Episode Seventy Five 

“Care to tell me what happened back there,” Jenna questioned in confusion breaking the eerie silence that had settled in over her and Avery from the moment Avery stormed out of the Ashford mansion demanding that Jenna just drive off and not bother to look back.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Avery started with a huff before shaking her head at the thought, “No, actually I do want to talk about it.  What is wrong with men these days?  I mean honestly are they all so damned pig headed?“
“Generally, I think it’s part of the Y-chromosome there in them,” Jenna nodded in response, “as they all seem to have their heads wedged up their behinds half the time.”
“And that’s putting it politely,” Avery agreed with a sneer, “I mean really, what is the deal with having to use those overworked testosterone Neanderthal instincts in dealing with things whenever some kind of situation arises?”
“I take it things got ugly inside the mansion,” Jenna noted with pulling up to the Denton home.
“Ugly doesn’t even begin to cover it as my husband managed to make a royal ass of himself and Brant isn’t any better either,” Avery groaned in response feeling her anger taking over her body as she looked to her home wondering whether or not she should tell Jenna to keep driving or she should go inside and try to find a way to think clearly without suffocating herself on Russell‘s massive male ego there.  She was certain that she’d only have a matter of seconds to make that kind of decision as she could already hear Russell’s tires squealing alerting her to his approaching the house and as she turned in her seat facing Jenna once again.
“Why do I get the sudden feeling that things are about to get even more chaotic around here,” Jenna frowned watching as Russell parked his car into the driveway before marching down across the lawn to knock on the passenger side window of Jenna’s car.
“Avery, open the door,” Russell urged with a huff, “Avery, come on.  We need to talk about this right now…”
“No, I don’t want to talk to you right now Russ,” Avery shouted back at him through the glass as she turned to Jenna apologetically, “I’m sorry about all of this.”
“Avery, I’m not leaving until you come out.  Just open up and come inside so we can talk,” Russell tapped on the window once again as Jenna cleared her throat uneasily.
“You know Avery maybe you two should just talk about what’s going on as I’m sure that’ll make things better somehow,” Jenna suggested mildly watching as Russell seemed beyond upset by Avery’s ignoring him.  “You can just give me a call later if things don’t work out well.”
“Jen, I’m not going to let him get his way just because,” Avery started as Russell knocked on the window once again and she threw her hands up on the air with a huff, “Oh hell.  Jen, I’ll give you a call later for sure.”
“I’ll be there if you need me.  Just call my cell,” Jenna suggested watching as Avery threw her car door open slamming it into Russell before stomping past him up to the front door of the house not bothering to look back as Russell tipped his head into Jenna’s car before moving in an attempt to close the door.
“Jenna, I’m so sorry about this,” he apologized quickly before turning his attention to the house once again as Avery fumbled with the keys to the front door.
“Just go catch up with her before she locks you out,” Jenna suggested motioning towards Avery once again.
“Oh right,” he nodded in response stepping away from the car as he reached out to close the door.
“Oh and Russ,” she called out to him.
“Yes?” he inquired dipping his head into her car once again.
“Whatever you did, I strongly suggest you use too very vital tools in your favor with her otherwise you’re in for some hell tonight judging by how ticked she is,” Jenna threw back at him quickly.
“Such as?” he inquired giving her a strange look.
“Chocolate…lots of it and groveling,” Jenna informed him bluntly as Russell nodded in response standing upright and closing her car door before turning towards his house taking up over the lawn after Avery just in time to watch her slam the front door closed behind her upon entering their home.
“You two are insane,” Jenna shook her head pulling away from the Denton home as Russell stood on the front porch pounding on the door.
“Avery, open the door right now,” Russell snapped hearing her shuffling with something from inside the house.
“No, I don’t want to see you right now,” Avery called out to him muffled by the sounds of the closed door as he fished into his pockets seeking out his keys only to discover he’d left them back in the car.  With a huff, he headed back towards his Camry only to discover he’d locked it as Avery pushed open the curtains watching his cursing at his luck as he kicked at his front tire before he charged up towards the porch again.  Swiftly she threw the curtain shut as she heard him slamming his fists into the front door once again.
“Avery, open up!” he demanded with a roar as Avery popped her head into the window once again shaking her finger at him.
“No, I’m not letting you in here when you’re acting like that,” Avery snapped in response slipping behind the curtain once again.
“Avery, it’s freezing out here and I locked my keys in the car,” Russell proclaimed doing a little running jog in place on the porch as she remained behind the window curtain popping up to take a brief look only to yell at him once again.
“Good, then maybe the cold will do something to cure that hot head of yours,” Avery hissed in response shoving the curtain aside once again as Russell half expected her to take anther look on him, but as a few minutes passed his scowl deepened as he marched through the snow up to the window banging on it loudly knowing full well that this kind of behavior would attract neighbors, but as he found himself getting more irritated with Avery’s refusal to hear him out, he realized he didn’t give a damn what the neighbors thought as this was about settling things with his wife.
“Avery, open up the damned door,” Russell tried to peer in through the window catching a blurred view of her seated on the couch thumbing through what appeared to be some sort of magazine and he hit the window again with a bit more force, “Avery, quit with the games and open up.  Avery, I mean it if you don’t open the door right now, then I swear to you that…” before he could finish his statement, he lost his footing on a patch of ice beneath him and toppled backward onto the ground taking down one of the shutters outside the window with him in the fall.
With a thud, Russell fell to the ground, feeling the weight of the now broken shutter upon him as a groan spilled over his lips and he cursed himself time and time again for even thinking that he could try to explain to Avery why he felt the need to have a few words with Brant Ashford.  Sure, he’d thought about killing him first and asking questions later, but still any guy in his position would do the same thing, right as what man would willingly let another make a play for his wife?  It was just wrong and that was his story and he was sticking to it as oddly enough he felt something rigid and sharp sticking to his backside as a yelp fell from his lips and he threw the shutter off of him only to discover he’d landed on a patch of the discarded roses that had been delivered earlier in the day.
“Son of a…” he cursed under his breath as the front door opened and Avery stepped out onto the donning one of his oversized button down sweaters as her eyes skimmed the front yard briefly.
“Don’t think that playing stupid little disappearing games is going to change how I feel about this Russ because…” her jaw dropped as her eyes fell upon him now laying on the ground before her and her scowl transformed to a look of sheer confusion, “What in the world are you doing down there Russ?” she huffed marching down to the snow to take a long hard look at him as the window shutter still remained over the lower half of his legs.
“I thought I’d just camp out down here since my wife locked me out of my house,” he threw back at her sarcastically shoving the discarded material off of his legs as he started to pull himself up off the ground.
“Now why would you go and do something stupid like that,” she gave him a strange look as he began dusting himself off trying to rid himself of the snow that now covered most of his backside and had seemingly turned his hair a fine, powdery shade of white.
“I wasn’t really camping out down here,” Russell remarked with a frown, “but more so trying to find a way to get you to listen to me since you’re acting like a four year old right now.”
“I’m acting like a four year old,” she repeated with wide eyes, “Oh please I’m not the one going around stomping his feet and throwing punches at the other kids in the playground for pissing him off…”
“Brant had it coming Avery,” he defended his position, “as I’m tired of that man trying to move in on my wife and make a mockery of what we have together.”
“The only one making a mockery of things is you considering that you burst into the Ashford mansion like you were a man on a mission with that mission being taking out Brant in the process of your tantrum,” Avery glared at him placing her hands on her hips as she ignored the cold surrounding them, “I mean really what did you think you were going to accomplish in going over there and starting something with him?”
“I wanted him to leave you alone….to leave us alone so we could have some kind of semblance of a normal life with one another,” he answered matter of fact.
“Oh so kicking the crap out of my boss and potentially putting my job on the line just because you didn’t like the way he’s been conducting himself is giving us a normal kind of life,” Avery threw back at him shaking her head at him as a groan spilled over her lips, “Oh yeah that’s real smart Russ.  I can see how unemployment can certainly lead to normalcy in my life there.”
“Avery, that wasn’t what I was working towards as you know as well as I do that Brant’s solely interested in seducing you as he’s made it his own personal mission in life,” he began with the same argument they’d had in the past as she threw her hands up in the air and headed back towards their home up onto the porch.
“I so don’t want to hear this yet again,” she muttered under her breath hearing him rushing up behind her before she could close him out of the house once again.  Not bothering to fight the issue with him, Avery walked into the family room ready to warm up by the fireplace as Russell continued to launch his debate with her.
“Avery, you and I both know that man isn’t going to be satisfied until he consumes you and makes you his in every way imaginable.  You know yourself that Brant’s been all about bedding you for as long as…”
“Enough already,” Avery groaned in response spinning on her heel to face him as her eyes flashed with anger, “Russ, think about what you’re saying because I really don’t like the implication that’s going with it.  I mean here you are yet again going on and on about how Brant’s sole interest in me is because he wants to sleep with me.  Did you ever think that maybe just maybe he thinks I’m a good lawyer and he enjoys having me working for him?”
“Avery, that’s not what this morning was about and you know it as well as I do.  A man does not send a good employee a hundred dozen roses just because he likes her work,” he huffed back at her finding himself still fueled with a fury as she glared up at him.
“Brant’s just unconventional,” she tried to blow it off as she turned away from him, “You and I both know that he doesn’t do things like the normal person would.”
“All the more reason why I needed to go over there and tell him to back off,” Russell followed her matching her movements as she stood before the fireplace, “Avery, the man wants you and he’s not going to stop until…”
“Until what?” she turned to look at him once again her dark hair flying back over her shoulder as their eyes met in a stand off, “Until I sleep with him?  Is that what you’re trying to say, Russ?”
“Avery, you know that’s not what…” he began as she waved her finger at him.
“No, Russ I don’t know considering that you’re so worried about Brant trying to get me into bed all the time,” Avery lashed out at him with a hint of heavy disapproval as she continued to wave her arms out wildly with each word, “Has it ever entered your mind that something like that is completely out of the question even if Brant wants it to be so?  I mean really Russ, do you think so little of me that you believe I’m just going to drop down and let Brant screw me so that he can fulfill some twisted fantasy of his?”
“Avery, you know that’s not what I was trying to…” he began again with a frown.
“No what you were trying to do is act all caveman and go over there to tell Brant that you’ve already claimed your property and if he dared to try to push my buttons rather than letting me take care of it on my own, you’re going to be the manly man in this situation and club him so that he doesn’t take your woman away from you before you can drag her back to the cave and plummet her into her defenseless position once again,” she hissed in response as her anger expanded, “and you know Russ, I don’t quite like being put into that light because I am not defenseless and I most certainly don’t need you beating up every guy who looks at me the wrong way in your opinion.”
“Brant wasn’t just looking at you Avery,” he argued with her, “He’s trying to tear us apart.”
“Your jealousy is doing the job for him Russ because I can’t see how you could even believe for an instant that I would have time to even indulge the thought of another man when you’re enough man to keep me always on the edge jumping through hoops there,” Avery yelled back at him, “I mean my god, is our life together lacking so much that you have to feel insecure about my going out and getting things elsewhere?”
