“Home at last,” Russell announced putting the car into park as he turned
to look at his wife as she sat quietly in the passenger side of the car
looking out the window as though she was in some kind of trance as he pulled
the keys out of the ignition. Reaching over to touch her shoulder,
he felt her jump beneath his touch as a gasp fell from her lips, “Baby,
hey we’re home.”
“Oh right,” Avery tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she threw out an apologetic half smile, “I’m sorry I’m so jumpy. I didn’t mean to…”
“Avery, listen to me,” he reached for her hand bringing it to his lips as he pressed a kiss upon her soft skin, “you have every right to be upset right now, but let’s try not to think about the worst case scenario. I know that we have a lot to deal with, but tonight, hey what do you say we just take it easy and enjoy our first night at home? Maybe we can throw on our pajamas, pop in one of our old favorites into the VCR and grab one of the blankets I have tucked away and spent the night on the couch cuddled up together. What do you say?”
“Well,” she couldn’t help but smile at the thought, “it does sound pretty nice, although I’m sure if you throw popcorn into the deal, you’re going to get a much better reaction out of me…”
“Hmm,” he leaned forward capturing her lips in a tender kiss, “well if it’s reactions you’re going for tonight honey, then I’ll be the first to admit that I stocked the freezer up with your favorite ice cream.”
“Oh really,” Avery arched a curious brow as a smile tickled over her lips and her arm slid up over the center of his chest, “well if you’re going to start modifying our plans for the evening with ice cream, then maybe I should make a few modifications of my own.”
“Such as?” he reached down to unfasten her seatbelt as he could already feel the playful side of his wife emerging with the sparkle behind her eyes.
“Well, maybe we could forget about that whole pajama thing,” she teased her finger tips down over the muscled contours of his chest before her eyes seemed to ignite with a spark of enthusiasm and she moved in closer to him, “and maybe I’ll pull out the gift that Judy gave us for our honeymoon and we can bring a little bit of the romance from the island back home with us as I think I might’ve tucked a lei in the suitcase for such an occasion…”
“Honey if you put on what Judy gave you for Christmas, I can promise you that that kind of lei isn’t what I’ll have in mind for us,” Russell divulged pulling her into his lap completely as he captured her mouth in a demanding kiss.
“Hmm…well actually,” she tangled her fingers through his hair commanding more control of his mouth as she breathed against his soft, savory lips, “I was thinking that maybe the lei would be something for you to wear…”
“That sounds like the kind of arrangement I could get adjusted to,” Russell decided curling his arm around her body as he held her closer to him, “although I guess this means there won’t be any need for a movie tonight…”
“Oh no,” she shook her head breaking away from the kiss as her eyes lit up with mischievous intent, “there most certainly will be room for a movie considering that well, I found that old camcorder of yours not so long ago and…”
“Oh Avery,” he grinned eagerly at the thought of what she was suggesting, “honey I knew there was a damn good reason why I married you.”
“And just what might that be,” she inquired leaning forward and suckling upon his lower lip with a soft purr.
“Because you’re beautiful and you have the most amazingly sweet and innocent exterior and such a wonderfully wicked dirty little mind,” he teased scooping her up more completely into his arms as he opened the car door and scurried out, kicking it shut behind him as he carried her towards the porch.
“I do not,” Avery began to protest as he fumbled for his keys to their home.
“Oh yes you do,” he met her eyes as he saw her readiness to debate the issue before he collected another tempting kiss from her, “but just for the record I happen to find it sexy as hell that you’re so uninhibited with me always coming up with new ways to surprise and excited me.”
“Well, I do have to keep you on your toes,” she teased back throwing out a playful wink before she leaned in towards him shifting in his arms, “or off of them depending on the moment.”
“Oh believe me I think we’ll have our fair share of both,” he repositioned her in his arms ready to dive into her idea of a fantasy night head first before he stopped himself at the threshold of the doorway as the door swung open.
“What’s wrong,” Avery questioned with a frown feeling him pause as she’d already begun working on opening the buttons on his shirt. She gave him a sideways glance as his arms wiggled a bit beneath her maneuvering her around until he held her more completely in his arms with her legs dangling out to the side as his green eyes fell upon her own questioning glance.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he promised her with a bright smile as he leaned in to kiss her, “nothing’s wrong at all as this moment is absolutely perfect. In fact, it’s this moment that I’ve been waiting a lifetime for as here we are together as husband and wife about to enter our home…ready to begin our lives with one another and well, it’s a bit overwhelming…”
“Russ, let’s just get inside,” Avery urge him on, “I’m sure you’ll find it will be anything, but overwhelming when I get you alone under that throw blanket…”
“Honey, this is that traditional moment where the handsome husband,” he grinned at her, “that would be me--takes his beautiful, amazing bride over the threshold to metaphorically begin their lives together at long last. This is the kind of moment that dreams are made of and I just think that we should take a second to really, fully appreciate the…” his words were cut off by the eagerness of her kiss as she threw her arms around his neck sliding her tongue past his parted lips as the warmth of his mouth seduced her senses.
Almost immediately, Russell found himself savoring the aggressiveness behind his wife’s desire for him as her finger tips were already playing in over his shirt having had ripped it open in less than the few seconds it took to carry her into the house and now as her mouth moved in over his neck nibbling over that one special place that always drove him wild, he felt himself ready to reciprocate the gesture by throwing her down on the couch and making wild, reckless love to her without all the other added props they’d discussed on the walk inside from the car. Setting her down on the couch, he felt her legs curl around his waist demanding a connection between them as she pulled him down on top of her with a ravenous kiss, but before he could find himself carried away with the moment, he heard a crashing sound coming from down the hallway and he stiffened as the sound vibrated into the living room.
“What was that?” Avery questioned in a panic as her passion swelled lips parted with worry and the color seemed to drain from her face as the sound repeated itself this time with a louder, more resounding thud, “Russ, someone’s here…”
“They won’t be much longer by the time I’m through with them,” he promised untangling himself from her legs as he rose to his feet again wondering if somehow Bruce Mathis had found his way into their home and managed to find a way to be inside waiting to make his next move as Russ and Avery came home unaware of his threatening presence.
Slowly Russell backed away from the couch looking around his living room for some kind of weapon of attack against their unwelcome guest and as he noticed his trusty baseball bat that he kept by his coat rack for those moments when he’d needed something to get the creative juices flowing. It had helped him when he’d hit a roadblock in his writing time and time again and now as he felt the cool steel beneath his grasp, he had a feeling that his friend wouldn’t let him down now as he was quite certain he was going to give Bruce Mathis a beating that he wasn’t expecting. Throwing one last look out at Avery, he raised his finger to his lips motioning for her to keep quiet as he looked down the darkened hallway.
“Russ,” she whispered his name as he threw her a look over his shoulder.
“Stay there,” Russell instructed with a frown, “Call the police and stay right there until I get back.”
“I’m not letting you go there alone,” Avery began to argue jumping up off of the couch as she rushed to his side, “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“Baby, you need to stay in here,” Russell whispered harshly as he grabbed her shoulder, “Stay back and wait for the police while I…”
“No way,” Avery shook her head in refusal, “if someone is in here and they think they’re going to get the opportunity to get a stab at you, then they’re wrong…”
“Avery, you need to listen to me this time,” he frowned realizing that once again her stubborn side was taking over as he turned to face her more completely, “I don’t want anything happening to you or the baby and it stands to reason that whatever is going on back there,” he paused as another crashing sound filled the hallway, “well, it’s not a good thing and I don’t want to put you and our child at risk.”
“We’re not going to let you be put at risk either as you’re not going alone and that’s final,” she reached for her cell phone, “I’ll call the police, but I’m going to help you take out our uninvited guest as if it’s Bruce, I owe him one for what he did on our honeymoon…”
“Avery, you’re not going to,” Russell began again watching her reach into her purse fishing out her cell phone and another small, black object that was encased in some kind of leather.
“I’m ready, Russ. Let‘s go get him,” she announced interrupting him as he gave her a skeptic look.
“What in the world is that?” he frowned motioning to the little object she held in her hand.
“It’s pepper spray,” she announced proudly as he gave her a disapproving look.
“Avery, I don’t think that is going to,” Russell began with a frustrated sigh.
“Hey, don’t even get started on how this won’t work as I’ve seen first hand what this stuff can do as if you recall back in high school when they were doing Grease, well there was that thing where someone had a pepper spray vial and one of the guys from the orchestra thought it would be cute to try it out and when the chorus group were locked in the choir room, well you remember how EMS had to be called in because one by one they were dropping like flies because this stuff is so potent that…”
“Fine,” Russell grumbled in response not wanting to give in to her request, but seeing that once again Avery wasn’t going to back down, “but you’d better stay behind me and let me get the first jab in there.”
“So what’s the plan,” Avery questioned tiptoeing behind him as they moved a bit further into the hallway. He stopped mid-step turning to face her as his eyes widened with heavy disapproval once again.
“The first step is for you to keep quiet,” he explained in a hoarse whisper, “and then I’m going to go in and swing the bat at anything that moves…”
“To which I jump in and get him with this,” she held the pepper spray bottle up towards his face waving it around excitedly as Russell captured her wrist pushing it away from his face carefully.
“Hey, watch where you swing that thing otherwise you might get the wrong guy,” he pointed out with a frown.
“Oh right,” she nodded lowering it once more as she threw out a confident grin, “Got it.”
“Avery, I really think that you should just…” he started to argue once again as another rumbling sound came from his study area, “never mind. Just stay behind me.”
“Not a problem,” she agreed armed with a cell phone in one hand and her pepper spray in the other as she held it up in preparation for the moment she came face to face with their visitor at long last.
The seconds seemed to carry on over the both of them and with each rapid beating of his heart, Russell found himself concerned about what could be on the other side of the door to his study as it was opened just a crack although it was an invitation for trouble as whatever lurked on the other side couldn’t be anything, but bad news. He drew in a breath casting a glance over his shoulder as Avery was right behind him ready to push the button to call 911 as he raised his baseball bat in the air and said a silent prayer hoping that Bruce didn’t have the good sense to bring a gun with him as Russell now stood before the study door with his shirt ripped open, chest exposed to whatever bullets could come flying from a renegade gun. He paused feeling his pulse leaping in his throat as he mouthed for Avery to take a step back. Much to his surprise she did as instructed and in that moment, he found the strength inside of him to face his enemy as he kicked the door open to his study ready to launch the baseball bat at the man on the other side. He rushed forward on the attack sending his bat down upon the object before him again and again feeling something soft and fluffy bursting up out at him as he looked down to the ground seeing the broken remains of the unexpected object before him. He sent his bat crashing down once again only to stop in mid-movement and a surprised gasp fell from his lips as the teddy bear on the floor in front of him was now ripped in two.
“What in the…” Russell’s jaw dropped as Avery jumped in behind him waving the pepper spray around.
“I’ve got you now you son of a…” Avery started excitedly as her eyes fell upon the people before her and the pepper spray fell from her hand rolling across the floor beneath her.
“I think you killed it Russ,” Elliot offered up openly as his eyes grew
wide upon his son’s entrance.
“Mom? Dad? What are you doing here?” Russell questioned seeing his parents before them as they stood in the middle of his now empty study area, both dressed in paint smocks as it seemed they’d taken it upon themselves to redecorate his study as there was a baby crib set up in the middle of the room. He turned to his mother seeing that she was painting on some teddy bear images on the far wall to the left as she held her paintbrush up with a start.
