Episode Eighty Five 

A sharp, throbbing ache hammered in over Grady’s left temple as he felt the sunlight from the world beyond penetrating him from where he lay.  A groan built in the back of his throat as he shifted beneath the thin sheet that covered him, his entire being sore and tender as even the cotton sheet seemed to feel like a weight sitting upon his chest.  Shifting restlessly once again, he felt the world collapse beneath him as he tumbled out of the bed onto to the floor with a sharp thud.
“Ugh,” Grady groaned unable to quell the sick feeling that carried over him as his head clearly was just the beginning torture in this morning’s hangover.  Even now his whole body seemed to curse him with sharp, piercing stabs as he crawled around the carpeting realizing that he felt sickness settle in over his stomach only accentuating his mistake in drinking with each move he made towards the door.
In that instant Grady felt the brunt of his hangover raging war upon his body tearing at his insides as he found himself cursing his stupidity more than ever.  The carpeting prickled at his hands as he forced himself to move along the floor in a complete and utter state of disorientation as his breath spilled from his lips in a heaving sigh.  At this moment last night was nothing more than a blur, one that he was certain that the dark path alcohol had taken him down upon shamelessly, but even with that knowledge in mind, he was sure that he‘d done something stupid.  Feeling this horrible could only mean that the beast had come out full force and unleashed the demon he‘d often fought so hard to contain.  Shame almost immediately flooded over his tired and weary body as he made his way to the doorway knowing that wherever he‘d wound up after his drinking binge was certainly the last place he was probably supposed to be.
Still as Grady found himself using all the strength he could muster up in his heavy limbs to rise to his feet, he felt another after effect of drinking take control of him as he was quite certain this was nature‘s way of calling upon him once again.  Taking in his surroundings, Grady felt a familiarity overcome him as the faint buzzing of voices could be heard in the background playing over and over again in his mind, but that was nothing compared to the pounding in his head as he staggered down the hallway knowing that a bathroom couldn’t be too far away as he began to sense he’d been here before.
“Here we are,” Grady slurred entering a room at the end of the hallway as his eyes blurred and another groan spilled over his lips.  He clasped his hand to his head trying to shake the feeling that came over him as he wondered why this time his bourbon had taken him down so badly.  He was certain he hadn’t drank that much--well almost certain as it seemed that he wasn’t even sure it had been the bourbon that he’d dipped into.  Then again, in this moment nothing else made sense, but the need to find a toilet as soon as possible.  Hearing the sounds of water from a distance, a lazy grin swept over his features as he attempted to snap his fingers together, falling short as his thumb just didn’t seem to want to connect with his index finger for that simple movement.
“Oh hell,” he waved his hand in the air lackadaisically before marching towards the sound of the water as it only seemed to exemplify his need to use the toilet.  A few seconds later, he stood before the cracked door before him pushing it open as his eyes fell upon the very one thing he’d been dreaming about since the moment he’d awakened.
“There you are,” he grinned still a bit buzzing despite the hangover as he scurried over to the toilet, dropping his pajama pants he was wearing to do his business as he’d found at least a moment of relief in this nightmare he’d been dropped into.  Allowing his head to drop back as he relieved himself, he closed his eyes and he could swear that he heard the soft sounds of humming coming from the far end of the room as he finished his business.
Standing up straighter once again, Grady reopened his eyes seeing a hint of a reflection in the mirror as dark hair whipped around behind the frosted glass of the shower behind him.  Flushing the toilet quickly and turning around almost too fast as he nearly lost his footing, he watched as the woman within continued to hum a sixties love song it seemed and in that instant, his grin widened as a moment of hope filled him.
“Jade,” he murmured thinking about the faint flashes he’d had in his mind about seeing her with another man--with someone who clearly had stolen her, but now as Grady could hear her off key humming as she showered before him, a spark of enthusiasm pressed over him as he kicked off the pajama pants he’d been wearing and he stumbled forward ready to apologize to her for being such an ass as the thought of holding her and sharing a hot shower with her sounded damn good at a moment like this.
Opening the shower door, Grady stepped in behind her feeling a lazy smile tickle over his lips while watching as she ran the foamy, soap covered body sponge over the back of her shoulder.  Unable to contain himself he stepped in towards her, dropping his voice down to a seductive whisper as he stole the puff from her massaging the lather over her skin.
“Allow me,” he whispered faintly watching her tense up for a moment before relaxing into his touch.
“Mmm…” she murmured as he glided the puff over her shoulder, down over her spine before stepping in closer to her unable to keep himself away from the woman he’d spent most of last night brooding about, “I thought we agreed I’d shower alone this morning since we have company…”
“Company,” he repeated lazily moving his mouth over her untouched shoulder as he eased the sponge across her hip, gliding it up over her center with a tiny grin, “what company?”
“Don’t be cute,” she giggled a bit as he stepped in closer to her and she felt him press in against her back as the sponge left a trail of lather over her abdomen, “we both know as much as we’d like to forget we aren’t alone, that’s not in the cards for today.  I thought we agreed that I’d get ready quickly before your parents came over so that we could deal with things…”
“We’ll deal with them in good time, but first,” he teased his teeth over her shoulder, grazing her skin with a playful nip as he dropped the sponge to cup her breast in his hand teasing her body languidly, “I think we should work on making the most of our current situation.  What do you say?”
“I say you’ve completely lost your mind Russ,” she laughed lightly as Grady tore his mouth away from her shoulder.
“Russ,” he repeated his voice raising from the whisper as confusion set in, “why would you call me Russ?”
“What do you mean by asking why I‘d call you…” Avery spun around to face him suddenly realizing that she’d been sharing her shower the wrong brother as her jaw dropped in horror before she squealed.  “Grady!”
“Avery,” Grady’s eyes widened in shock his gaze dropping over her body in a quick once over before he fell back into the shower wall stunned by this turnabout, “oh God!”
“What are you doing in here you son of a bitch,” Avery squealed her voice getting higher by the second as Grady had a mere glimpse of her naked form before she launched her fists at him in a full on assault pounding the life out of him until he fell out of the shower onto the floor on his naked bottom.
“Hey…” Grady started to protest as his head started spinning and Avery jumped out of the shower reaching for a towel in a split second before kicking at him with an unmatched intensity as she offered Grady the beating of his lifetime in that moment in time.
“You sicko!  What the hell are you doing in my shower you pervert?” she cried out not waiting for answers as she kicked her foot into his ribs once again, her voice raising again as Grady cupped his head in his hands rolling around on the floor.
“Oh would you just shut up already,” he growled up at her, “as it’s bad enough I have to listen to your voice on a normal basis, but today of all days…”
“You had no right coming in here.  I don’t know what you think you were doing you…you sick, demented…” Avery shouted at him clenching her towel tighter around her body as Russell entered the room in a panic.
“What’s going on in here?” Russell questioned taking in the sight before him as Avery thrust her foot into Grady’s stomach once again with a fiery intent.
“Your brother thought it was a great idea to hop into the shower with me Russ,” Avery explained in a frenzy, “I thought you were in here, but then when I turned around he was right there and trying to molest me…”
“I wouldn’t molest you if my life depended on it,” Grady growled at her sucking in a breath as he felt the pain of her blows upon his already aching body, “I’m not that desperate.”
“You’re a sick man Grady!” Avery argued with him with a huff, “I wouldn’t put anything past you since you’re nothing but miserable and…”
“Oh would you just shut up,” Grady hissed at her mustering up the strength to pull himself up to a seated position as his hazy eyes fell upon her once again and in that instant he fell to the floor with heavy emphasis covering his eyes with his hands, “Oh God, I think I’m going blind.  Russ, make her put some clothes on!”
“Russ,” Avery rushed over to her husband, color filling her cheeks as she held onto him, “I didn’t know he was the one in there and…”
“I know,” Russell sighed, a frown creeping in over him as he touched her shoulders, turning her towards him as he tried to deal with his hysterical wife before focusing on the mess his brother had created once again, “Avery listen to me…my parents are out in the living room and…”
“Russ, you didn’t see him in there,” Avery started once again, “He just started grabbing me and then he got all touchy feely and…”
“Believe me Avery if I knew it was you, I wouldn’t have gone near you as I find you to be by far the most repulsive creature on the planet,” Grady argued with her as a scowl pressed over his lips.
“Oh right,” Avery rolled her eyes at him, “You’d screw anything that moved if you were drunk enough.”
“You couldn’t give me enough drinks for me to ever get turned on by a bitch like you,” Grady cut back at her with a sneer as Russell urged Avery’s attention to him once again.
“Avery, my parents are probably wondering what the hell is going on in here,” Russell explained with a sigh trying to be calm about the situation, “Go and get dressed and then have my father come in here to help me with Grady.  You and my mom can sit down and have some tea…”
“I don’t want tea, Russ,” Avery shot back at him with a glare, “I just wanted to take a shower and try to salvage the morning and forget that he was here with us, but no he decides that since he can‘t get to me with all his petty threats and tantrums, that molesting me was the next best thing to do in his sick and twisted attempts to keep us from being together which is so wrong.  Russ, he‘s deranged and deluded and…”
“Ready to vomit after having had to see you naked,” Grady piped in with a groan.
“Well, I certainly didn’t ask you to join me nor would I ever think up such a disgusting thing in my worst nightmares.  Plus, I so didn’t want to see little Grady there flopping around in the wind,” Avery hissed at him shuddering at the memory.
“Oh please, I guarantee he wasn’t flopping or getting any reaction out of you,” Grady shouted back at her, “as you’re enough to kill a good morning wood there, Avery.”
“Did you hear him,” she questioned unable to contain her anger as she kicked her foot out at him once again striking him in the abdomen as he doubled over in agony, “Russ, he’s not only a drunk, but a pervert too and now, well Russ, I want him out of here!  I don’t want him in our house after this as he’s in the wrong and if he thinks he can just say those things to me and behave this way...”
“I know sweetheart, but well, right now,” Russell interrupted finding himself at a loss as he watched his brother rolling around on the floor, “please, just do what I’m asking.  Go with my mother.”
“Russ, I’m not happy about this,” Avery explained with a huff.
“I know you aren’t and believe me I’m going to take care of this,” he promised giving her a quick kiss before reaching for her hand, “Just have my dad come back here when you‘re finished dressing, okay?”
“Okay, but you, well next time you won‘t be so lucky if you even think about touching me again,” she seethed with animosity giving Grady one last disgusted look before marching out of the bathroom and slamming the door behind her.
“Ugh, how can you even get aroused by that woman,” Grady groaned inwardly as Russell approached him trying to help him off of the ground, “Just the very sight of her naked is enough to keep me away from sex the rest of my life there as I swear I’m going blind.”
“Are you finished yet,” Russell frowned harder as he closed the toilet seat before managing to push Grady onto the toilet.
“I haven’t even started as that woman continually finds ways to ruin my life and with this little stunt she pulled just now, well it’s only her way of trying to make me look like the bad guy once again,” Grady huffed in a rage, “as you saw what she did to me.  She’s evil Russ and she was trying to kill me.”
“I’d have killed you too if I were her and you should be thankful that I know it’s the alcohol that’s guiding you around right now otherwise I might’ve had to kick your ass for trying to make a move on my wife,” Russell sighed heavily reaching for a towel to throw on his brother to cover him up.
“Believe me I wouldn’t make a move on her if she was the last thing on this planet,” Grady argued with a shudder, “as she’s by far the most revolting thing I’ve ever encountered.”
“You’re so full of it as I know my wife is hot stuff, but that’s none of your business and if you ever think about looking at her like that again, well I might have to really lay the smack down on you,” Russell warned realizing that today’s incident was bound to have Avery on edge and on a rampage from here on out where Grady was concerned, “although taking a good look at you, I’d have to say my wife did enough damage here to put you out of commission for a while.”
“I think the bitch broke my ribs,” Grady winced bringing his hand over his side as a new pain vibrated from within.
“Serves you right and Grady, and I’m just telling you now if you call her that again, I’m going to add to your problems and break your nose as well,” Russell warned sharply shaking his head at his brother as he found himself wondering what in the world had lead him to this state of disaster once again, “So tell me, what happened now to make you behave this way?”
“Hey, that was all Avery as I had nothing to do with that shower incident.  You and I both know that woman repulses me and if you had half a mind about you, you‘d see that regardless of whatever sexual talents she might possess, she‘s a death wish upon any man that gets close to her--an instant downer from a wet dream…” Grady started once again.
“Enough Grady,” Russell insisted with a glare, “I don’t want to talk about my wife right now.  I want to talk about why you showed up on my doorstep plastered out of your mind last night.”
“I wanted to kill your wife,” Grady stated plainly with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “as she’s nothing but trouble.”
“Well, that’s not in the cards, so why don’t we get back to the heart of the matter?  What’s going on with Jade?  She finally have enough of you and your antics,” Russ questioned with another shake of his head as he stood up once again, “as I warned you that she’d only stick around for it so long and then get tired of the situation.”
“Go to hell Russ,” Grady glared up at him harshly, “as this is all your fault for bringing that woman back into our lives.  She’s done nothing, but make a mess of everything for the both of us.  She tore your heart out and stomped on it over and over again, but you continue to let her back in and now, well now Jade won’t even talk to me because of the way Avery was goading me into a fight the other night.”
“Avery wasn’t goading you into anything and your problems with Jade come from you, Grady,” Russ argued with him realizing that his brother just wasn’t going to get it anytime soon, “You need to stop putting the blame in all the wrong places and start facing up to the fact that you have a problem.”
“The only problem I have is that your wife has single handedly destroyed the best thing I had going in my life as Jade’s moved on,” Grady slumped over on the toilet closing his eyes as he thought to what he’d seen the previous evening with Jade in her companion.  “She’s found someone else and Avery’s to blame for that.”
“Jade’s found someone else,” Russell questioned in surprise watching the pain that twisted over his brother’s features, “Somehow I find that hard to believe because even if you’re an ass, Jade loves you.  I know that this never ending cycle of self destruction you have has to be hard for her considering that you’re always ready to tear the world apart, but that doesn‘t change the fact that I know she loves you.”
“She loved so much that she found a way to move on with someone else as soon as your wife poisoned her mind about me,” Grady growled back at him, “as that woman won’t be satisfied until she breaks me into a million pieces.  She won’t quit until she’s shattered my life all over again and turned me back into this…”
“Avery isn’t responsible for your actions Grady and you can’t keep using my wife as a scapegoat every time you screw up,” Russell argued with him finding it increasingly harder to control his temper as Grady ranted about Avery, “She wasn’t the one who turned Jade against you, nor did she put that bottle in your hand last night when you decided that getting blitzed was the only way to fix your problems and in all honesty if this is the road you want to go down again, then maybe it’s better that Jade moved on with her life.”
“You son of a…” Grady rose from the toilet charging towards Russell just as Elliot entered the room seeing the exchange between his sons.  Quickly he intervened stepping in between his boys as he looked to Grady.
“Sit down,” Elliot warned with a sharpness in his tone as Grady opened his mouth to argue with him, “Now Grady!”
“Fine,” Grady slumped back down on the toilet in a pout before Elliot turned to Russell.
“Russ, I can take it from here,” Elliot insisted with an apologetic look, “Why don’t you go tend to Avery as she’s upset?”
“I can’t say I blame her,” Russell frowned shaking his head at his brother as he found himself straining not to knock Grady around for a while, “considering that this moron once again has made a mess of things which I really don’t understand considering that all he has to do is just let go of this stupid vendetta he has going against my wife and just grow up!”
“Your wife is the one who started this.  She just wouldn’t let up until she got a reaction out of me and…” Grady snapped in response.
“My wife came to your house under the impression that you were willing to let bygones be bygones, yet here you are worse than ever proving time and time again that I mean nothing to you,” Russell shot back at him icily, “as you really don’t care about my happiness, but more so this is about some sick and twisted misplaced need for revenge upon Avery for crimes another woman committed upon you.  My wife isn’t Susan.  Grady, I’m happy and I love my wife and she loves me.  If you can’t understand that, then to hell with you…”
“Russ please,” Elliot reached out to him touching his arm gently, “Go out there with your mother and Avery.  This isn’t helping.”
“Maybe not, but someone needs to get him to use his head for a change,” Russell remarked sharply before leaving Elliot alone with Grady once again.
With a heavy sigh, Elliot turned his attention to his oldest son watching as Grady hung his head down towards his chest.  Somehow there wasn’t any easy way to deal with this situation as time and time again Elliot had watched his son fight the battle with his demons and lost, but this time, well this time he’d had such high hopes for Grady, but now as he watched Grady slipping into the dark abyss that he’d once sought comfort out in, he feared for his son’s future wondering if there would be any light out of the darkness from here on out.
“Grady, what happened,” Elliot questioned gently trying to understand as Grady’s sad, blood shot eyes drifted up to him after a long moment of silence.
“I blew it dad.  I ruined everything,” Grady blurted out overcome with misery as he found himself unable to contain the emotions bottled up inside of him as he let loose to his father unable to hide from the truth about what he’d done to himself and his relationship with Jade with his self destruction once again.


