“I want the truth, Ken,” Caitlin demanded as she cut him off, anger and confusion clouding her voice.
“The truth is that I was with Susan, but it’s not what you think,” He began, “When I went home last night, she was there with Brant.”
“Brant?” She asked.
He nodded, “It was obvious that they wanted to manipulate me. I warned them both that it wouldn’t work, and I went upstairs to my room. I planned to take a long hot shower and then go to bed. Only, it didn’t work out that way,” He frowned as he moved to a chair near by. He took a deep breath before he continued, “While I was in the shower, Susan came in.”
Caitlin felt pain twist in her heart.
“She tried to seduce me,” He admitted, “But I told her that I didn’t want anything to do with her, and I locked her in the bathroom while I came here,” He met her eyes, “I only wanted to get back to you, back to the woman I want to be with.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“I didn’t want to upset you. It was upsetting enough to me.”
“I don’t understand this, Ken. She came by here, and she said…”
“Wait, Susan came by here?” He asked as his anger mounted.
Caitlin nodded, “She said that you were with her last night, and she was so cocky that you were going to leave me for her.”
“That will never happen,” He assured her as he sank to his knees in front of her and took her hands, “Caitlin, you’re the woman I love. Susan hates that I love you instead of wanting her. Susan isn’t capable of loving anyone but herself. All she wants is to control and dominate. She doesn’t know how to care about anyone. I told her that I’m not the man she used to know. I want someone as tender and warm and loving as you, Caitlin. You’re everything I want, and when I explained that to Susan, she went into a rage. Because she can’t control me, she wants to lash out at who she thinks can.”
“But…I mean…I don’t control you, do I?” She asked desperately, “I don’t force you to do or be anything you don’t want to be…”
“Of course not,” He continued, “Caitlin, you’re the first person I’ve been able to truly be myself with in my life. No other woman has seen through to the heart of me as you do. No one could look past the Ashford dollar signs to see the man that I am, but you can. You see that I care about more than money and material things,” He drew her hand to his lips for a tender kiss, “You care with a tenderness that’s unmatched. You love with a purity unlike anything I’ve ever known. And I couldn’t be more in love with you than I am in this very moment.”
She searched his eyes for a moment before she captured his cheeks in her hands and drew his lips to hers for a passionate heartfelt kiss. She wrapped her arms around him as he drew her closer to him to hold her gently within his arms.
“Ken, I was so worried…” She sniffled softly as she held onto him, “She just acted so sure of herself, and the things she said…”
“Shhh,” He urged her as he held her in his arms, “None of what she said matters. She’s a hate filled woman who just wants to make the rest of the world as miserable as she is. Don’t worry about her.”
“But she said…she said she was going to have you, and…”
“And nothing,” He spoke as he pulled away only enough to cup her cheeks in his hands and meet her eyes, “I love you, and you’re the only woman I want. She’s never going to have me. Never,” He reaffirmed, “She is nothing as far as I’m concerned. But you,” He eased his thumbs across her cheeks, “You’re everything to me.”
“Ken…” Caitlin wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tightly, “I love you.”
“I love you too, Caitlin. I love you so much,” Ken assured her as he held her tight. He had never wanted Caitlin to be hurt by Susan, and yet it had happened already. But he was going to make damn sure it didn’t happen again. If Susan thought she could drive a wedge between Caitlin and himself, she was dead wrong, and he was going to make sure she knew that fact for certain.
“Well, what’s the supposed explanation you have for this,” Russell folded
his arms in front of his chest awaiting the moment that Brant opened his
mouth once again to bury himself completely with his words of treachery,
but before Brant could speak up, Susan stepped forward greeting Russell
with a sickly sweet grin that made him suddenly nauseous.
“Russ, it’s so good to see you again. I’ve been meaning to say hello and wish you and Avery congratulations once I heard your good news about the wedding, but I suppose that time really hasn’t permitted my being able to do so as work tends to keep me so very busy…”
“You mean while you’re selling your soul to the devil,” Russell remarked sourly glaring down at her as he snapped his fingers once again, “oh wait, that’s right. You are the devil Susan. What was I thinking?”
“And here I was hoping that you and I could at least be civil with one another after all the years we’d spent as family,” she shook her head waving her hand at him dismissively, “No matter as I shouldn’t have expected anything more from Grady’s brother, but Avery, I must say you do look rather stunning. Your hair and skin looks radiant even if you have been packing on a few pounds there over the years. Though with that hairstyle, you can hardly tell the difference as I’d imagine it gives you the illusion of having gained perhaps only like five pounds there when it’s been like what? Ten? Twenty?”
“She’s pregnant Susan,” Brant remarked sourly his dark eyes glaring down at her as he clearly wasn’t approving of her new direction.
“Oh, my bad. I didn‘t know,” Susan raised her hand to her cheek feigning embarrassment before her gaze returned to Russell, “though that sure explains a lot about the shotgun wedding you both had here presuming that Russ is the father and all there. Unless of course there‘s more to this shady tale, which would explain why Grady is in such a sour mood lately…”
“I think that has everything to do with you Susan and your return to Coral Valley, which by the way was the next question on my list after we get back to the one about your being here at the mansion,” Russ further prompted fighting to refrain from strangling the woman who’d turned his brother into a living, breathing nightmare.
“Actually, Susan’s here for me,” Brant stood taller watching the surprise cross over Avery’s features as her jaw dropped suddenly, “She and I had dinner plans tonight at Pavilion, but with all that’s been happening, I guess we just kind of forgot to cancel the reservation.”
“No matter,” Susan replied with a bright grin slinking her arm around his waist gingerly, “as we could always just have a nice, quiet dinner at home with one another. Don’t you think?”
“Hmm, well since you’re already here, I don’t see why we can‘t,” Brant tipped down to offer up a quick kiss upon Susan’s lips causing Avery’s skin to crawl as she fought the gag reflex building up inside of her.
“Excellent,” Susan beamed enthusiastically teasing her fingers over the center of his shirt tentatively, “as I’m sure it’ll give us the opportunity to make up for some of that quiet time we’ve lost lately with my busy schedule and yours. Though perhaps we should take a few minutes to relocate somewhere a bit more private to cancel those dinner reservations as I‘ve been thinking about having a minute alone with you all day Brant since last night gave me such a delicious craving for more of that little thing we shared with one another…”
“That sounds absolutely divine,” Brant nodded in agreement before turning to take note of Avery’s reaction to the scene before him, “and since I was just about to invite Russ and Avery to stay for dinner, well the four of us can just make a night of it. What do you say guys?”
“Hell no,” Russell blurted out immediately realizing that just when he thought Brant wouldn’t sink any lower, he’d just done so much to reach the bottom of the barrel Russell’s amazement.
“You’ve got to be kidding me right,” Avery’s jaw dropped once again as she eyed Brant desperately, “Please tell me you’re joking about this. Tell me that you and Susan aren’t…”
“Aren’t what,” Susan hugged her body against Brant’s watching the way Avery seemed so very bewildered by what was taking place before her, “exploring our options together?”
“Oh that sounds so wrong,” Avery groaned inwardly keeping her eyes upon Brant, “please tell me that you aren’t that far gone to be…”
“Avery, I’m just trying to move on with my life. You know what that’s all about,” Brant nuzzled his nose against Susan’s neck making Avery squirm in reaction to Susan’s nagging giggling noises, but before Avery could truly voice her opinion on the subject, she heard the sound of footsteps coming from upstairs alerting her that they were no longer alone.
“There you are,” Guy spoke out to his sister sensing the tension in the air as he noticed Susan Denton had seemingly joined the group, but for the moment, Susan was of no relevance as he looked to his sister once again, “Mum has been asking for you and I told her I’d have you come right up…”
“Oh of course,” Avery tried to straighten herself up as she forced her mind to block out the images of Brant and Susan all over one another, “Is everything alright up there?”
“She’s still a bit shaken from having to go over the details of the kidnapping all over again, but finally Richard had the good sense to tell the FBI to scram so that we could have some much deserved family time. He’s outside with them right now getting them to leave, but she was asking about you once again…”
“Then I’d better not keep her waiting,” Avery decided turning to face Russell, “I shouldn’t be too long.”
“Take your time sweetheart,” Russell urged her on giving her a quick kiss before watching her ascend the long, winding staircase with Guy before Russell turned to face Brant and Susan once again realizing that by the smug expressions on the both of their faces that there was more to the tale than they were telling as there was certainly something driving their behaviors at this point in time, “So, are you two going to fess up and tell me what’s going on or am I going to have to find out all on my own?”
“Oh Russ, you never change do you,” Susan rolled her eyes at him, “and here I thought that Grady was paranoid…”
“No, he just wizened up to your game Susan and I’m onto you as well,” Russell answered flatly eyeing Brant and Susan with intense scrutiny, “and truth be told I’m not buying any of this, so what gives?”
“Quite frankly Russ, what is happening with Susan and I is none of your business,” Brant shot back at him icily.
“That’s right Russ. Grady and I aren’t married anymore, so you don’t have to worry about going back to him and blabbing about this as I’m well within my rights to have a little fun these days,” Susan mused with a seductive grin rubbing in against Brant once again, “which I wouldn’t mind getting into right about now alone with you…”
“Oh no you don’t,” Russell stood directly in front of them, “while I’d love to let you two leave since I’m feeling the urge to lose my breakfast right about now, I know that you’re up to something and I want to know what it is.”
“Russ, you don’t have any rights to demand such things of Brant in his home considering that he’s the one doing your wife a favor. Had you been able to be man enough to keep her happy the first time around, then none of this would be happening with that lunatic ex of hers anyways,” Susan spoke sourly as she wrinkled her nose at him, “Then again the mind does boggle when I try to think of a good reason why Avery bothered with giving you a second chance as if you’re anything like Grady was in the sack, then clearly she’s in for a lifetime of misery for sure.”
“You know Susan you can just…” Russell started to lash out at her as Richard Morrison entered the mansion taking one good, long look at the group before he cut in reaching for Russell’s arm to keep him from doing something that he might regret.
“Russ, I was just looking for you,” Richard beckoned him away from the group raising his finger up towards Brant and Susan, “Would you excuse us for a minute?”
“Of course,” Brant nodded in response exchanging glances with Susan before Richard lead Russell through the foyer away from Brant and Susan.
“Russ, what’s going on,” Richard questioned his voice full of concern as he focused upon his son-in-law.
“Brant’s up to something, but I haven’t quite figured it out just yet,” Russell blurted out openly revealing his thoughts as he stole a quick glance in Brant and Susan’s general direction, “I’m not sure what he’s planning, but if he has her here, then it’s nothing short of disaster…”
“That’s your brother’s ex-wife, yes?” Richard questioned vaguely remembering Susan’s face from before.
“That’s right,” Russell nodded, “and now she’s suddenly become Brant’s latest plaything, which doesn’t add up at all.”
“Really?” Richard eyed Brant for a long moment before turning his attention to Susan, “Well, Avery had mentioned that Brant was trying to move forward.”
“But not with her,” Russ remarked sourly feeling a heavy distaste for the situation filling him up inside, “as I’m well aware of what kind of game she brings to the table and with the way they were just playing things up in front of Avery, well I think there’s some kind of angle they’re working here.”
“I’m not so sure that’s the case considering that…” Richard tried to be the voice of reason not ready to launch into the midst of an attack between Russ and Brant.
