Episode Eighty Eight 

Diane stomped across the floor in her apartment before she turned on her heel and glared at Ben, “Just what did you think you were doing? I was just…”

“Just about to stick your foot in it,” Ben pointed out as he closed the door to her apartment and watched her pace, “You can’t just go into Seth’s apartment and start attacking his girlfriend.”

“She shouldn’t be his girlfriend,” She huffed as she groaned openly, “I cannot believe he would bring her back into his life. Didn’t he learn the first time?”

“Diane, I hate to point this out, but we don’t know all the ins and outs of what happened between them the last time,” He reflected, “Maybe they just worked through it. Either way, Seth seems happy and that’s the important thing.”

“Not if she’s going to rip his heart out and stomp on it again,” She frowned as she sank onto the sofa in a huff, “Besides that, she’s never going to fit in with all of us. She’s going to sit there with her nose up in the air and look down at the rest of us as if we’re beneath her. I’m telling you she isn’t open minded enough to accept any of us. She probably sees Seth just to write it off as charity work.”

“Would you stop?” He frowned while sitting beside her, “You’re going to have to let this go.”

“Tell that to Blake,” She sighed as a knock at the door interrupted their conversation, “Okay, who could that be?”

“It’s your apartment,” He shrugged.

Diane made her way towards the door and opened it to find Jade standing before her in a state of total disarray, “Jade…honey…my god, are you hurt?” She reached out to her friend to draw her inside.

“No…” Jade sobbed, “Not physically anyway,” She openly shuddered with the force of her tears.

Diane pushed the door closed as she escorted her friend to her sofa, “Honey, what happened?”

“Everything has fallen apart,” Jade cried as she leaned into Diane’s comforting hug.

Ben touched Jade’s knee gently, “Jade, does Seth know where you are?”

“No, I haven’t seen him or talked to him,” Jade sobbed softly, “I’ve just…been…I saw Grady,” She admitted as she looked to Diane, “Things should have worked out for us, but they’ve all fallen apart and I don’t know how any of it can possibly be fixed,” She buried her face in her hands.

Diane looked to Ben who nodded in acknowledgment of the silent request to leave them alone.

“I’ll call Seth, and tell him you’re here,” Ben said softly as he stood.

“Don’t…I mean…don’t let him know that I’m like this,” Jade requested as Ben nodded and left them alone.

“Jade, what happened? Did something happen last night after you left?” Diane asked as she lightly used her fingers to sweep Jade’s hair from her face.

“No, not last night. This morning,” Jade wiped tears, “Avery called and asked me to talk to Grady. I should have known better than to go over there to talk to him. I should have known just to leave the situation alone, but like an idiot, I wanted to believe that things could work out. It always happens this way. I always believe the best will happen, but it never does. It always turns into a complete disaster.”

“Jade, whoa, honey, just calm down here,” Diane urged, “What happened with Grady?”

“I went over there to try to work things out, but he’d been drinking. It was so obvious that he was completely hung over, and he wants to blame everything on Avery. He just won’t open his eyes and see that it’s his fault that things keep going so insane,” Jade shook her head, “And I was so naïve, Diane. I thought that somehow I could love him and that would be enough to make him happy. But it’s not, and it’s just a pattern in my life. Over and over again, I think I can make people appreciate me, but it never works.”

“Jade,” Diane spoke softly as she eased her hand over Jade’s shoulder, “Grady loves you just as you love him. I don’t really understand why any of this has happened, but maybe he just need some time.”

“No,” Jade pulled away from Diane and turned on the sofa to look at her friend, “It’s not about him. Well it is, but it isn’t. It’s just that every man I think I can trust shows me that I can’t really trust them at all.”

“What are you talking about? Seth has always been there for you.”

“I know that. I’m not talking about Seth,” Jade ran her fingers through her hair, “I’m talking about my father.”

Diane looked at her friend in confusion, “What does he have to do with anything, Jade?”

“I thought I could trust him, and he showed me that I can’t trust any man…Seth is the only man I’ve ever been able to trust.”

“If this is about your father leaving you,” Diane began.

“No,” Jade took a deep breath, “I never told you what really happened when Seth and I went to Spring Ridge for the summer,” She paused for a moment, “But maybe it’s time you really knew.”

“I thought you went there to stay with an aunt,” Diane said in confusion.

“No,” Jade shook her head, “I didn’t go there to stay with an aunt. I went there to recover.”

“From what?” Diane asked as she watched Jade’s face continue to pale, “Jade, you’re scaring me.”

“I went there to recover from rape,” Jade spoke with a trembling voice, “I was raped, Diane, and my father basically sold me into it,” She said she broke into tears again.

Diane looked at her friend in shock and heartbreak as she drew Jade into her arms, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Jade hugged Diane for a moment before she withdrew to meet Diane’s eyes, “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to upset your life.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Diane asked in confusion, “I would have been there for you.”

“I know you would have, but you were already into your internship at BBK and it would have totally upset your world. And it’s a good thing because you’ve been at BBK for years, and it’s turned out to be a good career for you.”

“Hold on. What would any of this have to do with my working at BBK?” Diane asked, not understanding what one situation had to do with the other.

“It would have mattered a lot,” Jade wiped tears from her cheeks, “Because Nicholas Ashford raped me,” She said as tears poured from her eyes again.

Diane gasped in pain and shock as she watched her friend’s pain resonate through her every feature. Diane felt her heart ache in her chest as she considered what Jade had gone through and wondered how Jade could have kept this secret from her for so many years. Diane drew Jade back into her arms and held onto her in silence as she wasn’t sure quite what she could say in response to what had just been revealed to her. She knew that she would have to say something eventually but she had no idea quite what it would be.


Ken stepped into the hospital room and smiled at Caitlin as she switched off the television at his arrival, “Hey, I bet you thought I’d disappeared, didn’t you?”

“I knew you’d come around,” Caitlin smiled as he bent to gently kiss her. She licked her lips and hummed, “Been drinking?”

“I stopped by Brant’s office and had a drink with him,” He admitted as he sat down beside her on the bed.

She took a deep breath as she looked at him closely, “I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled about you coming to see me.”

“Brant is just…well, Brant,” He sighed, “Besides, what he wants doesn’t matter to me. You do,” He smiled at her as he took her hand.

“Ken, I know that your family means a lot to you. While you and Brant might not see eye to eye on everything, I know that he does mean a lot to you. You don’t have to act like this doesn’t upset you.”

“I’d rather not think about that right now. I just want to focus on your recovery and how we’re going to celebrate when you get out of here,” He smiled.

“Ken, please don’t try to sugarcoat this. Everyone keeps acting like I’m going to fall apart if they just be themselves around me. Please give me the benefit of the doubt here. I’m not going to fall apart if you tell me that you’re upset over the situation with Brant. I know that I made things difficult for you where Brant’s concerned, and I know that he hates me. He’s never made a big secret of that. I’m sorry that I made things more difficult for you by getting in the midst of this thing between him and Avery. I shouldn’t have blurted out that Avery was married. It was her news to deliver, not mine. He just goaded me and…” She paused, “It doesn’t matter. I’m the reason you and Brant aren’t getting along right now.”

“The reason Brant and I aren’t getting along right now is that we’re always finding reasons to be at odds with one another,” He explained, “Granted, I wish he could see the beautiful wonderful woman I’m in love with, but he can’t. Brant can never really see past his own agendas of the moment, and right now that’s Avery. You just delivered some harsh truths to him, and he didn’t like it one bit. So he singles you out to be the person he hates.”

“And it puts stress on your relationship with him,” She frowned, “I don’t want to come between you and your family, Ken.”

“You’re not,” He assured her, “I love you, Caitlin, and just because Brant’s upset over his own problems, it doesn’t change anything. I love you, and I want to be with you.”

“But your relationship with Brant…”

“Is just as it’s always been. Brant loves to stir up trouble which I have to try to fix. It’s just his way, and I’m not going to let him screw up the best thing I have in my life,” He reached out to gently caress her cheek, “And that’s you. I love you, Caitlin, and nothing matters to me more than your recovery right now. If Brant wants to be pissed off, that’s his problem.”

“Why do I feel like this is just the beginning? I have this really bad feeling that we’re going to have trouble from this.”

“The only trouble we have right now is you being in this bed instead of at home,” Ken flashed her a teasing smile.

Caitlin shook her head with a smile, “You’re not going to let this be a problem for me, are you?”

“No, I’m really not,” He smiled as he leaned forward and kissed her cheek, “I love you, Caitlin.”

“I love you too, Ken,” She met his eyes while gently touching his cheek, “So, you need to update me on the Midlands case. I know you told me that the case was continued, but you didn’t tell me how that came about. And I want an update on Randy…how’s he doing?”

Ken smiled as he began to update Caitlin on the case they both had put in a lot of work on. If she was focused on the Henderson case, it left her less time to worry about what Brant was doing or feeling. Besides that, it let him off the hook where his own confused feelings were concerned. Right now, all he wanted was to focus on Caitlin and have her out of the hospital so they could resolve the situation together.


Zack walked back through the house as he thought of his situation with Johanna. He didn’t know how he could convince her to stay in Coral Valley, but he had to find a way. The thought of going back to Seattle sickened him. He couldn’t be that far away from Blake. While it was obvious their relationship had hit a brick wall, he couldn’t abide the idea that he wouldn’t get to at least see her around town.

But he had more to think about than just his love for Blake. He had a child coming into the world that he would need to be responsible for. He didn’t know if that was even possible for him at the moment. His heart and head didn’t seem to agree on anything lately, but he was determined to have the best of both worlds. He would have his child in his life and somehow find a way to repair the damage that had been done with Blake. Somehow, he would work things out for all of them.
Zack stepped into the living room and spotted Johanna lying on her sofa with a crocheted afghan lying over her. He moved closer to her and paused, “Jo…”

“I’m not in the mood, Zack. You can leave,” Johanna sighed as she pulled the afghan closer around her shoulders.

“I’m not leaving,” He spoke as he knelt down beside the sofa, “We need to talk about this.”

“I already told you all I have to say, Zack. I’m going home to Seattle, and it’s up to you how you choose to deal with it.”

“Jo, there has to be something we can do to work this out.”

“Come home,” She said simply as she looked to him, “Come back to Seattle with me. Things weren’t so bad there for us. We had a good life. We could have that again.”

“Jo, we may be having a child, but that doesn’t mean we can turn back the hands of time here. You and I just aren’t going to work out.”

“Why not? Because you’re in love with Blake Ashford?” Johanna asked as she met his eyes, “When exactly did that happen? When you came to Coral Valley? Zack, I’m in love with you. I have been for so very long, and I’ve told you that over and over again. I don’t understand how you can just forget that and act like I’ve done something so horrible to you.”

“You haven’t, Jo. It’s just that…” He paused, “My life with you is going in one direction when I want it to go in another. You haven’t done anything but love me and be good to me, and I can’t fault you for that.”

“Was our life together so horrible? Was it really so bad that you had to abandon everything we had?” She asked as she sat up to look at him.

“Jo, if you remember our lives together were just…” He sighed.

“Normal?” She asked as she met his eyes, “But normal isn’t good enough for you, is it? It has to be exciting and jet setting and turning the world on its ear. Does Blake do that for you? Does she set the world on fire?”

“It’s not like that, Jo. I knew Blake long before I met you,” He ran his fingers through his hair.

“So what was I? Just something to tide you over?” Johanna asked as she shook her head, “God, Zack, did I ever mean anything to you?”

“Yes,” He nodded as he met her eyes.

“What? A convenient woman to sleep with while you waited to come here to Blake?” She asked as tears formed in her eyes, “My god, you didn’t give a damn about me, did you?”

“That’s not true,” Zack assured her as he captured her cheeks in his hands, “I do love you, Jo. I’m just not in love with you.”

“Why not? Why can’t you love me that way? Why can’t we find a way to make things work between us?”

“Jo, we wouldn’t be happy together. Would you really be happy with me just being with you knowing that I’m not in love with you?”

