Episode Seventy Seven 

Grady stepped in the back of the courtroom and sat on the plaintiff’s side as he watched the court activities begin to get into full swing.

“Susan Denton for the defense, your honor,” Susan announced before she glanced towards Ken, “Were you making a motion?”

Ken took a moment to compose himself as he wanted nothing more than to reach out and strangle his opposing counsel. He’d expected an ambush, and he been right. No one could have upset his demeanor as much as Susan Denton could. He’d had plenty of trouble in his life by being involved with her, and he had no doubt that his troubles had now grown exponentially.

He looked up towards the judge, “Your honor, I’d like to make a motion for continuance.”

“Arguments?” Judge Stabler asked as he looked to some papers upon his desk.

“Your honor, given my current personal situation, I don’t believe I could give my clients the benefit of my full attention,” Ken explained, “I’ve spoken with my clients, and they’ve given their permission for me to make this motion, your honor.”

“Any problem with that, Ms. Denton?” Judge Stabler asked as he looked over towards her.

“Your honor this case has already been delayed long enough. We’re ready to proceed,” Susan argued as she looked over to Ken, “With all due respect to Mr. Ashford, he does have a partner in his law firm who can handle this case.”

“Your honor, my partner has been fully versed on this case, but he didn’t bring this case before the court. I’ve been with this case since the very beginning, and I think my clients deserve to have the same attorney for the duration,” Ken defended his position.

Judge Stabler looked to Susan, “We’ve had plenty of delays in this case, Ms. Denton, but they’ve all been from your clients. Considering you’re new to the case, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here, but I’m going to allow this continuance. I have some days clear on my calendar two weeks from today. We’ll take up this matter then,” Judge Stabler stood as the bailiff called for everyone to rise once more.

Ken sighed in relief as he turned and looked to Jay and Kelly, “Thank you for allowing me this time.”

“Ken, you don’t owe us any thanks. Go be with Caitlin, and our thoughts and prayers will be with her,” Kelly smiled warmly to him before she and Jay left the courtroom.

“Okay, who’s the blond?” Hart asked as he glanced across the courtroom towards her.

“Grady Denton’s ex-wife,” Ken replied as he kept his back turned towards her, “And…an old flame of mine.”

“Really?” Hart asked with a grin, “Before she and Denton tied the knot?”

“More like while she was arranging everything and into the first few months of their marriage,” Ken frowned, “It’s not a time of my life that I’m proud of, but it’s in the past. I was kind of hoping it would stay there, but apparently Cameron Stone thought it would be funny to spring her on me.”

“I’ll be damned,” Hart shook his head with a slight laugh, “I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“I don’t. Not anymore,” Ken replied as he heard Susan clear her throat behind him. He slowly turned to face her and found her eyes full of the same fire he’d always been drawn to. Why the hell was she back in town…especially now of all possible times?

Susan smiled as she met his eyes. He was still just as handsome as ever, and she could see them spending some time together soon. Who knew…she might even be able to win this case between the sheets instead of in the courtroom. They always did do their best negotiating in the aftermath of some tumultuous love making.

“Ken, you are certainly a sight for sore eyes,” She smiled as her predatory intent shown in her eyes, “It’ll be fun to be in the courtroom with you again.”

Ken frowned as he met her eyes, “You can’t possibly be serious about this. You’re working with Stone Corp?”

“Yes, I am,” She held her head high, “I’ve been working for Stone Corp since I left Coral Valley. I’ve been working in the New York offices. I enjoyed it so much that I hated the idea of coming back to town, but,” She paused, “Seeing you again proves to me that this trip was worth it.”

“Do you want to know what it proves to me?” Ken asked as he looked her over, “It proves that Grady was right about you. You will screw anyone to get where you want to be.”

Susan slammed her palm against Ken’s cheek in anger as she watched him flinch in pain, “How dare you speak to me that way?!”

Ken recovered from her sneak attack and met her eyes, “The truth hurts, doesn’t it?”

Susan snorted as she held her head high and walked towards the back of the courtroom. She stopped as she spotted Grady sitting very smug as he watched the goings on. She glared at him, “Why should you be so happy?”

“Oh I don’t know,” He smiled, “It’s kind of fun to watch you attack your lover. I guess it just goes to show that you don’t really make a good impression on anyone.”

“Go to hell, Grady,” She rolled her eyes as she left the courtroom.

He grinned as he watched her exit the room. His smile faded, however, when he spotted Thea standing in front of him with an inquisitive look upon her features.

“Don’t you think you should try to get along with Susan? She is Stone Corp’s corporate counsel, and you will have to work with her on Cameron’s case against the Ashfords. I think it might be in your best interests not to alienate her too much,” Thea advised.

“Alienate her? If only that were truly possible,” Grady chuckled, “I couldn’t get that lucky,” He shrugged her off as he walked towards the front of the courtroom.

“What the hell is Susan doing back in town and working for Cameron Stone?” Russ asked with a groan as he looked to Ken, “I take it this was as big a shock to you as it was to me, huh?”

“Yeah, it was. I had a feeling Stone was trying to pull something like this. I just had no idea it would be Susan showing up to wreck my day,” Ken frowned as he leaned back against the table, “But somehow I don’t think your brother was in the dark about this at all.”

“Why?” Russ asked as he turned to see Grady approaching, “He’s looking smug. That’s never good.”

“Don’t I know it,” Ken frowned as Grady joined them.

“Well, it’s certainly nice to know that mine isn’t the only life upset by Susan’s arrival,” Grady said pleasantly as he looked to Ken with bitterness in his eyes.

“Grady,” Russ began, hoping he could find a way to defuse the situation between the two men.

“Somehow I doubt yours was very upset at the prospect that she would come into this courtroom to purposely upset me with her presence,” Ken offered.

Grady shrugged with a grin, “I have to admit that watching you do a shuffle when she walked in was pretty comical considering you used to do everything in your power to draw her away from me,” His tone became dark, “It’s funny now when you’re actually more than just a blip on her radar that you would bristle at the thought. I guess it’s just another aspect of being the Ashford playboy, right?”

“Don’t start with me, Grady,” Ken warned, “We both know that Susan was a long time ago, and I’ve changed a lot since then.”

“Have you?” Grady asked doubtfully as he crossed his arms, “Tell me, Ken, just why do you think Susan would take this case knowing that you’re the man she’ll be facing in court?”

“To irritate me. What other reason would there be?” Ken asked in frustration.

“You’re still the naïve kid she manipulated six ways from Sunday,” Grady shook his head, “She’s here to try to get her hooks into you again, and since you’re still acting like an ignorant snot nosed kid, she’ll probably find a way of doing it too.”

“I would never,” Ken began.

“Gentleman, really,” Russ raised his voice above the both of them, “This isn’t the time or place for this sort of thing. Let’s just all take this calmly and call it a day, shall we?”

Grady ignored his brother, “How’s it feel, Kenny boy? How does it feel to be in Susan’s crosshairs?” He grinned with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, “You know, it’s probably a good thing your girlfriend is in a coma. She won’t have to witness you betraying her right before her eyes when Susan does sink her teeth into you.”

“You son of a…” Ken started towards Grady with dangerous intent as Hart stepped in front of him.

“Ken, he’s not worth it,” Hart warned.

“Oh come on, Steiner. Let the rich boy go,” Grady grinned, “He needs to learn what it’s like to get his ass kicked. He’s going to need to be prepared for what Susan has in store for him.”

“Grady, shut up,” Russ instructed as he shoved his brother violently towards the door. He looked back towards Ken, “I’m sorry,” He responded before pushing Grady completely out of the courtroom and into the hallway, “What the hell are you thinking?” Russ demanded as he backed Grady against a wall.

“What? You won’t even allow me a few moments to enjoy it now that Susan has put Ashford in his place. It’ll be interesting to watch her tear his life apart the way she did mine,” Grady pushed his brother away from him, “Last time, he was the weapon of choice. This time, Susan won’t let him get off that easy. She’ll inflict her disastrous kind of pain on him until he’s just as miserable as I was.”

“Ken is in a relationship with a woman he loves, and Caitlin loves him,” Russ explained, “Susan is incidental.”

Grady shook his head, “And Brant is incidental in your life too,” He frowned, “You’re just as naïve as the rich boy in there.”

“Is that what this is about? Avery and I?” Russ questioned.

“The world doesn’t revolve around Avery, Russ, as much as you’d like to believe,” Grady rolled his eyes, “I’m not going to do this with you….not here, not now,” He said as he turned to make his way to the elevator.

“Grady, stop right there. You can’t run out on this like that. If you think I’m going to let you ambush Avery tonight at dinner like this, you’re crazy. We’ll just call off the whole thing now,” Russ declared.

Grady turned, “None of this was about Avery, Russ. It’s about Susan and the golden boy in there,” He said as he pointed towards the courtroom, “I’m trying to turn over a new leaf here. Why don’t you help me by not always expecting the worst where Avery is concerned?”

Russ frowned, “Because you always go for the jugular when my wife is involved.”

“Your wife,” Grady repeated the words and frowned, “Yeah well, like I said, I’m trying to work on a new life for myself. It would help if you didn’t constantly throw your wife in my face.”

Russ crossed his arms as he frowned, “I’ll try.”

“Then that makes two of us,” Grady agreed as he stepped onto the elevator with his brother. While he couldn’t predict how dinner would actually work out this evening, he knew that maybe if he and his brother could pull off anything just as long as they worked together.


