Episode Eighty Seven 

Avery closed the door after Jade had stepped inside and said a silent prayer that this was really the right thing to do. While calling Jade had seemed like a stroke of genius at the beginning, now as the tension in the room was palpable she was starting to wonder if it had been so ingenious after all.

Elliot looked to Cheryl after a moment of tense silence passed. He reached out to take his wife’s hand, “Do you still believe love can conquer all?”

“Hmm,” Cheryl frowned, “I don’t know that it’s ever had to contend with someone as stubborn as Grady before. Still, there’s hope.”

Grady looked to Avery with a mixture of anger and confusion, “What’d you hope to accomplish with this? Did you think that bringing Jade her would distract me from you?”

“Don’t you even think about starting with her,” Jade ordered as she glared at him, “She still has hope for you, you ass. Why is really beyond me though. Cause if I was her, I’d turn my back on you and never look back.”

“Jade…” Grady began.

“Don’t ‘Jade’ me, Grady Denton. You’ve really stuck your foot in this time, and I’m not about to over look it,” She declared harshly, “If you think for one minute that I’m going to just automatically forgive you because I love you, you’ve got a whole other think coming, bud. You’ve got a hell of a lot of apologizing to do.”

“Jade, I’m sorry…”

“Not to me, Grady. To Avery,” Jade corrected him, “Yeah, I was hurt by what you did, but my pain has been nothing in comparison to Avery’s. You’ve lashed out at her when she hasn’t even done anything to you,” When he started to protest, Jade held up her hand, “Save it. I really don’t want to hear about the past anymore, Grady. What’s done is done, and it can’t be changed. You have to live in the here and the now, and stop trying to prevent something that’s never going to happen.”


“Shut up, Grady. I’m not done with you yet,” Jade raised her voice over his, “Not by a long shot.”

“Oh…Kay…” Russ whistled softly as he looked to his parents, “I think that may be our cue to get lost for a little while.”

“I…” Cheryl began before she looked to Grady who now looked like he was a child about to take a scolding, “Okay, I suppose we could give them a little while.”

Elliot escorted his wife out of the house while Russ crossed the room to stand beside Avery. He slipped his arm around her, “What do you say we give them a chance to deal with this on their own?”

Avery looked worried for a moment before she touched Jade’s arm lightly, “Don’t forget that you two love each other. Whatever else may be true, that fact should stay first and foremost between you. Don’t let anything else overshadow that,” She warned before she reluctantly followed her husband’s lead out of the house.

When they were finally alone, Jade stared at Grady for a long moment as she wondered how things had ever gotten to this point. She’d been so content a few days ago as they lived out her dream come true, but then it had come tumbling down around her in shards of her broken heart.

Grady slipped his hands into his pockets as he stared at the floor. He’d known Jade was angry with him, and truth be told, he couldn’t really blame her. He had made a promise to do his best to behave, and he’d almost lived up to that promise…well, sort of.

“Jade, I’m sorry about this.”

“Sorry?” She questioned with doubt as she eyed him carefully, “You know, I’m the one who should be sorry. I’m sorry I offered you a chance to dig yourself out of the hell you’d relegated yourself to. I’m sorry I offered you my love, my heart, my soul.”

“Jade, please don’t say that,” Grady begged in desperation, “Please don’t be sorry for loving me. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.”

“Then what the hell is your problem?” Jade snapped as she threw her hands into the air, “You know, I was such an idiot. I thought that my love might actually be able to help you in some way, but it hasn’t even made a dent in that thick head of yours.”

“That’s not true. You’ve given me new lease on life. I’ve found the light at the end of the tunnel, Jade, and it’s you,” He said as his eyes looked back to the floor.

“You are so full of crap. You say a lot, Grady, but it doesn’t mean a damn thing,” She felt her voice cracking with angry tears as she paused and wiped a stray tear from her cheek, “You have to back it up with actions, but all your actions are the exact opposite of what you’ve said.”

“I’m trying, Jade.”

“Really? Funny, but I can’t see how that could possibly be true. You’ve said you would try to behave around Avery. You didn’t. You said you would stay sober. You haven’t.”

“I was until…” He paused, “Until I saw you with that man last night.”

“What?” She asked in confusion, “What are you talking about?”

“At the Gables. I saw you coming out with Seth’s friend. It was pretty obvious that you were going home with him, and that was a thought I couldn’t stand.”

She rolled her eyes, “If you really thought I was going to screw someone the night we broke up you, you really don’t know me at all, Grady.”

“Then what was going on?” Grady asked expectantly.

Jade stood her ground and crossed her arms as she nailed him with an indignant glare, “None of your damn business. Until you straighten out your behavior, mine is none of your business,” She declared firmly, knowing she’d just nudged him into full battle mode and preparing herself for the war that was about to ensue.


“Are you sure that you don’t want anything more,” Blake questioned turning her eyes up from her plate as she noticed the way in which Seth was picking at his food.
“Blake, I can barely finish off what I have here,” Seth confessed taking note of the way she’d maneuvered her way around his kitchen adding her own special touch to the atmosphere as she’d worked on preparing a breakfast for them despite his many protests that it was unnecessary.
“It’s to get rid of all this excess energy and tension,” she’d said when she’d started, but now as he noted that both of their plates were still more than half full, he began to wonder if perhaps they were both pushing something that really shouldn’t be pushed any further after the last few hours they’d shared with one another.
“Are you sure,” she asked again breaking through his thoughts as he shook his head gently.
“Blake, this was incredible, but right now,” he paused unable to contain his thoughts, “well I’m a bit worried about Jade.  I mean seeing as she hasn’t called to check in lately…”
“I’m sure she’s fine with Gabe.  You said that he was a good guy, right?” Blake questioned once again.
“Of course he is, but still I can’t help but worry about her,” Seth blurted out allowing his thoughts to linger to his younger sister, “She’s never been this worked up about a man before and I hate that this situation with Grady’s been hurting her so much.”
“I’m sure in time the pain will heal,” Blake offered up hopefully, “as these things often work themselves out, right?”
“I’m not really sure I believe that one,” Seth confessed wondering what his sister must be going through at a time like this, “I mean she’s just had so much on her plate lately…”
“I know she has, but your sister is a fighter,” Blake reached for his hand, sliding hers on top of it as she offered a soft smile, “and considering all that she’s been through in her life, I can see that she’s got so much strength and character…”

“All the strength in the world won’t mend a broken heart,” he sighed slumping over at the table.
“Maybe not, but if it’s meant to be, well I’m sure that eventually given time things will come around with Grady,” Blake began again squeezing his hand gently, “as it seems that’s going around lately.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” Seth couldn’t help but smile in response thinking to the breakthrough they’d had with one another in the morning.  While things had been quite emotional and intense, somehow he and Blake shared an unspoken understanding that only seemed to strengthen whatever it was that they’d had between them.  However, if he had to put a label upon it, well there wouldn’t be words to describe the change, but he knew it was there.
“The world works in some very strange ways,” she sighed her tone darkening as her thoughts carried over her taking her back to those photographs she’d seen earlier, “and in some horrible ways too it seems.”
“Blake, I wish that things didn’t have to be the way that they are, but I can’t change the past…” Seth started watching the sadness that pressed in over her beautiful, blue eyes.
“I know, and right now as much as I wish we could, that’s not really what’s relevant.  What’s important is the future and we need to focus on that,” she squeezed his hand once again, “starting with helping Jade find some happiness and security in her life.”
“I really thought that maybe just maybe Grady could’ve given her that as he seemed so dedicated to caring for her, and being there for her, but now, well now I just don’t know anymore…” Seth sighed wondering what had gone so very wrong with his sister’s happiness.
“Well, I might not have the answers where Grady’s concerned as sometimes a woman has to figure out her own heart at her own pace.  Believe me, I know from experience,” she flashed him a tiny smile, “but maybe we can work to keep her from experiencing anymore pain than she already has.”
“That was what I was trying to do from the beginning, but I guess things didn’t work out that way,” Seth frowned, his features darkening with the thought, “as my association with Cameron and my father’s shady dealings have only made things seem more bleak than ever.”
“Not necessarily,” Blake suggested seeing the puzzled expression wash over his features, “I mean yeah, for a while there things were looking pretty bad.  You and I weren’t on the best of terms and while we have some things to work through, the fact remains that I now know about what happened to Jade.  I see the truth before me and I want to help in any way I can so that neither Jade nor any other woman has to endure something like that all over again because of someone like Cameron.”
“I just wish…” Seth found himself at a loss.
“Seth, when you and I parted ways before, Zack still had that microfilm as I wanted his opinion on it,” Blake began thinking back to the situation they’d found themselves in.
“I remember,” Seth remarked tightly, an obvious flash of jealousy building behind his eyes at the mention of the man who’d managed to find a place inside Blake’s heart, “but Blake I don’t see how that is relevant considering that…”
“Well, when I sent Zack the original to put in a safe place, I also started working on something else,” Blake continued to explain, “While I was upset with you, I knew that if I didn’t give you something to take back to Cameron, he’d be bound to send you back again or someone else for that matter to hurt me.”
“Blake, you have to know that I never would’ve hurt you--at least not intentionally as the situation with Jade,” he started to remind her as she leaned in over the table bringing her hand up over his mouth to silence him.
“Seth, I know that, but I had to be safe.  I had a friend of mine work on a little something.  It was supposed to be an almost identical replica of the microfilm that we found--given that I was pretty sure Cameron had some idea of what it looked like in the packaging and the such, I went to an old college friend of mine who was a major whiz in making replicas of historical objects and the such for the usage in some of the big films.  He played a hand in the whole Titanic craze in using his expertise to add that authenticity to the props…” she waved her hand in the air dismissively, “anyways to make a long story short here, I filled him in on the details of the original.  He agreed to help me whip up something and well, I made a copy.”
“You copied the microfilm?” Seth’s eyes widened in surprise watching the grin that expanded over her features.
“Well, not exactly as this time when Cameron gets the film, he’s going to find a formula on it, but it won’t be that of the drug he’s trying to rip off from BBK.  Rather, he’ll find himself on the receiving end of the formula for one of my favorite shampoos, but that’ll serve him right considering,” Blake boasted proudly thinking of the lengths she’d gone to in order to dupe the man who’d been trying to ruin her family.
“Blake, I don’t think he’s just going to buy into the fact that the microfilm has some miracle shampoo formula on it,” Seth began doubtful as Blake feigned a look of seriousness.
“Well, it does give me this silky, smooth shine that’s ever so touchable,” she teased with a flirty wink before sitting up straighter as her fingers curled around the mug of coffee she had been sipping from earlier, “though I must confess, I had thought up that very same thing you mentioned, which is why I also had the original microfilm tested for prints.  It turns out that my father handled the microfilm once upon a time and while the replica can appear to be an exact to a tee, well other than the formula change, I figured that I’d have to take it a step further.  I had my father’s fingerprints transferred onto the new microfilm there by contacting yet another trusted pal and in the end well, it looks like my father was trying to keep the secret to the best hair in the world under wraps, which is pretty quick thinking on my end, I must confess.”
“And when I take this microfilm to Cameron and he sees that it’s just a shampoo formula,” Seth arched a curious brow, “as I’m sensing that was where you were headed with this, yes?”
“Well, that was the general idea, though I’ll have you know that I have it packaged up like the original was so that it appears that you never opened it.  Our prints clearly won’t be on the duplicate and as for Cameron, well if he and my father had any kind of interaction in the past, then he might have some knowledge about my father’s fascination with playing games…” Blake noted the expression on his face at the mention of her father and before they could say anything that would turn the conversation ugly, she added a few more quick words, “He liked to do stupid things like that in putting important things in strange places that one would never expect, while putting meaningless, trivial trinkets in places where you’d expect to find great treasures.  It’s just something that stuck with him and if Cameron knows anything about him, then he wouldn’t put it past my father to have done such a thing.”
“Even if Cameron buys into that,” Seth began with a frown trying not to dwell on the life and times of the evil Nicholas Ashford, “then when he finds out that he’s been duped by your father so to speak, then he’ll send someone back again to find the real microfilm.”
“If that happens, then you can be the one to volunteer for the job,” Blake suggested squeezing his hand once again, “as I already know what to expect with you.”
“While I don’t welcome the notion of having anymore ties to Cameron, I almost feel relieved to hear you saying that as I wasn’t sure what you thought about me after everything that…” he started as she pressed her finger against his lips once again.
“Seth, I already told you that regardless of what happens from here on out, that you’re important to me.  My head and my heart have been under conflict about a great many things, but I was wrong not to see the truth.  While I’m not saying I believe what you said about my father, well the truth remains that your sister was brutalized by men that my father was associated with and that in itself is reason enough for me to understand why you were doing what you’ve done.  I know that you’re not malevolent and that you’re not out to hurt me…”
“I would never willingly hurt you Blake,” Seth confessed pressing a kiss upon her finger before leaning in closer to her over the table top as his voice dropped down to a soft, sensual whisper, “as I would give my last breath to ensure your safety and happiness as you mean the world to me.  I love you.”
“Oh Seth,” Blake felt a tiny whimper rise up in her throat at the sound of his words.  Hearing the sincerity behind them sent shivers racing up and down her spine as his dark eyes penetrated hers causing a whole new string of emotions to surge out from within bursting out to the surface as she leaned in closer to him before their lips brushed against one another in a faint, barely there kiss, “I love you too,” she confessed from her heart realizing that despite the twists and turns that they’d had down this road to whatever it was that was guiding them along, pulling them closer to one another after all this time, it seemed that the one fact had always remained.  She’d allowed Seth into her heart and now as she kissed him, wanting nothing more than to savor this moment between them, she realized that regardless of how their relationship went, a part of her would always carry that love in her heart as it was one of the few things in this world that truly made her feel complete at long last.


