She placed the coffee pot back into the coffee maker and carried the two mugs to the table. She placed a mug before her father and sat down across from him.
“Doug,” She began, “I’m sorry we didn’t get any answers at the hospital.”
“So am I,” Douglas spoke as he gazed into the deep black depths of the coffee, “I don’t understand how they could do that. How could they just move him without verifying everything with me?”
“I don’t know, but something isn’t right. I have a feeling we’re not getting the entire story from the hospital staff, but I’m sure we can work on changing that. I know a few people, and maybe I can get some answers,” She offered.
“Could you?” He asked hopefully, “We have to find out something,” He paused, “I can’t imagine Kipp being out there without his family…without me.”
“The one thing that disturbs me most is that someone could do this so maliciously. I mean who would just sweep an ill man away from his family?”
“I don’t know. I suppose,” He began, “Well, there are several different people who could do this, but,” He paused, “Only one person has made a threat of any kind.”
“A threat?” She questioned.
“Cameron Stone,” He frowned, “But to be quite honest, he’s too big a coward to do anything this grandiose.”
“Cameron Stone?” Jenna repeated the name in horror, “How does he play into any of this?”
“I was married to his mother,” Douglas frowned, “Cameron and Kipp sort of grew up together. Cameron was much older, but Kipp always looked up to him for reasons I can’t begin to fathom.”
“Cameron Stone is…” Her eyes widened, “My god, that means I’m sort of related to that monster in a twisted sort of way,” She grimaced as she surveyed Doug, “And you think he’s a coward? Haven’t you read the newspapers about the man and heard all the rumors? He’s no coward. He’s a destroyer.”
“He doesn’t do squat. He just pulls people’s strings. He doesn’t have the guts to make a threat and then actually follow through on it himself.”
“Are you so sure about this? You said he made the threat, and now look at what’s happened. Kipp is missing, and you have to admit that it does make Cameron look guilty,” She reasoned.
“Yeah, but I know Cameron. He’s probably off some where plotting some asinine way to get at me,” Douglas shook his head, “He doesn’t have what it takes to go toe to toe with me. He never did.”
Jenna glanced to her coffee cup, “Then who would have done something like this?”
“Kipp’s mother maybe,” He mused, “Nah, she wouldn’t take time out of her busy jet setting lifestyle to do something like this. But there are people who hate me enough to do something this heinous.”
“I’d really rather not get you involved in any of that,” Douglas spoke with caution, “It’s better if some aspects of my life remain a secret.”
“Don’t do that, Doug. Don’t shut down on me. The last thing I can deal with is more secrets. I think living my life as one big lie due to a huge secret is plenty, don’t you?” She spoke demandingly as she kept her eyes locked on him.
He reached out and took her hand, “Of course. You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s just that I don’t want you to become involved in the shadier parts of my life. I don’t want to place you in any danger.”
“You’re my father,” She reminded him, “I want to be involved in all aspects of your life, and stand by your side to support you no matter what the circumstances are. I want to be able to feel like we have a real family. Let me be your family, Doug, and we’ll get through this together,” Jenna spoke as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
Doug nodded as he drew his daughter into a gentle hug, “You are my family, and somehow we will get through this together,” He assured her as he wondered how he was going to find Kipp and bring him home so that they could all truly be a family together.
Zack squeezed the soft form lying beside him as he began to awaken. His limbs were still heavy, and he wasn’t quite sure that he wanted to wake up just yet. He’d had the most delicious dream about taking a vacation with Blake. Maybe once Caitlin was better, he could make that dream a reality.
As soon as that thought occurred to him, he realized that he wasn’t squeezing a pillow to him. He had a very warm, very soft form lying beside him. Only…he didn’t remember how that had happened at all.
He opened his eyes and surveyed the woman sleeping beside him. Johanna. He took a deep breath and sighed, wishing that he could close his eyes and open them again to find that it was really Blake at his side. Unfortunately as he tried it out for good measure, it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Life was getting too complicated lately when it seemed as if life had been going so smoothly. How did people and events seem to collide at just the right time to explode in a world of turmoil?
Johanna snuggled against him and continued to sleep peacefully. He vaguely remembered her offer to drive him home, but after that, everything was a blur. He knew he had been way too exhausted to actually have sex with her, but just the idea of being in bed with her was disconcerting. While he’d appreciated her presence at the hospital and her support throughout this ordeal, he had no intentions of taking their relationship any further. He’d ended their romance in Seattle, and he intended for it to stay that way.
“Jo,” Zack said softly, hoping to gently rouse her from her sleep. He didn’t want to get into a knock down drag out fight first thing this morning.
“Hmmm?” She murmured in question, refusing to open her eyes to face the day.
“It’s time we were getting out of bed,” He informed her as he eased out of her touch.
“Do we have to?” She asked as she reached out for him only to find warm sheets under her touch. She opened her eyes slowly and watched him as he looked around the room for his pants, “I suppose you want to hurry back to the hospital to be with Caitlin, don’t you?” She frowned as she sat up while holding the warm sheets to her body, “I can’t say I blame you. Maybe I could fix you some breakfast.”
“I don’t think so,” He replied quickly as he slipped into his pants.
Johanna watched him closely for a moment as he continued to get dressed, “You’re running from me.”
He frowned as he tugged his tee shirt over his head and looked toward her, “No, I’m just getting ready to go back to the hospital. I think you should be getting ready to leave.”
“Zack, I want to be here for you. You’re going through a lot right now, and I just want to be with you to support you. Does that really make me so bad?”
“Jo, our relationship is over,” He declared, wondering if it sounded half as harsh as he thought it had, “And that isn’t going to change.”
“It already has,” She reasoned as she ran her fingers through his hair, “Zack, can’t you see how much I love you? All I’ve wanted to do is be by your side. Why does that make me such a horrible person to you?”
“Look, we just don’t work together as a couple,” He spoke as he slipped his hands into his pockets, “You know we just don’t make any sense.”
“No, you just don’t want to commit to anything longer than a one night stand. Does little miss Ashford have any idea that you’re going to turn your back on her when she wants a commitment too?”
“It’s not like that, Jo.”
“Yeah, it is,” She grumbled as she threw the sheets off her body and moved off the bed to get dressed, “It scares you to think you might have to actually quit zipping from one woman to another. One of these days, you’re going to have to face up to some sort of responsibility, and when you do, the days of being every woman’s dream guy will be over,” She slipped into her skirt and grabbed her blouse off the floor, “You know,” She paused as she pulled her blouse over her shoulders and began to fasten the buttons, “The sad thing is that despite your reluctance to grow up and find it within yourself to be with one woman for the rest of your life,” She finished with her blouse and dropped her hands to her sides, “I still love you. Damn you, Zack Vaughn, I still love you. You call me when that finally gets through all those stupid childish barriers you’ve put up. You call me when it finally means something to you,” She said as she turned and stormed out of the apartment.
Zack sat down on the edge of the bed and ran his fingers through his hair with a sigh. He’d known as soon as he’d seen Johanna at Irvan’s that there would be trouble. He just had no idea that he would further complicate the situation by drawing her into his life. He could only hope that he would be able to get her out of his life again as easily as he had drawn her in.
“And so it begins,” Avery announced running her fingers through her
hair as she entered the kitchen to find her husband at the stove whipping
up breakfast for the both of them.
“What’s that sweetie,” he questioned feeling her step in behind him curling her arms around his waist as she tipped up on her toes to kiss the back of his neck quickly.
“Reality sets in,” Avery groaned taking a step back before peering at what he was whipping up for them, “I figured that since you weren’t in bed with me this morning that it was a wake up call about us getting back into the swing of things.”
“I’d actually hoped to let you keep resting for a while as I had some things to do this morning,” Russell explained honestly, “but I didn’t want to bother you.”
“I wish you had,” Avery walked over to the coffee pot pouring herself a mug as she glanced over at him for a contemplative moment, “as I missed having your arms around me. You could say you’ve spoiled me a lot with that lately.”
“Well, in that case,” he stopped what he was doing turning his attention away from the simmering pot before him approaching her with open arms. He pulled her in against him cuddling her body close to his as he kissed the top of her head gently, “How’s this?”
“Much better,” she replied squeezing him closer to her as the beginnings of a yawn took over her, “So what’s on your agenda today that you were up and roaring to go so early?”
“Well, I wanted to surprise you with breakfast before I was on my way as I wanted both my wife and my baby to be taken care of,” he explained smoothing his hands over her spine as she tilted her eyes up to see him, “as I thought that you might be hungry.”
“Now that you mention it,” Avery eyed the simmering pot before her curiously, “what are you making me?”
“Something I know you’ll enjoy,” he winked at her releasing her as he refocused on the food before him, “though if you want you can get a couple of plates for us.”
“Plates,” she repeated throwing him a scathing look as she motioned towards the cabinets before her, “I knew this was too good to be true as there’s always a catch.”
“This time, there really isn’t,” he promised her watching her reach out for one of the chairs to get up on in order to pull out the plates from the top shelf over her head, but before she could crawl up on it, Russell rushed over to her side, “Forget the chair. I’ve got a better idea.”