“How is she?” Dave asked as he stepped into Deidra’s apartment. He had worried about her most of the night and not accomplished anything regarding the Morrison investigation or Bruce Mathis. Instead, he’d found sleep near impossible and his nerves on edge as he wondered just what Mathis had done to Deidra during their run in on the island…and it if had truly been Bruce Mathis at all.

Judy softly closed the door to the apartment and shrugged, “She’s sleeping now, but it won’t last long. She was up and down all night,” She informed him as they crossed the room to the sofa.

“Did she tell you what had happened? She was very vague on the details of what happened with Bruce Mathis,” He began as he sat down on the sofa.

“She didn’t say much,” She replied vaguely as she took a deep breath and sat down in a nearby recliner, “You’ll have to ask her yourself about the details.”

“When she called me last night,” He frowned, “She was really upset. To be honest, she scared me.”

“She scared me too,” Judy admitted painfully, “I’ve seen her go through depression before, but I’ve never seen her break into hysterics like this. If it was Mathis that she met, then she was so very lucky to get away from him. But for the life of me, Dave, I can’t get her to see that.”

“I hate that this has affected her so painfully,” He glanced towards her bedroom, “If he hurt her…” He sighed as he looked back towards the hard wood floor before him, “Damn him. I should have been more on top of this from the beginning. I should have figured this out before he had the chance to hurt anyone else especially Dee.”

“You couldn’t have known, Dave,” Deidra said in a strained voice from the doorway of her bedroom, “Everyone thought he was dead, and I didn’t have a clue as to he was,” She paused as she wrapped her robe tighter around her body and sat on the sofa beside him, “Do you have a photograph of him?”

“To make this an official identification,” He began as he took a stack of pictures from his jacket pocket and began placing them on the coffee table one by one, “You need to pick him out of this photo array. I can’t point him out to you. So look at these pictures, and tell me if you recognize anyone.”

Deidra looked at the two rows of pictures and shook her head, “No, none of those.”

“Okay,” Dave spoke as he took more photos from his pocket and placed them before her.

“Him,” She tapped one of the pictures, “That’s Christian. That’s the man I met on the island,” She looked to her friend desperately, “It’s Bruce Mathis, isn’t it? It’s the man who’s stalking Avery. He’s the serial killer. Isn’t he?”

He met her eyes as he gently placed his hand upon her shoulder, “It is, and that means you’re very lucky to be alive.”

“It means I’m stupid,” She stood quickly as she began to visibly tremble. She paced rapidly about the small area, “Oh god…how stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

“Dee,” Dave stood and moved to intercept her, “You’re not stupid. He’s a master manipulator.”

“It doesn’t matter. The power was in my hands. Oh god…if only it were easy enough to just say it was his fault, but it wasn’t,” She broke into tears, “I slept with him because I was stupid and alone, and he made me feel wanted. How stupid was I? I acted like an idiot.”

“Dee,” He seized her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake to get her attention, “You’re alive. Stop feeling like you’ve done something wrong. You’re alive, and that says you did everything right. You’ve survived!”

She broke down into tears, “Still, Dave…I know you think I’m stupid, and I deserve that. Oh god.”

He drew her into his arms as she broke down into hysterics. He held her close to him as he eased his fingers through her hair to soothe her, “Shhh, it’s okay. You’re alive, and I’m grateful for that. He may have seduced you but he didn’t kill you. You’re the only woman I know who can say that.”

“But what about Avery? What if he comes after me like he did with her?” She asked as she held onto him desperately.

“I’m going to be right here to protect you, Dee,” He assured her as he reaffirmed his hold around her, “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, okay? I’m going to be right here by your side, and I promise you that he’s not going to hurt you any more.”

“How could I have been so stupid? Why did I do something so impulsive?” She cursed herself while Dave held her in his arms.

“Shhh,” He gently stroked her hair, “You were hurt, lonely, and he is a master manipulator. He can spot weakness, and he knows how to use it against a person. There’s no doubt in my mind that he saw you with Avery and decided he’d use you to hurt her.”

“But…I mean…it’s like you said. I’m alive, and he didn’t get to hurt me,” She gasped as she suddenly pulled away from him and met his eyes, “Oh god…he was going to kill me, wasn’t he?”

“Probably,” He nodded before meeting her eyes, “I want to know how you met him, Dee. I need to know details…anything that could help us catch him.”

“I…” Deidra stammered as she looked lost for a moment.

“Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you some tea,” Judy suggested as she moved to her daughter’s side, “Besides you’re pale as a ghost and look like you might crumble into the floor. Sit down,” She urged her daughter while Dave sat beside her, “I’ll be right back.”

Dave eased his hand gently over Deidra’s shoulder, “How’d you meet Bruce Mathis?”

“I went to the island with my mom and Richard to be with Russell and Avery in celebration of their marriage,” Deidra explained as she fought to pull herself together, “Considering I’m in the midst of a divorce, the newlywed atmosphere wasn’t exactly good for me. I decided to get away from it so I excused myself and went for a walk on the beach. I’d been out there for a little while when this guy approached me. He was nice enough, and we struck up a conversation,” She continued after taking a deep breath, “He invited me for a drink, and I didn’t see the harm. While we were drinking, he shared with me that he was just getting out of a relationship…” She winced, “Where his ex left him for someone else.”

“So he was talking about Avery without ever mentioning her name,” He concluded.

“I suppose so,” She nodded as she thought back to the situation, “Still, he seemed as heartbroken and lonely as I was. So he offered to take me around the island to show me the sights. I figured that anything was better than staying around the newlyweds. So I agreed. We talked about our failed relationships, and he just seemed so charming. And he seemed to enjoy being with me. It was nice to feel that again. It had been so long since Andy even acted like he liked me much less wanted to be around me,” She began to cry again, “And he listened to me and encouraged me. God, how stupid this all sounds now,” She sobbed slightly as she plucked a tissue from a box at the end of the sofa, “But I really needed someone to want me, and he did. I was tipsy to say the least, and I just gave in to the moment.”

Dave watched her carefully and felt her pain as if it were his own, “So how did your time with him end?”

“After we…” She trailed off, hoping she wouldn’t have to say the words. When Dave nodded his understanding, she continued, “I just felt…” She shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe it was guilt. Maybe it was self loathing. I just don’t know what it was, but I had this sudden panicky feeling. I just had to get out of there, and I got my stuff and ran away. A cab going into town picked me up, and that was the end of that.”

“I think you should give yourself more credit,” Judy spoke as she placed a steaming mug of tea on the coffee table before her daughter. She knelt down in front of Deidra and took her hands, “Your heart was warning you of what he had planned. You ran because you were frightened, and maybe that was your inner senses helping you to get out of a very dangerous situation.”

Deidra met her mother’s eyes for a moment, “Do you really think that’s possible?”

“I do,” Judy nodded, “And I truly believe that’s why you’re still here to talk about this. You listened to that inner voice, and you trusted your senses. That alone saved your life, Deidra.”

Dave lightly rubbed her back as he agreed with Judy, “Your mother’s right.”

“If that was so true, then how did I let myself get into this situation to begin with?” Deidra scoffed as she ignored them both, “I was stupid, and it damn near got me killed.”

“But it didn’t,” Judy declared adamantly, “You’re alive, Deidra. Be thankful for that. Just use this as a learning experience instead of dwelling on it as if you’ve done something wrong. You didn’t. You did the best possible thing, and that was surviving.”

Deidra shook her head as she stood and waved both Judy and Dave off as they tried to console her. She walked into the bedroom and closed the door to shut them out of her misery. She crawled into her bed as she broke down into tears. It was no wonder the relationships in her life hadn’t worked out. She was stupid and reckless, and this time it had almost gotten her killed. She gripped a blanket tightly in her arms as she cried into the soft material and wondered why anyone in her life would waste their time with her. She had never benefited anyone and only been a disappointment to those she loved the most. And while her mother hadn’t said it, Deidra could see the disappointment in her eyes over this particular situation. Truth be told, she was disappointed in herself as well and wanted to just fade away into nothingness so that everyone around her could be better off. Everyone would be better off without her around to pity. Everyone would be happier if she was just gone…including Deidra herself as she continued to cry into the blanket and mourn her actions.


Jade awoke with a start. A thousand clamoring sirens and bass drums began to wail in her head as she fell from her perch with a thud. She groaned outwardly as she held her head tightly, wishing away the symptoms of her well-deserved hangover.

While she didn’t remember much of the evening after Gabe had introduced her to that sinfully delicious chocolate cake, she was certain she wasn’t at home. If she had been, Seth would already be tormenting her to the brink of insanity.

Thankfully, that was not the case. Also, thankfully, she still had all her clothes on. At least she thought she did. Her senses were dulled but she could feel cloth on every part she wanted to be covered any way.

