Episode Seventy One 

Seth knelt before Blake as she sat on the sofa. He took her trembling hands in his as he met her eyes, “Blake, have you eaten? Can I get you anything?”

“No,” Blake replied as she shook her head, “I’m just…I just need to know how Caitlin is.”

“I’m sure she’s going to be just fine. The doctors here are some of the very best, and since Zack is on staff, you know they’ll want to try extra hard to make Caitlin’s recovery as speedy as possible,” He tried to comfort her, “Right now, I’m worried about you. You’re trembling, and I think you’re probably in shock yourself considering what’s happened.”

“You just don’t understand. I was so horrible to her, and I went over to her apartment to,” She began then trailed off as she shook her head, “I’m not sure what I was going to do once I got there, but Seth, Caitlin and I had this fight, and it was so stupid. It was over my brother.”

“I guess since she’s seeing Ken things might get tense between you at times,” He offered in understanding.

“That’s just it. We weren’t even fighting over Ken. It was over Brant,” Blake shook her head, “Funny how Brant’s life always seems to bleed into everyone else’s in some way or another,” She smoothed a strand of wild hair from her face, “But Caitlin was trying to tell me what had happened while they were all away on the island, and I was defending my brother. I still don’t have a clue as to what really happened there, and yet I just looked at Caitlin and thought that she couldn’t possibly know what she was talking about,” She sobbed softly, “How could I do that to my best friend? She’s been the one person in my life who never judged me or expected anything from me. She always accepted me for exactly who I am without the Ashford name or wealth. And I was so sure of myself in defending Brant,” Blake shook her head as she buried her face in her hands.

“Blake, he’s your brother, and I’m sure Caitlin understands that family is everything to you. If she knows you half as well as you say she does, then she knows that your brothers are very important to you and that you would do anything for them. I’m sure she would do the same for her own brother,” Seth offered, “Blake, let’s have a doctor take a look at you, okay? I’ll just get Ria to check you out real quick.”

“No,” She wiped tears, “All I need is to know that Caitlin is going to be okay.”

Seth nodded as he stood and shrugged out of his jacket. He sat beside her on the sofa and drew her into his arms, carefully wrapping the jacket around her as he held her against him, “I’m sure we’ll know something soon.”

“He can’t win,” Blake said somberly as she clutched the front of Seth’s shirt and held onto him for dear life, “He can’t be allowed to win…not like this.”

“What are you talking about?” He asked softly.

“Jimmy, Caitlin’s ex. He did this.”

“How do you know?”

“I was there. I saw him, and he started to come after me. Fortunately, a neighbor of Caitlin’s came out with a gun, and I guess Jimmy didn’t want to see if the guy was willing to pull the trigger,” She relayed the information as she closed her eyes tightly, “Jimmy ran down the stairs, and I went to help Caitlin. She wasn’t breathing, Seth,” She broke down into tears, “She wasn’t breathing.”

Seth held Blake a bit tighter as she began to openly cry into his chest. He smoothed her hair as he rocked her gently in his arms, “Shhh, it’s going to be okay.”

“How can you be so sure? What if Caitlin doesn’t make it? What if Jimmy finally got what he wanted by killing her? What if…” Blake blurted before Seth gently placed a forefinger upon her lips.

“Shhh, no more what ifs. Right now, you need to be concentrating on sending good energy to Caitlin. She’s going to need it, and she’s going to need your friendship to lean on when she recovers. If you really want to help her, then,” He paused as he took her hands, “Say a prayer. I’m sure it’ll help her more than anything,” He offered as he looked into her teary eyes.

“Blake, where’s Caitlin?” Ken asked desperately as he entered the waiting room.

“Ken,” Blake felt her heart crumble as she met the concerned eyes of her brother, “She’s with the doctors, but I don’t know anything else.”

“Are you okay?” He asked as he lightly touched her cheek.

She nodded, “I’m just worried about Caitlin.”

“I’m going to go get some answers,” Ken assured her before he stepped out of the waiting room. He made his way down the hall and found Barbara near the nurse’s station, “Barbara, I need to know what’s going on with Caitlin Vaughn.”

“Ken,” Barbara looked around for a moment before she pulled him aside, “I’m not supposed to give you any information.”

“What? Why not?” He asked, raising his voice.

“Ken, shhh,” She warned as she glanced around, “Because Zack Vaughn has asked that you and your family not be allowed near Caitlin nor have any information about her condition.”

“What?” He demanded, “I don’t know who he thinks he is but…”

“He thinks he’s her brother, and he’s got every right to make this request, Ken,” Barbara glanced around as she pulled him aside, “Look, I’m not supposed to do this, but…” She met his wild eyes and sighed, “Caitlin’s in surgery. She was stable when they took her in, but she’s in critical condition, Ken. If I were you, I’d say some prayers for her.”

“Barb, you can’t just leave it like that. You have to tell me what you know,” He urged desperately with a sigh, “I love her, and if I can’t be with her…”

“I know, Ken, but I’ve already said enough to put my job in danger,” Barbara touched his arm, “I’m sorry,” She said before turning and walking back to her work.

Ken groaned in anger as he walked down to the waiting area, “What the hell is Zack’s problem?” He barked as he stepped into the room with Blake and Seth, “He’s barred us from finding about Caitlin’s condition or being able to see her.”

“What?” Blake asked, “Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know, but I swear to god I won’t forget this,” Ken stood taller, “And I’ll be damned if I’ll let him keep me from the woman I love.”

“Ken,” She raised her voice in warning, “Don’t make this any worse than it already is.”

“Just what is the situation we’re dealing with, Blake? Why does Zack suddenly have something against our entire family?” He asked as he looked for answers.

“Caitlin and I got into a fight over at Zack’s apartment,” She explained, “Oh god, this is all my fault,” She began to cry, “We were in a fight about Brant, and Caitlin left and walked right into Jimmy waiting for her at her apartment. I went over there to talk to her, and I found Jimmy there.”

“That son of a bitch,” He took a deep breath, “I’ll kill that bastard.”

“Ken,” Blake grabbed his arm quickly, “I’m sorry I’ve screwed everything up. I never meant for any of this to happen.”

“You didn’t do anything,” Ken took Blake into his arms and hugged her close, “You didn’t cause this,” He said as he thought of his twin’s continual warnings to Caitlin. No, Blake wasn’t to blame, but Ken was quite sure that the blame rested with his less than savory brother. After he was through dealing with the bastard who’d attacked Caitlin, he’d make sure that Brant paid for his part in this disaster as well.


Shannon looked over the body before her on the slab for a moment before turning away. She raised her hand to her mouth for a moment before she composed herself.

Dave watched her closely for a moment, “Hey, you alright?”

“Not really,” She admitted as she slowly turned back towards the body, “I’ve seen a lot of corpses in my time, but this is…” She paused as she shook her head at the ghastly sight before her, “There aren’t words for this.”

“I’ll second that,” He agreed as he read over the coroner’s report, “Toxicology identifies a drug in the system, but they haven’t isolated exactly what it was.”

“I’ve got twenty dollars that says it’s the same drug he used himself to fake his death,” She folded her arms across her chest, “Why do you think Abrams chose this guy? Was it just a case of wrong place, wrong time?”

“Probably,” He nodded as he closed the report file, “My guess is that Abrams was probably doing his usual in stalking Avery, and this guy came up on him.”

“There’s no sign of a murder weapon. Abrams probably takes it with him,” Shannon noted as she glanced over the body once more, “I just wonder if he’s already chose new prey.”

“Let’s hope not,” Dave frowned, “Though there’s one thing I don’t understand.”

“Yeah?” She questioned as she glanced up at Dave, ready to get away from the morgue.

“This guy has a history of abusing prostitutes, and now we have at least two bodies that we can tie to him.”

“And your question is?” She led him out of the morgue.

“Why didn’t he kill Avery? He was so obsessed with her that he spent all of his time following her and taking pictures. Why not just kill her since he was fixated on her?” He asked as they stepped outside into the fresh island air.

“That’s a good question. But let’s think about this,” Shannon began as they walked towards the rental car they were driving, “All the women that Abrams killed were brunette. All of them were prostitutes. A basic profile based on the victimology is that he chooses brunettes who work the streets. Avery isn’t a part of that profile.”

“So why keep her alive?”

“Maybe she fulfilled some sort of ideal. Serial killers are generally searching for some sort of perfection in their lives. Abrams kept going for the brunette street walkers, but Avery was the first brunette who didn’t fall into that pattern,” Shannon spoke as she got behind the wheel of the car. Once she and Dave were settled into the seats, she looked back over to him, “Avery is a professional woman from a good family background, and she’s on morally stable ground. Perhaps she fulfilled that kind of void in his life.”

“You’re thinking some sort of motherly role model?” Dave offered as she started the car and drove them back towards the airport.

“It’s just a guess at this point,” She admitted, “But the evidence tends to support such a theory. I want to take a look at this guy’s family background. It might give us an idea of why Avery is a stand out in his mind.”

He nodded, “Have you had any news from the protective detail on Avery or Brant?”