“Why can’t you be in love with me?” She asked as she searched his eyes, “I love you, Zack. I love you so much, and I could be whatever you needed me to be. I would do anything I could for you.”

“Then you have to let me be,” Zack spoke softly, “You have to let me be who I am without trying to change me.”

Johanna searched his eyes, “So I guess that means you’re staying in Coral Valley, huh?”

“I need to be here, Jo. This is my life now,” He reasoned.

“Well my life is in Seattle, and I’m not going to settle for anything less than love, Zack. I’m not going to come back to Coral Valley where I’ll be reminded every time that I turn around that you have someone new in your life. I won’t do that to myself, and I certainly won’t do that to our child,” She stood and walked by him, “Just leave, Zack. Just go.”

“Jo…” He called out for her as he stood to go after her.

“Don’t,” Johanna declared as she turned on the stairs to look at him, “I want you to leave, Zack. Just go,” She broke down into tears as she ran up the stairs.

Zack sighed as he felt defeat settle over him. As he turned and left the house, he thought of what lay ahead of him. He would have to find a way to resolve this situation and keep Johanna in Coral Valley, but he couldn’t give his heart to her…it wasn’t his to give any more.


Susan sipped on the merlot she’d poured herself as she took the moment to sink back upon the luxurious sofa that added that extra touch of finesse to the place Stone Corp had set up for her during her stay in Coral Valley.  Certainly Cameron had a sense of class and could appreciate the same pleasures that Susan had grown very accustomed to over her years as this place clearly reflected all the reasons why her time with Stone Corp had been quite a profitable endeavor and an amazing career move on her end she had to admit.  This place clearly was the icing on the cake and as Susan indulged herself drinking the wine that one of the Stone Corp employees that were clearly of a lower rank of the food chain had provided her with in preparation for her homecoming.
Life couldn’t possibly be better than this, she mused to herself feeling a grin touch over the corners of her lips as it seemed that this past week around town had been nothing short of victory.  Grady was clearly well on the road to cracking and Ken, well there weren’t words to begin to express how enthralled she’d been by his reluctant responses to her as it made the chase all the more enjoyable.  Of course ultimately she knew where Ken would be when everything was said and done and that in itself made her smile widen as it was only a matter of time before she had him wrapped around her pinky finger eating up everything she wanted him to spoon in.
“You will be mine all over again, Ken,” she couldn’t help but let out a victorious giggle as she heard her cell phone ringing beside her.  Reaching out to pluck it up off of the table top, she took a few seconds longer to bask in the impending victory she would be savoring once she’d made Ken hers all over again, but for now it was business as usual as she threw out her best professional tone, “Susan Denton here…”
“Susan,” a familiar voice caught her attention springing her straight up on the plush, leather sofa, “I was hoping that I’d be able to get you on the first try as you‘re not the easiest of women to track down.”
“Now darling,” she purred in a sultry tone silently saluting her sexual prowess as it seemed that Ken had been baited by their earlier conversation in the bakery, “this could’ve been oh so much easier for you had you not been so adamant about protesting so very much when we’d last encountered one another as I’m certain I would’ve given you far more than my cell phone number Ken,” she circled her finger around her wine glass tracing the rim with her index finger.
“Oh sweetheart,” he replied with a hearty chuckle, “as much as you’d like to flatter yourself right about now, this isn’t Ken.”
“No?” her lip curled in a pout as she sat up even straighter, “well, in that case, this could only be one other person.  So how are you Brant?”
“I’ve been better,” he continued to laugh upon hearing the elevation in her voice drop upon realization of the twin that had sought her out, “though I must admit you never cease to surprise me Susan as I’d have to say you’re one of the first women to almost sound disappointed that I’m calling upon you as there aren’t many gals out there who would rather it be Ken instead of me they’re speaking with.”
“Not many women realize just what capabilities your brother truly possesses,” Susan mused fondly thinking back to her oh so intense relationship with Ken, “as I find myself in the position to be one of the enlightened few who can truly appreciate all of his many talents.”
“Ah yes, we both know what talent you’ve grown accustomed to exploiting and I’m not talking about his ability to be a whiz in the courtroom as it’s quite apparent that your return has sparked an interest in your finding a way into his bedroom once again,” Brant remarked knowingly.
“Can you blame a girl for having great taste,” Susan inquired sipping her wine once again.
“Great taste would’ve been your chasing after me back in the day, though I suppose the fact that you’ve got a thing for Ken would be some strange form of flattery seeing as you’re going for the second best there is to offer,” Brant couldn’t help but declare as she threw back a low, sultry laugh.
“Oh Brant, there isn’t a thing about your brother that is second best where I’m concerned,” she confessed openly, “although I’m sure you didn’t call me to discuss all the reasons why Ken lights my fire in ways that I’m quite certain you couldn’t come close to.”
“Susan, we both know that the reason you and I never could’ve worked is because unlike my sap of a brother and your alcoholic ex-husband, I don’t let any woman dominate me,” Brant stated plainly, “although I will say that I can see why Ken was so readily willing to play along with whatever you were offering him as he could use more excitement in his life.”
“Hmm, well since you put it that way,” she chuckled with mild amusement, “flattery will get you everywhere tonight Brant, but I really don’t think you sought me out to stroke my ego.”
“Beautiful and perceptive,” Brant threw back at her, “now I can see why Cameron Stone snagged you up, though it’s a pity that you’re working for a snake like that when you could have so much more.”
“I happen to have a great many things that go far beyond anyone’s wildest dreams where I’m at,” Susan replied with a satisfied smirk, “although I might’ve been persuaded to have been a part of the whole BBK family had your father been bright enough to hire me instead of Avery because as they say blondes know how to have more fun.”
“Well, on most occasions I might’ve been inclined to agree with you about my father’s poor taste, but given that Avery’s rather spectacular, I could see how it might’ve been a very hard choice to make…” Brant decided pondering it for a moment.
“Of course you’d think that considering that I’ve heard the rumors of how your taste has changed as it seems you favor brunettes these days,” she shrugged her shoulders simply, “it’s a pity as you don’t know what you’re missing, although I see Ken isn’t making those same dreadful mistakes.”
“No, he’s out making entirely different ones,” Brant remarked dryly.
“Ah, so I take it you aren’t getting along swimmingly with the new, sugary sweet princess in Ken’s life,” Susan couldn’t help but grin at the prospect of Brant being against Ken’s newfound step towards the good and boring life.
“She has enough saccharine to make me want to vomit, but you on the other end, well you have something that makes my brother almost exciting and while I’ll never quite grasp what sparked the attraction, well the truth to the matter is that I’d much prefer your kind of trouble in Ken’s life to that which his little princess brings to the table.”
“Ah, do I smell some kind of proposition in the air,” Susan sat up straighter.
“There might be,” Brant answered simply revealing nothing of his agenda of the phone.
“And if I were to be inclined to listen to whatever it was you brought to the table,” she half questioned awaiting his response.
“You might find yourself very appreciative of my terms as there could be some major benefits to the situation and some rich and rewarding payoffs,” he promised her.
“Rich and rewarding,” Susan purred in response, “those are two of my favorite words you know.”
“In that case, it sounds like we’ve already got one foot in the door to this particular arrangement then, don’t we?” Brant mused with a proud grin of his own thinking of how his brother’s visit had sparked up something in him that he’d almost overlooked when he’d been in a fury about his brother’s words.
“That all depends,” Susan broke though his thoughts in a tempting tone, “You may have to tantalize me a bit more so that I can see whether or not it’s worth my testing out the waters so to speak…”
“I think you’ve more than sampled the prize there as your reputation and history with Ken speaks for itself,” Brant pointed out bluntly.
“Well yes, we did have the kind of fire that so rarely exists in this world, but still, I’m curious,” she began with a dramatic pause, “how does your wife feel about your vested interest in Ken’s romantic endeavors?”
“My wife as you so bluntly put it married the wrong man,” Brant spoke sharply, feeling the sharp sting of the truth weigh upon him.
“Ah, so here in lies the true quandary,” Susan couldn’t help but let the curiosity and nose for scandal that she’d had all these years take over, “So tell me Brant, how did that come about?”
“An unfortunate misunderstanding that took my happily ever after a step away from me, but I’m working on a remedy for that,” Brant promised his voice full of determination.
“Hence, this little phone call you’re making at the moment plays into where you want things to go with Avery,” Susan questioned with a tiny chuckle, “as I’m assuming that’s where we’re headed down the road.”
“Can’t I just have a mere concern for my brother’s well being,” Brant feigned insult.
“Hardly, as you’ve always had a hidden agenda Brant, but then again maybe that’s why I took to Ken instead of you as he was always so easy to read and pretty much what you saw was what you got…well at least when we weren’t behind closed doors, but you’ve always been a bit of a mystery,” Susan confessed with a tiny snicker, “and the mere fact that Avery bypassed you for someone else, well that in itself certainly wets my taste buds here as I’m thirsty for more of this torrid tale.”
“In time,” Brant remarked, “because eventually she’ll learn the err of her ways.”
“Ah, I see and just how do you plan to go about doing that one as I’m curious to find out what happens to the woman that dares to run away…” Susan began to sink back onto the sofa finding the conversation all the more interesting by the moment.
“In good time, but for now, we should really focus at the subject at hand which is your interest in my brother as if rumors are accurate, then you have nothing but shameless notions for stealing Ken’s virtue all over again,” Brant interrupted boldly, “is that right?”
“Ken lost his virtue a long time ago when we were together Brant, so I’m more interested in helping him reclaim the wild man he’s been denying himself of,” Susan paused once again unable to let things go, “but I just have to know one thing first…”
“What’s that?”
“Who was the poor bastard that dared to take your dream girl away from you,” Susan inquired unable to curb her craving for details.
“Someone who was once near and dear to you as it would seem part of your one time family decided it was time to step up to the plate with Avery and make a mess of things,” Brant wrinkled his nose in disgust.
“Russ?” Susan’s jaw nearly dropped in realization, “my now that is a tale of history repeating itself, though I must admit I never really saw those two making it to the aisle…to the first cheap and tawdry pay by the hour motel perhaps, but never to holy matrimony.”
“Yeah well, your ex-brother-in-law really thought he could play hardball and win, so he went for the gusto,” Brant seethed with animosity at the thought of how Russell had moved in and swept Avery off of her feet.
“Apparently he has…for now, but something tells me that he shouldn’t be enjoying his victory too much as I’m certain it’s already a fading dream of happily ever after for him…that is if you’re still interested in his wife,” Susan goaded him testing out his reactions.
“I’m very interested, but unfortunately my brother brought up a few points tonight that had me seeing that I was on the wrong course here if I really want to make any kind of progress as it seems that I’ve been making all the wrong moves,” Brant admitted with a heavy sigh.
“Now I never thought I’d live to see the day where I’d hear you say such a thing,” Susan chuckled in response enjoying this candid side of Brant.
“Well, don’t get too used to it as it won’t be something that I repeat after today, but once again we’re getting quite off topic, which unfortunately as titillating as it may be for you, isn’t something I can afford the luxury of wasting time with tonight, so how about we get straight to the point?” Brant suggested in his business as usual tone once again.
“I’m listening,” Susan nodded reaching for her wine glass and lifting it to her lips, “Tell me how you’ll tempt me with whatever idea you have spinning around in that sinister mind of yours.”
“It starts with, well dinner…” Brant explained hearing a silence on her end of the line.
“Dinner?” Susan repeated in a moment of surprise, “That wasn’t quite what I was expecting.”
“Well, as you said before, you haven’t got me down to a science just yet Susan, but I was thinking that perhaps you and I should make a dinner date, say tomorrow at the mansion around six.”
“Dinner at the mansion,” Susan purred at the idea suddenly feeling a new jolt of enthusiasm coursing through her veins, “Just the two of us?”
“For the dinner yet, but for dessert, well perhaps we’ll have to see to it that Ken is around to see the pleasures he’s been denying himself,” Brant continued with a cryptic tone, “as I just figured since you haven’t been in Coral Valley for very long, you deserve the star treatment in seeing the sights around town and what better place than the Ashford mansion?”
“Hmm, it sounds absolutely delicious,” Susan murmured tracing the rim of her glass once again, “as I’m sure that if we put our heads together, we can come up to some simple solution to these little grievances that we have with the world around us.”
“I was hoping you’d agree to something along those lines,” Brant replied smoothly, “as I’m certain we could come up with the perfect combination of business and pleasure…”
“Leading to the both of us achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves,” Susan half questioned thinking to the possibility of whatever trouble Brant had brewing in that dark and dangerous mind of his.
“That was the intent behind this temptation.  Interested?”
“Am I ever,” Susan declared eagerly, “so I guess it’s safe to say that you’ve got yourself a date…as long as you see to it that your brother hears of our union…”
“He’ll hear enough to know what you want him to know,” Brant assured her simply, “and along the way, well we’ll perhaps take a trip down memory lane as it might be a vital thing for my future…”
“Ah yes, as I’m sure my ex-brother-in-law is a topic you’d like to discuss more in depth seeing as you’re seeking out a way to even the odds,” Susan suggested with a knowing expression crossing over her features.
“The idea of leveling the playing field does tempt me more than you can imagine, but for now, well I think dinner’s a great start,” Brant concluded.
“Dinner it is,” Susan agreed pausing for a moment before speaking up again, “Is there anything you’d like me to bring?”
“Other than your sexy self,” Brant threw back at her with a hint of laughter in his voice, “no I think that about wraps it up, unless you have a few tricks up your sleeve that you’d like to bring along with you should Ken happen upon our meal with one another…”
“Where your brother’s concerned, I always bring them along for the ride,” Susan promised solemnly ready to launch a full on attack in the war to regain Ken’s complete attention.  “Dinner it is.”
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” Brant replied as Susan hung up the phone ready to let the games begin as it was only a matter of time before Ken’s latest flame was eating her dust.