“You’re not supposed to be home yet,” Cheryl answered as she exchanged confused glances with her husband.
Russell turned to his father unable to contain the surprise on his features as Elliot threw him a goofy grin setting his paintbrush aside as he waved at Russell unable to contain the laughter that carried over him as he looked to the injured stuffed animal before him.
“Dad, what in the world are you both…” Russell began again at a loss as Elliot threw out the only thing that came to mind in such a moment.
“Surprise,” Elliot offered up as Russ and Avery realized that tonight they’d had quite a surprise indeed and as Elliot tipped down to pick up the tortured stuffed animal he held it out towards Avery with an apologetic look as it seemed the bear had paid the price for the moment, “This was for you…”
“It’s…it’s…” Avery tried to come up with something to say as her fear transformed into a feeling of foolishness as she realized what her in-laws were doing.
“It’s wonderful,” Russell finished for her dropping the bat completely as he realized that tonight had thrown him for a loop in more ways than he’d imagined as he’d come so very close to beating the life out of his father. Now as he looked to the tattered toy in Avery’s arms, he tried to push some of the fluff back inside of it as he cleared his throat once again, “It’s really…really nice.”
“We weren’t expecting you to be home so soon,” Cheryl admitted as she stepped in closer to her husband.
“Ad clearly you weren’t expecting us,” Elliot added quickly.
“Mom, dad, it’s just…it’s been a long day,” Russell confessed realizing that this homecoming was filled with mixed blessings as he prepared to tell his parents about the threat on his family as they’d gone out of their way to make his and Avery’s homecoming a memorable one.
Brant sat at the bar stool sinking down the martini he’d been working
on for the last five minutes before motioning to the bartender to bring
him another round. As he finished off his drink, he heard the sounds
of someone approaching before Hart took a seat beside him.
“So what seems to be the problem,” Hart questioned concern evident in his voice as he turned to see the sorry state his friend was in, “Brant, what’s going on?”
“Things are falling apart at the seams and it feels like the world is out to get me today,” Brant slumped over the bar as a heavy sigh spilled from his lips, “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through in the last few days?”
“Tell me, does this situation you’re about to share with me involve my personal or professional services?” Hart questioned wearily thinking about the last time his friend had called upon him.
“This time it’s on a personal level,” Brant explained with a frown snatching his drink up from the bar before motioning to an empty table, “Shall we?”
“Of course,” Hart nodded in response following Brant to the booth in the far corner of the room. Taking a seat across from Brant as the booming music from the bar seemed to be a bit muted from this location, he turned to face Brant noting the anger and agitation behind his eyes, “What’s going on?”
“Russell Denton is what’s going on,” Brant clenched his fingers around the martini glass holding it tighter as he thought to the way he’d watched Russell practically making out with Avery at the airport.
“What happened now,” Hart frowned seeing the darkness behind Brant’s eyes as he lifted his own beer to his lips.
“He’s done something to Avery,” Brant explained emphatically, “I don’t know how he managed to do it, but he turned her against me completely.”
“Come again,” Hart nearly choked on the words, “When?”
“Right before we came home,” Brant divulged, “She and I were on the island ready to take the plunge and tie the knot and then he shows up like this force of nature ready to take down everything and anything in his path. First he drugs me while Avery and I are at a club and…”
“Wait a second. Back up,” Hart waved his hand in response, “Russell drugged you?”
Brant nodded, “I’m sure of it. When Avery and I were out, he’ must’ve slipped something in my drink while I wasn’t paying attention and then he kidnapped her.”
“I don’t believe this,” Hart’s jaw dropped, “Russell Denton did this? The little newspaper nobody?”
“That’s right,” Brant nodded with a grumble, “and then when he had Avery he did something to her…messed with her head and turned her against me. She and I were so close to having everything we’d talked about with one another, but then this loser steps in and tries to shake it all apart.”
“I warned you that he might be trouble when I found out about the history he and Avery had with one another,” Hart pointed out with a simple shrug of his shoulders.
“Look, I don’t want to hear it,” Brant hissed in response, “That’s not the point anymore considering that he’s turned her against me. Whatever he did to her, well he used her feelings for me against her. I mean when Avery and I first started out things were hot…really hot and heavy between us and given the kind of woman Avery is, well I just don’t think she was prepared for the sudden chemistry between us…”
“Yet you’re an expert on the subject,” Hart reminded him with a tiny chuckle, “which is why I don’t understand why you decided to go for the gusto with Avery. Don’t get me wrong she’s hot, but well, she just never struck me as Ashford babe material.”
“She’s amazing,” Brant explained thinking about the woman he’d waited for, “She’s got this straight to the point no-nonsense side to her on the outside, but on the inside,” a grin lifted over Brant’s lips as he thought to the time he’d shared with Avery on their trip to the Davies Estate, “she’s wild and uninhibited and by far the sexiest woman I’ve ever been with. She’s got this fire about her that, well you can’t help but want to reach out and get burned if it means that there’s that chance you get to taste the passion alive within her locked behind those walls she puts up…”
“But somehow Russell found a way to tap into that and make her drop you like a hot potato? Is that what you’re saying?” Hart inquired lifting a curious brow.
“Hart, women like Avery seldom get a chance to feel that kind of fire. Sure they dream about that kind of passion as it’s a fantasy ideal for them, but when it comes about in real life, well as much as Avery wants to let loose, there’s always something holding her back. She has this fear of something real and I’m guessing that Denton’s to blame as if you think about it, she was with him and then that idiot Mathis. Both men had her burned out with the silly idea that love had to be boring and on the straight and narrow, but when she and I started this thing between us, well she saw that having it all didn’t mean having to play it safe. I forced her to face that part of herself that she refused to let live. I challenged all those rule she’d set up for herself to avoid feeling any kind of passion in her life and that terrified her. Russell Denton knew full well what Avery was feeling for me and he used it to his own advantage. He knew how to play her fears and when she was falling for me, he moved in and preyed upon her inability to let loose.”
“So he what? He just stepped in and decided to steal her away from you?” Hart questioned giving him a strange look, “Isn’t that more like one of your tactics?”
“Hart, you aren’t getting it,” Brant muttered with a glare, “I love this woman…truly love her and we have this connection that I’ve never shared with anyone else before. When I’m with her, well I can’t imagine any place in this world where I’d rather be and when she’s in my arms, well it’s like for the first time in my life I know why life is worth living, but damned Denton and Heather, well they were just set on putting a damper on that…”
“Heather?” Hart repeated with confusion, “How the hell did she jump into this conversation?”
“The two of them were stalking Avery and I and while Heather was distracting me, well Denton moved in on Avery,” Brant explained with a huff, “I know I should’ve done something about this sooner--that I shouldn’t have left her that night, but I have issues with taking advantage of a woman who’s inebriated, but clearly Russell Denton doesn’t have the same set of scruples…”
“Okay, you’ve lost me,” Hart began in confusion, “What does this have to do with what’s going on now?”
“When Avery and I were coming home from the Davies Estate, well, Russell and Heather were following us watching our every move and well Avery being Avery, she requested that we take them back home with us on the jet because she has this kindness about her which extends itself even to those whom she’d like to get rid of from her life. Anyways to make a long story short, Russell showed up when Avery and I were,” Brant gave Hart a knowing look as Hart stared back at him blankly.
“Were what?” Hart questioned in confusion.
“You know,” Brant bobbed his head once again as Hart shook his own head in response.
“Know what?” Hart asked with a tilt of his head.
“Let’s just say I was working on freeing Avery of those inhibitions when Russell and Heather climbed up a fire escape to pull us out of bed,” Brant blurted out as Hart’s eyes widened in realization.
“Oh…” he paused as another realization hit him and his tone shifted, “oh…well that certainly is putting a crimp in your plans I’m sure.”
“To say the least,” Brant huffed, “there I was with Avery wrapped around me, lost in the heat of the moment and then that pathetic loser shows up with Heather and boom, the next thing I know we’re on the Ashford jet while Avery’s drinking like you wouldn’t believe. That night I took her home and she was all hot and heavy if you catch my drift, but at the same time she was really, really drunk and you know my policy on things…”
“And it’s a good policy at that as a drunken woman makes for a…” Hart began the old motto between them.
“Miserable night,” Brant finished with a nod, “so anyways I stayed with Avery for a while knowing full well that Denton was stalking us around town, but I guess I wasn’t thinking too clearly because after I left, he went in there and took advantage of her. She must’ve thought she was with me considering all the things she’d said and done when we were together, but then, well after that everything kind of happened with Bruce and well, I guess Avery wanted to tell me about the things that jerk did to her that night, but she was afraid and then, well then he showed up on the island and all hell broke loose. Avery and I found out she was pregnant because that son of a bitch took advantage of her and now she’s under some ill-conceived notion that she’s obligated to be with him because of the baby…”
“So let me get this straight. Avery got drunk, had sex with Russell and now she’s pregnant and wanting to be with him…”
“She married him on the island after he bullied her into it,” Brant nodded in response, “and now here I am trying to figure out what to do next.”
“Well that’s obvious,” Hart pointed out with a nod sipping his beer once again, “You cut your losses and move on. If she’s knocked up and doesn’t want to change the situation she’s in then clearly she’s not the woman you thought she was.”
“You don’t understand,” Brant began again with a frown, “Hart, Russell is using some kind of manipulation to put her in a position where she feels obligated to be with him because of the pregnancy, but I know in my heart that she loves me. She’s told me that she and I have this connection and…”
“Did you ever think that Avery’s got some serious issues here if she’s pregnant with some other man’s child?” Hart questioned shaking his head at Brant, “I mean you know if she’s really pregnant and you don’t think you’re the father then…” he stopped himself as he looked at Brant seriously, “unless of course you think there’s a chance that…”
“Hart, I don’t think the paternity of the baby is relevant considering the way Avery feels about me,” Brant sidestepped the issue, “I love her and she loves me and the way I feel about her, well this doesn’t happen every day for me. I mean sure I’ve had women come and go in and out of my life and half the time I could care less if the door hit them on the way out, but Avery’s different.”
“Different because she’s the one woman you can’t have?” Hart challenged curiously, “Is this because you care about Avery or because you want to win this one?”
“Hart, I would lay down my life for her. You of all people know that isn’t something I would offer to put on the table for just anyone,” Brant replied in all seriousness, “and in my heart, well with the way I feel about Avery, I already feel like that baby could be mine.”
“So you’re saying that…” Hart paused contemplating his words, “Brant if you need any kind of papers drawn up to establish some kind of paternity…”
“Hart, I just needed some advice. I’m in a position where I’ve never been before and Ken and his lunatic girlfriend have been on my ass for the last few days trying to put a further wedge between Avery and I. I know that it could be so easy to walk away, but Hart, this woman is worth all the effort I’ve put into being with her. When I asked her to be my bride it wasn’t for some kind of sport. It wasn’t to flaunt her off like I did with Heather as well, Heather was really nothing more than the stereotypical trophy wife, but Avery, well Avery is the one woman I see myself sharing forever with. I love her…really, truly love her.”
“Brant,” Hart scrutinized him for a long moment, “you know the scary thing is I almost believe you when you say that.”
