Blake felt a tiny shiver race up over her spine as she eyed Seth from
across the small table tray. While they’d been detoured in the fountain,
losing themselves to some small time entertainment, they had finally made
their way out to the guest house. Sure, they weren’t exactly as they
might’ve been had they skipped over the fountain on the way in, but as
Blake’s eyes perused the now visible lines of Seth’s chest as he sat across
from her wearing nothing more than the white, cotton robe that she’d pulled
out of storage for him after they’d ditched their clothing in an effort
to get warm, she couldn’t help but be thankful that they’d taken the time
to get wet with one another. Okay, so that thought lead to yet another
as the very image of Seth’s Adonis-like body sent her body tingling all
over in places that she hadn’t thought possible as he sat across from her
seemingly oblivious to the state of unrest he’d driven her too in being
just so damned sexy.
“Warming up any,” Seth questioned watching her intently as her eyes seemed to glimmer with something mischievous as she poked at her food on the plate before her.
“Things are certainly heating up for me,” she remarked in a contagious tone as the fireplace crackled before them, setting the mood for romance all over again far better than the original table top dinner would’ve done for them. They’d certainly changed their plans for the evening, but now as they sat face to face in this small intimate setting with one another sharing the warmth of the roaring fireplace, it opened up a whole new element to their evening.
“Funny, I was thinking the very same thing,” Seth confessed reaching for a piece of melon and offering it up to her. “Isn’t it amazing how you can read my mind like that?”
“Some would say it’s a gift,” Blake shrugged her shoulders simply in that same flirty fashion that had captured Seth’s attention in the first place.
While some would say she was obvious in her behavior, Seth knew better as Blake truly had no idea just how much a simple gesture or movement could make her sexier than anything he’d ever dreamt possible. Though as he watched the way she sucked the piece of melon between her lips, tasting it with obvious enjoyment, he realized that a main part of Blake’s sex appeal lay in the fact that she was oblivious to just how erotic she could be.
Reaching out across the small table top to wipe at some of the juice that remained over her lower lip, Seth couldn’t help but smile as she stuck her tongue out to assist him in his quest to rid her of the fruit’s final remains. How he wanted to reach out and grab her and kiss her in that moment as she was certainly enough to drive any man crazy with her beauty and innocence, but instead he allowed his thumb to linger for a moment longer before he brought it up to his own lips tasting the sweet combination of fruit and Blake upon the small hint of fruit he’d taken with him.
“So…” Blake began shifting restlessly across from him, “What do you think so far?”
“About dinner,” he wiggled his brow at her suggestively, “or you?”
“Both,” she decided flashing him a sexy grin as she reached out across the table to take his hand gingerly, “I want to know what you’re thinking.”
“Oh no you don’t as I’m sure it’ll prove to be a great distraction from dinner,” Seth confessed honestly watching as the color rose in her features before she tried to play it cool while throwing out another flirty, suggestive expression.
“In that case, I’m certain that I want to know now,” she whispered in a low, sultry tone, sliding her index finger in over the center of his palm in a gesture that sent shivers racing down his spine and a heat straight to his groan as their eyes connected in the shadows created by the fire’s golden gleam.
“I was just thinking about how truly beautiful you are,” he confessed watching the way her smile spilled over her features, causing a gently tug at his heartstrings as a nervous laugh spilled over her now parted lips.
“Seth, I’m serious…” she began waving her hand at him dismissively.
“So am I,” he nodded earnestly completely mesmerized by her beauty before him, “You wanted to know what was on my mind and now you know.”
“I highly doubt that was all that was going through your mind,” she shifted on the floor watching the way his dark eyes seemed to reflect her own inner emotions that she’d felt every time they were near one another.
“It wasn’t everything, but it was the gist of where all my thoughts were leading,” he divulged with a hint of a grin of his own, “but something tells me that you’ve got a little bit more on your mind tonight.”
“Maybe,” she shrugged those same, sexy, sensual shoulders again in a tentative roll, “maybe not.”
“Blake, if you have something you want to ask,” he reached for her hand lifting it to his lips before brushing them against her soft, silken skin, “then just ask. I don’t mind answering anything that you’re pondering right now.”
“Is that so,” she arched a speculative brow, her thoughts darting around as she eyed him intently.
“Uh oh, why do I get the feeling that I’m suddenly going to regret throwing out that opening,” he remarked wearily watching her rub her palms together as she sat up straighter keeping her position across from him.
“You won’t regret it,” Blake assured him, “as I promise it won’t hurt at all, well maybe a little, but in the end you won’t regret answering whatever I have to ask.”
“In that case,” he winked at her nodding to accept whatever she had prepared for him, “I’m all yours.”
“Just the way I like it,” Blake mused with a smile thinking of how true that statement was as she and Seth clearly had something amazing between them. While she’d had so many hesitations about exploring their relationship with one another, ultimately she’d surrounded herself with the warm and fuzzy feelings that he’d inspired in her and suddenly they seemed to take on a whole new life of their own as he awaited her questioning. Drawing in a slow breath, Blake braced herself for his response as she threw out her question in her best casual tone, “So tell me Seth, when was it that you realized that you’d fallen head over heels in love with me?”
“Ah, now that’s an easy one,” he let out a breath of relief feigning great ease as he wiped at his brow in a teasing gesture, “here I was afraid you were going to ask me to perform some impossible feat for you in the name of making an ass of myself like running around the grounds naked…”
Her face grew flushed at the suggestion before she shook her head at him feeling a tiny groan build up in the back of her throat despite the very vivid images he’d so skillfully now planted in her mind. Swatting her hand out in the air as she wondered how it was he’d always been so easy to distract her, she struggled to regain focus.
“Seth,” she poked at him across the table hitting him in the ribs shaking her head at him, “I’m trying to be serious here.”
“So am I because you threw me for a moment,” he teased again catching the first hints of her scathing expression before he relented, “okay, okay. Truth be told I was poking a little fun there, but if you want me to be serious, I’ll be as serious as it gets…”
“Good, because I want to know,” Blake urged him on feeling his fingertips brush against hers in the faintest of movements as they both had their hands upon the small table top. She glanced down for a brief moment feeling him lace their fingers together again before he broke his silence.
“In that case, I’d be more than happy to share that with you as the moment that I knew I was head over heels in love with you Blake was the moment that you walked into the auto shop. I mean there you were stepping into this little out of the way grease pit when I’d planned on spending my night all by my lonesome with my car, but then in a flash, there you were like a vision that stepped out of my dreams and into the world around me. You looked so beautiful standing there with that scowl upon your features when you started telling me off and it was then that I knew that I couldn’t ever want to be with anyone else…” he divulged solemnly as Blake eyed him intently.
“Now you’re just teasing me again,” Blake shook her head at him.
“No, I’m really not,” Seth confessed squeezing her hand in his, “as I was immediately smitten with you sharp tongue and all. Then later when we were in that pit with one another and I was holding you as we both feared for our lives, well I thought to myself that while I’d hoped we’d have more time with one another to get the chance to really know one another that well, that if it was our time to leave this world that I would be dying the luckiest man alive as I was in the arms of the most beautiful creature that God had placed upon this earth.”
“Seth,” Blake spoke his name feeling a heat singe over her upon his declaration as his eyes searched into hers revealing the truth behind his words.
“Once I had the first taste of what holding you was like,” he continued his voice laced with passion, “well then I knew that I’d never feel as complete or fulfilled as I did when I was with you. I knew that I had to find a way to capture your attention and make you see that we were inevitable destiny.”
Blake couldn’t help but chuckle upon that statement as she shook her head at him recalling their first meeting, “So you thought you’d just what? Scare the hell out of my by going into a coma so that I couldn’t help but be concerned about you?”
“It worked didn’t it,” he winked at her feeling her poke at him once again as she slid out from her side of the table tackling him down to the floor with a sudden movement.
“Oh you,” she shook her head at him pinning him down beneath her on the carpeting as her damp hair dropped down over her shoulder, pressing in against his cheek for the briefest of moments--just long enough to send a heavy contrast to the fire burning deep inside of him as her soft curves pressed in against him reminding him all over again of how the nearness of her sent his world into a tailspin.
“You don’t believe I’d do something like that just to get you to admit how much you wanted me,” Seth joked again watching the way her blue eyes seemed to reach out to him drawing him in with their warmth as she positioned herself over him, propping herself up on her elbows as she looked down at him.
“Oh I wouldn’t put it past you and for the record,” she dropped down to taste of his perfectly, kissable lips, “it worked.”