She turned into the carpet to shield her eyes from the morning sun as it crept into the room. She still didn’t know where she was, but wherever it was, it was entirely too bright!

Gabe stepped into the room and moved around the sofa to look at Jade. When his eyes drifted to where she lay on the floor, he cocked a sideways smile, “Good morning.”

“Oh god,” She moaned painfully as she tugged a throw cushion from the sofa to cover her head.

He crouched beside her and gingerly touched her arm, “I’ve ordered some coffee and dry toast. I figured you could probably use a little food on your stomach.”

“Oh god,” She groaned again as she slowly rolled to her back, “Where the hell am I?”

“I brought you back to my hotel room. You were adamant about not returning to your apartment,” He informed her.

“That was a preemptive strike against Seth torturing me during a hangover,” She reasoned as she let out a slow breath, “He would love to make me feel like I’m in hell,” She slowly peeked through one eye, “Please tell me you’re not going to do that to me in his place.”

His grin returned, “I suppose I could take pity on you and just nurse you back to health.”

“Oh thank god,” She sighed with relief as she squeezed the throw pillow over her head once again.

The knock at the door announcing the arrival of room service sent Jade into a tremor as she squealed in pain from the enhanced noise in her head. Gabe’s grin faded as he noticed her despair on his way to the door. He took the cart inside the room and tipped the server well before the door was closed once again. Gabe filled a cup with coffee and placed it upon the coffee table before he touched Jade’s arm once again, “Come on. There’s coffee, and you need to sip some.”

“I don’t want any. I want this pain in my head to stop,” She squeezed her forehead tightly as she slowly sat up with Gabe’s help, “Why did I drink so much?”

“Because you were hurting,” He reminded her as he kept an arm around her to steady her while easing the cup of coffee to her lips, “Here, take a sip.”

“I don’t want it,” She said firmly as she cocked her eyes to look at him, “Gabe,” She paused, “Thank you for bringing me here last night. I appreciate you being so good to me. Not every guy would be.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not like most of the guys you’ve ever met,” He replied with a slight grin.

“Well yeah, there’s the whole gay thing, but I’m talking about being a genuine friend to me. Not many men have ever earned that kind of place in my heart, but you’re definitely showing potential.”

“Well that’s good to know,” He said as he pushed the coffee towards her, “Now drink this coffee.”

“Are you always this pushy?” She grumbled as she finally took the cup from his hands yet still refused to drink.

“When it really matters, you bet I am,” He winked at her.

“Then why aren’t you this pushy with your Guy?” She asked candidly as she met his eyes, “If he really matters to you, shouldn’t you push him to be true not only to himself but to your love as well?”

“It sounds easy in theory, but in practice, it’s the most difficult thing of all. Coming out to his family will be difficult for him, and I would never pressure someone I love into that kind of stressful and potentially heartbreaking situation. When he’s ready, I’ll be ready for him,” He replied as he stood and made his way to the room service cart to make his own cup of coffee.

She took a slow sip of the coffee and sighed as she thought about Grady. She frowned as she held the cup in her hands and gazed into the dark liquid, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe being pushy isn’t always the answer. Lord knows it wasn’t in my case.”

“What do you mean?” Gabe asked while he took a seat beside her once again.

“I mean that I pursued Grady relentlessly,” She revealed, “I guess you could say that I was almost obsessive about it, and I thought that as long as I could get him to see how good we could be together, he could straighten his life out,” She nibbled her lip before she glanced to him, “But I was expecting too much from him. I was pushy, and I think I pushed so hard that I forced him into a situation he wasn’t ready for. God I was stupid and naïve.”

“But you were in love,” He noted as he watched her, “It’s pretty evident even now that you love him.”

“I do,” She frowned, “How crazy is that? After everything, I still love him, and I still believe that things could work…if only he’d pry his head out of his ass for a change,” Her frown deepened.

“So it looks like you and I are both stuck waiting for our guys to come around.”

“So it does,” Jade looked to Gabe and gently raised her coffee cup, “Here’s to waiting.”

“Hopefully not forever,” Gabe agreed as he lightly tapped his cup to hers, sealing their toast that their loved ones would come to see the light before it was too late.


The strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee crept into the bedroom as Mindy turned on her side, stretching out beneath the blankets as she opened her eyes to find herself in unfamiliar surroundings.  It only took a minute for her to register where she was at as it seemed that the previous evening’s disaster played out again and again in her mind.  Now as she rehashed the way in which the Coral Valley Police Department had given her headache after headache about the break in at her apartment behaving as though she was to blame for the situation, she felt that same tension that had swept over her the previous night returning to her neck and shoulders.  Sitting upright, she looked around the room vaguely remembering seeing the beginnings of daylight as Guy had brought her back to Avery’s old apartment.
Sitting in the middle of the queen sized bed all by herself a frown touched over her lips as it seemed the one memory hitting her harder than the annoyance she’d had with the police department after losing most of what she owned as now all she could think of was the kiss that she’d laid upon Guy in the heat of the moment.  That stupid, foolish kiss that she’d thrown on him when her heart took control and stole all common sense from her as she was quite certain that one kiss would be the turning point in their relationship as there was no doubt about how awkward things would be after it happened.  Even now she felt her stomach tied in knots as she recalled her flair for the dramatics with Guy.
Oh how was she ever going to make her way out of the bedroom now, Mindy frowned to herself bunching the sheet up over her body wondering if she could just take it upon herself to slip out of the window to the left of her and vanish before she had to face guy again.  Though almost as soon as the thought occurred to her, she had a flash of another image where she landed on her ass, flattened like a pancake all because she’d been dumb enough to try to shimmy down the fire escape out of Avery’s lavish apartment.
“So what now genius,” she huffed to herself pushing her loose hair back behind her ear as she realized she was dressed in her oversized, tattered Metallica t-shirt.  Last night she’d been desperate to cling to something that held some kind of importance to her and this particular item was something the burglars clearly deemed unworthy of their time.  Of course now as she moved her fingers over the frayed edges, she realized that maybe this wasn’t as comforting as she’d wanted it to be as she still felt so very violated and foolish for everything that had taken place, but before Mindy could completely absorb herself in her misery, she heard a knock at the door alerting her that there would be no more avoiding the inevitable.
“Are you decent in here,” Guy questioned popping his head into the room as his eyes cast over in her direction.
“When am I ever decent, Guy?” Mindy challenged trying to remain calm as her stomach was in flip flops watching as he entered the room with a tray in hand.  Almost immediately her gaze dropped down to his bare chest as he was still clearly in his pajama bottoms and having a lazy moment like herself…well, except for that sweet smelling tray he was carrying.  “What’s this?”
“I thought you could use a pick me up this morning,”  he explained with a thoughtful smile.
“Guy you didn’t have to cook for me,” Mindy began touched by the gesture as her curious eyes wandered over the tray he set down before her.
“I wanted to as it was the least I could do considering that I hexed your apartment last night,” Guy offered up with a sad expression.
“Guy, you weren’t hexing anything as it was only a matter of time before someone broke into my place.  You were just trying to get me to see that, but I was too stubborn to admit that I‘d made a bad decision about where I was living,” Mindy admitted reaching for one of the pancakes before her.  She plucked it up with her fingers lifting it to her lips and taking a hearty bite out of the circular morsel.
“Even so, I should’ve just kept my mouth shut as I was completely out of line,” he began unable to help but shake his head at her as he watched her nibble on the pancake continuously, “Mindy, I swear you are the only person on the planet that eats a pancake that way.”
“What’s wrong with the way I eat pancakes,” her lip curled in a pout, “I’ve been doing it this way for years.”
“Yes, which I understand, but when you were four, well it made sense considering that it was much more exciting to use fingers instead of forks, but at your age, I just assumed you’d outgrown that whole need to play with your food,” he pointed out with a matter of fact expression.
“And you Guy Morrison have never learned the joys of just throwing the rules aside and just doing what it is that makes you feel free even if it means eating your pancakes without any kind of dinner ware,” she took another large bite of the pancake before holding it out towards him, “try it.”
“No, I think I’ll pass,” he shook his head at her, “as uninhibited pancake eating seems to be all you there.”
“Chicken,” Mindy’s eyes dared him as she shoved her half eaten pancake towards his face again, “Come on Guy.  No one else is watching.  You can eat the pancake and tell me what you think about being different for a change.”
“I think I’ve spent my entire life being different,” he sighed thinking about the current state of his life.
“So then what’s wrong with trying one more thing,” she goaded him further watching as he snatched the pancake from her hand.
“Will it make you happy,” he questioned lifting a curious brow.
“Oh yeah it will, but wait,” Mindy insisted reaching for the tiny container of syrup he’d brought with the tray, “Let me see that for a second.”
“Mindy, I think it’ll be fine this way as…” he started watching her reach for the pancake drenching it in the strawberry syrup before she handed it to him once again in all it’s sticky splendor.
“Now it’s ready for you to give it a taste,” Mindy urged him on watching the skepticism and apprehension behind his eyes before he reluctantly took a bite.  She watched as some of the syrup collected at the sides of his mouth while he swallowed and a giggle burst from within as she reached for her pancake once again, “You like it, don’t you?”
“I love it,” he replied with a laugh of his own stealing it back from her before dropping the rest of his mouth eagerly, “Are you happy now?”
“I’m getting there,” Mindy teased reaching for another pancake from the stack before her as her eyes remained fixed upon Guy.
“Well good because that’s what I wanted to see this morning,” Guy began sinking down onto the blankets as he watched her enjoying her meal, “and hopefully later on the police will have better news for us than they did last night.”
“I think it’s safe to say that I’m never going to see my stuff again,” Mindy sighed heavily shaking her head at the thought, “At least I got that reality last night.”
“Even so, I don’t really like the idea of you being there considering that someone just went in there like that and tore your world apart,” he replied a ponderous look upon his features as he reached for a grape upon the tray before him, “It’s really not safe Mindy.”
“I know that, but if I just leave the apartment, then the bad guys win,” she shrugged her shoulders thinking about the way her apartment looked when she’d returned once again, “I mean that’s really what it boils down to.”
“No, what it boils down to is that I really think that maybe you should look into staying somewhere else for a while.  At least until the police can find the guy who did this,” Guy insisted further, “as he’s probably been casing the place out and he knew you were alone.  Heaven knows what he would’ve done to you if you’d been home at the time he struck.”
“But I wasn’t, Guy,” she reminded him pointedly trying not to dwell on what might’ve been with the person who’d violated her private, safe space.
“But you could’ve been and he could’ve done something really horrible to you,” he continued with a frown as he sat up straighter, “and Mindy that’s something that I don’t want to see happen to you.  I couldn’t bear the thought of someone hurting you like that.”
“Guy, I’ll be fine,” she promised him offering up her best fake smile, “You know me.  I always bounce back from these sort of things.  I mean sure it seems like it’s bad now, but eventually I’ll find a way to make up for all the things that I lost and…”
“Mindy, I’m being serious here,” he interrupted.
“So am I.  Guy, I’m sure that this was just some random break in because as you said it’s not exactly the best neighborhood to begin with,” she began again trying to be optimistic about her situation.
“Even so, maybe you should think about staying with your mom for a while,” he suggested watching as a deep scowl pressed upon her features.
“Oh no,” she shook her head adamantly, “no way.  I’m not going to even tell her about what happened let alone admit that I need to come back home again.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds Mindy.”
“Oh yes it is,” she argued with him feeling a shudder rush over her at the idea, “I mean don’t get me wrong, I love my mother, but I’m not going back to her home.  I left that place vowing to make it on my own and I’m not going to pack up the bags and go back there now when one little thing happened…”
“Mindy, someone broke into your home and stole pretty much everything you have,” Guy interrupted watching anger flash behind her eyes.
“Gee, thanks for reminding me,” she rolled her eyes in response, “as if it was that easy to forget.”
“All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be alone.  Mindy, if the guy who did this is still out there, then there’s no telling what…”
“Guy, if I keep living my life on what ifs, I’ll never go outside again.  I mean in all honestly statistically speaking I’m more likely to die in a random traffic accident crossing the street than I am by having a burglar return to my apartment once again.  Besides as you said they took pretty much everything, so there’s no reason to return.”
“Of course there’s reason to return,” he huffed back at her, “there’s plenty of it Mindy and if you aren’t even considering what could happen to you, then you’re being naïve in this situation.”
“I’m so not being naïve,” she answered flatly as her eyes met his, “I’m just not going to carrying on in such a fashion that leads the world to believe that this situation can break me.”
“Mindy, I know you’re a very strong woman, but if you take a moment to step outside the blinders you’re wearing, you’ll see that maybe…”
“Guy, I’m not moving back in with my mother,” she waved her hand in the air dismissively, “Case closed.”
“Mindy,” he opened his mouth to continue with the debate before he stopped himself short shaking his head at her, “were you always this damned stubborn?”
“Pretty much,” she nodded in response sinking another piece of pancake into her mouth, “though you used to call it free spirited and spunky.”
“Now it’s a pain in the…” he began as she pushed a piece of pancake into his mouth to silence him.
“Guy, I’m going to be just fine,” she promised him with a smile, “I mean hey, things can only get better, right?”
“Not there they can’t,” he argued once again, “Mindy, I don’t like the idea of you being alone there when the person who did that is still out there…”
“Guy, it’s really not that big of an issue,” she sighed feeling the argument growing old, “I’ll be fine.”
“You’re not going back there,” he stated matter of fact, “and if you’re not going to stay with your mom, then you can stay here with me.”
Mindy‘s eyes widened in response as the very thought began to muster up all sorts of images that she was quite certain she shouldn‘t be having about the man before her, “Guy, I appreciate the offer, but I can’t stay here.”
“Of course you can,” Guy continued feeling a spark of genius over him, “Avery’s obviously not coming back anytime soon since she’s got a new home and well, since she’s letting me stay here, well I wouldn’t mind taking on a roomy.  In fact, the more I think about it, the better the idea sounds.”
“Guy, honey while I really appreciate what you’re saying, we wouldn’t work out as roommates,” she blurted out boldly feeling the courage to at least be honest with him in this moment as he watched her with confusion over his features.
“Of course we can,” he dismissed her words as he shifted restlessly on the blankets, “Mindy, you can stay here until you find somewhere else that you feel more comfortable.  It’ll be like the old times when we used to try to stay up and out all night and…”
“Guy, it’s not going to work,” she cut back sharply once again, “I know you mean well, but…”
“Mindy, I’m not going to argue this with you,” Guy cut her off once again getting up from the bed as he seemed to be spinning with ideas.
“Then don’t because I’m not staying here,” Mindy called out after him watching him walk towards the door once again.
“Yes you are,” Guy spun around to face her folding his arms in front of his chest in a defiant stance, “and that’s final.”
“No Guy,” she shook her head carefully moving the tray away from her lap before she threw back the blankets and got out of bed standing her ground against him, “this isn’t going to be the great fix to the situation.”
“Trust me it won’t be so bad,” Guy continued lost in his own thoughts of the situation, “I mean hey it’ll make a lot of things easier and…”
“Guy, I know you said that we’d start over fresh this morning, but considering last night, you and I both know that we’re not going to be able to live together as I’m not going to be able to do this,” she waved her hand at him gesturing towards his chest as he gave her a strange look.
“Mindy, come on.  We can’t let last night be the thing that makes this strange between us,” he sighed heavily bringing his fingers through his hair, “Right now this is about your safety.”
“And I can tell you that it’s dangerous for me to stay here for any given length of time because if I’m around you too long I might do something that will make things even more awkward between us,” she explained stepping in towards him as she reached for his hand, “Guy, I really, truly appreciate the offer, but I can’t stay here with you…”
“Mindy, we can find a way to make this work,” Guy pleaded with her watching a sadness spark behind her eyes as she shook her head up at him.
“No we can’t,” she whispered unable to contain all the emotions inside of her as he opened his mouth to argue with her.
“But…” he started as Mindy took in a nervous breath hating that she’d have to go to extremes with him, but as he refused to listen to what she was telling him, she had no other choice, but to prove to him the most blatant evidence that they couldn’t live together as she threw her arms around his neck tugging him in closer to him to kiss him with wild, unrestrained emotion.
Guy seemed to stammer beside her as her lips continued their assault on him, trying to prove to him how wrong it would be to have her living in this place with him, or maybe it was her way to test out his responses to her as she kissed him with everything she had.  She could taste the sweetness of his lips, the fire behind his kiss and her heart was left with a longing that only caused her to crash into a world of despair once again as she reluctantly tore away from him.
“So now you see why we can’t do this,” Mindy whispered breathlessly tears straining behind her eyes as she took a step back away from him.
“Yes we can,” Guy decided after a long moment of silence as he stepped forward seeking her out once again before his mouth came crashing down upon hers kissing her with the same heat that she’d thrown upon him moments earlier.  A surprised gasp spilled from her lips, transforming into something that resembled a faint moan as she threw her arms around him kissing him with all that she had in this moment.
“Guy,” Mindy broke away from him her eyes searching his for the truth behind what was happening between them as he lifted her up into his arms carrying her back towards the bed.
“Mindy, you’re wrong about us,” Guy pressed her down over the blankets his mouth coaxing hers to sweet surrender again and again as his body hovered over hers, “after last night all I can think about--all I want is to be able to give this another try…to be with you…  Mindy, I want you…”
“You do,” her eyes widened at his words as he touched her cheek gently, reaching down into her heart with the tenderness behind the gestures.
“I do,” he nodded honestly as his fingers lingered over her skin, “you can’t leave me.  I don’t want you to go.  Say you‘ll stay with me.”
“Oh Guy, yes.  Yes, I‘ll stay with you!” Mindy closed her eyes losing herself to his touch as the moment seemed to transcend beyond anything she’d anticipated and she could feel her body yearning to return to the way their relationship had once been, but before the moment could truly envelope her, Guy’s voice cut through her thoughts.
“Excellent.  It‘s going to be great having you around.  We‘ll be able to do this.  You‘ll see,” Guy reached out to the tray before her as Mindy reopened her eyes seeing that he was still seated at the end of the bed, now cleaning up the remains of breakfast as it seemed that their kiss had only been in her mind and as she watched him rise up from the bed taking the tray with him to the kitchen, she felt her heart sink.
“I’m sure,” Mindy slumped her shoulders over, feeling a groan spill over her lips as she sank back into the blankets wondering what in the world she’d agreed to with him as she hadn’t wanted to accept his offer to stay with him.  Being roommates was going to kill her one way or the other if her overactive imagination didn’t do it first.
“I can’t stay with him,” Mindy tugged on her dark hair forcing herself out of bed to tell him that she wasn’t going to stay with him after all.  Knowing that it was the best thing to do, Mindy marched out into the living room seeing him across the way headed towards the kitchen, “Guy hold on a second.”
“What’s wrong,” he questioned looking over his shoulder at him, “Want something more from in here?”
“No I’m fine.  Breakfast was wonderful as always, but…” she started feeling her stomach tied in knots as she watched him rinsing off the dishes.
“Yes?” he flashed her a sexy smile, “Do I sense a complaint coming on because if you’re even thinking about it, I’d strongly suggest you think twice because if it’s too insulting I might not pamper you like this every day.”
“Guy, it’s not that, it’s just…” she began again, her face twisted in a mask of seriousness.
“Just what,” Guy turned off the water reaching for the towel he’d had on the countertop, “Mindy, what’s going on?”
“Guy, it’s just about us staying together.  Well, I just…”
“It’s okay,” Guy reached out to her touching her shoulder gently, “I know that this is only temporary, but I promise I’ll behave and be the best roomy that you could dream of…”
“Guy, it’s not that…it’s just…” she began again as the faint ringing of Guy’s cell phone beckoned her from her train of thoughts.  Almost immediately she watched him practically jump out of his skin as his eyes fell upon the phone.  “Guy?”
“It could be him,” Guy explained, his voice cracked with emotion, “it could be the kidnapper…”
“Then you should answer it,” Mindy urged him on watching as he reached for his phone bringing it up to his ear as he prepared to deal with whatever was waiting for him on the other end of the line and in that moment, Mindy decided that everything else other than that phone call could wait as right now was about finding out what happened to his mother once and for all.