“So as you can clearly see we have our work cut out ahead of us,” Avery explained to her father as her eyes drifted up from the page that was in front of her only to discover her father’s penetrating gaze upon her.  Shifting nervously in her leather chair, she sat up a bit straighter unable to avoid the feeling that settled in the pit of her stomach at the way he was watching her.  Clenching the pen she’d been holding, she tapped it on her desktop once more before her curiosity got the best of her and she frowned heavily, “What?”
“Nothing,” Richard replied waving his hands in the air casually before leaning back in his own chair and tipping his head to the side as his eyes grew suddenly serious, “other than the fact that we’ve been going over the same information here on those last three pages for at least an hour of repetition.”
“No we haven’t,” she began to argue finally taking notice of the documentation she’d been talking about as she inhaled a slow, uneasy breath of confusion, “Have we?”
“We have,” he nodded leaning forward and reaching for the page from across the desk swiping it from her hand as he eyed her intently, “as I’m starting to feel as though this is more so a script on your part instead of the research we’d been working with.”
“I’m sorry,” Avery brought her hand up into her hair pushing it away from her face as she silently chastised herself for losing focus with her father in the room with her, “I guess I just felt it was important that we go over this…”
“Well, I suppose it would be if we were working on the patent and marketing statistics at BBK, but right now I was under the impression that we were talking about the lawsuit Stone Corp is heading off against the company…” he pointed out setting the page down on the desk top as his eyes filled with concern, “Avery, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she shook her head in protest as she focused on the pages spread out before her.  She started to scramble with what little organization there was on her desk after her absence and she felt a wash of apprehension flood over her as she felt completely unprepared for this talk with her father about the lawsuit they were working on.
“Don’t tell me that because I know better,” Richard reminded her pointedly as he reached out to touch her hand gently, “Avery, talk to me…”
“This case is just very high profile and…” she began to stammer breathlessly hoping that somehow in her rambling she’d regain some of her bearings with her father.
“As much as I’m aware of that, something tells me that isn’t what’s bothering you this morning,” he searched her features for a long, thorough moment before questioning her actions once again, “Does this have anything to do with what’s going on with Bruce?”
“I don’t even want to think about that,” Avery insisted firmly hearing the rat-a-tap-tap of her pen growing more frequent by the second on her desktop before she finally threw it down as though it had bitten her.
“Well, maybe we should as it seems there’s something bothering you this morning,” his voice was smooth and full of the same fatherly concern that had kept Avery’s head above water all these years, but as she looked into his eyes, she wondered if she could vocalize what had been on her mind since the moment she’d stepped onto the elevators this morning.
“Daddy, there’s a lot going on and yes I’m upset that there’s a chance that my ex-boyfriend could be a madman on the loose with a grudge match to settle there.  The fact that he tried to kill me once doesn’t make me feel all that wonderful especially now that things are starting to fall back into place once again with Russ and I,” she started feeling an exhaustion carry over in her voice despite her firm resolve not to allow things to get the best of her, “and then last night, well Russ and I had a little disagreement and it’s blown over, but still…it’s like one thing after another and now with this lawsuit, well I really was ready for it, but with Grady on the other end there…”
“Grady isn’t going to be giving you any problems,” he tried to assure her, “as I told you I’d be more than willing to go head to head with him running this particular case in court.”
“I appreciate your doing that, but it really shouldn’t be your responsibility considering that I’m the one who entered into this and if I can’t do my job here at BBK to the best of my ability, then what business do I really have being here?  I mean I thought that I was this fantastic lawyer, but now, well now if I’m ducking out of something like this…”
“Avery, you aren’t ducking out,” he reminded her with a frown of his own as flecks of disbelief flashed behind his eyes, “You’ve done all the research and the ground work and you’ll be there with me…”
“But when it gets down to it, you’ll be taking on Grady because I’m not capable of doing so…” she felt a wash of disappointment flood over her, “which makes me wonder what the hell I’m doing here if I can’t do my job like I’ve been able to do in the past…”
“Avery, you have a madman on the loose after you…not to mention the company going up against BBK that we’re dealing with here has had less than ethical practices in the past and they aren’t above putting those who challenge them in the line of fire…”
“I realize that, but I should be stronger and able to face that.  I mean really what can Cameron Stone do to me,” Avery threw out the question as her father’s face shifted to an expression of sheer horror.
“I’m not willing to seek out that answer to the question especially now that you’ve got enough on your plate,” he explained matter of fact, “as we both know that you shouldn’t be batting this full force.”
“Even so,” she slumped over on her desk, “Daddy, do you think I’m losing my touch?”
“Losing your touch?” he repeated with an ironic laugh, “Avery, you’ve never doubted your abilities a day in your life, so why are you now questioning yourself?”
“I’m just wondering if I’m letting you take charge here because I’m not willing to let my personal issues with Grady stay outside of the courthouse.”
“He’s still giving you and Russell problems huh,” Richard inquired with a sigh, “you know he really needs to start growing up considering that…”
“No, it’s not that,” she shook her head realizing that her random thoughts had lead her astray once again, “Grady’s not really doing anything wrong right now…well, other than representing Stone Corp in this bogus lawsuit, but I mean he’s not a problem I can’t handle.  He’s invited Russ and I over for dinner tonight at his place and I have to admit I’m more nervous than you can imagine as I really want this to go well for Russ.  He and Grady have always been so close that I hate the fact Russ has been alienated from him, but even now when I think about spending the evening at Grady’s home pretending that we can pull something like this off…”
“I take it this is what you and Russ were having a disagreement about last night, yes,” Richard arched a concerned brow as Avery shook her head in the negative.
“No, that would’ve been much easier than what we dealt with last night,” she sighed slumping back into her seat as she closed her eyes for the briefest of seconds feeling the omelet she’d had for breakfast coming back to haunt her.
“Then if it wasn’t Grady and it wasn’t Bruce, there could only be one thing that would spark some kind of debate,” his tone darkened as he blurted out the very topic of conversation that Avery had been hoping to avoid since she’d left that elevator upon her arrival at work, “Brant.”
“Daddy, I really don’t think we should get into this right now,” she shifted on her chair once again feeling the butterflies in her stomach expanding as she pressed her hand down over her abdomen hoping to still the queasiness that was lingering over her.
“What has he done now,” Richard inquired unwilling to drop the touchy subject his daughter had brought forth to the table.  “Is he why you’re questioning yourself today?”
“No, not really…” she shook her head struggling to find the right words, “It’s just, well yesterday he sent me these flowers…these beautiful, amazing flowers and well, I’m sure he just meant them to be a friendly gesture, but after so many dozen roses came into the house, Russ lost it.  He went over to the Ashford mansion and attacked Brant.  The two got into it and were going at it pretty good when I chased Russ down and tried to put a stop to it.  I don’t know why I let things get out of hand, but while I was there Brant had Shannon Pryce with him and…”
“Shannon Pryce,” Richard lifted a curious brow, “and just what was she doing there?”
“According to Russ,” Avery sighed shaking her head again, “things we really shouldn’t be discussing as I really didn’t want to know about it myself.  Though when I was there she and I got into it and the next thing I knew, I hit her…”
“You hit Shannon?” Richard’s eyes widened in surprise, “really?”
“I was just so furious…with Russ for losing his temper and then with Shannon because I’ve always felt this whole business of the FBI dancing around in my personal life was a setup and seeing her with Brant proves it.  I mean when the news of my engagement to Brant came out, she flew into town ready to throw me behind bars and now she’s concocted this story about Bruce in an attempt to scare me so that I’ll run from town and question my safety and security…”
“Avery, while I think that Shannon might have some ulterior motives in the way she’s conducted herself, I do believe that the threat Bruce holds is real.  When I think about what happened on the island and then with the news the FBI has been offering up about his past…”
“Daddy, that’s just it.  If I believe what they’re saying, then I’m bound to go out of my mind with insanity.  I’m so afraid that there is some truth to this and that one day he’s going to pop up out of the shadows and take everything away from me,” she explained as her voice rose with emotion, “Russ and this baby are everything to me and I’ve worked so hard to get where I am with him and now…”
“Now you don’t want anything to take that happiness you’ve found away from you,” he rose up from his chair circling around her desk to move in beside her as he saw the tears forming behind her eyes.
“I just don’t know when it’s ever going to end,” Avery confessed breaking down into tiny sobs as her father put his arms around her wrapping her up in an embrace, “I mean it’s bad enough that feel like I can’t enjoy time alone with my husband without someone watching, but now I can’t even bring it in me to do my job the way I know I can do it.  I’ve turned into this pathetic, fearful, whining, blubbering idiot and I hate it.”
“Avery, first of all you’re none of those things,” he wiped at her tears trying to calm her down as her emotions were in an uproar, “and second of all you’ve done a lot more than most people in your position would.”
“Then why isn’t it getting any easier?  I mean honestly what is it about me that people just can’t let things go?  I mean if Bruce is out there, he’s not going to back down and Grady, well he’s just been building up all this animosity over the years and he’s ready to explode and with Brant…” she shook her head dropping her gaze to the floor as a sigh escaped her lips, “It’s just too much.”
“Avery,” Richard urged her to meet his eyes once again, “honey, what’s going on?  What’s really going on right now?”
“I’m just overwhelmed…” she explained with a sniffle, “I never meant for things to get so out of hand, but now, well last night when I hit Shannon, I was so furious and then Brant had a few words with me this morning and he kissed me.  I told him that there’s nothing between us, but then when he kissed me, he started saying these things and…” she took in a slow breath as her dark eyes drifted away from her father again, “I can’t go home and tell Russ that Brant kissed me like that because I know what’s going to happen when Russ finds out that Brant isn’t letting up on things…”
“Brant has no right to keep pushing you now that you’re married,” Richard insisted with a huff finding his anger coming to a boil as he watched his daughter’s inner turmoil.
“But maybe this is my fault,” Avery piped in unable to contain the tears that formed in her eyes, “I mean I lead Bruce on for how long and then I let Brant believe we had something together.  Hell, I almost married Brant while I was on that island as he proposed to me and I was going to tell him yes because he was so kind and caring and…”
“And you married Russell,” Richard cut her off abruptly as he touched her cheek gently, “and that was a decision you made from your heart--a decision that you aren’t regretting,” he paused searching her eyes, “are you?”
Avery’s eyes widened in horror upon his words, “Daddy, how can you even ask me something like that when you know Russ is everything to me?  I‘ve waited my whole life for this and now that we have it, well I couldn‘t imagine being without the love we have…”
“Which is what I was trying to make you see here sweetheart,” he urged gently as he pulled her into an embrace, “Avery, you followed your heart to the man you love and you can’t let all the external situations bring you to doubt yourself or your decisions.”
“But…” she began again.
“But nothing.  You’ve come a long way and you have what a great many people strive for in their lives, but never come close to achieving it,” he cupped her face in his hands, “Princess, you’ve found love and you have a family on the way and regardless of the world that may or may not be falling apart around you, that’s something you have to hold onto with all that you are.”
“I just…I just don’t know if it’s ever going to get easier.  There have been so many challenges thus far and I’m so afraid that they’re all going to take their toll on Russ and I,” Avery confessed getting to the heart of the pent up frustrations that had been eating away at her, “we have so much being thrown at us, that I’m just wondering how in the world I can keep putting him through this…”
“You’re not putting him through anything.  You love him and he loves you and that’s what’s important,” Richard paused thinking about the situation she’d found herself in, “and if Brant’s pressuring you is making you this upset, then maybe you should rethink being here right now.  Maybe you should take the time off and just spend it with Russell…”
“No, that’s not it,” Avery wiped at her face trying to get herself together as she cleared her throat, “this really isn’t about Brant.  This really isn’t about anything other than my overworked mind getting the best of me as I kind of woke up with some strange sense of paranoia and it’s just eating away at me,” she paused trying to straighten herself up once again, “In fact maybe it’s not even that.  Maybe it’s just my imbalanced hormones taking control as I read this could happen during pregnancy…”
“Even so, maybe you should just give yourself some time to relax as you don’t do that too often,” he touched her arm gently, “and it would be good for you and my grandchild.”
“I know…and I’ll do that,” she assured him with a quick nod, “I really will when the time is right, but until then I have to stay focused so that I don’t drive myself mad in the process…”
“You know it’s really not a problem if you want to cut out early as I’ve got this taken care of today,” Richard suggested once again.
“No, I’d go insane just sitting at home waiting for Russ as he’s in court today with Ken.  He‘s filling in for Caitlin for the time being and I don‘t have any idea how that‘ll go for him, so there‘s really no point in my skipping out on some of the work that‘s needing me now more than ever.  In fact, I‘m just going to focus and get back on track and then I‘ll be good as new,” Avery explained quickly as she reached for a few of the papers before her.
“Avery,” he spoke her name with heavy disapproval evident in his tone.
“Daddy, just trust me on this one.  With another cup of coffee and a few minutes to get over this little tantrum, I’ll be good to go,” she assured him wondering why she was allowing the world to take her down after all this time.
“Tell you what.  How about I go and get you some more decaf and then we can take a few minutes to just get one another up to speed before I take you out to lunch,” he suggested with a hint of a smile, “as we could use the time to talk about some of the other things that have been on my mind lately.”
“Such as?” she lifted a curious brow noticing the grin that swept over his features.
“Such as the details on how my little grandchild’s been treating you lately,” he offered up hoping to lighten the conversation a bit.
“Well last night the Russ gave the baby hiccups,” Avery couldn’t help but laugh at the memory recounting the tale of the baby’s making his or her presence known as her father had managed to take her mind away from the things that had been bothering her for a little while as this talk of something wonderful helped to put her back on the right track once again leaving her worries behind for a fraction of her day.


Deidra stepped into the apartment while Dave and the real estate agent he’d contacted entered the apartment behind him. She began to look around while the agent began to speak.

“This is in a great neighborhood. It’s very peaceful, and this building is highly rated for security,” Adrian Carlisle, the real estate agent, began his spiel about the property.

“Adrian,” Dave interrupted him, “I have a better idea than what we’re doing.”

“Oh?” Adrian asked, “What would that be?”

“Why don’t you give us the list of properties and then we can check them out on our own. I don’t want to take your time away from your busy schedule, and we can really take the time to look at each property to make a decision,” Dave offered.

“Oh I don’t know. Some of these have very special features that only I can show you,” Adrian began to argue.

“Actually, if the feature is that special, I’m sure we’ll stumble upon it,” Dave said as he plucked the list of properties from the agent and pushed him towards the door, “We’ll contact you when we make a decision,” He said as he pushed the agent out of the door and closed it directly in the man’s face.

Deidra shook her head with a slight giggle from across the room, “You are so rude.”

“I’m the chief of police,” Dave smiled, “I’m allowed every now and then. But tell the truth now, Dee, wouldn’t you rather I be rude to him than have him push every apartment in town at you all day long?”

“When you put it that way, maybe being rude isn’t such a bad thing,” She teased as she moved into the tiny kitchen of the apartment, “Well this wouldn’t be very conducive to having dinner parties, would it?”

“Dinner parties, huh?” He asked as he leaned onto the bar, “Thinking of having one some time soon?”

“I thought I might as kind of a housewarming social gathering. You know, nothing too serious,” She said as she looked around the tiny work area, “But I don’t think it will be here. I can barely turn around in here much less be able to work.”

“Then let’s see what else Adrian had on this list,” Dave began as he read over the properties, “There’s another one in this building, but it’s a little more pricey.”

“I’m a doctor. I can afford pricey,” She teased as she stepped out of the kitchen, “Come on.”

“I can’t imagine you splurging for a place to live, Dee. You were always the most level headed of us,” He remembered as he led her out of the apartment. They made their way to the stairs and started towards the other apartment as he spoke, “Are you going to be a wild bachelorette now that you’re single again?”

“I can’t see myself doing anything such as that,” Deidra sighed as they climbed the stairs, “I’ve tried the wild and free thing, and it’s not my cup of tea. I always feel guilty afterwards, and I’m tired of feeling guilty.”

“So what are you going to do about this guilt complex?” He asked as he escorted her onto the floor where the next property would be.

“I have absolutely no idea. I’ve tried very hard to get past it, but then I just feel more guilt. It’s a vicious never ending cycle,” She frowned as Dave opened the apartment door and stepped inside.

Dave looked around the apartment for a moment before turning towards her, “Somehow this just doesn’t fit you.”

“Why not?” She asked as she stepped inside and saw the leopard prints on the walls. She chuckled, “Okay, point taken.”

“I think someone definitely had some wild times here. It was probably a party pad,” He grinned as he walked down the hallway and opened the bedroom door, “Whoa…yeah, I’d say so.”

“What?” She asked as she joined him and peaked around him to see mirrors on every wall and upon the ceiling, “Oh my god…did we step into a bordello somewhere between the last apartment and this one?”

“Hmm,” Dave stepped inside and glanced up before turning with a wicked grin towards Deidra, “On second thought, maybe this is the place for you. You might really be able to find a way to let your hair down and let it all hang out here.”

“Oh god,” She rolled her eyes, “Dave, whatever twisted fantasy is going through your head, just forget it. I don’t do the funhouse thing,” She threw out as she turned on her heel and walked back through the apartment.

He laughed as he followed her, “Maybe you should. You never know. You might find a way to lose your guilt along the way.”

Deidra crossed her arms with a laugh, “Dave, you’re hopeless, but it’s cute. However, there’s no way I’d throw down some triple X rated show in a room like that. It’s just not how I do things.”

“Oh really?” He asked with a smile as he stood near her, “And just how do you do things?”

She patted his cheek gently, “A good girl doesn’t talk about things like that,” She teased with a wink and a smile as she walked out of the apartment.

“Who said you were a good girl?” Dave teased as he followed her.

Deidra chuckled at their good natured teasing. She finally felt like she was at home and maybe just maybe peace could find her. Now, she just had to find a place to live so that she and peace could co-exist.


