Episode One:

Jade Alexander walked through the office as other clerks and secretaries were on their way home. She would not get home early tonight, but she didn't exactly mind. She would be spending the evening with her boss, Grady Denton. He would be doing his best to focus on their work, and she would be doing her very best to distract him into having some fun.

She was his loyal clerk, always ready to do whatever he might ask of her for the sake of his client's case. What he failed to realize was that Jade would do anything he might ask of her for any reason. Not that she hadn't made it obvious that she was ready for anything he asked. She had been trying for the last six months to capture his attention in more intimate manner, but it seemed that he was blind to whatever she might attempt.


Jade wasn't about to give up, however. She had decided that no matter what it took she would win Grady's heart, mind, and body to be her own. He might be ignoring her for now, but she would not let him keep ignoring her. He would have to notice her. If he didn't, something was horribly wrong with him.

Jade stepped into Grady's office and spotted Dorothy, his secretary, gathering her things to go home for the day.

"Is he still in there?" Jade asked as she approached the door to his office.

"Yeah, he is," Dorothy nodded, "He's in kind of a mood though."

"He's always in a mood lately. He needs to relax," Jade smiled, "I'll see what I can do about that."

"I'll just bet you will," Dorothy smiled knowingly, "Good night, Jade," She said before she left the office.

Jade smiled as she inched her already tiny skirt just a bit higher, tossed her long brunette hair off her shoulders and smiled brightly as she stepped into Grady's inner domain, "I got the case files you were looking for."

Grady nodded as he continued reading the papers before him. He held out his hand for the files as he turned the page on his current reading.

She raised an eyebrow before she placed the files on top of his current reading and watched as he slowly raised his green eyes to meet hers. She smiled, "You're working too hard again."

He slowly smiled, "I know, but I have to finish up the filings for this case. I'll take some time off when this case is finished."

"If you keep filing motions, this case will never even get started much less get finished," She pointed out as she moved around the desk and sat on the corner, "You should go home and get some rest."

"You're supposed to be my protégé and I'm supposed to be looking out for you. Not the other way around."

"We wouldn't have role reversal if you would act like the responsible one every now and then," She challenged him with a smile, "So I guess this means we're going to be here for a while, huh?"

"Yeah, I think so," He said as he placed the case files aside to focus on his previous reading.

"Then why don't I order us some food? You may not have to rest, but you do have to eat," She said as she turned on her heel and thumbed through his rolodex, leaning across the desk to pick up his telephone.

Grady watched her stretch across the desk and admired her curvaceous figure. He could smell her perfume and felt it burn him to his toes. No matter how much he tried to ignore the attraction he felt for his beautiful young law clerk, it always seemed that she found new ways to inspire his imagination.

"Jade…what are you doing?" He asked, trying to get back to the legal business at hand.

"I'm ordering dinner," She said as she glanced over her shoulder at him, "Give me just a second," She smiled as she turned back and gave the order before hanging up the phone, "So what are we looking into here?" She asked as she stood over him.

Grady took a deep breath as he focused on the papers before him, "I'm trying to find a precedent for this case. I can't let my client lose this lawsuit."

"You put way too much pressure on yourself," Jade said as she slipped her hands over his shoulders to gently kneed the tense muscles of his neck and shoulders, "You always do your best for your clients even if they don't deserve it. They're really lucky to have you working so hard for them."

"Yeah…lucky," Grady sighed as he said a silent prayer of strength that he could just get through the work ahead of him without giving in to the growing desire he felt for his clerk.



Avery Morrison let out a soft sigh as she set her briefcase down at the foot of the door to her apartment.  Reaching for her keys, she thought of the day she’d left behind at the office and promised herself that nothing short of a luxurious bubble bath and maybe a few sinful chocolates would do the trick to work a number over the tension headache she felt building in her temple.  Perhaps she’d lavish herself in lots of chocolate and a good romance novel, she smiled as the thought tempted her, but as she turned the key in the lock of her apartment door, she realized that her dreams of a lavish bubble bath would probably be put on hold for a while as the deposition in her briefcase had her name written all over it.