“Now how did I know that,” Seth teased tickling his fingers over her sides as she began to squeal and wiggle over him.
“Seth,” she spoke his name, her laughter sending a light, fun feeling into the air as he urged her down onto the floor beneath him. Suddenly their eyes connected and a moment of silence passed as his thumb and index finger grazed against her cheekbone.
He spoke up gingerly watching the way her skin reacted to his touch so readily, “So what about you, Blake? When did you realize that you were head over heels in love with me?”
She watched him for a long moment, her face a sheer mask of seriousness as she threw her words up out at him, “Who says I’ve gone and done a silly thing like that,” she blurted out unable to keep from cracking a grin as his thick fingers slid into her hair.
“Okay, so I might’ve deserved that one,” he couldn’t help but smile as he watched the spark of naughtiness dash over her beautiful features.
“You more than deserved that one for being such a tease,” Blake pushed her fingers into the center of his chest once again as their eyes reconnected, “but I suppose you can work on making it up to me.”
“Hmm, well let’s see. How can I start,” Seth pretended to think it over before leaning down to kiss her in a slow, subtle kiss before tentatively drawing back, “How was that?”
“It was a decent beginning,” she decided curling her arms around him as her mouth beckoned his once again taking his kisses gingerly as her heart fluttered in her chest.
“And that?” he inquired his lips a mere breath away from hers.
“It’s getting better,” she whispered tenderly savoring the warmth of him over her as his strong arms wrapped her up with their love and affection.
“I think I might know something that will do the trick,” he divulged skimming his lips over hers before pulling away ever so slightly, “if and only if you tell me when that moment came for you when you realized that I was the man of your dreams.”
“If I tell you that, then you’re head is sure to swell and your ego will drown us both,” Blake threw back haughtily rocking her body up against his in a daring movement.
“And if you keep doing that sweetheart, my ego isn’t going to be the only thing expanding,” Seth confessed feeling her arms constrict around his shoulders, urging him in over her once again.
“That was kind of the plan,” she whispered with a sultry expression claiming his mouth in a fiery display of passion as his palms slid down over her soft, slender curves.
“But what about the answer to my question,” he inquired lazily, his fingers toying with the sash on her robe as his lips dropped butterfly kisses over the smooth, curve of her neck, dipping down over her collar bone to taste every beautiful inch of her.
“Make love with me Seth and I’ll tell you anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the moment when I realized that I was head over heels for you,” she promised urging his lips to hers once again as she found herself more than ready to share some of her body’s most intimate secrets with the man who’d turned her world upside down in more irresistible ways than she ever thought possible.
Heather felt an agitated sigh spill from her lips as she lay back against
the small, clearly less than satisfactory cot that was set up in the middle
of the sound proof room Diego had thrown her into. While she’d given
up screaming for assistance hours earlier, it didn’t do anything to dissipate
the fury that had cooled down momentarily to a simmer as she was left alone
in this oddly nauseating room to stir within her own thoughts for a while.
It was no wonder that people in need of psychiatric assistance only fell
further through the cracks in the system as clearly this kind of treatment
was only bound to lead to madness. The tacky, lack of color or originality
was plain drab and the more that Heather pondered the lack of personality
in the room, the greater her irritation spanned out over her body, chasing
down every fiber of her being at Diego for putting her in such a horrible,
hideous place to begin with.
“You’re so going to burn for this one Diego,” Heather murmured aloud feeling her thoughts get the best of her to the point she hadn’t noticed that she was no longer alone in the hell Diego had assigned her to.
“I didn’t realize that you’d still be thinking about me,” Diego’s voice echoed through the otherwise soundless room as Heather shifted on the cot just enough to catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eyes. While she’d had two ways of playing this, she opted for the more subtle approach as she let out an unenthused sigh.
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes as she tilted her head in towards him, “don’t flatter yourself as the only thing I’ve been thinking about where your concerned is about how much enjoyment I’m going to receive from stripping you of that license to practice medicine as I’m far certain that your medical career is over after this little stunt you’ve pulled.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Diego stepped up closer to her feigning innocence as his eyes cascaded over the long, slender lines of her perfectly sculpted legs now revealed to him as her oh so short red dress had pooled up over her thighs to the point just short of obscene as she shifted restlessly upon the cot before him.
Damn, she was beautiful, he thought to himself wanting to kick the thought from his head as he watched Heather saunter onto her side propping herself up on her arm as her furious eyes penetrated him. Sure she was sexy, but then again the devil was said to have been the perfect epitome of temptation and in that moment Diego realized that perhaps she was the ultimate form of distraction to a tee as this clearly had to be some kind of test upon his resolve. Certainly the way he’d allowed his mind to linger was only counterproductive. She was by far the most impossible woman he’d ever encountered, not to mention completely off limits now that she’d taken the plunge and married a madman like Cameron Stone, but still he couldn’t help but appreciate all the gifts that the heavens above had clearly bestowed upon Heather.
“Well…” she threw out an impatient look as Diego snapped out of his apparent daze realizing that he hadn’t been paying attention to her lashing out at him. Her blue green eyes narrowed to an icy nonverbal lashing of annoyance as her face scrunched up in a sneer, still keeping her looking as beautiful as ever in the moment, “What do you have to say for yourself?”
Diego pondered his answer for a long moment before shrugging his shoulders back at her and offering a simple smile, “I’m free for dinner now if you’re interested.”
“Come again,” Heather blinked back at him as a huff spilled from her lips. She sat upright placing her hands on her hips as those perfect legs of hers made their way to the ground with a forceful stomp over the discarded red slinky heels she‘d had laying beside the cot as her now bare toes wiggled upon the ground.
“I said I’m free for dinner if you were still interested,” Diego shrugged once again before throwing her suggestion back out at her, “I mean you were so adamant about wanting to have dinner with me, so now I’ve come to tell you that I can pencil you in. I’m free for dinner if the offer is still out on the table.”
“Out on the table,” she repeated incredulously as she marched in over towards him, “Oh please, I wouldn’t go out to dinner with you if you were the last man on earth dying of sheer and utter starvation and the meal depended on your survival should I take pity upon your miserable soul.”
“Then I take it you’d prefer a rain check,” he remarked with the beginnings of a grin as Heather stood directly in front of him, her anger evident as she curled her lip into something of a combination that resembled something between a frown and a scowl.
“I’d prefer your head on a platter and I’m going to get it too when I get out of here because you’re finished Diego. Do you hear me? Finished!” she shouted back at him lashing out for the time he’d stolen from her in keeping her captive.
“Is that so,” he folded his arms in front of his chest nodding as he took in her words, “So then I take it that you won’t be showing up anytime soon to interrupt my patient sessions or to drag me away from my work without making an appointment when the mood strikes?”
“You’ll be lucky if you’re still walking by the time I’m through with you as I’d like to see you laid out flat on the ground…” Heather charged her verbal assault upon him.
“Flat out on the ground,” Diego repeated with wide eyes, “Why Heather I’d thought that we’d already moved past that whole sexual attraction you have for me…”
“Sexual attraction,” she spat back with a haughty laugh, “Oh Diego, trust me I wouldn’t touch you if you were the…”
“Last man on Earth,” he finished with a half question finding amusement in their irrational discussion.
“That‘s right,” she nodded emphatically.
“Somehow I figured that as I happen to keep hearing that a lot from you,” Diego charged in response, “which is amusing in itself considering that you seem to think that I’m supposed to jump on your every whim Heather.”
“Oh you’ll be jumping alright when my husband’s lawyers slap you with a lawsuit for your foul treatment today,” Heather seethed her words laced with heavy undertones of rage.
“Hmm, well you know what, go ahead and do that why don’t you,” Diego remarked unfaltering in his position as he stared her down, “but don’t think it’s going to get you any closer to dinner with me because your one and only opportunity to spend some time with me is about to slip out the window once I walk out that door.”
“You’re about to lose what’s left of your miserable existence when I walk out that door,” she corrected with another stomp of her foot.
“Presuming that I release you,” Diego added pointedly watching her nose wrinkle in protest before her eyelashes fluttered with surprise and disbelief.
“You wouldn’t dare leave me in here,” Heather hissed back at him.
“Wouldn’t I? From what you’ve shown everyone around here, you’re clearly a woman in hysterics and for you to just rush into my office like that making a scene, well it tends to reflect your mental state which clearly is…” he began to reason.
“Your way of abusing the power and authority that you have around here which amounts to absolutely nothing because if you try to detain me, my husband will bury you,” Heather vowed tossing her blonde hair behind her shoulders upon completion of her words.
