Episode Eighty Nine 

Ben stepped into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Diane as she kept her eyes towards the living room, “Hey, you didn’t come to bed until late last night and then you were restless. What gives?”

“I’m just worried about Jade,” Diane spoke softly, hoping her friend wouldn’t hear her from the sofa. She turned to meet Ben’s eyes, “I’m really worried about her.”

“You two talked for a long time after I went to bed. What’s going on?” He asked in concern.

“She’s having a real tough time with this thing with Grady. I’ve never seen her upset like this, Ben. It’s really scaring me.”

“What did Grady do? If he’s hurt her…” He began.

“No, it’s not like that. She just feels like she can’t trust him, and that’s a really big deal for her,” She sighed as she moved out of Ben’s arms and took three mugs from a cabinet. She began to pour herself a mug of freshly brewed coffee as she looked to Ben, “Want one?”

“Yeah,” He nodded as he watched her carefully, “Something else is going on here.”

“It’s something I don’t really want to go into. Jade shared it in confidence,” She explained as she passed a mug of coffee to Ben, “But Seth knows about it. Let’s just say that Jade’s issues with Grady go back to her childhood. It’s not something he’s done so much as Jade sees a pattern emerging in her life that she doesn’t want to see.”

“Now I’m totally confused,” Ben frowned.

“Just trust me on this,” She asked with sad eyes, “This will work itself out.”

“I just hate to see all the women in my life upset. You, Jade, Blake,” He sighed, “It’s becoming a trend here, and I don’t like it very much.”

Diane smiled simply as she leaned into his side, “You don’t have to worry about us. Somehow things will work themselves out.”

“When did you decide to be all optimistic?” He teased, “That’s not usually your style.”

“Well I’m trying on something new this morning,” She teased in response with a smile, “Come on. I know you’re eating this up. It lets you off the hook a little in the optimism department.”

“This is true,” He mused lightly, “It does get a little tiring.”

“Oh, poor baby,” Diane teased as she drew him into a sweet kiss.

“Now that’s what I like to see,” Jade said from the doorway with a soft smile, “It’s nice to see a happy couple for a change.”

“Jade, oh honey, I didn’t mean to wake you up,” Diane’s smile fell.

“You didn’t,” Jade waved her hand to dismiss Diane’s concerns, “I tossed and turned all night. I should up and getting myself together already anyway.”

“You can’t possibly be thinking of going to work,” Diane said in surprise.

“Why not?” Jade asked.

“Because you work for Grady. Don’t you think that’s just asking for trouble in going to work?”

“Not if I want to keep a job,” Jade shrugged as she glanced at the coffee pot, “Are you going to offer me a cup or just stand there with your mouth hanging open?”

Diane closed her mouth and turned to pour Jade a cup of coffee. She turned back and offered the cup to her friend with a frown, “I’m being serious, Jade. Won’t you be walking right into a fight?”

“No, Grady won’t fight at work. He might talk to me, but he’s not going to start a fight. He knows that I don’t get embarrassed about raising my voice in public,” Jade shrugged, “Besides, I have a feeling that Grady won’t be in the mood to fight. He looked like he was ready to just give up yesterday, and unfortunately, I’m almost to that point myself.”

“Jade, you don’t mean that,” Diane chastised, “You love that man even if he is a jerk. You’re not ready to give up on him. I know you better than that.”

Jade frowned as she sipped her coffee, “You’re right actually. I do love him. That’s why I’d really like to beat some sense into him, but I’m really trying to behave myself,” She winked at Diane, “God, I should be going home. I have to change before I go to work.”

“Oh nonsense,” Diane smiled, “You can get something to wear out of my closet, and I’ll even let you borrow a pair of my shoes,” She said proudly.

“Oh taking pity on me, are you?” Jade teased, “I know how much you value your shoes.”

“Oh you hush,” Diane chuckled, “Now why don’t you go get yourself a shower? There are fresh towels in there, and you can put on my robe afterwards to raid my closet.”

“That sounds like a plan. And you two can continue you on in romantic bliss,” Jade winked at her friends as she carried her mug of coffee with her to the bathroom.

Ben stood near the counter, placing his coffee cup aside, “She seems to be okay.”

“She’s just putting on a damn good show,” Diane frowned, “Which means she’s hurting even more than I thought,” She informed him and wondered just how Jade was going to get through a day at work with Grady nearby.


Russell rolled over onto his side reaching out across the bed for Avery only to find her half of the bed empty.  Opening his eyes, he felt a frown touch over his lips as he realized that clearly things were still less than wonderful between him and Avery after his brother’s last verbal attack on her.  While he’d tried to calm her down after he’d made sure that Elliot had come over to pick Grady up, there was no getting through to Avery as she’d been hurt and upset by the way things had played out.  They’d gone to bed with one another having a bit of a distance between them, but Russell had just reasoned that a night to sleep on it would somehow soften the blows that Grady had dealt to their marriage, but as he felt the empty sheet beside him, Russell realized that hadn’t been the right answer to the situation at hand.
Sitting upright Russell looked around the room scratching his head slightly as a yawn spilled over his lips and he searched the room for signs of his wife, but as he could see she’d already laid out her work clothes in their usual spot and appeared ready to make a quick exit, his frown deepened.  Rising out of bed, he heard the sounds of the shower running in their bathroom as he wondered if there would be anything he could do to get this situation under wraps between them, but given how stubborn Avery could be at times and how hurt she’d been by Grady’s last attack on her, he was starting to have doubts about how much ground he’d make with her.  Moving to the doorway to the bathroom and discovering the door was closed, he tapped on it gently awaiting his wife’s response, but when she didn’t seem to be interested in opening the door up for him, his frown grew and in that moment he found himself wanting to go over and beat the life out of his brother once again for the trouble he’d started.
“Avery, I know you just turned on the shower,” Russell called out to her through the door reaching for the knob and finding it locked, “so just open up.  I’d like to talk with you.”
Hearing nothing, but silence from the other side of the door, Russell felt a sigh tear from his lips as he took a step back contemplating his next move.  While he hadn’t intended to blurt out to Grady about Avery’s miscarriage last night, when his brother had gone off on a rampage, Russ found his control slipping away as his first instinct was to defend his wife’s actions.  However, given the lengths they’d gone to in order to keep Grady from having any kind of insight on that painful moment in Avery’s life, Russ knew better than to reveal that part of their history to his brother especially when Grady was so obviously in a drunken rage, but the words just seemed to spill out before he could take them back and now he was suffering the consequences for that verbal outburst.
“Avery please, don’t ignore me like this because it isn‘t going to help the situation,” Russ stepped towards the door urging her on once again with no avail as he finally decided that he was going to make her speak with him whether she liked it or not.  Frustrated and annoyed he stepped across their bedroom seeking out the key to the door from one of his dresser drawers before marching over to the door giving her one last chance to answer it, “Avery open up!”
“I’m late for work Russ,” Avery answered flatly throwing open the door just as he was about to put the key in the lock.  Seeing his intentions her eyes flashed with a spark of anger before she curled her lip in a huff and she reached for the door once again in an attempt to close it, “I’m going to hop into the shower before I go, so I don’t have time for this.”
“Make time for it Avery,” Russell declared unable to take the obvious distance that was between them as he pushed the bathroom door open further following Avery into the master bathroom despite the obvious irritation building behind her eyes.
“Russ, I can’t just put my life on hold because you want to talk about something that I’m entirely not in the mood to discuss,” she folded her arms in front of her chest, “I’ve been late to work everyday since we came back to Coral Valley and I’d really rather not get into that habit so that I lose my job in the near future.”
“To hell with your job,” Russell shook his head at her, “right now your life is what’s happening right here between us and I want to know why you’re not even bothering to talk to me.”
“I think that answer is apparently obvious,” Avery spat back at him folding her arms in front of her chest, “and as I said before I don’t want to get into this because I have to go to work.”
“Tough,” Russell reached out to her refusing to let her walk away from him as he tugged on her arm forcing her to face him once again, “because right now I want to make time for this.”
“Well I don’t,” Avery shrugged just out of his reach, “I have a lot that I’ve been neglecting in the office lately and I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t matter because it does.  My career is important to me and I need to get my priorities straight here.”
“Well, I’d like to think that they include your husband as I thought we were the top priority in your life these days,” he frowned back at her watching as she stepped towards the shower.  She froze mid-movement taking in a long, slow breath before facing him once again.
“Russ, I don’t want to get into this now,” Avery confessed with a sigh, “because if I get going, then I know I’m going to say something that I don’t mean to and then I’m going to be beating myself up for it again and again throughout the day here.”
“I’d rather you say something than shut me out because you know how I hate when you resort to this,” he remarked with a groan, “as somehow I think this is your way of punishing me because I pissed you off last night.”
“You’re damn right you pissed me off,” she snapped back at him, “because you had no right to tell Grady about the baby.  I didn’t want him to have that to throw in my face on top of everything else because I knew that he was going to behave that way, but no, you just went ahead and did it anyways and surprise, surprise he did exactly what I thought he would.”
“I’m sorry about that Avery.  I didn’t mean to say anything, but once he got me going,” Russell began to defend his actions.
“I know when Grady gets going, there’s just no telling what happens next and quite honestly I can’t deal with that.  I won’t deal with it and right now all I want to do is something that I can control as it seems every time your brother pops in and out of our lives we are anything, but in control of what’s happening between us,” Avery insisted with a huff turning away from him once again.
“This isn’t my fault.  I can’t help what Grady’s become and I thought we both understood that he’s got problems…” Russ watched her intently.
“Yeah me and as far as I can see, not even finding love with someone as wonderful as Jade is going to change that.  He’s not going to be happy until he destroys me and last night you gave him something that will get him one step closer to that goal when you told him about the baby we lost,” Avery threw back at him with tears burning behind her eyes, “You knew that it spelled disaster, but instead you just decided to give him something to drive the knife deeper with.”
“Avery, I was defending you and that’s all I was trying to do,” Russell replied quickly taking a step towards her.
“And that’s got to be getting pretty old too, huh?”  she shook her head overcome by the frustrations of the moment, “Russ, how much longer can we keep doing this?  I mean obviously Grady wants to keep just driving the point home time and time again about what a slut I am and he’s not going to let up on that.  Hell, I was trying so hard to find a way for him and Jade to find some happiness together, but what did it get me?  He just used it as yet another excuse to lash out at me and I’m tired of it.  I can’t deal with him or his outbursts any longer and I’m starting to wonder if this is all worth the trouble that’s followed.”
“Wait a second,” Russell blinked back at her, “are you trying to tell me that you think we’re a mistake?  That our being married is nothing but trouble?”
“Can you honestly tell me that it’s been anything, but that for you,” Avery challenged standing taller as she met his green eyes, seeing the spark of anger building behind him.
“Yeah actually I can because I was under this strange misconception that we had a good thing that was worth fighting for and that we weren’t going to let Grady become something that got in the way of what we have together, but obviously I must’ve been wrong, huh?” he threw his hands in the air wildly, “I mean hey, who cares about everything good that’s happened with us considering that we’ve had this dark cloud hanging over us, right Avery?”
“Well that seems to be what keeps happening to us as every good thing we have happen to us is followed by something really bad whether it be my mother, your brother or Bruce.  I mean maybe the stars are trying to tell us something there about us being together,” Avery countered raising her voice with the moment as emotion overtook her, “Maybe we shouldn’t have forced this situation like we have.”
“Forced?  You think what we have has been forced?” his jaw dropped upon her words.
“Well that’s what the world keeps saying.  They keep telling us that we should’ve fought the urge to hold onto this so desperately like we’ve been doing…” Avery continued her voice tight with emotion.
“And what do you propose we should‘ve done?  Just walked away from one another instead of trying to give us a chance,” Russell questioned harshly as another thought occurred to him, “Avery, is this really about what happened with my brother last night or are you just using Grady as an excuse to push me away again like you always do?”
“Oh that’s right I’m the one pushing you away considering that you were the reason we almost weren’t married when I saw you in bed with Heather,” Avery shot back at him, “Here Grady was worried about me and my heart, but you were the one that screwed up…”
“I already told you that I didn’t think I was with Heather.  I thought I was with you and I had been drinking…” Russell started to defend himself.
“Ah yes, that seems to be the Denton excuse of the lifetime.  I mean hey, Grady comes over here and verbally assaults me and if you weren’t here, I bet he would’ve tried to kill me because that’s just the kind of guy he is, but since it’s Grady it has to be okay and forgiven because he was drunk and we know how alcohol tends to blur the lines of right and wrong there.  I mean honestly who cares what happens as long as there’s alcohol involved just as long as it’s an excuse that can be used to make up for the wrong doings later on.”
“That’s not fair,” Russell replied with a frown, “you know that when I was with Heather…Avery, nothing happened and I love you.  If nothing else you should know that by now as I’d lay down my life for you and the baby.  You’re everything to me…”
“And Susan was everything to Grady once too.  I mean hey, even Jade thought she was his everything and then look what happened when he got his hands on some bourbon.  None of that mattered and since Grady is always stepping into our lives thinking that yours mirrors his, I was just wondering how long it was going to be before you started down that path yourself once you‘d had enough of me.”
“I can’t believe that I’m hearing this especially out of you,” Russell snapped back at her, “You know me better than this Avery.  You know how I feel about you and for you to even think up something so ridiculous is just, well it’s just stupid.”
“Oh so now I’m stupid,” Avery huffed in response, “I’m a stupid slut who shouldn’t be married to you to begin with.  That’s pretty much what it amounts to right?”
“Avery, I didn’t say that.  Now you’re just twisting my words,” Russell watched as anger flashed behind her eyes.
“Yeah well ask Grady all about that because he’ll tell you that’s all I’m good for,” she threw off her robe stepping into the shower as Russell watched her retreat wondering how in the world things had gone from almost perfect to this turmoil they were in with one another.
Stepping towards the shower, Russ extended his arm towards the shower door before stopping himself mid-movement not quite sure what to say at a time like this.  Clearly they weren’t going to see eye to eye on anything and despite what he said right about now, in Avery’s eyes he was already wrong because of what had gone down with Grady.  Right now Russ was angry and frustrated and ready to just say to hell with it as he was certain that was where Avery was leading with this latest argument, but as he headed towards the door to leave, something inside him forced him to turn around--to somehow find a way to fix this as in letting things go would only be a mistake as Avery clearly wasn’t going to be feeling any less upset about the situation as time passed on.
With that thought in mind, Russell turned around, changing directions as he decided to face the situation head on and prove that he was nothing like this brother nor did he share his brother’s views on Avery.  Granted she’d said a lot of things that had gotten him worked up just now, but he knew it was the hurt talking above all else and he’d be damned if he let her leave before they had a chance to give working this out a try.  With a newfound determination, Russell threw open the shower door not bothering to take off his pajama pants as he stepped into the steady stream of water seeing Avery standing before him slumped over as she turned away from him.
“Russ, get out of here,” she replied unwilling to look at him as she kept her face away from him refusing to make any kind of contact with him.
“No,” he stated plainly reaching out to her as he could feel her rebuffing his attempts to connect with her.  He touched her shoulder gently feeling the water press upon the both of them as she kept her eyes away from him.  Feeling her reluctance, he curled his fingers over her damp shoulder urging her to turn around and face him until she finally caved in to his silent request circling around just enough for him to see the tears streaming from her sad, brown eyes, “Avery…baby…”
“I can’t keep doing this Russ.  I thought that I could deal with everything that Grady’s been doing, but I just can’t take it anymore.  It’s just so hard to keep defending myself time and time again to him and now, well now I just can’t help but think about how this has effected us and…” she trailed off overcome with tears as he pulled her into his arms keeping her close to him as her sobs continued.
“I know baby,” he hugged her tighter, squeezing her as if he’d never let go as he hated to see her so torn apart after his brother’s outburst, “but I promise you that this won’t keep happening…”
“Russ, you can’t promise something like that because we both know that Grady’s not about to ease up in this situation and with each attack he makes, I feel like it’s only tearing us further and further apart,” she confessed with a tiny whimper, “I can’t keep doing this…I can’t continually keep trying to prove myself…”
“You don’t have to prove yourself, Avery, because I love you and that‘s all that matters to me,” Russ whispered hating how twisted things had become as he held her wondering if there would ever be a time when they wouldn’t have to face the wrath of those who were bent on keeping them away from one another as it seemed that someone was always trying to tear them apart.  Now as he held her listening to her tears, he wasn’t quite sure what he could say to make this situation any easier on her, but even while the sting of their latest dispute hung in the air surrounding them, he refused to let go hoping that someway things would just even themselves out between them before it tore them apart forever.


Heather slipped off her shoes, tucking her feet under her as she looked through a catalog of office furniture for her new modeling agency. She’d never been very good on plane rides without company, but Cameron had needed to make a very important business call. As a good wife, she had decided to amuse herself for a while. Still, she was beginning to wonder just how long her husband would be gone.