“What’s that…” Avery started to ask feeling her feet leave the ground as he held her up in his arms high enough for her to maneuver herself inside his cabinet and pull out a couple of plates. Once she’d secured what they’d needed for breakfast, he allowed her enough balance to set the plates on his counter before he shifted her in his arms, turning her towards him for a kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck tasting the sexy flavor of his cinnamon spiced kiss before he set her down on the ground again and she inhaled a slow breath noting the goofy grin on his face.
“What do you think? Better than the chair,” he inquired with a teasing expression as he bent down to kiss her quickly.
“I suppose it’ll do for now,” she feigned an air of seriousness watching as he began to walk away from him and she took the opportunity to swat at his bottom noting the playful expression on his face as he cast a look over his shoulder at her.
“I’ll give you for now,” he shook his head at her, “You know I think I rather enjoyed that method myself. It shows my resourcefulness and I think it’s a much better alternative to the chair…”
“I think it would be an even better alternative if you’d just put the plates on a lower shelf since I’m going to be living here on a more permanent basis,” Avery threw back at him setting the table as he cast a glance in her direction.
“We can negotiate the terms of that,” he winked at her taking a moment to admire her curves through the sheer nightgown she’d been wearing.
“Yeah we’ll see about that one,” she caught the naughty expression that rushed over him as he licked his lips involuntarily and she threw a dish towel at him, “You’re impossible. You know that don’t you?”
“On the contrary, I think I’m a very easy going person here as anything is possible for us when we’re together,” he confessed whistling a soft tune to himself as Avery shook her head at him.
“So, who do I get to lash out at for taking you away from me this morning,” Avery inquired curiously as she pulled some juice out of the refrigerator.”
“Ken called me last night while you were sleeping and he’d like me to sit in on his case against Midlands this morning,” Russell explained thinking about the day ahead of him, “It was Caitlin’s story, but now that she’s in the hospital, well Ken wants someone to follow it and truth be told, I really owe it to Caitlin to do this. I mean I’m the one who put her on this to begin with and now that she’s in a coma…” he stopped himself thinking about the weight of those words.
“Russ, she’ll pull through it,” Avery offered up hopefully as she approached him once again placing her hand on his shoulder and offering up a squeeze, “and when she does, well she’ll be glad to see that you were looking out for something that was important to her.”
“Even so,” Russell sighed heavily, “it’s been a while since I’ve gone in and done something like this. I mean I’ve been spending my time doing all the typical editorial duties that I haven’t sat in on something this big in a while…especially when it’s Caitlin’s baby here…”
“I’m sure you’ll do it far more justice than you’re giving yourself credit for,” Avery encouraged him, “as you’ve always had a thing for being in the thick of things…”
“That’s true, but it’s been a while since I jumped in head first with something as usually it’s a lot of paper pushing and deadlines and…” he shook his head as the words stopped, “Would you listen to me? I’m sounding ridiculous here.”
“That was what I was thinking,” Avery shrugged her shoulders as a smile fixed over her lips, “considering that the Russ Denton I fell in love with was one of the most pushy, determined reporters out on the market there.”
“I did have a knack for capturing the essence of the story,” he agreed with her as his face lit up with a nostalgic feeling, “as there were some great ones along the way.”
“They all were great ones and I’m sure with you filling in for Caitlin at the moment it’ll be nothing less than the best and she’ll appreciate you doing this for her,” she rose up on her tiptoes to offer a quick kiss once again before stepping back, “so now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s eat.”
“Take a seat and I’ll bring it right too you,” he promised finishing up with the stove as he watched her refilling his coffee he’d had waiting for him at the table, “So while I’m gone, what are you going to be up to today?”
“Well last I checked I still had a job of my own to do at BBK,” Avery reminded him reaching out to the newspaper that was tucked aside on the table and unfolding it, “that is if Brant hasn’t fired me after last night.”
“Brant’s not going to fire you,” Russell grumbled thinking about the man he was growing to loathe more and more as the days went on, “though I almost wish he would as that would make things easier.”
“Gee, that’s a lovely thing to say to your wife,” Avery curled her lip in a frown as she eyed him closely, “I appreciate your support there Russ.”
“Avery, you know that’s not how I meant it,” he grumbled in response, “I just wish that he’d lay off you and as long as you’re working there, he’s going to constantly badger you about things…”
“And I already told you that I can handle it,” she placed her hand on top of his for a moment of seriousness as she looked to him, “Russ, you have to trust me on this one…”
“I trust you implicitly, but Brant on the other hand…” he started filling her plate with the omelet he’d whipped up for her.
“Russ, you have to quit worrying about Brant. He’s small potatoes there for us babe,” she tried to assure him as she thought about what could be waiting for her at work, “although today he might be ready to lash out at me for what you did…”
“And if he even tries, you just call me and I’ll come over there and…” he began taking a seat beside her.
“Russ, you can’t keep fighting my battles for me. Overall Brant and I have a great professional relationship and yes over the last few months the lines have been blurred, but I’m going to get him back on the right track where I’m concerned. He knows that I’m married and that isn’t going to be changing…” Avery started once again thinking about the stress that Brant’s delivery had put upon her marriage.
“Even so, I just don’t like the fact that the guy is going to be sitting there undressing you with his eyes and thinking up ways of seducing you when I’m not around,” Russell argued with her once again feeling his stomach grow sour at the thought of Brant lusting over his wife.
“Then why don’t you just focus on the fantasies you’ll be having all day while we’re apart about seducing me because I’m sure we’re both going to need plenty of time to unwind after the day ahead of us…” she suggested reaching under the table to touch his leg gently.
“Yeah well given that we’re having dinner with Grady tonight, I don’t know what kind of mood you’ll come home in, so my fantasies might be all for not there,” he pointed out thinking about the promise he’d made to his brother.
“I’ll behave as long as he does,” Avery assured him as she’d almost forgotten about dinner, “but if he starts up, Russ I can’t promise you that I’m just going to sit there and take it…”
“You shouldn’t have to,” he explained reaching for her hand, “Avery, I love you and if my brother can’t accept that, then we don’t need him hassling us. Tonight we’ll give it a try, but if I sense anything funny happening, then I won’t keep us there…”
“I appreciate that,” she nodded in response, “but I promise you that I’ll really try here since I know how important this is for you.”
“You’re what’s important to me Avery,” he reminded her honestly, “I love you.”
“I love you too which is why I promise I won’t spend my day worrying about what might or might not happen with Grady tonight, if you promise me that you won’t spend your morning obsessing over Brant…” she threw out at him quickly as a thought occurred to her.
“Avery, you know that’s easier said than done with that man considering that he and I…” he started to argue with her.
“Russ, you know how Grady and I are, but I’m willing to try this for you. At least try to do the same for me because I swear to you if Brant gets out of line, well I’ll take care of him and besides my father should be in the office today.”
“Oh really,” Russell couldn’t help but feel relief upon her words, “In that case I’ll try…”
“Yeah, I thought you might,” she laughed lightly shaking her head at him, “you know you’re really something…”
“Something special I hope,” he reached for her hand bringing it up to his lips and kissing it gently.
“Something very special indeed,” she agreed with a soft sigh as he held her hand, “in fact, if you can find it in you not to come to the office today and try to rip Brant’s head off, then I can assure you that after dinner tonight with Grady regardless of how ugly things might get, you won’t have any problems living out whatever fantasy that kept you going throughout the day as I’m guaranteeing you a sure thing,” she flirted squeezing his leg underneath the table.
“Hmm, now that does sound tempting, although…” he paused extending the tips of his toes up over her foot beneath the table as he savored the skin to skin contact between them, “I don’t know if I’m completely sold on this idea of having to wait until tonight for that whole fantasy becomes reality there…”
“Well, you know what they say about anticipation,” she leaned in towards him inching her hand up over his thigh, “It’s the wait that makes the experience all the more enjoyable when you can finally savor the fantasy you’ve immersed yourself in throughout the day.”
“There’s also something to be said about cutting to the chase and going for the gusto,” he dropped his hand underneath the table placing his fingers up over the hem of her nightgown before tugging it up just a bit to come into contact with her smooth skin.
“Russ, you and I both know you don’t have the time for this,” Avery placed her hand over his keeping him from bunching the fabric of her gown up over her leg even further, “as you have to get dressed to meet Ken and I have to hop in the shower.”
“Hmm…well, you know I think we can work with that,” he grinned eagerly taking a few bites of his food, “We can eat and then I’ll join you for that one…”
“Russ, honey, we both know that’s not a very practical idea,” Avery threw him a serious look, “as the last time I tried to take a shower with you without distractions, well, that’s all we had…”
“Oh we had more than distractions I’d say as the memory still is there on the tip of my brain taunting and teasing me for a repeat performance,” he explained seriously, “as there’s just nothing like our time together in the shower.”
“Well, that might be a thought for tonight,” she teased back reaching for another bite of her omelet.
“What if I said I’d really rather not wait until tonight,” he questioned casually as he began poking at his food.
“I’d say that you made a promise to Ken and you can’t keep him waiting,” Avery insisted not bothering to look over at him as she was well aware of the puppy eyes he’d be using in an attempt to make her melt and succumb to his charms.
