Laith let out an audible scoff that sounded horribly condescending, even to his own ears, "You're kidding, Randall."

Looking nonplused by Laith's snub of using his first name, Randall shook his head vehemently, "Not by any means, kid. I'm in need of your skills. You're in need of money."

"I'm not in need of anything from you," Laith said acidly.

Randall's eyes widened in mock surprise, "Really. I was under the impression your poor mother, Miranda, was still in the hospital, if you need—"

"Don't you dare use that card." Laith said lowly, and Randall stopped himself. For a moment, they both seemed completely oblivious to the fact that Ava Matthews was indeed, still in the room, taking in all the information being passed back and forth like a sieve through her wide blue eyes.

"I came here for one reason, and one reason only. This is my friend, Ava Matthews. She's an aspiring journalist, and she'd like to ask you some questions regarding your campaign." Laith said coolly, having seemingly retained his seamlessly smooth external demeanor.

Randall finally turned to look at Ava, as if just noticing she was there. He gave her a kind smile, and she nervously returned it, "Ava. It's a pleasure to meet you. Beautiful name."

"Thank you, Mr. Cooley," Ava said quietly, and then in a stronger voice, "I was wondering if I could ask you some questions. Just some simple ones about your future plans for Valencia, so that I can put them in the article."

"Absolutely. Only if I can ask a few of my own though." His voice suddenly took on an uncharacteristic steely sound, one that had not been present before in the warm tone he adopted with Laith.

Ava already knew what he was going to ask, but keeping her head high, she nodded her assent.

"You wouldn't happen to be related to—"

"Richard Matthews, current district attorney of Valencia? Yes, I am, Mr. Cooley. But I can assure you that I will bring an unbiased slant to my article. I don't care one way or another who wins this election." Ava interrupted, her own voice sounding snappy, and Laith couldn't help but admire her sass in the face of a man as powerfully influential as Randall.

Randall looked a bit taken back by her attitude, but he seemed to respect her for it too, by the sudden admiring look that came over his eyes.

"I find that a little hard to believe that you don't care at all, but I can see that your journalistic integrity is important to you." Richard gave her a warm smile, and it amazed Laith once again, how Randall could be such an utter chameleon. One moment, he was friendly when he wanted/needed something from you, and then the next, he would turn ice cold if he thought you were a threat. That was the way of politicians he supposed.

Laith was barely listening to Ava showering Randall with questions, his head was still awhirl with the ridiculous proposition that Randall had just given him. Randall was the easy person to blame in what had went wrong with Laith's life.

But Randall was also the most likely person to put Laith's life back together. Laith watched Randall's movements. The way Randall's hands lifted themselves easily into the air, effectively capturing the precise gestures needed to grab the audience's attention. Randall was a natural leader. People looked to him for his strikingly handsome appearance, and his strength of character. He was more than qualified to be Valencia's next district attorney. More so than Richard Matthews.

Laith could see the way Randall's eyes traveled over Ava's pretty face and slender, model-esque frame, and he didn't like it one bit. Randall was married with two beautiful twin boys, but apparently, it didn't matter when a pretty, young girl like Ava was fawning all over you. Laith supposed that that simple fact would never change. Men would always be fickle creatures, never able to keep their emotions and needs in check to one person alone. They would always flit from one pretty girl to another, and it used to be to Laith's benefit that men were like this.

Laith used to admire Randall for what he thought was his strength of character. He didn't anymore.

"Now, Ava. If you'll follow my assistant, Cheryl, she'll be happy to give you some more details on our upcoming campaign plans." Randall was so smooth and effortless in getting Ava out of the picture that it disgusted Laith.

Ava followed Cheryl out, but she stopped at the door and looked at Laith, "I'll wait for you outside, Laith."

"You're a lucky man. She's beautiful." Richard commented, still looking at the door after she left.

"I'm not a lucky anything. She's not mine, and she sure as fuck isn't going to be yours." Laith went straight for the jugular, "I don't know what you want from me, but you're not going to get it. You want me to do the same set up to Richard Matthews? You have to be kidding. He's so straight laced, he would never go for it."

"All men have their weaknesses, Laith. And it's a sad fate that every man's downfall will invariably be a woman."

"Not Richard's. He's too smart for that. You honestly think he'll fall for the trick that he created?"

"He would if it was the right woman." Randall countered. He reached out and took Laith's Nikon between his hands. Examining it shortly, he commented, "Nice camera. You've upgraded since the last time I saw you."