She tossed the catalog aside and groaned. She had a million things to do for her new company not to mention to prepare for the baby. Of course, she had months to plan everything where the baby was concerned, and there really wasn’t a time limit on setting up her company. Still, she had this lingering feeling that she had to get things done in a hurry, or the rug could be yanked out from under her at any time.

It wasn’t that Cameron hadn’t been a dream come true. While marriage to anyone but Brant had never crossed her mind, Cameron had been the epitome of everything she could have wanted in a husband. Strong, wealthy, intelligent, and sexy as hell. The last few days had been particularly nice as she’d learned that her husband was quite an extraordinary man in and out of the bedroom.

She smiled as she thought back to the luxurious days and nights she’d spent in Cameron’s arms on his island. She hadn’t exactly been looking to jump into another sexual relationship, but what the hell? She was married to the man she was sleeping with. Who could fault her for that?

She tucked her feet under her and smoothed her sundress around her. While the island had offered a dream come true, life back in Coral Valley wouldn’t be nearly as fantastic. She would have to face Douglas Mahoney in her quest to see Kipp, and she knew she would have to prepare herself for a fierce battle. While Cameron assured her that he would make the fight easier for her, she still knew that the road that lie ahead would be difficult.

“You look like you’re in deep thought,” Cameron said from the doorway.

“I was just thinking about what happens when we get back to Coral Valley,” Heather sighed as she looked at him for a moment, “Did your call go well?”

“It went as expected. I’m not sure I would call it successful or not,” He shrugged as he sat in a chair across from her, “So what are you thinking about specifically? Your new business? Or perhaps getting started on a nursery?” He asked with a smile.

“Those things had crossed my mind,” She admitted with a slight smile, “But actually, I was thinking about Kipp and about the baby. I was just…” She paused as her smile faded, “When Douglas realizes that this baby belongs to Kipp, he’s going to try to take my baby away from me. You already said he was thinking of having me committed…”

“That isn’t in his power,” Cameron assured her, “You’re my wife now, and I will protect you from anything Douglas thinks he can dish out.”

“He can keep me from seeing Kipp though,” She frowned, “I just think I could maybe give Kipp a reason to recover if he knew I’m pregnant.”

“I can help you see Kipp,” He spoke as he met her eyes, “In fact, I’ve had Kipp’s power of attorney transferred to me.”

“How did you…I don’t…” Heather babbled in confusion.

“I have all my top executives make certain provisions in case of a tragic event such as this. It’s to make sure that company secrets don’t get into the mainstream. I have my executives file a power of attorney document to name the person they want in charge of their affairs. Kipp named me. I hadn’t taken control because I thought that perhaps Douglas would finally be the father that Kipp needed. I don’t think he was doing that, so I had my attorney file all the proper papers to give me control. I’ve had Kipp moved to a private facility where some of the world’s top doctors can attend him. When we get back to Coral Valley, I’ll arrange a visit for you.”

“Cameron…” She paused, “I can’t believe you did all of this. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I wanted you to enjoy your honeymoon without worrying about what Douglas could do to sabotage this or what he might do in an act of revenge,” Cameron moved to sit beside her, “Now that we’re going home, I just think you need to be prepared for what we may face when we get back,” He took her hand as he gazed into her eyes, “But I want you to know that I’m going to be right beside you every step of the way, and I promise you that Douglas will never get his hands on your child.”

Heather met his eyes and felt a moment of anxiety sweep over her. As she leaned into Cameron’s arms, she wondered if Cameron could really keep a man like Douglas at bay, or if she would face an even greater fight now that Douglas had lost control of his son’s fate as well.


Blake stepped into Irvan’s looking forward to one of their sumptuous muffins and a glass of juice. After the jog she’d just taken, she needed to refuel, and Irvan’s always seemed to provide the perfect opportunity for that. Besides it was comfortable and cozy, and the next best thing to home. Considering she hadn’t actually been home for more than a few seconds over the last few days, the homey atmosphere was just what she needed.

She stepped up to the counter and smiled at the waitress, “Can I get a poppy seed muffin and a small orange juice to go?”

“Sure thing,” The waitress smiled as she wrote up the order and moved about putting it together.


Blake froze instantly. His voice was even, soft, welcoming. She took an uneasy breath as she slowly turned to face him.

“Zack,” She spoke his name as she met his eyes, feeling her insides tremble at the sight of him. Why couldn’t she be unaffected by him? Why did she still have to react to his nearness after he’d hurt her? She fought off a frown as she tried to remain as casual as possible.

Zack studied her closely, admiring her beauty as if he hadn’t seen her in ages. She truly was remarkable in every way, and he’d been an idiot to let her slip through his fingers. He had no idea how he was going to work through this, but somehow he had to earn her forgiveness. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he had to make a start somewhere. Now was as good as any time.

“How are you doing?” He asked. Casual conversation seemed the best route at this point.

“Okay,” She replied. Awkward didn’t even begin to describe how she felt at this moment.

“Have you been by to see Cait?” He asked as he slipped his hands in his pockets, trying to make the best of being able to speak with Blake at all.

“No, I’ve been…well, things have come up,” Blake shook her head, “I haven’t really been free to go by to see her, but I was thinking I might give her another day before I go see her again.”

“I’m sure she’ll look forward to seeing you. You always did have a way of cheering her up when she’s at her lowest,” He smiled supportively.

“She’s my best friend,” She reminded him with a slight smile, “I’d do anything for her.”

“I know you would,” He sighed, “I lost sight of that for a while, but I really do know that.”

She nodded as the waitress returned with her order. Blake tossed a couple of bills onto the counter and took the bag with a smile before she looked back to Zack, “I need to be going.”

“I guess you’re going to be with Seth,” He began then mentally kicked himself for sounding jealous, “He’s a lucky man.”

Blake paused as she met his eyes, wondering just what he was thinking. She knew he didn’t approve of Seth and likely never would, but he was trying to be encouraging nonetheless. She knew the sound of jealousy when she heard it, “Zack, don’t start.”

“I just said he was lucky to have you,” He repeated.

“But you didn’t mean it that way,” She frowned, “Look, things didn’t work out for us, and I’m trying to move on with my life.”

“By going backwards?” Zack asked, realizing this conversation wasn’t going at all as he would have liked, “Look, Blake, you said before that you couldn’t trust him. Don’t run back into his arms just because you’re upset with me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. You don’t have that much power over my heart,” She lashed out, “I love Seth, and I told you that from the beginning. Okay, so Seth and I had our differences, but he never turned his back on me.”

He sighed, “I didn’t turn my back on you. You turned your back on Caitlin, and I couldn’t stand for that.”

“And she had lashed out at my brother. I was just supposed to stand by like it was perfectly okay?” She shook her head, “Look, the point is that you took it upon yourself to shut me out of Caitlin’s circle, and that is not your place. That’s between Caitlin and me. And besides, she understand where I was coming from, and you should. You basically did the same thing when you cut me out of your life.”

“I was just upset and scared that I was going to lose my sister.”

“And I was scared that I was going to lose my best friend, but instead I lost you,” Blake shook her head, “I loved you, Zack. I still do. I feel like I’m torn in two all the time, and it’s not a great way to feel.”

“Blake, I love you too,” Zack said softly as he somehow felt her slipping further away from him.

“It doesn’t matter though. I think this has proven that we’re just not meant to be.”

“Blake, don’t say that. It’s a bump in the road. We can find a way to work through this,” He assured her, “Just don’t close the door on me yet. Please just give me a chance to show you that this can work for us.”

Blake met his eyes and her heart ached more than ever. How was it possible to be in love with two sensational men at the same time? She looked away from him, terrified to give him an answer, afraid she’d been denying herself something wonderful either way she turned.

“Zack, good, I was hoping to run into you,” Johanna announced as she stepped into the diner. She spotted Blake and immediately stopped. She crossed her arms and frowned, “This is a surprise.”

Blake frowned as she glanced back to Zack, “Somehow I don’t think I’m the only one who had somewhere to run to.”

“It’s not what you think, Blake,” Zack assured her.

“No, it’s not what you think,” Johanna added, “He’s just going to be a daddy…nothing life altering, right, Zack?”

“A dad…” Blake repeated, “Wait a minute. What are you saying?”

“I’m pregnant,” Johanna informed her, “And Zack’s the father.”

Blake stood in shock before she grabbed her food and left the diner. Zack grimaced in anger as he turned to face Johanna, “What the hell did you do that for?”

“What? She had every right to know that you come with a package now,” Johanna replied as she held her head high, “Besides, I’m curious to know if you’ve decided to come back to Seattle because there’s no way in hell I’m staying here to watch you chase after little Miss Ashford.”

Zack took a deep breath as his frustration grew exponentially. Two steps forward, ten steps back. It was a dance he was becoming all too familiar with where Blake was concerned. Still, he knew that he had been making progress before Johanna had interrupted them, and somehow he was going to find a way to continue that progress. He just had to figure out how to deal with Johanna first.


“Okay you do realize how completely idiotic this is, right,” Jenna questioned taking a look over her shoulder at Hart as they stood outside the security offices at the hospital ready to investigate the tapes they’d discussed the night before after Callaway had given her a call about having dinner with him.
“Idiotic would be our not giving this a try when we could very well be on to something,” Hart pointed out nudging her closer to the door, “so come on.  Let’s just test our theory out here.”
“You’re insane,” Jenna shook her head at him unable to contain the laugh that built up inside of her, “I hope you realize that.”
“I do, but I also just want you to indulge me for a moment here as I really think I’m on to something,” Hart insisted firmly eager to find out if his suspicions had any validity.
“Yeah it’s called a power trip as you’re looking for a way to knock Travis down once again since he’s made no qualms about letting you know that he’s waiting for a moment to pay you back for what you did to his marriage,” Jenna threw out a pointed look once again as Hart shook his head at her.
“Yeah, so what?  There have been things that have been sparked from even less so who cares what might’ve prompted the idea in me?  All that matters is that we’re checking it out right now,” Hart motioned to the door once again, “so let’s get this show on the road.”
“You’re just eager to get rid of the competition as you didn’t like the thought of him calling your girlfriend,” she replied with a tiny smirk feeling him curl his arm around her slender waist before spinning her around to face him as their eyes connected once again.
“You’re right about that as I hated it,” Hart admitted leaning in towards her to steal a kiss from her lips, “but this time, we both know it runs deeper than that as I’d truly have no problems just beating him up for looking at you the wrong way.”
“Oh the caveman approach,” she half rolled her eyes at the thought, “how archaic of you.”
“Yeah well no one messes with my girl and gets away with it,” Hart vowed kissing her once more before motioning to the door once again, “so, how about we take a peek and see if I’m onto something there?”
“Fine, but I really think that we’re going to come up empty because after I started to really ponder the notion of Callaway or the FBI being involved in all of this, I realized it sounded like the plot to a really bad movie there…” Jenna shrugged her shoulders turning her attention to the door before her.
“Now you’re just making excuses for them and believe me that’s going to be the last thing you want to do when you and I get our hands on the truth about what took place in the morgue,” Hart continued eagerly, “as I’m telling you this goes deeper than we ever imagined.”
“And you’re clearly thinking about making some kind of B-movie there with all the conspiracy theories that I’m sure you have spinning in your head right about now,” Jenna noted the tone in his voice.
“Hardly as any movie I’d come up with would have to be a Hollywood blockbuster off the charts there, which reminds me if we are onto something there, maybe we should start thinking up a screenplay for this one.  Maybe we could try to pitch the idea to your father as he strikes me as the kind of man who would love this sort of crime drama and with my legal expertise, well we could really get a handle on the project and own it there…” Hart began with an afterthought.
“And here we are already with you trying to market upon something that doesn’t truly exist,” Jenna shook her head at him, “You know you probably missed your calling in going to law school as it seems you would’ve been one hell of a writer there…”
“Yeah well, I didn’t want to spend most of my adult years in poverty, so I decided I’d just be the one running the show and making my money by making everyone else miserable,” Hart shrugged his shoulders.
“And you have succeeded in that time and time again as I’ll be the first to vouch for that,” Jenna admitted with a hint of a groan.
“Yeah well, I’m sure you’ll have to stand in line right behind my father because he’s probably still cursing the day he ever had the thought to sleep with my mother there after everything I‘ve put him through,” Hart couldn’t help but be amused at the way he’d put his father in his place over the years.
“I guess that means that we won’t be having any family reunions in the near future to attend huh?” Jenna gave him a strange look.
“Only if my father’s afraid that I’m going to come up with yet another glorious lawsuit to finally take him to bankruptcy as he‘s not really the let‘s get together kind,” Hart pondered the thought, “though you know since we’re on the subject of family if your father’s looking for someone to continue to pitch him more ideas for future productions…”
“How about we start with seeing what’s on the tapes first,” Jenna suggested shaking her head once again as she slipped her master key into the door, unlocking it to give them both access to what was inside.
“Fair enough,” Hart agreed with a nod following her inside the small area to take a good look around.  “Well, where do we start?”
“Over here,” Jenna curled her finger motioning for him to follow her as they made their way over to the security system equipment.  She watched as he reached out to touch one of the buttons and she quickly swatted at his hand throwing out a warning look, “Don’t touch that!”
“Sorry,” he curled his lip in a pout reaching out for another button before she threw out a stern look.
“Hart, I mean it,” she warned sharply locating the tapes they were seeking out as she began to scan her eyes through the pile of cases before her, each one of them in chronological order, “because the last thing I need to deal with right now is you breaking something when we really shouldn’t be in here in the first place…”
“Fine, but you know you’re entirely too uptight about this,” Hart pointed out with a frown watching as she searched through the cases until she’d located the tape in question.  “You’ll see I’m on to something here…”
“What I’m going to see is…” Jenna trailed off a sudden look of surprise washing over her features as she opened up the case only to discover it was empty.  She turned to Hart with astonishment behind her eyes as she showed him her discovery, “It’s gone.”
“I told you something wasn’t right here,” Hart frowned snatching up the empty case from her, “Now are you willing to listen to what I’m saying?”
“I think that I’m willing to hear whatever it is you have to say right about now considering that tape shouldn’t be missing, but that doesn’t mean that Callaway had it taken out.  I mean maybe the FBI took it as evidence…”
“Or maybe they got rid of it Jenna.  They didn’t want us to see what was going on here and that in itself is reason enough to sniff around and find out what really happened the day that Bruce Mathis just up and walked out of the morgue undetected.”
“You’re right about that,” Jenna agreed with a nod realizing that there was more happening than she’d cared to admit, “but we can’t do this alone.”
“Well, you can’t expect us to just go up to Callaway with this information and our suspicions considering that…” Hart started to argue with her.
“I realize that, but maybe there’s someone else we can trust--someone who can find the answers to the questions we have in all of this,” Jenna decided thinking about the way the investigation had gone since Bruce had been pulled out of the lake and she’d been thrown off the case.
“Who do you have in mind?” Hart questioned curiously wondering what ideas were brewing behind her eyes as she turned to him her face a sudden mask of seriousness.
“Someone who will be more than willing to listen to your theories and will work to see whether or not there is any validity behind what we believe is going on,” Jenna decided realizing that while there could be a simple explanation for why the tape had just up and disappeared, it didn’t hurt to get a few more answers to the questions she’d had in her mind as it seemed that she’d stumbled upon yet another mystery in need of solving.


“Good morning sunshine,” Russell stepped into Caitlin’s room carrying a couple of small bags with him as she looked up from the magazine she’d been thumbing through to keep her mind busy as the sitting still for this long was making her want to crawl out of her skin.
“Russ,” she smiled at him brightly setting the magazine aside as she sat up straighter greeting him excitedly, “I didn’t know you were coming over today.”