“Despite the misconceptions you have about me Heather, I’m not a man to be intimidated by the likes of Cameron Stone,” Diego stepped in closer to her annunciating his words carefully as their eyes connected, “and just because you chose to make him a part of your life to give you the false illusion of some misguided sense of security, don’t think that it can push my buttons because it can’t. I’m not about to let the so called threat of Cameron influence me in the slightest. If you or your husband would like to take a stab at destroying me, then take your best shot because I can promise you in the end it’s only going to backfire just like this marriage is going to do for your Heather.”
“You know nothing about my marriage,” Heather threw back in anger feeling her fists ball up at her sides at his presumptions about the state of her affairs.
“I know enough about your husband to know that he’s never up front about his motives and after a while, you’ll see that I was right about him, but until then,” Diego motioned to the door in which he’d entered the room, “you’re free to go home and explore that theory for yourself.”
“You’re wrong,” Heather huffed back at him, her eyes throwing sharp, penetrating spikes of rage upon him, “You know nothing about my husband or about me.”
“I know that you’re a woman desperately seeking out acceptance. You’ve spent most of your life in denial of who you really are and what you aspire to be. You’ve put on so many false fronts over the years that you’ve completely lost sight of who the real Heather is and in marrying Cameron, you’ve just proven that you’re ready to relinquish the last traces of the woman you could be--the woman you were meant to be and that in itself is a great tragedy because you could be so much more than the one in the shadows behind a disastrous man.”
“You don’t know what I want from life. You think because we shared a few moments together that you have some insight into who I am,” her voice rose with the moment, “You know nothing about me and nothing about what I need. Cameron gives me what I need--what my baby needs and that’s something that is everything to me.”
“And when he decides to take everything away from you Heather because it didn’t fit into his ultimate plan?” Diego challenged arching a curious brow, “Then what?”
“He wouldn’t do that to me. He‘s not like that,” she argued as he let out an ironic laugh.
“Then you don’t know the first thing about your husband, do you Heather because the man is a cheat, a liar and a murderer. Did he tell you about the innocents that he’s taken down in the process to get where he is today? About the children he’s destroyed in his quest to be one step ahead of the game,” he lashed out at her feeling the old pent up emotions burning him at the core as he thought to how her husband had damn near ruined his life.
“Cameron isn’t like that,” Heather argued again.
“Oh he’s like that and one day he’ll grow tired of you as well and then you’ll have more to worry about than Douglas Mahoney. He’ll steal your soul and your child in a blink of an eye and you’ll never see it coming when he takes you down. It’s how he works and ultimately how he destroys.”
“Cameron wouldn’t destroy me. He wouldn’t do that because he…” Heather began in her husband’s defense.
“Loves you?” Diego challenged watching as she froze up before him unwilling to say the words that they both knew would be false, “Heather, when are you going to get a clue? Cameron doesn’t love anyone let alone someone like you. Why would he when he‘s clearly incapable of the emotion?”
“Go to hell, Diego,” Heather seethed back at him bringing forth the pivotal moment in her rage as her hand slammed into the side of his face sending him backwards in the room as the pain of the impact vibrated over him, “You don’t know a damned thing about my life.”
“Apparently neither do you because you‘re headed down a road to nowhere with Cameron and it‘s going to end up costing you everything that‘s ever meant anything to you Heather,” Diego cut back sharply from his position on the floor as he looked up at her feeling a long, tense moment of silence passed between them.
After what felt like an eternity, Heather opened her mouth as if to speak up, but instead she spun around kneeling down to retrieve her high heels in a frenzy. Clenching them to her chest, she faced him again, her eyes filled with a strange combination of anger and something else that Diego almost wondered if it could be doubt, but as she charged towards him, looking as if she was ready to attack, she waved her shoe at him bitterly.
“You’re wrong Diego. You’re so very wrong about Cameron and about me,” Heather threw back at him storming out of the room as Diego watched her retreat in silence realizing that their exchange couldn’t have gone any worse as he wished that there was some truth to her words about his beliefs, but he knew better where Cameron was concerned and he feared for the day when Heather realized that her husband was just as evil as Diego had known him to be. He just prayed that when that day came to be that Heather had some way to escape as he feared that her pain at Cameron’s hand was just beginning.
“So you’re a colonel in the airborne?” Hart asked Preston as he sat back with a cup of coffee after the dinner they’d shared.
“Yes, I only recently returned home from Iraq,” Preston nodded, “I’m happy to serve, but I’m glad to be home,” He smiled at the irony before sipping his coffee.
“It’s good to have you home,” Dorothy smiled as she slipped her arm around his free arm and lay her head upon his shoulder.
“It really is,” Jenna smiled, “It’s nice not to have to worry about you over there. I’m always relieved when you get home.”
“You know,” Preston began, “Wayne and I had a talk about that very same thing not too long ago, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the future. I’m thinking about retirement.”
“What?” Dorothy asked in surprise, “This is the first I’ve heard about this.”
“I haven’t brought it up because I didn’t want you to have anything else to worry about. You were so concerned about Jen that I didn’t want to add to your worries,” Preston explained.
“Worries?” Dorothy paused, “Why would I worry?”
“Because I know you’d be wondering what I’d do once I got out of the service,” Preston explained, “And I’ve been thinking about that as well.”
“So what did you come up with?” Jenna asked as she followed the conversation.
“I spoke with an old friend of mine at Fort Bragg. He said that there’s an opening for a civilian instructor there. If I was interested, he’d hold the position for me,” Preston explained.
“That means you wouldn’t be sent to combat any more,” Dorothy’s relief shone in her features, “Oh Pres…that would be perfect.”
“There’s a problem though,” Preston stopped her from getting too excited, “The position is full time and year round. I’d have to relocate to Fayetteville, North Carolina.”
“Oh,” Dorothy blinked in understanding.
“I haven’t decided anything yet because I want you to be as much involved in this decision as I am,” Preston explained, “You’re everything to me, and I want to be where you are. If you don’t want to go to North Carolina, then I won’t go. I’ll find something to do around Coral Valley, and I’ll make my life here…with you.”
“Oh Pres..” Dorothy smiled as she gently touched his cheek.
Jenna smiled as she leaned over to Hart, “Aren’t they cute together?”
“Yes, they are,” Hart agreed with a smile before he turned his focus on her, “But I’m rather taken in by how cute you are.”
“Cute?” Jenna asked before chuckling, “You’re kidding, right?”
“Well, there are other terms I’d prefer to use, but I won’t do that in front of your mother,” Hart teased as she nudged him.
“You’ll have to share them later then,” Jenna smiled as she leaned in to steal a kiss from him.
“You know,” Preston began, “I can’t believe you two are so…well…civil with one another. After everything I’ve heard, I could see you two tearing one another apart but not being so tender towards one another.”
“To be quite honest, we couldn’t either,” Hart admitted as he continued to gaze into Jenna’s eyes, “But Jenna reached into my heart and pulled me out of the darkness I’d sunk into. She helped me find myself when I didn’t even know I was lost.”
“And Hart did the same for me,” Jenna smiled dreamily at Hart.
“You two act like starry eyed teenagers,” Dorothy noted with a wry smile, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look so smitten before, Jen.”
“Smitten?” Jenna asked with a slight blush.
“Hmm, I could get used to that,” Hart grinned, “Smitten…are you smitten with me?”
“Oh boy,” Jenna rolled her eyes as she looked away with a chuckle.
Hart laughed softly as he winked at Dorothy, “I think you’ve found a way to embarrass her,” He looked back to Jenna, “Now that’s truly cute.”
“Oh god,” Jenna groaned with nervous laughter as she leaned against Hart.
Hart grinned as he looked to Dorothy, “I’d like to thank you for joining us this evening. It’s truly been enjoyable.”
“Yes it has…much to my surprise I’ll admit,” Dorothy spoke in honesty as she regarded Hart, “I’ve misjudged you up to this point, but I’m not going to just accept your relationship with Jenna quite yet. I’m a mother, and it’s a mother’s prerogative to make sure that a man is worthy of her daughter. I want to be sure that you meet all my criteria for the kind of man I envisioned my daughter with.”
Hart nodded in understanding, “I’ll be honest with you. I’m not worthy of Jenna, and under normal circumstances I’d never admit it. However, I love your daughter, and I only want her happiness. I would never do anything to hurt Jenna. In fact, I’d rather hurt myself than cause Jenna any kind of pain.”