“I won’t keep him waiting,” he assured her eagerly, “as I don’t anticipate putting him in that kind of position especially when I know that tonight I can get a continuance on what’s happening between us this morning…”
“This morning we’re going to be eating breakfast and then I’m going to give you a kiss good-bye and we’ll see each other after work respectively,” Avery promised him quickly finishing up the food on her plate before rising from her chair. She brought her plate over to the sink, quickly rinsing it before placing it in the dishwasher. Turning her attention back to Russell, she kissed the top of his head giving him a quick hug before pulling away from him. “See you later honey.”
“Avery, come on,” he began watching her slip out of the kitchen headed towards the bedroom as his eyes followed her every movement. He turned his attention to the plate before him grudgingly finishing off his breakfast as he tried not to let disappointment set in, but as he heard her whistling the same tune he’d been whistling earlier, his gaze lingered down the hallway towards their bedroom just in time for him to catch her discarding her nightgown in plain view before walking into the bathroom.
“Hmm…” he thought to himself looking at the dishes in the kitchen awaiting his attention as he thought of his wife naked and alone in the shower. Sure, she might’ve insisted he try to leave with the anticipation of being with her stuck in his head all day, but she should realize that just wasn’t going to cut it as he was far more addicted than that. With a determined stride, he shuffled his dishes around placing them into the sink before making his way down the hallway tearing his shirt up over his body and discarding the rest of his wardrobe in the long walk to their bedroom before he entered the bathroom taking in the sight of her silhouette from the other side of the frosted shower door. Boldly he slid the door open and stepped in behind her curling his arm around her waist as his lips dropped down over her shoulder kissing her heatedly.
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to sneak in here even though you know better,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh as she captured his hands in hers guiding them up over her body teasingly.
“Can you blame me,” he questioned spinning her in his arms to face him before his lips descended upon hers taking his time to savor the sweetness of her lips as he hugged her in closer to him.
“Not at all,” she answered with another giggle realizing that it was a good thing she could read her husband so very well, “for a moment there I truly believed you’d find it in you to pull together the strength to just go to court and move on with the day completely focused.”
“And miss out on some quality time with you,” he shook his head at her as he pulled her under the steady stream of water with him, “not a chance,” he finished kissing her eagerly deciding that any opportunity to be near his wife in such a fashion was too delicious of a temptation to resist and even though she downplayed wanting him there with her, her kisses gave him all the encouragement he needed to savor their time away from the rest of the world as it would be something they both could take with them through their day away from home.
Brant entered the kitchen finding Blake seated at the table thumbing
through a fashion magazine that had come for her in the mail the previous
Monday. He smiled as he walked by her kissing the top of her head
quickly as he lifted a curious brow, “Find anything entertaining in there?”
“Not really unless you’re interested in the latest shoe designs,” she tossed the magazine across the table with a heavy sigh, “and to be honest with you Brant, I’m really not up to shoes this morning.”
“Now I know you’re not feeling well,” he touched her forehead teasingly, “You know maybe we should call the fashion police in here to work on a remedy for this one as I never thought I’d live to see the day when our little Blake wasn’t thrilled with the latest ins and outs of the fashion footwear world.”
“Oh you,” she couldn’t help but smile nudging him away from her as she shook her head, “You know that’s so not funny…”
“Who said I was joking,” Brant laughed lightly as he curled his arm around her, “though you know if shoes aren’t doing it for you, I can always call up one of your favorite designers from Paris and have them come in to whip up something enjoyable for you.”
“Brant, I don’t think a shopping spree is going to make me feel better…” Blake argued with him.
“Not even the slightest bit?” Brant inquired with a lift of his brow.
“Well…maybe a little, but not enough to really get me beyond what’s going on,” Blake sighed heavily, “although maybe if I take another try at the hospital this morning…”
“Blake, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I mean considering what happened yesterday, I think that’s the last place you need to be at,” Brant explained taking a seat beside her, “I mean really right now you need to try to find something that can help you gain some peace in your life…”
“But with Caitlin in a coma and…” she started thinking about the realities waiting for her outside the walls of the mansion.
“Blake, I know you’re concerned about her because she’s your friend, but right now your being there isn’t going to change what’s going on,” he offered up reaching for her hand, “Sweetie, I know you want to do what you feel is the right thing, but that doesn’t mean you should be wearing yourself thin with worry and sadness.”
“I can’t help but feel miserable right now Brant,” she confessed painfully, “as it seems that misery is just drawn to me.”
“Well what if I said I wanted to banish it out starting with a trip to the spa for you and Annie,” Brant flashed her a quick smile, “I called and made arrangements for the both of you to spend the day there pampering yourselves since you both don’t do enough of it there.”
“Brant I can’t just take off to the spa today…” Blake started in protest.
“Of course you can and hey it’ll be good for you and Annie. She’s been needing some time to just relax and I think that’ll be great for you both. I even called ahead and had them take Peanut at the dog spa for the day as well and I’ll be dropping her off on the way to work, so as you see, it’s all settled.”
“Brant, I don’t know what to say,” Blake’s jaw dropped with surprise as she let the idea of spending the day at the spa with Annie carry over her and oddly enough an enthusiasm raced over her.
“Just tell me that you’ll enjoy yourself and that’s all the thanks I’ll need,” Brant offered up in response as she threw her arms around him excitedly.
“Thank you…thank you. You’re the best you know,” Blake hugged him eagerly as Kenneth walked into the room taking in the scene before him.
“Yeah right,” he uttered with heavy sarcasm as he rolled his eyes at the exchange between his siblings, “So what did he try to buy you off with now?”
“I didn’t buy her off with anything Ken,” Brant grumbled as he parted from Blake and took a long, hard look at his brother, “Gee, someone rolled out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. Maybe you should go back and give waking up another try as you look like hell there.”
“Well maybe that’s because you’re working so hard to make my life miserable,” Kenneth scowled back at him, “While Blake might be blinded by what you really are, I see you clearer than ever and I’m not going to sit back and pamper your ass like everyone else does around here for existing.”
“Kenny,” Blake’s jaw dropped in surprise, “You know you could at least try to get along this morning.”
“Just let him go on and complain,” Brant waved his hand at Ken dismissively, “He’s just got a bad case of PMS this morning which reminds me Ken you might want to just pick up a Midol on your way to court this morning as it should help.”
“Brant,” Blake gasped in surprise at her brother’s words.
“Well it’s true,” Brant shrugged his shoulders, “I’m just trying to help him here.”
“Well don’t because I don’t need it Brant,” Kenneth glowered at him, “In fact why don’t you just go to hell Brant?” he huffed shaking his head at Brant for a brief moment before storming out of the kitchen in a haste.
“Ken come on…” Brant called after his brother before throwing his hands in the air in defeat, “Oh forget him.”
“He’s having a hard time right now Brant because this is bothering him with Caitlin too,” Blake reminded him poignantly, “He loves her and it’s hurting him that he can’t be near her.”
“I understand that, but he needs to let up on blaming the world for what’s going wrong,” Brant grumbled thinking about his brother’s attitude problems, “oh hell…I give up.”
“Brant, you know it wouldn’t hurt to be a little less hard on him,” Blake suggested touching his arm gently, “He’s really hurting right now and we both know how that feels…”
“Even so Ken is acting like this is all my fault when I had nothing to do with what happened to Caitlin,” Brant reminded her with a sigh, “The fact that Zack is being a jerk, well it speaks volumes about the guy if he’s going to hurt my baby sister and Ken should see that…”
“He’s just upset,” Blake found herself saddened by the mention of Zack’s name, “We all are right now.”
“Well I just hate to see you so worked up about a guy who isn’t worth your time and energy,” Brant reached out to her, “as I want you to be happy Blake. You’re the one of us that has that chance to have a normal life here and I want that for you.”
“I know you do, but sometimes things clearly aren’t as easy as we want them to be. Believe me I know,” she sighed in response.
“Yes, well I just wish I could’ve stopped this heartbreak from happening as I hate to see you hurting Blake,” Brant confessed pulling her into his arms for a brotherly embrace, “you deserve so much more…”
“I’m starting to wonder,” Blake admitted thinking to the romantic disasters that seemed to follow her and she wondered if it was ever going to be possible for her to have a sense of normalcy in her life as in between her brothers and the men who kept coming in and out of her life, it seemed that nothing would ever be at peace in the Ashford household and it was a terrifying thought to say the least.
“So sweetheart what’s on your agenda this morning,” Judy inquired sitting
down to breakfast with Deidra as Deidra began to skim over the newspaper.
“Well I’d thought about going apartment hunting later on as Dave said he knew a few places I might be interested in checking out,” Deidra explained perking up as she reached for the mug of coffee before her.
“Deidra, I know you said you wanted to get moving, but you know there’s no rush on this,” Judy offered up reaching out to touch her daughter’s hand, “as I really have enjoyed the company.”
“Even so you have your own life to live mom and I can’t keep holding you back while you’re worried about me,” Deidra explained with a tiny smile returning her mother’s squeeze upon her hand, “You need to have some freedom in your life too you know as you shouldn’t always be so willing to put your life on hold for me.”