“Well, I was hoping to beat the crowd before I headed on over to the office to run ideas with my star reporter, but then I realized that she wouldn’t be there at the office, so I thought I’d bring the office to her,” Russell confessed holding up the coffees he’d brought with him, “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh heavens no,” Caitlin shook her head adamantly extending her arm out towards him to accept the coffee he‘d brought for her, “as I’ve been waiting for someone to stop behaving like I’m going to fall apart the moment reality steps into the room.  I say bring it on.”
“Such enthusiasm,” Russell teased taking a seat beside her hospital bed, “I knew there was a reason why I loved these little meetings we have together.”
“Well, I must confess that they were always a favorite part of my work day, but unfortunately since I’ve been stuck here in this bed awaiting the word that I can get back to my life again, well it’s kind of put a damper on my creativity and ability to pitch new ideas to you,” Caitlin held up the beauty magazine she’d been thumbing through, “unless you’d like to know a hundred and one secrets to keeping your skin clean and clear.”
“I think I’ll pass on that at the moment,” he couldn’t help but laugh seeing the spark behind her eyes at the mention of getting back to work again.
“I thought you might, though you know I could do a great piece on the hospital here if you’re interested in hearing it as I’ve learned a lot in my time here.  I’ve seen a great many things that could really work to build the community and I could find the time to get a few interviews with some nurses and doctors since it doesn’t seem like I’m going to be getting out here nearly as quickly as I was hoping to.”
“Hmm, well you know that one might be more of a page turner than the clean and clear skin tips, so I may have to think about that one,” Russell laughed lightly seeing her eagerness to just dive into something again, “Of course, I could always fill you in on what you’d missed with the whole Midlands case if you’re interested in hearing it as I was at the trial…”
“Actually Ken kind of filled me in on that not too long ago,” she admitted a smile lifting over her lips at the very mention of the man who’d captured her heart, “so I think I’m pretty up to speed on that, but if you think there’s something that he might’ve missed.”
“Nah, he’s probably got it pretty much down to the last detail knowing Ken,” Russell half smiled at her before shrugging his shoulders simply, “I guess this turned out to be a pretty short meeting after all.”
“Not necessarily,” Caitlin motioned to the bags he’d brought with him, “what’s in there?”
“Oh breakfast,” he shook his head handing a bag over to her, “I stopped at this little pastry shop that Avery and I used to go to when we were younger.  They have the most sinfully delicious treats and I figured that you’d had more than enough hospital food…”
“That I have, though Ken’s been pretty good at giving me some kind of variety here,” Caitlin answered unable to curb the curiosity brewing inside of her as she took a glimpse into the brown bag she was holding, “though these smell fabulous and I haven’t had breakfast yet, so…”
“Great, then that makes two of us,” Russell replied opening up the bag he’d still had in his lap.
“And just what is your excuse?” Caitlin gave him a pointed look watching as he opened up the bag he was holding.
“Come again,” he blinked back at her noting the change in her tone.
“Russ, I’ve been cramped up in here in this tiny, restrictive room, but you, well you’re married and enjoying the newlywed life, so there should be no reason why you wouldn’t have taken the time to appreciate a hearty breakfast with your pregnant wife unless of course you two got carried away with one another,” she wiggled her brow suggestively, “which I would imagine would have you in a much more chipper mood than the one you’re in right now.”
“Who says I’m not chipper,” he threw back at her with a curious expression.
“Russ, you just have this look about you and when you’re happy, well the world just seems to light up around you, but this morning, well come to think of it, you look a bit tired--like maybe you’ve had a lot going on perhaps,” Caitlin noted eyeing him with heavy scrutiny, “and then there’s always this issue of your coming here to share breakfast with me…”
“Maybe I just wanted to pay a pal a visit before I went to work.  Did you ever think that you’re being closed up in here has been putting a hinder on some of my productivity?  Maybe I came here in the hopes of building you back up again so that we can get back to where we were headed with the paper…” he began dismissing her concerns.
“That’s bull,” Caitlin stated bluntly shaking her head with heavy disapproval, “Russ, I might be closed off from most of the world around me, but with that thing,” she nodded towards the television, “well I’ve caught a few hints of what’s happening outside this hospital.  I know about this situation happening with Avery’s mother and her ex.”
“Yeah, well at this point, who doesn’t know about what’s going on,” he frowned in response thinking about everything that was taking it’s toll on his marriage, “though in all honesty if that was all Avery and I had to deal with, I think I could really keep it together, but the grief Bruce, Brant and Brooke have given us seems to pale in comparison to that which my brother has decided to press upon the both of us.”
“Oh no,” Caitlin gasped seeing the darkness that came crashing over his features, “what has Grady been up to now?”
“He’s drinking again,” Russell confessed openly thinking about his brother’s downfall, “and when Grady’s drinking, well it’s when all his demons seem to come out as he’s an alcoholic--a very mean one at that and right now his life is falling apart around him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Russ,” Caitlin reached out to him touching his arm gently, “It’s never easy when someone you love is going on a downward spiral and you find yourself helpless when it comes to saving them.”
“If Grady would have the will and desire to save himself, then it wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as it is, but well, he’s in this endless cycle of hatred and it all seems to be coming in Avery’s direction,” he blurted out thinking about what had happened the previous evening.
“I don’t understand,” Caitlin gave him a strange look, “What does Avery have to do with Grady’s alcoholism?”
“Nothing, but he doesn’t see it that way,” Russell sighed heavily, “Grady’s got this notion in his head that he’s saving me from this supposed mistake I’m making in being with Avery and every chance he gets he lashes out to her.  He will find any reason he can think of to attack her and blame her for all the wrongs that have come his way.  He’s gone so far as to threaten her over and over again and the other night, well he came over in the midst of a drunken rage.  He wasn’t making any sense at all, but the one thing that was obvious was his violent hatred for Avery.  He lashed out at her until he finally passed out in a drunken stupor and after that, well things just seemed to get worse…”
“Oh Russ, that’s horrible,” Caitlin frowned seeing the sadness behind his eyes, “I don’t understand why Grady would do something like that…”
“His ex-wife Susan really worked a number over him,” Russell admitted thinking back to his brother’s painful relationship with the woman he’d once loved, “Grady gave his everything to her as he wanted nothing more than to believe that his marriage would be the one that beat the odds--that somehow he and Susan could have the ultimate dream come true and keep it together, but then after a while, well it started to fall apart.  She tore his heart to shreds and stomped on it in every which way you can think of as she did her best to break him completely.  He turned to alcohol as a way to numb the pain and by the time he found out about her affair, well he just lost it.  He went over the edge completely and there was nothing anyone could do to bring him back.  He was miserable and mean and bent on getting back at those who’d worked to destroy him.  He became so jaded and closed off after that and there was no reasoning with him…”
“So love burnt him and now he thinks that anyone else who has that chance at happiness that he once had is just fated to disaster?” Caitlin questioned arching a speculative brow.
“Yes and no,” Russell explained with a heavy sigh, “as I think my brother gave up on the whole notion of love a long time ago once Susan crushed him, but he wasn’t this adamant about having such a volatile reaction until Avery and I got back together again.  Granted Avery and I have a very involved history with one another and well, Grady knows that, but it shouldn’t make a difference in what Avery and I have together now.  The last time we tried to get married, we both made some mistakes, but we’ve grown and we’re trying to get our lives back on track again…”
“I know you are.  You both fought so hard to regain what you lost with one another and now you’re a family…” Caitlin nodded encouragingly taking in his words.
“But Grady isn’t getting that.  He’s closed his mind off to the possibility that Avery and I have really made it together.  He doesn’t want to see how happy we are or how much we love each other as he only wants to see the things in Avery that he overlooked in Susan.  I mean it’s like everything he couldn’t or wouldn’t say to Susan about what she did to him when she was cheating on him has become a thing for Grady to target Avery with.  He wasn’t this bad before, but once she and I started to get closer, well, it’s like he sees her doing the same things to me that Susan did to him.  He’s constantly calling her a slut and accusing her of sleeping with Brant telling me what a fool I am for not seeing that she’s going to leave me for an Ashford just like Susan did with him.  I mean he’s obviously still so caught up in what Susan and Ken did while he was married that he’s projecting upon my wife and…” he stopped himself taking in a breath as he saw a strange expression cross over his features at the mention of Ken, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this right now…”
“No please,” she reached for his arm refusing to allow him the opportunity to close the conversation after he’d been one of the first to really open the door on the past to her, “don’t censor yourself because of me as I want to know…”
“No you don’t,” he shook his head in response, “Caitlin, my brother’s past is his to deal with, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to have him destroying my future because of it.”
“His ex-wife…Susan…she really worked a number on him, didn’t she?  When she and Ken…well, when they did what they did, it really hurt him, didn‘t it?” Caitlin paused wondering if she really wanted to hear the answers to the questions that were now burning in her mind.
Russ hesitated before finally nodded.  “My brother loved Susan with everything he had in him and when he discovered that Susan and Ken were fooling around behind his back, it tore him to pieces.  He couldn’t deal with the betrayal and seeing Susan flaunting Ken in his face, well it really upset him and he’s never gotten over it.  She played so many head games with him and when everyone here found out about Susan and Ken, well it wasn’t pretty.  It was like yet another one of Brant’s scandals were rocking the town gossips, except this time it was Ken shaking up the system and Grady’s wife was the woman on the tabloids as Ken declared his position in Susan’s life refusing to put a stop to things even when Grady and Susan’s marriage was on the line.  It seemed that the harder Grady struggled to keep things together and save his marriage, the more obvious Susan and Ken became in their affair making a mockery of what little hope Grady was clinging on to…”
“I can’t believe this.  I mean I just never thought…” Caitlin found herself at a loss as she thought of the man she loved trying to see him in that kind of light when she’d always believed that Brant was the only Ashford to behave so carelessly where others were concerned.
“None of us did, but when it happened my brother hit rock bottom and it took him a long time to come out of it, but I really believed that he was doing that.  He’d found someone to love--someone who was twice the woman Susan ever was, and he seemed to be stepping towards picking up the pieces of his life, but then after yesterday, well I just don’t think that’s something he’s trying for anymore.  I think he’s resigned himself to that misery that he was in when Susan broke his heart and he’s hell bent on taking my wife down with him.”
“I don’t see why he’s going after Avery.  I mean sure I can understand that he’d want to spare you any of that pain, but for him to sabotage the happiness you’ve found, well it doesn’t sound like the Grady he’s always been with you,” Caitlin saw the sadness behind Russell’s eyes, “He’s always come off as being so supportive…”
“He was until Avery and I came together again.  Once this whole murder investigation came out with Bruce Mathis, it was like he was ready bury Avery with every twist and turn.  When he found out that she and I were married, he lashed out at her in such a way that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with us.  I know my wife tries to pretend this doesn’t bother her, but yesterday, well she tried to do something for Grady--to help him reunite with the woman he loves, but when it didn’t go the way we were all hoping for, he lost it.  Avery became his prime target once again and he tore into her until we’d both had enough and I threw him out of our home, but the damage had been done.  He’s just so stubborn and pigheaded that he keeps pushing his unresolved feelings about Susan and her affair with Ken into my marriage and making Avery his target all because of Brant’s interest in her.  I mean sure there are other things, but I think he sees in Avery all the things that he was unwilling to see about Susan and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make her pay for the way Susan hurt him…”
“But she’s not his wife.  She’s your wife and you can’t let what happened with Ken and Susan be the thing that puts your happiness in jeopardy,” Caitlin reminded him simply seeing so much conflict building behind his features, “You and Avery went through hell to be together and you have a baby on the way…”
“Which makes this all the more difficult on us,” he admitted unable to contain the emotion in his voice as he looked to her feeling a lump building in the back of his throat, “The last time we decided to get married…it went badly…really badly and at the time well, I thought that Avery just decided that she didn’t want to be with me.  We made it all the way to the church, but when it came down to it, I was left alone at the altar and there was a lot of confusion in the situation.  I didn’t find out until very recently what really happened that day as she left me not because she was afraid, but because she was pregnant and she had a miscarriage.  She lost our baby on our wedding day and Bruce Mathis convinced her that she’d never be able to get pregnant again, so rather than leading me to believe that we’d not be able to have that dream of a family with one another, she just pretended that she didn’t care about me anymore.  She was trying to spare my heart by giving me the chance to move on without her, but in my heart I knew that wasn’t possible.”
“Oh Russ,” Caitlin’s eyes misted over with tears as she could see his own eyes glistening with emotion.
“She went through hell and I never knew,” he continued poignantly, “but when I found out about her being pregnant, about our baby on the way and about the baby we lost, well I promised myself that I wouldn’t let anyone or anything get in the way of that dream for us.  I told myself that I wouldn’t let the past come back to haunt us, but it just keeps hitting us with every twist and turn.  First with her mother constantly trying to tear us apart, then with Bruce being alive and with Brant’s obvious interest in her despite her refusal of him and now with Grady…it’s a never ending cycle for us and I blew it last night.  I got carried away when Grady and I started arguing with one another and I told him about Avery’s miscarriage, about why she’d left the church that day and he was so drunk and bitter at the time that he’d said some really horrible things to her.  She’d asked me not to say anything, but wouldn’t you know it?  I couldn’t even do that for her…”
“Oh Russ, I think you’re being entirely too hard on yourself,” Caitlin repositioned herself on the bed reaching out to him as she could sense so many conflicting emotions building up inside of him, “I’m sure Avery knows that you didn’t mean to just blurt it out like that…”
“But I did and even if I didn’t mean to, she’s hurting and with everything Grady’s put upon her, well I think she’s starting to wonder if we’re better off not being together.  He’s got her convinced that this isn’t going to work and while we keep trying to make things right between us,” he choked up on emotion unable to contain the tears that pooled in his eyes, “Caitlin, I think I’m losing my wife and I don’t know how to stop that from happening.  After everything we’ve been through, I can’t bear the thought of being without her, but I just don’t know how much she can take or how long I can ask her to keep dealing with what Grady keeps throwing upon us because it’s not fair to her…”
“Or you,” she reached for his hand squeezing it supportively, “Russ, you have to think about that.  You and Avery have a baby on the way and the beginnings of a happily ever after with one another.  You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are with one another and you love each other.  That’s something that doesn’t happen everyday as most people go through their lives without ever having that kind of love that you and Avery have which is all the more reason you have to keep holding on.”
“I want to Caitlin.  I want to more than anything, but it just feels like with each new stressor upon us, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for us.  I mean sure I could deal with these little things that come up, but if you think about it, Avery and I have already had so much happening in such a short time and with Grady…”
“Do you want my honest opinion on your brother?” Caitlin questioned bluntly seeing the sadness that hung over him and as he remained silent she continued to speak her mind, “I realize that Grady’s been hurt, but he needs to learn to just grow up, shut up and stay out of your marriage as it’s yours and not his.  You can’t let him disrupt what you and Avery have with one another because it’s your future and not his.  If he wants to be a bonehead and screw up the best thing that’s happened to him just because Susan and Ken hurt him, then that’s his choice, but don’t let him be the thing that tears apart the most important thing in your life Russ.  I know how much you and Avery love one another and how much you need to take the time to focus on that right now.  You don’t need to be dealing with Grady’s nonsense and I really think that maybe you should consider that.”
“I have considered that Caitlin, but he’s my brother and…” Russell began.
“And he’s making a huge mistake in doing all of this, but don’t let his temper tantrums be the thing that is alienating you from your wife,” Caitlin encouraged him firmly, “Your brother clearly has some problems he needs to own up to and face head on, but they don’t include tearing away the happiness you’ve waited a lifetime for.  What you need to do is take a stand and tell him if he’s going to continue to torture Avery, then you don’t want any part of him in your life.  I  know it sounds cruel, but if my brother had given me even half of the grief that Grady’s given you about Avery, well then he’d have been in this hospital bed right next to me because I would’ve kicked his ass without a second thought plain and simple.”
Russell couldn’t help but smile at the thought, “Somehow I have a hard time envisioning that from you.”
“Well you shouldn’t because I wouldn’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of true love and you shouldn’t either,” Caitlin continued passionately, “If you and Avery are still at odds with one another over what happened with your brother, well then you need to fix it.  I mean hey, she forgave me for telling Brant about you two running off to be married and I know she doesn’t care about me nearly half as much as she does you, so this is the time for you to fix the situation before it gets even more out of hand.”
“I tried this morning, but I can feel her pulling away from me.  I wanted to let her know how I feel and that I’m not going to let Grady get in the way of what we have, but she’s just so emotional right now and…” Russell began again thinking to the tense morning with his wife before she headed off to work.
“And nothing.  You need to go find her wherever she is and fix what’s happening between the two of you.  Take drastic measures if necessary, but when it gets down to it, you do everything you can think of to show her that Grady’s actions haven’t put a wedge between you.  You tell her how you feel and explain things to her like you’re doing with me and let her know that she has your heart and that’s really what matters--that the precious little life you two have created together is far more important than this nonsense that Grady keeps pushing upon the both of you.  You keep reminding her of all the reasons why you two belong together and don’t you dare stop until she’s convinced that nothing can break you two apart.”
“That sounds an awful lot like an order coming from you,” Russell replied watching the determination building over her features.
“You’re damn right it is as I want to hear by tomorrow that you and your wife have made some progress with one another because I refuse to let two of my good friends let something so trivial tear apart the greatest love they’ve ever known.  You two have so much going for you and you’ve put a whole new spin on romance which is why I don’t want to see something like this come between you,” Caitlin continued eagerly before adding a slight smile, “and besides this is a little bit selfish on my part as the happier you are, the better things are for me at the paper.”
“I knew there was a catch,” Russell couldn’t help tease in response.
“The catch is that as your friend I want to be there with the full scoop when you two bring that beautiful baby into the world and I’ll expect that one day you’ll return the favor to me should I ever find myself in a position like this doubting the love in my life when it’s obviously the one thing I should keep holding on to,” Caitlin informed him honestly, “as you and I both know that even with what your brother is going through, it’s no reason to let your marriage fall apart.  His issues aren’t worth risking your happiness.”
“No they aren’t and you’re right,” he nodded in response, “I need to find a way to fix this--to make Avery see that regardless of what Grady has said and done that this won’t destroy us.  I need to make her believe and I think I might have an idea on how to do it.”
“See, now there’s the spirit,” she swatted at his shoulder, “Now get the hell out of here before I feel compelled to go hunt down your brother myself and kick the crap out of him for causing such a mess for one of my best friends.”
“Oh now that’s something I might pay to see as I’m sure Grady wouldn’t have a fighting chance against you,” he couldn’t help but laugh at her words.
“Given that I’ve been stuck in here this long without any real action, he might be truly doomed,” Caitlin reached out to embrace him, “now go and talk to Avery.”
“I will,” he promised squeezing her in his arms, “and for what it’s worth, thank you for listening.”
“Anytime Russ,” she smiled back at him, “I mean hey that’s what friends are for.”
“I think you’ve gone above and beyond the call of friendship in helping Avery and I find our way back to one another like you did,” he whispered giving her one last squeeze before taking a step away from her.
“Hey, I didn’t do anything, but open my big mouth and offer up my opinion when I felt strongly about something and in this particular situation, well some if it paid off,” she smiled back at him, “but now I’m telling you, go talk to your wife.”
“I will,” he promised.
“Now Russ,” she warned him sharply.
“I’m getting right on it,” he agreed making his way over to the door before giving her one last appreciatively look, “You’re one in a million Caitlin.”
“That’s right I am, so you keep that in mind when you think about who deserves the next raise around the office,” she teased throwing out one last wave as she watched him leave her hospital room and her thoughts lingered to what he’d said about Grady’s history with Ken and as she thought of all the trouble Grady had caused for Russ and his wife, she wondered just what else would come of the past that Ken had with Susan as it sounded like there was far more going on than anyone wanted to tell her about the woman who’d somehow shaken up so many lives not so long ago.