“Oh believe me it is as Brant Ashford hasn’t stopped himself from blatantly coveting my wife. While she’s given him just about every reason to back off in the book, he’s just full of tricks and I have a feeling that Susan is the latest in a long list of many,” Russell frowned focusing upon Richard once again, “She’s trouble and if Brant’s inviting her into his life, then he’s certainly got something brewing…”
“Be that as it may, right now I don’t think it’s the appropriate time to get into this,” Richard sighed heavily bringing his fingers through his tousled hair, “as right now Avery’s got enough on her plate without you and Brant going another ten rounds with one another, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Well of course, but…” Russell frowned back at him, “You think I’m being impulsive about this, don’t you?”
“Not necessarily as I don’t trust Brant as far as I can throw him, but for the time being Brooke’s doctor insists upon her staying where she is which means that we need to at least give Brant some courtesy for the generosity that he’s shown towards our family. That doesn’t mean that you two have to become the best of friends, but for the moment, you should tone it down a bit. Avery’s already been so very shaken up by everything that’s taken place that I wouldn’t want her to have to go through yet another uproar especially now that she’s pregnant, would you?”
“No I wouldn’t as I know how difficult things have been for her thus far in between Bruce and the kidnapping and I would never do anything to put our child at risk, but with Brant,” Russell sighed heavily straining to regain the focus he’d lost in seeing Susan enter the Ashford mansion. “I just…well, I just don’t trust the man and after everything that’s happened thus far to Avery and I…”
“I can’t say I blame you, but for now, how about we try to keep those concerns to ourselves for the time being,” Richard suggested in a simple, yet authoritative tone, “for Avery?”
“I can do that,” Russell nodded in response hating to put his suspicions on hold as he was certain there was far more to the story than he was getting at a first glance, but as he thought of the emotional train wreck Brooke’s kidnapping had dropped upon Avery‘s lap, he vowed to keep his concerns down to a minimum--at least openly for the time being until he could find a more appropriate time for them.
“Good man,” Richard patted his arm approvingly, “Now why don’t we head upstairs and see how things are going with Avery and her mother?”
“Actually, I think I’m going to go get some air,” Russell replied with a shrug of his shoulders, “After what happened before, I think that would be best as it would give Brooke and Avery some time to catch up with one another.”
“Alright, I’ll let Avery know what you’re doing if she asks,” Richard smiled back at him leaving the area.
Russell took in a slow breath thinking about his silent promise to keep his doubts about Brant under wraps, but as he was alone again, the very thought of Brant and Susan teaming up didn’t sit right with him as he was certain that there was far more going on than just another one of Brant’s notorious romantic liaisons. There was certainly a story to tell and even if it was Russell’s nose for the news working overtime, he could smell something brewing and he wanted answers.
Making his way out into the foyer where Brant and Susan had once been, Russell realized that they’d vanished, no doubt off to plot whatever it was they were keeping from Russ and Avery earlier. Russell’s green eyes skimmed the area wearily as he noticed that Susan had left her jacket on the coat rack alerting him to the fact that Brant and Susan were still in the mansion somewhere. While Russ knew he’d promised not to make a big deal of the suspicions raging from within, he couldn’t help but follow his gut instincts as they told him that whatever Brant had going on wasn’t something to be taken lightly. Brant and Susan together meant trouble and trouble was the last thing that Russell needed in his life at a time like this. History had taught Russell that when Susan was involved with something it always marked the beginning of turmoil. Add Brant into the mix and there was nothing innocent about the association.
Looking up to the staircase to the right of him leading to the room Brooke was resting in, Russell took in a slow breath thinking about Avery and her mother catching up with one another. Sure, he’d promised to be low key about things to Richard so that his actions wouldn’t upset Avery, but since Avery was tending to her mother, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look around, Russell reasoned as he made his way through the Ashford mansion determined to catch a closer look at what Brant and Susan were really up to with one another as he was certain whatever it was, it could only lead to disaster in the long run.
Blake entered the kitchen complete with bags in hand after having gone
on an early shopping spree after her trip to the hospital in an attempt
to get the ball rolling on her upcoming dinner with Seth. While she’d
promised herself that she wouldn’t stress about such an occasion, the fact
remained that she was far more nervous than she could remember being about
what was ahead for the intimate evening between them. Just thinking
about what it had felt like sharing the beginning of the day with him sent
butterflies to her stomach at the prospect of what tonight would feel like
in having him over to her place, sharing a romantic evening with one another.
Granted he’d been over before, but things were different now. They
were far more intense and…
“Don’t get ahead of yourself Blake,” she warned herself easing some of the bags onto the counter top as she tried to remain level headed about the “big” event taking place over dinner. Certainly last night had proved to be the defining moment in their relationship bringing forth a great turning point for the two of them, but still, she couldn’t help but find herself pondering what was yet to come and stressing over what she could do to make things perfect for the two of them.
“You were up early,” Annie noted entering the kitchen as she eyed Blake working to empty the bags she’d brought home with her from the store.
“Well, I went over to the hospital to see Caitlin and Kenny and then I thought I’d go shopping for my dinner date tonight,” Blake replied with a simple shrug of her shoulders turning her attention to emptying the contents of the bags once again.
“How is your brother doing,” Annette questioned thinking to Ken’s still made bed she’d discovered upon paying his room a visit earlier in the day.
“I’d like to say that things were going great, but unfortunately, Kenny has a whole new string of problems following him around lately,” Blake wrinkled her nose in disgust as a groan spilled over her lips, “as Susan’s back in town.”
“So I’ve been hearing,” Annette nodded thinking to Joseph’s latest upset with his daughter’s refusal to communicate with him upon her arrival in town, “but I should hope that Ken’s avoiding her at all costs after all the trouble she gave him the last time.”
“You’d think he’d do that, but unfortunately, we both know how Ken is. He’s not too good at being rude, but with Susan, that’s about the only thing you can be as that woman is just pure evil,” Blake groaned inwardly shaking her head at the thought of the woman that had stirred up so much trouble for her family, “She is relentless and I’m just worried that Ken won’t be able to pull his head out of the water he’s in fast enough to get Susan out of his life before she twists things for him again.”
“You mean with Caitlin?” Annie questioned moving in beside Blake to help her with the groceries.
“Yeah, I’m worried about the two of them,” Blake confessed with a heavy sigh, “I mean don’t get me wrong, Caitlin’s not going to take putting up with any crap from Susan, but that doesn’t mean that Susan isn’t going to try to dish it out. That woman always has some kind of agenda and if she’s fixated on Kenny again, well we both know that spells trouble.”
“Hopefully this time your brother won’t let Susan persuade him in any way,” Annie thought to Ken’s struggles with himself that had resulted after Susan’s presence in his life the last time, “though he and Caitlin seem to have something solid and real between them. I think he loves her very much.”
“I know he does, which is why I hate to see Susan making a mess of things right now because I really wouldn’t want to see Kenny travel down that road again,” Blake admitted allowing her thoughts to break through the surface as she took a moment’s break away from the groceries, “Caitlin really loves him too and I think that kind of love should really get an opportunity to thrive above all else.”
“I’m sure if it’s meant to be then even someone like Susan won’t be able to stand between their romance,” Annie offered up hopefully wondering if Susan Denton wouldn’t prove to be more of a hassle than they were giving her credit for as Annie pondered all the stresses that had been weighing down upon Ken and his poor, caring heart.
“I sure hope so, but sometimes, well sometimes I think that love has this horrible cloud hanging over it and regardless of how hard you try, there’s always something waiting in the wings challenging the happiness you’ve found,” Blake confessed with a sigh tucking a strand of long, blonde hair behind her ear.
“That’s how life is Blake. Unfortunately with the ups come the downs and all we can do is hope that they balance one another out along the way,” Annie spoke smoothly offering up a tiny smile before motioning towards the groceries Blake had brought home with her, “though something tells me I’m not the only one feeling a bit of hope here tonight as I see you’ve gotten all the ingredients here for one of your classic Blake Dinner Delights.”
“Actually,” Blake felt a heat rising over her features as she brought her hand up to touch her cheek gently in an attempt to hide the flush she could feel spilling over her face, “Seth’s coming over tonight.”
“Seth?” Annie lifted a curious brow, “Really?”
Blake nodded eagerly, “Yeah, we’ve kind of, well, we’ve reconnected over the last few weeks and I have a good feeling about it…”
“Which is why you’re pondering the ups and downs of relationships,” Annie half questioned seeing something flicker behind Blake’s eyes before Blake finally spoke up again.
“Well, I just don’t know Annie. I mean things with Seth and I started off so strongly and we were so intense, but then things fizzled because of something that…” she stopped herself biting on her lower lip nervously, “well they just did and then Zack came back into my life. He and I seemed to pick up where we left off all those years ago and I finally had the dream that I’d always wanted. Here he was in Coral Valley no longer pushing me aside and blowing me off as he wanted me--really truly wanted to be with me and it was the most incredible feeling. He made me forget the pain I’d felt when I lost Seth, but then, well things didn’t go as we planned and now, somehow fate keeps pulling me back to Seth again…”
“It sounds like perhaps you’ve found yourself in a bit of a romantic tangle of your own,” Annie noted seeing the way Blake’s lip twisted with contemplations.
“Is it possible to have such strong feelings for two amazing men at the same time, yet find yourself distanced from them in the same breath?” Blake questioned randomly, “I mean with Seth, we had this situation between us because he said something about…well, I guess you could say that when we met, we had some false pretenses between us and then he told me something truly horrible about his sister. He said things that I found hard to swallow and I didn’t want to believe them, but now, well now I’ve seen proof of his story and while I’m not sure I believe all of it, I know now that he was doing what he felt was his only option to protect his sister. He was thinking like a big brother and I can’t fault him that because Brant and Kenny would’ve done the same thing for me. Still, that period when I wouldn’t listen to him, well during that time that’s when Zack and I found our way to one another again. Zack was just so loving and comforting and Annie, he taught me so many things about myself. He reminded me that I was beautiful and worth being loved and when he had his arms around me…it was like the world could stand still and time could stop around us and it didn’t matter. He’s just so sexy and amazing and wonderful, yet when push came to shove, he practically kicked me to the curb. Granted, he too was thinking like a big brother and I can’t really fault him that either, but now, well now there are more complications that tell me that maybe we were tempting fate, but still…”
“You find yourself thinking about him as he holds a special place in your heart,” Annie noted watching as tears glistened in Blake’s eyes.
“I can’t help myself,” Blake confessed tearfully, “I mean I know I shouldn’t dwell on it, but Annie I thought that he really cared about me--that he loved me, but then this woman showed up and she’s pregnant. She’s having his baby and I know I should just forget about him, but I can’t. I can’t stop thinking about how good it was between us and the more I think about it, the more it hurts because we were so close to having something that I’d always wanted in my life together. Zack was my fantasy man for so very long, but now, well now I can’t even think about him without turning into this because he’s the ultimate dream that slipped away and it hurts like hell.”
“Oh Blake honey,” Annie reached out to embrace her, “I’m so very sorry to see that you’re going through all of this.”
“I just wish that I didn’t care anymore,” Blake broke down into tiny sobs as she hugged Annie tighter, “and what makes it worse is that I can’t really sit in judgment of Zack because while he’s got this other woman, I’m not entirely in the right in our relationship because I betrayed it with Seth. I mean I guess that’s how you’d put it considering that Seth and I have made love…”
“Blake sweetheart, no wonder you’re so emotional,” Annie reached out to wipe at her tears, “You’re dealing with so many conflicting emotions right now.”