“Avery, you’re taking this all out of context…” he insisted cutting through her words.
“No, Russ, you’re the one taking it out of context because when you sit here and rant and rave about Brant and about how he’s trying to get me into bed…about how he’s going to sweet talk me and manipulate me until I give in to his desires, well, all you’re saying is that I’m weak and if it wasn’t for you, I couldn’t control myself.”
“Avery, that’s not what I’m saying at all and you know it…” Russell began reaching out to take her arm as she started to walk away from him.
“Yes, you are Russ and I’m tired of it,” her eyes drifted up to his fire filled gaze, “Russ, I’m not someone who just loses control and gives in to whatever temptation is in front of her…”
“Avery, it’s not you that I don’t trust, but Brant…”
“Russ, there’s only one man in this world that drives me crazy like that and I happen to find myself wanting to kick his ass more than anything right now,” Avery confessed in a deep, throaty hiss, “as he infuriates me to end.”
“It’s just because he loves you so damned much that he doesn’t want to lose you.  He’s waited a lifetime to have you and to have all of this and he doesn’t want to see some jackass like Brant steal it away from him,” he explained desperately pulling her in closer to him, “Avery, I love you and I can’t bear the thought of not having you in my life.”
“Russ, you have to trust me and trust that when Brant does something like he did today that I won’t be running off to thank him in the ways he’d like to see happen.  I’m not about to risk what we have with one another and furthermore I’m asking you not to do it either.  We’ve fought so long to get where we are and Russ, we have a family now.  I mean if nothing else, that should be reason enough for you to think that maybe just maybe I wouldn’t dream about putting that on the line.”
“Avery, I’m sorry I just…”
“You just got the impulse to beat the hell out of Brant and you went with it,” she reminded him with a sigh, “which seems to be something that you’re getting far to accustomed to doing lately and it has to stop.”
“Avery, it’s just when I think about the things that guy has done to keep us apart, well I just don’t want him doing anything else to…” he started as she pressed her hand up to his mouth to silence him.
“Russ, we aren’t apart,” Avery informed him point blank, “We’re the furthest from that place with one another and if you look at this ring on my finger or even take the time to think about the child growing inside of me, you’ll see that we’re more together than we’ve ever been.”
“Avery, it’s just…” Russell’s voice dropped as he pulled her more completely into his arms holding her as if he’d never let go as his fears surfaced, “I can’t lose you.  I can’t let some jerk get in the way of what we have together…”
“Russ, I already told you that what we have is forever,” she spoke gently as tears filled in her eyes as the after effects of her rage began to simmer into something else altogether, “You keep trying to make me believe that myself, but how am I supposed to keep believing and holding on to that truth if you can’t accept it yourself?  Why can’t you just trust in the love that you know we have with one another?  Why can’t you believe in me?”
“I do believe in you Avery,” he kissed the top of her head tilting her chin upward as he gazed into her dark eyes, “I believe in you more than you can ever imagine, but it’s just with Brant…”
“I love you Russell Denton,” she cut him off as she tipped up on her toes bringing her arms around his shoulders, “and only you.”
“Avery, I just…” he started at a loss as he held her savoring the warmth of her in his arms.
“You screwed up today and you made things a hell of a lot worse,” Avery interrupted seeing the protest about to fall from his lips as she leaned forward dropping a quick kiss upon his relentless mouth before he could continue arguing with her.  Slowly she broke away from the kiss leaving her lips just above his as he‘d hoisted her up off of her toes so that they were at eye level with one another, “but the fact to the matter is that I still love you baby and you’re still my one and only Prince Charming.”
“Yeah I’m sure I looked really charming out on the front lawn a few minutes ago,” he couldn’t help but crack a smile as he squeezed her in his arms, “I’m sure our neighbors are already calling the CVPD to reserve me a jail cell for disturbing the peace.”
“Hmm, well then I suppose they’ll have to get one big enough for the both of us as I’m not letting you go,” she teased her lips over his once again as his hold on her tightened.
“Oh how I like the sound of that one,” he murmured nibbling on her plump lower lip as a warmth altogether separate from the fireplace filled the both of them up inside.
“Good because I think after what you pulled today you owe me huge,” Avery whispered in a sultry breath just above his mouth as he hugged her against his solid strength.
“What do you have in mind baby,” he raised a suggestive brow as she couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on his face.
“Not what you’re thinking,” she chuckled in response securing her position in his arms, “as you’ve got some work to do in terms of manual labor.”
“Honey, you know I’m man enough to give you all the manual labor that’s required of me,” he dipped forward nibbling on her neck as their blow out seemed to transform into something else in a matter of seconds.
“Well, that’s good to hear,” she felt a teasing grin expand over her features as her fingers slipped into his dark hair, “as there’s still some work in the nursery that’s just calling for your attention right now.”
“The nursery,” his eyes widened in surprise as he pulled back just enough to read her features.
“That’s right,” she nodded in response, “Don’t think that you’re getting off that easy as you still have to pay your penance for storming into the Ashford mansion uninvited because I know I’m going to hear it from Brant.”
“So tell him to kiss off and come work for me,” he suggested capturing her lips in another quick kiss.
“Russ, you have a newspaper to run and I’m a lawyer.  I hardly think I’d mesh into the daily grind,” Avery pointed out with a hint of a smile, “and besides, you couldn’t afford me.”
“I’d find a way to make the change of atmosphere well worth your while,” he assured her with a goofy grin.
“While I’d love to delve into whatever perks working there for you might have, it’s as the old saying goes,” she rubbed her nose against his in a playful motion, “you can’t live on love alone baby and seeing as we’re about to get another addition to our usually happy home, we need to work on my getting all the time in that I can before my maternity leave.”
“Why don’t you just take the rest of the pregnancy off for maternity leave,” he suggested with a devilish grin, “I mean I’m sure I can find ways to keep you busy around here while Brant has your father filling in.”
“My father would kill Brant, which you’d enjoy too much,” she added quickly with a shake of her head, “and besides, you’d hate having me around the house all the time as it would be a disaster for you.”
“How do you figure,” he inquired lifting a curious brow as he repositioned her in his arms carrying her over to the sofa as they took a seat in front of the fireplace with her settled in his lap.
“Well for starters,” she sighed leaning in against his chest as the warmth of him filled her up inside, “you’d never get up for work because you’d much rather stay here with me all day as you do tend to get a bit distracted when I’m around.”
“But it’s a good distraction,” he began to argue with her as she placed her index finger up over his lips.
“I will not let myself be the ruination of your newspaper Russ especially now that my father is taking part in it,” she informed him point blank, “and further more if I stayed home all the time, well I might get inspired to start cooking again and seeing how it went the last time I tried…”
“Good point,” he teased with a barb, “as I’d hate to have people at the fire department spending all their time here to keep you from burning the place down.”
“Hey, now you‘re being mean,” she swatted at his chest before a curious expression washed over her features, “although you know that might not be so bad.  I mean a few sexy firemen around to keep me busy while you’re gone…”
“Avery,” he tickled at her sides watching the laughter erupt from within as she snuggled into him, “you’re testing my limits today, aren’t you?”
“Never,” she feigned seriousness before another chuckle swept over her and she pinched her fingers out in the air, “okay maybe a little bit, but you so deserve it with the way you were carrying on.”
“Okay, so maybe I was a bit overboard in the way I dealt with Brant, but I was trying to put an end to things,” he defended his position as he thought back to what he’d walked in on at the Ashford mansion between Brant and Shannon, “though maybe you’re right about Brant.  Maybe the guy is getting a hint that you’re off limits to him on anything other than a professional level…”
“If I really believed you meant that I might almost feel reason for relief, but I know that’s not what you’re thinking right now,” Avery piped in as her eyes fixed up over his features.
“You’re right,” he confessed leaning down to look at her a bit more completely as she lay over his lap, “that’s not what I’m thinking at all.”
“Well, how about if we try something different to get your mind off of Brant altogether because as I said the nursery needs a few touches there,” Avery insisted inching up towards him to capture his lips in a kiss, “You still haven’t really looked into the Muppets mobile that your mother picked up for our little one or all the other adorable things awaiting our attention.”
“Right now I have my favorite adorable thing in my arms,” he offered up a light squeeze before tipping down to kiss her forehead gently, “and she’s got my full and complete attention.”
“In that case I suppose I should make the most of it,” she curled her arm around his neck pulling him in closer to her for a deeper kiss when all of a sudden she drew back abruptly with a tiny gasp.
“What’s wrong?” he frowned watching her nose wrinkle in reaction to him, “What, do I have bad breath or something?”
“No, it’s not that,” she began her eyes widening as another gasp fell from her lips, “Oh Russ, you did it this time…”
“What did I do,” he questioned in confusion as she made another strange look before she reached out to take his hand in hers.
“You need to see for yourself first hand,” she explained shuffling with the sweater she’d put on over her own shirt as she began to bury his palm in against her abdomen beneath the fabric.
“What?  What is it…” he inquired watching her eyes shift as though she was in heavy thought before she guided his hand to another place over her abdomen and it was then when he’d felt the faintest of twitching beneath his touch.  His jaw dropped as he looked to her with excitement spilling over him, “Avery, is that the baby…”
She nodded quickly, “I think you gave our baby hiccups,” she explained with a tiny jolt as Russell felt the movement from within, “when you started tickling me…”
“Oh my God.  Avery, can you feel that.  Well, duh of course you can, but still…,” he followed the movement teasing his fingers over her abdomen in a feathery light motion as the movement beneath seemed to creep away from him across her body with tiny twitches.
“Russ…” she breathed taking in this new feeling he’d stirred up inside of her as the baby seemed to respond to his teasing.  He tickled at her for a few minutes longer, eliciting a few more tiny, twitching movements before he flattened his palm out over her body, massaging her skin gently.  She lay back into the pillow beneath her head just savoring the fell of him holding her, his arm remaining around her keeping her close to him as his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.
“Our baby knows me Avery,” he blurted out with a goofy grin as his fingers brushed over her soft skin in a slow, soothing fashion.
“Of course our baby knows you Russ,” she sighed feeling herself more at ease as he continued to touch her in a tender display for both her an their unborn child, “as you’re the little one’s father and our baby already loves you so very much.”
“I’ve waited forever to have this Avery,” he whispered tipping down to kiss the top of her head as his hand remained protectively over her abdomen.
“Which is all the more reason our little one is trying to remind you of why you don’t need to worry about anyone else taking your place as you’re it for us.  You’re the miracle man that made all of this happen as you’ve brought our dreams to life,” she whispered closing her eyes as she shifted around a bit in his lap laying her head against his chest.  She closed her eyes listening to the strong, solid beating of his heart beneath her as his fingers set her body at ease seemingly bringing their baby to calm as well in the moment.
“You’re my miracle Avery,” he whispered pressing a kiss over the top of her head as he felt her drift off to a sleep in his arms and he shuffled a bit beneath her on the couch leaning back into the cushions so that he could hold her more completely.  He watched the crackling fireplace before him while promising himself that despite whatever was ahead for the both of them, he was going to find a way to keep them together as their love was the world to him and if in keeping their family in tact it meant taking on Brant Ashford and reminding him of where Avery‘s heart truly was, then so be it as he refused to let a moment of this life he‘d found at long last with Avery slip through his fingers.