Jenna smiled as she looked to her mother, “Does he get your approval?”
“Not yet,” Dorothy spoke before she held up her hand to stop Jenna’s oncoming argument, “I can’t give in too easily, now can I? What fun would that be?” She winked at Jenna as she looked back to Hart. She wasn’t ready to give her seal of approval on him as she still saw flashes of her past within Hart’s eyes. She couldn’t give her wholesale approval of him until she knew that Jenna wasn’t going to repeat her own painful mistakes.
Doug stood at the window of his penthouse suite and stared out over Lake Cardinal. He could see the lights from house boats along the shore while a few lone fishermen still lingered in the midst of the lake. It all seemed so vast and open…and lonely.
Doug had never felt more alone in his entire life. Sure he’d felt alone when Dorothy had left him, but now that Kipp was missing and Jenna had turned her back on him, he knew loneliness like never before.
He tossed back the last of the scotch in his glass before walking to the bar for a refill. As he refilled his glass, a knock at the door gathered his attention. He sighed as he made his way to the door and opened it to greet his visitor.
“Drinking without me again?” Thea clucked her tongue as she noted his glass of scotch, “You should really know better by now,” She spoke as she drew him into a hot kiss before she stepped into his suite, “So what’s the occasion?”
“My daughter has turned her back on me,” He informed her as he closed the door and crossed the room to the bar once more in a quest to refill his glass.
“Your daughter? Come again,” She asked in confusion from her position on the sofa.
“When I got to town, I learned I have a daughter. We began to build a relationship, but she saw you and I at dinner last night, and she doesn’t approve at all. In fact, she basically denied me access to her life, and I’m beginning to wonder why exactly.”
“Well…just how old is this daughter of yours?” She asked as she kicked off her stiletto heels and tucked her feet under her.
He frowned before throwing down another gulp of the fiery scotch. He refilled the glass before he answered her question, “About your age actually.”
“Really? Just who is this daughter of yours any way?”
“Jenna Carpenter,” He replied with a sigh as he made his way to the end of the sofa and sank down beside her, “She’s a medical examiner.”
Thea took a moment to think about the situation as she dealt with the surprise of Doug’s revelation. She rubbed her neck absently as she thought about how this little piece of information changed so much, “Wow…I had no idea.”
“Neither did I actually,” He admitted, “I knew her mother when we were both very young, and when she left Los Angeles, I had no idea she was pregnant. It’s disconcerting to meet your daughter for the first time as an adult.”
“If you’re just meeting her and vice versa, why is she so upset about seeing us together?” She asked in confusion.
“She said something about your working for Cameron. She hasn’t taken into consideration that Cameron’s her step-brother,” He noted as he sipped his drink.
“So you’ve told her about your relationship with Cameron,” She concluded as she studied him, taking in all the information she could about the expansion of Doug’s family.
“Just the vaguest of details,” Doug dismissed the notion as he looked to the dwindling remains of his drink, “I didn’t think it would be beneficial to her to know all the details of my history with Cameron. She’s had an estrangement with her mother since we found out she’s my daughter, and I guess I just thought she didn’t need anything else to focus on with anxiety.”
“I see,” Thea nibbled her thumbnail as she considered her next move, “And she’s upset about seeing us together?”
“Yes,” He nodded, “I’m not sure why exactly. Perhaps she had some expectation of me that I was unaware of.”
“And if she did? What then? Would that mean you wouldn’t have gone to dinner with me?”
“It just means I would have been more discreet about it,” He shrugged, “Do you honestly believe I would base my behavior on any one person’s expectations?”
“Only if that one person was yourself,” She smiled, “That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about you. You never compromise where your own well being is concerned.”
Douglas met her eyes before he leaned in to take a kiss from her lips, “And I never compromise when I want something either, and right now,” He spoke as he tossed his empty glass aside and pulled her into his arms, “I want you,” He declared as he sealed his lips to hers.
Thea wrapped her arms around him as she enjoyed his kisses. She had to figure out what she was going to do with this new information she had and how it could benefit her in the long run.
Richard stood near the French doors leading to the balcony and gazed out into the gardens. He turned and watched Brooke as she slept peacefully amongst the lilac bedding. He hadn’t seen her this much at peace in years. Now as she lay in the bed, it reminded him of the beauty he’d loved years ago.
He took a deep breath as he crossed the room and gently stoked the fire in the hearth. As he gazed at the flames, he thought of the way Brooke had changed since her return. She’d been soft, tender…almost reminiscent of the woman he’d married years ago. While he believed that people could change, it just seemed impossible that a person could change so much after one incident…even if it was a tragedy.
“Rick,” Brooke spoke his name softly as she watched him across the room. She lightly brushed her fingers over the comforter and gently patted the bed beside her, “Come sit with me.”
He placed the tool back into its holder beside the fire place and made his way to the bed. He sat beside her and took her hand, “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” She admitted as she looked up to him, “You look pretty tired yourself.”
“I’ll get my rest in time,” He assured her with a light smile, “You’re the one who’s really been through the ringer here. I just want to make sure that you’re well taken care of,” He lightly brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek, “You should get some sleep.”
“I don’t think I can…at least not without…no, that’s just silly,” She said as she shook her head gently.
“No, tell me,” He urged her, “If it’s within my power, Brooke, I promise you that you’ll have it.”
“It’s just,” She looked up into his eyes before speaking again, “Well, do you think maybe you could hold me for a while? Just until I get to sleep?”
Richard nodded as he lay on the bed beside her as Brooke curled into his side. She smiled as she snuggled into his warmth. This was the perfect opportunity to get her husband to remember their life together and that he was better off with her than he could ever be anywhere else in the world.
Grady sat on the sofa with a cup of coffee on the end table beside him while he read the day’s newspaper. His evening had been quiet, and for the first time in a very long time, he was thankful for that. There had been plenty of these nights in the past when he’d wanted companionship, but since Jade had called for a pause in their relationship, tonight seemed to be a good night to just sit back and relax. Thankfully, that had been possible with Susan’s absence from his house.
Unfortunately for him, Susan opened the door and stepped inside. Grady frowned as he watched her step into his house as freely as if she belonged there. He couldn’t stand the sight of her much less living in the same house with her. He’d have to get back to his research tomorrow as he wasn’t going to allow this situation to continue.
Susan glared at him with disgust as she closed the door, “Couldn’t you go somewhere tonight?”
“I should be the one asking that question. Like why don’t you go to that apartment Cameron set up for you?” He asked before he turned his attention back to his newspaper.
“Why would I do that when I have this house to return to?” She asked with a buoyant smile as she tossed her purse aside and sat on the sofa. She watched him for a moment before she spoke again, “What happened between us, Grady?”
He bent the paper down as he looked at her incredulously, “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not. We were good once,” She paused, “Weren’t we?”
“Once upon a time,” He nodded, “But that lasted all of about ten minutes,” He refocused on his newspaper.
“Come on, Grady. Things weren’t so bad between us. We had a lot of laughs together.”
“There was more pain than happiness, Susan,” He said dryly as he continued to skim over the paper’s contents, “And you had more ambition than our marriage could handle. Well, there was that and then there was your affair.”
“We’re not going to bring up that again, are we?” She asked as she rolled her eyes.
“You’re the one who wanted to reminisce,” He pointed out as he folded his newspaper and lay it aside, “I’m just reminding you what happened in our marriage. The laughs…I’m sure you had plenty of them, but they weren’t mutual. While you were playing with your Ashford boy toy, I was doing my best to keep us from losing everything we had. It was stupid of me, but I thought that maybe stability was what you were looking for. So I tried to provide here at home, but I soon figured out that wasn’t what you wanted at all. When you began to really humiliate me, I figured what the hell and buried myself in a mound of bourbon bottles. It took a long time for me to crawl out from that self imposed hell, but I’ve done it. And I swear to god, I’ll not let you or anyone else push me back into that kind of despair. So get this through your head, Susan. I don’t want to reminisce. I don’t want to talk about good ole days, and I damn sure don’t want to spend any time with you,” He finished as he stood and walked through the house.
Susan sat in shock at Grady’s verbal assault. He’d never been that way with her before. Of course most of the time before he’d been blitzed in a drunken haze. Now that he was sober, it was obvious he was harboring a lot of anger and resentment towards her. She didn’t know why he had to be so bitter. Considering he was cavorting around with his little girlfriend, it appeared that he had moved on with his life…unless…
Unless he still cared about her, she reasoned. Grady had been the first man she’d truly found herself enthralled by. He had been ruthless in court, powerful in business, and insatiable in bed. She had found everything she’d wanted in him…at least she thought she had.
