Episode Eighty Three 

“Thank you so much for coming tonight,” Seth squeezed Blake’s hand in his as he couldn’t help but marvel in her beauty.  Her blonde hair was up in a sort of French twist with tiny golden ringlets near her face accentuating her soft features as her crimson colored lips were now curled in a sensational smile, “I’m glad you could make it.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be,” Blake confessed smiling brightly as she motioned over towards the table where she saw Jade and Ria seated with some others she didn’t quite recognize from this far away from them.
“It means a lot to me that you’re here,” Seth confessed offering up a chaste kiss over the top of her hand as he motioned back to the table once again, “The waiter already took our drink order, but I’ll go put one in for you if you’d like.”
“Seth, you really don’t have to do that as…” Blake started feeling him brush his index finger over her palm once again as a tiny tremor rushed over her.
“I insist,” Seth flashed her a sexy smile, “so what can I get for you?”
“Hmm, well I suppose I’ll take a virgin strawberry daiquiri.  After the week I’ve had going here, I think that would probably be the best option,” Blake decided after a moment’s contemplation.
“A virgin strawberry daiquiri it is,” Seth started off towards the bar brightly as Blake’s eyes drifted towards the table once again and she spotted Diane Stevens nearby.
“On second thought,” she began reaching out for Seth’s arm stopping him mid-movement as their eyes connected, “why don’t you get me a Cosmopolitan instead?”
“Are you sure about that,” Seth gave her a strange sideways glance.
“Yeah, I mean why not?  We’re here to cheer Jade up right and live a little, yes?”
“Alright, I’ll go put the order in for that,” Seth nodded taking in her words with a smile, “Why don’t you just head over there and go say hello to everyone?  I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” Blake drew in a nervous breath watching Seth for a minute or so before deciding that for tonight she could do this.  She could find it in her to ignore the fact that one of the women she hated more than anyone else in his world was going to be sharing the evening with her.  Certainly things had been looking up once Blake had entered the club, but now as she thought about having to grit her teeth and be civil with Diane, well it brought about an altogether different level of apprehension inside of her.  Slowly inhaling the zesty, citrus scent that hung over the air at the Gables on an evening like this, she plastered on a fake smile hoping her uneasiness didn’t take over while she was trying to enjoy some time with Seth, but before she could focus on finding her way to the table and the viper that was seated with the rest of the group, it appeared that the she-devil herself had found Blake seeking her out.
“So you’ve decided to grace us masses with your presence tonight as it seems you’ve taken the time to step down from your thrown, huh Princess,” Diane remarked snidely as Blake spun around to see the spunky, petite pain in the ass before her.
“Stuff it Diane,” Blake rolled her eyes thinking to her own inner promise to behave tonight of all nights around the woman she’d loathed, “as I don’t have time for you.”
“Oh but of course you don’t because why it’s just so far beneath you to be here with the rest of us, when you’ve got your nose so far up in the air,” Diane rolled her eyes as she continued to lash out at her, “What happened to your golden prince?  Get tired of the whole royalty scene and you’ve decided to start slumming once again?”
“Do you ever get tired of listening to yourself talk Diane because honestly, if I were you, I’ve have given myself a migraine long ago with that nasal, whining tone you have,” Blake’s eyes shot daggers at her.
“And if I were you, well I would’ve done the world a favor and killed myself a long time ago, but clearly you weren’t up for doing the rest of the world too many favors, now were you,” Diane threw back at her pointedly before folding her arms in front of her chest, “which brings me back to the question of the moment.  Why are you here exactly?”
“It certainly wasn’t to be anywhere near you,” Blake wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“Hmm, well if you think you’re about to weasel your way back into Seth’s life again, then you have another think coming Blake as he doesn’t need a bitch like you mucking up his life,” Diane warned sharply lowering her voice as she quickly looked around the room before her dark eyes fixed on Blake again, “because like the rest of us that you are so ready to frown upon, he’s not going to be charmed by the Ashford fortune or your false sense of sweetness.”
“Hmm, was that supposed to be insulting seeing as you’re hardly one to talk about my virtue seeing as you’re clearly lacking, but then again with that desperate expression on your face, the cheap and tawdry dress that you’re wearing and that ’I’m desperate for attention’ vibe you’re sending out, I’d imagine it’s safe to say that Ben finally wizened up and did himself a favor in ditching you.”
“Oh you’d like that, wouldn’t you,” Diane seethed back at her.
“You’re damn right I would because he doesn’t need a money grubbing, gold digging whore like you screwing up his life,” Blake shot back at her icily.
“And Seth doesn’t need a pampered princess running to him when her country club boyfriend has discarded her upon finding out what a frigid bitch she truly is,” Diane sneered at her with a huff dropping her hands down upon her hips boldly as she noticed the expression on Blake‘s features, “Ah yes Blake, we all know the stories about the poor, little rich girl who just isn’t cutting it in the bedroom.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s why all your pathetic attempts to catch Eric’s eye never phased him as he certainly was looking for a woman and not a child like you…”
“Clearly his taste was leading towards trash seeing as he opted to spend time with a whore such as yourself,” Blake sneered back at her flashing Diane a pasty, white smile as Diane felt herself ready to lash out at Blake, to tear her apart limb for limb when Ben arrived joining the two women.
“Blake, hey,” Ben greeted her with a smile, “I thought I saw you come in here.”
“Seth invited me,” Blake explained her grin expanding upon Ben’s arrival as she could almost feel Diane ready to burst in the moment with her animosity towards her, “as he thought that I might appreciate a night out after the week we’ve all had here.”
“Yeah, I heard all about your friend Caitlin,” Ben frowned slightly, “How is she doing?”
“She woke up from her coma and she’s doing much better than we thought,” Blake boasted thinking to the good news that had come her way, “Kenny is with her right now, but from the looks of things, she’ll be back on her feet again and running around town in no time.”
“That’s wonderful news,” Ben offered up brightly as he curled his arm around Diane’s shoulder, “which is something we need more of these days, don’t we Diane?”
“Hmm, yes I suppose so seeing as there are a few things that I’d love to see happen around here that would make me a heck of a lot happier,” Diane replied glaring up at Blake as she fought to keep her anger under control.
“Well, you never know Diane,” Blake remarked snidely with a simple shrug of her shoulders, “they might have a designer deluded enough around here to tell you that dress you’re wearing is still in style.”
“Why you,” Diane nearly leapt out of Ben’s arms until he dropped his arm around her waist holding her in closer to him.
“Blake, that was…” Ben started flashing his long time pal a disapproving look.
“Out of line,” Blake completely not feeling a shred of guilt over what she said as she feigned an apologetic expression and she turned to Diane playing up her innocent act, “and I’m sorry Diane.”
“The hell you are,” Diane sneered in response, “as you don’t know the meaning of the word, but you’re going to be sorry considering that…”
“Diane,” Ben chastised as Seth rejoined the group with Blake’s drink in hand.
“So what have I missed,” Seth questioned cheerfully curling his arm around Blake’s slender waist.  She turned into him placing her fingers gingerly over the center of his chest as his free hand carefully maneuvered her drink around to avoid spilling it as he held her.
“Diane and I were just catching up,” Blake explained innocently as she tipped up on her toes tilting her head up towards Seth as an indicator she was seeking out a kiss from him.
“That sounds interesting,” Seth replied sensing Blake’s intentions before tipping down to collect a simple, sweet kiss from her lips.  The two remained together for a lingering moment of passion before they finally parted.
“You have no idea,” Diane added feeling her gag reflex stirring up inside of her.
“Well, what do you say we all head over to the table and check on Jade,” Seth suggested eagerly hoping that the night would bring about some positive changes for his sister as he hated to see her moping and hurting over a man like Grady Denton.
“I think that sounds like a wonderful idea,” Blake piped in keeping her arms around Seth as she took advantage of the moment and glared at Diane once again.
“Great, then let’s get over there,” Seth nodded in response taking a step towards the table as he noticed Diane and Ben were lagging behind.  “You two coming?”
“We’ll be there in a minute,” Ben waved Blake and Seth on before turning his attention to Diane completely as she seemed to be bursting with silent rage.  He placed his hands on her shoulders urging her to meet his concerned gaze as she took in a slow, steadying breath, “Diane, you’re doing really great tonight.”
“I’m going to kill her Ben,” Diane blurted out unable to contain herself a moment longer, “Tonight is about my best friend and helping her through the situation she’s found herself in.  It’s not about Blake Ashford coming in here and demanding attention.”
“Blake’s just here because Seth wants her here and maybe this will be good for the both of you,” Ben shrugged his shoulders as she shot him a stunned expression that lead him to elaborate a bit more, “I mean hey maybe you two can find it to be civil tonight for Jade’s sake and then…”
“Civil?” Diane repeated with a huff, “Ben, did you see what she was doing back there or hell, did you hear the way she was speaking with me?  She has no intentions of being civil as it’s not something a bitch like her can find it in that cold, black heart do to.”
“Blake has some issues to deal with,” Ben conceded, “I’ll give you that, but tonight, well this was your idea and we’re here to support Jade.  This doesn’t have to be about you and Blake…”
“That’s just it though.  She takes a situation and always turns it into it being about her,” Diane complained with a curl of her lower lip, “Ben, you know what kind of person she is…”
“I do which is why I’m hoping that she’ll see that Jade doesn’t need to be in the middle of a sparing match between the both of you and that maybe just maybe she’ll find it in her to keep her comments to herself for the duration of the evening,” Ben explained hope brewing over him as he pulled Diane into his arms.
“That’s asking a lot and we both know that,” Diane continued to pout as he hugged her in closer to him.
“Even so, it’s a chance we’re really going to have to take for tonight,” Ben leaned down to kiss her tenderly, “Besides, if she starts misbehaving and treating you badly, then I’ll just kick her under the table there.  How does that sound?”
“It sounds like a deal,” Diane decided unable to contain the smile that crept in over her features.
“See now that’s what I want to see more of tonight,” Ben touched her cheek gently, “as this is how I like seeing you.”
“I always feel this way when I’m in your arms,” Diane motioned over towards the table as she saw Seth and Blake speaking with Jade and the others, “It’s just the being around her that makes me insane.”
“In that case,” Ben took a step back reaching for her hand and pulling her towards the dance floor, “let’s just avoid that for a while until I’ve got you relaxed and high on that feeling you have when it’s just you and me.”
“Ben, I don’t think that…” Diane began to protest as she heard a slow song over the speakers and Ben pulled her into his arms completely, drawing her against him in a slow dance.
“No one will miss us if we decide to share a dance or two,” Ben whispered warmly into her ear as he held her, “and besides I can’t pass up an opportunity to hold you in my arms like this when we both know how damn good it feels.”
“Hmm, well since you put it that way, how could I even think about refusing such a tempting proposition,” Diane murmured in response sinking into his arms as she realized that in being in Ben’s arms the world seemed to be perfect all over again as there was just something about him that always seemed to melt away whatever it was that was bothering her and leave her in a perfect state of bliss that not even someone like Blake could take away from her.


