Episode Eighty Four 

“Jenna please,” Hart pounded on the front door to her apartment still getting no response after he’d stood on the landing for the last five minutes out in the night air, “Jenna, I saw your car parked down in the lot.  Please just let me explain.  Jenna come on!”
Hart waited a moment or so hoping that she’d answer the door upon hearing his words, but once he’d gone silent, it seemed that was all there was as Jenna refused to budge on the issue.  Now as he thought of Beth’s blatant attempts to sabotage him, he had to wonder why he’d even done something as stupid as gotten involved with her to begin with in the past.  Sure, she was beautiful, but being with her didn’t even come close to how incredible it was in being with Jenna, only Jenna wasn’t about to give him the time of day at this rate it seemed.  With that thought in mind Hart pounded on her door once again vowing to stay there all night if he had any chance of coming face to face with Jenna once again and pleading his case with her.
“Jenna come on,” Hart raised his voice feeling a slight chill in the air, but it was nothing compared to the solid wall of ice he was trying to break through with the woman he loved as he continued to pound on her door refusing to give up, “Jenna.”
“Go away Hart,” Jenna opened a window glaring out at him as her eyes were glistening in the moonlight, an obvious result of the tears she’d no doubt shed on the ride over after finding him and Beth in that precarious position at the hospital.
“Jenna, just give me five minutes to explain.  Please,” he leaned over towards her window bracing himself on the railing that hung on the side of the stairs that lead up to her apartment, “Jenna, if you’d only listen…”
“I don’t think there’s anything more to say Hart,” Jenna threw back at him with a huff, “as I think I saw all I needed to see at the hospital back there.”
“Jenna, you don’t understand,” Hart began desperately watching her work to try to close the window as his fingers branched out into the night seeking her out through the window, “Jenna if you’d just…”
“Hart, I’m warning you now.  If you don’t get off my front step in the next two minutes, then I’m calling the police to have you removed.  Do you understand?”
“Jenna, I’m not going anywhere,” he answered defiantly folding his arms in front of his chest in an obstinate stance, “not until you hear my side of the story.”
“Hart, I’m not playing around,” Jenna turned her attention to the watch on her arm before her sad and angry eyes returned to him once again, “If you’re not off my front step in the next minute and a half, then that’s it.  You’re going to jail.”
“Fine, then call the police,” Hart threw back at her watching her slam her window shut with a huff, “See if I care and hey while you’re at it, why don’t you call Patrick down here and see what he has to say about the situation.  I’m sure he’d love to be witnessing this one first hand seeing as he always said you were impossible to deal with!”
“Why you,” Jenna threw the door open seeing the smirk that built upon his features as she glared at him, “you’re a sick and twisted son of a bitch, aren’t you?”
“It got you to open the door, didn’t it?” Hart challenged feeling himself one step closer to victory with her as he could see inside her apartment.
“If you think you’re coming in, then you’re dead wrong,” Jenna replied sharply.
“Come on Jenna, don’t be like that,” Hart pleaded with her marching in towards her door once again.  “I need to talk with you.”
“Get back Hart.  I mean it,” she warned watching him take a step in towards her before she realized he wasn’t about to give up on trying to get her to allow him inside.
Throwing her arm back, Jenna said a curse under her breath before tossing an ashtray right at him into the night.  She half expected him to duck upon witnessing the glass and marble colored object flying towards his head, but he was clearly oblivious as it smacked into the center of his head with such an impact it sent him flying backwards and down over the staircase leading up to her apartment.  She could hear the clunking, clanging sounds of his body descending over the steps with their unyielding hardness that clearly made a less than comfortable impact upon his contours.
“Hart!” Jenna called out into the night when a silence swept over her once again.  Feeling her stomach tied in knots as a fear consumed her, she rushed to the top of the steps seeing Hart laying motionless at the bottom of the landing, his limbs thrown out around him as he lay face down on the ground before her.
“Oh God,” she gasped racing down the steps fearing that her actions may have proven fatal to the man she loved as she rushed to his side.  Seeing him look so helpless and motionless before her, a terrible feeling of dread hung over her heart as she knelt down beside him bringing her hand in towards him in an attempt to nudge him before she stopped herself mid-movement afraid that she would cause even more harm to him by moving him.
“Hart, can you hear me,” Jenna questioned unable to determine if he was breathing or not as he lay face to the pavement before her remaining lifeless it seemed.  Reluctantly she touched his shoulder hoping to get some kind of reaction from him, but only stillness surrounded her as worry caused a lump in the back of her throat, “What have I done?  Oh Hart, please…please tell me you’re okay…that you’re still alive as I can’t lose you like this.  Please Hart…” she leaned in closer to him finding the strength to move him despite her worries about what he may have injured in the fall.
Slowly Jenna pushed him over onto his back seeing the deep crimson bump forming on his forehead as a thin line of blood seemed to spring forth from his wound and she felt the wind taken from her.  Tears pooled in her eyes as she immediately regretted her moment of haste with him.  She hadn’t meant to hurt him--at least not like this as she was upset and broken hearted, but certainly not in the mood to be homicidal, but now as she turned her attention to the man who had turned her life around, she feared that she’d taken his from him.
“Hart, please tell me you’re alright,” Jenna tipped down over him, her hair falling over her shoulder as she found herself unable to contain her tears.  With shaky hands she extended her fingers towards him attempting to seek out a pulse when another yelp rose from the back of her throat at the thought of what she’d done, “Hart, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to do this.  I should’ve just listened to you and now…oh God, please don’t be dead because if you die on me, then I’ll never be able to forgive myself for killing the only man who has ever really meant anything to me.  I love you and I’m sorry for doing this as I wasn’t thinking.  I was just so angry and…” she stopped herself in the midst of her rambling as her logic started to carry over her and she found herself chastising herself for carrying on when Hart was in need of some kind of medical attention once again due to her thoughtless handy work.
“Jenna, stop this,” she snapped at herself bridging the distance between them as she sought out his pulse, “You need to think about what Hart needs and not keep carrying on like a lunatic.”
“I don’t mind,” Hart groaned as she pressed her fingers against his neck feeling his pulse, “though if I could pick a preference of what you should be saying, I’d like you to get back to that whole loving me thing if you don’t mind.”
“Hart,” Jenna’s eyes widened in surprise as his eyes fluttered to an open and he smiled up at her in the drunken haze of a man who’d clearly been through some kind of miserable experience.
“Hey beautiful,” Hart spoke lazily, his voice drifting with the breeze as his hand moved sluggishly on the pavement beside his fallen form.
“Hart, oh thank God.  Hart, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to do that,” Jenna reached out to touch his face seeing the results of her actions over him, “I was just so angry that I couldn’t think straight…”
“Jenna, it wasn’t what it looked like at the hospital,” Hart replied through gritted teeth as she tore off a piece of her t-shirt using it to dab at the blood on his forehead while trying to assess the damage she’d done.
“Hart, it’s okay.  Let’s not talk about that right now as we need to get you help.  We need to get you back to the hospital and…” Jenna began desperately hating to see him in this condition.
“No,” Hart’s eyes widened as his voice grew very adamant about the subject, “no hospitals as I’m not going back there.”
“But Hart you just fell down a flight of stairs and who knows what’s broken or injured,” she started reaching out to him, “I need to call for an ambulance and…”
“No, I’m not leaving you Jenna,” he argued with her, “as I’m not going to move from this spot until you understand what I need to say to you.”
“Hart, I don’t think that now is the time for that considering that…” she started with a sigh of frustration.
“It’s the perfect time for this as I need you to know that nothing was happening with Beth and I,” Hart shifted his eyes towards her once again, “Yes, we were lovers once upon a time, but it’s been over for a long time.”
“Hart, you don’t have to,” Jenna began again seeking out assistance as she realized that the parking lot was deserted for the first time in a long time.
“Yes, I do,” he winced closing his eyes once again, “Jen, she’s Callaway’s ex-wife.  She’s the reason he hates me so much and I can’t say I blame the guy because I did something really horrible there, but that doesn’t mean that I want to keep making the same mistakes in my life.”
“Hart please,” Jenna begged of him as she touched his face gently, “Just let me go upstairs and call for help.”
“No, Jenna, I need you to hear this.  I need you to know that I love you and that there is no other woman in this world that means as much to me as you do,” Hart pleaded with her, a desperation in his voice, “I know I can be a jackass at times, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about you.  You mean the world to me and I’d give anything and everything for the chance to be with you.”
“Hart, you don’t have to say this as right now that’s not important,” Jenna started to move away from him as he reached out to her grabbing her arm before she could walk away.
“Right now it’s the most important thing in the world to me Jenna.  I need you to know that I love you and I hope that despite what you think you saw, that you can find it in your heart to keep on loving me as well.  Please Jenna,” he continued his desperate plea, “you have to tell me that you have faith in me and that you trust that I would never go out of my way to hurt you like that--not when what we have is the most incredible, amazing thing in my life.”
“Oh Hart,” Jenna bit back on her tears as the way his words reached out to her seemed to melt her heart.
“I love you Jenna and if I have to leave this world, then I need you to know that you’re the only woman who has ever found a way to move me like this.  You’re the only one I’ve ever wanted to share my life with as I have so many things I wanted for our future together,” he whispered once again closing his eyes as Jenna felt an ache inside of her and she tipped down in over him, her eyes caressing the contours of his face as her heart ached for the way she’d let things get out of hand between them.
“I love you too Hart,” Jenna tipped down to kiss him tenderly, “I love you so much and I can’t lose you.  I don’t want to lose you--not now or ever…”
“Then don’t let go of me,” Hart pleaded with her, their eyes connecting once again as her felt her tears upon his face, “Jenna, please don’t throw me aside like this.”
“I won’t do that,” Jenna promised hating how things had taken place between them, “I love you too much for that Hart which is why you have to let me go back upstairs and call for help.”
“Not yet,” he shook his head as a shakiness overtook him, “please not yet…”
“Hart, we can’t keep putting off calling for help,” she explained thinking that the longer they waited to do something, the worse off he’d be.  “Please let me go call someone.”
“Fine, but first promise me something,” he urged as his eyes returned to hers once again.
“Jenna please,” he began again.
“What is it,” she questioned her voice softening with emotion as she kept her eyes upon him.
“Promise me that regardless of what happens in the future that you won’t run away from what we have before we have a chance to talk things through.  Promise me that you’ll give me the opportunity to prove to you just how much you mean to me.  Please Jenna…”
“Okay,” she nodded in agreement.
“Swear to it Jenna,” he insisted his eyes filled with emotion as his gaze remained fixed on her, “promise me that you’ll give me one more chance to make things right and another opportunity to love you regardless of what happens from this moment on.”
“I promise you that my heart belongs to you,” she confessed feeling the tears fall freely down her face as she inched down over him kissing him tenderly allowing the moment to linger between them before she reluctantly pulled away from him, “I need to go call for an ambulance Hart.”
“Jenna,” he spoke her name watching her make her way up the stairs as a pang of guilt tugged away at him and he sat upright dusting himself off before trucking up the stairs towards her.
“Don’t worry Hart.  I’m calling for help right now,“ she explained once she’d reached the top of the stairs ready to do whatever was necessary to help the man she loved through the situation she’d created when she suddenly felt a hand upon her shoulder.
“Jenna, that’s not really necessary,” Hart began as she spun around to find him standing behind her looking almost as good as new except for the bump still forming on the center of his head.
“What the…” Jenna’s jaw dropped as he breezed past her walking into her apartment as though he hadn’t had a care in the world before she marched in behind him feeling her anger beginning to return in the moment as she realized she’d just been played for a fool.  “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Getting you to remember that promise you made me,” Hart explained taking a seat on her couch as an air of confidence swept over him.
“I thought you were hurt and possibly dying, but clearly I was mistaken,” Jenna began outraged by the fact that Hart seemed completely fine in this moment as he stretched out over her sofa.  “I saw you fall down those stairs.”
“No my darling, you saw me take a crash course that seemed like disaster down the stairs as I didn’t mention to you before that I spent part of my junior year in college working as a stunt man learning stage dives in similar situations, now did I?”
“No you didn’t,” Jenna’s eyes burned with fury as she marched towards him.
“And here I thought I did,” he offered up a sly grin as he could see her about to explore with rage, “Look I didn’t mean to let things get out of hand as they did just now, but you weren’t listening to me so you left me no other choice.”
“I thought I nearly killed you, yet here you are manipulating me once again,” Jenna’s voice rose with anger, “Hart Steiner, have you no shame!”
“Not where you’re concerned,” he confessed pulling himself up off of the couch in a slow movement, “as desperate times called for desperate measures in this situation.”
“So you thought you’d fake a near death slip and fall to get my attention?” she blinked back at him incredulously.
“Hey, it worked didn’t it and besides you’re the one who had the bright idea to clock me with that damned ashtray which by the way hurt like hell I might add even if it just grazed over me,” he frowned in response, “so really this situation was all your doing.”
“Oh it’s so like a man to place blame on someone else rather than admit to the fact that they were wrong,” she placed her hands on her hips impatiently.
“I did what I had to do in order to get you to listen and yes, I’ll admit it was a shady move on my part, but I was running out of options since you refused to even give me a chance.”
“That’s because you blew it back at the hospital with that lip lock you were sharing with Elizabeth Raines.”
“Jenna, I already told you that she means nothing to me, but you, well you’re everything,” he moved in closer to her.
“Oh right,” she rolled her eyes, “and that’s why you felt compelled to lie to me just now.  You thought you could what?  You could make me feel like the most horrible person alive and then what?  That out of sympathy you’d be able to get on my good side again?”
“Well, yes, that was the general idea, but it sounded a bit more noble the way I reasoned it in my head than how you’re putting it at the moment,” he cut back with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “and besides does it really matter how we got back to this between us.”
“There is no this,” she waved her finger in the air wildly, “between us as I’m finished with you Hart.  I don’t have time for this kind of stupidity in my life.”
“It’s not stupidity,” he barked back at her with a huff, “It’s love Jenna and even you can’t deny that.”
“Love doesn’t mean you walk around acting like an imbecile and letting someone manipulate you time and time again into believing that they can be on the up and up with you about their heart,” Jenna insisted with a heavy frown.
“Love is about doing what is necessary to get through to the one you care about.  I was desperate Jenna and I couldn’t just lose you when we both know that we have far too much together to just let some stupid thing like Beth putting the moves in on me get between us.”
“Hart, look I’m well aware that you have a past, but maybe what happened tonight is a sign that we aren’t meant to be together,” Jenna continued on a rampage, “I mean my God, you nearly died when we tried to make love and now some woman from your past is back in your life again and…”
“And nothing.  Beth is just as you said.  She’s the past and you’re my future,” he bridged the distance between them, “Jenna, I love you and I know you love me as what we said outside proved that.”
“I thought you were hurt,” she curled her lip into a pout, “and if I’d known you weren’t I wouldn’t have said those things.”
“You’re a liar,” Hart challenged watching the way her eyes shifted, “as I know you love me just as much as I love you.”
“I do not,” Jenna argued with him, “I just felt sorry for you when you were laid out like that as I didn’t want your death on my playing on my conscience and now, well now I have no choice but to ask you to leave my apartment as I hate you.”
“You don’t hate me,” he took another step towards her watching as she stood frozen before him.
“Yes, I think I do,” she nodded emphatically, “as I won’t tolerate deceptions.”
“Even in the name of love,” Hart lifted a curious brow feeling an ache in his temple with the movement.
“You’re insane and this,” she insisted with a huff, “isn’t love.  This is just some delusion that I played into with you like an idiot.  Clearly I was out of my mind to think that you and I could ever be…”
Her words were cut off as Hart reached out to her drawing her into his arms and plummeting his mouth over hers in a wild, frantic display of passion.  He could feel her resistance, but he was refusing to allow her an out as it seemed that right now in this moment, he needed to prove himself to her more than ever.  A whimper rose from the back of her throat as she seemed to struggle with her emotions, but ultimately as her feelings for him got the best of her, she curled her arms around his shoulders drawing him nearer to her as the kiss expanded with the moment building into something more than she’d ever anticipated between them.
“Jenna,” he murmured her name watching the way her eyes filled with love for him as he kept her close to him.  He saw so many things reflected in her eyes as his fingers teased over her face, tracing the beautiful contours that had haunted his dreams for so very long.  He inched in closer to her dipping his mouth in over the lips that offered up a kiss unlike any other he’d ever experienced before he’d fallen in love with her.  It was those lips that had enchanted him and her kiss that had brought him out of the darkness that had dictated his life long before her arrival and it was in kissing those sensually sweet lips of hers that Hart felt himself caught up in the first breath of life at long last.
Slowly, his hands tapered off over her curves, tracing her spine as she dropped her arms around his waist hugging him in closer to her.  He could feel the warmth of her tempting him as her own touch burned him to the core with her exploratory touch.  Her fingers seemed to branch out beneath his shirt drawing it out of his pants as he reciprocated the gesture tearing her now tattered t-shirt up over her head with one quick motion to reveal her beauty to him once again.
“Hart,” she spoke his name feeling a breath catch in her throat as his gaze traveled casually over her curves as if to lock the moment between them.
“Shh…” he instructed placing his index finger over her soft curving lips as he saw so many things behind her dark eyes, “let’s not tempt fate in a moment like this.”
“Okay,” she nodded feeling him reach for her hand as he guided her through her apartment collecting her in his arms as they stood at the threshold of her bedroom with one another.  They parted a fraction of an inch from one another as their eyes reconnected revealing so many unspoken emotions between them.
Jenna felt her pulse leaping in the back of her throat before his tongue slid moistly between her parted lips and she found herself reveling in the simple pleasures of kissing him.  She thread her fingers through his hair, tugging on it gently as he coaxed her mouth into submission tantalizing her with every melding motion of his kiss.  His tongue flicked against hers tangling and teasing her with each second the kiss built a step closer towards the fulfillment of passion between them that had been long since evading their attempts at grabbing a hold of it.
Gently Hart’s hands dropped down over her waist squeezing her in against him anticipation burning him to the core as his palms pressed in over her hips, memorizing the sensuality of the moment before his touch crept in up over her spine.  A breath escaped Jenna’s lips as he unhooked her bra gently parting the material as she dropped her arms down at her sides offering herself to him.  They continued to watch one another, desire urging them closer to completion as he discarded her bra, feeling it fall to his feet before his palm swept up over her rib cage until he cupped her breast in his right hand melting her against his touch.
“Oh Hart,” she cried out feeling his thumb skim over her tense peak.  She dropped her head back feeling his lips travel over her shoulder nibbling teasingly over her heated skin as his tongue traced erotic patterns over her yearning body.
“You’re amazing Jenna,” he murmured palming her breast as his lips continued to taste the piece of heaven she’d offered him in a moment like this.  Unable to resist the urge to taste her more completely, he guided her towards the bed easing her onto the comforter before his lips claimed hers once again in a desperate union.
“This is insane,” she blurted out unable to believe that less than an hour before she was ready to write him out of her life, but now as his kisses tapered off over her body, his mouth creating an erotic combination of pleasure over her skin, she began to wonder what had even sparked her fury to begin with.
“Insanity suits us,” Hart nibbled on her soft skin, tracing his tongue over her soft fullness enjoying the way in which her body arched up towards his as he tasted her more completely.  Flicking his tongue against her hardening peak, he felt her cry out beneath him, losing herself to the moment of passion he’d stirred up inside of her as his palm pressed in over the unattended mound before him, caressing her to a state of dizzying ecstasy.  Feeling her writhe beneath him was all the encouragement he needed to continue to dispose of the barriers between them as there was nothing he wanted more in this world than to lose himself to desire within the arms of the woman he’d fallen head over hells in love with.  With a trail of heated kisses, Hart’s lips learned all the places on Jenna’s body that had been a mystery to him.  Only now as he familiarized himself with each new inch of her, he couldn’t help but feel himself falling harder by the moment as his urgency guided his movements in disposing of her slacks in this moment between them.
Once he’d finished disrobing, he stood at the edge of the bed taking in the breathtaking beauty before him as he tried to imagine his life without her.  Somehow the very thought of having lived this long without being able to share this part of himself with her was maddening as he was desperate to be near her, longing to hold her and to love her with no more disasters pressing upon them.  Overcome with love for the beauty before him, he returned to her kissing her with fiery intent as her arms curled around his body, welcoming every part of him within her love.
“Hart,” she murmured his name, her palms pressing in over his spine as her thighs brushed up against his body, parting to invite a closer union between them as the weight of the moment pressed down upon her.  As she felt a replay of all the disasters they’d experienced in the past with one another, she felt a sudden hesitation build up in the pit of her stomach as she continued to speak up in a heated whisper, “is this really happening or am I just dreaming again?”
“If it’s a dream, I never want to wake up from it,” he confessed dropping his lips over hers once again unable to contain himself as she curled her leg around his bottom, squeezing him in against her with the promise of completion tempting them harder than ever with each caress, every heated nibble in their kisses until Jenna broke from him breathlessly.
“Wait Hart,” Jenna started in a shallow pant straining to ward of any impending disaster as she felt the intensity of his eyes pressing over her.
“What’s wrong,” he questioned in confusion seeing the way in which a moment of panic pressed over her lovely features.
“I’m just covering all the bases,” Jenna explained breathlessly in between tiny kisses as her nails grazed over the muscled contours of his body loving every second of him over her.
“I’m already one up on you,” he assured her with a confident grin as he reached out beneath her on the comforter seeking out the foil packet he’d carried with him for such an event after the last time disaster chose to strike for them, “as I came prepared.”
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me,” Jenna teased swiping the package from his hand as her own smile started to tickle over her features, “I should’ve known that only you would hope to get lucky on a night like tonight.”
“Right now I feel like the luckiest man in the world well other than the throbbing ache in my temple, but I‘m willing to ignore that long enough for us to get back to where we started a while ago,” Hart confessed with a hint of a grin.

