Episode 92 

“How are you feeling,” Brant questioned taking a seat beside Brooke as she lay out in one of the guest rooms at the mansion looking as though she’d been through a war as her eyelids fluttered to an open.
“Wh-where am I,” she inquired in a weak voice, turning to face Brant as her eyes came to a full opening and she stared blankly at him for a long moment, “Brant…”
“That’s right, I’m here,” he replied reaching for her hand and squeezing it gently, “You’re safe now Brooke and I’m not about to let anyone hurt you again.”
“But I…I was…oh God…” she gasped in horror as a tiny set of tremors raced over her and Brant’s brow creased with concern.  “That monster…”
“You’re safe now,” Brant promised once again reaching out to touch her shoulder gently as he urged her to meet his eyes once again, “Brooke, listen to me.  I promise you that you’re going to be okay from here on out as that monster can’t hurt you any longer.  You’re back in Coral Valley and I’m going to make sure that you’re protected…”
“Brant…I…” Brooke started with her eyes glistening with tears, “but my family…they must be worried that…”
“I called Richard and he’s bringing Guy with him right now,” Brant promised her reaching for her hand and holding it gently, “They’re going to have some police officers come with them to ask you a few questions, but if it’s too much, then you tell me and I’ll get rid of them.”
“Brant, I don’t know if I’m up for that just yet…” Brooke sighed heavily hearing the sounds of footsteps outside the room she was in as a panic rushed over her.  She eyed the door intently, seemingly terrified by what was on the other side as Brant took in her non-verbal cues and rose from the bed to check it out.  Desperately she reached out to him once again, “Brant wait…”
“Brooke, I’m sure it’s just Richard and Guy,” he began to explain as she tugged on his arm.
“But what about Avery?  What about my daughter?  Is she…is she safe…” Brooke questioned her voice scratchy and broken as Brant could see some bruising along the left side of her face.
He nodded in response, “She’s with Russ and they’re away from Coral Valley.”
“Can you call her?  Please,” she begged of him, “Bring her back home as I need to see my baby girl now that I’m here…now that I…”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Brant promised seeing a grateful smile press over her features as he heard a knock at the door, “Let me just get that.”
“Alright,” Brooke nodded in response allowing him to answer the door while she sank back into the pillows closing her tired eyes once again.  Listening as Brant opened the bedroom door, Brooke forced her eyes open once again as she saw her son rushing in towards her.
“Mum, oh thank God,” Guy embraced her unable to contain himself as he held onto her, wanting so desperately to believe that the nightmare had ended as she was back in his life once again.  Squeezing her in his arms, he felt tears pool in his eyes as he felt all the pent up emotions inside of him coming to the surface carrying him away with the moment, “I was so afraid I’d never see you again…”
“Oh Guy,” she hugged him tighter, “I was so afraid, but I never gave up hope.  I never stopped praying that I’d find my way home to my family and now that I’m here…” she pulled back just enough to see his sad eyes as she touched his cheek, “well now I know the real reason why life is worth living.  I love you so very much…”
“I love you too Mum,” Guy hugged her again as Richard stood beside the bed in a stoic silence watching the exchange between Brooke and Guy.  Slowly he felt a lump building in his throat as he noticed how pale she looked in contrast to the thick bruising that shaded over the left side of her face.  It was painstaking to see her in such a state, but as her tears fell from her face while she held Guy, Richard couldn’t help but find himself touched by the moment as he circled around the bed taking a seat on the other side of her.
As if Brooke sensed his presence beside her, she turned her head in his direction, seeing the way he was watching her as she silently extended her hand out to Richard feeling him take it as the two exchanged a long, poignant silence before she threw out a sad smile.
“I’ll bet you were hoping that you’d never see me again, huh,” Brooke smiled weakly as Guy pulled away from his mother watching the exchange between his parents curiously.
“Are you kidding?” Richard threw back with a sad smile of his own, “Brooke, I’ve spent most of my life listening to you and being miserable, I didn’t think that you were ready to stop putting me through that just yet…”
“So I take it you’re not disappointed that I’m here again,” she questioned with a tiny sniffle as he squeezed her hand gently.
“Not on your life,” he replied unable to contain himself as the weight of the moment carried over him and he reached out to her pulling her into his arms surprising both her and Guy in the movement, “Thank heavens your back…”
“Oh Rick,” she replied with a whimper breaking down into tiny sobs over his chest as he held her trying to rock away the pain of the experience that she’d gone through as it seemed that in her homecoming it was only the beginning of the rough road she’d faced behind her.
“It’s going to be okay now,” he promised kissing the top of her head as Guy sat beside them taking in the moment between his parents as he wondered if perhaps there was some hope for saving the Morrison family after all now that his father had seen how miserable life without Brooke would be.  Perhaps despite all the pain and heartbreak, this kidnapping marked a new beginning for all of them at long last.