Married life definitely didn’t turn out to be anything like she’d envisioned it to be. She’d expected that she and Grady would make the ultimate partners to build a powerful law firm and establish their names in the who’s who of public figures. Yet, she had somehow missed that Grady didn’t share the same aspirations. Instead, he’d been content to lead a private life in Coral Valley without any need to move out of the small town and onto bigger things, and Susan couldn’t live with that kind of complacency.
But then along came Ken. He’d had plenty of drive and ambition, and he’d matched her in every conceivable way…right down to their sexual appetites. She’d been prepared to leave Grady for Ken, but a divorce from Grady would have meant losing everything she’d already earned as she knew Grady wouldn’t let go easily. It wasn’t until Grady filed for divorce that Susan had proposed a move to New York to Ken. Somehow, she’d also missed that Ken didn’t want that sort of life style either. How she could read two very different men so wrong was truly beyond her.
It was then that Cameron Stone had offered her a position in his New York offices. It had seemed like a dream come true, and she had leapt at the opportunity. Moving to New York proved to be the best move of her life as she’d found excitement, prestige, riches, and glamour amongst the movers and shakers of the Big Apple. Coming back to Coral Valley had never even crossed her mind…until Cameron asked her to after Kipp’s unfortunate incident.
And now that she was here, it wasn’t all bad being home. Sure she hadn’t quite found a happy reunion awaiting her with her father. Of course he’d never understood her as her mother had been the only person in the world who could truly understand her. Since her mother’s death, Susan had only seen the rift between her father and herself grow exponentially over time.
But then there were the men in her life. Grady and Ken. Neither one seemed particularly pleased that she was home, but she wanted to change that on one if not both fronts. And all it would take was a little persuasion. She just had to find the right angle to use on each man.
She glanced down the hallway and decided that now was as good a time as any to try a new tact with Grady. She walked down the hallway and knocked upon his door, opening it gently to spot him laying back on his bed while flipping channels on a television across the room. She stepped inside and closed the door, “Grady…”
“Do you mind? I came in here to get away from you,” Grady stated with disdain as he kept his eyes glued to the television.
“I just…I just wanted to say that I wish we could go back to the way things were.”
“Oh you mean you screwing around and my being drunk? Nope, not me. I’m quite content with the way things are at the moment in comparison.”
“I mean when we were so good together. I miss those times we shared,” She paused, “I miss you.”
“Like I miss a headache,” He quipped as he glanced to her, “Get out, Susan. I’ not interested in hearing any more of your crap tonight.”
“Okay, remember…I asked nicely,” He said as he moved quickly off the bed and opened the door. He lifted her by placing his hands on her arms and lifting her out of his room. He placed her back on her feet and closed the door in her face.
Susan blinked in surprise as she heard the sound of the lock turning within. She narrowed her eyes in anger as she thought of his quick dismissal of her. She wasn’t going to be denied, damn it. Not by the two men she wanted most. She would have one…no, she would have them both back with her in no time, and they’d regret the day they ever denied themselves the pleasures only she could provide.
Jade stepped into Irvan’s with a smile. It’d been a while since she’d dropped by here without being in a rush to get somewhere else. She’d missed sitting at the bar and sipping a milkshake while chewing on some of Irvan’s scrumptious fries.
She strolled to the counter and took her favorite seat at the end while the perky little waitress approached her.
“Hey, what can I get for you?” The waitress smiled.
“A vanilla milkshake, a club sandwich and fries,” Jade ordered with a polite smile.
“Okay, it’ll be just a minute,” The waitress responded as she turned and stepped into the kitchen.
Jade ran her fingers through the hair at the back of her neck as she lightly draped her hair around her shoulder. She let out a slow breath as she thought of the events of the day. It had been so hard to walk away from a date with Grady, but she knew that they had to slow the pace of their relationship. It was the only way to build trust as well as allow Grady the chance to solidify his sobriety.
As she looked up, she wished she had taken Grady up on his offer. Cameron stepped inside and met her eyes. He smiled at her and sent chills through her veins.
“Well, this must be fate,” Cameron spoke as he crossed the restaurant and stood next to the bar, “It’s been a while since I’ve run into you.”
“Too bad that streak came to an end,” She frowned as she turned and looked towards the waitress, “I need to change my order to go.”
The waitress nodded and went back to the kitchen.
“You don’t have to leave on my account,” He spoke as he sat beside her, “I just thought perhaps we could talk.”
“What do we have to talk about?” She asked seriously, “You’ve made it clear that you won’t take no for an answer even though I’ve said it repeatedly.”
“Yes, well, I have been very rude to you, and I apologize,” He said calmly, “I want to rectify that.”
“Don’t waste your time,” Jade spoke as the waitress emerged and placed her milkshake on the bar in front of her. Jade began to fish some bills from her pocket.
Cameron tossed a large bill upon the counter, “It’s on me.”
“No,” She declared as she pushed his money back towards him, “I don’t want anything from you,” She said flatly as she paid her bill.
“Jade, please, just give me a chance,” He urged her, “I only want us to be friends.”
“Really? That wasn’t what you’ve been saying over and over again. Why should I believe you?” She asked in skepticism.
“Because I’m being sincere,” He assured her, “Jade, I got married.”
“Married? Someone else you forced into a situation she didn’t want?” Jade asked boldly.
“I deserve that,” He looked to the floor, “I’m sorry for the way I’ve behaved. I want to make amends.”
“The only way you can do that is to leave me alone,” She stated flatly as the waitress returned with the rest of her order. She left the restaurant as Cameron watched her.
Deciding he couldn’t allow things to end that way…not when so much was at stake, he followed her out to the parking lot, “Jade…wait.”
“Don’t you get it?” Jade asked harshly, “I want you to leave me alone.”
“Jade, we started off as friends. Can’t we try to salvage that?” He asked.
“There’s nothing to salvage. I want you to leave me alone. End of discussion,” She declared as she got into her car and locked the doors. She started her car and quickly left the parking lot.
Cameron crossed his arms and frowned. He’d hoped that he could make some sort of headway with her, but that didn’t seem to be the case now. That only meant that he would have to move his plans forward as he wasn’t about to let success slip through his fingers at this point…not when he needed Jade so badly.
Blake snuggled in against Seth, feeling his fingers taper off over her
spine as his left hand tapered off into her damp hair, sending shivers
of sensation pouring out over her passion spent body as they held one another
beside the fireplace. Somehow she couldn’t quite picture herself
appreciating or savoring anything more than she did in this moment in time
as Seth’s hold on her continued. She felt him place a kiss on the
top of her head before he hugged her in closer to him savoring the warmth
of her body over his.
“You’re quiet,” Seth noted sensing something brewing behind her beautiful blue eyes as she gazed off at the fire for a lazy moment before bringing her hand up over the center of his chest in a tentative fashion, “Something on your mind?”
“You mean other than the explosions that we just experience with one another,” Blake questioned unable to contain the satisfied smile that spilt over her flushed features.
“Well yeah,” Seth reached out to caress the side of her face as she propped herself up over him seeking out his dark eyes before she spoke again.
“Actually, I did have something on my mind,” Blake divulged her voice a raspy whisper after the passion they’d shared had stolen the strength from her voice once she’d lost herself to the whirlwind of desire. Lazily she traced the contours of his chest, thinking about how irresistible he was as she’d taken great pleasure in exploring every inch of him just moments earlier.
“Yes?” he questioned teasing his finger tips over her spine, sensing her body tremble upon the fluttering feeling that skimmed over her damp skin.
“I was thinking about what you asked me before,” Blake admitted gently, “you know about when I first fell for you…”
“And you’ve come up with an appropriate answer,” Seth couldn’t help but tease as he leaned up to steal a kiss from her perfect lips, “and please don’t tell me it took that last orgasm for you to realize it because my ego might be crushed to think that it’s my sexual abilities that reeled you in.”
“Despite the fact that you are just oozing with intense sexual charisma, my heart went out to you long before we ever made love,” she confessed, her tone softening as her blue eyes glistened with emotion, “as I think the first time I knew that there was something wonderful about you was the moment that you risked your life to save mine. When you placed yourself in danger like that--doing what you did to keep me from leaving this world, it was that gesture that had me in a state of shock as no one has ever been that way for me. Granted Ken and Brant have made a great many sacrifices for me, but no one outside anyone who had to did something that selfless for me…”
“I wouldn’t call it entirely selfless as all I could think about was protecting you,” Seth eased his thick fingers through her golden tresses, “as I knew that it wouldn’t do this world any justice to have someone so beautiful slip out of it.”