“No, but no news is probably a good thing. I’d hate to think they actually would have to defend Avery. I’m hoping that Abrams will do something stupid, and we can catch him before he hurts anyone else,” Shannon offered hopefully.

“Somehow, I’ve got a feeling we’re not going to be that lucky,” Dave added, knowing that the with way things had gone throughout the investigation, they probably couldn’t get so lucky.


“I can’t believe this,” Avery threw her hands in the air with a huff as she continued to pace around the living room thinking about the situation that had taken place a short time earlier between her mother and Cheryl.  She marched over to the windows pushing the curtain aside and looking out onto the front yard as a scowl built up over her features, “Why are they doing this?  Just look at them.”
“Avery, you need to calm down,” Russell began touching her shoulder as she spun around to face him with a huff.
“I’m not going to calm down Russ.  We have federal agents watching our every move.  They’re just sitting out there clocking the hours as they chart down every little thing we’re doing and I absolutely hate it.”
“Avery, they’re just trying to keep an eye out because Bruce is out there and…” Russell began desperately trying to get her to calm down as he placed his other hand on her left shoulder, “Baby, they’re just trying to keep you safe.”
“Pardon me if I feel less than enthused that the same jerk offs that were trying to put us in jail for Bruce’s murder are now claiming to want to keep us safe.  They don’t know their head from their asses and the last thing I want is anyone even remotely associated with them stalking us,” Avery insisted clenching her fists at her side as her dark eyes fell upon her husband’s own concerned features, “Russ, I am not a victim and I’m not going to be treated like I have to live my life as one.”
“Sweetie, I know you’re not a victim, but if you think about what happened on the island,” he touched her cheek seeing the anger still spouting out from inside of her after Brooke had been carried away and sent over to the hospital.
“I am thinking about the island and truth be told it pisses me off more than anything Russ.  I hate the fact that if Bruce is truly out there that these idiots haven’t had the first idea where to find him, nor do they do their jobs the way they should.  Instead they choose to eat their donuts on our front lawn and keep a camera’s lens pointed at us while they concoct new ways to try to launch some kind of conspiracy theory against us.  I mean honestly if they were really so in tune with things, then where the hell were they when we were on that island being served up a heart?  Or when I was in the shower having some pervert watching me or even when Caitlin and I were shopping and I was attacked?  Oh that’s right, they were no where to be found because they’re completely inept and if they want me to believe that somehow I should be grateful that they’re spying on my personal life, well then they have another think coming because the only thing they’re managing to do is annoy me and if you really think about it, if Bruce is as determined as he was on the island, two idiot rent-a-cops aren’t going to make a difference.  Hell, I’ll even bet your mother could’ve taken out the one who grabbed her there as I’m damn sure Brooke could’ve done the same.”
“Avery, that’s not the point,” Russell sighed bringing his fingers through his hair as Avery returned to the pacing across the carpet, “We shouldn’t be without some kind of protection at least for a little while…”
“But why them?  Why now?  Russ, you know how Shannon threw you and Brant in jail on a whim there all because she wasn’t doing her job right and now, well I mean can you say that you have absolute faith in the FBI with our lives?  With our child’s life?”
He stood silent for a long moment before a strong frown carried over his features, “No, I can’t say that and truth be told I’m not happy about this turnabout either as they’ve gone against what we asked for them to do.”
“Exactly my point,” Avery nodded in confession, “and you know since the FBI supposedly has all these images of me at the police station, who’s to say that they haven’t been following us all this time?  I mean really this whole think has reeked of setup from the beginning Russ and now, well now it’s easy to throw it out on Bruce because he’s just so happened to be missing in action because of sloppiness at their part when they kicked Jenna out of that morgue…”
“I don’t like this anymore than you do Avery,” he started once more reaching out to her.
“Then make them go away,” she pleaded throwing her arms around him, “Just tell them to leave us alone because I don’t want any of them near me.  I don’t want anything to do with the FBI after all the hell they’ve already put us through…”
“Avery, I know you don’t,” he sighed kissing the top of her head as he kissed her temple gently, “I’ll see what I can do, but right now I want you to calm down.  You know what Deidra said about you getting worked up and…”
“Russ, I’m just so…” Avery began with a heavy sigh as Cheryl entered the room holding a tray.
“How about you take a load off your feet and have a seat as I‘ve brought some chamomile tea,” Cheryl suggested motioning to the steaming mugs she’d brought with her.
Avery nodded letting go of her rant for a moment as she took a seat beside Cheryl accepting the tea as Cheryl touched her shoulder gently.
“Now see this is much better, isn’t it,” Cheryl offered up exchanging worried glances with Russell as Avery sipped her tea.  “Russ, honey your father was needing some assistance in the kitchen as he‘s having some trouble working his way around in there. Why don’t you go check on him?”
“Sure mom,” Russell nodded giving his mother some time alone with Avery as he left the living room.
“Thank you,” Avery smiled in response turning to Cheryl after she‘d finished with another sip of her tea, “I really appreciate all you’ve done for us with the nursery and even this.  You really didn‘t have to do any of it.”
“Honey, it was nothing,” Cheryl explained with a soft smile, “as it’s all part of being a mother.”
“A mother,” Avery let out an ironic laugh, “funny how I was never quite sure on what that was supposed to be like after having to deal with Brooke.  I mean here I am with absolutely nothing to go on and I’m about to be a mother myself.”
“Well that woman still has a lot to learn about parenting,” Cheryl agreed reaching for Avery’s hand and squeezing it supportively, “but you’re going to be a fine mother.  I’m sure of it.”
“I’m starting to wonder,” Avery sighed feeling the tension in her shoulders as she turned to Cheryl, “I mean what kind of life can I give my child if I always have police and criminals lurking in the shadows keeping my life under intense scrutiny.”
“I don’t think it’ll always be that way,” Cheryl tried to reason with her, “I mean granted right now emotions are running high and all and there’s concern about this man who sent you those horrible things…”
“I know there is, but really this is all my fault,” Avery shook her head in response, “If I’d just been wiser in my decisions…”
“Hey, no looking back,” Cheryl encouraged her, “I mean after all if we all spent our time looking back, well we’d be in a sad state of things.  We’ve all made some less than incredible decisions in the past and well, we just have to keep moving forward.  If this man who’s terrorizing the both of you is out there, then it really couldn’t hurt to have some added eyes around here for a few days…”
“Even so I hate the eyes that are on us,” Avery explained in frustration, “Russ, didn’t ask for any of this and for his life to be under the watch of people like that always a part of the public eye…”
“My son knew full well what he was getting into when he fell in love with you,” Cheryl insisted with a soft smile, “and besides, having those men outside, well it just gives him a chance to show off and play hero for a while.”
“He does like to do that,” Avery couldn’t help but smile at Cheryl’s words.
“Yes, he does and I have no doubt in my mind that right now my son is thinking of all the ways he can step into that role with you and that beautiful baby you both have on the way,” Cheryl replied reciprocating the grin, “as he’s always got something up his sleeve.”
“That he does,” Avery nodded in confession, “and the truth to the matter is if I really stopped and thought about what’s happening with Bruce, well I’d be terrified.  I’d really be concerned that something horrible would happen since the man tried to kill me, but maybe I just don’t take the time to think about those things or maybe it’s just that well, that I feel safer than I’ve ever been when I’m with him.  He just has this special something about him that just makes everything seem like it’ll all be okay.  I mean sure things might be tense or something to be concerned about, but when Russ has his arms around me, I don’t think about what’s not going right.  I just focus on how lucky I am to have the love of such a wonderful man in my life.  I mean you’re all so very amazing and I feel so fortunate to be a part of such an incredible family.”
“Honey, we feel pretty lucky as well,” Cheryl wrapped her arm around Avery offering up an embrace, “as we’ve waited a long time to have you as a part of our family.”
“Even with the chaos that I bring to it,” Avery half questioned looking to her mother-in-law, “I mean in between the FBI stalking me and then with Brooke…”
“Oh that woman’s needed to be knocked down a few pegs for a very long time there,” Cheryl waved her hand in the air in a nonchalant fashion, “and I’m just glad that I got to be the one to do that to her.”
“God, I couldn’t believe the way you just hit her like that,” Avery confessed with wide eyes, “You have no idea how many years I’d dreamt about doing the very same thing.  I mean one minute she was spouting off and then boom, she was out.”
“It was quite an unbelievable moment indeed,” Cheryl mused with a proud smile.
“I just have one question for you,” Avery leaned in towards Cheryl, “There’s just one thing I really must know.”
“What’s that?” Cheryl inquired noting the change in Avery’s features as she took in a quick breath.
“I just have to know,” Avery grinned unable to contain herself, “did that feel half as good hitting her as it did watching you hit her?”
“Honestly,” Cheryl couldn’t suppress the grin she’d been holding back any longer as she nodded eagerly, “It was better.”
“Somehow I thought it would be,” Avery chuckled as the two women shared the moment with one another recalling Brooke’s being put to silence as Russell entered the room once again.
“Hey look what I found in the kitchen,” he announced as Avery’s eyes followed the sound of his voice and she found that he was holding Rusty in his arms.
“Rusty,” she squealed leaping up from the couch and rushing over to pet her kitten as Russell handed the kitten over to her.  “Oh hey baby, how are you?” she asked as Rusty began to cuddle up to her and purred louder than ever.