“If only the work day wasn’t a never ending battle,” she thought to herself realizing that she was only fooling herself to believe she could put her job behind her.  After the day she’d had at BBK pharmaceuticals, she knew that there would be no escaping the things that she was certain Brant Ashford would drill her on in the morning.  A frown touched over her lips at the very thought of the impossible man she’d face the next morning as he demanded answers to the questions she’d gone over with him thousands of times before.  Oh, why did she even bother with him and with that job, she thought to herself bending down for her briefcase.
“Because you’re a sucker for the job,” she let out an ironic laugh thinking about the last time she’d managed to impress her impossible employer.  This time certainly would be no exception either, she smiled inwardly knowing that when she was done helping Brant Ashford through this one, he’d owe her--huge, but for now, it was time to unwind, even if it meant just taking five minutes out for a good cup of coffee before getting started.
Upon entering her apartment, Avery reached for the light switch when a faint flicker of light from the corner of her room captured her attention.  Turning her eyes towards the source of the dim glow, she realized that there was a candle burning on the mantle--quite a few candles in fact, she frowned.  Taking a good, long look around the semi-glowing room, she realized that only one thing could be behind this and it clearly meant that there was going to be a problem.  Work was going to have to wait, she sighed setting her briefcase down as her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness.
“Bruce?” she called out as her gaze scanned over the room, “Bruce, where are you?”
The sound of silence surrounded her as her frown deepened.  Okay, so maybe she’d thought about spending some time with Bruce eventually after this case was over, she reasoned as she stepped further into her living room, but now just wasn’t the time.  He’d seemed to make a habit of coming over at all the wrong moments when work had beckoned her and as she scanned her apartment impatiently, she decided that tonight was going to be the night that she told the man in her life that he needed to call first before opting for these impromptu visits.
“That aught to go down well,” she muttered under her breath as she folded her arms in front of her chest impatiently, “Bruce, where are you?  Just cut to the chase and come out here so I can see you.  Bruce, come on,” she called out once again, “this is getting old and I swear if you don’t show yourself right now, I’m going to turn the lights on and throw you out once I find you…”
“You wouldn’t really throw me out, would you?” his voice rose from the darkness as she turned towards the sound, “I mean would you really be willing to risk my heart like that?”
“Bruce, what are you up to,” she spun around to find him standing beside her holding out a single, red rose.
“For you milady,” Bruce Mathis offered with a coy grin as he extended the bud out to her.
“Alright,” she cautiously took the rose as she cast a skeptic eye over him, “what have you done now?”
“Excuse me,” he blinked back at her, “can’t a man just do something nice for the woman he loves?”
“Not in your case,” she shook her head, “at least not unless you’re planning something,” she looked down to the flower before stepping away from him and making her way towards the lamp on the end table beside her, “and what’s with the candles?  I know that I didn’t forget to pay my electric bill this month.”
“I was trying to create a mood,” he offered cryptically as he watched her turn away.  Reaching for her arm, he pulled her back towards him, “Avery?”
“What?” she questioned impatiently facing him once again.
“I’m working towards something here,” he explained simply as he noticed the expression on her face, “but you’re not in the mood to work with me, are you?”
“Bruce look,” she paused seeing the disappointment behind his eyes, “look it’s not you,” she began feeling the same speech threatening to take her over as she let out a breath knowing that once again she‘d chicken out of telling him what was really going on inside her head, “never mind.  What is it you wanted to tell me?”
“This isn’t one of these ‘I’m going to listen long enough to you, only to get you to shut up so that I can kick you out for the night moments’, is it?” he questioned cautiously.
“Bruce, I really do have a lot to do,” she began with a sigh, “I know that you don’t like hearing it, but…”
“No buts,” he shook his head taking her hand in his as he lead her over towards her sofa, “you work far too much.  You do realize that, don’t you?”
“What I realize is that I shouldn’t have given you a key to my apartment,” she remarked dryly, “because I’m seeing that it made you think you could come in and out any time you wanted to.”
“Admit it,” he leaned in towards her, “you like having me around.”
“It depends on the moment,” she shrugged her shoulder casually as he reached out to touch her face gently.
“I’d think it was more than a moment, Avery,” he whispered as his fingers played over her soft skin, “I’d like to think we’ve had some really wonderful times together over the years.”
“Maybe a few here and there,” she teased unable to resist the urge to get him going as he gave her a serious look.
“Avery,” he frowned slightly.
“Well, you asked,” she shrugged her shoulders before reaching out to him, “besides, you were the one that wanted to know the truth here.”
“Guilty as charged,” he agreed with a hint of a smile as he took her fingers in his hand lifting them to his lips and kissing each one gently, “but then again, I do have a hidden agenda in being here.  You had me pegged on that.”
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me,” she offered with a hint of sarcasm as he gave her a look, “okay, okay, I’ll play along,” she forced a smile, “So Brucey darling, what ever is it that you came over here to tell me?”
“Well,” he laughed lightly, his voice rumbling with a timbre she instantly recognized as the one he’d used time and time again at the hospital when opening a speech with one of his less than humorous jokes to lighten up a crowd.  As her gaze fell upon his, she could see it now, there was certainly some sense of purpose behind what he was trying to butter her up for.
“Bruce,” she questioned raising a curious brow as his gaze shifted momentarily.
“How about some dinner,” he suggested with a smile as he began to rise from her sofa, “maybe that’s a good way for us to start tonight.”
“How about you just tell me what’s on your mind,” she tugged on his arm pulling him back down towards her, “Bruce, you know how I like to get straight to the point.”
“That I do,” he leaned in towards her kissing her in a teasing fashion, “but you’re just going to wait.”
“Well, if it’s not important enough to get into now,” she decided releasing him as she turned away, “then I’m going to have to ask you to go home because I have a deposition that I promised Brant that I’d go over and…”
“Oh to hell with Brant,” Bruce grumbled watching her pull away from him, “can’t we just forget about work for tonight?”
“Bruce, you know that what I’m working on right now is important.  I can’t just pick and choose my cases or set the deadlines to where I’d like them to be,” she argued with him, “you know that my work is my life…”
“And we need to work on changing that,” Bruce reached out to her, “this job is killing you and if you take a moment to really look at the situation you’ll see that.”
“Bruce, I don’t need fathering and if this is another lecture about the consequences of my being a workaholic,” she began feeling the tension build throughout her neck and shoulders.
“No, that’s not why I’m here,” he shook his head as he reached into his pocket, “I was hoping we could do this over dessert, but maybe I should just do this now so that you know where I stand on the issues between us tonight.  Maybe once I do this, it might tempt you to push work aside for a couple of hours…”
“Do what,” she questioned as she watching him withdraw a small jewelry box from his pocket and suddenly as if on cue a warning light went off in her head.  Oh my God, she thought to herself her eyes widening in surprise as Bruce reached for her hand.
“Avery Morrison,” he spoke softly as he began to lower himself on one knee.
God please not now, Avery pleaded hoping that Bruce wasn’t about to do what she thought he was planning.  She watched his smile fade as that serious expression washed over his features and it was then that she knew.  He was going to do it.  He was going to do the one thing that she’d feared was on his mind from the moment they’d spent that weekend in Aspen together.  He was really going to do this, she tried to breath evenly as he smiled up at her, offering that same confident, yet goofy grin he’d flashed her time and time again when one of his ideas came into fruition.
“Bruce,” she started as he took her hand in his.
“Let me do this,” he urged as he took in a breath and she in turn held hers in waiting for the cards to fall on this fateful turning point in her life.
It’s now or never, Avery tried to reason with herself thinking of something, anything that could get her out of this position.  She wanted to shrug this off, to find an excuse to walk away and let this happen some other time when she was ready for it--if such a day could be possible.  She needed to tell him that now was not the time for even fathoming the thought of wedded bliss, but as she opened her mouth to speak, he started for the lid of the jewelry box and it was then that fate leapt in with one solid, beeping noise.
“Wait,” she blurted out quickly, almost too quickly as she pulled her hand away from his.  She felt her breath escape from her lungs as she pulled the pager from her side, looking over the number that beckoned her.
“Avery,” Bruce’s enthusiasm in his tone faded and it was replaced with that same air of disappointment as she turned her attention to him once again.
“It’s the office,” she explained silently thanking the stars above as she realized someone up there had to be looking out for her.
“When isn’t it the office,” he frowned deeply, “Avery, I wanted to talk to you tonight about things, about us and where I see us going.”
“Bruce,” she leaned forward giving him a quick kiss, “as much as I’d love to do that, you know how much this case means to the company.”
“Avery, when are you going to stop thinking about the company and start thinking about us?” he challenged pushing the small jewelry box back into his pocket as he rose to his feet once again.  Running his fingers through his dark hair, he shook his head disapproving, “you know this job is sucking the life right out of you.”
“Bruce, I don’t harp on you when you’re called in by the hospital, do I?” she challenged giving him a pointed look.
“That’s different,” he argued with her.
“Why is that?”
“Because I’m saving lives,” he explained matter of fact.
“And I’m working for a company that intends on doing the same,” she remarked hastily as she crossed the room turning on the lamp in her jaunt over towards the kitchen area.
“I know you believe that, but with the reputation that BBK has,” he started watching her as she circled around towards her refrigerator pulling out a bottle of imported water.
“Bruce, you and I both know that there’s nothing wrong with BBK and the way I see it, there is nothing questionable about the reputation they have.”
“Other than the CEO is a royal pain in the…” he began as she stood upright shooting him a glare.
“Don’t start,” she warned raising her finger as she used her hip to shut the refrigerator in one swift motion.  Crossing over towards the pantry she pulled out a brand new box of power bars before casting a glance over at him once again, “you know as well as I do that Brant Ashford has done wonders for that company ever since it fell into his hands.”
“Well maybe I don’t like the idea of you falling into his hands as well,” Bruce folded his arms in front of his chest as he let out a groan, “just because you were obligated to his father doesn‘t mean that you should stick it out at that place with that womanizing, manipulative, sexiest jerk who‘s probably only keeping you around for his own sick and twisted personal pleasures…”
“Bruce, would you relax,” she shook her head at him, “I’m a grown woman and if you think for one moment that Brant Ashford can get any kind of rise out of me, well then clearly you don’t know me nearly as well as I’d imagined,” she tore open the top of the package withdrawing a strawberry power bar from within and pushing it into her purse, “and besides what happened to the faith you had in me?  Are you trying to imply that the only reason that Brant keeps me around is because he wants to get into bed with me?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” he leaned up against the wall watching her closely, “I mean think about it…”
“You think about it,” she challenged with a scowl, “I’m a damn good lawyer Bruce and I don’t mix business with pleasure.  You of all people know that.”
“I do, but…”
“But nothing.  You and I both know that I don’t sleep my way into anything and damn it, I’ve earned this position and I’m going to keep at it and give it my all even if it kills me,” she insisted firmly as she circled back into the living room, “this job is everything to me.”
“And that’s what bothers me,” Bruce confessed, “I see you working your life away there for a man who doesn’t respect you, who doesn’t even bother to take your personal life into consideration and the way I see it, you’d be much happier if you just…”
“Don’t say it,” she faced him again, “don’t you dare say it.”
“All I’m saying is that the hospital is looking for someone good to have on retainer and well, seeing as you and I are together,” Bruce began striking up the beginnings of the same, tired argument between them.
“Bruce, I’m not going to quit my job just so that I can take the one you want me to have at the hospital,” she paused seeing that same look of disappointment rush over him, “look I understand that you mean well, but I don’t want to do a job where I’m judged by your merits.  I need to do what I do on my own.”
“My merits would have nothing to do with what you are,” Bruce stepped in towards her, “once you’re at the hospital, they’ll see just how good you are and I just know…”
“Bruce, just stop while you’re ahead,” she raised her hand in the air to silence him, “I’ve made up my mind and I’m staying with BBK.”
“You could at least do an interview with the hospital,” Bruce continued impatiently, “I mean look at it this way, the perks over there are good and you’d get to see me more often, not to mention you’d be getting the positive press over at the hospital that I’m certain you wouldn’t get over at BBK.”
“Bruce, I’m not in it for the press,” she explained reaching for her briefcase, “you know that.”
“What I know is that I want to have you with me in ten years,” he reached out to her drawing her into his arms, “twenty years and more even and when I see our future, I don’t want to be the one raising our children alone while you’re slaving away at the side of a self-centered, power hungry monster like Brant Ashford.”
“Bruce, look I appreciate the concern,” her voice softened as this never ending battle took on yet another round, “but I really have to get back to work now.”
“Avery,” he paused thinking about the situation for a moment before reaching out to her once more, “just tell me that you’ll consider thinking about this further.”
“Bruce,” she opened her mouth to argue, but paused knowing that it would lead to yet another dispute between them, “fine I’ll think it over.  If that will really make you happy…”
“It’s a start,” he stepped forward drawing his arms around her waist as he pulled her in closer, “and after you get back from the office once you’ve put Brant in his place, I want us to continue where we left off,” he announced as his gaze lazily lingered over her lips, “is it a deal?”
“Sure,” she replied uneasily as he leaned in to kiss her.  Turning her head slightly, he caught her cheek with his lips before she took a step back.
“Avery,” he called out to her watching her turn towards the doorway to leave.  She stopped mid-step as her hand went over the door knob.
“Yes,” she questioned looking back over her shoulder at him.
“I love you,” he smiled at her his eyes full of hope and encouragement as she offered a tiny smile.
“Likewise,” she replied with a nod before opening the door and leaving her apartment as she realized that things were going to change after tonight.  Once she was home again, she was certain that Bruce would pick up right where he left off.  The only thing about it was she wasn’t sure she was ready for what he’d had planned.  Then again, maybe she’d never be ready for it.


Kenneth Ashford stepped off the elevator at CCR in the pediatric ward and approached the nurse's station. He really hated this aspect of his work, but he always wanted his clients to know that he didn't just care about winning their case, he cared about them. He'd finished his work at the office early just so he could visit his newest clients for a while.

The Hendersons had the misfortune of living in what was at one time a nuclear waste disposal site. While the company that had dumped the waste in the area assured all prospective buyers that the site was safe, the Hendersons' son had fallen ill with a rare disorder that usually only affected those exposed to extreme levels of radioactivity. They had contacted Kenneth for legal advice, and he had become more than just their lawyer. He had become their friend.

Kenneth received the room number from the nurse's station before proceeding down the hall. He knocked lightly on the door before stepping inside, "Hello?"

"Come in," Kelly Henderson said with a smile as she stood from her chair to greet her new friend, "Kenneth, I wasn't expecting you to come down here."

"Well what else are friends for?" Kenneth smiled as he stepped closer to the bed to look at Randy Henderson. Kenneth raised an eyebrow as he looked at the boy, "What's the big idea getting sick like this?"

"Hey man, it wasn't my idea," Randy pointed out boldly as he scratched his head with the hand his IV was taped onto, "I would much rather be at home playing my video game."

"I love honesty," Kenneth said with a grin, "I hear you were on the honor roll this last nine weeks at school. Good job."

"Thanks. All the stuff we did was easy, but Mom says I have to study. So I don't get to play my video game as much as I want to. I don't know why. I could do that stuff with my eyes closed," Randy bragged.

"A little bit egotistical there, aren't you?" Kelly asked with a smile.

"I just know my stuff, Mom," Randy declared, "So you need to let me play more. I'm still a kid, you know."

Kenneth chuckled softly, "I think she's well aware of that fact, bud," He smiled as he looked to Kelly, "Where's Jay?"

"He just went down to the snack bar to get a cup of coffee. He's a little restless," She explained.

"I think I can understand his frustration," He replied, "How about you? How are you holding up?"

"I just wish we could find a way to keep Randy healthy. I'm tired of all the doctors arguing over what would be the best way to treat him."

Kenneth placed a hand on Kelly's shoulder, "We're going to find a way to not only get Randy healthy, but we're also going to make sure that Midlands Utilities takes responsibility for what they've done and pays for the best healthcare for Randy that money can provide."

"That's a tall order," Jay Henderson spoke as he stepped into the room. He placed his cup of coffee on the bedside table before he shook Kenneth's hand, "Do you really think they'll ever admit fault?"