Jenna snuggled into the warmth beside her, unable to contain the feeling that tickled over her body as the snug feel of the arm that curled around her set her mind at ease.  It wasn’t a typical morning to put it mildly and yet this kind of atypical seemed to be more than fitting as Jenna felt a yawn press upon her lips.  Stretching out beneath her blankets, she could feel the toes that tickled over the bottom of her foot as a smile lifted over her features.
“Good morning sexy,” Hart’s voice murmured into her ear as she felt the same sensual lips that had taken her to new levels of desire the previous evening now drifting over the curve of her neck.  Her smile widened growing with the moment as she thought back to the sensations that had stirred up inside of her the previous evening when she’d found herself lost in the skilled caress of those velvety smooth lips that were now tracing over her skin.
“Good morning yourself,” Jenna purred fluttering her eyelids to open as she snuggled back into the body beside her, not bothering to slip out of the casual embrace they were in as his chest was snuggled up against her spine, cradling her against him.
“Sleep well,” he questioned lazily his hand dropping down further beneath the sheet as his finger tips teased over her abdomen.
“What do you think,” she replied answering him with a question of her own as she tipped her head back to glance at him over her shoulder with a cryptic smirk.
“I think that right now you’re a very satisfied woman to say the least,” Hart declared unable to keep from kissing her as he shifted her in his arms so that they were now facing one another.
“You think so huh,” she teased with a hint of laughter as he dipped in towards her collecting her lips in a tantalizing display of hunger.
“I know so,” he mused proudly easing his palm down over her spine as he cupped her in closer to him beneath the sheet that covered them, “though I must confess that last night I didn’t anticipate waking up like this with you in my arms.”
“Hmm, well does that pose some kind of problem for you,” she teased feigning seriousness as she leaned away from his mouth.
“Hell no it doesn’t,” he shook his head eagerly as his finger tips traced over her cheekbone as if memorizing her features again and again after last night’s very thorough exploration, “as I feel like the luckiest man in the world right about now.”
“Of course you do,” Jenna winked at him with a flirty tone overtaking her, “seeing as last night I finally gave in to this incessant quest of yours to bed me.  I mean how long have you really been planning that?”
“Longer than you can imagine, but I must confess that you my darling were well worth the wait,” Hart promised her claiming her lips again with the same fire that had sparked so many wild sensations inside of her after their first kiss.
“Sure, sure,” she shook her head once again, “I’m sure you say that to all the girls.”
“Actually,” he paused an air of seriousness overtaking him as his eyes locked upon hers once again, “I don’t.  Truth be told I don’t do this either as I‘ve made it a rule not to sleep with a woman all night long.”
“Okay now I know you’re trying to pull a fast one over my head,” Jenna threw back a skeptic look as he shook his head in the negative.
“Jenna, it’s the truth.  I swear it.  I haven’t ever relished the idea of spending the night with a woman beyond what was necessary to kind of get what I wanted out of the situation,” he paused thinking about his words for a long moment, “I know that makes me sound like a really horrible guy, but truthfully I never fathomed the idea of spending the night with a women in my arms all night long.  After we were finished, I usually kicked her out of my place or found a way to duck out of her place before things got strange.”
“Ah I see, so is this your way of trying to warn me that you’re ready to run off,” she questioned unable to contain the disappointment building back in her tone at the thought of him taking off on her.
“No, that’s not it at all as I’ve done a lot of things with you that I wouldn’t have done in the past,” he confessed openly as he held her in his arms, “Jenna, the time I’ve spent with you has been incredible and those nights we spent together before last night, well those were something that really got to me.  That time we shared, well, it really touched a part of me that nothing’s ever been able to get close to…”
“Hart, you don’t have to flatter me…” she began shifting restlessly beside him.
“But I do have to tell you the truth,” he continued with a heartfelt plea, “because the fact that you were willing to take a chance on me shows me that all of this was worth fighting for.  When I thought I was going to lose you before, well I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more than to fix the mistakes I’d made as I couldn’t bear the thought of being without you.”
“I guess I just lost it when I saw you with Beth back at the hospital because I felt like the higher powers in the world were against us somehow.  I mean we haven’t exactly had the best of luck when it came to the two of us being able to get well, physical with one another.  I just kind of thought the worst and…”
“And that was your first mistake Jenna because as you can clearly see the apartment hasn’t burned down around us and both of us are alive to appreciate what happened between us in all of it’s glory,” Hart mused with a proud grin.