“Think you’re ready for this,” Mindy questioned looking over her shoulder at Guy as he reluctantly trudged up the steps to the Denton home after they’d made their pit stop for ice cream on the walk over.  Even now Guy could feel a chill creep in over his spine despite the fact that it wasn’t that cold outside, but after the long walk he’d had some time to think about things and he still wasn’t any closer to having any clarity about the situation with his mother than he’d been earlier in the day.  Still, as Mindy stood up on the front porch ready to enjoy a quiet dinner with Russ and Avery, Guy nodded in response.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” he confessed with a heavy sigh watching Mindy ring the bell to the front door and a few seconds later Russell popped his head out greeting the two of them brightly.
“Good evening Guy,” Russell opened the door wider extending an invitation to his company, “Come on in and,” he stopped as his eyes dropped down over Mindy and he feigned disappointment as he offered up a teasing groan, “ugh, what are you doing here?  Don’t I have to see enough of you at the office?”
“Ha, you wish it ended there,” Mindy teased entering the foyer behind Guy, “but the fact remains that you can’t get rid of me as I’m already so very weaved into your life that you know you’ll be dreaming about me and how wonderful I am.”
“God I hope not as that almost sounds like a threat and for the record I don‘t need anymore nightmares,” Russell teased with a tiny chuckle as Mindy threw him a glare.
“I’ll give you nightmares,” Mindy stood taller shaking her finger at him, “as you’d better watch yourself or else I swear you’ll be the topic of hot gossip over in the offices by Monday morning.”
“I’m already the topic of hot gossip there, most of which was started by you,” Russell reminded her simply as she flashed him a bright smile.
“Yes, but those rumors floating around were positive.  If you aren’t nice to me, then that could all change,” Mindy teased with a giggle as Russell turned his attention to Guy shaking his head at him.
“You actually enjoy spending time with this one?” Russell waved his hand at Mindy as another laugh washes over him.
“Well, I never actually said anything about getting enjoyment out of it, but you know I do have this need to do an act of charity every now and then,” Guy teased feeling Mindy swat at him as his laughter bubbled over him.
“Now you’re just being evil,” Mindy glared at him before turning her attention to Russell once again, “Both of you are and if you think I’m going to be taking your messages after this, then you can forget it.”
“Then you can forget about that bonus I’d promised you,” Russ remarked with a hint of teasing in his tone as Avery entered the room.
“Oh would you stop giving the girl a hard time and just be nice,” Avery called out entering the room with a smile of her own.
“Why should I start doing that when Spunky over here is threatening to tell nasty tales about us at the office,” Russell questioned motioning towards Mindy before extending his arms out towards his wife.
“I didn’t say anything about starting rumors about Avery,” Mindy corrected with a giggle as she winked in Avery’s direction, “just about you.”
“And to think I pay her to ridicule me on a daily basis,” Russell joked as Avery swatted her hand over his chest playfully shaking her head at him in response.
“Don’t mind him,” Avery waved her hand out at Mindy and Guy, “He’s just grumpy because I took over his kitchen tonight and he’s not used to sharing.”
“That’s because the last time you tried cooking dear, well we almost had to call in the fire department,” Russell offered up tucking a strand of Avery’s hair behind her ear as she shot him a mock glare.
“That’s because you didn’t know how to keep things down to a simmer when we‘re together in there,” Avery offered up in a sultry tone as Guy covered his ears unable to contain the groan that built up in his throat.
“Okay, my sister is about to jump into sex talk here and I think I’m going to puke,” Guy pretended to heave as Mindy rolled her eyes at him.
“Honestly Guy, it’s not such a bad thing,” Mindy eyed Avery again with a knowing grin, “as I think it’s incredible that you’re rocking Russell’s world as he’s much more enjoyable around the office now.”
“That’s enough of this conversation,” Russ piped in clearing his throat as he felt a heat rise over his features, “as I don’t think my sex life is an appropriate topic of conversation for dinner tonight or around the office come Monday morning and if I start hearing rumors about that part of my life, then I know who to blame there,” his eyes fell upon Mindy as she shrugged her shoulders once again.
“What?  Don’t look at me,” she started innocently enough unable to contain the teasing smirk that spilled over her cheeks lighting up her eyes, “as your disposition speaks for itself and when you went from being a sourpuss to being a really pleasant kind of guy, it only proved to the rest of us that clearly your dry spell was ending as Avery had you back in the saddle again so to speak…”
“Ok the pick on Russ hour has been officially closed here,” Guy piped in stepping forward as he greeted his sister with a kiss on the cheek, “Avery, darling it’s so good to see you tonight.  Thank you for inviting me over for dinner.”
“You know we love having you around,” Avery hugged her brother tightly, “How are you holding up?”
“Truthfully,” Guy paused as his dark eyes lingered towards hers and he expelled a sad sigh, “I’ve had better days.”
“I know you have and hopefully tomorrow will be one of them for all of us,” Avery suggested hopefully as she finally realized that there was someone absent from their dinner party, “Where’s Gabe?”
“He had some family stuff to attend to,” Guy explained briefly clearing his throat uneasily as he took a step away from his sister, “but he really wanted to be here.”
“I really wanted to get the chance to get to know him better myself since we really didn’t have much of an opportunity to talk before,” Avery confessed seeing a sadness behind her brother’s eyes as she found herself worrying about him more than she was certain he’d like her to be.
“You’ll get that opportunity,” Guy promised with a sad smile, “but hey Mindy decided she’d be more than happy to join us for dinner.”
“That’s because Mindy’s just nosy and couldn’t resist the urge to poke around my house so she could go back and share whatever snippet of gossip she could dig up around here with the rest of my staff,” Russell taunted her once again unable to resist the urge to play around with his secretary as she shook her head at him.
“The only person who should be digging around your staff is the one right here in your arms,” Avery offered up in a suggestive tone as she tipped up on her toes to kiss him once again hoping to quell his desire to tease Mindy as he held her.
“Okay, now it’s really official.  I’m going to lose that ice cream Mindy talked me into earlier as I feel it coming up again,” Guy placed his hand over his stomach unable to resist the opportunity to take a jab at his sister before he took in a whiff of the surrounding air, “Hey, do I smell something burning?”
“What?” Avery broke away from the kiss she and Russ were sharing as her eyes darted towards the kitchen ready to remedy whatever situation had arisen in her absence, “Oh no.”
“Gotcha,” Guy laughed wildly as Avery spun on her heel ready to hit him as her face scrunched up in a dismayed frown.
“Oh you,” she launched her hand in towards him swatting at her brother as he continued to be pleased with himself, “you’re such a brat!”
“Hey it takes one to know one,” Guy threw back at her sticking out his tongue as he tickled at Avery’s sides while feeling her reciprocating the gesture.
“Watch it there Guy, you’re skating on thin ice with her tonight,” Russell offered up joining in with the laughter, “as her cooking skills or lack there of them is truly no laughing matter.”
“That’s it,” Avery stopped tickling her brother before standing up taller and facing her husband once again with serious, brown eyes, “my husband is a dead man.”
“You know come to think about it, I think I do smell something burning right now,” Russell teased rushing back into the kitchen as Avery glanced over her shoulder at Guy and Mindy offering up a polite smile.
“We’ll be back in a few minutes,” she promised disappearing into the kitchen with Russ as Guy took his jacket off and made his way over to the couch in the middle of the Denton living room.
“Chances are they’re going to go at it on the table top, which by the way if it happens, we’re so not eating in there,” Guy grumbled slumping down onto the couch as Mindy couldn’t help but laugh.
“I happen to find it absolutely adorable that those two can’t keep their hands off of one another,” Mindy sank onto the couch cushion beside him, “as that’s what real love is all about you know.”
“Mindy, sweetheart I think you’re mistaking sex with love in this particular situation as while I hate to admit it, I think Russ turns my sister into a nymphomaniac as he’s been doing it for years,” Guy sighed shaking his head at the horrible thoughts swirling through his mind.
“Oh, something tells me you’ve got a juicy story you’re just wanting to share with me, huh?” Mindy lifted a curious brow resituating herself on the couch beside him as her nose for gossip had her just itching for details.
“Believe me, you honestly don’t want to know,” Guy assured her as he patted her leg gently, “as some tales are just too twisted to tell over and over again.”
“It would be a first for me, so there wouldn’t be the risk of repetition,” she offered up with a curious expression before bringing her hand down over his once again, “and besides, isn’t it really more important that your sister is happy right now?  I mean that’s what it all amounts to, right?”
“Well yes, but still…” Guy shrugged his shoulders as his thoughts lingered to the many twists and turns Russ and Avery had taken with one another over the years leading up to this point in time, “I just want to see her finally get that happiness in her life--to have her dreams become a reality instead of something that’s just out of her reach.”
“She’s married to an incredible man who loves her very much and they’re having a baby together,” Mindy reminded him as she laced their fingers together squeezing his hand gently, “What could be more fabulous than that?”
“Knowing that something that incredible isn’t going to slip away because of one little thing,” Guy sighed dropping his head back on the sofa cushion.
“Now I’m starting to think you’re not talking about those two anymore,” Mindy frowned sensing something eating away at him as she dropped his hand reaching out to touch his cheek gingerly, “are you thinking about Gabe again?”
“It’s not like him not to call,” Guy confessed unable to let go of the lingering thoughts of his lover, “I mean he’d informed me that things would take a while on his end with this latest stunt Noelle was pulling, but I guess I just hoped that…”
“That he’d be the one accompanying you to dinner tonight instead of me,” Mindy’s words tapered off with the fleeting feeling of hope that she’d held in her heart with the notion that maybe just maybe she and Guy could pick up where they’d left off years ago.  Oh who was she kidding, she thought to herself wondering if they handed out awards for being the biggest fool for love because if they had, she was certain that there would be some kind of trophy with her name on it as she sat beside him wishing that she was the person who’d clouded his mind instead of a man whom she’d conveniently replaced as Guy’s companion for the evening.
“No, it’s not that.  Mindy, you’re wonderful,” Guy began breaking her from her thoughts as their eyes connected once again, “It’s just that…”
“That I’m not Gabe,” Mindy nodded knowing that this was a losing battle on her end as she turned her eyes down to the floor.
“Hey,” Guy reached out to her urging her to meet his eyes once again as he could almost feel her sadness lingering over her posture, “Mindy, I’m glad you’re here with me as I love being with you.”
“I love being with you too as that’s something I’ve missed since you left town Guy,” Mindy confessed in a heartfelt plea with him wishing that she didn’t care about him so damned much as in being near him again it was bringing about so many unfulfilled feelings of longing inside of her.
“I missed you too sweetie,” Guy whispered tipping in towards her to place a tender kiss upon her cheek as his words fell upon her skin in a heated breath, “as I don’t think anyone else in this world could’ve kept me sane through all of this tonight like you do.”
“I’m just being my same, perky, little self,” she offered up with a sad smile as he withdrew from the hold on her had on her just a bit, his eyes interlocking with hers as his thumb brushed over the hollow of her cheekbone.
“It’s so much more than that and you know it,” he murmured leaning in towards her once again as Mindy closed her eyes anticipating his soft, ever so kissable smooth lips upon hers once again, but much to her dismay she heard the sound of footsteps breaking apart the moment as her eyelashes fluttered open and she found Avery standing before them looking a bit surprised by what she saw.
“Dinner’s ready,” Avery explained motioning towards the kitchen as Mindy rose to her feet refusing to let another awkward second wash over her a moment longer.
“It smells fantastic,” Mindy announced forcing the same, bright smile that she’d carried with her during working hours as she addressed Avery, “I don’t care what Russ was saying about your cooking as it really smells like it’s amazing.”
“Well, I suppose you’ll have to just have to see for yourself and when you find out that it‘s better than it smells, you‘ll have to rub it in Russell‘s face that I can cook better than he does after all,” Avery teased lightly as Mindy nodded eagerly.
“Oh believe me, I’ll have fun with that one,” Mindy stepped towards the kitchen before pausing to take a quick look in Guy’s general direction as he remained on the sofa, “Are you coming?”
“Give me a minute,” Guy waved at her watching as Mindy turned to Avery.
“Go right in.  Russ is probably trying to sabotage me in there by adding some unnecessary spices just to prove that he’s the culinary wizard in the family,” Avery urged Mindy on with a hint of a smile.
“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mindy promised slipping into the kitchen with Russell as Avery eyed Guy with heavy scrutiny.
“Care to tell me what that’s all about,” Avery cut to the point stepping in towards her brother as she threw him a disapproving look.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Guy shrugged his shoulders innocently.
“The hell you don’t,” Avery plopped down onto the sofa beside him, “You’re leading that poor girl on when any fool with eyes can see that she’s still head over heels in love with you.”
“I am not,” Guy objected adamantly seeing her doubts wash over her features, “Avery, I’m really not.”
“Yes, you are,” Avery nodded emphatically, “I saw you when I walked into the room and you were going to kiss her, weren’t you?”
“Of course I wasn’t going to kiss her,” he argued with her, “You know that Mindy’s my buddy and that Gabe and I…”
“All I know about Gabe is what you told me and other than that I had a brief glimpse of him today, but that’s it,” she answered flatly as she situated herself beside him, “but what I know about Mindy is that it broke her heart when you had her believing that the two of you had a future together all those years.”
“Avery, I never intended to hurt her like I did…” Guy began to argued with her, “As you know how I care about her.”
“Then why are you taking her down that road once again Guy,” Avery pleaded with him as she touched his shoulder, “It hurts to love someone you know you can never be with and in having them lead you to believe that there’s a future between you both…”
“Avery, I’m not doing that with her.  I swear to you that you read the situation wrong,” Guy insisted in his own defense, “Yes, things are complicated right now, but Mindy knows where I stand with Gabe and…”
“Complicated huh,” Avery eyed him intently, “in other words Brooke still doesn’t know the truth and you’re stringing poor Mindy along for the ride once again.”
“Gee Avery when you put it like that, you make me sound like a horrible person,” Guy frowned upon her words hating that his sister had an insight to things that he’d rather not think about at a moment like this, “and you know really you aren’t the person to be getting on me about this particular subject considering…”
“I’m your sister which is exactly why I should be getting on you about the subject,” Avery interrupted sharply.
“Hmm, well you know you seem to be an expert on it considering that you used Bruce in an attempt to keep Russ from knowing how much you really felt about him and then there’s this whole story about an engagement to Brant Ashford when once again you were hoping for a happily ever after with Russell,” Guy tossed back at her matter of fact, “so really if you want to talk about stringing people along there kiddo?”
“That’s not the same,” Avery argued biting on her lower lip before taking in a slow, steadying breath, “as you know why I pushed Russ out of my life.  You know what I was trying to do and…”
“And you saw it as the perfect dream being out of your reach, so you just kept running from it,” Guy added watching his sister shift uncomfortably beside him, “You had love, but it didn’t work out the way you wanted so you found someone else to cover up the fact that you were heartbroken and hiding your heart and ultimately you found yourself breaking a few hearts along the way that you never expected…”
“Okay, so maybe I screwed up there big time,” Avery interrupted bringing her fingers through her dark hair, “but I eventually got my act together.  Yes, I did manage to hurt a few people along the way and I feel awful about it--so awful in fact that I wouldn’t want to put anyone else into that kind of position which is why I’m trying to get you to think about what you’re doing before you have to carry this kind of guilt around.”
“Mindy is just my friend and she knows that we can’t ever be anything more,” Guy explained with a sigh, “We’ve already talked about this and she knows that I love Gabe.  She knows that this pretending we’ve been doing is just that…”
“Guy, I’m not so sure,” Avery thought to what she’d walked in on, “She’s a sweet girl and she deserves someone who can give her all of his heart as she’s a romantic like me.  She believes in love and happily ever afters and all the fun, exciting moments that come along with it…”
“Gee, a few months ago I would’ve said that was any woman in this world, but you Avery,” Guy offered up with a sad expression, “as I never really believed you’d come back to that.”
“I didn’t think I would either, but I finally saw that hiding from my heart and living in the darkness I’d put myself in wasn’t living at all, which is why I don’t want you to make the same mistakes as me little brother.  If your heart is truly with Gabe, then you need to stop hiding from the truth about that and face up to the moment.  You need to be able to live with the love you’ve found openly and beyond that you have to keep from stringing Mindy along if there’s no future between the both of you.”
“Avery, I care about her so much,” Guy sat up straighter, feeling a tension sweep in up over his shoulders, “and if things weren’t so complicated…”
“Guy, the only reason they’re so complicated is because you’re hiding from your heart.  Believe me I was an expert on this, but once you decide to break free of the chains that keep holding you back, then you’ll find some peace,” Avery reached out to him squeezing his leg gently, “That happiness you’ve been searching for will be yours for the taking and there won’t be anything keeping it out of your reach there.”
“Spoken like a woman lost in love,” Guy shook his head at her before offering up a teasing grin, “and here I thought you were smarter than that.”
“Well, you know it happens to the best of us,” Avery answered with a goofy grin as she leaned in towards him placing her head on his shoulder.
“So I’ve been told,” Guy closed his eyes thinking about the recent turn of events with his mother’s kidnapping, Mindy’s return to his life and his relationship with Gabe, “but it just feels like things are so complex and it‘s this never ending cycle of misery and chaos.”
“Yeah well life does tend to bring that on,” Avery couldn’t help but agree with him, “but if you hold out hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel, then there’s plenty of reason to believe.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Guy tilted his head to assess her as she sat up straighter, “although I’m not sure if it’s really you saying all this or if it’s the hormones talking as they say pregnant women are just full of unusual emotions.”
“Hey now, don’t you start pawning my wisdom off on my being pregnant,” Avery swatted at him with the beginnings of a smile, “as Russ will no doubt take credit for that since he played a hand in this pregnancy.”
“Yeah well, if you ask me, this baby’s got the best part of him or her because you’re the mother,” Guy offered up honestly as his eyes cascaded over her seeing the way that pregnancy just seemed to have her lit up in such a way that he hadn’t anticipated before now.
“Someone had to even out the odds of the gene pool there and with Russ as the father, well there had to be someone who completed him perfectly,” Avery explained glowing with the moment, “as you know that’s what he does for me Guy.  He completes me in so many ways.”
“You were complete before you married him honey,” Guy curled his arm around her as he pulled her into an embrace, “only I think it took loving him to soften up some of the edges there.”
“Loving him hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been worth it Guy,” she turned her eyes up towards him seeing so much of herself in her brother’s eyes, “and you know that’s how real love is.  It’s always worth the risk.”
“I know Avery,” Guy replied hugging her closer to him for a moment longer hoping that somewhere out there Gabe was feeling the same way about him as he feared that fate was finding ways to keep them from truly experiencing the joys of their love with one another.
“Hey,” Avery broke through his thoughts nudging him slightly, “what do you say we get into the kitchen for dinner before Russ and Mindy start to wonder if I poisoned it since we’re not going in there to share the meal with them?”
“Actually, I was hoping we could delay the meal altogether as I remember full well what happened the last time you tried cooking when we still lived together,” he poked fun at her as Avery shot him a glare.
“That’s so not funny Guy and I’ll have you know I’ve improved since then,” Avery held her hand out to him as he eyed her with a look of disbelief, “Well I have.”
“Sure, sure,” he accepted her hand allowing her to lead him to the kitchen as he wondered if things were ever going to turn around for the Morrison family as it always felt like one disaster after another.  Even now with their mother being kidnapped, he couldn’t help but wonder if Avery’s ex-lover played a hand in the situation, but rather than bother his sister with that new hypothesis out there in the world of law enforcement, he opted to just kick back and enjoy dinner for a bit hoping that sooner or later Gabe would stop in and join the party.