“Talk to me Blake,” Seth pleaded with her unable to sit back and do nothing as her tears consumed her.  With each tiny sob she made, his heart ached for her as he safely pulled his car off the road reaching out to touch her shoulder gently softening his tone as he spoke to her, “Blake please…”
“Seth,” she turned her teary blue eyes in his general direction as a low whimper built up in the back of her throat, “oh Seth.”
“Hey,” he unfastened his seatbelt unable to resist the urge to comfort her as undid her seatbelt as well before pulling her into his arms more completely, “Blake, talk to me sweetheart.  What happened?”
“Seth it was horrible,” she sobbed curling her fingers into his shirt as she buried her face in his chest, “Zack was just so cold and then that woman…that horrible, wicked woman…”
“Blake, what woman?” he questioned in confusion as he sobs continued growing harder by the moment as she seemed to be breaking into a world of hysterics.
“How could he say those things?  How could he think them especially after we…after he…and I…  I mean I knew what it would mean to get involved, but I just didn’t think…and now…and he…oh God, I’m such an idiot,” Blake continued with her ramblings not making any sense as Seth just tried to comfort her with the embrace he’d had her in.  “I just don’t get it.  I mean after all those years…after all this time, and…  I mean why would he…how could he…”
“Blake, what did Zack do,” Seth questioned already hating to ask the question as he thought to the man that had swept Blake up in their falling out and his body tightened with a quick jolt of anger, but he inhaled a slow breath reminding himself that he couldn’t dwell on the past as all that mattered was being there for Blake in the moment they were having.  With that thought in mind, he reached out to touch her cheek urging her to meet his dark, concerned eyes as her own sad sapphire eyes tore him up inside.  Her lower lip was trembling and the tears spilled down her cheeks as she looked like a woman broken by circumstances--very much in the same way she’d faced him down the last time he’d really tried to reach her heart once again, only this time the tears weren’t for him.  They were for another man--a man that Blake clearly felt something for on a deeper level than Seth would care to admit to himself.
“He just…” she began finding herself at a loss as a tiny whimper rushed over her and she burst into another round of tears leaving Seth with only one option and that way to hold her until she came to terms with whatever it was that was tearing her up inside as she didn’t seem to be in the position to want to talk about it.
“Shh…” he whispered bringing his fingers through her hair as he rocked her gently in his arms keeping her close to him as he found himself wishing above anything that he could get his hands on Zack Vaughn and show him a thing or two about how to treat a woman like Blake, but now none of that mattered as she was here in his arms and it was up to him to change the way she was feeling in this moment.
“Oh Seth,” she sniffled as her tears began to die down and his hands curved in over her spine in a tender gesture as his eyes took in the world outside his car for the briefest of moments before an idea struck him.
“Blake, listen to me,” Seth urged cupping her face in her hands, “you have to trust me right now when I ask you to do something for me…”
“Seth, I don’t know…” she started her eyes growing wide at his request as she opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her with his index finger before leaning forward and kissing her forehead before pulling away from her and getting out of the car.  She watched in confusion as he circled around the car opening the door for her as she shook her head in protest.
“Seth, I’m not going out there,” she began to argue with him feeling him tugging on her arm as he managed to coax her out of the front seat.
“Yes you are and hey don’t worry, it’ll just be you and me,” he promised standing in front of her as his brown eyes fixed down into her, “but first I need you to do me one more favor and it’s a biggie.”
“Seth, I’m hardly in the mood for favors right now,” she started to protest as he leaned in towards her silencing her protest with a quick, tender kiss.
“I know that babe, but just do me this one favor and I swear to you that you won’t regret it,” he whispered as he leaned in over her watching the curiosity brewing behind her eyes.
“Okay,” she nodded feeling her heart thudding in her chest with a strange mixture of sadness and curiosity as the warmth of Seth’s breath spilled over her features.
“Close your eyes,” he instructed as Blake wondered if she should protest, but despite her confusion about the situation, she did as instructed feeling him curl his arm around her body as he pulled her up off the ground into his arms.  She thought to open her eyes and put an end to whatever was on his mind, but as her eyelashes began to flutter, she heard him speak smoothly over the base of her neck.
“Blake, trust me…” he whispered in a low, seductive tone as Blake felt a change in temperature as it was obvious that they were no longer outside anymore.  She started to question their location, but before she had a chance to Seth set her down on her toes once again, breathing against the back of her neck, “I’ll be right back.  Just keep your eyes closed and promise me that you’ll think of a place where things are less chaotic…a place where the problems that haunt you today will fade away for a little while and when you find yourself in that place, then and only then will the pain of the moment pass.”
“Seth…” she spoke his name feeling him step away from her as the silence surrounded her.
Blake began to think about the things that were haunting her, the way that Zack had shunned her, the misery that came from losing Seth, of having Caitlin’s life hanging by a thread, but as she found herself close to being overcome by grief, the soft sounds of a smooth ballad filled the room surrounding her with a familiar warmth and she couldn’t help but open her eyes seeing the room around her.  It was filled with a fluffy cloud-like atmosphere and instantly she was transported back to the last time Seth had brought her to this very place to dance in the clouds.  Certainly things had been different back then, but now as he emerged from behind the DJ booth, he approached her with a sexy smile saying nothing as he extended his arm out to her.
“Blake,” he whispered her name as if he’d been nothing more than a dream as he offered her his hand once again, “Dance with me…”
She opened her mouth in protest, but felt herself drawn to this moment, to the feeling that accompanied being in this place with Seth once again.  Without a word, she offered him her hand feeling him pull her into his arms as they danced among their own intimate version of a fairy tale brought to life.  He positioned his arm around her waist, allowing his fingers to slip over the small of her back as her gaze drifted up over him.  Her heart was fluttering in her chest as the corners of his mouth lifted in the beginnings of a smile.  His free hand rose up to touch her face gently caressing the smooth contours of her features before he tipped in towards her leaning in as though he was going to kiss her before the melody picked up and Seth spun her away from him twirling her with the music before drawing her in against him again with such a suddenness that a gasp fell from her lips.
Seth searched her eyes for a moment bracing himself for her reaction as a surprising grin spilled over her beautiful face.  She placed her hand over his chest moving in closer to him, before she pulled back twirling once again.  A tiny giggle seemed to come from her parted lips as he collected her in his arms once again, dipping her with a whoosh before capturing her besides him on the middle of the dance floor as the music ended and another song began.
“Seth,” she breathed feeling her pulse racing as their dance had stirred up so many familiar memories inside of her and in that instant she found herself suddenly aware of the strength of his arms wrapped around her.
“Yes,” he questioned lazily as he felt her finger tips fan out over the muscled contours of his arms, leading up over his shoulders as she stood up on her tiptoes feeling the sudden urge to get closer to him as they remained in one another’s arms.
“Thank you,” she breathed unable to take her eyes off of him as he lifted her up just a bit so that they were at eye level with one another.
“No, thank you for trusting me,” he replied turning his attention to her mouth once again as the strong desire to kiss her swept over him.  He found himself wanting nothing more than to savor the connection between them, but as he thought of her tears--of her problems with Zack, he began to lower her to the ground once again.
“No, don’t…” she curled her fingers over his shoulders shaking her head in protest as he stopped mid-movement, “not yet…”
“Blake,” he gave her a sideways glance as she inched in towards him.
“You promised me when I found that place where I could forget the world that you’d take me there,” she breathed sending a shiver over his spine at the boldness of her words as her lips hovered over his, “and I want you to take me there Seth.”
“Blake I…” he was silenced by her kiss as she’d transformed right before his eyes from the wounded woman to the enchanting princess that he’d dreamt about night after night since they’d parted ways.  Now as the sweetness of her soft, supple lips beckoned him with their sweet temptation, he hugged her in closer to him wanting nothing more than to keep this connection between them alive forever.
Blake’s arms curled around him more completely as she thought about the first moment his lips had touched hers back in that garage when they’d been trapped underneath the car.  Even now that moment stuck with her in the back of her mind as he held her in the warmth of his arms.  A soft sigh erupted from within her as she parted her lips urging him to take the kiss a step further as her tongue tasted the sexy spiciness of his mouth, remembering oh too well how good it was to be lost in his arms.  Even now as his hold on her constricted, she wanted nothing more than to stay in this moment with Seth, remembering how good they’d had it before everything went so horribly bad between them.
Seth’s arm dropped down below her waist scooping her up within his arms more completely as Blake curled her legs around his waist, sinking her fingers into his hair as she coaxed his mouth into a deeper union between them.  Unable to fight what it felt like to be holding her, he carried her across the room setting her atop the bar that sat at the far end of the dance floor, but as the music played he reminded himself of all the reasons why entering something like this with Blake today of all days would be all wrong for them and reluctantly he tore himself away from her sweet, tantalizing lips.
“Blake wait,” he inched back, breaking the contact between them as he sought out her hands bringing her fingers up to his lips to drop tender kisses upon them as her blue eyes sparked with confusion and a moment later a flicker of sadness as he continued to place feathery light kisses over her skin, “Sweetheart, we can’t be carrying on like this…” he paused choking up on his words, “at least not while your heart is in turmoil as the fact remains that I love you and I’ve always wanted something magical between us…”
“Seth, I was just…” Blake began to explain feeling a wash of embarrassment flood over her as she sat on top of the bar, her thighs still hugging Seth’s body close to her as she slowly slipped back to reality cursing herself for allowing things to get so out of hand between them.  She turned her face away from him as if to shield herself from what she was feeling in the moment as his fingers beckoned her, urging her to look at him once again and truly see him in this moment between them.
“Blake I love you,” he whispered tenderly as his dark eyes filled with the emotions that he’d struggled so hard to contain during their time apart, “but right now I know how you’re hurting and I know you’re confused.  You’re upset with Zack and while most men would take advantage of this situation seeing it as an opportunity to win back the woman they love, well I won’t put myself in that position as I swore to you a long time ago I wouldn’t hurt you and I meant it,” he sighed heavily feeling their past come back to haunt him, “I did it once before by being impulsive and careless, but I refuse to go down that path with you again as you mean far too much to me.”
“Seth, nothing was going to happen,” she eyed the floor trying to still the racing of her heart, “It was just a dance and the music and we got carried away in the past…”
“Even so that in itself speaks volumes about our future Blake,” he reached out to her coaxing her to see into him once again, “and deep down you and I both know that we have one of those ahead of us.  We have a future that will be there for us when you’re ready to face what’s going on in your heart--to face what you feel about me and most of all, it’ll be there when you’ve seen what’s inside here,” he placed her hand over his heart as his breath escaped his lips in a slow, poignant sigh, “only then will we be able to get back what we lost and be together without any reservations as that’s all I’ve ever wanted for us Blake.”
“What you’re asking out of me, well you know what will happen when we leave here,” Blake pointed out feeling a sadness wash over her, “When you take me home, the world goes back to the way it has been and things won’t be like they are in this moment.”
“I realize that,” he nodded painfully, “but what I also realize is that I’m willing to take the risk that despite what’s going on out there, you’ll find your way back to me and when you do, we’ll truly have everything that we thought we’d lost so long ago.”
“Seth, I don’t know if that’s possible anymore…” Blake began to argue with him.
“Maybe there’s more possibility out there for us than you’re willing to admit,” he challenged arching an introspective brow before tipping in to kiss her forehead, “and perhaps when everything blows over you might reconsider the place I hold in your life right now, but if when everything is said and done, you still want me out of your life, then I won’t stand in your way as your happiness is truly the one thing that matters to me Blake,” he squeezed her hands gently bringing them up to his lips again, “as in loving you, I’m willing to do whatever it takes in order to help you find that kind of joy in your life even if it means you leave me behind and never look back.”
“Seth, as much as I wish I could do that, I know that I can’t…that I’ve just been fooling myself to believe that I could forget you,” Blake started revealing pieces of her heart on a whim as he lifted his index finger to her lips to silence her.
“Then take that with you and don’t make an impulsive decision right now based on your anger and confusion with Zack,” Seth urged her on, “because Blake the next time we’re together again…if we’re together again, I’m never letting you go as I’m in it for keeps and until you can give me that, then I’m not going to push you for anything more than this friendship between us.  Now, how about we finish up here and I take you to get a quick bite to eat on the way home?”
“Actually, I think I’d just really like to go home right now,” she decided feeling herself on shaky ground with Seth as her heart was tugging her in various directions.  “It’s been a very long day.”
“Then let’s work on getting you home,” he helped her down from the top of the bar hoping that somehow he wasn’t making a mistake in choosing this path with her as it had taken everything in him to pull himself away from keeping her in his arms forever, but as he thought of what she was going thru, he refused to be the man that stepped in and took advantage of a bad situation in making it worse.  Zack Vaughn had done that to him and he’d be damned if he stooped to that level with Blake as if he was going to win her back, he was going to do it the right way leaving no room for uncertainty in her heart as he was confident that their love would find a way to beat the odds…at least he had to cling to that hope as the thought of losing Blake forever was too much to bear.