Avery sat at her desk eyeing the framed photo she’d placed upon it from her magical wedding day with Russell at the castle.  Somehow that night had been filled with such hope and freedom from all the troubles that Coral Valley seemed to compile upon them and now as she thought about the recent turn of events in their life together, she wondered if they’d ever get back to that carefree, joyous feeling that had surrounded them during that brief period they’d shared away from the world.
“Oh Russ,” Avery whispered his name reaching out to trace his features with her index finger as she kept her eyes upon the image before her unable to contain the sadness that hovered over her.  Dropping her hand down to her abdomen protectively, she fought the tears that threatened as she spoke to her unborn child, “your daddy and I have a lot going on right now, but we both love you so very much and I don’t want you to forget that.  Uncle Grady has just been making things a bit difficult lately, but that doesn’t change how much I love your daddy as he’s the greatest man I’ve ever known and we’re both very lucky to have him in our lives.  I just hope he remembers that after all Uncle Grady’s done to make him think bad of mommy.  I know that your daddy loves me, but sometimes I’m just afraid of what loving me is doing for him.  I want him to be so happy, but sometimes I wonder if I’m only making him so sad…” she trailed off feeling her tears threatening as there was a knock at her door.
Sitting up straighter in her chair, Avery wiped at her face, trying to keep it together.  She cleared her throat preparing herself for company as she tried to make herself look busy before speaking out to the person on the other side of the door, “Come in.”
“Got a minute,” Brant questioned popping his head in through the opening in the door as Avery tried to maintain an air of professionalism as uneasiness settled in over her.
“Well, I’m actually in the middle of something here,” she shuffled with the papers that were spread across her desktop in a less than organized fashion as he entered the room.
“This won’t take too long,” he promised adjusting his tie as he watched her closely, sensing her awkwardness in the moment between them.
“Look if this is about my being late over the last week or so, well I just want you to know that I’m working on being here on time as it‘s been a really long, and hectic time here for my family…” Avery started.
“I know,” he nodded watching her closely, “as that’s kind of why I came in here.  I was wondering if you’d heard anything more on Brooke.”
“Brooke,” she repeated looking almost surprised at the mention of her mother as it seemed she was half expecting something else to be the topic of conversation between them.  Shifting on her chair nervously, she reached for a pen from the far end of her desk before clearing her throat again, “um, no actually I haven’t heard any updates lately--I mean at least nothing other than what the news has been running with unfortunately as the press seems to be more informed than the family does these days.”
“That’s too bad,” Brant frowned upon her words, “as I was hoping that they would’ve found her by now and brought her back to Coral Valley safely.”
“Yeah you and me both,” she admitted under her breath thinking to how her mother’s kidnapping had just been another thing to worry about on top of all else.
“So do you think that Bruce is really behind what’s happened,” Brant questioned with genuine concern behind his eyes.
“That’s what Guy was saying, but I just don’t know.  I mean with Bruce, I’m finding that nothing about him was like it seemed to be,” she answered openly thinking about what she’d learned about the man she’d spent a great deal of the last few years of her life with, “It’s like I never knew him at all and now, well now it’s this nightmare that just won’t go away.”
“I feel partly responsible for that as I shouldn’t have let him leave your apartment that day he hurt you,” he explained with obvious sincerity in his tone.
“This isn’t your fault Brant.  Bruce fooled everyone and if you hadn’t reacted the way that you did, well then I wouldn’t be here right now sharing this moment with your even having this miracle in my life with my baby,” Avery kept her hand down over her abdomen, “as you saved us both that day you know.”
“I’m glad I could help,” Brant nodded offering up a tender smile before stepping in towards her, “and that’s kind of why I’m here today.  I know that things haven’t been exactly easy between us and I wanted to speak with you about that…”
“Look Brant, if we’re going to start this up again I just…” she began on the defense watching as he shook his head at her.
“Avery, I’m sorry,” Brant blurted out cutting her off before she could continue.
“What?” she gave him a strange look as if she was unable to believe what she was hearing.
“I said I’m sorry for everything,” he took a seat on the edge of her desk, his dark eyes penetrating hers as his words continued, “I was completely out of line with my behavior before and I want to apologize for any grief that I might have given you or even Russell over the last few months.”
“Brant, I don’t know what to say…” Avery started at a complete loss.
“Don’t say anything as I’m the one who should really be begging for your forgiveness,” he continued getting up from where he was seated on her desk and circling around towards her, “I’ve been carrying myself around like a complete ass making life difficult for you and I had no right to push myself upon you like I was doing.  It was completely out of line and I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me for my foolish behavior.”
“Brant,” Avery started with wide eyes watching as his face was covered in a mask of genuineness that surprised her.  She found herself at a loss as she looked up to him thinking about what it must be taking for him to make such a huge step with her towards letting her out of the hot seat she’d been in for quite some time.  Finally her words came to her, “You don’t have to apologize…”
“Yes, yes I do,” he knelt down before her, “I had no right to send you those flowers like I did or push myself upon you like I’ve been doing because I know that you’re married and that you have a family now to think about and I’m the last thing you need in your life.  I should’ve just accepted the fact that you were happy, but like an idiot, I had to keep pushing and it only managed to create this tension between us and I hate that.  I hate that our relationship is so strained that we can’t even seem to be in the room with one another without things feeling so unnerving that it seems like you can’t even stand being close to me.  Avery, I meant what I said a long time ago about your being one of the best things that has ever happened here at BBK and I’m not about to jeopardize losing you just because of my overactive libido and my obviously over inflated ego.  You should’ve knocked me on my butt long ago for my behavior and I feel foolish for some of the things that I’ve done and I’d like to take this opportunity to try to repair some of the damage that’s been done between us.”
“Brant, that’s not necessary as this isn’t your fault.  It’s my fault because I wasn’t honest with you when you deserved so much more than what I was giving you.  I should’ve told you about Russ and I, but I was a coward and…” she started as he lifted his index finger to her lips to silence her.
“No apologies are necessary Avery as clearly your heart was leading you to someone who made you happy and while I wish that someone was me, well I know now that it just wasn’t meant to be,” he offered up a sad smile as something tugged at her heart with the expression that spread over his features, “but I want you to know that I’m just glad that you’ve found someone who makes you happy as that’s all I’ve ever really wanted for you.  You deserve nothing less than the best and if Russell gives you that, then that is all I need to know.”
“Brant, I just feel horrible about the way things happened between us…” she began feeling as if she should say something to ease the situation between them.
“Avery, I was the one who kept pushing the issue after you kept trying to tell me that it wasn’t ever going to happen.  I mean sure I didn’t realize it was because someone already had your heart, but I should’ve listened to you as you’ve always been leading me in the right direction.  You’ve never been anything, but upfront with me about things between us whether they have been business related or personal and it’s part of what I admire about you.  Having you here at BBK is truly something that I’d hate to do without and I should hope that my advances as unwelcome as they might have been haven’t persuaded you to think about leaving me…leaving us here at the company, but I’ll completely understand if you feel I’ve crossed too many lines here…” Brant offered up searching her eyes.
“No, that’s not it at all as I love working here with you,” Avery confessed honestly, “as we’ve done some amazing things with this company and I’m very proud of that--just like I’m proud of all you’ve accomplished in the short time you’ve taken the reigns here.”
“I wouldn’t have come nearly as far as I had without you and I hope that is something I won’t have to worry about in the future because of this situation that’s taken place between us,” he threw out a half smile, “as I’d really hate losing you.”
“I told you a long time ago you weren’t going to lose me and I meant that,” Avery answered swiftly feeling a weight being lifted off of her shoulders as she and Brant began to talk things through, “although I’m sure this wasn’t exactly what you had in mind.”
“Hey, I told you before things got crazy that while I’d love to have you as a lover, what you do for me and my company is my top priority and regardless of our personal situation, that is always first and foremost when it comes to BBK matters,” Brant pointed out as his grin expanded a bit, “that hasn’t changed for me.”
“Good because I really do love what I do here,” Avery let out a breath of relief, “and with us talking about things, well…maybe we can find a way to work on making things a little less tense between us.”
“That’s what I was hoping for,” Brant nodded in confession rising up from her side to make his way over to the door where he‘d left something on the floor upon his arrival, “starting with a little peace offering that I have for you.”
“Brant, you shouldn’t have done that,” she began seeing the package he now carried as it was wrapped in silver paper with a bright, red shiny bow.
“Yes, I should’ve as I wanted to,” he handed the box over to her sensing her reluctance, “Avery, trust me on this one.  It’s nothing that you have to worry about as it’s not even really for you.”
“No?” she gave him a strange look, “I don’t understand then…”
“It’s for the baby,” he continued to explain, “I picked it up the other day and hoped that you and Russell wouldn’t mind if I got a gift since I kind of felt like I should do something for the little one since I was there when we found out that you were going to be a mommy.”
“Brant I…” Avery felt her throat grow dry as she realized that today he was just full of surprises that she was entirely unprepared for as he moved in closer to her.
“Open it,” he urged her on watching her for a long moment awaiting her response to his gesture.
“Alright,” she finally agreed working to tear the ribbon from the packaging.  Within a matter of moments, she opened the box finding her eyes upon the small, yellow, teddy bear sleeper before her complete with a matching stuffed, cuddly teddy bear.
“Since I wasn’t sure if you were having a little girl or a little boy, I thought yellow was a nice neutral color, but if you don’t think it’ll work…” he started leaning in over her chair as Avery couldn’t help, but smile touched by the gesture.
“Brant, I love it,” Avery admitted unable to contain the feeling that had built up inside of her at what he’d done in giving her such a gift.  “It’s beautiful.”
“I was hoping you’d find some use for it since I could just see a little one as beautiful as you are in that,” Brant continued appreciatively as he watched her finger the soft fabric, “I know it’s not much but…”
“Brant, it’s perfect and this…” Avery trailed off turning her eyes up towards him once again, “well, I don’t know what to say…”
“Just promise me that when this little one comes into the world that you’ll be happy and safe and that you won‘t keep the baby away from the office as you know I want to meet this little spunky one that makes you so happy,” Brant suggested watching as she carefully unfolded the sleeper for further inspection before placing it over her abdomen as if she was pondering what the baby would look like wearing it.
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Avery agreed with a nod as Brant couldn’t help but take note of the tiny growth that had taken place in her midsection.  While it wasn’t enough for anyone to really suspect what was happening there inside of her, he’d noted the way in which she seemed to glow with the moment, of how the small changes in her had made so many differences and in that moment he couldn’t help but think about how very beautiful she appeared to be in her carefree moment of joy shared with him.  Turning her eyes up towards him, Brant saw an expression cross over her features which made him wonder if she could read what was going on in his mind, but instead she spoke up to him once again, her grin widening with the moment, “So how does it look?”
“Sensational,” he couldn’t help but laugh seeing the way the sleeper was draped over her abdomen as she fingered the little feet of it.
“They’re so small,” Avery mused lost in the moment as she turned her eyes to his once again.
“But so very precious,” Brant knelt down beside her reaching out to touch the fabric gently bringing his fingers over hers for the briefest of moments as he spoke under his breath, “Just like you are…”
“Brant,” she gave him a sideways look turning her head in towards his as he was suddenly aware of the nearness of her.  Her lips were so very close to his, well within kissing distance should he lean forward to capture their savory sweetness in a slow, lingering moment of tenderness, but instead he kept his distance thinking of the promise he’d made to himself as he felt her finger tips graze his skin once again, “I love it.”
“I’m so glad to hear that Avery,” he whispered again, a bit louder than before as his pulse quickened and he could feel the scent of her perfume doing a number on his senses.  He tried to will himself away from her, but found himself frozen in the moment as she looked away from him, pulling the sleeper away from her body.  She carefully tucked the sleeper into the box once again before eyeing him with a newfound sense of ease that wasn’t there when he’d first entered her office ready to speak with her.
“Thank you Brant,” Avery smiled back at him genuinely wanting to convey the message of how she’d appreciated all he’d done for her over the last few months.
“It was my pleasure,” he murmured leaning forward to place a tender kiss upon her cheek before breaking the contact between them as he rose to his feet once again, “as I want you to know that you’ll always be a part of the family here at BBK and I hope that won’t be changing for us anytime soon with you leaving us behind.”
“I don’t plan on doing anything like that,” Avery promised watching as he walked towards her door ready to exit, “and Brant…”
“Yes?” he turned back to face her once again eager to see her face for one last moment before he left to get back to the work that was waiting for him in his office.
“For what it’s worth, apology accepted as I’d really like to work on us turning a new leaf with one another,” Avery offered up hopefully.
“I’d like that,” he smiled back at her encouragingly, “and I hope that we can find it to get back to being friends again in the near future as I miss that between us more than anything.”
“So do I,” Avery admitted thinking about how their relationship had been before everything that had taken place between them.
“So then perhaps there’s some hope for us after all,” Brant threw back at her with a soft smile before offering up one last wave as he left her office with that cryptic last remark.
“I’d like to think so,” Avery whispered under her breath wondering if it was possible for her and Brant to try to gain some of the ground that they lost with one another over the last few months.  Somehow while she hadn’t been expecting him to come in with that kind of apology in hand, she was glad he did as it seemed that at least one thing in her life was suddenly working for her instead of against her and as she turned her attention to the sleeper that Brant had given her for the baby, she couldn’t help but wonder if maybe things would have a way of working themselves out after all.

Dorothy sat behind her desk at Denton Legal Services trying to focus on doing some filing that had been neglected. Sorting through the mess of paperwork before her was much easier than focusing on the mess her family had become. Trying to get through to Jenna was like drilling through a brick wall with a toothpick…and matters were only made worse by Jenna’s dalliance with a man like Hart Steiner.

It was really times like this when she wished Jenna didn’t take so much after her. She had been reckless and carefree in her youth, and it had landed her in a world of heartache. In watching Jenna, it was like watching history repeat itself. She only hoped that Jenna wouldn’t have to repeat her every mistake.

Dorothy frowned as the thought crossed her mind. Not everything that happened over her lifetime had been a mistake. Granted she hadn’t planned to get pregnant with Jenna, but she loved her little girl and had treasured every moment with her. It was just the difficulties that had littered the road to raising Jenna that could qualify as the downside to having a child. She was just lucky to meet a man like Preston who showed her that she didn’t have to do it all alone.

Preston had been a godsend. He had come into her life full of support and love, and he’d never once tried to dominate her or make her feel like a possession. In fact, he’d gone out of his way to make her feel free. While most men probably wouldn’t have understood Dorothy’s fear of marriage, Preston understood and supported her by never pressuring her about marriage. Sure he’d asked a few times, but he’d never made her feel like it was an all or nothing arrangement.

Still, Dorothy knew that Preston wanted more of their relationship, and she could understand his need for a solid commitment. They had been together for quite a while, and they did have a son together. Granted, Wayne was an adult, but it did show that she and Preston loved one another. Besides, she did kind of owe him something in return for all the love and support he’d given her over the years. And marriage to Preston probably wouldn’t be a bad thing. After all, they’d lived together for years when Preston wasn’t away on assignment, and she’d always been thrilled to see him coming home. Maybe marriage wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all…

Dorothy frowned as she placed the files onto the desk before her and took a deep breath. How had she gone from thinking about Jenna to considering marriage? Maybe she was losing her mind because nothing seemed to make sense anymore. One thought seemed to bounce her to another and then another. Maybe all the chaos she’d created was finally settling in to haunt her.