Jade stared at her half empty glass and frowned. She hadn’t wanted to come here tonight. She hadn’t wanted to end up drunk and in misery, but now that she was here, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get completely blitzed off her feet. She looked over to Seth’s friend, Gabe, who seemed to be having about as much fun as she was.

“This is supposed to be a night for everybody to party but me,” Jade spoke, drawing his attention, “I’m the only one who’s supposed to be miserable. So why are you moping?”

“I am not moping,” Gabe replied with a frown as he pushed the cake box towards her, “Have some chocolate. It might help.”

“I doubt it, but I never turn down chocolate,” She stopped a waiter passing by, “Could you bring us two forks or spoons or whatever utensil you happen to have handy?”

“Sure,” The waiter chuckled good naturedly as he walked to the bar and retrieved two spoons. He returned them to Jade and went about his business as Jade offered a spoon to Gabe.

“You look like you need this chocolate as much as I do,” She stated frankly as he accepted the spoon, “So tell me why you look as miserable as I feel?”

“God that’s a great way to start a conversation,” He teased as he dug into the cake with his spoon, “The fact of the matter is that I’m having some trouble with my ex-wife and with my current relationship all at the same time.”

“That is not a good combination,” She sighed as she took a bite of the cake and closed her eyes as she savored every chocolatey morsel, “I have to tell you that this cake is perhaps the best I’ve ever had.”

“Well, it’s good to know I can still bring something worthwhile to the party,” He noted while he waved for the waiter to bring him another drink.

“So what kind of troubles are you having with your relationships?” She asked as she sipped her drink.

“My lover won’t come out of the closet and keeps playing cutesy with his ex-girlfriend while my ex-wife thinks its her life’s mission to make me and my daughter miserable,” Gabe blurted out before he looked at her, “Sorry, that was rather blunt, wasn’t it?”

“I like blunt. It’s better than pussy-footing around a subject,” She declared boldly, “So let me get this straight. You’re involved with a guy who won’t come out?”

“Yes, for some reason, he’s afraid he’ll lose his mother over it. Since they’ve always been close, that seems to be outside the realm of possibility,” He frowned as the waiter brought him a fresh drink and left once again, “I’m so tired of hiding everything that I am.”

“Sounds like you’ve had a rough time,” She observed, “And you said you were married. I guess you tried to play it straight, huh?”

“Yes, and while I’m glad that I have my daughter,” He paused, “It never fit who I am. I always knew that I wasn’t happy and could never be truly happy until I faced the world dead on with my sexuality.”

“So you have a daughter,” Jade smiled, “How old?”

“She’s six,” Gabe smiled, “Brittany is everything to me, and her mother knows it. Noelle, my ex-wife,” He informed her, “Uses Brittany to get money and gifts from me. I know that I should just stop giving in to her, but I don’t want Brittany to miss out on anything.”

“Sounds like you really love your little girl,” She pointed out as she pushed a bite of cake around in the box, “She’s lucky to have a father that cares so much. Not every girl is so lucky.”

“Sounds like you have issues of your own,” He mused as he looked to her, “Want to talk about them since I’ve just kind of unloaded all my burdens on you.”

“Well, there are all kinds of issues in my life that have had me in therapy for years, but I’d rather not talk about them,” She exhaled as she took a sip of her drink.

“So why are we here tonight reveling in your misery?” He asked while leaning upon the table and focusing upon her.

“I walked out on my boyfriend this morning,” She explained as she stirred the ice in her drink with a straw, “He can’t keep his word to me.”

“Did he betray you?” He asked in curiosity.

“No,” She shook her head, “Not in any physical way. It’s just that he can be really self-destructive, and if he can’t curb those tendencies, if not for himself but for us,” She shook her head, “I’m just not sure if I can live that way. I mean how can a person live always wondering if the bottom is going to fall out of their world? I can’t live that way. I tried because I love him so much, but really, what can I do?”

“You can’t do anything,” He declared as he placed her spoon back in her hand, “Except eat cake and hope for the best.”

“Is that really all we have left?” She asked with a frown as she dug at the cake, “Do we really just have to hope that the people we love turn around and change their ways to fit with what’s best for everyone involved instead of just themselves?”

Gabe looked to her and frowned, “I hate that we don’t have any other alternative, but perhaps we’re just forced to leave matters in the hands of fate.”

“Fate sucks,” Jade declared boldly, “I hate just waiting for things to happen for me. I like to seize the bull by the horns and make things happen.”

He grinned slightly, “Somehow I figured you for that kind of woman. So this guy of yours, my guess is you pursued him, right?”

“Yeah,” She nodded, “He’s my boss.”

His eyes widened in surprise, “Wow, so how’s that going to work when you go to work tomorrow?”

“Who said anything about going to work tomorrow? I don’t have anything pressing, and I do have some sick days I haven’t used. I’ll just take a few, and he can see if he can pry his head out of his…”

“Whoa,” Gabe held up his hand, “Let’s not go there.”

“Well, it’s just the way he acts. Just when he starts to get his life together, he goes and does something completely idiotic to screw it all up,” She groaned, “Why is it that he can’t just behave like a normal man?”

“Is there such a thing anymore?” He questioned with a frown, “I’m beginning to wonder. I’ve had my share of failed relationships, and I’m sure that Guy and I can work things out,” He sighed, “I just worry that I’m going to lose him to his desire to make his mother happy.”

Jade reached over to pat Gabe on the shoulder, “I’m sorry, Gabe, but hey, just because my guy sucks, it doesn’t mean that you and your guy can’t work it out.”

“My Guy,” He smiled sadly, “I find myself wondering more often than not lately if he really is my Guy. We met in Europe, and things between us were perfect. The very second we got to Coral Valley, it was like all of the time we shared together was an illusion. Now, I see him with an old girlfriend of his who is obviously very much in love with him and I have to wonder…”

“If he’s in love with her?” She asked in confusion, “I thought you said he was afraid of coming out to his family.”

“He is,” He nodded.

“So maybe you’re worried for nothing. Maybe he’s just working this angle with the old flame to cover his ass,” She shrugged as she drained the contents of her glass and waved for a waiter to get her another.

“That was the idea, but I have to tell you that it just doesn’t feel like a cover story. It feels very real, and it bothers me more than I want to admit.”

“Then maybe you should share that with your guy there,” She said encouragingly.

“I have, but he blows off my concerns as if they’re unwarranted.”

“Then perhaps they are. Maybe he’s just letting you know that he really does love you,” She offered.

“How did this get turned around on me so that you’re trying to solve my problems?” He questioned as he looked to her, “Wasn’t this night supposed to be about you?”

“Yeah well, it’s a lot easier to focus on your problems than mine.”

“So you prefer deflection when it comes to problems instead of meeting them head on? Weren’t you just saying that you liked to go out and make things happen?” He reminded her with her own words.

“Oh bite me,” Jade groaned with a laugh as the waiter delivered her fresh drink. She lifted her glass and looked to Gabe, “Here’s to us. Maybe things can really work out for us in the long run.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Gabe agreed as he touched his glass to hers. While he might not have gotten the chance to share time with Guy’s family tonight, he had made a new friend, and he had a feeling that Jade was just the kind of friend he needed to support him in whatever sort of venture he decided to pursue.


Caitlin watched Zack as he moped about her hospital room, having said very little since he’d returned from chasing down Blake. She’d hoped that since he’d gone after her that perhaps things weren’t as bleak as she thought they were. The minute he returned, however, she realized that things between her loved ones were worse than she’d originally thought.

“Okay, Grumpy, what’s going on with you and Blake and the entire Ashford clan?” She asked in a demanding tone. While everyone else had danced around her to protect her condition, she figured that Zack would be the lone person to give her the honest painful truth.

“Nothing’s going on,” He replied as he looked to her, finally giving her his full attention.

“Yeah, and I’m ready to run a marathon,” She answered sarcastically, “Zack, I don’t like being in the dark, and everyone seems intent on keeping me there. Please, be the big brother I know and love, and tell me what is going on.”

“You’re not going to give up on this, are you?” He asked before seeing her pointed grimace at him, “I didn’t think so,” He remarked as he made his way to the side of her bed and sat down, “I did what I thought was best for you, and it turned out to be disastrous for me.”

“What happened?” Caitlin asked as she saw her brother’s pain evident in his features.

“I acted out of fear and anger,” He admitted as he leaned onto her mattress and looked to her, “I shifted the blame from Jimmy to Blake and Ken.”

“You what?” She asked in surprise.

“I blamed them for what happened,” He explained, “You were so upset when you left my apartment, and I know your guard had to be down. It gave Jimmy the perfect opportunity to attack. It wasn’t exactly their fault as Jimmy is a complete nut, but I placed part of the blame on you for being so upset in the first place.”

“Zack, that’s crazy,” She frowned.

“I know it was irrational, but damn it, I was terrified I was going to lose my little sister,” He replied in justification of his actions, “I couldn’t get my hands on Jimmy so I took it out on other people who’d upset you or mistreated you.”

“The Ashfords haven’t mistreated me,” She defended.

“Oh really? And the way Blake just automatically assumed you were wrong just because her brother was upset with you? That’s not mistreating you?”

“She was defending her brother, Zack. I’d do the same for you,” She paused as she eyed him, “Although I do know your faults and won’t apologize for them.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” He asked with an offended tone.

“Mom told me that Johanna was in town. That’s kind of convenient, isn’t it?” Caitlin asked as she held her brother in a tight gaze.

“Don’t look at me like that, Cait. I did not invite her here. Apparently she was in town on business, and I ran into her the other day,” He frowned, “Don’t act like I planned this train wreck.”

“Why not? It wouldn’t be the first time you sabotaged the best things in your life.”

“Well I didn’t do anything like that this time. I didn’t even know Jo was in town until the day before you were attacked,” Zack groaned, “Ugh, this is all very complicated.”

“You’re not kidding, Zack,” Caitlin shook her head, “You do know that you broke Blake’s heart, don’t you? She loves you. She’s always loved you, and you, like an idiot, decided to let her love you without really preparing her for the kind of man you are.”

“And just what kind of man do you think I am, Cait?” He asked with a frown, “I’m not a bad guy.”

“That’s just it, Zack. You’re not really a bad guy. You have a good heart, but your head is all screwed up.”

“Gee thanks,” He rolled his eyes.

“I’m just saying that you haven’t figured out what you want in your life yet. You just go from woman to woman, play house for a little while, then move on to your next victim. It’s not that you mean to hurt anyone. It’s just that you’re not sure how to figure your life out without playing the field.”

“You make it sound like I’m a huge womanizer.”

“It’s not really like that, but I don’t think you understand the toll you take on a woman. We don’t want to be tried out and then tossed aside. We want to give our love to one man who is truly going to return that love. We don’t want to play house or anything cutesy like that. We want the real deal, and we don’t want to have to go through five hundred guys to find it.”

“So a woman has everything figured out from the beginning, is that what you’re saying?”

“No,” She groaned, “Women don’t have it figured out, but when you make overtures that you’re really in a relationship for the long haul, we’re stupid enough to believe it’s real. So we’ll dive right in expecting it to last forever, but you just make those overtures to get a woman into your bed to see if she’s what you want in life.”

“And that’s better than being a womanizer, how?” He asked with a confused frown.

“Zack, please just do me one favor.”

“What’s that?” He asked with a sigh.

“Don’t lead Blake on if your heart’s not in it. She’s my best friend in the world, and I do not want to see her hurt,” She pleaded as she looked to him.

“I’m not leading her on, Cait. I love her, but I already feel like it’s too little too late. Do you know where she’s at right now?” He asked with sad eyes, “She’s with Seth.”

“She’s what?” Caitlin asked in surprise, “But after what he said…”

“I really hurt her bad, Cait. I think maybe I just pushed at her so hard that the only place she could land was in his arms,” Zack frowned, “I think I’ve really screwed up huge.”

“No kidding,” She agreed as she exhaled brokenly, “I swear when I get better I’m going to kick your ass myself.”

He grinned, “Somehow I think you’re improving every minute. You’ve at least got your spirit back.”

“Only you could be happy that I want to inflict serious bodily harm on you,” She smiled as she drew him into a gentle hug, “I love you, Zack, even if you do drive me crazy.”

“The feeling’s mutual sweetheart,” He teased as a knock at the door alerted them both to a new visitor.

“Hey, can I come in?” Ken asked as he slowly entered the room.

“Of course you can,” Caitlin smiled as she waved for him to join her.

“I didn’t want to interrupt a family moment here,” He said as he closed the distance between them and gently kissed Caitlin before revealing the bouquet of roses he’d picked up on his way back to the hospital, “These are for you.”