Johanna sat on a sofa and crossed her legs. She watched Zack as she adjusted the hem of her skirt, “So, Blake’s the new woman in your life, huh?”

“Let’s not start this now,” Zack began as he ran his fingers through his hair.

“You already did, Zack. You led her to believe that we were together in someway,” She watched him carefully as he stood near the doorway, “You brought me into this, and I just want to know if you love her.”

He shifted his attention to her, “What?”

“It’s a simple question, Zack. Do you love Blake?” She asked as she eased forward gently, “Are you in love with her?”

“I’m not going to get into this with you. My relationship with Blake is none of your business,” He declared as he paced across the room.

“Right now, it is my business. In case you missed what happened earlier, Blake thinks that we’re involved, and if you’re going to use me to keep your girlfriend in line, I’d like to know about it.”

He turned to look at her once again, “Jo, it’s not like that.”

“That’s exactly what it’s like,” Johanna stood and closed the distance between them, “Isn’t it?”

“Jo, it’s just,” He began then paused.

“What? That you’re pissed off at her so you thought you’d just use me to push her away?” She shook her head, “I’m not willing to be a pawn for you to play with to manipulate your new girlfriend.”

“That’s not what I intended,” He ran his fingers through his hair again in frustration, “I just…so many things…” He groaned out loud, “Jo, I’m so confused right now. I can’t even think straight right now.”

“Hey,” Johanna reached out to him, lightly placing her hands upon his shoulders, “You’re exhausted. You should go home and get some rest.”

“I can’t,” He began to shrug out of her hold.

“Yes, you can,” She spoke as she seized his cheeks in her hands, “Zack, you’re exhausted. You’re not making any sense, not even to yourself. Caitlin would never want you to risk your own health just to be near her. She would want you to take care of yourself so you could look after her. Right now, she’d be kicking your ass for being too stubborn to admit what’s right for you.”

Zack searched her eyes for a moment before he sighed heavily, “I am tired. Maybe I will go home for a little while to relax.”

“And just how do you expect to get there?” She asked as she watched him begin to fumble for his keys.

“I’ll drive,” She took his hands in his, “You’re in no condition to be behind the wheel.”

“You don’t even know where I live,” He pointed out.

“Well give me directions before you pass out on me,” She instructed with a soft smile, “Come on, you,” She wrapped her arm around his waist and began leading him out of the waiting room.

“I need to tell Mom and Dad where I am,” He said as he attempted to stall.

“I’ll call the ICU desk once we get you home and settled. They’ll let your parents know where you are,” She assured him as they stepped into an elevator. She pressed the button for the parking garage as she watched him lean against the wall of the elevator. She reached out to him and lightly slid her hands along his chest, “You poor thing,” She said sadly as she reached up to his cheeks, “We’ll get you home and tuck you in. You deserve some sleep.”

Zack reached out to her and lightly cupped her cheek in his hands, “You’ve been so good through all of this. I don’t even know where to begin in thanking you.”

Jo closed her eyes as she savored his touch, “I love you, Zack. I wouldn’t be anywhere else but right here by your side.”

He eased his thumb over her cheek bone before drawing her close to him and hugging him to her. He pressed a kiss to her temple as he held her.

The doors opened to the elevator and Ria raised a curious brow from the doorway, “Dr. Vaughn.”

“Dr. Mehran,” Zack spoke as he stood upright, still holding Johanna to his side.

“Going home?” Ria asked, surprised by the intimacy between Zack and his companion.

“Yeah, I am. Good night,” Zack spoke as he held Johanna to his side and walked out of the hospital.

Ria watched the two leave together and wondered just what kind of man Dr. Zack Vaughn truly was and if Blake Ashford was aware of just how much of a player the good doctor could be.


Cameron stepped out into the cool night breeze and closed his eyes, relishing the fine mist of the ocean at it drifted through the air. He had anticipated this day feeling like a victory on many levels, but he’d never intended to actually enjoy his bride. Sure she was beautiful, but he didn’t have to get married to have a beautiful woman on his arm. Women were always willing to throw themselves at him for power, position, and money. Marrying Heather had simply been a means to an end so it was quite advantageous that she wasn’t as brainless as the tabloids made her out to be.

“It feels so good out here,” Heather smiled as she joined him on the deck, “The air is so fresh and clean,” She sighed happily, “This really is paradise.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying your stay on the island. I’ve always found this place to be very relaxing,” He spoke as he turned to watch her and leaned against the railing, “After everything that’s happened in the last few weeks, I think we both needed a chance to relax.”

“I whole heartedly agree,” She took a deep breath as she closed her eyes to savor the island atmosphere, “Besides, this gives us a chance to be together without interference. We can really start making some progress is making this a real marriage.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” He agreed as he studied her, “You’re not what I thought you would be at all.”

“Do I even want to know what you thought I would be?” She asked as she turned her attention to him.

“To be honest, after all the stories I’d heard about your exploits with Brant Ashford, I had this vision of an airhead in my head, but you’re not that at all. You’re intelligent though I think sometimes you allow people to use their expectations of you to shape the way you act before them,” He observed, “There have been rumors swirling around that you were difficult to get along with, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all. It’s true that we didn’t hit it off right away as we did have our differences, but we’ve found a way to move past that.”

“Yes, we have,” She smiled, “You know I’ve heard all the rumors about you as well. There are plenty of rumors about you being cold, heartless, and ruthless, but I’ve found just the opposite to be true. You’ve welcomed me into your home, and you’ve given me and my child a chance to have a real family. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this means to me,” She paused as she reached out to him, “But maybe I can at least make a start on showing you.”

Cameron searched her eyes before she closed the distance between them and drew his lips to hers. He slipped his arms around her and pulled her close to him as he explored the exotic sweetness of her mouth. He certainly knew why Kipp had fallen prey to her as she was very sweet poison.

Heather eased her arms around his neck as she pressed her body against his. Her husband was a very attractive man, and she was going to take full advantage of that fact.

“Heather,” He whispered softly as their lips parted, “You don’t have to do this to thank me.”

“I’m not doing it to thank you,” She admitted with a grin, “Actually, I’m doing it because you are one damn sexy man, and this is our wedding night. I fully intend to have a proper honeymoon night, understood?” She asked as she began to deftly pluck open the buttons of his shirt.

He grinned at his bride’s bold gesture. If a proper honeymoon night was what she wanted, he certainly wasn’t going to deny her, “Well then, we should do this right,” He spoke as he swept Heather into his arms and carried her back into the house, “After all, a proper honeymoon does require some traditions to be upheld,” He said with a smile as he walked through the house.

“Hmmm, I’ve never been much for tradition, but I’m enjoying the hell out of this one,” Heather laughed softly as she held onto her husband, looking forward to exploring the roles of man and wife much more thoroughly.


“Well this is just wonderful,” Brant grumbled feeling the ice pack upon his skin as he nearly cringed upon contact.  He reached up to take the cold compress from Annie’s hands as he threw out an apologetic look, “Annie, I can take care of this one here if you don’t mind.”
“Brant, I’m really worried about you,” she frowned eyeing him intently as she thought to coming home from her evening walk with Peanut only to find him laid out on the ground in his weight room looking desperately in need of a trip to the emergency room, but before she could call for help, he’d awaken once again and insisted that his minor accident wasn’t enough for him to head on down to the hospital in the thick of chaos.
“It’s nothing,” Brant shook his head fighting to suppress the groan that had overtaken him as he thought of the disaster that had taken place in front of Avery.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was already married to Russell, but then to have Shannon compound the situation exponentially by throwing down on him like a woman clearly in unbridled lust, well it was enough to make his chances of getting through to Avery a whole hell of a lot slimmer as Russell certainly felt he was at a distinct advantage now.
Hmm, he thought to himself as his frown deepened and the ache from Shannon’s punch vibrated through the side of his face, maybe this was a perfect time to take action against the FBI.  Granted he may not be able to get what he wanted in terms of being with Avery right away, but it couldn’t hurt to throw out a sexual harassment suit against Shannon for her atrocious behavior and maybe just maybe with Avery working with him at his side, she would see that he wasn’t the least bit phased by Shannon or what she was doing…at least not in the area of anything other than repulsion.  Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely true as Shannon had always possessed a certain talent that had excited him, but he could quite easily skip over that detail while he and Avery worked side by side to rid Shannon from their lives.  Yes, that did sound like a swimmingly wonderful idea indeed, he reasoned with a goofy grin as Annie waved her hand at him with obvious concern.
“Brant, did you hear a word I just said to you,” she questioned as he blinked up at her shaking his head in response.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he admitted honestly, “I’m sorry about that Annie.  What were you saying?”
“I said that I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you not to do something about that accident you had as it’s not like you to have those kind of things happen while you’re working out and if that weight truly bumped you like you said it did…”
“Annie, I’ll be fine,” he began to rose up on his feet feeling a bit shaky before he sat back down again not willing to chance it, “and hey you’re always saying that you wish I’d get a little sense knocked into me, so maybe this was the key to doing it.”
“I have never said such a thing Brant,” she replied seemingly offended by his remark as concern washed over her features, “as all I’ve really wanted was for you to find some peace and tranquility in your life.”
“I’m working on it,” Brant promised reaching for her hand and offering up a tiny grin, “believe me on that.”
“Oh I’m sure you are as you’re always working some kind of angle,” Kenneth sneered entering the kitchen area and glaring at Brant as he quickly discarded his coat, “as it isn’t run any other way with you, now is it?”
“Well gee look what the cat dragged in,” Brant rolled his eyes at his brother, “and here I thought the night was just picking up.”
“Oh I can pick it up for you,” Kenneth hissed in response stepping towards him, “but I’d much rather lay you flat out on the ground for being the pompous ass that you are.”
“Take a number and stand in line because I’m not in the mood to listen to your incessant whining tonight Ken,” Brant rolled his eyes forcing himself up out of the chair as he threw out a glare in his brother’s direction, “I’ll take it that your girlfriend’s condition isn’t improving there judging by your snippiness.”
“What’s going on with Caitlin is none of your business seeing as all you’re concerned about is destroying her,” Kenneth lunged towards him as Annie shifted uneasily between them throwing her hand out to prevent Kenneth from attacking Ken.
“Ken, perhaps you should calm down for a moment,” she suggested in her motherly tone.
“No, I don’t think I should seeing as Brant has done nothing, but made a fine mess of each and every one of our lives since he decided now would be the perfect time to start yet another Ashford drama by pushing himself on a woman who wasn’t interested.”
“I didn’t push myself on anyone,” Brant argued with him as he felt a pain overtake the left side of his face.
“Right and I’m supposed to believe you were just playing around and got that bruise that’s forming huh,” Kenneth half questioned as he let out an ironic laugh, “Let me guess you made another play for Avery knowing full well she’s a married woman and Russell came over to deal with it.”
“Russell couldn’t deal with his own head…even if it wasn’t wedged up his ass already,” Brant shot back sarcastically.
“Oh I think Russell is on to you just like Caitlin was and that’s why you hate her so much.  That’s why you went out of your way to hurt her and destroy her like you have…” Kenneth shouted in response unable to contain the anger building up inside of him.
“I didn’t do a damn thing to your girlfriend,” Brant threw back at him with a huff, “and while I don’t think too fondly of her, what happened to her was not tied into me.  I didn’t put her in that coma nor do I know who did.”
“But if you had I’m sure you’d be patting him on the back right now for him putting her in that place, wouldn’t you?” Kenneth threw out at him, “As all you do is care about yourself Brant…just like Nicholas did as you’re just like him…”
“You son of a…” Brant charged towards Kenneth as Annette pushed her way between the feuding brothers.
“Boys, that’s enough,” Annie she scowled at the both of them turning her head to shake it with heavy disapproval at them, “this isn’t helping anything and for you two to tear one another apart on the kitchen floor is only going to make this situation worse.  Now while you both have had a rough couple of weeks beating the pulp out of one another most certainly isn’t going to erase what’s happened, so I strongly suggest you both stop behaving like children and start conducting yourself like adults.”
“Brant doesn’t have even the faintest of notions about what that means in a situation like this,” Ken remarked bitterly, “as all that matters is what Brant wants.”