“You’re sure,” she searched his eyes for a long moment as he nodded eagerly.

“Oh yeah, I’m definitely sure about this one,” he nodded emphatically reaching for the condom once again as Jenna held it just out of his reach shaking her head at him.
“Allow me,” she urged him on placing her hand over the center of his chest before pressing him back onto the blankets.  An eager expression washed over her features as Hart lay back on her bed, awaiting her instructions as she climbed in over him, straddling his thighs brazenly.  Her hand dipped down to touch his straining masculinity now revealed to her in the glorious splendor of full arousal as she touched him.  Stroking him gently she watched his eyes divide with the combination of pleasure and sweet torture she was inflicting upon him with her skilled caress as a breath escaped his lips.
“Jenna, baby please,” he groaned unable to contain himself as his body arched up towards her, feeling her exquisite blend of torture over him.
“I never did tell you just how very impressed with you I was the last time we were like this,” Jenna leaned forward, her hair dropping down over her shoulder and tickling his thighs as she continued to touch him, watching the way he was at her mercy before she bridged the distance between them taking the time to taste the fire burning beneath the surface as she took him between her lips.
“Oh God Jenna,” Hart bucked up against her feeling himself mesmerized by the way she was pleasuring him as suddenly things seemed to be building up into something that he wasn’t quite sure he could control any longer.  With each flick of her tongue over him, he felt himself closer to the edge and as he thought to how long they’d waited for this moment between them, he reached out to her struggling to fight the feeling building up inside of him as she had him at her complete disposal, “Jenna wait…”
“Hart, you’re just so very amazing,” she murmured against his passion flushed body seeing the way she’d managed to mesmerize him completely as she rolled the condom over him before repositioning herself above him.
“You’re the amazing one Jenna,” he replied unable to get enough of her as his gaze traveled over her desperate for so much more as his hands dropped down over her hips guiding them closer to completion with one another.
“That’s all you have to say at a time like this, huh,” she teased with a tiny giggle wiggling over him in such a fashion that he feared desire would overtake him, but before he could get carried away with the moment, he squeezed her hips gently keeping her still above him.
“I just need you to know something before we do this Jenna,” Hart began to sit up as he held her over him, teetering on the brink of completion.
“Yes,” she questioned, her eyes glazed over with passion as she shifted over him.
“I love you,” he confessed pulling her body in over his, feeling the world stand still as she sheathed him, bringing them to completion with one another at long last.
“I love you too,” she whispered against his mouth capturing his lips in another explosive kiss before rising up on her knees to break away from him only to come crashing down over him again and again as their love making began a reality in this moment of togetherness.
Keeping his eyes on Jenna’s, Hart guided their movements setting a rhythm between them as Jenna’s breaths came out in low, shallow pants only further encouraging him as he watched the way they were together in the moment, bodies and hearts in complete union as passion built and expanded between them.  His lips skimmed over her breasts tasting and teasing her as she rocked over him, their movements more desperate and wild as unrestrained of cries built up inside of her.
Unable to contain himself a moment longer, Hart curled his arms around her waist, pushing her back onto the mattress feeling the need for more control of their movements with one another.  He buried himself inside of her entering her again and again with thrust after desperate thrust as his fingers sought out hers, lacing their hands together.  He urged them up over head, his eyes drawn to her mouth as slow whimpers erupted from inside of her.  She arched up into him, her body bursting with desire until the moment exploded between them and carried her away to the heavens with him riding the wonderful waves of her eruptions until he too was carried away by the moment losing himself to the magic of the woman he loved as she was lost in a world of desire that only existed between them.
As their passion began to subside, Hart drank up the residual cries that fell from her lips after their trip to the heavens slowly brought them back to the moment with one another.  Feeling her damp skin against his, he couldn’t help but imagine anything more perfect than this moment with her as he rolled onto his back taking her with him as she snuggled into his chest caught up in the rapture of what had just transpired between them.  A long silence carried over them as Hart’s finger tips teased over her spine cradling her in against him.
“Hey beautiful,” Hart murmured feeling himself lost in a drunken haze as Jenna’s love had intoxicated him on so many unspoken levels as in holding her like this, he found himself in a moment of sheer bliss wanting nothing more than to have it last forever.  When she didn’t respond, he felt a moment of uneasiness creep in over him as he lifted his head to look at her, “Jenna, hey are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she nodded tilting her eyes up towards him as a smile crept in over her features, “it’s just that this was…well that it’s just…”
“Just what?” Hart questioned seeing the cryptic expression that pressed over her sexy, passion flushed features as she crawled up over his body bringing her lips just above his.
“Just wow,” she breathed melting her mouth to his in a tender kiss as his arms curled around her keeping her as close as possible as their kiss ended and he noticed the smile that still lit up her features, “and to think the world hasn’t ended.”
“No, I don’t think it has,” Hart agreed with a teasing grin, “although if it has, right now that’s truly irrelevant to me.”
“Funny thing,” Jenna giggled as her voice held a low, sultry air to it, “I was just experiencing that same thought.”
“I guess it just proves we’re more in sync with one another than you want to admit,” he eased his fingertips lazily over her spine, impressing her warmth into his every synapse.
“Either that or we’ve both completely lost our minds,” she teased nibbling on his lip gingerly as a low purr seemed to resonate from within, “though right now I really don’t give a damn what the logical explanation for this is.”
“Why it’s quite simple,” Hart confessed squeezing her in his arms before rolling over her once again as a seriousness enveloped the moment, “as logic has nothing to do with what this is because it’s love Jenna.  That’s the only explanation.”
“Love huh,” she repeated with an overwhelmingly beautiful smile, “well if that’s what you want to call it, I suppose I might be up for accepting that especially since we’re both still breathing and feeling very satisfied I might add.”
“Hmm, well maybe that’s a sign that our luck is changing,” he murmured skimming his lips over her shoulder, “and with that thought in mind, maybe we should work on testing the waters to see just how much more we’ve got ahead of us.”

“How’s your head,” she questioned gently.

“Well I’m certainly seeing stars, but it has nothing to do with that ashtray you launched at me and entirely everything to do with you,” he confessed leaning up to catch her lips in a heated kiss, “as you’ve inspired so many sinful notions in me tonight that I’m quite certain we’ll have to try out.  I mean hey, you don’t want me to fall asleep at a time like this with the impending threat of a concussion, do you?”
“Oh you are feeling daring now, aren’t you,” she giggled feeling his fingers brush over the dip of her hip.
“Hey, I nearly died twice tonight and I still can’t find myself unable to get enough of you,” he motioned to his head, “so maybe you can take this as you’ve finally knocked some sense into me because I’m very dedicated to exploring this new phase of our relationship.”
“I just bet you are,” she laughed lightly as he threw her a pointed look.
“I dare you to try and tell me that you didn’t just enjoy what happened between us,” Hart threw back at her.
“Hmm, well the memory is a bit hazy and as you said you did hit your head there, so maybe what you’re thinking it was isn’t nearly as amazing as you believe considering that…” her words were cut off as he tickled her sides with a newfound determination.
“I’ll show you a whole new meaning of amazing,” Hart taunted unable to resist the urge to play around with her as she threw her arms around him, her dark sultry eyes filled with that same desire he’d experienced moments earlier when she was at her most vulnerable, wild and free in the heat of the moment with him as she lost control.
“God I hope so,” Jenna blurted out kissing him heatedly as Hart realized that while fate had been set on giving them a hard time, this experience with Jenna had been well worth the wait and now that he’d had a taste of her, he was going to explore all the many facets of the newfound bond between them for all it was worth as nothing was going to keep him from the woman who’d captured his heart and taught him what it was like to fall in love at long last.