“Okay so I’ll admit that I am relieved that neither one of us were seriously injured last night,” she confessed with a tiny grin, “as heaven knows I wasn’t sure what we’d wind up with after everything.”
“Well given some of those Olympic moves you had going, most men might not have been up for the challenge, but I loved every second of it…especially when you did that thing with your back,” he teased with a wink watching the shift in her expression upon his words, “and if I didn’t know better, I’d have to say that you’re glowing right now Dr. Carpenter or could that be the first hint of embarrassment I see spreading in your cheeks right now?”
“Hardly,” she lied shifting again as she brought her hand up to his head, “as I think it’s more so a case of your eyes feeling the residual effects of my throwing that ashtray at you yesterday.”
“Hmm, well that did hurt like hell, but I don’t think that has anything to do with my thinking you are by far the most beautiful woman in the world,” he leaned in closer to her dropping his lips to hers in a tender display as his breath struck against her lips, “as that’s what you are you know.”
“I’m starting to think I should knock you around more often,” Jenna teased sliding her arms around his neck as he pressed her onto her back over the mattress, “as it brings out the sweet side in you.”
“Oh I can be very sweet,” Hart reminded her with another slow, tantalizing kiss, “though I was oh so certain that you’d discovered that last night when we were together.”
“Hmm, well I do recall a little bit of something there, but it’s a bit hazy,” she fought to suppress the giggle that built up inside of her, “although if you’re willing to give me an example of just how sweet you are, I might be able to recall the things you’re speaking about here.”
“So you’re asking for me to give you some kind of reminder, huh?” Hart lifted a speculative brow, “Hmm, well I don’t know whether I should be offended by that or not considering that I thought I’d left a rather memorable impression upon you.”
“Oh I’m sure that you have, but it’s still early yet and I get off to a very slow start most of the time,” Jenna confessed with a soft sigh, “as I’m not really much of a morning person you see.”
“Hmm, well perhaps we could work on changing that,” Hart’s fingers danced over her hip, sliding down onto her thigh, “although the slow start doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad thing as I don’t mind taking the time to warm you up.”
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me,” Jenna teased feeling his lips taper off over her body as she found herself feeling anything, but relaxed and ready to toss the morning aside as Hart’s lips and caresses stirred up that oh so mesmerizing primal ache inside of her.  She bit on her lip trying to keep from turning to putty in his hands as she managed to get out a few more daring words, “though I must admit that I really have never been one for mornings Hart and I’m not sure that you can change that for me.”
“Oh I’ll change it for you as I can assure you by the time I‘ve had my way with you, you‘re going to get a whole new outlook on mornings from here on out,” he promised her sliding beneath the covers as she arched up against his touch, writhing beneath him as it seemed he was determined to prove to her all the ways in which a morning together could turn into something that she could learn to appreciate again and again with him.


Seth propped himself up on his elbow remaining on his side as he noticed the way the morning’s golden glow showered in over Blake as she lay beside him in his bed.  Somehow he couldn’t help but be mesmerized by her as she lay beside him at peace in her slumber as his pulse quickened at the nearness of him.  Even now he found it hard to believe that the angel of his dreams was right beside him, so very close to him, yet so far away as his heart filled with love for her.
While he’d thought about doing the right thing last night after the movie had ended, he’d hated the thought of having to watch her walk out of his life once again.  He didn’t want the moment to end between them and as her lazy smile had touched his heart, he found himself heading far away from the Ashford mansion and back to his apartment.  Blake had agreed that perhaps they should check in on Jade, though they both had known that Jade wouldn’t be anywhere in sight when they’d made the trip back to his apartment.  However, as he reflected upon the moment, it seemed that they’d both come up with any and every kind of rationalization to keep the night from leaving them as now they lay together in his bed with Blake lost in her dreams while Seth found himself filled with a sense of longing far more than he’d ever imagined.
A smile touched over the corners of his mouth as Seth found himself unable to contain the urge to reach out and touch her as her golden tresses spilled out over the pillow beside him.  He caressed a long, silky lock watching the way in which her face scrunched up as though she’d sensed the slightest touch he’d offered her and as he began to withdraw his hand, she curled into him, draping her arm over his chest as she snuggled into him.
“Seth,” she murmured his name as he couldn’t help but smile kissing the top of her head as he held her gently.
“I’m right here,” he whispered tenderly feeling himself burning up at the feel of her soft feminine form over his as his heart threatened to expose every feeling he’d had for her in this moment in time.  He tried to keep the strong, steady beat under control, but just the scent of her set him on edge as he feared what she must be thinking as she lay over him.  Surely, she had to be feeling the effects of his heart’s rapid pounding as with each passing second, it revealed more and more how hard it was for him to do the right thing--to be the man he’d promised her he’d be after they’d spent the evening making out at the movie theater.
With that thought fresh on his mind, Seth found himself overcome with a whole new array of sensations as he had to credit Blake to the fact that she’d taken the very thought of spending time in the back row of a movie theater fooling around to a whole new level.  While they’d kept things reasonably under control as they hadn’t crossed any regrettable barriers with one another that would have her hating herself in the morning, just the memory of her kisses alone kept the sizzle pouring through his veins, causing that same blood that flooded to his heart to surge into other less appropriate places as he shifted restlessly beneath her.
Seth felt her groan a bit before wiggling into his chest more completely as he tried to keep his inability to control his every reaction to her under control, but that in itself was a very challenging task as he strained to think about things that would make this situation less comfortable.  He thought to his photographs, which only lead him back to the pictures he’d taken of Blake dancing around in the Ashford mansion, which wasn’t helping at all.  He tried to push himself to do a mental run down of the grocery shopping he was certain he’d have to do later in the weekend, but instead he was reminded of the time Blake had brought over dessert for him and how they’d found themselves in a rather intimate fashion with one another when he was certain he didn’t want to stop then anymore than he did right now as she slept over him completely unaware of this despicable male desire that was creeping in over him in the most nefarious of fashions daring him to just give in to the temptation that Blake provided him with.
“Would you quit moving,” Blake groaned swatting at his chest lightly as she shifted over him once again, “as you’re making it increasingly comfortable for a girl to get comfortable with all that jittering you know.”
“You’re not exactly making it easy for a guy to relax yourself by cuddling up like that and being so damned sexy,” Seth answered blurting out the first thing that came to mind as he wanted to kick himself for allowing the thoughts to slip through.
“Sexy huh,” Blake seemed to perk up at the thought as she pulled her head up off of his chest just a bit to see the twisted expression upon his features, “Hmm, so I wasn’t just imagining that you were having wayward thoughts right now, was I?”
“I wouldn’t exactly put it that way as…” Seth stopped himself unable to deny the truth to her as a reluctant sigh carried over him, “Okay, so maybe my mind was somewhere it shouldn’t have been right about now.”
“That’s okay,” Blake smiled at him as she repositioned herself up over his body, crawling upon him until her face hovered over his, “as I’ve kind of been thinking about something along the same lines here.”
“Blake,” he began feeling her press her index finger over the center of his lips to silence any protest that might come from them before she dipped down to take his bottom lip between her own parted lips, nibbling on it gently before her tongue rolled over the sensitive patch of flesh just inside his mouth which opened up a whole new world of sensations that he knew he was certainly not supposed to be having.  Unable to resist, he eased his arms around her, holding her over him as they drifted apart, their mouths a mere breath away from one another, “where do you see this going with us?”
“Where do you want to see it go,” she questioned tentatively dropping feathery light kisses over his cheeks, upon his forehead until she claimed his mouth again with a newfound ferocity.
“I want a lot of things for us,” he admitted with a painful expression as his large hands slipped up over her face framing it with his touch as he held her over him, “Blake, I want us to have something on so many levels that goes beyond physical here.”
“I know,” she nodded in response, a sigh escaping from her lips as she maintained her position over him, “and believe me Seth, I want that too and on some level I think we’ve already established something beyond this attraction we have for one another.”
“I’d like to believe that,” he confessed straining to keep some sense of rationalization inside of him as she dropped down to kiss him again, “Blake…”
“Hmm,” she murmured her soft, sounds vibrating over his lips and sending a chill down his spine which was shortly followed by a hot fire sparked entirely for him.
“Do you trust me,” he questioned massaging the contours of her back before his hands dropped down over the small of her back.
“Seth, don’t be silly,” she shook her head sending the tips of her blonde hair tickling in over the sides of his face as she stole another kiss from him, “what kind of question is that?”
“One that I think it more than appropriate to ask considering what we’ve been contemplating with one another,” he pointed out pushing all seriousness to the front burner, “Blake, what you and I have been contemplating sharing with one another isn’t something that a woman like you takes lightly.”
“I didn’t say I was taking it lightly Seth,” Blake curled her lip in a pout, “as that never once was something that popped into my mind.”
“Even so, I’m not about to throw something upon you that comes along with a whole set of emotions and feelings that you’re not ready to come to terms with,” he explained gently watching as her expression shifted and she forced herself to meet his eyes as something sparked behind the blue depths before him.
“Seth, if you’re worried about hurting me, then I think it’s only fair that I be honest with you about the way things are,” Blake declared as a tightness set in over her jaw, “I’m not a virgin anymore.”
Seth remained frozen beneath her and Blake could feel his fingertips curl into a ball just over her body as she almost regretted spilling her secret to him at a time like this.  Judging by the expression on his face, she could see that her words hurt him and on some level she almost wondered if deep down she’d been waiting for a moment like this to hit him with this unexpected news as he’d done something similar to her in the not so distant past.
“I see,” was all Seth managed to utter as he shifted uncomfortably beneath her seemingly struggling to find the right thing to say at a moment like this.
Blake followed his lead and rolled off of him moving back to her side of the bed as she watched him slide off of the bed pacing around the room in a silent stupor.  She eyed him intently not quite sure if she should be angry or upset by his reaction, or hurt that he hadn’t said more as she’d been so certain that that news alone would spark something more in him.  Then again, she really hadn’t planned on blurting it out just like that as she really hadn’t thought about hurting him, well not until just now when she’d gone and delivered that blow to his clearly wounded ego.
“I guess I should’ve saw that one coming, huh,” Seth replied under his breath as Blake saw a darkness spark behind his eyes.  She found herself ready to lash out at him, ready to wage whatever kind of war he’d had prepared for her as his eyes returned to hers once again, but instead of the hatred and jealousy she’d expected, she saw one clear emotion behind their depths--regret.  He sighed again taking a seat on the far edge of the bed as he kept a distance between them.