“I know I am, but Annie I can’t lie about what I’m feeling either. I know I’m downplaying this situation with Seth, but the truth is that I care for him too. Annie, I love him. I love him so very much and when I’m with him, well he makes me feel alive, sexy, beautiful and free. When we’re together I’m the me I’ve always wanted to be and he has me dreaming about happily ever afters and fairy tales just like when I was a little girl. He doesn’t see me as the Blake everyone else saw, but as the woman he loves unconditionally and I love the way I feel when I’m with him. Even when we were apart, I couldn’t stop thinking about how he touched me in here,” she brought her hand up over her heart, “and now that we’ve finally gotten back on track with our relationship, well I know that I’m not willing to let go of him.”
“Yet you have feelings for Zack and love in your heart for him as well,” Annie replied watching Blake wipe at her tears once again.
“It sounds pathetic, doesn’t it,” Blake whimpered in response, “I mean how is it possible to be so desperately in love with two amazing men all at once and do so many things to screw up everything? Granted Zack and I can’t be together because Johanna is pregnant, but still I do care about him and even if Johanna wasn’t pregnant, I don’t know if I could walk away from Seth because my heart doesn’t want to. Seth has been so understanding about my feelings for Zack and he’s truly every girl’s fantasy. He’s got this romantic idealism and it’s wonderful--he’s amazing and when I think of him--even now, I can’t help but feel the butterflies in my stomach at the prospect of what it’s going to be like when we’re together again. He’s always surprising me and opening up my eyes to new things that I never believed existed in the world around me and when I’m with him, I want more of it. I want to take him all in, deep into my soul and absorb all that he can give.”
“It sounds like you’re in a very tentative position right now Blake as your heart is torn,” Annie touched her shoulder gently.
“More than I care to admit, but tonight I’m having Seth over and I want things to be perfect. I don’t want to think about Zack or about the way I know I’m not over him just yet. I don’t want to be the girl who is in love with two very incredible men and I certainly don’t want to dwell on that predicament when tonight is supposed to be about romance and new possibilities with Seth,” Blake insisted defiantly straining to push aside her tortured heart.
“Even so Blake, this is something that you’re really going to take time to figure out. As much as I hate having to say that, I hate having to see you this upset. It sounds like you’re one of the fortunate women in the world who has found the love of two incredible men, both giving you what you need in their own way and while the situations may be tense, in due time, you’ll find a way to resolve this conflict in your heart.”
“I hope you’re right on that Annie because I really don’t know how much longer I can take this,” Blake sighed in confession slumping down over the countertop as she tried to put the pieces of her heart back together.
“It will all come together,” Annie replied supportively motioning to the countertop before them, “but since you’re hoping for something romantic tonight with Seth, I suppose that there’s no point on dwelling on this for now. You should be working to get yourself beautiful so that you can enjoy yourself for a change instead of torturing yourself.”
“But I thought you just said that I need to figure things out…” Blake wiped at her tears turning to see the smile that had lifted over Annie’s features.
“Well, you do, but you also need to have a little fun in the process even if it means exploring your heart’s many twists and turns,” Annie reached out to embrace her once again, “In fact, why don’t you go start working on getting ready and I’ll take over dinner here?”
“I can’t ask you to do that Annie,” Blake began shaking her head in refusal.
“You didn’t ask. I‘d love to help you with this,” Annie reminded her simply, “and besides I’d like to see one of my precious ones smile for a little while tonight.”
“Oh Annie, you’re the greatest,” Blake reached out to hug her tightly, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“You’d do just fine as you’re a smart and beautiful woman Blake. You’re well on your way to reaching all of those goals you have for yourself and it’s a matter of time before everything else falls into place as I’m certain that there are great things ahead for you,” Annie encouraged her brightly.
“I sure hope you’re right on that Annie because our family could use a turn around after the way things have been going lately,” Blake replied thinking about her upcoming dinner with Seth as she vowed to try to remain optimistic as there were a lot of good things happening in her life even if they had the bad waiting in the wings. Tonight was about new beginnings and following one direction her heart was taking her to even if it meant pushing aside the other intense emotions that were eating away at her core where the other man in her life was concerned. Tonight was about Seth and all the other things would just have to wait for a while.
Hart stood outside Jenna’s apartment unable to contain his concerns
about his not being able to get a hold of her earlier in the morning.
While he’d gone to his office to get a little work done, when he’d called
the morgue, they’d said that Jenna hadn’t shown up and that had him more
than just a little bit concerned as she wasn’t answering her home phone
or her cell phone either for that matter. It wasn’t like Jenna not
to acknowledge anyone’s calls, so that in itself caused him to get into
his car and come over to her apartment in the hopes that she was still
at home safe and sound instead of lying in a ditch somewhere.
Hart knocked again on the door, feeling his heart pulse with panic as there was no answer. While he’d been hoping that his concerns would be alleviated long before now, Jenna’s absence at her doorstep had him thinking about taking drastic measures as he began to ponder what might’ve happened. Perhaps he’d left the stove on earlier in the morning, or late last night and there was some kind of gas leak that had prevented her from leaving the apartment after he’d gone for the morning or maybe there was some lunatic like Bruce Mathis holding her hostage inside because she’d been onto his game long before the FBI. Either way Hart wasn’t taking any chances he decided as he slipped out of his jacket eyeing the apartment window as he prepared to scale over the railing on her porch to break inside and find out what was happening.
“Wait a second,” he frowned silently cursing his own stupidity for thinking to the window scenario when just earlier in the day Jenna had offered him up her spare key to take with him. Granted he’d had it for quite some time, but he’d been trying to do the polite thing in offering her a chance to take it back. Still, while she’d seen that he’d valued her sense of privacy in her life, she’d been more than receptive to letting him keep the key for a bit longer as they seemed to be frequenting her place more often than not. Come to think of it Hart hadn’t been home in quite some time as nights at Jenna’s place was becoming a trend. Still that was no matter, he reminded himself as he fished through his pockets seeking out the key. Now was about seeing what was going on with Jenna and that was exactly what Hart resolved to do as he pulled the key to her apartment out of his pants pocket.
Sliding the key into the lock, Hart pushed it open tentatively fearing what may be inside as his pulse quickened and his mind kept imagining the worst. Unable to come to grips with the images his mind was flashing before him, torturing him endlessly as he noticed Jenna’s living room area was empty, he continued to press through her apartment praying that he wasn’t too late to stop something bad from happening to her. He couldn’t bear the thought of anything hurting her more than she’d already been hurt as he sought her out.
“Jen, Jen are you here,” Hart questioned his voice raising with emotion as he noticed the half eaten box of donuts still opened on the table top. His pulse quickened and he felt his heart leap into his throat as he immediately turned down the hallway ready to tear the place apart to find her if need be, but as he approached her bedroom, he could hear the faint sounds of water running in the distance and his fears were taken down just a notch.
Stepping inside Jenna’s bedroom, he could see her outfit for the day clearly laid out over the side of the bed before he looked up to see the door opened just a crack to the adjoining bathroom suite. Moving forward he approached the bathroom, easing open the door just enough to get a glance inside as he realized that while the steam had caused a thick cloud over the mirror, but the shower was empty. Jenna was no where to be found inside and that in itself gave him reason to worry as he entered the bathroom seeking out any kind of signs of her. Almost immediately his eyes were drawn to the floor where a dark pool of sticky red liquid was drenched over the pale, ivory flooring tiles.
“Oh God no,” Hart rushed forward leaning down for a closer look when his mind began to repaint those pictures of the worst case scenario all over again for him. He reached out to touch the liquid ready to call for help when he heard the sounds of footsteps behind him followed up with a blood curdling scream.
Immediately Hart rose to his feet to find Jenna standing behind him clad only in a pale sea green colored towel and a look of sheer panic over her features as her screams continued. Her hair was pinned up off of her shoulders and as she began to realize that he was the intruder in her bathroom, her screams died down, but that didn’t stop Hart from being concerned. He rushed over to her touching her shoulders securely as his eyes beckoned hers.
“Jenna, what’s going on? What happened here,” he questioned in a panic unable to refrain from squeezing her in his arms as his heart pounded furiously within his chest.
“I just went to get some paper towels to clean this mess up and…” Jenna breathed from within his arms, “Hart, you’re hurting me.”
“Oh I’m sorry,” he eased his hold up on her a bit as he searched her eyes, “Jen, when I called your office and they said that you hadn’t shown up and then when you didn‘t answer your cell phone, well I thought that maybe…I don’t know what I thought exactly, but it wasn’t good…”
“Hart, I’m fine,” Jenna paused contemplating her words, “well as fine as could be expected under the circumstances. I spent most of the morning moping around here thinking about last night, but then well, Douglas showed up and I got upset and realized that there wasn’t any point in rushing to work.”
“He was here,” Hart’s eyes widened in surprise, “Jenna, what happened?”
“I told him to get lost. I told him what I thought about him and said that I didn’t need someone like him in my life, then I shut the door in his face,” Jenna shrugged her shoulders simply as a sigh spilled from her lips, “After that, well I guess I just decided I needed some time to myself so I turned my cell phone off and put the answering machine on. I was about to hop into the shower, but then that stupid aromatherapy oil heater fell off the countertop and made a mess of everything…” she motioned to the floor, “so I went in the laundry room to get some more paper towels to clean it up…”
“Which is why I didn’t see you on the way inside,” Hart thought aloud watching her move over towards the spill.
“Which is also probably how you managed to scare the hell out of me here,” Jenna added bending down to wipe at the mess.
“Allow me,” Hart knelt in beside her seeing the obvious tension still running through her body, “as I really wish you would’ve called me Jenna.”
“I was trying to deal with this on my own,” she confessed with a heavy sigh, “as I hate always having to uproot your life just because I have some issues.”
“Those aren’t just issues Jen. You’re having a tough time with your father and I already told you that I’d be there for you,” he pointed out with a frown, “as I’d much rather you talk to me than keep it all in.”
“What more is there to say,” she groaned shaking her head at the thought of Douglas, “I mean how much more pathetic can I get for caring?”
“Caring doesn’t make you pathetic Jen. Closing yourself off just makes it worse and the fact that you’re upset about what’s happened, well it just means that you need to be able to get it out somehow,” Hart continued to remind her pointedly, “and hey in your not talking with me, you’re giving me a complex here.”
“Hart,” Jenna couldn’t help but smile at the goofy expression upon his features, “you know that I love you.”
“I do, but I also know that you like to keep me from what’s going on with you and you don’t need to do that. I already shared some of my humiliating bare ass tales from high school with you, so believe me anything you would have to say wouldn’t be anywhere near as humiliating as that…” Hart tried to coax her into opening up further.
“That’s different,” she frowned, “as this is a whole different type
“Jenna, you trusted your father and you wanted to believe that he was someone you could look up to. It’s not like you went out on a killing spree there and buried the bodies in your rose garden. I think that you are being far too hard on yourself there…” Hart insisted hating to see her beating herself up over what was going on with her father.
“Even so I treated my mother horribly and I hate that I turned my back on her when she obviously needed me more than ever,” Jenna continued with a nagging sense of guilt riding over her.
“Jen, you said you talked to your mom and that she wanted to just put all that behind you--that things were better between you,” Hart reminded her hoping to get her to see the best in the moment.
“Even so, I still hate what I did because that’s so not me. I’m not one to just make irrational hasty decisions that can hurt those I love. It makes me feel like such a jerk and the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I get that from Douglas…” she confessed unable to contain her concerns about the situation.
“Jenna, look at me,” he urged her to meet his eyes as he touched her cheek gently, “You are nothing like your father and I want you to banish that thought right away. You’re a good woman with a kind and beautiful heart full of so much love. You’re spunky and irresistible and you have a good head on your shoulders. While Douglas might be your father, you don’t have anything in common with him beyond blood. You’re certainly your mother’s daughter and I think that’s why she can understand what it is you were going through as she too was fooled by him once.”