“Seth,” she spoke his name feeling a heat rise over her features as his words touched her heart, “you have no idea how it feels when you say things like that to me.”
“It’s the truth Blake,” he cupped her face in his hands urging her down towards him once again, “as you are by far the most beautiful creature in the world.”
“You know when you say things like that, you just…well you do this thing to me inside and I can’t put words to it, but it makes me realize all the more how much you mean to me. Seth, you have no idea how I felt when you were hurt in that quake. There you were playing my hero and when you were in the hospital, well that’s when I knew that I couldn’t be without you. I mean sure we were merely strangers, but when I thought I was going to face losing you, it was that fear of our never being able to achieve what fate had in store for us that had me praying that God wouldn’t take you away from my life. I mean I know it sounds crazy considering that you and I barely spoke more than a brief conversation with one another in the midst of a panic attack I was having, but when you held me I felt safe and protected and I never wanted that feeling to end. I had so many fears about quakes especially after what happened to my mother, but there you were making everything okay and I knew that I couldn’t lose you too. I knew in my heart that if something stole you from my life that I’d be losing something incredible and it was during that time when you were so close to leaving me that I saw how much you meant to me.”
“All I thought about was coming back to you. I can’t tell you much about what being in a coma was like as it was hazy, but when I woke up to see you beside me, having felt the warmth of your presence, I knew that fate had given me a second chance with my beautiful angel I’d encountered,” Seth divulged greedily keeping her in his arms as their shared another tender kiss, “I knew that despite the situation we were placed into that you were something that I couldn’t do without.”
“And so here we are,” Blake couldn’t help but smile thinking about how fate had brought them full circle with one another.
“Yes, here we are,” Seth nodded in confession, “just the two of us sharing our secrets by the warmth of the fireplace, holding onto one another as if we’d never let go.”
“It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it,” Blake stated snuggling in against his chest as he held her.
“It’s the best feeling,” he agreed kissing the top of her head as he closed his eyes feeling her tender touch over his body, springing to life so many thoughts and feelings he’d spent most of his life trying to hide from the world, but with Blake, it was so easy--so natural and in holding her, he felt as if he’d had the world wrapped up in his arms.
“You know, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for dinner, but I must say that things had a way of working themselves out quite nicely,” Blake mused with the beginnings of a smile.
“They always do with us, don’t they,” Seth couldn’t help but remark thinking of how right things were when they were together instead of having to be worlds apart.
“That they do as it seems amazing things happen for us,” Blake paused when a thought occurred to her, “speaking of which…”
“Yes?” he questioned tracing her features as she rose to meet his gaze once again.
“I got a phone call earlier today from Bella Vogue magazine,” Blake confessed thinking to the surprise she’d received during the midst of her preparations for the evening at hand.
“Oh, what about?” Seth questioned watching as her face lit up with her words.
“Well, as I’m sure you’re well aware of they’re one of the top fashion magazines In the industry and the Editor in Chief called me because she and I had gone to college with one another out in Los Angeles. To make a long story short, she wanted to run a piece on some of the twenty-something gals from prominent families there. Of course I had my reservations about the idea at first given all the bad press that my family has had over the last year, but then when Brenda continued to throw the pitch out at me I realized that she wasn’t just trying to exploit my background. She’d explained that they were doing a feature on ten different gals and when she’d first got her hands on the project, she’d thought of me. She said that they’d thought about featuring the Hilton sisters as well even with their tacky, trashy media exposure. She really wasn‘t big on the idea of having them in the magazine as she didn‘t want to give off a certain kind of image and she kind of wanted to keep things real and lighter instead of going all Hollywood hype and glam and given that she and I were close in college, well I was naturally was her first call.”
“It sounds like it might be something you’d enjoy,” Seth noted watching the way her eyes danced with her racing words.
“Oh I think it really is and after a little persuasion I decided to accept her offer, but only under one condition,” she finished with a cryptic smile.
“And what might that be?” Seth lifted a curious brow seeing the way her excitement bubbled out from within.
“That you were the one doing the photography for my portion of the magazine. I sent Brenda some of the work you did with those pictures of me in the fountain and then I also kind of sort of borrowed a couple of your other pieces from the studio after we spent the time there with one another,” she shifted nervously over him, “as I really didn’t think you’d mind considering that…”
“That you stole my photos?” Seth blinked back at her in surprise.
“It wasn’t stealing. It was borrowing and besides you are always telling me that Jade is pushing you to show off your talent, so what better way to get your foot in the door to the big time than for you to do this piece with me? Brenda loved the copies of what I faxed over to her and she was more than willing to let you take over. Of course she thought that Paris might want to snag you as well, but I said that there was no way that I was giving you up for that woman…which I suppose was a bit presumptuous of me, but to think of you being alone with her…” she paused her lip curling in a pout.
“Darling, it wouldn’t phase me because you’re everything to me and every other woman pales in comparison,” Seth assured her pulling her to a heated kiss, “as you’re the only girl that lights my fire.”
“You’d better keep it that way,” Blake poked at his chest, “because I swear to you Seth if you suddenly have all these sexy, beautiful women throwing themselves at you, I may just have to fight them off with all that I have in me because I couldn’t bear the idea of having them steal you away.”
“I only have eyes for you Blake and despite the fact that you decided to do all of this in taking my work without telling me, well I suppose I should be angry to some degree, but I guess I can let this one slide if it means that I’ll get the chance to spend even more time with you in the future,” he decided cracking a grin as he massaged the lines of her body gingerly, “as it gives me time to get closer to my two passions in life.”
“Yeah, well let’s get one thing straight here,” she teased her fingertips over the center of his chest, “this passion we’re experiencing right now had better stay only with me or else we’re going to have some big trouble ahead of us mister.”
“Sweetheart, this passion belongs to you and only you as what we have runs deep in here,” he placed her hand over his racing heart, “and nothing is going to take that away from me.”
“Not even some beautiful blonde or brunette that has far more money than I do,” she questioned skeptically watching his reaction closely.
“Blake, sweetie, your money is the least of my concerns as I’d much rather us be broke and happy than miserable and unable to share this,” Seth confessed thinking about the two worlds they’d both grown up in, “I know that I might not be the kind of man that your family always wanted for you as I don’t have a membership to a country club and I’ll never be able to give you what you have now, but I can promise you that I’ll do everything in my power to keep you happy and I’ll love you with all that I am until my last breath as you mean that much to me.”
“Seth, what you give me is far more than I had before you walked into my life,” she whispered teasing her lips over his in the faintest of caresses, “and when I’m with you, I know that I have far more riches than I ever imagined possible as in your arms is the one place were I feel truly alive and at ease with the woman I’ve always wanted to be.”
“I love you Blake,” Seth whispered keeping her close to him as he could feel the rapid beating of her heart in unison with his.
“I love you too Seth,” she answered reminding him that this time they’d spent together was what truly made life worth living even if they’d had so much more to face beyond what they were experiencing with one another. Certainly their words of hope and optimism were enough to fuel his sense of longing for the day when Blake would realize that he was the only man in her heart, but for tonight, for this amazingly perfect moment of bliss their promises of forever were enough to keep him dreaming for the time when he and Blake would be free to love one another without consequence.
Russell pulled his car into the driveway turning off the ignition as
he looked to Avery seeing that her cheeks had now had the time to return
to their normal coloring after the crimson shade of embarrassment had flooded
upon her shortly after they’d been spotted by Kenneth at the mansion in
the midst of something just a bit too naughty for an audience. Now
as he turned to her wondering if her silence was a bad sign, he cleared
his throat watching as her dark eyes returned to his once again.
Her eyelashes fluttered as she nibbled upon her lower lip as if straining
for the right words in their moment of privacy at long last, but instead
of speaking up, she said nothing still keeping her distance in the passenger
seat of the car.
“So,” Russell clearing his throat steering himself clear to open the lines of communication between them once again as Avery’s gaze returned to the floor before her.
“So,” Avery repeated shifting uneasily in her seat before she forced herself to face Russ again feeling the sheer weight of embarrassment and silliness at how her impulses had lead her actions at the mansion take over her.
“Listen Avery about before…” he began trying to find the right way to break the ice between them as it was obvious that she’d been stewing over their near disaster with Ken.
“What got into you Russ,” Avery questioned interrupting him as she forced herself to stay focused on the subject that had been circling her mind after her initial readiness to his seduction had overtaken her common sense, “I mean really what was that all about at the mansion as that’s not really like you?”