“Ah yes and we have poor little Ken the martyr,” Brant rolled his eyes, “Don’t you ever get sick of playing the same sob story over and over again?”
“Brant,” Annie called out his name with heavy dismay.
“Well it’s true,” Brant took a step back away from the both of them, “and I’m tired of having to defend my actions to Mr. Goody Two Shoes over there as I’ve been doing it long enough.  Look Ken if you’re going to be envious of me for living my life, then maybe it’s time you stopped whining about what I’m doing and start worrying about your own miserable existence.”
“I was quite content in my life until you up and destroyed the good things I had going in it just like you always do Brant.”
“No, Ken, you can sit here and say a lot of things, but the mistakes you make in your life are all on you,” Brant threw back at him.
“If you didn’t get Caitlin and I involved in your drama with Avery…”
“You chose to get involved as no one asked you to be there,” Brant reminded him with a darkness in his tone, “I didn’t ask anything of you, but you chose to push yourself into the situation and you brought on what happened after you and your girlfriend decided to play referee to what was happening between Avery and I.  No one asked you to do that Ken and if you want to blame someone for the fallout you and Caitlin had, then blame yourself as my love life isn’t any of your business.”
“Gee Brant, see now that’s where we have a difference of opinion since you keep flashing it all around for the media there making it the world’s business and I’m left to clean up the messes,” Kenneth answered flatly as his frustrations mounted, “I’m sick of having to fix the problems you’ve created Brant just because you’re too much of an arrogant idiot to be a man and accept defeat.”
“When I’m in a position where defeat is eminent, then I’ll accept defeat, but until then don’t tell me how to live my life as your opinions and guidelines for how you think I should be conducting things aren’t wanted,” Brant huffed turning and leaving the kitchen as Kenneth swore under his breath before waving his hand at Annie wildly.
“Do you see what I have to put up with on a daily basis?  I mean honestly why in the world do I have to get stuck with that when I have other things that need more attention than Brant’s latest media frenzy,” he groaned slumping down at the kitchen table burying his head in his hands at the thought, “It just isn’t right.”
“No, it’s not, but Ken I’ve told you time and time again that Brant has to lean by making his own mistakes.”
“Yeah well when they’re going to cost the rest of the family their hopes of happiness, then it gets to be too much,” he sighed heavily thinking to the current situation he had going on with Caitlin.
“Even so Kenneth, what Brant is doing really isn’t relevant to what’s breaking your heart right now.  Putting Brant in what you believe to be his place won’t change what’s going on,” she reached out to touch his shoulder gently.
“But it might make me feel better for at least a little while to knock him on his butt,” Kenneth began to argue with her.
“Maybe for an instant, but then after you’ll be hating yourself far more than you do right in this moment,” she pointed out gently as she took a seat beside him, “and Ken, I know your heart.  I know you’re hurting about what’s going on with Caitlin and maybe you should take this time to stop worrying about whatever situation Brant has found himself in.  You’re wearing yourself so thin and I’m afraid that…”
“Annie, it’s not enough.  Caitlin believed in me and I was supposed to be there to protect her, but instead I was chasing off after Brant trying to keep him from doing something stupid and look where it got me…”  Ken choked up on emotion feeling his heart breaking as he thought of his inability to get close to the woman he loved.
“Ken, you weren’t responsible for this and despite what’s happening with Caitlin’s brother, in her heart she knows you love her,” she placed her hand atop of his hoping to find a way to comfort him in his time of need.
“Does she?  I mean does she really understand how I feel when I was so cold to her?  How can she know what she means to me when I can’t tell her…when I can’t show her how much it’s breaking me apart inside in not being able to fix this…” he broke down unable to contain the tears that he’d been fighting since the moment he discovered what happened to her.  “Annie, I love her so much and if I lose her…I just…I just can‘t deal with not being able to hold her again…not being able to let her see just how much she means to me as she‘s my world and I can‘t imagine how she felt when I‘d turned her away.  I was wrong and if I don‘t have the opportunity to let her know that I love her…”
“She knows,” Annette watched as he broke down before her and she pulled him into an embrace wishing that somehow she could find a way to make Kenneth’s situation easier on him as it seemed his heart was breaking by the second in not being able to be near the one woman who’d brought any kind of happiness to his otherwise hectic life.  Now as she hugged him in her arms, she said a silent prayer to anyone out there listening that Kenneth would have a second chance at happiness with Caitlin as he feared if Caitlin’s condition took a turn for the worse, Kenneth may never be able to forgive himself for the wrongs he felt he’d committed against the woman he loved and she hoped that somehow Caitlin could awaken and show Kenneth how horribly wrong he was about blaming himself for any of what was happening to the woman he loved so very much.

Preston stepped into the house and placed the bag of groceries he’d bought on the kitchen counter. He’d thought that preparing dinner for Dottie might change her solemn mood for a least a little while. He’d never known her to be so depressive, but he knew it all stemmed from the rift with Jenna. While things weren’t always smooth between them, they’d never been as divided as they were now.

He began to unpack the groceries as Dottie stepped into the room. He flashed her a smile in greeting, “Hello Stranger.”

“Pres,” Dorothy began to speak as she noticed all the items he’d purchased, “What’s this?”

“I thought I might cook dinner for us. I haven’t had the chance since I’ve been on leave, and I thought it might be a nice change of pace for us,” He spoke as he took a pan from the cupboard and placed it upon the stove. He turned back to her and raised an eyebrow, “What’s going on, Dottie?”

“What do you mean?” She asked as she wrapped her arms around herself protectively.

“I mean that you’re being very guarded, and you upset. So tell me what’s going on,” He urged.

“Doug stopped by today.”

“For what?” Preston asked in surprise, “You’d think this would be the last place he’d want to come to.”

“Yeah well, Doug has never done what people expected of him,” She sighed as she pulled out a stool from the bar and sat down as she watched him begin to chop vegetables, “He said that he wants us to work together in order to reach Jenna.”

“Sounds reasonable enough, but what’s the catch?” He asked as he glanced up to her.

“That’s exactly what I thought,” Dorothy sighed as she stole a slice of carrot from the pile he’d chopped, “I don’t trust him, Pres. He sounds reasonable enough, but I feel like he’s going to try to pull the rug out from under me or something. I guess I just feel like everything I’ve worked so hard for could be destroyed in the blink of an eye because he’s here now.”

Preston considered her for a moment before he began transferring vegetables to the pan, “I know you said you didn’t want to get into details about the past until you felt you were ready, but I think at this point you really need to let me know what happened between the two of you.”

She fidgeted with a sliver of celery that had been passed over. She frowned as she focused on the vegetable between her fingers, “I was young and stupid. I went to Hollywood with big dreams, and I thought I was going to be a big star. I went to an audition for a musical where Doug was an intern. We ran into one another and just kind of hit it off. We both had lots of ambition, and we both wanted one another to succeed. We’d always support each other on auditions or job proposals.”

Dorothy placed the celery down and swung off the bar stool as she stepped over to the patio doors. She stared outside as if she were looking to the past, “I got a few jobs here and there, but it was barely enough to call myself a working actor. So I took a job as a temp just to make ends meet. Doug was working hard and finally got a job as a production assistant on a big budget picture, and we both thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened. He really felt it was his big break, and as it turns out, he was right. On the night the film premiered, Doug asked me to move in with him, and I couldn’t have been happier. We lived in our own little type of domestic bliss,” She paused as she closed her eyes at the memory, “Until his family got involved.”

“They didn’t approve of an interracial romance?” Preston asked as he stirred the vegetables then refocused on her story.

“They didn’t care about my race,” She turned towards him, “They disapproved because I wasn’t rich and famous. They didn’t like the idea that I was an aspiring actress working temp jobs to make ends meet. They wanted him to be with someone that was already a star or rich of her own right. His mother was especially against our relationship, and she did everything she could to get between us. By the time I found out I was pregnant with Jenna,” She sighed, “Things were really strained, and I knew that if I stayed there to have Jenna, they’d take her away from me. I couldn’t live with the idea that Doug’s family would take my baby away from me,” She took a deep breath to calm herself before she spoke again, “I knew if I didn’t leave in the way I did that Doug would try to follow me, and his family would be right on his trail. I couldn’t take that chance. So I left, and I kept Jenna a secret all these years.”

“So why don’t you trust Doug now? If his family was responsible for your decision…”

“I don’t trust him because of the man he’s become. He’s not the same man I fell in love with,” Dorothy explained as she joined Preston near the stove, “Besides, he’s been very shady since he got to Coral Valley. I don’t particularly like the vibe I’ve gotten from him, and I don’t think its in Jenna’s best interests to get too close to him.”

“Does that mean we’re going to try to keep them apart?” Preston asked as he added some herbs to the vegetables in the pan.

“No,” She replied with a frown, “Maybe if Jenna learns about Doug and his family she’ll understand why I did what I had to in order to keep her safe.”

“So what about you? If Doug proposed that you two work together to get close to Jenna, does that mean you’re going to work closely with him?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll only work along with him until I can repair the damage that’s been done with Jenna. After that, all bets are off,” She explained as she met Preston’s eyes.

Preston turned to Dorothy and drew her into a tender kiss, “No matter what happens during this mess, no matter how many twists we have to take in this road, remember that I love you, and I’ll always be here to catch you when you fall.”

Dorothy smiled in reply as she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him, “I love you too, Pres,” She squeezed him tightly as she thought of how wonderful Preston was to her and how she wouldn’t let Doug’s presence in town endanger her relationship with the most wonderful man she’d ever met.