“But that should make me smarter. I mean I should’ve listened to her, shouldn’t I? I should’ve tried to give her the opportunity to speak her piece before jumped the gun and alienated her from my life,” Jenna continued unable to contain the emotion in her voice as she looked at Hart, “I mean I should’ve…”
“Jenna, you did what you felt was right and now, well now it’s time for you to work on fixing the situation. I think in speaking with your mother, it was a great start and it’s taking you both one step closer to strengthening the bond between you. Sure, you are hurting about what happened with your father, but right now you and your mom need one another more than ever. In fact, why don’t you get cleaned up and then give her a call? Invite her to dinner or something…”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea considering…” Jenna began doubtful that suggestion would turn things around for her.
“I think it’s a fabulous idea. In fact a client of mine just gave me the inside track on this exclusive place just outside of town that’s an A-list only restaurant. He’s taken over ownership and he was eager to get me out there for a while. I’m sure if I gave him a call, then perhaps we could get reservations for your mom and her boyfriend to join the two of us. I mean hey, it would make up for the dinner we missed out on last night and it would give your mother a chance to see that I’m not the complete jerk she thinks I am…”
“I’m the jerk here,” Jenna frowned back at him, “I’m the one who really twisted the knife in her back.”
“No Jenna, you wanted to believe in something you were missing and you gave it your best shot. Sure, it didn’t turn out as you were hoping for, but you learned and you and your mother will only move through this stronger than ever. You both have this experience to bond you and ultimately this challenge to your relationship only strengthened it.”
“How is it you can be so damned practical when all I want to do is just kick and scream and pull my hair out,” Jenna questioned focusing upon the way he seemed to have all the right things to say to her when she was feeling her lowest.
“It’s a gift, truly,” Hart winked at her leaning in to kiss her tenderly, “but then again I think it’s because you bring out the best in me.”
“Who knew I could possess such powers,” Jenna couldn’t help but tease feeling a smile tickle over her lips as his lips hovered just a breath away from hers.
“I guess I’m just lucky enough to have discovered the magic of you,” Hart whispered unable to contain himself as he kissed her once again, “as you worried me half to death when I couldn’t reach you.”
“I’m sorry about that. I should’ve been more considerate to what you would be thinking,” Jenna replied shifting on the floor before him as she curled her arms around his neck, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Well you did,” he hugged her waist pulling her in closer to him, “and now that you have, well I must say I’m relieved that you’re okay.”
“I’m better than okay now that you’re here,” she mused with a smile squeezing her arms around him, “as you just have this way about you…”
“I do, don’t I,” he boasted feeling her nudge him as a laugh spilled over his lips, “though I really think that you should get yourself cleaned up and I’ll work on this mess on the floor, then we can look into the reservations and perhaps dinner with your family.”
“That’s going to prove to be a challenge in itself as I’m not sure if my mom will accept given that we’re both asking,” Jenna confessed thinking to her mother’s strong distrust of Hart.
“Well, I can work on winning her over. I mean hey, with your love anything is possible,” Hart decided thinking of the ways in which he and Jenna had done a complete turn around with one another, “I mean she can’t hate me forever, right?”
“I don’t know. She’s pretty good at holding a grudge,” Jenna admitted thinking to her mother’s stubborn side, “though maybe when she gets a chance to really know you like I do, perhaps she’ll open her mind to the possibilities that you might be an okay kind of guy. I mean you do make me so very happy and that says a lot.”
“It says that I’m one lucky son of a bitch to have had a second chance with you because I’d be lost without you baby,” he touched her face tenderly, “I love you Jenna.”
“I love you too Hart,” Jenna whispered against his lips holding him closer to her, “and you know…now that I think about it, perhaps the mess on the floor can wait as I’m pretty sure that my shower this morning was made for two.”
“You don’t say,” Hart couldn’t help but smile at where she was headed with this conversation between them, “Hmm…now that I think about it, I suppose I could use a cleaning up myself after having raced over here to find you.”
“Then perhaps we should work on getting that for you,” Jenna carefully unknotted his tie as her eyes lit up with enthusiasm, “and just to let you know I have a floor mat in there so that there won’t be any injuries should we decide to let the moment carry us away.”
“That’s my girl,” Hart mused proudly as he reached out to the top of her towel, tugging it away from her body before he rose to his feet taking her up with him, “Always thinking ahead about safety.”
“What can I say, I guess I’m just good that way,” Jenna winked up at him tearing his shirt away from his body as his hands teased over her curves in a slow, sensual fashion.
“Oh no darling, you‘re so much better than good,” he informed her heatedly leaning forward to capture her mouth in a savory kiss as it seemed that they’d found a way to push aside her problems with her father for a while in favor of a more enjoyable scenario.
Jade looked up from the computer in front of her and smiled as she watched Grady continue to study the files in front of him. He was hard at work, focusing intently upon the legal tome before him as he looked for a way to boot Susan from his home. That woman was really beginning to irritate Jade with her continuous need to upset Grady. She wasn’t going to let Susan keep Grady from staking his claim on his sobriety, and she wouldn’t allow that woman to destroy Grady’s life from the inside out.
As she continued to watch Grady, she pondered how she had somehow declared herself his protector. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t take care of himself…he just didn’t do a great job of it, and it was only her love for him that made her think she had to somehow stand up for him and be his protector. And while he’d never openly admit it, he was glad she did so too.
She sat back in her chair for a moment as she thought about everything she’d been through with Grady. She had always known he was a risk, but she also knew that he was certainly a risk worth taking. Even after the pain she’d suffered over the last several days, she couldn’t think of anyone in the world she could love more than the man sitting across the room from her now.
She must have been smiling like a fool as Grady lifted his head to look at her. His eyes filled with questions while a smile grew upon his lips. God have mercy on her, but the man got sexier every day. He seemed to exude raw sex appeal, and it almost literally drove her crazy. She’d never been quite so aroused in all her life as she was right now, in this very instant, by only one smoldering look from the man she loved.
Grady saw the fire burning within her eyes even from where he sat across the room. He’d never wanted a woman the way he did Jade as it seemed she could drive him to the brink of losing control. If he was planning on getting any more work done today, he could forget it. His concentration would be blown after this.
“My god, you’re beautiful,” Grady spoke aloud as he leaned onto the book in front of him and braced his head upon his hand.
“Funny,” She smiled as she turned in the chair and simply continued to gaze at him, “I was just thinking the same thing about you.”
He smiled proudly as he continued to study her lovely features, “We’re not going to get any work done after this, are we?”
“Probably not,” She chuckled.
“It’s just as well. I was about to go blind by all this legal terminology until I looked up and was amazed by your beauty.”
“Now you’re just flattering me,” She said through a grin.
“You know that flattery isn’t my thing,” He smiled at her, “But you know, we should probably do something about this.”
“This lull in our work,” He spoke as he pushed away from the table and sat back, “What do you think we should do about it?”
“You’re the boss,” She pointed out lightly as she watched him, “You tell me.”
“Considering we’re not going to get any more work done, we could go out to dinner, maybe catch a movie…” He suggested.
“Are you asking me out on a date?” She asked in amusement as he stood and began to make his way towards her.
“That’s one suggestion,” He offered as he stood in front of her, “What do you say?”
“Another suggestion would be that we simply call it a night,” She offered as she looked up to him, “I don’t think we should push anything quite yet.”
“Damn,” He voiced his disappointment with a sigh, “Can I at least drive you home?”
“Normally, I’d appreciate the offer, but Seth finally got himself a car halfway worth driving after the earthquake. So I’ve got my car back,” Jade stood and met Grady’s eyes, “But I appreciate the offer.”
“Can’t I spend any time with you?” He asked as he caressed her cheek, “Being away from you…it hurts,” He admitted.
“It does me too,” She assured him as she closed her eyes and enjoyed his tender caress, “But I think this is for the best. You really need to focus on yourself first…us second. I want you to regain your sobriety. After that, my calendar is all yours,” She assured him with a smile as she leaned onto her tip toes and kissed him tenderly, “Good night, Grady.”
“Good night,” Grady spoke softly as she slipped away from him and left his office. For a moment, he’d thought that his evening had promise. Now, he was left with the unhappy reality of returning home to where Susan would be ready to continue her assault upon him. Somehow, he couldn’t imagine his evening would turn out well at all.
Guy stepped into the Ashford library and closed the door behind him. There seemed to be so much happening all at once, but the only thing that truly mattered to him was that his mother was home. The sight of her wounds had made him cringe, but the very fact that she was alive thrilled him to no ends. He didn’t care if the FBI hated him. The only thing he truly cared about was his mother’s welfare and safety now that she was back with her family.
Since Avery was with their mother now and Richard was speaking with Russell the last time he’d seen him, Guy decided to take a moment for himself. As he sat down behind the large desk, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He hadn’t realized until now that he was so exhausted. He’d known that he was tired, but he’d thought it was only the emotional weight of the past few days taking its toll on him. He had no idea that his body had rebelled against him in the process. It was time like these when Gabe would lecture him about taking care of himself…
Gabe. He’d forgotten all about his lover in all the chaos surrounding his mother’s return. Deciding to remedy that situation, he picked up the telephone and dialed Gabe’s cell.
“Hello?” Gabe’s smooth accent carried like a warm melody in Guy’s ears.
“I so needed to hear your voice,” Guy said simply as he thought of how much he wished Gabe could be here with him.
“Guy…what’s happening?” Gabe questioned in concern.
“Mum’s home. At least she’s at the Ashford mansion. She found her way here, and she’s battered but she’s alive.”
“Oh Guy, that’s great news,” Gabe spoke happily before his tone became concerned again, “But how are you doing? You sound tired.”
Guy smiled, “How is it that you can hear that over the phone?”
“I know you, and I love you. I love every little thing about you, and when you speak, I know the different tones in your voice. And I can tell now that you’re tired.”
“I’m exhausted actually,” Guy clarified with a sigh, “But I need to be here for Mum, and I just don’t feel comfortable leaving her after everything that’s happened.”
“But Guy, you have to take care of yourself. I know your mother needs you, and I want you to support your mother. That being said, you have to be well rested to be by her side,” Gabe instructed.
Guy smiled, “I knew you’d lecture me about taking care of myself.”
“Then it sounds like you didn’t need me to tell you what you already knew. You simply needed the encouragement,” Gabe paused, “Talk to the Ashfords. I’m sure they’ve got plenty of rooms there. You should lie down for a while and get some rest.”
“I probably should, but…”
“But nothing. You’ll be near your mother, and you’ll both be in the safety and security of the Ashford estate. You should get the rest in order to help your mother deal with the trauma she’s endured,” Gabe urged him, “Don’t argue with me, Guy. You know I’m right.”
Guy smiled, “I do know you’re right, but sleeping won’t be easy. At least, not when I want your arms around me so badly.”
Gabe smiled slightly as he thought of the man he loved, “We’ll make up for lost time when this is finished with your mother. I promise you.”
“I’m going to make you live up to that,” Guy warned as he heard a sound in the hallway, “I think I should probably go back to see Mum now, but Gabe…”
“I love you,” Guy assured him.
“I love you too,” Gabe reaffirmed his promises before the phone call ended.
Guy hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment. While it had been good to hear Gabe’s voice, it would have been even better to feel his arms around him. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be at the moment, but one day soon, things would work out so that they could truly be together in their love.