“He couldn’t wait to see you,” Russell explained as the kitten rubbed up against Avery settling more completely into her arms.
“He’s gotten so big just in the short time we’ve been away,” Avery noted kissing the top of his head before she gave Russell a strange look, “but how did you manage to bring him here when…”
“I had a little help,” Russell stepped aside revealing Richard as he entered the living room, a proud smile spreading over his features.
“Hey Princess,” Richard greeted her, “I just thought I may as well pick my first grandchild up since Annie informed me he was missing you both like crazy.”
“Oh thank you,” Avery stepped in to give her father a kiss on the cheek as she kept her arms securely around Rusty, “I had no idea just how much I missed my little one here and now that he’s home, well, this is a very good thing,” Avery rubbed Rusty’s ear as he leaned more into her touch.
“He wanted to come home,” Richard added as he looked around the room seeing Cheryl on the sofa, “ah and there is a woman who richly deserves a hug from what I hear.”
“Hey Rick,” Cheryl approached the group unable to contain the smile that she still had from her conversation with Avery, “I take it that you and my husband had a little talk about my encounter with Brooke huh?”
“I couldn’t help but brag,” Elliot explained entering the living room, “as I was certain if anyone would love all the details it would be this man right here.”
“I just wish I’d been here to see it happening,” Richard confessed with a hearty chuckle, “although I do have to admit that I wouldn’t want to be the one next to her when she wakes up because if you thought you saw her upset before…”
“I’m not concerned about it,” Cheryl shrugged her shoulders, “as I think Brooke learned her lesson there for sure.”
“I wouldn’t say that just yet as it seems Brooke never learns,” Richard admitted with a sigh shaking his head before turning to Russ and Avery, “but I really didn’t come here to talk about Brooke as I was hoping to check out how the both of you settled in.”
“We’d be doing fine if we didn’t have dumb and dumber on the lawn,” Avery motioned to the window, “as I’m sure you couldn’t have missed the government issue car parked out front.”
“I take it Agent Pryce still insisted upon the protective detail, huh,” Richard noted as Russell offered up a quick nod.
“Apparently so and Avery’s just a bit unhappy about it,” Russell added reaching out to pet Rusty’s ear as Avery held the kitten securely.
“Well can you blame me?” she questioned with a frown, “I mean if you really think about how hard the FBI was trying to pin a murder on me or even Russ, well I just don’t think that they have our best interests in mind.”
“Honey, I’m sure I can pull a few strings with some contacts of mine at the Bureau and if you don’t like the men that Agent Pryce has assigned to protective detail, then I’m certain I can get a few trustworthy men that won’t be so quick to cause problems for you…”
“That’s not the point daddy,” Avery huffed, “I just don’t want to feel like I’m living my life like the criminal there.  I don’t want to feel like a prisoner in my own home because they can’t do their job and find the man that they’re after.”
“I understand that sweetheart, but given the nature of the crimes that Bruce is suspected of,” Richard began shaking his head, “well you probably shouldn’t just go about blindly unprepared for whatever might happen.”
“I’m not going about blindly, but I’m not going to lock myself away in here like a sitting duck waiting for Bruce to march in and kill me while they chomp on donuts in the front yard and think nothing of it,” Avery insisted with a groan, “It just doesn’t make sense for me to have them out there spying on the personal things happening here when they should be out finding a murderer.”
“Honey…” Russell began reaching out to her, “we both know that they mean well and if your father is going to call in a few favors, then I’m sure the men they’ll have watching the house won’t be like the ones we encountered…”
“Russ, that’s not the point.  I mean honestly, when you think about the things we do in our time alone together,” she threw out a pointed look, “would you want the FBI being a part of all that watching it all?”
His face shifted for a moment as he cleared his throat, “No, I suppose I wouldn’t appreciate that at all, but with our baby on the way…”
“Russ, I don’t want our baby to have to deal with all that because the FBI couldn’t do their job the first time around and they let him walk out of the morgue.  Honestly, how is it that could’ve happened without anyone paying attention?” Avery continued with a shake of her head.
“I’m not sure about that one myself, but I must confess that it has me less than thrilled about it as well as that’s sheer sloppiness on their end,” Richard agreed with a nod, “which is why I promise you I’ll make the call as soon as possible and we’ll work on getting that man behind bars where he belongs.”
“But maybe before that happens, there’s a way to fix some of this insanity happening around here,” Elliot piped in sensing an opening as he cleared his throat, “We have our cabin by the lake up north and Russ and Avery are familiar with the area…”
“Very familiar,” Russ agreed curling his arm around Avery’s waist, “and well, you know maybe we should go up there for a while.”
“Just up and leave to go to the cabin?” Avery’s eyes turned to her husband, “Really?”
“Well yeah,” he couldn’t help but smile at the thought, “I mean hey we’d been talking about taking that trip for a while considering that we have a lot of incredible history there…”
“We do,” she agreed feeling a heat rise over her features that she was quite certain was giving her away to the room.  She tucked her head down a bit as Russell reached out to touch her cheek gently urging her eyes to his once again.
“You know the cabin is very private and I’m sure that we’d be safe there,” Russell whispered leaning in towards her, “and since my father offered for us to spend some time there…”
“Cheryl and I just had the place fixed up for the season,” Elliot explained with a nod, “We’d thought about taking a trip up there ourselves as a friend of mine had his cabin taken care of as well for the season.  Things are completely stocked and it’s a nice home away from home as it’s far enough to escape the happenings in Coral Valley without having to deal with the expenses involved in a big vacation.”
“It’s got plenty of security without having to have someone sitting outside your window twenty four hours a day,” Cheryl added encouragingly.
“Well, we did say we were going to go on a honeymoon soon,” Avery reasoned stepping in towards Russell as he continued to stroke at Rusty’s fur.
“And I’ll be helping with the caseload for you over at BBK,” Richard added encouragingly, “so you wouldn’t have to worry about that for a bit.”
“Plus I put Caitlin in charge of the paper for a while,” Russell reminded her with a hint of a smile, “so things are taken care of for a bit.”
Avery frowned upon his words, “If Caitlin is taking care of the newspaper as well as she’s taken care of everything else, then it’s probably not a good idea to go.”
“Hey, honey, you know Caitlin’s dependable,” Russell began seeing the anger that swept over her features, “So she jumped the gun in telling Brant about us, but…”
“But nothing, Brant jumped you and beat the hell out of you because she opened her big mouth when I specifically asked her not to,” Avery argued with him as she thought to the disaster that met them at the airport, “I mean sure maybe I should’ve called and said something, but she took that opportunity away from me all because she, well I don’t know why she did it, but she had no right to tell him.”
“Avery, he was bound to find out sooner or later,” Russell pointed out with a frown, “and yeah, maybe Caitlin should’ve waited, but hey I survived Brant’s temper tantrum and that’s really what matters.”
“For now, but when I go back to work, things are going to be far more tense than they should’ve been all because Caitlin couldn’t do this one small favor that I asked of her.  She’s taken something that I knew was going to be bad and made it a million times worse all because…” Avery continued as the ringing of the phone interrupted her words.
“Baby, I think you’re getting far too worked up about this as we both knew Brant wasn’t going to take it well regardless of who told him the news,” Russell reminded her picking up the phone as Elliot tried to appeal to her good senses.
“Avery, he’s right.  An Ashford never takes the news of a loss well even when the victory wasn’t theirs to begin with,” Elliot explained exchanging a strange look with his wife before continuing, “Brant knew what he was doing in trying to keep you away from Russell and the fact that you two found your way back to one another, well it was going to bother him regardless.”
“Even so,” Avery sighed in response, “as much as Brant’s got a bad reputation for being a jerk, he’s not as bad of a guy as people make him out to be.”
“Avery, he shouldn’t have tried to manipulate things as he did,” Richard threw out at her, “If he really cared about you, then he wouldn’t have stood in the way of your happiness.”
“I have my happiness, but Brant, well what does he have?” Avery’s lip curled in a frown, “I’ll tell you what he has.  He got the news that the woman he cared about didn’t love him, but he got it in the worst possible way as it didn’t come from me.  I should’ve been the one to say something because he has been a friend to me.  I wanted to tell him how I love Russ, but I didn’t get the chance to fix things because…”
“Caitlin’s in the hospital,” Russell interrupted dropping the phone as he looked to the group, the color draining from his features.
“What?” Avery turned to look at him.
“She was attacked again and this time it looks bad--really bad,” Russell continued visibly shaken as he scanned the room for his car keys, “I need to get down there and…”
“Russ,” Avery began at a loss rushing up towards him as she tugged on his arm, “Russ…”
“I need to check in on her,” he informed her seriously, “Word is she might not pull through and…” he trailed off shakily as panic laced over his features.
“I’m going with you,” Avery decided firmly as he shook his head at her.
“No, I think you should stay here.  Your father’s with you and my parents are here so you should be okay while I,” he started to argue with her.
“No, Russ, you’re upset and you shouldn’t be driving when you’re like this,” she reached for his shaking hand, “If you’re going to that hospital then I’m going with you.  No questions asked.”
“Avery, I…” he began again before stopping with a sigh, “Fine, but we really should get going,” he decided hoping that it wasn’t too late for his friend as he feared what could’ve brought her to such a state in such a short time as he prayed that somehow things weren’t as bad as they sounded over the phone as he feared for his friend‘s life hoping that fate hadn‘t delivered her a deadly blow.