Bringing his fingers through his dark hair once again, he spoke up faintly straining to keep his voice from taking on a tone he didn’t want, “I suppose that explains a lot about Zack’s reaction to my being around you, huh?”
“It wasn’t happening before you and I split up if that‘s what you‘re thinking,” Blake explained feeling the need to offer up some kind of explanation as she hated to see the hurt she’d pushed upon him.  Despite whatever impulse that had thrust her into revealing that tidbit to him, she now wished she hadn’t said anything as the expression on his face nearly tore her in two.
“Still, if you and Zack were together like that, then that says a lot about how you feel for the guy, Blake,” he sighed heavily hanging his head down as he refused to look at her, “Clearly there’s a lot happening between you that you aren’t telling me…”
“Seth, that’s not how it…” she started to inform him, but she stopped herself short as she realized she wasn’t about to start lying to him at a time like this, “Zack and I have always had this bond between us and when things happened like they did for us, well I guess maybe it was our way of finding that closure we needed after all this time.”
“Closure huh?” Seth’s eyes met hers once again, “Blake, can you honestly tell me that’s what you believe it was?”
“I…” she frowned shaking her head as she strained to find the right words, “no, I can’t say that because I don’t think that was entirely the case…” she trailed off wishing that she could put her fingers on the right words that would make sense of the situation she’d found herself in with the men in her life.
“Then maybe this is the point in time where I do the right thing in this situation and step aside,” Seth announced after a long moment of silence as Blake’s eyes widened in surprise, “because clearly you have something with Zack that you didn’t have with me.  You feel safe with him and you trust him with your heart and with…”
“Seth, that’s not why I told you,” Blake cut him off abruptly, “I wasn’t trying to compare what we have to what I had with Zack.”
“You say it like it’s in the past tense, but Blake I’m starting to wonder if that’s really the case,” Seth confessed poignantly, “I mean here we are together and you’ve been spending all this time with me, but it’s been because of how Zack’s treated you.  If he hadn’t been as cold as he was to you when Caitlin was hurt, then maybe I wouldn’t be having this opportunity to be with you right now.  I mean that’s what it all boils down to, right?”
“No,” Blake insisted desperately unable to contain the tears that carried over her, “that’s not what this is about.  Seth, we had something real and something wonderful, but for some reason fate tore it away from us.  It found a way to work it’s way into the situation and break us further apart, but now we have a second chance…”
“A second chance for what Blake?” Seth questioned once again as a pang struck at his heart, “For me to be the one you rebound with until you realize that Zack’s the man you really want to be with?”
“That’s not what I’ve been doing,” Blake replied sharply as anger flashed behind her eyes, “as I’ve never once lied about the way I feel for you.  This isn’t about Zack.”
“Then why does it sure feel like it is,” Seth threw back at her once again feeling the sting of the though of her and Zack rip his heart to shreds.
“Because you’re making it into something it isn’t,” Blake insisted throwing her legs over the side of his bed as she stood upright, trying to muster up the strength to stop herself from being effected by the way his nonverbal cues were reaching out to her.  “You know maybe I was wrong to come here.  Maybe I made a mistake in thinking that we could do this again since you obviously don’t have the first clue about who I am.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Seth agreed rising up from his bed as he marched in closer to her, “Maybe I don’t know what’s going on with you, or maybe I do since you clearly wanted me to know how you’ve moved on.  All of this has just been leading up to something so that you could prove to me that you didn’t need me.  That’s it, right Blake?”
“I wish to hell it was because caring about you is the last thing I wanted to do after you hurt me the way you did,” Blake hissed back at him balling her fists up at her side, “You destroyed me Seth and yet you still manage to keep this hold over my heart and I hate it.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you do Blake,” Seth nodded in response clenching his jaw as her eyes shot daggers at him, “but don’t worry because I’m sure that Zack will come around in time and make up for the way I’ve mistreated you.”
“Screw you Seth,” Blake snapped back at him throwing her hand out to his cheek with a sharp sting of a slap before tears pooled in her eyes threatening to escape as her pulse quickened.
Seth stumbled back a step or two watching the way her face twisted with emotion before he stood taller, stepping in closer to her as Blake’s breath grew uneven and she watched him with a strange combination of fear and something else Seth couldn’t quite place.  With each movement he made in towards her, he could see something happening behind her eyes as her hitting him didn’t compare to the pain he felt in his heart at the thought of all they’d lost with one another because of his father’s mistakes--because of a past he couldn’t change, but as it all seemed to press down upon him as though he had the weight of the world upon his shoulders, he tried to distance himself from the moment.
“I should take you home now,” he decided brushing past her as he marched in the opposite direction, seeking out his car keys and his shoes.
“Maybe you should because right now you’re the last person I want to be around,” she snapped at him unable to control the shakiness in her tone as she dropped her arms down to her side, feeling her body tremble at the way she’d felt with her stomach tied in knots and her heart tangled with emotion.
“All the more reason for me to get you on home then,” Seth grumbled in response realizing that his keys were missing from the night stand that he’d put them upon the previous evening when they’d come home with one another.  A groan swept over him as he crouched down on the floor pushing his hand in beneath the blankets as he searched the darkness for the keys to his truck.
“You know what I think Seth,” Blake continued watching him seek out the keys as her anger flared.
“No, but why don’t you enlighten me Blake,” Seth remarked dryly swiping his keys up from beneath the bed as he started to rise up from his knees once again.
“I really think the problem you’re having here isn’t about what Zack and I had with one another, but more so that you can’t handle the fact that you weren’t the man that I shared my first love making experience with,” Blake threw out at him in an accusatory tone, “It’s just been a big blow to your ego that you couldn’t deflower the Ashford princess like you’d planned on from the moment you set your sights on destroying my family.  That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Damn it Blake,” Seth cursed squeezing his keys in his hand as anger flashed behind his eyes, “Is that really what you think this is all about?  Do you really believe that all you are to me is a pawn in some misguided path of terror I have set out for your family?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you considering the things you’ve come up with,” Blake hissed at him, shaking her head with obvious irritation, “I mean really Seth, how long did you think I’d be stupid enough to play into the whole Prince Charming act?”
“I so wish it was an act Blake because that would’ve made everything a hell of a lot easier,” Seth slammed his keys down on the nightstand before stomping towards her, “because in all reality if I didn’t love you, then I wouldn’t be here risking everything like this all because of my misguided heart.  I wouldn’t have put my sister’s life on the line and I wouldn’t have gone against every safety zone like I’ve done by pissing off a man like Cameron Stone.  He’s not exactly someone you’d want as an enemy Blake, but while I realize I was the one who leapt into this situation blindly, I never, ever wanted to hurt you.”
“Oh right,” she rolled her eyes in response, “like I almost believe that.”
“Believe what you want, but I swear to you Blake that all I wanted for you was happiness,” Seth shot back at her his voice cracked with emotion, “All I wanted for us was to have the things that I never had growing up--to have a chance at love and all the thing that I swore to myself that I’d do without before you came into my life.  Blake, whether you want to believe me or not, I was running on empty, so damn close to hitting that brick wall before you came into my life, but then like the quake, you showed up and shook up my world in ways I never dreamed of.  When I saw you the first time, I was shell-shocked to say the least…”
“Yeah because you were seeing your big ticket to a fortune,” Blake grumbled in response, “as I know all about how Cameron’s paying you richly for what you’ve done.”
“And that’s why I still drive around that beat up Chevy after my car was totaled,” Seth threw back at her in a state of disbelief, “I mean I’m sure it shows seeing as I’m still here in this run down apartment living the same life that I did before Cameron popped into my life…”
“Just because you haven’t spent it yet, doesn’t mean you aren’t waiting for the moment to use that blood money against me,” Blake sneered in response as another cry erupted from the back of her throat, “I can’t believe I’ve been being so stupid!”
“Stupid,” he repeated with an ironic laugh building up inside of him as he headed over towards the night stand once again pulling out an array of envelopes, “No Blake I’m the stupid one because I could’ve taken the money and run, but I didn’t.  I chose to walk away from something that could hurt you--that could ultimately hurt Jade and for all I know, there might be someone out there with a bullet that has my name upon it for the way I’ve defied Cameron, but you know what?  I really don’t care anymore.  If he wants me dead, then so be it because anything he could do to me pales in comparison to the way it hurts to know that I’ve lost your trust and that you’ll never see me as the man you loved--that you’ll never look at me the way you once did.  It kills me that regardless of how much my heart longs to be with you that you’ll never ever trust another word I say and that in itself is far more horrible than anything a man like Cameron can do to me.”
“Now you’re going overboard with the theatrics,” Blake accused watching as he spilled out the envelopes onto the bed before her revealing a vast array of snapshots.
“Am I?” Seth questioned harshly motioning to the bed before her, “Take a good look Blake.  Really, if you’re so certain that you know what motivates me, then take a good look at those pictures as those were taken right after my sister was gang raped in that hotel room--when your brother took her to the hospital and I sat by her side praying for a miracle that she wouldn’t be taken from my life.  You look at those and tell me that I’m the liar and the manipulative bastard that you think I am, or better yet, why not take a good hard look at these,” he dumped another set of photos out onto the bed, “as they show my sister and your father’s associates in the act of violating my then fourteen year old sister.”
“Put them away,” Blake shouted turning away from them as she refused to look at what he tossed out before her, “I don’t want to see your lies!”
“No Blake, I want you to see why I am who I am,” Seth reached out to her pulling her into his arms as he turned her towards the bed, “Take a good look at what our fathers did to me--to us--to Jade.”
“No, I’m not going to.  I won’t do it Seth,” she argued closing her eyes tightly as she shook her head wildly refusing to see the so called proof he had before her.
“No please go on because maybe then you’ll understand why I don’t want these copies to get out to the public--why I don’t want Cameron destroying my sister as she’s worked so hard to get beyond this in her life--why I did what I did in the hopes that somehow I could find a way to protect her and you,” he broke down releasing her as he took a step back horrified by how far out of control things had gotten between them.  Seeing her shaking before him, he continued to back away until he pressed into the wall, sinking down to the carpet as tears of guilt and anguish overtook him.
Blake could feel her pulse racing in her chest, her body on fire with a mixture of emotions as tears stung at her eyes, but as she felt Seth pull away from her, she hadn’t anticipated what she’d heard rising from the far end of the room.  However, with each sob that seemed to break through the surface, she felt herself torn in all directions as she unclenched her fists, opening up her hands as her eyes did the same and she unwittingly found herself staring at the images before her.  While she’d wanted to be anywhere, but here in this moment in time facing what he’d pushed upon her, she felt herself shudder as her eyes fell upon an image of a battered and bruised Jade after what clearly was any woman’s worst nightmare.

Blake tried to will herself to look away, but she couldn’t help but reach out to browse through the photos of Jade at the hospital as with each new image, another horror seemed to reveal itself to her until she sank down onto the bed unable to take her eyes off of the disgusting images that flashed before her.  She reached for one of the photos from the other set of images seeing men she didn’t recognize doing things to Jade that caused a gag reflex to build up in the back of her throat as she could see the tears that had overtaken Jade in that moment that those men had been abusing her now clearer than ever as Blake discarded the image unable to take in one more agonizing moment of the situation Seth’s younger sister had been in once upon a time.
While there had been no concrete evidence in these images of her father’s involvement of any sort of the crimes taking place against Jade, Blake couldn’t deny the truth any longer.  Seth had been trying to protect his sister and whether or not her father had played a hand in what happened to Jade, it was irrelevant at this moment in time as Jade had endured a great deal of torture at the hands of men who would no doubt have haunted her for years.  Even now as Blake felt herself haunted by the chilling images that she’d discarded, she could only imagine what Jade must’ve experienced to have been violated in such a disgusting way at such a young age.
Rising from the bed, Blake tried to muster up the strength inside of her to do something, anything to try to react to this situation as she could only now feel how her words must’ve cut through Seth like a knife.  Slowly she began to back away from the bed when something caught her eye.
“No,” Blake gasped reaching for one of the images as the man in the photograph seemed familiar, almost too familiar as Blake forced herself to take a closer look before she dropped the photograph on the bed in horror, “oh God…”
“Blake,” Seth reached out to touch her shoulder, causing her to jump as she hadn’t heard him get up from the floor, but as the last image played through her mind causing the wind to be knocked out of her, she spun around to face Seth with tears burning down her cheeks.
“Seth I…” she started at a loss as she broke into tiny sobs.
“I shouldn’t have showed you those,” Seth replied pulling her into his arms as he wanted to kick himself for being so stupid for doing such an awful thing to Blake.  “I shouldn’t have done this,” he rambled on releasing her as though his hold on her had only added to her pain before he began to scoop the photos into a pile trying to clean them up before Blake took another look at them.
“No, don’t,” Blake touched his arm urging him to keep from hiding the truth from her as she curled her fingers around his bicep, feeling it tight with tension.  She reached out to him urging him to meet her eyes once again as her heart pounded furiously within her chest, “Seth please…”
“Blake, I shouldn’t have done this.  I didn’t mean to upset you and I think that…” Seth started uneasily his eyes still clouded over with tears as she sank her fingers into his arm, her nails pressing upon him as he faced her once again, pain burning behind his eyes.
“Seth, I know that man in this photo,” she pointed to the one he’d just discarded, “He worked with my father and, he…” she stopped herself overcome by tears as she buried her head in her hands overcome with sobs.
“He what,” Seth questioned in panic pushing the picture off of the bed as he moved in beside her watching her shake with something that felt like fear and misery all rolled into one.
“He was someone I trusted--someone that I chased around for a while…” Blake blurted out shamefully, “I thought he was such a nice guy and Diane and I both fought over him, but now when I see that…  Oh God, how could I have thought he was something special when he did that to Jade?  How could I even think…” she stopped herself wiping at her tears as a lump formed in her throat, “Does Diane know that he raped Jade?  Is she aware of what that man did to your sister?”
“No one has ever seen these…” he sighed dropping down beside her, “no one, but you though I wish I hadn’t done this.  Blake, I’m so sorry that I’ve hurt you--that…”
“Seth, I needed to see this,” she insisted reaching for his hand, “I needed to know what happened--about how…and now that I know that Eric…” Blake broke down into tears once again, “Seth, I pursued the man who raped your sister full well ready to seduce him once upon a time just because I wanted to prove to Diane that I could get someone my father deemed appropriate before she could…”
“Blake, you couldn’t have known,” Seth started reaching out to her as she threw her arms around him crying into his chest.
“Seth, I was wrong…so, so wrong about everything and about you and about this and now, when I think about what you told me…” Blake trailed off suddenly remembering what he’d told her on that night their relationship seemed to forever change.
“Don’t think about it Blake,” Seth cupped her face in his hands, “please don’t think about it because I can’t watch this situation tear apart another woman I love.  I won’t let this destroy you like it did Jade as I shouldn’t have shown you those and I wish I could take back what I said.  I don’t want you to be touched by this,” he wiped at her tears feeling a sick feeling building in the pit of his stomach at how he’d shaken up her world, “Please, don’t let this be something that destroys you as I can’t bear the thought of being responsible for that…”
“You didn’t do this Seth,” Blake reminded him in between sniffles, “as they did and what they took from your sister…”
“I couldn’t put you through that,” Seth explained desperately, “I wasn’t about to take advantage of you or hurt you in any kind of way that…”
“I know,” she nodded reaching out to him as she touched his face, “Seth, I realize that and I need you to know that I believe that.  I need you to see that I can see you as who you really are and not what I just accused you of being…”
“Blake, you don’t…” Seth started once again as she pressed her index finger over his to silence him.
“Yes, yes I do,” she nodded in response, “Seth, I need to tell you this because you asked me a question and I didn’t give you an answer and that was unfair.  You asked me if I trusted you…”
“Blake, please you don’t…” he mumbled beneath her touch.
“Seth, when I’m with you, it’s not you that I don’t trust,” she blurted out openly, “as it’s me that I don’t trust because when I’m with you I can’t control my heart and that terrifies the hell out of me.  I’m not used to feeling so helpless or out of control, nor am I used to being this drawn to someone like this as all my life I’ve been in a position where I’m the one fighting for the attention--where I’m the one who is seeking out love and wanting it so desperately that when it was staring me right straight in the face, I ran as far from it as possible…”
“Blake, I hurt you and right now with what you’ve just seen, this isn’t the time…” he began again as she nodded emphatically.
“Yes, yes it is,” Blake insisted cutting him off again and again, “Seth, please…just let me finish.  Let me say this before I lose my nerve because believe me I will if I’m not careful.  Seth, regardless of what happens after this--despite what’s happened in the past or what’s happening right now, I need you to know that I’m telling you the truth when I say that I love you.  I don’t know why or how, but somewhere along the line from the moment I found myself facing my own mortality in your arms, I knew that there was just something about you--something that told me that as long as I had you in my life that everything would be okay--that we’d find a way to change the path that I was going down and now that I have this moment--this opportunity to tell you the truth unmasked by all the other emotions that have been putting me at arm’s length, I just need you to see that in my heart, deep down inside,” she reached for his hand bringing it up over her chest, “in here, I’m always going to love you.  That’s never going to change.”
“Blake, I love you,” he answered unable to contain himself as he leaned in towards her puling her into his arms as his kisses carried over her in a moment of desperate need and longing as she held onto him wanting nothing more than to lock the world away for a few moments in time.
“Please tell me that you won’t let me go,” she begged overcome by tears as her strong arms curled around him, “tell me that you won’t go away…”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he promised her hugging her tighter against him as he wondered what the future would bring to the both of them as it seemed that the battle had only begun in facing the war against the demons of the past that had threatened to tear them apart forever.  While he’d wanted more than anything to believe that somehow this was a turning point, that they’d be able to have that future he’d dreamt about sharing with her, he knew that it would be foolish to take a risk on something so unsteady and uncertain, but as he held her, he prayed to God that somehow things would work themselves out for them--that somehow they could survive the nightmare their fathers had created all those years ago when their lives had been forever changed with one horrible twist of fate.