"They won't have a choice," Kenneth noted, "When we go to court, all the evidence will show that Midlands never performed any of the cleaning operations they say they did. They have paperwork, but we have witnesses and facts. I'm not about to let them get away with this. You have my word on that."

"I believe in you, Ken," Jay addressed him casually, "I just hope it's in time to save my son."

Kenneth looked back to Randy and nodded, "So do I. I'm going to do everything I can to make things happen as soon as possible," He moved back over to the bedside before pulling a hand held video game from his pocket, "Hey, I brought you something."

"Cool!" Randy shouted with excitement as he began to play the game, "Thanks Kenneth," He said with a bright smile.

Kenneth smiled as he moved back to the now smiling parents, "I'm in this for the long haul, but I'll do everything I can to make this as short and as simple for you as possible."

"Thank you, Kenneth," Kelly said as she shook his hand, "We appreciate everything you're doing for us."

"I can only hope that it'll be enough," Kenneth said as he made his goodbyes and exited the room. He glanced at his watch as he decided that it was time to go home for dinner before returning to his office for a late work session.

He made his way to the elevator and pressed the button to call the elevator. As he waited for the elevator, a lovely blond woman joined his side. He glanced to her and found his eyes drawn to her for a longer time than he had intended. She was petite but by no means fragile looking. She had shoulder length blond hair which matched her perfect creamy skin and sparkling blue eyes which were cast in his direction.

"You're Kenneth Ashford, right?" She asked, her voice as angelic as the rest of her.

"Yes, have we met?" Kenneth asked as he looked over the young woman once again.

"Not yet, but I'm about to change that," She smiled as she extended her hand, "My name is Caitlin Vaughn."

"Nice to meet you," He said as he shook her hand.

"Likewise, Kenneth…may I call you Kenneth?" She asked politely as the doors to the elevator opened.

"I don't see why not," He smiled as they boarded the elevator car.

"Good, because I wanted to speak to you about your work. It's very impressive," She said as she pressed the button for the ground floor.

"And how would you know about my work?" He questioned as the doors to the car closed.

"I read a lot," She said with a smile, "And I'd like a chance to write about you."

"Write about me? Are you a law student or something?"

"No," Caitlin replied, "I'm a reporter for the Coral Courier, and I'd like to do a story about you and your work."

"No," Kenneth frowned. He had thought she was a nice woman, but to discover she was a reporter had ruined that idea.

"I'm not interested in exploiting anyone. I want to tell the truth about your situation and that of your clients. The Hendersons are the underdogs in this fight, and Midlands isn't going to take this case lying down. They are going to want to fight tooth and nail, and they'll probably fight very dirty. I want to even the playing field for you and report about the good you're trying to do for the Hendersons."

"Ms. Vaughn, if you approach me or my clients again, I'll have a restraining order slapped on you so fast it'll make your head spin," He warned.

"You're not even willing to listen to my proposal?"

"No," Kenneth said definitively, "Absolutely not," He said as he glanced to the panel and wished the elevator would move faster.

She looked to the panel as well before she reached over the pressed the stop button.

His eyes widened, "What are you doing?"

"I'm making sure you have to listen to me even if you don't like it. I'm going to make you understand that I'm trying to help you not hurt you. So get comfortable, Mr. Ashford, because you're not going anywhere until I'm finished," Caitlin said with a bold smile as she looked to Kenneth with every intention of winning his trust.



“Diane, tell me you got Ms. Morrison on the phone,” Brant Ashford demanded making his way into his office with an agitated stomp as he looked to his secretary noticing that she’d already begun zipping up her jacket, “just where do you think you’re going?”

“Um home,” Diane shook her head giving him a pointed look, “and you know you should try it some time.  You might actually find that you enjoy the mansion you live in.”
“Maybe in the next lifetime,” he shook his head at the thought, “now about Ms. Morrison?”
“I paged her,” Diane shrugged her shoulders, “but she didn’t return the page.”
“She’ll be here,” Brant decided knowingly, “just send her in my office when she gets here.”
“Um, hello, did you not here a word I’m saying to you,” Diane gave him a pointed look, “I’m out of here.  I did my time and I told you a few weeks ago that I was going to have to cut out early tonight.”
“Fine,” he waved his hand dismissively, “but before you go, leave a note on the door for Avery on the way out.”
“You really think she’s going to show up again after the way she left earlier--,” Diane gave him a sideways glance before her thoughts returned to the determined in house council at BBK, “never mind, I’ll leave the door unlocked.”
“Good,” Brant nodded impatiently as he stepped towards his office.
“Nice talking to you too,” Diane rolled her eyes saluting him behind his back before reaching for her purse as he stood outside his door.
“Oh and Diane,” he called out as she remained motionless wondering if he’d seen her gesture.
“Yes, Mr. Ashford?” she questioned politely.
“Have a nice evening,” he offered emotionlessly as he stepped into his office dismissively.
“Oh believe me, I intend to,” she smiled thinking of her plans for the evening as she turned towards his door once again remembering her last bit of information, “Oh and…” she stopped herself as he closed the door behind him now already inside his office as she shrugged her shoulders with a tiny laugh, “never mind.  I’ll let you deal with this one yourself,” she decided jotting down a quick note for Avery before leaving to enjoy her night out on the town.  Who said that work could get a person down?
Brant heard Diane finishing up in the room outside his office as he looked to the pile of papers upon his desk.  Somehow despite the hour, they seemed to multiply exponentially by the minute as Avery took her dear, sweet time in getting back here.  Why had she decided to cut out early, he chastised her over and over again in his head?  What gave her the right to just walk out in the middle of their meeting earlier?  Surely, she’d been interested in the fate of the company as this was just as much her head as it was his, he reasoned as he looked over at the imported grandfather clock he’d had set up in the corner of his large office.  She wouldn’t risk such a vital moment in the company’s history considering how much time and money was involved in this, he tried to tell himself as he stepped towards his desk tempted to give her yet another phone call and a piece of his mind for her abrupt departure earlier.
“Avery, I hate waiting,” he grumbled reaching for the phone on his desk as the chair behind his desk spun around and his eyes cast upon the very beautiful, very naked blonde surrounded in his black leather chair.
“I was starting to think the same thing,” she smiled at him, leaning back in his chair as she propped her legs up on the desk top revealing the sexy, red ankle strap no holds barred stilettos that he’d purchased for his ex-fiancée for their very private, very erotic trip down to the Cayman Islands.  His eyes widened as she wiggled her brow at him expectantly, “come to think of it, you were always worth the wait.”
“Heather,” he spoke her name tightly trying to ignore the fact that seeing her like this brought forth so many wicked and wild memories to him.  He adjusted his tie opting to give her anything, but the reaction she was looking for as he casually crossed the office, “what are you doing here?”
“Trying to save you from a life of sheer boredom,” she announced as he heard the sound of his chair swiveling, “interested?”
“Not particularly,” he answered tightly refusing to take a good look in her direction as he reminded himself what she was all about.
“See, now that’s where you’re not fun anymore, Brant,” she pouted curling her lip as she stood taller, making her way towards him in a slow, seductive prowl, stalking him as her gaze lingered over his body remembering all the things she’d learned to appreciate about the handsome and powerful man before her, “you were always interested when we were together before.”
“What do you want, Heather,” he questioned spinning around to face her as she stood before him, a bright smile shining over her beautiful features as she tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder, giving him a good look at her once more.
“What have I always wanted from you,” she offered with an innocent smile as she reached out to him, wrapping her long arms around his torso underneath his suit jacket.
“Something I wasn’t willing to give,” he answered tightly as his eyes dropped down over her features.
“Now, now that’s not playing nice,” she swatted at his chest gently, “but then again maybe you want me to remind you all about what being a bad boy does for you,” she tipped up on her toes pressing her body against his as her lips hovered over his, “then again, I always did enjoy you when you were downright rotten,” she whispered in a baby voice as she captured his mouth in a heated kiss.
Brant involuntarily wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her against him as her tongue darted within his daring him to deny her and the seduction she’d laid out before him.  His palms fanned out over her spine crushing her body against his as his own body responded to her in ways he was certain he’d curse himself for later.  Feeling the warmth of her silken skin, the heat of her desire for him, it all came flooding back to him as he realized it had been far too long.  That had to be the only reason behind it, he thought returning her savage kiss as her fingers threaded through his hair tightly.  Certainly he’d gotten Heather out of his system long ago, but the sex was always nice.  He pondered that thought for a moment more before pushing her away abruptly.
“Heather,” he offered a disinterested look as he brushed past her, “get your clothes on.  I’m not in the mood.”
“The hell you aren’t,” she snapped at him a scowl crossing over her otherwise beautiful features as she stomped behind him, “I know you Brant Ashford and you’re always interested.”
“Interested in the finer things in life,” he cast a casual glance in her direction, “but not in bargain basement hand me downs.”
“Oh you…” she hissed back at him, her anger building behind her features, “you know damn well I’m the best there is baby and hand me down isn’t even close to what it is you know I can do for you.”
“Heather, I know what you can do for my bank account,” Brant stated simply, “which in itself works faster than a cold shower ever would.”
“You’re just trying to torture me because of what happened before, aren’t you?  You’re just upset because of how things went down,” she challenged haughtily, “admit it.”
“Heather, finding you in bed with that producer was the best possible thing for me.  It was rather amusing to see that part you were ‘auditioning’ for go to a far more talented actress than yourself which proves that your bedside manner wasn‘t all it was cracked up to be,” Brant shot back sarcastically, “and besides it gave me reason to stop pretending that I wasn’t sleeping with anyone else myself.”
“You’re such a liar,” she hissed in response, “I know damn well that you were hooked on me as much as I was hooked on you.”
“Exactly,” he gave a nod before looking to the clock again and dusting his chair off before taking a seat, “which means we don’t need to get into a count of which one of us sought out pleasure in much more fascinating outlets.”
“Say what you will, but you and I both know that I’m the best you ever had and once you’re done making me ‘suffer’ for my indiscretions, well you’ll come around,” she declared boldly, “and when you do, I’ll try not to make you suffer too much,” she circled around his desk in a slow, determined stride, “of course,” she leaned in towards him reaching out to stroke the side of his face seductively, “you always did like when we played crime and punishment together.  In fact, maybe that‘s what I should do.  I could alleviate you of that tie and then maybe get you over this desk and…”
Brant seized her wrist tightly as his dark eyes fell upon hers.  His jaw flexed with tension as his hold on her constricted and she let out a tiny growl before a playful laugh followed, “Heather, I warned you once and I won’t be doing it again after tonight.  Stop playing games and get out of my office.  I have work to do,” he finished pushing her away.
“Why you…” she started as a sound erupted through the room and she turned to look in the direction of the doorway.
“Am I interrupting,” Avery questioned leaning in the doorframe as she offered up a disapproving eye to the two before her, “because if this was why I was called back to work, I have to confess, I’m not into this kind of thing, so I may as well pack it up and call it a night here.”
“This isn’t what it looks like,” Brant began silently cursing Heather for distracting him when he knew Avery was on her way over.  Now as Heather sat upon his desk top flaunting her nakedness in front of Avery Morrison, Brant realized he wanted nothing more than to rip her head off and toss her out the window of his office.  He stood upright trying to recollect his composure in front of his lawyer as he looked to Heather once again, “I think we’re finished here.”
“Not even close,” Heather replied with a wicked smile as she reached out to him curling her fingers around the lapels of his jacket, “in fact, why don’t you get the lawyer out of here and we can get back to what we were getting into before she arrived?”
“I don’t think so,” Brant shoved her off his desk, sending her to the floor with a resounding thud as Avery’s eyes widened in surprise.  He stepped over Heather, who now sat in a pile on his floor and as though she hadn’t been there, and he flashed Avery his business as usual smug expression as he moved towards the door, “Come to think of it Avery, why don’t we go over things in your office?  It would seem that there is a mess to clean up in here.”
“I can see you’re a sucker for romance,” Avery rolled her eyes realizing that she didn’t get paid enough for this job as she cast a glance over in Heather’s general direction.  She watched as the blonde pull herself up from the floor, trying her best to be casual about the incident.
“Who needs romance when there’s money to be made,” Brant flashed her his million dollar smile as Avery shook her head reluctantly leading him back to her office as she wondered why on earth she’d been so taken in by this job.  Maybe Bruce had a point.  Maybe this was going to prove to be too much for her after all.
“You know, maybe before we start, we should make things perfectly clear about what I expect out of this work environment,” Avery frowned leading Brant into her office and turning around to watch him close the door behind them, “what are you doing?”
“I don’t want any more distractions tonight,” Brant explained simply taking a seat in her desk chair, “show me what you have for me.”
“Whoa, back up a minute,” she shot him a glare watching him cross over into her territory as he made himself comfortable in her chair, “first of all, I’m the one doing you the favor by being here and you on the other hand, well it looks like you were the one who was distracted back there…”
“Oh please,” he waved his hand at her dismissively, “Heather’s no where near a distraction for me,” he leaned back casually in her chair raising his hands behind his head as his gaze lingered over her appreciatively, “and besides I told you before and I’ll say it again, I’m not into bimbos.”
“That’s because you’ve gone through all of them in this town,” she cut back sharply tossing her briefcase on her desk, “you’re in my seat.”
“Share it with me,” Brant patted his lap as a devilish grin swept over his handsome features.
“Excuse me,” she blinked back at him watching the delight wash over his features as he patted his leg again.
“Come and sit with me,” Brant urged further, “because I was thinking before we got into this deposition you were looking over, we could get back to what you said in my office about your not wanting to share me with Heather…”
“I didn’t say anything even remotely close to that,” she frowned deeply as she glared down at him, “now get out of my chair, or else?”
“Or else what,” he lifted a curious brow as he leaned forward challenging her, “going to fight me for it?”
“Look Mr. Ashford,” she began tightly as she took in a calm breath vowing not to loose it in front of him.
“Avery, cut the bull.  It’s Brant, it’s always been Brant and last time I checked it’ll always be Brant,” he smiled sweetly up at her, “now how about we try this once again?”
“How about you get out of my chair or you’ll be living out your days as Brenda and you won’t need to be worried about the company at hand because your manhood will be a thing of the past,” she challenged in a hiss in no mood for games as he slowly rose from her chair.
“Is that a threat?” he arched a curious brow as his eyes sparked with excitement at her words.
“Brant, look I’m not in the mood for games,” she pushed him out of the way before making herself comfortable in her chair, “we have work to do and I intend to get it done because I have somewhere else that I need to be.”
“What’s more important than this,” he asked fighting to suppress the laughter that rose inside of him as her face grew red with anger.  Damn, she was cute when she was irritated, he noted for what felt like the hundredth time since she’d been working with him.  No matter how many times he’d managed to irritate her, he never could get over the way her lips seemingly curled in a scowl when he was getting in under her skin.
“For your information, not that it’s any of your business, but you were interrupting yet another romantic dinner for me,” she answered matter of fact offering a brief glance in his direction before she reached into her briefcase pulling out the pages she’d taken home with her, “not that you’d know anything about that sort of thing considering that you’re the most unromantic man I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering.”
“Most unromantic,” Brant raised his hand over his chest in mock hurt, “I think I’m offended.  Why would you say such a thing?”
“Have a few weeks,” she answered with a sugary sweet smile as he leaned in closer to her.
“For you,” his voiced lowered a bit as he inched in towards her in a slow, determined movement, “I have all the time in the world,” he finished, his eyes daring her to tell it like it was to him as he noticed the tiny flare in her nostrils as her anger mounted.  His gaze traveled southern over those lips, those full, pouting, kissable lips and as he watched her lower lip curl involuntarily with anger, he thought about all the ways in which he’d revel in the thought of devouring those lips.  With the way she was glaring at him, he could only imagine how worthwhile the risk would be as her mouth inspired so many delicious ideas in his head.  Hell, who needed Heather when Avery Morrison had a mouth that any man would sell his soul to get just a taste of.  How he’d show her so many useful ways to channel that anger and irritancy she’d always shown him.  If only…
“Well I don’t,” she blinked back at him pushing her chair back a bit to bridge a distance between them as her abrupt movement temporarily severed the very notions he’d had spinning around in his head about the two of them together, preferably naked and sprawled out over her desktop ‘channeling’ her raw, untamed anger for him.
“You don’t pay me to play the role of your psychiatrist or to give you tips on the trophy woman of the week, so let’s get down to business, shall we,” she continued in her professional, business as usual mode as Brant resigned himself to the chair across from her giving her the space she’d needed.
“Whatever you say,” he waved in her general direction as he sank into the chair across from her, “the floor is yours.”