She stood and walked down the hallway to the break room. Maybe what she really needed was a good strong cup of coffee to lift the morning fog. Surely she wasn’t going to stay in this kind of mood all day. The last thing she wanted to do was focus too much on all the elements of her life and how they each served to either decimate or implode another.

Dorothy took her mug from the cabinet and began to pour coffee when she heard a man clearing his voice. She glanced out the door and frowned, “Doug, what are you doing here?”

“And a cheery good morning to you too,” Douglas said with a half smile as he stood beside her desk, “I take it Monday morning isn’t greeting you with a smile.”

“Don’t get me started,” She replied as she placed the coffee carafe back in the maker and took her mug back towards her desk, “Why are you here?”

“I came by to see you. I tried calling Jenna yesterday, but there was no answer. I was wondering if perhaps you’d seen her,” He replied as he sat down in a nearby chair.

“Actually I did,” She frowned as she sat at her desk and sighed, “She was with Hart Steiner. There’s no telling what kind of trouble he’s gotten her into now.”

“You don’t approve of their relationship at all, do you?” He frowned as he leaned upon the arm of the chair, “I’ve heard about their past together, and it’s rather colorful.”

“Colorful? Is that what you call it? The man almost destroyed her career, Doug.”

“And now he’s helping to rectify that,” He pointed out, “Don’t get me wrong. He wouldn’t be my top choice for her either, but Jenna is an adult and can make up her own mind.”

“Don’t start giving me the hands off lecture. From what I gather reading the tabloids, you’ve never been very hands off in Kipp’s life, now have you?” Dorothy asked as she sipped her coffee.

“It’s an entirely different situation all together,” He shrugged off her accusation, “Kipp’s never been very smart when it came to relationships.”

“It must be genetic,” She shook her head, “Look, I really don’t want to get into a fight with you, Doug. This is where I work, and I don’t want to bring all my personal baggage here. I owe my boss more than that.”

“Really? Who is this…Grady Denton?” Doug asked as he read the name plate on Grady’s door.

“That would be me,” Grady spoke from the hallway where he’d just entered. He wore a rumpled blue dress shirt and a pair of blue jeans that had seen better days. He had his coat slung over his shoulder while carrying his briefcase in hand, “Can I help you?”

Douglas eyed him for a moment before Dorothy interjected.

“He’s just here to see me. It’s not professional,” Dorothy spoke as she looked Grady over and extended a stack of messages towards him, “It’s going to be a lazy Monday, huh?”

“That’s the plan,” Grady nodded as he took the messages from her, “Is Jade in yet?”

“No, she called in a while ago to say she’d be a little late,” She watched Grady’s frown deepen, “Something I should know about?”

“You’ll probably get an earful from Jade. I’ll be in my office,” Grady nodded towards the door as he stepped inside and closed it behind him.

Douglas frowned, “This is your boss…the man you supposedly owe?”

“I don’t owe him like that. He’s a good man, and he’s been a great employer,” Dorothy explained.

“Dottie, you deserve better than this,” He complained as he stood from his chair, “You shouldn’t be working for some ambulance chasing attorney.”

“Grady isn’t that kind of attorney,” She replied simply.

“Even so, this isn’t the life you were meant for. You were meant to live the good life. Why isn’t your boyfriend doing more to provide that for you?”

“Preston knows that I enjoy my freedom, and I like to make decisions for myself. He wouldn’t take that from me.”

“Then he’s a fool for allowing you to lower yourself to being…well, a common clerk,” Douglas spoke in dismay.

Dorothy shook her head as she leaned onto her desk, “You’ve become what you said you always hated.”

“What?” He asked in offense, “What are you talking about?”

“You’ve become an elitist snob, Doug…just like your mother,” She informed him, “I’m surprised you’d lower yourself to even speak with me much less to Jenna.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say, Dottie,” He seethed in his defense.

“The truth hurts, doesn’t it Doug?” She asked as the phone began to ring, “Now if you’ll excuse me, this common clerk has work to do,” Dorothy said simply before she answered the phone with a professional tone in her voice.

Douglas turned and left the office. The last thing he’d intended was to get into a fight with Dorothy. Quite the opposite really as he had truly intended to ask her to lunch for a chance to really speak with her at length about the matters which drove them apart. Somehow, that thought had disappeared as a fight had ensued. He was beginning to wonder if he would ever be able to speak to Dorothy about their past and if he would ever get the chance to propose the opportunity for the future.


Seth checked the time wondering if he should attempt to give Diane a call as it wasn’t like Jade not to come home after this much time had passed especially when she was feeling low. However, as Seth looked around the empty apartment, he began to wonder if his sister had finally found herself on the receiving end of a new kind of misery that she couldn’t pull herself out of.  While he’d seen Jade hit rock bottom once before, in thinking about how she’d felt for Grady, he couldn’t help but feel angry and upset that things had turned out so sourly between them.  While Jade had made Seth swear not to lash out at Grady for what had taken place between them…even if Seth had no idea what it was other than Grady had broken his sister’s heart, Seth was beginning to have second thoughts as it wasn’t like Jade to just keep him out of the loop like this.  He knew she was hurting and right now all he wanted to do was find his sister and speak with her--to try to find a way to fix whatever was happening in her life that was hurting her if he could. He hated to see her so upset.
“That’s it,” Seth decided reaching for the phone as he began to dial Diane’s apartment only to find himself met by the sounds of frantic pounding on his apartment door.  Looking in the direction of the sound, he wondered if perhaps Jade had finally decided to check in with him, but as he opened the door to find Blake standing before him, tears overcoming her beautiful features. She spoke up in an incomprehensible whimper before throwing herself into his arms.
“Blake, hey, what’s going on,” Seth questioned in confusion feeling her hot, wet tears soaking through his shirt.
“I’m such a fool…” Blake continued to sob holding him tighter as she poured her heart out to him with muffled cries into his chest.

“Honey, what’s happened,” Seth inquired shifting her in his arms so that he could see the sadness behind her eyes. Cupping her face in his hands, he saw the obvious hurt that had clouded her otherwise bright, blue eyes. Her tears continued he could see she was clearly upset far beyond anything he’d seen recently with her. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything,” Blake blurted out in agony, “How could I be so foolish that I didn’t see the truth when it was right in front of me? I wanted so desperately to believe that I was doing the right thing, but all I’ve managed to do is screw things up even more than they already are. I ran with everything I have fighting my heart and then my heart lead me in the wrong direction and I lost your faith in me and with Zack…”

“Whoa, wait a second,” Seth’s voice grew tight with a hint of agitation at the mention of Zack’s name, “Blake, did Zack do something to you?”

“Not exactly,” Blake continued to whimper, “Seth, I’m just so stupid as I saw him this morning…”

“And?” Seth tried to read her reactions wondering what was going on inside of her as she seemed to be falling to pieces in the middle of his apartment. Curling his arm around her, he quickly closed the door behind her guiding her over to his sofa. He urged her to sit down. Reaching out to her, he gently pushed her loose strands of blonde hair that hung out of her ponytail in a tangled fashion behind her ears, watching as her lower lip trembled with obvious emotion, “Blake what happened when you saw Zack?”

“I realized what a fool I was to believe that I meant anything to him. I thought that he was someone special and when he and I were together…oh Seth, he never cared about me. I was just fooling myself to believe that I could’ve found something special with someone else in my life. He had me believing that everything was right…that when I was with him…” she stopped herself, “All I’ve done is hurt everyone by being so impulsive and…”

“Blake, you’re not making any sense,” Seth admitted wondering how it was that Zack had upset her so much, but more so he felt an ache in his heart as he realized that somehow her tears only proved that Zack had meant something special to her to begin with.

“I made love with him thinking that it was something that we were both meant for--that he was someone I could share that special moment with, but Seth, he wasn’t at all what I thought he was. I mean this morning he tried to speak with me, but then this horrible, horrible woman came in and Seth, she’s pregnant,” Blake heaved feeling her sobs grow by the moment, “She’s this awful reporter and she’s having his baby. He‘s going to be a father and…”

“Zack’s going to be a father,” Seth repeated as he suddenly realized what Blake was saying to him.

“How could I have not seen it coming? I mean Caitlin tried to warn me that he was a player, but Zack and I had this kind of bond with one another and I really believed that he and I had something special that made what we shared with one another so very right. When you and I broke up, well I wanted to feel something--anything more than the hurt I was feeling and Zack gave me that, but all it ended up doing was making things worse as I jumped the gun and gave myself to a man who clearly wasn’t in love with me--to someone who had someone else on his mind…” Blake continued to cry, “They’re probably laughing at me right now for being a stupid little girl in believing that I could trust someone like Zack with something so special and now that it’s said and done, neither one of us can look at me the same way. I‘m sure you hate me for what I‘ve done to destroy the way you view me…”

“Whoa, now wait a second there,” Seth frowned seeing how she was beating herself up over what had happened with Zack, “Blake, I don’t know what you’re trying to say here, but I think we need to clear one thing up right this instant. Regardless of what’s happened with you and Zack, it hasn’t changed the way that I view you as you’ve always been the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world and that’s how I’ll always see you. I know that you were hurting when you were with Zack and in a strange way this is my fault because I drove you away from me. I pushed you so far from my heart with my callous behavior that you needed someone to lean on and that happened to be Zack. You can’t help what happened in your heart…” he continued as his thumb skimmed over her tears wiping them away from her face.

“H--how can you say something like that,” she questioned in confusion, “How can you be so understanding about my being with Zack when we both know how much that hurts you?”

“The worst pain imaginable is my being without you Blake and while I hate to see you hurting, the truth to the matter is that I wouldn’t want you anywhere else than with me right now as in being close to you like this,” he leaned in closer to her holding her angelic face in his hands as his breath skimmed over her sad, pouting lips, “it’s everything to me.”

“Seth,” she replied feeling his lips upon hers, brushing against her mouth tenderly. He held her in position guiding the kiss along as the saltiness of her tears tasted upon her lips with his mouth lavishing hers.

While she’d been so upset about what she’d seen with Zack and Johanna, she wasn’t sure what she should’ve done as her first notion would’ve been to go to Caitlin to ask her advice, but given the nature of the situation, she realized that was a bad idea and after that somehow she’d wound up on Seth’s doorstep. Now as he held her, kissing her troubles away, she curled her arms around him wondering if maybe a hidden part of her was longing for this--was begging for him to rescue her from the nightmare she’d walked out of as that horrible, wicked woman was sharing a part of Zack’s life with him that Blake had truly believed he’d reserved for someone more deserving like her. While Zack hadn’t promised her forever, he’d shared something special with her, something that she hadn’t ever given to anyone else. Now as she thought of him being with another woman--sharing that special part of himself with someone so horrible, her heart was torn in two at the idea that she’d been just another conquest to him. She’d really thought they’d had something beautiful together when they made love and he‘d spoken those sweet words to her, but now, well now she wasn’t sure of anything except the fact that Seth was here with her, holding her with his strength and passion making the silent promise not to let her fall away into misery as their kiss continued.

“Seth,” she breathed his name feeling herself lost in his kiss. She willed away her thoughts of Zack long enough to feel his forehead press against hers as his breathing grew ragged, coming out in a shallow pant as he held her. She was suddenly aware of his secure hold around her, of the way his hands imprinted over her body, melting her soft curves to his heavenly touch and in that moment, she felt a strange stir of sensations that were altogether absent of the sorrow she’d been drowning in when she’d arrived on his doorstep.

“Please don’t cry Blake,” he urged her on hating her tears of agony. His lips skimmed over her cheek kissing her sadness away as he squeezed his arm around her slender waist, “You’re an amazing woman and any man would be lucky to have you like this…to be here in this moment with you sharing it as there isn’t anything more precious than what we’re feeling right now…”

“Seth,” she reached out to him, curling her finger under his chin. His dark eyes reached down deep into her, as if they were a window into her soul as he held her. A silence passed between them, but not an uncomfortable kind of quiet that made things awkward between them as they’d shared in the past. Somehow they’d reached some kind of understanding with one another. His thick fingers reached up into her ponytail tie, tugging it gently out of her hair and she felt her blonde tresses fall down over her shoulders. In that moment she could see something flash behind his intense brown eyes.

“You’re so beautiful Blake,” he whispered tenderly, bringing his fingers through her golden tresses. He guided her lips to his in another warm display of passion, melding their mouths in another tender union, drawing out something buried deep from within as Blake slid in closer to him, seeking out his full attention before he finally pulled her into his lap lavishing her with kiss after heated kiss.

“Hold me Seth,” Blake purred against his mouth, wanting and needing him with the fiercest of emotions. She curled her arms around his shoulders hugging his body to hers in an attempt to forge a new kind of bond between them.

“Blake, I…” Seth started seeing so many things burning behind her enchanting blue eyes. He lost his ability to speak opting to claim her lips once again as their kisses continued. Saying nothing, his hands eased over her spine, just touching her. He strained to hold back on the desire that had been begging to be unleashed for so very long inside of him. Just the feel of her beneath his touch was enough to nearly do him in as it seemed that all of his dreams, all of his thoughts were focused entirely on the beautiful woman before him, making this moment between them all the more intense as their eyes connected once again.

“Please Seth…” Blake pleaded with him capturing his lips in yet another tantalizing kiss. Her fingers eased out over the broad expanse of his shoulders, sliding down over the center of his chest before settling in over the buttons on his shirt. One by one she pulled open the buttons, longing to feel the warmth of his skin beneath her touch. Her breath grew uneven, her heart pounding furiously in her chest. She could see her desire reflected in the chocolate depths of his eyes before her. Tentatively, she brushed her finger tips over his bronzed body, taking in the sensation that his skin ignited in her. She felt his hands up over her spine, curling under the sweatshirt she’d been wearing during her earlier jog around town.

Now as a breath caught in the back of her throat, she felt his touch grow in intensity, the hunger spilling out from beneath the surface. He tugged her sweatshirt up over her body without an afterthought revealing the beginnings of the intensity that she’d been aware of long ago in their relationship. While he’d done his hardest to convey the message that he was nothing short of a gentleman with her, the primal force behind that one movement made Blake immediately aware that Seth was all man beneath her--burning and yearning to have her in the ways she’d longed to share herself with him. Hungrily he claimed her mouth once again, this time with a ferocity that sent shivers racing up and down her spine. The butterflies in her stomach were replaced with an unspeakable desire building in her core. She shifted over him, curling her thighs around his as she knelt over him, discarding his shirt and dropping her hair down over his bare shoulder as a soft groan fell from his lips. She wiggled over his lap, steadying herself before dropping down over his body, feeling his desire for her growing by the moment. Her hips pressed in over him, sliding over his hardened body. Seth dropped one hand down to her hip stilling her movements as a groan overtook him.

“Not so fast,” he whispered tightly closing his eyes as if he was trying to will away whatever feeling was crying to break loose inside of him. Silently he seemed to regain the control that had momentarily been slipping from him. His eyes reopened and he looked to her, sliding his fingers through her blonde hair before guiding her mouth to his once again. She could feel his tongue tangling with hers, drawing forth sensation after sensation between them. His hand fanned out over her pert bottom squeezing her in against him momentarily and a whimper built up in the back of her throat. She found herself unable to contain the sheer jolt of lust that movement had elicited from within now that her body had found itself lost in the thought of pleasure.

“Seth, please…” Blake whimpered again unable to control the desire that was threatening to tear her apart inside as she rocked over him, “Don’t stop this from happening between us as we both know that it’s what we want…what we…”

“Shhh…” he instructed nibbling on her lower lip repositioning himself beneath her on the sofa. His arm curled around her and e felt her shiver in the moment. His finger tips traveled over the side of her body, tracing her curves tentatively before he guided her arms around his shoulders once again so that he could hold her more completely. He rose from the sofa, carrying her across his living room towards his bedroom now that it seemed that nothing could keep the magnetic forces drawing them to one another from exploding between them. Blake held onto him fearing if she let go, she’d fall far from this moment, from his love that surrounded her and enveloped her up in a world that seemed to exist beyond what was there outside the walls of his apartment as this moment--this feeling seemed to be meant for the both of them.

Gently Seth eased her down onto his bed taking a step to memorize her beauty as his breath caught in his throat, the fire behind his gaze burning her to the core. He stood beside her, frozen in time and space as she lay before him, her pulse racing, her breath coming out in tiny gasps. She shifted before him finding her thoughts lingering to those romance novels she‘d sworn off after her first experience with sex. Now she’d felt her heart hammering in her chest with the notion of what Seth’s mind undoubtedly was guiding him towards.