Ken stepped into the Ashford mansion and heard laughter coming from the breakfast nook. He walked through the dining room and stopped in the doorway with a smile, “Sounds like a party’s going on in here.”

“Kenny,” Annie smiled, “How’s Caitlin this morning?”

“She’s doing well. The doctors came through already and said that she was making excellent progress. They want to keep her in for a day or so more to make sure her recovery is off to the best possible start,” He informed the group which included Annie, Timothy, and Julia, “But she sure is chomping at the bit to get away from that hospital,” He grinned as he kissed Annie’s cheek before taking a seat beside her, “Caitlin threw me out this morning while the nurses are changing all her bandages and helping her with a bath. She told me to come home and check on you guys,” He said as he looked between Timothy and Julia, “Did you get to rest?”

“I was restless for a little while before Annie brought me some herbal tea,” Julia smiled as she glanced down to the older woman, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that. It really did the trick to calm my nerves enough so I could sleep.”

“I know how burning the candle at both ends can take a toll on a person’s internal clock. I figured maybe with a little chamomile tea you’d be able to get the rest you needed so badly,” Annie smiled before she looked to Timothy, “You were up early this morning.”

“I fell asleep immediately last night and slept hard. I guess I just got all the sleep I needed and was ready to face the day,” Timothy smiled as he sipped his coffee.

“I’m glad you got the chance to rest. Caitlin’s worried about you two,” Ken spoke while pouring himself a cup of coffee.

“She should be,” Julia rolled her eyes, “Imagine her being worried about us when she’s the one in the hospital.”

“She’s always been the worrier of the family,” Timothy grinned, “No matter what was going on with her own life, she was worried about inconveniencing everyone else.”

“I think it helped her a bit to know that you two were going to rest,” Ken said as he looked across to Caitlin’s parents, “I’ve been thinking about things as well. If you’re going to stay in town for a while, we have a guest house where you could stay. That way you could really get settled in and have a place to get away from our family moments here,” He teased with a smile.

“Oh…Ken, I don’t know,” Julia said as she looked to her husband, “I’m not sure we’re going to stay very long.”

“Now that Caitlin’s conscious, I think I’ll be getting back home. I need to get all my sub-contractors in line on the new house we’re starting, and I need to meet with my clients once more as well,” Timothy spoke as he looked to his wife, “I hate that I need to get back so quickly, but I really need this account.”

“Caitlin will understand. Besides, she’ll be the first one to tell you that she doesn’t want to be an inconvenience,” Julia agreed, “I think I’ll stay long enough to get her settled in after she is released from the hospital. Then I’ll come home as well.”

“So I can’t interest you in the guest house?” Ken asked as he looked between them.

“It’s really a sweet offer, but I think I’ll get the keys to Caitlin’s apartment and stay there. I’m sure it needs to be cleaned up after everything…if the police are through,” Julia sighed.

“Fair enough,” Ken nodded.

“Speaking of rest,” Timothy spoke as he looked to Ken, “You look like you could use some yourself.”

“I slept last night. Caitlin wouldn’t have it any other way as she demanded I hold her while she slept,” Ken smiled, “While it was a bit uncomfortable in such a tiny bed, I think Caitlin slept well as she had me for a pillow.”

Annie chuckled softly, “Feeling a little stiff, huh?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Ken laughed softly.

“As long as Caitlin slept well, that’s all that counts,” Timothy teased as he winked at Ken.

“My thoughts exactly,” Ken agreed as he sipped his coffee. He glanced towards Annie after a moment, “Has Brant behaved himself?”

“He’s stayed to himself mostly,” Annie shrugged, “I just don’t know about that boy sometimes.”

“Me either, Annie,” Ken said with a sigh as he sipped his coffee again. While he was glad his brother had caused any problems for the Vaughns, he was worried about Brant. He would have to have a talk with him and see if they couldn’t bridge some of the distance between them. While he wanted to remain hopeful about that goal, he knew that the chances of actually achieving such a lofty goal were slim to none. Still, hope sprang eternal, and he had hope that his brother could still be reached with reason and a little brotherly understanding.


Johanna knocked gently on Caitlin’s door and peaked inside, “Is it visiting hours yet?”

“Who cares? Get in here,” Caitlin laughed softly as she waved for her old friend to come inside, “I heard you were in town.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure Zack was thrilled to announce that one,” Johanna rolled her eyes as she sat beside the bed, “Still, how are you doing now?”

“I’m getting better,” Caitlin shrugged softly, “But I’ve still had better days.”

“You poor thing,” Johanna frowned, “Have they figured out who did this?”

“It was Jimmy,” Caitlin admitted with a frown.

Johanna watched her for a moment, “I take it this isn’t the first time this sort of things has happened.”

Caitlin shook her head, “I always hid the abuse before,” She paused, “But he was hitting me for a long time before I left.”

“Oh Caitlin,” Johanna reached out to touch Caitlin’s hand, “I’m so sorry. If I could have helped out…”

“No one could. Not really. I wasn’t ready to admit that it was happening, and he wouldn’t have listened to anyone. The only thing that will stop him is putting him in jail,” Caitlin frowned as she looked to Johanna, “But I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s talk about you. What brings you to Coral Valley?”

“Well,” Johanna smiled softly, “I was actually here to try to recruit your boss to join the magazine. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested. It seems he’s found love to be more advantageous for him instead of pursuing his career.”

“Oh, but he and Avery are so sweet together,” Caitlin smiled as she thought about her friends, “Besides, they’re going to be parents, and I think Russ is really happy with that job coming up for him.”

Johanna shrugged, “Well, he wasn’t interested in anything I had to say no matter what I offered him,” She sighed, “He would have been a great addition to the magazine.”

“He’s a great editor and publisher at the Courier.”

“What about you? Why don’t you come to work for the magazine? You’d like it,” Johanna offered with an encouraging smile.

“No, much like Russ, I’ve found love as well,” Caitlin smiled, “Besides, I’ve kind of carved out a niche for myself here in Coral Valley. While it’s not the bright lights of the big city, it fits for me,” She paused, “So are you going back to Seattle?”

Johanna paused for a moment before she replied, “So I guess Zack wants me to leave as soon as possible, huh?”

“I didn’t say that,” Caitlin frowned.

“You didn’t have to. Zack doesn’t want me anywhere near him,” Johanna stood and walked over to the window to look out at the small courtyard below, “And that is the most painful thing in the world to me.”

Caitlin watched her friend and sighed, “You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” Johanna looked back to Caitlin, “I never stopped loving him, but that didn’t stop him from forcefully ejecting me from his life. When he saw me here in Coral Valley, he freaked out. Do you have any idea how that felt?” She asked before shaking her head, “I love him, Caitlin. How stupid is that?”

“It isn’t stupid at all,” Caitlin replied with a frown, “But the entire situation is just difficult.”

“You have no idea,” Johanna took a deep breath as she prepared to speak the news she’d been trying to dispute for a while now, “Caitlin, I’m pregnant.”

“What?” Caitlin’s eyes widened. She gasped before she looked away then back to her friend, “Does Zack know?”

“No,” Johanna shook her head adamantly, “There hasn’t been a good time. Besides, I haven’t had a blood test yet, but I did two different at home pregnancy tests. They were both positive, and I just haven’t had a chance to arrange an appointment with a doctor.”

“But….Jo, you really need to tell him,” Caitlin urged her friend.

“I know,” Johanna sighed as she sat back down beside Caitlin’s bed, “I haven’t told him yet because he was worried about you. I mean what was I supposed to do. Oh yeah, your sister could be dying, but guess what? I’m pregnant,” She rolled her eyes.

“You’re what?” Zack asked from the doorway as his jaw dropped and his eyes zeroed in on his former lover.

Johanna looked back to Zack with anxiety in her eyes as she wondered how she could speak to him on this subject considering the way things were between them.

Caitlin looked between her brother and his old flame. If he thought things were complicated before, he was about to get the mother of all complications dropped on his doorstep. She could only wonder how he would deal with the reality of how his life was about to change forever.


Ria walked down the hallway of the hospital as she went about her morning rounds. She’d only had one drink last night knowing that she had to be at work early this morning. Besides, while she’d enjoyed being out with her friends, she wasn’t exactly part of the party crowd especially when everyone else had been paired off. She’d felt more like a third wheel while all the couples…including Jade and hunky blond guy…had stuck together.

She turned down a hall leading to the ER but stopped as she saw a door open along the way. She started to look inside before a hand reached out and drew her inside. As she started to cry out in surprise, she heard a voice.

“Shhh, it’s just me.”

“You scared the daylights out of me,” Ria smacked at the source of the voice as she turned to look at him, “Are you crazy?”

“Sorry,” He grinned, “But I had to see you, and this was the only way to arrange it.”

“Well next time, try to arrange it without giving me a heart attack,” She warned.

He pouted slightly as he eased closer to her, his arms snaking around her, “I’m sorry baby. I just wanted to see you. It’s been too long since we’ve been able to be alone together, and it’s really driven me to the brink of insanity,” He said as he drew her further into his arms.

“You really do know how to turn on that charm, don’t you?” She teased as she wrapped her arms around his neck, “But you’re right. It has been too long.”

“So, do you think you could spare a few moments for a wounded heart who needs your tender loving care?” He asked with a smile as he eased his lips towards her.

“I think I could spare more than just a few,” Ria smiled briefly before his lips captured hers in a passionate kiss. While she had work to do later, right now all she wanted to do was lose herself in her secret lover’s embrace.