“Look I know I said I’d be over there fifteen minutes ago, but I was held up in traffic,” Blake Ashford frowned as she looked to the smoke coming from the hood of her cherry red convertible.  This simply won’t do, she decided with a frown as the woman on the other end of the phone tried to offer her another appointment for the massage she’d scheduled for the evening, “look I don’t care what you have to do, but you see to it that Sven is ready when I’m there.  No, I’m not going to accept anyone else and that’s just the way it is, so be ready for me,” she snapped hanging up her cell phone before tossing it into the small back seat of her car.  She shook her head silently cursing the stupidity of the human race as she turned her attention back to the slithering, taunting smoke rising over the hood of her car.

“Damn it,” she cursed once more as that loud thumping sound returned once again despite the fact she’d taken her car in earlier in the week to have that problem obliterated.  This simply won’t do, she reasoned approaching the intersection leading her towards the masseuse.  She paused for a moment before doing a U-turn with the screeching of her tires as she headed back to the auto shop.  She’d be damned if she let them try to pass off their half baked job as quality work.  Extending her arm back into the seat of her car, her fingers searched around for her cell phone as she decided she would push for a later  massage after all, as heads were about to roll at the auto shop.  That much she was sure of.


“Seth, are you sure that you don’t want me to just take a look at it,” Ray Simms questioned as he looked to his friend underneath the hood of the ‘68 Mustang Convertible before him.