“What do you mean it’s not like me,” he frowned in response watching the way her pointed expression seemed to cut through him straight to the core as much as he hated to admit it. Still he deflected her words with his own, “How can you say that Avery considering that I’m always hot for you?”
“Well I know that, but you don’t usually…” she tapered off straining for the right words, “I mean normally you don’t just come off like that with that strong and determined approach…I mean you do, but not like that. There was something else going on there…something burning beneath the surface as your eyes were wild with something…”
“Desire for my wife,” Russell offered up with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “considering that we’ve spent most of the day apart and this morning we had a very unsettling premature finish thanks to Brant, I just had this urge to ravish you and when the mood struck…”
“Russ, I know all about the mood striking and as sizzling as it was, there was something burning beneath the surface--something else driving you on and while I ignored it in the moment because we were kind of going with the mood full on hot and heavy, there was something else going on.”
“No there wasn’t Avery,” he tried to argue with her watching the frown that curled upon her lips.
“Russ, don’t lie to me. Please don’t pretend that I don’t know my husband--that I can’t read him like a favorite novel catching all the little nuances and excerpts rediscovering their meaning all over again each time I’m with it in such an intimate moment,” she pleaded with him seeing him struggling with whatever he was keeping from her as she reached out across the seat to touch his leg gingerly, “Russ please…tell me what inspired what happened at the mansion.”
“I had a run in with Brant,” he finally blurted out shamefully as he closed his eyes thinking about the heated words that were exchanged between the both of them, “He and Susan were up to something and I decided to see what was going on…”
“You were spying on Brant,” Avery’s jaw dropped in surprise as he reopened his eyes to watch her once again.
“Avery, it wasn’t like that. You and I both know that Susan is dangerous and when she and Brant were teaming up like that, well even you have to admit that something seemed fishy about the way they were behaving. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but I know you felt it too and don’t you dare try to deny it,” he warned raising his finger to silence her as she opened her mouth in protest.
“Fine,” she huffed folding her arms in front of her chest defiantly, “I won’t deny it, but I won’t sit here and tell you that I approve of your spying on them either.”
“Oh come on, you would’ve done the same thing if Brooke hadn’t needed you,” he challenged seeing the spark of protest burning behind her eyes before she let out a groan.
“Okay, so maybe I might’ve felt compelled to see what was going on with them too, but still, even if I had, well I don’t see what it was about your keeping an ear in on them that had you so worked up,” she paused contemplating his words, “unless of course you heard something.”
“Oh I heard something, but unfortunately it came after Brant and Susan had parted,” he confessed with a huff, “as they made damn sure no one could find them when they were plotting with one another.”
“So then what happened with you and Brant,” she questioned curiously, “as it was enough to have you come upstairs and try to ravish me like that…” she paused as a thought occurred to her, “wait a second…were you trying to show up Brant back at the mansion?”
“No, that’s not it Avery,” he shook his head in response, “as he and I got to talking and I warned him against teaming up with Susan to which he told me to back off. He then launched into this verbal assault on me about how I’d manipulated you into bed desperate to keep you away from him and I delivered the final blow to your supposed relationship with him by finding a way to get you pregnant so that you‘d have to be stuck with me out of a misguided sense of duty.”
“Brant wouldn’t say that,” Avery reasoned thinking about Brant’s presence in her life.
“The hell he wouldn’t. He said that and more about us Avery and he told me flat out that if I hadn’t manipulated you into going to bed with me, then you’d be Mrs. Brant Ashford right about now and that’s when I lost it,” Russell continued noting the expression that swept over her features, “If you don’t believe me, then you can ask Guy because he walked in on the incident and pulled Brant and I apart before it got ugly.”
“So let me get this straight,” she took it all in, frowning as his words hit home with her, “You went around snooping on Brant, then when you found him, the two of you got into it over me to the point you resorted to violence…”
“He was asking for it Avery. With the things he was saying about you--about us…” Russell defended his position.
“Even so you two got to the point where things got physical and after he taunted you, you sought me out, for what? For some testosterone driven screw to show Brant that you’d staked your claim in your piece of property and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it?” her voice rose with anger at the mere idea of him pulling such a move upon her.
“No, Avery it wasn’t like that…” he started reaching out to her as she backed out of his touch, her anger boiling out from within.
“Oh right Russ,” she rolled her eyes, “Let me guess. You were hoping that we’d get caught going at it in the mansion, weren’t you? In fact, I’ll just bet that you wish it had been Brant that happened upon us instead of Ken. I mean I’m sure that was your plan all along, right?”
“No it wasn’t my plan as I didn’t have a plan Avery, but maybe if Brant would’ve seen us together then he would’ve gotten a clue and backed the hell off as you’re my wife, not his,” he snapped in response his words laced with heavy irritation as he thought to Brant’s need to obsess over Avery.
“All that would’ve proven was that you were willing to sink as low as you perceive him to doing if you had to become an exhibitionist just to show him up,” she shook her head in disbelief, “and to think I almost went for it--that I just gave in to the way it felt with what you were doing to me…God, Russ, do you know how dirty I feel now knowing that this was all a game?”
“It wasn’t a game,” he continued to argue.
“No, it was just a pissing contest and a battle of the testosterone wills to see which caveman could control me, right,” she groaned in disgust before stepping out of the car and marching up towards the house refusing to give the conversation another moment of her time when her anger had driven her to new lengths of delirium leaving her wanting to beat some sense into her husband.
“Avery, now just hold on a second,” he chased after her catching her near the porch as his thick fingers curled around her arm, urging her to face him once again as they stood beside the front door to their home, nearly nose to nose with one another. Her dark eyes filled a look of sheer disappointment as he felt a lump forming in his throat and a need to kick himself burning from within.
“Why should I,” she questioned impatiently glaring up at him as she tried to wiggle out of his hold, but it only caused him to grip on her tighter as his green eyes penetrated her.
“Because I’m sorry…because I was being an ass and I didn’t mean to make you feel like you were nothing more than some prize at the end of some stupid male testosterone game. Avery, I love you and I can’t help it if the idea of another man wanting to steal you away from me drives me crazy. When I think about how close I came to losing you before because of Brant’s interference…”
“But you didn’t lose me Russ. I’m your wife, not his and that in itself should speak volumes about where we stand with one another,” she blurted out fighting the tears that were burning behind her eyes. “I’m about to have your baby and that too should tell you something about our relationship.”
“It does Avery. It does on so many levels as you’re everything to me, but you have to see where I’m coming from here. When Brant said those things--when he was goading me on, I was afraid of what it would do to us if he started spouting off like that to you…” he began desperately hating the insecurity that Brant had pulled out from inside of him.
“Do you really think that I would let something like that get between us?” Avery challenged with a frown, “Russ, we didn’t know I could even have your baby before I learned I was pregnant, so why in the world would I ever think that you tried to trap me into a marriage?”
“Because I know that so many people have been trying to put this strain upon our relationship and tear us apart and if Brant thought he had something…” he began again thinking about the many twists and turns they’d taken with one another.
“Russ, when we made love again it was because that was where we both wanted to be even if we were both stubborn about facing just what that was between us,” she explained simply thinking to the time they’d come together again, “When we were together, all that mattered was the way we felt in that moment--the way the world stood still for us and brought to life the miracle of our love. I never doubted that our time together was anything, but that, but I will tell you now that whenever we make love I want it to be because you love me and you crave me with every fiber in your being just as I do you. I don’t want it to be because someone said something to upset you--to have it feel like it’s just something to prove a point…”
“The only point I have in all of this is that I love you and I don’t want to lose you Avery. Not now, not ever,” he answered solemnly placing his finger underneath her chin to lift her eyes up towards his, “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point with one another and if I ever lost you--if we weren’t able to have this it would be the end of me…”
“Russ, there’s nothing in this world that I could want or need than your love and the future that we have with one another. It’s been my dream for what feels like forever already and I want it to last for an eternity,” she confessed breaking out of her anger as she threw her arms around him, “I love you baby and I can’t bear the thought of anything getting in the way of that.”
“Neither can I and I promise you I won’t let that happen again,” he vowed squeezing her in his arms feeling the warmth of her against him as he closed his eyes savoring her sexy perfume. He kept her close to him hating that he’d let Brant drive him to the point of no return when all he’d wanted was to lose himself in Avery, to focus on her and what they had with one another as Brant’s taunts shouldn’t have inspired such a profound primal reaction in him. Even now as he thought to how upset Avery had gotten with him, he felt a pang of guilt sweep over him as he kissed the top of her head tenderly, “I’m sorry sweetheart.”