Johanna arrived at the Ashford mansion highly agitated with the less than savory message Brant had left on her voice mail and now as she stalked through the mansion to where the butler had informed her Brant would be out in the Jacuzzi, she found herself even more agitated with his arrogance in demanding her arrival pronto.  Now as she stepped out onto the patio area, she felt the frigid winter air upon her as sure enough Brant was lounging in the Jacuzzi in the midst of the newly fallen snow sipping a martini.
“Are you insane,” Johanna demanded watching him with a glare as she felt a shiver race over her and she rubbed her hands over her arms.
“Clearly I must’ve been if I thought you were woman enough to get the job done that was required of you,” his eyes shot daggers up at her as he motioned to one of the lounge chairs beside the Jacuzzi area, “Take a seat.”
“I think I’ll stand here thank you very much,” she huffed back at him.
“Fine, then freeze your ass off.  See if I care,” he shrugged his shoulders sipping his drink again casually, “Now you know I thought you’d be woman enough to take care of the little problem I had at hand, but clearly you weren’t as qualified for the job as you made yourself out to be when it came to getting rid of Russell Denton.”
“He’s not exactly the easiest man in the world to reason with where that little bitch is concerned,” Johanna’s lips curled in a scowl as she shook her head at him.
“Watch how you talk about Avery as she happens to be the woman I love very much,” Brant ordered with a heavy look of disapproval, “which is why I paid you good money to get rid of Russell Denton.  All you had to do was tempt him with the dream come true job offer and get him out of town, but clearly you couldn’t handle that much, now could you?”
“I did what you asked me to do, but that woman has a pull on him like you wouldn’t believe,” Johanna grumbled in response, “Clearly any man in love with her is nothing short of insane from what I’m hearing as she has this twisted effect on people with her manipulative ways…”
“I’m very much in love with her,” he protested with a frown.
“I rest my case,” she rubbed her arms once more, “Brant, you’re a lunatic.  I hope you realize that.”
“I’m a lunatic for being in love,” he questioned lifting an arched brow as he reached for the towel that lay beside the Jacuzzi.  Seconds later he began to emerge from the water revealing his complete nakedness to Johanna as her eyes widened in response unprepared for Brant’s brazen display on this winter morning as she thought to turn away, but found herself compelled to take a good hard look at the man who’d become quite a legend around Coral Valley.  Her eyes cast over him appreciatively as he tied a towel around his waist and she quickly shook the thoughts that had carried over her as he spoke out to her once again, “Johanna, for your sake you’d better pray that I’m not insane because if I were, then there’d be no telling what I’d do to a woman like you at a time like this.”
“I’m not afraid of you, Brant,” she threw back with a huff tossing her blonde hair back over her shoulder before nodding to his towel and the Jacuzzi, “and while this has been educational to say the least, we both know that I’ve sampled the good here and your flaunting yourself around isn’t going to get you any closer to what you want where Russell is concerned.”
“Considering that I remembered you to be a woman of very heavy persuasion,” his gaze traveled over the contours of her body as he stepped in towards her, “Your talents in that area were very well placed and I’d thought that you most certainly would be the one to turn Russell’s head in another direction.”
“I tried, but other than dancing around naked in his living room with the offer in hand, I didn’t think I’d be able to get a rise out of him,” she shot back tightly as he leaned in towards her and a gasp fell from her lips as she thought for a second he was going to kiss her as his whisper pressed over her lips.
“Then you weren’t trying hard enough,” he chastised her backing away from her without even the slightest indication of contact between them as he reentered the mansion not bothering to catch a look at her over his shoulder.
“Oh…” Johanna kicked at her heels before chasing after him into the mansion, “Look Brant I threw out the offer you told me to put on the table to Russell.  I even showed him that headline we planted with the media, but nothing happened.  He wouldn’t listen to me and then when I tried to contact him again, he wasn’t around.  I couldn’t find him…”
“That’s because he was marrying my Avery,” Brant spun around to face her, “Somehow he used his half wit brain to find out where I’d taken her and he found a way to kidnap her and marry her.”
“Russell did that?” Johanna lifted a curious brow, “Well color me impressed because I never took him as the kind of guy to have the balls to pull off something like that.”
“Well, whatever you took him for, you grossly underestimated him,” his lips creased into a frown, “and had I known you’d be so pitiful at doing what was required of you, I wouldn’t have called upon you to begin with.”
“Great, so now that we have that covered, can I leave now because I’m growing tired of this already,” Johanna rolled her eyes turning to leave as she felt as though she’d completely wasted her time.
“I’m not finished with you yet,” Brant announced grabbing her arm as he pulled her in towards him, “I paid you well to get a job done for me, and you didn’t get the results I wanted.”
“Things happen,” Johanna shrugged her shoulder, “What can I say?”
“Say that you’ll find a way to fix what’s happened as I fully expect to have Avery back with me at the mansion soon,” Brant declared boldly as his gaze lingered over her features, “You assured me that you were all the woman I needed and more to pull the job off and I expect you to prove your worth around here.”
“Prove my worth huh,” she arched a curious brow as her hand raised up and pressed in over the center of his chest, “Tell me Brant, did you call me here today just about this mishap with Russell or are you asking that I prove my worth to you in other, more personal ways since your Avery has rushed off to be with her first love?” she finished in a seductive tone as her finger tips fanned over his damp skin, “After all, it was our initial connection that brought us into contact to begin with after all this time.”
“You mean from that brief moment in Seattle?” he lifted a curious brow turning his attention to her hand playing over his chest as he stood still beneath her touch.
“From that very brief, very wild, erotic time we spent in Seattle with one another,” she leaned forward, her lips above his neck before she bridged the distance between them kissing the warmth of his wet skin beneath her.  Tracing her tongue out over the curve of his neck, she mouthed heatedly against his body, “After all, that’s really why you called me here, isn’t it?  For sex?”
“Sex,” he repeated with a hint of laughter as her words amused him.  He felt her butterfly kisses moving in over the center of his chest as her palm dipped down to the front of his towel quick to discard it as she began to tug it away from his body, but in one swift movement he captured her wrist forcing her to meet his gaze as his laughter roared over his lips and he shoved her away with moderate amusement, “Johanna, why would I waste my time on a woman like you when I could have a woman like Avery in my life?  She’s everything that you aren’t and let’s face it, Seattle was nice, but it wasn’t that nice,” he brushed past her adjusting his towel as he faced her once again, “I’ll expect you to make some kind of progress with Russell Denton soon because if I don’t see results, you won’t be seeing the Ashford contributions to your bank account any longer,” he finished turning away from her.
“Brant,” she chased after him following him to the staircase as he stood a few steps over her, “Brant, we need to talk about this as we’re not finished here.”
“Oh yes, we are,” he threw out one last scathing look before heading upstairs to change, “See to it that you give Russell an offer he can’t refuse before you find yourself in a situation you can’t sweet talk your way out of now that I’m immune to your charms.”
“You son of a bitch,” she clenched her fingers into a fist finding her anger overwhelming her as she glared at Brant Ashford for his implications that she was a failure.  While was a great many things, a failure she was not and one way or another she would find a way to put things into perspective for Russell and then when she was finished with him, she’d find a way to get at Brant for thinking that he ruled the world around him.  With that thought in mind, Johanna left the Ashford mansion thinking about her other plans for the family as she was quite certain their days of power were numbered as it was only a matter of time before Johanna’s latest associate would work to bring every last one of them down.


“You know,” Seth began as he watched Blake and Ken pacing back and forth within the waiting room, “I could always ask Ria to get some information for us.”

“She wouldn’t risk her career for me,” Blake replied, “She hates me, and I can’t exactly say I blame her. I haven’t been very cordial to her.”

“It doesn’t matter. It would be a favor for me,” He reminded her.

“I appreciate the offer, Seth, but we’ll find a way around this,” She exhaled heavily as she wrapped her arms around herself. She looked to Ken after a moment, “We could always pull some strings with the board.”

“I don’t want to act like Brant,” Ken replied as he glanced to her, “Don’t get me wrong. In this instance, I’d actually like to pull some strings, but I don’t want anyone confusing me with that egomaniacal son of a bitch we call a brother.”

“Whoa,” Her eyes widened, “What’s got you so worked up about Brant?”