“It’s the truth,” Brant confessed solemnly, “I’d give my all just to be able to spend the rest of my life with Avery.”
“Then well, I should probably start by saying that on a personal and professional level…hell even as your friend that now would be the time to cut your losses and never look back as what you’re thinking about getting yourself wrapped up in could be ugly if Russell Denton has half the hold on her that you’re alluding to. It sounds like one nasty romantic hang up that you certainly don’t need,” Hart reasoned honestly thinking about his pal’s position, “but on another level speaking from the perspective of a man who thinks he might’ve found that someone special in his life, well, if I were in your shoes and the woman I cared about ran off and married the wrong guy who presumably wasn’t, well me…then I’d have to say I’d fight like hell to win her back. Husband be damned because I wouldn’t stop until I had her back in my arms again where she belonged.”
“Neither would I,” Brant confessed openly, “and I don’t plan on giving up on her now.”
“If it’s the real thing and if you think it’s worth fighting for,” Hart decided thinking about his own blossoming feelings towards Jenna, “then don’t let anything or anyone be the thing that stands in the way. I know how tentative marriages can be these days and when they’re based on obligation, but there’s no heart in them, well they’re destined to fail. If Avery feels half of what you’re feeling for her, then she’s going to see sooner or later that she made a mistake. She’s going to realize that she should be with you and that’s when you need to be there to make your move.”
“I don’t intend on letting her slip away,” Brant decided sitting taller and sipping his martini as he realized that the war for Avery’s heart was far from over as he was bound and determined to find a way to make her his at long last. One way or another he would find a way to bring her back home and in his arms where she belonged from here on out and Russell Denton would be nothing more than a bad memory soon to be erased from her life forever.
“We’re almost there,” Seth explained guiding Gabe off of the elevators
as Gabe nearly toppled over face down onto the carpet before him, “hey
hold on…don’t quit on me now.”
“I’m not quitting,” Gabe insisted firmly as he wobbled on his feet once again, “but if you just give me a minute or two to rest on the floor, then we’ll be all set…”
“Not yet,” Seth curled his arm around Gabe’s torso guiding him towards the hotel room that Gabe had indicated was his, “not when we’ve come this far…”
“Seth, you know you’re one hell of a guy,” Gabe slurred as Seth guided him up against the wall, “in fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were my guardian angel at a time like this…”
“Oh I don’t think that I’d go that far considering that you toted my drunk ass around town without knowing much about me,” Seth answered as he reached for the hotel room key that he’d picked up on the desk on the way up with Gabe, “but hey what are friends for?”
“You know I haven’t had a lot of those lately. I mean sure everyone wants to be associated with you when you’re on the top like I am, but real friends…well hey, what’s the old adage. Friends will visit you in jail, but real friends will be seated beside you saying ‘Damn, we had a great time last night, didn’t we?’. That’s what real friends are about there…”
“Well, I suppose I never looked at it that way as jail doesn’t exactly sound like my kind of a thrill ride,” Seth pushed the door to Gabe’s hotel room open before reaching out to draw him into his arm again, “but hey I get what you’re saying.”
“You’re a good man Seth Alexander. Tell me what is it you do for a living besides spend your time taking turns with me on getting drunk?” Gabe questioned lazily as Seth guided him over towards the sofa set up in the center of the room.
“I’m a photographer,” Seth explained giving Gabe a quick once over, “but something tells me that isn’t going to register with you in a moment like this, huh?”
“Probably not,” Gabe dropped down onto the couch cushions, “but then again it makes for pleasant conversation.”
“I suppose it does if you say so,” Seth gave Gabe another once over realizing that Gabe was in worse shape then he’d imagined, “Look is there anything I can get for you? Some more coffee? Maybe something to help with the hang over you’re going to have in the morning?”
“Actually,” Gabe motioned to the chair beside him, “how about some conversation? I’m not feeling so hot at the moment.”
“Well, I really should get going, but…” Seth began giving it a moment’s contemplation before taking a seat in the chair, “why not?”
“So tell me Seth,” Gabe’s eyelashes fluttered as he looked Seth over once, twice and then a third time, “you’re into modeling you said, yes?”
“Modeling,” Seth shook his head, “no I said I’m a photographer.”
“Hmm…well that’s a bit unexpected as I’d imagine that someone with your build would want to be up in front of the camera as you have a very stunning physique,” Gabe confessed openly as his eyes quickly skimmed over Seth once again, “In fact, have you ever thought about doing any lingerie modeling as I have the distinct feeling you‘d be perfect for what I‘ve had in mind lately?”
“Come again,” Seth nearly gulped at Gabe’s words as he rose from the chair defensively, “Look Gabe, I don’t know what you’re about to get into here, but I’m not into that sort of thing…”
“Oh no, no,” Gabe couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on Seth’s face despite his drunken stupor, “it’s not what you’re thinking. Well, no I take that back, what you’re thinking about me is entirely true, but as gorgeous as you are, well you just aren’t my type. Not that I’m not attracted to the tall, dark and handsome specimen such as yourself, but truth be told I’m involved with someone and he’s the reason why you’re unfortunately witnessing this,” Gabe waved his hand around in the air spouting off about his own sexuality despite his recent association with Seth, “You know you’d think in this day in age, things like this wouldn’t matter, but…”
“But they do,” Seth replied softening his tone a bit as he felt a hint of guilt sweep over him at the intensity of his reaction with Gabe’s words.
“Yes, somehow it always gets back to that,” Gabe sighed once more, “though in this particular instance, I wasn’t trying to come on to you. I happen to have a few connections with people who run a very prominent men’s fashion conglomerate and I think you’d be perfect for a new face…”
“Well, I’m flattered, but I’d much rather stay behind the camera,” Seth answered with a hint of a smile, “though if you know of any openings in that particular arena, I’d be more than tempted to rethink your offer…”
“Perhaps when I’m not in such a condition we can talk terms on the issue,” Gabe replied with a goofy grin of his own, “as I think you’re a real stand up guy here and I must admit I’m rather surprised that you didn’t bolt out the door the moment you found out I was gay.”
“Well, I’ll admit that the idea shook me up for a moment, but in all honesty my cousin Bryan is gay and having spent most of my life around him growing up, well it gave me more of an openness that not everyone has,” Seth confided with a tiny hint of laugh, “well that and my sister Jade really as she’s always urging me to look beyond what’s before me and get to the heart of the matter where others are concerned.”
“Your sister sounds like an incredible woman,” Gabe offered up in response, “and she’s very lucky to have a brother such as yourself.”
“Well, you know I’m the lucky one as Jade’s pretty amazing,” Seth though to his sister, “and unlike me, well right now I think she’s probably out having a good time for a change because she finally got me to lay off on her where her love life is concerned as she’s dating this guy who is like twice her age and I‘ve had some major issues with accepting him in her life. Sure, I try not to be prejudiced about things, but when I think about Jade and this new man, well it‘s just I‘m always trying to look out for her and…well, it sounds silly in retrospect.”
“I take it you’re playing the role of the protective older brother,” Gabe inquired knowingly.
“How did you know I was the older one?” Seth gave him a strange look.
“Hey I have a daughter and I know the look on your face. It read older brother to a tee,” Gabe chuckled in response, “and believe me I don’t know how I’d react to my little girl dating someone twice her age, though given the fact she’s five I think I have some time on my hands to work through that one before it happens.”
“So you…you have a daughter,” Seth questioned unable to curb his curiosity as he eyed Gabe closely, “but I thought you said that you were gay?”
“Well, yes that’s true, but for a while, well I found myself constricted by the same rules that my lover seems to bury himself behind. He has this very traditional family it seems and a mother who’s dead set on controlling him and while he keeps promising me he’s going to be up front and open with her, I’m starting to believe that day will never come. I have this feeling that he’s slipping further away from me with each day as these lies he carries around with him only increase the distance between us…”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Seth replied sympathetically, “as it sounds like he’s very special to you.”
“He means the world to me,” Gabe admitted honestly, “and it’s not everyday that I find myself so crazy in love with someone that I wind up losing my senses completely.”
“I guess there we’re very much alike as that’s kind of what I’ve become these days,” Seth sighed in response.
“Ah yes, back to the beautiful woman who broke your heart into pieces,” Gabe noted with a nod, “so what happened Seth?”
“I blew it,” Seth shook his head as he slumped back in the chair, “Here I had it all, but when I met her, well things happened between us and they were so very real, but then, well, there was this other issue between us--this man I was doing a job for and well, he had this thing against her family…”
“Somehow this sounds like it’s going to be complicated,” Gabe sat up straighter taking in Seth’s words.
“Complicated doesn’t even cover the half of it,” Seth admitted with a nod.
“In that case, give me a minute because I think I’m going to be sick, but don’t leave just yet because I want to hear more of this…” Gabe began bolting up from the couch as Seth watched him retreat.
Before Seth could excuse himself or walk away from the situation, he thought to where he’d been hours earlier as Thea was throwing a new opportunity on the table. It still felt like he was making a deal with the devil, but now that Blake had shut him out and there was no chance of winning her back again, he wondered if maybe just maybe this was the only choice left for him as it seemed he was running into a brick wall with each and every turn he made. He found himself lost in his tumultuous thoughts about the situation he was in until he heard the door to the hotel room open and another man stepped in unaware of Seth’s presence.
“Gabe, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to connect with you sooner, but I brought some of your favorite…” Guy’s jaw dropped while he held the long neck bottle of champagne in hand as his gaze fell more completely on Seth and his smile faded into a frown, “Who the hell are you?”
Seth felt an uncomfortable silence fall over the room as a now half dressed Gabe returned from the bathroom facing the man who was quite obviously his lover as Seth rose from the chair shifting on his feet.
“Guy, what are you doing here,” Gabe questioned in a thick accent as he blinked back at the man before him.
“I came over to see you, but clearly you had other plans of your own,” Guy sneered in response as his eyes shot daggers over in Seth’s direction.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” Seth began uneasily as he cleared his throat, “You know I think I should probably get going so that you two can talk for a while.”
“You’re damn right you should get going,” Guy slammed the bottle down on the table top beside him as he marched towards Seth, “Look I don’t know who the hell you are, but if you think for one second that you can just waltz in here and…”
“Guy, it’s truly not what you’re thinking,” Gabe began to explain desperately.
“Oh right,” Guy huffed as he stared at Gabe’s naked chest, “so this is the alternative to our situation? If I don’t move fast enough for you with the whole honesty issue, I get replaced…”
“It’s really not what it appears to be as he had his shirt on when he went into the bathroom,” Seth began seeing the anger build behind the man’s eyes before him as he raised his hands in the air defensively, “I just brought him home as he’d had too much to drink. There’s nothing going on here.”
“Put a sock in it beefcake,” Guy glared over at Seth before his anger fixed on Gabe, “and you. To think that I was actually torturing myself over the callous way I’d been lately…about how I was putting you through so much pain because of my not being able to be honest with my mother, but in reality you’re the one who’s been lying all along. You’re the one who’s been leading a double life…first with Noelle and now with him…” he finished with a hiss.
“I already said that we’re not…” Seth insisted as he realized that Guy was blocking his exit as he wanted nothing more than to get out of the situation before it got ugly and judging by the expression on Guy’s face he was certain that moment wouldn’t be too far off.