Avery tiptoed around the hallway leading to the bedroom, careful with each well planned movement as she tried to envision Russell’s reaction to what she’d had in store for him.  After last night’s seemingly endless search for the perfect name for their baby, the both of them had cuddled up beneath the blankets with one another lost in the moment until this morning when Avery had awakened to find the book of baby names placed ever so carefully upon his naked chest.  At the time Avery had been tempted to remove the book, but she found herself mesmerized by the dedication he’d put forth into clearly staying up just a bit longer than she had to come up with a list of names to check out with her as she’d also found a small pad of paper with a few names jotted down upon it on the nightstand beside him.  It was in that instant that Avery felt herself falling harder for the man that had changed her life around for the better and the longer she watched him in that position, well the harder it was for her to concentrate on anything else, but how amazing he was.  So with that thought in mind, Avery had shifted restlessly in bed for a few more minutes before quietly slipping out from beside him in order to put the book away and work on her latest surprise that she now was carrying in her hands.
Seeing into the bedroom just a bit as she’d left the door opened just a crack, Avery couldn’t help but smile as she caught the first glimpse of Russell tucked away beneath the sheet.  She found herself admiring the lines of his perfectly sculpted chest as the sheet hung at his waist, allowing the glistening morning sunlight to pool over his body making him appear more like the vision of a Greek god brought to life rather than a mere mortal as he was by far too perfect to be just any man.  But he’s not any man, Avery reminded herself with a tiny smile as he was her husband and the father of her unborn child which only added to the magic of all that he was to her.  He was her Prince Charming, her love and her world wrapped up into one perfect package and now as she stood at the threshold of the bedroom with a small tray in hand, she couldn’t help but find herself mesmerized by him as it seemed that in that moment she’d truly gained a complete understanding of just how fortunate she was to have him back in her life again.
“Oh Russ,” she sighed inwardly feeling a warmth spread out over her entire being as he shifted beneath the sheet turning to his side as his arm extended out over her half of the bed, as if he’d been reaching for her in that moment, feeling the way her heart longed to be near him--to hold him again as he seemed so far away, but before she could take another step towards him a tiny purr captured her attention and she looked down to find Rusty rubbing up against her leg, eager to get her attention.
“Hey sweetie,” Avery whispered setting the tray down on top of the dresser beside her before she bent down to reach for her kitten, petting the top of his head as his purrs grew louder with each soft caress and she couldn’t help but smile, “Shh…Rusty, I’m trying to surprise your daddy here.”
“So what exactly is his daddy in store for,” Russell questioned as Avery turned her eyes up towards the bed seeing him sitting upright watching her with a sexy smile upon his handsome features as she hoisted their tiny kitten into her arms.
“Well, I was thinking about breakfast in bed,” Avery confessed flashing him a soft, seductive smile of her own before she nodded to where she’d set the tray down on the dresser, “as I’d prepared something for you…”
“My, you must be out to surprise me,” he couldn’t help but tease watching as her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, “though I have one question to ask you right about now.”
“What’s that?” Avery inquired moving in towards him before setting Rusty down on the bottom of the bed before going to retrieve the tray she’d brought with her from the kitchen.
“Well, I know it’s probably not the best time to be asking, but…” he paused admiring her curves as she was clad only in one of his oversized t-shirts and as he thought about teasing her, his eyes were drawn to her legs--to one of his favorite parts of her that he’d so enjoyed having wrapped around them when…
“Yes?” she questioned spinning around to face him once again as she noted the silly smirk the built upon his features, “Russ, why do I get the sudden feeling that you were just undressing me with your eyes?”
“Because I was getting very close to having you naked just about now and right here,” he motioned to his lap before patting on the bed beside him, “so why don’t we think about working on making that daydream a reality?”
“I’ll think about it,” she decided closing in on the distance between them once again, “but first tell me what you wanted to say before…”
“Well, I don’t know,” he began with a cryptic look.
“Oh come on chicken,” Avery plopped down beside him putting the tray in over his lap despite his request for her to be there instead.
“Oh alright,” he sighed wondering if he’d ever get his daydream brought to life now as he returned to the goading he’d intended on earlier, “I was just wondering if perhaps my parents would be upset with what’s left of the kitchen since you decided to make breakfast.  I mean with your natural cooking abilities and all along with the fact we’ve had to put the fire department on speed dial anytime you feel compelled to put your culinary skills to good use…” he broke into laughter.
“You know Russ, just for that I shouldn’t share any of this with you,” Avery reached for the tray once again, “because if you’re just going to insult me…”
“Oh no baby,” he shook his head bringing his fingers down over hers, “you’re not taking this anywhere…well except for maybe on your side of the bed because I believe my breakfast request was to have you right here…” he nodded to his lap.
“Not in front of our baby,” Avery chastised him as Rusty climbed up over the thick mound of blankets that were piled up near the center of the bed.
“Oh come on Avery, Rusty doesn’t mind if we’re being all romantic around one another,” Russell winked at her snapping his fingers in an attempt to capture Rusty’s attention as the kitten pranced right over to Russell rubbing up against his arm before Russell hoisted him up to his chest scratching underneath Rusty’s chin in the process, “You don’t mind, do you buddy?  After all you’re a guy and you can understand how being around a beautiful woman like your mother is quite distracting…”
“And you’re teaching our kitten all about bad manners,” Avery curled her lip in a point before tossing out a very stern look, “as right now it’s time for breakfast.  Dessert comes later.”
“Hmm, well since obviously your mommy needs a little warming up, why don’t you give us a few minutes alone kiddo,” Russell whispered jokingly as the kitten purred in response wiggling out of Russell’s arms before jumping down onto the ground to chase after a beam of sunlight that radiated through the window on the other side of the room.  “See, he knows what’s up…”
“And you’re being impossible when I’m trying to be romantic here,” Avery huffed back at him wiggling over to her side of the bed before she motioned to the tray she’d presented him with, “as you’re always doing things for me, so I thought that today I’d try to pamper you a little bit.”
“I’m all for you pampering me Avery,” he winked at her, a playful smirk spreading over his features, “but how about we work on stroking my ego along the way…”
“Russ, honey it’s not your ego that you want me to stroke right about now and if I did that for you, well we wouldn’t get to breakfast,” she curled her lip in a pout as she reached for the tray before him, “and I’m really proud of myself.”
“Okay fine,” he sighed feeling her determination getting to him as he nodded to the tray, “what do you have for me baby?”
“Well for starters, I made eggs,” Avery explained proudly as she revealed what was in one of the covered plates before him, “I thought that might be something you’d enjoy as you were always big on eggs growing up and while they aren’t fried because I had a few problems in trying to keep the yolk in place…though that’s another story…” she paused biting on her lower lip nervously before throwing him a bright grin, “I just thought you’d like scrambled instead.”
“I love scrambled eggs,” he replied seeing the way in which her eyes lit up as she reached for the fork pulling out a bite for him to taste.
“Then try some,” she urged him on watching as he took a bite and his face tightened as he continued to chew on the rubbery piece of egg she’d offered him.
“Well it’s very…” he paused feeling something hard between his teeth as he fought to keep from insulting her as he shifted the egg in his mouth reaching for one of the napkins before him, “um, Avery…honey, did you decide to go for scrambled eggs after an incident with the eggshells?”
“I didn’t get them all out, did I,” she frowned watching as he lifted the napkin up to his lips, trying to be casual about discarding the bite she’d given him.
“Hey, I think they’re great.  It must’ve just been this one bite because they’re really,” he tried to reach for another forkful as she lifted the plate up off of the tray.
“No forget it.  You hate them and I can’t say I blame you because I probably didn’t get the eggshells out like I was hoping,” she decided setting the plate on the nightstand, “and it’s entirely okay because I didn’t stop with eggs.  I decided to do something else there for you…because I knew my eggs might not be a hit so how about some bacon…”
“Bacon, well that sounds good right about…” he began watching as she revealed a plate of very charred meat to him and he fought to stifle the tiny laugh that built up in the back of his throat as clearly his wife’s cooking skills hadn’t changed with their newlywed status.  Still he wasn’t about to insult her once again as he reached for a piece.  Feeling the hardened texture of it crack beneath his fingers, he took the broken piece in his mouth chewing on it tentatively as there was no mistaking the blackened, clearly burnt taste of what she’d said was bacon.
“Well?” she questioned her eyes hopeful that this selection hadn’t been a complete failure as he forced himself to swallow the piece.
“It’s crispy, just like I like it,” he smiled back at her attempting to give her something positive about the meal she’d taken so much care into making for him as he looked to the tray again, “One question though…did you bring any drinks for us?”
“Well, I’d kind of planned on some freshly squeezed orange juice for us, but then I couldn’t find the juicer,” she reached for a glass of pulp and less than an ounce worth of juice as she offered up a nervous smile, “I thought I could do it on my own since you can’t really screw up orange juice, but…”
“But you did a great job,” Russell reached for the glass lifting it to his lips to take a sip as it was far more sour than he’d imagined orange juice being, but as she watched him he really strained to keep from showing anything more than gratitude until he felt a seed from the oranges she’d squeezed get caught in his throat and he started coughing.
“Russ, are you okay,” Avery shifted onto her knees reaching out to pat him on the back as his coughing continued.
“I’m just fine…I’m…” he continued between coughs as she swatted at his back trying to assist him in the moment until he’d wound up spitting the seed out onto the tray before him.
“Oh Russ, I’m so sorry,” Avery apologized watching him gasp for air after his choking fit as she felt a heat rise over her features, “I really thought that I’d gotten the seeds out of that one too but…”
“But nothing,” he smiled weakly turning towards her to see the sadness that pressed over her features, “Avery, you did an incredible job and I must say that I’m touched…truly…”
“You don’t have to lie Russ,” she grumbled dropping back into the pillows as she folded her arms in front of her chest, “You hated it and who could blame you because I can’t even make a bowl of cereal without screwing it up.”
“Now I don’t believe that for one second,” he started to argue with her seeing the disappointment that rocked over her, “I mean sure okay so things didn’t work out like you were planning for them, but I’m sure there’s still something that we can take from this wonderful meal you prepared with loving care.”
“Russ, you don’t have to try to force yourself to enjoy it because we both know that…” she sighed heavily shaking her head at the thought of the disaster she’d managed to create.
“Avery, honey, the mere fact that you thought enough to do this for me, well there aren’t words to describe how wonderful this is,” he began again seeing her refusal to accept his words as he reached out to her touching her cheek gently before coaxing her to meet his concerned green eyes, “Avery, I love you all the more for trying to do this for me.”
“But it wasn’t like I wanted it to be,” she grumbled as her frown deepened, “as I wanted to give you something that you could really appreciate--something that was at least edible…”
“Avery, you’re looking at this entirely the wrong way.  You’re seeing breakfast as a failure where as I’m seeing it as something my wife did for me to make me happy and that’s where you succeeded as this is really amazing.  I mean hey, maybe we can give this another go, huh,” he eyed the tray once again spotting one last covered dish before him, “In fact, what’s this?”
“That’s…well, that’s just something that I threw on there last minute,” she confessed as he lifted the lid to find a plate full of strawberries circling around a small bowl of chocolate in the center of the plate.
“Now see, here is something that I think it very workable for us,” Russell decided reaching for a lush, ripe berry and dropping it down into the chocolate sauce before lifting it to her lips urging her to take a bite, “Tell me what you think…”
“Russ…” she started ready to form some words of protest before taking a hearty bite of the berry he’d offered her.
“See, it’s good, isn’t it,” he half questioned dropping the other half of the berry into his mouth as he watched her eyelids flutter a bit as she savored the bite he’d offered her.
“That’s because there was no cooking involved or anything that would pose as an impossible task for me to…” she began still irritated with herself as he raised another berry to her lips.
“Have another bite sweetheart as you’ve truly outdone yourself with this,” he coaxed her into trying the chocolate drenched fruit he teased over her bottom lip as she opened her mouth to accept the token he’d offered her, but before she could take that bite, he pulled it away capturing her mouth in a tantalizing kiss.
Tasting the traces of chocolate upon her lips, Russ could feel the vibrations of her soft moan against his mouth as she scooted in closer to her, dropping her hand down to steal the chocolate covered berry from his fingers.  Before he could protest her sneak approach, she dropped the fruit between her parted lips and swallowed savoring every last second of delicious temptation that it provided her.
“Hey that was my strawberry,” he protested watching the way her eyes lit up with a hint of mischief.
“Hey, if you snooze you lose,” Avery threw back at him sticking her tongue out defiantly as he reached out to curl his arm around her waist pushing the tray out of the way before nudging her in closer to him.
“The way I see it, you owe me a strawberry and since you’ve taken the one I want, well I think it’s only fair that you allow me the opportunity to get it back,” he stated plainly as her fingers dropped down onto the plate of berries reaching for another one.
“Here, will this do,” she questioned innocently fluttering her eyelashes at him as he shook his head in the negative.
“Nope, I’m afraid not as I wanted that particular berry,” he argued with her.
“Well, then that does pose a problem as I’ve already swallowed it,” Avery confessed with a simple shrug of her shoulders, “and I really don’t think it’s coming back…”
“Then perhaps its time you and I discussed an arrangement we can make in place of the berry I lost,” he sighed leaning back into his pillows as he pulled her more firmly onto his lap, “as I really did want that berry…”
“And you’re sure you won’t be able to accept another,” she questioned plucking up another ripe, red berry from the plate.
“I’m afraid not because none other would taste as sweet,” he shook his head in response watching as she lifted the fruit to her lips, teasing her tongue over her it before extending it out to his mouth circling his lips with the tip.
“Are you sure about that,” she questioned in a low, sultry tone, “as I happen to think that this one is rather succulent.”
“Hmm…” he breathed sampling the berry as he kept his arm around her squeezing her in over his lap, “you might be on to something here, but I can’t be sure.  How about you give it another taste, sweetheart?”
“Well, if you insist,” Avery leaned forward bypassing the fruit altogether as she tasted his lips, suckling them before sliding her tongue into his mouth feeling the fire and intensity of him burning her senses as his fingers teased down over her thighs, making a trail towards the bottom of the shirt she was wearing as he held her.  “Russ…”
“What,” he questioned lazily feeling her pull back ever so slightly as he held her.
“I told you that right now was about breakfast…” she reminded him with a frown sliding a bit further away from him, “not dessert.  Remember?”
“I might recall something vaguely along those lines…” he shrugged his shoulders before offering up a playful wink, “though it’s a bit hazy I must confess…”
“I’ll just bet it is,” Avery shook her head at him snatching away the plate of berries before crawling out of his lap.  She watched as he opened his mouth in protest ready to argue all the reasons why breakfast was better with her closer to him.  However, before he could think up the best course of action, he watched as she tore the sheet he’d been covered up in away from his body.
“You know Russ, you still have a lot to learn about good manners and perhaps I should start by going over the basics of why breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she shook her head at him, her eyes skimming over the contours of his body.  She licked her lips taking a very obvious look at every inch of him as she reached for the bowl of chocolate before her.
“Please feel free to do so,” he gulped in response watching as she lifted the bowl up over his body, before turning it upside down while allowing the chocolate to pour out over his abdomen.
“You know Russ, you’re making this a whole hell of a lot more difficult for me,” she shook her head at him, dipping her fingers in over the chocolate pooling upon his heated skin as she watched his eyes widen at the prospect of what she might have in mind for him.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed unable to keep himself from squirming beneath her touch as she smeared the chocolate over his muscled abdomen, drawing lazy circles out over his hip and then some as he closed his eyes unable to keep from losing himself to the experience she was setting him up for, “though I must confess you’re making things rather hard for me right now Avery…”
“So I’ve noticed,” she commented tucking her hair back behind her shoulder before leaning forward to whisper over his skin in an alluring fashion, “which has me thinking twice about dessert…”
“Thinking twice,” he repeated feeling her lips skim over his abdomen before her tongue followed suit offering up the most wicked display of torment imaginable as he sucked in a sharp breath, “well…at least one of us can be rational right now considering that all I can think about is your lips right…” he bit back a moan realizing that in that instant he and Avery must’ve been in perfect sync with one another as she’d clearly made her mark with her sinful intentions, “there.”
“Mmm you don‘t say…” she hummed against his body, drawing out his ache for her as her fingers coaxed his body to sweet surrender keeping him at full attention as her lips devoured him once again.