“Nothing,” He replied gruffly, “Nothing I want to get into right now anyway.”

“Blake?” Julia Vaughn spoke as she stepped into the room.

“Mrs. Vaughn,” Blake crossed the room quickly and hugged her friend’s mother, “I should have guessed Zack would have called you.”

“He did, and we got the first flight out,” Julia spoke as her husband joined her, “How’s Caitlin?”

“We don’t know. Zack won’t let me or my brother have any news,” Blake informed her, “I’m afraid there was a huge misunderstanding before Caitlin was attacked, and now I think Zack’s blaming my family somehow.”

“I don’t understand,” Timothy Vaughn joined the conversation, “Why wouldn’t he let you or your brother have any information about Caitlin? You’re her best friend.”

“And my brother is dating Caitlin,” Blake said as she waved for Ken to join them, “Kenneth Ashford, this is Timothy Vaughn and Julia Vaughn. They’re Caitlin’s parents.”

“I wish we were meeting under better circumstances,” Ken spoke as he shook Timothy’s hand.

“Why won’t Zack let you guys have any information about Caitlin?” Timothy asked of Ken.

“He may blame our family in some twisted idea that we’re responsible, but we’re not. Blake interrupted the attack. If she hadn’t been there, Caitlin might not have even had a fighting chance,” Ken informed them.

“You were there?” Julia asked Blake, “Honey, what happened?”

“It was Jimmy. He found her, and my guess is that he was waiting for her at her apartment. There’s no way Caitlin would have opened the door for him,” Blake reasoned, “When I got there, he had already hurt her pretty badly. He chased me down the hall but a neighbor of Caitlin’s stopped him. Jimmy ran away, and I went to check on Caitlin.”

“You’re lucky he didn’t come after you as well,” Timothy advised her, “Where’s Zack?”

“I don’t know,” Blake admitted, “He told me to stay away from her before he walked off to find out about how she was doing.”

“I’m right here,” Zack spoke from the doorway, “Mom, Dad, come on. I’ll take you upstairs.”

“Zack, please, tell us how she is,” Blake urged him.

“Why? You don’t give a damn about her except when it suits you,” Zack stated before looking to his parents, “Come on.”

“Zack, come on. If our situations were reversed,” Ken spoke up, “Wouldn’t you want me to forget about petty arguments and think about the situation at hand?”

Zack cut Ken a dismissive glare before nodding to his parents, “She’s upstairs,” He said before he walked out of the room.

Julia turned to Blake with an apologetic look, “I’ll see if I can’t have a word with him.”

“Thank you,” Blake said sadly as Timothy escorted Julia out of the room in pursuit of their son.

“What the hell is his problem?” Ken groaned with anger, “He has no right to keep her from us…not in a situation like this.”

Blake looked around the room for a moment before her frown deepened, “I cannot believe all of this. This can’t be happening like this. Why would Zack be so hateful?”

“I don’t know but I swear I’d like to…” Ken began.

“How about we all sit down and try to take a moment to calm down? Right now, Caitlin needs positive thoughts for her recovery. More chaos isn’t going to help anything,” Seth spoke finally as he slipped his hands over Blake’s shoulders, “How about I get everyone a cup of coffee?”

“I don’t think caffeine is a good idea right now,” Ken dismissed the notion as he began pacing the room once again.

Blake turned to Seth, “I don’t need coffee right now. I just…” She met his eyes, “Just hold me.”

Seth took Blake into his arms and attempted to comfort her as best he could under the circumstances. Somehow he knew that he had to find a way to help her or at least make things easier for her. Seeing her like this was nothing short of torture for him, and he’d do anything he could to rid of her the pain she was feeling…even if it meant asking a friend for a risky favor.


Judy knocked on the door to Diane’s apartment wondering if her daughter would be up and moving on such a morning considering that she was well aware this was Diane’s day off, but before Judy could let her thoughts get the best of her, she found herself face to face with her youngest daughter as Diane let out a yawn running her fingers through her hair as she leaned up against the door to her apartment.
“Mom, what are you doing here,” Diane questioned lazily, “I thought you were out of town…”
“I was, but I’m home now,” Judy replied motioning to the interior of Diane’s apartment, “Can I come in?”
“Huh, oh of course,” Diane opened the door wider allowing her mother access before she closed the door behind her, “so how was your vacation?”
“It was eventful,” Judy replied curtly facing her daughter once more, “but I didn’t come here to talk about that this morning.”
“So what’s on your mind,” Diane questioned groggily as she headed towards her kitchen, “Want some coffee?”
“Coffee sounds wonderful right about now,” Judy agreed following her daughter, “but I’d also like to speak with you about what’s going on with your sister.”
“Now why am I not surprised about that one,” Diane frowned facing her mother once again, “I knew this was going to come up.”
“Diane, you need to think about what you’re doing because Deidra and I are all the family we have left in the world and I don’t see why you continue to alienate yourself from your only sister,” Judy began shaking her head in response, “She hasn’t done anything to you…”
“Hasn’t done anything to me?” Diane repeated with a huff, “She only made my teen years a living hell with her being perfect and all.  How can a kid compete with that?”
“Diane, you need to stop living in the past and start thinking about the future there as it’s about time you start growing up,” Judy snapped back at her, “While I know you like to go on and on about these so called injustices your sister placed upon you, they’re only in your mind.  So, you might’ve liked Andy when you were younger, but the man was a jerk.  He clearly wasn’t the kind of husband fit for either you or Deidra and for you to continue to despise your sister for a man you could care less about…”
“Mom, it’s the principle behind it,” Diane began to argue.
“No, it’s called your inability to just let things go as you’re making a major issue out of nothing.  Your sister loves you very much and she’s looking to have a relationship with you.  While you might be bent on living in the past, in the end it’s going to cost you Diane.”
“How do you figure?” Diane questioned putting the coffee on as she turned to her mother.
“For starters you’re alienating yourself from your sister which is something that right now might feel like the in thing to do, but when I’m gone, she’ll be all you have left…”
“Mom, you’re not going anywhere,” Diane frowned in response, “and for you to start talking that way…”
“I’m just saying that I’d like some peace in my family at long last here as I hate the fact that my daughters can’t have the kind of relationship I’d wanted for them…”
“You can’t make things perfect mom as life doesn’t work that way,” Diane argued.
“I realize that, but what I also realize is that you’re making an enemy out of someone who’s been one of your biggest supporters over the years,” Judy sighed in frustration, “Diane, you’re happy now with Ben and life seems to be going good for you as you’ve finally found yourself in a place where you’ve made your own mark for yourself…”
“Well yes, but…” Diane began again.
“It’s time to let things go.  Stop worrying about what didn’t o right in your teen years and start thinking about the future,” Judy pleaded with her, “Your sister is going through a rough patch right now, but I can guarantee that the last thing on her mind is making your life miserable.  She is glad you’ve found someone to make you happy and considering that she’s in a position where her world has fallen apart, I’d expected more out of you.”
“Mom, I’m not going to pretend that Deidra and I are the best of friends just because Andy dumped her,” Diane huffed in response, “If you think I can just up and fake it like that…”
“I’m not asking you to fake it.  I’m asking you to start acting like a sister and quit waging war on Deidra.  If nothing else, you should try to be civil with her for me…”
“Mom, you don’t understand,” Diane began to argue once more.
“No, I don’t understand Diane and I’ll never understand this jealousy you have where Deidra is concerned.  She’s always tried to be there for you.  Remember when you were brokenhearted because Ryan Simms found another date to homecoming?  You were so upset that he’d broken it off with you for that girl you’d been at odds with all that year?  You were at rock bottom in the misery of the moment and Deidra found a way to help you salvage the situation as she set you up with Alex, whom I recall you dated for almost a year after that.”
“That’s because he went out with me on a sympathy date because he wanted to get closer to Deidra,” she argued with Judy.
“Deidra had nothing to do with it as the guy only had eyes for you,” Judy shook her head, “and that’s not even the point.  The point is that your sister is in a bad place right now hurting and I’m not able to reach her.  She’s so worried about having me concerned about her that she’s locking herself off from the world.  She’s shut me out and I’m afraid if someone isn’t there to help her, well I don’t know how things will go for her…”
“Mom, she’s hardly going to open up for me considering,” Diane insisted with a huff.
“Maybe not, but can you honestly tell me that if you were in the position Deidra was in right now that you’d want her turning her back on you,” Judy threw back at her.
“Mom, it’s not…” Diane stopped herself as a sigh spilled over her lips, “okay fine.  I’ll try to give Deidra a chance.  Will that make you happy?”
“Only if you mean what you’re saying because if you plan on carrying on with her the way you’ve been, then no I won’t be happy at all,” Judy folded her arms in front of her chest, “I want to see a day when my daughters can get along with one another and they aren’t attacking each other over my Christmas dinners.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Diane frowned in response, “I was just upset when I saw her with Ben and…”
“Deidra isn’t interested in Ben.  You of all people should know that,” Judy shook her head in response, “Right now you’re sister’s just looking for a little peace of mind and I think we should try to give that to her as she deserves some of it in her life.”
“I know, but I just get so worked up,” Diane reached for a couple of coffee mugs, “Mom, I’ll try.  It’s the best I can do.”
“As long as you give it a full fledged try, then that’s all I ask of you Diane because I truly believe if you do that, then you’ll see Deidra isn’t the enemy,” Judy replied with a heavy sigh hoping that one day she could find a way to bring her daughters closer together again as it seemed that right now they needed one another more than ever.