Watching Blake Seth realized t was clear that she was the picture perfect vision of beauty and temptation in that moment. With her before him ready to offer herself to him, Seth found himself feeling unworthy of such a gift as it seemed that he’d found a piece of heaven in being here with Blake on this otherwise ordinary afternoon at home. However, as his heart pounded with love for her, he knew that there was nothing ordinary about this woman before him. She was the very essence of extraordinary--the shining example of all his dreams come to life. He leaned in over her catching her lower lip with a gentle sweep of his lips while he tried to remind himself of all the reasons why he wasn’t worthy of having a woman like Blake in his life, but as his heart longed to be close to her--to have her with him in the ways he’d denied himself for so very long, he found himself wanting nothing more than to settle into the feeling that this moment in time had created for them.

“Seth,” she whispered his name, curling her arm around his neck as she urged him onto the bed with her, her mouth beckoning his to sweet surrender. His hands eased over her curves, feeling her readiness and responsiveness to him as she writhed beneath him guiding his touch to the drawstring on her jogging pants as their eyes reconnected once again.

Seth took in a breath, wondering if it would be his last as this moment of sheer perfection carried over them and he found himself mesmerized by Blake and all her beauty as he’d never felt more alive than he did in being here beside her.

Tentatively, Seth’s lips skimmed over her collar bone, dropping down over her soft, creamy skin as he tasted her, taking his time to appreciate every beautiful inch of the woman he loved. His mouth brushed over her breastbone, easing down over her soft curves, tracing over her flat abdomen until his thumb and index finger held the drawstring of her jogging pants readily. He gradually raised the powder blue string up into the air, watching as the knot fell free releasing the material’s snug hold over her hips as it seemed that with that simple movement he’d found himself one step closer to making all of his dreams of forever with Blake a reality. Leisurely he traced his finger over her the top of her pants watching as her she sucked her stomach in further, unable to keep from reacting to him as goose bumps formed over her heated flesh. Dropping his lips down to capture another taste of her as his mouth teased in over her naval, he dipped his thumbs in beneath the fabric of her jogging pants sliding them down over her body. She raised her hips to assist him, purring slightly as he eased the clothing from her shapely legs. Finally as Seth discarded her pants, dropping them down to the floor, he knelt on the edge of the bed spellbound by the image before him. He couldn’t blink, couldn’t breathe without wondering if this moment would fade--if this was all another fantasy in his head as Blake lay before him nearly naked and vulnerable longing for him to hold her.

“Seth,” she spoke his name bringing him back from the place he’d drifted off to. She sat upright outstretching her arms to him, urging him to come to her once again as he crawled over the bed, capturing her lips with a newfound hunger. She fell back onto his pillows, lost in a mountain of comfort as the blanket beneath her shifted with their movements.

Tentatively, he brushed his fingers over her soft skin, longing to memorize her every response to him. Her fingers curled over his shoulders, squeezing him encouragingly. His lips dropped down over her neck, his hand cupping her breast in a gentle caress. His other hand glided over her hip, tracing it’s shape as her leg curled around his body, urging him in towards her. She rocked up against him and Seth felt a jolt of pleasure racing over him. His body grew constricted, tighter by the second at the thought of what he and Blake were about to embark upon with one another.

“I don’t want to push you into something that…” Seth started as Blake lifted her finger to his lips silencing him before he could spoil the moment between them.

“I want this Seth. I want you,” she promised as her words fell in a whisper from her passion swelled lips while his fingers deftly moved to the front clasp of her simple, white bra opening it with one quick movement as his dark eyes fixed upon hers once again.

“I just don’t want to hurt you, Blake,” he confessed nibbling on her lip as his heart filled with a mixture of emotions, “I don’t want you to think that there’s anything behind what’s happening between us other than the love I feel for you…”

“I know you love me Seth,” Blake nodded in complete understanding, “and I love you too. I may have fought like hell to keep from feeling it, but the truth to the matter is that I’ve loved you from the moment you stepped into my life during that earthquake. You saved me that day in more ways than you can even begin to imagine,” she offered up in a faint whisper feeling his fingers sliding the material of her bra off of her curves, freeing her aching flesh up to his unrestrained touch. He held her, his touch drawing out an altogether new sense of desire from within as her lips curled in a slow, cry of ecstasy.

His mouth beckoned hers once again, drinking up her cries as he continued to entice her, drawing a distinct pattern over her aching peak before his lips dropped down over her, tasting her with unrestrained eagerness and delight. Her head dropped back into his pillows, sinking into their softness as another cry erupted from within. Closing her eyes, she lost herself to the feel of his lips, of his tongue whisking over her most sensitive places. His hand lavished her other breast, tantalizing her with the tenderness behind his movements. With every skilled caress it seemed that he was driving her mad with desire, craving him with the fiercest of intensities as it appeared that she was about to explode from within, soaring to the heavens with the attention he’d lavished upon her. Her body arched up to him while his mouth devoted it’s complete attention to the breast he’d learned from touch alone. It seemed that the fire between them mounted to something far greater than she’d anticipated as he held her, drinking up all the passion that he’d awakened in her. Her body gave itself completely to him, wanting nothing more than to continue on the wild rush of thunder that had begun to spark out of control between them.

“Mmm…” he hummed against her skin, taking his time to draw out each and every one of her responses. His palm dropped down between her thighs, tracing their smooth contours. She opened herself up to him, parting her legs ever so slightly as Seth teased his fingers over her warmth, dipping in beneath the damp fabric of her white, cotton panties as he felt the heat of her burning for him and she cried out upon contact.

He watched her face twist with pleasure as she bucked her hips up towards him, unable to keep hiding the way he’d effected her. He continued to explore her femininity leisurely while her moans grew in intensity causing her to quiver against his touch. He found himself longing to know more about her passion, to feel every irresistible moment of her need. He carefully withdrew his hand from her warmth causing her to temporarily cry in protest. He slid her panties off of her hips wanting nothing more than to absorb every irresistible inch of her as she lay before him vulnerable and exposed to him in ways he’d only dreamt of until now. Returning to her, he gently parted her legs, tapering kisses up over her inner thigh as her fingers sank into his hair, urging him on towards her. It was clear that her impatience ran nearly as far as his did, but as he thought about how memorable this first time together would have to be for them, he forced himself to keep what little resolve he’d had about this. He didn’t want anything to spoil what was happening with each new experience they’d shared together.

“Seth please…” she whimpered tugging upon his dark hair longing to feel him with her. He dropped a butterfly kiss upon her inner thigh, feeling her heat radiate over him as he breathed against her creamy flesh.

“Patience Blake,” he murmured settling in between her thighs. He caressed her once again before dropping his lips down to taste her. His tongue traced over her body, gently thrusting within as Blake bucked up against him, feeling a white hot flame lick over her every synapse. Seth continued to taste and tease her carrying her to the brink of passion only to pace himself changing things for her again and again. She found herself approaching the height of passion time and time again until she feared she couldn’t take it anymore, but just as her body seemed to be on the verge of explosions, she felt Seth’s hands press in beneath her lifting her body up to his lips. He drank up the first tremors of desire that ripped through her sending her to the heavens and beyond. She uncurled her fingers from his thick, dark hair, seizing the comforter beneath her in a desperate attempt to keep her from soaring away with the moment as shivers overtook her and she gave in to the dizzying explosion of feeling. Her cries overtook her carrying her away with passion and beyond.

Seth held her, drinking up her body’s every reaction. She lost control to the moment opening herself up to him in so many ways that made her completely vulnerable as he was the only thing keeping her together with his strong, sturdy yet tender hold upon her. Slowly she felt herself fall from that nirvana that Seth alone had taken her to. His kisses gently pressed over her tenderness, carefully easing her back down upon the blankets as her breathing remained uneven, her heart racing in the moment that passion flushed her womanly curves.

“Oh Seth,” she managed to breathe his name taking note of the way he was looking at her. He’d brought out something in her that she’d been waiting so very long to share with him. The experience in itself was one she would never forget as she found herself mesmerized not only by the way he’d touched her, but by the way his eyes held her, carrying her to new places with that unspoken caress his gaze had upon her.

“I love you Blake,” he whispered lovingly as it seemed he too was moved by the experience they’d shared with one another as in his pleasing her, he’d found something from within that only exemplified the ways in which he’d felt for her.

“Come here you,” Blake curled her finger out towards him, reaching for him. She felt herself returning to the moment thinking about the unfulfilled promise of passion yet to be explored between them.

“Right here,” he couldn’t help but smile as he moved in over her, hovering over her body as they were face to face, a mere fraction of an inch away from one another before his lips brushed up against hers gently.

“Right here,” she repeated stealing another kiss from. her fingers fanned out over his strong shoulders, sliding over the powerful musculature of his oh so perfect body as he seemed to be rigid and wild yet so controlled beneath her touch.

She could feel the goose bumps forming over his skin as her touch continued to explore his every taut resilient muscle of his back now straining beneath her slow, subtle movements. He seemed to be forcing himself to keep from losing all control of himself. He closed his eyes sucking in a gasp of air as Blake curved her hand in over the smooth bronze expanse of streamlined muscle and sinew tapering down to his perfectly sculpted bottom. Offering up a light squeeze, she watched his jaw tighten. He forced himself to look at her, to reopen his eyes and take in the beauty before him. His dark eyes seemed to be reaching out to her, telling her about the unspoken need raging from within as he propped himself up over her on his elbows placing a bit of a distance between them. With that small movement, Blake felt a void sweep over her as the brief contact his body had made over hers had her filled with anticipation, longing with need. She slid her arm around his torso urging him to return to her.

“Please don’t tell me you’re going to try to do the so called right thing at a moment like this,” Blake pleaded with him longing to break through all the boundaries that remained between them, “because if you even try, I’m going to burst…”

“Blake I…” he started feeling the weight of what they were about to embark upon with one another hitting him harder than ever as he saw the longing behind her eyes. Feeling her beneath him, seeing the frailty of her petite form, he was suddenly aware of his strength, of the power that his body carried over hers and in that instant he found himself terrified of what he could do if he wasn’t careful with their making love. Still as she pleaded with him, he knew that he’d lost every inch of restraint he’d been carrying up until now as he knew he’d die if he had to turn her away at a time like this when she was in the air he breathed, in every beat of his heart. She was truly the only world that surrounded him. Reaching out to touch her cheek gently, he shook his head as a smile pressed upon his lips, “I’m not going to do that. I promise you that I’m not going to try to fight what’s happening here, but I do want this to be something memorable for you…something that you won’t regret later…”

“The only thing I’m going to regret Seth is my having to throw you down to the ground and have my way with you if you even think about walking away right now,” Blake confessed an impatience building behind her tone as he started to pull out of her reach. “Seth…”

“Blake, I’m just making sure we do this the right way,” he explained pulling a condom out of one of his dresser drawers. He hated to break the contact that they’d had with one another, but as he thought of how long they’d waited for this, he knew that it was well worth what came next to get this little step out of the way.

“Allow me,” Blake sat upright reaching for the foil package. Her eyes dropped down to the root of his masculinity and she involuntarily licked her lips unable to mask the desire that seeing him so gloriously naked had aroused in her. Suddenly she felt her insides turning to mush as she reached out for him, wanting to touch that most primal, magnificent part of his male form, but before she could stroke her fingers over him, learning what it felt like to hold him, to cradle him within her touch, he caught her wrist seizing the condom package from her fingers.

“Blake, don’t…” he pleaded with her fighting to maintain his control as the thought of her heavenly caress was damn near enough to send him spiraling to a world that he vowed to only experience within her as they were together as one.

“But Seth…” she curled her lip in protest reaching out to him once again.

“Blake, if you do that, then I know you’ll be my undoing,” he confessed shamefully as his heart was raging out of control inside his chest, “and right now, well, I need to experience this with you…with us together…”

She nodded in complete understanding unable to deny the longing that had carried over her as well as she watched him sheath himself with the condom, “I want that too, Seth. I want to know what it’s like for us to lose control with one another…”

“Blake, I just need you to understand,” he began moving in over her once again touching her cheek gently as he kept a distance between them, “I need you to know that I would never, ever hurt you and if you start to change your mind about this…about us…”

“Seth, there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve changed my mind about this,” Blake confessed honestly feeling the warmth of his skin a mere inch or so over her burning her down to the core as she anticipated their union at long last, “Not about us…”

“Blake…I don‘t want to hurt you…I don‘t want this to be too much too soon,” he brushed his thumb over the hollow of her cheekbone before lowering his lips to hers in a tender kiss.

“It won’t be,” she assured him with a tiny whimper longing for completion between them, “Trust me…”

“I do trust you, Blake. With all that I am, I want to give my all to you,” he confessed savoring the sweetness of her lips once again, “I love you.”

“I love you, Seth,” she breathed in response feeling his steadied descent over her body. Feeling him at her opening, teasing her with the promise of completion, she held her breath awaiting the moment that they were together as one. It felt like a lifetime before he carefully guided himself inside of her bracing himself up on his elbows as he watched her every reaction. She bit on her lip feeling the fullness of him as her body enveloped his, feeling him fill her as her blue eyes fixed upon his seeing concern evident behind his dark eyes. She reached up and out to him as she could feel him holding back, sensing his struggle from within to pace himself. He remained motionless as if awaiting her approval to continue. Tentatively, she eased her fingers through his dark hair, curling it tightly within her touch. She urged him into a heated kiss pleading for more, “Make love to me, Seth.”

Hearing her urgings, Seth began to move slowly at first, gauging himself for her every reaction as he watched her face closely seeing nothing but pleasure building behind her eyes as their movements grew in fluidity with more ease between them. He felt her legs wrap around his body, hugging him in tighter against her. Her hips bucked wildly up against his, coaxing him on as he continued to thrust within her body, increasing the pace with each passing second.

“Don’t hold back Seth,” Blake pleaded with him still sensing his need to be careful with her as she was aware of his concerns with his size as he’d clearly possessed far more strength than Blake had realized and as he moved from within, she could see the strain building behind his features. He’d taken great lengths in denying himself full reign of freedom in their lovemaking by sparing her the full force of his strength.

She saw how hard he was working to keep things at what he felt was a pace that she would be comfortable with, but at that moment she didn’t want comfort. She didn’t want to play things safe and controlled as she wanted wild and uninhibited freedom that she was certain that Seth could provide her with. Claming his mouth heatedly, she nibbled on his lower lip scratching her nails down his back as her legs clamped around him refusing to let him hold back on her account. She wanted it all and she wouldn’t settle for anything less as she could feel Seth’s control slipping away from him as the more primal feelings he’d worked so hard to keep buried inside of him began to surface as he plummeted into her with a newfound level of intensity. He dropped his arm down over her, teasing her soft curves before he lifted her bottom off of the mattress entering her with one driving thrust after another until she could feel he’d shed his fears opening himself up to the ultimate freedom for them as she bucked beneath him, their bodies colliding in a perfect, untamed, unrestricted rhythm. Blake felt herself coiling under pressure, beneath the unmistakable spark of ecstasy that Seth had created as he delved deeper with each rhythmic push until finally she felt herself crying out in erotic release as explosions ripped through her taking her to a new level of pleasure with Seth buried inside of her.

“Blake,” he spoke her name, feeling the vibrations of her body’s trip to the stars carrying him away with her causing him to groan in blissful agony as he found himself lost in the white hot eruption that their lovemaking had brought upon him.

Seth’s head dropped down upon her shoulder kissing her tenderly as Blake hugged him against her unable to find her breath fast enough. It seemed that this moment was something she’d waited a lifetime to experience with him. Even now as their damp, passion-spent bodies clung to one another, she couldn’t help but feel her heart racing at the thought of his body still buried within hers. The connection had been too real, too intense and too perfect, she thought to herself as he carefully repositioned himself, rolling onto his back and taking her with him as she snuggled into his chest.

“Seth,” Blake pulled together the strength to speak his name as she lay her head upon his chest, mesmerized by the sound of his love for her feeling his heart pounding in the same rhythm that controlled hers as clearly he felt it too. They’d not only shared their bodies with one another, but now their hearts were in perfect unison reminding them all over again about how right things had been for them in being together.

“Blake,” he breathed her name unable to believe how perfect things felt as he held her, as he’d come to the realization that he couldn’t contain himself any longer as he’d needed to show her how important she was to him, of how much he’d loved her and now as she lay in his arms basking in the afterglow of the experience they’d shared with one another, he realized that from this moment on he’d never be able to let her go.

“Seth that was…” she felt a lump forming in her throat as she pulled together the strength to lift her head up just enough to see his eyes upon her. Feeling him reach out to touch her face, she leaned into his touch savoring the warmth it provided her with as tears pooled in her eyes and a whimper rose from within, “that was everything I’d imagined us to be and more. I‘d dreamt about this so long and now that we‘d shared this, well Seth, I just…I mean there aren’t words that can explain just how wonderful this feels…about how right this is and…”

“Sweetheart, I know,” he guided her up over him as he claimed her lips in a tender kiss feeling her struggling for the right words to put upon what they’d just shared with one another, “I feel it too.”