“I’m fine,” Seth Alexander waved up at his buddy before sliding out from beneath the hood of his car, “you go on and I’ll close up in here for you.”
“Are you sure about that,” Ray gave him a sideways glance, “I mean you come to me for help in fixing that old thing and then Maria calls…”
“Go home to your kids,” Seth encouraged his friend once again as he rose to his feet wiping off his oil covered hands, “I’ll be fine here with her,” he patted the side of his car, “after all she and I have had a long overdue date with a tune up.  It’s my own treat to her this week.”
“If only all women were so easily amused,” Ray shook his head before letting out a tiny laugh, “you know Seth, cars and women, they both cost you a lot, but at the end of the day, I think I’d have to take the car since they prove to be less of a headache.”
“If you don’t start heading home to Maria and those children of yours, a headache will be the least of your problems,” Seth replied with a tiny laugh as he waved his friend out the door.
“Too true,” Ray laughed lightly throwing a nod in Seth’s general direction before heading home and calling it a day.
“Alone at last,” Seth smiled turning his attention to his pride and joy.  Noting how his car seemed to glimmer and sparkle with energy, he rubbed his hands together relishing in the moment of shaping her up before they took part in enjoying the season together, “it’s been a while, but I promise you that tonight,” he wiped his hand over the door patting it affectionately, “you’re going to feel very good.”
With that thought in mind, Seth returned his attention to his car, opting to go down into the pit and work on that oil change he’d promised his ‘baby’ he’d give her before the night was through.  Climbing down into the pit, Seth listened to the radio that Ray had left on as he began to whistle along to the tune enjoying the moments of solitude and taking the time to lavish his full attention on his other love aside from photography--his car.
“You’re looking good sweetheart,” he offered encouragingly to his car as the clicking overhead captured his attention and he heard the sound of someone up above.
“Um, hello,” a voice rumbled down deep into the pit, “is anyone down there?  Hello…I’m having an emergency here,” a woman announced as Seth reached for the rag he’d had tucked in the back of his jeans pocket and he slowly began to make his way to the ladder next to him.
“The shop’s closed for the night,” Seth began making his ascent up out of the pit as his gaze fell upon a pair of shapely, sexy tanned legs--the kind that could‘ve very well been attached to one of the beautiful bikini clad women on the calendar hanging back in Ray‘s office, well except for the fact that these legs were no doubt exceptional--nothing short of perfection.
“Well, hello legs,” he murmured as his gaze lingered up further to catch more of a glimpse of the owner of such flawless beauty.  His eyes fell upon the tiny white shorts that seemed to be attached to the endless legs that had no captured his complete attention and with the thought of catching more of a view of the owner, he shifted his body a bit to make room for him to step out of the pit below his car.
“I said I need some assistance,” the woman announced as Seth emerged from the pit fully finding himself looking over the most beautiful blonde he’d ever had the privilege of encountering.  She was nothing short of sheer perfection, Seth mused to himself as his eyes hungrily processed the vision before him.  Maybe things were looking up after all, Seth thought to himself as she waved her hand in his face once again.
“Um, hello, is anyone home,” she questioned clearly ignoring Seth’s obvious gawking as she moved a step towards him, “I’m having a problem here and I want it fixed now.”
“What seems to be the problem,” he questioned moving over into the light as his eyes connected with her soft, blue, angel eyes noting the fire behind them.
She stood frozen for a moment as her own gaze lingered over the lines of Seth’s T-shirt before she straightened up once again, “I brought my car here less than a week ago and I asked to have it looked at and fixed immediately.  Now much to my dismay not only did I have to wait four days to get things ‘repaired’,” she wrinkled her nose with obvious sarcasm, “but now I get it back only to discover that the problem I brought it in for was clearly not repaired and it’s also much worse than it was before.”
“I’m sure there must be some simply explanation for that,” Seth wiped his hands on a rag before motioning to the convertible outside the shop, “that your car?”
“Yes, it is,” she nodded eagerly as she watched him step forward and she caught her first good glimpse of the muscled man before her, “and I want it taken care of immediately because I’m late for a massage,” she blurted out watching as he stopped dead in his tracks upon her announcement, “well, what are you waiting for?”
“You’ll have to come back in the morning,” Seth answered spinning around to face her once again, “the shop is closed.”
“I don’t give a damn if the shop is closed or not,” she tapped her foot impatiently, “I paid good money to have my car repaired and I demand you fix the problem right this instant.”
“And as I said before that the shop was closed,” Seth repeated with a frown catching over his features.
“Look buddy,” she pressed her hands on her hip and frowned again, “I don’t care who I have to talk to in order to get the job done right.  In fact, since you’re clearly to inept to listen to what I’m telling you, I want to see your manager.”
“I’m all there is,” Seth leaned against the table beside him seeing the obvious fire behind her beautiful features.  So much for the angelic innocence.  Clearly she was hell on wheels and she was seriously going to put a crimp in his plans for quiet time.
“Well that’s just wonderful,” she threw her hands up in the air, “do you people know the key to running good business?  No, I suppose you wouldn’t seeing as you enjoy tinkering with other people’s cars and money and you just jumble everything up inside so that they have to keep coming back to you again and again so you can demand more and more money out of them for repairs that you carelessly didn’t attend to the first time they brought their car in.  Eventually you get them to this point that I’m at and you say a few things that sound important enough.  You promise that the car will work and then boom I’m back only for you to tell me that I have to rearrange my life again for you because it doesn’t fit into your agenda,” she stepped towards him, “well you can think again because I’m not leaving until you fix my car right this time and there’s nothing that you can say to…” her words were stopped short as the ground beneath her began to rumble and she reached out next to her hoping to find something to brace herself with, but alas the ground slipped away from her and down she went as tremors rocked over the small auto shop.


Russell Denton hung up his cell phone and tossed it onto the seat beside him. Why he ever decided to start his own newspaper was beyond him now. He had spent more time worrying about his reporters than he ever did writing editorials or actually putting the paper together.

Really, he might complain, but he was loving every single minute of being editor in chief of his own newspaper. Sure it was a lot of work, but seeing just one person reading his newspaper at Irvan's made the work worth it. It was nice to see that people still did want to see the silver lining in the dark cloud that the world had become. It was nice that good stories could still be told.

He'd worked longer today than he'd originally intended. He had wanted to get off work early to work on the book he'd been kicking around for over two years. Along with starting his own newspaper, Russell's lifelong dream had been to write a novel. He had started his novel quite a while ago, but it never seemed to be perfect for him. He was his own worst critic, but he would settle for nothing less than the very best for his novel.

It was getting late, and there were only a few hours that Russell would be able to devote to his novel now. He wasn't happy that he had been deprived of working on his brainchild, but at least he had been working on his other work of art.

The Coral Courier was a small newspaper by media standards, but it was more than large enough to house the news for Coral Valley. While the newspaper told the simple news of the Valley including marriages, births and deaths in the area, Russell had made sure that the Courier told stories about good people doing good things. He had tired of exploitative journalism which only sought to destroy instead of inform. Starting his own newspaper had been the only way to ensure that he could produce an informative paper instead of a destructive one.

Now on the drive home, he was thinking about this week's edition of the paper and what stories would make the front page. If Caitlin could deliver on the story she had pitched, she had the front page sealed. But the big question was whether or not she could truly deliver.

Driving always seemed like a good time to catalogue ideas and make a list of things to do around the office. It gave him time to think without distractions such as those around the office. He also had time to unwind from the stress of his newsroom before stepping into the relative calm of his home. It was this time of day when he could focus on the road instead of all the stressors in his life.

Unfortunately the road had other ideas for him today. Russell could feel the shimmying under the wheels of the car and slowed down accordingly. The violent jerking of the ground increased until he could only park, hold on, and wait for the shaking to end. He'd never experienced an earthquake before, but he was sure it was an earthquake happening now.

After a few minutes, the shaking stopped. Russell looked around, seeing no one else on the road near him. After taking a deep breath to compose himself, he put the car in drive once more and slowly proceeded down the road, careful to notice any deviation in the road's normal surface. Up ahead, he could see the shiny rear bumper of a car off the right side of the road.

Russell pulled onto the shoulder of the road and parked his car. He got out of the car and could see a small plume of smoke coming from the front of the car. As he neared the car, he could see that the front was wrapped around a very large pine tree, and the driver was slumped over the steering wheel.

He quickly slipped off the road and down the small embankment the car had careened off of. He approached the driver's door and slowly opened it, "Are you okay?"

Blond hair hid her face, but the curves definitely said this was a woman, an athletic one at that. Russell slowly pressed his fingers against her neck, feeling for a pulse. Once he felt her pulse, he breathed a sigh of relief and glanced over the remainder of the car. There didn't appear to be any passengers, and the windshield was busted but remained intact. He stepped to the front of the car and discovered the smoke emanated from the radiator which was demolished and leaking coolant.

Returning to the driver, he looked around the front seat for any sign of a cell phone. He silently cursed himself for leaving his in his car. He could always go back to retrieve it, but that meant leaving his blond sleeping beauty on her own which he wasn't sure was a good idea.

He gently swept her blond tresses from her face before he took a deep breath. He really did have a sleeping beauty on his hands. He tucked her hair behind her ear as she remained unconscious. He glanced back at his car and pondered the cell phone again. It wasn't like his car was all that far away, and she would only be alone for a few moments. She seemed to be fairly stable, but she would need medical attention for the bump on her head.

As Russell began back towards his car, he heard the driver of the car start to rouse.

"Wha…oh my head," She complained as she slowly raised herself from the steering wheel.

"Whoa, careful there. You took one hell of a bump on your head. Take it easy," Russell called out as he raced back to her side, "Do you know your name?"

"Of course I know my name. What happened?" She snapped as she held her head, keeping her eyes closed.

"It appears you lost control of your car. I'm guessing it happened during the quake," He replied, "If you'll just take it easy here, I'll get my cell phone and call for an ambulance," He advised as he walked back to his car.

Russell quickly retrieved his phone and called in the emergency. The switchboard was flooded with calls, and he was told that it would be best for him to drive his accident victim to the hospital if she was able to walk. He frowned as he hung up his phone and returned to the driver.

"Do you feel like you can walk?"

"When will the ambulance be here?" She asked as she cast her sparkling blue eyes towards him.

Russell forgot himself for a moment and lost himself within her eyes. He composed himself and spoke, "Uhm…they're backed up with emergencies from the quake. So if you can walk, I'll drive you to the hospital."

"I knew I hated this town for a reason," She grumbled as she slowly crawled out of the car. She tested her legs and decided that she could in fact walk. She took a step forward and collapsed directly into Russell's arms.

"Whoa…that bump on your head must've been worse than we thought," He pointed out as he looked down into the eyes of the blond he now held, "My name is Russell."

"Nice to meet you, Russell," She said with a slightly bemused smile, "I'm Heather."

"Well Heather, since it seems your balance isn't what it should be," He began as he swept her fully into his arms, "How about I do the honors?"

Heather smiled as she held onto her rescuer. If there was such a thing as fate, she would have been inclined to believe that the quake had landed her directly into the arms of her knight in shining armor. It was too bad she didn't believe in fate so she'd have to find a way to turn the situation to her advantage on her own.


Jade held out a spring roll to Grady, "Last one…want it?" She offered with a smile.

"Nope, I need to get back to work," Grady said, standing from the table and making his way back to his desk.

"What is it going to take to get you to relax?" She asked as she bit into the roll.

"Another lifetime," He suggested with a shrug, "I don't have time in this one."

"You have to make time, Grady, or you're going to be old before your time."

"If you haven't noticed, Jade, I'm not the youngest man around."

"But certainly the sexiest," She said frankly as she took a sip of her soda pop.

Grady shook his head, "You are a handful."

"How would you know? You haven't touched me yet," She challenged him with a smile, "Want to give it a try?"

"Jade," He chastised, "Can we get back to work now?"

"We could, but where would be the fun in that?" She asked as she sat back in her chair and wiggled her finger at him, "Come here, Grady. You know you want to have some fun."

"Jade, I want to get back to work," He said as he stood firm beside his desk.

"No you don't," She said with a smile as she stood and allowed her jacket to drop to the floor, baring the flawless skin of her shoulders as the sleeveless shirt accented her tiny waist and round breasts. She smiled as she walked towards him, "Trust me. You don't want to get back to work."

"Jade, you're really pushing your luck here," He warned as she neared him.

"Let's rephrase that," Jade smiled as she fingered the silk cloth of his tie, "I'm trying to get lucky…not pushing my luck. They're two very different things."