“Save it,” Gabe touched Seth’s shoulder causing Seth to nearly leap out of his skin as Gabe stepped forward placing a distance between Guy and Seth, “given his accusatory tone we don’t owe him any answers about what’s going on.”
“Come again,” Guy huffed as he stood up straighter staring down Gabe, “so this is what we’ve come to huh? All this talk about wanting a future for us…about wanting us to take things to the next level that was all just mere words wasn’t it? I was just what…means to an end until you could find yourself someone to take my place. Is that it?”
“Would it really matter to you if that were the case,” Gabe challenged in the same demanding tone as his alcohol brought about a new more aggressive side of him.
“Is this your way of punishing me for what’s been going on? Are you really out to hurt me?” Guy demanded as his voice grew pained with a private emotion that Seth decided he’d spent far too much time intruding upon.
“Look, you two have a lot to talk about and I really should be going,” Seth carefully ducked out of the conversation heading towards the door, “Gabe, I hope you start feeling better and there really isn’t anything going on with Gabe and I…Guy wasn’t it? I just gave him a ride home…that’s all,” Seth finished quickly realizing that this was the last place he needed to be as he closed the door behind him leaving the two lovers to their debate as he decided it was time to get back home before he found himself in yet another situation that was beyond his control.
“Now I know that I’ve died and gone straight to heaven,” Jade purred as she lazily drew patterns upon Grady’s chest with her fingertip. She glanced up to meet his eyes as he quietly studied her every feature, “What are you looking at so intently?”
“The woman I love,” Grady stated simply as he continued to admire her lovely face, “I have been so stupid,” He began as he lightly slipped his fingers through her hair, “I didn’t want to hurt you by bringing you into my life and that just hurt you in another way. Then I’ve been so afraid that if I let you in, I’d ruin your life by simply being in it. The strangest thing of all is that you were the solution to every single one of those problems. You’re my peace,” He whispered as his eyes met hers, “You’re my heart. By denying you, it seems I was only making matters worse for myself. I’m not going to do that any more, Jade. I love you,” He whispered as he leaned in and captured her lips.
Jade melted into his kiss. As their lips parted a slow smile crept along her lips, “You are finding all sorts of ways of making my insides feel like jelly tonight,” She pointed out with a soft laugh, “Still, it’s nice to feel as if we’re all alone in the world right now. I mean, aren’t you enjoying this…just being together without worrying about the rest of the world?”
“I am,” He agreed, “Very much so. I get too caught up in the world around me, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve tried so hard to be responsible that I forgot what it was like to just let go and have some fun.”
“Is that what I am? Fun?” She teased with a grin.
“No,” He shook his head before grinning, “You’re a handful,” He teased as he squeezed her in his arms, “But you’re a handful that I love to call mine.”
“Hmmm, I think I like that,” She smiled brightly as she traced his lips with her fingertip, “Have I mentioned just how happy I am? I am on top of the world right now.”
“Well if that’s what you want to call me,” He teased as she swatted playfully at his chest. He squeezed her to him and rolled over so that he could gaze down into her eyes, “My god you’re beautiful.”
“It’s about damn time you noticed,” She said boldly as she met his eyes, “But I think you’ve had your head wedged too far up your…”
“Now, now, let’s not talk about that. I got my head where it should be now. How about we leave it at that?” He laughed good naturedly.
“Fair enough,” She chuckled as she ran her fingers down his back, “I have wanted to be here with you just like this for so long, Grady.”
“Me too,” He admitted while slipping his fingers through her hair as he brushed the wily tendrils away from her face, “Now that I’m here I can’t imagine what the hell took me so long.”
“It’s that destructive side,” She said with the flip of her head, “You were denying yourself all this pleasure and making yourself miserable. Now doesn’t that make you feel like a dope?” She teased with a wink.
“Actually, yeah it does,” He nodded with a sigh, “What the hell was I thinking? All my refusals served to do was make us both frustrated as hell,” He frowned.
“Tell me about it,” She droned, “You are one difficult man to convince that something is good for him.”
“I know. It’s such a horrible character flaw,” Grady agreed before he raised a brow at her, “Yours is unrelenting persistence.”
“Hey, that is not a character flaw,” Jade quickly jumped to her own defense, “I’ll have you know it’s a strength. If I hadn’t been so unrelenting, I might have dropped the idea of you and went off with some other guy by now.”
“You would not have. You can’t resist me,” He teased.
“Oh give me a break,” She rolled her eyes as she looked away from him.
“Come on now. You can’t deny it,” He teased as he brushed his lips over her cheek and began dropping tender kisses down her neck and throat, “I’m in your blood.”
“You really do have an ego problem, don’t you?” She sighed, trying to keep all her emotions in check and continue to play this game with him but with his sensuous lips traveling over her body, it was next to impossible to concentrate.
“I wouldn’t call it an ego problem,” He replied between placing kisses to her skin, “After all, you’re the one who has built up this ego with all your chasing after me.”
“I wasn’t chasing anything. I was…well…merely pursuing you,” She corrected as she tried to remain unmoved by his adorations even though her body inched towards him for his touch.
“Hmm, pursuing me?” He smiled as he braced himself above her and looked into her eyes, “Is that what you call wearing those torturous little skirts and those damn irritating sheer blouses?”
“Oh so you did notice,” She grinned as she met his eyes, “And here I thought you were a total stoic.”
“I’ll show you stoic,” He warned as he captured her lips in a playful yet tantalizing kiss as he began gently tickling her sides.
Jade giggled as she shoved him off of her and moved to sit on top of him. She eased her hands over his skin and folded her arms over his chest as she gazed down into his eyes, “I love you.”
“I love you too, you beautiful minx you,” He grinned as he drew her into a kiss, “You drive me crazy, do you realize that?”
“I thought you said I was your peace. You can’t have it both ways, you know,” She pointed out with a grin.
“How about it’s been so long since I’ve been near sanity that being sane is a little unsettling?” He offered, “You’re my rock, Jade…even when you do like to shake up my life by completely distracting me with your perfect swaying hips or your pouty lips,” He said as he moved forward to kiss her again.
Jade grinned, stopping him just short of kissing her, “I distract you, huh?”
“You have no idea,” He admitted with a chuckle, “Though I will say that it’s the best distraction I’ve ever had in my life.”
“Hmm, damn that was good,” She whispered as she seized his lips in a powerful yet loving kiss.
Grady wrapped her in his arms, wanting nothing more than to show her just how good he could be while in the sanctuary of her arms.
Blake paced the floor as she tapped her cell phone in her hand, “I thought Caitlin said she was on her way over.”
“She did, but this her first time coming to my apartment, Blake. She may have been a travel writer but taking directions was never one of her strong suits,” Zack pointed out as he placed a carafe of coffee on the coffee table in front of his sectional sofa, “Have a seat before you wear out my floor.”
“Uh,” She groaned as she sank into the thick cushions, “Did she sound upset or worried or what? Come on, Zack. You’ve got to give me more to go on here.”
“She sounded like she was concerned about something, but she didn’t want to get into over the telephone hence the part where I gave her directions to get here,” He pointed out as a knock at the door caused him to smile, “See, now you can calm down. She’s here,” He walked to the door and invited his sister inside.
“Caitlin!” Blake called out as she crossed the room and hugged her friend, “Hey, what’s going on?”
“Oh just about everything you could imagine,” Caitlin groaned as she returned Blake’s hug, “I think I got in the middle of something I really shouldn’t have, and now I’m afraid I’m going to lose Ken because of it.”
“What? Why?” Blake asked quickly as she looked at her friend, “What happened?”
“How about we sit down to get into this, ladies?” Zack offered as he led them all to the sofa and began pouring them each a mug of coffee.
“Well, we went to the island after your brother and Avery,” Caitlin sighed as she kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her, “When we got there, we found out Avery was pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” Blake’s eyes lit up, “Really? I’m going to be an aunt?”
“No,” Caitlin frowned, “You don’t have any idea what Brant’s been up to, do you?”
“What do you mean? He’s totally head over heels for Avery, and he’s been bending over backwards to make her happy. But what do you mean? Was Avery faking the pregnancy? She wouldn’t be the first to use that tactic to try to get Brant to marry her,” Blake accepted a cup of coffee from Zack.
“No, I mean,” Caitlin shrugged off Zack’s offer of coffee as she looked to her friend, “Avery’s pregnant but Brant is not the father.”
“What?” Blake demanded in anger, “Who has she been screwing around with behind Brant’s back?”
“She hasn’t been doing anything behind Brant’s back, Blake. She’s not in love with Brant.”
“But…the engagement party…”
“I think that was your brother’s ploy to get closer to Avery. After the news of Avery having Brant’s ring got out, they chose to go with the story because…well, I don’t really know why,” She frowned, “But I think it had to do with the Bruce Mathis murder investigation.”
“I don’t understand any of this. From what I saw, Brant is deeply in love with Avery,” Blake paused, “But Avery’s not in love with him?”
“No, she never has been.”
“She’s been leading him on,” Blake declared, “She had no right to do that.”
“Blake,” Caitlin began before shaking her head, “It doesn’t matter any more. Avery’s married to Russ, and I think that in time Brant will get over this obsession he has with her.”
“My brother doesn’t get obsessed with a woman. Women become obsessed with him,” Blake said haughtily, “And if he is truly in love with Avery, then I’m going to give her a piece of mind for treating him this way.”
“Oh boy,” Caitlin grimaced as she looked away, “This is going to be a fine mess.”
“Look, I’m just saying that she shouldn’t have led Brant on this way if she was in love with another man. She had no right,” Blake said boldly.
“How many different ways can a woman tell a man she doesn’t want to be with him? Cause I can tell you that I’ve seen Avery try just about every one,” Caitlin defended her position, “Brant’s just being delusional about his relationship with Avery as it was never destined for marriage.”
“Delusional? Brant is anything but delusional, Caitlin. Look, I don’t know what happened on the island…”
“No, you don’t,” Caitlin reminded her, “I’m telling you that I saw Brant act crazy with my own eyes, and Ken even saw it.”
“So this is why you and Ken are on the rocks? What’d you do, Caitlin? Try to convince him that Brant is crazy too?” Blake asked as she sat forward.
Caitlin winced as if she’d been physically lashed by her friend’s words, “Blake, I’m not the bad guy here. I’m just telling you what happened,” She explained before shaking her head, “I never should have come here,” She stood, “I’m sorry, Zack. I’ll see you later,” She said as she started for the door.
“Cait, whoa, hold on just a second,” Zack rushed out to stop her from leaving, “Don’t run out.”
“I’m just upsetting Blake. I’ve already upset Ken, and lord knows that I’m exhausted right now. I’m just going to go home and rest right now, okay? I’ll call you tomorrow,” Caitlin said quickly as she brushed by him and ran out of his apartment.
Zack watched Caitlin disappear down the hallway before he turned towards Blake and closed his apartment door, “Are you happy? Not only are you making Ben miserable, but you just pulled a high and mighty routine on your best friend.”
Blake let out a deep breath, “I didn’t mean to sound like a snob, but come on. You know my brother’s reputation with women just by reading a tabloid,” She shook her head, “Brant never gets crazy about any woman. He’s not that kind of guy.”
“Don’t defend your family to me,” Zack stopped her, “I think you need to apologize to Caitlin for the way you treated her.”
“Zack, I was just defending my brother,” She defended quickly.