Blake felt a soft sigh of relaxation spill over her lips as she glanced over at Annie who’d also allowed herself the time to indulge in this impromptu trip to the spa that Brant had surprised them with.  Even now as she tried to think of the things that had been bothering her, she had to admit that her brother’s present had treated her in giving her a place away from the world to just pamper herself and suddenly she realized how much she’d missed doing just these things as they were the time she’d always needed to find some clarity in her life.
“Feeling better darling,” Annie inquired lifting a curious brow as she turned towards Blake, her face covered in a gooey green mask that mirrored the same goop that covered Blake’s soft, pale features.
“More than I thought I would,” Blake confessed sinking back into the chair as she thought to the massage she’d scheduled in the next half hour after her facial treatments with Annie.
“I’m glad to hear that as I was very concerned about you,” Annie began in her same motherly tone turning her focus to Blake completely as her eyes held an air of worry, “I know that you’ve been having a rough time lately.”
“I’m sure it’ll pass,” Blake offered up not wanting to worry Annie as her own doubts crept into the back of her mind and before she knew it, they fell from her lips, “then again, maybe they won’t.”
“Caitlin will pull through what’s happening,” Annette reached for Blake’s hand squeezing it gently, “and then the tension will lift itself up and things can go back to normal once again.”
“Will they,” Blake questioned doubtful as she faced her caretaker, “I mean do you really believe they can do that or that they were ever really normal to begin with?”
“Blake, honey I realize that the last few months have been a bit hard on you, but…” Annie started sympathetically.
“No, Annie, it’s not just the last few months as it seems that my entire life has been in turmoil.  I mean first there was the trip to L.A. I took with my mother all those years ago…” she paused biting on her lower lip as she contemplated her words, but found herself at a loss.
“Blake, honey what is it?” Annie questioned seeing the way Blake seemed to fight with whatever thoughts were stirring up inside of her.
“I’ve been thinking about my mother a lot lately,” Blake confessed with a tiny sniffle straining to keep her tears from falling from her eyes and caking on the face mask she’d been wearing, “I’ve been having these dreams about her…about my father and now with everything else…”
“What kind of dreams,” Annie questioned gently as she sense Blake‘s hesitance, “Blake, you know that you can talk to me about anything--anything at all that’s on your mind at any time.  I hope you realize that.”
“I know Annie.  I really do, but sometimes, well sometimes I just don’t know how to talk about what’s on my mind.  I mean Brant’s so busy with all the drama going on in his life as here he’s had his heart broken too and Kenny, well Kenny takes the weight of the world on his shoulders, so how in the world can I expect either one of them to take this on when I feel like the things happening to me are so trivial in comparison?”
“They aren’t trivial,” Annie assured her, “as your brothers do have full and hectic lives, but you are a priority for them just like you are to me.”
“I realize that…I really do, but I hate to bother them with things like what I’m going through as I hardly consider any of my problems to be worth adding any stress to their lives…” she began to argue as Annie waved her hand dismissively.
“Blake, how many times have I had to tell you that you aren’t adding stress to anyone’s life by letting them in?  In fact, why don’t you tell me about those dreams you’ve been having there as I want to know about them?”
“Well,” Blake paused taking in a slow breath, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the trip my mother and I took to Los Angeles and about the quake.  I’ve been having this recurring nightmare leading up to my mother’s death.  It starts off when mom and I were at home and she and my father were talking about something, but I couldn’t really hear what was going on.  He said something that had her yelling at him and then she walked away and he followed her.  I was on the staircase wondering what they were talking about, so I take a step in closer to them trying to hear what’s going on, but it’s all fuzzy and the more I try to listen, the harder it is.  Then they start shouting at one another and in the blink of an eye I’m standing outside that taxi watching my mother die all over again as if it’s happening…”
“Oh Blake,” Annie reached out to her as Blake curled her fingers into a fist refusing to allow herself the moment to cry all over again, “why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“Because it’s just this never ending cycle.  I mean it starts off when I’m a child, but then it goes from my mother’s death, to seeing my father in the funeral home and then there’s Seth.  He’s there and he’s reaching out to me.  He’s trying to tell me something, but then like the time when I’m with my parents, I can’t hear him as he’s clouded by this random noise…he’s standing there holding his arms out to me and I’m terrified.  I’m so afraid that all I want to do is run away, but I stand still…I can’t move and I just know if I stay there I’m going to die there because I don’t belong there, but then well the dream it takes me to Zack…which I’m sure is my subconscious trying to tell me something there.  He takes me in his arms and promises me that everything‘s going to be okay--that somehow my family and everyone else that‘s in my past won‘t hurt me again, but over the last few days it’s changed.  It’s like the harder I try to reach for Zack after the nightmare has played out, the faster he slips out of my reach fading away and I’m left in this darkness--in this nothingness where all that’s around me is the misery of what’s been lost…”
“Oh Blake, honey, you have to realize that some of that has to be because of what’s been going on now as you won’t ever be surrounded by nothingness,” Annie explained supportively, “You have a lot of people who love you and care for you and…”
“And they always leave me,” Blake blurted out unable to contain her tears as she felt them caking into the face mask she was wearing, “First my mother, then my father and Seth and now Zack.  Annie, he won’t let me see Caitlin and when he looks at me, it’s as if he’s watching a stranger--as if he never felt anything for me and as if everything we had together never existed.  I mean the other night there was this woman--this horrible, wicked woman who works for the press and she was there with him.  The way he spoke to me and the way she touched him,” she took in a slow breath trying to still the ache inside of her, “Annie, it was as though everything we’d shared with one another meant nothing.  He looked at me like he couldn’t believe a word that came out of my mouth and that everything we trusted to be true about one another was gone.”
“He’s under a tremendous amount of pressure right now because of Caitlin, but in time…” Annie tried to ease her heart.
“No, Annie, you don’t understand.  In all the years I’ve known Zack, he’s never, ever looked at me that way.  When I think about the connection we’ve always had, well there’s just so much of myself that I’ve shared with him…so much that I’ve given to only him because I knew that I was safe with him, but now, now I feel as though he’s gone--as if the man that I love is no longer there, but now what remains is the man that Caitlin warned me to stay away from.  She told me time and time again what a player was, but Zack was never like that with me.  When we made love, oh Annie, I knew he was the one, but now, well now it’s as if that didn’t matter to him--as if that time we had together wasn’t as special as I thought it was…”
“Oh Blake, honey you can’t think the worst about this,” Annie reached out to her as Blake broke down into tiny sobs, “I know that Zack cares about you and in time you’ll see that what you’re feeling right now was just brought on by the situation as Zack feels helpless now that Caitlin is in a coma.  He’s hurting because he can’t do more for his sister…”
“But why shut me out?  I’ve never turned my back on him and even now,” she drew in a slow breath, “now I want nothing more than to reach out to him and make this better, but it feels as if that too isn’t an option any longer and then, well there’s Seth.”
“I thought I saw him with you yesterday,” Annie nodded as she saw the turmoil behind Blake’s eyes, “I take it that while he was thought to be out of the picture, he’s not as far as you’d imagined you’d like him to be.”
“I should hate him you know,” Blake said with a determined sigh faltering in the same breath, “but when I’m close to him, I feel like I could almost forget the lies he told me--as if somehow we can find a way to move forward right where we left off with one another and if I’m honest with myself, well I have to wonder if I didn’t jump the gun in letting him go to be with Zack…”
“Well, it sounds like you have a lot on your mind and two young men who aren’t making this easy for you,” Annie began with a hint of a frown.
“See, now that’s just it,” Blake insisted firmly, “Seth isn’t forcing any of this on me.  He’s told me that while he cares about me and loves me, he only wants to be with me when I’m certain that it’s him that I want to be with.  He said he’ll wait until my heart is ready to find that thing we lost with one another…”
“Which is something you’re thinking about no doubt,” Annie read the expression on Blake’s features, “and with this distance between you and Zack, you’re starting to wonder about the way things played out with Seth.”
“How horrible does that make me,” Blake sniffled once again, “as I know in my heart that Zack holds something that no other man has ever been able to get close to, but with Seth…  He’s just said so many things--done things that leave me to wonder if I can truly ever trust him, but then when I’m with him, there’s just this feeling carrying me forward…causing me to question everything and then in the same breath I think about what I saw with Zack and that woman and I wonder if my heart is truly safe with him either.  I don’t know which of them I can trust…if I can trust either one of them and it’s this uncertainty that is killing me as I promised myself I wouldn’t be in this kind of position ever.  I made my choice and now that I’ve opted to stand by it, Zack is pushing me away and Seth is doing and saying all the right things, but I know where I stand on this issue with him…”
“Do you truly know that much,” Annie touched a loose strand of Blake’s golden hair pushing it back from the side of her face, “as it sounds like maybe you made a decision without weighing out all the options and seeking out all the answers.”
“Even so, I know that I can’t take that back.  I can’t rethink all that’s already happened as so much has changed and yet…it’s still so very much the same.  I know if things were different with Zack I wouldn’t even be questioning them…well at least I don’t think I would be, but still…maybe I’m just making life hard on myself with this constant over thinking things…”
“I don’t think that’s it at all as it sounds like your heart is very torn at the moment and it’s a position that we women dread having to face, but when the time is right, you’ll find a way to follow the path that fate has chosen for you and only then will you know,” Annie offered up cryptically.
“That doesn’t sound like it’s making things any easier,” Blake offered up a sad smile, “as I’d really like to know where I stand now so that I can fix this bothersome feeling tugging inside of me and move on…”
“Well, maybe the reason that feeling is there is because you need some time on your own--time to focus and reflect on what you really want as things such as matters of the heart should never come to any conclusion in a moment of haste.”
“In other words I’m still screwed,” Blake couldn’t help but let out an ironic laugh, “You know this isn’t making this any better.”
“Maybe not, but at least you’re smiling and I think that’s what Brant had in mind for you today when he set this up for you,” Annie tried to assure her with a soft smile, “In taking the time to pamper yourself perhaps it’ll give you some clarity you’re hoping for.”
“If only that could happen,” Blake muttered under her breath sinking back into the spa chair as she wondered if this situation she’d suddenly found herself in would ever truly bring her life to a state of calm and serenity again as it seemed that the Ashford curse hung over her head in terms of romance and those she cared about in more ways than she wanted to admit.

Jade placed some envelopes in the office’s outbox and cast a glance towards Dorothy. Dorothy was being unusually quiet, and yet she stared at the computer before her blindly, almost as if she were looking through the machine.

Jade moved nearer to the desk and glanced upon the screen. A desktop wallpaper of a tropical sunset sat undisturbed by the user. She glanced towards Dorothy and lightly touched her shoulder, “Dorothy?”

Dorothy looked up to her young friend with a start, “Jade, oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you there. Did you need something?”

“That was the question I was about to ask you,” Jade studied Dorothy’s tired features and frowned, “Something’s obviously wrong. What is it?”

“Nothing,” Dorothy replied as she looked back towards the screen.

“You’ve been staring at that computer all morning, and that’s not like you at all. Something’s really bothering you, and I just want to help,” Jade paused, “Is it Preston? I thought you were excited about his homecoming.”

“I am. I have been,” Dorothy explained, “It’s not Preston at all. It’s Jenna.”

Jade glanced up and down the hallway to see if anyone were around, “Come on. Let’s go to my office where we can have some privacy. Grady’s not in, and if anyone wants him, they can leave a voice mail. Come on,” She urged as she took her friend’s hand and practically drug her down the hall to her office. Once inside, Jade closed the door and offered Dorothy a seat on the sofa, “What’s going on with Jenna?”

“She won’t even talk to me,” Dorothy said sadly, “So many things are going on right now, and she won’t even speak with me about them.”

“What’s going on?” Jade asked in confusion as she sat beside her friend.

“Jenna found out that her father is alive, and I kept them a secret from each other all these years,” Dorothy paused, “I didn’t do it to be evil. I did it to protect my little girl. Is that really so horrible of me?”

“Of course not,” Jade took her friend’s hand, “I guess Jenna just doesn’t understand that, huh?”

“Absolutely not. She thinks I was just trying to control her life. She doesn’t have the first clue about what I was actually trying to do,” Dorothy sighed heavily, “And she won’t let me explain.”

“Sometimes we get a little hard headed,” Jade shrugged, “Daughter’s prerogative.”

Dorothy smiled slightly at Jade’s explanation, “You’ve never been hard headed. Determined maybe, but not hard headed.”

“No, that’s Grady’s department actually,” Jade teased with a smile.

“So I take it you finally got through to him?” Dorothy asked, wanting to get her mind away from her own troubles.

“Yes, I did,” Jade smiled, “My determination knows no obstacle that it can’t overcome.”

“Maybe I need to borrow a little of that to get through to Jenna,” Dorothy frowned, “I just don’t know if I can really get through to her, Jade. She’s really hurt by this, and I guess I can understand that but she won’t even let me explain. She automatically assumes that I was just trying to control her life when that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“I’m sure that in time she’ll be more willing to listen to you. Sometimes, a person just has to deal with their own feelings before they can listen to explanations.”

“I just feel like I’m losing her,” Dorothy said desperately.

“You’re not losing her. She may be upset, but Jenna loves you more than anything in the world. You two always had the kind of relationship I wished for in my own life. This will pass, Dorothy,” Jade patted her friend’s hand gently, “You just have to be patient.”

“I’m not good at being patient,” Dorothy frowned, “Never have been.”

“To be honest, neither have I, but some things are worth having patience for,” Jade assured her.

“I know that in my heart. I really do,” Dorothy replied, “But putting it into practice isn’t as easy as that.”

“No, it isn’t, but when something’s really important, the effort is always worth it,” Jade reasoned as she leaned over to hug Dorothy.
Dorothy hugged her young friend in return and just wished that her daughter could be as reasonable as Jade. She knew however that it would take a lot of time before Jenna was anywhere near ready to hear the truth and even more time for her to be ready to accept it.