Grady frowned as he met her determined eyes. No matter what ploy he used to dissuade her she wouldn't budge. He'd never met anyone with as much diligence as she had, and he was more than a little flattered by her attention. But sex and relationships brought complications, and he was enjoying his life just as it was…complication free.

"Jade…" He began to speak as the Earth trembled around them.

"Oh my god…is that…is this?" Jade panicked as she quickly closed the distance between them and held onto Grady as the Earth quaked violently around them. Books fell from the book cases, a vase tumbled off a stand, and ceiling tiles began to give way.

Thinking quickly, Grady tumbled Jade to the ground and covered her body with his own. The sounds of car alarms ringing out could be heard even above the tumbling books and ceiling tiles. The violent shaking tore loose pipes from the overhead sprinkler system, causing water to spray throughout the room.

Jade curled into Grady's strong form above her. She smiled inwardly as she held onto him, feeling the trembling beneath her begin to subside. When the ground had ceased movement, she looked up into Grady's eyes with a smile as she felt the cool water from the sprinklers dousing them both.

"You are one tough nut to crack, Grady. Just look at what a girl has to go through to get wet with you," She said with a teasing smile.

Grady shook his head and laughed despite himself as he slowly rose off of her to survey the damage in the office. Jade smiled to herself as a new idea formed in her head about how to get a little bit closer to breaching Grady's tough defenses and get everything she ever wanted.



"I can't believe you just did that," Kenneth said as he stared at her incredulously. He'd dealt with a lot of bold people in his time. His particular avenue of law called for it, but he'd never met a reporter who would voluntarily trap herself as well as him in an elevator. He moved towards the panel before she grabbed his arm.

"I told you that we're not going anywhere," Caitlin declared, "I'm going to make you understand that I don't want to hurt you or your clients."

"You're doing a real good job of working in the opposite direction," He pointed out, "Can we at least talk about this some place more comfortable?"

"So now you're willing to talk to me? Somehow I don't know if I trust you to listen to me. You'll probably bolt the minute the doors open. It would be just like a lawyer to double talk his way out of a situation."

"I resent that. I'm not that kind of lawyer."

"Well how about acting like it?" She challenged, "I want…"

The rumbling of the earthquake rippled through the elevator causing both Kenneth and Caitlin to grab to the rails on the side of the car. They held on as the car jostled about.

Caitlin groaned as she held on to the rails, "I hate earthquakes."

"Been through a lot, have you?" He asked as he looked up, the elevator's light flashing like a strobe. He could hear metal twisting above them as he closed his eyes to say a silent prayer.

"I went to school in California. So I've been through a few," She grumbled before the rumbling stopped and the light overhead dimmed to a bare flicker. She looked to the elevator panel and frowned, "Damn, the electricity to the elevator is completely gone."

"Won't it recall to the ground floor?" He asked as he moved to the panel beside her.

"I don't know. Do you get enough earthquakes in Coral Valley to have seismic precautions installed on elevators?" She asked, already knowing the answer, "I kind of doubt it. The best thing we can do is call 911, sit back, and wait for the cavalry to arrive."

"How can you be so nonchalant about this?" He asked as he pulled his cell from his jacket pocket and dialed 911.

"Like I said, I've been through a few of these," Caitlin replied as she sank to the floor of the elevator and placed her purse on the floor beside her, "Get comfortable counselor. We're probably going to be here for a while."

"I sincerely hope not," He said as he spoke with the dispatcher.

Caitlin watched Kenneth in the dim light as he spoke with the dispatcher. She couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, but by observing Kenneth, it was obvious that they were not the priority in town. He ran his fingers through his sandy hair nervously as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back again. He placed his free hand on his hip as he ended the call with emergency dispatch.

"They say they'll get to us when they can," Kenneth frowned as he sank to the floor across from his fellow captive in the elevator, "California, huh?"

"UCLA," She nodded, "Blake was my roommate," She said with a smile.

"Blake…did she put you up to this?" He asked as he tucked his cell phone back into his jacket pocket.

"No, I haven't even told her I'm in town yet. I kind of thought I'd surprise her. No, I wanted to meet you on my own. Like I said, I do a lot of reading. Your name tends to come up in a lot of cases fighting the big dogs in heavy industry. Why is that?"

"Is this on the record or off?" He asked with a wry grin.

"I told you…I don't want to exploit anything. It's obvious that Midlands didn't do the clean up operations it should have, or Randy Henderson never would have fallen ill. I want the people of Coral County as well as the surrounding areas who purchase their electricity from Midlands to know what price they're really paying for their modern conveniences."

"Wow…idealism. Here I thought I was the only person who still had that rare disease," Kenneth teased.

"So does that mean I might be trustworthy?" She asked with a smile, "I'm not asking to get into all the private matters of your case. I just want the chance to tell the personal story of the people affected by Midlands wrong doing. Give me that chance."

He observed her for a moment, wondering if she could in fact be trusted. Reporters were notorious for pitching a story one way only to tell their own twisted version of events. The Ashford family had been the victims of many such reporters, and Kenneth wasn't looking to give another reporter the opportunity to hurt his family or his clients.

"I've had a bad history with reporters. You'll have to excuse me if I'm not really gung ho about letting one get that close to my clients. They've been through enough at the hands of big business. I don't want some media hound taking advantage of them too."

"I can understand where you're coming from. You want to protect the Hendersons, and I respect that. I'm not in the habit of asking for approval from anyone but my editor, but in this case, I'll make an exception. What do you say I let you read my story before I submit it to my editor? That'll give you the chance to see that I'm not trying to help Midlands. I want to help you," Caitlin assured him.

Kenneth thought about her proposal for a moment before nodding, "On one more condition."


"If my clients don't want to speak to you, then you won't harass them, you won't call them, you won't ask any of their family or friends for inside information. You'll leave them alone, and let them have their peace."

Caitlin considered his condition before moving closer to him and extending her hand, "Agreed."

Kenneth shook her hand and met her eyes, "Betray me on this, and you'll wish you never met me."

"And here I've heard that Brant was the ruthless one," She teased with a smile.

"He is. I'm a teddy bear," He teased in return as they sat back on their respective sides of the elevator. Both of them hoping that help would arrive sooner rather than later.



“So as I was saying,” Avery cleared her throat looking across the desk over at Brant only to find the chair he’d been seated in moments earlier now empty.  She looked over her shoulder a bit agitated as he hovered over her, “what we need is…”

“Dinner,” he interrupted stepping in closer towards her leaning in over her shoulder as a smile pressed over his handsome features.  He inclined towards her taking in the intoxicating scent of her perfume as a his smile widened, “wouldn’t you say?”
“Dinner,” she repeated giving him a sideways glance, “um no I was thinking more along the lines of us putting this on hold until the morning and…”
“I think dinner sounds more appealing,” Brant continued determined to win over his sexy coworker as his breath cascaded against the bare skin of her neck.  She was fighting him, that much was certain, but then again Brant Ashford was always up for the challenge, “I mean hey being in the office really doesn’t give us the time to get close and personal with one another and comfortable in a setting like dinner would.”
“I think not,” she replied tightly, her lips curling into that same sneer that always seemed to get his blood boiling as her eyes fixed upon him.
“Come on,” he encouraged dipping his fingers over the back of her chair as she sat up straighter trying to avoid any contact with him, “what do you say?  A nice Italian restaurant where we can discuss strategy,” his words laced with innuendos, “or perhaps we could retire to my place for the evening for a more private showcase of what it is we can do working together on a more intimate, private level.”
“I’m not going to a restaurant with you,” she insisted trying to ignore the chills that swept over the back of her neck upon impact of his breath.
“How about my place then,” he suggested nuzzling his nose close to her earlobe, his mouth just a breath away from hers as his voice lowered to a whisper, “there we won’t have to worry about any untimely or unwelcome interruptions.”
Avery closed her eyes for a moment reminding herself all the reasons why she loved this job and hated the man who’d taken the liberty of making her his latest mark.  Think of anything, she reminded herself as she placed her palms flat on the desktop.  Think of Bruce or about why you hate this man behind you.  Bingo, she opened her eyes once more as the very thought of everything Brant Ashford stood for
“Brant, look I’m here to work, not to play or whatever else it is you have in mind,” she frowned with strong disapproval, “and if you think for one moment that I’m here because…”
“It’s just dinner,” he shrugged his shoulders innocently, “I don’t see the harm in dinner.”
“The harm in dinner is that I would be at home right now enjoying a romantic dinner with Bruce if you hadn’t had a fit and paged me over here like you did, which by the way I‘m still trying to figure out what it was that you had on your mind since it‘s painfully obvious that work is the last thing on your agenda tonight...”
“Ah Bruce,” he spoke mockingly as a laugh tickled over his lips, “how is Dr. Do Gooder?”
“Highly irritated that he can’t have a moment alone with the woman he loves because you’re always monopolizing her time,” she cut back sharply as she turned in towards him, seeing the delight that crossed over his features.
“Tough,” Brant blurted out with a confident smile as he leaned in closer to her, “because the way I see it, with this big project of mine coming up, he’s just going to have to get used to the fact that he’s going to be sharing you with me.”
“He’ll get used to it, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it,” she snapped in response looking down to the page before her.
“But you do, don’t you,” he questioned sitting on top of her desk playing with the cuff of his jacket as he raised a curious brow.
“Do what?” she looked up at him.
“Enjoy working with me like this.  Just being here together like this without anyone else to interfere with the issue at hand--with us being alone and all like this,” he questioned casually leaning back a bit as he looked down at her, “I mean you do like me, don’t you?”
“Does that really matter,” she countered tossing her hair back over her shoulder as she looked up at him.
“Maybe,” he teased with a wink.
“Why Brant, I didn’t know you cared,” she muttered sarcastically as she reached for the pen that lay before her.
“Oh but I do,” he smiled down at her reaching out across the stack of papers and he carelessly placed his hand over hers on the desktop, “and on some level, I think you do too and maybe that‘s why good old Bruce is having issues with the fact that you‘re mine in a way you‘re never going to be his.  I mean, it must really burn the guy to see you so willing and able to spend all this time with me, when he‘s supposedly the man your heart is invested in and all.  Not that I can blame you for running away from that considering that I‘m far more interesting than he could ever be...”
“Look Brant,” she snapped pushing her chair away from her desk as she rose to chastise him for bothering her on tonight of all nights.  As she opened her mouth to speak, to yell at him, a rumbling passed through the office shaking the ground beneath them and she toppled forward a bit unable to keep her balance.
Shaken, but amused Brant reached his arms around her, a smile slowly creeping over his devilish features as Avery slowly turned her eyes up towards his, suddenly aware of the distance or lack there of it between them.
“What just happened?” she questioned shaking her head as she tried to regain her composure.
“I think the earth just moved,” he answered confidently as she shot him an angry glare shoving him back against her desk as another rumbling filled the office this time haphazardly knowing down filing cabinets and various other pieces of furniture.
“What the,” Avery questioned with a gasp spinning around as Brant looked to the window behind her.
“Avery look out,” he announced tugging on her arm and throwing her to the floor with him as the sound of the window crashing within the crumbling office as all hell broke loose while the world outside ripped itself apart.