“So how do you think it went back home,” Russell questioned turning his attention to Avery as they drove towards their house after their visit with Caitlin over at the hospital.
“I’m almost afraid to think about it,” Avery confessed with a heavy sigh turning her head in Russell’s general direction as he drove down the quiet road leading to their home.
“Yeah,” Russell agreed with a frown of his own as he caught a glance in her direction before turning his attention to the road once again, “my brother’s stubborn as all hell and pigheaded, but maybe just maybe Jade can find a way to pull him out of this slump he’s found himself in.”
“God, I hope so,” Avery admitted closing her eyes as she leaned her head in against the cool glass of the window beside her.
“You and me both,” Russell nodded in confession, “though I honestly have to ask, what did you say to Jade to get her over?  I know you thought you weren’t sure what you said was enough, but it must’ve been pretty powerful.”
“I guess I just kind of talked about the Grady I used to know,” Avery shrugged her shoulders lost in the memory of the man Grady once was, “I tried to think about that when I asked her over because I’m sure he has the potential to be that man again.  I mean he can’t be that far gone, can he Russ?”
“I used to think that I wouldn’t lose him, but now…” Russell sighed heavily thinking of the strain his brother had put upon himself and upon Russ and Avery’s relationship, “I just don’t know anymore.”
“Neither do I, but when I think about how it was when we were younger,” Avery shook her head as an ironic laugh spilled from her lips, “I can still see him as the guy who was moderately to highly irritating, yet lovable at the same time.”
“I know…I’ve been thinking about that myself as I was remembering all the times that Grady would take me to play baseball or how he taught me how to ride a bike and now, well now it’s like he’s lost in this world of misery and delusion and I don’t have the first clue how to pull him out of it.  Even with Jade, I’m not so sure that it’s possible…”
“With love anything is possible,” Avery spoke up encouragingly reaching out across the front seat of the car to squeeze his leg gently, “I mean hey, look at us.  How many times have we beat the odds together?”
“I know sweetheart,” Russell offered up a soft smile, “but I just wish they weren’t so stacked up against us.  I mean with Grady, you’d think he’d just accept that we’re together now…”
“I know that and maybe, well maybe in time,” Avery stopped herself shaking her head as she lifted her palm up from his leg opting to bring her fingers through her own dark hair, “Who am I trying to kid?  Grady’s not the same guy he used to be and we’re not the same.  I mean I keep thinking about all those little things we all used to do together…like remember the time my mother was having that Beholder promotional party after she forced me to do that modeling spot for her?  I so didn’t want to go to that thing after the photographer tried to fondle me during the shoot leaving me uncomfortable about being a part of her gala, yet Brooke was so adamant about my being there…”
“But I had that interview in New York,” Russell recalled shaking his head at the memory, “I tried to get out of it and reschedule because I didn’t want you going to that party alone under any circumstances…”
“I know you didn’t, which is why Grady offered to go and be my bodyguard,” Avery couldn’t help but let out a tiny laugh, “and given the way he glared at the photographer or any other guy who dared to linger around me too long, well I knew that I’d be safe the rest of the evening.”
“Until I managed to get an earlier flight and show up to surprise you,” Russell teased with a full blown smile as he thought back to that particular incident.
“Which was the best part of the evening without a doubt,” Avery reached out to him once again, brushing her fingers up over his leg as they turned down the street their house was on, “but still, when I think about how amazing he was that night or even how we used to get along so well, I just…well, I just hate that things have changed so drastically.  I mean sure okay I get that he’s not happy with me, but if I were the root of all his problems, then he should be so much better than he is right now.”
“Avery, you aren’t the problem and Grady knows that,” Russell reminded her with another heavy sigh, “Susan is the one who started this mess when she drove him past the edge and he’s never really gotten over that.  Not that I can keep pointing the finger in her direction, but the truth to the matter is that she really worked her damnedest to destroy him and he’s still feeling the aftershocks.”
“Only instead of Susan being his prime target, it’s me and he’s risking everything that means anything to him because of it,” Avery declared with a groan, “Russ, it’s so wrong that he’s doing this to himself because Jade loves him so very much.  Any fool with eyes can see that and I just wish that he’d let go of what’s happening with us and take the chance that fate’s given him once again.”
“Maybe he found a way to do that while we were gone,” Russell motioned towards the house seeing that the cars had left their driveway it seemed indicating that perhaps things had worked themselves out after all.
“You think?” Avery questioned with an air of hope wondering if Grady and Jade had somehow found their way to reconcile even after all that had taken place.
“We can hope, can’t we,” Russell beamed with the thought as he put the car into park.  Unable to contain himself, he unbuckled his seatbelt and reached out to Avery, quickly unlatching her seatbelt as well as he collected her lips in an impromptu, slow, tender kiss.
“What was that for,” Avery questioned breathlessly as they parted and her dark eyes searched the pools of green reflected before him as he touched her face gently.
“That was my way of saying I love you because I don’t think that I’ve spent enough time doing that lately with everything that’s happened,” he confessed in a low, breath of a whisper, “I know we’ve had a lot on our plates and I just wanted to show you that I still love you now more than ever.”
“I didn’t doubt that one,” Avery couldn’t help but smile as she leaned forward caressing his mouth with hers once again, “as I love you too baby.”
“Speaking of babies,” Russell dropped his hand down over her center, massaging her abdomen gently as he felt the tiny swell that now showed the first signs of their child’s growth inside of her, “how’s my little one doing?”
“I think our baby would like nothing more than to have daddy’s arms around him or her for the rest of the night,” Avery confessed with a tender smile, “Mommy would love that too.”
“I’m pretty sure I can arrange that one,” he assured her sliding in closer to her as he stole another kiss from her sweet, succulent lips, “Should we do inside and assess the damage that’s been done?”
“Ugh, do we have to,” Avery groaned inwardly sinking into him as his arms curled around her for a brief, lingering moment.
“The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can get back to us,” he promised pressing a kiss upon her temple before squeezing her hand gently, “Come on sweetie, let’s get this out of the way.”
“Oh alright,” she sighed feeling him move away from her before he opened the door stepping out onto the driveway before circling around the car to open her door for her as well.  Stepping out onto the drive, Avery couldn’t help but wonder if Jade had somehow found a way to penetrate Grady’s tortured soul and reach out to save him before he sank completely into the darkness that threatened to engulf him burying him alive.
“So far so good,” Russell remarked motioning to the darkness behind the curtains as he put his key in the front door unlocking it before leading Avery into the living room showing her that all the lights were off and they were seemingly alone again.  “Hmm, well this looks promising…”
“Very promising,” Avery reached out to him slinking her arm around his waist before urging him to face her once again in the darkness, “see, what did I tell you?  Love can find a way after all.”
“That it can,” Russell mused in a faint whispered squeezing her in closer to him as his fingers fanned out over her spine crushing her against him as their eyes connected once again, “although I must admit that right now I’d much rather put my brother’s love life on the backburner as mine is just itching for an excuse to come into the limelight.”
“Really?” Avery arched a curious brow as she saw the spark of mischief burning behind his eyes.  “What did you have in mind?”
“I was thinking something along the lines of you, me and well, perhaps some chocolate sauce, and us changing into something a little more comfortable, like maybe our birthday suits as we clearly have a lot to celebrate and what better way to do that then to get naked with one another?” he suggested with an enthusiasm that caused Avery to giggle up at him.
“You’re horrible,” Avery swatted at the broad, muscled expanse of his chest, taking the time to appreciate the solid strength that lay buried beneath his shirt.
“But you love me anyways,” Russell nuzzled her neck, sending vibrations over her skin upon his words tempting her with each brush of his lips over her.
“How can I not when you make me feel like the luckiest woman alive to have you beside me,” she confessed tipping her head back to allow him greater access to her as a slow purr rose from within, but before she could truly lose herself to the promise of passion that Russell was tempting her with, she thought she sensed movement from the shadows just beyond the living room.
“I’m the lucky one baby,” Russell murmured again as Avery curled her fingers tighter over his body, growing rigid as the movement continued just beyond the room.
“Russ, we’re not alone,” Avery explained in a hushed whisper breaking away from him as the two parted and Russell spun around to see his brother staggering around the hall, using the wall for support as a groan spilled from Grady’s lips.
“Now it’s official.  I’ve died and gone to hell as I didn’t think things could get any worse, but clearly I was wrong,” Grady closed his eyes as Russell reached for a lamp turning it on to find his brother looking like he’d just risen from the dead as his face was a pale shade of white and his eyes were sunken with the obvious after effects of the alcohol he’d consumed the night before.  “I just wish that God would get it over with and be done with me at this point.”
“I take it things didn’t go well with Jade,” Russell watched his brother’s head slump forward as a heavy sigh of exhaustion spilled from his lips.
“Did you really believe it would go any other way,” Grady lifted his head to stare at Avery, “and you…did you really think that it would work out for me with Jade in our reconciling, or was this just your way of making me look bad all over again in her eyes?”
“Grady, I wanted it to work out for the both of you,” Avery defended her position as his eyes darkened with anger.
“Sure you did,” Grady scuffed in response, “as this was never really about helping me with Jade, was it?”
“Don’t even start Grady,” Russell warned sharply watching as Grady stood up straighter staggering over towards them with a strange combination of anger, exhaustion and frustration all rolled into one with his movements.
“Start?” Grady repeated with a huff, “This isn’t about starting, but more so about finishing what has become the thing that’s destroyed me time and time again.”
“My wife isn’t to blame for your problems and I think that it’s high time you come to terms with that,” Russ offered up bluntly, “and maybe you should start facing the real root of all your issues head on by telling Susan some of what you’re so wrongfully pushing upon Avery here.”
“Your wife…” Grady began again with a low growl.
“Grady, haven’t you already done enough with this?” Russ groaned stepping in front Grady blocking the path between him  and Avery.
“I’m no where near finished with this as not only has she turned you against me, but she’s forced Jade to see me at my lowest moment and Jade ran away from the monster she saw.  She left me unable to trust or be with me and now…” Grady shook his head poignantly, “Now it’s all over for me.”
“No, Grady that can’t be true…” Avery started breaking her long silence.
“You shut up!” Grady snapped back at her, “I don’t want to hear it from you as you’ve done more than enough!”
“I was just trying to help you Grady…” Avery began again as Russell turned around to touch her shoulder gently.
“Don’t waste your breath as he’s not going to hear it Avery.  He’s too stubborn to listen to the truth,” Russell shook his head realizing that while he’d had hopes for his brother’s starting anew, it seemed that he was still headed down the treacherous path that he’d taken time and time again.
“You’re the one who is blind to the truth as this slut…” Grady started once again as Russell spun around in the blink of an eye reaching out to Grady, grabbing him by the shirt before slamming him back into the wall harshly.
“Watch your mouth as I’m not about to listen to you disrespecting my wife that way,” Russell warned behind a clenched jaw as Avery watched the exchange in horror.
“I’m only calling her as I see her Russ as you have no idea what that woman is capable of.  She doesn’t have a loyal bone in her body and when she leaves you for Ashford, then you’ll see what I’ve been trying to tell you all along,” Grady remarked sourly meeting his brother’s fury head on, “She’s been playing you for a fool Russ, but you haven’t done a damn thing to change that.”
“Grady, when are you going to snap out of this world of delusion and start taking responsibility for your actions?” Russell demanded harshly, “This isn’t about Avery and we both know that.  It isn’t about me or my marriage and the sooner you get over this obsession you have with destroying the happiness I have in my life, the better off you’ll be.  I mean how much longer does this have to go on?  How much do you have to alienate yourself from Jade and the world around you before you get a clue just how much damage you’re doing?”
“Russ, hey,” Avery touched his arm watching as her husband’s anger seemed to rise with the passing moment while Grady seemed to be slipping deeper inside the grief that he’d lost himself in.
“Hey nothing,” Russell continued shoving his brother once again, “Grady needs to learn to just let this go because it’s costing him his life.”
“He knows that,” Avery offered up gently feeling the tension thick in the air surrounding them as Russell finally released his brother watching as Grady strained to regain his composure once again.
“Apparently not enough.  You‘re a fool, Grady,” Russell remarked dismissively stepping away from him as Grady slowly turned his eyes up towards Russell, a sinister expression sweeping over his fiery eyes.
“You’re the fool, Russ.  She left you once and we both know it’s a matter of time before she does it again.  Hell, for all you know that child could be Ashford’s and you’re just eating up everything she dished out to you…just like before…  She played you then and she‘ll keep on playing you until the day you die.”
“That’s it,” Russell spun around ready to charge at him once again.
“Russ don’t,” Avery reached for his arm stopping him mid-movement, “Russ please…”
“That’s right Russ.  Keep on playing the part of her lapdog over and over again,” Grady’s voice grew thicker with sarcasm, “as that leash she has you on will eventually choke the life out of you.”
“You don’t know the first thing about my wife and I’m not going to tolerate this a minute longer.  You know Grady just because you’re miserable, doesn’t mean that the rest of the world has to be.  I’ve found love in my life and I’ve embraced it instead of running away from it and it’s brought me happiness with the woman I love.  You could have that with Jade if you weren’t so damned stupid about things.  You could have everything we have and more…”
“Russ, all you have is a dream of happily ever after filled with nothing but broken promises.  Just think about how you felt in that moment she left you standing at the altar before.  You should’ve learned then what a heartless bitch she was as it was obvious to the rest of us where you ranked in her life,” Grady remarked sourly.
“She left because she was pregnant…” Russell blurted out shaken by his brother’s words once again, “because she was hospitalized after we lost our child, Grady.  She didn‘t want to walk away anymore than I did that day, but fate ripped our baby from us and I‘m going to make damn sure that neither you nor anyone else does that to us again.”
“Your baby,” Grady repeated growing silent for a long moment before a sarcastic laugh built behind his features, “ah, so that was the latest lie she came up with to bait you in once again and make you believe that this pregnancy of hers had anything to do with you,” his eyes darted towards Avery, “You’re an even more sinister slut than I thought you to be.  Of course, I suppose your running off like that made sense if someone else knocked you up, which should prove to you Russ that she couldn‘t stay true to you even then.”
“To hell with this,” Avery finally found her breaking point with the expression that washed over Grady’s features.  She turned to Russell horrified that he’d felt compelled to share that secret about their past nightmare with Grady at a time like this when Grady was so ready to crucify her, “Russ, why did you say anything to him about that?”
“Avery, I wasn’t going to just listen to him say those things as…” Russell reached out for her watching her take a step away from him.
“So you gave him more ammunition against me,” Avery questioned unable to contain the tears that built up behind her eyes, “you just gave him something about us, something that he didn’t deserve…”
“Avery, I…” he began at a loss reaching out for her once again as she shunned him.
“I can’t,” Avery replied wiping at her face as her dark eyes fell upon Grady once again, “you know there was a time when I really worried about you--when I really, truly wanted you to find some happiness in your life again because I thought that maybe just maybe somewhere in there you were still the man that I grew up with.  I thought that if you and Jade found a way to reconcile that you could be happy again and that you could find it in your heart to give up on this hatred you have for me, but that’s never going to change is it, Grady?  You’re never going to give me a chance because you don’t want to think that you could be wrong,” she stepped towards him unable to contain the cracking of her voice as her tears continued, “Well, guess what, Grady?  You were wrong…more wrong than you could ever imagine.”
“Avery,” Russell stepped towards her watching her run off towards their bedroom and closing the door behind her as she’d clearly had more than enough of what was happening.  Now as Russ stood in his living room with his gaze fixed upon Grady, he found himself at a loss as his brother only seemed to become more and more of a stranger to him with each passing moment.
“There she goes again.  Ever the drama queen,” Grady rolled his eyes, “Honestly Russ, when are you going to snap out of it?”
“I love her Grady and that isn’t going to change,” Russell shot back icily, “and right now, well, I think you should leave.  I don’t care where the hell you go, but don’t you even think about returning to upset my wife again or I swear I’ll have you arrested on the spot.  Do I make myself clear?”
“Of course you’d sell me out for Avery,” Grady huffed pulling himself up off of the wall he’d been bracing himself upon, “as that’s how it’s going to be now that she’s got you by the balls.  So much for family ties, huh?”
“Grady, I’ve tried to be the kind of brother that you need in your life, but caring about you isn’t helping.  I can’t sit back and let you destroy my life just because you’re set on ruining yours.  Maybe eventually you’ll get that, but until then,” Russell marched over to the front door opening it for Grady to exit, “go sober up Grady!”
“Oh yeah,” Grady waved his hand at Russell lazily before another huff erupted from within.  Standing taller, he faced Russell down standing nose to nose with him on the threshold to the Denton home before a sour taste built in the back of his throat, “To hell with you Russ,” he finished looking around the living room and reaching out to swipe up the bottle of wine he’d found in the refrigerator shortly after Jade had walked out on him.
“To hell with all of you,” Grady grumbled stepping out onto the front lawn hearing the sound of the door closing behind him as it seemed that he’d managed to alienate himself once again from someone who’d once held a great importance in his life.  Now as he looked around his brother’s front lawn with nowhere to go, he moved over to the swing that was set up on the far end of the porch and took a seat as he realized that right now he was going to lose himself in the one thing that hadn’t failed him during a time when all else in his life had abandoned him.  No more dwelling on the past--no more thinking about the future as right now was about being numb as it was the one thing that could keep him from the realization that he’d truly lost the only woman who’d ever meant anything to him all because he couldn‘t find it in himself to just let go.