Jade stepped into Gabe’s hotel room before she tripped over her own feet and landed in the floor.  She burst into a bundle of giggles as she lay on the plush carpet and rolled to her back.


Gabe shook his head with a wry grin as he switched on the lights and closed the door behind him.  He crouched beside her and extended his hand to her, “Come on.  Let’s get you to the sofa, and I’ll order some coffee.”


“No, not coffee,” She looked around the room, “Where’s the mini bar?”


“I think you’ve had enough alcohol for one night,” He informed her as he helped her off the floor and set her down on the sofa, “Stay right there.”


“Where else am I going to go?” She said as she leaned over on the cushions and turned to watch him walk towards the telephone, “Gabe, you’re a really nice guy, you know.”


“Thanks,” He smiled as he picked up the phone, “Room Service?  Yes, I’d like a pot of very strong, very black coffee as soon as possible.  Thank you,” He hung up the phone and moved back to her side, “Jade, are you okay?” He asked as he touched her cheek gently, “You don’t look so good.”


Jade looked at him through bleary eyes before she took a deep breath and spoke seriously, “Are you sure you’re gay?” She stopped suddenly, “Oh god, can I call you that or does that offend you?  I didn’t mean to offend you.”


“You didn’t offend me,” He assured her.


“But you know,” She sighed, “You’re such a great guy, and it’s a damn shame that you’re interested in guys,” She frowned, “It’s too bad.  We need good guys who aren’t self destructive and are loyal and mean what they say when they give you your word.”


“Sounds like you’re wanting the exact opposite of the man you’re in love with,” Gabe observed, “Maybe that should be your clue.”


“No,” She declared firmly, “I love Grady.  I do.  I’d just really like to beat some sense into him,” She frowned.


“Inflicting violence isn’t exactly something you do to someone you love,” He advised her.


“Oh come on.  Aren’t there times when you’d like to smack your guy upside the head to knock some sense into him?” She asked, “I’m not saying I’d like to kill Grady, but boy he could use a little whack upside his noggin.”


“Noggin?” Gabe asked with a laugh, “I think you need that coffee a little more than I thought.”


“I just love Grady so much,” She said as she broke down into tears, “I love him, and I want to help him but he just doesn’t seem to want that.  All he wants to do is make his life worse.  It’s like he doesn’t even realize that he’s making himself even more miserable,” She wiped tears from her eyes, “I just want to make him happy.  Is that so horrible of me?”


“No, it’s not horrible at all,” He replied as he hugged her close to him, “You’re a good person, and you just want to share that with a man who can appreciate it.  It’s not a bad thing at all.”


“But…I just…how can I get him to see that I want the best for him?” She cried as she leaned into him.


“I don’t know the answer to that one, Jade.  If I did, I’d have things all worked out with my Guy,” He relayed sadly as the telephone began to ring.  He groaned slightly, “Let me get that.”


“Okay.  Hopefully it’s your Guy and he wants to see you.  It’d be nice to see a couple work things out for a change,” Jade said as she wiped tears from her cheeks.


Gabe answered the telephone as he looked back towards Jade, “Hello?”


“Gabe, if you think sending your lawyer after me is going to stop me from doing what I want for our daughter, you’re sadly mistaken,” Noelle screamed at him over the phone.


“Noelle, I’m really not in the mood to argue with you right now.  You are not going to make life altering decisions for our daughter without my participation,” He declared.


“This isn’t about you, Gabe.  This boarding school is the best, and she could really learn a lot there.”


“She’s six years old, Noelle.  I hardly think that’s old enough to be shipped off to Europe by herself.  If you’re in such a big hurry to be rid of her, I’ll gladly take custody of her.”


“Like hell you will.  I’ll not have my daughter raised by you and your little boyfriend,” Noelle screeched.


“And I’ll not have you banishing Brittany to some girls only school in Europe where she has no family.”


“And you want to give her a family?” She snorted, “If you wanted to do that, you wouldn’t have abandoned us to chase some boy toy around.”


“That wasn’t what happened, and you know it,” Gabe argued, “You know what?  We’re not having this argument.  I’m done with you tonight, Noelle.  We’ll talk about this later,” He said firmly as he hung up the phone.  At that same moment, a knock at the door announced the arrival of room service.  He opened the door and accepted the coffee, tipped the delivery boy and moved to the sofa with Jade.


“Jade?  Jade?” Gabe asked as he looked to her, realizing she had passed out on him and was now hanging halfway off the sofa.  He shook his head as he slipped off her shoes and positioned her on the sofa comfortably.  He covered her with a soft throw and placed the coffee aside.  He moved back to his own bed and began to undress.  He knew that tomorrow morning would be hell on earth for Jade, and he would need his rest to help her through the hellacious hangover she was bound to have.


Grady slammed the door closed as he marched over to the coffee table and placed down the brown bag he’d gotten from the package store. He shrugged out of his jacket and sat down on his sofa. He stared at the brown bag for a moment as he thought of what had driven him here.

He wasn’t a happy man…he wasn’t sure he ever had been. Things had always gone wrong for him especially when he’d planned something for the future. He had planned happiness for himself and Jade, and what had happened? He’d screwed it up. Just like always.

He pushed down the brown bag to reveal the bottle of bourbon he’d purchased. He tore off the wrapper around the neck and opened the bottle. He stared at the bottle for a moment more before he put the bottle to his lips and chugged down a big gulp.

He hadn’t intended to indulge in his biggest vice at all tonight. In fact, he’d avoided temptation when Susan had tempted him with a blatant offer of bourbon. He’d been proud of himself when he’d refused her and left her standing alone in the bar. He’d avoided temptation…until he’d seen Jade outside the club.

Grady chugged down a long drawl of bourbon before he let out a slow breath. He’d recognized the guy as the man who’d brought Seth to his house drunk. It wouldn’t have mattered as much had she just been with him, but she was being cute and playful and reminded him of all the times she’d been that way with him.

He took another long drawl and licked his lips. He loved Jade. It was never a question of love. Instead it was a question of his inability to behave himself when it came to Avery.

Avery. That woman had done nothing but drive him insane for years. She’d been a total pain in the ass from day one, and while she’d made Russ happy for a few years, the misery she’d left him in afterwards made the happiness pale in comparison. And now that she was back in the Denton circle, she was inflicting that misery upon Grady.

Grady chugged more of the potent alcohol before he stood up and walked across the room. He needed to burn off some of the anger he was feeling about that woman. If it weren’t for her inflicting herself on Russ all over again, Grady would be spending the evening with Jade instead of drinking all over again. If it weren’t for Avery, Jade wouldn’t be flirting with another man. If it weren’t for Avery…if only it weren’t for Avery…

With that thought in mind, he took another hearty gulp of the bourbon and plucked his keys from the coffee table where he’d discarded them. He twirled the keys on his finger as he grasped his bourbon bottle by the neck and made his way to the door. Why should he be miserable alone when the person who’d caused all this was probably at home getting doted on by his idiot brother? He wasn’t going to let that continue as he wanted to make Avery feel his pain as intensely as he did, and he was going to make her feel every bit of his misery right now.