“And pretty much telling Caitlin that she was an idiot,” He pointed out, “You don’t know what happened on that island any more than I do, and yet you stood there and acted as if you were fully informed. Blake, you have to get the entire story before you start making half-cocked assumptions.”
“I’m not going to apologize for defending my family,” She declared boldly as she stood and threw her blond hair from her shoulders.
“And I won’t apologize for defending mine,” He said as he crossed his arms, “Caitlin deserves better, Blake, especially from you.”
She set her jaw, “I think I’d better leave,” She said as she turned and lifted her purse from the end of the sofa and made her way towards the door.
“Blake?” He began, drawing her attention back to him, “Think about what I said. Caitlin’s your best friend. Don’t ruin that relationship over some half-baked assumption.”
Blake turned back to the door and left his apartment. As she began to descend the stairs, she thought about her friend and wondered if she’d been too harsh with her. Maybe stopping by to talk to Caitlin wasn’t such a bad idea…after all, Caitlin was the one friend who had never expected a big return from knowing an Ashford. Blake owed Caitlin a chance to fully explain the situation…she owed her, at least, that.
“You really know how to treat a girl,” Diane chuckled as she swirled her spoon around the cup of fudge ripple ice cream Ben had bought for her. She winked at him as she took a bite of the sweet delight and savored its chilly flavor.
“I try,” Ben grinned as he leaned forward on the table, lightly pushing his vanilla shake to the side, “Besides, you looked like you could use something sinful after the day you’ve had.”
“You read me pretty good after all,” She teased with a grin before getting more serious, “You really took the truth about Blake better than I thought you would. I thought you’d be upset beyond words.”
“I am…with her,” He clarified, “But you were just an innocent victim of her stupidity. I swear I don’t know what’s wrong with her.”
“You act as if this is odd behavior for her. It’s not. She’s never treated me any other way, Ben. She’s always been this way.”
“Not to me,” He frowned, “She never acted this shallow. She was a good person, but to see her act this way,” He sighed, “It makes me look at her in a completely different light.”
“I’m sorry it had to be this way, Ben, but I told you that she would never act any differently with me,” She reminded him, “She hates me, and it’ll always be that way.”
“Well we don’t have to worry about her,” Ben stated as he met her eyes, “Because we don’t have to associate with her.”
“Yes, you do. You need to get that microfilm.”
“I know, but there are other ways. Besides, I don’t have the faith in her that I did after this little episode. My guess is that if she bothers to help us in any way it’ll only be a half-hearted gesture, and in the long run, it won’t really do us any good at all.”
“So where does that leave us?”
Ben took her hand and raised it to his lips, “It leaves us together, and together we’ll find a way to deal with this entire situation.”
Diane grinned, “You’re being awfully romantic tonight.”
“Well I didn’t get the chance the way we started our relationship,” He reminded her with a wink, “So I’m making up for lost time.”
“I like this side of you,” She admitted as she leaned onto the table, “You know, Ben, I know things have been very physical for us, but I really do feel a connection between us. It may sound crazy or like I’m into all that astrological hocus pocus, but we really do have something here.”
“You’re not kidding,” He nodded as he gently eased his fingers along her hand in a soft caress, “I’ve never felt this with anyone, Diane. I feel like I want to tell you everything in the world about myself, and yet it’s like you can read me in a way that no one else has ever been capable of.”
“And yet there are things that I still don’t know about you,” She said as a smile graced her lips, “But I’m enjoying learning all those little bits that make you who you are.”
“I’m not the only one feeling romantic tonight, am I?” He asked with a wink before he leaned across the table and kissed her gently, knowing that for a first date, tonight had been the most perfect date he’d ever had in his life. He could only hope that others they would have in the future would continue to be this successful.
“Oh son, I wish you would’ve said something sooner,” Elliot began hating
to see the trouble that followed Russ and Avery back home to Coral Valley,
“if we would’ve known then we would‘ve told you that…”
“Dad, this isn’t your fault,” Russell sighed as he squeezed Avery’s hand in his, “we both just found out about this and now, well with what you and mom were doing, well…”
“Words can’t even begin to express how much that means to us,” Avery added bringing her free hand up over her chest, “as that nursery, Cheryl, it’s beautiful and for you and Elliot to think of our baby like that…”
“We wanted to give you both something wonderful to come home to as we wanted to share some of the excitement of our grandchild with you,” Cheryl reached out to Avery taking her hand as a smile lifted over her features, “Sweetie, you have no idea how excited we were to hear about the two of you getting married and preparing for a family.”
“We’ve waited a long time to see our son so happy,” Elliot piped in with a nod, “and now that you two kids have finally made it with one another, we couldn’t be prouder.”
“Thanks dad,” Russell replied unable to hide his happiness any longer as he wrapped his arm around Avery, “your support means a lot to us.”
“It really does,” Avery added unable to contain the tears that clouded over her, “and knowing that you did all this. It’s just so beautiful and I just wanted to you both to know that I love Russ so very much and I promise you that I’m going to do everything in my power to keep him this happy as the last time we tried to get married, well…”
“We know,” Cheryl interrupted with a nod as she reached out to Avery again, “Russ, told us about the baby and how hurt you were about things.”
“He did?” Avery turned to her husband as his green eyes held a seriousness in them that made her get choked up on emotion.
“That’s right honey and while we can’t even begin to imagine what something like that must’ve been like to deal with on your own, well, we want you to know that you have us as family now and we’re here for you with whatever you need…”
“I…I don’t know what to say,” Avery admitted unable to contain the tears that fell from her eyes, “I mean after everything I never expected that you would both be so wonderful and…”
“Honey, Russ loves you and that’s enough for us,” Elliot added warmly as Russell hugged Avery in closer to him kissing her temple as he brushed his thumb over her tears wiping them from her face.
“See, I told you that there wouldn’t be anything to worry about,” Russell reminded her with a light squeeze, “They love you too.”
“I just…” Avery sniffled in response, “I just don’t know what to say other than, well thank you for this… You have no idea how much it means to have the both of you supporting our marriage and…”
“And nothing,” Elliot reached out to embrace her, “Welcome to the family Avery. It’s about time we have you as one of us.”
“There’s no place else I’d rather be,” Avery admitted returning the embrace before turning to Cheryl.
“Come on sweetheart,” Cheryl reached for her hand, “why don’t we let the men talk for a few minutes and I’ll show you a few of the things we picked out for the nursery. If you don’t like them, then we can work on changing them around…”
“I’m sure that I’ll love them as what you’ve done so far is just amazing,” Avery began casting a glance in Russell’s direction, “I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll miss you,” he stepped forward giving her a quick kiss before she and his mother went down the hallway to check out the progress in the nursery.
“She’s really something special isn’t she,” Elliot couldn’t help but smile as he watched his son seeing the love behind Russell’s eyes as Russell returned to the couch taking a seat across from his father.
“She’s everything to me,” Russell confessed with a heartfelt tone, “and if you hadn’t encouraged me to follow my heart out there to that island, well I don’t know if I would’ve been able to make it without all of this. I mean I’m not only married to the woman I love, but I’m going to be a father. We’re having a baby.”
“Which is incredible news son,” Elliot replied proudly, “as your mother’s been talking about what it would be like to have grandchildren running around the house and we were starting to wonder if that wasn’t going to happen…”
“It almost didn’t,” Russell frowned thinking about the things that had kept him and Avery apart for so very long, “but I guess destiny had a way of working itself out.”
“I’m glad to hear it, although I’m a bit concerned about this Mathis character you were telling us about,” Elliot leaned forward dropping his voice a bit, “I didn’t want to say anything in front of your mother or Avery because I didn’t want them to get worked up, but Russ, this sounds like some serious business here with the threats this man is making.”
“Dad, I’m trying to get it under control,” Russell began hesitantly.
“But?” Elliot lifted his brow awaiting his son’s answer.
“But the truth is I’m terrified for what he might do,” Russell confessed with a sigh, “I mean Avery and I worked so hard to get to where we are and now we have a beautiful baby on the way and tonight, well tonight when I thought that he might’ve broken in, well it got me thinking about how much we stand to lose. Given what happened in the past…”
“You can’t let history repeat itself,” Elliot finished with a nod, “Son, I can see why you might be concerned about Avery’s safety as long as this man is out there.”
“I just don’t want to lose her. I came this far and now that we have a family ahead of us,” Russell frowned again, “We just have everything ahead of us and I don’t know why these things keep happening…”
“Well, if you were able to overcome the hold Ashford tried to have over her,” Elliot offered up hopefully.
“I wish I could say that wasn’t a problem anymore, but well, unfortunately Brant’s delusional about things with Avery,” Russell grumbled in response motioning to the bruise on his face, “I got this at the airport when he launched an attack on me.”
“I thought that you’d found a way to clear up that situation as you and Avery were married and…” Elliot started in confusion.
“Nothing is ever that easy with an Ashford. When I got to the island he wouldn’t leave Avery alone. I had to take drastic measures to get her back with me,” Russell confided, “and then when we were together again, well she told me about the baby and she also informed me that Brant proposed to her.”
“Come again?” Elliot blinked back in response.
“He’s got it in his mind that he can have her--that he can win her over even though we belong together. He refuses to see that she and I have a family and that we love each other,” Russell sighed in frustration, “No matter what Avery tells him he won’t lay up on her.”
“And what does Avery have to say about this?” Elliot inquired.
“She tells him that there’s no chance for a future between them because she loves me and she tries to tell me that he’ll get a hint one day, but I’m starting to think that man has lost all comprehension of reality. He’s on this mission to win her over and…”
“You can’t let that happen,” Elliot blurted out urgently, “Despite what Avery says we both know that an Ashford never lets something he wants to control get away. That family uses every kind of manipulation to take what they want. Even your marriage to Avery won’t be enough to stop him if she’s what he truly wants…”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Russell slumped at the thought, “but Avery wants to believe the best in him. She wants to think that he can maintain some kind of air of professionalism about him even after he’s laid a claim on her on a more personal level. I’ve tried to reason with her about it, but she’s just so stubborn and dedicated to her job that well, I can’t ask her to give up her career because I’m afraid of what Brant is capable of. If I did that, she’d think I was saying that I had no faith in her…”
“Which isn’t the case I’m sure,” Elliot nodded in response, “but that Brant, well he’s just like his father and I know that he’s trouble.”
“But how do I convince my wife of that,” Russell questioned more so to himself than anything, “and furthermore how do I keep that under control while Bruce could be out there alive and well and waiting to attack Avery? He tried to kill her once and if he gets the opportunity to get close to her again…”
“You can’t let him get that opportunity,” Elliot urge on, “and as much as I’d hate for you to let this thing go with Brant for a while, maybe his interest in Avery is a good thing.”
“But you just said…” Russell gave him a strange look, “We both agreed that Brant is trouble…”
“Yes he is, but if he’s interested in Avery as well, he’s not going to let anything happen to her. Maybe her working at BBK isn’t all that bad for now…at least not while Bruce is still out there because you know the Ashfords never let one of their own out in the open…”
“So he’ll just get the opportunity to make a play on my wife behind closed doors because Bruce is stalking her,” Russell shook his head with heavy dismay, “I don’t think I like that either…”
“Well in this scenario, you have to think of the lesser of two evils. Which is it? Bruce Mathis or Brant Ashford?” Elliot threw out the question that had Russell tangled up since he’d learned of Bruce lurking in the shadows.