Laith shrugged distastefully, easily wrenching his camera out of Randall's hands, "Digital is the future. After all, there is no way to ensure that images are forever deleted. It gives me insurance and protection."

"Ah, yes. I suppose that's why Richard had you develop the films that way. So that there were no digital copies, and he would have the only copies of the pictures to himself. How very antiquated of him."

"And how very stupid of me," Laith replied bitterly, "I was thirteen and an idiot. I thought his protection would be forever. I was wrong."

"I can help you," Randall jumped eagerly on the subject, "I can pay for your mother's hospital expenses, Laith. She can be upgraded to a better suite if you'd like."

"You can't afford it." Laith said shortly, "and besides, Richard is still paying for half of my mother's bills in exchange for my silence."

"That's interesting," Randall noted, "Why doesn't he pay for all of it?"

"Because as he stated, 'Laith, you've got nothing, and you are nothing. No one will believe you, and even if it prompts a search, they will never find it because I'm the only one who knows where I've kept the photos. You're a lucky little snot that I'm pitying you enough to pay for half. Har, har, har.'" Laith's impression of Richard was ridiculous sounding, but it made him feel a little better anyways to make his old boss sound like an idiot.

"Laith, I'm telling you. You have nothing to lose from this arrangement. You get the photos I need. I will pay Miranda's expenses in full and then some, and you can keep what Richard pays for yourself." Randall slyly added, "I'm sure it will go a long way in paying for your college education."

Bastard. He was capitalizing on Laith's vulnerability at the moment, and Laith detested him for it. Yet the more rational side of him told him to swallow his pride and take it. What did he have to lose?

"I have to think about this." Laith said finally. Randall nodded his head, understanding.

"Well be quick, Laith. This is your chance to get out from under Richard's thumb. I want those pictures in my palm long before the election has a chance to come underway."

Laith nodded, his shaggy black hair falling into his eyes. He didn't want to be here anymore. Echoing a quick goodbye, Laith high tailed it out of there and was relieved to see Ava leaning back against the metal barricade outside.

"Hey. What was that all about? What exactly did my dad do two years ago to him? And what do you have to do with it?" She fired questions at him, and Laith was in no mood to answer any of them. His relieved expression instantly vanished, and instead, all he could think about was getting home and away from all this.

"It's nothing," He said shortly, pushing the gate open, pushing it to let both him and Ava through.

"Like hell its nothing," Ava scoffed, trailing right behind him, "If this has to do with my dad, I want to know about it."

"It would ruin every warm bubbly image you have of your father," Laith shot back, walking faster, but she was unrelenting, right on his heels.

"I have no warm bubbly image of my father, in fact, I could care less about him." Ava replied right back.

"You sound like a whiny teenager." Laith was now actively trying to get away from her.

"Maybe. But I have good reason to despise him, and I do. So tell me. Maybe I can help."

Shaking his head, Laith stopped in his tracks, "You seriously don't get it do you? This is not a little rich girl trying to get back at her daddy kind of thing. The only way you can help me is by letting me fuck you senseless and taping so I can send it to your son of a bitch father and brother."

Ava looked visibly upset by his words, and Laith instantly regretted the ugly words he said. But it was too late to take them back, and even if he could, Laith wouldn't. He hadn't been thinking right these couple of days. He shouldn't have been hanging around with this girl. She was a Matthews, and thus, she was inherently meant to fuck things up in Laith's life.

"I'll figure it out, Laith Madden. I'll figure out why you've got my brother and dad all riled up," She said quietly, "and when I do, you'll be oh so sorry that you said what you just did to me."

Laith avoided her at school. Not that it was hard, she didn't seem to want anything to do with him either, and the only class they had together was journalism and lunch period. Still, once in a while, his eyes would fall on her silvery blonde hair. She was really ethereally attractive, like a nymph or a fairy. And Laith was horrifyingly physically attracted, and wouldn't mind doing things to her he knew would make great plots for pornographic movies.

It was lunch time, and Laith was sitting by himself outside, but he could see the brilliance of her hair reflecting the sunlight. She was sitting with Maribel Asher and the other pretty, popular girls who had gladly taken her in upon finding out who she was related to.

Maribel caught his eye, her green eyes alight with laughter. She waved, and half-heartedly, Laith waved back, and he stopped staring at the group of girls, and instead focused on eating his lunch and finishing up his assigned readings for English.

A shadow suddenly cast itself over Laith's form, and he looked up to a smiling Maribel.

