begin to side with this she-devil considering that she and Russell Denton blindsided us in the hopes of taking Avery away from me? Ken, she’s been out to get our family from day one, yet you keep bringing her into the circle. Can’t you see she’s the one who did this…that she is only going to bring trouble to the table with her as her ultimate goal is to destroy this family?”
“Brant, you’re going to destroy yourself if you don’t stop this,” Kenneth began with pleading eyes, “You need to take a step back and calm down…”
“I’m not going to calm down. Not when that bitch over there thinks she and her boyfriend can keep me from Avery. I love her and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let your whore stop me from making my dreams come true…”
“That’s just what they are Brant. They’re your dreams, not Avery’s,” Kenneth pleaded with him trying to find a way to talk Brant down and back to reality as he pressed his palm into Brant’s chest, “Avery made her choice and that had nothing to do with Caitlin.”
“She’s sick and twisted and she knows that you’re foolish enough to buy into her act. That’s why she targeted you to begin with,” Brant insisted with a huff, “She knows all about how you want to think the best in people and she’s using that to turn you against me. She’s using it to work her way into this house and…”
“Brant, you’re sounding like a lunatic and you need to stop projecting your feelings on Caitlin because…”
“Ken, how can you be so blind to what she is,” Brant demanded looking to Caitlin once again, “You’re so going to pay for what you’ve done tonight as I won’t forget.”
“You don’t scare me, Brant,” Caitlin remarked unable to keep her silence as the thought of being threatened by another man made her furious, “I’m not afraid of you.”
“There’s your first mistake,” Brant shoved Kenneth aside as he charged towards her only to be stopped by Kenneth as Kenneth seized Brant’s arm trying to hold him back.
“Don’t make me hurt you, Brant,” Kenneth pleaded with him applying more pressure to Brant’s arm, “because you know I can if need be.”
“To hell with this,” Brant balled his hand up into a fist throwing his free arm out enough to connect with Kenneth’s jaw catching Kenneth off guard as Kenneth fell back towards the staircase in surprise.
Caitlin gasped as she began to move towards Kenneth, but she was stopped as Brant stood in front of her blocking her movement. His dark and twisted eyes penetrated her as he warned her sharply.
“Mark my words. Your days are numbered around here as our Russell Denton’s and it would be wise for you to pass that message along as no one screws with me and gets away with it,” he explained waving his hand in her face as though he was fighting his every instinct to keep from hitting her as his voice shook with emotion, “No one,” he finished shoving her aside as he marched out of the mansion on a rampage before Caitlin looked to Kenneth, who now strained to pull himself up off the ground.
“Ken,” she reached out to him helping him as a panic swept over her, “are you alright?”
“I’ll be fine, but this,” he paused turning his attention to her, “Caitlin, you should probably go home now. I’ll have Simon get the car for you because right now I don’t think Brant should be roaming about--especially not like this…”
“This isn’t what I wanted to happen when I told him about Avery,” Caitlin began apologetically, “I mean I knew he’d be upset, but…”
“What did you expect Caitlin?” Kenneth grumbled in response, “That he’d be happy with this turnabout or that Avery would thank you for sharing her news before she wanted you to?”
“Well, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just so angry and…”
“And you let Brant bait you in,” Kenneth shook his head as a sigh spilled from his lips.
“I guess you’re not too happy with me right now either, huh,” she frowned thinking about how the turn of events played out.
“I’m just…well,” he paused finding himself at a loss as he thought to his brother’s rage, “I think it’s time that you go home so that I can take care of this situation on hand because the last thing I need right now is another Ashford headline about Brant’s destructive behaviors. If I know my brother, he’s probably on his way to the hospital to seek out Avery and well, I just need to get to him before he can do that…”
“Ken, I…” Caitlin reached out to touch his arm, “It’s just. Look, I’m sorry…”
“You and me both,” Kenneth replied with a frown realizing that things in his life were about to get more strained as it seemed his brother was taking that leap off the deep end and he feared what would be next as Brant was falling all too easily into the Ashford dark side with this news of Avery’s marriage.
Seth stepped into the neon lit doorway before him realizing that while
he wasn’t in the mood for being around others, well, the idea of going
home to stew over his current predicament with Cameron Stone ruining his
life and Thea’s proposition didn’t appeal to him. Neither did the
idea of beating himself up over how he’d lost Blake either and while the
thought of calling Ria had come to mind, he’d realized that she had a life
to live, so with that he found himself back at the same bar he’d been to
not long ago as it seemed it was quiet enough for him to escape from the
world for a little while even if that meant drinking until he passed out.
In fact, the more he thought about it, the better the idea felt as he made
his way directly up to the bar ready to drown his miseries in tequila as
it sounded like an adequate enough poison to do the trick to erase heartache
for a few hours or so.
“Just one more,” the man at the bar stool before him pleaded with the bartender in a drunken slur, “One more and I swear that’ll be the end of it…”
“You’re all done for tonight,” the bartender explained to the man before turning to Seth, “what can I get for you?”
“Actually I’ll take a,” Seth began as the man spun around on the barstool to look at Seth.