Ken stood at the pastry case in the bakery looking over various sweet delicacies that might tantalize Caitlin’s palate. While her doctor’s probably wouldn’t recommend something so sinful for her diet, he figured she could use something tempting to at least nurse her spirits.

“Mr. Ashford,” Charlie, the neighborhood baker, smiled from behind the counter, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you in here.”

“I’ve been busy with a lot of work issues,” Ken smiled at the friendly older gentleman as he glanced over the pastries, “What do you recommend today?”

“Oh just about everything,” Charlie chuckled, “Though I will say that the cream cheese or the raspberry Danish are my personal favorites.”

“Then give me half a dozen of each,” Ken smiled as he gave his order.

“I’ve got some fresh made in the back. I’ll go get them for you,” Charlie grinned as he turned and made his way into the back of the store.

The jingle of bells behind him alerted Ken to a new customer entering the store. He turned slightly and frowned immediately as he saw the new customer.

“Well, Ken Ashford, aren’t you a sight for hungry eyes,” Susan smiled seductively as she stepped further into the bakery.

“Susan,” Ken said her name with disappointment. He had hoped he wouldn’t run into her outside a courtroom, but it seemed luck wasn’t
on his side.

“Is that all you have to say to me?” She asked as she moved closer to him and gingerly adjusted the lapels of his sports coat, “You’d think you’d have a warmer welcome.”

“Why? Because we have such a warm and cordial relationship?” He asked with a slight shake of his head, “I don’t think so.”

“Oh come on. Don’t tell me you’re still upset with me for leaving town the way I did,” She pouted, “You know that I couldn’t pass up a chance to advance my career especially with a company like Stone Corp.”

“I really don’t care who you whore yourself out to, Susan,” He brushed her hands away from his jacket as he turned his back on her to await Charlie’s return with his pastries.

“Ken,” Susan frowned as she watched him, “Why do you treat me this way? What did I do to you that was so very wrong? I know when I left that I didn’t handle the situation very well, but I was going through the divorce with Grady and I thought it was best for all of us. Besides, my career…”

“Ah yes, your career,” Ken turned back to face her, “That’s all that ever really mattered to you. You didn’t give a damn about Grady, me or anyone else. All you cared about was your career.”

“That’s not true,” She searched his eyes as she stepped closer to him, “My time with you was the best in my life, Ken. You really touched me in ways that no one else ever could.”

“I hardly believe that,” He stated blandly as he met her eyes, “You and I were about sex…nothing more than that. I was stupid and naïve enough to believe that there was something more at one time, but I know now that sex was all you were ever interested in.”

“And you weren’t?” She asked with a doubtful smile as she reached out to gingerly trail her fingers over his chest, “I seem to remember an interesting little interlude where you seduced me in the judge’s chambers during a lunch recess,” She grinned as she tugged him closer to her, “You went right back to court and lashed out at me with everything you had. So don’t you dare try to tell me there was any sentimentality to cloud our relationship. You were about sex as much as I was.”

“I’ve changed,” He spoke in an even voice as he stared her down, “I grew out of that adolescent need to push the limits of convention.”

Susan smiled smugly as she slipped her hand to grasp his manhood which stirred at her touch, “You could never change enough to escape our connection, Ken. It’s primal…basic. It’s something you can run from but you can never escape.”

“Stop it,” Ken pushed her away from him as he shook his head, “You just don’t give a damn about any kind of propriety, do you?”

“There was a time when you didn’t either,” She smiled at him, “And I have a feeling it’s not as far behind you as you’d like to believe.”

“It’s over, Susan, and it’s going to stay that way,” He said firmly, “I’m in love with a wonderful woman who knows the value of real love…something that remains a foreign concept for you, I’m sure.”

“Oh, yeah, the little reporter girl that’s in the hospital. I heard about her. She’s not your type.”

“And just how would you know what my type is?” He asked in a snort.

“You need a woman who’s going to push you towards adventure, not hold you back from it. Word on the street is that your little gal pal is a shrinking violet. You might find her convenient to suit your needs for the moment, but she’ll never hold onto you.”

“You know, you just described Brant to a tee, but I’m certainly not my brother.”

“You’re more like your twin than even you want to admit, Ken, and I was the one to introduce you to the kind of pleasures Brant seems to embrace. You might try to deny that part of yourself, but you’ll never be able to shut it off.”

Ken rolled his eyes, “You make it sound like an addiction. You most certainly are not an addiction, Susan. I quit, and I’ll never go back.”

“Spoken like a true addict,” Susan said with a grin, “They always go back, and so will you. When you do, I’ll be waiting,” She said with a flirty smile as Charlie returned with a box.

“Your pastries, Mr. Ashford,” Charlie presented the box to Ken as he eyed Susan from the corner of his eye.

“Thank you,” Ken passed the baker a large bill, “Keep the change, Charlie.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ashford,” Charlie smiled as Ken glared at Susan on his way out of the bakery. The old baker studied his customer for a moment, “What can I get you, Ms.?”

“Something utterly sinful,” Susan said with a confident smile. Ken was on the run, but she liked the game a lot more when she was the predator stalking the prey. Besides, he’d thank her when she finally got him where she wanted him. It was just a matter of time and patience, and she had plenty of both.


“Well what are you waiting for?” Gabe taunted Mindy watching as her usually cool and collected features seemed to be ready to erupt as color rose in her cheeks.  It seems as though steam would explode from her ears as she clenched her fists at her side ready to give Gabe all she had it seemed, which he had to admit, was something that he was really looking forward to as it gave him a glimpse of the woman that Guy wasn’t seeing in his quest to play it safe and deceive his family.
“I want you out of here like now!” Mindy snapped at him, her voice roaring with anger as Gabe just laughed at her shaking his head dismissively.
“Oh now Mindy darling, you can do better than that,” he chortled in response waving his hand in the air up at her, “give it another try, will you as I‘m really rather enjoying this?”
“Listen you…” Mindy huffed straining to keep from losing it as Gabe’s widening grin only worked to build upon her anger as she felt as though he was mocking her.
“You what?” Gabe arched an introspective brow, “What is that word that you’re so desperately waiting to call me Mindy as I can see it’s right there on that tip of that pretty little mouth of yours, so why not just go for the gusto and just spit it out?  I dare you!”
“Get out!” Mindy stomped her foot finding him far more irritating than she’d ever anticipated as she glared down at him, “or better yet, why don’t you just sit there and I’ll call the police and tell them that you broke in here in a fit of rage and that you’re a lunatic.  I’ll tell them that you started doing shameless and unspeakable things in this apartment and I’ll have your ass arrested.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Gabe remarked unwilling to believe she’d sink to that level as she stomped her foot once again.
“You just watch me,” she warned marching towards the phone as Gabe suddenly felt a seriousness strike upon him as it dawned in on him that Mindy had ever intent of going the extra mile to piss him off in this moment in time after he’d been impossible with her.