"Hey there," She greeted, plopping herself down next to him, sitting a little closer than Laith knew Adrian would be happy with. In fact, Adrian wouldn't be happy that Maribel was sitting next to him at all. The knowledge of that fact emboldened Laith.

"Maribel," He greeted with a smile.

"What have you been up to lately?" She asked conversationally, twirling a strand of her dark caramel hair around her fingers.

"Not much. Just trying to catch up in school." Laith replied.

"You look really tired," Maribel noted, seeing the smudges of black beneath Laith's eyes.

"Thanks," He replied dryly. Maribel's laughter sounded like bells tinkling.

"I didn't mean like that. I know you're trying to get back the number one spot, but I think you should relax and have some fun a little."

"What do you suggest we do?" Laith asked smoothly, his eyes dropping to Maribel's chest. She didn't have the biggest rack in the world, but Laith knew from firsthand experience that they fit perfectly in his hands.

"Eyes up here, Laith." Maribel said sternly, but Laith could tell she was secretly pleased he was looking. She wanted him to look. Otherwise, she wouldn't be wearing a low scoop necked black tank top that clung to her skin and leaning towards him with her hands clasped together, so that her breasts pressed together.

"I didn't mean it like that. I meant, I'm having a party this weekend at my place. Just a small get together. Some girls, some friends. We'll be hanging out, watching the Valencia Tigers on CNN."

So that explained why she was inviting him over. Adrian would be in Matagorda, representing the high school football team in state, leaving pretty little Maribel Asher free on her own to invite who she pleased to her house. Otherwise, Adrian wouldn't have allowed it.

"Aren't you afraid Adrian will find out?" Laith asked gently, and Maribel shrugged her shoulders, one strap of her tank top falling off. Instantly, Laith's hand went to her shoulder, lifting the strap up with his forefinger and thumb, letting the rest of his fingers trail up her smooth tanned skin, before coming to rest on her shoulder again. She shuddered, and when Laith looked into her bright green eyes, he could see the look of pure longing and lust in her eyes.

"Why should he be? We're friends, aren't we?" She managed to say in a breathy voice.

"Absolutely. Friends. I'll see you at the party, Maribel." He caressed her creamy shoulder one last time before letting go, and she stood shakily on her feet.

"See you then, Laith." Her deep green eyes were full of meaning, and Laith wasn't sure how to interpret it. He used to know what every little look from her meant, but now he wasn't so sure. She was acting awfully forward. Coming to speak to him in the middle of the day, practically shoving her breasts in his face, letting him touch her. Laith bemused that maybe there was an ulterior motive for this, but he didn't know what it was.

He watched Maribel walk back to her group of friends, her hips swaying a bit too much to be natural. Then, his eyes caught a familiar set of ice blue ones. It was the first time in days, they had actually looked at one another, and Laith could feel the intense curiosity radiating from her. She would be at the party, Laith realized. And even though he had made himself promise to stay away from her, he was definitely looking forward to the party knowing that she would be there.

Little get together to watch the game was an understatement. It was eight o'clock and already, the kegs were flowing, girls in scandalously short dresses were dancing like strippers, and the party had just begun. Heavy bass rap and r and b pumped like a tangible drug from the massive speakers, willing people to dance and act like idiots.

Laith wasn't adverse to parties by any means, and he took every chance he could to step away from his adult responsibilities to act like the fool-hardy teenager he wish he could be like Adrian, Maribel, and pretty Ava Matthews, who was currently slowly nursing a red plastic cup.

Her hooded blue eyes met his from across the room, and in acknowledgement, she gently raised her cup, before taking a long deep drink from it. She looked good.

She had on a short, pleated mini skirt, a black tank top with sequins all over it, and finishing the entire look off was a pair of sky-high pumps, showcasing her slender long legs that went on for miles.

"Laith! You made it!" From out of nowhere, Maribel threw her arms around Laith's middle catching him off guard, and distracting him from his current distraction.

"Oh yeah, great little get together you have here, Maribel." Laith said sarcastically.

"Oh. This?" Maribel vaguely waved her hand around the party, "yeah, you know how it is. You invite a couple people, those people invite a couple more, on and on and on."

She had a few shot glasses in her hands, "Me and a few of the girls are about to do shots. Want to come with?"

Laith smirked, and easily took one of the shot glasses from her hands, "This one's mine."

She slowly smiled at him, her green eyes alight with mischief, "I'll have to be careful around you. I know how you get when you're drunk."

"Friendly?" Laith ventured.


"You used to like that," Laith mused.