“I’m not putting it on hold as you know you’re very important to me and in being a mother…” Judy started to argue with her.
“Being my mother doesn’t mean that you have to spend all your free time concerned about what’s going to happen with me next,” Deidra got up from the table, “Besides I’ll be starting work on a regular basis soon at the hospital and with the new apartment, well it’ll be my new beginning and it’s long past due for me to try that.”
“Honey there is no time limit on how you deal with this,” Judy watched her daughter closely.
“I’m well aware of that, but this is my time limit as I’m ready to just close the book on that chapter in my life and work towards moving on to a new one,” Deidra explained with a spark of enthusiasm as she faced her mother once again, “I need to do this for me.”
“I know you do,” Judy nodded with an understanding smile, “but I’m just saying that if the search doesn’t go as quickly as you like…”
“I know I can always come back here…” Deidra nodded in response, “and I to appreciate that mom. More than you’ll ever know…”
“I know,” Judy replied thinking about the things happening in her daughter’s life as there was a knock on the front door.
“Expecting company,” Deidra questioned sipping her coffee as Judy shook her head in response.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Judy answered pulling her robe together as she realized her lazy morning hadn’t much put her in a position for company.
“Well if you’re worried it’s Rick, I’ll just go and check it out for you and keep him busy while you get dressed,” Deidra assured her setting the coffee mug down as she made her way to the apartment door opening it up to find Diane on the other side.
“Deidra,” Diane started a flash of anger behind her eyes before she took in a slow breath and painted on a fake smile, “I didn’t realize you’d still be here this morning.”
“Don’t worry Diane,” Deidra stepped aside allowing her sister access to the apartment, “I won’t be around much longer so you can have something to smile about.”
“You mean you’re leaving town again,” Diane questioned with almost too much enthusiasm in her voice before she cleared her throat, “I mean so soon?”
“No Diane as much as you’d like me to leave town, I’ll be working around
here, but I won’t be staying at mom’s place anymore so you won’t have to
worry about running into me unexpectedly there,” Deidra explained in a
monotone voice before Judy entered the room.
“I thought I heard you Diane,” Judy greeted her daughter brightly, “What ever brings you over this morning?”
“Well I had a few things I wanted to drop off for you in this bag here on my way to work,” Diane announced brushing past her sister to hand the bag over to her mother.
“What is it?” Judy questioned curiously.
“Oh just a few of those craft things that you’d been thinking about tinkering around with for a bit. I saw them the other day while I was shopping and I thought I’d pick them up for you because I know you wouldn’t do it for yourself since you’re too busy taking care of the rest of us.”
“Diane, I don’t know what to say,” Judy replied as a smile touched over
her features. “That was very thoughtful of you.”
“Oh it was nothing,” Diane waved her hand at her mother, “as it was the least I could do for you as I so know you need to take some time out to relax a bit and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.”
“Well I appreciate the gesture,” Judy embraced her, “as it was a wonderful surprise.”
“I love you mom and I’m just trying to help you find a way to take time for yourself,” Diane announced brightly as she took a step back and turned her attention to Deidra, “and I brought something for you as well.”
“Oh?” Deidra arched a curious brow before a puzzled expression washed over her features. “Diane, you really didn’t have to considering that…”
“Deidra, I made a mess of the present you bought me for Christmas and I couldn’t help but feel bad at how things were going between us. I have been absolutely horrible and I wanted to work on fixing that,” she explained reaching into her purse, “You’re my only sister and I really think it’s time that I start being more of a friend to you as that’s what sisters do for one another.”
“Diane, I…” Deidra began as Diane handed over a book to her, “I don’t know what to say.”
“Just tell me that you’ll put that to good use as the woman at the bookstore said that it could probably help,” Diane nodded towards the book as Deidra’s eyes fell over the cover.
“Hmm…now I’m curious,” Deidra skimmed over the title as her smile faded and she looked to Diane with a wounded expression.
“Well what is it,” Judy questioned reaching for the book as her eyes fell upon the title and she read it aloud, “Stop Being a Pathetic Loser and Other Techniques to Keep Help You Feel More Satisfied With Your Life.” Almost as soon as the words came out of Judy’s mouth, a scowl pressed over her features as she glared at her youngest daughter, “Diane.”
“What,” Diane shrugged her shoulders innocently enough, “the woman at the book store said it was geared at women experiencing the kind of mental frustration that someone in Deidra’s position would be going through considering that we talked about the messy divorce Deidra was having and the ways in which Andy made Deidra feel she wasn’t woman enough to keep him interested…oh and they have a chapter on that too in how to learn the techniques that most women take for granted on how to keep a man interested…”
“Diane, I hardly think…” Judy began again with a huff.
“I was just trying to help,” Diane feigned innocence once again, “as clearly Deidra needed some advice and I think this book will be good for her.”
“Yeah well I don’t need your help Diane,” Deidra pushed the book back into her sister’s arms, “but thanks anyways as I have to go.”
“Deidra,” Judy called off after her daughter watching Deidra race off towards the door.
“I promised Dave I’d be there ten minutes ago,” Deidra explained leaving without looking back as Diane couldn’t help but allow the small smile she’d been fighting spill over her features.
“Deidra wait,” Judy chased after her leaving the apartment for a brief moment only to see Deidra race off before she returned to find Diane gloating in the living room. “I hope you’re happy now.”
“I was just trying to help,” Diane shrugged her shoulders, “Can I help it if she’s not willing to face up to the reality in her life?”
“I think you’re the one living in a fantasy world there Diane as your behavior this morning was inexcusable and I expected more out of you especially after our talk,” Judy shook her head at her, “I really hoped you’d grow up.”
“I have grown up, but Deidra is set on having her little tantrums and this is just another shining example of it as I was trying to help,” Diane began to defend her position.
“The hell you were,” Judy gave her one last look before heading off towards her bedroom.
“Mom,” Diane frowned hearing her mother’s door slam shut as she looked around the empty living room thinking about her sister’s reaction to the gift. Sure, she’d intended to make a jab at Deidra, but she really didn’t think the drama queen would run off. Unfortunately she should’ve known better, she thought to herself as she realized that right now her mother wasn’t going to be willing to listen to her own sense of logic about the situation. Swiping the book up and placing it in her purse once again, she let out a slow sigh.
“Mom I’ll call you after work,” Diane called out to her mother before leaving the apartment and heading off to work where at least one person would appreciate her efforts however misguided they may be.
Jade whistled a happy tune as she danced through the house. She smoothed out the pleat in her skirt before she stepped into the dining room and spotted Grady as he placed two bowls on the table. She smiled, “Cereal?”
“It is an important part to a nutritionally balanced breakfast,” Grady teased as he sat down.
“Yeah well, we’ll see. What kind is it?” She asked as she sat down at the table.
“Honey oats with strawberries,” He shrugged, “It’s not as sensuous as the breakfast you served yesterday, but I’m trying to stay focused on the day ahead of me here. We’ll indulge in something sinful tonight,” He promised with a wink.
“Well, with a promise like that, I think I can enjoy this breakfast just the same,” She grinned as she pushed around her cereal gently, “So what’s the plan for today?”
“We need to firm up the case for Cameron Stone. The sooner we can get him out of our lives the better,” He reasoned, “But this morning, I’m going to the courthouse.”
“Why?” Jade asked before taking a bite of the cereal.
“The case between Ken and Susan is going down today. I want to see the look on Ashford’s face when he sees her walk into the courtroom,” He spoke before sipping his coffee.
“Do you really think there’s going to be fireworks?”
“Yeah, I do. Susan’s going to ambush him, and I can’t wait to watch it. While I despise Susan, it’ll be nice to see Ashford knocked off his game by her arrival.”
“Why would it upset him?” She asked in confusion.
“They had an affair behind my back,” Grady explained, “No doubt with everything going on in his life, her arrival is only going to make things worse. It’ll be nice to see that I’m not the only person in town upset by her homecoming,” He reasoned before taking a bite of cereal.
“I thought that Kenneth Ashford was the good twin, and Brant was the womanizer.”
“You can’t trust either one of them,” He sighed, “Which is why I can’t get past this thing with Avery. Don’t get me wrong I’m trying to believe that maybe just maybe she really does love Russ,” He groaned, “But it’s a huge stretch for me. Every time I see her defending Brant Ashford, all I can think of is how Susan backstabbed me for an Ashford. It seems Russ doesn’t know how to learn from my mistakes,” He frowned.
“Grady, Avery isn’t Susan. And Russ and Avery are happy together. They’re going to have a baby,” Jade smiled, “That makes their situation completely different than yours was with Susan.”
“Yeah well, I can’t get past that similarity, and it irks me.”
“Do you think you can behave for dinner tonight?” She asked bluntly.
“I’m not promising anything, Jade,” He qualified his statement, “But I’m going to try. Fair enough?”
Jade sighed with a nod, “I suppose that’ll have to be good enough.”
“Jade?” He spoke to get her attention before leaning over to capture her lips in a kiss, “I love you, and you’ve given me the strength to be able to even try this. You’re an amazing woman, and you’ve given me the chance to repair my relationship with my brother. If this works, I owe it all to you.”