Suddenly realizing that her calling the police would bring out more questions than he was willing to answer, Gabe leapt up off of the couch, swiping her up off of the ground in a single press as he carried her around the living room kicking and screaming in protest.
“Put me down!” Mindy shouted at him writhing and kicking as Gabe kept her up over his shoulder, taking advantage of the size difference between them as her petite frame was no match for him.
“Not on your life,” Gabe declared boldly parading around the living room oddly enough finding himself enjoying this childish antic he’d taken to as it seemed that he was finally in control of the situation.  While Mindy continued to lash out at him screaming in protest, he just tossed her up into the air, feeling her drop down into his arms again as a chuckle rose from the back of his throat.
“Put me down you brute!” Mindy repeated kicking at him over and over again.
“No, I don’t think I really want to do that Little Miss. Temper Tantrum.  Unless of course you’d like me to set you out in the hall and send you on your way, which right about now sounds like a much more desirable idea indeed,” Gabe announced turning in a different direction as he headed towards the front door to the apartment, “as maybe it’ll do you good to be out there on the other side of things for a change.”
“That’s it,” Mindy thrust her fingers into his golden hair, tugging at it violently as he released one of his arms that had been around her slender frame.  He reached up straining to stop her from what she was doing as she seemed to maneuver herself from over his shoulder, to a monkeylike curled position on his back as she continued to pull at his hair desperately causing him to cry out in agony.
“Stop that,” Gabe’s limbs flailed wildly as he stumbled around the room trying to peel her off of his back with no avail.  With each attempt he made, she only tore at him with added force until his hand came close to her arm causing him to believe that he’d gained some leverage in the situation, but as her teeth clamped down over his palm, he yelped in anguish falling forward and losing his footing as he approached the sofa once again trying to shake her off.  “Let go!”
“Get out!” Mindy ordered refusing to budge as Gabe began to writhe beneath her in a desperate attempt to break free of the choke hold she now had upon him as her right palm was firmly planted in the top of his head, probably pulling out each and every hair he’d had.
“Stop it!” Gabe commanded shaking once again before finally turning his back to the couch and dropping back down in a free falling motion that ended with him laying flat out on top of her crushing her into the cushions that buffered their fall.  A moment of silence passed as Gabe felt her let up on his hair and a proud smile pressed upon his features as he found himself victorious as she’d finally ceased in her attack, but the victory was only momentary as she kicked at him from below.
“Get off of me,” Mindy growled kicking her leg out from beneath him as Gabe shook his head defiantly feeling her arms caged beneath his spine.
“Not until you agree to stop chasing Guy around like a dog in heat panting over him and trying to put a wedge between the both of us,” Gabe warned sharply, “You agree to back off and leave well enough alone and then and only then will I let you go.”
“You’ll let me go now, or I swear I’ll make you suffer in ways that even your twisted mind couldn’t think up,” Mindy warned seething with ferocity as she tried to free herself from beneath him.
“I’m in control here Mindy and you’re hardly in a position to be making demands of me,” Gabe taunted her with a tiny chuckle, “so now, getting back to the subject of Guy…”
“Don’t say you weren’t warned,” Mindy growled at him, sinking her teeth into his earlobe with everything she had as Gabe groaned in complete agony.
“Stop that,” he squealed feeling her legs wrap around his torso from behind as she began to clamp down upon him, suddenly stealing the breath from his lips as he could feel himself straining for air.  “Mindy…”
“Get off of me,” she hissed feeling his body tense above her as she continued her hold on his waist.  And who said that she couldn’t take care of herself, she mused squeezing him harder than before as Gabe drew in a heaving breath.  She felt him struggle a bit, before she eased up her hold on him just a little bit to allow him to breath, “Get up now!”
“No,” Gabe replied stubbornly feeling her legs close in over him again as he reached underneath the cushions, taking advantage of the leverage his fingers had as he flipped the cushion beneath them, sending the both of them flying to the floor as Mindy nearly collided with the coffee table, but at the last second Gabe reached out to her drawing her down to the floor beneath him as their eyes connected once again.  He watched her rapid breathing, the way in which her eyes filled with surprise and shock as he pressed down upon her caging her within his arms as a twisted expression crossed over his features, “Now, where were we?”
“What in the…” Guy’s stunned voice questioned breaking through the moment as he marched into the apartment trying to register what was happening between his lover and his best friend as it seemed that Gabe had Mindy pinned down to the floor in some kind of hold that arouse a great many questions in the situation, “What are you two doing?”
“Guy, I was…” Gabe started at a loss, stammering a bit as he peeled himself away from Mindy as the awkwardness of the moment pressed upon the group.
“Just giving me a few techniques on what to do in the case of a break-in,” Mindy sprang to her feet as she flashed Gabe a sadistic smile, “but as he was seeing first hand, I have it covered completely.”
“Even so that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not going back to that place,” Guy stated firmly turning his attention to his lover, “as you have to admit that what happened at her place was a bad sign of things to come.”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Gabe adjusted his shirt as he shot a glare in Mindy’s general direction, “I think she can take care of herself as she knows how to hold her own.”
“I would really rather she wouldn’t have to at a time like this,” Guy stepped forward reaching out to touch Gabe’s arm, “so tell me, how did it go with Noelle?”
“About the same as to be expected,” Gabe tried to forget about his battle with Mindy as he turned to face Guy, touching his cheek gently, “but right now I don’t even want to think about that as all I could focus on was seeing you again as I missed you last night.  How are you holding up?”
“I’d be a hell of a lot better if complete morons weren’t running the show in my mother’s kidnapping,” Guy sighed leaning into Gabe’s touch before he reached out to press his palm into the center of Gabe’s chest, “though I’m really glad you’re here right now.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be at a time like this,” Gabe replied pulling Guy into his arms in an embrace as Gabe threw a sinister expression out at Mindy silently warning her to back off.
“I need some air,” Mindy announced unable to contain herself as she watched Gabe shamelessly flaunting what he had with Guy in her face as while she’d tried to pretend she could deal with what was going on, the scene before her ate away at her insides.  Stepping forward, she swiped her jacket up off of the floor where it had been knocked down in the rumble with Gabe, “I’m going out.”
“Mindy, you can’t just leave right now,” Guy announced breaking away from Gabe’s embrace, “as I don’t want you out there when…”
“I’ll be fine,” Mindy answered flatly not bothering to mask the level of annoyance that Gabe had brought out in her.
“I really wish you wouldn’t go as I brought home dinner and…” Guy pleaded with her throwing out a look of concern as he touched her shoulder, “don’t leave right now.  Please…”
“Guy I…” Mindy started as Gabe cleared his throat.
“If she wants to go, then let her as I’d be more than happy to join you for dinner after missing it with you last night,” Gabe offered up with a bright smile.
“Actually I brought enough for the both of you--for all of us,” Guy began again sensing the obvious tension in the air as he wasn’t buying Mindy’s tale to say the least.
“I’ll eat when I get back,” Mindy declared stomping past Guy and out of the apartment as Guy watched her retreat wondering what in the world had happened between the time he’d left and now.  He stepped towards the door ready to call out to Mindy, but she’d already disappeared down the hallway as Guy spun around to face Gabe once again.
“What just happened here?” Guy questioned watching as Gabe shrugged his shoulders simply.
“Who knows?” Gabe swiped up the bag of Chinese food that Guy had brought home, “Maybe she’s feeling emotional after last night or perhaps she’s just going through that whole PMS thing that women go through.  Either way, it’s not our problem, right?”
“Gabe, if you said something to her.  If you upset her…” Guy frowned wondering what kind of exchange took place in his absence.
“If Mindy’s upset, then it’s only because of her own doing as she strikes me as the type to create unnecessarily situations for herself,” Gabe shrugged once again before heading towards the kitchen, “Now come on.  I’m hungry, so let’s go eat so that we can catch up on what’s going on.”
“Fine,” Guy sighed watching as Gabe slipped into the kitchen out of his line of vision and as he stood in the middle of Avery’s living room seeing the mess that Gabe and Mindy had somehow created before his arrival, he started to wonder if something was building far beyond anything he’d ever imagined as it seemed that over the last few days his whole world was breaking apart and he was starting to wonder if there was any way to repair the damage that had been done before it was too late for everyone.