“Well tonight was interesting to say the least,” Mindy began turning her attention to the stars above as she and Guy strolled along the neighborhood with one another making their way towards her apartment once again.
“I’m just sorry that it had to be such a downer with all the things that are happening with my Mum,” Guy sighed lost in the concerns that had carried over him about his mother’s abduction, “as this is one of the last things I’d wanted to have to be worried about.”
“Guy, I know how hard this is on you and I just want you to know that regardless of what happens, I’m here for you,” Mindy reached for his hand as they strolled down the sidewalk side by side.  Lacing their fingers within one another, she began to swing his arm out with each forward step they’d made with one another.  She turned her eyes towards him seeing so much sadness hanging over him as her heart ached for the pain he was experiencing in this moment in time, “Somehow your mom will come home to you again.”
“I just hope it’s not in pieces or in a box,” Guy sighed stopping mid-step as he turned to face her, “because I don’t know how I’m going to deal with something like that if this doesn’t pan out.”
“Guy, they’re going to find a way to keep that from happening,” Mindy offered up in encouragement as her dark eyes fixed upon him, “You just have to believe…”
“You’re asking me to put implicit faith into the law enforcement people here and well, they aren’t exactly on the top of the reliability list it seems,” Guy pointed out with a heavy frown, “I mean sure, they mean well, but really when it gets down to it, my mother isn’t much more to them than another case that needs to be solved one way or another whether she’s alive or dead.”
“God, you’re just full of morbid thoughts tonight, aren’t you,” Mindy scowled up at him, “You know if you keep on thinking that way, you’re going to be bound to drive yourself straight to the point of madness in no time.”
“You wouldn’t be any different if something happened to your mother,” Guy pointed out with a matching scowl of his own, “Speaking of which, care to tell me how it is you wound up spending your time out here instead of with her over at her place?”
“Please don’t tell me your mother has rubbed off on you about where a person should be on a socioeconomic status there,” Mindy’s lip curled in a pout as she saw something spark behind his eyes upon her words.
“Mindy, it’s got nothing to do with your status, but more so, well to be honest with you, the place you’re staying at is a dump.  It’s not at all where you should be as it’s this little hole in the wall that isn’t at all what you need,” he insisted a seriousness sweeping over him as he fixed his gaze upon her.
“It might not be much, but it’s mine,” Mindy stated matter of fact, “I mean sure I could easily stay with my mother and mooch off of her and her successes, but I’d really rather not considering that this is about me and my making it in the world.”
“You’ve done rather well for yourself which is why I don’t understand you’re staying at that place,” Guy continued as they started towards her apartment once again, “I mean clearly you’re making enough money to stay somewhere that’s a bit nicer.”
“Hmm, yeah I could do that, but then I’d have to slave my life away making the payments and everything else that comes along with it.  Here the rent is cheap and the neighbors kind of just stick to themselves.  It’s a place where I can just do my thing and no one really asks questions I suppose,” Mindy shrugged her shoulders as a smile spread over her features, “I mean hey the way I see it, I’m making my own rules and living life the way I want to.”
“I totally respect that, but at the same time you really should think about some place a little less, well,” he paused searching for the right words, “I mean Mindy, that area of town isn’t exactly the safest place to be.”
“I’m not exactly a fragile flower her Guy,” Mindy reminded him with a spunkiness in her tone, “I do know martial arts you know.”
“Even so that doesn’t amount to much when someone runs in with a gun demanding violence,” Guy pointed out once again shaking his head as he could see her stubborn, independent side coming to the surface, “I mean really how bad would it be to move somewhere on the other side of town…”
“It wouldn’t be who I am,” Mindy argued with him, “and you of all people should know how that isn’t a thing you want to do.  I mean if you think about it, all my life I’ve had to struggle.  Sure, my mom might have it all now, but she had to work for it.  When my father took off leaving her alone with a daughter to raise on her own, she had to take job after pathetic job that was beneath her just because she was naïve enough to let someone promise her the world.”
“Mindy, your mother’s come a long way in her life,” Guy started sensing a sadness in her voice.
“Even so, with having me so young, she had no money, no education and no family considering that my grandparents shunned her after she found herself in such a disastrous position.  We kept going from place to place trying to make it until one day my mother decided to take fate into her own hands and make things happen by going back to school and fighting for her place in the world,” Mindy thought back to her tense years as a child, “Mom and I made it and now, well now I guess I’m just trying to follow in her footsteps and make my own mark.”
“But you already have,” Guy stopped her touching her shoulder gently as their eyes connected beneath the winter moonlight, “as you’re an incredible woman with a heart of gold and a spirit unlike any other…”
“Even so,” Mindy sighed feeling a wind whip up around her face causing her hair to move with the breeze, “I just have to prove to myself that I can make it on my own.  That I can find it in me to become half the woman my mother became.”
“You are,” Guy insisted watching something build over her face as it felt like a combination of sadness and something else he couldn’t quite place, “You’re twice the woman she is.  I mean don’t get me wrong, your mom is a great person with a wonderful heart, but you have that extra something special that makes you…”
“What?” Mindy questioned feeling a chill sweep over her cheeks tickling at her face.
“Sensational,” Guy smiled down at her, “Mindy, I have no doubt in my mind that one day you’re going to make your mark in this world and when you do, well everyone had better watch out because you’re going to knock them dead.”
“Oh boy,” Mindy laughed lightly shaking her head at him, “we’re going back to flattery.  Now I know I’m in trouble.”
“It’s not flattery.  It’s the truth,” he reached out to touch her cheek gently, “as you know I wouldn’t give you anything less than that.”
“I know that Guy,” she nodded feeling a silence sweep over them as her gaze drifted over his lips remembering the days when they’d been hers to share in a moment of tenderness--when kissing him for hours seemed to be the miracle cure to whatever was bothering her, but now as she thought to their current situation, she realized how off limits he had become to her and she forced herself to turn away clearing her throat as she stepped forward, “My place isn’t really that bad.  I mean sure it needs a little fixing up there, but it has potential.”
“Maybe in an alternate universe, but Mindy darling that place is so not you,” Guy sped up to stride beside her as he thought to the small apartment he’d visited her at, “You deserve a palace.”
“What so I can live like a queen like you do?” she threw back with a teasing wink.
“Hey, I’ll have you know I have an incredible place in Europe.  One that would knock your socks off and well, while I’m staying at Avery’s while I’m in town, it does have some serious potential,” he informed her proudly thinking to his current living space.
“Yeah, well your sister has great taste and amazing luck in some areas,” Mindy sighed heavily, “I mean what woman wouldn’t want what she has?”
“You mean a psychotic ex-boyfriend trying to take away the life she’s worked so hard to have for herself,” Guy questioned in confusion surprised by her words.
“No silly,” she shook her head turning her eyes towards him for a brief moment, “I mean in having someone who loves her so very completely that when they’re together, the whole world seems right.  You know to have that kind of love that epic romances are written about--to know that your soul mate is there with you and regardless of what the world throws at you, he’ll be the one to support you every step of the way.”
“Oh Mindy, sweetheart, did you join the Harlequin book of the month club yet again,” Guy couldn’t help but tease bringing his arm around her shoulders with a tiny laugh as she poked him in the ribs.
“Guy, I’m totally serious on this one,” Mindy’s lip curled in a pout, “You can’t honestly tell me that you look at Russ and Avery and don’t find yourself just a tad bit envious of what they have together.”
“Actually, I think that there’s a lot of work that goes into what they have and I’ve seen my sister shed a lot of tears over that man,” Guy admitted thinking to his sister’s tortured romance with Russell, “They’ve had about as many downs as they’ve had ups through the years.”
“But when they’re together, the way they light up a room,” Mindy explained feeling a sentimentality creep in over her, “it’s just pure magic.”
“Oh boy,” Guy groaned inwardly, “not you too.”
“Hey, what’s wrong with believing in the dream that one day happily ever after could exist for you,” Mindy questioned with a scowl, “I mean you were ready to sing the praises of romance a short time ago yourself.”
“Yeah well that was before things got complicated,” Guy frowned as his thoughts drifted back to Gabe and he found himself wondering why Gabe hadn’t picked up the phone and called him just once.  Sure Noelle had a tendency to make things difficult for Gabe, but Guy had hoped that his lover would’ve found a moment to just check in--to just call to say that he was thinking about him and that things would work themselves out as Gabe had done in the past.
“Complications are often a sign of troubles that people aren’t really ready to face when they thing all the world is right in a relationship,” Mindy piped in interrupting his thoughts as he eyed her curiously.
“I thought you were just preaching about romance and happily ever after,” Guy gave her a strange look.
“Well yes, but sometimes complications arise because the road to happiness isn’t the one that we’re taking,” Mindy continued with a certain passion in her voice, “I mean for example, take a person who spends forty years working in the same dead end job claiming that it keeps them content until they retire and reflect on the years they’ve wasted in misery when their real destiny was just waiting for them to take it by the reigns and turn it into a reality.  It’s just an endless string of missed opportunities filled with complications and signs that were there along the way that the situation that person was in wasn’t the right path, but by the time they see the truth to where they belonged, it’s too late for them.”
“Now who’s being morbid,” Guy questioned arching his brow as she shook her head at him in frustration.
“You’re just never going to get it, are you Guy?  You are just too caught up in what you think you’re supposed to be doing and what you think that is where you’re meant to be that you can’t see what’s right in front of you because you’d rather just ignore the moment as it’s happening before you,” Mindy declared with a huff balling her fists at her side as anger flashed behind her eyes.
“Mindy, sometimes a moment fees like it’s happening for a perfectly good reasoning, but in reality it more than likely isn’t meant to be happening at all,” Guy stated plainly sensing something more to where the conversation was headed as she shook her head at him.  A groan spilled from her lips as she stepped in towards him.
“You are such a clueless idiot sometimes and I don’t know why I waste my time with you Guy,” her voice grew in intensity as she looked to the ground, “You really don’t know a good thing when it’s well within your reach.”
“Mindy, I do, but I just…” Guy began seeing her apartment complex just up ahead as she turned away from him.
“Save it Guy,” she cut him off abruptly forcing herself to stop from looking at him, “as I don’t want to hear it.”
“Maybe not, but maybe we should get things clear as I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings between us,” he reached out to her touching her shoulder gently as she spun around to face him tears pooling in her eyes.
“Oh believe me I wish it were that simple Guy, but it’s not.  Here I thought I could do this--that I could bring myself to not feel anything for you after all this time, but here you are again.  I really believed that when I found out you were gay that I could deal with the situation.  For a long time I tried to think of all the things I could’ve done wrong because in my heart I loved you with everything I had and I wanted so much for us.  Even now as I stand here trying to deny my heart, all I can think about is how much you mean to me--about how much I haven’t stopped caring about you…”
“Mindy, I care about you too,” Guy began gently hating to see her tears as she stood taller shaking her head at him wildly.
“No Guy, you don’t get it,” she argued with him, her voice a broken sob as her eyes fixed upon his, “Guy, I love you and I’ve never loved anyone like I love you and knowing that I can never be with you, well it’s only making me crazy and I hate being crazy as it’s the last thing I ever wanted in my life.”
“Mindy,” he reached out for her once again seeing how hurt she was as she shrugged out of his reach.
“Please Guy,” she closed her eyes taking in a desperate breath, “don’t make this any worse as I already feel like a fool.”
“You aren’t a fool as you’re an incredible, wonderful woman,” he stepped in towards her unable to find the right words as his arms curled around her waist feeling her soft sobs into his chest as his heart broke in two at the thought of what he was doing to her in forcing her to play a part in his life that was clearly tearing her apart, “Mindy, I’m so sorry.”
“So am I,” she continued breaking into tiny cries as she held onto him, “I just don’t understand why.  I don’t see why you can’t just love me--why you can’t just feel for me the way that I…” she took in a heaving breath as she tilted her head up towards him, her eyes burning with frustrated tears as he held her, “Guy, why can’t you just…”
“Mindy,” he started struggling to find the right words as he wanted to kick himself over and over again for hurting her, for causing her the tears that had carried her into a world of misery.  He felt her breaking down faster by the moment, falling to a despair as his arms caged around her and in that instant he felt far worse than he’d ever anticipated feeling about the deceptions he’d been keeping from the world around him.  While he’d been so adamant about not letting his mother know about his relationship with Guy before the time was right, he’d not only alienated himself from his lover, but now he’d hurt the greatest, most wonderful friendship he’d ever known, “I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry just isn’t good enough Guy.  It’s not what I need from you,” Mindy blurted out harshly as she threw her arms around him desperately unable to contain herself as her mouth sought out his kissing him with an unfulfilled longing that rocked Guy’s world into a state of stupor.  He could taste the saltiness of her tears as she continued to claim his mouth seeking out the one thing he’d denied her since he’d returned to town and as his arms still held her, he found himself hating how hard he’d pushed her into his world of deception as he could feel her anguish behind the determined kiss.
“Mindy,” he breathed as she tore herself away from him, tears streaming down her cheeks as she took a step back shaken by what had transpired.
“Oh God…” she gasped in horror turning away in a haste, “I’m sorry…”
“Mindy wait,” Guy pleaded with her watching her race off to her apartment as he stood beneath the moonlight feeling like quite possibly the worst man in the world after the way he’d treated her.  He hadn’t taken her feelings into consideration and now as she fled from him, he wanted nothing more than to erase the pain that he’d caused her--that he’d caused everyone as she slipped away into the night making her way to her apartment alone.
Time seemed to stand still as the world came crashing down around Guy.  In that instant he felt more alone than ever as he’d alienated Gabe and Mindy from his life all in a quest to please his mother with the lies that he’d kept for so very long.  Even now as he thought to his mother’s kidnapping, he wondered if he’d ever get the chance to be honest with her about his heart.  Then again, as he thought to the pain and sadness behind Mindy’s eyes, he began to question just what was in his heart as clearly he wasn’t the man he thought he was if he could only cause pain and misery to those he loved.  First, he’d pushed Gabe away and now as Mindy rushed off, he felt yet another piece of him slipping away.
“I can’t do this,” Guy mouthed to himself pushing his pride aside as he chased off after Mindy refusing to leave things unsettled between them as he needed her in his life.  He needed her to understand how he felt for her--how he loved her and cared for her and never meant to hurt her in all of this.  She was the one special person in his life and in a strange way they’d been like cosmic soul mates.  Sure, it might not have been how she’d anticipated it being, but the simple truth was that a part of her held his heart and her friendship meant the world to him and that was something worth fighting for.
Feeling like the worst possible person in the world in a moment like this, Guy made his way to her less than savory apartment ready to grovel and do whatever it took to redeem himself in her eyes as he couldn’t bear the thought of losing her as well.  He needed her to see just how special she was to him and now as he entered the hallway leading to her apartment, he noticed that her apartment door was opened just a bit as if it had been torn open in a haste.  His heart thudded in his chest as he drew in a slow breath, tentatively approaching the apartment as he wondered just what he could do or say to make the situation right.
Slowly pushing the door to her apartment open, Guy peered inside seeking her out as his eyes fell upon something far worse than Mindy in the midst of a heartbreak.  There before him on the floor were the remains of her belongings, shattered and torn apart as it seemed that someone had ransacked her apartment in their absence.  Suddenly panic flooded over him as he feared the worst, wondering if something had happened to his best friend in the short time they’d been separated.  Making his way through the apartment, he could see that whomever had been inside had managed to tear the whole place apart as he pushed his way into the bedroom seeing the same treatment that the living room had gotten.
“Mindy,” Guy called out her name half expecting her to be hiding somewhere when he heard the sounds of sobbing from the small laundry area just off to the side of the kitchen.  Stepping forward, he peered into the small space finding her crouched down on the floor as her clothing was scattered around the floor, in a sheer hurricane of disaster as she knelt down beside a broken piece of some kind of ceramic.
“Go away,” Mindy sobbed lightly keeping her eyes on the pieces of shattered ceramic in her hand.
“Mindy, what happened,” he questioned refusing to leave her as he knelt down beside her assessing the damage that had been done while they were out.
“I suppose you were right,” she threw back at him with tear filled eyes, “Not only is my love life a complete mess, but someone decided to show me just what a mistake I was making in trying to claim something as my own with this place.  The door was open when I got home and everything of any kind of importance is gone.  My jewelry, the television and the DVD player…” she sniffled curling her fingers around the fragments of ceramic in hand, “even my savings.  I had all of my money tucked away in this jar that you and I made back in high school and now…” she motioned to the few coins on the floor, “that’s all there is.”
“Oh Mindy,” Guy reached out to her hugging her in his arms tightly, “I’m so sorry…”
“It just figures,” she continued to cry unable to contain herself as she broke down in his arms, “first I go and make a mess of things with you and now, well now I lose everything else I had going for me.”
“No, that’s not true,” he whispered as he squeezed her tighter in his arms, “you haven’t lost everything as you still have me.”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes as she forced herself to look at him, “Don’t patronize me at a time like this as I know what this means.  You’re just trying to make me feel better and shut me up long enough to get through this mini-crisis so that you can ship me back off to my mother’s where you both can say I told you so…”
“No, actually I wasn’t thinking anything even remotely like that at all,” he whispered dropping a kiss down on her forehead before squeezing her in his arms once again, “as I was thinking something more along the lines of us calling the police over and then cleaning this place up a bit before we went back to Avery’s place for tonight.”
“Avery’s place,” she repeated in confusion as her eyes turned to him once again.
“That’s right,” he nodded wiping at her cheeks gently, “I mean hey I’m a jackass and it’s the least I can do.”
“I don’t want your pity Guy,” Mindy frowned sitting up straighter as she attempted to pull herself out of his arms.
“Good because you aren’t getting any of it,” Guy threw back at her sharply, “as my invitation had nothing to do with pity and everything to do with what you mean to me.”
“Guy…” Mindy began again confusion setting in over her features as he wiped at her cheek, brushing the tears away with his thumb as he held her.
“Look Mindy, I can’t promise you I can give you what you want as you and I both know things aren’t that easy,” he leaned in towards her catching her lips in a tender barely there brush of a kiss before he pulled back pressing his forehead against hers and closing his eyes, “Mindy, I don’t want to ruin what we have with one another as you mean the world to me regardless of what happens next.”
“You mean the world to me too Guy,” Mindy confessed feeling her own eyelids heavy as he held her in his arms offering up a moment of safety and security despite the ways her world had been turned upside down in a matter of minutes.
“Then let me help you through this,” he pleaded with her, “Let’s help each other and see what we can do to keep this pain from being the thing that tears us apart.”
“Guy, I’m not asking you to change who you are as I know that you can’t do that no matter how hard I want you to be the man I’ve longed to share my life with,” Mindy whispered drawing in a slow, trembling breath, “I know that’s asking the impossible and after what I did earlier…”
“How about we just forget about that for now and focus on straightening things up around here,” he suggested gently as he continued to embrace her, “We’ll call the police and then go to Avery’s and start over again in the morning.  We’ll sit down and have a real talk about things and about what happens next.  I know I’ve been unfair to you and I think we really need some time to sort things out…”
“I think so too,” Mindy agreed accepting his offer as she found herself wondering why things had to be so damned complicated in her life after all this time.  If only she’d found it in her heart to fall for someone other than her gay best friend because despite the way Guy was trying to ease the situation, she knew that there was nothing ahead for her, but a road of heartbreak if she didn’t try to stop putting her heart out on the line for a man who clearly would never be hers.