“Hey beautiful,” Hart greeted Jenna at her doorstep smiling eagerly despite the twenty minute wait he’d had standing outside her apartment as she rushed up to open the door for him.
“Oh Hart,” she gasped in horror pushing past him to open up the door, “I’m so sorry I forgot about dinner.  I know I promised you that we could go out, but well, I kind of got caught up in something and…” she scanned her apartment realizing she was no where near ready for dinner with him.
“I take it you had a busy day,” he inquired lifting a curious brow as he watched her fuss with a few things around her while slipping out of her jacket in a haste.
“You have no idea,” Jenna began with a quick breath, “I went over to see Avery today and then well while I was there Brant sent her this flower delivery and all hell broke loose.”
“I take it Russell Denton happened to be around for all of this hence the disaster,” he questioned watching her scurry to pick a few things up around her apartment.
“Well, I wouldn’t quite put it that way, but after the thirtieth rose bouquet came in, well I don’t think he was too happy and then Avery had me chase him over to the Ashford mansion where I have no idea what happened between him and Brant, but afterwards it was typical Russ and Avery there I suppose.”
“I take it things were pretty intense huh,” Hart lifted a curious brow taking in Jenna’s words as he thought to his talk with Brant about Brant’s intentions where Avery was concerned.
“Intensity seems to be the theme with those two,” Jenna sighed heavily, “as far back as I can remember they’ve always been running hot and cold…either tearing one another apart verbally or ripping one another’s clothes off and not bothering to care who was around to witness the chaos.”
“Sounds like someone you wouldn’t want at an important dinner party,” Hart teased stepping in beside her, “although I must confess I never envisioned Avery to be that type of woman.”
“What type of woman,” Jenna inquired pulling off her scarf as he reached out to her, teasing his fingers over it and playing with the frayed edges as he urged her in towards him.
“The type to just give in to impulse on a whim,” Hart’s words softened as his eyes searched hers, “I mean she seems so cool and collected in court and most of the time I see her she’s quite professional…”
“Yeah well Avery’s certainly a professional, but her addiction has always been Russell Denton,” Jenna commented shaking her head at the thought, “though you wouldn’t think Russ would be the way he is as he too comes off as being very professional and collected, but when there’s a challenge to his position in Avery’s life, well he’s up on the defense…”
“So he’s insecure,” Hart questioned again thinking about Brant’s plea for Avery’s heart, “and I’m sure a woman like Avery is less than thrilled about that one, huh?”
“Well, you shouldn’t seen her today.  I mean there we were at home talking about just random girl talk and Russ came home, but then when this delivery arrived, well he just lost it.  He started screaming at the delivery guy and then he took off after Brant.  I mean sure okay so I wouldn’t be thrilled about someone sending something like that to the person I loved, but he’s really a hothead when it comes to Avery.  I remember one time back in high school when they had a falling out and Avery was seeing this guy…gosh, what was his name again…Larry something… I don’t know what his last name was, but the guy asked Avery out on one date there and Russ decided it was time to take drastic actions.  He showed up on the date and totally sabotaged it, but then a few days later the two of them skipped town and went to the Denton cabin and when they returned they were tighter than ever and my best friend came back minus her virginity there,” Jenna paused thinking about what she’d just blurted out, “though somehow I really think that was too much information for you, huh?”
Hart chuckled at the embarrassment that flooded over her features and he dropped on end of her scarf using his other hand to tease it down over her shoulder before he touched her cheek, “Hey it’s okay.  I mean I don’t mind you sharing whatever comes into your head with me…”
“I’m glad to hear it, but I’ve lived with the Russ and Avery drama for more years than I’d care to admit and while she’s my best friend and I love her, well I don’t want to push that upon you either as it gets confusion after a while,” Jenna threw out a quick apologetic smile.
“Actually, it’s rather interesting to know a bit more about the people you grew up with,” Hart cupped her face in his hands leaning in to kiss her tenderly, “although I’d love to hear all about you’re youth and the men I get to be jealous of from your past.”
“Jealous huh,” she lifted a surprised brow, “Are you trying to tell me you’d like to be like Russ and go hunt them down and beat them for even looking at me?”
“Now, I wouldn’t take that tactic per se, but hey, I’m not above finding a reason to take them to court as I’m sure they must’ve done something wrong over the years,” he curled his arm around her pulling her in closer to him, “I mean after all they let you go, didn’t they?”
“Oh you’re seeking out brownie points tonight, aren’t you,” Jenna laughed lightly.
“Well all this talk about intensity and how your best friend got you going in the middle of her love life, well it got me thinking that maybe we should get working on yours,” Hart confessed in a whisper the warmth of his breath moving in over her lips as his fingers teased over her spine, urging her closer to him, “So since we’ve decided to put Avery aside for a while there in conversation, then perhaps would you care to tell me about the moment in time you took on your first lover there?”
“Well, I could do that,” she reached out to wrap her arms around his waist, “but if I did, you might feel put to shame as you’d have quite a memory to compete against there.”
“Hmm, I think I’m up for the challenge as I’m more than willing to put whatever loser you spent your time with in the past to shame,” he promised tipping down to kiss her teasingly, “as while I might’ve not been suave back in my younger years, I’ve managed to perfect all the right moves these days.”
“I’ll bet you really believe that, don’t you,” Jenna couldn’t help but laugh as she batted her eyelashes up at him unable to contain the smile that tipped up over the corners of her mouth, “So Hart, tell me, did you come here tonight to take me out to dinner or to take me to bed?”
“Well, honestly,” he grinned in response moving his lips up against hers as he inhaled the exotic scent of her perfume, “that’s entirely up to you as I find myself torn between the two options laid out before me…”
“Torn you say,” she arched a curious brow, “My now somehow I didn’t take you for the kind of guy who’d allow hunger to get in the way of the situation at hand…”
“Jenna, honey I’m hungry in ways you can’t even begin to imagine,” he leaned down to nibble on her lip as his hands slid down over her waist, “but I can assure you that in this moment food is the last thing on my mind…”
“Funny thing,” she pushed his sweater up over his body, feeling the warmth of his muscled torso beneath her touch as their kisses grew in intensity, “I was having that very same feeling…”
“You don’t say,” he teased allowing her to pull his sweater up over his head before she discarded it across her apartment taking advantage of the feel of his body beneath her touch, burning her straight to the core as his tongue lashed out at hers urging her to give in to the obvious desire between the both of them.
“Hart,” she whispered his name feeling his lips trace over her neck before he nibbled on her earlobe.
A slow moan rose up from within Jenna as Hart’s fingers began to unbutton her blouse, carefully taking his time to immerse himself entirely over every irresistible inch of her as he parted the material of her shirt.  Taking a moment to admire her curves, he couldn’t help but smile as the anticipation that had built up inside of him, beckoned him to reach out and touch her--to find more from the woman who’d haunted him from the first moment he’d laid eyes upon her.  Sure, back in the first few days it had been entirely about lust and the fact that Jenna was clearly not someone who’d ever give him the time of day, but now as she stood before him more beautiful than ever, he couldn’t help, but crave a whole new world completely with her.

Carefully, Hart eased the material of her blouse over her shoulders as his tongue traced over her collar bone savoring the wildly erotic taste of her.  Her fingers thread through his hair and her soft sighs of encouragement were all he needed as he began to lift her up off her toes and contemplate all the ways he’d devote his ultimate attention to her.
“Oh Hart,” she breathed his name adding fuel to the fire as he anticipated the beginnings of their journey to being lovers, but before he could truly immerse himself in that fantasy, there was a knocking at Jenna’s front door bringing them back down from the heavens and to the reality of the world around them once again.
“Let it go,” Hart urged her as he felt Jenna stiffen in his arms.
“Hart, I can’t,” she sighed hating to break away from him as he set her down once again, “I promised Avery I would be here if she needed me and judging how things were going earlier,” she bent down grabbing her blouse and slipping into it within a matter of seconds, “well I can’t just not be there for her.”
“Somehow I want to go find Russell Denton and beat the hell out of him myself if that‘s his wife standing outside your apartment door,” Hart caught his sweater as she threw it at him hastily as she glared at him.
“Hart, I can’t just abandon her,” she frowned watching him pull his sweater on before she drew in a slow breath trying to hide what was just happening between them as she feigned an air of casualness and opened her front door fully expecting to see Avery, but instead her eyes fell upon her father.
“Jenna,” Douglas threw his arms around her desperately, “oh thanks God I found you.”
“Douglas,” she questioned in confusion feeling the squeeze he had on her as he refused to let her go and almost immediately a sense of panic swept over her, “what is it?”
“Jenna, it’s Kipp,” he began unable to contain the emotion that swept over him as Jenna saw his face was a mixture of emotions she hadn’t experienced with him before.  Sensing the worst, she reached out to touch his arm gently trying to still the racing of her heart.
“What’s wrong?  What’s happened to Kipp?” Jenna questioned in confusion, “Did he…”
“He’s gone,” he blurted out painfully as he lowered his head upon his words.
“He’s…” she felt as though a breath had been kicked out of her as suddenly her world seemed to start closing in around her once more, “He’s dead?”
“No,” Douglas quickly corrected shaking his head in response, “at least I don’t believe he is as I don’t know…I mean I was at the hospital and…”
“And what?” she questioned in confusion.
“He was gone.  Someone had him transported from the hospital and I don’t know where he is.  They forced my signature and no one seems to be able to tell me where your brother is at,” Douglas explained his voice consumed with fear and worry.
“They can’t do that,” Hart piped in taking in the scene between Douglas and Jenna, “If you didn’t clear his removal from the hospital and you’re his guardian, then there’s no way that the could…”
“They did regardless of what they could and couldn’t do and now I don’t have the first clue where my son is.  No one is willing to tell me anything and I’ve tried to get someone--anyone to give me answers, but they’re putting me off,” Douglas replied with a frown as anger flashed in his eyes, “I’ve been getting nothing but hassles and then I thought if someone took Kipp, then maybe just maybe something happened to you as well or maybe you knew something and…”
“I don’t know anything, but I’ll help you find him,” Jenna offered hopefully, “as they couldn’t just take him away like this.”
“Jenna, I’ve tried to get a hold of anyone who should know anything, but I’ve been put off.  I requested a word with the Chief of Staff at the hospital, but the people I’ve been talking to keep putting me off and finding excuses not to clue me in to where my son is…”
“They can’t do that,” Hart decided reaching for his jacket as a sudden thought sparked in his head, “In fact they won’t do that.  We’ll find Kipp.”
“I’ve called in some of my best legal representation, but they won’t get here until tomorrow afternoon,” Douglas started with a growl, “as I won’t let them take my son, but even with my reputation that hospital is giving me nothing but problems…”
“Then let’s go work on shaking that up a bit,” Hart suggested eagerly, “as while I’m not one of your regular men on hand, I’m sure we can use some of my powers of persuasion to get you the answers that you’re looking for about your son as I’ve yet to fight a battle that I couldn’t win…”
“You mean you think that you can learn something that I can’t in terms of what’s happened to my son,” Douglas threw out a skeptic look.
“I know I can as that’s part of what I do,” Hart promised turning to Jenna, “you’re more than welcome to come with us back to the hospital, but you know when I work things tend to get ugly.”
“That’s an understatement,” she groaned inwardly thinking about their shaky past with one another, “but given that the missing patient is my brother, you’re not going to be alone on this one.  Whoever moved Kipp isn’t going to get away with this.  We’ll find him one way or another and then when we do, whomever was behind this mix-up is going to get it.”
“That they are,” Douglas agreed with an eager nod, “as I won’t stand for this.”
“And you shouldn’t have to,” Hart assured him finishing up with his jacket, “and I promise you that by tomorrow morning at the latest we’ll find out where Kipp is and we’ll see to it that you’re compensated for this emotional anguish the hospital so wrongly put you through.”
“Knowing where my son is will be compensation enough,” Douglas explained worry evident in his tone.
“Maybe for now, but later when you decide that someone’s got to pay for this, well, we’ll work on a remedy for that too,” Hart vowed ready to step up to the plate with Jenna’s father and help with this latest family crisis as it was time to show Douglas and Jenna just what he could do when properly motivated.