Arching his hips up towards her, Russ couldn’t help but focus on the mood Avery had created for them as clearly this morning was just full of pleasant surprises, but as he thought to her concerns for their kitten, he opened his eyes just to double check that Rusty’s tail chasing adventure had guided him out of the room away from what was taking place.  Once Russ was satisfied that Rusty had drifted off to find his own source of amusement, he closed his eyes once again, threading his fingers through Avery’s hair as she teased him mercilessly reminding him again and again of how dangerous she was when he was so readily bending at her mercy like this.
“Baby you have no idea how good that feels…” he managed to get out in between unsteady breaths as she seemed to tickle him with her laughter when her kisses traveled up over his abdomen tracing over the sticky remains of chocolate upon him before her dark eyes turned up towards his.
“I might have some inclination about what this is doing for you,” she offered in response dropping feathery light kisses over his body before dishing out yet another round of torture as Russell sank back into the pillows mesmerized by her.  He reached out to her, feeling the heat spiraling out of control from within as he urged her to return to him once again.
“I don’t think you have the first clue, but I’d be more than willing to show you,” he tugged at her shoulders pulling her into his lap once again with such force that he couldn’t help but appreciate the surprised sigh that escaped from her now parted, fully throbbing lips.
“So what are you waiting for,” she challenged a wicked smirk washing over her as his hands curled up under the shirt she’d been wearing to cup her bottom as he nudged her closer to his ache for her teetering on the brink of completion for them.
“Not a damned thing,” he groaned in response guiding her down over his aching need for her.  She arched her back, allowing him to fill her completely before she rose up on her knees to put a distance between them before he called upon her once again with a crashing force.
“Oh Russ,” she purred his name, her features flushed with desire as he held her, rocking her body over his, “there is something to be said about breakfast in bed…”
“You aren’t kidding,” he breathed maneuvering her onto her back while seeking out her lips as there were joined as one savoring their morning round of passion with one another when another sound rose through the moment.
“Avery…Avery are you there…” a voice sounded as Russ broke away from the kiss they were sharing only to see his confusion mirrored in her eyes.
“What the hell is…” Russell began seeing Avery’s cell phone on the bed a few inches away from them as the voice continued to break through their private time with one another.
“Avery, if you’re there…say something…” Brant’s voice urged her on as he continued to speak to the silence on her end, “Your mother is back in town and…”
“She’s what,” Avery blurted out reaching out beyond Russell to tear her cell phone up from the mattress quickly as concern flooded over her, “Brant, when did this happen…”
“She showed up on my doorstep last night in the midst of the storm,” Brant answered quickly sensing the breathlessness in Avery’s tone, “Avery, are you okay?”
“I’m fine…I was just…” Avery threw Russell a pleading look at he hovered over her, still one with her body as she spoke with Brant.  She wiggled her finger at him, trying to silently explain the situation and with a groan, Russell rolled over onto his back feeling the mood between them dissipate in a matter of seconds as she was now immersed in whatever Brant had to say.  Sitting upright, Avery clenched her cell phone tighter, “How is she?”
“She’s pretty shaken up and she’s been asking for you.  Normally I wouldn’t have bothered you, but your whole family is here at the mansion and it looks like she’s been through some kind of hell Avery…” Brant continued as Avery turned to look at Russ, seeing the frustrated look that spread over his features.
“Tell her we’ll be there as soon as we can.  We’re a little ways out of town, but we’ll start heading back to town as soon as I hang up,” Avery assured him fighting to keep her voice even, “and Brant…”
“Yes?” he replied quickly.
“Thanks for calling and taking care of her,” Avery offered up struggling to find the right words as she thought of her mother’s return to Coral Valley after the horrible ordeal she must’ve gone through.
“She’s in good hands with me here Avery.  You have my word on that,” Brant paused as if he was contemplating something more before throwing out one last comment, “See you soon.”
“Of course,” Avery replied hanging up her cell phone before turning to Russell seeing the tortured expression on his face.
“I take it our vacation is over,” he sighed heavily sliding his fingers through his hair.
“My mom is back and she’s really shaken up.  Brant said she looks like she’s been through hell,” Avery started to explain to him as she noticed something flicker behind his eyes.
“And Brant what?  Nominated himself to call you since he knew we were taking some time for us?” he grumbled in response thinking to Brant’s less than perfect timing in making the call.
“Brant said she showed up on his doorstep and when it gets down to it, does it really matter who called to tell us,” Avery questioned watching him closely, “I mean Russ, my mother’s alive and she’s going to be okay from the sound of it…”
“Yeah, well I suppose that’s wonderful news, but…” he began realizing that his frustrations were doing the talking as the last thing he’d anticipated hearing while making love to his wife was Brant Ashford’s voice.
“But what?” she questioned with a huff, “Russ, don’t tell me you think that Brant planned this one too…”
“That’s not what I’m saying, but more so what I’m getting at is that the man has impeccable timing.  I mean, really how did the phone get into bed with us anyways…” he grumbled.
“I don’t know.  Maybe I brought it with me last night before we drifted off to sleep.  I could’ve just pushed a button when we were…” she paused shaking the thoughts from her mind, “Russ, that’s not really important right now.  What is important is our getting back to Coral Valley to see my mother.  If Bruce hurt her, then we need to know what happened and how to stop him before it’s too late.  Before he has another chance to…” she trailed off worry consuming her as Russell reached out to her taking her hand in his.
“He’s not going to get that opportunity,” he promised her solemnly pushing aside his own discontent about Brant’s intrusion upon their private time together as he tried to focus on what was important in a time like this, “Listen baby, what do you say we clean up here really quickly and then I’ll hop in a shower and we can get on back to Coral Valley?”
“That’s probably best,” she nodded turning her attention to the floor before her, “I can go find Rusty and get his things together so we can get going…”
“Avery wait,” he reached out to her feeling her getting up from on the bed.
“What?” she questioned turning to face him once again.
“I just wanted to say that well, when this blows over, you and I have another trip out here ahead of us,” he promised touching her cheek tenderly as he held her for a long, lingering moment.
“You can bet on that one Denton,” she replied with a soft smile leaning in to kiss him gently, “as I’m no where near done with you in this place.”
“That’s good to know,” he let out a sigh of relief, “and Avery…”
“Regardless of what happens when we get back home, I just want you to know that I love you--that I’m dedicated to doing whatever it takes to keep showing you how much you and our baby mean to me…” he vowed solemnly as his eyes reached down into hers.
“I know you are and you prove all that to me each day just by loving me like you do,” she whispered against his lips joining them together in a barely there kiss, “and I hope you know how important you are to me Russ as you are the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me and I’d move heaven and Earth to keep what we have between us going strong until the end of time.”
“It will Avery.  Despite whatever Bruce has been planning, what we have is forever,” he laced their fingers together recognizing their bond between them as he watched her finger the locket he’d given her the previous evening.
“And always,” she added with a tender smile holding onto the hope that once they returned to Coral Valley the magic between them would flourish and keep going strong as nothing was worth sacrificing what they had together--not even the wrath of those who were out to get them.  That much she was holding onto as the rest of the world seemed to be filled with uncertainty around them.  Come what may, they would find a way to live the kind of life of love they’d always dreamt of with one another.