Jenna sipped on the cappuccino she’d picked up earlier in the morning on her way into the office and now as she felt the lukewarm remains of her once heated source of comfort, she slumped back in her chair indulging in the last moment of this liquid perfection as she closed her eyes wanting to just savor the seconds before work came calling upon her once again.  The morning had been filled with the usual routine exams, but now as she sat at her desk, in her tiny, generic office, she found herself dreading this part of her job more than anything as it was the paper work that had always done her in.  Unfortunately, while she’d wanted to forget about that tedious task altogether, it had piled up on her and with the other medical examiner off on his tropical vacation, it all rested in her hands and with that thought in mind, her eyes snapped open.  She sat upright ready to dive into the work laid out before her realizing that if she’d ever planned on having a life outside this office, she needed to dive into this responsibility head first as she reached for the first pile before her.
“Knock knock,” a voice rose from her office door after a few minutes as Jenna looked up to see Assistant Director Callaway standing before her, greeting her with a hint of a smile over his otherwise grim and generic Federal Agent features.  He lifted a curious brow as he leaned into her office resting further in over the doorframe, “Got a minute for me, Dr. Carpenter?”
“I don’t know,” Jenna couldn’t help but tease in response as she sank back into her chair, “that all depends.  Are you going to throw me off yet another important case for the FBI to screw up?”
“In this particular situation I’d have to say you have nothing to worry about,” he stepped into her office flashing her an even brighter smile, “although I think that the rest of us at the Bureau will probably have to tiptoe around you with their tail between their legs for a while as while I hate to admit it, what happened before was a royal screw up on our part.”
“Hmm, well since you’re willing to admit that much, I suppose I can spare a few minutes for you,” Jenna nodded to the seat across from her, “as it’s not every day that a member of the FBI shows any sign of humility there.”
“Well, you could say I’m not like the rest of them,” he offered up with a friendly expression settling into the chair across from her.
“So what can I do for you today Assistant Director Callaway,” she eyed him intently, “perhaps help you with yet another flub on the end of your men?”
“As much as I’m certain that you could show them a thing or two, I actually came here in the hopes of giving you a peace offering,” he explained broadly as he seemed to relax a bit in the chair, “and since I came here on a more personal note, why don’t we dispense with the formalities.  Call me Travis.”
“Travis huh,” Jenna gave him a strange look, “Okay so now I’m certain I’m in for some kind of trouble if we’re working on a first name basis.”
“That only works if you offer up yours in response,” he reminded her simply, “that is if you’d like to jump into that uncharted territory.”
“Hmm, well you know we could do that I suppose, but then again I really have to wonder why you would even bother to ask for me to offer my name considering that I’m well aware that it’s a piece of knowledge that you have on your hands as you had it long before you and I ever came into contact,” she threw back pointedly.
“Even so,” he shrugged his shoulders before flashing her another smile, “I was hoping to give you the opportunity to present me with it yourself since we were starting over on a more personal basis.”
“More personal basis huh,” Jenna inquired taking the bait as she was curious to discover what someone of his status would be paying her a trip for, “Okay I’ll bite Travis.  What is it you need me to do for you this morning?”
“It’s more so what I can do for you, Jenna,” he spoke her name with an air of confidence, “as we’ve been made well aware of the situation that’s taking place with your brother over at the hospital.”
“My brother,” Jenna repeated in confusion taken off guard for a moment as she watched him closely.
“We know about his mysterious disappearance and since my team has made a shameful blunder on their part to close up this Bruce Mathis murder investigation, well I’d like to make up for it, by offering you some of our resources as a professional courtesy as my way of apologizing for what took place before…”
“So let me get this straight.  The FBI not only is willing to admit to making a mistake, but you’re also going to just open up the doors to let me search around and find my brother,” Jenna inquired throwing him another look, “What’s the catch?”
“There’s no catch,” he answered plainly, “as we’d considered taking care of the problem for your father once wind of the situation came our way…”
“Then why come to me instead of my father?” Jenna questioned feeling more suspicious as she eyed him intently.
“Well, I must confess that’s the part where the personal side of things come into play,” Callaway admitted shifting on the chair before adjusting his tie, “because while I’m certain that those around me are willing to try to clean up some of the mess they’ve made by offering to help with Kipp’s recovery, well the truth to the matter is that I don’t feel it’s enough as if I were in your shoes I’d expect a hell of a lot more for the hassle I’d been through.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Jenna nodded in response thinking to the frustration that had followed her, “but I don’t see how you can make up for it more than what you’re offering…”
“Well the truth is that I’ve been taking note of your career here checking up on you if you will and from what I see you’ve got a lot of talent…talents that are lacking in some areas with some of my colleagues much to my dismay…” he began his tone suddenly serious.
“So you came all the way out here to bad mouth them to me?” Jenna couldn’t help but laugh at the thought as he shook his head.
“Not exactly as I was thinking more along the lines of maybe turning your head in the direction of the Bureau as we need more intelligent, determined and accurate people such as yourself on our team…” he explained openly sitting up straighter, “that is if you’re interested.”
“Hmm, well as tempting as the offer seems to be, I must admit I’m finding it a bit hard to swallow considering how someone felt the need to keep me in check during the Mathis investigation.”
“That was a mistake that I can assure you won’t be repeated if you at least hear me out on the offer I’m bringing you here,” he confessed openly as he watched her expression closely and a small smile built up over his features, “You’re tempted, aren’t you?”
“I didn’t say anything to that effect, did I?” Jenna threw back at him pointedly.
“Maybe not, but I can tell you’re thinking it over as I can see the wheels turning in your head,” he added with an air of confidence and could it be enthusiasm, Jenna wondered as his eyes seemed to sparkle with the notion he was offering her.
“I haven’t even heard what your offer is, so why would I even dream of accepting if I don’t have the proper information,” Jenna challenged in response refusing to let him get the best of her even if she found herself surprised by the offer.
“Well, see now that’s where I was hoping we could work on that…say over lunch perhaps,” he suggested eagerly, “as I’d assume that might give us a more informal environment to discuss what could be ahead of you if you’re willing to take a chance on me.”
“A chance on you,” she repeated giving him a sideways glance as he cleared his throat uneasily.
“Well, you know what I mean as I’m trying to say a chance on us,” Travis insisted hoping to sway her towards his proposal, “as I can tell you now that you’d be an asset to us.”
“From what I’m seeing a great many of you are seriously lacking their assets,” Jenna spoke slowly, “so to speak…”
“Which is all the more reason a woman such as yourself might be all the more eager to come in and shake things up a bit,” he insisted further more as he leaned in closer to the desk.
“Shake things up huh?” she arched an inquisitive brow, “I didn’t think the FBI was very welcome to that particular type of methodology there as I’ve never heard the phrase shake things up work too well with those I’ve met in that particular line of work.”
“That’s because you haven’t had the opportunity to work with me yet, but I’m certain once you give it a chance, well then maybe just maybe you might find that there are things that perk your interest,” he placed his hand out on the desk as his dark eyes fixed upon hers, “so what do you say?  Can I coax you into perhaps listening to me?”
“I think I might be able to fit you in for that, but there are no promises as I don’t want you to start planning my career there as I must confess I’m quite content where I’m at right now,” Jenna threw back at him honestly.
“Contentment leads to boredom and a woman with your talents clearly shouldn’t be wasting them playing second fiddle in a small town like this,” he shot back candidly, “as I’ve seen how things are run here Jenna and you’re really wasting your intelligence and skill in a place like this.”
“Coral Valley’s my home and I don’t mind the small town lifestyle,” Jenna explained simply, “as there is a lot here that is very much the woman I’ve become and enjoy being…”
“And there is a lot that I’m sure you’d much rather turn away from as there’s a whole world of possibilities out there that you haven’t yet opened yourself up to, but if you’re willing to take a chance on this…” he started once again.
“I’ll tell you what,” Jenna threw back at him, “I’ll listen to what you have to say and I’ll consider it if and only if you’re able to help my father with finding Kipp.  Once my brother is back where he belongs, then I’ll give you an answer.”
“Fair enough,” he extended his arm out towards her offering his hand, “so we have a deal?”
“For now,” she nodded taking his hand in hers, “but just know that I’m not going to make any spur of the moment decisions because as I said I’m quite happy here in Coral Valley.”
“I’m sure you’ll be much more fulfilled with what I’m willing to offer you,” he explained assertively as he shook her hand, “but before we get to that, what do you say you take me up on that lunch offer?”
“Somehow I get the distinct feeling if I said no, you wouldn’t be leaving my office, now would you Travis,” Jenna felt a tiny smile touch over the corners of her mouth.
“Truth be told I hadn’t planned on leaving until you heard me out, but I thought that maybe a place like Irvan’s would be more welcoming than being down here in the basement.”
“Something tells me you’re not one to frequent the whole morgue atmosphere,” Jenna couldn’t help but laugh as she took note of the unsettled expression on his face.
“Not if I can help it,” he threw her a pleading look, “so what do you say?  Can we get out of here?”
“Sure,” she decided realizing that she could get back to her mound of paperwork sooner or later as she would much rather find herself listening to what the FBI had to offer her for the future.  Sure, she really hadn’t thought of giving Callaway’s offer much of a thought, but then again it seemed to beat the hell out of paperwork any day and with that thought in mind she reached for her purse letting procrastination take over as she threw him a smile, “Let’s go.”
“After you,” he smiled stepping aside and allowing her to walk out of the office first finding himself ready to find a way to change life as Jenna knew it forever.


Susan placed her briefcase near her desk before she threw herself into her chair. She had anticipated the moment when she could come face to face with Ken again, but the moment hadn’t happened quite as she had imagined it.

“So, I want to know the entire story between you and Kenneth Ashford,” Thea spoke as she stepped into the office and closed the door behind her, “He didn’t exactly seem happy to see you.”

“That’ll change,” Susan promised with a smile, “Ken was always the kind of guy you had to warm up to a situation.”

“So how did you two hook up anyway? You certainly don’t seem like each other’s types at all,” Thea noted as she sat across from the attorney.

“We’re not,” Susan admitted, “But when we’re together, something primal happens, and we just set the world on fire,” She shrugged as she put her feet up and thought back to her time with Ken, “He’s not the kind of man you’d expect to have that kind of fire in him. He’s very reserved, and he prides himself on his duty to his family, but,” She paused as a slow smile crept across her features, “Everything he’s reserving is incredibly powerful when its released.”

“So tell me about how it happened. I want some details, Susan. Cameron is betting everything on your ability to keep Ashford off his game. So why is it he thinks you’re such an asset?” Thea questioned as she watched her devious friend.

Susan smiled, “Because like I said,” Her grin became mischievous, “Something primal happens when we’re together. If I can keep Ken’s mind on me instead of the case, I can create enough reasonable doubt to keep the jury from finding Midlands at fault, and believe me, I can definitely keep Ken’s mind off the case.”

“I want to know about how this thing happened between you and Ken Ashford,” Thea reminded her.

“We met one another during a divorce trial. I was representing the husband while Ken represented the wife. We were arguing constantly in court because of our clients, and eventually the judge ordered us into arbitration. In the midst of this arbitration, Ken and I had to meet to discuss the wishes of our clients. One night when we were working late, we argued, and it became very heated. I think we were so exhausted from the case that we just wanted to stop all the rampant hatred and find something lighter. In the midst of this argument, it got physical,” Susan paused as her smile drifted completely over her features, “Then we got very physical with one another.”

“And so you two began having an affair,” Thea concluded.

“It wasn’t nearly as clear cut as that. Ken wasn’t about to become involved with a married woman, but I had found something in him that Grady couldn’t give me,” Susan thought back to the two relationships, “Grady and I had always been passionate lovers, but there was something missing,” She paused, “Ken was tender, gentle,” She paused, “It sounds stupid, but sometimes he could be so gentle that it hurt,” Susan began to smile again, “And I wanted that.”

“So why did things end between you and Ken?”

“Grady found out about us. He and Ken went about ten rounds before I ended up telling them both to shove it. Ken was determined to go back to being the good Ashford, and Grady was crawling into a bottle. I went to New York, and you know the rest of the story.”

“So why would Ken even flinch at you? He’s involved with some reporter chick, and he’s still being the good Ashford. So why are you even a consideration?”

“Cameron knows that I have very powerful forms of persuasion,” Susan assured Thea, “And I can damn well get Ken if I want him.”

“Oh really?” Thea asked doubtfully, “Ken isn’t going to leave his cute little reporter for you.”

“Really?” Susan placed her feet back on the ground and leaned onto her desk, “Want to wager on that one?”

“Yeah, I’ll take that bet,” Thea grinned, “I’ve got ten thousand dollars that says you can’t pull this off.”

“Deal,” Susan extended her hand towards Thea, “But you’re going to lose.”

Thea shook her hand with a grin, “I never lose,” She assured the attorney with a cocky grin. She wasn’t about to lose this bet, and besides, if Cameron lost a little faith in the perky little attorney, what could it hurt? Thea would be a winner twice over, and that was always a good thing.


Ken stepped off the elevator and stalked towards his office. He barely acknowledged anyone on the way to his office as he only wanted to get to some relative safety from the morning that still lingered mercilessly in his brain.

“Ken, how was court?” Judy asked from her desk as she noticed his dark mood, “That good, huh?”

“Oh yeah, just peachy,” He said sarcastically before frowning, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to bite your head off. This morning is just not what I had expected at all,” He said with a heavy groan, “Could you hold all my calls?”

“Of course, but what I really think you need is to talk to someone,” She said as she stood, “Come on. Let’s go into your office and talk,” When he started to argue, she held up her hand, “Don’t start with me, young man. Get in here.”

Ken’s shoulders fell, and he walked into the office like a child who had just been admonished. Judy stepped into the office behind him and closed the door while he placed his briefcase on his desk and removed his jacket.

“Okay, Ken, what happened? Did the judge deny the continuance?” Judy asked as she crossed the room to watch him.

“No, he granted the continuance,” He replied before he let out a heavy breath, “Susan is representing Midlands.”

Judy’s eyes widened before she nodded, “That explains the mood.”

“You’re not kidding,” He grumbled as he loosened his tie and dropped it in his chair to join his jacket. He ran his fingers through his hair, “As if things weren’t bad enough. Caitlin’s brother won’t let me see her, Brant’s being a destructive ass, and now Susan’s back in town? Maybe I should just shoot myself now to end the misery,” He groaned as he turned to look out the window.

“Ken, stop that. You’re not going to do any such a thing.”

“Yeah, we both know that, but still,” He set his jaw as he crossed his arms and looked out over the city, “I can’t believe this is all happening. I feel like I’ve been thrown head first into hell.”

Judy frowned as she watched him struggle with his torment, “Ken, let’s deal with one of these things at a time,” She offered, “Did the judge issue a new trial date?”

“Two weeks from today,” He replied without turning away from the window.

“Okay so we’ve got two weeks to come up with some way to combat Susan’s presence in the courtroom. Next, I don’t know what to do about your brother other than let him lead his own life and make his own mistakes.”

“That’s not as easy as it seems,” Ken frowned.

“I didn’t say it would be easy, but it’s something you have to do. Let your brother learn how to deal with his own mistakes. It’s the only way he’ll really learn responsibility. You’ve cleaned up too many of his messes, and now it’s time for him to learn how to clean up after himself,” She reasoned, “And don’t argue with me, got it?”