Mindy took in a breath as she knocked on the door to Avery’s apartment.  While she’d been less than thrilled with the verbal lashing she took from Gabe, she’d agreed that it was time to have a talk with Guy about the situation, so naturally when Guy called her up requesting they meet at Avery’s place, well she couldn’t help but take him up on the offer as she too wanted to lay out some ground rules.  Now however, she began to feel her stomach tighten up with nervousness as the door opened and Guy stood on the inside greeting her with a polite smile.
“Thanks for coming here as soon as you did,” he leaned down to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, “as I was afraid you wouldn’t be showing up.”
“Why wouldn’t I show up,” Mindy questioned in confusion stepping into Avery’s apartment as she noticed Gabe seated on the couch and her smile faded, “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Guy closed the door behind her as he cleared his throat once again, “I think we should take some time to talk about a few things…”
“Look, I don’t know what he told you, but he’s the one that got up in my face,” Mindy defended with a huff, “I’m not going to apologize for anything that he thinks I’m doing because I haven’t done a thing wrong and his ridiculous jealous side is…”
“It has nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with the way you keep throwing yourself at Guy,” Gabe declared his eyes narrowing with anger as he lashed out at her.
“Oh please, just because you have some serious issues with yourself doesn’t mean that everyone else is trying to…” Mindy charged in response as Guy stepped in between the two of them.
“That’s enough,” he declared boldly turning his attention to Gabe, “Gabe, just sit down.”
“Fine,” Gabe huffed slumping back down on the couch as Guy turned to Mindy once again.
“Guy, I’m not going to sit here and be trash talked by your insecure boyfriend here and if you think that for one second I’m going to just stand here and be lectured by you about his outrageous behavior…”
“Mindy, that’s not what I called you about,” Guy cut her off quickly as a sigh spilled over his lips, “that’s not why I called you out here at all and if you give me five minutes, then I’ll explain what’s going on here.”
“Fine, but you’ve only got five minutes,” she folded her arms in front of her chest defiantly as she threw a quick glare out in Gabe’s general direction.
“Look, I realize that I’ve been complicating the hell out of things,” Guy ran his fingers through his hair nervously, “and I’m truly sorry about the position I’ve put the both of you in with your both playing a part in my keeping the truth about things from my mother.  It’s been unfair to you both and I truly think that from this moment on I’m going to work on fixing the problem I’ve created.”
“The problem is with your mother as she’s the one who’s turned things into what they are,” Mindy reminded Guy sharply, “and while I love you with all of my heart there as you’re one of my best friends Guy…I won’t sit back and listen to Gabe tell me what he thinks about me when I’m doing this for the both of you.  I realize that Gabe has his own issues with his sexuality, but I was a part of your life long before he was and I’ve been very well informed of where your heart is in matters such as these as he’s not your first boyfriend to get on me about our relationship and I’m damn certain he won’t be the last if he keeps this up,” she finished sharply.
“Mindy, please…” Guy begged of her as Gabe rose up once again.
“See I told you that she’s plotting trouble.  You can see it in her eyes that she wants to cause a rift between us,” Gabe insisted wildly, “Just look at the way she’s creating a scene.”
“Creating a scene?  You’re the one who stormed into my workplace and ran me through the ringer all because I was doing what you and Guy wanted me to do the night of Brooke’s Christmas dinner.  Do either one of you have any idea about what this is doing to me right about now?  About how I’m turning my life upside down to help you?” she questioned as a silence filled the room and her frown deepened, “Of course you don’t because neither one of you have taken the time outside your own little world to think about how your little spats effect the rest of us.”
“Mindy I…” Guy started once again.
“Look Guy, your mom is a real pain in the ass and I have no problems taking the load of crap she dishes out my way because I’ve been looking for a reason to get up in her face after the way she’s been all these years of snubbing me and looking down upon my family, but I won’t listen to Gabe telling me of how my intentions are to break you two apart because if that was what I really wanted, I would’ve done it by now,” Mindy tossed her hair back over her shoulder with a huff.
“Like you have the power to do that,” Gabe rolled his eyes upon her words, “See Guy I told you this was a waste of time as she’s not willing to cooperate.”
“Yes she is and if you’d pipe down for five minutes,” Guy grumbled in response, “Look Mindy, there’s this big promotional party that a business associate of my mother’s has invited us to and if we can just make it through that party, then I promise you I’ll tell my mother the truth after this deal comes into fruition.  Gabe and I talked it over and he’s willing to cooperate long enough for us to get through this party.”
“Somehow I seriously doubt that,” Mindy grumbled in response, “as he seems anything, but cooperative right about now.”
“Well, despite what you’re witnessing in this moment,” Guy shot a glare in Gabe’s general direction before facing her once again, “He’s going to be very cooperative in the matter.”
“I see and this party,” Mindy nodded taking his words in, “if I agree to go along with you, then does that mean Gabe is going to sit this one out so that he doesn’t try to cause a stir like he’s been trying to do every time we’ve been out in public…”
“Oh if you think for one second that I’m going to let you use this party to take advantage of the situation with Guy, then you’ve got another think coming Mindy,” Gabe decided realizing that he’d underestimated the manipulative ways of Guy’s one time lover, “I’m most certainly going to be there at the party keeping a close eye on you.”
“Oh yeah and that’ll really work to keep the fact that you’re in love with Guy out of the open,” Mindy rolled her eyes in response, “I can see that one being a really tense moment for Beholder if it just so happens that your jealousy becomes the reason Guy is ousted at a publicity event.”
“Look it’s not…” Gabe started.
“She’s got a point,” Guy agreed without a second thought turning to his lover, “Maybe you should sit this one out.”
“Guy, I can’t believe you’re even suggesting that one considering that we agreed we’d tell your mother everything about our relationship after…” Gabe frowned as his voice grew desperate, “I thought we agreed that after the party…”
“That hasn’t changed,” Guy reached out to touch his cheek gently, “I meant every word I said to you, but Mindy’s right here.  When we’re in a room with one another it’s obvious where our hearts are and that’s something I can’t let happen at this party just yet.  I can’t do this to my mother when she’s banking on this to go well for Beholder.”
“Guy, I’m at the stage in my life where I’m tired of playing games.  You know that and I’m just ready for us to be as we should be,” Gabe sighed in frustration, “I don’t know how to make that any more clear to you considering…”
Mindy remained silent for a long moment watching the interaction between the two men with mixed emotions as her relationship with Guy was being put to the test on a regular basis because of their situation, but as she felt a hint of guilt tug at her for the way she’d goaded Gabe in the past, she spoke up surprising herself as the words came from her lips, “Why not have him come to the party?”
“What?” both Guy and Gabe questioned in unison as their eyes fell upon her.
“Well, if he’s there with a date, it couldn’t hurt, right?” Mindy suggested with a simple shrug of her shoulders, “Since you’re taking me and you want to keep up appearances, then why doesn’t Gabe take a woman with him?  I mean that way neither one of you will get the whole jealousy vibe going and your mother won’t think anything of it.  She’ll just be her usual self absorbed Brooke.”
“You know, that’s not half bad,” Gabe decided with an afterthought, “I mean that way I can be close to you and your mother won’t put the pieces together there at the party.  I can behave myself long enough for us to get through that party and then after we can tell her about us…”
“After everything is settled with your mother’s business deal, then you can spend some time alone with her and let her know that you’re not with me as I’m sure that’ll be relief for her and then you can tell her about Gabe,” Mindy continued with an encouraging nod before throwing out one last sarcastic quip, “It sounds like it could work as I’m sure Gabe has some female friends around that aren’t just interested in sleeping with him.”
“You know…” Gabe started once more ready to lash out at her before he stopped himself, “On second thought, I’m not even going to debate this one.  Mindy’s right.  We can do this.  I’ll just snag up a friend and she and I can make an appearance at the party there.”
“So it’s settled,” Mindy continued with a nod, “You bring your date and I’ll go with Guy to this party during which you don’t harass me or get up in my face about my intentions because I’m telling you flat out that while Guy is my best friend, that’s where it ends and if you imply anything less than savory about me or my intentions with Guy again, I can promise you that I won’t be so ladylike and I’ll react on my first instincts.  Are we clear on that?”
“Crystal as long as you don‘t give me reason to doubt your intentions here by playing any extroverted games to get a rise out of Brooke,” Gabe extended his hand out to Mindy, “Do we have a deal?”
“Just be sure you’ve got a reasonable date that won’t arouse suspicions the night of the party and you’re on,” Mindy agreed reaching out for Gabe’s shaking it quickly as Guy looked between the both of them in confusion.”
“Um what just happened here?  I thought we were all going to sit down and talk about this since I’m a part of this,” he couldn’t help but feel a bit baffled, “as this is my life after all.”
“We’ve got it all taken care of,” Gabe continued to shake Mindy’s hand squeezing it a bit harder as he didn’t take his eyes off of her for a second.
“It’s all under control,” Mindy added clamping on his hand with a rough hold as Guy eyed the both of them closely wondering if they’d hold true to their word and find a way to get along with one another long enough for things to go down the way he’d hoped for between him and his mother.  However, as he saw the competitive glances between Gabe and Mindy he was seriously beginning to have his doubts about how well the two of them would work together in this particular situation as Guy feared that the war would be far from over.