“Hey you,” Jade massaged her palm over the center of Grady’s chest as she turned her eyes up towards him offering a tiny hint of a grin as they lay together in front of his fireplace just savoring a moment of calm and serenity between them, “Oh Grady…”
“Yes,” he answered lazily turning his green eyes down to take in her beautiful features appreciatively.
“What’s on your mind,” she questioned shifting in his arms as her eyes grew with curiosity, “as I can tell you’re thinking about something…”
“I was just thinking about how lucky we are to be having something like this,” Grady confessed with the beginnings of a smile, “as I waited too damn long to just lose myself in the wonders that you give to me…”
“Well yes we knew that was a big problem of yours, but it’s not one we’ll dare repeat in the future again.  Agreed?” she teased moving in over him, her dark hair teasing over his shoulder as she tipped down to kiss him tenderly.
“Never again,” he promised curling his arms around her slender waist as he held her.
“So really,” she inquired once again as they parted, “what’s really going on inside your head right now?”
“I told you I was thinking about us…” he started to offer up as an answer once again.
“Yes, I know what you told me and what I heard, but I also know what I haven’t heard,” she sighed shaking her head at him, “You still haven’t figured out that I know you too well for you to pretend that I can’t read what’s going on beneath the surface…”
“Okay since you think you know what’s going on inside my head,” he winked up at her offering up a sexy smile, “why don’t you tell me what it is?”
“Well considering that you keep looking over at the phone every now and then,” she began with a sigh, “at least five times in the last five minutes, I’d have to say that your mind is drifting back to Russ.”
“Now why would I do a silly thing like think about my brother when I have you here with me just like this,” he threw back defensively as he collected her lips in a quick kiss.
“Because you haven’t heard from him yet and you’re wondering if he’s decided to change his mind about dinner,” she explained matter of fact rubbing her palm over his strong arm as he held her, “and you’re wondering if this truce is really going to work.”
“It hadn’t crossed my mind once,” he lied seeing the expression on her face as she doubted his words, “and I so did not look at the phone five times in the last five minutes.”
“No it was more like ten, but I was trying to be polite,” she explained repositioning herself over him as she sat up reaching out for the cordless phone and handing it to him, “Grady, if it’s really bothering you so much, then why don’t you make the call?”
“Jade, isn’t not really…” he started to protest as she placed her index finger over his lips silencing him abruptly.
“Grady, just call him.  I can see that dark, brooding look that you have in your eyes and I just know until you speak with Russ, you’re not going to be here with me completely,” she caressed his lips with hers in a tender, sensual kiss, “and believe me you sexy thing right now I want you here completely in every sense of the word.”
“All the more reason for us to push Russ out of mind for a while,” he tugged her into his arms once again as a giggle spilled over her lush lips and she swatted at his chest playfully.
“Grady, would you just make the call,” she urged him on forcing herself to give him a very stern look despite the feelings he’d awakened up inside of her as the nearness of him drove her crazy, wild with uninhibited ideas of passion between them.
“You’re not going to let me weasel out of this one, are you,” he arched an inquisitive brow as she shook her head confirming what he already knew to be true.
“You need to get this out of your system otherwise we’re taking steps backwards,” she insisted touching his face gently, “and after what we’ve been sharing together I think that’s the last place you want to go.”
“You’re right on that one,” he sighed eyeing the cordless phone like it would reach out and take his fingers off as he reluctantly dialed his brother’s cell phone wondering if Russell would be around to answer and if he was, well there was no telling what his response to the call may be.  It rang once, twice, three times and as Grady found himself ready to hang up, he heard Russell’s groggy voice on the other end of the line.
“Russ, hey it’s Grady,” Grady began clearing his throat as he felt a sense of nervousness settle in the pit of his stomach.  He looked to Jade watching as she waved him on encouragingly and he continued to speak before he lost his nerve, “I was just calling about dinner…”
“Dinner,” Russell repeated in a yawn as Grady heard some shuffling on the other end of the phone, “Grady, what time is it?”
“I don’t know,” Grady admitted honestly realizing he’d lost track of time himself, “Not too late I don’t think.”
“Oh,” Russell answered saying nothing more as Grady felt a silence fill the air between them.
“So are we on for dinner tomorrow night,” Grady inquired once again, “Since I didn’t hear anything from you, I wasn’t sure if you’d changed your mind or not as…”
“Avery and I fell asleep on the couch here,” Russell explained exhaustion evident in his tone as he moved the phone around a bit, “but I can ask her about it…hold on…”
“Russ,” Grady started again not sure what he was going to say as he could overhear his brother on the other end of the line clearly awakening Avery.
“Baby,” Russell’s voice rang through the line as there was the sound of soft moans of protest beyond his words, “Sweetie, wake up.  Grady’s on the phone…”
“Grady,” Avery murmured restlessly as another groan followed, “what does he want?”
“We were going to have dinner with him…” Russell reminded her quickly.
“Tonight,” she questioned as Grady could hear the protest in her tone as it came out almost in a whine.
“No tomorrow,” Russell explained to her as Grady heard another shuffling sound.
“Sure, whatever you say honey,” Grady heard Avery offer up in response as he could almost picture her rolling over in his brother’s arms falling back to sleep as Russell collected the phone once again.
“Dinner sounds fine,” Russell replied sounding a bit more awake for a moment there, “What time?”
“How about say six-ish?” Grady suggested unable to believe that somehow he’d managed to let himself get roped into a dinner with his brother and the woman he’d grown so very hard to despise over the years.
“Six sounds great,” Russell answered quickly before another yawn carried over the line, “Where do you want to meet up?”
“I don’t know…” Grady held his hand over the base of the phone, “Jade, where should we meet up?”
“Have them here,” Jade encouraged him as Grady shook his head in refusal.
“No way,” he whispered covering the mouthpiece of the phone more completely as he heard Russell call out to him again, “Just a second Russ.”
“Why not,” Jade gave him a pointed look, “You promised me that you’d give this a try.”
“I know what I said, but remind me how having that woman in my home constitutes as a try,” Grady whispered hoarsely not wanting his brother to hear his musings over the situation.
“Grady, if you’re truly going to turn over a new leaf, why not start fresh,” Jade suggested with a grin, “and besides I love to watch you heat things up in the kitchen as that had something to do with what I had in mind for later.”
“You’re going to be the death of me one way or the other.  I hope you do realize that,” Grady gave in returning to the phone call once again, “How about you both come over here?”
“Over there,” Russell replied in obvious confusion, “Grady, did you just say that we should have dinner at your place?”
“Sure why not,” Grady shrugged his shoulders seeing the proud smile that built up over Jade’s features, “Jade enjoys cooking so I think it could be good for us all to have a home cooked meal.”
“Well,” Russ hesitated, “are you sure about that one?  I mean really it’s no problem if we just…”
“It’s no trouble at all.  You and Avery just be here around six and bring your appetites,” Grady assured him wondering if he could really pull something like this off as he looked to Jade seeing the excitement building behind her eyes and he realized it was worth a shot, “and hey, since we’re making a deal out of it, how about you and Avery bring dessert?”
“Dessert,” Russell repeated with mild confusion as another yawn swept over him, “Yeah sure…okay…we’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Tomorrow it is,” Grady agreed hanging up the phone as he turned to Jade seeing the smile on her features, “Happy now?”
“Very,” she threw her arms around him excitedly, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Yeah well, I hope you remember that when I’m gritting my teeth through dinner in having Avery here,” Grady warned her honestly.
“You can do it as I have faith in you,” she tried to assure him as she touched his face urging him to meet her eyes, “after all this is about taking steps forward remember?”
“Speaking of those steps,” a mischievous expression swept over his features as he hugged her in against him tossing the phone aside, “you promised me that we could work on a few of those once I’d made the call and would you look, I’m done with that phone call.”
“So you are,” Jade curled her arms around his shoulders as a teasing expression carried over her, “though about those steps, I don’t quite remember what I was saying before.”
“I’ll remind you as I’ve got a very good memory among other things,” he assured her kissing her heatedly as another tiny laugh built up inside of her as he rolled over on top of her to cage her beneath him.
“That you do,” she smiled up at him, “and I think that’s part of why I do adore you so much Grady Denton.”
“And here I thought you were just drawn to me because of my undeniable sexual magnetism,” he teased dipping down to kiss her heatedly.
“Well that might have something to do with it too, but then again I’m not quite sure on that one either,” she answered playfully, “Think you can work on refreshing my memory on that one too?”
“Oh darling I know I can,” he promised kissing her again as he lost himself to the magic of the woman who’d opened his heart up to love again and showed him that there were such things as second chances and maybe just maybe he’d find a way to overcome all the things that had held him back before as in being with Jade, he’d suddenly found himself open to the possibilities that the world held for him as she was the key to unlocking all the potential he’d kept inside for so very long.


Johanna slipped the key into the door of Zack’s apartment and opened the door. She led him inside as he stumbled slightly. She laughed softly as she set him upright once again. When he’d fallen asleep on the drive here, she hadn’t expected him to remain a zombie until she got him into bed.

“Zack, where’s the bedroom?” She asked him softly.

He mumbled something incoherently before he half heartedly pointed towards one end of the apartment. She kicked the door closed behind them and led him through the apartment and into the bedroom. She stood him beside the bed as she pulled his jacket off of him. When he grunted in protest, she tugged on his tee shirt.

“You’re not going to sleep in your clothes, Zack. Come on. Help me get you out of this,” She instructed as she tugged the shirt over his head and cast it aside. She unfastened his belt and pants before she gave him a gentle push onto the bed.

Zack immediately fell back into the pillow and began to snore. She chuckled softly as she removed his shoes, drew his pants from him and tossed them on the floor to join his shirt. She lifted his legs onto the bed and drew the blankets over him before standing back to watch him sleep.

Johanna lightly swept her fingers over his forehead, “I love you so much,” She whispered as he slept.

She took a deep breath as she walked back through the apartment to leave. As she neared the door, she stopped in her tracks and cast a glance back towards the bedroom. Why should she leave? Zack had held onto her at the hospital and admitted that he needed her support. So why shouldn’t she just stay with him?

She locked the door to the apartment and placed Zack’s keys on a bookshelf nearby. She removed her jacket as she walked through the apartment and dropped it to the floor. She entered his bedroom and watched him sleep as she unbuttoned her blouse. She dropped it to the floor before unfastening her skirt and sliding off her shoes. She kicked both aside before she crawled into bed beside him. She snuggled into his side and smiled as he snaked his arm around her to draw her closer.

Johanna smiled as she closed her eyes and relaxed against him. Sure Zack would probably have no clue how he’d gotten home much less found himself in bed with her, but she had no doubt in her mind that he would be grateful for her presence. She knew that she definitely appreciated being in his arms as this was as close to paradise as she thought possible.


Ken sat in his sitting room and stared at the papers before him. He’d done all the preparation he could possibly do in regards to the Midlands case, but still he felt as if he had missed some vital thing that could help his case. He leaned back in his arm chair and groaned as he tried to shake the feeling of hopelessness he felt. He’d never been nervous going into a trial, but with Caitlin’s health in peril, he knew that his case of nerves weren’t exactly related to the case at hand.

As he looked at the papers before him, he realized what was missing. Caitlin’s enthusiasm for her story. He winced at he realized that she would miss the beginning of the trial that she had worked so hard to report. With that thought, he lifted his phone and dialed Russ’s number.

“Yeah, Grady, I already told you…”

“This isn’t Grady.”

“Ashford?” Russ spoke with anger hinted in his voice.

“It’s Ken,” Ken said quickly to avert Russ’s anger.

“Oh,” Russ replied, “How’s Caitlin?”

“I don’t know,” Ken answered with a frown, “They still won’t let us in to see her. The last news I got was that she was stable but still in a coma.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t understand why they won’t you of all people in to see her.”

“We had a disagreement on the island that wasn’t resolved when she was attacked. I guess her brother thinks that’s cause enough to keep me away from her.”

“Do I even want to know what the disagreement was about?”

“It was about you, Avery, and my brother and how the entire situation was handled,” Ken frowned, “Look, I really didn’t call to get into this all over again.”

“Fair enough. Why did you call?” Russ asked out of curiosity.

“The Midlands story. The case is moving forward tomorrow, and it would mean a lot to Caitlin if you were to cover the trial for her. She trusts you, Russ, and I really think that if you were there in her place she’d feel like the story was being handled properly,” Ken sighed, “Look, Russ, I wouldn’t ask normally because I know you have a million things going on with this Abrams thing, my brother, and being a newlywed, but this is important to Caitlin. I’m going to try to get a continuance for at least a couple of weeks, but just in case the judge denies the motion, Caitlin would really appreciate you being there,” He paused, “And frankly, so would I.”

After a moment of silence passed, Russell answered, “I’ll be there, but I’m only doing this for Caitlin. She’s a good friend, and if my covering this story until she’s healthy again will provide her with any kind of comfort, I’ll do it.”

“Thank you, Russ. Courtroom A at nine,” Ken informed him.
“I’ll be there.”

“Thanks again,” Ken spoke before hanging up the phone. He smiled as he felt a slight burden lifted from his shoulders. Still, it wasn’t as if Caitlin would be there. He frowned as the thought passed through his mind. No, he wouldn’t be happy until Caitlin was at his side, but he couldn’t even relay that thought to her. He would have to have patience, but as he’d learned lately, patience was not necessarily a virtue the Ashford family possessed.