“That’s the problem I’m having,” Russell admitted openly, “I’m starting to think that neither one of them is going to be anything but trouble as they’re both wildcards and that’s a gamble I’m not willing to take where my wife and child are concerned.”
“Then maybe you and Avery should think about taking that honeymoon sooner than expected,” Elliot began to suggest to his son, “Granted you both came home for the safety that your friends and family could provide, but maybe if you spent a little time away somewhere that you knew you’d both be safe…”
“I don’t know if there is such a place with a madman like that on the loose,” Russell replied feeling tension creep in up over his spine at the thought of the danger that was lurking outside the safety of his home.
“Well, there might be one as I was thinking about the cabin. I mean you and Avery seemed to have felt safe there in the past and given we’re familiar with the area, well your mother and I could go up there as well and we could find a way to keep an eye on things while you two could enjoy some quiet time to plan for the future…” Elliot suggested, “It would give you the opportunity to have some relaxation while the police do their jobs here in Coral Valley.”
“You know,” Russell decided thinking the special place where he and Avery had first pledged their love to one another, “that might not be such a bad idea as you’re right about it up there. The cabin has always been a safe haven of sorts and with Avery’s father offering to help lighten the load for her over at BBK maybe I can talk her into taking a bit of a pregnancy leave for a bit so that we can focus on our marriage and our child…”
“I think that sounds like a wonderful idea and you know I can always call Earl up there and have the local sheriff be on the lookout as well,” Elliot suggested encouragingly, “that way there won’t be any surprises.”
“That might actually work,” Russell agreed with a nod, “as it’s just the kind of atmosphere Avery and I would need right about now as I don’t want her to be consumed with fear or worry with this pregnancy. She’s doing so well thus far and after I saw my little one tonight, well I just can’t imagine letting anything get in the way of our baby’s health…”
“That’s my boy,” Elliot patted his shoulder, “Just think about your family and spend the time just getting to enjoy being together as I’m sure it’ll give you plenty of opportunity to think about the things that matter like the baby names and all the upcoming moments you’ll share…”
“You know in all the chaos we haven’t even gotten that far,” Russ confessed with a tiny chuckle, “I was just so excited to find out that I was going to be a father that everything else just kind of flew into place. Tonight when we went for that ultrasound, well I was worried about Avery because she’d passed out, but then her doctor told us that everything was looking good and then, well then we saw the baby and…” he stopped as his green eyes widened with enthusiasm, “actually…” he fished into his pants pocket pulling out his wallet and opening it to withdraw the image contained within, “here. Take a look at this.”
“What’s this?” Elliot inquired curiously as his eyes fell upon the image before him, “oh my heavens…”
“That’s your grandchild,” Russell explained proudly, “and as you can see my baby’s a thumb sucker as right here is the thumb…”
“My this is very impressive,” Elliot’s eyes lit up as he scanned the image, “you know back when your mother was pregnant with you and Grady they didn’t have all this available for us…”
“It’s a damn shame because tonight,” Russell continued thinking about the very first sight he’d had of his child, “tonight I felt like I was on top of the world as I heard my baby’s heart beating. When my little one was there brought to life onscreen, well that’s when it all became even more real to me. There I was at long last with my beautiful pregnant wife and everything was just perfect. I know I’d dreamt about the moment for so very long, but now that it’s arrived, well…I just couldn’t even begin to explain how wonderful it felt…”
“I’m very proud of you son,” Elliot handed the image back to him, “and I have no doubt that my grandchild is going to be the miracle that this family has been waiting for as we’ve needed a little Denton running around shaking things up again.”
“Well we’re going to have that soon and I couldn’t be happier about it,” Russell admitted openly realizing that with the thought of his child in his mind, he had to find a way to keep the happiness and hope from the future from ever slipping away as there was too much riding on what lay ahead for him and Avery.
“Cheryl, this is so beautiful,” Avery began turning her attention to
the decals on the wall along with Cheryl’s artistic paintings before her.
“Call me mom,” Cheryl encouraged her watching as Avery’s amazement grew with the moment before Avery turned to face her again.
“Alright,” she smiled warmly, “mom. This nursery is far more than I’d ever dreamt about and for you and Elliot to do this for Russ and I…”
“Honey, we just want you both to be happy,” Cheryl explained stepping towards her as she reached out to touch Avery’s shoulder gently, “When Russ told me about what you went through with your miscarriage, well my heart went out to you. I hated to hear that something so wonderful went so bad for the both of you and that you felt you needed to run away and face it on your own.”
“I just…” Avery began feeling herself choked up on emotion, “I didn’t want to break Russell’s heart. He had so many dreams for the future and who was I to take them away from him? When the doctors told me that I’d never be able to be having a baby again, well…I just didn’t want to break his heart…”
“Honey, his heart was only breaking because you weren’t a part of his life anymore,” Cheryl reached into her pocket withdrawing a Kleenex as she wiped at Avery’s tears, “as my son has loved you for as long as I can remember.”
“And I’ve loved him too,” Avery confessed openly, “he’s always been the greatest part of me and I don’t know how I’d be able to go without him. I don’t know how I did it even back then as it always felt so very wrong.”
“Well, sometimes fate delivers us a blow that alters our lives in ways we can’t even begin to imagine,” Cheryl paused contemplating her words before continuing, “I haven’t ever really told anyone about this, but you know honey right after I had Grady, well Elliot and I decided we’d give having a little girl a try as Elliot had always wanted to have a girl around the house along with Grady. Not that we weren’t happy as Grady was everything to us as he was so very special, but we thought we might try to expand our family once again and a little girl just seemed like the right thing for us,” she took in a slow breath, “now you know things weren’t like they are back then and after a couple of years well, we’d managed to find ourselves pregnant again. Elliot was so happy that we were having another baby and I was so convinced that we were having a little girl…”
“But you had Russ instead?” Avery questioned with a hint of a smile before she noticed the sadness that built behind Cheryl’s features as she shook her head in response.
“No, unfortunately fate had other plans for us as we lost our little girl some time into the beginning of the second trimester,” Cheryl explained poignantly, “and there hasn’t been a day that’s passed where I haven’t thought about that beautiful little baby that slipped away. At the time I went through that, well I was devastated and while Elliot and I had one another and Grady, well it didn’t make life easy for us. It almost cost us our marriage as things were so very hard for us as a woman never truly recovers from that kind of loss, which is why when Russ told me about what you went through, my heart went out to you Avery,” Cheryl reached out to touch her daughter-in-law’s cheek tenderly, “A mother always feels that missing piece of her soul and even when things happen, when you find yourself facing motherhood again, you can’t forget that one child that God chose to take away from you before you had a chance to hold them in your arms and give them the love you always planned on giving them. That kind of pain never goes away even after all the time they say it takes to heal.”
“No it doesn’t,” Avery shook her head unable to contain her tears as she witnessed the same pain she’d tucked away for all those years without Russell reflected in his mother’s eyes. “Even when you try to shut it away, it’s always there.”
“Which is why during a time like this, you’re probably experiencing a great deal of mixed emotions as believe me I was there when I found out that I was pregnant with Russell. I was so afraid about doing things right--about having everything in order and well, after all the turmoil that Elliot and I had gone through, I was afraid where things would wind up with my marriage as we weren’t on steady ground with one another. Things were very tense and I found myself so concerned about whether or not our love would survive after the first blow to our relationship,” Cheryl confided with a sniffle as she reached for another Kleenex and dabbed it at her own eyes, “but in the end our love was strong enough to survive what obstacles were ahead of us. We found a way to heal with one another and though we’ll always feel some of the pain over the way fate changed for us, we’ve grown stronger in our marriage with one another just like I believe you and Russ are doing. I truly believe in my heart that this child--this marriage between the two of you was meant to be and I hope that you two hold onto one another with all that you have as that kind of love only comes once in a lifetime.”
“I don’t ever plan on letting him go as he and this baby,” Avery placed her hand over her abdomen, “are everything to me. Russ is my heart and I’m lost without him.”
“As he is with you,” Cheryl extended her arms out to her, “and I couldn’t be prouder than I am right in this moment to have you as my daughter-in-law as you’re everything I hoped for in my son’s life.”
“Oh Cheryl,” Avery reached out to embrace her unable to contain the tears that overcame her as both women broke down into tiny sobs before Avery corrected herself, “Mom…thank you so very much. For everything you’ve done. For being able to share that part of your life with me and for Russell. You’ve given me the greatest gift in having him in this world and I can’t even begin to thank you enough for being the mother to the man whom I’ve come to love so very much…”
“Having a healthy little grandchild is all the thanks I’ll ever needs as seeing that beautiful little baby is the kind of miracle I’ve waited a lifetime for with my son,” Cheryl confessed pulling back enough to look at Avery’s dark tear-filled eyes as she let out a tiny laugh, “Oh would you look at us? We both look like we’ve been through a war zone…”
“In some ways we have, but somehow I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything in the world as it means so very much to me,” Avery explained wiping at her face, “In fact, now that I think about it, would you like to see your grandchild as Russ has a picture from the ultrasound and I’d love for you to see the baby as we were hoping to get you and Elliot a copy of…”
“Of this?” Russell inquired with a curious grin stepping into the room as he held up the image in his hands before his eyes lingered over to his mother and wife noticing the tears that fell freely from there eyes. His smile faded as he gave them a questioning look, “What’s going on in here?”
“We’re just having a girl talk,” Cheryl explained giving Avery another quick hug before continuing, “and sometimes these things get rather emotional.”
“Very emotional,” Avery dabbed at her eyes once again, “as your mother’s an incredible woman.”
“That she is,” Russell agreed stepping in between them as he curled an arm around each woman holding them close to him before taking the opportunity to kiss the top of both of their heads, “as right now I’m with my two favorite women in the entire universe.”
“We both love you very much,” Avery offered up snuggling in beside him as she gave Cheryl a knowing look.
“That we do,” Cheryl nodded in agreement, “although I do have something on my mind as Avery promised me a first look at that beautiful grandchild of mine.”
“Well, dad managed to get a first glance, but I’m sure you won’t mind getting the second since this particular copy is just for you,” Russell offered up the image he’d had tucked away in his hand that was on the arm that he’d had around his mother.
“Oh let me see,” Cheryl snatched the photo up taking a good, hard look at the baby before her before she raised her hand to her lips and a giggle swept over her features, “Oh my. I see we have a thumb sucker on our hands here.”
“You can see that?” Russell’s eyes widened in surprise as he looked to his mother.
“Of course I can,” Cheryl nodded in response, “It’s rather obvious once you look at it.”
“I had to point it out to dad because he wasn’t seeing it at first,” Russell couldn’t help but laugh as he squeezed Avery closer to him.
“Oh well that’s your father I tell you,” Cheryl waved her hand in the air with another tiny laugh, “You usually have to show him things twice as he just doesn’t have the mother’s intuition.”
“I heard that,” Elliot announced stepping into the nursery as he joined the group.
“Well it’s true darling,” Cheryl explained with a pointed look, “Men just aren’t as in tune to these things as we women are. No offense Russ.”
“Hey none taken as my wife is the one doing all the work here and I just get the glory of admiring her every step of the way,” he admitted bringing Avery fully into his arms as Cheryl joined her husband stepping into his welcoming embrace.