Jenna entered her small kitchen finding Hart standing over the stove once again and as a smile crept in over her features she began to ponder the familiarity of the situation growing between them.  While she never in a million years would’ve guessed that she and Hart Steiner would have ever come full circle like this, she found herself depending on him more and more as time went on.  Even on a morning like this her heart filled with love for him as she realized that his being in her home was as natural as ever and she wondered if she’d be able to be without him in her life and in her kitchen on other mornings in the future.  Shuddering at the darkness that overcame her with her thoughts, she let her presence be known as she cleared her throat.
“Morning,” Hart greeted her with a sexy smile, “I hope you’re hungry seeing as last night you barely touched dinner.”
“I guess my appetite never came back to me,” she sighed crossing the room to join him as a sadness flickered behind her beautiful features.  She felt the memory of her father and his dinner companion haunt her for a lingering moment before she let out a tiny groan, “I can’t believe that I’ve been so stupid.”
“Jen, honey you have to stop beating yourself up over this,” Hart frowned taking a long look at her as he could see the sting of last night’s near encounter with her father still eating away at her, “You had no idea that you’d see him there…”
“No, I didn’t, but I certainly didn’t anticipate when I saw him again that he’d be all over some sleaze that works for Cameron Stone.  I mean my God it’s bad enough that he has a taste for women close to my age there, but for him to be so blatant about his appetites like that out in the public with someone who clearly lives to create misery for others…” she shuddered at the thought, “What was I thinking?”
“Sweetheart, you were thinking that you missed out on a life with your father and you wanted to recreate that with him,” Hart pointed out reaching out to touch her arm in a tentative fashion, “That’s really what you were hoping for.”
“Even so I should’ve picked up on the fact that he was a creep when he tried to pick up on me when we first me,” she wrinkled her nose in disgust, “I mean I guess I always kind of imagined that he was sincere in his pitching the thought of Hollywood to me as he had this eye for talent and then I rationalized that maybe he saw my mother in me, but now, well now I’m just starting to think that he’s like the rest of those without morals in the world of the Hollywood glitz and glamour ready to nail any little wanna be starlet that comes his way…of course what makes it worse is that he’s doing it in public with a woman who lives for destruction…”
“Jen, maybe there’s more to the story,” Hart started hating to see her so upset.
“Oh yeah there’s more to the story,” Jenna balked back at him, “I’m an idiot.  That’s where the kicker of this one comes in.  I mean here I am ready to throw away this bond my mother and I have had all these years because I felt like she’d betrayed me and Douglas and now here I see that he’s not the victim at all.  I mean sure he was lied to, but then when I see him sleeping with the enemy…”
“Cameron Stone is a shady person, but maybe this Thea Valentine isn’t…” Hart offered up hating to see her in such a frantic state of mind.
“Oh I’m sure she is as anything associated with that man is nothing but trouble,” Jenna huffed clenching her fists at her sides, “as he’s pure evil and anyone who dares to defy him feels the brunt of it.”
“Something tells me that there’s more to this tale than you’re telling me,” Hart noted watching as the darkness spread over her features.
“That’s because there is,” Jenna curled her lip as she thought back to another time and place, “Before you came to town a friend of mine died because of that man…”
“Come again,” Hart blinked back at her, “Are you saying Cameron killed her?”
“In a round about way, yes I think he did though legally there wasn’t enough proof,” Jenna explained poignantly, “My friend Maria Sanchez worked with some housing projects that Cameron was bent on shutting down at the time.  She was one of the voices of opposition against his plans for tearing down the community housing to put up high priced hotels and casinos right out of town.  To make a long story short, she took on Cameron and people were listening to her as Maria was the kind of woman that people listened to.  She made her mark and people were taking notice…especially Cameron.  He hated that Maria was skewing the press to see Cameron as he truly was and eventually he decided to take action against her.  She was seeing Diego Hernandez at the time when all this was taking place and Cameron found a way to put a wedge between their relationship in an attempt to silence Maria, but she refused to back down and in doing so, she kept on fighting against him.  Eventually she found out she was pregnant and she and Diego were working on making amends with one another when she was the victim of a hit and run accident.  At the time the District Attorney had witnesses lined up to testify that Stone called the hit on Maria, but when the court date approached, they all vanished one by one…”
“And justice was never served,” Hart noted thinking about what she was telling him.
“Exactly,” Jenna nodded emphatically, “and to this day I still maintain that he was behind her death even though he knew full well that she was six months pregnant.  It was irrelevant because life means so little to a man like that…”
“That’s horrible,” Hart remarked thinking about what she was telling him, “to kill anyone is just wrong, but a pregnant woman…”
“That wasn’t the worst of it,” Jenna confessed feeling herself overcome with tears as she choked up on emotion, “While Maria died on impact, the baby survived the crash.  They did an emergency cesarean and the boy lived for a whole four and a half hours barely holding on in critical condition before his passing.  Never in my life had I seen something so awful and when Diego had to not only bury the woman he loved, but his son as well…” she shook her head unable to contain her tears, “to think that my father could have anything to do with people who are tied into that is horrifying…”
“Oh Jenna,” Hart pulled her into an embrace as she broke down into tiny sobs.
“I’m such a fool.  How could I have made such a horrible mistake in believing in him when he and I are practically strangers?  My mother has been there for me all these years and I’ve treated her so horrible…I’ve been just awful and now…” she choked up on emotion.
“Jen, it’s not too late,” he offered up smoothing his fingers through her hair, “There’s still time to fix this.  In fact, maybe you should call her and try to connect with her.  Or maybe even go over…”
“Why would she want to see me after the way I’ve behaved,” Jenna questioned biting back on her tears.
“Because she’s your mother and she loves you very much,” Hart skimmed his thumbs across her cheek wiping at her tears, “She’s just wanted to be able to tell her side of the story and maybe now is as good of a time as ever.”
“But how would I begin?  Where would I begin to even say anything even remotely close to the apology that I owe her,” Jenna questioned unable to keep from breaking down in his arms.
“Jen, you have to trust me on this.  You and your mother need each other more than ever and the longer you put this off, the harder it’s going to feel.  I know she won’t turn you away and now that you’re ready to listen to what she has to say, well maybe you both can find a way to reach an understanding with one another,” he suggested in a soothing tone as she held onto him, burying her face in his chest as her pain consumed her.
“I hope you’re right, Hart,” she whispered biting back her tears as she held him hoping that there would be a way to repair the damage that had been done between her and her mother after all this time.


Grady walked through his house while tying his tie. He stepped into the kitchen to prepare himself some coffee and found Susan standing in front of the stove. He groaned as he leaned against the counter, “You’re still here?”

“I told you that I’m not leaving,” Susan spoke as she flipped a crepe in the pan upon the stove. She turned and smiled as she looked at him, “Damn I forgot just how sexy you can be in the morning.”

“Spare me,” He groaned dryly, “Susan, I’m not going to let you keep up this charade. I want you out of my house.”

“It’s still half my house, and I’m not going anywhere. I have as much right to live here as you do, and I’m not going to leave.”

“Okay, I give up. What is it you really want?”

“Other than a place to live?” She asked as she turned her attention to the crepe once again.

“You have a place to live. I know Stone Corp leased you a penthouse apartment across town. So why aren’t you there?”

“Why should I be there when I own half this house?”

“Because you want something, and I want to know what it is. You never do anything without having some other motive behind it. So give it up. What is it you’re hoping to gain by moving in here?”

“I don’t have anything to gain but the rights to my home,” She spoke as she served up a crape and began spooning batter into the pan to start another, “This is just something you’re going to have to learn to live with.”

“I’m not going to let this stand.”

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Susan smiled as she checked on her crepe.

“Actually there is. I’ll file suit against you because there is no way I’m going to live in the same house with you,” He said firmly.

“Then move out,” She winked at him as she flipped the crepe.

“I don’t get it. What would cause you to leave that cushy penthouse?” He spoke as he studied her, “You have to be after something.”

“I already told you, Grady…”

“I know what you said, but that’s not the whole story. You never give the whole story if you can help it, and my guess is that you just want to drive me insane,” He set his jaw, “Which has been your mission in life all along it seems.”

She grinned as she lifted another crepe from the pan and began another, “You know, Grady, that was your problem. You were always too ego-centric.”

“No, that was your problem,” He crossed his arms in frustration as he watched her, “Which brings this situation back to you. I’m not sure what made you decide to move back in here, but I’m going to figure it out.”

“Don’t bet on it,” She quipped while serving up the last of her crepes and switched off the stove. She moved towards the dining room as he followed her.

“That sounds ominous. So what happened? Stone figure out that you don’t give a damn about anyone but yourself? That just as long as you come out looking your best you could care less what happens to his precious company?” He asked as he watched her take a seat at the dining table.

“Hardly, Cameron knows that I’m a terrific attorney, and he also knows that I’m the only one who can face Ken in court and make a solid impression.”

“Ah, there we go. The magic word. Ken,” Grady repeated the name as he eyed Susan, “What happened? Did he turn you down?”

“He knows better,” She said as she poured herself a glass of orange juice from a carafe, “A lesson you never learned.”

“Thank god,” He sighed, “Susan, we’ll never be able to live with one another, and you should know that better than anyone. So why don’t you do us both a favor and just be gone by the end of the work day?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Grady, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay,” Susan flashed him a bright smile before sipping her orange juice.

Grady groaned as he left the room in frustration. As he grabbed his brief case and jacket on his way to the door, he tried to figure some way out of the predicament he was faced with. Surely there was some way to get Susan out of his house not to mention out of his life. Regardless, he wasn’t going to let her ruin his chance to finally get his life on track and secure his future with Jade.