She smiled as she kissed him gently, “You don’t owe me anything. You’ve always had the ability to fix things with Russ. You’re just too stubborn to let yourself admit the possibility that you might be wrong. That’s okay. We’ll work on that,” She teased before kissing him once more, “I’m going to work now. Try not to get into trouble at court,” She warned before she kissed him once more and left for the day.
Grady sipped his coffee once more as he thought of what he was about to witness. He just hoped the fireworks would be worth the price of admission.
Zack stepped off the elevator while scarfing down a breakfast sandwich he’d picked up in the cafeteria. It wasn’t perfect nutrition but it was all that he had time for at the moment. He’d barely acknowledged anyone on his way to see his sister, and after the morning he was already having, he didn’t want to waste any more time.
He stepped into the ICU and spotted his father sitting by himself in the corner of the room. He waded up the paper his sandwich had been wrapped in and tossed it into a waste basket as he stepped into the waiting area to join his father, “Dad, where’s Mom?”
“She’s in with your sister. She’s been in there a while,” Timothy explained as he looked to his son, “You look like hell.”
“Thanks,” Zack pushed some magazines aside as he sat down on a coffee table, “Have Cait’s doctors come through this morning?”
“Yeah, they say that her vital signs are improving. They removed the breathing tube, and they had a plastic surgeon come in to do the stitches so she wouldn’t have a nasty scar. Other than that, they said that now we just have to stand by her side, talk to her, and give her a reason to wake up,” Timothy explained as he watched his son closely, “What’s the matter, Zack? You don’t look so good.”
“Everything just keeps piling up, you know,” Zack paused, “Jo’s in town, Blake’s family has screwed up everything, and Caitlin’s so far away from us. It’s a lot to deal with.”
“So where exactly does that leave you?” Timothy asked as he leaned forward.
“It leaves me in hell,” Zack sighed as he glanced towards the door, “Mom?”
“Hey you,” Julia crossed the room and hugged her son, “You should go in to see your sister. I really think it would do her some good.”
“I’ll go in and sit with her in a few minutes,” Zack nodded, “How are you doing, Mom?”
“I’ve been better,” She sighed as she sat down beside Timothy, “I’m hoping you might be able to talk to Caitlin and remind her that we all are just waiting for her to open her pretty eyes.”
“I’ll see what I can do about that,” Zack leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his mother’s cheek before he walked out of the waiting room to go visit his sister.
He opened the door to Caitlin’s room and stepped inside. He closed the door behind him before he made his way to his sister’s side. He eased his fingers along her cheek gently before sitting beside her and taking her hand, “Cait, do you realize that Mom and Dad are going a little bit nuts right now? They’re really missing you kiddo. It must be nice to be the favorite,” He said teasingly as he lightly brushed his thumb over her skin, “Oh Cait, I could so use your advice right about now. Blake and I aren’t on good terms, and you’d understand all the ends and outs of that if you were awake. Then there’s Jo who happens to be in town and seems to believe that I’m going to change my mind about my relationship with her,” He frowned, “Am I being crazy? Or am I really pushing away every chance in my life to have someone to hold onto? I’m just not sure anymore,” He frowned as he lifted his sister’s hand to his lips to gently kiss her skin, “I love you, Caitlin. I need you to wake up to set me straight. You’re the only person who can,” He studied her face before he leaned forward and kissed her cheek, “Wake up, little sister. We won’t be okay until you’re awake and smiling for us again.”
Zack watched his sister carefully as he held her hand, hoping he could remind her of everything she had to live for and why she needed to wake up to face her life again.
Diane sat down at her desk pulling the book she’d purchased for Deidra
out of her purse. Okay, so maybe she’d had a little malicious intent
in buying it for her sister, but really maybe if Deidra had given it half
a chance, she might get a clue. Then again as far as Diane as concerned,
Deidra was already far too clueless for words and with that thought in
mind Diane dumped the book into the trash can beside her before she clicked
away at her computer ready to dive in on her e-mail before Brant returned
barking out orders at her in his usual grumpy disposition now that his
relationship with Avery had soured. Oh what a joy that would be to
watch the two of them go head to head now, she thought to herself realizing
that if they were bad before, well now there would be certainly more to
gossip on to say the least, but that began later as no it was time to focus
on her e-mail.
“Let’s just see if you’ve been a good boy this morning Mr. Walters,” Diane pushed the button to open up her inbox awaiting a message from the man of her dreams as she felt someone lean in over her shoulders.
“What if I told you I found myself much rather preferring to be naughty this morning,” Ben whispered over the back of her neck as he produced a single red rose in front of her face.
“I’d have to say I love the idea,” Diane bubbled with enthusiasm accepting the tender bud as she raised it to her nose to inhale it’s sweet scent before spinning around in her chair to focus up at him as he stood before her.
“I was hoping you might,” he knelt down to drop a quick kiss upon her lips before touching her cheek gently, “You’re late this morning…”
“I stopped by my mother’s place,” she groaned inwardly seeing the questions behind his eyes, “and please don’t ask me how it went.”
“Somehow judging by the expression on your face I know I don’t have to there,” Ben offered up eyeing her intently, “Let me just ask one question there…”
“Don’t,” Diane raised her hand in the air to silence him, “as I can assure you that you already won’t like the answer.”
“I see,” he folded his arms in front of his chest, “so tell me what did you and Deidra spar off about now?”
She saw the look of disapproval build over his features as she shook her head in her own defense, “Ben, before you start getting the wrong idea, I just want to state for the record that I went over there with the full intentions of clearing the air between Deidra and I. I even bought her a gift to symbolize our truce and she just threw it back in my face and have yet another tantrum which shows it’s clearly a lose/lose situation for me.”
“Now why do I find that one a bit hard to swallow, Diane,” Ben questioned skeptically, “I mean sure you and Deidra have some problems, but I just can’t see her behaving that way.”
“It’s because you don’t know her, but if you did, then you’d know this is exactly right up here alley. I mean here I was trying to do something to help her help herself and then boom, she had a royal fit and my mother gets all pissed off at me when all I was trying to do was what she asked.”
“I see, so you bought your sister something and she threw it back at
you because why…” Ben recounted her words offering her an opening.
“Because she’s a bitch plain and simple,” Diane huffed leaning down to pull the book out of the trash. “I mean really how can helping her find some sense of self empowerment be a bad thing?”
“Gee, I can’t imagine,” Ben perused over the title of the book taking it from Diane’s hands, “was this what you got her?”
“Well yes it was, but Ben I was told it’s a best seller for a reason there as it’s helped a lot of people get past the problems they were facing when…” she started to argue her point.
“And if Deidra had bought this for you, I’d be bailing you out of jail right now,” he sighed heavily before kneeling down in front of her once more, “Diane, when you promised your mother you’d really give this being sisters thing a try, well I don’t think this was exactly what she had in mind…”
“Ben, I was doing what I thought…” she began to huff.
“Would irritate your sister masked under the premise of your caring about her well being,” Ben shook his head at her, “Diane, how are you ever going to have any kind of relationship with Deidra if you can’t help but keep taking pot shots at her?”
“They aren’t pot shots as she deserves a hell of a lot more than I’m giving her considering that throughout my life…” Diane insisted firmly.
“Diane, this isn’t about the past. This is about the future and about moving forward. Honestly, I’d really love to see you and Deidra mend fences because I think you’ll be happier after you do,” Ben explained gently as he touched her cheek, “It’ll be as if a huge weight is lifted off your shoulders…”
“Ben, I highly doubt that and I’m already happy…with you,” she reached for his hands offering up a light squeeze, “That’s really what matters, isn’t it?”
“As much as what we have gives us both a great feeling, you need to find a way to reconnect with your sister as I really hate to think of the two of you being alienated from one another…”
“Now you’re starting to sound like my mother…” she frowned.
“Well your mother makes sense,” he insisted firmly, “and besides I’d like to see a day when we have our families together and we don’t have to explain to our children that you and Deidra have to be handcuffed across the room from one another to keep things civil as I don’t think they’ll understand,” he couldn’t help but laugh at the thought.
“Our children,” Diane’s eyes widened in surprise upon his words, “Ben, did you just say something about our children?”
“Well you know I have thought about us in the long term there,” he paused searching her features, “haven’t you?”
“Well yes, but…I just never imagined that you’d be doing the same thing,” she confessed honestly.
“See now there’s the reason why you and I need to keep learning more about one another as that’s only the tip of the iceberg beautiful and I’m sure once you and Deidra mend fences we can find some more time and energy to focus on our future and where we see ourselves together in it.”
“I like the sound of that,” she admitted unable to contain the smile that pressed over her lips.
“Good because I happen to rather enjoy it myself and when we pay my parents a visit soon I know that they’re going to love you as well…”
“Oh my…I totally forgot about that. Ben, I know Annie gave you the tickets and…” Diane began in a frenzy.
“We’ll take it one step at a time,” he leaned in to kiss her quickly, “but for now I should probably get back over to Avery’s office as her father is in today and he’s got a whole new perspective on things it seems…”
“Avery’s not in?” Diane arched a curious brow.