“So what happened with Noelle last night?” Guy questioned breaking the silence that hung over them as Gabe poked at the food on his plate before him hardly eating what he’d piled up on a short time ago.
“Not as well as I would’ve liked them to be, but then again with Noelle things are never simple,” Gabe sighed turning his eyes up towards Guy to watch his lover’s reaction as he broke through the tension in the air unable to keep holding back on the question that had been on his mind from the moment he’d arrived at the apartment to see Mindy standing at the front door, “So how did your dinner go with Avery last night?  Did you take Mindy with you?”
“Yes,” Guy answered simply watching as he wondered if it was a spark of jealousy behind Gabe’s eyes before he continued, “when you didn’t call I went over to see Mindy.  My father and I had a difference of opinion over what’s being done with Mum and I guess, well I needed to talk to someone…”
“What happened,” Gabe questioned letting go of his concerns about Mindy as he reached out across the table to take Guy’s hand in his, “Did the FBI find out something more?”
“If they had their way my Mum would be dead right about now,” Guy confessed poignantly, “as they seem to be doing anything and everything in their power to irritate the kidnapper.  They keep trying to change all the rules and when it comes to the drop, well I just don’t know how things are going to happen because while the kidnapper has a way he wants things done, that damned FBI agent wants me to do things that will only wind up getting my mother killed and…”
“And clearly you instincts are telling you not to listen to whatever they’re telling you,” Gabe noted squeezing Guy’s hand gently, “as that’s your heart guiding you along.”
“And my heart is telling me if I don’t do what’s best for my Mum, then I’m never going to see her again.  If I play be the FBI set of rules, then that monster that has her is going to see to it that she never comes back to me again and that’s something that I can’t live with,” Guy choked up on emotion, “I just can’t…”
“I know,” Gabe rose from his seat crossing around the table to embrace his lover as it was obvious from the pain in Guy’s voice that whatever had happened over the last twenty four hours had been about the grief that Guy had been going through and the fear that had consumed him.  Suddenly Gabe felt a pang of guilt hit him as he hugged the man he loved feeling his tears overtake him.
“I just can’t sit back and let anything happen to her,” Guy continued lost in the moment as his heart ached for some hope that he could fix the situation that his mother was in, “I know that she’s been hurting and if I do something to screw this exchange up…”
“If the FBI is making a mistake about this, then maybe you should follow your instincts as that’s something about you that’s always kept you one step above the rest,” Gabe reminded Guy simply as he lifted his hand to touch Guy’s face, “It’s part of what I love about you.”
“I just wish…” Guy closed his eyes leaning into Gabe’s touch as a sigh spilled from his lips, “I just wish things were easier right now as there are so many things I wish that I’d just done differently…so many mistakes I’ve made…”
“There will be another chance for you to fix them,” Gabe assured him tenderly, “We’ll fix them together.  Somehow we’ll find a way.”
“I hope you’re right about that,” Guy confessed as his eyes opened once again and he looked to his lover kneeling before him.  Gingerly reaching out to slip his fingers through Gabe’s hair, Guy felt his insides tugging him apart as he felt a heavy combination of emotions balling up inside of him, “Gabe, I know that things haven’t happened like we wanted them to for us, but that hasn’t changed this for me.  It doesn’t change how much you mean to me.”
“I know,” Gabe nodded forcing a sad smile, “I realize that this has been a difficult situation all around and I know I’ve pushed you too hard lately, but…”
“But nothing,” Guy shook his head, “if I would’ve told my Mum the truth, then maybe…well maybe right now I wouldn’t be so terrified that I’m never going to see her again…that I might not ever get to tell her about the love we have or how I’ve found that happiness in my life that she’s always wanted.  I truly have that dream of love and that special someone in my life that makes me feel like life is truly worth living…”
“Oh Guy,” Gabe moved up from the kneeling position he was in seeking out his lover’s mouth as he kissed him tenderly before mouthing the words faintly, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you yesterday as I should’ve been…”
“You were worried about your daughter.  With Noelle, there’s no telling what she’ll do and I understand…” Guy began again as Gabe placed his finger over his mouth to silence him.
“Guy, I was so afraid that I was losing you that I was an idiot and I was the one who damn near blew it,” Gabe admitted feeling a heavy feeling in over his chest, “I saw you and Mindy together while I was at the bakery picking up something special for dinner.”
“You what?” Guy blinked back in confusion.
“You were walking arm and arm and I got to thinking about how Mindy’s still clearly feeling something for you.  When I saw you with her, I started to wonder if you were regretting us--if somehow you were falling back into the life you left behind when you moved on beyond Coral Valley.  I was so overcome with jealousy that I wasn’t there for you when you needed me.  I took off with a few friends and tried to put myself in perspective as I thought about you and Mindy being together at Avery’s,” Gabe confessed shamefully.
“Gabe, Mindy is one of my best friends,” Guy reminded him with a frown, “She’s been a part of my life for so very long that…”
“That I misread what she’s been trying to do and I’ve given her nothing but grief for being there for you when I wasn’t,” Gabe frowned back at him, “I was really awful to her before…”
“I kind of had a feeling when I walked in,” Guy nodded in response, “as you both weren’t like yourselves.”
“I guess, I just let the beast come out and roar it’s ugliness when I thought that I could be losing you to someone else,” Gabe sighed shaking his head at his behavior, “it’s just that I love you so damn much that I can’t bear the thought of our being torn apart after everything that we’ve been through together.”
“I’m not planning on going anywhere as my future is with you Gabe,” Guy reminded him simply, “while life is far more complicated than we’d hoped for, well, the truth to the matter is that I wouldn’t trade a moment I share with you for the world.”
“Neither would I,” Gabe agreed moving in to kiss him once again as the two lovers shared a moment of tenderness with one another before the sound of Guy’s cell phone captured both of their attention.  Almost immediately Guy seemed to tense up as he exchanged worried glances with Gabe.
“Do you think it’s him,” Gabe questioned thinking about the man who’d taken away Guy’s mother.
“I don’t know,” Guy confessed worry consuming every inch of him, “but if he’s asking for something else, well I’m not about to let the FBI have the chance to destroy my mum.”
“Do what you have to do,” Gabe encouraged him as Guy answered the phone in a tense tone.
“Hello…” Guy began tentatively.
“Guy, is that you?” a man’s voice questioned on the other end of the line sounding somewhat familiar.
“Who is this?” Guy inquired wearily unsure of who he was speaking with.
“Oh right.  Guy, it’s Brant.  I just heard the news about your mother and I was hoping that you and I could have a talk…” Brant began to explain to him, “Look, I’d really rather not go over this on the phone as it’s not exactly what I want to get to over the wire like this.  Can we talk?”
“Well, I’m actually kind of…” Guy started to refuse not sure why the man Avery had shunned was reaching out to him.
“Guy, it’s important,” Brant interrupted not giving Guy a way out of what he had to speak with him about, “It’s vital that we meet as it’s about your mother’s disappearance.  As I said before I don’t want to get into this over the phone, but I have a feeling that after you hear what I have to say, perhaps you’ll have a whole new outlook on things.  Please…”
“Fine,” Guy decided reluctantly, “I’m at Avery’s old apartment.”
“Good.  I’ll be there in about a half an hour,” Brant replied hanging up the phone before Guy could reply.  Slowly Guy lowered his phone from his ear seeing Gabe’s questioning eyes reaching out to him.
“Who was that?” Gabe asked noting the strange expression Guy was now wearing.
“Brant Ashford.  He said he needs to speak with me about my mother’s kidnapping,” Guy confessed wondering what in the world Brant had to say to shed some light on what was happening to his mother as it seemed that there wasn’t much more anyone could say to make this situation easier, but still as he thought of Brant’s coming over, he realized it couldn’t hurt to at least hear him out.