“Oh Ken,” She breathed as she met his eyes, “They’re beautiful.”

“I’m glad you like them,” He replied as he placed them on her bedside table.

“Okay, I think this is my cue to leave considering Cait’s giving you her goo goo eyes,” Zack rolled his eyes as he teased his sister, “But I’ll come by and see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” Caitlin replied as her brother kissed her cheek before leaving the room.

“He relieved you’re doing so much better,” Ken spoke as he sat down beside her, “He was really tense while you were unconscious. Of course, we all were, but Zack really took it hard.”

She smiled slightly as she reached over for Ken’s hand, “I’m sorry he acted like a butt,” She groaned mid-apology, “He just has a tendency to get tore out of the frame.”

“Well, I can’t really say I blame him. If the situations were reversed,” Ken shook his head, “I don’t know that I would have reacted any differently than he did.”

“He told me what happened, Ken. I’m sorry,” She squeezed his hand, “But it’s over now, and the entire misunderstanding is out of the way. What do you say we find a way to just move past it and focus on something good for a change?”

“Like the vacation I’m going to take you on when you’re fully recovered,” He raised her hand to his lips and kissed her skin while he smiled.

“You don’t have to do that. Besides, we have work to do, remember?” She tried to remain professional before she chuckled, “Though I do have to say that you and I are kind of due some private time.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Ken winked at her as he continued to hold her hand. Things were finally beginning to turn around for them, and given her current optimism, he could see the future turning out to be brighter than ever.


“Lay it on me Jenna,” Hart looked up from the hospital bed seeing her familiar face before him as he lay beneath the blanket feeling like hell before her wishing that he’d have thought to keep this particular near tragedy from happening by just ordering the food himself this time around instead of not clueing Jenna in to what could happen, “how bad is it?”
“Well, you’re not going to die, which has a few women around here very happy and a few others wishing that fate had given you another twist altogether,” Jenna teased in response offering a nervous smile as her gaze lingered over him.
“I should hope you’re a part of the latter group,” Hart pleaded with her, his eyes searching hers as he extended his hand out towards her feeling as though he needed to reach out to her before she fell apart completely, “Jen, come here.”
“Hart, I can’t believe this keeps happening,” Jenna sighed slumping down onto the side of the bed with him, “as I feel like fate is trying to tell us something.”
“Yeah, it’s telling us that I need to be in charge of take out from now on,” he explained with a light tone as he could sense the uneasiness that still hung over her, “Jen, look at me.”
“Hart, it’s just that things are really kind of…” she trailed off shifting on the bed beside him as a dryness built up in the back of her throat.
“Kind of what?” he questioned in confusion feeling a bit exhausted after the spell that had overtaken him a short while ago when he’d been brought into the ER delirious and burning up with fever as a result of the food he’d eaten.
“Awkward,” Jenna confessed with an emphatic sigh slumping her shoulders down as she eyed him closely, “I mean I’ve never, ever had this much trouble when it came to, well…”
“To what?” Hart began to panic wondering if she was having second thoughts about their relationship, “Jenna, come on.”
“Well, you know…” her voice lowered a bit more as he noticed the color that had filled in her features.
“You mean,” he arched a suggestive brow thinking to their many attempts at passion as she nodded in the affirmative.  “Oh.”
“Oh is right,” Jenna shook her head as her frown thickened, “I mean honestly if each and every time we’re going to try to be together, you or I wind up embarrassed, interrupted, injured or worse, well maybe that’s some kind of cosmic sign that we’re tempting fate here by trying to…”
“Don’t say it,” Hart instructed firmly, “Don’t you dare say it Jenna because I refuse to believe that we’re doing anything other than facing a bad string of luck together for the time being, but that’ll change.”
“Hart, you say that now, but if you think about it,” she began to protest as he lifted a finger to her lips to silence her.
“Jenna, don’t go there,” he whispered watching as her eyes widened in protest.  Brushing his thumb across her bottom, lower lip he noticed the way she seemed to shiver upon his touch and almost immediately he found himself lost in that same old yearning for her as she was truly a woman unlike any other he’d ever encountered before.
“Hart, even you have to admit that this time it could’ve been fatal,” Jenna threw back at him, a spark of electricity racing over body as his fingers fanned out over her cheek urging her in towards him on the bed.
“Jenna, we both know that could’ve happened at any time regardless of what we were doing as it’s just an allergy of mine,” he pointed out optimistically, “and hey, it’s been with me long before I met you, so don’t start trying to take the credit for bad genetics on my end.”
“I think it’s more than genetics as you and I both know that it seems like the odds are being stacked up against us more and more each time we try to…” Jenna began to protest as his fingers curled around her neck pulling her in down beside him.
“We’re wasting time with all your worrying,” Hart remarked with a bright smile of his own unable to contain himself as he drew her in towards him for a kiss refusing to let the moment pass them by.  He took his time tasting her luscious lips as they seemed like a taste of heaven at the end of a long, dark tunnel of misery and while he could sense she was reluctant to go with the feeling, it only took seconds for her to melt into him as their kiss continued deepening with each spontaneous caress of his mouth over hers.
“Excuse me,” a voice broke through the moment followed by a woman clearing her throat as Jenna pulled away from Hart as though she’d been shot from behind.  She rose to her feet placing herself between the woman who’d entered the room and a now frustrated Hart as he was less than thrilled about the way in which his moment with Jenna had ended once again.
“Hello Doctor,” Jenna greeted the woman who clearly had saved Hart’s life as he readjusted himself on the bed trying to sit up straighter so that he’d give off the impression of a healthy man ready to find his way home again.
“I see the patient’s already working towards recovery,” the doctor began as Hart could almost feel Jenna’s embarrassment fill the room surrounding them.
“Well we were just…” Jenna stammered almost shyly as Hart couldn’t help but find himself more drawn to each and every new side of herself that she revealed to him.  Still as he thought of the doctor’s arrival, he found himself more eager than ever to get out of the situation he’d wound up in as he was more eager to get back to Jenna’s tender loving care.
“Ready to get me out of here since I’m sure I’ll live,” Hart piped in eagerly, “so if you just get me the release papers to sign then we’ll just be on our way out the doors.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that simple for you just yet Mr. Steiner,” the doctor began as Jenna stepped aside and Hart’s eyes fell upon the woman before him for the first time.
“Beth,” Hart nearly gulped in recognition recalling that the last time he’d seen her, they’d been tied up in a rather intimate position with one another while Travis Callaway was standing in the bedroom door witnessing between Hart and his wife that could’ve easily been something that came from the Kama Sutra.  Now as she stood before him, looking as sensational as ever, he couldn’t help but feel an uneasiness settle over him as his eyes drifted back to Jenna before panic could set in.
“It’s been a long time Hart,” Beth smiled at him stepping forward seemingly untouched by their surprise meeting as she moved in beside him.
“You and Doctor Raines know one another?” Jenna questioned curiously puzzled by Hart’s reaction to the doctor as he seemed ready to jump outside his skin in the moment and be anywhere, but there in the room with them.”
“Well we…” Hart stammered feeling Beth extend her arm out towards him and he scooted back towards the far edge of the bed just out of her reach.
“Hart and I are old acquaintances,” Beth explained keeping her eyes fixed on Hart as a knowing expression crossed over her features, “as you could say that he helped me get through a messy divorce I was experiencing.”
“Oh, I see,” Jenna nodded stepping in closer to Hart as he reached for her hand taking it in his as he laced their fingers together.
“You two know one another?” Hart inquired focusing completely on Jenna as she nodded.
“Oh yeah Dr. Raines and I met a short while ago as she was one of the doctors looking in on my brother,” Jenna explained with a polite smile, “not to mention that she and I both share a love for Snicker’s bars.
“Which apparently half the hospital also does as well…” Beth added with a smile of her own that matched Jenna’s as Hart kept his fingers firmly linked with Jenna’s.
“Well that’s nice to know,” Hart piped in swiftly not really up for any kind of casual conversation as he forced himself to look up at Beth once again, “so can I get out of here now?”
“I was actually hoping to give you a once over before you rushed out of here given the nature of your allergy and all,” Beth explained eyeing him like the cat that ate the canary and in this moment, he found himself saying a silent prayer to the heavens above that this moment would be nothing more than a bad dream and he’d wake up to find himself in Jenna’s bed alone with her in the aftermath of some long overdue passion, but as he blinked a few times, he realized there would be no such luck.
“I’m fine now,” Hart blurted out clumsily sitting up straighter in the bed as his tone shifted, “Better than fine as I’m incredible…couldn’t be better…”
“Why not let me be the judge of that one?” Beth suggested with a curl of her pink tinted lips before she motioned to Jenna, “I‘ll just take a good look at him and if everything check out, then he‘ll be all yours.  Would you mind giving us a few minutes alone here?”
“Not at all,” Jenna started to move away from Hart’s bedside as he clamped on her hand refusing to let go of her.
“No Jenna you can stay,” Hart insisted throwing her pleading eyes, “as I don’t mind you being here for this since it should only take a few minutes.”
“Hart, it’s okay,” Jenna explained simply, “I was going to call my father anyways and see if he heard anything more on Kipp.”
“Oh I’m so sorry to hear about what happened with your brother,” Beth began with an apologetic look, “You know if there’s anything I can do to help around here, I’d be more than willing to try as it’s truly a terrible thing indeed that someone would just come in here and have him moved like that.”
“We’re hoping we can find where he was taken, but so far, well we’ve come up empty,” Jenna informed her with a sigh as she brought her fingers up through her hair, “It’s just been one dead end after another here.”
“The politics of this place aren’t what they should be,” Beth nodded in agreement, “though you know if you were interested in getting some more information that the higher ups aren’t willing to give you, you might want to try talking to Carol Sherman.  She was one of the nurses on duty around the time your brother was moved out of here.  She had been keeping an eye on him and I’m sure if anyone would know anything, she might.”
“Carol you say,” Jenna repeated with a quick nod, “I’ll have to check in on that for sure.”
“Actually, she just took a coffee break a few minutes ago and she’s usually down in the cafeteria if you’d like to go and speak with her,” Beth suggested in a helpful tone, “as I’m sure she’d be more than willing to lend a hand in your quest.”
“You know that’s not a bad idea,” Jenna decided uncurling Hart’s fingers from around her wrist, “Hart, I think I’m going to go speak with her.”
“Now?” Hart gulped as his eyes widened at the thought of her leaving him alone with Beth, “Can’t you wait a few minutes?  We can do down there together and speak with her.”
“Hart, I don’t really want to put this off too long considering that my father is worried sick about Kipp,” Jenna began desperately.
“She’s right Hart.  Carol has the next couple of weeks off after her shift tonight so she won’t be around to speak with.  Besides, you and I should be done by the time she returns, so she should really just go speak with her,” Beth waved her hand dismissively at Hart before turning to Jenna, “He’ll be all yours by the time you get back.”
“In that case,” Jenna moved in beside Hart once again bending down to kiss the top of his head quickly, “I’ll be right back.”
“Jenna, don’t go,” he pleaded with her desperately.
“I’ll be right back in a few minutes and hey, you never know,” she winked at him, “maybe our luck will be changing after all.”
“Somehow I sincerely doubt that,” Hart muttered under his breath watching her leave as his eyes darted up towards Beth and he found himself wishing that he was anywhere, but here with the woman he’d once spent a great deal of time with intimately.
As Jenna exited the room, Beth’s eyes followed her with an air of intense scrutiny before she turned to Hart once again, wrinkling her nose as a scowl pressed in over her features, “That’s different for you.”
“That’s none of your business Beth,” Hart remarked sourly as he watched her move in beside him.
“Oh gee and here I thought we’d still be able to be friends after everything was said and done,” she flashed him a wicked smirk watching his retreat as she leaned in over the bedside, “Hart, don’t tell me you’re afraid of me now.”
“Hardly,” he rolled his eyes straining to regain his cool and collected composure, “I’m just surprised you’re in town as I’d thought you’d taken off.”
“And left all of the thrills Coral Valley had behind me,” she shook her head, her blonde hair swooshing with the movement in the loose ponytail she’d had it held back with, “hardly.”
“Hmm, well whatever floats your boat,” he shrugged his shoulders turning his attention to his feet once again, “so can I get out of here, or what?”
“I don’t know,” she sighed taking a seat on the bed beside him as her finger tips fanned out over the center of his chest, “that all depends.”
“On what?” he questioned turning in towards her just in time to feel her soft, petal colored lips press in over his coaxing him into a reluctant kiss as her fingers dropped down into his lap causing him to yelp as he tore himself away from her.
“Oh Hart,” she burst into laughter watching him squirm away from her, “don’t tell me you’re squeamish now too.”
“I’m not squeamish,” he began searching the room for his pants as he was suddenly aware of his nakedness beneath the thin hospital gown he’d been wearing.
“Oh right,” she rolled her eyes as she stretched out a bit on the bed watching him wiggle around the room desperately, “then what would you call it?”
“I’d call it…” he paused lifting his head up to look at her once again as he watched the way she patted the bed beside her in an inviting gesture, “Hey, did you know that Travis is back in town again?”
“Unfortunately I caught wind of that one a few days ago,” she curled her lips into a pout as she sat upright once again, “but I was hoping that I’d find a way to forget that particular bit of unpleasantness that was seemingly rolling back into my life and hey, just as luck would have it, here you are.”
“If you haven’t noticed Beth, I’m involved with someone,” Hart stated firmly locating his pants and pulling them out of the drawer they’d been pushed into.  He hurriedly stepped into them watching as her eyes followed the movement before she sauntered up off of the bed and moved in towards him.
“Your point,” she lifted a less than speculative brow as her hands curled in around his waist pulling the hospital gown up over his chest to draw her fingers in over his smooth, muscled contours.
“Beth, stop it,” Hart wiggled away from her surprised that she’d still had some kind of reaction to him after all this time they’d been away from one another, “I’m serious here.”
“Yes Hart, we all know your definition of serious,” she waved her hand in the air dismissively, “which means that in a couple of weeks the flavor of the moment won’t be a problem and hey that is perfectly fine for me.  I don’t mind sharing you for a little bit until you come to your good senses and we get back to where we left off.”
“We left off with your husband’s nine millimeter against my temple when he tried to blow my head off Beth,” Hart frowned back at her thinking back to one of the less than impressive moments in his past.
“Ah yes, but you fail to recall the wonderfully delicious road of orgasms leading up to that moment,” Beth giggled licking her lips as her eyes perused him with less than appropriate intent.
“I haven’t forgotten a thing and it was nice while it lasted Beth, but we both swore that we wouldn’t go down that road again,” Hart reminded her sharply wishing more than anything that he hadn’t eaten that damned Chinese food as he took a step back in an attempt to bring some distance between them.
“Even so, I was a married woman back then, but now,” she reminded him, her words coming out in a heated blur.  She extended her arm out along side of him pinning him to the wall behind him as desire flickered behind her eyes, “well now I’m not bound by those chains anymore.”
“I’m happy to hear that you’ve liberated yourself Beth, but I’m not the same guy anymore,” Hart ducked down beneath her arm fishing for his shirt before discarding the hospital gown, “as I’m a changed man.”
“Oh right,” she chuckled with obvious amusement bringing her hand over her abdomen, “Hart, men like you don’t change…the just evolve into something else for the time being to suit the moment, but eventually it all comes back to who you really are.”
“Beth, I’m really happy that you’ve ditched Travis there and I hope that life is treating you good, but we can’t go back to what we had before,” Hart explained firmly as he finished up with the buttons on his shirt, “We both know that.”
“Do we?” she lifted a curious brow, “as I’m not so sure you’re convinced of that one.”
“Believe me, I’m happy now with the way life has been treating me and I wouldn’t change a thing,” Hart declared thinking about his newfound relationship with Jenna.
“I see,” she folded her arms in front of her chest eyeing him once again, “and am I to presume that Dr. Carpenter is the reason for this sudden shift in you?”
“Jenna’s amazing,” Hart nodded unable to contain the smile that swept up over him at the thought of being near Jenna, “She’s a great woman.”
“So I’ve heard,” Beth frowned before shrugging her shoulders, “well hey, if you’ve found something that works for you, then I’m happy for you.”
“You mean that,” he questioned feeling his tension melt a bit at the expression that replaced the desire behind her eyes.
“Absolutely,” she nodded offering up a smile before she motioned to the bed once again, “in fact, now that I think about it, I guess I owe you an apology considering what just happened.  If I’d known that you and Jenna were…”
“Hey Beth, it’s okay,” Hart moved in closer to her watching as her features shifted, “I mean we did have some good times together in the past and I guess seeing you again, well it just kind of shook me up especially after I ran into Travis.”
“Travis is a jackass,” Beth couldn’t help but smile as she stepped in closer to him bridging the distance between them, “but then again you were always trying to tell me that long before I figured it out, huh?”
“Well, we can’t all be quick learners there,” he teased in response, “though I’m sure now that it’s over you feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.”
“Absolutely,” she nodded flashing him a bright grin, “as the hospital keeps me busy and I’ve really worked on starting a new life for myself.”
“Good for you,” Hart remarked dropping his hands down into his pockets as he shifted on his feet, “as you deserved to have so much more than what he gave you.”
“I always thought so, but I guess I really didn’t believe it until you came along,” she softened her tone reaching out to touch his shoulder gently, “You changed my life Hart.”
“Now you’re giving me entirely too much credit because any changes I gave you weren’t for the better,” he replied lightly as his eyes fell upon hers, “You did all this for yourself on your own.”
“You gave me some motivation for it and for that, I can’t help but feel that I should thank you for what you’ve done for me,” she whispered inching in towards him, “as you’ve opened my eyes to a whole new world.”
“Just don’t take too much of what I said to heart okay,” Hart winked down at her, “as a lot of it was nothing, but bull.”
“I know that and I knew it then, but you’re just too damned cute naked for me to really care about that,” she laughed lightly seeing the color that rose in his features before she raised her hand in the air to silence any protest that came from him, “Yeah, I know it’s yesterday’s news.”
“Look Beth, I didn’t mean to be…” Hart started at a loss.
“Yes, you did, but it’s okay.  I’m a grown woman and I don’t mind the rejection,” she cut him off abruptly, “as it’s good for me since it gives me perspective.”
“How so?” Hart questioned noting the cryptic expression that pressed in over her features.
“It gives me proper motivation to find a way to make you change your mind,” she declared boldly throwing her arms around his shoulders as she pulled him into another daring display of passion with a desperate kiss.
“Beth,” he muttered her name feeling himself off balance as the power behind her kiss sent him backwards into the curtain that hung between his side of the room and the other one.  He tripped into it, feeling a tug from behind him as the curtain came down in the crash taking the both of them to the floor with it along with the dinner tray that hovered above as well.
“What in the…” he heard someone cry out as he started to worm his way out of the curtain cocoon that he’d found himself in, but before he could make sense of what was happening exactly, he saw Jenna standing in the doorway looking at him with confused eyes.
“Jenna,” he breathed her name feeling Beth down on the floor beside him as he stammered to get out of the curtain, twisting and turning as it seemed one of the hooks that had been in the curtain was now caught on one of the latches in his belt.
“What are you doing?” Jenna questioned again taking one look at Beth as she wiggled out from beneath the curtain, her lipstick smeared across her face as her hair was clearly disheveled in whatever accident had taken place.  Almost immediately Jenna’s eyes flashed back to Hart as she noted the matching shade of pink that now covered his lips.  She found herself at a loss with the wind kicked out of her as she moved backwards towards the doorway finally realizing what she’d walked in on, “My mistake…”
“Jenna wait,” Hart pleaded with her watching her run out into the hallway as Beth rose to her feet once again shaking her head at him as a laugh built up behind her twisted features.
“You sure have a way with women, don’t you Hart?” Beth snickered as he detangled himself from the curtain at long last and rose to his feet glaring at her all the way.
“Go to hell Beth,” he shot back at her icily running out into the hallway and chasing off after Jenna as he spotted her near the elevators.  Picking up the pace, he struggled to reach her in time as the doors to the elevator opened and she stepped inside, “Jenna!  Jenna wait!”
Hart made his way to the doors just in time to watch Jenna fade out of sight and slip away from him as it seemed that his past came back to haunt him in the most inopportune of moments.  Now as he thought to how hard he’d worked to get Jenna to open up to him, he felt the progress slipping away with what she believed she’d seen happening with him and Beth.
“I’m not going to lose you like that,” Hart vowed looking to the stairs as he rushed to the doorway ready to chase off after Jenna as he vowed he’d do whatever he had to in order to explain the situation to her and make her understand that there was no other woman in the world that meant as much as she did as she was the one thing in his life he was certain he wouldn’t be able to do without.