“Hey, don’t give me all the credit as you played just as big of a hand in this miracle between us,” Avery reached for one of his hands placing it over her abdomen, “this is all you darling.”
“It’s all us,” Russell replied tipping down to collect a kiss from her lips as he hugged her in his arms.
“Well, this wasn’t exactly how your mom and I planned your homecoming as we’d hoped to have the nursery finished and we’d have a nice home cooked meal for the both of you, but if you’d like well we can work on ordering something in for the four of us,” Elliot suggested.
“Nonsense,” Cheryl waved her hand in the air dismissively, “Our son and Avery deserve a home cooked meal and I’m certain I can whip up one in no time with a little assistance,” she threw Elliot a knowing look as he nodded in response.
“That’s my cue to go check out the kitchen with her,” Elliot explained with a wink as he motioned to Russ and Avery, “You two behave yourselves now.”
“We’ll try,” Russell offered up with a goofy grin watching his parents disappear out of the nursery as he touched Avery’s cheek gently, “Hey, you feeling okay?”
“I’ve never been better. I love you,” Avery replied tipping up on her toes to kiss Russell as she realized that suddenly all of her dreams of happily ever after were well within her reach as in the arms of her husband she felt safe and secure. Now as she shared this moment with Russ and his parents she realized that she was the luckiest girl alive and she just prayed that it stayed that way as she’d found her own piece of heaven as a part of his family. Suddenly she felt as though she was exactly where she was always meant to be and she couldn’t be happier about it.
Shannon glanced at her watch while walking the halls of the hospital searching for Dave. With the way things had gone down at the airport, she had a feeling that things were only going to get more complicated where Avery Denton was concerned. From Brant’s behavior alone, it was obvious that there was more chaos in Avery’s world than just Bruce Mathis. Still, Mathis remained the most dangerous aspect of that chaos.
While they had learned a great deal about Bruce Mathis a.k.a. Harold Abrams over the last few hours, there were still huge pieces of the puzzle that didn’t seem to fit. With Abrams’ history of torturing and killing women, why hadn’t he done the same with Avery? Why had he faked his own death instead of killing the man in Avery’s life? And why had he sent Avery a human heart? More importantly, where had he gotten the heart in the first place?
She stepped into a quiet alcove and plucked her cell phone from her pocket. While Avery might not want to face the danger Abrams posed, Shannon wasn’t about to underestimate the killer. She dialed her FBI field office’s number and asked for Brad Tolbert. Brad had always been a stand up guy, and Shannon knew she could count on him to help her in this situation.
“Brad, it’s Shannon. How are you?”
“Better now that I’m hearing from you.”
“Don’t get cute with the flattery, Brad,” She teased playfully, “I’m actually calling to ask a favor of you.”
“Then you should be the one laying on the flattery.”
“Brad, I need some agents out here for a protective detail.”
“You’d better have the President out there, Shan. I’m short staffed and over budget as it is.”
“Brad, I need the detail to protect Avery Morrison, daughter of Richard Morrison.”
“The Richard Morrison? Harvard law professor, law analyst on that cable news show, and nationally known attorney? That Richard Morrison?”
“The very same,” Shannon affirmed, “A serial killer may be targeting his daughter, and,” She paused with a groan, “As much as I hate it, you my need to send a detail down here to look after Brant Ashford as well.”
“Damn, this guy picks expensive prey, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, but I want to keep him from actually getting his hands on either one of them, okay?”
“Fair enough,” Brad replied as Shannon overheard someone talking in the background, “What? Okay, Shannon, hold on just a second,” He spoke quickly before putting her on hold.
Shannon growled at being put on hold. She hated waiting for anyone, especially when she’d called them with what was essentially a simple request that didn’t require a lot of time to either approve or not.
“Shannon, we’ve got a problem,” Brad spoke as he got back on the phone.
“What kind of problem?” She asked with a heavy sigh.
“A big one,” He paused, “A body has been found on the Ashford island estate.”
“Shan, the guy cut out the victim’s heart.”
Shannon grimaced. She now had the answer to one more question in the case of Harold Abrams.
Dave placed a cup of coffee in front of Deidra as he sat across the table from her with a cup of his own. He had watched her carefully since she’d discharged Avery, but she had yet to open up about what was going on inside her head.
“Okay, Dee, what’s going on? Don’t tell me you’re moping about Andy cause that loser certainly isn’t worth that much of your time,” Dave began the conversation, finally gaining her full attention.
“I’m not thinking about Andy.”
“What are you thinking about then?” He asked as his face twisted in concern, “Dee, you’re really beginning to worry me.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to,” She said as she shook her head, “It’s just…I was just thinking about me and my life.”
“How every time I do something spontaneous it turns around and blows up in my face?”
“Like going off the island?”
“Yeah, like that,” She nodded, “Mom thought it would be good for me, but seeing a newlywed couple was not exactly therapeutic.”
“Dee, things will get better.”
“Yeah? When? Dave, I feel like I’m stuck in this cycle of momentary happiness before it all comes crashing down into the old familiar pain and misery,” She folded her arms and sat back in the booth as she looked across at him, “And I’m beginning to wonder if I should have come home. Mom is spending a lot of her time worrying about me, Diane hates me, and I can’t seem to find a way to be happy.”
Dave reached out and took her hand, “Hey, you made me happy by showing up here. It’s good to see a friendly face in town again.”
“Dave, spare me, okay? I don’t need a load of exaggerated niceties right now. What I need is…I…I don’t know what I need, but it’s not flattery, okay?”
“Okay, how about a dose of reality?”
“Oh god, do we have to?” She asked with a frown.
“You are a beautiful woman with a good head on her shoulders. Okay, your husband was a jackass, but he’s not here to make you miserable any more. You’re responsible for your own destiny from here on out, and it’s time you decided how you want to lead it. Do you want to be miserable, or do you want to find a way to be happy?”
“How does anyone find a way to be happy?”
“Get a puppy, take up a hobby,” He suggested, “Everyone is different, but I promise you that you are not destined to shoulder the world’s misery. You can be happy, Dee. I’ve seen you happy in the past, and I know that with a little time and effort you can be happy again.”
“I wouldn’t even know where to begin on that one,” Deidra exhaled heavily as she closed her eyes and rubbed her neck, “First of all,” She began as she looked back to him, “I need to find an apartment. You wouldn’t happen to know of any good ones, would you?”
“Actually, yeah I would,” He offered, “I know a few people around town with places to lease. I tell you what…I’ll help you look for a place.”
“Really? Dave, you really don’t have to hold my hand through this.”
“Who said anything about holding your hand? Although I really wouldn’t mind a whole lot if I got to,” He teased with a wink.
Deidra rolled her eyes with a dry smile, “You’re hopeless.”
“Occasionally,” He admitted with a grin.
“Dave, I’ve been looking for you all over this damn hospital,” Shannon exclaimed as she quickly approached the table, “Look, we have to go. Something’s come up.”
“Is it Avery?” Dave asked as he quickly stood to meet Shannon.
“No,” Shannon shook her head, “But a body on the Ashford island estate…missing a heart.”
“Oh god,” Deidra gasped in shock as she covered her mouth.
“Then I suppose we’re headed to the island, huh?” Dave asked with a frown as he put his hands on his hips.
“Looks that way. I’ve got an FBI transport on its way. We’ll need to meet the pilot out at the airport,” Shannon explained.
“Okay,” Dave nodded before he looked back to Deidra, “Will you be okay?”
“I…” Deidra began before nodding, “Yeah.”
“Good, I’ll call you as soon as we get back,” Dave told her before he and Shannon left the cafeteria.
Deidra sank back against the booth bench and felt a shiver travel along her spine. If happiness could be found, she wondered how it could ever exist in a world with a monster like Bruce Mathis.
Kenneth entered the Ashford mansion unsuccessful in his search for Brant
as while he’d checked the hospital to see if Brant had gone there looking
for Avery, he’d found that the Dentons had left the hospital and Brant
hadn’t made an appearance. Now as he entered the darkened kitchen,
he wondered how his family had come to be in such a state of chaos once
again and more so he couldn’t help but think about Caitlin and the way
he’d sent her off after he’d decided he had to go collect his brother.
With a heavy sigh, he headed straight to the refrigerator pulling out the
chocolate cake that lay within as the light went on overhead and he saw
Annette standing in the doorway with her pale pink robe wrapped around
“I thought I’d heard someone come in,” Annette noted watching as Kenneth pulled the cake out of the refrigerator, “and judging by your expression and the cake in hand, well why do I get the sudden feeling that you aren’t exactly in the best spirits after your trip to the island?”
“Where do I begin,” Kenneth sighed carrying the cake over to the kitchen table not bothering with a plate as he set it down before him. He eyed it for a long moment before walking over to withdraw a fork from one of the drawers as he decided chocolate would be a good way to drown his sorrow and worries for the moment.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Annette warned catching his wrist before he could dip the fork into the cake, “at least in taking on the whole cake, well you’re going to hate yourself in the morning. Even Blake has learned that by now…”
“It’s nice to see that one of us has learned something,” Kenneth sighed slumping down into the chair as his gaze traveled listlessly beyond the cake as his worried consumed him. “Where did we go wrong Annie?”
Annette watched him knowing that look all too well as Kenneth had always managed to carry the burden of his family’s problems on his shoulders. Seeing that same lost and confused expression that had overtaken him time and time again, she reached for his hand gently, “Ken, what’s going on?”
“It’s just that everything seems to be falling apart all over again. I mean first with our father and the way he ran things, well it always felt like a war zone around here and now, well,” Ken faced her his eyes laced with worry as he continued, “I’m afraid history is about to repeat itself.”
“What ever do you mean,” Annette questioned with concern.
“It’s Brant,” Ken confided with a sigh, “He’s lost in his own little world right now and I’m seeing shades of our father more and more each day. On the island he turned into someone that I recognized…no, I take that back…he was someone I knew only too well as I felt like my father had come back again and he was there commanding and controlling Brant’s actions…”
“I don’t understand,” Annie frowned, “Why would you say such a thing?”
“Annie, he’s gone off the deep end,” Kenneth explained turning to look at her more completely, “his obsession with Avery has turned him into something that I can’t even begin to recognize anymore. He’s so insistent upon loving her that he’s not seeing what he’s really doing to her…”
“Your brother cares very deeply about Avery,” Annie reminded him gently, “and while I was a bit worried about how things would go for them, well, with their trip to the island I’d just imagined that things would only get better for them.”
“Annie, that’s just it. There is no them. Brant was making this big display of something that was never there to begin with. Avery’s not in love with him and she’s never going to be,” Kenneth offered up simply thinking to his brother’s reaction to seeing Russ and Avery with one another. “Brant is just so stubborn that he won’t open his eyes to the truth about the way things really are…”
“Ken, I know that everyone tends to forget that Brant has a heart as he hides it so well, but when it comes to Avery, I know he cares very deeply for her. I’ve seen them together…beyond the glitter and flashes that they have for the media and they really do seem to have a special connection. I felt it the night we all had dinner together and I saw her with him. The way that he was with her, well it was like your brother was back being that young man so full of hope and anticipation for the future instead of the man in the race to gain the most attention from the world that ate up his antics.”