He cracked a small grin, “Got it.”

“As for seeing Caitlin,” Judy paused, “Maybe you should talk to her mother.”

Ken turned and looked towards the woman he’d come to respect very much, “Why?”

“Speaking as a mother, if a man cared for my daughter as much as you do for Caitlin, I’d want him to be by her side. Sometimes family isn’t enough. Sometimes it takes the love of a very special man to get through,” She smiled at him, “I’m telling you, Ken, talk to Caitlin’s mother.”

“I actually spoke with her the last time I was at the hospital,” He paused as he thought about it, “She seemed very accepting, but her brother,” He shook his head.

“You’ll find that when a mother feels something is right for her child, not even God himself could keep her from doing it. If she thinks you could reach Caitlin, she’ll make sure that her son doesn’t get in your way.”

Ken considered her words for a moment before he nodded, “You know, I think you’re on to something there.”

“Of course I am,” She winked at him, “Now get your jacket on, get over to that hospital, and see the woman you love,” Judy instructed as he followed her directions.

Ken stopped and pecked Judy on the cheek, “Thank you for pointing me in the right direction,” He smiled at her before he left the office, determined that this time he wasn’t about to leave the hospital until he told Caitlin how much he loved her and promised her that he wouldn’t leave her side. He wasn’t going to leave until she woke up and reminded him of all the love he had in the world.


“Mr. Morrison,” Ben’s voice flooded through the intercom as Richard looked up from the page he’d been working with at Avery‘s desk.
“Yes,” Richard inquired touching the button beside him.
“Russell Denton is here,” Ben announced quickly.
“Send him on in,” Richard replied watching as moments later the door opened and his son-in-law came in carrying a big bag in hand, grinning eagerly as he looked around the office.  “Good afternoon Russ.”
“Hey dad,” Russell greeted him brightly as his eyes scanned Avery’s office, “where’s my beautiful wife?”
“She ran downstairs for a few minutes, but hey take a seat as I’m sure she’ll be up here soon enough,” Richard motioned to one of the chairs across from him, “So how was court this morning?”
“It was eventful,” Russell replied with a tiny frown, “as Ken was about to get the continuance he was hoping for, but then my brother’s ex-wife showed up and it was like watching a train wreck and knowing there was nothing you could do about it.”
“Susan’s back in town.  Since when,” Avery questioned catching the tail end of Russell’s announcement as she stepped into her office carrying a pile of folders in her arms.  She used her hip to swing the door to a close behind her as Russell immediately stood up from the seat he’d been in.
“Here let me help you with that,” he rushed over to her reaching for the folders as she shook her head at him.
“Babe, it’s okay I’m fine,” Avery started to argue the point as he was plucking the folders up from her arms and carrying them away from her.
“You want these over here, right?” he motioned to the empty spot on her desk beside Richard.
“That’ll work great,” Richard added with a quick nod, “Thanks Russ.”
“My pleasure,” Russell smiled in response turning around to face Avery once again.
“You know honey, I’m really glad to see you, but I could’ve taken care of that one as I did carry them up from the archives,” Avery pointed out with a pointed look.
“Even so, you should be taking it easy around here,” he slipped his arms around her waist drawing her in closer to him, “as you are pregnant, remember?”
“Russ, honey how could I forget,” she smiled up at him seeing the sparkle behind his eyes as he tilted his head down to give her a quick kiss.
“You know, I think I’m going to take a few minutes to check on that thing we’d talked about earlier Avery,” Richard cleared his throat getting up from behind the desk and moving over towards the door.
“What thing daddy?” Avery glanced over her shoulder at him with a confused expression.
“That thing we’d been working on, but you two carry on,” he offered up a quick knowing smile before slipping out of her office and closing the door behind him as Russell let out a tiny laugh.
“Sounds like your father is already on to us as he’s willing to give us some private time together,” Russell teased dropping a quick kiss upon her lips, “Somehow I never thought I’d live to see the day that it would be he’d step aside to give me time to make out with his daughter willingly.”
“Yeah well times change,” Avery curled her arms around his neck drawing him in closer to her as she nibbled on his lip teasingly.
“Yes and no,” he whispered, the warmth of his breath striking down upon her, “and the fact still remains that you’re sexier than ever darling.”
“And you are always full of such flattery there,” she winked up at him.  They parted from their kiss still within one another’s arms as her expression grew suddenly serious and she eased her palm flat out over the center of his chest patting it gently, “So tell me about your morning?”
“Where to begin,” Russell sighed shaking his head as he leaned back to sit on the edge of her desk, bringing her in with him as he kept her in his arms, “Well, let’s see.  On the plus side Ken got his continuance which given the things that have been happening, that’s something that will work in his favor…”
“But?” Avery arched a curious brow.
“But Susan’s in town again,” Russell frowned heavily upon repeating those words once again.
“I caught that much from what you were saying when I walked in, but why is she back,” Avery inquired curiously, “How did you find out?”
“She’s representing Stone Corp in this lawsuit Ken is heading up against Midlands,” Russell divulged as surprise swept over Avery’s features.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Avery’s jaw dropped with shock, “Susan?”
“That’s right,” he nodded in confession, “and while I always knew she was a real witch, I never imagined that she’d make such a blatant move to side with enemy.”
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me as that woman never really seemed satisfied with what she had.  I never really understood how Grady put up with her considering,” Avery paused thinking about Grady for a long moment as a sense of panic swept over her, “Does Grady know she’s back in town?”
“That’s just the thing,” Russell thought to his brother‘s appearance in court, “He was there watching from the sidelines and then when Susan and Ken went head to head with one another, well he took it upon himself to lash out at Ken.”
“At Ken?” Avery repeated in confusion, “Why the hell would he do something like that when clearly Susan’s the one who made his life miserable?  I mean sure Ken and Susan are on opposite ends of this court case, but I know Ken wouldn’t have had anything to do with Susan working for Stone Corp,” she paused as a frown curled over her lips, “Now that Grady’s on the warpath, I guess that means we can forget dinner tonight since he’s out to start a battle with anyone and everyone in his way.”
“Well, actually,” Russell cleared his throat uneasily, “Ken’s not exactly an innocent in this one.”
“Come again?” Avery blinked back at him, “How do you figure that one considering that Grady’s always ready to shoot his mouth off there about anyone who is unfortunate enough to get in his way on a bad day?”
“It’s more than that Avery,” he took in a slow breath, “Remember how when Grady and Susan were together their marriage fell apart because of how she’d been seeing someone else on the side?”
“Well, of course I remember as I don’t think anyone around him could forget considering how brutal he got after that one…” she stopped mid-sentence noting the expression on her husband’s face as her jaw dropped, “Russ, you’re not trying to imply that Ken…”
“Oh yeah,” he nodded in response, “Susan’s interest in the Ashford family was more personal than Grady ever imagined it to be and when Ken and Susan were in court together, somehow they’d landed in bed together along the way.”
“No,” Avery’s eyes grew wide with disbelief as she shook her head, “no…no way.  Not Ken.  I mean honestly…you can’t be trying to tell me that Ken…”
“Avery, it’s true,” Russell insisted emphatically, “Ken and Susan turned Grady’s marriage into nothing more than a joke and ever since then he’s had this rage inside of him.”
Avery grew silent for a long moment taking in this latest piece of knowledge as she shook her head, “I knew that Susan was horrible to Grady, but when you told me she’d had an affair, never in a million years would I believe that she and Ken would’ve been the ones having it.  Granted Susan always struck me as the kind of woman who had some serious commitment issues, but Ken,” Avery met his eyes seeing the truth behind his words, “Russ, he’s been a friend of mine for so very long and I never, ever would’ve saw this one coming.  Even now I can’t even begin to think of Ken and Susan together as it just seems so…”
“So what?” he watched her struggling for her words.
“Wrong,” she blurted out honestly, “I mean Ken is such a great guy and Susan is such a bitch that I can’t even begin to fathom what kind of appeal she would have for a man like Ken and he’s good and wonderful and…”
“The man who broke up Grady’s marriage and Grady’s not about to let him forget that,” he explained with a heavy sigh, “which means more than likely things are going to continue to be tense around here for a while with my family.”
“I can understand that, but what I don’t understand is how Ken could do something like that especially with someone like Susan,” Avery found herself still in a state of disbelief, “Granted that would be something that I might’ve been able to see Brant fall into, but Ken…no, that just doesn’t seem right considering that he’s so upstanding and…”
“Even the so called good guys take a fall there every once in a while,” Russell pointed out with a simple shrug of his shoulders.
“Yes, but Ken?” she felt the rhetorical weight of her question hang over her as she slipped out of his embrace making her way over to the couch across the room, “I guess I just never saw that one coming.”
“Neither did Grady which is probably why he’s running around town ready to crucify the Ashfords and anything associated with them,” Russell followed her to the sofa picking up the bag he’d brought with him upon his arrival.
“So this is why he’s so eager to help Cameron Stone take on BBK,” Avery let the thought swirl in her head before she let out a sigh, “Russ, you can’t let him use this chip on his shoulder to make a horrible mistake as Stone Corp is the last place where Grady should be right now with a vendetta on his agenda.”
“I realize that, but right now I think we need to just work on getting our family back on track before we start tackling what’s happening between Stone Corp and BBK,” Russell reached for her hand, “as tonight I think we really need to just focus on dinner.”
“Dinner,” Avery groaned in response shifting uneasily on the cushion beneath her, “Russ, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea considering that Grady’s probably going to be more pissed than ever especially with Susan around and…”
“He’s trying to make a new start,” Russell reminded her simply, “He’s promised to behave himself and…”
“And what happens when he decides that being nice is too much of a stretch?” Avery questioned bluntly, “Russ, I can’t promise you that I won’t jump over the table and kill him because while I can sympathize for what’s happened to him with Susan, I’m not going to let him sit there and bash me or what we have together.”
“He’s not going to do that because if he tried, you wouldn’t have to be leaping over the table to kill him as I’d already be there,” he offered up with the beginnings of a smile as she couldn’t help but feel a tiny laugh pull up from inside of her.
“You’re horrible,” she shook her head at him, “You realize that, don’t you?”
“Hey I’m not above knocking some sense into my brother when it comes to getting him to give my wife some respect,” he stretched his hand out over her abdomen, “as I want my family to have the kind of happiness we’ve always dreamt about Avery.  I promised you nothing short of that on our wedding day and I intend to hold true on my word.”
“You’ve been doing a fantastic job in keeping me happy, Russ,” Avery informed him unable to contain the smile that built up over her features.
“I sure hope so as I’ve got a lot planned for us, Mrs. Denton,” Russell wrapped his arm around her shoulders pulling her in closer to him as he kissed the top of her head.  Squeezing her closer to him, he found himself unable to contain the goofy grin that spread over his sexy features, “especially starting after our dinner with Grady tonight as you promised me great things, remember?”
“I thought I gave you great things to dream about in the shower there,” Avery poked at his ribs as he hugged her closer to him.
“Well yes, yes you did indeed and it left me feeling very inspired for tonight,” he tapped her nose gently as he wiggled his eyebrows at her, “In fact, I was so inspired that I made a quick stop at the store on the way over and I brought you something for tonight.”
“You did,” she questioned with a gulp, her eyes falling to the large bag he’d brought with him and as she thought of her father outside the office, her pulse quickened and a blush spilled over her features, “Please tell me you didn’t bring the props for tonight over to share with me at work.”
“Why don’t you take a look for yourself as I was thinking that maybe tonight you‘d put that thing on that Judy gave you and then..,” he nudged the bag closer to her as Avery eyed it wearily wondering if perhaps the X-rated contents would be far too much for a reveal in her office.  She drifted forward leaning in to take a look at what could be inside the bag, but the tissue paper that surrounded it left the mystery alive as she looked to Russell again.
“Should I really open this now,” she questioned wearily as he couldn’t help but chuckle in amusement.
“Don’t make me wait baby,” he teased watching her reach into the bag ready to fish out whatever treasure Russell had picked up on the way over as her fingers came into contact with something soft and fuzzy.
“Russ,” she half questioned as she dug deeper into the bag squeezing the cushiony object within before she pulled out a stuffed bunny rabbit that was folded in half within the bag.  Her eyes widened as the rabbit’s legs flopped out onto the floor revealing it’s length as it stood almost three feet tall in her arms dressed in what resembled a baby sleeper and suddenly she realized what he’d done.
“What do you think?” he questioned bobbing his hand over the toy rattle in the bunny’s hand as his grin expanded, “You like it?”
“Russ, this is…” she found herself at a loss as she could see the amusement pressing over him at the way he’d lead her to believe something contrary to what he’d done, “not what I expected.”
“I’m fully aware of that,” he laughed harder touching her flushed features, “but I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to see that expression on your face when I saw you walk into the office.”
“I can’t believe that you would lead me to think that this was something that…” she began at a loss.
“I was on my way over here and I saw it in one of the toy store windows and I knew the baby had to have it,” he confessed with a tiny chuckle pulling the rabbit up into his lap using his fingers to wiggle it’s ears, “So what do you think?”
“I think you’re trouble,” Avery tried to ignore the heat that still lingered over her features as she leaned in towards him kissing him tenderly, “but I love it and so does the baby.  Russ, it’s so perfect.”
“You’re perfect,” he kissed her again curling his arm around her as he shifted the rabbit onto one of his legs making room for her on the other as they sank back onto her couch in a loving embrace.
“I’m no where near perfect, but you do have this way of making me feel special every now and then,” she whispered against his lips, “as you’re by far the most incredible man I’ve ever known.”
“Even with all my teasing you?” he arched a curious brow.
“Especially with the teasing,” she nodded in confession, “though I must admit I’m glad to see this rabbit instead of some contraption that may have entered your mind when it was running through fantasy land.”
“Oh the bunny isn’t the only thing I brought for tonight,” he confessed in a low, sultry whisper, “as the other thing I picked up for tonight is in my pocket if you‘re feeling brave enough to take a look.”
Saying nothing Avery collected his lips in a tender kiss, teasing her fingers into his jacket pocket as she felt the cool, metal smoothness contained within the warmth hidden from the rest of the world.  Suddenly as she curled her fingers around the circular shape, a gasp fell from her lips as she saw the wicked expression on his face.
“You didn’t,” she blinked back at him thinking about their talks with one another not so long ago.
“Hey, you’re the one who told me it was a lifelong fantasy of yours and while I rather enjoyed seeing what you could do with my tie, I thought that maybe just maybe I should give you what you were really hoping for all these years,” he explained in a heated whisper curling his arm around her, “as I figure you’ve had a long time to fantasize about this one…”
“You have no idea,” she breathed against his lips, “although I have to ask…how in the world did you pull this one off?”
“I have my ways,” he added cryptically, “Just promise me one thing…”
“What’s that?” she questioned nibbling on his lower lip thinking about how he’d paid attention to some of the things she’d said to him during their private moments.
“This time we lock all the doors, keep the company away and the bunny stays out of bed as I want tonight to be all about you and me.  No interruptions or stuffed animals keeping us from picking up where we left off all those years ago,” he urged her setting the bunny aside as he tugged her on his lap more completely.
“Hmm, well I did kind of love the thought of having you there all locked up with no place to go for a while considering that you did it so well before,” she couldn’t help but tease thinking about their last failed encounter with a pair of handcuffs years ago.
“I can promise you that tonight I’ll have plenty of places to go with this one baby,” he slipped his fingers into her hair kissing her heatedly as he thought of all the magical moments they’d shared together over the years, though he was quite certain as he held her that with this morning’s adventure and tonight’s fantasy in the making fresh on his mind, they were only warming up long, hot road to romance and passion with one another.