Heather stretched her limbs on the large beach towel and sighed as she soaked up the sun’s rays. Her body was finally adjusting to the time difference, and it felt so good to enjoy the gorgeous sunny days here on the island Cameron had treated her to. She’d had a lazy morning thus far, and she fully intended to spend the rest of the day just relaxing on the beach.

She adjusted her sunglasses and glanced down the beach where her husband was playing with a Labrador retriever. She’d never figured Cameron for a dog person, but she was learning all sorts of new things about her new spouse. For one thing, he was an incredibly gifted lover, and she was certainly glad that good sex wasn’t something she had to sacrifice just to be married. Secondly, he listened to her and seemed to genuinely hear what she had to say. It wasn’t often that anyone listened to her with any kind of seriousness, but Cameron was proving to her that he saw her as a partner. While she wasn’t quite sure what to make of that particular situation, she knew that she was in good hands with him as her husband.

The dog ran down the beach and lay a ball at Heather’s feet. She chuckled good naturedly as she picked up the ball and threw it for the dog to fetch. As the dog bolted after the ball, Cameron strolled up to her with a smile.

“He likes you,” Cameron informed her, “Xander doesn’t like just anyone.”

“He’s a sweet dog. How old?” She asked as she adjusted the fabric of her sarong skirt.

“He’s two. He’s usually kind of temperamental around new people, but he seems to just taken to you,” He sank down on the sand beside her, “So tell me, Heather,” He began as he looked to her, “Do you believe me now when I tell you we can have whatever we want just as long as we reach out and grab it?”

“Absolutely,” Heather smiled as she met his eyes, “This has been like a dream come true, and I must admit that things are working out better than I ever expected them to.”

“You didn’t think this would work between us?” He asked skeptically.

“I didn’t think we had enough in common to actually get along. Granted we both like the finer things in life, but I honestly didn’t think we could bond on any other level. As it turns out, we’ve got a great deal in common.”

“I think so too,” He grinned, “I suspected we were a lot more alike than either one of us knew. I think this is just the beginning for us. We’re going to have a very bright future together, and your child will be like my own.”

She regarded him for a moment, “You’re really being quite noble about this. Most men could care less about a pregnant woman having another man’s child. Why do you care so much?”

“Because I don’t want to see Kipp’s child suffer the same fate as Kipp himself. Kipp was abandoned by his mother at an early age, and Doug couldn’t have cared less about Kipp. I watched Kipp always crave parental affection that he never got. With Kipp in his condition,” He paused, “I wonder if perhaps a father figure in his life could have changed things. I sincerely hope that my presence in this child’s life will make a difference for him or her.”

Heather took Cameron’s hand and placed it upon her abdomen, “We thank you so much. And I know that you’re going to be a good father to my baby,” She said with a hopeful smile.

“I’m certainly going to do my best to be a good father and a good husband to you,” Cameron assured her as he drew her into a gentle kiss. While his plans for her didn’t exactly include a happily ever after for her or her child, he would play the noble husband to the hilt and make sure that Douglas knew just what an award winning performance was all about.


Thea gingerly smoothed her palm across Doug’s chest as she lay against him in the aftermath of their spontaneous lovemaking. It had been the last thing on her mind when she’d decided to come over here. At least, she thought it was. Maybe in some deep dark recess of her psyche, she had planned this. It didn’t matter now as the deed had been done, and Thea was perfectly comfortable in his arms.

Douglas held Thea close to him and wondered why he’d given in to her charms again. He knew why. He’d needed physical comfort, and she had been more than willing to offer that for him.
“So what’s on your mind?” Thea asked as if she sensed his straying thoughts.

“I was just thinking about this,” He explained, “And how this seems to happen just when we both need the complication the least.”

She raised her head so she could peer down into his eyes, “This isn’t complicated. It never has been.”

“You think not?” He asked in amusement, “You’re my step son’s…well,” He shrugged, “I’m not exactly what the title would be, but you were once his lover I’m sure. Now, you’re his second in command, and he wants nothing more than to make my life miserable with his stupid petty games. You don’t find any of that complicated?”

“That’s all outside of here,” She reasoned, “We’ve always shut out the rest of the world and just found a little peace together. Don’t change that now.”

“Is that what you think we do together? Find peace?” He asked as he ran his fingers gently through her hair.

“Don’t we?” She asked as she leaned into his touch, “Granted, we’re aren’t in love, but we don’t have any illusions where this is involved.”

“What exactly is this?” He asked frankly while easing his fingertips along the nape of her neck and gently continuing down her spine.

“Do we really need to put a name on it?” She asked as she met his eyes, “I don’t think so. Besides, we’re the only ones who know just how this feels, and no one else matters.”

“That’s where I disagree because Cameron always enters the equation,” Douglas reminded her, “And every time we find ourselves like this, we’re just pushing the envelope to the time when he’ll go over the edge. Do you honestly think he won’t be upset about this?”

“I really hope he is,” Thea admitted with a slight shrug.

“If you’re trying to pull me in the midst of a war brewing between the two of you,” He began.

She covered his lips with a forefinger, “I wouldn’t dream of it. Besides, any war brewing between Cameron and myself has many more players in the middle of it than just you.”

“Sounds like there’s trouble in paradise,” He inferred.

“Yeah well,” She sighed as she lay her head upon his chest, “I just never seem to catch a break. Just when I think I’m finally…well, let’s just say that nothing works out in the way I want it to.”

“Cameron’s got another woman, huh?” He surmised as he lightly eased his fingers over her shoulder, “I’ve told you a dozen times, Thea. You’re better than you or Cameron give you credit for.”

“I know,” She closed her eyes as she retreated from the pain of her life, “But sometimes we get what we deserve for past sins.”

“You’re not the same girl you were when Cameron found you,” He informed her as he rolled her to her back and forced her to look at him, “You’re a strong and independent woman…at least that’s what I see in you. Why can’t you see that in yourself?”

She lifted her fingers to his lips as she searched his eyes for answers to questions she hadn’t asked, “Because you see something in me that no one else ever has. Everything that I am I owe to Cameron.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” He assured her as he gently caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers, “You don’t owe him anything. But you owe a world of riches to yourself as you’ve been denying your potential for far too long.”

“What exactly is my potential, Doug?” She asked boldly as she met his eyes, “It’s not like I have a pedigree behind me or a rich daddy to vouch for me in society. I’m a woman who has to struggle for everything she gets.”

“You’re a woman who fights a man’s fight for him. You should stop doing Cameron’s dirty work for him and start making your own way,” He urged her, “Besides, everyone knows that Stone Corp owes its recent successes to you as Cameron only enjoys pissing on people instead of actually doing business. You’re the brains behind the company, and people take note of that. If you struck out on your own, you’d be sought after by every Fortune 500 company.”

“Now you’re just flattering me,” She said with a slight smile before she shrugged, “I can’t do that though.”

“Why not?” He asked in confusion.

“I owe Cameron too much.”

“What exactly do you owe him? I’ve never understood that bond between you nor do I understand why you allow him to control you as he does.”

“No one controls me,” She declared firmly as she met his eyes.

“Cameron does,” He reiterated, “He’s used you like a puppet for years, and you’ve allowed him to continue doing it. Why?”

“You don’t understand what it’s like between Cameron and me. No one does,” She turned her back towards him and stared across the room, “No one ever could.”

Douglas gently eased his hand along her shoulder, “Then why don’t you explain it to me,” He suggested, “Help me understand.”

“Cameron saved me from myself,” She explained, “Without him,” She paused, “There’s no telling where I would be if he hadn’t gotten me off the streets.”

“And so you think you’re indebted to him for the rest of your life? Thea, I think you’ve more than repaid your debt to him,” He advised her, “You don’t have to be in his service for the rest of your days.”

“You don’t get it, Doug,” She said as she glanced over her shoulder to him, “I love him. It’s not some sappy romantic foolish notion of love, but I do love him.”

“He doesn’t return the emotion, Thea,” He stated, “He isn’t capable of love.”

“Yes, he is,” She reminded him as she turned to meet his eyes, “Most people haven’t seen that side of him, but I have. He is capable of love, and he loves me.”