Hart whistled a tune as he stood beside Jenna’s stove whipping up his latest culinary concoction as the sounds of Jenna singing in the shower was music to his ears, which of course indicated that he was in love as she was almost as tone deaf as he could be after a few beers were in his system.  He chuckled lightly hearing another off pitch note fall from her lips as he was half tempted to hop into the shower with her once again and put another delay on breakfast which consequently was now turning into lunch given the way they’d driven one another to distraction time and time again throughout the morning.  Still as he thought of the beautiful woman he’d been spending his time with, his heart filled with that altogether unfamiliar, yet welcome emotion that had overtaken him since he’d held her in his arms.
“Love,” he mused aloud thinking about all the ways in which this time with Jenna felt so right, so perfect and so at ease as he hadn’t had any intentions of running away like he was certain he would’ve done most of the time.  Even now as he was whipping up something for them in their down time, he couldn’t help, but plot ways to make excuses for them to spend even more time with one another and that in itself felt damn good.
“Oh Jenna,” he spoke her name thinking of how wonderful it sounded falling from his lips as there was a knock at her apartment door.  He listened for another moment wondering if he’d imagined it, but as the knocking continued, he cast a glance over in the direction of where Jenna’s bathroom was and as he could still hear her loud, out of tune singing coming from down the hallway, he turned the stovetop off, wiping his hands off with a dish towel before going to answer the door in an attempt to get rid of whatever company dared to step into his world of bliss with Jenna
Making his way towards the door, Hart didn’t bother with searching for his shirt as he was quite content to be walking her apartment in a state of undress…  Well, okay it wasn’t exactly undress as he had his pants on, but as soon as Jenna returned from the shower she was taking, he wouldn’t be able to promise that they’d be staying on, he reasoned opening the door with a passion induced high as his grin seemed to say it all.
“Yes?” he questioned feeling his mood take a nosedive as he came face to face with Dorothy and judging by the expression on her face, he was certain that he wished he could take back the moment in time and just forget about answering the door as she glared at him.
“What are you doing here,” she cast a brief once over at him before her jaw dropped, “Oh God, where’s Jenna?”
“She’s unavailable at the moment, but I can tell her that you…” he started as she shoved him out of the way prancing into the apartment with a determined stride.
“I’ll tell her myself,” Dorothy declared spinning around to face him with a glare, “Though I must admit what I have to say to her doesn’t include you, so if you could find your way out of my daughter’s apartment long enough to…”
“Hart, what was all the…Mother,” Jenna’s jaw dropped as Dorothy spun around to find Jenna standing in the hallway, wearing a loosely tied, tiny, pink robe as her wet hair hung down against her shoulders.
“Jenna!” Dorothy gasped in horror stepping in towards her daughter, “Please tell me this isn’t what it looks like as you couldn’t have lost your mind like this now that you’re upset with me.”
“This is none of your business mother,” Jenna remarked closing up her robe a bit as she stood taller staring her mother down, “as my personal life isn’t any of your concern.”
“You’re my daughter.  Of course it’s my concern,” Dorothy looked between Hart and Jenna once again, “Please tell me that you were so angry with me that you decided to sleep with him of all people just to spite me.”
“What is happening between Hart and I has nothing to do with you,” Jenna declared boldly taking a step forward, “and the way I see it, you’re the only uninvited guest at the moment, so please, just leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I’m convinced that there’s still a chance I can talk reason with you,” Dorothy insisted adamant about her position as she turned to glare at Hart, “and you.  Have you no shame?  Don’t you have any decency at a time like this when you know that she’s been hurting?  What am I saying?  Of course you don’t as you took full advantage to prey upon my daughter’s wounded heart when she didn’t have me to protect her.”
“I don’t need your protection mother as I’m quite content with my life,” Jenna blurted out stepping in closer to Dorothy, “and don’t you talk to him like that.  Hart isn’t doing anything wrong.”
“The hell he isn’t,” Dorothy insisted desperately, “Jenna, can’t you see what he’s doing here?  He’s seeing that you’re upset and he’s using that against you for his own sick and twisted pleasures as he’s…”
“I love him and he loves me and if you can’t handle that, then too bad because you can’t tell me who I can and cannot date,” Jenna declared boldly as she stomped her foot to add emphasis, “I’m not a child anymore…”
“Well, you sure as hell aren’t thinking like an adult would in this kind of situation,” Dorothy shot back at her with a heavy look of disapproval.
“You’re one to talk seeing as any other adult would’ve seen the writing on the wall and would’ve just walked out of here as soon as she saw that Hart and I were preoccupied,” Jenna grumbled in response.
“Jenna, why are you doing this?  Why must you work so hard to ruin your life with this…this…” Dorothy found herself at a loss as she waved her hand wildly at Hart, “Jenna, you can do so much better than this.”
“I’m not going to stand here and listen to this,” Jenna declared with a groan as she walked along side of Hart taking his hand in hers, “and neither is he because he deserves more respect than what you’re giving him.”
“He’s not getting any such thing out of me as I don’t take too kindly to someone who is out to destroy my daughter,” Dorothy announced firmly, “as I won’t hear of it.”
“Gee, and you’re really one to talk seeing as all you could do was lie to me all these years,” Jenna reminded her sharply, anger flashing behind her dark eyes, “Time and time again you lead me to believe that my father was dead, but that wasn’t true.  You told me of this great explosion and of his accident and of the memory of him, but as before, they were all nothing but lies.  You purposely kept Douglas and I away from one another knowing full well that we had a right to get to know one another, but that didn’t matter to you.  Nothing where our feelings were concerned were of any relevance to you because it was all about what you wanted and what you needed and damn you mom, I’m not going to let you keep doing that to me.  You can’t tell me your lies and your tales about how you want me to live my life because it’s my life, not yours.  You can’t keep me from the truth anymore and you most certainly can’t keep me from my heart.”
“Jenna, you’re not in love with him,” Dorothy wrinkled her nose at Hart, “as he’s only using you for his own personal agenda to…”
“No, wrong mom.  Hart didn’t do any of that as it was all you,” Jenna replied unable to contain the anger and emotion building up inside of her, “and as far as I’m concerned, you can leave now as I have nothing more to say to you,” she finished spinning on her heel and heading out of the room with a huff.
“Jenna wait,” Dorothy pleaded with her as Hart reached out to touch her arm gently.
“Maybe you should try again later as right now doesn’t seem like it’s a good time,” Hart urged breaking his long silence as he hated to see Jenna so upset.
“Don’t presume to tell me what I can and cannot do where my daughter is concerned as you know nothing about her,” Dorothy spat out at him.
“I know enough to know that your chasing after her and arguing this point when she doesn’t want to hear it, isn’t going to help anything.  She’s not ready to offer up an open ear to you…” Hart tried to reason with her as he thought to the pain Jenna had been feeling.
“And if you have it your way, she’ll never reach that point, right?” Dorothy glared back at him pulling out of his reach as she stood to face him down, “You think you’ve got this whole situation pegged, don’t you?  You think you can just come into a bad situation and manipulate it to your favor, huh?  Well, I have news for you.  When Jenna finally listens to me and sees you as you really are, then you’re going to regret the day that you dared to mess with my family.”
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that,” Hart explained taking in a slow, even breath as her anger seemed to be controlling her words.
“Oh don’t pretend anything as I mean every word of it and I swear to you now that by the time I’m finished with you, you’ll live to regret the day you did this to my baby girl,” Dorothy vowed throwing daggers out at him with her eyes before offering up one last, longing look in the direction Jenna had taken off in.  She felt her heart sink for a long moment before she turned to Hart once again, “I’ll be back.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Hart nodded watching her leave Jenna’s apartment as he found himself standing in the middle of the living room realizing that once again things had changed for him and Jenna.  While the morning had been reasonably peaceful and carefree, her mother’s arrival had certainly caused a stir that neither one of them had been planning on.
Now as he made his way towards Jenna’s bedroom, he could hear her soft sobs from behind the half opened door as he stepped inside seeing her upon her bed, burying her face in a pillow as her tears continued.  Slowly, Hart moved in beside her taking a seat on the bed as he touched her shoulder gently.
“Jenna, honey…” he spoke on a soft, soothing tone, “talk to me.”
“I can’t believe she just did that,” Jenna cried out behind bitter tears, “I can’t believe she’s so bent on making my life miserable.  As if she hasn’t tried her hardest to destroy everything else in my life already.  First with not telling me about my father and now in her tearing into you…”
“Hey, she didn’t bother me,” Hart reached out to her urging her to turn around and face him as his thumb grazed over her cheekbone wiping at her tears, “at least not in the ways you’re thinking as all that I’m concerned about is how you’re feeling.  I know your mother doesn’t like me and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
“She’s just so close-minded and judgmental which is a joke in itself considering that she’s the biggest hypocrite of them all.  She’s done so many horrible, hateful things and then she believes that she can stand there completely justified in her bashing you and my decision to be with you…” Jenna continued to rant as Hart urged her to meet his eyes once again.
“Jen, she made a mistake before and in her own way she’s trying to make up for it,” Hart shrugged his shoulders, “as I’m sure that’s why she was here.”
“So in insulting the man I love, she thought that what?  That’s I’d just welcome her back into my life with open arms,” Jenna’s eyes widened at the thought before she shook her head adamantly, “It doesn’t work that way Hart.”
“I know that and now, well now so does she, but Jen, despite what your mom said about me, I really think that you two should try to work things out with one another,” he watched her shudder upon his words as he leaned in closer to her, “Baby, I know you’re hurting and I think that the only way you’re ever really going to be able to move forward is if you give her a chance to explain the past to you.”
“She’s not going to tell me the truth as she doesn’t know the meaning of the word,” Jenna reminded him sharply, “If she ever had any inclination to be honest with me, she would’ve done it long before now.”
“Jen, maybe she had her reasons as you never know what her relationship with your father was like,” he began again wrapping her up in his arms as she turned her eyes up towards him.
“Hart, why are you always so quick to defend her?  I mean why do you even attempt to try to take her side in all of this,” Jenna questioned in confusion as he kissed her forehead gently.
“This isn’t about taking her side.  This is about making things right for you as that’s all that matters to me,” he confessed from the bottom of his heart as he squeezed her closer to him, “Jenna, I love you and I want nothing more than to see you smile again and be free of this weight upon your shoulders.  I don’t want to see you in such misery like this…”
“I’m not miserable Hart,” Jenna offered up turning her eyes towards him as a sad smile spread over the corners of her mouth, “as I have you and that in itself gives me plenty of reason to feel very lucky right about now.”
“Lucky is nice sweetheart,” he tipped in closer to her stealing a tender kiss from her, “but I want so much more than that for you as I’d like to know that you’re happy all the time.”
“If you hold me like this, I’d say we’re working on going down the right road towards happiness for me,” she encouraged him further bringing her arms around his neck eagerly.
“Jenna, you know what I mean,” he threw out a pointed look in her general direction.
“You’re right I do, but right now I don’t want to think about my mother or how she tried to spoil the mood because all I want to focus on is how the universe did something right in bringing us together at long last,” Jenna batted her eyelashes at him as a desperation filled her tone, “Please don’t let my mother’s arrival take that away from us today.  Not now…”
“Jenna,” he sighed knowing that he couldn’t deny her anything as her happiness was everything to him and as he leaned in to kiss her once again sealing the promise to find ways to keep her happy for the time being, he just prayed that he’d be able to come up with some way to help her heal the torn relationship with her mother as it seemed that then and only then would she truly ever find some peace in her life.