“You’re quiet tonight,” Russell noted watching his wife as she tossed her dishtowel down on the counter top after they’d worked on cleaning up their kitchen with one another after the dinner they’d shared with Guy and Mindy.
“I guess I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” Avery shrugged her shoulders simply spinning around to face him as he held his arms out towards her motioning for her to join him.
“Come here baby,” he urged her on wrapping her up in his arms as he hugged her in closer to him.  He kissed the top of her head feeling her snuggle into him as he could still sense something weighing on her mind, “Hey, you know you don’t have to censor yourself around me as you never felt the need to do it before.”
“Gee, you make me sound like I’ve said some horrible things,” Avery half groaned gazing up at him.
“Well, you’ve threatened to kill me only about half a million times for irritating you, so you know I think I’m open to hear anything else that’s on your mind,” he couldn’t help but tease proud that he’d managed to elicit a smile from her sad lips as she hugged him once again.
“I’m just thinking about Guy,” Avery sighed laying her head upon his chest listening to the sounds of his heart beating beneath her as she closed her eyes savoring the moment between them, “I just hate that he’s hurting like this when this could be all because of me.”
“Avery, it’s not your fault that things happened like they did with Brooke,” Russell tried to remind her as she seemed to tense up in his arms pulling away from him a moment later.
“Russ, I’m the one who brought that man into all of our lives and I’m the reason why he’s doing this,” she pointed out with a frown reaching for one of the plates they’d missed during their clean up of the kitchen.  She carried it over to the sink turning her attention to scrubbing away at it as her thoughts became obsessive, “If I’d just been honest and open with you about the situation that was happening instead of running away and hiding like a child, then I could’ve avoided all of this pain that I’ve put upon everyone.  You never would’ve had your heart ripped out like that and my mother wouldn’t be gone and my brother wouldn’t be falling to pieces just because I’d made a stupid, impulsive decision that could cost us everything…”
“Avery,” he reached out to her watching as she refused to allow anything, but her thoughts of Bruce consume and torture her while she continued her assault on the dish in hand, “Avery please…  Avery stop!”
“Russ, it’s just that when I think of the mistakes I made--of the mistakes I keep making over and over again,” she continued to scrub away at the dish until he dropped his hand down into the dishpan of soapy water, clenching her wrist with his fingers as he stilled her movement.
“Avery stop this,” Russell pleaded with her once again feeling her tighten up beneath his touch as he could almost sense the tears he was certain had pooled in her eyes.
“Russ, I need to finish this dish…” she started to argue with him, feeling him pull her hand out of the water as he turned her to face him, forcing her to keep from avoiding any kind of eye contact with him.
“No, you don’t,” he insisted firmly bringing his hand up over the side of her face as he urged her to keep focused on him, “as right now I think we need to take a break from all of this.  I think we need to sit down and have a talk about what you’re doing to yourself and how unnecessary it all is at the moment…”
“Russ, my mother’s been kidnapped by a madman--a madman that I brought into our lives and if he’s half as dangerous as everyone keeps saying he is, then we’re never going to see her again.  You and I both know what the chances of her returning safely are and while Guy’s believing in miracles, we both know how seldom they happen,” Avery began desperately unable to contain the tears that filled her eyes.
“And we also know how sometimes a miracle comes into our lives when we least expect it,” he brushed his thumb against her cheek catching the tear that slipped past her lashes.  He watched her lower lip tremble as he leaned forward tasting the saltiness of her tears as he kissed her cheek away hoping to find some method of putting her at ease as he held her, “Baby, why don’t we just forget about cleaning the kitchen right now and go sit down for a little while?”
“Russ, I need to focus on something--on anything other than what’s going on with my family and if cleaning does the trick…” she started to protest as he shook his head disapprovingly.
“That’s it,” he hoisted her up into his arms carefully maneuvering her over his shoulder before turning out of the kitchen, “I’m not going to stand here and let you keep torturing my wife like this any longer.”
“Russ, put me down,” Avery insisted with a huff as he carried her out into the living room, “Russ I mean it as you can’t always just throw me over your shoulder and have your way with me whenever the mood strikes you…”
“I’m not trying to have my way with you,” he stated clearly as he carefully set her down on the couch before sliding in beside her, “but more so I’m trying to keep you from doing what you seem to be doing to yourself a lot more lately.”
“Russ, I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but my brother is devastated and it’s all my fault,” she started to protest once again as he clasped his hand over her mouth.
“No Avery, Bruce is a whack job and he clearly was one long before you entered the picture.  The very fact that you’re still alive and here with me is a miracle in itself and we both know that we have plenty to be thankful for.  Yes, okay so things didn’t turn out like we’d planned them, but look where we are right now and tell me that you couldn’t ask for more between us…”
“Things between us are fine--better than that as they‘re incredible and everything I‘d wanted and more, but with my mother…” Avery began once again.
“Your mother will survive this crisis as I’m certain there’s more to the story than we’ve been told.  I wish that I‘d been able to get more information out of George tonight, but even so I really think there‘s something missing in all of this,” he tried to reason with her scratching his head as he contemplated the tale Guy had shared with them, “Somehow I really don’t believe that Bruce was behind this.”
“Russ, come on.  It’s obvious that the man is obsessed…”
“Exactly,” he cut her off as he shifted on the cushion beside her, “and a man obsessed will not settle for anything, but the intended goal as there are no alternatives when you feel a driving force leading you towards the object of your desire…”
“Sounds like you know this feeling first hand,” she replied watching his eyes flash with some kind of unspoken understanding.
“Avery, when we were apart this last time--when you left with Brant, I knew in my heart that we had disaster laid out before us and time and time again someone kept trying to lead me away from my heart, but I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied until we were together again.  I was about to do anything and everything in my power to get you back into my life at any cost,” he began with a breath thinking about the road they’d taken to get back to one another.
“Yes, but that’s different because I love you and you love me,” Avery reminded him simply.
“Even so, in a strange way love and obsession have a lot of similarities,” he blurted out thinking of how strange that sounded considering the circumstances, “When a man gets it in his mind that he’s going to work towards the ultimate goal, then he’s not going to settle for anything less…much less some measly second choice when the first is just out of his reach.”
“Russ, that’s…” she opened her mouth to contemplate his words as he continued.
“Insane in it’s own way and as I said before love and obsession go hand in hand in some ways as both true love and dark obsessions lead a man to do things that could be construed as crazy--though in each situation, well there’s a bit of a different spin on them…” he trailed off as a darkness flashed behind his sensational green eyes.
“You sound like you can almost relate to Bruce,” Avery noted watching the way his features shifted.
“On some sick and twisted primal level I almost feel like I can as he had you in his life and then he lost you,” he blurted out uneasily wondering how it was he could see anything from Bruce’s point of view, “In losing you, that had to feel like a swift kick in the balls…” he paused shaking his head as he noticed the look on her face, “Okay bad comparison.”
“Maybe not,” Avery decided with a frown, “I mean when you think about it, it really just gets back to the fact that I was totally heartless with him and he deserved more from me.  You both did, but I was too stubborn and selfish to give you what you needed…”
“And here we go again with you blaming yourself,” he shook his head at her, “Avery, you aren’t responsible for this.”
“Russ, when I lost our baby I could’ve easily told you the truth.  I could’ve admitted what happened, but instead I pretended that in not being honest with you that I could somehow make things better.  I was only fooling myself to think that leading you to believe I didn’t love you was the right thing to do, but all it did was make the situation harder on us all.”
“Avery, you did what you thought you had to do in a moment when you were destroyed,” he tried to reason with her seeing the pain that flooded over her features, “My God, you just lost our baby and the doctors you were seeing told you that we’d never be able to have a child together.  You were just trying to protect me in your own, misguided way.”
“And I failed miserably,” she reminded him hating herself for ever believing that things could’ve been better with them apart, “I should’ve known…”
“Avery, you were upset and confused and clearly someone out there added to it when the doctors told you that you couldn’t get pregnant,” he paused thinking about that statement for a long moment before a sudden feeling struck a chord in him, “Avery, when you had your miscarriage that’s when you said you met Bruce, yes?”
She nodded tearfully, “I know I shouldn’t have tried to pretend that I was with him after that, but he was so kind to me and he seemed to care about me and he supported my decision to keep the truth from you considering that…”
“That he was the one who told you that you couldn’t ever conceive,” he finished for her watching as her eyes widened upon hearing his words, “He was the one, wasn’t he, Avery?”
She nodded once again, “Yes, but at the time I knew how much that news would destroy you considering that we wanted a family so bad and…”
“And Bruce decided to take it upon himself to break the news to you that you weren’t going to ever have my baby, hence there was no reason to tell me the truth and no chance for us to repair the damage that had been done in your leaving,” he pondered the words as they fell from his lips.
“Russ, the decision to keep you in the dark was mine alone as I knew how hurt you’d be when you found out that I could never…”
“That’s just it Avery,” he interrupted reaching out to touch her face tenderly, “Think about it.  You were told that we’d never, ever be having a child together and that it would be best if you just pushed us behind you.  You were lead to think that we couldn’t make happily ever after work for us, yet somehow here we are about to start a family together…”
“I know and it’s a miracle that it’s happening considering that I was told…” she started once again her hand dropping down over her abdomen protectively.
“A lie,” he blurted out with a scowl, “Avery, that’s all it was as there was never anything wrong with you.  There couldn’t have been.”
“Russ, that’s not true as I was there when they told me,” she started to argue with him once again.
“When Bruce told you Avery,” he pointed out with a frown, “Avery, that man clearly was obsessed with you from the start and given the nature of his sickness, well it’s no wonder that he took advantage of your situation and spun it in his favor.”
“Russ, that’s not how it happened as he might’ve told me the news, but another doctor confirmed it there after my miscarriage,” she began to explain thinking back to that painful time in her life.
“Yet when we went to see Deidra, she said that you were having a perfectly healthy pregnancy,” he moved in closer to her dropping his hand down over hers, “that our baby was doing just fine and that you were doing great yourself.”
“Which is a miracle in itself,” she continued thinking about the joys that had come along with their child’s very existence.
“Yes, it’s very much a miracle, but one that we would have shared together if given the chance to try at it again,” Russell tried to reason with her as he noticed the look of disbelief that spilled over her now tear stained cheeks, “Think about it Avery.  When we were together, it took just one time--one night in a moment where we weren’t using protection at the time…”
“Russ, that was just a one in a million chance.  We don’t know for sure that…” she started to argue with him.
“Avery, we were caught up in the moment with one another and we both know that we kind of jumped the gun there,” he insisted firmly as his touch fanned out over her cheek, “not that I regret it for the world as our baby is only another sign that we’re meant to be together. This child we’ve created that’s growing inside of you only solidifies what we have with one another and leads me to believe that this was always how it was meant to be.”
“I know it is,” she agreed with him leaning into his touch, “and I dreamt about this for so very long, but when I heard the news…”
“News that Bruce delivered,” he sighed in frustration, “Avery, think about it for a moment.  I mean really think about it.  If getting pregnant was something that was so out of the picture for us, then it wouldn’t have happened like it did for us.  We wouldn’t be here together with this baby…”
“Russ, miracles can happen,” she insisted bringing her hand up over his.
“I believe that.  I really do as our being together again is a miracle in itself, but just think about what’s been going on with Bruce.  Think about what we’ve learned about him and about how far he’s willing to go to try to get you back in his life,” Russ continued pondering the thoughts of the madman who was fixated on his wife, “Avery, when you two were together, you said it yourself that Bruce had started making plans for the both of you.  He’d talked about becoming the Chief of Staff and having you as his perfect little wife.  You told my yourself that he was full of dreams for the both of you and I have no doubt in my mind that dream included a family…”
“Russ, he told me time and time again that he knew about my being broken and that it didn’t phase him in the least as there were other options,” she started to explain when a moment of silence fell upon her, “Oh my God…”
“What?” he questioned watching the color drain from her face, “Avery, what is it?”
“I just…I just remembered something,” she confessed thinking back to her time with Bruce, “Russ, when I was with Bruce, he’d insisted that I see a gynecologist friend of his who could help with my situation…”
“And I was taking these pills…these hormone treatments that mirrored birth control pills so to speak,” she confessed thinking back to the time she’d shared with Bruce, “Granted I didn’t really think there was much of a need for them after my system was experiencing irregularities once I’d lost the baby, but Bruce insisted that I keep taking them--that they’d somehow help with my situation, but then we went away for a weekend to Aspen and while we were there I distinctly remember him urging me not to take them anymore.  He’d went on and on about how they weren’t really necessary as they were only going to lead me to disappointment,” she shifted on the sofa, tucking her legs beneath her as the memory continued, “We got into a big debate about it and then ultimately he wound up flushing them down the toilet.”
“Do you still have any of them around,” Russell inquired watching the way she seemed uneasy with the memory.
She shook her head in response, “No, not anymore.  Those were the last refill I had on them and he was very adamant about the fact I shouldn’t be using them anymore as he got into this whole spiel about how they were really far too experimental for his liking and how there was no point in chancing things.  I mean I might have an empty bottle around my apartment, but I don’t see how that can help considering…”
“Maybe they can,” he decided with a frown, “I mean if you were lead to believe that you weren’t able to conceive, then maybe Bruce had those pills prescribed to you to keep you thinking that was the case.  He had you right where he wanted you long enough to get you to the point the wanted you to be in with him…”
“Russ, I don’t understand.  I mean okay say that you’re right on this.  Say that Bruce was leading me to believe something that wasn’t true--say that those pills were skewing my lab tests to show that I was still unable to conceive, then why sudden stop me from taking them…” she began to state as a thought occurred to her.
“Because maybe that’s when Bruce decided he wanted to take things to the next level with the both of you and what better way to do that than to show you just how much you two were meant to be together when you suddenly found yourself pregnant with the miracle baby he kept telling you that you’d never have?  The baby that only he could provide you with?” he blurted out as if he’d been reading her thoughts at that moment in time, “You said it yourself that he was itching to settle down and make some kind of life for himself in Coral Valley with you.  You mentioned he was going to propose…”
“Yes, but Russ, Bruce and I stopped having sex long before he tried to propose to me,” she confessed feeling a heat rise over her features at the thought of what she was sharing with him as her eyes dropped down to the floor and a tiny shiver raced over her, “we were never really that intimate with one another.”
“Avery, it’s okay,” he reached out to her pulling her into his arms, “that’s not something that bothers me now that we’re together.”
“Even so, I need you to know that things with Bruce were never, ever like they are with us,” she insisted honestly as he urged her onto his lap, “When we made love the first time, well I think I cried for two days after that as I knew it was a mistake.”
“Avery, you don’t have to do this…” he began again as she shook her head in response.
“Yes, yes I do,” she continued fighting her tears as she forced herself to face him with the truth, “Russ, Bruce and I weren’t about sex and it was one of the things we’d just as soon kept out of our relationship.  I mean yes, there were times that we…”
“Avery, it’s okay,” he fought the feeling building in the pit of his stomach at the thought of her being intimate with a madman, but instead of anger, he felt himself filled with a sense of fear and relief that Bruce hadn’t made her one of his nameless victims in his reign of terror.
“Russ, I wasn’t with him again after our trip to Aspen.  In fact, the night before he flushed those pills was the last time that we…” she stopped herself hating to reveal that part of her relationship with Bruce to Russell, “Things were just…just strange that night and then after, well that’s when he did what he did…”
“Then he was planning this,” he deduced realizing just how far Bruce had gone to manipulate the situation with Avery as Russell cradled her in his arms, “only his plan backfired because we found our way back to one another.”
“I tried so hard to fight what I felt for you, even went out of my way to avoid you at all costs, but then you just wouldn’t give up on trying to save me,” Avery sighed laying her head against his muscled chest.
“That’s because I knew in my heart neither one of us would be satisfied until we were together again and I was right,” he brushed his fingers through her hair gingerly, “and now that we have it all, Mathis isn’t going to interfere with this--no one is going to take this away from us.”
“But Russ, if he’s kidnapped my mother,” Avery started lifting her chin to look up at him.
“I don’t think he did, but if he’s finally come to that point, then I’m going to make sure that the FBI makes him burn for this one,” he declared boldly as he hugged her closer to him, “as he’s not going to get away with any of what he’s done to tear us apart.”
“Russ, I don’t want this to turn into something worse than it already is,” Avery started feeling a shiver race over her as she noticed the expression that filled his features.
“Avery, he’s made this personal and until he’s taken care of, then we’re always going to have to keep an eye on things.  We’re constantly going to have to look over our shoulder especially now that I see him clearly for the first time in all of this.  I thought he was trouble before, but after what we’ve talked about, well Avery, I think we need to really keep our guard up,” he confessed hating to spark any kind of fear in her, but his own fears consumed him as he held her, “We need to find out what he was giving you when you were together and we need to talk to Deidra.”
“Russ, you don’t think something could be wrong with our baby, do you,” she questioned in a panic almost as soon as he mentioned Deidra’s name. “You don’t think he’s done something to me that could hurt our child…”
“No, that’s not it at all,” he shook his head wanting to kick himself for arousing an unnecessary fear in her, “as I’m certain that he would’ve wanted to see to it that you were in perfect health for the moment he’d be able to father a child with you.”
“I don’t understand though.  I mean if he’s done all these things just to keep us apart and he’s murdered all those women, then why go out of his way to do what he’s done to keep me,” Avery questioned in confusion, “I mean I’m not the woman he wanted me to be…”

“No, you’re not as you’re far more than a man like that could ever truly appreciate and understand, but in his own sick and twisted mind, he wanted to control you.  He wanted to make you his dream and when you decided to branch out and follow your heart, that’s when he decided to bring about some kind of remedy to the situation,” he explained with a heavy sigh.
“You mean when he tried to kill me,” Avery offered up as a shudder passed over her.
“He’s not going to get that chance again Avery, as I’m not going to let anyone or anything hurt you or our baby ever again,” Russell vowed squeezing her tighter promising the both of them that nothing that Bruce Mathis tried would tear them apart as their love was worth fighting for every step of the way.