“Help me,” Blake Ashford yelped as the screeching squealing sounds of metal captured her full attention as she clung to the side of the wall she’d latched onto during her fall into the pit beneath her, “please.”

“I’ve got you,” the man she’d just been bickering with promised as he popped his head over the side of the hole she’d found herself in.
“Hurry please,” she urged as he placed his hand over hers tugging on it gently.
“You need to work with me,” he explained reaching for her hand as he pulled her upward and into his arms with one swift motion.
Blake’s heart was pounding in her chest as fear consumed her.  She looked around the auto shop watching as things began to fly haphazardly from the walls and she let out a tiny yelp.
“Oh my God, what’s happening,” she questioned latching on to the man before her as she hugged him tightly fear consuming her, “it’s an earthquake isn’t it?”
“There aren’t earthquakes in Coral Valley,” he started to explain as the shop began to rumble wickedly causing the ground to vibrate beneath them, “then again maybe there’s a first for everything around here.”
“I can’t be in a quake,” she began desperately curling her fingers into his shirt as some of the overhead lights began to crash down around them, “I can’t go through this again.  I just can’t do it,” she sobbed clenching onto him tighter as she buried her face in his chest obviously disturbed by what was happening around them.
“It’s going to be okay,” he promised her wondering if his words were in fact true as he held her in his arms.
“How can things be okay?  How can anything ever be okay?  I’m going to die here in some dirty auto shop in the arms of a stranger,” she cried out as another object came crashing down, “oh…”
“Hey,” he touched her face, lifting her chin to meet his concerned eyes as his grease covered finger brushed up against her soft skin, “you’re not going to die in here and the name is Seth.”
“Seth,” she repeated with tears in her eyes, “I’ve been through a quake before in Los Angeles.  I know what these things can do and we need to get out of here.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Seth motioned towards the door, “but maybe if we get back down there, it’ll be okay.”
“Back in that pit,” her eyes widened with fear, “uh uh.  No way.  There is no way in this world that you’re getting me back down there when,” she protested as another sound crashed from behind them and Seth picked her up tossing her over his shoulder climbing down into the pit with her.
“Let me down.  Let me down right this instant,” she argued with him as he held her over his shoulder, “I don’t know who you think you are but…”
“We’re going to be safe here,” Seth promised placing her on the floor once again as he looked up to the world above them.
“How can you say that?” she motioned to the car overhead, “if that things falls, we’re history.”
“No, we’re not,” he explained shaking his head, “if that car falls, it’s not going to fall in here with us.  If anything it’ll shield us from what’s going on up there.”
“How do you know that?  How many earthquakes have you been through?” she questioned in a panic thinking back to when she’d experienced the last earthquake in Los Angeles.
“Well, none, but…”
“You don’t know anything then.  You’re hardly an expert,” she huffed back at him, her hands trembling at the sounds that rose above them.
“Hey,” he reached out to her touching her back gently, “it’s going to be okay miss.  I swear to you that I’m not going to let anything happen to you.  You have my word on that,” he finished feeling the fear rushing through her as he pulled her into his arms drawing her against him tightly as her shivers raged over her.
“It’s Blake,” she explained tightly her words muffled into his chest as she tried to block out the world above.
“What’s that?” he asked turning his head down to look at her.
“The name is Blake,” she repeated finding the courage to turn her eyes up to him again, “Blake Ashford.”
“Well Blake Ashford,” he smiled down at her despite the situation they’d found themselves in, “it’s one hell of a way to meet you, but I’m glad I’ve had the pleasure.”
“Remind me of this moment when we get out of here alive--if we get out alive,” she squealed nearly leaping into his arms once again as another rush of tremors passed over them.


Russell carried Heather through the emergency room doors at CCR. The ER was bustling with activity as dozens of people had arrived with injuries from the quake. He carried her directly to a empty gurney before pulling a nurse aside to explain what had happened. The nurse assured him that Heather would be seen by a triage nurse before they saw to her injures.

He returned to Heather's side and gently lifted her blond hair from her forehead where a good size lump had formed, "Looks like you'll have a killer headache later."

"I've got a pretty good one right now," Heather assured him as she focused on him, smiling as she caressed his handsome features with her gaze, "But all your help has been just wonderful. Thank you for doing this for me, not everyone would."

"I'm not just anyone," He said with a slight smile, "Want me to get you an ice pack for your head?"

"No, just stay here with me for a few minutes. I hate being in hospitals, and I hate being alone even worse."

"Okay," He said as he drug a metal chair beside the gurney and sat down, "So Heather…just passing through? Your license plate indicated the car was a rental."

"Are you a cop?" She asked as she raised a perfectly arched eyebrow.

"No, I'm a journalist. Curiosity was always my biggest character flaw," He teased.

"It's not such a bad thing," She said as she winced in pain, "Actually I'm not passing through. I was planning to stay for a while…maybe for a long while."

"Really? Sounds like you have reason to stay in Coral Valley. Most people don't move here for the scenery," He teased.

"Actually I came here to catch up with an old friend, maybe renew some old ties," She said as she looked over him, "What do you know about the Ashfords?"

"More than I want to," He said with a frown, "And I'd advise you to avoid them. They aren't the world's friendliest people…well, except for Kenneth, but I think he's the genetic oddity of that family."

"You don't think highly of them at all, do you?"

"Not really, but if you can stand to be friends with any of them, you're a stronger person than I am," Russell shrugged before he frowned, "Sorry. I didn't really mean to rant that way. I've just not had a real good experience with any of the Ashfords."

"Well Brant isn't that bad. In fact, he's quite a lot of fun to be around."

"Brant?" He repeated the name as he eyed Heather closely, "Wait a minute. You're the girlfriend…or should I say ex-girlfriend?"

"That's fiancée, thank you very much," Heather corrected him fiercely, "Brant and I are to be married."

"Really? That's not what he's been saying. Word around this town is that Brant is on the prowl again," Russell informed her with a slight grin, "I guess when you said renewing old ties that meant getting back into Brant's good graces, right?"

"That's none of your business," She huffed, "Brant loves me. He's just upset right now. He'll get over it, and when he does, we'll be married. You can count on it."

"Can I quote you on that?" He asked in amusement, "You really are quite feisty about this. A little too defensive one might say."

"One might kiss my…" She said as another tremor shook the area, "Oh no…"

Russell placed his hand on her arm to assure her that she wasn't alone as others in the ER squealed in fear. Heather curled into Russell as she drug him towards her. As the tremor slowly subsided, she looked up into his eyes.

Russell grinned, "Are you so sure that you're ready to be Mrs. Ashford? I don't think you're that attached to him."

Heather glared at Russell as she violently shoved him back into the nearby chair, "You can leave any time you want to."

He chuckled, "Am I being dismissed? Maybe you really will fit in with the Ashfords. You've got the superiority complex down to a T."

"That's comforting," She sneered at him, "Would you please leave? I can't relax with you standing there."

"I'm surprised you didn't just get whiplash with that about face, lady. First you're asking me not to leave, then you can't wait to be rid of me. Is the truth a little too much for you to take?"

"Not your twisted version of it," Heather said as she closed her eyes and turned her back on Russell.

Russell chuckled, "Fine…but when Brant tosses you out on your perfect little behind there, don't say I didn't warn you," He said as he left her in the curtained area of the ER.

Heather frowned as her anger began to boil within her. So Brant thought he was back on the market, huh? She'd show him that wasn't the case at all, and then she'd make Russell eat his words.



Jade gathered papers from the top of Grady's desk and tucked them into a drawer to protect them from the water which was now trickling to an end from the sprinklers. While she had been frightened by the quake, the most moving moment at all had been when Grady had covered her body with his own. It might have been meant as a protective move, but the feel of his body against her own had meant the entire world to her. She had wanted to feel his muscular body against hers for as long as she had known him, and if even for a brief moment, it had been worth the wait.

Grady stepped back into the room and tossed a wrench onto his sofa, "Well, I shut off the water."

"How's the rest of the building?" She asked as she focused on him.

"Shaken up, a few tiles fell from the ceiling, and a few file cabinets are on their side. There are books and free standing things that fell, but I think we weathered the quake rather well."

"Come here," Jade said as she gathered her soaking wet jacket which she had discarded earlier. She gently squeezed the cloth before dabbing at a wound on the back of his hand, "Looks like you were hurt."

"It doesn't hurt," He said as he looked at his hand where she had cleaned blood from the wound, "I didn't even know I was hurt."

"If I haven't said it before now, thank you for protecting me. I don't like having control ripped away from me, but in this instance, I'm glad you took charge of the situation."

"No problem," Grady smiled slightly as he met her eyes, "So what about you? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, just a little shook up. I've lived in this town my entire life, and I've never gone through an earthquake," She admitted.

"Me either, but I've always heard that Coral Valley was located on a fault line. It's been dormant for decades though."

"One thing about Mother Nature, just when you think she's done, she lets you know real quick like that she's still working on the world," Jade smiled, "Speaking of working, do you think you could call it a night now?"

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you arranged this quake just to get me to knock off early," He teased.