Caitlin gazed out the window of her hospital room taking in the beautiful morning in Coral Valley as it had shifted into afternoon and while the scene from her window out onto the world below was breathtaking, she couldn’t help but find herself troubled by the things happening to those that she loved as it seemed that since her run in with Jimmy the world had somehow fallen apart for those she’d cared for.  Even now as she thought to the exchange between Zack and Johanna, she couldn’t help but be worried about the both of them as they had a lot to discuss with one another.  While she’d felt a certain loyalty to her brother even despite his knack for making impossible situations in his life, her thoughts were with the baby Johanna was carrying as it seemed that child had a great deal of situations pressed upon him or her so early on.  That thought in itself had her a million miles away from the beauty that Coral Valley had to offer from the world outside the hospital walls as she was now more anxious than ever to get back to the real world it seemed.
“Knock knock,” Russell piped in sliding his head in through the doorway as he grinned over at Caitlin, “Is my star reporter up for company today?”
“I don’t know,” Caitlin replied with a smile finding her thoughts coming to a close as she sat up straighter to greet her friend, “that all depends.”
“On what?” Russell questioned watching the sparkle build behind Caitlin’s eyes.
“On whether or not you’re still wanting to keep me on at the paper with my being a bit of a risk and all given what’s happened,” Caitlin admitted watching him enter her room as he held out a bouquet of wildflowers for her.
“Consider this your bonus,” he winked at her offering up the bouquet, “as I don’t have any intentions of letting you go even if that means beefing up the security around the paper.”
“Russ, you shouldn’t have to do something like that just because…” Caitlin started in protest.
“It’s not just because of you as it seems that the women in my life are all coming into dangerous situations lately,” Russell informed her openly, “which brings along with it some changes at the paper that hopefully won’t interrupt things too much.”
“I’d hate to think that they would,” Caitlin took in the sweet scent of the flowers before her as a soft smile touched upon her lips, “Thanks Russ. They’re beautiful.”
“But no match for the ones that Ken sent, right,” he teased motioning to the bouquet that sat atop the nightstand beside her bed.
“Well, Ken does happen to have incredible taste,” Caitlin confessed feeling a warmth spread over her cheeks at the mention of the man who’d touched her heart.
“And incredible healing powers too it would seem,” he couldn’t help but tease as he noted the color in her face, “though you know I’m not so sure he did that great of a job as it seems you’re looking rather flushed at the moment.  Perhaps there’s some kind of fever going around that…”
“Get out of here,” she swatted at him pushing his hand away from her as he tried to reach out to her head.
“Oh come on.  I’m just kidding,” Russell admitted with a shake of his head, “You know I can’t resist the opportunity to do just that.”
“Even so, I’m being completely serious with what I said,” Caitlin remarked firmly, “Get out of here Russ.”
“Wait a second,” he gave her a strange look, “I tell you that you’re still my star reporter and you’re telling me to beat it.  What ever does Ashford have planned for you?”
“I wasn’t really thinking about the plans Ken has for me,” she noted the expression that swept over his features, “if in fact he has any plans at all as I was more so thinking about your wife as I’m sure she’d rather you be with her right now instead of harassing me.”
“Actually,” Russell’s grin expanded as his green eyes fell upon her once again, “did I fail to mention the fact that she’s waiting in the hall right now as we speak?”
“The hall, huh,” Caitlin paused a darkness spreading over her features as she contemplated what that could mean in a moment like this, “I take it she’s still upset with me about what happened huh?”
“Actually, I think she’s just taking a moment to catch her breath after this little powwow she arranged at our place earlier between my brother and his girlfriend,” Russell wrinkled his nose at the thought, “It was pretty intense in there for a while, so we thought we’d just skip out while we still could and let my parents handle it.”
“So you both were kicked out of your home due to Grady’s latest crisis and you decided to come on over here?” Caitlin shook her head at the thought, “That almost doesn’t seem right.”
“Well, when we’d heard you were awake, we were hoping to get on over to see you, but then a few things happened with Avery’s mom and,” he stopped himself mid-sentence, “I won’t bore you with the details as it’s really nothing to worry about on your end right now.”
“In other words it’s something pretty horrible, but you’re trying to keep me in the dark about it,” she curled her lip in a pout, “I’m really starting to hate people doing that to me.”
“Did you ever think that maybe they’ve been doing it because they’d much rather see you get better before you start taking on the world once again?” Russell suggested with the beginnings of a smile, “I know I lead you to believe that you’re Superwoman there, but really Caitlin even Superwoman takes a vacation every now and then.”
“I think the coma was more than enough vacation for me as I’m ready to just get into the thick of things and stop having everyone skirt around the real issues of importance with me,” Caitlin confessed brightly, “as I’m ready to take on the world again.”
“Then we’d all better look out,” Russell teased with a tiny laugh of his own seeing how much better she appeared to be after having endured all the things after her attack.
“Well, I might start off slow, but I won’t stay that way,” she promised cheerfully before her face grew suddenly serious, “so, really…Avery hates me, doesn’t she?”
“No, she doesn’t hate you,” Russell began to explain.
“Because you know she’s entirely well within her right to be upset with me as what I did was absolutely wrong and I should’ve just kept my mouth shut there…”
“Caitlin at the time we all were…” Russ started once again trying to alleviate some of her concerns.
“No, Russ, I shouldn’t have said anything to Brant as…” Caitlin continued to argue with him.
“I should’ve said something to Brant a long time before it ever came to that,” Avery interrupted entering the room as Caitlin’s words came to a stop, “I should’ve given Brant the truth long before he found out about Russ and I and in that sense, what happened was very much my fault as he deserved better.”
“Avery,” Caitlin spoke her name watching as Avery stepped up along side of Russ.
“Caitlin, I was upset at the time because I wasn’t prepared for the whole backlash there once Brant found out the news, but if I’d just been honest with him from the beginning once Russ and I had found our way back to one another, then I would’ve avoided a whole hell of a lot of trouble along the way.  He deserved the truth and in my putting him off, I’m every bit as much to blame for what happened as you are--probably more as I was the one leading him on.”
“Avery, I still shouldn’t have said anything about you and Russ running off to get married like that after you both asked me not to…” Caitlin apologized once again.
“Caitlin, it’s alright,” Avery waved her hand dismissively before she leaned into Russ feeling his arm curl around her shoulders, “as it’s over and done with and we can’t change what happened, but I will say that if you spent all that time in the coma worried about something so trivial, well then I think it’s about high time you stop that right now.”
“Avery, I just…” Caitlin found herself at a loss as she watched the exchange between Russ and Avery as they stood before her.
“It’s not worth getting worked up over again,” Avery explained with a sigh, “as I think that there are too many people allowing the past to rule the future and it’s time that trend came to a close.  Don’t you agree?”
Caitlin remained silent for a long moment not knowing what to say as she finally nodded in response, “Thank you for your forgiveness Avery.”
“Oh don’t do that,” Avery shook her head at her, “please don’t make me feel any worse about this than I already do as I should be the one who should be thanking you for your urging me to follow my heart here.  If it wasn’t for your pushing, well there’s no telling where I might be right now.”
“And we’re not going to think about the alternatives either,” Russell piped in eliciting a small laugh from both women as he hugged his wife, “so you can see Caitlin, you don’t have to worry about any hard feelings from our end especially now that Avery and I have pretty much everything we’ve always wanted in our lives.”
“Well almost everything,” Avery couldn’t help but tease, “as we have this whole baby shower thing to attend to.”
“Well yes, but you know that’s more of a woman thing seeing as we men…” Russell teased back at her as Caitlin piped in.
“Oh no you don’t.  You aren’t going to sit out on that one dad as that’s one of the most important planning moments before the baby comes into the world as you have the shower and the shopping and then the arrival,” Caitlin beamed at the thought, “as it’s such a wonderful time for parents…”
“And along with it are all the things that women just love getting lost in as we men are like foreigners in that particular arena,” Russell argued with her simply shaking his head, “as I don’t know the first thing about a baby shower.”
“That’s why you’ll learn,” Avery patted his chest lightly, “as it’ll be good for you.”
“Why do I get the feeling I don’t have a choice in the matter,” Russell winked over in Caitlin’s direction as Avery swatted at him again.
“Is he this difficult to deal with at work,” Avery questioned turning to Caitlin.
“Unfortunately, he’s worse,” Caitlin blurted out in confession seeing the look of displeasure that scrunched over Russell’s features, “but despite all this big talk he’s working on right about now, I know that he’s full of it as I’ve got a hunch that he’s anything, but the reluctant daddy right about now.”
“Hmm, why don’t we just see on that one,” Avery curled her fingers out over his chest reaching into his pocket and pulling out the photo she knew he carried close to his heart, “Yep, you’re right on that one.”
“Hey, that’s mine,” Russell snatched the picture up from his wife’s fingers holding it out towards Caitlin, “Want to see the next Denton generation?”
“Would I ever,” Caitlin reached for the image feeling her breath catch in the back of her throat as a smile pressed in over her features, “How adorable and oh look the baby’s a thumb sucker.”
“And this is why she’s the star reporter,” Russell joked again, “as she’s always quick on the gun there.”
“That I am,” Caitlin turned her attention to him once again, “So that would have to mean that you missed this particular trait in your child the first time?”
“I would never…” Russell began to protest.
“He totally missed it the first time,” Avery confessed with a laugh as he curled his arm around her drawing her in closer to him as he tickled at her side.
“I did not,” he replied with a simple shake of his head before turning towards Caitlin, “She’s such a liar sometimes.”
“Oh you’re so going to pay for that one,” Avery teased with a tiny laugh of her own as Caitlin watched the exchange with the happy parents to be as it seemed that in finding one another and holding on to the possibility of being a family they’d been able to begin again with a new sense of joy in their lives as the thought of impending parenthood had only strengthened their bond with one another.
Still as she thought of the situation that Zack found himself in with Johanna, she wondered if his child would ever find the same fate.  It seemed that rather than the news of a baby being a joy and a source of excitement as it was for Russ and Avery, it was a situation that brought out a feeling of tension and confusion for Zack and Johanna and she prayed that somehow they would find a way to be open and honest with one another long enough to find it in their hearts to do what was right for their unborn child whatever that may be.


Johanna made her way to the door and frowned as she opened it, “Zack, what are you doing here?”

“Finding you wasn’t easy,” Zack admitted as he stood on her front porch, “Can I come in?” He asked politely as he met her eyes.

She shrugged and turned to walk through her house, “Just how did you find me anyway?”

Zack closed the door behind him before he followed her through the house to the kitchen, “I tried calling your cell, but when I figured out that you had turned it off, I called the magazine to find out where you were staying. They wouldn’t give me much information, but I finally persuaded Marley to tell me where you were.”

“I’m so going to kill her,” She sighed as she thought of her assistant, “You shouldn’t be here, Zack. All the emotions are too raw right now for us to make any headway in our situation.”

“I honestly don’t think it’s going to get any better if we wait. Besides, time isn’t on our side either,” He pointed out as he leaned upon the counter while Johanna lifted a kettle from the stove as it began to whistle.

“It’s nine months, Zack, not two weeks. There’s plenty of time,” She argued, hoping she could put off this conversation.

“Jo, please just talk to me,” He urged.

Johanna poured the steaming water into the mug over a tea bag and sighed as she glanced back to him, “Can I interest you in a cup of tea?”

“Earl Grey?” He asked with a slight smile. When she nodded, his smile grew a bit, “It’s your favorite.”

“I’m surprised you actually knew that,” She took a deep breath as she placed a tea bag in another mug and filled it with the steaming water.

“You always drink it when you’re upset,” He noted, “Of course I’d know that.”

She shrugged as she placed a mug in front of him before she moved to the nearby kitchen table, “I didn’t think you were paying that much attention.”

Zack looked to the mug of tea for a moment before he carried it to the table to sit beside her, “So, what is this place anyway? A little hideaway for you to get away from the world?”

“Sort of,” She admitted as she looked around the country décor of the kitchen, “This was my grandparents’ home. I used to spend every weekend and all my summers here,” She said as she focused on her tea, “When my grandmother passed away, she left the house to me in her will.”

“When was the last time you were here?” He asked as he watched her carefully and sensing a distance between them like he’d never felt.

“It’s been quite a while,” She sighed, “When I left Coral Valley, I kind of thought it was for good.”