Avery sat on the edge of the king sized bed beside her mother feeling
a silence sweep over them as her eyes cascaded over Brooke’s tired, battered
looking features. Just the thought of the horrors that Brooke must’ve
endured at the hands of a man Avery once had been attached to was enough
to send guilt roaring over Avery stronger than ever as she’d hated to think
she was the cause of so much pain. Granted on some level she was
well aware that she wasn’t the one who had directly played a hand in all
of this chaos, but it was that inner sense of guilt associated with being
the indirect participant of such terror that had Avery feeling less than
settled as she watched her mother very closely. While Brooke hadn’t
said much about the abduction, Avery could still see how it had troubled
her and as Avery sat in the unsettling quiet, she realized that the situation
had more than put her on edge.
“Avery, honey is something on your mind,” Brooke questioned breaking through the quiet that had surrounded them as she reached for Avery’s hand tentatively, watching as Avery bit on her lower lip to fight back whatever first thought had occurred to her.
“There’s always something on my mind,” Avery answered cryptically straining to keep the conversation light and peppy despite the awkward sense of discontent brewing inside of her. While she knew that she shouldn’t be stuck in that place, absorbing all the terror that Bruce had inflicted upon Brooke, Avery couldn’t help but be obsessed with the thought of it all much to her own dismay.
“That’s being rather vague, don’t you think,” Brooke’s pale, cracked lips curled in a frown alerting Avery that the conversation was only beginning as Brooke squeezed Avery’s hand once again, “Avery, honey talk to me…”
“Brooke I…” she stopped herself exhaling a slow breath in an attempt to settle her nerves as she corrected herself, “Mom, I’m just happy that you’re home…”
“I’m glad to hear you say that, but something tells me that you have more going on beneath the surface. Why don’t you talk to me Avery?” Brooke suggested gently sensing her daughter’s apprehension about opening up, “I know that we haven’t had many of these moments over the years where you felt you could confide in me about otherwise normal mother and daughter conversations, but if something is troubling you…”
“Mom, I can’t really start bothering you with all my worries,” Avery shook her head at the thought not wanting to voice her concerns aloud as they seemed too disgusting, too horrible to put to sound.
“You’re thinking about Bruce, aren’t you? About what that monster did to us all,” Brooke’s voice was laced with heavy emotion as Avery nodded in confession unable to contain the tears that overcame her.
“I’m so sorry for all of this,” Avery blurted out tearfully, “I wish I’d known what kind of monster he was before this all began. If I’d only seen him as the man he kept hidden from the world…”
“That’s the key to all of this Avery,” Brooke pointed out simply, “He kept his evil hidden and neither one of us could see through to what he really was. He seemed so good and centered and well rounded. When you two encountered one another I really, truly believed that he was your chance at a happily ever after once you’d gone through that horrible tragedy. He seemed so upstanding and dedicated to his goals…”
“And he turned out to be a serial killer,” Avery groaned inwardly, “which tells you how great a judge of character I was all this time.”
“Honey you were hurting about that baby you lost and you didn’t know any better. You thought you were doing what was right in keeping the past in the past and Bruce seemed to offer you a new future full of another chance at happiness…” Brooke pointed out squeezing her hand once again, “You were just trying to move on.”
“But I never really did,” Avery confessed with a sniffle, “because I never loved Bruce and I think on some level he always knew that.”
“Honey, I don’t think you mean that…” Brooke started to reason with her, “as I know you and Bruce had some good times together before…”
“No, mom I mean that in every sense of the word,” Avery declared honestly sitting up straighter as the words fell from her lips, “I never loved Bruce and I don’t think I ever could’ve found it in me to love anyone after Russ. He and I have something so very wonderful and I shouldn’t have lied to him on our wedding day. He deserved to know more about what I was going through and about the baby. He should’ve been there mom and if I’d just followed my heart, then I never would’ve put us all through this. Bruce wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hurt you and…” Avery began poignantly dropping her head down as her thoughts overtook her.
“Avery, you can’t blame yourself for what has already happened in the past,” Brooke threw out at her firmly, “as if we looked back on our mistakes, well I think we’d all be walking around in shame. It’s a horrible, self defeating process and for the record sweetheart, I’ve done far more things in the wrong than you’ve even come close to. In fact, if I really take the time to think about it, well I’d be ashamed to be sitting here with you like this as I know I’ve hurt you.”
“That’s not important right now,” Avery shook her head simply forcing herself to face Brooke as she took in a slow, unsteady breath, “I’m just glad you’re home.”
“And I’m very thankful that I’ve been given an opportunity for a second chance with you, your brother and your father,” Brooke confessed with a soft smile, “as all I could think about was coming back to be with you all again. I wanted more than anything to be able to apologize to you and have that chance to be the kind of mother you’ve always needed. I want us to have the relationship that I was too foolish to work towards getting for us over the years…”
“I want that too and I know that I haven’t tried nearly as hard as I should’ve either,” Avery replied feeling herself overcome with emotion, “as I really wanted to find a way for us to share so many things, but then there was always something…”
“You mean someone,” Brooke interrupted focusing on Avery completely, “Let’s face it Avery. I’ve been a horrible mother and I’ve treated you so callously that I couldn’t blame you if you told me to go to hell and you chose to never be around me again.”
“What would that accomplish,” Avery questioned bluntly, “as neither one of us are going to benefit from something like that. I want another opportunity for us to be able to get some of what we lost before. I want to be able to say that we could really have a relationship with one another.”
“So do I Avery as the thought of being a grandmother has me filled with a new sense of hope and pride that I didn’t think was possible before now. I mean sure there was that time before when you were pregnant, but now…well,” Brooke paused for a moment searching her daughter’s features, “Everything is going smoothly in this pregnancy, yes?”
“Other than all the stress,” Avery nodded forcing a half smile, “I know it sounds like something that wasn’t ever going to happen, but when I found out that Russ and I were having a baby--oh mom, it was the greatest feeling in the world. To know that I could be the mother to his children when this was something that we’ve always wanted…”
“You really love him, don’t you,” Brooke searched her eyes as Avery nodded in confession feeling a lump forming in the back of her throat.
“More than I ever thought possible as Russ is that thing that completes me. He’s the other half of my soul and when I’m with him, well I feel like everything in the universe is as it should be. We have this connection with one another--this bond that’s unlike anything else and with each passing day we share with one another, I find myself falling for him harder by the moment,” Avery confessed drifting back to her love for the man who had turned her world around in more ways than she’d ever dreamt possible, “I love him with all that I am and our child is the best part of the both of us.”
“I remember feeling that way not so long ago,” Brooke reached out to touch Avery’s cheek gently, “when I found out that I was having you. Your father was over the top with enthusiasm at the thought of having a child and when he held you in his arms for the first time, well you would have thought that someone had given him the key to the universe as his daughter was the greatest miracle in his life.”
Avery couldn’t help but smile at the mention of her father, “I love him so very much and he’s been incredible with Russ and I. He’s been so supportive and…”
“And I was the one who was troubling you,” Brooke sighed heavily, “but I just want you to know that I was just trying to protect you. I watched you world fall to pieces when you lost your child before and I hated seeing you go through that kind of misery. Yes, I know I wasn’t the best of mothers, but Avery I didn’t want you to hurt anymore. When I learned that you were unable to conceive, I knew that going back to Russell would lead you down a path of misery because it wouldn’t be the dream that you wanted to share with him. It wouldn’t be what you two planned on and that kind of misery only breeds contempt…”
“But that wasn’t the case,” Avery cut her off urgently, “as all of it was a lie. Mom, I know that you might not believe this, but when I lost my baby before…when that all happened, it wasn’t as it seemed as there was a deception involved.”
“Come again,” Brooke blinked back at her the color leaving her features as she cleared her throat suddenly, “How so?”
“I was drugged mom,” Avery blurted out suddenly causing Brooke to remain frozen in the spot before her, clearly at a loss.
“What?” Brooke questioned in horror as she was now as white as a ghost, “Why would you say that Avery? I mean on that day you were…”
“Being deceived,” Avery continued solemnly, “as Bruce lied to me and he found a way to keep me from the happiness I have with Russ. He did some shameless things to make me believe that my dream of a family with Russ wasn’t a reality and he had a culprit in the matter--one that helped him keep me from where I was truly meant to be in my life, but now I know the truth. I know every little horrible detail of what was done to me and I‘m not going to stand for it any longer.”
“Avery, darling I can…” Brooke shifted uneasily seeing Avery’s eyes narrow with anger as the dark flecks behind them burned with rage.
“I was almost cheated out of a life with my husband and I’m not going to sit back and tolerate that any longer as Bruce and his nefarious culprit are going to pay for their actions,” Avery vowed, her determination sending chills racing over Brooke’s spine as Avery turned her attention to Brooke, offering up a gaze that sent icy waves of panic rushing over Brooke.
“Avery, sweetheart I can explain what you‘re thinking and feeling as…” Brooke started at a loss feeling her mouth go dry as she watched her daughter’s determination spill over her features.
“Oh no, there’s no explanation necessary as I know every last shady detail and I’m not going to stand for anymore excuses about what happened to me. I know the whole ugly truth and I’m not about to sit back and be a victim any longer,” Avery swore to Brooke as Brooke clenched the sheet that lay over her legs wondering how she could find a way to reason with Avery as it seemed that Avery had finally come to a conclusion that could be far worse than the fate Brooke was headed towards before the abduction.
“Avery I…” Brooke started up once again.
“Mom, he was drugging me from the moment I entered that hospital. After I lost my baby he had me on these pills that clearly rendered me incapable of being pregnant until he was ready for me to have his child, but then things didn’t work out how he’d planned as Russ and I reconnected again,” Avery cut her off with a tight, irritated tone, “He was trying to make me think that I’d never be able to be a mother, but it was just another sick and twisted manipulation of his that backfired.”
“So then his culprit?” Brooke inquired shakily.
“Were the pills he kept pushing upon me as they kept me from being able to experience all the normal things that a woman would go through when she was able to have a child,” Avery divulged thinking to her recent discovery, “I didn’t see it before, but then Russ and I got talking and we figured out what Bruce was up to.”
“Oh Avery,” relief washed over Brooke’s features as she offered her arms out to embrace Avery, “that’s horrible. I don’t know how he could do such a thing to you sweetheart. To crush all of your dreams like that…”
“I just can’t believe that I didn’t question it,” Avery hugged her in response, “I mean after all this time…well, I just see that I could’ve lost everything that meant anything to me…”
“But you didn’t and that’s what you have to remember,” Brooke whispered soothingly bringing her hands up over Avery’s dark hair.
“I know that now and I swear that I’m not going to let anything ruin my happily ever for me again because now that I know the truth I’m going to hold onto my future with everything I have. Russ and I have it all with one another and no one is going to get in the way of that. Not now and not ever.”
“Of course it isn’t,” Brooke assured her in a low, raspy tone as Brooke looked across the bedroom they were in feeling a slow sense of relief burning beneath the surface as she vowed to keep Avery from ever learning the entire story behind the twist of fate that had come her way not so long ago. From this moment on Brooke vowed that she would keep Avery in the dark regardless of the price she had to pay as Brooke had far too many plans for her daughter to let something as trivial as the past get in the way. That much she was sure of.
Brant closed the door to the pool house and looked to Susan who paced about the room. He frowned as he’d hated cutting any moments short with Avery, but he was, at least, relieved to be rid of Russell. Still, if Susan was here, he had another problem on his hands that needed to be taken care of.
“Okay, Susan, this is about as private as we can get under the current circumstances. What had you in such a state when you arrived?” He asked as he sat on the arm of the sofa.