Deidra switched off the television after her mother had fallen asleep during the last movie.  Truthfully, she hadn’t paid much attention to anything that had gone on in the last few hours.  After watching the news program on television earlier, suspicions and anxiety had clouded her mind.  She glanced over to her mother and decided that she needed answers now.


Deidra eased herself away from her mother as Judy wrapped herself tighter in a throw blanket and continued to sleep.  Deidra walked through her apartment and climbed onto the bed as she picked up her telephone and dialed a familiar number.  When she wanted answers of this nature, there was only one place to turn.


“Warner,” Dave answered his phone.


“Dave, hey, it’s Deidra,” She paused, “I’m sorry I’m calling so late, but something’s been bothering me.”


“What’s going on?” He asked in concern.


“I saw some news footage on Bruce Mathis,” She paused as she wondered how she could approach the topic she wanted to explore, “Is he really responsible for what’s going on with Avery’s mother?”


“We’re not really sure yet, but he can’t be ruled out.  He’s done quite a bit to make Avery’s life difficult lately, and it’s entirely possible that he wants to take Brooke to make some sort of exchange to get Avery into his clutches again,” He replied, “But we just aren’t sure right now.”


“Well, on the news cast, they showed some pictures of Mathis,” She paused, “And I thought I recognized the guy.”


“What?  Where from?” Dave asked quickly.


“The island,” She answered him with a heavy sigh, “I’m not sure, mind you,” She qualified, “But is there any way I could see a picture of him?  The news footage was real quick, and I didn’t get a good look as it was familiar.  I’m just wondering…”


“Why do I get the feeling that you’re terrified that you did see this guy?  What happened when you saw him?  Did he threaten you?” Dave asked softly.


“No, nothing like that.  It’s just,” She paused thinking about the man she knew as Christian, “I just want to know if it’s the man I thought I saw.  I need to know this for my own peace of mind, Dave.”


Dee, you’re beginning to scare me here,” He informed her, “What really happened?  If he threatened you in any way, I’ll have him hanged.”


“It’s not like that, Dave.  It really isn’t.  I just…well, I think maybe I got away lucky, and I just need to know if it’s true.”


“What do you mean you got away lucky?  Dee, I need to know what’s going on.”


“Dave,” Deidra paused, “I really don’t want to get into this over the phone.  Let’s just say that I ran into the guy, and I spent some time alone with him.  If he’s really as dangerous as you say he is, then I’m wondering why he didn’t attack me,” She paused once again then gasped, “Oh god…oh god…”


Dee, what’s wrong?  Tell me.”


“He had a camera, Dave.  You said that he’s been stalking, Avery, right?  Well, he was taking pictures, and…” She paused again as she tried to still the erratic beating of her heart, “I just got this horrible feeling and I ran away from him as he was trying to get me to stay.  Maybe…oh god, what if he was planning to kill me?  I mean, I was with Avery and he must have seen me with her.  He probably thought he could hurt her if he hurt me,” She stuttered.


“Obviously he didn’t use his name when he met you.  So what did he call himself?” Dave asked carefully.


“Christian.  Christian Fowler.”


Dave paused before he spoke, “Dee, Christian Fowler is dead.  His body was found on the Ashford estate with the heart cut out.”


“Oh god,” Deidra stammered as she suddenly felt very sick to her stomach, “Then it was his heart that Mathis sent to Avery.  Oh god, Dave, what have I done?”


Dee, what are you talking about?  You were lucky.  You got away from Mathis, and there are very few people who can say that,” He reasoned, “Dee, you haven’t done anything wrong.  Besides, you’re not even sure if the guy you saw was Mathis or not.”


“But if it was, Dave.  Then what…I mean…I was so impulsive and stupid, and I got drunk with him, and…Oh god, I was so stupid,” She burst into tears as the enormity of the situation settled upon her.


Dee,” He tried to get her attention, “Dee!  I want you to listen to me.  Mathis is a predator, and he senses vulnerabilities in people.  It’s how he gets them comfortable enough to kill them.  You got lucky in that you got away from him alive.  Do you understand me?  You’re alive, and that’s something to be proud of.”


“I…I…” She attempted to speak before Judy took the phone out of her daughter’s hand.


“Dave, I’m here with Deidra.  I’ll try to calm her down.  Will you come by tomorrow?” Judy asked calmly, having awakened as she heard Deidra going into hysterics.


“Yeah, I will.  Let me know if I can help out.”


“Thanks, Dave,” Judy replied before hanging up the telephone.  She sat on the bed beside her daughter and reached out to her, “Deidra, look at me,” She demanded as she took her daughter by the shoulders, “Dee, look at me.”


Deidra looked to her mother as tears slipped down her cheeks, “What have I done, Mom?  How stupid have I been?  I went away with this guy.  I slept with him.  Oh god…I slept with a serial killer who’s causing all this trouble for Avery.  How stupid am I?  Oh god….” She broke down into hysterical tears.


Judy drew her daughter into her arms to try to console her, but she was clueless as to what she could do to help Deidra through such a traumatic event in her life.


Diane frowned as Ben unlocked the door of his apartment.  He escorted her inside and caught a look at her frown as she sank onto his sofa.


“Okay Diane,” He frowned as he tossed his keys into a nearby basket, “What’s on your mind?” He asked as he turned and locked the door behind him. 


“A lot actually,” She kicked off her heels and put her feet up on the coffee table before her, “I’m worried about Jade, and then there’s Blake showing up to wreck the night,” She groaned, “I’m just thinking about a lot here, and it’s worrying me.”


“Why are you worried about Jade?  Granted she got drunk off her ass tonight, but people who are down can do that without anyone thinking anything about it,” He explained as he sat down beside her.


“It’s not like Jade to get that upset about something.  I mean okay granted this is the first time she’s been truly head over heels in love with a guy, but she’s never drank to get rid of a problem,” She looked towards him, “I’ve seen her crawl in bed for a week and cry, but I’ve never seen her get so plastered that someone had to take her home.  Besides that, who is this Gabe guy?  And how does Seth think we can trust him?”


“Uhm,” Ben scratched his head gently, “I hate to break this to you, but Gabe’s gay.”


She looked at him as if he had two heads, “Are you crazy?”


“No, I’m serious.  Seth let me know that he met him out one night while they were both upset about the loves of their life there, and Gabe was a good guy to him.  Somehow, they’re drinking buddies.  I don’t really understand the dynamic, but Seth let me know that Gabe’s gay.  I don’t think we have anything to worry about where Jade’s concerned.”


“You’re kidding me,” Diane’s jaw dropped, “Well…then…I guess there’s nothing to worry about there, huh?”


“Not a thing.  Well, I guess you can still worry about Jade, but she’s not going to have anything to worry about with him taking advantage of her or anything.”


“Well that’s good to know,” She sighed, “But still there’s a lot of issues to deal with as she’s upset over Grady.”


“Maybe she should stay away from him.  This isn’t the first time he’s upset her, and I think maybe she’d be happier without him.”


“Nonsense.  He loves her even if he’s too stubborn to admit it.  He’ll come around and work it out with her.  Or she’ll kick his ass and he’ll come around,” Diane declared, “Either way, Jade will get her happily ever after.”


“But you don’t want Seth to have his happily ever after,” Ben pointed out.


“I just don’t trust Blake at all.  Come on, Ben.  With the way she’s treated me, did you really think I’d welcome her into our circle of friends?” She rolled her eyes, “Hardly.”


“I agree that she’s behaved badly with you, and I don’t understand that at all.  Blake’s always been good to me until we’ve been together.  But it doesn’t matter how she’s treated either one of us.  The fact of the matter is that Seth loves her.”


“But does she love him?  Considering she had the doctor at her house for Christmas and was loving it up with him until recently, I kind of doubt it.”


“I don’t understand that either, but apparently, he loves her.  That has to say something about their relationship, doesn’t it?”


“It just means that Seth is an idiot,” Diane frowned, “Blake dumped him and now he goes right back without question.  Is he stupid or what?”


“Maybe they worked it out for themselves, Diane.  They probably talked about everything, and they seem to have worked through all their problems as tonight they looked very close.”


“Don’t remind me,” She groaned.


Ben grinned, “Oh come on.  You have to admit that it was nice to see at least one of our friends having a good time.”


“Well what about Ria?  She was having a good time.  Can’t we be happy about that?” She pointed out quickly.


“But she’s not really with anyone.  That’s not the same thing.”


“Yes it is,” Diane said in a huff as she crossed her arms.


Ben smiled as he leaned over and nibbled her ear, “What do you say we stop worrying about everyone else’s love lives and focus on our own?”


She grinned as she turned towards him, “Hmmm, I think that sounds like an outstanding idea,” She smiled as she pulled his lips to hers.  While she was worried about her friends, right now, she had something much better and all together more satisfying to focus on in the man that she loved.