Mindy hugged her jacket around her shoulders straining to keep the chill in the evening air from overtaking her as she thought about what had happened between her and Gabe.  Even now she wanted nothing more than to knock the life out of him for his smug attitude where Guy was concerned.  How dare he sit there and judge her for her feelings and criticize her for her heart?  Where did he get off saying those things and being so irritating when all she’d done was tried to help him and Guy with the situation they’d found themselves in?  Was it her fault that the time she was spending with Guy was confusing her or more so was it her fault that Gabe was the one putting a distance between him and Guy?  Of course it wasn’t, she reasoned with a huff finding herself agitated now more than ever as she wasn’t quite sure where she was headed, but she knew she needed some air.
Even now as Mindy tried to come up with all the reasons why Guy was making a mistake for being with someone like Gabe when he could clearly have someone like her, she felt her heart tearing her in a great many directions as it seemed that her life was only growing far more complicated by the moment.  She’d truly given up hope on a reunion with Guy a long time ago especially after she knew the truth about him, but once they’d started pretending, well the lines started to blur and the old familiarity of the situation came rushing back to her thus making things even more confusing.  She hadn’t asked for any of this and quite frankly it was the last thing she’d needed in her life, yet everything was upside down and inside out where her heart was concerned.  It just wasn’t fair.
With that thought in mind, Mindy turned on her heel heading in another direction as she decided it was time to vent with someone who might be willing to listen if not understand.  Moving against the wind, Mindy made her way to the small café on the corner of North and Main where one of the few people in her life who could truly give her an open ear would be.  Stepping up to the small place, she could see that it wasn’t as crowded as it normally was on a night like tonight as Alexandra’s had always been a hot spot with the college crowd, but tonight it seemed rather quiet, which was just what Mindy needed at a time like this.
Pulling open the front door, Mindy felt a gust of warmth flood upon her cheeks before she took in a slow breath forcing herself to take that first step thru the front door.  Scanning the place, she located the person she was seeking out as her friend Donna was over at the booth at the far end of the room waiting on two obviously bored looking students who were debating which coffee selection suited their study habits at the moment.  Deciding to give Donna a moment to finish up with her customers, Mindy slid into a seat up at the bar area just trying to give her thoughts some kind of clarity as all she could think about was the desire burning up inside her to go back to Guy’s place and beat the hell out of Gabe all over again.
“Hey girl,” Donna’s voice cut through her violent thoughts as Donna circled around the counter top seeing her pal before her, “I didn’t expect to see you here tonight as it’s been a while.”
“Too long,” Mindy agreed shrugging out of her jacket as she offered up a smile despite her sour mood, “How have you been?”
“You mean other than working my butt off trying to find ways for them to appreciate me here in between being a full time mom,” Donna half smiled once again, “well, I’ve been alright.”
“How is Matthew,” Mindy questioned seeing the exhaustion behind her pal’s eyes as she stood before her.
“He’s doing wonderful,” Donna admitted with a proud smile at the mention of her son.  “Want to see the latest picture?”
“Would I ever,” Mindy nodded eagerly as Donna pulled out a picture of her four year old son donned in a tiny red suit for the holidays.
“My sister thought Christmas pictures might be fun this time around and since I got a bit of a bonus this year, I decided it was time he had something special for us to look back on,” Donna explained eagerly as Mindy could see the way her eyes lit up at the mention of her son.
Despite the fact that Donna and Mindy had grown up with one another graduating the same year, Donna’s life had taken a very different path once she and her high school sweetheart had wound up being teenage parents ready to face the adult world head on.  Unfortunately for Donna, while Paul’s intentions for the two of them had been noble, they’d both been shunned by their families and less than a year into the marriage Paul had died in a tragic accident at the construction site he’d been working on leaving Donna to pull the weight in taking care of their then eight month old son Matthew.  However, even as the years had gone on and Donna had to give up on her dreams of being a professional dancer to settle into the role of mother and waitress, it seemed that she still had her spirit about her and she was always trying to do the best for her family.