“I went to see that woman,” Susan grumbled as she paced around the room, “And she’s a smug one, I tell you. That woman…ewww….ugh…I just wanted to strangle her right then and there.”
“You went to see her?” He asked with amusement, “You are bold, aren’t you?”
“Always have been,” She said proudly as she turned to face him until her expression soured, “But she is going to be a tough nut to crack.”
“So what exactly happened during this little meeting of yours?”
“We both made our intentions known,” She spoke as she took a seat beside him, “That being said, I think we need to discuss the next step in our plan.”
“Our plan? I was interested in forcing Caitlin out. I don’t know how I’ve somehow gotten drafted into this, but…”
“But nothing. You want the little twit gone, and I want the same thing. So you’re going to work with me to make things happen,” She leaned over to gently touch his shoulder, “Look, Brant. To get this twit out of the way, we’re going to have to make her believe that Ken’s already broken on his end.”
“And I suppose you’re going to make that happen, correct?”
“Well yes, but he’s being much more stubborn than I anticipated. Still, I’m not giving up so easily. Ken’s a challenge but I do so adore a challenge,” She grinned.
“And what exactly do I have to do with all of this?”
“You’re going to have to help me convince her that Ken belongs to me.”
“As if she’ll listen to anything I have to say?” Brant asked in doubt.
“I’m not asking you to say anything. We need to be seen together, but it needs to appear that you’re Ken…not you.”
He studied her for a moment before he realized just what she had proposed, “You want me to pretend to be Ken while Caitlin believes I’m Ken to make her think that you’re with Ken,” He paused, “And just what do you expect me to do while we’re…pretending?”
“Get your head out of the gutter, Brant. I only want Ken…not you,” She groaned, “But we should be seen in places where the twit would think Ken and I could meet. It should appear that Ken is seeing me behind Caitlin’s back. It’s the perfect way to create distrust between them, and it’ll give me the opportunity to get Ken to open his eyes once and for all.”
“And when Caitlin speaks with Ken, and he tells her that he wasn’t anywhere near you?”
“She won’t believe him. I mean, come on…a man never outright admits to having an affair. It’s the perfect way to create a rift between them. When Caitlin spurns him, I’ll be right here waiting for him with open arms and an open invitation into my bed,” She smiled.
“I’m sure you will,” Brant sighed as he nodded, “And this should work.”
“Good…then it’s only a matter of time before Ken is back with me where he belongs,” Susan smiled proudly, knowing that once their plan was in action she’d have Ken wrapped around her little finger in no time.
Blake heard the ringing of the doorbell down below as she hoped that
this time it wasn’t yet another police officer checking in after Avery’s
mother’s latest crisis as Blake had entirely far too many close calls with
the wrong person at her doorstep when she’d been saving all the best greetings
for Seth. After her talk with Annie, she realized that she was running
behind and she’d rushed to throw herself together in a fuzzy pink sweater
and a pair of very form flattering ivory khakis and now as she thought
of who she‘d be meeting downstairs, she just prayed it was Seth.
She’d thought it was him earlier when she was putting the final touches
on her lip gloss, but still each time it had been someone else standing
in the foyer and it had left her feeling less than enthusiastic about all
the guests in her home. Granted that was part of the program with
living with your family, but still, she wanted everything to be perfect
for her night with Seth. She’s gone to great lengths to look her
best and as each new visitor popped in, her found her enthusiasm turning
to annoyance as she was hoping that this time in particular she wouldn’t
have to deal with yet another uninvited guest when Seth was what was on
her mind in every way imaginable.
Drawing in a slow breath, Blake took one last look at her appearance before heading down the staircase only to discover at long last that Seth had arrived. There he stood before her looking as sexy as ever in a burgundy colored button down shirt and a pair of black pants. In his hands he held a bouquet of red tipped white roses and as his dark gaze drifted up over the staircase, he flashed her a sexy smile causing all sorts of sensations to stir up inside of her.
“Hello beautiful,” Seth greeted her brightly in his smooth and sensual tone as he approached the bottom of the staircase, holding out the bouquet to her, “These are for you.”
“They’re beautiful,” Blake couldn’t help but smile accepting the flowers as her heart fluttered in her chest, touched by the sentiment behind the gesture as she descended another step coming closer to Seth, “I love them.”
“And I love you,” he confessed reaching out to her as she stepped right into his arms savoring the warmth they provided her with as his lips dipped down to brush against hers in a slow, subtle caress. “I’ve missed you.”
“I missed you too,” she hummed against his mouth feeling the vibrations of her words bounce upon his lips as his arm pressed her in closer to him with each passing second, “It felt like an eternity in all this waiting for your arrival.”
“Try being on this end as I couldn’t think about anything, but spending this time with you,” Seth cupped his hand over the small of her back, feeling the heat of her curves pressed in against him as the scent of her perfume had him caught up in her spell completely. “Today I was by far the most unproductive I’ve ever been as I was completely tortured by each minute away from you as time seemed to be against me today.”
“Not anymore,” Blake promised tilting her head up to meet his dark gaze as a smile touched over the corners of her mouth before a frown overcame her, “though I hope you don’t mind that things won’t be as quiet as I was planning on them being as the police have been in and out of here most of the day.”
“Is something wrong,” Seth questioned, his voice full of concern as Blake let out a heavy sigh.
“Have you heard anything about Brooke Morrison’s kidnapping,” she began watching as he nodded in response, “Well since Brant and Avery were close before she ran off and married Mr. Wrong, he has taken it upon himself to help Brooke out it seems. She showed up at the mansion last night really confused and shaken up from the stories I‘ve been told, so Brant is having her stay upstairs for a while and it’s been chaotic ever since her arrival.”
“I’d heard she was kidnapped by that deranged doctor over at the hospital,” Seth shuddered at the thought, “I’d heard the reports on the news about him being some kind of serial killer…”
“Apparently, but I’m not really upon Avery Morrison’s romantic hang ups. I mean don’t get me wrong here as I’m not wishing anything that disgusting and vile as that Dr. Mathis upon any woman, but with Avery, well I just don’t get her. She and Brant were so hot and heavy and then she wound up marrying Russell Denton. Even now, well there are just things about her and Brant’s relationship that I don’t really understand as he’s not really ready to let go of her because…” she paused biting on her lower lip and shaking her head at the thought, “I really don’t want to get into it.”
“I can’t say I blame you, though I must say I’m surprised to hear that Avery and Brant didn’t work out. I mean I knew that they weren’t together anymore seeing as Grady’s been giving Jade a lot of flack because of Russ and Avery’s involvement with one another, but still…” he let out an ironic laugh, “it’s amazing how so many seemingly unrelated things can effect the rest of us.”
“Unfortunately that’s what happens in a town like this, though I’m sure you’re well aware of it having grown up in all of this,” Blake groaned inwardly thinking of the chaos that followed her and her family.
“That doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it much as I wouldn’t expect you to have to either,” Seth pointed out seeing the tension that swept in over her features.
“Believe me I loathe all the things that come along with the whole media frenzy which is why tonight we’re not going to be staying in here,” Blake explained decidedly as she offered up a quick smile, “as I was thinking that perhaps we could break away from everything Ashford for the time being.”
“You change your mind about dinner here,” Seth arched a curious brow wondering if perhaps the family situation had Blake ready for a change of pace for a while, “We could go back to my place if you like or out to any restaurant that you choose…”
“No, I don’t want that either as I promised you dinner tonight and I intend to keep my word about that, though I will admit Annie helped me, but I’m sure you’re going to love it,” Blake reached for his hand lacing their fingers with one another, “though the changes I have in mind for us include us taking our dinner and our night together out of the mansion. We have some guest quarters just beyond the gardens and I was thinking…”
“It sounds incredible Blake,” Seth cut her off with a kiss, dropping down to kiss her tenderly, “as any time spent alone with you is time well spent.”
“I was hoping you’d feel that way which is why I had everything moved over there,” Blake murmured against his mouth feeling the same anticipation that had filled her up inside for most of the day creeping in over her once again.
“I like the sound of it already,” Seth confessed nibbling on her neck as she let out a tiny giggle.
“God, you’re easy to please,” Blake breathed as a sigh escaped her lips and her nails rose up over his shoulder hugging him in closer to her, “but I do so love that about you.”
“I’m glad to hear it as I love everything about you,” Seth confessed taking a step back as he took the time to admire every inch of her feeling his lips curl up in a smile. She reached out for his hand seizing it without hesitation clearly eager to get out of the craziness of the mansion as she lead him towards the back doorway towards the gardens until they came into contact with yet another one of the few people Blake truly didn’t want to have to encounter.
“Russell,” she scowled unable to contain the bitterness she held for the man standing before them as he stood outside one of the studies clearly straining to hear what was going on inside the room, “What the hell are you doing out here?”
“Blake,” Russell remarked flashing her a bright, unassuming grin as he stood up straighter offering up a nod, “It’s good to see you again.”
“Oh please,” Blake rolled her eyes in response, “Let me guess. You’re seeking out Brant so that you can find yet another way to make him miserable.”
“Hardly,” Russell stated plainly, “as I have no intentions of making your brother’s life miserable just as long as he understands the way things are.”
“And just how might they be,” Blake folded her arms in front of her chest doubtful of his intentions, “as the last thing I heard was that you’d found a way to manipulate Avery into thinking that you’re the man of her dreams when she was clearly lost in love with my brother.”
“She was lost in something, but it wasn’t love and as for your brother, well Blake if you remember correctly, I told you how things were with Avery and I,” Russell reminded her quickly as he took another brief look at the door beside him.
“Ah yes, how could I forget the day you decided to break and enter into my home. Though you know I really should’ve called the police that day considering that you were breaking the law. Maybe if I had, then you wouldn’t have been able to upset Brant the way you have worked so hard to do…”
“Your brother would be just fine if he’d leave my wife alone,” Russell argued with her, “as she doesn’t need his interferences.”
“Hmm, well no one asked for her mother to show up here and come to think of it, I can’t really see anyone inviting you over,” Blake remarked dryly as Seth stepped forward.
“Blake maybe we should just get going to dinner,” Seth suggested seeing the anger burning behind her features as her blue eyes shot an icy glare in Russell’s general direction.
“See now your boyfriend has a good idea going there, so how about you two just enjoy the night together while I get back to my wife,” Russell suggested nodding up at Seth, “Thanks for the help here.”
“I’m not helping you with anything,” Seth answered flatly, “because I really don’t know who the hell you are, but I’m not about to stand here and let you bother Blake.”
“Bother Blake,” Russell repeated blinking his eyes as a spark of something built upon his lips, before he nodded in defeat, “you’re right. Blake, I’m sorry if anything I’ve said could be construed as malicious and for the record I apologize for what happened before. I just hope that in good time you can understand why I did what I did and with that thought fresh on the table, I think I’m going to go check in on my wife,” he finished walking away from the two of them as Blake’s eyes followed him over to the winding staircase.
“I don’t trust him,” Blake divulged tightly feeling her animosity towards the man who’d destroyed Brant’s dreams coming to the surface.
“I can see that,” Seth noted watching her intently.
“Can you blame me,” she turned her eyes to his once again, “I mean that guy came in here pretending to be a pal and then he swept Avery out from Brant faster than you can blink an eye…”
“Well, we don’t really know what happened I suppose, but I can say that if Avery truly loved your brother, then perhaps she wouldn’t have been so easily persuaded to run to Russell,” Seth offered up with a simple shrug of his shoulders.