Her green eyes darkened perceptibly, and she quietly murmured, "I still do."

Laith openly stared at her. At this rate, he'd have her on her back in her parent's master bedroom by the end of the night, enjoying every inch of her lush creamy skin and the fact that he'd be tearing Adrian's heart to pieces.

She gave him an inviting smile before turning on her heels to lead the way towards a table in the back where several other shot glasses and a clear bottle of Everclear sat on the table. Ava, Laney Hartwell, Cassandra Wilson, and one or two guys were standing around the wooden table, eagerly waiting for Maribel's return so they could start the shots.

"Let's play I never!" Laney called out quickly, already inebriated.

"Psh. That game is overplayed and overdone." Ava said.

"Ten fingers, then?"

"That's the exact same concept as I never," Ava pointed out.

"Let's play strip War, only this time, the person with the highest card has to take a shot and take off their clothes." Laith suggested.

"Yeah, let's play that one." Maribel said decisively, and everyone else quickly murmured their agreement. Maribel was their queen bee and they were her loyal followers.

A deck of cards was passed around, and a shot glass placed firmly in front of each player. The first round began, and Chris Micelle's was the highest, a Jack of clubs.

"Get ready, ladies," Chris easily pulled off his shirt, displaying a slightly there set of abdominal muscles that he had been working hard on all summer. He quickly took his shot, and the next round began.

This time, it was Ava who had the highest. She daintily slipped off one of her black heels to many boos from the guys, but she tipped her head back quickly to take her shot, and when her face reemerged, her eyes looked slightly glazed over.

The next round, Maribel won. She drank her shot, and without preamble peeled the tiny white top she had on over her head, to the cheers of the party goers.

By the end of the night, each and every one of the players were sloshed, some on the brink of passing out, with the exception of Laith, who somehow only managed to get two shots in during the entire game.

"What am I supposed t-to-with-you-people?" Maribel slurred. She had taken a good three to four shots, more than enough to tide the tiny 120 pound girl over. Ava had fallen asleep on her chair, possibly blacking out, and carefully, Laith stood up out of his chair, maneuvered past the drunk, and knelt by her side. The apples of her milky white cheeks were red and flushed, and her lips were as red as carmine.

Laith placed two fingers on her pulse point at her neck and was relieved to feel the steady flow of blood beneath her skin. She'd be all right, she just needed to sleep it off. The party still raged around them, and it was beginning to get destructive. Maribel would have a temporary fit over it in the morning, but her maids would take care of the damage and keep word on the party mum to Maribel's parents.

Easily picking up Ava in his arms, Laith carried her up the stairs, away from the party to the vast second story of Maribel's mansion. Her dad was a surgeon, and her mother was a researcher, and they often traveled together to give seminars, leaving Maribel at home alone.

He kicked open a random room, and sure enough, it was one of her many guest bedrooms. Gingerly, he laid Ava down on the bed, covering her with the sheets. She shifted in the bed, unconsciously snuggling deeper into the folds of the comforter, and it comforted Laith a little to see that she wasn't completely out of it. She looked so warm, comforting, and inviting that Laith was tempted to join her in the bed.

"You're so sweet, Laith." It was Maribel, and she was leaning against the doorframe clothed in nothing but her pink, lacey bra and matching boy shorts. Everything else had been happily taken off during the game. In one hand, she loosely held another bottle of vodka.

"Things are getting crazy downstairs," Laith shrugged easily, walking over to her, and taking the vodka out of her hands, "I think you've had enough."

"Of you? Never." She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her bare body to his fully clothed one. Maribel's body was absolutely slamming. Unlike Ava who was slender and thin, Maribel had hourglass curves that Laith worshiped when he was with her.

"What do you want, Maribel." It wasn't even a question, it was all too obvious now what she wanted, as she started backing up towards another bedroom, taking Laith with her.

"You." Maribel whispered as she closed the door behind them and locking it, "Always you."

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he watched her walk towards him. Even though he knew better than to say it, his curiosity could not be ignored, "What about Adrian?"

"What about him?" She sat on his lap and leaned down for a kiss, and except for the small cry of vindictive victory in the back Laith's head, Adrian was all but forgotten between the two of them.

(A/N): I'm getting the very sad feeling that I'm not going to reach 50,000 words by the end of November. :( But that's okay. I think the point of this was to force me to write again. After November, i can slow down and put more thought into my writing and go back and revise those yucky earlier chapters. Anyways, thank you for everyone who is reading and reviewing! If you feel so inclined, I hope you'll review!