“He’s absolutely adorable,” Mindy replied with a smile of her own, “though you know I’ve always said that from the beginning as he’s such a special little boy.”
“I love him a lot,” Donna nodded in confession, “though I wish I could spend more time with him as he’s been growing up just so fast it seems.”
“They all do from what I’ve been told, but you should enjoy these years as my mother always told me they don’t get any easier than that,” Mindy offered up handing the photo back.
“Don’t I know it.  When I think back to how I was as a teenager, I know I’m in for big trouble,” Donna admitted openly wiping at the counter top before her, “so what brings you here tonight, Mindy?”
“Well, I just thought I’d check in with you and see how you were since it’s been a while since we’ve connected,” Mindy explained as Donna gave her a look of disbelief.
“And what else?” Donna questioned reaching out to pour Mindy a cup of coffee as if she already could sense Mindy’s uneasiness, “What’s going on girlfriend?”
“Actually,” Mindy paused contemplating her words as she suddenly felt foolish for sharing her troubles with her friend when Donna’s life had been far more challenging over the past few years, “my apartment was broken into last night.”
“No,” Donna’s eyes widened in response seeing the seriousness that pressed over Mindy’s features, “really?”
Mindy nodded, “They pretty much took everything and the police were absolutely no help in the situation.  I guess someone must’ve realized that I live alone and they struck while I was out.”
“Oh girl,” Donna reached out to embrace her over the counter, “if you need anything at all, you know you don’t have to hesitate to ask there because I’d be more than happy to help you out.”
“I know Donna,” Mindy squeezed her in response, “and I so appreciate that, but that’s not really why I’m here as the break in is something that I’ll just have to get over as it’s probably a sign I need to move somewhere else.  I’ve been stubborn about getting around to it because I’ve been trying to show my mother that I can really make it on my own, but maybe I was just pushing too hard.”
“I know how much proving yourself to her means,” Donna nodded in complete understanding, “as I’ve been trying the same thing over the past few years.  I mean sure this isn’t exactly a palace I’m working in, but it’s a start as I’ve been taking a class a week over at the community college since my sister’s been coming around and helping with Matthew.”
“That’s wonderful news Donna,” Mindy encouraged her, “I’m so glad to hear it as if anyone can make things happen, you’re the woman for it.”
“I’m not so sure about that one, but I’m trying,” Donna admitted with a light smile, “but that’s not really what you wanted to talk about, so what really is going on?  What are you going to do about your living situation until you get things situated?”
“Well, I was thinking about moving, but right now, well right now I’m staying with someone,” Mindy paused dramatically before blurting out the truth, “with Guy actually.”
“Guy,” Donna’s eyes widened once again, “Wow, now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.  What’s he doing back in Coral Valley?”
“Avery had this whole engagement thing and to make a long story short, he came back for his family,” Mindy offered up thinking about Guy’s dramatic return.
“Ah yes, I heard a bit about his sister’s romance with Brant Ashford.  If only the rest of us were so lucky to find a prince charming who was willing to sweep us off our feet and give us the world without question,” Donna shook her head at the thought, “I guess some girls have all the luck, don’t they?”
“So it seems, but Brant’s still on the market there as Avery wound up marrying Russell Denton,” Mindy informed Donna simply.
“Seriously?” Donna’s jaw dropped, “Now that one I wouldn’t have seen coming as that boss of yours is a total cutie there.  He’s just too adorable and to think of him off the market, well I think that’s probably a bigger shame than an Ashford being taken.”
“You’re just saying that because he and Matthew bonded the first time you came over to the newspaper so readily,” Mindy threw back at her with a tiny laugh.
“Yeah well since that’s a rare thing with Matthew taking to any man around him, I did find it a bit promising, though I knew he was too far out of my league there as I’ve got too much baggage for a guy like that,” Donna replied with a sigh, “but still, he was always a fun sort of guy to dream about…”
“What are you talking about dream about,” Mindy threw her a pointed look, “The two of you went out half a dozen times there for dinner…”
“Yeah because he was trying to help me and Matthew find a place where we could settle in to something better than what I had going when I was working at that club,” Donna wrinkled her nose in response thinking about the past she’d had, “When Russell found out that I was stripping to support Matthew, I think he made it his mission to save us both from the damage that could do and in the long run, I think he saved my life.  Granted at the time I was hoping that I could find some kind of love connection, but unfortunately the guy saw me as the little sister he never had.”
“He does that a lot,” Mindy nodded in complete understanding, “though with you, I don’t think you got the brunt of the teasing like I do on a continual basis at work.”
“Yeah well, I think we’re both in the same boat there as he wasn’t looking for anything more than friendship,” Donna felt a heat rush over her cheeks, “Even now when I think of the ways I threw myself at him…”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Mindy waved her hand in the air, “as Russ isn’t the kind of guy to embarrass you over something like that.”
“I know that.  Actually he and his brother Grady both worked really hard to help Matthew and I, so when it gets down to it, I’m glad that Russ has found some happiness in his wife.  I’m sure Guy’s sister will be good for him,” Donna decided with a smile.
“He’s always kind of been in love with her most of his life,” Mindy added quickly.
“Ah, so she was the one who got away,” Donna lifted a curious brow, “I always knew there was a woman who broke his heart as it was obvious in the way he carried himself.  I mean sure he might’ve seemed like he was trying to move forward, but every time I tried to make a move on him, well, he had this wall around him.  Okay, so maybe it had something to do with me, but still, I could see someone had him stuck in a still frame there.”
“Yeah, well he’s going to be a father now,” Mindy added brightly, “He and Avery are having a baby and they have this perfect fairy tale romance that we all want.  It’s just this incredible love story that seems to have beat the odds and they’ve achieved what we all want.”
“Lucky girl,” Donna sighed shaking her head at the thought, “I just wish that one day something like that comes my way.”
“You and me both,” Mindy lowered her eyes to the mug of coffee before her.
“Which brings us back once again to what we started talking about,” Donna replied in all seriousness, “so tell me, what’s going on with you and Guy now that you’re living together?”
“Nothing’s going on,” Mindy shrugged her shoulders, “I mean he’s just being a good friend and…”
“And you’re still wrapped up on the one that got away,” Donna noted all seriousness in her tone.
“No, I mean Donna we both know that Guy is gay,” Mindy’s voice dropped.
“That still doesn’t change what’s in your heart,” Donna pointed out, “as I know how hard you took it when he finally came out about that with you.  He broke your heart and loved you to the point that you were crushed after he left…”
“But it wasn’t meant to be,” Mindy argued with her, “as he couldn’t ever love a woman…at least not the way I wanted him to.”
“But something tells me it doesn’t end there.  What’s the story Mindy?”
Mindy stayed silent for a long moment before finally blurting out all, “Fine.  When Guy came back to town, he was seeing someone, but he hasn’t opened up to his parents yet about his sexuality.  He had his mother believing that he was uninvolved and his mother tried to set him up with this dreadful woman and rather than telling her that he was seeing Gabe, we kind of spun this story about him and I being together again.”
“Oh Mindy,” Donna gasped in shock, “Girl, what were you thinking in agreeing to something like that?”
“I was thinking of helping him,” Mindy shrugged her shoulders, “and since his mother is such a bitch, well I guess I just thought that it would be something that I needed to do.  I mean you should’ve heard how horrible she was with him and I just kind of…”
“Jumped in and did what you always did with Guy,” Donna shook her head at her, “Mindy, girl when are you ever going to learn?”
“I guess I’m not,” Mindy slumped her shoulders down, “as things are more confusing now more than ever seeing as Guy’s been so incredible with me and his boyfriend is driving me crazy because he can see how I’m still feeling and while I keep denying it, I know in my heart I’m lying about things.  Gabe is right about me and I hate that he knows that I’m not over Guy, but what’s worse is that I hate that I still want him and wish that somehow things could be different--that somehow he and I could be together again even though I know it’s never going to happen.”
“Oh Mindy,” Donna sighed reaching for her hand, “you poor girl.”
“I just wish that I didn’t feel this way--that I could just shut it off and accept that Guy is gay.  I mean really it’s not really a hard concept to grasp, but when he’s with me holding me and teasing me like we used to do, well all these old feelings start to happen in me and when we’re kissing to put on a show for the rest of the world,” Mindy lifted her hand to touch her face as she could feel her face grow flushed at the memory, “I just can’t ignore the way my stomach gets tied in knots or how I want him to kiss me again and again…”
“Girl, you have got to get out of his place right now,” Donna urged her on, “You can’t keep torturing yourself like this when you have these feelings for him.  It’s only going to take you under if you aren’t careful…”
“Donna, how can I be careful when every part of me is crying out that Guy is it?  I mean what if I never find myself feeling this way about anyone again?”
“You can’t think like that Mindy,” Donna tried to reason with her, “It’s not healthy.”
“Even so, after he left, there really hasn’t been anyone else.  I mean sure I went on a few stupid dates my mother tried to set me up on, but there’s never been anyone who sparked any kind of feelings in me like Guy has.  I know that it’s an unreasonable wish, but Donna, I can’t help the way I feel.  I just know that Guy is someone that…”
“You’d be best suited forgetting at this point,” Donna cut her off abruptly, “In fact, why don’t you stay with Matthew and I for a while?  Just until you get settled as we’d love having you around…”
“Donna, I can’t impose upon you more than I already have,” Mindy shook her head in response, “I’m fine with Guy.”
“Girl, no you’re not and the more you sit back watching him with his lover, the harder moving on is going to be for you.”
“No, actually it could be good for me because if I see how happy Guy and Gabe are then maybe it’ll motivate me to get my head out of my ass,” Mindy argued with her.
“Not when Guy is kissing up on you in public as that’s only bound to confuse you and shame on him for doing such a thing to you…” Donna waved her finger in the air wildly, “He should know better.”
“This isn’t his fault as he wasn’t really the one who suggested it…” Mindy defended.
“Even so he should’ve known better.  Shame on him,” Donna continued with a frown, “and I think as soon as I get off my shift here, you and I should go back to his place, gather your things and get you out of that situation.”
“Donna really it’s not as bad as it seems as I’m sure that I’ll…”
“Wind up making yourself miserable and I don’t want that for my friend.  Mindy, you deserve so much better,” Donna insisted firmly, “We both know that someone like you should be out there having the time of her life instead of pining away for someone who isn’t worth crying over.  I mean sure Guy’s a nice enough person, but obviously he’s not going to be giving you what you need and that in itself is all the more reason for you to get away from this situation he’s sucked you into…”
“Donna, Guy wasn’t the one who sucked me in as I think a part of me wanted this.  I wanted to be close to him and find some sense of closure, but it just got blurred along the way…” Mindy began again as Donna’s boss popped his head out from behind the wall.
“Hey Donna, this isn’t break time.  You’ve got table three to get to,” he motioned towards the newcomers.
“Alright,” Donna waved her hand at him dismissively before looking to Mindy, “Don’t you go anywhere because this is far from over.”
“Donna…” Mindy started to argue before slumping her shoulders, “fine…”
Mindy watched as Donna left, but rather than focusing on the lecture she was sure she would be getting soon, Mindy turned her attention to her cup of coffee as it was still steaming hot and black as ever as if it was reflecting the darkness that hung over her as she found herself in a state of confusion about the things happening in her life.  A sigh escaped her lips as she closed her eyes just thinking about her conflicting feelings for Guy as it seemed they were never going to bring her any sense of closure, but before she could lose herself completely in the misery she’d come to mope in, she took in the familiar scent of a cologne that she’d recognized as Guy had been wearing it earlier in the day.
“Guy,” Mindy spoke his name turning her head half expecting to find him seated beside her, but instead she noted a handsome looking, sandy blonde haired guy had taken the seat beside her as he looked forward just beyond her for a moment before hearing her speak.
“Excuse me?” he blinked back at her giving her a confused look, “Did you say something?”
“No,” Mindy shook her head, “Not a thing…  Well, actually I did because I thought you were someone I knew, but obviously you’re not and I guess I just thought that you were so I said something, but I really didn’t mean to considering that…”
“That I’m not him,” he flashed her a bright, white smile as his dark eyes sparkled with amusement, “yeah I think you already covered that.”
“So I did,” Mindy tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before offering up yet another apologetic smile, “sorry about that.”
“Don’t be,” he waved his hand dismissively, “as I was starting to think that it would be a long, boring wait here for my order, but I’m glad to see I was wrong.”
“Oh, well…” Mindy felt herself at a loss as she couldn’t help but take note of his flawless features.  He was dressed in a rather expensive fashion that looked as if he’d stepped out of the pages of a men’s magazine and with the way his face seemed to carry that well, sculpted air of sexiness, she had to wonder if he had any idea how wrong it looked for him to be sitting in a place like this on a night like tonight speaking with someone like her.
“I can see you’re just full of conversation tonight,” he teased with a tiny wink watching the color rise up over her features, “I hope this seat wasn’t taken.”
“No it’s not…well I mean it is now that you’re sitting in it, but well it wasn’t before so you know you’re more than welcome to be sitting there,” Mindy managed to get out feeling like a moron more and more by the second as he couldn’t help but let out a tiny laugh.
“That’s even better to know,” he replied his smile growing wider as Mindy wondered if that was even possible.  “And I’m glad that you can talk as I haven’t exactly had the best of luck with people saying much of anything here in Coral Valley since I’ve arrived.  It seems a bit stuffy around here,” he motioned around the café, “if you know what I mean.”
“Well actually this place is pretty friendly most of the time as people are always ready to accept people into the community and…” she stopped herself, “I’m rambling.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you rambling.  I’m charmed and delighted,” he replied holding out his hand towards her.
“Hmm, well charmed and delighted I’m glad that I could bring a little extra sparkle to your new arrival in town,” Mindy threw back at him with a bright grin, “as I’m sure you’ll find that people aren’t as aloof as you think they are around here.”
“I’m seeing that things are already looking up,” he replied with a quick nod, “but in all seriousness, I’m…”
“Order’s up kid,” the man behind the counter came out with a small brown bag and two cups of coffee for Mindy’s new acquaintance.
“Thanks,” the guy beside Mindy replied dropping a few dollar bills on the counter top before turning to Mindy again, “Well I…”
“Look like you have someone to meet,” Mindy nodded seeing that once again yet another man was off to someone else as it seemed that it was just her luck, but really, as she reflected on the two minutes she spent talking to this new arrival in town, she saw that she really shouldn’t let herself feel any kind of attachment as it seemed that she was really losing it right about now.
“Yeah, I kind of do,” he nodded in confession offering up one more sexy smile as he collected his order, “but maybe I’ll see you around some time…”
“Yeah maybe,” Mindy replied with a smile of her own watching him leave as Donna returned to the counter.
“Who was that?” Donna questioned eagerly.
“I don’t know,” Mindy shrugged her shoulders facing her pal after one last look at the stranger’s exit, “he’s new in town.”
“And sexy as all hell.  Girl, you should’ve kept talking to him,” Donna nudged at her, “as you could use a good distraction right about now.”
“I could use a good shrink,” Mindy sighed returning to her thoughts about Guy as she wondered if she was ever going to find it in her to get over the way she was feeling about the situation she’d found herself in as it seemed like she was lost in a hopeless situation.