“Does he?” Douglas asked as he searched her eyes, “I can’t believe you’d be here if you thought that was true,” He said honestly while brushing his fingertips over her lips, “You’re not the kind of woman who would abandon love if it were offered.”

“Cameron’s just busy and confused right now. He’s a little misguided about how he needs to live his life, but he’ll come back to me. He always comes back to me,” She said forcefully.

“And you always go back to him, don’t you?” He asked wistfully.

“I don’t want to concentrate on any of that right now. This happened because you and I needed each other. Let’s live in the here and now, not in the world that exists outside these walls,” She suggested as she drew his lips to hers.

Douglas kissed her with tenderness before he met her eyes, “I want you to remember one thing for certain when that world does finally intrude upon us again. I want you to remember that you are a woman far more capable of conquering the world than you’ve given yourself credit for.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Thea spoke as she drew his lips back to hers once again, hoping to shut out the outside world once again. When she got back to her world, she would remember everything that happened tonight and make sure that Cameron knew every single intimate detail. Then she would watch Cameron writhe in the agony over the idea that she had shared an intimacy with Douglas that he thought she only reserved for him. If Cameron wanted to play games, she could play games and she was guaranteed to win.


“Ready for some popcorn,” Deidra questioned from her kitchen rushing out into the living room area of her apartment to find her mother settled in before the television with the last bowl of popcorn they’d made a short time earlier as it was now nearly empty except for the thick layer of liquid butter drenching the bottom of the bowl.
“I think we’re going to have majorly clogged arteries by the time this night is over,” Judy admitted sheepishly as Deidra took a seat beside her mother replacing the old bowl of popcorn with the new one.
“I think we’ve earned it,” Deidra announced proudly, “especially after the last few years we’ve had.  Of course I know that you didn’t expect to be spending tonight in front of the television watching old movies with me.”
“It might not have been how I planned it, but I’m glad that I’m here to do it with you,” Judy reached out to drop her head on her daughter’s shoulder, “as I’ve missed having you around through the years.”
“I’ve missed you too mom,” Deidra sighed sinking back against the bottom of her couch as she turned to her mother once again, “Being in Florida just wasn’t the same.  I mean sure it was beautiful, but there’s no place like home.”
“I’m really glad you feel that way as I’ve been really happy that you’re back again.  Granted I didn’t want you to have to be here under the circumstances that brought you back, but…”
“But nothing,” Deidra forced an eager smile, “I’m getting a second chance at life again and that in itself is something that not everyone has an opportunity to get in their life after a string of bad decisions.  I mean hey, so what?  I might be getting divorced, but I get to be back with my family that I love so very much and I’m working at a great hospital surrounded by good friends and things are finally coming together.  It’s not every day someone is given that kind of new beginning.”
“No it’s not which is why I’m so very glad that you’re being able to live life that way.  I want the best for you and I hope you realize that,” Judy reached out to take some popcorn from the bowl before her.
“I want that for you too mom and I really think that you’re well on the road to having that with your relationship with Rick,” Deidra began seeing the expression that washed over her mother’s features, “I know we said that it wasn’t going to be a main topic of conversation tonight, but you know I just can’t help but tell you how glad I am that you’ve found some happiness with him.  I mean sure I know things are rough right now, but well, maybe there’s a reason behind it.”
“How do you figure?” Judy inquired seeing something behind her daughter’s eyes.
“Well for starters, you’re the one who is always telling me that things happen for a reason and that fate has a plan for us whether or not we understand why things play the way they do,” Deidra shrugged her shoulders simply, “Maybe that’s really all that’s happening between the two of you.  This is just a challenge to your relationship that in time will be one of those defining moments that brings you closer to one another.”
“I don’t see how his wife’s kidnapping could bring about something good for the two of us and for me to even be pondering how this will effect my time with Rick, well it just shows how inconsiderate I’m being,” Judy frowned at the line of thoughts that carried over her.
“You’re not being inconsiderate mom.  You’re just trying to think about the future, which is something that you tend to do whether it be about you, me or even Diane.  You like to have things charted out in such a way that you’re prepared for disaster and we both know that falling in love doesn’t lend a hand into that.  I mean hey, if we knew everything about where our heart would take us, how many times would we just say to heck with it and forget about trying?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it would get me to think about things as there have been plenty of situations I wouldn’t have minded avoiding,” Judy conceded taking in her daughter’s words as she pondered her situation with Richard over the years.
“Yes, but when you think about the moments that were good--really good, you can’t help, but wish that there was a way to keep them locked away inside of you forever, right?” Deidra urged on once again a smile pressing in over her relaxed features.
“I guess you’re right,” Judy nodded in response, “Come to think of it, how did you suddenly become the one full of wisdom between us?”
“I had an excellent woman showing me how it’s done,” Deidra reached out to hug her mother, “I love you mom.”
“I love you too sweetie and you have no idea how much this means to me to be sharing tonight with you like this,” Judy confessed focusing on this time spent with her daughter.
“Believe me, I know as it means the world to me too,” Deidra added brightly turning her attention to the television once again, “So what do you say?  Up for a comedy or romance?”
“I think comedy would do best for us right about now,” Judy decided ready to immerse herself in whatever movie Deidra picked out for them.
“Comedy it is then, though you know I almost regret us cutting our night out on the town short as dinner was a lot of fun there,” Deidra began making conversation once again as Judy took in her surroundings appreciating her daughter’s new apartment as it’s warmth and familiarity seemed to bring out the best in Deidra.
“I’m enjoying this pajama party as it’s been years since we’ve been able to do this with one another,” Judy decided feeling her mood lift as in spending this time with Deidra she was reminded of the things they’d shared with one another over the years.
“You’re right on that,” Deidra nodded eagerly setting up the DVD player before settling in beside her mother, “you know maybe we should work on making this a more regular thing for us.  You know like a monthly girl’s night out or something.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Judy agreed brightly, “as I think it’s long overdue for the both of us.”
“Absolutely and since we’re sexy, single women it’ll give us time to catch up on girl talk and all the other happenings in our lives,” Deidra continued hearing the sounds of her mother’s cell phone from up on the couch where Judy had discarded her purse earlier, “speaking of which…”
“Rick said he was going to call tonight if he got the chance,” Judy’s eyes widened as she thought to the man she’d walked out on at the police station.
“Then what are you waiting for,” Deidra hit the stop button on her remote control as she reached up over her head to snag her mother’s cell phone from her purse, “answer it.”
“But Deidra, I thought that we…” Judy began to argue.
“Mom, you and I both know you want to talk to him as much as he wants to speak with you, so go,” Deidra urged her on watching as her mother answered the cell phone and her features seemed to light up at the sound of Richard’s voice.
“Hello Rick,” Judy began as Deidra felt a smile of her own tickle in over her features.
Reaching for the buttery remains of the previous bowl of popcorn she’d made for her and her mother, Deidra quickly scooped it up off of the floor taking it to the kitchen in an attempt to give her mother some privacy on her phone call as Deidra found herself thinking about the state of her life.  A few weeks ago, she was lost in misery, thinking that things would never turn around for her, but now, well now with this new home and new job came forth new opportunities that truly had started something that she hadn’t imagined possible after her life with Andy had come to an abrupt ending.  However, as she stood in the center of her kitchen ready to work on the dishes she’d dirtied through the evening, she finally felt a sense of peace and freedom press over her as it seemed that she was doing the one thing she’d always feared she wouldn’t be able to do.  She was making it on her own and this time there wouldn’t be anything holding her back as she’d prove everyone wrong in showing them just how independent she could be.
With that thought in mind, Deidra finished up with the bowls before her, whistling a tune as she thought to what the future could bring for her.  Just thinking about how her mother’s love life had finally taken a turn, she wondered if perhaps there would be someone out her who would make her feel that happy--someone who could fill that emptiness in her heart and more so someone who could awaken that part of her that Andy had tried to take from her.
“Anything’s possible,” she thought to herself as she reentered the living room area finding her mother still on the phone with Richard.  Sensing the need to give her mother some more time for privacy, Deidra headed to her bedroom ready to seek out her slippers as her toes were a bit cold.  Okay, so maybe that was just an excuse to give her mother a chance to work things out with Richard, but it was good enough for her, she decided as she entered her new bedroom taking in the new feel it had.  While she hadn’t had much time to truly decorate the place how she’d liked, she was certain that this place would be the key to her new life as it was just filled with potential.  Right now it might not have too much in it, but that would change as everything was certainly going to change.  She could feel it.
Reaching for her slippers, Deidra took a seat on the edge of her bed ready to slip into her fuzzy, bunny slippers, but instead she took a moment to sink back onto the comforter just savoring the moment for a change as she lay back.  Closing her eyes, she felt herself surrounded by a moment of silence before the sounds of voices filled the room surrounding her causing her to realize that somehow she’d wound up laying on the remote control to her television.  Wiggling it out from underneath her, she sat up straighter ready to turn the television off as a picture of Avery flashed upon the screen followed by a face she hadn‘t anticipated seeing ever again.
Sitting up straighter Deidra turned the volume up as the news began to recount the tale of Avery‘s brief romantic interlude with Brant leading up to the torturous tale of disaster when her ex-boyfriend Dr. Bruce Mathis endured a tragic drowning.  The news story went on to announce that Mathis and his murder may have been an act as authorities speculate that the man they believed to have died in a drowning a short while ago was now a prime suspect in a string of unsolved murders and as Deidra saw the image flash before her eyes once again a horrified gasp fell from her lips.  Granted the hair was different and the eyes seemed to be another shade, but there was something familiar, something that eerily reminded her of…
“Deidra,” Judy’s voice broke through Deidra’s thoughts as Deidra nearly jumped at the sound of her voice.
“Mom,” Deidra gasped turning the television off and throwing the remote control aside as if it had burned her as her eyes drifted up towards her mother.
“Are you alright,” Judy questioned her voice full of concern.
“You just startled me,” Deidra tried to regain her bearings wondering if her eyes had been playing tricks on her as there was no way that it could be possible that she had put herself in a position that…no she certainly wouldn’t have wound up in that situation considering what she’d just witnessed.  She must’ve saw something wrong as the man in the photograph was similar, but, well it just couldn’t be.
“I’m sorry about that,” Judy broke through her thoughts once again, “You looked about a million miles away just now.”
“I guess you could say I was just thinking about the future,” Deidra forced a slight smile trying to push her thoughts aside, “as there’s no point in dwelling on the past, right?”
“No, I suppose there isn’t,” Judy agreed with her, a sigh sweeping past her lips as she reached out to her daughter, “Deidra, honey are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” Deidra nodded in response not allowing her obvious misinterpretation of what she saw on television ruin the night she and her mother had planned to share together, “How’s Rick doing?”
“He’s surviving,” Judy sighed slumping down on the bed beside her daughter, “Right now the FBI have gotten themselves involved in what’s happening and they are under the belief that the same madman who sent Avery that package on the island could also be the person behind Brooke’s kidnapping as it turns out Avery’s ex has a long history of violence and rage behind him.”
“So they think he’s responsible for kidnapping Avery’s mother?” Deidra repeated taking it all in.
Judy nodded, “It doesn’t exactly fit into the profile they’ve made of him, but it is a possibility as Bruce seems desperate to find a way to get to Avery.”
“If that was the case, then why go after her mother seeing as she and Avery aren’t close,” Deidra tried to piece the puzzle together as the brief glimpse of what she saw on television left her with more questions than ever.
“Rick was thinking about that too and if what they say about Bruce is true, well then this whole kidnapping thing might be nothing more than a farce as it sounds like Avery’s been the only woman out there who has survived being around him as it seems he’s left a trail of dead women in his past if the stories the FBI are spinning are true.”
“And Rick thinks that this could be the case where Brooke is concerned?” Deidra inquired turning to her mother cone again.
“I really hope not,” Judy confessed with a soft breath wondering if things were going to take a turn for the better or dive down into something much, much worse where everyone was concerned.  She just prayed that somehow whatever was ahead of those she cared about that it wouldn’t spell disaster.