“I’m sorry too,” Avery confessed with a heavy sigh squeezing him tighter as if her life depended on it, “I hate that I’ve made you feel so insecure about things between us.”
“You haven’t Avery,” he argued with her urging her to meet his eyes once again, “You really haven’t as this has been all me. I’ve just let people bother me when I should’ve filtered them out, but I just have this tendency to be a little hotheaded at times…”
“Gee, I never noticed,” she couldn’t help but tease squeezing him in closer to her, “though I guess in it’s own way it’s very romantic that you feel so passionately about our love.”
“Our love is the one passion that keeps me going forward through the hard spots that fate throws our way,” he whispered tipping down to collect a soft kiss from her lush lips. They held onto one another a moment longer before he focused upon her once again, “Now how about we get inside and warm up for a while?”
“I think that sounds like a great idea,” Avery nodded in confession, “Maybe we can pull out a video and just kick back in front of the television for a while with a comedy.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” he decided reaching for his key and opening the front door before stepping aside to allow her access to their home.
Feeling Russell behind her, Avery slipped into the living room taking off her jacket as she wanted nothing more than to kick back and relax for a while in the serenity that only her husband’s arms provided her, but as Russell reached for the lights they were met with their living room in a state of disarray. Things were torn down from the bookshelves across the room and a lamp was a mere few feet before her with shards of shattered glass near her feet as her heart thudded in her chest. Turning her attention towards the television, she noticed a piece of paper was taped to the bottom front of it with deep, rich red writing upon it.
“Russ,” she gasped in horror feeling him moving in behind her as he threw his arms around her turning her to face him.
“Avery listen to me,” he tried to keep his voice calm as his fears consumed him, “Call the police and tell them that we’re going to need someone over here right away. I’m going to go check things out and see if we’re not alone.”
“Russ no,” Avery pleaded with him, clinging to him desperately as her fears consumed her, “Russ, please don’t leave me.”
“Avery I need to see if,” he began feeling her wrap her arms around him tighter than ever as he feared that they were about to get taken by surprise by the man Russ was certain had destroyed their belongings.
“No, don’t,” Avery argued with him, “Let’s just go back to the car and call the police together. We can be safe and…”
“Alright,” he agreed feeling her tremble in his arms as he squeezed her closer to him, taking a step further into the room with the movement as the sound of static surrounded them before an image popped up on the television screen.
“Sorry about the mess, but I had to take care of a few things before I left,” Bruce spoke smooth and evenly as his face flashed before them.
Avery’s stomach was instantly tied in knots as she caught a glimpse of him seated upon their sofa, looking smug as ever as he’d seemingly made his way around their home. Instantly chills crept over her spine as the sound of his voice set her immediately on edge. His cocky expression and arrogant grin took on a darkness that Avery hadn’t ever dreamt possible before now as she watched the image of a man she’d once had in her life.
“I’m assuming that since you weren’t home, you’ll accept this little token of my sentiment sweetheart as the sad truth is that I’ve been a wreck without you,” Bruce continued bringing his hand over his chest in a seemingly heartfelt display, “Things just haven’t been the same since the we parted, but I’d like to work on changing that as I really think that we have a shot at a future with one another. I know now that you and Ashford weren’t carrying on behind my back. I’d like to apologize for the misconceptions I’d had about the both of you as my logic was clearly skewed in the wrong direction and I didn’t want you to think that I’d thought the worst about you. The truth to the matter is that I love you Avery and I know that you love me too...sure, things might’ve gotten a bit crazy for us, but I still think we have a chance of working things out between us. I know if you take the time to listen to what I have to say, then we can clear up the misunderstandings between us and get back to where we belong.”
“Let’s get out of here Russ,” Avery pleaded turning to face her husband as she’d heard more than enough from Bruce as his words continued in his video message to her.
“…and with that thought in mind, I’d like to talk about your mother,” Bruce’s voice cut through the moment as Russell’s eyes returned to the television set unable to keep from hearing what Bruce was saying, “I need to talk to you about her kidnapping. I saw on the news that she’s been spreading her lies about the situation and the truth to the matter is that the story she’s spinning to the media never happened. I can honestly say with a clear conscience that I had nothing to do with her kidnapping despite the theories that she’s spinning to the media and to the authorities.”
“That sick bastard,” Avery cried out shaking her head as she turned to Russell again, “We need to call the police.”
“Just a second,” Russell insisted entranced by what Bruce was saying as Bruce carried on about Avery for a moment longer before returning to the conversation of Brooke and her disappearance.
“So as you can clearly see I’m not the man that Brooke made me out to be as if I had taken her, she wouldn’t be back in Coral Valley to make your life miserable. I have no interest in some stupid ransom money when I would’ve just killed her to keep you from having to endure the horrors that she’s inflicted upon you Avery. I should‘ve put her in her place years ago, but I was under the impression that she was looking out for your best interest--for our interests with one another before greed overtook her. I realize that you might find that hard to swallow, but Brooke is lying. She’s good at that and she’s more malevolent than you can even begin to imagine, but that is a conversation we’ll have at another time when we’re together again as I really think we can make things work between us.”
“Oh God,” Avery groaned inwardly feeling another shudder pass through her as Bruce turned his attention to her wedding photo that once rested upon the coffee table by the sofa. Now all that remained was the empty frame and pieced of the tattered photo on the floor as Bruce tore it apart onscreen taking Russell out of the image before holding up the half that contained her in her wedding gown.
“You know I‘ve been thinking about you sweetheart and I have to admit that this distance between us is killing me. There isn’t a minute that passes by when you’re not in my mind, not in my dreams or fantasies and when I think about how long I’ve waited for the right moment to get you back in my life, well it burns me to no end that Brooke had the audacity to spread her lies about me especially when we‘re so close to where we were meant to be with one another Avery,” he paused lifting her picture to his lips and kissing it for the briefest of moments before turning his attention to the camera once again as he offered up an icy smile, “I forgive you for your acts of indiscretions with Russell and Russell, if you’re watching this know that I mean you no harm just as long as you accept the path that fate has charted out for Avery and I. Should you bow down gracefully, then there will be no need to pursue any further action, but should you decide to be impossible and a roadblock in the way of our happiness, then drastic measures will be taken. Consider this your first and last warning as I won’t let anything stand in the way of my love for Avery. She and I have come too far to let something like what’s transpired come between us,” he paused taking a moment to finger the photo he’d tucked into his pocket before addressing the camera once again, “and Avery, just in case Brooke has found a way to manipulate you into buying this convoluted tale of hers, well I think it’s only fair that I be up front with you about what’s been going on since I’ve gone missing as I’ve been an absolute mess without you. It’s brought me to a position in my life where I’ve had to overcompensate for what I’m lacking without you by my side and in doing so, well I haven’t had time for someone as trivial as Brooke as I’ve been busy with more pressing engagements. Want to see?”
With that he rose from the couch, reaching for the video recorder as Russ and Avery watched Bruce chart a path through their home commenting on various decorations along the way before stopping at the door to their bedroom. He reached for the doorknob pushing it open as Russ and Avery’s most private space had been violated and as he charted his way towards their bed, his commentary picked up again.
“Clearly I haven’t had time to bother with Brooke as there have been other things on my mind lately,” he explained as the gruesome image of a woman bloodied and twisted in a seemingly non-human position sprawled out over Russ and Avery’s bed showed up on their television screen. Her blood soaked onto the sheets where Russ and Avery had spent a great many nights making love with one another, but now that memory had been replaced by that of the tortured corpse onscreen before them as Bruce used the zoom lens to focus in upon the dead woman’s badly bruised features, “so now you know the truth.”
“Oh my God…” Avery felt the contents of her stomach climbing up into her throat as a gagging reflect poured over her insides. She felt Russell’s arms around her, tearing her out of their living room into the night as the horrifying depiction of the woman in their bedroom filled her up inside with a sickening sense of nausea.
“Baby talk to me,” Russell instructed keeping her close to him as she began to gasp for air feeling as if she was back in her apartment with Bruce all over again, the world growing shaky and uncertain around her as she felt Bruce stealing her life. She opened her mouth to speak, fighting to allow her words to fall from her lips, but instead she felt her knees grow weak and her mind slip over to the horrors that now burned her memory as she collapsed into Russell’s arms feeling the world grew black around her in an aftershock of Bruce‘s latest play for her attention.