“So now that we’ve spent the day doing absolutely nothing, how do you feel?” Hart questioned snuggling in against Jenna beneath the blankets as they lay in her bed after a day of pushing the rest of the world aside for a while.
“I wouldn’t exactly call what we’ve been up to nothing,” Jenna teased with a tiny laugh casting a glance over her shoulder in his general direction, “and I’m surprised that you would even say such a thing considering all you’ve done today.  You must be exhausted.”
“Hmm, nah, not even close,” he teased his lips over the back of her neck unable to contain himself as he noticed the shivers that raced over her skin, “as I’ve rather enjoyed this time well spent with you.”
“It has been nice hasn’t it,” Jenna couldn’t help but agree snuggling into him, “although after the last day we’ve shared, I have to wonder why I kept putting you off like I was doing when this was certainly something that I was wanting for a while.”
“I knew you had the hots for me,” Hart urged her to face him once again as he collected her lips in a tender kiss, “See why it was so very wrong to deny yourself.”
“Hmm, well you were kind of a jerk…” Jenna stated plainly as they parted and she saw the way he was opening his mouth to object before she lifted her finger to his lips to silence him, “and that’s putting it mildly.”
“Hey now, is that any way to speak about the man that loves you,” Hart questioned with a tiny frown, “After the day I’ve spent worshipping every inch of you over and over again, you’d think that would’ve erased all those horrible tendencies I had once upon a time.”
“Well, I suppose that they’ve been pushed a bit back into my mind, but then again, I’m not really sure if they’re completely gone as I’m sure you can find other way to help me forget,” Jenna sought out his lips once again.
“Somehow I get the distinct feeling I’ve created a monster here, huh?” Hart teased easing his arms around her snugly as their kisses continued.
“And you’re loving every second of it, though I really have to say thank you,” Jenna replied with a tiny sigh, her breath skimming over his lips as he held her, “as you’ve really turned my world around in all the right ways right about now.”
“I just want to see you happy, you know,” Hart explained seriously, “as I hate the idea of you hurting.”
“I know that now and while we got off to a rocky start with one another, well I’m glad that things worked out like they did for us as you’re truly one amazing guy,” Jenna admitted as her fingers danced over his chest.
“Well of course I am,” he teased kissing the tip of her nose gently, “but we already knew that, didn’t we?”
“No ego huh,” Jenna swatted at him lightly, “I swear sometimes I don’t know if I want to kiss you or choke you to death for the way you carry yourself…”
“You mean with confidence and great skill, charm and charisma,” he winked at her.
“No, I was referring to the way where you buy your own press putting yourself up on a pedestal there,” Jenna continued with a tiny laugh, “as you’d think that you were all about loving you there.”
“Now while I happen to think that I’m a pretty special guy there, the truth to the matter is that I think you’re absolutely fantastic and I’ve been trying to put you on a pedestal as you’re a goddess in my eyes and worshipping you is something I live for,” he couldn’t help but tease her further squeezing her bottom as his mouth dove in for another heated kiss knowing full well that she was blushing as they touched.
“Hart,” she breathed his name unable to control the racing of her heart as she held onto him not wanting to let go of the way he made her feel as it seemed in her time with him life had become something far more than she’d imagined it being after everything.  Suddenly all the road blocks she’d faced and the situations that had been stressing her out were irrelevant as now she’d found herself wrapped up in the arms of love with a man who’d truly made her feel like the luckiest woman alive.
“I love you Jenna,” Hart confessed kissing her again and again as the passion between them built with the moment.  As she began to wrap her arms around him, the faint sound of the phone ringing brought them back to reality as a groan spilled from her lips.
“What is it with timing,” Jenna questioned shaking her head, “Don’t people learn that I need a break too?”
“Well, here’s a novel idea,” he stole another kiss from her lips.  “You could ignore it.”
“I could and I should, but if there’s been any news on Brooke, well I should be prepared as you never know how kidnapping situations go.  Plus, if there’s something happening at work…” Jenna shook her head at the thought, “Would you listen to me?  Here I am all worried about the things that shouldn’t matter when I have you here with me, your arms wrapped around me and having you love me like this.  To hell with the phone.  I’ll let the machine get it and if it’s important, well we’ll worry about that then.”
“Good answer,” Hart decided kissing her once again as the machine picked up and the faint sound of Jenna’s voice recording came in through the bedroom.  Moments later another familiar voice followed as Hart stiffened in response to the sound.
“Hey Jenna, it’s Travis Callaway.  I was calling about that proposal I gave you the other day.  I was hoping that maybe we could get together tonight for dinner or something, but since I missed you how about tomorrow night?  You can pick the place and it’ll be my treat.  Call me back when you get the message…”
“What was that all about?” Hart frowned as the machine clicked off, “What is Callaway calling you?  What’s the proposal he’s talking about?”
“Gee, you’re not the jealous type are you,” Jenna threw him a pointed look seeing the agitation that crossed over his features.
“Hey, the guy has an ax to grind with me and he knows that you and I are…” Hart began to defend his mood shift.
“Hart, it’s got nothing to do with us,” Jenna tried to assure him, “The FBI is working on Kipp’s disappearance and after the way things went down in the Mathis investigation, well Travis just wanted to make it up to me.”
“As he should.  They owe you an apology and more considering that you were shut out when their clearly incompetent workers couldn’t put the puzzle pieces together to see that Mathis wasn’t dead.  I mean really what kind of person just skips over the little detail that a madman isn’t really dead?” Hart frowned in response.
“One who is inexperienced or someone with a hidden agenda,” Jenna remarked as a sudden thought occurred to her, “Hart, with what went down, I don’t see how someone wouldn’t have known what was going on.  I mean sure in the prelim exam, I missed over the fact that Bruce wasn’t dead, but then by the time the FBI stepped in, well someone should’ve seen that something wasn’t exactly right.  The residual effects of the drug that he’d taken to fake his own death would’ve worn off and someone had to see him get up…”
“Which clearly shouldn’t be missed by the FBI,” Hart noted after a long pause, “I smell cover up.”
“Oddly enough, I do too,” Jenna agreed realizing that all the things that weren’t making sense seemed to have a whole light shed upon them, “I mean okay, maybe the FBI wasn’t aware of the whole truth either, but someone had to see Bruce wake up.  The ME on duty would’ve had to seen something that I didn’t and…” Jenna paused as a gasp fell from her lips, “Oh my God.”
“What?  What’s wrong?” Hart questioned in confusion, “Jen, what is it?”
“Hart, Callaway offered me a job,” Jenna replied shaking her head at the thought, “That’s what he was calling about because well, I told him I’d think about it, but he was talking about how the FBI needed people like me who were competent and could get the job done right, but what if…well, what if he was offering me the job to keep me quiet about what happened in the morgue?  I mean now that you’re saying there could be some kind of cover up, well what if they knew about Mathis leaving and they chose to let him do it…but then again that wouldn’t make sense…”
“Of course it would,” Hart reasoned with an afterthought, “Travis was always a big glory hog and he had an incident not too long ago where he was kind of put to shame, so if he was able to apprehend a serial killer and build up his reputation in the process.  I mean in a strange way it kind of makes sense that he’d be in on something like this because he had you thrown off the case and they sent someone else in.  Then the body up and vanishes and Mathis goes on another killing spree and a kidnapping.  By the time he’s taken to justice the man will have been in the media time and time again built up as being the maniac that he truly is and Travis will be the one sucking up all the credit and glory for having taken him down.  That makes perfect sense.”
“Okay, now you’re grasping at straws considering that I shouldn’t have said what I did.  I mean you obviously hate the guy and…” Jenna started to rethink things.
“Jen, think about it.  He’s out to make himself look good.  He hates me and he knows that we’re together, so that might be one reason why he wanted you out of the way, but also if you found out something that he doesn’t want you to know--like about maybe when Mathis escaped or who was there when he did.”
“Even so, that would’ve been documented on tape as we have cameras after one of the techs down there in the morgue had a bit of a case of necrophilia last summer,” she wrinkled her nose at the memory, “Granted it was a bit repulsive, but since then there’s been a strict policy for surveillance tapes to be there…”
“Which would be all the more reason the FBI would want to cover things up,” Hart’s eyes grew wide with enthusiasm, “Jen, if you could get your hands on those tapes and prove that someone there knew about Mathis being alive, then we could expose a scandal there…”
“Or maybe we’d just be adding fuel to the fire in your own vendetta against Travis.  I mean really, wasn’t taking his wife from him enough,” Jenna threw out a pointed look.
“It was a mistake, but Jen, I think you might’ve been on to something before,” Hart noted eagerly.
“Or maybe I was just making excuses for why he’d offer me a job when really the truth to the matter is that I’m more than qualified to be a part of his team,” Jenna pointed out flatly.
“Sweetheart, you’re a brilliant doctor, but you’re also a woman of character--a woman who wants to do the right thing and you said it yourself Callaway has put himself up front and center with the apologies there.  What if there’s more behind it than you think?”
“I don’t think he’s orchestrated Bruce Mathis and his reign of terror,” Jenna shook the thought from her mind, “as that’s just crazy.”
“Crazy or not, maybe it’s worth looking into.  I mean hey, if we look at the tapes and see there’s nothing there, then no harm done.  I’ll just look like an idiot with a wild imagination and it can stay between us, but if we do see something more, then we have the potential to blow this whole story out of the water…”
“And cause a rift of disaster,” Jenna frowned, “Hart, I don’t know if I like the sound of that.”
“All we have to look.  I don’t think that could hurt anything,” Hart pointed out once again.
“Maybe not, but it’s certainly not something that makes either you or I look sane considering that all the poor guy did was offer me a job,” Jenna shook her head at the thought, “I mean I know you don’t like him, but here we are ready to cry out conspiracy when all that’s been done is Travis offered me some room for advancement.”
“Even so, I’d still be tempted to take a look at those tapes,” Hart shrugged his shoulders kissing her again, “as you never know.  I mean no one has had a word with that idiot they replaced you with yet, right?”
“No, not at all,” Jenna confessed after a moment’s contemplation, “He’s been up north taking an extended vacation for a while as he’d had some time racked up.”
“And that doesn’t sound strange to you?” Hart gave her a pointed look, “I mean hey how many people do that?”
“Those that are really ready to retire but stick around because they don’t want to just let go of the job just yet,” Jenna pointed out simply.
“Even so, maybe we should take a look at things.  It couldn’t hurt,” Hart shrugged his shoulders.
“And once we do and we find out that we’re both morons for even coming up with wild notions like this,” Jenna countered with a pointed look.
“Well then I admit I’m a jealous fool who hates the idea of Callaway making any ground with you and I’ll make it up to you for wasting our time,” he collected her lips in another tender kiss.  “What do you say?”
“I think you’re absolutely nuts, but for what it’s worth, I think I can be willing to play along,” Jenna decided kissing him in response realizing that while she doubted there was any validity to the wild notions she and Hart were flying around about what had really happened with Bruce, it didn’t hurt to check it out just to be sure.


Elliot switched off his car in front of his son’s home. He frowned as he spotted the dark figure on the porch. He’d hoped that things would have worked out between Jade and Grady, but as soon as he’d heard Russ’s voice on the phone, his hopes had been dashed. Cheryl had wanted to come along, but Elliot knew that picking up Grady’s pieces would be nothing short of gruesome.

As he got out of his car, he heard Grady mumbling from the porch. Elliot frowned as he made his way towards his son, hoping he could get Grady squared away without disrupting Russell’s life any further, “Grady…”

“Huh?” Grady asked as he looked up to see his father stepping onto the porch, “Dad…why are you here?”

“To take you home, Grady. Come on,” Elliot reached out to his son to haul him off the porch swing.

“Dad, why do things keep falling apart on me? Why can’t I hold onto the things I love?” Grady groaned as he stumbled down the steps while leaning on his father.

“Things just happen sometimes, Grady, but you have an uncanny ability to push people away,” Elliot informed him as he helped him into the car, “Put on your seatbelt,” He walked around and sat in the driver’s seat, “Grady, you have got to pull yourself together. You’re not helping anything by acting this way. You’re only destroying your own life. What are you thinking?”

“I’m just trying to help Russ,” Grady slurred as he looked out the window.

Elliot started the car and pulled it onto the highway, “You’re not really trying to help him. You’re just taking out your aggression on someone that hasn’t done a thing to you.”

“Avery destroyed Russ,” Grady attempted to argue.

“Yes, she hurt him, but there’s a story behind all of that,” Elliot explained, “Besides, it’s none of your business, Grady. You have got to stop trying to interfere in your brother’s life and start worrying about your own.”

“I’m just trying to save Russ the heartbreak I went through.”

“You’re not saving him any heartbreak. You’re creating it,” Elliot spoke harshly, “I swear, Grady, what the hell is your problem? You’re destroying your chances of a future with Jade and your relationship with your brother. Russ has a child to think about now. That changes everything, and you need to leave Avery alone. Besides that, she hasn’t done anything to disrupt Russell’s life since they’ve gotten together this time around.”

“What about Ashford?”

“Believe me I don’t have any love for the Ashfords, and it’s probably not a real good idea for Avery to continue working there considering Brant’s interest in her. However, I know that Russ would not allow Avery to place herself in a dangerous situation. Also, I’m sure that Avery realizes what she has to deal with in working for BBK.”

“But Dad…”

“You should be worried about Jade,” Elliot pointed out, “You love her, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, but…”

“But nothing,” Elliot declared as he stopped at a traffic light, “You need to stop destroying your brother’s life and work on building your own.”