Richard slowly opened the door to Avery’s office seeing her and Russell on the couch speaking with one another in between kisses and as a smile pressed upon his features, he closed the door once again realizing it had been far too long since he’d seen his little girl so happy.  Now as he thought of what it would take to keep that happiness in her life, he realized that he’d to whatever it took to make sure that happened even if it meant stepping on a few toes along the way.
“Benjamin,” Richard spoke firmly to Avery’s assistant, “See to it that Avery has some time in there alone for a while as she and Russell need to speak about a few things and I think it best that they not be interrupted.”
“Certainly sir,” Ben nodded not bothering to ask questions with Richard Morrison as he’d learned better in the short time Avery’s father had thrust himself into the atmosphere at BBK taking charge of things that were happening in Avery’s office.
“Excellent, then I’m going to take a quick break here and see to it that no one goes in there until I return,” Richard threw back at him in an authoritative tone, “and I do mean no one.”
“Yes sir,” Ben offered up once again as Richard began to walk out of the area outside Avery’s offices only to see Brant approaching.  His smile faded as Brant stepped in closer to him.
“Good afternoon Richard,” Brant greeted him with a quick nod and a smile, “Avery in her office?”
“She is,” Richard replied standing in front of Brant to prevent him from going in to see her, “but right now she’s a bit busy, so why don’t you just pay her a visit later?”
“Well actually I wanted to talk to her about a few things as…” Brant began starting forward once again.
“Actually there are a few things that I’d like to speak with you about there,” Richard explained matter of fact as his eyes pressed upon Brant, “and they can’t wait.”
“Richard, look I realize that we have a lot to talk about on the court proceedings, but…” Brant frowned in response.
“This has nothing to do with the case and everything to do with my daughter,” Richard declared boldly his anger unmasked by the expression on his face, “as I heard about what you’ve been doing to her lately.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brant feigned innocence, “as you know Avery’s very important to me and I want to see nothing but the best for her.”
“That’s exactly how I feel on the subject which is why I don’t want you bothering my daughter and making unwelcome advances in her direction,” Richard insisted with an air of menace in his tone, “She’s a married woman with a child on the way and given all that my daughter has been through in her life I don’t want anyone and I do mean anyone jeopardizing that because if that happens, well then there are going to be a great many unsavory consequences due to anyone who chooses to take such actions to destroy the life my daughter has made for herself.  Is that clear?”
“I only want the best for Avery,” Brant answered simply as he stood eye to eye with Richard Morrison, “as her happiness means the world to me.”
“Then see to it that you don’t do anything that should upset her world as Avery’s happiness is something that I don’t take too lightly,” Richard remarked sharply, “Now about those things you were going to speak with her about…I trust they can wait?”
“For now,” Brant frowned wondering if the rumors he’d heard about Russell being in the building were truths now as Richard pushed him away from seeing Avery.  Still it was no matter as Brant was still bound and determined to make Avery happy in his own way…just with Richard’s warnings he realized he’d have to do it another way from here on out.
“Good,” Richard nodded quickly, “then I trust we won’t be having anymore discussions like these.”
“Absolutely not,” Brant replied watching Richard walk away as he shifted directions himself heading to the elevators as his anger and irritation got the best of him.  Just the idea of being told where he could and couldn’t go within the walls of his company was enough to send him over the edge, but alas Brant wasn’t about to make waves with Avery where his father was concerned.  However, if Richard wanted to keep Brant out of Avery’s office physically, there were other ways to find out just what was happening, he decided getting off on the first floor as he headed to the security area ready to take a sneak peak at the things Richard was preventing him from walking in on.
“Hey Mr. Ashford,” Hank waved at him smiling brightly, “I didn’t expect to see you down here twice in one day.”
“Well, you know, I’ve had a few security questions arise here over the last couple of days, so if you don’t mind, I was wondering if we could check out a few of the offices upstairs,” Brant explained simply keeping his tone even as Hank nodded quickly.
“Sure, whatever you need.  Just let me know where you’d like to look,” he motioned to the dials before him.
“Just show me where the executive offices are cued up at and we’ll be all set,” Brant insisted holding back the simmer that Richard had sparked inside of him as he thought to the things that Russell Denton could be doing to turn Avery against him upstairs.
“Well, we’ve got your lobby on six and then there’s…” Hank started to show him randomly.
“I was thinking more along the lines of Ms. Morrison’s office since you’ve been made aware of the added security we’d had put in there due to recent circumstances,” Brant waved him on encouragingly.
“Oh of course as I read all about it in the papers, but I have to say the guy would be a fool to strike here especially during the day when everyone is around,” Hank cued up the camera in Avery’s office as he kept his eyes on Brant, “as I wouldn’t imagine someone would even think to…”
“Hank, why don’t you take a coffee break,” Brant suggested dismissively, “as I think I can handle myself right about now.”
“You sure?  Because you know I can stick around if you need me to Mr. A…” Hank offered up eagerly.
“No, I think I’ve got it covered for a couple minutes,” Brant dismissed him taking Hank’s seat as soon as the guard left his post.
Brant’s eyes fell upon the screen before him taking in the scene as Russ and Avery sat on her couch laughing and joking with one another in between kisses lost in some sort of close knit intimacy.  Brant watched as Russell pressed his hand over Avery’s abdomen no doubt making up some goofy means of amusing her as he pretended to talk to their baby and as Brant found himself fixated on the scene before him, he clenched his fists on the counter top of the security station.  His anger bubbled over him as he vowed that one way or another he’d get rid of Russell and then soon enough, he’d be the only man Avery would be warming up to and snuggling up with in her office as nothing was going to stand in the way of what he had with Avery--especially not someone as insignificant as the man who’d managed to temporarily turn her against what she wanted and needed in her life.
“Enjoy it now because it’s not going to last Denton,” Brant vowed to the monitor before him convinced that despite Russell’s efforts to keep Avery away from him, that eventually Avery would see where she belonged and then, Brant would put Russell in his place for one last time as Brant promised himself that one way or another Russell would be out of Avery’s life forever.


Grady knocked lightly on Jade’s door before peaking his head inside, “Are you busy?”

“Not anymore,” Jade replied with a smile as she invited him in, “How was court?”

“Susan upset Ashford,” He grinned, “Then I got a chance to blow her off. So you know, life is pretty good right now.”

“Oh boy, does that mean I’m going to have to beat the snot out of you for tonight’s dinner? I’d hate to think that you’d upset the balance in our lives right now by going after Avery just because you’re in a good mood,” She warned.

Grady stepped behind her desk and spun her chair so that he could lift her out of her seat. He held her in his arms and captured her lips in a heated kiss. When their lips parted, he met her eyes with a smile, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Wow,” She blinked in response, “That must have been some scene at the courthouse.”

“Well, there was that,” He shrugged, “And I love you. I think that’s mostly why I’m in such a good mood,” He smiled.

“Oh well,” She grinned as she slipped her fingers gently through his hair, “In that case, I’ll take full credit,” She winked at him, “Does this mean you promise to be on your best behavior tonight?”

“I won’t promise you anything because if I’m provoked, I can’t be responsible for letting Avery have it. On the other hand, I am going to do my best to keep my temper in check,” He shrugged, “That’s the best I can do right now.”

“Well I guess that’ll have to be good enough,” She sighed though a smile refused to leave her features, “I so love you. I always knew we’d be this happy, and now that you’ve finally come to that conclusion as well, things are good for us.”

“Yeah, they are,” He agreed, “Though you might not be good for my health.”

“And just why not?” She asked as she studied his eyes.

“Because you drive me wild, and I’m an old man, you know,” He teased as he squeezed her in his arms.

“Oh please,” She giggled as she drew his lips to hers in a kiss, “You don’t have any problems keeping up with me.”

“Now that’s good to hear,” He smiled, “I have to tell you, Jade, being happy is kind of foreign to me, but I like it.”

“Good, because this is only the beginning for us,” She smiled, “We really are going to only get better together. I can feel it in my blood.”

He smiled before he kissed her, “If I don’t get out of here, I’m not going to get any work done today.”

“And that’s a bad thing because?” She asked with a grin.

“You’re trouble,” Grady teased before he released her and left the office. He probably still wouldn’t get any work done, but he could at least look like his mind was on business.


Dave stepped into the apartment as he heard Deidra gasp ahead of him, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” She said in awe as she took a moment to look around the living area, “Absolutely nothing. This is perfect,” She said with a burst of enthusiasm as she rounded a corner and let out a squeal.

“What?” He rushed around the corner and spotted the large dining area with the large kitchen, “Oh lord, the woman’s in heaven.”

Deidra grinned as she moved behind the island counter and looked around the kitchen, “This is perfect. I mean absolutely perfect.”

He slipped his hands in his pockets as he watched her. He shook his head and laughed softly, “You’re in love already, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely head over heels,” She giggled as she smoothed her hands over the countertop, “This place is just too good to pass up.”

“You haven’t even taken the complete tour yet,” He warned.

“I know, but I’m telling you that this place is just awesome,” She smiled.

“How about let’s take a look at the two bedrooms and the bath?” He suggested, “Although really, why are we looking for two bedrooms anyway?”

“Because I want to put an office in one. It helps when I can kind of put work away from relaxation, you know?” She said as she moved across the room and walked down the hallway towards the bedroom, “Oh Dave, check this out.”

Dave stepped up behind her and spotted the dark hard wood floors and floor to ceiling windows that offered a view of Lake Cardinal. He stepped into the room and glanced back to her, “Do you think you can afford this place?”

“Stop worrying about my pocketbook, would you?” She teased as she stepped inside, “Just imagine how great it’ll be to wake up here and look out on that gorgeous view every morning,” She stepped up to the window and gasped, “Oh my god…this is beyond cool,” She said as she opened the window and stepped out onto a balcony. She hopped up and down on the balcony like a child with a new gift, “I want this apartment. This is the one.”

He stepped onto the balcony with her and nodded, “It’s a good neighborhood, and it’s a huge plus that the building has a doorman,” He looked over to her, “I think this is the first time I’ve seen you genuinely happy since you’ve been back in town.”

“It’s because this is my first step in making my new life without Andy, and this is the absolute best apartment I could have ever found,” Deidra smiled as she touched his arm, “Thank you for coming along with me today. I’ve had a great time doing this,” She paused, “Even if you were rude to the real estate agent.”

“Hey, I was just looking out for you,” He said before grinning, “But today has been outstanding. Seeing you smiling has made this day absolutely worth the time we’ve spent together,” He smiled.

She let out a sigh as she glanced around, “Think I can get the paperwork started on this place today?”

“I don’t see why not,” He shrugged, “I’ll tell you what. You go downstairs and see the landlord, get your papers together, and all that jazz. I’ll go down to the station house and make sure my deputies haven’t destroyed my town,” He said with a wry smile.

“That sounds like you’re almost serious,” She teased with a laugh, “But that sounds good, but only if you’ll have dinner with me tonight. What do you say we go to Irvan’s for a bite to eat and then we’ll go see a movie?” She offered, “I’ll pay,” She added with a hopeful smile.

Dave paused for a moment, “Okay, but don’t expect me to put out. I don’t go all the way on a first date.”

“Oh get out of here,” Deidra groaned with a laugh as she pushed him out the door to get them on their way. The sooner she could start having some fun with an old friend, the sooner she could truly put her painful past with Andy completely behind her.