“I always want to feel this way. I just want to hold onto this forever,” she confessed holding him tightly as it seemed the weight of the experience fell upon the both of them.

“So do I, Blake,” he promised her placing a tender kiss upon her head as she cuddled up over him once again. He held the key to heaven in his arms, and in that moment he realized that he’d never needed anyone, never desired any woman as much as he’d wanted her and now as they lay together in the aftermath of passion feeling the buzz of it all hanging over him, he realized that there would be no turning back as Blake was all there was for him in this world and he’d do anything he could to keep this feeling from ever slipping away.


Cameron extended his hand to Heather at their mansion, smiling to her as she emerged from the limousine. He laced his fingers with hers as she looked at the house, “It does seem to look a little different since we’re entering it as a married couple, doesn’t it?”

“Somehow, it seems grander,” Heather smiled with a giddiness she couldn’t quite figure out. They’d been married a week now, but it still seemed like something new was about to happen for them in coming home.

“I must admit that it does,” He assured her as he led her up the front steps. He paused in front of the door as he looked to her, “I think we’re forgetting something.”

“And what would that be?” She asked as she turned towards him, glancing out towards the car, “Franklin’s seeing to the bags, isn’t he?”

“Of course he is,” He smiled, “I’m talking about tradition.”

“Tradition?” She asked with a chuckle, “Did you forget that we’re not exactly all about tradition here?”

“Yes, but some things are meant to be traditional, my dear,” He teased her as he swept her into the cradle of his arms, “We have to do the threshold thing, or this simply wouldn’t be a homecoming.”

“Cameron,” Heather giggled his name as he carried her inside. She buried her face in his neck as he carried her into the living room. Instantly, she felt his body tighten with tension, alerting her to a presence in the room. She looked up and spotted Thea sitting upon a sofa filing her nails.

“Thea,” Cameron spoke his assistant’s name while lowering Heather to her feet.

“Welcome home,” Thea smiled as she looked up from her perfectly sculpted nails, “I’ve been expecting you.”

“So I see,” He replied as he watched her carefully, “Why are you here?”

“I just wanted to congratulate you on the nuptials,” She smiled as she looked to Heather, “And I must say that your bride is still glowing.”

“Hmm,” Heather mused as she eyed Thea carefully.

“So was the wedding beautiful? I bet you were a lovely bride,” Thea spoke the words with acid punctuating the sentence.

“Hmm, too bad you couldn’t be there,” Heather smiled as she leaned into Cameron, “Cameron was the most gorgeous groom I’ve ever laid eyes on,” She smiled as she looked up to him, “And the honeymoon was nothing short of paradise.”

Thea groaned as she stood and walked across the room, “I actually brought you two a wedding gift. I thought I’d start things out on the right foot for you,” She said as she picked a box up from a nearby chair and approached them. She held out the box to them and smiled sweetly, “Go ahead. Open it.”

“What are you doing, Thea?” Cameron asked as he eyed her with an unspoken warning in his eyes.

“Can’t I give you a wedding gift without all these suspicions?” Thea asked with a smile, “Come on. Open it.”

Heather took the box from Thea and opened it. Suspecting a bomb or something equally as heinous inside, she opened the box carefully then gasped as she spotted the intricately weaved tapestry inside, “What is this…”

“It’s Cameron’s family crest,” Thea spoke as she looked at Cameron with a pointed look, “I thought since you’re joining his family it was only fitting that a family tapestry be hung in the house. You are, after all, the newest addition to the family and will no doubt be bringing new additions to the Stone line in time,” She looked to Heather, “I thought it was a nice traditional gift.”

“Thank you,” Heather said in awe as she removed the tapestry from the box, “It’s beautiful.”

“Yes it is,” Cameron spoke as he looked from his family crest to Thea, “Heather, if you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with Thea for a moment.”

“Of course,” Heather nodded with a slight smile as she looked towards Thea, “Thank you for the gift.”

Thea watched Heather leave the room with a satisfied smile before Cameron violently seized her arm and drug her towards him, “What the hell were you thinking in giving her my family crest?”

Thea’s smile grew as she watched his anger boil beneath the surface, “Upset, are we?” She asked with sparkling eyes, “Why shouldn’t I give it to her? She is your wife after all.”

“She’s not going to be the mother of any Stone children,” Cameron seethed, “And for you to give her something so personal of mine…”

“You’re the one who married her,” She pointed out as she moved in especially close to him, “If you’re ashamed of that fact, you have only yourself to blame.”

He shoved her away, sending her sinking back into a recliner as she burst into satisfied laughter. He adjusted his jacket as he glared at her, “Don’t play games with me, Thea.”

“Oh but the fun is only just getting started,” She smiled arrogantly as she stood and smoothed the pleat in her skirt, “I really must be going anyway. I have work to do before dinner this evening.”

“Dinner? Certainly you don’t think you’re invited here after what you’ve pulled,” Cameron warned.

“Oh absolutely not,” She smiled smugly, “I have dinner plans.”

“With whom?”

“My plans aren’t exactly your business now, are they?”

“Thea…” He spoke in a warning tone.

“Oh give it a rest,” Thea snorted at him, “I’m going to dinner with Douglas,” Her smile crept over her features, “I’ll be sure to give him your regards,” She spoke in a parting shot as she turned and practically danced out the door.

Cameron felt his blood ignite in his veins. The one person who could get to him where everyone else had failed was Thea, and she was doing a fine job of hitting him where it hurt. As he thought to his ravishing bride, dinner plans seemed like a good idea and maybe it was time that he and his wife made their first public appearance together.


Dorothy looked up from her filing as she spotted Jade stepping into the office. Jade waved at her friend in greeting before stepping into her office without a word. Dorothy knew that something was definitely wrong. Between Grady’s rugged appearance and Jade’s silent treatment, it was obvious that was trouble in paradise.

Dorothy placed the files upon her desk and made her way down the hall. She knocked lightly upon Jade’s door before stepping inside, “So…what’s with the silent treatment?”

“I’m sorry,” Jade shrugged as she tucked her purse away in her desk drawer. She walked around and pointed to the sofa to offer her a seat, “I’m just…well…I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you start by explaining the outfit?” Dorothy teased as she nodded to Jade’s short gray mini skirt with a slit that left little to the imagination and the off white blouse that clung to her every curve.

“I stayed with a friend last night, and I borrowed an outfit from her,” Jade laughed softly as she looked down at the ensemble, “Believe me, this was one of the tamer things in her closet.”

“So is this an attempt to get Grady’s attention?”

“No. In fact, I hope I don’t get his attention at all today,” Jade sighed as she sat beside her friend.

“That’s unusual,” Dorothy studied Jade closely, “What’s going on?”

“We fell apart,” Jade admitted sadly, “He can’t control who he is, and I can’t change who I am. While we work together perfectly in sync, we can’t seem to make things work personally.”

“Start from the beginning, honey,” Dorothy urged as she turned on the sofa slightly.

“Things seemed to be going wonderfully. It was like paradise for a few days, and then boom, Grady lashes out at Avery, I finally figure out that he can’t be trusted, and then he goes and takes a dive off the wagon,” Jade shrugged, “That’s the whole story, beginning to end.”

“So that explains Grady’s somber mood.”

“How is he?” Jade asked curiously.

“He looks like he’s lived through hell, and from the sounds of things, maybe he has. Have you tried talking to him?”

“Yes, and it didn’t get us anywhere,” Jade spoke in defeat.

“Actually, that’s not entirely true,” Grady said from the doorway as he focused on her. His eyes traced Jade’s every feature as if he hadn’t seen her in years. He drank in her image as his heart and mind struggled to find a way to fix things between them. He smiled softly to Dorothy, “Could you give us a few minutes?”

“Sure,” Dorothy nodded as she looked to Jade, “Things might not be as bad as you seem to think they are,” She winked at her in encouragement as she left the office.

Jade studied Grady’s appearance and wondered how the man could infuriate her and look so damn breathtakingly sexy at the same time. She wanted to beat him and ravish him in the exact same moment. God it was times like this when she hated him.

Grady closed the door behind Dorothy’s exit and turned his gaze back to Jade. He met her eyes and thought of how much he’d hurt her over the last few days. He’d do anything to take it all back and replace the pain with the happiness they’d felt before. Still, he knew he couldn’t erase the pain, but perhaps he could find a way to begin repairing it.

Jade took a deep breath as they continued to look at one another in silence. Their eyes communicated their love to one another while they knew they couldn’t speak without anger clouding the conversation. Still, the silence would have to be broken.

Jade started to speak before Grady’s voice stopped her.

“Jade, I love you. We have a lot to talk about, I know,” Grady spoke as he continued to gaze into her eyes, “But I need you to know that above all else, I love you.”

Jade let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. She knew the conversation they were about to have would make or break their future together. She just had no idea how to approach it or if she was strong enough to even make it through it.