“Dad, I’ve tried but…”

“But nothing. Don’t give me these excuses that you’ve tried. You haven’t tried anything. You say you will, but you don’t. You’ve made a step in the right direction once in a while, but it’s what you do after the fact that confuses everything. You wreck everything, and that’s your own fault.”

Grady looked out the window as Elliot turned the car down Grady’s street, “I just…I want…”

“You don’t even know what you want anymore, do you?” Elliot asked as he pulled into Grady’s driveway. He switched off the car and looked over at his son, “You need to do a lot of thinking. You need to get sober, and you need to start living your life on the straight and narrow. You made a great start recently with Jade, but now you’ve undone all that. It’s time to grow up, Grady. Stop pushing your way into Russ’s life. Start leading your own.”

Grady sighed as he unfastened his seat belt, “I’m going inside to sleep this off,” He opened the door to the car and walked up the drive and into his house.

Elliot took a deep breath as he watched his son’s house for a moment. He’d been harsh with Grady, but he was beginning to wonder if harsh wasn’t exactly what Grady needed in order to deal with his life in an adult fashion.


Ria stepped into the hotel room with the key her lover had given her. She had finished her shift at the hospital and decided to enjoy some time with the man who had turned her life around. She stepped into the room and found him sitting at the desk focusing on some papers before him.

“Am I disturbing you?” Ria asked with a smile as he finally noticed her.

“Absolutely not,” He said with a smile as he stood and crossed the room to join her. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her passionately.

She wrapped her arms around him and returned his heated kiss. When their lips parted, she smiled, “Well…that certainly was worth coming over here for.”

“Hmm, my thoughts exactly. Are you hungry? I could order room service,” He suggested.

“No, right now, I’m just interested in being in your arms for a while. Think you could make that happen?” She asked with a smile.

“I think that can definitely be arranged,” He smiled as he led her to the sofa and sat back, drawing Ria into his arms to lay against him, “So how was your day?”

“Quiet. Thankfully. What about you? Did you get anything accomplished?” She asked softly.

“Not as much as I would have liked. Did you hear from your friends?”

“No, and I hope that means everything is going well for them.”

“Did you look for the microfilm at the hospital again?”

“No. Since Seth and Blake are together again, I’m hoping that he can convince her to give him the microfilm. I don’t know how much longer Cameron will wait.”

“He’s not known for his patience.”

“I know, and I’m afraid that if Seth doesn’t figure out some way to appease Cameron,” She paused in concern, “I’m afraid for all my friends.”

“I can certainly understand your concern as it’s well founded,” He gently eased his fingers through her hair, “But perhaps things will still work out.”

“I hope they do,” She said with a heavy sigh.

“Hey, you didn’t come here to get down and out, did you? I’m thinking you probably came here to enjoy yourself and relax. So let’s see what we can do about that.”

“Now that is music to my ears,” Ria smiled as she eased her lips to his, enjoying all the pleasures her lover had to provide.


After Diane has heard the details of Jade’s rape, she found herself speechless with tears choking her. She shuddered softly while looking to Jade, “I…” She paused as she took Jade’s hand, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was hard enough for me to admit what had happened to myself. For the longest time, I couldn’t even talk about what had happened. Seth decided that I probably needed some therapy, and he got me in with Dr. Hernandez. He helped me come to terms with what had happened, but I still don’t like to talk about it,” Jade explained as she wiped tears from her cheeks.

“Jade, if I had known, I would never have gone to work for BBK. My god, all these years you must have seen me as betraying you in some way,” Diane paused, “In fact, I’ll turn in my resignation Monday because I don’t think I can work there anymore after this.”

“No, Diane, don’t do that,” Jade urged her friend, “Don’t you dare quit BBK because of me. Besides, Nicholas is dead, and he’s the one who hurt me.”

“But if they covered up what had happened…”

“Diane, if it wasn’t for Brant Ashford, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“Brant came in after the men were finished with me. He wrapped me up in a blanket and took me to a hospital,” Jade explained, “He apologized to me all the way there, and that’s the main thing I can really remember.”

“But…I don’t understand,” Diane shook her head, “He’s never once acted like he knows you when you’ve come by the office.”

“I don’t think he even realizes it was me. I was only fourteen, Diane, and a lot has changed since then,” Jade plucked more tissues from a box and dried her face, “Besides, it’s kind of a relief that he doesn’t say anything to me about it.”

“How can Seth date Blake when he knows about this?”

“Blake didn’t have any idea what her father was. In fact, that’s what broke Seth and Blake apart. Seth was angry with me for trusting Grady, and it all stemmed from the rape. When Blake wondered just what exactly was going on, Seth told her about the rape. She didn’t believe him and turned her back on him.”

“And now? Does she believe him now?”

“I have no idea,” Jade shrugged, “But now you understand why I don’t trust men easily.”

“It makes a lot more sense now. God, Jade, I’m sorry that I used to tease you about going out with guys,” Diane frowned, “I shouldn’t have…”

“Diane,” Jade squeezed her hand, “Don’t you dare start feeling guilty for anything. You didn’t do anything to me, and besides,” She half smiled, “It was kind of nice to have you tease me about going out with guys. I kind of felt like it was making light of my fear, and I guess it made me feel like my apprehension was normal.”

Diane met her friends eyes for a moment longer before she gave her a supportive smile, “I love you, Jade. You’re my best friend in the world, and I would do anything to make things easier for you. Is there anything I can do?”

“No,” Jade shrugged in disappointment, “I wish there was. It would make life a lot easier.”

Diane scooted closer to Jade and wrapped her arm around her, “So…does Grady know about any of this?”

Jade nodded, “I told him, but really, the issue facing us is my problem with trust. Grady’s betrayed that trust.”

“What’d he do?” Diane asked in concern.

“He just told me one thing then did something else. He’s done it twice, and it just hurts that the one man I put the most trust in has hurt me once again.”

“Grady isn’t your father, Jade.”

“I know he’s not, and it’s not like he’s lashed out directly at me. I just,” Jade paused, “I’m just afraid that it’s only a matter of time before he could turn on me.”

“Grady wouldn’t do that, Jade. He loves you.”

“I just,” Jade looked to Diane, “I’m just not so sure of that anymore.”

“Oh baby,” Diane hugged Jade to her side, “I’m sure that Grady does love you. He just needs something to open his eyes and see that if he doesn’t shape up, he’s going to lose you. Maybe it’s time you make a believer out of him.”

“Meaning what?” Jade asked in confusion.

“You just trust me,” Diane said with a smile as she hugged her friend closely, “We’ll make Grady see that he’s going to lose you to him if he doesn’t get his head out of his ass. We’ll make him see that you’re the best thing that ever happened to him, and we’ll make him fight for you.”

“Diane, I don’t think…”

“Hush,” Diane said as she winked at Jade, “Just trust me.”

“As scary as that really is, I do trust you,” Jade exhaled, “Now let’s see just how crazy I am for doing so.”

Diane chuckled softly as she thought of what could be done to get Grady’s attention and make him see that Jade wasn’t going to always wait for him. Diane wasn’t going to allow Jade to wallow in heartbreak. In fact, she had quite the opposite in mind.


Brant cleared his throat, taking in a nervous breath as he knocked on the door to Avery’s apartment thinking about one of the last times he’d been there.  While it hadn’t turned out like he’d expected, he could still remember the way he’d rushed in to save her from Bruce and as he stood outside the apartment, he wished he would’ve just ended things back then in having taken Bruce out of this world once and for all, but alas he’d hesitated and in his hesitation he’d only made things worse as Bruce was still destroying lives with his evil.
“Brant, what can I do for you,” Guy greeted Brant allowing him access to the apartment as Brant forced a polite smile while stepping into the apartment.
Hit with a sudden sense of familiarity as Brant looked to couch thinking of how Bruce had Avery pinned there beneath him feeling her life slip away breath by breath and a shudder pressed over him.  He tried to will the image away, but it was too vivid, too real until it was replaced by another one--by Avery in his arms sobbing after he’d saved her from the madman she’d had in her life.  A lump of emotion hung over in the back of his throat as he turned around to face Avery’s brother once again opting to get to the point of his visit.
“It’s more so what I can do for you,” Brant explained keeping his tone as professional as possible as he thought to what Brooke might be going through at a time like this as she was held by a madman like Bruce Mathis.
“You mentioned something about my mother’s disappearance,” Guy gave him a strange look stepping in towards Brant as Brant nodded in response.
“That’s right,” Brant confessed clearing his throat once again, “I saw something on television earlier about her being kidnapped and after I saw the news segment I made a few phone calls to some contacts I have and from what I understand the FBI believes that Bruce Mathis is behind what’s happened to her, yes?”
“That’s their latest theory,” Guy frowned in response wrinkling his nose as the mention of the man who was said to have taken his mother, “though he’s never come out and said that he’s the one who has her.”
“Even so, I hate the idea of your mother being out there in danger like that,” Brant admitted his voice thick with emotion, “as she’s always been very good to me and I happen to think she’s an amazing woman.”
“That she is,” Guy nodded in response thinking to Brant’s relationship with Avery, “but if you came here about my sister…”
“Actually, what I’m about to say, I’d really rather prefer that it stays between us as I don’t want Avery knowing about this visit or about what I’m about to propose,” Brant continued cutting Guy off as his eyes shifted with solemnity.
“Brant, I don’t know if I can just…” Guy started once again.
“Listen I know that the kidnapper has contacted you and I know that the Feds are doing their best to make a mess of your mother’s return, which is why I want to help, but to do so, this has to be between us Guy.  I don’t want Avery knowing that I paid you this visit because I don’t want her thinking that I’ve got some kind of ulterior motive here.”
“Look, if you think in showing support for my mother or by coming to me that it’s going to win you brownie points with Avery, well, Brant she’s married and I’m not about to do anything to jeopardize her happiness when…” Guy began to explain thinking about his sister.
“I’m not asking you to because as I’ve already said before I don’t want Avery to ever know about what I’m doing here and if you can swear to me that we’ll keep this between us, then I’d really like to lend a hand in helping with this situation,” Brant declared boldly as he stared down Guy, “as I don’t want to see anything happen to your mother as she’s one of the few people in this world that I can honestly say that I’d like to see stick around for a while.”
“So what is it you want Brant,” Guy folded his arms in front of his chest not quite sure how to read the man before him as Brant motioned to the small duffle bag he‘d carried with him into Avery‘s apartment.  Watching as Brant set it down on the table top, Brant unzipped it revealing the money beneath the black exterior before Brant looked up to Guy once again.
“I’m offering you a chance to save your mother,” Brant explained taking a step away from the table before motioning to the bag again, “I was told that the ransom was up to five million at this point, but if my sources were wrong, then let me know because I’d like to help…”
“You mean you’d…” Guy blinked back at a loss as his eyes shifted from the money to Brant once again, “You’re just going to hand over the money like that because…”
“Because I don’t want to see anything happen to your mother more so than it already has.  Brooke’s a good woman and I want this nightmare to come to an end,” Brant motioned to the bag once again, “You can take that with you and see to it that your mother’s returned, but only if you promise me that Avery never knows about this.”
“But why?  Why do something like this?” Guy began in confusion, “Why give me this considering that…”
“I let that bastard get away once when he tried to kill Avery and I refuse to let it happen again,” Brant explained simply thinking about Bruce Mathis, “Once he gets his hands on that money and he takes off, he’s no longer your problem.  He’ll be mine to deal with and deal with him I will, but only after your mother is returned to Coral Valley unharmed.”

“Brant I…” Guy began at a loss realizing that the key to saving his mother was right before him with the man his sister had turned away from, “I don’t know what to say…”
“Tell me you can find a way to use this to get your mother away from that son of a bitch and that Avery won’t find out I did this.  That’s all I ask,” Brant threw back at him once again as a long moment of silence passed between them.
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Guy finally agreed offering his hand out to Brant for a shake as he realized that things had taken a whole new turn in the situation where his mother was concerned as it seemed the last person in the world Guy had ever imagined would want to help had played a part in what he hoped would be his mother’s safe return to Coral Valley.

...to be continued...