Hart stepped into Jenna’s office carrying the bags he’d collected from the Chinese restaurant on the corner as he realized she’d probably be slaving away over her desk as she usually did on a day like today.  While he’d been trying his best to get a moment alone with her lately, it seemed as though something kept coming up and it was then after everything that happened today in court that he decided it was time to vent and unwind with the woman he’d grown so very fond of.  With that thought in mind, he smiled brightly entering her office more completely as he looked up from behind the bags he was carrying.
“I hope you’re hungry beautiful because I have quite an appetite right about now,” Hart confessed his words laced with heavy innuendos as he found himself staring down at Jenna’s chair and a frown touched over his lips.
Granted when he’d made a quick call to her office on the way over, he’d gotten her voice mail, but knowing how Jenna was, Hart was certain that she’d be buried in some kind of paperwork she’d put off and was struggling to block out all interruptions until she was finished with it.  However, as he eyed the piles of pages before him and found that Jenna and her purse were missing, he began to wonder if perhaps she’d opted to put off working on things for a little bit in her quest to perhaps find some time for herself.
Smiling as he realized he was starting to have some kind of influence on her, Hart set the bags down on her desktop realizing if she’d slipped out, then he’d just have to sell her on the idea of some Chinese food after the fact as he’d found himself rather hungry after the morning he’d had.  With that thought in mind, he circled around her desk pushing her papers carefully aside so that he didn’t smudge or wrinkle any of them as he began to pull the cartons of food out onto her desk.  Certainly by the time she returned, he’d have something special in order as an idea sparked into his head and he searched her office for a long moment.  Spotting a fat, half diminished candle from over on one of her filing cabinets, he found himself inspired as he pulled it down from it’s dust covered resting place.
“I suppose this will have to do,” Hart blew off the top layer of dust as he set the candle down on the middle of the desk, making sure to rearrange the papers once again as he found himself wanting to give Jenna an unexpected treat for the afternoon as he was certain that like him, she could use a time out more than whatever had taken her from the office as he suddenly began to ponder if perhaps her absence wasn’t so much a pleasure stop out to pick up some of that coffee she seemed to live on, but more so a work related journey, but before he could give himself much time to ponder the thoughts that had come to him, he heard the soft, faint sounds of footsteps in the hallway outside her office and in a matter of seconds, he was rewarded with the sound of her laughter echoing through the office as enthusiasm brimmed over him almost immediately.
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the lighter he’d carried with him for those just in case moments and as he began to quickly light the candle, he heard her voice grow louder in that instant alerting him that she wasn’t alone at the moment.  He paused for a moment wondering what a coworker of hers might have to say about his making himself at home in her office, but realizing that he really didn’t care as this was all about surprising Jenna, he sank back into the chair putting on his best smile as he anticipated her arrival through the door.
“Good afternoon beautiful,” Hart greeted her brightly hearing her just outside the door as much to his dismay he found himself face to face with someone he’d just as soon never see again as Travis Callaway’s less than impressed eyes were upon him.  In that instant his smile faded and it was replaced with a look of sheer disgust as he scowled at his old adversary, “What are you doing here?”
“I was just about to ask you the same thing…” Travis began with a pointed look at Jenna’s voice rose from the hallway.
“You know Travis, while I realize you’re trying to find ways to push me out of my office, I really need to start working on the things waiting for me inside which starts with your moving out of my way and giving me access within,” her voice teased as she placed her hand upon his arm before pushing her way past him into her office only to discover Hart seated at her desk looking less than enthused about her arrival with Callaway.
“Hart, I wasn‘t expecting to see you here this afternoon,” she greeted him pushing out a soft smile as she stepped away from Callaway entering her office more completely as Hart’s scowl deepened and he rose from her chair expectantly.
“Clearly,” he replied with a cold, emotionless expression unable to take his eyes off of Callaway as he felt Jenna step in beside him.
“Did you bring me lunch,” she questioned feeling herself touched by the gesture as she thought to the meal she’d just had with Callaway.
“That was the general idea as I’d thought you’d be stuck in the office for the day,” he answered unwilling to take his eyes off the man he’d found himself in competition time and time again as Jenna touched his arm gently.
“Oh that’s such a sweet thing, but I already ate,” she curled her lip in a frown leaning in towards him as her fingers slid over his shoulder in an intimate gesture, “Travis just took me to Irvan’s and…”
“What the hell were you doing with him Jen,” Hart growled up at her finally focusing on the woman before him as she was just millimeters away from kissing his forehead.
“Excuse me,” Jenna blinked back at him taken aback at his tone as she stood upright once again seeing the anger brewing behind his eyes as Callaway just stood in her doorway with an unsettling silence watching the exchange between the two of them.
“I said, ‘What are you doing spending your time with this jackass?’” Hart demanded unwilling to wait for an answer as his gaze shot back to Callaway, “What is your problem?”
“Problem,” Callaway repeated with a tiny chuckle unwilling to loose his cool in the situation, “The only one I see having issues here Steiner is you considering that you’re always had this ability to make mountains out of molehills.”
“Molehills,” Hart repeated with a glare, “Look maybe you’re trying to prove something to yourself, but you can save yourself the time and energy because Jenna is off limits, so just back off.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Jenna interjected catching the wind of Hart’s jealousy as she reached out to touch his arm, “Hart, I think you’re reading this all wrong as he and I went to lunch to…”
“Spare him the details,” Callaway threw back at her, his jaw clenching with what appeared to be the beginnings of obvious anger, “as he calls people as he sees himself.”
“And just how would that be?” Hart demanded with a huff.
“As lying, cheating son of a bitches that are bent on making the world around them miserable,” Callaway growled in response his fists curling up at his sides.
“I can’t help it if you weren’t able to keep Beth at your side as she was through with you a long time before she and I were involved,” Hart insisted seeing the spark of animosity behind Callaway’s eyes.
“You mean before the affair,” Travis lifted a curious brow before extending his gaze beyond Hart to Jenna, “Had I known that you were seeing this loser on a more personal level, I would’ve offered you more than career advice over lunch…”
“You just stay away from her as Jenna is off limits,” Hart waved his finger wildly at Callaway before getting up in his face in a huff, “She’s not going to take pity on your wounded ego, so just get over yourself.”
“You’re the one who needs to get over himself as you’re not the man you build yourself up to be and like Beth, Jenna will see what you are soon enough,” Callaway seethed with rage as he and Hart stood nose to nose in the moment.
“That’s enough,” Jenna blurted out unwilling to watch a fight break out in the middle of her office as she pushed her way between both men breaking up whatever had begun with them.  She placed her hands upon each of their chests pushing them further from one another as she shook her head at them in heavy disapproval, “whatever it is you two have going on, it doesn’t have any room being here.  Is that understood?”
“Then tell him to leave as he doesn’t belong here either as he’s only here to make an ill-fated attempt at teaching me a lesson he’d never learned a long time ago,” Hart answered with a sneer.
“Oh you’ll learn your lesson one day Steiner and I’ll be sitting in the sidelines watching your downfall,” Callaway assured him with a wicked smirk.
“Gee, now why doesn’t that surprise me as I can recall Beth saying that was part of the reason she’d grown tired of you as you always found yourself steering clear to the sidelines instead of being the man she’d wanted and needed,” Hart taunted him as Callaway’s face lost all expression transforming into something far more primal than the cool and collected man he’d appeared to be on the surface.

Within a matter of seconds Jenna witnessed such a change in him that she feared for the outcome.  She sent her hands further into their chests shoving harder this time as she felt the tension surging through Callaway’s body.  She turned her eyes to Hart seeing the menacing expression that filled his otherwise handsome features and in that moment, she realized that if things didn’t end now, then it would be beyond damage control.
“Stop it Hart,” Jenna warned spinning around to face Callaway as she tried to direct his attention away from Hart, “Look Travis, I’ll get back to you about the offer.  You should really have your people check in with my father and then we’ll see what we can setup.”
Travis said nothing as his eyes remained fixed upon Hart watching him as though he’d been mentally tearing him apart limb by limb.
“Travis,” Jenna repeated his name bringing him back to the moment as his eyes fell upon her.
“Sure Jenna,” Callaway nodded taking a step back and adjusting his tie as he threw one last glare in Hart’s direction, “See you later.”
“The hell you will,” Hart lunged forward ready to tear the man apart before Jenna pushed him back into her office closing the door behind Callaway’s exit.
“Just what do you think you were doing?” she demanded with a huff shoving him back into her chair, “Hart, what was that all about?”
“That man is just trying to push my buttons because of things that he should really be over by now,” Hart answered casually with a simple shrug of his shoulders.
“From what I’ve gathered you took the man’s wife from him.  I think he has plenty of reason to be upset with you,” Jenna remarked offhandedly.
“So is that what you’re being out with him was all about?  Was he spilling out his pity poor me tale about how I ruined his life in the hopes that maybe you’d find it in you to stop seeing me?” Hart questioned harshly feeling his anger double by the moment.
“He didn’t say a word about you, though I’m starting to wonder just who you are considering that the way you’re behaving right now it just beyond ridiculous,” Jenna huffed in response placing her hands on her hips, “You’re acting like a child.”
“A child,” he repeated incredulously, “Jenna, if you haven’t noticed the guy came to town with a chip on his shoulder and an axe to grind and now that he knows about us, well he’s going to take great pleasure in trying to drive a wedge between us.”
“He doesn’t have that in mind at all as he came here to speak with me about work,” Jenna shook her head at him, “and if you wouldn’t have come off as a raging bull, you might’ve seen that, but instead all we got was a testosterone flare up that nearly landed you both in big trouble.”
“He’s trouble Jen and I really don’t like you spending time with him as he’s bad news,” Hart insisted watching her walk away from him as her eyes fell upon the contents that were spread out over her desk.
“From what I’ve heard and seen first hand, you’re far more dangerous than he is and I took a chance on you,” Jenna shot back with a glare, “though sometimes I have to wonder why I bothered.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Hart grumbled in response, “Jen, don’t tell me this guy has brainwashed you already.”
“He doesn’t have to as you’re doing a fine job of showing your true colors right about now with this tantrum of yours.  I already told you that this was all about business, but you’re ready to pound his head into the cement just because you only see what you want to…”
“What I see is a man who has a hidden agenda and he’s pissed because his wife left him in the dust,” Hart explained adamantly.
“To be with you,” she reminded him sharply, “Yes, I get that part and that in itself says a lot about you…”
“Beth was on her way out the door long before I entered the equation, and if Assistant Director Dipstick would get that through his block head, he’d see that and get over it.  I was doing him a favor in the long run,” Hart insisted with a heavy frown as his voice sparked with determination.
“Oh as if all husbands should be so lucky,” Jenna rolled her eyes in response, “would you just listen to yourself?  You sound pathetic.  You know that, don’t you?”
“Pathetic is that guy trying to move in on you now that he knows we’re together,” he waved his hand at her, “as I’m not going to tolerate him and his lame attempts at payback.”
“Payback,” she repeated with a growl, “Did it ever occur to you that maybe just maybe he really was here to see me on some kind of professional level here?  That maybe he saw some of my talent and he was hoping to help me make the most of it?”
“He’s trying to make the most of his own agenda and I’m not going to sit here and let him step in between us because it’s his own way of being a thorn in my side,” Hart explained matter of fact, “as I won’t stand for it.”
“Oh you won’t, will you?” Jenna’s eyes widened as she found herself immediately disliking his tone, “Well what if I told you I don’t give a damn what you like in this situation as it’s really none of your business, huh?”
“I’d say that was the wrong answer Jen,” Hart stepped towards her, “as that’s not at all what you should be saying right now.”
“Well no I think I should really be saying that you can pack this up and get the hell out of here as I have real work to do and the last thing I want to listen to is you in the middle of a tantrum,” she waved at the food before her, “but I was just being polite.”
“Polite,” his eyes grew wide with surprise, “for threatening to throw out the man that loves you because of some jerk off who wants to cause a rift in our lives.”
“What did you just say?” Jenna questioned unable to believe the words that had fallen from his lips as her shock and amazement fell over her.
“I said that he’s a jerk and I’m not going to sit back and tolerate him causing a rift between us when…” Hart demanded standing his ground with her as his anger bubbled over him.
“No, not that,” Jenna shook her head dismissively, “That’s not what you said…”
“Yes I did.  I said full well that…” he started again.
“No, that’s not what I mean.  Say what you said again,” she urged him on before she threw him a pointed look, “You know the other part…”
“Jen, I…” he paused suddenly getting what she was saying as he stepped towards her unable to contain himself as his arm curled around her waist and he pulled her in close to him, “I love you Jenna.”
“You love me,” she repeated unable to mask the surprise that filled her up inside as his hand drifted up to touch her cheek leisurely as his eyes sought out the heart of her reaching deep beneath the surface.
“I do,” he nodded in confession tipping down to kiss her tenderly, “I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t even begin to tell you what it is you’ve done to me.”
“Hart I…” she started feeling his lips graze hers once again as she curled her arms around him holding him closer to her.
“Jenna, I’ve tried to ignore this feeling, but it’s this persistent ache inside of me and when I saw you with him, well I can’t even begin to tell you how much it bothered me,” Hart replied squeezing her closer to him as his lips coaxed hers into another kiss, “You have no idea how much time I spend each day longing to be this close to you--to have you like this in my arms and be able to share this time with you and when I think of that loser sniffing his nose around and trying to tempt you into seeing the worst in me…”
“Hart, I’ve seen the worst in you,” Jenna reminded him pointedly as she tipped up on her toes suckling upon his lower lip, “and believe me I know how ugly it is, but I can’t help but be drawn to you in ways that I’ve hated to even think about sharing with you…”
“I don’t want you to hold back as I’m laying it out on the line here Jen,” he whispered nuzzling her neck, his palms pressed in over her spine coaxing her nearer to him as his lips dropped down over her earlobe in the softest of whispers, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Jenna confessed unable to contain the emotions building up inside of her as she hugged him against her, her mouth diving into the sensual taste of his kisses as he kept her within the confines of his arms.
“Oh Jenna,” he murmured her name, allowing his fingers to press up over her dark hair to release the clip that held it in place for her more professional look until this moment when it fell freely around her shoulders giving him the chance to memorize her beauty as he held her.  His hands dropped down to her bottom, squeezing the softness of her through her tight fitting jeans as he began to think about how much he appreciated her more casual look before his lips sought out hers once again.
Jenna played her fingers over the center of his chest, feeling the heat of the moment grow and expand between them as his words touched a place inside her heart that had been locked away for so very long.  She could feel his pulse racing from within as her hands slid down over his chest, over his abdomen until finally, she clasped on his shirt, tearing open the buttons as a newfound sense of need hung over her.  His own hands worked their way up over her sweater urging her to discard it as their kisses grew in intensity, the frequency of the moment drowning them in a whirlpool of desire as she’d managed to tear his shirt down over his shoulders.
“Hart,” she breathed against his mouth feeling desire ignite every one of her senses, heightening the moment as they moved around her tiny office working desperately to release the barriers between them as she fell back into the wall nearest to them.
“Yes,” he murmured his lips upon her neck as his finger tips danced over her curves with a renewed hunger.
“Lock the door,” she moaned tipping her head back as his kisses traveled up over the curve of her shoulder to nibble her earlobe as the heat of his breath sent shivers racing through her.
“Right,” he reached out behind him finding himself fumbling with the lock before he turned her in his arms spinning her to press her back up against the door as his lips traced over her collar bone.  His hands positioned themselves upon her hips as his mouth moved down over her breastbone, traveling down to her abdomen as he knelt before her taking the opportunity to use his new location to his advantage as he popped open the button on her jeans with one quick flick of his thumb.  Her soft sighs of pleasure were encouragement to him as he worked the zipper down on her tight fitting jeans before returning his hands to her hips once again.
Tilting his eyes upward towards her, Hart watched the expression fill her features as he eased the thick material away from her body, revealing her shapely thighs to him with each sensual movement he made as she shimmied her body a bit to make the removal easier for him in this moment of passion.  His kisses tapered off over her silken skin tasting the softness of her as her jeans pooled around her ankles.
Carefully removing the slip on shoes she’d put on in a haste earlier in the morning, Jenna could feel Hart’s lips taking her to places she’d only imagined with him as her heart was pounding furiously in her chest.  She helped him remove her jeans from her body and as her eyes fell upon him once again, she watched as he plucked her jeans, offering a teasing grin before tossing them over his shoulder towards her desk with one, quick movement.
“Come here you,” she beckoned him up to her once again as her mouth claimed his with a frantic need.  She felt his arms wrap around her, his body hot with desire as her fingers dipped down to unfasten belt and his slacks hearing them drop to the ground with his belt before a tiny giggle burst from within.
“You have no idea how many times I’ve dreamt about this,” Hart confided feeling her finger tips tease over the waistband of his boxer shorts, sliding in beneath the elastic to tease over the sensitive skin beneath.
“Probably not nearly as much as I have,” Jenna confessed feeling him urging her down to the floor as a sudden aroma filled her senses.  “Hart?”
“Yes,” he breathed lazily moving his lips over her neck as he wanted to savor the sweet, sexy taste of the woman he’d spent many a nights fantasizing about.
“Do you smell that,” Jenna questioned in confusion sliding her nails down over his back as he hovered over her.
“Smell what?” he inquired lazily intoxicated by the beauty of her as his lips sought out the knowledge of her every sensual curve.
“Like something’s burning…” Jenna frowned unable to lose herself in the moment as the scent brought her back to reality and she took in another whiff, “Hart, something smells like it’s…”
Before she could complete her sentence, the smoke detector went off and Jenna noticed the flames building up from on top of her desk.  With the thick black smoke rising, she let out a squeal as Hart rose to his feet seeing the fire that had started when he’d tossed her jeans haphazardly onto the candle he’d lit earlier just before Jenna’s arrival.  Now as the material had begun to incinerate, he found himself seeking out something to fan out the flames with as Jenna stood up from behind him a panic sweeping over her as she looked to the smoke detector.
“Hart, you have to put that out,” Jenna pleaded with him trying to wave the smoke away from the piercing alarm as Hart reached for one of the boxes of food he’d brought with him.
Using some quick, spur of the moment thinking, Hart dumped one box over the material of Jenna’s pants hoping it would extinguish the flames, but when they began to rise with the moment, Jenna cried out in horror seeing that things went from bad to worse as she searched her office for something--anything that would help and as she eyes a flower bouquet that Avery had urged her to take with her after Brant’s big flower fiasco at the Denton home, she seized it pulling the roses out of the vase before she crawled in over the edge of her desk and dumped the water over the growing fire before her.
“Thank heavens,” Jenna let out a breath of relief as the flames died down within a matter of seconds, but as the felt the throbbing squeal of the smoke detector over her, her eyes widened with the horror of the situation.
“I’ve got it,” Hart insisted crawling up on the desk beside her as he tried to shut the alarm off, but much to his dismay, it only continued to cry out, but with his urgings it seemed to trigger another precaution as the sprinkler system in Jenna’s office started up sending a spray flooding down over the both of them as Jenna cried out with a sharp hiss.
“Hart, you’re only making it worse,” Jenna insisted moving in towards him as she began to fumble with the smoke detector finding herself a bit too short to reach it as she knelt on her desk, but as she began to stand up, she felt a paper beneath her toes shifting with the movement she made and she slid forward, knocking him down off of the desk as the both of them tumbled to the floor just in time for Jenna’s assistant to unlock the door to her office and walk in on the both of them as what Jenna now deemed the most humiliating moment of her life as it seemed that fate was once again playing a nasty little trick on her and Hart.