“Seth, I thought I recognized the friendly face,” Gabe grinned goofily as he waved his hand out in the air to greet him, “Take a seat…have a drink and relax. Enjoy this place as it seems to be a regular for us.”
“Actually,” Seth started watching as Gabe nearly fell off the bar stool before him and Seth stepped out to catch Gabe before he toppled face first onto the ground before him, “maybe we should skip on the drinks for a while,” Seth motioned to the bartender, “Can we have a couple of coffees here?”
“Sure thing,” the man went off to retrieve the drinks Seth had requested as Seth guided Gabe over to one of the tables by the bar. Carefully helping Gabe into the seat, Seth gave him a once over before going to get the coffees from the bartender. A few seconds later, he took a seat across from Gabe handing him over a coffee as Gabe’s less than sober eyes met his once again.
“Thanks, but I don’t need this,” Gabe slid the mug across the table, “as I’m just fine.”
“No you aren’t,” Seth shook his head in refusal, “and something tells me that while I had some really good thoughts about getting bombed on my ass tonight, well, you’re giving me reason not to.”
“How do you figure,” Gabe lifted an introspective brow, “as there’s nothing wrong with a few drinks every now and then as far as I’m concerned.”
“Which is why you’re the slobbering idiot that I see before me right now,” Seth answered flatly, “which is exactly what I don’t need to be as last time it was me making an ass of myself and winding up at my sister’s boyfriend’s house.”
“Yeah well, right now I consider this an alternative to making more of an ass of myself than I already have today as it seems that I’ve already made a fine mess of things,” Gabe slumped his shoulders over as a sigh spilled from his lips, “You’d think being in love would just be easy, but no nothing is ever as you want it to be. I mean sure two people meet and then there’s chemistry, but when it gets down to it, there’s always something that stands in the way of being where you really want to be in the relationship…”
“Tell me about it,” Seth grumbled in response, “I just lost the best thing in my life all because I was backed up into a corner with no other alternative.”
“Yeah well that tends to be how the best of relationships fall apart,” Gabe frowned in response, “I mean look at me. Here I am in what I think is a very secure relationship, but then, well then the next thing I know I’m finding myself in a position where I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. It seems my significant other’s family is just insistent upon things being one way, but in their way of doing things, my relationship is becoming one lie after another and now I don’t know where I stand on things because all it seems to be is a big ball of deceit.”
“Unfortunately when the web of deceit begins, a relationship is destined to fail,” Seth sighed heavily, “believe me I know as it seems even honesty is reason enough for things to fall apart when things are going good.”
“The truth is supposed to set you free,” Gabe reminded him with a slur.
“So they say, but it’s not the kind of freedom I needed or wanted in my life as Blake was everything,” Seth frowned turning his attention to the man before him once again, “but to hell with this. We’re not doing anything to help ourselves drinking our lives away. In fact, I think I’m going to have to find some alternative to dealing with this…”
“Good for you,” Gabe motioned to the bartender once again, “but I’m going to stick to the vodka. It seems to be doing the trick…”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Seth reached out to him after a moment’s contemplation, “in fact, come on. We’re going to get you home to sober up.”
“I’m not in the mood to go home,” Gabe shot back at him with a glare, “I’m quite content in my misery.”
“No one is content in their misery and besides, I owe you one,” Seth insisted dropping a few dollar bills on the table before him, “We’ll call it even after this,” he decided realizing in helping Gabe get out of the situation they’d found themselves in it might help him find some of the clarity he’d been lacking in his life as of lately or at the very least it would give him an excuse not to think about everything he was missing with Blake. Either way it was time to take matters into his own hands as he helped his drunken acquaintance out of the bar.
“Tonight has been so amazing, Grady,” Jade smiled as she turned quickly towards him.
Grady pulled her into his arms as he searched her eyes, “I told you it would be, Jade. Tonight is all about us.”
She smiled as she wrapped her arms around his neck, “Is the night over yet?”
“Hell no,” He said with a slight grin, “I’m not done with you by a long shot,” He lowered his lips to hers, easing her lips apart as he caressed her tongue with his.
“Hmm,” She murmured against his mouth as she found herself backed against Grady’s front door. She wiggled against him as their lips parted, “I think you need to unlock this door, or this neighborhood is going to get a seriously triple X rated show.”
Grady chuckled as he unlocked the door without releasing her from his touch. He lifted her off her feet and carried her inside the house, kicking the door closed behind him. He lowered his lips to hers as he carried her into the bedroom and gently placed her upon the bed.
When he tried to gently pull away from her, Jade seized the lapels of his jacket and yanked him onto the bed. She moved atop him while kicking off her shoes and pinned him to the bed, “You’re not getting away from me this time,” She grinned proudly as her fingers released the knot in his tie.
“I had no intention to run,” He admitted as he drew her lips back to his. He eased his palms down her back before tracing the gentle curve of her hips.
Jade plucked at the buttons of his shirt before tugging his shirt free from his waist band. She parted the cloth and flattened her palms over his skin, tracing every cord of muscle beneath her touch. She dropped her lips to his chest, exploring the body she’d dreamt of for months on end. While his fingers slipped through her hair, she continued to tease his skin with lips, teeth, and tongue.