Blake entered the mansion straining not to look back and watch Seth pull out of the drive as her heart was in more turmoil than ever.  While she was certain that she should remember all the things that had her so very angry with Seth, she was finding herself dwelling on the good times--on the moments where she was convinced she’d met her soul mate as he’d opened her heart up to a world of love, but now, well now as she listened to the silence that surrounded her, she realized that dream of her and Seth, much like her dreams of Zack were gone and she was once again filled with an emptiness and confusion.  Shaking her head as she refused to allow herself to give in to self pity, Blake decided she’d make her way into the kitchen, but before she made it that far, Brant stepped out of his study smiling upon her arrival as he called out to her.
“Well hello beautiful,” he greeted her with an embrace kissing the top of her head, “I thought I heard you come in.”
“I was just on my way to the kitchen and I‘m sure you‘re busy so I‘ll just get going,” Blake began trying to avoid any eye contact with him as he reached out to her once again.
“Hey, what’s going on,” he questioned urging her to meet his eyes as he saw that she’d been crying and his smile faded, “Hey, sweetie, what is it?”
“Brant, it’s nothing.  Really it’s…” she tried to lie to her brother, but ultimately everything that had happened over the last few days weighed down upon her and she burst into tears once again despite her efforts to be strong.
“Hey Blake, what is it,” he questioned pulling her into his arms as he guided her into the study with him.  Urging her to take a seat on the small sofa with him, he hugged her as she continued to sob into his chest.
“Brant, everything is a mess.  First Caitlin and now Zack…”
“Zack,” Brant repeated tightly thinking to what he’d witnessed at the hospital between Zack and Johanna and instantly an anger flared inside of him, but instead of rolling with it, he remained calm for Blake’s sake in the moment, “What has he done?  Is he still trying to keep you from seeing Caitlin?”
“Well yes, but…” Blake shook her head as she wiped at her tears, “I mean that’s bad, but it gets worse as not only isn’t he listening to me, but he’s got this woman with him--this reporter and she’s someone he’s involved with.  Someone that he…”
“Oh Blake honey,” Brant hugged her tighter as he felt her pain wash over her, “I’m so sorry as I should’ve known that guy was no good for you.”
“I thought we had something special,” she continued to break down as he kept his arms around her, “He said he loved me and when we were together he treated me like I was everything to him.  Brant, I wanted so much for us to have that happiness in our lives together, but now with that woman…”
“He’s a jerk and you can do better Blake,” Brant tried to offer up some words to perk her up despite the mental fuming he was doing about Zack Vaughn, “Hey, you’re a knockout and any man would love to be with you.  I mean you are my sister after all.”
“Which probably explains why I have horrible luck in terms of love,” Blake sniffled as Brant urged her to meet his eyes, “as I ran into Avery not so long ago.  She was with that jerk and I gave her a piece of my mind for hurting you like she did…”
“Oh Blake honey, don’t worry about me,” Brant insisted wiping at her tears, “It’s only a matter of time before Avery and I work things out between us.  Russell’s taking advantage of the situation and using it against us as he knows she’s terrified of what we have with one another…”
“Brant, she married another man,” Blake blinked back in confusion, “Caitlin said Avery was pregnant and…”
“She is pregnant sweetheart,” Brant nodded in confession, “but that doesn’t change how I feel about her as she and I have something special with one another.”
“But Brant I don’t understand…” Blake started again.
“Avery and I found out about that baby together and we’re going to raise that little one together as you’re going to be an aunt,” Brant explained with a half smile thinking about the plans he’d made for him and Avery, “as I’m going to be a father very soon you know.”
“You mean you’re the baby’s father,” Blake’s jaw dropped in astonishment, “but then why did Caitlin say…”
“Because Caitlin and her no good brother want to start trouble for us.  Russell Denton has been pushing his will upon Avery and he even has Caitlin convinced that Avery loves him, but the truth to the matter is that Avery took things hard when Bruce Mathis was murdered and since then she hasn’t been the same, but deep down I know she loves me and we’ll find a way to work this out…”
“Oh Brant,” Blake took in his words as she thought about her brother’s situation, “this changes so many things because I thought…well, it’s just when I saw Avery, I was so upset and I did something horrible…”
“Now why do I find that one hard to believe as my little sister doesn’t do horrible things,” Brant squeezed his arm around her.
“Brant, I said some really awful things to Avery for hurting you and then I hit her,” Blake admitted shamefully, “I had no idea that the two of you were…”
“It’s okay,” he silenced her as he reached for her hand, “not many people know the truth about what’s really been going on between Avery and I as we’ve kept it to ourselves, but now that she’s pregnant, well it changes things for us.  You‘re the only one who can see the truth about how things should be for us as you‘re the only one who really knows the whole story between Avery and I and you have to promise me that you‘ll keep this between us Blake.  Avery‘s already under enough stress that I don‘t want her having to face the things that will come flying at her for loving me as the media has already made her feel she has to run from me out of fear even when we have a good thing between us…”
“Brant, you know I won’t say anything, but I just don’t understand how she could do those things to you considering that…” Blake began again.
“Honey, she’s been stressed and things happened out on the island--things that I can’t even begin to get into with you, but I can assure you that there’s no need for you to worry about my happiness as Avery and I are going to find a way to be together when everything is said and done,” he lifted her hand to his lips kissing it gently before offering up a supportive squeeze, “but right now what matters is your happiness.”
“I don’t think I even know what that is anymore,” she sighed heavily as she sank into him leaning against his body as he hugged her to him, “Brant, why is it that I can’t find it in me to keep someone with me?  Why can’t I just find that special someone to love me…”
“Because no one is special enough for you sweetheart,” Brant kissed the top of her head gently, “as you’re a beautiful, intelligent, vivacious woman and most men are jack asses when it comes to dealing with someone who has as much going on as you do.”
“Still, I don’t understand why love isn’t enough for someone,” Blake confessed feeling the weight of it all fall down upon her, “I mean Brant, I gave so much to Zack.  When Seth broke my heart, he was there for me and he loved me.  He gave me the world and I, well I trusted him.  I trusted him with everything and now…now I feel like it didn’t matter.  When he spoke with me earlier, just the look in his eyes and the things he said.  Brant, how could he think I didn’t love him when I let him inside in ways that I’ve never allowed any man to be in with me before?  How could he think that what we had meant nothing when I explained to him how I cared about him…how making love was so very special…”
“Whoa back up,” Brant’s eyes widened as he watched his sister closely, “Blake, are you telling me that you were sleeping with that loser?”
“Zack isn’t a loser,” Blake defended with a huff before her tears overcame her, “and being with him was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life…at least I thought it was before Johanna showed up and…”
“Oh Blake,” Brant felt his anger double by the second as he realized that not only did Zack Vaughn had the gall to screw around on his sister, but to push himself into her world and make her feel vulnerable and safe only to take such a precious gift from her just to shatter her world.
“I don’t understand why he would turn on me like this.  Brant, I loved him so much…” she broke into tiny sobs once again.  “What’s wrong with me that I can’t see the truth when it’s right in front of me?”
“Blake, I can’t blame you for wanting to believe as we all want to,” he whispered as her tears burned down deep to the heart of him and he thought of the actions that would be needed to fix the situation at hand, “and right now I know it hurts honey, but this pain shall pass and you’ll meet someone whose worthy of your love--someone who can give you the world and treat you the way you deserve to be treated as you deserve nothing but the best,” he paused offering up a light squeeze, “and when you find him I pray to God that he’s nothing like me because then we‘re going to have some real trouble there.”
Blake couldn’t help but smile at his words as she looked up at him shaking her head, “You’re not that bad you know.”
“Oh yes I am as I wouldn’t wish a man like me on someone like you any day,” Brant assured her as he brushed his finger tips over her tears watching her smile expand just a fraction, “See now there’s the smile I love.”
“I don’t feel very much like smiling right now,” she confessed with a groan, “as all I want to do is just crawl under a rock and die right now.”
“Well you can’t do that little sister because we’re Ashfords and if we did that, well what would the rest of the world have to talk about,” he teased once again as another smile pressed upon her lips.
“Yeah well, if you vanished I think half the media would lose their jobs considering they live to follow you around,” Blake offered up in response.
“Hmm, well that might be something to consider seeing as there are a few of them I’d like to make disappear forever,” he confessed thinking about Russell Denton for a brief moment.
“Yeah, you and me both,” Blake groaned in response sinking into him, “How is it that we both had some stupid reporter get in the way of our happiness?”
“That I can’t give you an answer for other than well Avery’s confused and Zack is an idiot.  That about sums it up and I’m telling you Blake that one day you’re going to look back on this moment and you’re going to realize that life is so much better than you thought it was with someone like Zack.  You’re going to have someone in your life who can give you the world and who won’t make you cry and break your heart…”
“And he’ll be nothing like you,” she offered up trying to bring a lightness to the situation as she hated to break down in front of her brother.
“Exactly,” he tapped her nose, “now you’re catching on.”
“Yeah well for the record, I happen to think you’re pretty special Brant,” she sighed leaning into him once again, “You don’t give yourself enough credit you know.”
“You give me far too much, but I know it’s because you love me,” he replied wishing that he could erase his little sister’s pain as he hugged her, “Hey, you know since we’re both having a down in the dumps day, what do you think we take a trip out to see Comet?”
“Brant, I don’t know if I’m really up to riding right now,” Blake replied with a frown as she pushed her blonde hair out of her face, “as I can barely see straight with all of the crying I’ve been doing and I feel like hell…”
“Fine, then how about we meet up in the game room in say five minutes after you change into something more comfortable?  I’ll go snag some of that chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream that Annie picked up the other day and we can vent over Combat Destroyer.  What do you say?” he suggested nudging her gently, “You know you want to Blake.”
“Something tells me I don’t have a choice in the matter,” Blake couldn’t help but smile at Brant’s attempts to cheer her up.
“So then that means I should grab two spoons and maybe some whipped cream to go along with the half gallon of ice cream,” Brant lifted a curious brow awaiting her answer.
“If I recall correctly, I think Annie bought two cartons of that chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream,” she replied with the beginnings of a grin as she rose up from the couch ready to get changed for her evening adventure with her brother.
“Then I’ll be sure to grab them both,” he promised watching her leave the room to change as he turned his attention to the phone on his desk.  Once he was certain that Blake was out of the room and out of hearing he dialed the number he’d only recently come to memorize as he heard someone on the other end of the line, “Listen I have another favor to ask and this one involves a doctor here in Coral Valley.  Yes, I know I’ve got you working overtime, but on this one I’ll pay you double the regular rate as this one’s made a huge mistake…” he listened to the person on the other end of the line as his eyes fell upon the portrait he‘d had of him and Blake from one of her riding competitions upon his desk.  Picking it up, he felt a sense of pride sweep over him as he saw the happiness that once sparkled in her eyes and he hoped to find a way to help it come back to her once again, “What?  Well, let’s just say that a certain doctor here in town picked the wrong girl to screw around with and now he’s going to have to suffer the consequences of his actions,” Brant explained vowing to take care of the man who’d managed to tear his sister’s world apart as no one crossed an Ashford and got away with it--especially not when that Ashford was Blake.


“Hmmm,” Heather purred softly as she dropped kisses upon Cameron’s muscular chest. She crawled over him and smiled as she lay upon him and met his eyes, “Now that’s certainly a honeymoon night to remember.”

Cameron grinned as he watched while he ran his fingers down her spine, “You certainly do know how to make a guy feel welcome.”

“Yes well, there are very few who know how to appreciate me, but you,” She smiled like a Cheshire cat, “Well, you definitely know how to appreciate a woman.”

He drew her lips to his, lavishing a post coital kiss upon her as the telephone began to ring. He groaned as he released her and reached for the phone. Immediately, he voiced his anger, “Didn’t I tell everyone that I did not want to be disturbed?”

“Yes, but I thought you might want an update on a certain vegetable,” Susan spoke, undaunted by his tone.

“Oh really?” He asked while he met Heather’s eyes and grinned.

“Yes, I filed all the papers like you asked, and Kipp’s been moved to a private facility. Doug got back to the hospital only to find that Kipp was gone. Needless to say, he was livid,” Susan explained.

“That’s very good to hear. I trust you have the situation firmly in hand,” He advised while feeling Heather’s hands roaming over his skin.

“Of course I do, but you might not want to stay gone too long. I have a feeling that Doug will want a hearing on the matter before too long,” Susan advised, “And if you want to keep Kipp away from Doug, you’re going to have to stand up in court and testify as to the reasons why.”

“Understood. See you in a few days,” Cameron smiled as he hung up the phone. He seized Heather in his arms and rolled her to her back as he perched above her.

“I take it that was good news,” She smiled as she looked up into his dark eyes.

“Very good news,” He assured her while tracing her curves, “We’re moving closer to everything we ever wanted, Heather. Can’t you feel how close we are?” He asked as he thrust inside her.

Heather arched against him, crying out at the shockwave of pleasure that permeated her system, “Oh Cameron…”

Cameron grinned as he seized her lips in a fiery kiss. He truly was closer to everything he wanted, and it was only a matter of time now before all his enemies knew exactly what price was to be paid for crossing him.

...to be continued...