Brooke felt the winds whip up around her as the Coral Valley afternoon took on a chill that she hadn’t anticipated.  She bunched up the fabric of her coat around her neck hating that she had agreed to meet up with her contact at such an unsavory location, but given the nature of the meeting at hand, she was far certain that it would be best if she wasn’t familiar with the area.  Things of this nature certainly needed their own sense of practicality.  If nothing else she’d been practical when it came to getting things done and once she’d finished with this meeting, she was far certain that things would get a jump start in the right direction once again.
Hearing a sound from behind her, Brooke felt her own pulse quicken with anticipation as she held her fur lined coat closer around her body finding herself searching the darkness as the shadows that surrounded her played over the figure that was emerging from the far end of the deserted back alley they’d agreed upon meeting in.
“I have a deadline here so I‘d like to speed it up and also you can quit with the theatrics already,” Brooke insisted with a huff tapping her foot impatiently on the piece of concrete beneath her pointed heels, “as I’ve had just about enough of them.”
“Have you now,” he questioned in a raspy tone as he began to emerge from the shadows his eyes fixed upon Brooke.  The surprise slipped past her lips and her eyes widened upon sight of him as he flashed her a quick, dangerous smile, “Why hello Brooke.”
“Bruce,” Brooke gasped taking a step back as she clenched her jacket tighter together, “What--what are you doing here?”
“Looking for you one might say,” he explained with a wicked smirk as he moved out of the shadows, his face a mask of darkness of his own as his face reflected that of a man who hadn’t shaved in at least a few days.  His wickedly white teeth pressed hard against his bristling grin as he lifted an introspective brow in her direction, “as I’d heard we were still running in the same circles.”
“No, we really aren’t,” she took another step back in retreat finding herself between a literal rock and a hard place as the battered brick wall pressed into her back alerting her to the possibly fatal error she’d made in moving the way she had as he closed in upon her.
“No?” he gave her a pointed look as a tiny laugh erupted from within, “As I’d heard rumors that you and I were both after the same thing and seeing as you’ve called upon some of my contacts for help…”
“Listen Bruce, I think it’s horrible what happened to you and Avery as I’d always had such high hopes of the two of you being together,” Brooke began desperately trying to reason her way out of whatever situation she’d unknowingly walked into, “and I think it’s such a shame that she’d made such an obvious mistake in walking away from what you both had.”
“Yes, I bet you do feel that way,” he replied with obvious disbelief as he leaned in towards her blocking her exit as his arms pressed upon the wall beside her caging her in, “however, I must confess that I’m beginning to doubt your loyalty where I was concerned seeing as I heard that you’ve been singing the praises of Brant Ashford these days.”
“Brant,” she repeated the word before offering up a haughty laugh and a wave of her hand dismissively, “Oh I’d hardly say that I’ve given much thought to that womanizing, libido driven playboy when clearly Avery’s best choice was you…”
“I’m her only choice Brooke,” he explained simply as his eyes penetrated her, “and I thought that we were in agreement on that once upon a time.”
“We were and we still are,” Brooke insisted straining to think of the right words to say as her meeting in this place was clearly an ambush on the part of her contacts if they’d brought Bruce in to meet with her.
“Are we?” he threw out yet another skeptical look, “As you see I’m quite clearly having my doubts after what I’ve seen with your actions.”
“I’ve gone to extremes lately yes,” she backpedaled, “but there were to keep Avery from Russell as you know that’s always been the first thing on my mind.  She’s always been drawn in by that horrible man and we both know how much I can’t bear the thought of that…”
“I do recall something along those lines as there was a time not so long ago when we’d both did what was needed to change Avery’s mind,” a cryptic expression pressed over his features, “and clearly from what my friends have told me, it seems that we’ve come full circle again with that, now haven’t we?”
“Bruce, I’m just doing what is in Avery’s best interest as Russell won’t allow her the freedom she needs to find her heart,” she reached out to touch his arm boldly, “To find her way back to you.”
“I see Brooke,” he nodded as his gaze dropped down to her hand upon him, “and tonight in your coming here, you intended to pull a repeat performance of the last time we’d found ourselves in a similar situation.  You’d call upon my contacts so to speak to provide you with the means to an end, yes?”
“That’s right,” she replied taking in a slow, calculated breath, “Bruce, we both know that what went down last time is needed again as I trust you’ve heard of the situation Avery’s found herself in.”
“I have,” he threw back at her simply, “and I must confess I’m rather displeased with the situation myself which is why I agreed to be here tonight.  I figured it only fitting after the last time we’d connected under these circumstances.  Of course I was afraid that you‘d forgotten all about the deal we‘d made all those years ago.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Brooke insisted firmly standing taller as she cleared her throat hoping to find a way to reach him, “as I’m well aware of what I promised you.”
“Promises have been broken and my place in Avery’s life has been compromised and I find myself rather hating that turnabout there,” he hovered in over her once again, “and with the rumors circulating about your being a part of the Ashford bandwagon, well I must confess I have doubts about your loyalty to me in this situation,” he paused holding up the small package that had led Brooke to this meeting to begin with.  Rolling it between his thumb and index finger, he saw the flash of desperation behind her eyes as she reached out for it with a huff.
“Give me that,” she insisted watching him hold it far up over her as he shook his head at her.
“Patience Brooke,” he warned her sharply, his words cutting through her like a knife, “as while I am in agreement on what should be done, the fact remains that once Russell is out of the picture again, we have yet another problem--a problem that I’m not taking to kindly to as the last thing I want is my Avery with Ashford.”
“I already told you that my word holds true on the deal we made all those years ago…” Brooke pleaded with him feeling the need to get her hands on that box and it’s contents as it was the key to her daughter’s undoing once again.
“Your word means less and less these days Brooke,” he seethed down, his words rumbling over her with a roar, “and I’m afraid I’m not secure in the belief that you’re willing to side with me as I’m starting to see how this situation will be played out.  You’ll find a way to break Russell and Avery apart with this,” he wiggled the small box in his hand once again taunting her with it before pulling back, “and then you’ll find a way to have Ashford move into her life and I’m afraid that I simply won’t accept that.  I won’t have you going back on your word as you promised me that she would be mine.  You told me if I did you that favor I would have Avery and I played my part in this.  Now you have to pay up…”
“Bruce, I’ve already expressed my support in your relationship with Avery and while I can’t help the fact that Russell has clouded her mind, I can assure you that the last person I’ll be running to when the situation is taken care of is Brant Ashford,” she explained hoping that she could win him over onto her side as she began to formulate a plan to rid Avery of both Russell and Bruce with Brant being the key, but if she allowed herself to dwell on that too long, she feared Bruce would see through her and that simply wouldn’t do.  She needed that box and with that thought in mind, she reached out to him throwing out the best tone of sincerity in the moment, “Bruce, you know that I’ve always felt you were the man for Avery.”
“Truthfully Brooke, I hate to say this, but,” he clenched on her arm tugging her towards him with a harsh pull, “I think you’re a liar.”
“No,” she shook her head desperately, “I’m not lying to you Bruce.  I swear to you that I want to see you with my daughter as she belongs with you…”
“She belongs to me,” Bruce corrected pure evil flashing behind his eyes as he squeezed her arm tighter, “She’s mine and nothing else is acceptable.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Brooke nodded eagerly as she tried to reach out for the box he was holding, “and when I take care of the situation, then you can find a way to be there for her--just like you were the last time.  She’ll need someone to hold on to her and comfort her and you’ve done that.  You’ve given her what she needs and she’ll need you again…”
“Lies, lies,” he shook his head ignoring her words, “all you say are untruths Brooke as that’s all you know.  You didn’t mean it back then and you certainly didn’t mean it just now.”
“Yes, yes I did,” she insisted firmly, “Bruce, I could’ve easily found a way to try to keep you from Avery after our meeting, but I didn’t.  I made sure that you two found happiness together and you were happy, weren’t you?”
“Until Ashford stepped in and spoiled it,” he sighed a distance behind his eyes as he seemed to slip out of the moment, but still he clenched the box tighter in his hand.  Brooke reached out to it once again, but she found herself on the receiving end of another squeeze of her wrist he held as he shook his head at her, “I don’t like to have my plans spoiled.”
“Bruce, if you just give me the box, then we can go back to how it was before.  Avery can be the woman she was when she was with you and nothing will change that.  Russell can’t come between you and Brant won’t have the opportunity,” she pleaded with him, her dark eyes searching his, “Just give me the box.  Give me the box and you can have Avery all to yourself.  Please Bruce.”
He remained silent for a long moment before she pulled together enough courage to reach for the box once again.  Feeling his hold on it loosen, she couldn’t help but take advantage of the moment as she captured it within her palm wanting nothing more than to take it with her and run, but before she could flee from the situation Bruce seized her wrist with a quick tug and his eyes fell upon her with maddening intent.
“Bruce, I promise you when I take care of this Avery is all yours,” she pleaded with him, “Just give me the box and we’ll settle the score.  With this box it erases the slate and then Avery will have no choice, but to be with you.  She won’t think of anyone, but you and the love you share with one another.”
Bruce eyed her intently before a scowl pressed upon his lips and he clenched her wrist tighter, “No, Brooke.  You’re lying again.”
“No, I’m not.  I’m telling you the truth,” she insisted raising her voice as the darkness he’d held seemed to grow and expand around him engulfing him in the madness he’d lost himself to.
“No, you aren’t,” he argued with her as a wicked smirk pressed over his features and he leaned in closer to her unable to contain the dark laugh that ripped through him building down in the pit of his stomach causing him to roar with devilish intent.  Hovering in over her, he caught her eyes with his, “You’re lying again, but I have news for you.  The lies end here,” he vowed mouthing the words he was certain Brooke Morrison would never forget as in this moment he was holding all the cards.

...to be continued...