“So why did you keep the house?”

“Sentimental reasons,” She said as she looked up from her cup and met his eyes, “But this isn’t why you tracked me down.”

“No, it isn’t,” Zack sighed as he looked back to his tea cup.

“Zack, I never meant for this to happen,” She winced, “That sounds like I regret being pregnant, but the truth is that I don’t regret it at all. While you may not want me in your life, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, and this baby…” She paused, “Look, I know that things aren’t going to happen the way I would have wanted them to, and I don’t want to trap you into anything. We can still go our separate ways.”

“Whoa, hold on just a second. I think we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here,” He said calmly, “Jo, we can’t just go our separate ways now. There’s a baby to think about.”

“A baby you don’t want.”

“I never said I didn’t want this baby,” He reminded her as he looked across the table to her.

“You don’t want to be with me, Zack. You’ve made it painfully clear that you want to chase after Blake Ashford and leave me behind. I get that, okay? While I wish like I hell I didn’t, I do get that. So don’t start acting like this baby is some blessing for you. We both know that’s not the case.”

“It’s not what I would have planned at this point in my life, but the fact remains that it’s happening regardless of what my plans might have been.”

“Zack, I don’t want you to be with me out of some form of pity or a misguided sense of responsibility. Chivalry is way beyond dead here, okay? Look, I’m not exactly prepared to take care of a child considering the pace of my career, but that can change. I can change my work load or maybe even take a job writing again.”

”Jo, you shouldn’t have to change any of it.”

“That’s parenthood,” She sighed, “But I’ll figure all of that out once I’m back in Seattle.”

“Seattle? Why are you going back there?”

“Uhm, because I live there, Zack,” She said as if he should have known.

“But…you should stay here in Coral Valley.”

“Why? Because it would make your life easier?” She asked as she rolled her eyes, “You’re the one who wanted to shift your career in a different direction. I’m quite happy in Seattle. It’s where I’ve made my life, and I think it’s where I’d be most comfortable raising a child.”

“Jo, but if you were here, you could still do your job, and I could share the burden of the baby when its born. Besides that, I want to be a part of my child’s life.”

“Then move back to Seattle, Zack,” Johanna shrugged, “I’m not moving back to Coral Valley…not without some damn good reasons, and right now, there aren’t any.”

“But Jo, come on. You have to give me a chance to be a part the baby’s upbringing.”

“I am giving you a chance, but you’d have to come back to Seattle. That’s as forthcoming as I’m willing to be right now. My life’s already been upset by our break up. The last thing I want is to throw it completely into turmoil right now by moving across the country. I’m going home, Zack, and it’s entirely up to you whether or not you want to be a long distance parent,” She reasoned as she stood and walked through her house, leaving Zack sitting by himself at the table.

Zack groaned as he ran his fingers through his hair. Nothing about this conversation had gone as he’d envisioned it…which was actually becoming a theme in his life as of late. He had a lot of hard decisions to make regarding his future…and the future of his unborn child.