“I can’t believe this,” Avery paced around the living room feeling as though she was going to wear a hole in the carpet as she kept returning to that moment in time she’d been sharing a shower with her worst enemy.  A shudder passed over her as she wondered how in the world she could’ve mistaken Grady for Russ.  There were far too many differences between them for her to have ever thought that he’d been the man she loved--so many things that repulsed her and yet for some reason unknown to her, she’d allowed him to get that close to her which right now even the memory of it was too close for comfort.  Feeling her stomach twist and turn as she fought the urge to throw up at the thought, she did a full circle marching in the other direction to the far side of the living room once again before Russ stepped in her pathway stopping her mid-movement.
“Avery, we need to talk about this,” he began uneasily seeing the irritation burning behind her eyes.
“Russ, I can’t keep doing this,” she threw back at him lowering her voice as she thought to his mother in the kitchen, “I can’t keep apologizing for Grady hating me and I sure as hell can’t take anymore of what happened today in the bathroom.”
“Avery, I really don’t believe he meant to do that,” he frowned thinking back to what he’d witnessed, “as I’m quite certain that if Grady wasn’t hung over, that he would never have…”
“Well he did,” she squealed in response straining to stifle the responses that carried over her, “and that in itself has me nauseated.”
“I understand that sweetheart, but…” he began again watching the fire of rage exploding behind her dark eyes.
“But nothing.  I thought it was you and like an idiot I just kind of stood there and now, well oh God, how stupid am I?  I mean how could I not know that it was your drunken idiot of a brother instead of you?”
“You and I were both up with him all night taking care of the situation…” he reminded her with a tired sigh.
“Exactly which is all the more reason that I’m less than thrilled about this intervention we’re having here,” Avery spat back at him wildly, “I had nothing to do with his drinking binge, nor did I cause his little girlfriend to walk out on him as I can’t help that she finally saw the light where he’s concerned.”
“I realize that Avery and Grady’s wrong on so many levels that I can’t even begin to rationalize any of what he’s done,” he agreed with a nod.
“Yet, you’re calm about this, which is something I truly don’t understand considering that he just molested your wife,” she shot up at him with a huff, “Russ, I mean honestly you are standing there like nothing and…”
“What do you want me to do Avery?  Would you like me to go back into the bathroom with my father and Grady and beat the hell out of him?  Do you want the both of us to tear one another apart yet again because my brother’s too big of a moron to see that I’ve found happiness in my life?  I mean honestly, what more can I do,” he questioned in frustration throwing his hands in the air, “because you know Avery, I’m open to suggestion right about now if you have one.”
She scowled upon his words watching the anger mount in his expression, “Russ, I didn’t bring this on as it’s your brother who is bent on pushing my buttons and trying to get in between us.”
“So what would you suggest?  Should we just have a fight to the death here in order for us to get over what’s going on,” he questioned feeling highly agitated as he ran his fingers through his dark hair, “I mean I’ve already tried avoiding him in the name of keeping peace around here, but you see how far that got me.”
“Oh so you’re saying that you’re avoiding him in the name of peace which really means that you’re shutting your brother out just to pacify me.  That’s it huh,” she huffed impatiently tapping her foot on the floor in a nervous twitch as her dark eyes flared with emotion, “so in other words you’re really just trying to shut me up because you really would rather just continue to carry on with Grady like this and take what he dishes out, but because I’m the bad wife keeping you from your family, then you have no choice, but to comply to my demands?”
“Avery, I didn’t say that and now you’re putting words into my mouth,” he frowned back at her.
“Well it’s what you’re not saying that is apparently obvious.  I mean you and Grady were the best of friends growing up, but then I enter the picture and your relationship has fallen apart.  Maybe that’s what this gets back to considering that you two were fine before you married me,” she continued raising her voice with the moment, “I mean really, maybe this is the mistake you’re making and your brother is right.  That’s what you’re really thinking, isn’t it?”
“Avery, come on,” he groaned in response, “now you’re just going overboard.”
“Russ, your brother came over to our home last night on the attack and ready to explode upon me, yet this morning here we are pampering him once again because Grady’s got a problem,” she rolled her eyes as she wiggled her fingers in the air at him, “well here’s the big newsflash.  We all have problems Russ, but we’re not all chasing them down with bourbon.”
“He’s an alcoholic, Avery.”
“And a pathetic one at that,” she cut him off with a hiss, “as I’ve never seen anyone more malevolent in my life and quite frankly I’m tired of all of this that keeps happening.  It’s like regardless of what I do to try to move two steps forward, Grady’s just got to find a way to take us all years behind and then kick me while I’m down.”
“Avery, as much as he tries to make this about you, Grady’s unhappy with himself and that’s really at the heart of the problem,” Russell continued as he tried to reason with her.
“Regardless of what his problem is, I’m not going to be able to live like this.  I’m not going to have him sit here and lash out at me over and over again until he’s finally gotten over his little tantrum because hey, let’s face it, he’s only going to be happy when you and I are over.  That’s the only thing that’s going to stop him from being like this and at the rate we‘re going, maybe he‘ll get his wish,” Avery blurted out pushing her way past Russell as he reached out for her arm drawing her in closer to him once again.
“Just what the hell is that supposed to mean,” he remarked sharply watching her dark eyes spark with rage as he tightened his hold upon her, “Are you threatening me Avery?”
“I don’t have to threaten you Russ as Grady’s put enough of a threat upon our relationship with the way he keeps hammering into me,” she continued thinking about the constant pressures Grady had put upon them, “He wants you far away from me and he’s not going to quit trying to make that one happen.  He doesn’t care what he does or says and he’s not going to stop pushing…”
“And I’ve been pushing back,” he stated firmly keeping his hold on her, “Avery, I’ve waited a lifetime to have this with you and I’m not about to let my brother screw it up.  I don’t care what he says, you’re my family now and if he can’t accept that…”
“Then what?  Then we just have to look forward to these little interventions every now and then when Grady’s decided that his luck is running low?  That we’re just going to have to uproot everything in our lives all because Grady has a problem,” she continued coldly as tears burned in her eyes, “Russ, I’m tired of dealing with Grady’s problems as I think we’ve had more than enough on our plate.”
“And we’re dealing with that too, but right now the situation stems around my brother and that is something that we can’t keep running away from as we need to set down the rules once and for all,” he explained desperately hating to see her upset.
“Yeah, and it so shows how great of a job we’re doing seeing as he’s still here and bilking up the pity poor me act for your family once again,” she pushed away from him heading towards the kitchen as Cheryl entered the living room catching the tail end of the argument between Russ and Avery.
“Avery come on…” Russ watched her disappear into the kitchen as Cheryl turned her attention from Avery to Russ once again.
“What just happened here?” Cheryl questioned in confusion.
“Your son just found a way to shake things up in my marriage yet again,” Russell marched past her pushing his way into the kitchen as his anger mounted.
Upon entering the kitchen, Russell saw Avery standing near the sink, her hands clasped firmly down upon the counter top as her head was slumped over pointing down towards the sink.  He could hear the sighs that escaped her lips as her tears dripped down into the sink sounding much like the faucet as a pang of guilt ate away at his insides.  Slowly approaching her, he found himself in a state of complete and utter turmoil as he reached out to her touching her shoulder gently.
“Don’t,” Avery shrugged out of his touch refusing to allow him to have contact with her as her tears continued, “Just don’t.”
“Avery please, don’t shut me out on this one,” he pleaded with her refusing to accept her words as he eased his arm around her waist, snuggling in behind her as he hugged her body against his, “Please don’t let what my brother’s doing be something to put a wedge between us.”
“Russ, I just don’t know how much more of this I can take,” she confessed tearfully still keeping her head down as she closed her eyes trying to will away what she was feeling, “I’m trying so hard just to keep it together, but it just feels like the odds are constantly stacked against us.  First with Bruce and now Grady…”
“Avery, regardless of what Grady does, it doesn’t change how I feel about you,” he rested his chin on her shoulder nudging her neck with his nose before pressing a tender kiss upon her neck, “You have to believe that.”
“It’s just so hard to hold up with all that’s happening,” she continued sadly, “I mean first I have the thought of some lunatic out there ready to take this away from us as he tried to keep our future out of reach and now with Grady’s hatred of me…”
“Avery, look at me,” he began turning her in his arms as his thumbs skimmed over her cheekbones brushing away her tears, “Sweetie, I love you and maybe you were right about before.  I should’ve reacted more about what Grady did this morning, but I was shell shocked and now sure how to respond.  I really don’t believe he intended to get into that shower…”
“I know that,” Avery nodded in confession, “I really do because I know how much Grady hates me and he wouldn’t do that unless he was hoping to do some kind of Psycho reenactment where I was the woman laying dead on the ground.”
“Avery, I don’t think he would go that far,” he began seeing the heavy disapproval behind her eyes, “I’m not trying to rationalize or make excuses for Grady, but…”
“But nothing.  Russ, he’s out to make me a monster and if he keeps carrying on long enough, you’re going to start wondering if that’s true and when he finally gets the thought in your head, well then you’re going to realize that maybe you made a huge mistake in being with me after all,” Avery admitted allowing her fears to slip past the surface as her tears continued, “You’re going to see that you ruined your life by choosing to be with me as I’ve brought you nothing, but misery.”
“Avery, how can you say that,” he questioned in confusion cupping her face in his hands, “You’re the mother of my child and the woman who has always held my heart.  My life would be incomplete without you in it.”
“Even so, I mean Russ if we weren’t having a baby together,” she began again feeling a moment of insecurity press upon her.
“Then we’d still be here together with the love that we have,” he urged her on simply as he leaned forward pressing his lips over her salty cheeks as he kissed her tears away, “Avery, there’s not a moment in my life when you weren’t a part of me somehow.”
“And the same can be said for Grady,” she sighed heavily closing her eyes as her heart ached, “He’s your brother and you two had an amazing relationship before we got back together.  I’m not trying to be insensitive here as I’m sure that he hates not having that bond with you, but…”
“Grady wasn’t always this way,” he tried to remind her, “as there was a time when the three of us were all the best of pals.  Hey, remember the time back in middle school when you were running for student government?  Grady and I were both campaigning for you and we’d spent that entire weekend just the three of us painting posters for your cause.  Or what about the time we went to Atlantic City and Grady showed up around the time we were getting ready to elope?  He agreed to be the best man and even offered us all he had so that we could run away and get a new start with one another because he knew what we had was destiny…”
“That feels like a lifetime ago,” she sighed thinking back to their younger years, “but now, well all he sees is the woman who broke your heart and left you at the altar to be with someone else.”
“But we both know the truth about that,” he pointed out gently, “We know what happened and when Grady learns the truth, well, he’s not going to be carrying on like this.  When he sees what you went through…”
“Russ, we both know Grady’s not going to care one way or another because ultimately I’ve never been good enough for you,” she argued with him, “He’ll just blame what happened on me and use it as a tool to remind you over and over again just how far I can go to cause you pain.”
“No, I don’t think he would do that,” Russ began again thinking about his brother’s malevolent streak where Avery was concerned, “as this really didn’t start with you.  This started with Susan and when she broke his heart, it became his downfall.”
“But Russ when he says…” she started once again.
“In his own misguided way he sees you and I as a mirror of his relationship with Susan.  He loved her with everything he had and together they were destructive.  When he was with her, he sank into the deepest level of his alcoholism and all he could do was obliterate anything and everything he had going for himself, but then when he found out about her and Ken, well Avery, I can’t even begin to tell you what it did to him.  She was his world and in that instant of betrayal, she’d crushed him into a million pieces.  He started to close himself off from the world and after that he had this cynicism about him.  He refused to allow himself to open up to love and when I didn’t follow his pattern, then he got upset.”
“Even so, with the things he’s said…” she began again.
“Avery, he really believes that you and I are so very much like him and Susan were, but in reality we both know that’s not true.  Yes, they couldn’t get enough of each other for a while there, but she brought out all the darker traits in him.  She caused him to hate himself as he emerged himself in a lifestyle that was never really Grady to begin with.  She burned him again and again and after that, well I don’t think he can even fathom the idea of opening his heart to a woman.  Granted, I was starting to believe that Jade got through to him, but clearly even she hasn’t been able to penetrate that wall he’s got around him.”
“Even so, I don’t see why he’s come after me like this,” Avery struggled to find some understanding in all of what Russ was saying, “I mean sure I get it that he doesn’t trust easily and that maybe he thinks we’re going down that same path he went in his marriage, but you said it yourself.  We aren’t like that and we won’t ever turn into that…will we?”
“No,” he secured his hold on her, “we’re not like that at all Avery, but at the same time Grady still has his hang-ups and I think a lot of it stems from the unresolved issues still remaining between him and Susan.  With us, we had a lot of unfinished business, but ultimately it brought us back to love again which is something that Grady wished for so desperately in the past, but when life didn’t pan out that way, it made him bitter.  I think in his own way he resents the happiness we’ve found and rather than accept and embrace it and be generally thrilled for us, he’d rather keep on being bitter and damning us for obtaining what he’s always had just out of his reach.”
“When you put it that way, well, it just sounds so sad,” Avery frowned taking in his words as a sigh fell from her parted lips, “and lonely.”
“I think right now my brother is one of the loneliest men in the world and with his seeing Jade with someone new, well I think it’s taken it’s toll on him and left him with a need to crush those who have been fortunate enough in the areas where he feels he’s failed,” he reasoned feeling a sense of insightfulness upon him, “In that aspect, I feel very sorry for Grady and wish that there was something that I could do to change that for him.”
“Me too,” Avery admitted surprising herself with her words as she turned her eyes up towards Russell once again, “but well, maybe we can.  I mean if Grady‘s really out to get me because of what he‘s missing in his life, then perhaps it‘s time to put him on the right track again…”
“Avery, are you suggesting that we…” Russell started at a loss as he noticed a flash of something spark behind her eyes.
“As much as I hate what he’s doing to us, maybe if he truly allowed himself some happiness in his life, he’d let up a bit,” she suggested with a sad smile, “at least enough that maybe we could find a way to be able to deal with this situation without it escalating to the point it’s at right now.”
“So you’re saying that you want to help him,” surprise flashed behind his eyes as she nodded.
“Strangely enough yeah,” she nodded in response, “yeah I do and maybe after this well, I won’t be praying for any miracles anytime soon as I’m certain he’ll always hate me, but maybe with a little quick thinking and a hint of effort, he’ll find a way to push that resentment and anger aside long enough to open himself to the possibilities the world around him has to offer.”
“Maybe you’re right.  What do you have in mind,” Russell questioned curiously hoping that somehow together he and Avery could come up with a way to get Grady’s life back on track in the hopes that it could repair some of the damage that had been done to the entire Denton family once and for all.

...to be continued...