Blake tiptoed out of Seth’s bedroom making her way towards the small bathroom at the end of the narrow hallway as she felt a tired yawn fall from her lips.  Yesterday was finally catching up to her as she and Seth had finished up their dinner with Ben and a grudgingly miserable Diane before returning to his apartment where they spent most of the night lost in one another’s arms.  Now as the new day dawned upon them, she could feel her body spent with the passion they’d been so wrapped up in the night before.  All she wanted to do was take a few minutes to herself in the bathroom, perhaps get a nice, hot mug of coffee and then cuddle up with Seth for a little while longer before facing the new day head on.  However at the moment, the bathroom was the top priority, but before she could make her way to the door, it opened up and Jade stepped out with a gasp.
“Blake,” Jade blurted out her name bringing her hand up over her own chest as a sign of her being startled, “I didn’t realize that you were here…”
“Yeah, I…well Seth and I…” Blake felt embarrassment flood over her features as she stood before Seth’s sister clad only in one of his old jersey shirts knowing full well that the aftereffects of the previous evening with Seth had to be more obvious than ever in this awkward moment between them, “well I spent the night…”
“Obviously,” Jade smirked unable to contain herself as she thought to her brother’s feelings for Blake, but before she could think up all the way she wanted to tease Seth like he’d done with her in the past, she stepped aside motioning to the bathroom door, “Need to get in there?”
“If you don’t mind,” Blake smiled politely making her way into the bathroom and closing the door behind her as Jade let out a tiny chuckle making her way down the hallway just in time to see her brother emerging from his bedroom.
“Long night,” Jade threw out a knowing smirk as she noticed his brother’s ruffled appearance.
“Don’t give me that look Jade,” Seth brought his fingers up through his dark hair listening to the faint humming sounds she made as she headed for the kitchen.
“What look,” Jade shrugged her shoulders innocently, “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about…unless of course you’re referring to the fact that my brother was rocking Blake Ashford’s world last night…”
“Jade, don’t say it like that,” Seth frowned back at her watching as she tended to starting a pot of coffee unable to mask her amusement as she went along.
“I thought I’d heard something last night, but if I’d had any idea what was really going on behind that closed door, well I might’ve been inclined to go stay with Diane seeing as it’s been such a very long time since you’ve had one of your girlfriends over like that, but then again I think a little lovin’ is good for you…”
“Jade, can we just skip over that for a moment and get back to where you’ve been over the last couple of days,” Seth frowned eyeing her with intense scrutiny, “You never came home and checked in or even bothered to call.”
“I had Ben and Diane tell you that…” Jade started to argue with him.
“Yeah, well for the record Ben and Diane don’t count, so what’s been going on,” Seth entered the kitchen voicing his concerns aloud, “Jade, I was really worried about you especially after you were so upset about Grady…”
“I know and I should’ve called Seth,” Jade announced with a sigh, “I really should’ve let you know that I was okay, but I needed some time to get a few things in perspective in my life.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean,” Seth folded his arms in front of his chest eyeing her curiously.
“It means that I needed some perspective and I think I’m working on getting it.  I don’t think I can make it any clearer than that,” Jade shrugged her shoulders turning her attention to the cabinet before her as she pulled out a box of cereal, “Just like it doesn’t get any clearer than seeing Blake in the hallway wearing your old football jersey there.”
“Jade, I’m trying to be serious here,” he interjected.
“So am I,” she threw out another knowing look, “as it’s not everyday that someone gets to touch that thing.  If I recall correctly, you tried to beat me for even thinking about wearing it out one night, but then to see Blake in it like that…”
“Okay, so she stayed over last night,” Seth offered up stating the obvious.
“Yeah, I got that far, but what I’m really wondering if how serious this is.  I mean where is this one headed?  Does she finally see what she was missing between the two of you?” Jade continued to question.
“I’d like to think so, but I’m not pushing her Jade,” Seth explained hearing the door to the bathroom open as Blake slowly made her way down the hallway to join them in the kitchen.  She looked between them before offering up a soft smile.
“Good morning,” Jade waved at her brightly before motioning to the coffee pot, “want some coffee?”
“That would be great,” Blake nodded in response, “Thanks Jade.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Jade replied reaching for another coffee mug as she eyed Blake and Seth for a long moment, “so Seth didn’t say he was having company last night…”
“Well, we were out late in the storm and then we just kind of decided to crash here,” Blake explained quickly as she shifted on her feet nervously.
“If we’d known you were here, well we would’ve asked you to watch a movie with us,” Seth added reaching out to bring his arm around Blake’s shoulders.
“As much fun as that would’ve been, I’m glad you didn’t know I was here,” Jade offered up yet another knowing look before she handed Blake a cup of coffee, “as I’m sure you both had a great time with one another last night all on your own.”
“We sure did,” Blake couldn’t help but reveal as she leaned into Seth, enjoying the warmth of his embrace as his strong arm remained securely around her body.
“Well that’s all I needed to hear to get me going on my day.  Speaking of which,” Jade turned her attention to the watch on her arm, “I’m running behind which means I really need to get going, but hey Blake it was great seeing you here this morning and hopefully we’ll be seeing you around more in the future.”
“I’d like to think so,” Blake turned her eyes up towards Seth as he held her.
“Excellent, then perhaps we’ll have to try dinner again sometime,” Jade suggested putting the box of cereal away and reaching for a bagel instead before throwing out one last wave.  “I’ll see you both later.”
“Bye Jade,” Seth waved at her watching as she walked out of the apartment leaving him alone with Blake once again.
“You don’t think she heard us together last night, do you,” Blake questioned her face growing a flushed rosy color as he pulled her more securely into his arms, “I mean when we came home, we both thought we were alone and…”
“I doubt that she heard us,” Seth offered up in an attempt to alleviate her concerns, though he wasn’t quite sure of that himself as he thought to the expression on his sister’s face.
“I really hope not because I don’t want her to think that I’m…” Blake began at a loss.
“In love with her brother?” Seth arched a curious brow as his dark eyes penetrated hers.
“Well, no not that as I don’t mind her knowing how I feel about you at all, but I just don’t want her to think that I’m just some…well, some slut who gets her kicks off of…” she began feeling foolish as the words came out.
“Blake,” he cut her off with a quick kiss, “Jade wouldn’t ever think that about you or any woman for that matter.  She’s not like that and truth be told, she knows how deeply I feel about you.  She wouldn’t judge you for what we’ve shared with one another…”
“I know that, but I just feel like I’ve been behaving so…” she paused straining for the right words.
“So what?  Enchanting?  Seductive?” Seth couldn’t help but tease watching as the color in her cheeks grew in intensity transforming to a deep crimson.
“Well yeah, but…I just don’t want to have Jade thinking that I’m some kind of nymphomaniac that is just concerned with bedding her brother because of his many talents when it comes to…” she softened her voice as she leaned up on her toes in towards him, “well making love…”
“Sweetheart, you are no where near the realm of being a nymphomaniac, though I will say you have me border lining on that one with all that you do,” he tipped down to kiss her once again savoring the sweetness of her lips, “as I can’t seem to get enough of you.”
“The feeling is mutual Seth,” she confessed with a soft sigh curling her arms around his shoulders as the warmth of him filled her up inside, “as I really had an incredible day yesterday.”
“So did I and I was thinking that perhaps we could do it again sometime,” Seth whispered against her mouth feeling the vibrations of her lips against his words, “that is if you don’t mind the suggestion…”
“I don’t know,” Blake couldn’t help but tease, “if I have another day like yesterday, I might not be able to pull myself out of bed for a week as I’m totally whipped here…”
“Hmm, I can’t imagine why,” Seth teased his finger tips down over her spine massaging her body gently, “seeing as you have quite a few tricks up your sleeve there for someone who is new at all of this…”
“You really think so,” Blake’s eyes widened with curiosity.
“Honey, I know so,” Seth nodded in confession, “as I’ve never seen anyone as mesmerizing as you are when we’re together.  Making love with you was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before.”
“Then you thought it was good, huh,” she felt a proud smile tickling over the corners of her lips.
“Baby, if you were any better, then I’d have to start feeling insecure about my abilities as it was beyond stellar there,” Seth cupped her face in his hands coaxing her into a tender kiss as he held her, “although I think the fact that I’m head over heels in love with you only adds to how amazing you are.”
“Oh Seth,” Blake purred melting into his touch as his lips beckoned hers once again, “I love it when you say things like that…”
“Hmm, well I’m glad to hear it as I love you and honestly, I was hoping that we’d be able to explore another night with one another say over a nice, romantic, candlelit dinner for two,” Seth suggested lazily as his lips lingered over hers, “and maybe a movie that we’ll actually get around to watching this time…”
“It sounds like heaven,” Blake breathed against his mouth, “although since you were doing all the pampering me last night, what do you say to my making dinner for you?”
“Blake, you don’t have to…” Seth started seeing the eagerness that spilled over her beautiful features.
“I want to,” Blake insisted brightly, “You can come over to the mansion and then we can kick back with one another in the home theater room and see what comes about throughout the night.  What do you say?”
“I say you’ve got yourself a date,” Seth decided quickly unable to keep from holding her as they stood together in his kitchen, “though until then, what do you say I work on breakfast before we get back to the real world today?”
“Ugh do we have to,” Blake groaned feeling him release her as he made his way around the small kitchen.
“Well, I wish we didn’t, but I have another assignment to do this afternoon and I can guarantee that this one will bore you to tears,” Seth admitted with a half smile, “there’s this grocery store shoot that has me to the photos for a print ad that goes out on the weekend and all my subjects are fruit and veggies…”
“Lucky fruit and veggies,” Blake teased watching as he began to prepare breakfast for them, “though I suppose I can find something to keep me busy while you’re occupies.  I can get things together for tonight and then maybe pay Caitlin a visit or something…”
“How is she doing,” Seth inquired genuinely concerned for Blake’s best friend.
“She seems to really be well on the road to recovery which is wonderful news for all of us that care about her since it was so touch and go for a while,” Blake began thinking about her pal.
“I’m sure your brother is excited to have her back,” Seth noted getting some eggs out of the refrigerator.
“He’s beyond elated especially now that Zack isn’t trying to keep them apart anymore,” Blake paused realizing that she’d inadvertently slipped Zack’s name into the conversation when she wanted to be doing anything, but thinking about the man who’d broken her heart not so long ago.
As if sensing Blake’s discomfort Seth fought to keep his voice neutral as he responded to her comment, “Well I’m sure Zack just believed he was doing what was best for his sister as it was an emotional time for everyone involved.”
“So emotional that he decided to take up with a woman who is now having his baby,” Blake’s mood darkened as a sour expression crossed over her features.  She scowled for a moment before she realized Seth was watching her.  Shaking her head as she let out a sigh, she stepped towards him, “Seth, I’m sorry for bringing it up…”
“Don’t be,” he curled his arm around her waist, “I know that you care about Zack and I know that you’re hurting, so if you need to vent, then feel free to do so.  I don’t mind…well, that’s not entirely true, but I just hope that you can keep feeling free to be honest with me as that’s something I think we need between us.”
“I appreciate your saying that Seth, but I really shouldn’t vent on Zack with you considering that we…well, after yesterday,” Blake began shifting on her feet nervously.
“Blake, let me ask you something,” Seth kept her close to him as his eyes reached out into hers.
“Anything,” she offered up wondering if that response would come back to haunt her.
“Aright,” he took in a slow breath, “and just know that I want complete honesty with this one, okay?”
“Okay,” she nodded.
“Yesterday when we made love, it was about us right?  I mean when we were together, you weren’t trying to find some way to get back at Zack for his having another woman pregnant with his baby,” Seth braced himself for her answer as he searched her eyes, “because if that’s what it was, well then I just want you to tell me before…”
“I don’t know how you can think that,” Blake curled her lip in a pout before reasoning where he was coming from for a moment, “Okay, I can see why you might think that, but Seth I swear to you that our making love with one another had absolutely nothing to do with Zack.  It was something that we have both waited a long time for and when we finally went for it, well it just felt right.  It was something that in my heart I know we were meant to have happen between us and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
“Neither would I,” he confessed keeping her close to him as he saw the sincerity behind her eyes.
“Then please don’t doubt my intentions as when we were together--when we are together like this, it’s about us completely,” she eased her arms around his waist squeezing herself in against him, “This thing we have between us is something I’ve wanted for a very long time and it has absolutely nothing to do with Zack.  You have my word on that.”
“Then that’s all I need to know,” he hugged her against him kissing the top of her head gently, “I love you Blake.”
“I love you too Seth,” she whispered against his chest closing his eyes as she allowed herself to get lost in the warmth of his arms as she thought about the time they’d spent together.  While she couldn’t quite say that she was over Zack or that Zack was no longer in her heart because that very well wasn’t the case--not by a long shot, she could be honest with the fact that a part of her was lost in an intense emotion, enveloped in the love she felt for Seth.  It was that part of her that ultimately lead her into his arms as his lover at long last and it was that same part that was guiding her towards the never wanting to let go of Seth as they shared some more time alone with one another away from the rest of the world in his kitchen before they faced everything else that life had ahead of them in Coral Valley.


Zack parked his car in the drive of Johanna’s home and spotted her car with the trunk lid open. He frowned as he got out of the car and made his way towards the house. Nothing seemed to be going his way lately, and this was just one of those things. Actually…it couldn’t be classified as “just” anything. This was the future of his child he was dealing with, and he would have to make some sacrifices if he was going to be a part of his child’s life.

One thing was certain. He wasn’t leaving Coral Valley, and if he could do anything about it, neither was Jo. He just had to figure out a way to make her stay. He’d come to the conclusion that simply asking her wouldn’t do the trick, and he couldn’t take a step back in his career. It wouldn’t benefit anyone including his child if he didn’t fulfill his medical career to the fullest extent, and he knew that he just couldn’t do that in Seattle. Right now, Coral Valley was the only place where he could.

He stepped up on the porch steps and stopped as Johanna emerged from the house with a suitcase. She froze as soon as she saw him and met his eyes.

“Zack,” Johanna searched his eyes for a moment before looking away, “I really don’t have time for this. I have to catch a plane.”

“Jo, wait,” He spoke as he stepped forward. He really had no idea what to do at this point and was just winging it. He only hoped that whatever spontaneous thing he did would work, “Can’t I just have one more chance to change your mind?”