“Annie, I don’t know what you saw, but whatever it was, well it was for show as Avery and Brant aren’t together. They never were as well, she’s not in love with him. She and Russ Denton got married while we were on the island…”
“What?” Annette gave him a surprised look before the thought sank in and her surprise faded, “Now, why didn’t I see that one coming after the party?”
“I think we all saw it coming, but Brant refused to let anyone consider the reality behind it. Annie, Avery’s pregnant and Brant knew from the moment Avery found out she was pregnant that he wasn’t the father, but before she had a chance to adjust to the situation she found herself in, he was already planning their wedding, making all the arrangements for her child to become the latest part of the Ashford family even before she had a chance to really even take it all in. He kept pushing his own dreams and desires upon her to the point that he started to remind me of Nicholas.”
“Oh dear,” Annie’s lips curled in a frown, “and what’s happening with him now?”
“Now he’s unreachable. I’ve tried to reason with him--tried to get him see that Avery is happy with Russ and that he needs to move on, but he won’t hear of it. He keeps insisting that he and Avery are meant to be with one another and when we got home from the island, well we ran into Russ and Avery and all hell broke loose.”
“Oh good heavens,” Annette gasped.
“It was terrible Annie,” he admitted with a heavy sense of frustration, “Brant was like a wild man attacking Russell with every ounce of anger inside of him and when Avery tried to reason with him, he wasn’t listening to what she was saying--he still isn’t willing to hear it and while I don’t agree with how he found out as Caitlin had no right to tell him like she did, I can’t just let him sit back and cause another disaster because he can’t let go…”
“Brant’s going to have to learn that things don’t always go as we plan them to especially in affairs of the heart,” Annie paused watching the sadness creep over his features.
“Don’t I know it,” he took in a slow breath as his eyes fixed upon the cake once more.
“Ken, what’s really going on? I mean sure I understand you’re upset about Brant, and given how you say he’s behaving, I can’t say I blame you as it sounds like your brother has a lot of learning ahead of him, but with you, somehow I have a feeling there’s more going on. You mentioned that Caitlin had something to say in this matter, yes?”
“I asked her not to tell Brant,” he began in frustration, “I specifically told her that this was Avery’s place to break the news to him as he needed to hear it from Avery, but she and Brant were going head to head with one another on the island tearing each other apart and well, she just let him have the truth--slapped him with it as if she was trying to cut him down to size. Granted Brant’s ego does need a deflation every now and then, but for her to do that when both Avery and I specifically urged her not to…”
“Your brother is a hard man to get along with sometimes and well, maybe that’s what was taking place…” she suggested with an afterthought, “because Brant can be determined…”
“Even so Caitlin shouldn’t have let him bait her like that,” Kenneth shook his head as another bout of frustration washed over him, “I mean I know that Brant’s not the most agreeable man in the world, but you should’ve seen the way she lashed out at him. I mean sure, maybe he was asking for it, but when I watched the two of them, I got the distinct feeling that what was going on had nothing to do with Brant. It was as if she saw the situation Brant and Avery were in and she somehow internalized it and put herself in Avery’s shoes…as if in telling Brant about how Avery had moved on, she was making up for things that had happened in her life--like somehow in putting Brant in his place, she was dealing with the demons that have haunted her for so long…” he trailed off slumping down once again, “and when she did it, I was furious with her. Words can’t even begin to express how upset I was with her for taking it upon herself to shatter Brant like that. Sure, I knew he was slipping into some dangerous territory, but Caitlin shouldn’t have let herself lose control like that. She should’ve found a way to keep it together--to stay calm and collected long enough to…well, I don’t know, but to leave it so that Avery could break the news to Brant. She should’ve just found the strength to hold back regardless of how much she wanted to stick it to Brant…”
“You mean like you do when he’s upset you?” Annie lifted a curious brow.
“Of course not,” he shook his head in response at her words, “I mean I don’t expect Caitlin to tolerate him like I do…at least not entirely, but well…well I’d just kind of hoped that she’d…I don’t know…everything is such a mess and the more I think of it, the more I feel like an ass because I didn’t prevent this all from happening. If I would’ve just set Brant straight sooner…if I just hadn’t taken Caitlin out there on the island than the both of them never would’ve started with one another like that and maybe just maybe somehow things wouldn’t have turned out like they did because now, well now it feels like everything is just a train wreck coming right in front of me and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”
“Ken, sometimes these things happen and you can’t hold it all together. I know you like to carry the weight of the world upon your shoulders, but you can’t change the world…and you most certainly can’t start trying with your brother. I would’ve thought you’d have learned that by now and with Caitlin, well maybe you’re being a bit hard on her. Sure, I agree that she shouldn’t have said anything to your brother, but maybe in her own way she was trying to prove something to herself…”
“But why then? I mean why did she just have to outright go forward with the announcement when I asked her not to? Why couldn’t she just keep it together a little bit longer and why do I feel like hell for my being upset with her? I mean the more I listen to myself, the more ridiculous I think I sound. Sure, I think she made an error in judgment, but who am I to hold it against her? Yes, she upset me, but how many times in the past have I made the wrong decision and how many times have things turned into nothing but trouble because of it? I should’ve stopped Brant before things got too far with Avery as I knew about her history with Russ, but I didn’t try to prevent him from pursuing her…”
“Ken, the first thing you need to do is to stop blaming yourself and taking responsibility for your brother’s actions. Brant is a grown man and he has to take that on his own as you’ve carried the burden of responsibility far too long. Perhaps now rather than thinking about what Brant’s doing, you should think about what you’re going to do…about where it is you should be at a time like this when your heart is tangled in knots. Maybe then when you stop thinking about what you must do in order to keep your brother in line, you’ll find the answers that you’re so desperately seeking out inside yourself.”
“I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that as you have no idea how long it’s been since I could just go on and focus on me. I mean sure with Caitlin I tried to let go of all the responsibility, but then, well all of this happened when I turned away…”
“Ken, you need to stop this. If you don’t quit putting yourself in the position to carry the world’s troubles upon you, then you’re always going to find yourself two steps behind as everyone else can run around free from concern as you hold enough of it for them not to give it a second though,” she placed her hand atop of his, “You’re a good man with a kind heart and over the years I’ve seen so much responsibility in you as you’ve become the thread that’s held the fabric of this family together all these years, but in time even the strongest of threads may run ragged without proper maintenance. Your sister has moved on in her life trying to find happiness and in her own way she’s doing just that and Brant, while however misguided he may be at times is having no problems doing the same, but you keep holding yourself back. You keep trying to balance it all, but Ken, you’re going to find that you’re not going to be able to take on anymore if you don’t just allow yourself that time to grow as an individual. Your life will pass you by before you know it if you don’t at least try to find a way to hold on to the things that truly bring you happiness.”
“You know Annie,” Kenneth replied with a nod, “I know you’re right about this. I do, but sometimes I wonder if there’s really such a thing meant for me. I mean sure, with Caitlin I feel something that I don’t want to lose site of, but how is it fair for me to have that wonderful feeling when my brother is in this dark place? How can I have a moment of bliss when he’s falling faster and I fear he could become the man we both vowed never to become?”
“Brant is in control of his own destiny and if he truly wants to change his life, then only he can do that--just as you are the keeper of yours and if you aren’t careful, you’ll find that all your worries about the world will take your life away from you and you’ll wake up a bitter old man wondering where your youth went,” she squeezed his hand gently, “Take my word on this. You don’t want to let go of happiness because of the unnecessary responsibilities you’ve put upon yourself. You deserve more than that Ken.”
“I know,” he sighed drifting off to silence once again as his thoughts lingered to the happiness he’d found with Caitlin. While things hadn’t been going as smoothly as he would’ve hoped for because of the drama Brant was creating, he wondered if somehow he and Caitlin could find a way to move beyond the disaster that had taken place on the island and build upon that future he’d come to dream of with her over their time together. As his thoughts were consumed with her, he just prayed that somehow tonight he hadn’t done something in pushing her away that would shake up their relationship from here on out as he was certain that despite his anger with her and himself, he wasn’t ready to let go of the one good thing that fate had brought his way as in being with her, it felt as though he‘d found the freedom that being an Ashford had always pulled away from him and it was a feeling he wouldn‘t trade for the world.
Caitlin stepped into her apartment while holding a bundle of mail in her arm and dragging her suitcase behind her. As soon as she was inside, she kicked the door closed and started to reach for the light when it came on. Startled, she dropped her mail and stumbled back over her suitcase, falling into the floor as she looked up into the eyes of the man she’d hoped she’d seen for the last time.
“Jimmy…” She spoke even as a frightened breath expelled from her lungs.
“Miss me, Caity?” Jimmy Cordell asked as he kicked the suitcase aside, “Somehow I think you’ve been too busy whoring around to worry about little ‘ole me,” He said as he took another step towards her.
She scrambled backwards, trying to gain her footing, as she watched him, fear clenching at her heart, “Jimmy, please…”
“Oh it’s too late for your pouty whore act, Caity,” He declared as he darted towards her. Caitlin attempted to avoid him but he seized her hair in his hand while shoving her face harshly against the wall, “You’ve humiliated me for the last time.”
“Jimmy, I swear to you,” She began to cry, hoping she could find some way to reason with him, “I haven’t..”
“Shut up!” He yelled at her as he yanked on her hair, tearing a cry from her throat as he drug her across the room, “I’ve had enough of your apologies.”
“Jimmy, just let me go…just…”
“Shut up!” He yelled once more as his fist connected with her jaw, sending her to the floor, “I already told you to hush that mouth of yours!”
Caitlin pulled herself slightly off the floor as she looked up to him, “Why can’t you let me go?!” She screamed at him before his fist hit her again and sent her crumbling to the floor. He began kicking her as she lay on the floor, trying to get away from his assault. His foot connected with her sternum, robbing her of precious air.
“Because you belong to me,” He said as he towered over her, pressing his boot heel into her throat as he stood above her, “You’re like a dog, Caity. I’m your master, and you are supposed to be obedient!” He declared as he turned his boot against her throat, applying more pressure as she struggled in her attempts to push him off of her.
Caitlin managed to send him off balance as she began to crawl towards the doorway, “Help!” She called out amongst half hearted breaths.
“No one is going to help you!” He shouted at her as he looked around, yanking a lamp from the wall and wrapping the cord around his hands as he shoved Caitlin to the floor. Jimmy shoved his knee into her back and forced her to the floor while wrapping the cord around her neck and pulling back in order to gain leverage while choking her, “I’m going to put you down like the ‘ole bitch you are,” He informed her as he tightened the cord around her neck.
Caitlin clawed at the cord around her neck, desperately trying to free herself from its suffocating grip. She could feel her lungs burning while tears fell from her face. Jimmy yanked harder on the cord as Caitlin lost consciousness and fell face first onto the floor.
“Caitlin!” Blake called out from the doorway as she spotted her friend lying upon the floor before she saw Jimmy, “You son of a bitch.”
“Well if it ain’t another bitch to put down,” Jimmy grinned as he started after her.
Blake ran down the hallway screaming for help before a door opened and an old man with a handgun stepped out. Jimmy stopped immediately and ran in the opposite direction, running down the stairs.
“Call 911. Send them to apartment C 6,” Blake shouted as she ran back
towards Caitlin’s apartment. She ducked inside and fell to her knees beside
her friend. She checked for a pulse and began CPR, hoping that Jimmy hadn’t
found a way to finish the job in ending Caitlin’s life.