“Not yet, but I’m sure when she gets here there are going to be a lot of fireworks,” Ben mused thinking of what might be when Brant and Avery met up with one another.
“I’m not sure, but judging by what I’ve heard about the way he’s been ranting and raving this morning from some of the other girls around here, I have a feeling when they do come head to head it’s going to be ugly,” Diane confessed wondering just what kind of gossip her boss would generate for the morning as at least she could sit back and watch the fireworks as a diversion to thinking about dealing with her sister.
Avery pulled her car into her usual spot in the parking garage outside
of BBK’s offices. While she hadn’t been to work in a short while,
she had a feeling that today was going to be something of a surprise for
her as she had no idea how Brant was going to take what happened last night.
Certainly she and Brant had a lot to talk about and this was something
she’d been dreading since she and Russell had gotten married on the island,
but alas after his display with Shannon, she was certain it wouldn’t be
as hard as it might’ve been a few days earlier. With that thought
in mind, she opened up the mirror on her sun visor taking a quick look
at her reflection as she tried to quell the butterflies building in her
stomach. Sure, she was running a bit behind thanks to Russell’s distractions,
but then again that memory alone might’ve given her all the encouragement
she needed to set things straight with Brant as the future of her marital
bliss was on the line should Brant choose not to back off and that was
something she couldn’t risk at a time like this.
“Ready sweetheart,” Avery questioned turning her attention to her abdomen as she pressed her palm over it thinking about the baby growing inside of her. A smile touched over her features sending a warmth down to her heart as the miracle created from her and Russell’s love was a constant memory of how much she had ahead of her and that in itself gave her the courage to keep pushing forward despite the nervousness she couldn’t quite shake.
Opening the car door, Avery stepped out into the dimly lit garage finding herself in the same predicament of not liking the particular spot she’d been parked in as time and time again it was far darker than the rest of the garage, but alas on the plus side it was closer to the doors than some others were and that in itself was a bonus. Leaning into the car once again to fish out her briefcase, Avery was struck with an uncanny feeling as she thought she’d heard footsteps approaching her. She stood upright taking a long look around the garage as she thought to the things that had been taking place in her life lately, but as she realized that she was alone, she silently cursed herself for allowing the crazy notions of the FBI to get the best of her.
“This is not a good beginning for you to be paranoid,” Avery chastised herself realizing that her concern came out of nowhere…unless paranoia was the defense mechanism she’d chosen to give her an excuse to skip over going to the office and facing Brant as that in itself felt like a great task considering the way she’d left the mansion the previous evening. Now as she thought to the silliness behind her own concerns, she fished her briefcase out from the passenger side of the car only to have it snag on the gear shift in the middle.
“Damn,” she frowned kneeling onto her front seat as she tried to unhook the handle on the briefcase, but before she could unlatch it, the sound of a car alarm going off across the parking garage caused her to jump with surprise as a fear swept over her. Quickly shuffling into her car, she glanced into her mirror checking to see if perhaps someone was out there as Jenna’s words about Bruce came back to haunt her.
“Avery, he has a history of violence that none of us were aware of and the police believe that he’s well, that he’s murdered women in the past. He’s not at all what he lead us to believe and…”
“Stop it,” Avery urged herself in warning realizing that letting something
like the possible threat of a dead man get to her when clearly someone
was just trying to play with her head was enough to drive her crazy if
she allowed it to happen.
Despite what the FBI was saying, there was no way that Bruce could still be alive and out there. This was just some cruel and sick joke someone was trying to play on her in order to get her worked up. No doubt the FBI had concocted the whole ridiculous tale via Shannon Pryce so that Avery would flee from town, running far away from Brant and BBK without a second thought so that Shannon could move back in on the man who’d dumped her long ago. That had to be it, she reasoned realizing that was going about to let the bimbos of the world like Shannon push her out of her career all by planting some blown out of proportion thoughts of paranoia into her head. No, she was much stronger than that and she wasn’t about to let some shady, inconclusive rumors at best keep her from doing what she loved.
“You’re going to go up to your office and you’re going to get over this sudden stupidity streak,” she informed herself taking one last look in her rear view mirror before drawing in a slow breath, “and you’re going to stop talking to yourself as it’s a clear cut sign of insanity.”
With that warning fresh on her mind, Avery opened up her car door stepping out into the parking garage as the piercing sounds of the car alarm going off across the way continued and she cursed the day that those stupid things were created as while they’d seemed useful in theory they really were just a pain in the butt as even the slightest movement seemed to set them off. Clenching her briefcase close to her, she eyed the doors to the offices making her way towards them as the screeching car alarm fell silent, but before Avery could relish in the silence that surrounded her, she heard another sound rising from the darkness as footsteps sounded from behind her.
“Just keep going Avery,” she whispered to herself taking a moment to glance over her shoulder unable to see anything behind her as the sound grew nearer to her and her heart sped up with the moment. She turned her attention to the security booth seeking out the guard’s presence as he’d always been there to greet her with a wave and a smile before sipping on his coffee, but today his absence was unsettling as Avery sped up towards the doors trying to will away the stupid feeling that ate at the pit of her stomach.
Avery could hear the footsteps growing louder with each movement the person behind her made in their stride and her breath began to come out in uneven gasps as she began to think about the agents that camped out on her lawn--about the bloodied box that arrived at her honeymoon putting an end to the magic it once was and suddenly she found herself overcome with a strong sinking suspicion that brought her to a halt mid-step. Slowly she began to turn around to investigate the sounds she was hearing as fear consumed her and she felt suddenly foolish upon discovering that the parking garage was empty other than her presence. Clearly the sounds she was hearing were her own as a sense of relief flooded over her and she headed towards the doors to the offices making her way to the front of the elevators in a matter of seconds.
Once Avery stepped inside, she felt her pulse rate return to normal as she pushed the button to her floor ready to begin her day at BBK, but before the doors came to a full close, a dark covered arm reached inside the doors as if it was seeking her out in that moment of panic. Avery let out a yelp as she jumped back further into the elevators watching the arm wiggle to push open the doors once again to get inside with her. Fishing into her purse she sought out her pepper spray, but before she could locate it the doors pressed open and Brant stepped inside with her grinning brightly.
“Good morning Avery,” he greeted her with unmasked pleasure in his tone as she felt her heart leap up into her throat at the fear that had swept over her.
“Brant,” she spoke his name in a tight whisper trying to will her nerves to just ease up on her as she took a step to the left of him bringing a greater distance between them, “you scared the hell out of me.”
“I did,” he half questioned giving her a strange look as he noticed the color had drained from her face and he reached out towards her, “Avery, are you feeling okay this morning.”
“I was feeling fine until you decided to play stalker with me in the parking garage,” she pushed his hand away from her before she folded her arms in front of her chest with heavy disapproval, “That wasn’t funny.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he gave her a strange look, “as I just saw you step in here and I was out by the security booth talking to Hank for a minute until I spotted you.”
“I didn’t see you there,” she answered doubtful as she thought to the footsteps that had elicited a concern with her.
“Well I was there as it seems someone’s been stealing the after hours security tapes around here,” he explained matter of fact, “Hank suspects it’s some overzealous BBK employees just getting their kicks by going at it in the parking garage and then saving the tapes for a memento later, but I have my doubts…”
“Hmm, well maybe they’re following your lead there with the strange and outlandish behaviors,” Avery remarked dryly keeping her eyes forward as she refused to look at him.
He frowned upon her words, “Avery, about last night…”
“Brant, I don’t want to hear it,” she raised her hand in the air to silence him, “I realize that Russell was out of line showing up like he did and causing a scene when you were with someone and I apologize, but other than that I would really appreciate if we put the whole event behind us.”
“Avery,” he started eyeing her for a long moment before reaching out across the elevator to press the stop button as he faced her fully, “I don’t want to just put it behind us.”
“Brant, look I really don’t think that now is the best time to get into it,” she leaned forward pushing the start button, as she tried to ignore the way he was staring her down, “as your personal life is your business as you don‘t have to explain anything to me. Your life is yours and mine is mine.”
“You know it runs deeper than that with us,” he reached out to stop the elevators once again before placing himself in front of the controls to keep her from starting it once more, “and maybe it’s time that you stopped running away from that and faced the reality of the situation we’ve found ourselves in.”
“We haven’t found ourselves in any situation,” she waved her hand at him adamantly, her eyes narrowing with the words, “as the only situation we were put into was the one you created when you sent those flowers to my home. I mean honestly, did you think that Russ was going to be touched by the gesture?”
“Do you honestly think that I care what Russ thought about them,” he hovered in towards her, his dark eyes pressing down into hers, “that I really gave it any kind of thought when they were meant for you?”
“No, I don’t think you gave it any thought,” she answered with a huff, “but you should’ve as my husband doesn’t want you sending me flowers like that.”
“But what about you?” he lifted a curious brow, “How do you feel about me sending you flowers?”
“You shouldn’t do it Brant and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t,” she moved forward reaching for the elevator start button once again as he caught her hand mid-movement bringing it up towards his lips as he placed a kiss upon her skin.