“I think we’ve already been through this,” She said as she started making her way towards her car.

“But Jo…I really want to be a father to our baby,” He entreated her as he followed her down the steps, “Please don’t cut me out of this baby’s life.”

“I’m not cutting you out of anything,” She said as she hoisted her suitcase into the trunk and closed the lid. She turned back to him, “I already told you that my life is in Seattle.”

“And mine is here,” He sighed, “Jo, there has to be some way we can work this out.”

“There is,” She nodded, “You could come back with me.”

“I can’t do that. My career is here.”

“You were doing just fine in Seattle.”

“Fine isn’t good enough for me, Jo, and it wouldn’t be for you either,” He pointed out, “You and I both know that in your heart you know that this is the right move for me. I think it would be a good move for you too. You could do your work via fax and computer here, and not only am I in town, but so is Cait. You and she have always been friends, and she could be a big support for you.”

Johanna made her way back towards the house, “You’re not listening to me, Zack. I don’t want to live here and watch you chase after Blake Ashford while I’m carrying your child. Do you have any idea how degrading that would be?” She asked as she crossed the porch and stepped into the house.

“Jo, I’m not chasing after Blake,” He spoke as he stood in the doorway and watched her gather her purse and jacket from a settee in the foyer, “Jo…”

“Don’t lie to me, Zack,” She urged him as she turned to face him, “I know you want her. I know that you love her and not me,” She spoke as tears formed in her eyes, “I know all of that, and it breaks my heart every time I think about it. I can’t live in the midst of that and try to pretend like we’re a happy family.”

Zack watched her for a moment before he closed the door, crossed the room, and stood before her. He took her jacket from her arm along with her purse and tossed it onto the settee before cupping her cheeks in his hands, “You won’t have to pretend,” He assured her before he lowered his lips to hers in a passionate plea to stay in Coral Valley. He slipped his arms around her as his lips attempted to persuade her that they could make a good life together for their child.

As their lips parted, Jo looked into Zack’s eyes in confusion as he continued to hold her in a gentle embrace. She didn’t know exactly what he was trying to do or if he even knew exactly. What she did know was that this was her opportunity to get him back for good. She touched his cheek gingerly, “I…don’t…understand.”

“No?” He asked as he brushed his hand over her cheek while his fingers teased the fringes of her hair, “I want you to stay with me, Jo…not just for the baby. I want you to stay. You,” He reaffirmed the word as he lowered his lips to hers once more.

Jo eased her arms around him in a soft response to his kiss. This was what she had wanted more than anything and maybe, just maybe, he was finally beginning to see that he needed her as badly as she needed him.

Zack looked into Jo’s teary eyes before he bent slightly to scoop her up into his arms. He climbed the stairs with determination to take her to bed. If there was one way to keep Jo in Coral Valley, he just might have found it. On the other hand, it was a sure fire way to get his ass into some serious hot water, and he knew there would be consequences where his heart was concerned. Still, he had to do what he had to do in the name of family.


Jenna stood in the elevator for several quite moments after the doors had opened. She was worried about what her mother’s reaction to her arrival would be. The last thing she wanted to hear was an “I told you so” after she’d already been kicking herself all night for thinking Douglas was a good man. To think he was involved with someone not only as young as her but who was involved with Cameron Stone, Jenna shuddered at the thought.

When the doors began to close, she stopped them with her hand and stepped off the elevator. She’d stalled long enough, and it was time to face her mother. She opened the door to Denton Legal Services and made her way down the hallway. She found her mother sitting at her desk already deeply entrenched in some sort of clerical task.

“Mom,” Jenna spoke softly as she stepped forward tentatively.

“Jenna,” Dorothy spoke her daughter’s name in surprise as she quickly pushed her work aside and stood to meet Jenna halfway.

“Mom,” Jenna began again only to feel suddenly very vulnerable, “Is there some place we can talk?”

“Of course, honey,” Dorothy nodded as she led her daughter into the empty conference room. Once she closed the door, she directed Jenna to a chair at the table, “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

“I’m an idiot. That’s what’s wrong,” Jenna blurted out as she looked to her mother, “I was so wrong about him, Mom. I should have listened to you instead of being so hard headed. Instead, I let him lead me on, and now I feel like such an idiot.”

Dorothy sat beside her daughter and took her hands in her own, “What did Hart do sweetie?”

“Not Hart. Douglas,” Jenna corrected, “I should have listened to you. I just wanted to believe that maybe he could be the father I always imagined that my father could and would be.”

“Douglas?” Dorothy questioned, “What happened?”

“Hart took me out to dinner last night, and there he was with a woman my age who happens to work for Cameron Stone,” Jenna sighed, “They were basically pawing each other all over the place, and it was just disgusting. It just occurred to me that when you warned me about him you were trying to protect me. I should have listened to you, Mom. I’m so sorry that I didn’t.”

“Oh honey,” Dorothy patted her daughter’s cheek in a soothing manner, “I’m sorry you had to find this out the hard way. I never wanted you to discover his true nature. I was really kind of hoping that he could change to be the kind of father you deserved, but deep inside me, I knew that he couldn’t change who he was.”

“Was he always like this? I mean, how did you ever get involved with him? And what finally made you decide to get away from it?” Jenna questioned as she searched her mother’s eyes for answers.

Dorothy took a deep breath as she sat back in her chair, steeling herself for the revelation of her youth. She gently rubbed her chin as she leaned onto the arm of the chair, “I was young and naïve. I went to Los Angeles with dreams of stardom. When I met Douglas, we were both ambitious, young, and full of dreams. We fell in love, and I became pregnant with you,” She smiled, “Which was the best thing that happened,” She assured Jenna, “His family, however, wouldn’t have seen it that way. They hated the idea that he was involved with me. They saw me as a gold digger, and Doug’s mother hated the sight of me. I knew that if I stayed in L.A. she would try to take you from me, and she had enough money to do it too. So I left because I knew I couldn’t lose you. Besides, I knew that if I stayed, Doug would probably lose his career as he was finally beginning to work prominently in the business. I didn’t want to ruin his life nor did I want to be exiled from yours. So I left L.A. and came back to Coral Valley to have you.”

“Oh Mom,” Jenna slipped to her knees in front of her mother and lay her head in her mother’s lap, “I’m so sorry I ever turned my back on you. I was so stupid and naïve. I’m so sorry,” She said with a sob, “Can you ever forgive me?”

“Oh honey,” Dorothy smiled wryly as she eased her fingers over her daughter’s hair in a comforting manner, “Of course I forgive you. I’m just sorry you’ve had to go through that baby. I’m so sorry,” She spoke softly as she continued to comfort her daughter, hoping that her daughter’s emotional wounds would heal and vowing that she would make Douglas pay for ever hurting their daughter.


Jade knocked on Grady’s door, noting Dorothy’s absence from her desk. She hoped everything was all right as it just wasn’t normal for Dorothy not to be at her desk doing something that no doubt kept the office running smoothly amongst the turmoil between the people who worked there.

She heard Grady’s invitation to enter and opened the door to find Grady digging through several law books while a stack of papers sat beside him. She stepped into the office and closed the door with curiosity, “What’s going on? Get an epiphany on the Stone case?”

“I wished,” Grady grumbled as he set one thick tome aside before taking another from the stack, “Right now, I’m working on getting Susan the hell out of my house.”

“Whoa, back up,” She spoke to get his attention, “Susan is in your house?”

“Yeah, I got home last night, and she was moving in,” He nodded in frustration, “How’s that for a good swift kick in the balls?”

“She moved in?” She asked with a frown.

“Yeah, and here’s the kicker,” He spoke as he held up a stack of papers, “These are my divorce papers which give her every right in the world to half of the house.”

“She is legally entitled to half the house?”

He nodded somberly, “Yep. It’s all right there in black and white,” He sighed as she took the papers from his hand and thumbed through them.

“How could that happen? And what judge would let that happen?”

“Judge Carmichael. She hates me,” Grady frowned as he sat back in his chair, “I’m filing suit before the end of business today to try to get her out of my house. There’s got to be a way to get this changed. Lord knows there is no way in hell I’ll be able to live with that woman.”

“You could always go somewhere else. You could stay with me,” She offered as he shook his head.

“I appreciate the offer, Jade. I really do, but this is a battle over my house. Mine. She took everything else away from me. My dignity, my pride, and my sobriety. I’m not going to let her take anything else away from me. It’s time I took a stand,” He said with determination.

Jade smiled softly, “Now that’s the Grady I know and love,” She moved up to the table and took a seat across from him, “So what can I do to help?”

“You don’t have to do this, you know. I know you have other things you need to do, and this is just one more thing to throw on your plate. I’ll the do the research on my own,” He began.

“Nonsense. You’d be completely lost if you even tried. It’s been so long since you’ve done any deep legal research I bet you wouldn’t even know where to begin with Lexus-Nexus,” She clucked her tongue as she took a legal pad from nearby and began jotting down notes, “Besides, the sooner we get Susan out of your hair, the less I have to worry about her driving you to the bottle again.”

“That’s not going to happen, Jade,” Grady spoke as he met her eyes, “I’m not going to drink. Believe me, last night I was sorely tempted, but I’m not going to lose myself to the bottle. I’m sober, and I’m going to stay that way.”

She nodded with an encouraging smile, “Good, but still, you don’t need the stress of that woman living underfoot. So let me help,” She urged him, “Come on, Grady. You know you’d like to see me work my magic in the law library. Go ahead, admit it,” She winked at him.

Grady shook his head as a grin grew on his features. If there was one thing he could always count on, it was Jade’s resiliency and her never wavering determination to flirt with him outrageously. This was exactly the kind of help he could work with from now on.


Caitlin smiled as she lay on her side, admiring Ken as he slept beside her. While she hadn’t quite understood his urgency to be with her last night, she had to admit that she had wanted his comforting arms around her. She had felt his tension as he held her and questioned him about it. When it became obvious that he wasn’t going to share whatever it was that had him on edge, she stopped asking questions and simply held onto him in the hopes of alleviating his tension.

She heard the door open, and she peered over her shoulder to see Blake peeking inside. She smiled as she waved for her friend to enter, “Come on in,” Caitlin whispered as she pointed to Ken sleeping beside her.

Blake closed the door gently and stepped around the bed, rolling her eyes with a smile as she pointed to her brother, “I thought you were the one who needed the rest.”

“Yeah well, he came in last night and wanted to stay with me. He’s just too cute to reject, you know?” Caitlin teased with a wink.

“If you say so,” Blake teased in reply.