“So,” Seth began keeping Blake close to him as she lay in his arms on the sofa after their morning meal with one another.  While they both were certain that they had plenty of things to do, somehow settling in on a moment just like this seemed to seem like the best alternative as in holding one another the world just seemed to stand still, but as Seth knew reality was around the corner, he couldn’t help, but break the silence between them as he kissed the top of her head, “what are you thinking about?”
“About how nice this is,” Blake admitted honestly turning her eyes up towards him as a smile lifted over her lips, “as I can’t think of anything better than having your arms around me just like this.”
“Hmm, well funny thing about that as I rather enjoy holding you just like this,” Seth replied hugging her in closer to him as the scent of her perfume still carried over him even after the night of adventure they’d had with one another.
“Then I guess it would seem that we’ve found ourselves in a very comfortable situation,” Blake tipped her head up towards his once again, slowly maneuvering herself into his lap more completely, “although there is one particular thing that would make this even better for us.”
“What’s that?” Seth arched a curious brow seeing the sparkle of mischief burning behind her eyes.
“A kiss,” she confessed stealing a quick taste of his lips before a giggle built up in the back of her throat, coming out more so like a girlish flirtation before she pulled back.
“You call that a kiss,” Seth questioned eagerly drawing her in against him once again before claiming her mouth in a hungry union that set every synapse inside of her ablaze.  His tongue caressed hers, gently massaging her mouth to sweet surrender before they parted breathlessly.  He watched the way her eyes widened in reaction to the spark that had ignited between them as he offered up a teasing grin, “now that’s a kiss.”
“You aren’t kidding,” Blake reached for him again ready to give it another go when she heard the sound of knocking at the front door to the apartment.  “Ugh, why now?”
“It could be Jade,” Seth reasoned with her as Blake kept her arms around him.
“Wouldn’t she have a key,” Blake reasoned keeping her arms around him as she hated to sever the connection between them.
“You saw her last night,” Seth threw out pointedly, “She’ll be lucky if she can crawl through the front door right about now.”
“Good point in which case, I’ll answer the door instead of you,” Blake sprang up from his lap as he reached out for her arm in protest.
“Hey, what’s wrong with my answering,” he questioned in confusion.
“Seth, honey if she’s hung over and heartbroken the last thing she wants to deal with is any razzing from her older brother.  Believe me on this one,” Blake explained matter of fact, “as it always helps to have a woman’s touch on these particular situations.”
“Hey, I think I resent that as I’m a pretty good brother,” Seth huffed in response giving her a pouting look.
“Even so, I want to do what I can to help Jade after the way I treated you both before.  It’s the least I can do,” Blake insisted watching his mouth open once again to say something, “Seth, I want to be there for her, okay?”
“Fine,” he waved his hand out in front of him, “the floor is yours.”
“Thanks,” Blake rushed over to the door ready to lend a sympathetic ear to Jade, but as she came face to face with a surprised looking Ben, she realized that her plans just weren’t panning out.
“Hello Blake,” Ben eyed her with heavy scrutiny before a knowing smile expanded over his handsome features, “Nice dress.  Weren’t you wearing that last night?”
“Oh bite me,” she rolled her eyes at the way he was goading her with his eyes offering up all the teasing that he was just dying to express in his silence.  Shaking her finger at him, she held the door with her other hand throwing him a warning look, “You stop eyeing me that way, or I’ll shut the door on you and pretend I never noticed you were here.”
“Hmm, now why does that suddenly sound like something you’d rather do regardless of the way I look at you,” Ben offered up a goofy grin, “Eager to get rid of me so you can cozy up to Seth once again?”
“If I was, you just killed the mood,” she pouted as he stepped forward kissing her cheek gently before offering up a teasing wink.
“You’ll forgive me gorgeous as I really need to have a word with him, but hey don’t worry as I won’t be too long here.  That way you two can get back to whatever it is you were doing before I stepped in,” he wiggled his brow at her before moving further into the living room as Blake closed the door behind him spinning around to smack the back of his head.
“Hey,” Ben began to protest as Seth sat up straighter on the sofa with a curious expression.
“What was that for?” Seth questioned seeing the wicked smirk that spread over Blake’s features.
“For Ben being his usual self,” Blake shrugged her shoulders as she began a slow, stride across the room to join Seth on the sofa once again.  Cozying up to him, she watched as Ben moved in towards them and took a seat in one of the chairs.  “Besides, he’s like one of the family, so it really doesn’t matter what I do.”
“Just you wait,” Ben warned sharply, “or else you might find out in the not so distant future that you’ll find more than just your training bra in the freezer there.”
“I knew it was you,” Blake hissed at him, her eyes wide with a menacing tone to them as she wiggled her finger in the air over at his general direction, “but you swore to Annie that there was no possible way that you could ever do something so nefarious and she bought every one of the lies you fed her.”
“Well, what can I say,” Ben shrugged his shoulders breaking out into a laugh of his own, “In the end she thought it was just one of the other employees around the mansion that did it in a moment of haste, so there was no harm in the situation.”
“Oh of course not except for the fact I was completely mortified when Ana pulled out the frozen broccoli and there attached to it was my pink, training bra,” Blake groaned in horror burying her head in Seth’s chest at the memory before batting her eyelashes up at him, “You know I think that warrants an ass kicking here since Ben’s always been beating up on me.”
“Hey now, don’t bring Seth into it kiddo as this is between you and me,” Ben declared unable to contain his laughter.
“I’ll bring my boyfriend into it whenever I want to because he loves me and he won’t tolerate your picking on me,” Blake announced defiantly sticking her tongue out at him, “so there.”
“Your boyfriend huh,” Ben threw out another knowing grin, “I thought so.”
“Well actually, we…” Blake stammered a bit realizing what she’d said as she turned her eyes up towards Seth again wondering how she’d allowed that term to slip so freely considering that they had just started to pick up the pieces of the relationship they’d had with one another.”
“We’ll have no problem roughing you up there if you continue to pick on Blake,” Seth smiled over at his pal as Blake felt him making up for her verbal mistake, but as she felt the warmth of his arm curl around her, she had to wonder just how big of a mistake her slip truly was as they certainly had something brewing between them that ultimately couldn’t be ignored.
“Hey no fair,” Ben curled his lip in protest, “Just because she has sexy legs and is a knock out in a dress doesn’t mean you should turn your back on one of your best friends.”
“Ben, you know on most occasions I’ve got your back, but don’t pick on my gal or it could get ugly,” Seth teased with a wink curling his arm around Blake’s shoulders protectively, “Feel safer now?”
“Much,” she leaned in to offer up a quick kiss as Ben groaned inwardly.
“Great, I’ve been sold out for the brat who made my youth a living hell,” Ben teased as Blake and Seth parted and she stuck her tongue out at him again in a taunting motion.  “I swear Blake, you still are trouble even after all this time.”
“I was never trouble as it was all you,” Blake wrinkled her nose at him.
“Ah yes, I was the wild one and you were the perfect angel,” Ben rolled his eyes back at her, “I’d hardly believe anyone in this room thinks that to be the case.”
“Of course it was as I still am an angel,” she boasted as Ben shook his head in response.
“Uh, how can you stand putting up with her,” Ben continued to joke around as Seth couldn’t help but laugh at the exchange between Blake and Ben.
“Were you two always like this growing up together,” Seth had to know as Ben and Blake shared a long look with one another before nodding in unison.
“Yep,” Ben offered up.
“Pretty much,” Blake shrugged her shoulders as she sank back into Seth’s arms, “but it made life pretty interesting in having a bunch of guys around, though it was increasingly difficult to try dating.”
“That’s because most men knew better than to get wrapped up in your kind of trouble,” Ben jabbed at her with another laugh.
“No more like they knew what you, Brant and Kenny would have waiting for them if they tried,” Blake let out a heavy sigh as she turned her eyes up to Seth again, “it was just so very dreadful.”
“How ever did you survive sweetheart,” Seth played along touching her cheek gently.
“I so don’t know,” she sighed heavily leaning into his touch, “but now I’m in control of things.”
“Or so you think,” Ben poked at her once again as there was another knock on the door, “Expecting company?”
“You mean other than you bothering us?” Blake threw back at him.
“Jade’s not home yet,” Seth explained breaking through the teasing that was going on between Ben and Blake.
“Really?” Ben questioned surprised by his friend’s statement before he paused for a moment remembering that Jade was with Gabe the previous evening, “You sure Gabe’s gay?”
“Positive,” Seth nodded in response, “and if I had any thoughts that he’d be anything less than respectful to my little sister then he’d have a whole world of trouble to deal with, but this isn’t the case.”
“Let’s hope not,” Ben remarked as the knock returned once again, “I’ll get it just in case.”
“Ben, don’t joke like that,” Seth glared at him as Blake rubbed his chest gently.
“I’m sure she’ll be just fine.  Gabe seems like a good guy and from experience I know first hand that gay men don’t wake up one morning and say that they’re not gay anymore…even if they spent the night with someone as beautiful as your sister,” Blake tried to reassure him as he gave her a strange look before she added, “I went to college out in Los Angeles which speaks for itself.”
“Okay, you’ve got me there,” he nodded watching as Ben greeted their latest visitor.
“Ben,” Diane squealed from the other side of the door surprised to see her boyfriend as she threw her arms around him excitedly planting a kiss upon him before leaping into his arms.  She continued to shower him with kisses as her eagerness filled her up inside until Seth let out a groan.
“Um, you two need to go and get a room as my apartment isn’t some seedy hotel here,” Seth chortled as Ben and Diane parted and Diane shot him a deadly glare.
“Just you hush Seth!” Diane hissed as her eyes fell upon the woman in his arms and her mood immediately shifted to that of heavy disapproval before she turned to Ben expectantly, “What is she doing here?”
“She is here because she’s with me and the last time I checked this was my apartment Diane,” Seth answered her question flatly not liking Diane’s tone with Blake.
“It’s Jade’s apartment too,” Diane remarked dryly as she glared at Blake once again, “and I’m sure that the last thing Jade would want right now would be to see her schmoozing it up with you while Jade’s in need of mending a broken heart.”
“Actually, she’s not here at the moment,” Ben piped in curling his arm around Diane’s waist.
“Well, where is she?” Diane questioned in confusion worried about her best friend.
“Still with Gabe as far as we know,” Ben explained watching a breath of relief escape her lips before she was wound up again.
“Are you sure he’s really gay because you don’t know what kind of con artist this guy could be…” Diane began to spout off worried about her pal.
“Trust me, he’s gay and we’ve already established that the time he’s spending with Jade isn’t going to change that,” Seth broke through Diane’s ramblings.
“Even so, I knew I should’ve at least made sure that she made it home,” Diane swatted at Ben’s shoulder with her purse, “What were you thinking in letting me leave like that?”
“Hey, what is this?  Pick on Ben day,” Ben questioned trying to fend off her attack as she launched her purse at him once again.
“This is the ‘we should’ve used our heads’ day considering that Jade’s gone and no one knows where she could be,” Diane hissed as she spun around to face Seth again seeing the way he was cuddled up with Blake, “and I’m sure you didn’t bother to call her now that you’re shacking up with Blondie over here, huh?”
“Diane, would you just pipe down,” Ben reached for her arm trying to get her to behave.
“No, I’m not going to pipe down.  I don’t think that now is the time for Seth to be forgetting all about his sister just because Blake’s decided to move back in on him again and play him for a fool…” Diane argued with him.
“Diane, my relationship with Blake isn’t of any concern to you,” Seth offered up with a frown.
“No, let her go on as it just shows you all how pitiful she can really be,” Blake waved her hand at Diane dismissively, “as she’s always had this thing against me considering that she’s been jealous…”
“Jealous?” Diane repeated with a squeal of her own before rolling her eyes at Blake, “Hardly.  I wouldn’t be jealous of the ice princess that you are considering that…”
“That this should stop before it starts,” Ben clamped his hand down over Diane’s mouth as he offered up an apologetic expression towards his friend, “Seth, I think Diane and I are going to be leaving right about now, but if Jade comes home, can you give us a call?”
“Sure,” Seth nodded watching as Ben picked up a protesting Diane and carried her out of the apartment with the sounds of her displeasure filling the room every step of the way.  Finally as Blake and Seth were alone again, he looked to her with a blank expression before he cleared his throat.
“So…” she repeated again thinking about Diane’s display.
“That was…” Seth paused finding himself at a loss, “interesting.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Blake shifted in his arms facing him more completely, “but Diane’s always hated me and while you might’ve not picked up on it before now, I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”
“I can see that, though I must admit I’ve never seen her so worked up before…well not unless she was talking about her sister as I get the distinct vibe that Diane and Deidra don’t get along too well, but normally she’s pretty laid back and…” Seth explained thinking about Diane’s uncharacteristic behavior.
“Trust me Seth.  That’s how Diane truly is as she’s a little vindictive bitch who just is upset because…” Blake stopped mid-sentence as he noticed the color seemed to drain from her face.
“Blake, what is it?” he questioned reaching out to touch her cheek.
“Well,” she began uneasily as her blue eyes fixed on his once again, “A few years ago, Diane and I both kind of liked the same guy…”
“Ah, so now the truth to the matter surfaces,” Seth lifted an understanding brow.
“There’s more to it, but the guy was someone who worked with my father and I was so determined to seduce him, but ultimately Diane wound up being the one that he was screwing around with.  He was a married man and I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I don’t know if Diane was or not,” Blake grew quiet upon conclusion of her words.
“So let me get this straight.  You and Diane liked the same guy, he chose to be with Diane, but the guy was a jerk anyways and now you two are still going at it with one another.  Don’t you think that maybe it’s time to lay that old feud to rest?” Seth suggested as he realized Blake wasn’t looking at him anymore.   He reached out to touch her cheek gently urging her eyes to his once again, “Blake, what is it?”
“That guy,” she drew in a slow breath, “well that guy that we were fighting over was that one in those pictures with Jade.  That Eric guy was the one I started to tell you about when I said that Diane and I were chasing him around, but…”
“Diane wound up having a relationship with him,” Seth deduced thinking back to their previous conversation, “which is why you’d mentioned it in the first place and you’d asked if Diane knew…”
“Exactly,” Blake nodded in response, “as Diane was sleeping with one of the men that raped your sister.  She had this fling with someone…”
“…who worked to destroy my sister’s life,” Seth grew silent at the thought of Jade’s best friend forming any kind of connection with someone who’d hurt Jade, but as Seth thought of his own twisted situation, he began to wonder just how many victims there truly were in all of this.
“She couldn’t have known,” Blake interrupted his thoughts thinking about what Diane’s reaction to something like that would be, “I mean she and Jade are the best of friends right…”
“Right,” Seth nodded thinking about his sister all over again, “Diane has always been there for her like the sister Jade never had and there isn’t anything that Diane wouldn’t do for Jade.  She’s moved heaven and earth to try to help my sister time and time again…”
“And if she had any idea of what a jerk Eric really was,” Blake shuddered at the thought, “Ugh, I can’t even begin to think of how horrible she’d feel…”
“I think it would kill both her and Jade if they came up with the connection,” Seth added shifting in the seat he was in.
“All the more reason not to let Diane know that Eric was one of the men who raped Jade unless you have to,” Blake decided facing him once again, “as that would probably destroy her and Jade.”
“Eventually people are going to find out because if you know where I can find this man, I’m not going to be able to rest until there’s justice for my sister,” Seth offered up in confession, “I know that Jade’s worked so hard to let it go and move on with her life, but the idea that the man is still out there potentially hurting other women like Jade after what he did to Jade, well it doesn’t leave me with a good feeling and I can’t just do nothing.”
“I know,” Blake nodded thinking about what role her father could’ve played in Jade’s rape.  Hating to think that he could’ve been a rapist himself, she tried to think of perhaps another way that he’d unintentionally lead Eric in Jade’s direction without knowing what was going on.  Still as she thought about what Seth might be experiencing with his anger, she knew that he couldn’t begin his quest alone as she reached for his hand squeezing it supportively, “and if you’re going to go after Eric, then I want to help you.”
“Blake, I don’t think that’s such a good idea considering that…” Seth started to argue with her.
“Seth, I know a lot of his dirty little secrets and if you can’t get him on what he did to Jade, then at the very least you can bury him with his other sins,” Blake insisted vowing to work to make things right for Seth’s sister even if that meant facing some demons of the past that she was certain might’ve been best buried forever.


Brant sat at his desk attempting to focus on the papers before him. After he’d made the phone call inquiring about Brooke’s kidnapping, he’d tried to shift his focus back on work, but it was proving near impossible to accomplish. While he wasn’t particularly close with Brooke, she had always been nice to him without wanting anything in return, and that was an oddity in his life. True she had wanted Avery to marry into financial security, but Brooke had asked for nothing personally and it was that fact that endeared her to him.

He tossed his pen onto his desk as he thought of Avery. He knew her relationship with Brooke was strained, but it still had to be difficult for her to deal with after the mess with Mathis and the Dentons converging on her. She was probably a nervous wreck which wasn’t good for the baby nor Avery herself.

Hearing someone outside his door brought him back to the here and now before him. He walked to the door and opened it fully expecting Diane to be back on whatever mission it was she’d had when she’d showed up this morning, “Didn’t get enough this morning, huh?” He frowned as he spotted his twin, “Ken…”

“Expecting someone of the female persuasion, I take it,” Ken said blandly as he glanced over his brother’s appearance, “Though at least you’re dressed…thank god.”

“Cute,” Brant rolled his eyes, “I actually thought you might be Diane, but while we’re on the subject, why are you here? If it’s to give me another of your damned lectures…”

“Actually, I was kind of hoping you might give me one,” Ken shrugged as he held up the box he’d garnered at the bakery, “I brought pastries. I was on my way to visit Caitlin, but right now, I don’t think I’d do much for her recovery in my current mood.”

“So you came here, hoping I’d fuss you out…” Brant twisted his face in confusion, “That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, Ken.”

“I know,” Ken frowned, “Can we at least talk?”