“See now this is where you and I have a difference of opinion,” he explained smoothly as his eyes continued to penetrate her seeking out something from within, “I think you did enjoy them and on some level you wanted me to send them among other things as we both know that while you’re fighting the obvious, there’s still some unfinished business between us.”
“The only business between us is on a professional level Brant,” she tried to pull her hand away from his lips as he held onto her wrist and she gritted her teeth in response, “Anything else ends at that.”
“Avery, we both know you don’t really mean that,” Brant threw out a suave smile in her direction, “You don’t really want me to give up on us now…”
“Brant, there is no us as I’m a married woman now,” Avery stated the obvious as his kisses tapered off over the top of her hand much to her dismay, “and I love my husband very much.”
“Is that so?” Brant questioned with a tiny chuckle releasing her hand and watching as she rubbed at her wrist as if scalded by his touch, “Because you know I was hoping we could get into that whole marriage business between you and Russell because I do believe that you and I were headed on the road to holy matrimony with one another on the island before he kidnapped you.”
“Brant, while I appreciate what you did for me, I love my husband and we’re about to have a family together,” Avery explained ignoring the way he’d watched her as if he was daring her to try to deny something he felt existed between them, “I know that it was sudden and that I should’ve told you sooner, but I love Russ.”
“No, I don’t think that’s it,” he shook his head in refusal as he brought his hands out along side of her caging her beneath him as she pressed back up against the elevator wall, “I think it’s more a case of you feel safe with Russell and with me you’re afraid of what might be because you can see yourself that you can’t control the way you feel about me and it’s that lack of control that keeps you running away from what you want.”
“I have what I want,” Avery answered sharply her dark gaze fixed upon his as she refused to allow him to see anything, but the honesty behind her statement.
“You think you’ve found what you want, but you and I both know it’s only an illusion,” he reached out to lazily curl a strand of her dark hair over his finger.
“My marriage is the one thing in this world that means the most to me other than my child and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Avery answered boldly drawing in a slow breath as he inched in towards her.
“What about for passion,” he inquired in dark, seductive undertones.
“I have passion with Russ,” she answered tightly balling her fists up at her side as her gaze dropped down to his lips, to the overwhelming presence he had in his stance above her.
“And excitement?” he challenged inching in towards her.
“More than you can even begin to imagine,” Avery whispered feeling a lump forming in her throat as he slid an arm down along side of her on the elevator wall being careful not to touch her, but keeping himself close enough to her that the warmth of his presence could be detected at her side.
“And what about undeniable sexual heat, chemistry and fulfillment,” he dared with a hint of laughter in his tone as his lips hovered just above hers and her eyelashes fluttered at the nearness of him as she maintained her stance before speaking up in a determined whisper.
“Why do you think I’m late this morning Brant? I‘m a very satisfied woman in having a spiritual, very sensual man like Russ as my husband as he gives me everything I could ever want and need in and out of the bedroom,” she threw back at him seeing the surprise and shock spread over his otherwise cool and collect features as he’d thought he’d had her baited with his invasive questioning. Now realizing that she’d gained the upper hand in this ridiculous conversation, she pushed him aside pressing the start button on the elevators as she turned her attention to the lights indicating the floors as they went along.
Brant adjusted his tie watching her play it cool as she attempted to avoid him despite the close quarters they were in. He stepped up behind her, tipping down to whisper in the back of her ear, “You couldn’t possibly tell me that he’s everything you dreamt that you and I would be together.”
“He’s more than that,” she shrugged her shoulders refusing to face him.
“I sincerely doubt that, but then again maybe that’s the loyalty you
feel to him talking since he’s the man you shared your virginity with thus
making him your safety net, but you know that’s not reason enough to commit
yourself to a life sentence with that man.”
“Brant, I’m warning you,” she began again with a huff having enough as she bit on her lower lip contemplating her next move before she spun around to face him feeling the words slip past her lips, “Tell me why is it that you harass me when you’ve got someone like Shannon ready to give you what you’re seeking out in terms of a sexual relationship? She’s single and psychotic and right up your alley from what I saw last night, so why must you continually kick at a dead horse with this issue when you and I both know it’s a lost cause?”
“Because there’s only one woman for me Avery,” he reached out behind her pressing stop on the elevators once again before collecting her in his arms, determination washing over him as his lips descended upon her, “and that woman is you,” he finished claiming her mouth with an eager kiss vowing to prove to her that despite the chains she’d bound herself to Russell with in her marriage that she still wanted him.
Brant felt her wiggle in protest against him, her arms rising up to scrape against his shoulders as he pressed her further into the side of the elevator, coaxing her mouth to sweet surrender as he realized it had been far too long since he’d kissed her like this and he was quite certain that he wouldn’t be making that mistake again as she was too damn sexy for him not to reach out and touch her. She shifted against him, her body bumping his for a brief moment before her palms pressed in over his chest and she shoved him away from her with a breathlessness. He couldn’t help but feel a rush of enthusiasm within as he noticed a glazed expression over her features as she brought the elevator to a start once again.
“If you ever try something like that again Brant, I swear to you that I’ll quit and not think twice about it,” she threw out at him storming out of the elevator doors into the bustling offices of BBK as Brant watched her hasty retreat unable to contain the smile building up inside of him. He traced his thumb over his lower lip relishing in the knowledge that the spark was still there and soon it would only be a matter of time before he had Avery Morrison-Denton exactly where he wanted her--with him!
Shannon opened the door to her hotel room and immediately groaned. The last thing she needed this morning was to face her boss, and yet here Assistant Director Callaway was meeting her at her door. This couldn’t be good, and she already knew that whatever he had to say would be full of things she didn’t particularly want to hear.
“Pryce, we need to talk,” The director stepped into the hotel room and passed by her, “Close the door.”
“Sir, if you’re here about the thing with Brant,” She began as she closed the door and turned to face him.
“That’s just one of the things I want to talk about,” He crossed his arms as he turned his harsh gaze on her, “You’ve royally screwed up this investigation, and I want answers as to why.”
“I haven’t screwed up anything. I’ve had my hands tied since the beginning, and you haven’t been helping me at all. You barred the town’s coroner from the morgue which kept us from getting a lot of answers we needed for a long time. Then you’ve been looking over my shoulder since the beginning as if you were expecting me to screw up,” She paused, “Sir, if you thought I wasn’t capable of doing my job properly, then you never should have assigned me to this case in the first place.”
“I have no doubt that you’re capable of doing your job,” Callaway frowned, “But you’ve made it difficult to keep you on this case.”
“That makes no sense at all,” She frowned.
“Hopefully, it will. I think we should have a seat, Pryce,” He directed her towards the sofa as he sat down, “Look, I didn’t want to give you all the details of this operation because I was afraid that you might unknowingly compromise the investigation.”
“I don’t understand how that could happen,” She frowned.
“The investigation into the demise of Bruce Mathis was only one aspect of an operation that’s been going on for some time in Coral Valley. You see,” He paused, “We’re investigating the Ashfords for racketeering,” He paused, “Actually, we’re targeting BBK Pharmaceuticals for a plethora of charges including extortion, corporate espionage, prostitution, and money laundering.”
“Are you serious? I don’t…” She paused in confusion, “Look, I can tell you from personal experience that Brant is a lot of things, but he’s not into any of the things you mentioned.”
“Well, that’s yet to be determined,” Callaway spoke, “The investigation began when Nicholas Ashford was still in charge but Brant was always in the thick of things. We’ve kept our eyes on him since he took charge, and things haven’t gotten a whole lot better.”
“But Brant isn’t that kind of man. He doesn’t do business like his father did, and if you’d ever even spoken with Brant, you’d know that he despises what his father represented,” Shannon explained, “Is this why you thought I would compromise the investigation? Did you think I’d tell Brant what was going on?”
“Not intentionally,” He qualified his previous statement, “It’s just that I do know you had feelings for Brant…” He paused, “Which, uhm, obviously are still very much in play.”
“Look, about my behavior with Brant,” She began to argue.
“I don’t need any explanations,” He said as he held up his hand to stop her, “But the fact that you’ve obviously got lingering feelings for Brant Ashford compromises your ability to remain objective about suspects.”
Shannon sighed, “So what? You’re going to tell me to stay away from him? Is that it?”
“No,” He shook his head, “Considering that there’s not only the Ashford factor involved but also Richard Morrison has been making a lot of noise with the powers that be. I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you off the case.”
“What?” She shrieked, “But…”
He shook his head and held up his hand, “I’m afraid this has gone over my head straight to the director. Richard Morrison has a lot of influence with very powerful people. We’re going to need to reassign you.”
She exhaled in frustration, “Fine.”
“In the meantime, you should take some time off and try to get your head straight. When you get a new assignment, I want you to be focused,” He instructed, “Shannon, this isn’t personal.”
“I know,” Shannon nodded as her boss stood and left her hotel room. She didn’t know what she was going to do about the state of her career, but she wasn’t about to give up her case on Harold Abrams. She was going to chase down every lead now that she didn’t have to answer to her bosses, and if it pissed off Richard Morrison, that was just tough stuff.