Grady lay back in bed and glanced towards the door, “Jade, where did you run off to?”

“You hush. I’ll be back in a minute,” Jade called back to him from the other room.

He grinned as he readjusted a pillow behind his back. The last twenty four hours had made his dreams come true. While he’d been reluctant to let Jade fully into his life, now he wondered why he had been so stubborn. He was now enjoying the kind of happiness he’d always wanted in his life. Why he had only now allowed himself such a wonderful experience was truly beyond his comprehension.

He knew that his reasons were good ones. After all, he knew that his personality had a tendency to sabotage every relationship he’d been involved in. He also knew that no matter how good a fight he put up against his alcoholism it would always be there as a looming threat to any relationship he’d ever dream about having.

Still, the fight was worth it. He was enjoying his time with Jade more than he’d enjoyed anything in a very long time. She’d been able to chip away at the concrete barrier around his heart until she’d found her way in and refused to let go.

Jade. She’d given him more restless nights than he could count with her flirty smile and come hither eyes. He’d dreamt about holding her, making love to her, making all her dreams come true. But actually holding her in his arms and loving her from the depths of his soul had felt like his own dream come true. He finally knew what it was to be truly free of his pain and self loathing. He finally knew real happiness.

Jade stepped back into the room carrying a tray of food. Wearing nothing but his blue dress shirt from the night before, she was a vision of beauty. He wanted nothing more than to forget all about breakfast and move right back into dessert.

Jade grinned as she placed the tray over his lap and moved to sit down on the bed beside him, “You’ve got this huge grin on your face, Grady, and it’s making me think you might be up to something.”

“I love your choice of words,” He teased in return as he glanced to the tray of food before him, “What’s all this?”

“This is to restore your energy. After all, I do believe we might have worked up an appetite,” She smiled as she took a strawberry from the tray and dipped it into a dish of whipped cream before inching it towards him, “Open up, baby.”

Grady complied with her request as she gingerly fed him the plump red berry. When she would have drawn her fingers away, he captured her hand and sucked her fingers into his mouth to savor each last dollop of whipped cream.

“I think someone is hungry,” She smiled as she slowly withdrew her fingers from his lips.

“Famished,” He agreed with a grin.

“Poor baby,” She spoke even as she lifted another berry to his lips, “I’d hate to think I took you to the brink of starvation.”

“I did that all by myself. It’s you who’ve brought my strength back by taking care of me,” He replied before taking the berry into his mouth.

“And I’m going to take very good care of you,” She assured him before she leaned forward and captured a smear of whipped cream from his lips with her tongue.

“You’ve already made me feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” He admitted, “I don’t know if I can handle much more of this.”

“Trust me, baby,” Jade grinned with a wink, “You can handle everything I’ve got in store for you.”

“I don’t know. I’ve always told you that you were handful, but I never knew just how true that statement was until now,” He smiled as his eyes danced over the length of leg revealed from under the shirt she wore.

She chuckled softly, “Afraid you’re not man enough for me? I would have thought after last night and this morning,” She grinned, “You would have known that you do things for me that damn close to being illegal without a doctor’s supervision.”

Grady laughed softly, “You have no idea how good this feels.”

“Oh well I’m just getting started,” She teased as she leaned forward to capture a kiss.

“No, I’m not talking about this. Well, yeah, I sort of am, but,” He paused as he ran his fingers through her wily hair and met her seductive eyes, “I’m talking about being happy…down to my soul happy, Jade. It’s been so long since I’ve felt anything even close to this. You’ve brought me back to life, Jade, and I will always love you for that.”

Jade smiled as she eased her lips to his and kissed him tenderly, “I love you, Grady.”

“I love you,” Grady reminded her once more before he drew her into another kiss. Giving into temptation had never been this wonderful for Grady, and on the plus side, there would be no ill effects to be suffered…only a lingering bliss that a lazy day of loving could provide.


“I don’t understand why Zack would do this,” Blake began tearfully still trying to come to grips with what was happening with her best friend as she broke down once again, “I mean I know Caitlin and I were having a few words with one another, but I love her and I never, ever wanted anything like this to happen to her.”
“I know you didn’t, beautiful,” Seth tried to console her as he felt a heaviness weigh upon his shoulders.  He looked to Ken who was now pacing around the room looking even more torn up than Blake as the woman he loved had her life in danger and he sat the helpless and unaware of what could be happening in surgery, “Listen to me Blake.  If you want I’ll try to see what I can do to find out what’s going on with Caitlin if you want me to.”
“You’d do that for me,” she questioned with a sniffle, “You could really do that?”
“I’m sure I can give it my best attempt,” he wiped at her tears hating to see her cry, “as I’m sure that one way or another Zack will let you know what’s going on.”
“I just don’t see why…” Blake started once again thinking about what she saw back at Caitlin’s apartment as Jimmy was attacking her, “I tried to help her, but Jimmy was there and he…”
“I know,” Seth nodded cupping her face in his hands, “and I promise you that when Zack takes a moment to realize that, then he’ll come to his senses, but right now he’s thinking like a concerned brother and when your family is on the line, well, you tend to start doing things that sometimes might not be the best for everyone involved, but you feel desperate and it makes you say or do things that you wouldn’t normally do.  He’s just worried about his sister and he’s finding his own way to deal with this helpless feeling he’s having about the danger she’s in,” he wiped at her tears once again, “as older brothers tend to do that when someone threatens their sister’s life.”
“I realize that, but Ken and I aren’t the enemy,” Blake insisted with another round of sobs as Kenneth stepped towards the two of them breaking his long silence.
“I think you should probably go now,” Ken offered up needing to channel his rage at someone and with Seth before him he’d felt he’d found the perfect target, “We don’t need any of your confusion right now.”
“I’m just trying to be here for Blake,” Seth began honestly as he saw the anger behind Kenneth’s eyes and he rose from his chair in defeat, “I’m just concerned about her…”
“The hell you are,” Kenneth’s jaw clenched with anger as he felt his fists balling up at his side, “I know all about your kind…”
“Kenny, he said he’ll try to get some news on Caitlin,” Blake rose to her feet defending Seth despite the situation that had been taking place between them, “He has a friend who might be able to get us some information.”
“I’ll go check in on it right now,” Seth promised watching as Kenneth’s anger was mixed with a sense of fear and sadness behind his dark eyes, “I don’t know what they’ll tell me, but I’ll try to see what’s happening with Caitlin…”
Kenneth opened his mouth to speak ready to throw out some more fighting words as worry consumed him, but ultimately he shook his head in retreat reaching out to his sister once again, “Fine.”