“Hey now, little sister, just take the lady’s word for it,” Ken advised her as he stretched out slightly and looked to Caitlin, “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Like I’m ready to get out of his damn hospital,” Caitlin replied honestly, “But I’ll deal with what I have to do.”

“When are the doctors talking about releasing you?” Blake questioned as she pulled up a nearby chair.

“Maybe tomorrow. They want to do another CT scan just to make sure that everything looks good,” Caitlin shrugged, “I feel fine, and I want to go home.”

“Have some patience,” Ken spoke softly as he pressed a tender kiss to her lips, “You’ve really been through the ringer, and we just want you to heal…no matter how long that takes.”

“Easy for you to say,” Caitlin sighed in frustration as she adjusted her pillow under her and looked to Ken, “You should go get some breakfast.”

He turned slightly to look at her, “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“No, but I won’t have you staying with me at the detriment of your own health. When you left last night you hadn’t eaten and when you came back you were shaken up. I want you to take care of yourself, Ken. Please?” Caitlin urged him.

Ken took a deep breath before nodding slightly, “I’m just going to pick up a bagel from the cafeteria, and then I’m coming back.”

“Okay,” Caitlin nodded, “I’ll be here…unfortunately.”

Ken studied her every feature for a quiet moment before he leaned in for a gentle kiss. He lightly drew his fingertips along her cheek, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Caitlin assured him before he got out of bed, slipped on his shoes and left the room while running his fingers through his hair. Caitlin frowned as she watched the door close, “Is it just me or does he seem incredibly clingy?”

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Blake asked as she leaned forward.

“I don’t know. He was supposed to go home to get some rest last night, and he did for a while. When he came back though…” Caitlin shook her head and shrugged, “I don’t know what came over him, but Blake, he was really starting to worry me. He kept telling me how much he loved me and for me to never doubt that. What would cause him to be that way? Don’t get wrong. I love to hear him say he loves me,” She smiled softly before the smile faded, “But this wasn’t a simple declaration of love. It was like he was begging me to believe him.”

Blake thought for a moment before shrugging, “I don’t know. That’s not like Ken at all. Something must have happened while he was gone, and it probably had something to do with Susan.”

“Susan,” Caitlin repeated the name, “I want to know about this Susan that everyone keeps talking about.”

“Oh..” Blake paused, “Well, I was just thinking out loud. I didn’t…”

“Don’t you dare,” Caitlin warned, “Don’t you dare try to wiggle out of telling me about this woman.”

Blake frowned, “She’s just bad news…with a capital B. Trust me when I say that she is probably the biggest thing you have to worry about with Ken.”


“She’s aggressive,” Blake informed her friend, “She’s determined, and she won’t back down easily. I’ve had more than a few…uhm…discussions with her in the past.”


“I’m just saying that if she’s looking for any way to get Ken back…then you have a serious problem on your hands. I’m not saying that Ken would go back with her, but she won’t take a simple no for an answer.”

Caitlin frowned. She’d wanted to know about Susan, but now that she knew, she was beginning to wonder if ignorance wasn’t bliss after all.


Susan stirred her coffee as she thought of her next move with Ken. Having been thwarted last night, she wasn’t sure how she could get him to see reason. After all, it wasn’t every day that a man turned down blatant no-strings-attached sex with a woman as sexy as she was.

“Bad morning?” Thea asked as she moved in to pour a cup of coffee into her mug. She glanced over at Susan who appeared to be a million miles away, “Earth to Susan…are you there?”

“I’m here,” Susan replied blandly as she turned to face Thea, “I’m just trying to plan my next move with Ken.”

“In the courtroom or in the bedroom?” Thea asked with a smile as she lifted her mug to her lips.

“The bedroom, of course,” Susan frowned, “I’m really beginning to wonder about that man.”

“Ah, poor Susan, did he turn you down?” Thea chuckled as she leaned against the counter.

“Yes, he did, and I’m just amazed that he would do such a thing. I mean, honestly, who turns down a nice romp in the shower?”

“The shower? How did you get that far?”

“I was at the mansion last night,” Susan informed her, “Ken went upstairs, and I followed.”

“Except he wasn’t exactly welcoming, huh?”

“That’s the strange part. For a moment there, I really thought he was getting into it, and I know he was turned on,” Susan grinned, “And my things haven’t changed when he’s aroused.”

Thea raised a curious brow, “And yet, you didn’t have sex?”

“No, he turned and walked away from me. I swear…” Susan groaned, “I know he’s not gay. Believe me, he’s more than proved himself in that department. So what possible reason would he have to turn me down?”

“Love?” Thea offered, “He is quite smitten with Caitlin Vaughn, you know.”

“Don’t remind me. Besides, what does that little twit got that I don’t have?” Susan asked boldly.

“A heart?” Thea tossed out, “I really think you should just throw in the towel on this one.”

“Oh don’t tell me you believe in true love and all that nonsense,” Susan snorted in disbelief.

“It’s out there for the right kind of person, and strangely enough, Kenneth Ashford and Caitlin Vaughn are two of those people who happened to find one another. It’s rare, but it does happen,” Thea acknowledged, “And I think you are just out of luck.”

“Like hell I am,” Susan declared firmly, “I’m not letting Ken go. I want him back, and damn it, I’m going to have him,” She held her head high, “Maybe it’s time I find out just who I’m dealing with.”

“She’s in the hospital. Room 515,” Thea informed her drawing a questioning look from Susan, “I’m paid to know everything about our rivals.”

“Well this time she’s my rival, and I’m going to find out everything there is to know about Caitlin Vaughn,” Susan stated boldly, prepared to get to the bottom of Ken’s continued refusals once and for all.