“That man so manipulated her emotions because how could she not love Brant,” Blake huffed in response, “as I’m sure that Russell did things to her--played with her mind and…”
“And could it be possible that maybe Avery played a hand in this? I mean if she was truly in love with your brother, then some other guy wouldn’t have raised any interest in her under any circumstances,” he tossed out once again.
“Is that how you think love is?” Blake questioned with a blink of her eyes, “All or nothing?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all, but what I am saying is that maybe Avery found herself in a position where she felt she needed to make a choice where her heart was concerned. It’s possible that she felt something for both men, but now that she’s pregnant…”
“She made the wrong choice Seth,” Blake blurted out with a frown thinking about his words, “Regardless of the way Russell may or may not make her feel, she made a commitment to Brant and she should’ve honored that. They would be happy together right now instead of playing these games with one another…”
“Love’s a complicated thing Blake,” Seth began seeing something flicker over her features as she shook her head at him refusing to contemplate what was going on in her brother’s love life.
“I don’t want to think about it. Tonight is about you and I and enjoying ourselves. I don’t want to bother with Brant or Kenny or anything else happening in this place as I want to focus on us--only on us,” she slid her arms around his waist in a leisurely fashion as she curled her lip in a pout. “Tell me we can do that Seth--that we can just push the rest of the world aside for a little while.”
“We can do anything you want Blake,” he promised dropping down to kiss her before they made their way out of the mansion heading out into the gardens as the sun began to make it’s journey off in the distance leaving pinkish hues of nightfall threatening to break through the surface.
“It’s beautiful out here tonight, isn’t it?” Blake pondered aloud squeezing Seth’s hand as they made their way through the lavish Ashford gardens.
“That it is,” he nodded in confession, “and it reminds me of another time we spent out here back when we were first getting to know one another as you were so very beautiful and we were…”
“In the fountain,” Blake’s eyes lit up at the memory as she tugged on his arm guiding him over to the very spot where they’d shared an instant connection with one another. Now as they stood beside the fountain watching the water spray into the air, she felt a moment of comfort and ease wash over her with the rumble of the fountain’s colorful display.
“That’s right,” he kissed the top of her head gently feeling her sink back against his chest as a soft breeze past by them offering up a hint of the water‘s droplets upon them, “and here we are again full circle with one another and I couldn’t be happier than I am in this moment being able to hold you like this.”
“Neither can I…although…” Blake shifted in his arms, unable to contain the smile that spread over her beautiful features, “I think that there might be something we can do to keep us from dwelling on anything else for a while. I mean I know I have dinner ready and waiting, but a few more minutes really couldn’t hurt if we…”
“If we what,” Seth arched a curious brow as he felt her fingers fan out over his chest, spreading a warmth over his body as she urged him to move in closer to the fountain. Before he could ask anything else, he felt a shove from her end and he began to topple backwards dropping down into the pool beneath the fountain as Blake laughed loudly, seemingly in an uproar at how she’d taken him by surprise.
“How’s that,” Blake teased with a wink unable to contain her laughter as Seth waded through the small pool coming to the edge and shaking his head off sending water spewing through the garden.
“That was totally uncalled for,” Seth declared extending his arm out over the side of the pool and reaching for her ankle to pull her in with him, “but it won’t go without payback.”
“Seth no,” Blake squealed feeling him pull her in under the cascade of water in the fountain to join him as the two suddenly went from being focused on dinner to concentrating on who would win the water fight that ensued.
“Oh no you don’t,” Seth chased her around the fountain feeling her running from him after she’d kicked a large quantity of water over in his general direction causing him to take it all in with the moment.
“Oh yes I do,” Blake squealed bending down to splash at him wildly feeling the mood shift as all her planning and preparation for tonight were for not. She was certain she now looked horrible with her stringy hair and makeup running down her face, but as Seth reached out to her stopping her from soaking him double time, she realized that none of her preparations had mattered. He seemed oblivious to the dreadful mess she’d made as his arm curled around her and his lips beckoned hers to sweet surrender reminding her all over again that being with Seth had given her the freedom to escape the Ashford drama and just allowed her to be herself for a while and in this moment in time she couldn’t think of anything she’d wanted more.
Dorothy fidgeted with her drape as she stood at the front door of the restaurant. When Jenna had invited her to dinner, it seemed like such a great start to mend their relationship…that is, until Jenna had mentioned Hart. She still wasn’t comfortable with her daughter’s burgeoning relationship with the smarmy lawyer, but tonight she just wanted to focus on healing her own relationship with her daughter.
“Nervous?” Preston asked as he lightly brushed his hands over her shoulders, “Remember, it’s just Jenna. She’s the same daughter you’ve always known and loved.”
“It’s different this time,” She turned and looked at him, “Pres, how can we really work this out? I want to…badly. But I know that she’s been hurt by my lies, but I just wanted to protect her.”
“You don’t have to explain to me or to Jenna. You said that she knew now what kind of man her father is. That should go a long way in letting her see that you were trying to do what was best for her.”
“I’m just afraid that she won’t trust me.”
“You’re her mother,” He reasoned, “She may be hurt, but she’ll always know that she can trust you.”
“I’m not so sure,” Dorothy sighed.
“I am,” Preston kissed her temple, “Come on. Let’s go inside,” He spoke as he took her hand and led her into the restaurant. Once inside, the host led them to the table where Hart and Jenna awaited them.
Jenna stood immediately to greet her mother, “Mom, I’m so glad you could make it,” She hugged her mother while Hart stood and extended his hand to Preston.
“It’s nice to have you both,” Hart greeted Preston with a hand shake.
“It’s good to be invited,” Preston assured him as Dorothy continued to hold onto her daughter.
“Mom…” Jenna questioned as she held onto her mother, “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Dorothy explained as she took a single step back and met her daughter’s eyes, “I was just thinking about how good it is to spend time with you again.”
“I’ve missed you,” Jenna assured her, “Come on. Let’s sit down.”
“Okay,” Dorothy spoke as Preston helped her with the chair before taking a seat beside her. She studied Hart for a moment before she spoke, “We appreciate the invitation.”
“I know that being close to you is everything to Jenna,” Hart took Jenna’s hand and smiled, “And I want to make Jenna happy. Besides, family is important.”
“Yes it is,” Preston agreed as he flashed Jenna a supportive smile.
“Are you close with your family?” Dorothy questioned.
“No, I didn’t pursue the life that my father would have wanted, and it divided us,” Hart explained as a waiter joined them. Hart ordered a bottle of wine for the table while each person placed their order.
After the waiter left, Preston spoke, “It looks like you’re happy, Jen. It looks good on you.”
“Thank you,” Jenna smiled as she looked over to Hart, “Hart’s really been good for me. I know that we had a really rough beginning, and this relationship, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t have come this far. But things have really worked out for us,” She explained before she looked to her mother, “I know that you don’t particularly approve of this relationship, but Mom, I’m really happy with Hart. I love him, and it feels very natural for me.”
Dorothy studied Hart for a moment before she let out a heavy sigh, “I can’t say I approve, but I don’t think there would be any man I’d approve of for my little girl,” She smiled in surrender, “But if being with Hart truly makes you happy and as long he doesn’t hurt you, I suppose I can learn to like him,” She said as her smile faded.
Hart looked awkward as he glanced from Dorothy to Jenna.
Jenna took Hart’s hand and smiled, “She’s teasing.”
“Oh…oh…okay,” Hart smiled in relief.
Dorothy smiled softly as she took a sip of her wine. While she’d made sure her tone was teasing, she’d meant every word of what she’d said. She didn’t trust Hart Steiner as far as she could throw him, and she wasn’t going to blindly accept him in Jenna’s life. The first moment he upset Jenna in any way, Dorothy would make Hart wish he’d never been born.
Ken stepped into the mansion and leaned back against the door. He’d thought he’d come home to some peace and quiet, but with all the media attention for Brooke’s return, peace and quiet didn’t seem to be on tap for the evening. He started towards the stairs before he heard a familiar voice.
“Welcome home,” Susan smiled as she leaned against the doorway to the den.
He took a deep breath as he turned and frowned, “What the hell are you doing here? Did you rent a room from Brant while I wasn’t looking?”
“I’m here to see you. Why else would I be here?” She asked as she stepped towards him.
“To try to drive me insane,” He spoke as he stood his ground, “The little visit to Caitlin…did you really think that would tear us apart?”
“I didn’t think it would do anything than let her know that I’m not going to let you go so easily. I thought she had every right to know that she’s only got you for a limited time,” She spoke as she reached out to run her hand lightly along his arm.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” He corrected her as he pulled out of her touch, “Caitlin’s my life now, Susan, and she’s got me for as long as she wants me. I love her. Get that through your head. I love Caitlin, and I’ll never betray her.”
Susan raised a doubtful brow, “You don’t really believe that, do you? You’re only deceiving yourself. You know that you want me, and you want more of the good times we shared together. That little twit could never give a man like you what you need, but I can,” She reminded him as she took a step towards him.
Ken stepped up several stairs as he continued to meet her gaze, “You can’t give me anything, Susan, but Caitlin can give me everything. She’s my world, and I don’t need anything but her. You’re wasting your time here. Go find someone else to torture,” He instructed as he turned and made his way up the stairs.
Susan sighed, “You do need me, Ken, and soon, you’ll realize that for good,” She vowed before she turned and left the mansion. She would have him, and he would know that he needed her more than he’d ever realized before.
Brant tentatively perused his study seeking out that special something
that he’d picked up for Avery earlier in the week. Granted he’d hoped
he’d get another opportunity alone with her at work to make up for lost
time between them, but now that she was at the mansion no doubt questioning
his connection with Susan, he figured that now was as good a time as any
to throw out something that might not have her in too much of an uproar
around him. Seeing as Susan’s visit had come at a time when he hadn’t
quite been prepared, he would have to use his skills for spinning the wheels
in his direction to ultimately get things where he wanted them to be with
Avery. She’d certainly reacted when she’d witnessed him with Susan
and while he still had some thoughts about how he and Susan would tweak
out the course of action between them for the most optimal benefits for
the both of them, he had a good positive feeling about how all of this
would end up in the long run.
“You will be mine Avery,” Brant mused to himself a crooked grin spreading out over his devilishly handsome features as he stepped up to the desk before him, opening the top drawer as he sought out the small box from within. He flicked his finger over the shiny, pink satin bow that graced the top of the package noting the consideration that had gone into this particular present for Avery. There was no doubt in his mind that she’d truly enjoy it--in fact he was banking on that quite frankly. She’d love it, he encouraged himself pulling the package out of the top drawer when his eyes fell upon the envelope he’d tucked away for a rainy day--to the news that his private investigator had brought with him about the woman who’d raised an altogether different interest in Brant since Christmas time.
Unable to resist the urge to lurk in the moment of curiosity, Brant set the small package he’d picked up for Avery down in an attempt to peruse the clippings that his private investigator had sent over. Sure, he was well aware of the fact that having this kind of attachment and interest in a woman who pretty much told him to drop dead was nothing short of sheer insanity, but then again hadn’t that been how he and Avery had started out as well? Angela was so much like her and even now as Brant thought of the brief fling they’d had with one another, he wished that he could’ve worked things out differently--that somehow he could’ve ended things on a less than sour note as Angela had certainly played an impression upon his mind. Okay, so maybe it had everything to do with the fact that she was the one that had dismissed him so readily, but then again the fact that she looked so much like Avery had also been important on some level.