“Oh Kenny,” Blake hugged her brother tightly as Seth gave Blake one last look taking a moment to watch the two of them hoping that he could find a way to help them get word on Caitlin before he headed down the hallway on his mission leaving Blake and Kenneth alone with one another as Blake down in her brother’s arms.  Tearfully she looked up to Kenneth, her worries about her best friend consumed her, “I didn’t mean for things to be like this.  I knew how Caitlin was having a hard time with Jimmy and so many times I wanted her to do something about it, but I never thought that I’d walk in and find him trying to kill my best friend and now if he’s responsible for her…when I saw him hurting her…”
“Blake, we can’t think like that,” Kenneth cut her off refusing to think the worst as his fears consumed him and he thought to the last time he’d encountered Caitlin.  A wave of regret crashed over him as he just prayed that it wouldn’t be too late for him to be there for the woman he loved as she needed him more than ever.  If only he hadn’t sent her away and worried about what Brant was going to do next.  If only…
“I know we have to think positive Kenny, but when I found her…she looked so broken, so…” Blake began desperately as her gaze lingered off beyond Kenneth and she suddenly stiffened in his arms taking a step back.
“Blake, what is it?” Kenneth questioned following her gaze as he watched Russell and Avery approaching the two of them.
“What’s going on Ken,” Russell asked rushing over to join the two of them as Avery sped up behind him trying to keep up.  “How’s Caitlin?”
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing here?” Blake demanded harshly, her eyes now fully upon Avery as her tears transformed into a boiling rage, “Who the hell do you think you are showing up at a time like this?”
“Caitlin is my friend and I’m concerned about her,” Russell answered stepping in between Blake and Avery before Blake could launch her attack on Avery.
“How dare you,” Blake hissed in response, her eyes wide with anger, “What right do either one of you have to be here after all the pain you’ve caused my family?  How can you think for a second that we’d want you here?”
“This isn’t about what you want Blake,” Russell replied sharply as he stared down at her, “This is about Caitlin.”
“The hell it is,” she stepped around him as she forced herself in front of Avery, “and you.  How dare you come to this hospital to show your face after what you did to Brant?  How can you be such a cold, unfeeling bitch after all he did for you?”
“Blake, look I know that there are some things that happened between Brant and I that don’t make sense right now, but now isn’t the time for us to…” Avery started taking in a slow breath.
“Now is the perfect time because I know all about what you did to him you slut.  Caitlin told me everything you pulled on Brant.  How you ripped his heart out and dumped on him all because you thought you could just toy with him and get away with it.  You didn’t take my brother’s thoughts or feelings into consideration and if you think that you’re going to get away with crossing an Ashford, then you’ve got another think coming because I swear to you that you’re finished with this family not only personally, but professionally as I’m going to have your ass booted from BBK and by the time I’m through with you, you’ll be lucky if you can get a job as a fry cook because no one hurts my brother like that and gets away with it.”
“Blake, that’s enough,” Kenneth grabbed her arm pulling her aside as a frown touched over his features, “this is not the time nor the place to do this considering that...”
“I can’t believe you’re just going to take her being here after what she did to Brant,” Blake’s eyes widened in astonishment, “She used and abused him long enough to bilk him for what she wanted and all the while she was whoring herself out to this lunatic.”
“My wife wasn’t whoring herself out to anyone as your brother’s the real lunatic,” Russell snapped back at Blake, “and I told you how things were before, but you refused to listen.”
“Your wife had no bones about seducing my brother all this time Brant was showering her with gifts and the prestige that comes along with being part of the Ashford family.  We all took her and treated her like one of us and this is what it comes down to,” Blake growled in response.
“Blake, I never intended to hurt Brant and while you think you know everything about what’s going on, you don’t know the first thing about what was really happening between your brother and I,” Avery insisted refusing to take any more of Blake’s words, “I care about him very much, but he knew from the start that we weren’t together…”
“Oh that’s bull,” Blake rolled her eyes, “I’m not going to stand here and listen to you trying to justify your actions to me because I know exactly what you did to my brother and unlike some people in this family, I’m not going to just sweep it under the carpet and pretend that I don’t see you as the heartless, manipulative bitch that you truly are,” she let out an ironic laugh, “and here I thought Heather was the lowest of low, but look at you.  You stand here and pretend that you’re something special, but you’re nothing Avery.  Nothing,” Blake repeated slapping Avery in one heated moment of pent up frustration and rage.
“Blake,” Kenneth gasped in shock caging his sister in his arms as he realized that Blake had finally let loose on the fury she was feeling and it was clear Avery was now the intended recipient as everyone’s emotions were running high.
“That’s it,” Avery felt the sting on her cheek and her anger take over as she lunged forward ready to attack only to be thwarted by Russ as he curled his arm around her waist holding her away from Blake.
“Avery don’t,” Russell pleaded with her turning her slightly away from Blake as he could see Blake just looking for a reason to snap despite the hold Kenneth had on her, “don’t give her what she wants because she’s just looking for a reason to throw around the fact she’s an Ashford.”
“I’m not going to take this from her or anyone,” Avery hissed in response struggling in his arms as she glared at Blake, “You don’t know the half of it little girl, but I swear to you that you’re going to regret doing that as you crossed a line Blake.”
“You crossed the line when you screwed with my brother and ripped out his heart because the mood struck you,” Blake’s words dripped with animosity as Kenneth kept her contained in his arms.
“Blake, this isn’t the place for this.  Right now is about Caitlin.  We need to think about what’s going on with Caitlin and think positive thoughts about how this could go,” Kenneth pleaded with her desperate to keep his sister from losing all control, “Please don’t turn this into something it isn’t.”
“If Avery hadn’t made such a mess of things, then we’d never be in this position to begin with because she’s the one who hurt Brant and she’s the reason that…that…” Blake’s anger transformed into something else as tears overcame her and she broke down in Kenneth’s arms, “I can’t lose Caitlin.  I just can’t lose my best friend like this.”
“You’re not going to,” Kenneth whispered hugging her tightly as he prayed that his words weren’t in vain as this not knowing was killing him more than he’d ever thought possible as he hoped and prayed that fate wouldn’t take Caitlin away from his life as it was something he was certain he couldn’t be able to make it through as she was his world.


Ria glanced around the corner, “Are you crazy? I could lose my job for this,” She declared as she turned back to Seth who was looking at her with huge puppy dog eyes, “Stop that.”

“Come on, Ria. This would really mean a lot to me and to the Ashfords. They are on the board of this hospital, you know, and it couldn’t hurt to schmooze a little bit,” Seth tried to sway her with her ambition, “I know that you would really be making an impression on them if you did this.”

“Yeah, that I break the rules,” She frowned, “Seth, I can’t just walk into the middle of this to find out what’s going on.”

“Yes, you can. You were Caitlin’s doctor when she was brought in, and you’re Zack’s colleague. Just show some professional courtesy and go ask how she’s doing,” He urged as he took her hand, “Come on, Ria. I’ll owe you a big night of dinner, drinks, and dancing when this is all over.”

“Oh, I hate you,” Ria bit out as she held turned the corner and proceeded towards the Vaughn family.

“Yeah, I can tell,” Seth grinned as he leaned against the wall, hoping to overhear the conversation he’d asked Ria to have with the Vaughns.

Ria approached the Vaughns just hoping she wouldn’t get busted for doing Seth a favor. The last thing she needed was to lose her job over something to do with the Ashford family.


“Zack, I think you’re taking this all much too personally. It’s really an Ashford family problem, not ours,” Timothy advised his son.

“Besides, Blake loves Caitlin and she’s her best friend,” Julia reasoned, “Caitlin would want Blake to be here…not to mention her boyfriend.”

“He’s not her boyfriend,” Zack groaned, “At least not from what I gathered the last time I saw Caitlin. She was afraid she was going to lose him over this mess.”

“If she was afraid of losing him, that means she hasn’t yet, Zack. To have grown up in a house full of girls, you sure didn’t learn a thing about women,” Julia lectured, “She loves him, and she wants to be with him if she’s coming to you to talk about how things are going so terribly. She wants to save the relationship.”

“She wanted to do that with Jimmy too, remember?” Zack ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, “Look what that got her.”

“That’s an entirely different situation,” Timothy reminded his son, “Look, right now, this is about Caitlin. We need to focus on her, and you need to stop putting distance between the Ashfords and Caitlin. They love her, and she needs all the love she can get right now.”

Zack frowned before he saw Ria approaching them, “Dr. Mehran?”

“I thought I’d come up and see how she’s doing,” Ria said softly.

“Mom, Dad, this is Dr. Ria Mehran. She treated Caitlin when she was first brought in,” Zack introduced the young resident to his parents.
“Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn, I can’t tell you how sorry I am about this tragedy. Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers,” Ria sympathized as she offered them comfort.

“We appreciate that,” Julia nodded with an acknowledging smile.

“Has there been any word?” Ria asked as she looked to Zack.

“Not yet,” Zack said heavily before the doors from the surgical wing opened and Isaac stepped out, “But it looks that’s changing.”

Isaac approached the family as he slid his surgical cap from his head. Ria watched him expectantly while Zack moved ahead of her with his parents.

“Dr. Reynolds, these are my parents, Tim and Julia. How’s Caitlin doing?” Zack asked as he met Isaac’s eyes.

“She came through the surgery. She’s stable but still in very critical condition. The swelling of her brain seems to have stopped, but Dr. Badler is concerned that it might not dissipate as quickly as he’d like. There was a lot of bleeding in the splenectomy, and we had to transfuse two units. She’s in recovery right now, and we’ll be moving her to the ICU as soon as the anesthesia wears off.”

“Is she conscious?” Zack asked as Timothy hugged Julia tightly to his side.

“No,” Isaac replied, “Zack, Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn,” He paused, “I think you should all be prepared for a long recovery.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Timothy asked quickly.

“Caitlin’s in a coma,” Isaac answered, “And it could be a while before she regains consciousness.”

“Was there any brain damage?” Zack asked sadly as the doctor within him attempted to remain professional about his sister’s condition.

“It’s too early to tell. We’ll only be able to fully determine that if and when she regains consciousness,” Isaac advised them before he turned and made his way back into the surgical wing.

“Oh god…no!” Julia cried as she grasped her husband tightly, breaking down in hysterical tears.

As Timothy held his wife tightly, Ria gently placed her hand upon Zack’s arm.

“If there’s anything you need…” Ria began, “Anything at all…”

Zack placed his hand over hers and nodded, “Thank you.”

Ria met his eyes for a brief moment before she withdrew her hand and walked out of the surgical waiting room.

Seth stood around the corner, having heard all of the conversation regarding Caitlin’s condition. Now, he had news to give to Blake. He just wished it had been better news he could deliver.

...to be continued...