“Are you sure you’re ready for this,” Russell questioned turning to Avery as he wondered if his words were merely him voicing his own thoughts and concerns to himself aloud, but as he saw the solemn look behind her brown eyes, he realized that this was where they needed to be whether he liked it or not.
“I think I can do this,” Avery reached out across the front seat of his car as she sought out his hand lacing their finger with one another as they parked in front of the Ashford mansion, “We both can Russ.”
“I know,” he nodded taking a moment to savor the bond between them before he let out a reluctant breath and stepped out of the car circling around it to help her out before they made their way to the front porch of the Ashford mansion.
While Russ hadn’t planned on being here anytime in the near future, he couldn’t help but think back to one of the last times he’d been at the engagement party that Brooke was throwing for Brant and Avery.  That night had damn near destroyed Russ and Avery’s future with one another and the very idea of setting foot back in a place that had only worked to keep a distance going between him and his wife was very unsettling.  Even now when he thought back to how wrong that night had been for him, he wanted nothing more than to take Avery and run back to the safety to their home--to the place where their dreams for the future had returned to them as he hated the idea of inviting Brant to be a part of their lives anymore than he already was.  Still, when Russ thought to Brooke showing up on the Ashford doorstep, he couldn’t help but admit to himself that there really wasn’t a choice in the matter.  Despite the horrible memories of this place, he needed to grin and bear it for his wife’s sake.
“Hey you,” Avery reached for his hand lacing their fingers together again as she reached out to ring the bell alerting those inside to their presence, “it’s going to be okay.”
“I know that,” Russell tried to convince himself as he offered up a tense smile, “and Avery, you know I love you, right?”
“I do,” she nodded urging him to face her as they stood together outside the mansion, “and for the record I love you too.”
“And I’m so very thankful for that,” he found himself unable to resist the urge to pull her into his arms.  He kissed her lovingly allowing the moment to linger between them as Brant opened the door only to find them wrapped up in one another.
Rolling his eyes before he cleared his throat, Brant stood taller capturing their attention as they parted from their kiss, “Avery, Russ…I’m glad you’re here.  Brooke was just asking about the both of you.”
“I’ll bet she was,” Russell muttered under his breath grateful that his words went without notice as Avery shifted into full on concerned mode for her mother.
“How is she doing,” Avery questioned ignoring her husband’s apprehension about being at the Ashford mansion as she stepped inside taking a look around as if the very idea of being back again didn’t phase her in the least.
“She’s weak, but she’s trying to keep herself going,” Brant explained motioning for Avery and Russ to follow him up the stairs, “She’s been jumping in and out of it all night long, but now that your father and brother are here, she seems to be doing much better.”
“That’s a relief,” Avery blurted out following his lead as they continued up the winding staircase with Russell trailing behind them.
“You have no idea because when she showed up here last night, well I was so afraid that it would be so much worse, but she wouldn’t go to the hospital, so I had someone come over to check on how she was doing,” Brant explained reaching the top of the stairs before Avery did as he touched her back gently guiding her towards the room Brooke was in.  “So far things are looking good for her.”
“I’m just so happy to know that she’s back,” Avery admitted hearing the sounds of voices behind the door before her before she reached out to the knob, opening it eagerly to step into the room while leaving Brant and Russell out in the hallway alone with one another.
Sensing that Brant was going to step in behind Avery, Russell placed his hand out to stop Brant mid-movement as he threw out a warning look, “Keep your hands off my wife Brant.”
“I’m just trying to help here,” Brant replied innocently as Russell continued to glare at him.
“Avery doesn’t need your kind of help as she has a husband who isn’t you,” Russell reminded him in a harsh whisper before he stepped into the room to find Avery standing a few feet away from Brooke’s bedside.
“Avery,” Brooke greeted her with a smile as she outstretched her arms towards her, “Oh darling, look at you.  You look so radiant and full of life…”
“Brooke I…” Avery found herself at a loss seeing the woman before her as she thought of the mixture of emotions she’d been going through in Brooke’s absence.  Pulling together the strength to bridge the distance between them as Avery noticed her father seated at Brooke’s side, she tried to keep her emotions under control as her stomach was tied in knots.
“Sit down Avery,” Guy urged her on moving away from his mother’s side to allow his sister a place beside Brooke.
Tentatively Avery moved in beside Brooke on the bed finding herself at a loss as Brooke reached out to her taking her hand eagerly.
“My baby girl,” Brooke blurted out with tears pooling in her eyes, “I was so afraid I’d never see you again--terrified that I’d never get the chance to be the kind of mother that you needed in your life as I know how hard living with me has been over the years.  Avery, the last time we saw one another I said some horrible, disgusting things to you and I was wrong.  Sweetheart, you have deserved so much more in a mother and I know I was a failure to you, but after what’s happened, I realize that I made a mistake.  I never gave you what you needed and now that I’m back again…” Brooke choked up on emotion, “well sweetheart, I want to apologize.  I need to tell you all the things that I didn’t say before because when I thought I lost that opportunity…”
“Brooke, you don’t have to…” Avery started surprised by her mother’s outburst as Brooke squeezed her hand again.
“No, I must.  I’ve done so many dreadful things and I’ve alienated myself from your life and that was so very wrong of me,” Brooke reached out to touch Avery’s face gently, “Avery, I’m so very proud of you and I know that I haven’t given you what you’ve needed.  Time and time again, I chastised you for your trying to live your own life and that was wrong of me.  I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard and I certainly had no right to sit in judgment of you when all this time I knew in my heart that I was a failure as your mother.  I wasn’t there for you emotionally and I’m so sorry for that.  I know that I can’t take back what I’ve done or those years that we’ve missed out on with one another, but I’m hoping that we can try to change things between us for the sake of my grandchild…”
“Brooke, I don’t understand,” Avery blinked back at her watching the woman before her as if she was staring into the eyes of a stranger.
“Avery, sweetheart I love you with all of my heart and all I’ve ever wanted was your happiness.  I know how hurt you were before when you lost that baby and when I said what I said to you, well I was so out of line and maybe it was my own bitterness bringing out all those ugly words because I knew that you deserved so much more than the mother I was.  When I saw you living your life and finding your own happiness, well it made me realize that I’d missed out on so much and I lashed out at you when the truth to the matter was that I should’ve been taking a long, hard look at the dreadful parent I became.  When I found out that I was pregnant with you, it was the greatest miracle that ever happened to me Avery as you and Guy are the best part of me, but I didn’t come close to being that for either one of you.  I want that to change though.  I want for us to try to have a relationship with one another and I want nothing more than to get the chance to know my grandchild and try to be the kind of grandmother that your baby needs--to be the kind of mother you deserve as in almost losing it all, it makes a person gain some kind of perspective.  When I was gone, all I could think about was my family and the mistakes that I’d made with them.  I couldn’t go to my grave having you hate me when the truth to the matter was that I love you all more than anything else in this world.”
“Oh Brooke,” Avery choked up on emotion feeling the tears falling freely down her face, “I didn’t ever hate you.  I just wanted you to accept me--to understand who I am and be proud of what I’ve become.”
“But that’s just it Avery.  I am proud of you.  All that you are amazes me and you’re more than twice the woman I’ll ever be,” Brooke replied sniffling herself as her eyes drifted past Avery to Russell as he stood in the background skeptically taking in the exchange between mother and daughter, “And Russell…well, I don’t really know where to begin with you as I owe you far more than any apology could ever come close to reaching.  You’re a good man with a kind heart and I know that your love for my daughter has given her a far greater joy than I ever imagined possible for her.  You’ve given her hope and happiness and for that I’m forever grateful.  I know that I misjudged you and I wish that I could take back some of the things that I’ve done, but I know all too well that time can’t move backward, only forward, which is why I hope that you can accept my apology.”
Russell remained silent for a long moment wondering if hell had finally frozen over as Brooke’s eyes remained upon him seeking out some kind of response to her words as he finally found the will to step in closer to her, “I…I really don’t know what to say…”
“Just tell me that you won’t cut me out of my grandchild’s life…or my daughter’s for that matter as I want that chance to begin again.  I want that opportunity to prove to the both of you that I’m not the cold hearted witch that I was before.  When I almost lost my life at the hands of that monster, well it put things into perspective for me and I don’t want to be the woman I once was.  I don’t want to keep hurting those I love more than anything in the world,” Brooke turned to Avery once again unable to contain her tears, “I love you far too much to let that happen Avery.”
“Oh Mom,” Avery finally broke down reaching to embrace her as her tears overtook her, “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too baby,” Brooke hugged her tightly refusing to let go as her own tears overcame her in this moment with her daughter, “I missed so much of your life and I don’t want to keep going down that road anymore.  I want to be the kind of mom that you can be proud of--the kind of mom that you can depend on and maybe even love one day.”
“I do love you,” Avery confessed with a sniffle as she pulled back just enough to meet her mother’s gaze, “I’ve always loved you.  That was never an issue for me, but right now, well all I can say is thank God you’re home,” Avery hugged her again as the two shared a moment that Avery had waited her whole life to find with her mother.  Suddenly it seemed as though there was a door that had been opened to her and her mother after all this time and while the kidnapping had clearly been horrible for Brooke, in the end Avery found herself readily embracing the one thing that she’d been without her entire life--a mother and in that instant she just prayed that feeling she was experiencing with Brooke would never end.
“See I told you I was just trying to help,” Brant muttered stepping in towards Russ before taking a step towards the group on the bed, “The police are downstairs when you‘re ready Brooke.”
“Thank you Brant,” Brooke nodded as she and Avery parted, “you can tell them they can come up in a few minutes after I catch up with my little girl as I’ve already missed so much with her.”
“I’ll tell them to give you at least an hour then,” Brant decided making his way out of the room as Russ watched Brooke and Avery embracing one another.
“Russ, come here and show Brooke…mom..” Avery corrected herself with a smile, “the picture of our baby.”
“Oh you have one,” Brooke’s eyes lit up at the mention of her grandchild, “May I see it?”
“Actually I have one right here,” Richard offered up pulling the image he’d proudly carried with him out of his pocket to show Brooke as she gushed over Russ and Avery’s unborn child.
“Oh how precious,” Brooke squealed with excitement, “The baby is beautiful Avery.”
“We think so too,” Avery reached out to Russell urging him to stand at her side as she continued to chat with her mother talking candidly and openly about the time Brooke had been away from Coral Valley as it seemed that Avery was more than eager to forge some kind of bond with Brooke now that she was making an attempt to start anew.  Still with each passing minute, Russell could see his wife falling faster into her mother’s open arms and as he sensed Avery’s desire to believe in her mother, he just prayed that Brooke wasn’t setting her up for yet another fall as something about this whole reunion just rang too good to be true as it wasn’t like Brooke Morrison to make a complete turnaround.  Sure, you could call it the skeptic in him, but Russell wasn’t ready to accept the fact that Brooke had turned a new leaf just yet because he was quite certain that not even a kidnapping could do that for her.


The smoke filled bar had drawn him in last night and now as Bruce found himself sitting in a seedy hotel room listening to the sounds of the shower in the other room, he couldn’t help but find himself feeling a high at the prospect of what was ahead for the unsuspecting slut he’d picked up last night.  Sure, she’d been something of an adventure at first and with her raven colored hair and dark eyes, she was a poor substitute for what he’d been seeking out, yet this was always his favorite part of the experience.  He’d allowed her some fun, but now, well now was about his fun as he was certainly ready to explore all the possibilities of where his imagination would take him as he could hear her slightly off key voice rising above the sounds of the shower.
It was almost too easy--too perfect, he mused to himself leaning back on the mattress allowing her a few more moments of life as he closed his eyes placing his hands behind his head.  His thoughts lingered back to the ultimate prize that he’d left waiting for him in Coral Valley.  Sure, she wasn’t expecting it but eventually, he would work his way back to Avery and when he did…
Oh what a day that would be, he grinned reaching out across the bed to underneath the pillow beside him.  He felt the tip of the blade he’d had ready for his latest companion just within his reach, but instead he moved his fingers past it’s mark pulling out the television remote opting to check out what was on the tube as he was feeling rather generous towards the woman in the shower.  Sure, she was going to be out of this world soon enough, but for the time being, why not let her enjoy her shower before he had his fun, he reasoned flipping through the channels as he came across a news brief where Brooke Morrison’s picture was plastered up on the screen.
Turning up the volume, Bruce sat up straighter once again listening to the sounds of the reporter tell the tale of the horrors that Brooke had gone through in having been kidnapped and held for a five million dollar ransom.  Shaking his head he dropped the remote and reached across the bed pulling the bottle of beer he‘d had earlier from the previous evening up off of the nightstand to take a sip of the lukewarm liquid as he rolled his eyes upon hearing of Brooke‘s tale of terror.
It was enough to make anyone lose their lunch, he though to himself thinking about Avery’s less than upstanding mother.  He reached for the remote once again ready to turn off the television as he’d lost interest in what he was seeing, but it wasn’t until another image popped upon the screen that he found himself sitting up at full attention clenching the neck of the beer bottle in his other hand tightly.
“And FBI are still on the search for wanted fugitive Bruce Mathis who is the main suspect in a killing spree that ultimately lead to the kidnapping of Brooke Morrison.  Authorities believe that with the ransom money he may be trying to flee the country to…” the reporter’s words were lost as Bruce crushed the beer bottle in his hand feeling the shards of glass fall upon the bed beside him as his anger boiled.
“Son of a…” he cursed watching as the scene before him shifted to Brooke’s face again and his anger mounted at what he was witnessing.  After all he’d done for her--after the last time he’d…
“No,” he shouted feeling his fury raging from within as the news report was portraying him in a light that was all wrong for him.  He threw the remains of the beer bottle aside reached underneath the pillow for his knife wanting nothing more than to gut Brooke Morrison at this moment in time for what he was seeing onscreen.
“What’s going on in here,” his companion questioned as she stepped out of the bathroom draped in only a towel as her eyes fell to his now bleeding hand, “Baby what happened to you?  I heard a noise and…” her words came to a halt as she noticed the knife in his hand and a scream erupted from her lips.  She started to run to the door in fear, but in that moment Bruce snapped out of his daze hopping out of the bed and chasing after her.  Quickly he collected her in his arms thinking of his anger towards Brooke after the chance he’d given her only to have her betray him in such a way.
“Just where do you think you’re going,“ he growled easing the blade against the whimpering woman’s throat as he found himself ready to seek revenge on the woman he’d let slip away.  Somehow he’d known better than to just leave Brooke that night in the alley, but now as she had the FBI out after him leaving them to stalk him as a common thief, his rage intensified and he found himself lost in a new agenda as killing the whore in his arms was secondary to what he’d now decided upon.
“Please don’t kill me…” the woman begged as Bruce teased the knife against her soft, vulnerable flesh once again.
“Ordinarily, I might consider listening to you beg for a bit, but given what that bitch has done to me, well I’m afraid this isn’t going to be your lucky day,” he promised tightly giving in to impulse as he forced himself to enjoy this latest victim, but something kept him from truly savoring every moment of the kill as it was over far too soon for his liking thanks to what Brooke had done, but soon, well…soon he’d show her all the ways in which he’d regretted letting her go that day as it seemed he had five million lies to cash in upon with her before he went about making Avery his all over again.  That much he was certain of.

...to be continued...