That in itself could explain Brant’s fascination in the most simplistic sense, yet when he thought back to Angela, she was hardly anything like Avery…at least not when it got down to beneath the surface. Angela and Avery were both very intelligent, clearly stubborn women, but with Angela she hadn’t pushed Brant away like Avery had time and time again. Angela had trusted him in ways that he was certain his reputation would lead any woman to be skeptical around him, yet she willingly placed herself into his hands for passion and excitement--a quest that he was still trying to persuade Avery into trying with him. Angela had opened up a part of herself that Brant was quite certain that she hadn’t offered to any other man before that point. Sure, she’d clearly had other lovers, but none that excited her nearly as much as Brant had. He could feel it in the sounds of passion he’d elicited from her in the throes of their love making--in the way that her body responded so eagerly to him drinking up his every touch, his every tickle and teasing that he devoted himself to offering her. Angela didn’t care about the Ashford hype--hell, she had no idea who he was or what he was about, yet she’d opened herself up to him on so many levels with such an instantaneous connection that…
“That you’re turning into a nut job,” Brant cursed himself stuffing
the clippings he’d been all but drooling over back into the envelope.
Clearly Angela had lied to him about who she was since she was no where to be found, yet he couldn’t help but wonder where she was and what she was doing. He wondered if she’d found herself thinking about him--remembering the time they’d spent with one another as the fondness of it had soured Brant’s appetite for another woman, well except for Avery, but that was always a factor in the situation that was always lingering. Brant wished there were words to explain it, but while his initial reaction to Angela had been based on Avery, there was something about her memory that went far beyond the fact that she could pass for Avery’s clone. It ran deeper, more primal and as Brant couldn’t help but sneak another peek at the clippings he’d tried to shut out of his mind, but there she was before him, a mere shadow of the memory that haunted him, singeing it’s fever into his mind, into his body as he reacted so readily to the brief experience they’d been able to savor with one another.
“I know what you’re up to Ashford and it‘s not going to work,” a voice interrupted as Brant looked up from the clippings to find Russell Denton standing in the doorway of the study, glaring at him with obvious distrust.
“Excuse me,” Brant blinked back at him quickly shuffling with the envelope in hand before tucking it away into the top desk drawer where he’d collected it from.
“I said it’s not going to work,” Russell declared boldly marching into the room to face down the man who’d given him endless headaches, “You aren’t going to weasel your way into my wife’s life again especially not by using Susan to do it.”
“Look Russ, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brant began innocently putting on his best poker face as Russell eyed him with heavy suspicion, “but what I do know is that you shouldn’t be running around my home snooping on me.”
“I’m not snooping on you as I could care less about all your dirty little secrets unless of course they come about as being a problem in my marriage,” Russell warned sharply, his green eyes throwing icy spikes in Brant’s general direction, “Get it through your head Ashford, Avery is my wife and she loves me, not you.”
“I don’t think I’ve said anything in the matter Russ,” Brant shrugged his shoulder simply, “because as you can clearly see I’ve moved on with my life and if you’re about to sit here and accuse me of something that has you feeling insecure, then perhaps you should take the time to reflect upon yourself and what you’re not doing for Avery since it’s evident you have doubts about the security of your marriage.”
“My marriage is plenty secure enough,” Russell glowered at him unable to contain the animosity in his voice, “but beyond that I know that my wife is far too polite to tell you what she really thinks of you. She’s your employee, but it ends there Brant. You aren’t friends, you aren’t bosom buddies and you certainly aren’t ever going to be lovers, so you can get that notion out of your head right now. Avery and I are together and we love each other. We have a baby on the way and we don’t need you and Susan trying to disrupt that.”
“My relationship with Susan has nothing to do with…” Brant started to argue with him.
“Don’t play games with me Brant because I know you too well for that. I know that the only reason you have Susan around is because you two are up to trouble, but I will give you fair warning Brant,” Russell paused heavily as the two men stood in a standoff, “Susan’s evil and when she plays, she plays to win even if it means burying her allies in the process. She doesn’t care about who she destroys just as long as she comes out on top victorious, so if you have it in your head that some kind of alliance with Susan will be the key to your happiness, then you might want to rethink that notion.”
“Gee Russ, I didn’t realize you cared,” Brant rolled his eyes in response to Russell’s words.
“I don’t because as far as I’m concerned, you’re more obvious now than ever. Sure Avery might feel compelled to be nice to you after this little stunt you’ve pulled with Brooke, but I’m not buying into it one bit. I know there’s more going on than either one of you are telling us and it’s only a matter of time before I figure you out which is why I thought I’d issue you fair warning Brant,” Russell explained simply, his jaw clenching as he spoke in a very determined warning tone, “Stop the games with Susan now and stay away from my wife because if you don’t, I swear to God I’ll bury you by the time this is all over.”
Brant couldn’t help but chuckle with mild amusement as he arched his brow at Russell, “Is that a threat Russ?”
“No that’s a promise,” Russell vowed his green eyes filled with cynicism and bitter animosity, “Stay away from my wife!”
“I can’t control Avery’s actions anymore than you can and if she chooses to be around me, well I’m not going to push her away as I care about her very much,” Brant stated plainly adjusting the sleeve on his shirt, “and the fact that she works for me is going to keep it vital for us to have a good relationship with one another even if you detest that.”
“My wife is a good person with a kind heart and I won’t have you reel her in any further than you already have. Find someone else to fixate on Brant,” Russell warned again, his anger getting the best of him as he took a step in towards Brant.
“I’m not fixated,” Brant remarked sourly dismissing Russell’s words, “as what Avery and I have with one another runs deeper than anything she could ever have with you Russell and that’s what really bothers you. Avery and I have a connection that goes untouched by what you’ve pushed upon her and we both know that. Had she not discovered she was pregnant, do you really think that she would’ve even bothered to take you back again? Do you really think that she hasn’t figured out what you’ve done?”
“What I’ve done,” Russell repeated in a state of disbelief.
“That’s right,” Brant nodded emphatically, “You and Heather worked your damnedest to see to it that Avery and I weren’t together and knowing the both of you, there would be no qualms about how low you’d sink to get Avery away from me. I have no doubt in my mind that you manipulated her when she was feeling vulnerable about Bruce. You coaxed her into sleeping with you and you made damn sure that she didn’t have any other option, but to be with you the rest of her life. You played her goodness against her and now you’re afraid that she’ll catch on to your game and leave you flat on your face, dumping you so fast that your head will spin in the process. I mean really Russ, she left you once, so why not do it again, right?”
“Shut up Brant,” Russell warned once again straining to keep from losing his self control in the moment he found himself wanting to destroy Brant more than ever.
“Why should I,” Brant shrugged his shoulder simply, a wicked smirk spreading over his features, “I just call them like I see them, and I have no doubt in my mind that Avery was tricked into this sham of a marriage because I got to see something in Avery that you still can’t touch with her. I know her in ways that you couldn’t come close to as she’s far from being over me Russell. If you hadn’t pushed your way into her life, well, then you and I might be having a similar discussion, but under different terms because Avery would be my wife right about now.”
“The hell she would,” Russell lunged forward shoving Brant into a wall as his fingers tightened around Brant’s collar furiously unable to contain the rage that Brant had tapped into from within. Russell shoved him once again, two times more ready to pound Brant into a bloody pulp when he felt someone’s hand upon his shoulder tearing him away from Brant in a haste.
“Russ don’t,” Guy urged his brother-in-law pulling him away from Brant despite his own tired state as he was certain he’d walked in upon something that shouldn’t be happening.
“You’re insane Denton,” Brant spat out at Russell bringing his own hands up over his neck to rub away some of the ache Russell’s hold on him had presented.
“I’m not going to put up with him or his…” Russell started straining to get out of Guy’s hold on him as he eyed Brant with an air of contempt.
“Russ, stop this. Don’t start something that you don’t want to finish because we both know Avery doesn’t need this on her conscience as well,” Guy pleaded with Russell trying to talk some sense into Avery’s hotheaded husband as Russell seemed to calm down in Guy’s hold.
“You’re right,” Russell finally conceded shrugging out of Guy’s hold upon him as he took a step back trying to distance himself from the situation, “I lost my composure for a moment, but I won’t make the same mistake twice.”
“Good, now why don’t you go see Avery?” Guy suggested taking in a slow breath as he could still see the fire of rage burning behind Russell’s eyes, “She’s still with Mum, but I’m sure that she’d like you to be up there with her right about now.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I should get going up there,” Russell finally nodded in agreement before throwing out one contemptuous glare in Brant’s direction, “Consider yourself warned Ashford.”
“I won’t be intimidated by you Denton,” Brant remarked resentfully watching as Russell exited the study leaving Brant and Guy with one another in a long moment of silence before Brant cleared his throat and spoke up once again, “Guy, I hope you caught all of that because that man is crazy. Clearly he’s unstable and I really am starting to wonder about Avery being with him…”
“Brant,” Guy began raising his hand in the air to silence him mid-sentence, “Just don’t.”
“I’m just trying to tell you that he’s a lunatic. He’s just full of rage and he’s ready to take out anyone that he perceives as a threat and I’m just concerned that his actions will hurt Avery…” Brant began to explain with heavy emphasis.
“I’ve known Russ most of my life,” Guy contended thinking about Avery’s husband, “and I can count the number of occasions when he’s let his temper get the best of him on one hand, so something tells me that this incident wasn’t unprovoked.”
“He’s a man on the edge and he’s obviously losing it, which can only spell disaster for Avery and the baby,” Brant replied a seriousness taking over his tone, “as all I did was ask him a question about Avery and he lost it.”
“Well, maybe the next time you decide to open a line of communication with Russ, you might not want to have Susan around. She tends to make things increasingly difficult for everyone around her, which by the way I was hoping you’d reconsider spending time with her,” Guy paused contemplating his words carefully, “Not that I’m trying to tell you who you should be spending your time with as your personal life is yours, but at least try to keep it away from Avery. She’s under a lot of stress and if you care for her the way you claim to, then it would probably be best not to have Susan around when Avery’s with you.”
“Something tells me that there’s more to this story,” Brant half questioned fishing for more information about Avery and Susan’s history with one another.
“Let’s just say they mix like oil and water and right now, well I don’t think my sister needs that, do you?” Guy asked eyeing Brant with intense scrutiny.
“I wasn’t trying to upset Avery,” Brant explained with a heavy sigh, “as I wasn’t even aware that Susan was going to pay me a visit. Guy, you should know by now that I wouldn’t ever do anything to upset your sister. She means a great deal to me.”
“Then perhaps you should rethink this whole hating Russ thing since he means a great deal to her,” Guy threw out at him randomly, “Just a thought.”
“I’ll take that into consideration,” Brant nodded exchanging a few words with Guy on Brooke’s condition before Guy left the study leaving Brant to ponder Avery’s dislike for Susan. So Susan could clearly drive more than Ken crazy on a whim, Brant noted sinking into his chair as a crooked grin spread over his features.
Perhaps this alliance would prove more beneficial than he’d planned on, he reasoned suddenly feeling himself inspired to take a new direction in proving to Avery that the man she’d left behind was the only one who was meant to be with. Sooner or later Russell would crack as his little temper tantrum had proven that he was a man on the edge and after Avery’s last encounter with a lunatic lover, well it only left room in Avery’s life for one man to lean on when the times were tough. Russell Denton’s days with Avery were now numbered and it was only a matter of time until that moment when Avery came to the realization that the only man she was meant to be with was the one who‘d worked so hard to play a hand in destiny. As Brant sank into his chair leaning back casually, he took pride in the knowledge that when the time came, he was going to be that man in Avery’s life and when that moment came about, there would be nothing Russell could do to stop it.