Brooke looked to the list of phone calls awaiting her immediate attention
as she’d been putting her work on the back burner now that her daughter’s
life was in an uproar. Even now as the swelling of her face kept
her from feeling up to par as the black eyes that hideous Cheryl Denton
gave her began to throb, the pain was nothing in comparison to the anger
that built up inside of her at the thought of her daughter making the worst
possibly choice when so much was riding on Avery’s staying with Brant.
Now as she tried to focus on the phone calls she needed to make, she felt
herself ready to scream as she realized that this was yet another mess
of Avery’s she’d have to fix…just like she did the last time Avery found
herself pregnant with Russell‘s baby. Still immersed in the knowledge
of what needed to be done, Brooke reached for the phone ready to dial the
number of someone who could help when she heard a curious silence on the
other end of the line.
“Hello,” she began wearily as the silence lingered for a moment before the person on the other end of the line beckoned her.
“Well Brooke, I can see you’re still getting yourself into the same old situations there,” the man replied with a heavy sigh, “and here I thought that you and I had an understanding on things.”
“We do have an understanding and I was working on it right now,” Brooke explained with a huff, “but now you called and kept me from working on fixing the situation.”
“The situation needs to be more than fixed as I’d so hoped that your daughter would be more cooperative,” he replied with an obvious sneer in his voice, “You’d assured me that she’d be married to Brant before the end of the month and now I’m hearing tales of another story here…”
“I know what I promised you and believe me it’ll happen, but I just have a few snags to work out,” Brooke explained with a heavy scowl, “as I’m doing the best I can…”
“Clearly it’s not good enough as we’re working on a deadline here,” he replied growing more agitated by the moment. “We had a deal you know…”
“Yes I know, but Russell Denton keeps proving to be a problem in more ways than I’d imagined, but I’m going to work on taking care of that one. You can rest assured that all ties that man has to my daughter will be severed soon enough and Brant will be the only man in her heart and mind…” Brooke began desperately realizing that she’d have to find a way to get rid of Russell one way or the other before her opportunity passed her by.
“No,” the man snapped back at her, “you leave the issue of Russell Denton to me and concentrate on persuading your daughter to find her way back to Brant…”
“I’m attempting to do just that,” Brooke began to argue with him, “as I’ve already talked to her…”
“Perhaps there’s a need for more than that at a time like this as I want to see results. That’s what you promised me…” he pointed out as his voice darkened.
“And that’s what you’ll get as we both want the same thing. We both want Avery with Brant,” Brooke declared feeling her determination building up inside of her.
“Good, then the next time we talk, I expect that to have happened as we both stand a great deal to lose should this situation continue to sour on us,” he remarked in a menacing tone as Brooke clenched her fingers around the telephone cord.
“That won’t be happening much longer,” Brooke insisted allowing her hatred for the man in her daughter’s heart to break through the surface, “as my daughter won’t be married to Russell much longer.”
“See to it that she isn’t,” he replied hanging up the phone as Brooke stared out into her office realizing that there was only one thing to do. She’d found it in her to do it once before and if that was what it took, then she’d be damn sure to do it again as there was no way Avery was going to waste her life away on Russell when there were far greater things waiting for Brooke in the future once Avery got her head on straight once again and found her way back to Brant.
With that thought in mind, Brooke turned her attention to the phone once again before lifting it from it’s base as she dialed a familiar number. Upon hearing the person on the other end of the line, she began her conversation with a hushed whisper, “Hi, it’s me. We need to meet…yes…yes I realize that I wasn’t supposed to be calling again like this, but I have another problem on my hand that is in need of a quick fix just like the last time…” she paused turning her attention to the framed photo on her desk from Avery’s last modeling campaign with Beholder and as she raised it up from her desk, a nefarious smirk spread over her features, “Yes, that’s right. I need your help as it seems my daughter had made a terrible mistake in need of urgent repair starting now…” she finished wickedly realizing that soon she would have Avery exactly where she wanted her and Russ Denton would be nothing more than a horrible, fading memory bound to disappear from Avery’s life forever.
Ken stepped into the courtroom and looked around. He could only hope that the judge would grant his motion for a continuance. If he didn’t get the continuance, he just wasn’t sure he would be able to present the best case possible for his clients. He walked to the front of the courtroom and placed his briefcase upon the plaintiff’s table. He looked around the room and took a deep breath before the doors opened and Hart stepped inside.
“Ken, I halfway expected you not to make it,” Hart explained his surprise as he placed his briefcase alongside Ken’s and glanced to his partner, “Are you any closer to being able to visit Caitlin?”
“No, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to change that anytime soon. Zack’s being very firm in his restrictions,” Ken frowned as the doors to the courtroom opened once more. He turned and smiled in welcome.
“Ken,” Kelly Henderson smiled at him as she joined him along with her husband, “I’m surprised you’re here. I heard about Caitlin.”
“I’m not going to abandon you now,” Ken smiled at her in response as he shook her hand then the hand of her husband, “I know this case has been put off a lot of weeks, and the last thing you need is another delay, but,” He paused, “I want your permission to ask for a continuance. I want to be able to represent you in this case, but with Caitlin in the hospital I feel like I can’t give it my full attention. I’ve asked my law partner to join us. Hart Steiner, this is Jay and Kelly Henderson,” Ken introduced them all, “If you would prefer to go ahead with the case today, I’ve asked Hart to take over the case until Caitlin is well again.”
“Ken, with all due respect to your partner,” Jay spoke as he looked over to Hart, “I think we’d be best represented by you. You’ve been with us for months, and you’ve met Randy, you know him, and you can work with us. I have no doubt that Mr. Steiner would do a good job, but you’ve been with us through all of this, and it’s you we have faith in. And we completely understand that you would want a delay. I don’t think we have any problem with a few week delay.”
“Of course we wouldn’t,” Kelly said as she took Ken’s hand, “Besides, Caitlin’s become our friend as well. We want for you to be with her and give her your support. We know how it feels to be away from those you love when they’re down.”
“That’s right. I suppose Randy’s by himself at the hospital right now, isn’t he?” Ken asked with a frown.
“Not exactly,” Jay smiled, “He’s with Dr. Hernandez. I think they’re engaged in a Sponge Bob marathon,” He chuckled.
“So how is Randy doing?” Ken asked.
“He’s okay, but he’s a little nervous about all of this. We haven’t told him about Caitlin because he really likes her. I don’t think he needed to be upset by what’s happened to her,” Kelly explained.
“I think you’re right about that one,” Ken explained as the doors to the courtroom opened once more, “Oh good, Jay, Kelly, I want you to meet someone. This is Russell Denton. He’s Caitlin’s editor, and I’ve asked him to step in to continue the story Caitlin was working on about your struggles. Caitlin trusts him, and I think that we can all trust him,” He explained as Russ joined them.
After Russ shook their hands, he smiled at them, “I know you’ve all gone through a lot and I’m just an outsider, but I want you to know that I will make sure that everyone in Coral Valley will be on your side,” He smiled.
“It’s good to hear that we have another person in our corner,” Jay smiled.
“Ken,” Kelly began, “I was just wondering…what’s the latest on Caitlin? How’s she doing?”
“I actually just got off the phone with her mother,” Russ interjected as he saw the sudden panic in Ken’s eyes, “Caitlin’s doing better. She’s getting stronger, and she’s completely breathing on her own. So it looks like she’s turned the corner.”
Ken breathed a sigh of relief as he cast an appreciative glance in Russ’s direction.
“That’s good to hear,” Kelly smiled.
“All Rise,” The bailiff spoke from the entrance of the judge’s chambers.
“It’s time to get comfortable,” Hart said with a sigh as the courtroom door’s opened and Thea stepped inside.
Ken frowned as he glanced to Hart, “She isn’t an attorney.”
“So where the hell is their representation?” Hart asked as he and Ken turned towards the judge’s bench as Jay, Kelly and Russ took seats behind them.
“Court is now in session. The honorable Glenn R. Stabler presiding,” The bailiff announced as the judge entered the courtroom and sat at the bench.
“Good morning, Counsel,” Judge Stabler spoke as he looked up and frowned, “Where’s the defense counsel?”
“She’s downstairs with the clerk, your honor,” Thea explained, “She’s filing her entrance of appearance.”
“Very well, we’ll wait a few moments for her to join us,” Judge Stabler looked towards Ken, “Actually you’re the one I expected not to be here. I heard about your lady friend, and I’m very sorry to hear what’s happened. Do the police have any leads?”
“They have a suspect, your honor, and they’re exhausting every available avenue to find him,” Ken explained.
“If there’s anything the court can help with,” The judge began.
“Actually, your honor, I was going to ask for a continuance as soon as opposing counsel joins us,” Ken admitted.
“I’m here,” Susan announced as she stepped into the room.
“Oh hell,” Russ muttered as he spotted his ex-sister-in-law.
Susan walked to the defense table and glanced over at her former lover, “Was there a motion before the court?” She asked as if her appearance had been nothing out of the ordinary.
“Son of a bitch…I’ve died and gone straight to the sixth circle of hell,”
Ken mumbled as he turned his eyes to the table in front of him, knowing
that his day had just gotten a whole lot worse.