“I can’t believe this,” Avery felt a shiver race up over her spine as she found herself overcome by what her brother had told her about their mother’s abduction as it seemed that her worst fears about Bruce had been confirmed, “Are you sure that Bruce is behind this?”
“No, I’m not sure, but the FBI seems to be convinced that he played a hand in this situation as it sounds like he might’ve taken Mum as a means of trying to get to you somehow.  I don’t know why or how, but their theory is that he must’ve gotten desperate realizing that there was no way to get to you and he knew that he wasn’t safe here anymore,” Guy informed her and Russell as the group sat in the Denton living room speaking candidly about Brooke’s kidnapping.
“I don’t understand though,” Russell piped in squeezing Avery’s hand gently, “I mean why Brooke?”
“That’s what doesn’t add up,” Avery added with a frown of her own, “as Bruce knew how Brooke and I weren’t close at all.  He knew that she and I were at odds with one another, so I don’t see why…”
“Avery, the guy was a nut job and you’re lucky that you weren’t a casualty of his in the time you spent with one another,” Guy informed her concern evident in his tone, “With some of the things the FBI agents were saying about him...”
“I never thought he’d be dangerous--at least not like that,” Avery felt a lump forming in her throat as her worries began to mount, “I mean sure when he attacked me I just assumed he’d been hurting and with him drinking…”
“Whoa, back up a second,” Mindy’s eyes widened in surprise, “Are you saying that he tried to hurt you?”
“In a round about way,” Avery nodded in response drawing in a slow breath before she began to reveal the tale of Bruce’s attack on her, “Bruce read that article in the paper about Brant and I shortly after we broke up and when I came home one morning, well Bruce attacked me thinking the worst about the situation.”
“Wait a second,” Guy sat up straighter, “Avery, are you saying that he lashed out at you once already?”
“Guy, it was a misunderstanding.  That story was printed about Brant and I and it was entirely untrue, which I told you, but well, Bruce didn’t know that and at the time.  I couldn’t deny that I’d moved on as that wasn’t exactly the truth either,” Avery turned her eyes up toward Russell as he curled his arm around her.
“So he was just what…” Guy urged her on, “Avery, you need to tell me exactly what happened here.”
“The last time I saw Bruce was in that apartment.  He was so angry and he started yelling at me and then,” her gaze dropped to the floor as she felt a shakiness press over her, “well he just grabbed me and the next thing I knew he was choking me telling me how no one was going to have me.  He went on and on about how I’d made a fool of him in front of this whole town and he wouldn’t let that stand.  Things got really intense and I thought that was the end for me, but then Brant came in and tore him off of me…”
“Brant saved you,” Mindy repeated taking in the tale with obvious interest.
“That’s right,” Russell nodded in response, “He pulled her away from Bruce, but then when Bruce was supposedly murdered, Brant used that fact that he’d helped Avery along with the stupid story to let the whole town think that he and Avery were together.”
“That wasn’t how it went down Russ,” Avery frowned in response, “Brant was just trying to help me.”
“No, he was trying to help himself to you,” Russell corrected Avery with a matching frown of his own.
“But all the while you two were still going hot and heavy,” Mindy arched a curious brow before a proud smile spilled over her features, “I knew it.”
“Mindy,” Guy threw her a chastising expression.
“Sorry,” Mindy apologized dropping her hands into her lap as she tried to curb the enthusiasm in her tone, “it’s just that since my intuition is kicking into high gear, it’s nice to see that it was right on the mark this time.”
“You have one hell of an eye Mindy, but I swear to you if any of this finds its way back to the office,” Russell warned sharply.
“I won’t utter a peep to anyone,” she placed her fingers over her chest in a crisscross pattern, “You have my word on that.”
“I’d better,” Russell nodded before turning his attention to Avery.
“You will,” Mindy promised sitting on the edge of her seat as all eyes were upon Avery, “so what happened?”
“After that day I didn’t see Bruce again.  I heard he was dead and was afraid that Russ and Brant had something to do with the situation…” Avery started up once again.
“Which we didn’t,” Russell added for clarity.
“And then after that I was done with dealing with Bruce as I thought he was gone and no longer a part of this world, well until the things that happened on the island,” Avery paused thinking about the situation for a moment, “No, I take that back.  There were other things before then.”
“Such as?” Russell questioned watching the color drain from her face.
“Such as the night of the engagement party at Brant’s mansion,” Avery’s eyes widened in realization focusing on Guy as the memory swept over her, “I got a necklace earlier in the day.  Remember it was this beautiful ruby gemstone there…”
“Of course I remember.  It was sensational and you thought that it was from Russell,” Guy nodded eagerly recalling the particular trinket that was sent to his sister, “as it was a stunning piece and it came with a note.”
“It mentioned something about my wearing the necklace as the sender would be wearing a red tie to match and naturally I thought of you because…” Avery started stopping herself as things slowly began to sink in with her.
“Because of my red tie, but when I wasn’t wearing the tie and you called me on it at the party,” Russell added seeing a spark of fear behind her eyes.
“I thought that Brant had been the one behind the package, but he wasn’t wearing a red tie either and he didn’t seem to have any clue as to what was going on between us until we came home from our honeymoon,” Avery continued feeling a sense of slow panic building up over her spine before settling inside her stomach, “Then on the island when I was attacked while shopping with Caitlin, Ken and I just assumed that it had something to do with her since she’d been dealing with her abusive ex, but now…Oh God.  Russ, the things he said and the way he touched me.  It had to be Bruce.  I mean when we’d gotten the package on the island, sure we had our suspicions, but now, well now I’m sure it was him.”
“Avery, what did he do to you,” Guy leaned forward reaching out to her.
“He said things about my never being able to break free of him--that I was his and then,” Avery’s voice cracked with emotion, “Oh God, Russ he’s out there waiting to find a way to get in here and take back what he feels is his.”
“It’s not going to happen Avery,” Russell curled his arm around her pulling her into his arms protectively, “and if he happens to be the one behind Brooke’s kidnapping, then he’s going to be brought to justice as well.”
“That still doesn’t explain the abduction,” Mindy pointed out offering up her own voice in the matter, “I mean okay, so the guy has an unhealthy fixation on Avery and beyond that he’s a psychopath, but still, why take Brooke when clearly Avery’s his intended target?  I mean wouldn’t he make some kind of strange demand to Avery instead of reaching out to you Guy?”
“I…I don’t know,” Guy stammered at the thought, “I mean the FBI stated that they really feel that Bruce is on the edge and ready to snap there.”
“Even so, why ask for five million dollars,” Mindy insisted shaking her head as the thought stirred up inside of her, “I mean why stop there when this has never been about money for him?  He’s made it his mission to reach out and grab Avery, so why just settle for some monetary compensation when Avery is his ultimate goal?  Why even bother with your mother?”
“Look Mindy, I’m not one to get into the head of a lunatic like that,” Guy began to argue with her finding himself increasingly frustrated by the moment as the conversation continued, “as all I know is that madman wants the money for my Mum’s safe return.”
“Guy wait a second,” Russell waved his hand in the air as a seriousness pressed over his features, “Mindy’s got a point here.  Why would Bruce want to settle for taking Brooke when he’s made no qualms about what he really wants in this situation?”
“Russ, what are you saying,” Avery turned her eyes up towards him.
“I’m saying that the guy was bold enough to approach you while you were with Brant’s security on the island and he’s found his way around us in the plain view of hundreds of people at that party, so why stop trying to reach out to you until he’s succeeded or died trying,” Russell insisted with a frown, “as clearly that’s what means more to him than all the money in the world.”
“Just because he’s obsessed doesn’t mean he can’t be desperate,” Guy threw out on the table pondering what his mother might be going through at a time like this.
“Desperate men take desperate actions that they feel can lead them one step towards their goal and by taking Brooke, well Bruce has nothing to gain.  I mean really given the nature of Avery’s relationship with Brooke, why would he even bother with something like that?  Wouldn’t he want to take someone that he knows Avery would have no choice, but to leap into his arms willingly?”
“Russ, it’s my mother we’re talking about here,” Avery offered up not wanting to forget that detail despite the rocky relationship she had with Brooke.
“Honey, I know that, but Bruce isn’t stupid.  He’s been very calculated and bold in his moves, so why stop at Brooke, when he could’ve gone after your father or Guy or even me?  If he’s wanting to obtain the impossible dream of a reunion with you, then why not go for the gusto or even bother with connecting you directly?  In his going to Guy, well that doesn’t add up as it would seem that you’d be the intended for the ransom request as he would certainly have some kind of demand that put you in a position for him to snatch you up in the process,” Russell concluded turning his attention to Guy once again, “I mean that sounds like it would be a more feasible situation, right?”
“I never thought about it that way,” Guy shrugged his shoulders pondering his brother-in-law’s words, “as I’d just assumed that the FBI could be onto something with Bruce’s history of violence…”
“The FBI is full of imbeciles,” Avery blurted out with a huff, “We saw it first hand over the last couple of weeks when they’ve been playing privacy invasion on our home.”
“Exactly,” Russell added with a quick nod, “and when my mom and yours got into it, well they jumped in right away.  I have no doubt in my mind that after that day your mother was probably under some kind of watch.  I mean sure she might not have had the protective detail on her twenty four seven like we did, but I’m willing to guess that someone was keeping at least somewhat of a watch upon her and if we find that someone, we might have a little more information leading us towards who we’re dealing with here.”
“Are you saying that the FBI knows more about this situation than they’re offering up here,” Guy questioned feeling his anger boil over at the thought of someone keeping word about what happened to his mother from him.
“I’m not sure, but I’m willing to guess that there’s a lot more to this story than the pieces we’re being given thrown here,” Russell looked at his watch noting the time, “In fact, maybe there’s a way we can find out a bit more about what’s happening before tomorrow’s call from the kidnapper.”
“What do you have in mind,” Avery questioned watching as Russell rose from the sofa making his way across the room towards the phone, “Russ?”
“Remember George Anderson?  The lineman from Grady’s college football team?” Russell threw back at her.
“It’s kind of hard to forget the guy considering that he was a huge pain to be around with his loud and obnoxious behavior,” Avery rolled her eyes, “It’s no wonder Grady loved having him around.”
“Even so, the guy managed to get his act together in his later years and he’s been doing some work for the Feds.  We ran into one another a few years back and I helped him on a case he was working on with some of my reporting,” Russell informed her thinking to his connections, “Since then he’s owed me only about half a dozen favors and maybe it’s time for me to call him on one.”
“You think he can really help?” Guy questioned eagerly thinking about his mother as worry consumed him.
“It’s worth a try,” Russell nodded making the call, “as I’m sure he’s still probably at the office doing an all-nighter--at least I hope.”
“You and me both,” Guy replied wondering if there would be a way to find out more about what happened to his mother so that when the time came there would be a way to bring her back home safely once and for all before it was too late.