“Close your eyes,” Seth instructed guiding Blake through the darkness as she felt his arms around her keeping her safe and warm beside him.  His hands covered her eyes as she felt the shift in temperature caused by moving out of the evening into the warmth of the new surprise Seth had in store for her.
“Seth, how many times do I have to tell you how I feel about surprises,” Blake began to frown trying to steal a glimpse from behind his thick fingers as her lips curled in a pout, “I don’t know why we couldn’t just go the summer home like we talked about once you learned that Jade was okay.”
“As much as I’d love to run away with you Blake, we both know that right now that would be asking a lot and I don’t want to rush you,” he confessed dropping his lips down to kiss the top of her shoulder gently, “and besides, the way I see it, I shouldn’t be that far away from my sister in the event she needs me.”
“I guess that’s a fair answer,” Blake shrugged her shoulders simply, “but that still doesn’t explain what we’re doing here or rather where here is that for that matter.”
“You’ll figure it out soon enough,” Seth assured her with an air of mystery and seduction that caused shivers to race up and down her spine.  While she’d hated the whole theory of surprises and she had no qualm about admitting that to Seth, the very thought of him being this close to her when she was finding herself enjoying him more and more had it’s own set of benefits as he guided her along through their new surroundings.
“How can you be so convinced that I’ll figure it out,” Blake challenged feeling the need to be difficult as she started to shift in his arms.
“Hey now, I warned you to behave,” Seth curled his arm around her waist more completely squeezing her to him as he planted another quick kiss upon her shoulder, “now just take a moment to stop trying to get the surprise out of me and just start using your other senses to guess here.”
“Hmm, well I know we’re not at the summer home,” Blake deduced with a tiny huff before the warmth in the air surrounded her, “and we’re not at the carnival again.”
“Nope, you’re right on that,” he nodded in agreement, “but you’re going to get it soon enough.  What are your other senses telling you right about now?”
“Hmm…” she paused suddenly taking in the familiar scent of something wonderful as a curious expression spread over her features, “Seth, is that popcorn?”
“That’s right,” he encouraged her placing another kiss upon her skin, “you’re getting warmer.”
“Well let’s see.  You took me somewhere that you wanted us to spend some quality time together and now that I smell popcorn,” her jaw dropped in surprise, “Seth, are we at the movie theater?”
“Exactly,” he released his hands freeing up her eyes to take in the empty theater as confusion swept over her, “you’d mentioned that it’s been a long time since you’ve been able to enjoy this type of place without the chaos of the media following you, so I thought maybe I’d try to give you something that you enjoyed for all that you’ve given me.”
“But Seth,” she spun around to face him realizing that they were the only ones around, “no one is here.”
“That’s because it’s after hours,” Seth stated matter of fact dropping down to offer up a quick kiss before stepping away from her and making his way around the concession stand to start tinkering with the popcorn machine.  He flashed her a sexy smile before leaning in over the counter top, “is there anything I can get for you to enjoy during your feature, beautiful?”
Blake felt herself touched by his gesture as she thought to how long it had been since she’d been able to just go out to a movie and enjoy it without the world tracking her every movement.  Granted, she’d had time to do that back in Los Angeles, but in Coral Valley, well that was another story altogether as you would’ve thought the Ashford family was the Kennedy family with all the media that hounded them, but now as she stood in the middle of the deserted movie theater with quite possibly one of the sexiest men in the world, she couldn’t find words to express just the way he’d made her feel in this moment.
“Well?” Seth wiggled his eyebrow at her watching as she stepped in towards the counter, a sexy smile growing over beautiful her feature as she leaned in over the counter suggestively offering him a tantalizing sneak peek of her savory curves.
“Actually,” she broke through his less than appropriate line of thoughts as she licked her lips in a tempting motion, “I think some popcorn sounds great…and make it with extra butter.”
“Coming right up,” Seth nodded forcing himself to stay focused as he reached for a container, “Will large do tonight?”
“Large will be incredible,” she nodded reaching up to the fastenings she’d had in her hair, loosening them as she allowed her golden tresses to fall down to her shoulders.  Leaning further against the counter top, she took the time to admire the smooth fluidity involved in his putting together the perfect bucket of popcorn, “So tell me, how is it you know your way around this place so very well?”
“Truth be told,” his dark eyes jumped up to steal a quick look at her before applying more buttery topping to the popcorn, “when I was in high school, I was working here to help make ends meet at home.  My life was pretty much spent at this place during the weekends and weekdays after football practice.  It played hell on my grades, but I was able to take in the atmosphere and gain and appreciation for the movies you could say.”
“Hmm, so that’s where your artistic side comes in huh?” Blake inquired bringing her hand up to the hemline near the top of her dress, teasing her nail across as she watched Seth lean over to reach for something beneath the glass casing, giving her a wildly erotic glance of his steely behind for the briefest of moments.
“Yes and no,” he shrugged his shoulders simply, “I enjoyed the movies sure enough, but more so I think I liked the idea of having this place all to myself after hours.”
“Ah, so we get to the heart of matter here,” Blake couldn’t help but tease as he held up the salt motioning towards the popcorn before she nodded for him to add some to the bucket, “You liked this place because it improved your dating life, huh?”
“Just what are you trying to imply Miss Ashford,” he feigned innocence seeing the sparkle behind her eyes.
“You would bring your dates here to impress them with all of this being yours,” she shook her hair out behind her shoulders once again reaching for a strand of it and curling it over her finger, “Tell me, did you ever get lucky here Seth?”
“Blake, now I think I’m insulted that you’d even have to ask something like that,” he shook his head at her reaching for a cup before motioning to the various array of drinks for them to choose from.
“I’ll take a fruit punch,” Blake explained watching him pour her drink before a tiny giggle tickled over her lips as she began to elaborate on her line of questioning, “Oh come on Seth.  You can’t tell me that the temptation and thrill of having this place all to yourself didn’t at least put the idea of impressing someone special here with what the after hours activities could include.  It had to be a rush to you and your dates to know that the two of you could sneak in anytime you wanted and do whatever it was that your dirty little mind came up with…”
“Somehow I don’t think it’s my dirty little mind that’s fixated on the idea of fooling around in a movie theater,” he threw back with a teasing wink as he watched the color build up behind her flawless features, “Tell me Blake, how many times did you sit in the back row making out with your boyfriend of the moment growing up?”
“I would never,” she gasped as if she was horrified by the idea before Seth gave her a pointed look, “Okay…I only did it once.”
“I knew it,” he leaned over the counter that stood between them as curiosity brewed behind his eyes, “so who was the lucky guy?”
“Does it really matter,” she challenged leaning in closer to him.
“Indulge me,” his voice dropped to a soft, sensual whisper.
“Michael Adams,” she confessed her cheeks growing rosier by the second as he dropped his hand into the popcorn bucket offering her a sample of what he’d cooked up for her.  She smiled as he lifted the piece of buttery saltiness to her lips before she collected it in her mouth savoring the taste of it as a purr rose from within her, “mmm…”
“I take it you approve,” he joked watching her nod emphatically as he reached for another finger full of popcorn lifting it to her lips as the buttery topping left a glossiness over her bottom lip before her tongue trailed over it with a faint noise that almost resembled a mewling sound.  Reaching out to dab at the corner of her mouth where she’d missed a spot, Seth’s grin expanded as he continued to descend in towards her, “So tell me, do I have anything to worry about with this memory of Michael Adams in the air tonight?”
“Hmm, well he was one of the first boys daring enough to try to feel me up in public no less,” Blake confessed fluttering her eyelashes as his breath skimmed over her features, striking down upon her with a heat that only caused her cheeks to grow far more flushed in the moment as her tone shifted to that of the seductress she’d always felt she could be around Seth.  Reaching out to him, she balled her fingers over the center of his chest, curling his shirt beneath her fingers tightly before yanking him in further over the countertop , “but I do have to say that when it comes to kissing, you have him beat hands down.”
“It’s good to know,” Seth chuckled in amusement feeling her lips press in over his in a delectable kiss as she tasted like an erotic combination of popcorn butter and her cherry lip gloss that he’d been enjoying most of the night they’d spent with one another already.
“Hmm, well there are a few other things that’ll be good to know,” Blake murmured as they parted keeping close to him as a smile lifted over the corners of her mouth.
“Then enlighten me,” he urged her on further enjoying this flirty side of Blake more than he cared to admit as while he’d thought a trip to the movies would be a sure bet to keep his mind off of what it would be like to make love to her, he was using every ounce of strength within him to keep from pulling her in over the countertop and making love to her right there and now.
“I do have one more request for my movie treats,” Blake breathed in against him.
“What’s that?” he questioned already knowing the answer before her mouth tempted him once again in a heated kiss.
“You,” she purred his name as the vibration of her words sent a jolt of desire straight to his core causing him to stiffen as other, more noticeable parts began to rise to the occasion and for the briefest of instants, he found himself relieved that the concession counter stood between them.
“And here I thought bringing you here was a safe place for us,” Seth confessed feeling a bittersweet agony tugging at his insides as Blake seemed to slide in over the countertop much to his surprise, easing in over the glass until somehow she was behind the counter with him, her sexy curves pressed in against him.  His body continued to readily respond to her as there was no denying just how much she‘d brought so many naughty things to his mind, but as he noticed the expression on his face, he could see that she wasn‘t exactly displeased with his response to her.  Quite the opposite in fact as her hand dropped down to caress him through his trousers.
“We can keep this safe,” Blake assured him her eyes growing wider as her fingers continued to play over his body.
“Blake,” Seth choked out her name unable to deny the impulses surging through him as he reached out to her catching her wrist with his thumb and index finger to still her movements, “hey…”
“What?” she questioned innocently as she flashed him a sexy grin.
“The movie,” he motioned to the theater just beyond them as he eased her palm within his, lifting it to his lips as he pressed a kiss over the top of her hand, “what do you say we get back to that?”
“How is it you can be so damned focused when all I can think about is being close to you,” Blake questioned in frustration, “Seth, I wasn’t joking about what I said before…”
“Tell you what,” he leaned in to kiss her tenderly, “how about we go in the back row and make out for a while during the show?”
“That almost sounds like a consolation prize,” Blake curled her lip in a pout.
“Not the way I do it,” he winked at her offering up a bit of encouragement, “and if you still think that I’m pretty special by the time the show’s over, well then we’ll talk about plans for the future.”
“Such as?” Blake lifted a curious brow.
“Such as if we can make it through tonight without crossing any hasty lines with one another, then maybe in the not so distant future, we can take that trip to your family’s summer home with one another--if and only if you still want that.”
“Of course I will,” Blake nodded curling her arms around him, “as I’m not one to skirt around the issue when I see something I want Seth.  I know where I want this to go…”
“So do I which is why I swear to you, you’re going to be glad that we waited,” Seth promised her with a quick kiss before taking her hand in his, “so, now how about that movie?”
“You never did quite say what we were seeing tonight,” Blake reminded him with a hint of a smile.
“Actually that’s because I wanted to surprise you,” Seth insisted leading her towards the theater, “but I can assure you that it’s a classic that you’re going to enjoy as you told me it was one of your favorites.”
“One of my favorites,” Blake repeated pondering the thought for a moment, “and a classic you say?”
“That’s right,” he nodded in response, “and I’m sure you’re going to love it as you said it was something you enjoyed with your mother a long time ago.”
“Lady and the Tramp?” she questioned finding her answer as the screen started to play before her.  Instantly a squeal pressed over her lips as she threw her arms around Seth kissing him wildly, “Oh Seth, this is so awesome.”
“Somehow I was hoping you’d think that,” he couldn’t help but laugh holding her in his arm as he tried to keep from dumping all the popcorn on the floor.
“I love it,” she kissed him quickly once again before leading him into the back row of the movie theater and plopping down in one of the seats.  She snatched the popcorn from him and as he sank down beside her, he realized that while he’d had his concerns about just how hot things might be with them alone in the darkness, the movie he’d selected seemed to put Blake back in time to a place where the world was simpler.
“Seth look,” she urged him on munching on the popcorn as her smile seemed to light up the darkness.
“I’m looking,” he teased reaching into the tub of popcorn and pulling himself out a handful.
“Oh I just love this part,” she confessed resting her head on his shoulder taking the time to enjoy the movie as Seth found himself realizing that tonight with Blake was going to be something he’d never forget as this made everything in his world worthwhile for a change.


Richard sat back in the interview room as he waited for information from the FBI.  While they’d seemed very gung ho about taking over the investigation, he knew that they could be just an inept as any little guy in the world.  Besides, he’d had his fair share of run ins with the FBI brass in his years as a speaker in congressional hearings.  He knew just how the G-men operated.


The door opened to the room as Travis Callaway stepped inside.  Immediately, Richard knew that his thoughts of ineptness were right.  He took a deep breath and looked towards the agent as he sat down across from him.


“I’m sorry I haven’t been back in here yet, Mr. Morrison.  I’ve been so busy coordinating the search and tracing the phone call you got,” Callaway spoke as he adjusted his note pad.


“Don’t give me that bull.  I know how you operate, and you’ve been out there chatting it up with your buddies about how this could put you in the director’s chair if you break this case,” Richard grumbled, “I know your type, Callaway.”


“Begging your pardon, sir, but you don’t know me.  I’m working to try to find your wife and bring her home safe and sound.”


“And it won’t hurt if you get a career boost along the way, right?” Richard sighed heavily before he stood and paced the room a bit, “I wish you would just cut all the bureaucratic nonsense, and actually get out there to find my wife.”


“I’m doing everything I can to help you, Mr. Morrison, but I can’t pull leads out of thin air.”


Richard turned and glared at Callaway, “What the hell do you want me to do?  Do your job for you?”


Callaway stood and sighed, “I’m sorry you’re so upset Mr. Morrison.  I understand this is a horrible tragedy that has befallen your family, but I’m doing my job as best I can.  We’re tracking down every lead we have, but we’re not magicians.  We’re just ordinary men trying to track down a psychopath.  It’s not an easy job, and in your heart, I know you understand that.”


Richard let out a slow breath as he ran his fingers through his hair, “I’m sorry.  I do know you’re trying, but it’s nerve wracking to be so powerless in a situation.”


“I understand that.  Look, you can’t do anything here tonight.  You should go home and get some rest while we track down our leads.  You’ll be on my speed dial and as soon as we know anything at all, we’ll call you,” Callaway suggested.


“I can’t do that,” Richard declined the man’s suggestion.


“Sir, go home.  Right now, it’s just a game of wait and see to find out what the kidnapper will really do or if he’s going to give us any more clues as to his whereabouts.  There’s nothing you can do.  Go home.”


Richard nodded as he made his way towards the door.  He knew the younger man was right and that he couldn’t do anything, but it didn’t make him feel any better.  Still, he was tired and could use some sleep.  Somehow though, he didn’t think he would be able to sleep at all.