“Have another minute for your pain in the ass boss here,” Brant questioned opening the door to Avery’s office once again as she looked up from the folder she’d been working with.
“Hmm, well I wouldn’t got that far as to call you a pain in the ass just yet, Brant,” Avery smiled back at him setting down the pen she’d had in her hand.
“Then you’re just being polite and we both know that,” Brant couldn’t help but grin in response as he motioned to the workload upon her desk, “but seriously, do you have a few minutes as I’d like to run a few things by you.”
“Well, since you’re being very thoughtful about my being polite,” she motioned to the chair across from her desk, “the floor is yours.  Come on in.”
“I knew I could count on you Avery,” Brant replied with a relieved sigh closing the door behind him as he entered her office more completely, “as I was hoping we could discuss this case against Stone Corp a little more in depth to kind of catch up on the progress we’ve made on our end.  I mean I realize that normally your father would be the one I‘d speak to on this about the research, but with everything that‘s happening with your mom‘s kidnapping…”
“He’s been a bit perplexed,” Avery nodded in response, “but you know it’s good that you came in here to talk to me about it as I’ve been trying to keep myself up to speed even with my time off.”
“Which doesn’t surprise me since I know how dedicated you are,” Brant remarked with a knowing expression, “but since you we both know that you don’t have to keep on driving yourself so hard at a time like this, I just want to let you know that I do appreciate all you’ve done so far.”
“Don’t thank me yet as I’m afraid that Stone Corp still has a rock solid case working in their favor and while I’d like to call Cameron on his bluff, we’ll need a little bit more evidence than my thinking he’s a lying scoundrel.”
“Hmm, well hey if I was on the jury, I’d take one look at your legs and decide that Cameron was in the wrong as you’re much easier on the eyes than Grady Denton,” Brant continued with his usual flirty demeanor that he’d once had with Avery, “The charges would be dropped for sure after that one.”
“Yeah well I’m hoping that the jury will be banking on more than my legs to see that BBK isn’t in the wrong,” she wrinkled her nose in response before a nagging feeling settled in over the pit of her stomach, “Actually, I’m glad you came back in here because I’d like to talk about the trial a bit.”
“What’s on your mind,” Brant crossed his leg up over his knee as he sank back in the chair he’d been seated in.
“Well, I’m…” she hesitated wondering if this would be easier to say than it had felt when she’d been dwelling on this minor detail for the future of her case from the moment she’d come back to Coral Valley, “I’m actually thinking about having my father do all the front runner stuff in the courtroom.”
Brant remained silent for a moment before curiosity brimmed over his features, “Why is that?”
“Truth be told with all that’s been going on lately in my personal life, I just think it would be in everyone’s best interest if Grady and I weren’t given an opportunity to go at one another on record in any kind of legal situation as it might get ugly,” Avery confessed thinking about her impossible brother-in-law.
“Ugly could work in our favor as I have no doubt in my mind that you could tear him apart in ways that your father wouldn’t even think up as you’re the best Avery,” Brant spoke up encouragingly, “Everyone knows that.”
“Even so things really wouldn’t be in our favor if I went head to head with Grady right now,” she repeated thinking about the decision she’d made.
“I know it’s not really any of my business, but this wouldn’t be because you’re family now in a round about way because you know I’m sure that the judge wouldn’t think that…” Brant started up again.
“No, this isn’t about the judge as it’s about me and Grady.  I mean, I guess what I’m trying to say is that now that we are sort of part of the same family, well, things have just been…” she searched for an appropriate word coming up empty, “tense I suppose.”
“Tense as in what exactly?” Brant lifted a curious brow sensing her hesitance, “Look Avery if it’s too personal, you don’t have to tell me, but I was just wondering what it was that made my top legal whiz so ready to walk away from what could be the case of a lifetime.”
“It’s complicated,” she sighed not wanting to get too detailed, but as she looked to Brant seeing the expression upon his features she felt the need to elaborate, “Grady’s just been having some serious issues with the fact that I’m his sister-in-law.”
“Hmm, well that shouldn’t really be a problem in court because…” he began again with a shrug.
“No Brant, you don’t understand.  Grady is very violently opposed to my being married to Russ,” Avery confessed honestly seeing the surprise flash behind his eyes.
“Really?” Brant lifted a curious brow, “and what does Russ have to say about all of this?”
“Well, he tries to keep the peace, but it doesn’t always work out so great,” she shifted in her chair uneasily, “I mean just last night Grady was…”
“Grady was what?” he questioned further seeing something behind her eyes that concerned him, “Avery, come on.  You can talk to me.  You should know that by now.”
“Brant, I really shouldn’t as it’s kind of personal…” she offered up biting on her lower lip nervously as she thought about the tension between her and Russell.
“Avery, I’d like to think that we’re still pals and if there’s something that’s on your mind, you should know by now that there isn’t anything you can’t share with me.  I mean hey I saw you when you were spending most of your day paying tribute to the porcelain gods,” he teased with a tiny wink, “It couldn’t be worse than that.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” she groaned inwardly thinking to the time she’d spent with Brant on the Ashford yacht before finding out that she was pregnant.
“It wasn’t so bad,” Brant replied in all seriousness, “as it gave us a chance to kind of get to know one another better on a more personal, friend level.”
“No, it gave you more of a chance to get to know the contents of my stomach and everything that was foul and disgusting inside of me better, which I wouldn’t dream of sharing with anyone,” she remarked dryly refusing to dwell on that miserable moment in her life.
“Oh it wasn’t that awful.  In fact, I’m sure that you and Russ have equally shameful stories to share with one another,” he joked back at her sensing that something was wrong as her smile faded.  Gently he reached out across the desk seeking out her hand supportively, “Avery, come on.  Talk to me.  What’s really going on?”
“Brant I…” she started stopping herself for a moment before finally continuing, “well, it’s just that ever since Russ and I came home to Coral Valley, Grady’s been lashing out at me for my being a part of Russell’s life.  Just the other night he came over to the house in the midst of a drunken rage and he decided that I was his prime target.  He pretty much blamed me for anything and everything he could think of where his life’s failures were concerned.  He got kind of carried away and while I tried to help him deal with some of his issues, it only made things worse and last night…” she stopped herself nibbling on her lower lip once again as she fought the tears that built behind her eyes while she refused to dwell on what was happening, “Brant, I just can’t get into this right now.”
“Avery, you’re obviously upset,” he reached out to her getting up from his chair as he circled around her desk to get closer to her, “Clearly you need to get whatever is bothering you out of your system before it tears you up inside.”
“It’s already too late for that,” Avery confessed unable to hold back on her tears as she brought her hands up over her face to hide what she was feeling, “as my life is just simply a mess right now.”
“What’s going on,” Brant questioned hating to see her in any kind of pain as he knelt beside her chair hoping to get the truth out of her as he touched her leg gently, “Avery, please talk to me…”
“Grady was just so horrible last night and in the middle of everything, well Russ kind of told him about the child I’d lost.  At the time he was trying to reason with Grady and get him to see that I’d only left Russ on our wedding day before because of what was happening, but then Grady only seemed to use that pain in my life to lash out at me--to say horrible, disgusting things about me and I just felt so helpless--so broken and I know that I can’t let myself get caught up in that especially not with the case we have going…” she explained tearfully unable to hold back as Brant reached out to her wrapping her up in his arms as her tears continued to fall freely.
“Hey, it’s okay.  I don’t mind your father taking control of this in the courtroom,” Brant tried to soothe the pain building up inside of her as he could feel her tears reaching down deep into his heart, “I was just curious because I know it’s not like you to just give up the fight this early on…”
“I just can’t keep defending myself to Grady and it feels like the longer it goes on, the harder it is to keep being the one in the line of fire,” Avery continued painfully as she tried to regain her composure, “I’m trying to muster up the strength for that, but it feels like a never-ending battle with Grady damning me and my baby and since things were so rough for me before…”
“What does Russ have to say about all this?  Has he spoken with Grady about what Grady’s doing to you?”
“He tries to, but Grady’s so stubborn and there’s no reasoning with him.  He just keeps pushing and pushing until…well until I think he’s finished destroying my life,” Avery broke into tiny sobs once again as Brant pulled her closer to him, “I feel like I’m losing my grip on reality and the longer I keep going up against Grady, the more it hurts…”
“Oh Avery, I hate that this is happening for you and if I were Russ, I’d have found a way to beat the hell out of Grady for hurting you like this as you are the last person in the world who should be feeling this pain,” Brant replied poignantly as he pulled away from her just enough to see the tears that tracked down her cheeks.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a handkerchief holding it out to her before opting to do the honors himself as he wiped at her face gently trying to ease her misery.  “There’s no excuse for what Grady’s doing to you.”
“Russ is trying, but it feels like the more Grady pushes at us, the harder it is for us to find our way back to one another.  Even this morning when I came to the office, things were so tense.  We tried to repair the damage that had been done, but it feels like I’m losing him--like all this progress we’ve made with one another is slipping away and I’m afraid of what Grady will do to my marriage.  I don’t want to lose my husband, but I already feel like we’re being torn away from one another…” Avery blurted out unable to control what she was feeling as her tears remained.
“Avery, Russ loves you very much and I’m sure that he sees what his brother is trying to do to you both,” Brant touched her cheek affectionately, “and if he’s not going to be man enough to step in and solve the problem, then I’ll see to it that it stops.”
“No, Brant, you can’t as this isn’t…” Avery began seeing the determination that sparked behind his eyes.
“Avery, if Grady is harassing you, then you can file charges against him.  Forget that he’s family as it doesn’t matter.  What he’s doing is wrong and if Russ can’t be man enough to put his lush of a brother in his place, well I’ll have no problems doing the deed myself as I won’t let some loser like Grady break apart that fighter instinct in you,” Brant vowed a flash of anger burning behind his eyes as he continued to dab at her face with his handkerchief.  “This isn’t right…”
“I know it’s not, but how can I ask Russ to take that kind of stand against his brother when he loves him too,” Avery sighed heavily thinking of the damage that had been done between Grady and Russ over the short time she’d been back in Russell’s life.
“You shouldn’t have to as your husband should be thinking about putting you and your child first as that should be the top priority on his list right now Avery.  He needs to stop letting Grady call all the shots and start putting you on the pedestal that you deserve to be on.  You’re about to have a baby and if nothing else, that’s all the more reason why Grady needs to learn to back off,” Brant continued his voice full of determination as he searched her eyes, “You know I’m right on this one.”
“I know you are, but right now, well things are just really upsetting all around and I’m not sure if I’m coming or going, so I guess Grady is just icing on the cake…” she sniffled.
“Really bad, sour, moldy icing it seems,” Brant offered up with a lightness in his tone, “because as I said before he knows you have killer legs and you’d destroy him in court.  Maybe he’s all about using his jerk side to try to make you give him the easy way out of this situation as I think he’s terrified to face you in court.”
“I seriously doubt it,” Avery groaned in response, “as I think he’s looking for any reason he can come up with to annihilate me in the public eye…”
“Yeah well I dare him to try because if he even thinks about lifting his voice or a raising a finger to harm you, then he’ll find himself behind bars in the blink of an eye as I’m not about to tolerate that man upsetting my Avery,” Brant declared boldly seeing the surprise flash behind her eyes before he cleared his throat uneasily, “I mean after all you’re my top legal mind around here and if he’s irritating you, well then it gives you less time to focus on saving my butt from whatever crisis comes about…”
“Believe me Brant even with all my frustrations, I’ll still find my way to saving your behind as it’s what I get paid the big bucks to do after all,” Avery promised with a half smile trying to regain her composure as she wiped at her face once again.
“Just don’t do it at your child’s expense Avery,” Brant replied in all seriousness as the mood shifted in the room once again, “as I know how important this baby is to you and if you need anything…anything at all, then please, don’t hesitate to ask…”
“I think she’s got it all covered as she has a husband who is more than willing to take care of her and provide for with whatever she needs,” Russ blurted out as Avery looked up from her desk to find her husband standing in the doorway to her office looking less than thrilled with the situation he’d walked in on.
“Yeah, you sure look like you’re doing one hell of a job in keeping your brother on a leash there,” Brant rolled his eyes as he stood upright once again glaring at Russell.
“What my brother is doing is none of your business Brant,” Russell growled back at him in response seething with animosity at what he’d caught happening between Brant and Avery.
“The hell it isn’t.  When he’s taking his verbal attacks on Avery, he’s doing things that directly effect BBK’s performance and I won’t tolerate him blindsiding her like he’s been doing when she…” Brant began in a rant ready to lecture Russell as Avery rose from her chair placing her hand on his arm much to Russell’s dismay.
“Brant, it’s okay,” she spoke smoothly trying to keep her voice even, “I’ve got it under control and if you could give Russ and I few minutes alone…”
Brant glared at Russell for a moment longer before finally nodding, “Okay, but I want to pick up on where we left off before later…”
“You’ve got it,” Avery promised watching as Brant left the room giving her and Russell some long overdue time alone.  As soon as Russell was certain that Brant had left the door giving them some privacy he turned to Avery in astonishment.
“What the hell was that?” he demanded harshly.
“That was nothing,” Avery answered not offering up anymore to his questioning, “Russ, what are you doing here?  I’m working.”
“Are you,” he lifted a skeptic brow, “as it sure seems like Brant’s the one working a number in over you there.”
“It’s not what it looked like,” Avery began to argue, “Brant and I were just having a discussion about the case against Stone Corp and I guess I just kind of felt a bit emotional seeing as their head council on the case is trying to ruin my life.”
“He’s not going to do that,” Russell insisted shaking his head once again as he thought to what he’d walked in on, “though I really wish you wouldn’t clue Brant in on our personal life like that…”
“He had a right to know why I was backing down from the case and letting my father take charge,” she remarked sourly, “I owed him that much.”
“You don’t owe him anything Avery and the sooner that you get that into your head, the better things will be for us,” he shot back at her jealousy dripping in his voice.
“And even if things were perfect Russ, Grady would just trample on into our lives and make a mess of everything.  We both know that,” she snapped back at him making her way back over to her desk chair and sitting down as she looked up at him expectantly, “So I guess either way we look at it, we’re screwed huh?”
“Avery, come on…” he frowned watching how she’d clearly been in the mood to fight with him over what was going on, but as he thought of why he’d come over to see her, he wasn’t about to let his feelings on Brant get in the way of that as he was a man on a mission.
“Russ, look I’m busy so unless this is important, you should probably get going as we can talk more at home,” Avery cut through his thoughts, her voice curt and professional as he blinked back at her surprised by the distance in her voice, “I really don’t want to bring our fight about Grady to my office.”
“Yet you’ll bring it on with your boss and let him know each and every one of our problems, huh?” he grumbled in response.
“I’m not about to apologize for my conversation with Brant as he’s a friend of mine,” Avery insisted with a huff, her eyes narrowing with anger.
“Oh that’s right, he’s such a good friend that if he had his way, you’d be his wife right about now and I’d never know that our child existed as it would’ve been the sole property of Brant Ashford, right?”
“Russ, now you’re just being ridiculous,” Avery glared up at him, “I don’t need this right now.”
“And I don’t need him pawing at my wife,” he remarked bitterly.
“He wasn’t pawing at me as we were just having a conversation and I was upset…” she started in Brant’s defense.
“So that what?  Gave him a wrap your arms around my wife free card?  I don’t think so Avery,” Russ marched in towards her, “as I’m not about to let him be another thing to shake up our marriage.”
“I think your brother is doing more damage than Brant could ever have put upon us with all he’s said and done,” Avery frowned back at him feeling her irritation level rise with each passing moment that he and Russ returned to the talk of his brother.
“Okay, yes, my brother is a jerk, but Avery the last thing I want to see is you turning to Brant when you should be turning to me,” he insisted unable to contain the jealous beast eating away at his insides, “You’re my wife and he needs to learn to accept that.”
“He has as he apologized to me this morning which I would’ve told you about tonight if you had just let things go,” Avery rose from her chair in a standoff, “which once again gets back to what I’m telling you.  Russ, you shouldn’t be here and you swore to me that you wouldn’t be doing this once we were married.”
“I’m not doing anything, but trying to save my marriage from disaster,” he stepped in closer to her.
“By showing up at my office and causing a stir with your accusations,” she huffed tossing her hair back over her shoulder, “Russ, what you’re doing right now isn’t helping our situation at all as you’re only making it worse by being here.”
“Well too damn bad because I’m not leaving until I can talk some sense into you about what’s been happening,” he approached her seeing the fire behind her eyes as she placed her hands upon her hips sourly.
“I have work to do and if you don’t go home right now…” she started, but her words were brought to an abrupt ending as he reached out to her, refusing to continue with this method of madness between them.  Pulling her into a demanding kiss, he felt shock race over her as his arms curled around her squeezing her against him tighter than ever until her shock melted away and it was replaced by her complete compliance to his demands.
“Avery please…” he breathed against her lips as they parted reluctantly, “Don’t let my idiot brother be the thing that tears us apart.  Please don’t let last night be the thing that takes our forever away…”
“Russ, I just can’t deal with all of this,” she confessed unable to contain her tears as he held her, “I can’t keep finding way to dodge the blows that Grady keeps throwing out at me as they’re too hard to keep running from.  I’ve tried so hard, but…”
“You don’t have to try Avery,” he touched her cheek tenderly wiping at her tears as he kept his arm around her waist, “Baby, I’m sorry that I didn’t put Grady out of his misery sooner, but you need to believe me when I tell you that nothing he’s done has changed the way I feel for you.  I love you more than any man has ever loved a woman before and I would do anything in my power to take this pain away from you as our family is everything to me…”
“Russ, it’s just…” she began again as he silenced her with another kiss.
“I know I shouldn’t be here--that I shouldn’t have just barged in upon you while you were working, but this couldn’t wait.  I couldn’t just let things go like I was doing as I owed you more than that.  This morning I knew things weren’t right between us when you left for work and while we’d come up with some half assed kind of moment there, I knew that things were far from where they should be for us.  I knew that I took the chicken’s way out in not confronting what was happening and making the situation right, but I want to fix that.  I came here to change those mistakes I was making and I know I shouldn’t be here now, but Avery this couldn’t wait…”
“Russ, it’s just that when you came in here and started mouthing off like that…” she started.
“I’m not going to deny that I hate the way Brant looks at your or that I shudder at the thought of the time you two spend together on a daily basis, but I love you and I trust you and I have faith that our love is something that someone like Brant can’t break apart.  I know that I have your heart and you have mine,” Russ brought her hand up over the center of his chest, “which is why I knew that I couldn’t put this off any longer.  Avery, since we’ve come back to town, we’ve had one thing after another thrown at us and it hasn’t given us a lot of time for us or our family and I want to fix that.”
“Russ, I want to fix it too, but with Grady and everything else, there’s just no freedom for us…” Avery sighed heavily.
“I realize that which is why I have a couple of suitcases packed up in the car, Rusty in his kitten carrier and a full tank of gas ready to take us to my parent’s cabin,” he explained desperately, “because I think we need that.  I really feel like we need to go back to that special place to gain some clarity from all the things that have been clouding our happiness lately.  Avery, I love you and I don’t want you to feel like we’re losing that.  I need you to see just how much you mean to me,” he reached down to touch her stomach affectionately, “how much our family means to me and if you and I can’t keep that up front and center, then nothing else matters.”
“Russ, we can’t just up and leave now considering that…” Avery began to argue as her eyes pooled with tears.
“I know you have a job to do, but I’m sure we could take the time.  We had our honeymoon cut short and I just know this is what we need,” he dropped down to his knees reaching for her hand, “Avery please, tell me that you’ll go with me--that we can leave Coral Valley for a little while and just be Russ and Avery, two people so desperately in love that nothing else matters…”
“Russ, I want to, but…” she started seeing the love behind his eyes as he curled his arms around her waist laying his head up against her abdomen.
“Our family is everything to me Avery--absolutely everything and I won’t let Grady take this away from us,” he held her tighter closing his eyes as he felt her body tremble beneath his touch, “You and I both know what we have runs deeper than anything he can throw at us…”
“Russ,” she reached out to him tentatively bringing her fingers through his dark hair before urging his eyes up towards her.
“Avery, I love you…” his green eyes pleaded as her heart filled with so many tortured emotions over how fate had dealt them some surprising blows lately.  “Say you’ll go with me.”
“There’s nothing I could want more than to do just that, but with work I…” she began hating the obligations she knew she wouldn’t be able to turn away from as there was a sound at her door and in a matter of seconds Brant was standing there with a very surprised expression.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Brant began to apologize reaching for the door knob, “I thought that you two had finished in here by now…”
“Actually, we were just beginning,” Russell grumbled back at him, moving up from the floor ready to attack Brant, but he bit back on his tongue trying a different approach, “Avery and I want to go out of town for a few days as it’s been a very trying month for us.  She and I had our honeymoon cut short and I was just trying to convince her that rest would be the best thing for her right about now…”
“Russ, you and I both know that…” Avery started to argue as Brant offered up a quick nod.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Brant blurted out much to both Russ and Avery’s surprise, “take as much time as you need as I’m sure all of this will be waiting for you when you get back.  Enjoy yourselves.”
“Really?” Avery’s jaw dropped in astonishment as Brant flashed her a quick smile.
“Sure, I mean we can hold down the fort and I kind of owe you both a wedding present,” Brant continued stepping in closer to the both of them as he offered Russell his hand, “Treat her right.”
“I intend to,” Russell watched Brant’s hand with obvious skepticism as he made no move to shake it.  After a few moments Brant sensed Russell’s intentions and he took a step back moving towards the door once again.
“Just leave whatever you think I need to get a head’s up on with Ben before you go,” Brant suggested in his business as usual tone before casting a glance over the couple once again, “and have a nice time.”
“Thanks, we will,” Avery nodded in response finding the words that had evaded her for the last few seconds, “and Brant?”
“Yes?” he turned to give her one last look.
“We really appreciate this,” Avery smiled back at him seeing the genuineness that seemed to reach over his features.
“Anytime,” he replied leaving her office as Russell blinked back in astonishment taking it all in.
“Um, what just happened here,” Russell questioned turning to face her.
“I told you he was turning a new page, but you were so ready to think the worst about him,” Avery shook her head at him, “I still can’t believe you weren’t even going to shake his hand there like that when he was trying…”
“Avery, you can’t expect me to trust the guy as you and I both know Brant always works on ulterior motives,” he frowned back at her, “He’s up to something…”
“Yeah, he’s up to giving us the opportunity to have some time to ourselves since the opportunity was stolen from us before,” she sighed bringing her fingers through her dark hair.
“No, I think it’s more than that,” he continued wondering what scheme Brant was up to now with Avery.
“Russ…” she spoke his name sternly, with obvious displeasure for his words.
“Look, I’m just saying that I think the guy isn’t on the up and up with you, but,” he faced her once again drawing her into his arms, “he’s given me the opportunity to whisk you away for a while to a place where you and I can be alone together.”
“That’s right,” she nodded curling her arms around his neck, “It’ll be just the two of us…well, the three of us anyways…”
“Four of us,” he corrected leaning in towards her, “as I mentioned Rusty is in the car probably wondering where his parents are.”
“Then we probably shouldn’t keep him waiting, should we,” Avery smiled up at him feeling hope for this time they’d be spending away from the rest of the world as right now all she wanted was to lose herself in her husband in the hopes that this time alone would get them back to where they should be with one another.


Brant took his time outside Avery’s office, pretending to be engrossed with what was happening in Ben’s area, but more so he was curious to get a glimpse of what was happening behind the closed door.  While he’d hated more than anything that he’d given Russell the chance to take Avery away, he knew that now wasn’t about being the obvious manipulator as if he wanted a chance with her again, he had to do it under his terms.  He would play the good guy and show her just how much he cared and then when the time was right, she would return to him readily with open arms.  Still, as he thought to what must be going on with her and Russell, his jealousy burned deep inside of him hating every second that he couldn’t spend with her.
Hearing her door start to open, Brant knelt down behind the desk pretending to pick up a few papers as he heard Avery’s laughter surround him.  A few seconds later he popped his head up just in time to see her and Russell going off into the elevators with one another arm in arm ready to begin their vacation away from the rest of the world.
“Enjoy it while you can Denton because soon Avery’s going to realize that she picked the wrong man and when she does, I‘ll be right here waiting for her,” he whispered under his breath adjusting his tie before dusting off his sleeves as a wicked smirk crossed over his features.  Soon his plans for the future would find their way of working out, but right now, well now was about the other fish to fry as he had a dinner date that he couldn’t be late for as he vowed to himself that tonight was the beginning of his taking the reigns on destiny once and for all where those he cared about were concerned.  Tonight’s dinner with Susan was only the beginning as he vowed that he’d change things to work in his favor leading up to his ultimate goal and when everything was said and done, well it was only a matter of time before the world saw Brant for the sheer genius he truly was.

...to be continued...