“Jade,” He whispered her name, knowing that the more she continued with her playtime, the closer he would be to losing any semblance of control. He tugged her back to him as he rolled her to her back and eased his hands under her blouse, drawing it over her head and tossing it aside.
Grady sat up and discarded his own shirt as Jade found his lips, assaulting him with a hungry kiss. He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close to him while his fingers unfastened her bra and began to slowly draw the garment from her body. His eyes caressed her skin as he tossed the bra away from the bed.
She found her breath catching in her throat at the way his eyes seemed to devour her. This is what she had wanted for so long, and now that it was finally coming to fruition, she felt as if she were ascending towards heaven.
Grady buried his face at her neck, dropping kisses upon her skin. He murmured words of love against her skin while his palms weighed the fullness of her breasts, tenderly kneading her flesh while his lips moved ever closer to her lush curves.
Jade closed her eyes as she slid her fingers through his hair, allowing her head to fall aside so that his lips had greater access to her skin. His touch and his kiss were setting her body afire. His lips found her breast while his fingers eased apart the fastenings of her skirt.
“Grady…” She breathed as his fingers moved along her spine while he suckled gently at her breasts, first once then another. He cupped one breast to his mouth as he flicked his tongue across her nipple. She whimpered with his touch wanting more.
Grady cupped her body to him as he rolled her to her back upon the bed. He eased his lips to the valley between her breasts and slowly created a trail of kisses down her firm stomach to her waist. He slipped his fingers beneath the waistband of her skirt and slowly drew it along with her panties down her legs. He tossed the garments aside and allowed his eyes to caress every inch of skin which had been revealed to his hungry eyes.
Jade extended her hand to him and drew him back to the bed. He covered her as he kissed her full lips, his hands taking a roaming tour of her body. She ran her fingers down his back, easing her hands over his perfect behind before giving him a gentle squeeze. When Grady met her eyes, she grinned seductively. He lowered his lips back to hers with a new hunger as Jade’s fingers found the fastening of his slacks. She used her toes to slip his shoes from his feet while she unfastened his slacks. He pulled back only far enough to slip out of his remaining clothes before he returned to her.
Jade wrapped her arms around him as she savored the feeling of his body against hers. She writhed slightly against him, feeling every cell of her body awakening to the luxurious sensation of Grady’s body against hers, “Grady…” She whispered, needing more from him.
“Just a sec…” He said as he rolled to the bedside table to withdraw a condom before slipping it into place and rejoining her.
Jade met his eyes as he eased his body into hers. She gasped as she gazed into his eyes, “Grady…”
When their bodies were fully joined, Grady paused, taking a deep breath as he searched her eyes, “This truly is heaven.”
“Grady…” She began before his lips captured hers. As Grady began gently thrusting into her, she tightened her hold around him, needing to hold onto him so as not to lose herself in the whirlpool of ecstasy he had provided her.
Grady eased his hands along her body as his thrusts increased with intensity. He’d wanted her for so long that his patience was paper thin, but he was dedicated to seeing Jade’s pleasure before his own. She arched her body to receive his even as she wrapped her legs around his waist, drawing him deeper within her waiting body.
“I love you, Jade,” He whispered against her ear as he pressed tender kisses to her neck, “I love you,” He repeated before bracing himself above her and moving with greater determination than before.
“I love you,” Jade gasped as she arched her body to his, knowing she needed more of him than he was giving her, “Please…”
Grady eased his fingers over her hip, dipping between them to gently pluck at her tender bud. She threw her head back and cried out in delight as liquid heat burst within her. Grady redoubled his intensity as he thrust into her and exploded within her heated body.
As they together in a mass of tangled limbs, Jade lifted her fingers to gently caress Grady’s jaw line, “I love you, Grady.”
“I love you too, Jade,” Grady assured her as he eased his fingers through her hair, “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone, and I want you to know it every day of the rest of our lives,” He spoke softly as he lowered his lips to hers for another gentle loving kiss, promising that tonight was only the first of many in their lives together as he wanted only a long and happy future with the woman he loved.
“Oh those spoiled kids,” Carlotta, the Ashford’s island maid, complained as she discarded various Christmas decorations the Ashfords had put up during their stay in the estate. She groaned as she pushed the tree over and began tugging it across the great room. She opened the doors to the patio before tugging on the tree again. She yanked the tree out the door before she pulled it down the patio steps and began dragging it across the sand towards the tree line.
She approached the tree line with every step being accompanied by a complaint about cleaning up after her employers. She tugged the tree into the tree line and lost her footing as the tree became hung on something. She pulled herself up off of the sand and dusted off her uniform amongst some vulgar expletives. She moved along the side of the tree to investigate what it had become hung on.
Carlotta screamed loudly as she fell back onto the sand and backpedaled away from the gruesome sight before her. She scrambled to her feet and ran back to the house screaming for someone to help.
Beside the tree lay a bloody body with a large hole cut into the victim’s
chest. The body lay upon a large sandy pool of blood as a sign that a very
dangerous man had once again committed an atrocious crime.