“Now I really am worried about you,” Brant opened the door to his office, “Get in here. I don’t want you falling apart in the hallway in case some tabloid sleaze is around to capture the moment,” He noted as Ken stepped into the office. He closed the door while Ken placed the pastry box down and sank onto the sofa, “So what’s got you into this state?”

“I’m having a really rotten week,” Ken frowned.

“Rotten? I thought you’d be thrilled your girlfriend came out of the coma,” Brant quipped as he sat in his favorite leather chair.

“I am,” Ken corrected, “That has been the highlight of the week by far,” He paused, “It’s the rest of the week that’s sucked.”

“So tell me about it,” Brant spoke in a less than enthusiastic tone.

“Susan’s back in town,” Ken stated, knowing that no more would need to be said on the matter.

“Well,” Brant’s eyes widened as a grin appeared on his features, “It appears things might be looking up for you after all.”

“Brant, I’m serious here. This isn’t a good thing,” Ken frowned.

“Why not?” Brant asked with a laugh.

“Why not? Are you serious?” Ken groaned, “Brant, she damn near ruined my life the last time around. She came into my life and drove me to distraction. I damn near lost my career and my reputation when all was said and done.”

“So what’s the problem?” Brant asked before pausing, “Unless you’re tempted…”

“No,” Ken declared too quickly.

“You are,” Brant’s jaw dropped in the midst of a smile, “I’ll be damned. Golden boy does have a little tarnish on those angelic wings after all.”

“Oh go to hell,” Ken snorted as he looked away from his twin.

“That’s what this is really all about,” Brant stood and shook his head as he reveled in the truth of his brother’s visit, “You came here hoping I’d support whatever it was you were trying to convince yourself of. Well, I’m not going to do it, Ken. In fact, I think you should just let yourself go and have a ball with Susan. She’s the only person who’s ever managed to get that stick out of your ass, and I think she’s just what you need.”

“You don’t have the first clue what I need,” Ken stated firmly as he stood, watching Brant pour himself a drink at the bar, “What I need is Caitlin’s love and I can live in peace.”

“Peace is highly overrated,” Brant declared as he carried a Cognac to his brother, “And what you need is a little spice.”

Ken exhaled with a frown as he looked to his drink, “I’m not like you, Brant. I can’t live that kind of life.”

“Yes, you can,” Brant assured him.

“No, I can’t. I love Caitlin, and I would never do anything to hurt her.”

“Well obviously she’s not doing everything to please you, or you wouldn’t be looking elsewhere. What’s the matter, Ken? Doesn’t she do some kind of sexual acrobatics to keep you from seeing how she’s working Denton’s agenda in our family?”

“Stop it,” Ken declared, “I won’t hear anything you have to say about Russell Denton, got it?”

“Fine, but if she were pleasing you in bed, Susan wouldn’t have even shown up on your radar,” Brant pointed out.

“It’s not like that with Caitlin, Brant. Our relationship is built on a lot more than just sex,” Ken frowned as he threw back the strong alcohol in a single gulp.

Brant studied his brother for a moment, “You haven’t slept with her, have you?” He looked at his brother in shock, “I can’t believe this. In all the time you’ve spent with her, and you haven’t taken her to bed yet?”

“I told you that our relationship…” Ken began.

“Is built on blah blah blah,” Brant dismissed his brother’s words, “Then what is keeping you tied to this woman? What does she have on you?”

“She doesn’t have anything on me,” Ken answered as he placed the glass aside and stepped across the room to gaze out the window, “She has my heart, Brant. I really and truly love her with every fiber of my being. Don’t get me wrong…I want her so bad that it hurts, but she’s been through so much. I’d never rush her.”

Brant took a deep breath and sat on the corner of his desk as he watched his brother. He twisted the brandy snifter in his hand for a moment before speaking, “Then, why are you here?”

Ken looked back to his brother, “I don’t know. Maybe I was hoping you’d tell me to hold on to love and ignore all other temptations. Maybe I was hoping you’d tell me that I have the one thing we’ve all wanted…a real chance to make love work for us.”

Brant placed his snifter aside and crossed his arms, “I can’t tell you that, Ken, because I don’t trust your girlfriend. She doesn’t strike me as a woman who’s worthy of our legacy, and she doesn’t particularly make me believe that she’s wholeheartedly devoted to you either. So if Susan’s around and ready to play, you need to jump at the chance. Because at least with Susan, you know how she works. You can see her treachery coming. You won’t get that chance with Caitlin. She’s already got you blinded with her sweet little façade, and she’s going to find a way to break you without you ever being able to see it coming.”

“Why do you hate Caitlin so much? What really has she done to you? Break your little dream you had going with Avery? That’s all it was, Brant. A dream. It wasn’t real,” Ken informed him somberly.

“You don’t know about my relationship with Avery. You just think you do,” Brant looked away from his brother for a moment, “You’re seeing it through Caitlin’s eyes, not your own.”

“This has nothing to do with Caitlin.”

“It has everything to do with Caitlin. You followed her lead in believing that I’m some bad guy who Avery needs rescuing from. You, of all people, should know that I would never hurt Avery or any other woman for that matter,” Brant said harshly as he stood from the corner of his desk and made his way to his chair behind his desk, “I really thought you knew me better than that.”

Ken watched his brother for a moment, “Actually, Brant, so did I, but you and I both know that this…” He weighed his words very carefully, “Obsession you have with Avery is bordering on the dangerous. You’ve never behaved this way about any other woman, and your behavior, to be quite honest, reminds me of Dad.”

Brant’s eyes blazed with anger as he nailed his twin with a hate filled gaze, “Don’t you ever say anything like that to me again,” He warned, “In fact, get out.”

“Brant…” Ken began.

“I said get out,” Brant repeated himself, “I’m still CEO here, Ken, and I swear to god I’ll use my position to have you tossed from this building. Get out!”

Ken started to speak again but thought better of it. He walked out of the office with a heavier heart than the one he’d had upon entering.

Brant watched the door close behind his brother while his blood boiled within. He had just received the ultimate insult from his brother which he knew couldn’t be true. Or could it?

Brant growled with rage as he hurled his snifter across the room to shatter against the closed door of his office. He slammed his fists against his desk before sinking into his chair. He leaned back and stared at the ceiling, feeling white hot tears burning his eyes. He wasn’t like his father…he would never be like Nicholas Ashford. Never…even if it meant denying himself of the one thing he wanted most in the world. Avery.


Grady stared Jade down as jealousy pumped through his veins. Last night, he’d escaped this pain by crawling into a bottle, but today it wouldn’t be that easy as she was standing right before him to tell him just exactly what had happened rather than his imagination running wild with ideas that made him homicidal. He clenched his fists as his anger got the better of him.

“You went home with him, didn’t you? Didn’t you?” He demanded as his eyes blazed with anger.

Jade stood unflinching to his angry tone. She looked at him defiantly, “I already told you, Grady. It’s none of your business as long as you’re acting like a jack ass.”

“How do you expect me to act when you’re off chasing this guy?”

“I didn’t chase anyone,” She replied honestly, “Except you, and you keep running in the opposite direction.”

“I stopped running a long time ago, Jade,” He defended.

“Really? Then what do you call breaking your word to me, Grady? You said you’d try to behave around Avery.”

“I did try,” He declared vehemently.

“No, you didn’t. You did just barely enough to get by, and then the very first second my back was turned, you lashed out at her. How the hell is that trying?”

“I was just…I tried to be polite.”

“Oh don’t even start lying to me, Grady. It was so very simple,” Jade explained, “All you had to do was make polite conversation with Avery for a few minutes while Russ and I were out of the room.”

“I don’t have anything polite to say to that woman,” Grady stated blandly.

“Then why don’t you do what everyone learned in kindergarten? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. You could have just kept your mouth shut, but you couldn’t resist the temptation to lash out at Avery.”

“Why are you always defending her? Is it some sisterly bond or something?” He asked in frustration.

“No, Grady, this is actually about my stupidity. I was stupid enough to believe that I could trust you. Do you have any idea what that means for me, Grady? You were the one man, the only man,” She reiterated, “That I trusted other than my brother. Do you really think trusting any man is easy for me? Well, let me just tell you that it isn’t easy at all,” She said as tears threatened to steal her voice, “And I’ve tried so very hard to get past that because I love you. I’ve wanted to put all of those old fears aside and just focus on how much I love you. Now, I’m not sure if I can trust you or not. If you can’t live up to your word in something as simple as just trying to get along with Avery, then how can I trust you with any other part of my life, Grady?”

Grady’s heart dropped as he listened to her angry tearful words. Up until now, he hadn’t truly understood why Jade had been so upset with him over his slip up with Avery, but now…now it was all too clear just where her anger had originated.

“Oh god,” Grady said the words as realization set in of just what kind of damage he’d done to their relationship, “Jade, I’m…” He paused, “Sorry’s not really a good enough word. But I am sorry, Jade. I didn’t…I just wasn’t considering that you would take this so personally.”

“How am I supposed to take it? I asked you to behave, but you couldn’t do that. You promised me you’d stay sober, and you didn’t do that either. Is it just me you lie to or is everyone else in your life used to this sort of treatment?” She asked as she wiped hot tears from her cheeks, “You know, I still love you, Grady. This wouldn’t hurt nearly as much if I didn’t, but I do love you. It’s just that I’m not sure if you mean anything you say.”

“Jade, I do mean…”

“Don’t start lying to me,” She ordered as she held up her hand to stop him, “How can I believe anything you say to me, Grady? Every promise you’ve made to me you’ve broken.”

“Not every promise, Jade,” He said as he met her eyes, “I promised to love you, and I do love you with all my heart.”

Jade smiled sadly as tears slipped down her cheeks, “It’s too bad that love just isn’t enough. I love you, Grady, but I don’t trust you,” She met his eyes as she spoke, “And I don’t know that I ever can.”

“Jade…don’t give up on us…don’t give up on me,” He begged, “I love you, and it’s your love that’s brought me out of the hell I’ve been living in. It’s your love that gives me reason to do good.”

“Then maybe it’s my love that isn’t enough,” She sobbed softly before shaking her head, “I can’t do this. This was a bad idea,” She said as she turned and scrambled to make her way to the door.

“Jade, wait. Don’t leave. Please don’t leave. I didn’t mean…,” Grady pled with her as she ran out of the house. He stopped in the doorway as she got into her car and sped out of the driveway. He felt his heart shattering as he watched her car disappear down the street. He sank back against the door and slid to the floor as he felt his world crashing down, once again leaving him in the hell he’d grown accustomed to.

...to be continued...