“Oh Seth,” Blake giggled patting him in the chest as the music ended and he lead her over in towards the bar ordering the both of them another round of drinks, “I don’t think I’ve danced this much since my sixteenth birthday party.”
“Well than that it truly a pity as someone as light on her feet as you are should spend as much free time as possible dancing and being free like tonight,” Seth replied curling his arm around her slender waist as he drew her in closer to him.
“When I’m with you like this, you always have a way of making me feel like I’m walking on air,” Blake replied batting her eyelashes at him as a breath caught in her throat, “as somehow you always find ways to keep me dancing and ready to face the world before me.”
“Now you’re giving me entirely too much credit Blake as I know you’re a fighter,” Seth’s touch grazed her cheek as his dark eyes penetrated hers, “as you were full of fire the moment I first laid my eyes upon you.”
“Okay, so yeah I do have a mean streak in me,” she shrugged her shoulders offering up a playful laugh, “but that doesn’t mean that I’m still not able to thank you for what it is you do for me.”
“It’s not really that simple as I don’t think thanks are in order because what you do for me goes without words as you’re amazing,” Seth leaned in towards her anticipating the taste of her cherry red lips before the bartender returned with their drinks.  Slowly he pulled back watching as Blake lifted the glass to her lips sipping gently as his eyes darted across the room over towards where Jade and Gabe sat with one another seemingly enjoying each other’s company.
“It looks like Jade’s evening is picking up a little,” Blake noted following the line of his vision as she leaned in closer to him, “Gabe seems like a nice guy.”
“He’s a great guy,” Seth nodded in response, “and he’s helped me through a few rough patches, so I thought maybe in him coming here, he could be able to help with Jade as he just has a way with words.”
“Sounds like he’s a good friend,” Blake replied focusing on Seth as she could easily feel herself getting lost in his eyes and his arms forever should she just listen to her heart on the matter.
“He is,” Seth faced her once again noting the way she was watching him, “as he helped me to keep holding out hope that one day you and I could be sharing a moment just like this.”
“Just like this you say,” Blake set her drink down on the bar once again curling her arms around his shoulders as she tipped up on her toes realizing that while she’d been wearing very high heeled shoes, Seth’s height towered over hers, his solid strength enough to envelope her from the world as his arms had the potential to squeeze her senseless, but he’d kept her close to him with the greatest of ease.
“That’s right,” Seth’s voice thickened to a seductive tone as a shiver spilled over Blake’s spine at the timbre it held.  His dark eyes had a sensual air about them and Blake could only imagine what it would be like to be lost them as passion carried over the both of them taking them to new places together as it seemed the very vision of making love to Seth burned her straight to the core.  He teased his fingers into her hair as their lips were a mere breath away from one another, “just like this.”
“Are you sure,” she questioned in a carefree flirty tone squeezing her arms around him as she found herself unable to contain the air of desire that moved through her in this moment that his lips just barely touched hers.  His words brushed up against her lips in the most enticing of sensations and as she found herself feeling daring, she quickly pressed her lips against his in the most teasing of displays, “or was it more like this?” she finished with tiny kisses against his mouth.
“I think it was more along the lines of this,” Seth murmured sliding his hands down over her spine as he lifted her up off of the ground holding her against him as his hungry mouth ravished hers opening her up to a whole new world of desire before causing the world to crash down around her leaving her craving so much more from him.
Blake curled her arms more completely around him, not caring how brazen she might look to the world around her as his arms kept her safe and warm, free from the things that had hurt her before now.  Oh how she’d wanted this.  She’d wanted to be this close to him again, to feel his passion and desire as it had been something that had been far too powerful to deny from the moment they’d first met one another.  Never before had she felt such a physical attraction that fast to someone, but as Seth’s kisses offered up the drugging promise of passion and so much more, she felt herself crashing under diving deep into the whirlpool of desire craving so much more until he tore his mouth away from hers, yet still keeping her up off of the ground in his arms.
“What do you say we get back out on the dance floor,” he questioned suggestively hugging her to him as Blake nodded eagerly.
“I think that’s an incredible idea,” Blake agreed heartily wanting nothing more than to find as many excuses as possible to stay this close to him for the rest of the evening drawing out this wonderful feeling as long as possible.
“Alright then,” he dropped down to kiss her once more before reluctantly setting her down to the ground once again, “let’s get moving, shall we?”
“Actually,” Blake tugged on his arm, feeling something guiding her movements as she found herself craving something that went beyond a night of dancing, “I was thinking maybe we could take this to a more private location.”
“Private?” Seth’s eyebrow lifted with curiosity as Blake encircled his waist with her arms brushing herself up against him.
“That’s right,” Blake nodded eagerly, “Seth, I’ve had a wonderful time tonight and dancing with you has been exciting and thrilling, but right now, well it’s not enough.”
“Blake, I’m sure you’re feeling that way right now, but…” Seth started to argue with her as she reached for his hand guiding it up over her soft features as a sigh spilled over her lips.
“Seth, if I can’t touch you, I’m going to burst,” Blake confessed closing her eyes as she guided the warmth of his palm over her face gingerly before bringing his hand to her lips and placing tender kisses over the top of it.
“Blake, I know you’re feeling that way now, but I thought that we’d already agreed that…” Seth began again feeling a tiny jolt of passion sparking in all the right places at all the wrong times as Blake’s kisses scorched him to the core, reminding him of just how much he’d wanted this beautiful woman in his arms.
“My family has a summer home just north of here,” Blake stated plainly despite the passion scorching beneath her eyes, “and it’s been empty for a while since Brant and Kenny have been spending time at home.  It’s not a long drive from here and…”
“Blake, what you’re suggesting, well it’s…” Seth stammered realizing what a bumbling idiot he must’ve sounded like as he was fighting everything his body was telling him to just go for with her.  Damn, how he’d hated being a man of morals sometimes as it seemed that those morals were the only thing keeping him from the woman he wanted at a time like this.
“Seth,” her lips curled into a pout as she batted her eyelashes at him once again seeking out his index finger and sliding it between her now parted lips tantalizing him with ease skilled caress of her tongue against his skin before she placed a kiss upon the tip gingerly, “please…”
“Blake, if you keep this up, I’m not going to be able to resist you,” Seth replied in a tight whisper feeling her brush up against his hard, aching body once again.
“That was pretty much the point,” Blake reminded him with a flirty giggle as her fingers teased over the center of his chest, “as I was hoping we could work on breaking all the rules together tonight.”
“Blake, I want for us to have no misunderstandings between us before we take our relationship to the next level.  I’ve already told you that…” she cut him off with a hungry kiss stealing the thought from his lips as he hugged her in against him unable to deny his desire for the beautiful woman who’d captured his heart from the moment they first encountered with one another.
“Mark my words,” Blake breathed against his mouth feeling the power she had over him as she kept him close to her, “there’s nothing to be misunderstood about what I’m feeling for you right now.  I want you Seth and I’m not going to let you just walk away from me again.”
“Blake,” he searched her eyes seeing the truth behind her words as he sighed in defeat realizing that there was no denying the beauty in his arms as he too wanted nothing more than to just be with her, to experience passion and tenderness with the one woman who had shaken up his world in more ways than the quake had done, “how far from here is the summer house?”
“About fifteen minutes,” Blake informed him threading her fingers through his hair as her tongue lashed out at his daring him to defy her as he matched her movements more eager and fervent than ever.
“That sounds so far away,” Seth murmured against her mouth pressing her up against the bar as her body bumped up against his driving him to new brinks of insanity all over again with the rolling motion she’d made beneath him.
“We’ll make it,” she assured him with a sparkle behind her eyes as they parted ever so slightly.
“The anticipation might kill us first,” he answered wondering just how long he could refrain from holding her and being with her in every sense of the word as his heart pounded in his chest with the nearness of her.
“If I could hold on this long, I’m sure you can too,” she teased grinding her body against his in a devilish display.
“Not if you keep wiggling like that darling,” Seth closed his eyes straining for air as he resolved to find a way to make this situation between them something that neither one of them would ever forget.  Opening his eyes once again, he forced his hands onto the bar top behind her knowing that in touching her any longer, he’d be bound to lose all control and that simply wouldn’t do as he needed to make sense of the moment--to find a way to think clearly even though Blake’s perfume had worked a number on his senses bringing him to meltdown with the warmth of her filling that void he’d held inside of him for so very long.  “I need to say good-bye to Jade.”
“We can do that,” Blake spoke heatedly encouraging him with her smile, “I’m sure she’ll be okay as she and Gabe seem to be getting along rather well tonight.”
“I don’t know if I should just leave when…” Seth’s thoughts drifted to his sister’s broken heart once again as Blake cut him off with a kiss.
“Trust me.  She’ll understand,” Blake pleaded with him balling up the front of his shirt in her palm, “She knows what it’s like to crave someone so bad it hurts…”
“I don’t want it to hurt Blake,” Seth cupped her face in his hands, “as I just want to love you.”
“I want that too,” she whimpered claiming his mouth once again, “I want to love you Seth,” she informed him allowing her heart to guide her closer to the one man she’d denied herself for so very long.
While Blake’s world might’ve been twisted and full of turmoil, there was no denying what she wanted in a moment like this and as she held him, she realized that she’d spent too much time playing the part of being the good and proper Ashford princess who’d wound up miserable time and time again as it seemed that in this moment Seth Alexander was the key to breaking her free of all the things that had kept her hurting time and time again.
Certainly Blake had felt her fair share of pain lately between the situation she and Seth had experienced before and then with what was happening with Zack…  She seemed to freeze at the thought of the thought of the man who’d torn her world apart as there was no denying that there was a place in her heart that longed for him--longed to be near him and repair the damage that had been done, but it seemed that as much as she’d wanted to run to Zack, there was something else hanging over her head--something that ultimately lead her back to this night--to this moment with Seth and that in itself put her in a moment of standstill.
“Blake, are you okay,” Seth noticed the shift on her features as he reached out to her once again, “Hey…you look a million miles away right now.”
“I’m not,” she insisted shaking free of the thoughts that had consumed her, “I’m right here.”
“You know we don’t need to leave.  We can stay here and dance a while longer,” Seth explained sensing an unspoken hesitance in her, “We don’t have to rush things.”
“No,” she shook her head once again, “we’re not rushing as this is what I want.  I just need to be alone with you for a while like we’d dreamt about.”
“Blake, if this is because you’re upset with the situation you’ve found yourself in with Zack,” Seth shuddered at the mention of the guy who’d won Blake over since their parting ways, “If you’re trying to prove something to me about the situation between the both of you…”
“Seth, I’m not going to lie to you,” Blake sighed heavily, “yes, there are some unresolved issues between Zack and I.  I was wrong to mislead you before into thinking that I could pretend what I felt for him was over, and I won’t attempt to make the same mistake twice with you as you deserve more than that.  Zack and I will always share something between us and I don’t know exactly what that means, but it doesn’t change how I feel for you.”
“The fact that you’re saying that just proves that you’re not ready for us to make love,” Seth sighed hating to admit it as he realized that he’d be making a huge mistake in running off with Blake in the heat of the moment.
“No, Seth, I want us to make love,” Blake argued with him, “Seth, this is something I’ve wanted from the first time I looked at you.  I need this…”
“And then what?” Seth tossed back at her, “what happens after?”
“I don’t know yet, but can’t we just make the rules as we go along,” she pleaded with him desperately.
“Blake, I told you once and I’ll say it again,” he cupped her face in his hands, “when I make love to you, I’m never going to be able to let you go again and until you’re ready for that, well I can’t put myself in that position.”
“Seth, I want to be with you more than anything right now,” she confessed tears pooling in her eyes.
“And I want you more than you can imagine sweetheart, but I don’t want to be the right now guy,” he whispered over her lips kissing her tenderly, “as I want to be the man who is there for you in the long run--the one who shares his life with you loving you in every which way imaginable as that’s what you truly deserve.”
“Seth, please don’t make this any harder than it is for us,” she urged him on once again, “Can’t we just get out of here and try to make this work?”
“Blake, can you honestly tell me if we make love tonight that you’re going to wake up tomorrow with no regrets?” Seth searched her eyes seeing a flicker of doubt flash behind them as a sigh spilled over his lips.  “I didn’t think so.”
“But Seth I want…” Blake started once again.
“I want it too baby,” he tipped down to press his forehead in against hers, “but only when you’re sure that it’s the right time because I refuse to give you anything less than that.”
“I do want you Seth,” she whispered feeling his arms around her as her heart had her tangled in knots.
“I know you do beautiful and I want you too, but I can’t do something that you’ll regret as in hurting you that way, well it would be the last thing I could bear at a time like this when every fiber of my being is screaming that you’re the one for me,” he lifted her chin so that her eyes met his once again, “Blake, I love you like I’ve never loved any woman before and I refuse to give you anything less than the best in this world even if it means us waiting to be together until you‘re sure that you feel that way about me.”
“Seth I…” she started once again finding herself at a loss.
“I know it’s a risk, but Blake, you’re well worth taking it as you’re everything to me,” he offered up kissing her tenderly as he vowed to himself that he would find a way to make things right between them so that one day they could share in the magic of the love they’d found with one another in more ways than either one of them could’ve dreamt of.


“Visiting hours are almost over,” The nurse said sweetly before she exited the room.

“I don’t know who she thinks she’s talking to, but I’m not going anywhere,” Ken said firmly as he looked back to Caitlin.

“You don’t have to stay with me, you know. I’m going to be okay now,” Caitlin assured him as she met his tired eyes.

“I know that, but with that psycho still on the loose, I just would feel better if I was here with you to keep you safe,” He explained as he laced his fingers with hers, “I’m going to be right here with you, kiddo. So get used to seeing my ugly mug.”

“Hmm,” She smiled, “Now there’s an idea. Getting used to having you by my side. I don’t think that’s possible.”

“You mean after all the time we’ve spent together this far you aren’t used to having me around?” He asked in confusion.

“Hell no,” She replied with a soft laugh, “You still give me butterflies in my stomach every time I see you. I can’t believe just how lucky I am to have you, and every time I see you I find myself wondering if it’s real.”

“You can’t be serious,” He smiled as he shook his head, “I find myself thinking the same thing about you most of the time.”

“Really?” She asked with a goofy grin before she chuckled, “We make quite a pair, don’t we?”

“We certainly do,” He agreed as he caressed her fingers with his, “You know, I’m sorry about the things that happened before the attack. I never meant to push you away as I did,” He frowned, “I was just hoping I could deal with Brant without you getting hurt in the process.”

“Ken, shhh,” She urged him as she squeezed his hand to get his attention, “I created the mess you had to deal with. I did what I thought had to be done. Well, I take that back. I didn’t actually mean to blurt it out to Brant that Avery was married, but he just would not leave me alone. He thinks its his mission in life to get rid of me, and I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t want to lose you either,” He said as he met her eyes, “Brant was just an unforeseen complication, but he usually is,” He frowned, “But I just don’t want you to be hurt.”

“I won’t say that I wasn’t hurt when I left the mansion, but to be honest, it wasn’t for myself. I was terrified that you were hurt, and that’s the last thing in the world I wanted,” She reached out to touch his cheek, “I love you, Ken, and I don’t ever want you to be hurt because of me.”

“It wasn’t because of you. I’ve always been the one in our family to clean up everyone else’s messes,” He paused, “It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s a burden that I took on myself. I just wanted to try to help Brant, and he wouldn’t let me as long as you were around. I didn’t want to push you away, but it was easier to do that than to lose my brother.”

“As crazy as it sounds, I understood that,” She admitted, “I just hated that it had to be done at all,” She sighed, “So how’s Brant doing now?”

“Oh he’s being as wonderful as ever,” Ken rolled his eyes, “He’s just itching to get Avery away from Russ, and I don’t know what is going on in his head. It’s like there are no limits to what he’d do to have her, and that scares me.”

“I’m sorry, Ken,” She squeezed his hand gently, “But how about we just forget about Brant right now? You can climb into this bed with me, and hold me tonight.”

“I’m sure the nurse is going to love that one,” He chuckled as he kicked off his shoes and eased into the bed beside her.

Caitlin gingerly snuggled into his side as he snaked his arm around her. She smiled as she lay her head on his chest and smiled, “Now this is what I really needed to get better.”

“Well, why didn’t you just say so?” He teased with a laugh as he gently squeezed her, “I could have been doing this the entire time,” He pressed a soft kiss to her bandaged forehead.

“And I would have loved every minute of it,” She sighed happily, “So how are you going to break the news that you’re staying to the nurse?”

“I’ll just pull a little Ashford rank on her,” He said with a haughty tone in his voice, “If that doesn’t work, I’ll throw some money at her to get rid of her,” He teased.

“Now I know this is true love,” Caitlin chuckled softly as she held onto Ken and settled in for a restful night like she hadn’t had in a long time.


Jade finished her drink and slammed the empty glass down on the table. She took a deep breath before she looked to Gabe and burst out in laughter.

Gabe looked to Jade with confusion, “What is wrong with you?”

“Nothing,” She said as she suddenly stopped laughing then burst into laugher again, “I can’t help it.”

“Something tells me you’ve had enough,” He said as he pushed away her empty glass.

“No way,” She declared as she leaned over for the glass and slipped off the side of the table into the floor.

Gabe moved around the table and looked down at her before crouching beside her and extending his hand to her, “What do you say I take you home?”

“I thought you were gay,” She said seriously as she wavered slightly.

“I didn’t mean to be romantic. You’ve had enough to drink, and if you stay here,” He paused, “Well somehow I think it’d be dangerous for you and anyone standing near you. So come on. Let’s find your brother.”

“My brother?” She asked as he helped her to her feet. She leaned into him heavily, “My brother’s here?”

“Yes, and you are way past having too much,” He frowned as he helped her back into her chair, “Can I trust you to sit here on your own?”

“Why would I want to be here on my own?” Jade whined as she tugged him back to her, “If I’m all alone, I’ll fall off the world. You can’t let that happen to me.”

“Oh…kay,” He sighed as he waved for a waiter, “I think it’s definitely time to take you home.”

“I don’t want to go home. Please don’t make me go home. If I go home, I’ll think about missing Grady, and I don’t want to think about missing Grady. Do you understand? I do not want to think about him,” She begged as she looked at him with tears in her eyes as she stopped suddenly and bit her lip. She wiggled her finger at him and paused, “What was I talking about?”

“Oh boy,” Gabe looked to the waiter who joined them, “You wouldn’t happen to know where her brother is, would you? He’s a darkly handsome guy with a blond on his arm.”

“Oh…well, he was on the dance floor earlier, and then I thought I saw him headed for the door, but I’m not sure,” The waiter shrugged.

“If you happen to see him, you can tell him that I’m taking his sister back to my hotel room. She’s had a little too much to drink,” Gabe nodded to Jade who looked half asleep and leaning as if she were about to fall. He caught her and looked to the waiter before passing the man a twenty, “I’d appreciate it.”

“No problem,” The waiter agreed as Gabe slipped his arm around Jade and helped her to her feet.

Jade leaned into Gabe and stumbled as she walked, only remaining in a standing position because he was beside her. As they stepped out into the crisp spring air, she looked up to Gabe, “Can I drive?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea for either one of us,” Gabe replied as he waved for a taxi cab nearby, “I think we’d be better off sitting this one out.”

“Ah,” She whined as she tugged on his jacket lapels, “But I want to drive.”

“The only thing you need to drive is your own two feet.”

“Say what?” Jade asked in confusion as the cab pulled in front of them.

Gabe opened the door for her and attempted to help her into the cab. She lost her balance and fell into him with a giggle. He helped her into the car and climbed inside behind her.

Grady sat at the nearby traffic light with his stomach in his throat. He’d been waiting for the light to change and glimpsed Jade out of the corner of his eye. When he’d focused on her, he’d noticed she was with the man who’d brought Seth to the house. With their close playful manner obvious for everyone to see, Grady felt like he’d been punched in the gut. When the light changed and the car behind him blew the horn, Grady forced himself to focus on the road ahead of him. He had only one thought on his mind now after the day he’d had. He knew that there was only one way to fix the pain he felt, and he knew exactly where to find it. As he turned his truck into the package store parking lot, he knew that in a short while all the pain would be a distant memory, and he would be lost in the familiar arms of his longtime mistress…bourbon.

...to be continued...