“Feeling better sweetheart,” Russell questioned from the bottom of their bed extending his arms out towards Avery as she entered their bedroom after they’d finished locking the house up for the night double checking that all was okay just to be sure after the talk with Bruce had left Avery a bit on edge.  Russell reached forward, feeling her fingers brush up against his before he pulled her into an embrace drawing her in against him as he lay his head on her abdomen gently.
“Not really, but I suppose that’s to be expected considering the night we’ve had huh,” she sighed closing her eyes as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders savoring the feel of him beside her as he placed a tender kiss upon her abdomen, “I just can’t believe how naive I was when I was with Bruce…”
“You just wanted to believe there was still some good left in this world,” he reminded her sensing the lingering sadness that hung over her as he reached for her hands pressing butterfly kisses upon them before urging her to take a seat beside him on their bed, “Avery, you have a good heart and that’s something that I love about you.”
“But Russ, I’m not normally such a moron,” she continued hating that she hadn’t been clued into what was really happening sooner, “I’m smarter than that and I pride myself on seeing things as they are and being one step ahead of the rest, but…”
“But you were hurting and Bruce took advantage,” he explained branching his fingers out to touch her cheek gently as he turned her eyes towards his, “This was something he did when you weren’t yourself and now, well now I’m not going to let him take anything else away from us.”
“But Russ when I brought him into our lives…” she began again still unwilling to shake the situation.
“Hey baby, listen to me,” he drifted closer to her, his lips beckoning hers for a kiss, “Bruce can’t hurt us anymore as we have everything we’ve always wanted with one another.  I mean hey I’m going to be a daddy which is pretty special in itself I might add as you know I’ve always wanted to be a father to your beautiful children.”
Avery couldn’t help but smile upon his words as she kissed him once again, “God, how I love you.  You just seem to have all right things to say to make me feel better.”
“And here you thought you were still feeling down,” he teased pulling her into his lap, “when all you really needed was these arms and me at your side to pull you back to reality.”
“It’s more like you take me to something better than that as my life hasn’t been the same since you came back into it,” she confessed with wide eyes as she rubbed her hand over his lacing their fingers together.
“I hope that’s meant as a good thing,” he teased with a wink guiding her palm to his lips in a tender gesture.
“It’s the best thing,” Avery added brightly focusing on the love that they’d found with one another, “Russ, I do love you.  I know sometimes I’m not as articulate about things as you are, but you’re everything to me.  I mean when I think of how far we’ve come with one another to get back to this…”
“It was destiny darling and don’t let anyone else try to convince you of anything otherwise,” he replied with a low, subtle drawl before nibbling gently on her lower lip.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Avery murmured keeping her arms around him feeling his breath over hers before he nuzzled her neck gently with his nose.
“In that case, what do you say we call it a night here,” he suggested warmly as his fingers fanned out over her spine working their way over to the bottom of her sweater before coaxing it up over her body in an attempt to help her get more situated for bed.
“That sounds like a plan,” she nodded in response bringing her fingers over the buttons on his shirt as she took her time easing him out of it.
“Allow me,” he replied with a smile pulling her sweater up over her head and discarding it before shaking his own shirt off his arms.  He hugged her closer to him as an idea sparked in his head, “hey, do me a favor and roll over to your side there.”
“To my side?” Avery gave him a strange look.
“Just do it,” he nudged her gently seeing her comply to his wishes as he rose up onto the bed returning moments later with a bottle of lotion in hand, “okay turn around.”
“Like this,” she half questioned wiggling in over her pillows as his only response was his hands upon her shoulders gently kneading and stroking the tension out of her aching flesh.  A sigh of release pressed beyond her now parted lips as he continued his massage over her neck and shoulders, “oh Russ, that feels nice…”
“I thought you could use a little time to unwind before I work my charms on you,” he explained continuing with his massage, working the lotion into her body before he nudged her slightly urging her to lay on her back as his fingers dipped down over her abdomen pressing gently over it.
“I’d say you’ve already weaved your spell over me with those hands of yours as you’re too good to me Russ,” she breathed taking in the sensations he was stirring up inside of her as the tension she’d been carrying with her all day long seemed to pour out of her melting away under his skilled caress.
“Nothing’s too good for my wife or our baby,” he tipped down to kiss her abdomen once again before rubbing it gently, “So how’s our little one feeling tonight?”
“Other than thinking that mommy’s a complete nutcase,” Avery reopened her eyes watching the way Russell played with her stomach.
“Oh now mommy, we don’t think you’re a nutcase,” Russ tickled over her stomach watching her squirm beneath his touch.
“Now you’re just being polite and hey you know it’s a good thing that our baby has you as a father as it means our child has half a chance of making smart decisions,” Avery continued with a heavy sigh.
“What’s this?” he pressed his ear to Avery’s abdomen as if he was listening to something their child was saying, “Oh I know I couldn’t agree more and if mommy is done with her self loathing there maybe she’ll let me tell her…”
“Tell her what?” Avery inquired lifting a curious brow as his green eyes tipped up towards her and he had on that same silly smile that had always signaled trouble even during the times it had melted her heart again and again.
“That it’s time to bring laughter into the situation here,” he declared blowing on her stomach as Avery couldn’t help but squeal wiggling in beneath him.
“Russ, stop,” she pleaded with him feeling him continue with his latest strain of torture as her fingers sought him out in an attempt to stop him as he was tickling her yet again.  However, as she touched him, it only seemed to add fuel to his fire as his touch continued to bring her to giggles again and again, “Russ…I mean it.  You’re going to give me…” her words were interrupted by a whooping sound.
“Hiccups,” he blurted out watching her break into a round of hiccups as a scowl pressed in over her features.
“Russ, you are such--such an…” she began in between hiccups as he climbed up beside her on their bed drawing her into his arms.
“Amazing husband,” he cut her off with a kiss as he felt her hiccup beside him.
“You suck,” Avery grumbled unable to contain the hiccups as they came to her, “I hope you realize that.”
“Oh I’m well aware of it,” he tugged on her lower lip with his teeth feeling another hiccup rush over her as he kissed her again, “but I also happen to recall that you enjoy it very much when I’m in a state of sucking so to speak…”
“Oh you,” Avery shoved her hand out into his chest pushing him away from her as another sharp word formed at the tip of her tongue, but it was put to a halt as a hiccup came forth harder and louder than before.
Russell watched her for a moment seeing the strain of hiccups continuing as she glared at him, shaking her head with heavy disapproval as the words seemed to have slipped out of her mind.  He sat upright reaching out to her as she opened her mouth to speak once again, but found herself overcome with another hiccup.
“How about I get some sugar for you,” he suggested gently, “as I thought I heard that stopped hiccups.”
“There’s no validity in that Russ as…” she was broken up by another yelping moment before she finally nodded, “fine if it works…”
“Okay, I’ll be right back,” he promised getting up off of the bed ready to leave the room, but he stopped himself mid-movement to turn around and face her once again.  Stepping in towards her, he placed his hand over her abdomen rubbing it gently as an apologetic smile expanded over his features, “Daddy’s sorry about this…”
“It’s okay,” Avery tried to assure him softening her tone as another hiccup overcame her.
“I’ll work on fixing this,” he promised leaving the room and heading for their kitchen as he thought to his wife’s condition.  While he certainly knew that hiccups weren’t fun for anyone, she did happen to look absolutely adorable in the moment.  Of course he knew that she’s surely slap him for even thinking that one considering how uncomfortable she seemed, but still it was a nice refreshing change to see her not focusing on Bruce or the mystery and disaster that surrounded that man.  Certainly Russ was stewing over it as well, but he refused to let Avery see just how much it bothered him that Bruce Mathis was still out there on the loose awaiting the moment when he could come in and try to rip their happiness away from them.  Granted Russ knew the man was demented, but he was also certain that he’d do anything regardless of the cost to keep his family safe and sound.
“You’re not going to take this away from me,” he thought aloud wishing that for once Bruce had just stayed dead to the world.  He searched the kitchen for some sugar ready to take some back to Avery, but after a moment another thought sparked and he walked over to the refrigerator pulling out some strawberries as a smile lifted over his features.  Perhaps there was a way to salvage the evening after all, he decided quickly putting some of them into a bowl and snagging some chocolate sauce and sugar as his thoughts took an altogether different path in his quest to keep Avery’s mind off of the things going on in the world around them.
“This should work,” he smiled proudly at the tray before him seeing the berries, chocolate, sugar and water before him as he was certain he’d cure those hiccups Avery was experiencing and then, well he’d find a few ways to remind her of all the reasons why he was worth having around.
A smile lifted over his lips as he thought back to his half dressed wife waiting in their bedroom for him.  He turned the kitchen light off and began to whistle a tune to himself as he headed down the hallway to their bedroom only to be stopped by the sound of pounding on the front door.  A frown crept in over his features as he looked to the clock noting the time as he wondered who could be there at such an hour, but his questions were quickly answered as he heard Grady on the other end of the door.
“I know you’re in there,” Grady demanded harshly as his fists continued to pound away at the door, “so quit hiding and come out and face me!  You might think you can run from me, but I know you’re there and I’m not leaving until I see you!”
Setting the tray down on the coffee table, Russell felt a sigh spill over his lips as he realized that Grady was one of the last things he wanted to deal with at a time like this, but as his brother’s persistence continued, he realized there would be no avoiding him.  A few seconds later the door opened and came face to face with his older brother sensing the same madness behind his brother’s eyes as the strong odor of bourbon hung like a cloud over Grady’s presence.
“Where the hell is she,” Grady growled up at Russell behind gritted teeth as he pushed his way into the Denton home, “I know that bitch is in here.”
“Look Grady, I don’t know what this is about,” Russell caught his brother’s arm as he crossed over the threshold, “but you’re not coming into my home.”
“Russ, this is between me and her,” Grady seethed as Russell shoved him back out onto the porch, “and if you don’t get out of my way, then I’m going to have to just go through you because it’s the only way I’ll be able to save you.”
“Grady, not this again,” Russell rolled his eyes seeing the fury behind his brother’s eyes as he reached for the door once again, “You’re drunk.  Go home and sleep it off.”
“The hell I will,” Grady lunged forward once again pushing his way into Russell’s chest and sending him flying backwards as he marched into the living room seeking out the very thing that had torn his life apart, “Avery!  Avery, get your bony ass out here as it’s on right now!”
“Grady, get out of here,” Russell pulled himself up off of the floor as he rushed towards his brother pushing him back into the wall with a mighty shove.
“What’s going on out here,” Avery questioned stepping into the living room before her eyes fell upon Russ and Grady with one another.  She watched as Grady seemed ready to attack, pushing and shoving Russell until Russell seized Grady’s arm bringing it up behind his back before he pushed Grady into the living room wall with an impact that seemed to vibrate the painting on the wall causing it to shake with fear.
“Let go of me Russ,” Grady writhed against his brother, wild with anger as the painting finally had enough and it collapsed to the ground with Grady’s sudden movement.
“No Grady, you’re not going anywhere,” Russell shoved at him once again.
“What the hell is he doing here,” Avery questioned with a frown moving in closer to them as she caught a whiff of the strong aroma that accompanied Grady’s presence, “Oh God, he’s drunk, isn‘t he?”
“I don’t have to be drunk to know what a bitch you are as you’ve ruined everything,” Grady shot back at her bitterly, “You just weren’t going to be satisfied until you turned them all against me because you’re a manipulative…”
“That’s enough,” Russell threw his elbow into the middle of Grady’s back watching as his brother winced upon impact, “Go home and sleep it off Grady.”
“The hell I will.  I could’ve been happy.  I could’ve had it all, but your wife just wanted to take it all away from me.  She turned you against me and now Jade…”
“Jade,” Russell repeated as a moment of realization hung over him, “is this what you’re drunk about?  Did Jade finally get tired of you and get rid of you?”
With that a fury seemed to burst from within as Grady kicked his leg back sending Russell to the floor before he marched towards Avery, determined and enraged as his green eyes fell upon her.
“You did this,” Grady accused harshly as the object of his rage stood before him, “You took the only happiness I had in my life and you stole it from me.”
“No, you made a mess of things all on your own Grady as you always do this,” Avery challenged back at him refusing to back down despite the way he glared at her, “You’re a drunk Grady and that’s the problem.  This has nothing to do with me.”
“It has everything to do with you because you’ve found a way to destroy everything with your manipulative ploys with my brother and now with Jade.  You’ve managed to turn her against me all because I can’t get you out of my head because I know what you are and what you’ll do.  Russ thinks he knows you, but he doesn’t have a clue about what you are, but I do.  I know you Avery,” his voice threatened as he bridged the distance between them, “I know all about your heart and just how cold and black it really is and how your love lasts as long as the spark of interest remains.  You only did this to ruin things--to ruin everything like you always do…”
“Grady, go home.  You’re drunk,” Avery stated the obvious shaking her head at him, “and right now you look pathetic to say the least.”
“You’re the pathetic one,” he let out an ironic laugh, “and to think my brother believes that you’re this amazing, wonderful woman when you’re the worst of them all.  You’re the one that started all of this and now, well I’m going to end it so that you don’t destroy any other man like you’ve done to me.  I won’t let you do that to Russ as I’m not going to stand back and pretend that everything is okay when you’re around because it’s not,” he vowed reaching for her as the crashing sound of Russell breaking one of the vases on the coffee table over his head.
“Russ…” Grady squealed his brother’s name turning around to face him before a momentary haze spread over his features until finally he plopped down on the ground in agony, “that hurt.”
“Serves you right,” Avery glared at him seeing Russell’s hands shaking as she stepped in towards him touching his arm gently, “Russ, baby are you okay?”
“We need to get him out of here,” Russell declared ready to be finished with his brother when all of a sudden Grady rolled over onto his stomach and a heaving sound came from Grady as his alcohol had finally turned over in his stomach.  The foul odor spread through the living room causing both Russ and Avery to wince as Grady threw up on the carpet.
“Ugh,” Avery groaned hearing her brother-in-law throw up until his head plopped down into the carpet and he passed out in the midst of the mess he’d created.
“Oh boy,” Russell sighed realizing that his brother had finally conked out in their living room, “now what?”
“We can’t just leave him there,” Avery decided with a frown noting the cut on Grady’s head from where Russ had hit him.  Another groan spilled over her lips as she knelt down beside Grady wrinkling her nose at him as she motioned for Russell to help her take a look at him, “I don’t think you gave him a concussion or anything, but maybe we should take him to the hospital…”
“He’s drunk,” Russell pointed out once again stating the obvious, “if we do that, they aren’t going to be able to stitch him up just now…”
“I guess the only option we have is to work on cleaning up this mess,” Avery sighed already hating the thought as it fell from her lips.  Bringing her fingers through her hair, she let out another groan wondering why the hits just kept on coming for their family, “Why don’t you pick him up and try to clean him up, while I work on the carpet?  Maybe we can sober him enough to get him back home in a bit.”
“I guess it’s worth a try,” Russell nodded in response doing his best to hoist his brother up off of the carpet as Russell caught a glimpse of the vomit on his brother’s clothing and he winced nearly dropping Grady back down into the mess on the carpet.  A gagging sound built in Russell’s throat as Avery turned her attention to him once again.
“You okay?” she questioned with concern evident in her tone.
“I’m fine,” he offered up weakly turning a pale shade of green as Avery stepped in towards him.
“No you’re not,” Avery frowned marching over to the other side of Grady as she urged Grady’s arms around her shoulders, “You still haven’t gotten over that queasy stomach of yours, have you?”
“Avery, you make it sound a lot worse than it is considering that I’m a grown up and I can…” Russell’s words were interrupted as his face grew in color and he stepped away from Grady, “Okay…I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Russ,” Avery spoke out to him watching as he turned his head away from Grady unable to take in a moment more of the stench.  Realizing that this situation went from bad to worse, she shook her head at Russell realizing that some things would never change, “just get him into the hall by the bathroom and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Avery, I can’t ask you to just…” Russ began.
“Trust me, I’ve become an expert on this one,” Avery remarked with another shake of her head, “though I have to admit you’re lucky that my morning sicknesses seems to have passed otherwise we’d both be in trouble there seeing as you can’t seem to handle this stuff.”
“I can handle it,” Russ began to argue with her as he looked ready to lose his stomach himself, “just not very well.”
“Fine, then help me get Grady into the bathroom.  I’ll throw him in the shower and then you can take over with him while I clean up the carpet.  Fair enough?” Avery suggested after a moment’s contemplation.
“Avery, I can’t ask you to…”
“Russ, if you keep stalling here, I’ll change my mind and then I’ll wind up nursing the both of you back to health again,” Avery threw back at him, “so let’s get moving.”
“Alright,” Russell grudgingly agreed guiding Grady over to the bathroom with her.  Once they’d set him inside bracing them against the counter top Avery urged Russ into the hallway.  Once she was alone with Grady, she wrinkled her nose as she reached for the buttons on Grady’s shirt, carefully avoiding the disgusting mess he’d made as she began to open it.
“You’re such a stupid moron,” Avery hissed at him quickly stripping him out of his shirt before shoving him back into the counter not caring as he hit his head on the mirror behind him.
“Bitch,” Grady muttered under his breath in a slur as Avery started to turn around to alert Russ that he could come in, but as Grady’s utterance hit her, she spun around to face him once again her own rage taking control as she stepped in towards him.
“What was the point in doing this,” Avery questioned harshly watching as his head slumped over, “What were you thinking?”
“I hate you,” Grady answered her speaking out into the air before he managed to pull together the strength to face her once again, his pathetic green eyes still burning with animosity towards her.
“The feeling’s mutual and since you’re bombed off your ass tonight I’m sure you won’t remember everything that’s happened here, but here’s a memory I’m hoping you won’t forget since you managed to ruin my night here,” Avery shot back icily bringing her knee up into his groin.  Watching as Grady buckled over on the counter top in agony, she marched out of the room turning her attention to Russell, “he’s all yours.”
“Avery,” Russell watched her walking away ready to take on the other mess Grady created for them.  As Russell stepped into the bathroom, he looked at his brother shaking his head at him as he was now doubled over on the counter top whimpering and sobbing in a drunken state of obliviousness.  Russell quickly turned on the shower, bringing the water to a frigid temperature before turning his attention to his brother who was now incoherently slurring about Jade and Avery all at the same time and it was in that instant that Russell realized that things clearly weren’t going to be any easier in the Denton home especially now that Grady had gone and made a mess of things all over again.
“All I wanted was another chance…is that asking so much…” Grady began to sob as Russell helped him up off of the counter and shoved him towards the shower, “Can I help it if I care too much…”
“Grady, you’re only destroying yourself with this,” Russell sighed heavily, “and I thought you’d learned your lesson a long time ago.”
“I just wanted Jade…I needed to have that in my life…to find that happiness that Avery took away from me.  She’s nothing but a manipulative…” Grady continued as Russell pushed him into the shower.
“She’s a good woman Grady and if you’d stop walking around with your head up your ass, you’d see my wife isn’t your biggest enemy,” Russell shot back at him with a frown.
“Of course she is,” Grady insisted with a whimpering sound.
“No, you are and if this keeps up Grady, well you’re not going to have anything left to hold onto,” Russell sighed heavily seeing that his brother’s path of self destruction was leading him towards a dead end road and Russell feared that if this continued much longer Grady would be past the point of no return.

...to be continued...