"Well if that's all it took, I'd have arranged an earthquake a long time ago," She replied with a grin, "And if I'd have known that's what it would take to get you to lay down on top of me…I'd have done it a hell of a lot faster."

"Are you ever going to give up?"

"Not until I get you where I want you. I don't know why you fight me so hard. You'd enjoy it," She smiled brightly, "I guarantee it."

Grady's eyes widened as he tried to hide a grin, "Jade, I'm flattered, but…"

"No buts," She cut him off as she placed her fore finger over his lips, "You're only denying yourself a world of pleasure, Grady. I'm offering all that you see before you and maybe a few surprises along the way. All you have to do is let yourself have some fun."

He took a deep breath as she pulled away from her and turned back to face her, "Jade, you're my clerk, and I'm supposed to be your mentor."

"You are, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun together along the way."

"I'm old enough to be your father," He declared.

"Not quite," She smiled as she stepped towards him, "What are you really afraid of? Is it me? Or are you really afraid of what having a little fun might do to you?"

Grady pulled away from her and made his way to the door, "I'm going home, Jade. I suggest you do the same. Be careful," He said as he quickly left the office…just in time for him to keep his self control intact.

Jade cursed as she stomped her heel into the soggy carpet underfoot, "You can run, Grady, but you can't hide. I'll have you…oh yes, I will have you," She declared to herself and the world.



"So you went to college with Blake, huh?" Kenneth asked as he stretched his legs in front him and leaned back against the wall of the elevator, "Did you two get along?"

"Very well actually," Caitlin noted, wrapping her cardigan around herself a bit tighter, "Blake and I had a great time together."

"Now that's interesting. Blake's friends are usually pretty one dimensional, but you don't strike me as that kind of person. How did you two ever get along?"

"Maybe your sister is a different person when she's not around her family," She pointed out, "Some people act different when they think no one is looking."

"My sister? You'll have to tell me about your times together at college. Blake doesn't open up very much to me about things like that."

"Really? She said that you were the one she could always count on when she needed somebody. I find I odd that she wouldn't confide in you."

"Well," Kenneth began as he rubbed the tense muscles of his neck, "I have been known to act a bit like a father and give lectures about bad behavior. That could be why she hasn't said anything about UCLA."

"Or she might want that part of her life to belong to her and her alone."

"That sounds like experience talking. Is it that way for you?"

"College? No, but there are certain parts of my life that I don't want to share with anyone else. They're just mine," She shrugged.

"I think I might know that feeling. It's why I don't trust reporters. They've intruded into too many moments that should have belonged to my family instead of the world."

"Like your father's funeral," She agreed, "I thought that was outrageous the way the media jumped on such a private moment like it was a public event. I'm very sorry for that."

"So am I," He nodded, "So why the Coral Courier? Why not a newspaper in a bigger market?"

"Because I'm not into cut throat journalism. I don't want to feel as if I've sacrificed my own dignity just to get a story. That wasn't why I became a journalist."

"So why did you become a journalist?"

She grinned wryly, "Travel, but then I wrote for a travel magazine for a little while. When you're on the go that often, traveling ceases to be fun."

Kenneth smiled, "I can understand that."

"So what about you? Of all the legal specialties, why environmental law?"

"Cause I like fighting for the under dog," He shrugged, "I just hate seeing people get run over because they don't have a prestigious name or enough money."

"I've heard some people say it was your way of rebelling against your father."

He remained quiet for a moment before replying, "In a way I suppose it was. I've never been excited by the jet set lifestyle. It's the simple things in life that really make life worth living, and I guess I just like to help the people who can't take that fact for granted."

"I don't think I've ever heard someone with such a rich family talk with such common sense."

He laughed softly, "You'd be amazed at the number of times I've heard that."

"Are you and Blake close?" She asked, changing the subject.

"We used to be. We're still pretty close, but we both try to have our own lives."

"And your brother?"

"Brant…well, he's Brant. What can you say about him? He's my identical twin in looks only. We couldn't possibly be more different in our behavior."

"So it's really true that there's a good twin and a bad twin?" She asked with a grin.

"You might say that," Kenneth chuckled as he stood to stretch, "That floor leaves a lot to be desired for comfort."

Caitlin smiled as she watched him stretch, "How long have we been in here?"

"I'm not sure really," He said as he looked to his cell phone and glanced over the illuminated screen, "A little less than an hour."

"Then why does it seem like forever?" She groaned as she got to her feet. She shook out her leg and gently rubbed her calf, "I hope you didn't have any big plans for tonight."

"Not anymore," He grinned before the elevator shook slightly, "Aftershock?"

"Possibly," She said as she looked up, seeing the light above them flicker before going completely out, "Kenneth, where are you?"

"Right here," He said as he touched her shoulder, "I don't think I like this most recent development."

"Me either," She said as the elevator shook violently, "That can't be good."

Kenneth reached along the wall to find the railing before guiding Caitlin to the rail as well. They both secured their hold before they felt the floor fall from beneath their feet as metal screeched and squealed through the elevator shaft, signaling a disaster in progress.



Silence filled the auto shop as Seth huddled over Blake in the corner of the pit beneath his ‘68 Mustang.  Despite the uproar that had begun a few short minutes ago, the auto shop was filled with a deafening silence as he held this beautiful stranger in his arms  God she smelled good, Seth thought to himself as she snuggled into the warmth of his chest, holding him for dear life.  Sure, she’d hit a nerve in him when she’d first walked in, but now as the moment of terror had seemingly passed, he kept her in his arms enjoying the warmth of her.  It had been far too long since he’d savored a moment like this--maybe too long, he reasoned as he rested his chin gently over the top of her head.

“I think we’re going to be okay now,” he whispered soothingly in her ear as he eased his fingers over her long, blonde tresses in a comforting motion.
“Are you sure,” she questioned weakly taking her time to pop her head out from where she’d buried it in his white t-shirt moments earlier.
“I’m sure,” he nodded watching the confusion set in behind her beautiful, blue eyes.
“Really, really sure?” she questioned looking up at him hoping to find the answers she was searching for.
“Yes, I’m really, really sure,” he answered bringing his hand up against her cheek, stroking it gently as his dark eyes gazed into hers.  Something about the way she looked at him, the way she’d been so scared and so lost in those moments as the earth moved above them--it somehow brought forth a vulnerability that hadn’t been around the moment she’d stepped into the auto shop demanding her car be fixed at once.
“I just don’t want to think about what might’ve happened,” she explained her lip quivering as the pad of his thumb brushed in over her lip, sending shivers over her body as he breathed against her lips.
“You’re safe now,” he confessed offering up a sense of security as he leaned forward anticipating ways to set her mind at ease as she lifted her head up towards him.
“In your arms, I have no doubt in my mind about that,” she confessed swept away by his kindness as she anticipated offering a token of her gratitude.  His smile warmed her down to the tips of her toes and it was in that instant she was suddenly very aware of just how close she’d come to this handsome stranger as his arms held her within their protective warmth.
“We have to get out of here,” Blake announced untangling herself from his arms as she crawled away from him, “I can’t sit down here.”
“We’ll go up in a second,” he promised watching her, “but give it a moment just in case the danger hasn’t passed…”
“A moment,” she repeated tossing her blonde hair back over her shoulder, “I don’t think so.  The last place I want to be is stuck down here with you when you could very well be some deranged, psychotic auto mechanic who is out to get back at irate customers like myself.”
“Deranged?” Seth couldn’t help but laugh as the cautiousness cast over her beautiful features and her guard built up once again, “Look Blake, I just saved your life, so I think you can rest assured that I’m not in a position to be wanting to end it anytime soon.”
“I’ll bet,” she frowned deeply before moving to her feet again as she looked to the car above them, “I have to get out of here.  I can’t be down here any longer.”
“Blake,” he watched the panic sweep over her, “listen to me.  We just need to be patient and give it a moment…”
“I’ve seen what an earthquake can do,” Blake shook her head refusing to listen, “one minute things are fine and then the next you’re dead.  There isn’t any second chance and there isn’t time to wait it out.  On top of that, this place smells like gasoline and it’s getting to my head and if I have to spend another minute down here, locked away like some trapped animal, I’m going to go nuts,” she stomped over towards the far end of the pit as a crashing sound rose from overhead causing her to scream out with sheer terror as she hit the ground again.
Watching her fall to the ground, Seth rushed over to her realizing that this was shaking her up more than he’d thought possible from the moment she’d entered the auto shop bent on fighting.  Saying nothing, he reached out to her touching her shoulder as tiny sobs overtook her.
“I can’t die on here, not like this, not when I have so much ahead of me,” she blurted out in between sniffles as he collected her into his arms once more.
“You’re not going to die in here,” Seth promised holding her securely as he looked up to his car overhead wondering if his words were truth as she continued to tremble like a leaf in his arms, “hey, come on.  I don’t want my last moments to be down in this pit either.”
“But there’s a chance they might be, right?  I mean given that we’re stuck down here and it’s full of all these chemicals and…” she began to panic, “oh God, what if something major is going on up there and right now our lives are being sucked away from us?  What if we’re just sitting ducks for a greater disaster and the more time we spend down here, the less a chance of survival we have when…” she started again as she wiggled out of his arms, desperate to get out of the pit they’d found themselves in, “I can’t wait.”
“Blake,” he watched her dart over towards the ladder, desperation in her movements as he reached out to her catching her from going back into the turmoil above, “listen to me…” he began pulling her back towards him.
“Let go of me,” she snapped back at him kicking and swinging her limbs in every which way to get him to release her, “I can’t stay down here.  I can’t do it…I just can’t….” her words were cut off as Seth tugged her back into his arms fiercely and a gasp fell from her lips.
“You need to calm down,” he urged seeing the surprise and anger burning behind her eyes.
“I’m not going to calm down,” she replied harshly struggling to find a way out of his arms as she continued to yell at him, “I need to get out of here and if you don’t help me get out of here, I swear to you that I’m going to have you fired for putting me in this position to begin with.  Do you have any idea who I am?  Do you know who my father was?  Do you know what this is going to cost you if I die here like this,” she shot out wildly terror driving her words forward with crashing impact as Seth looked down into the blue eyes before him, “if you think for one minute that…”
“Oh would you just pipe down already,” he groaned inwardly wondering why he’d inflicted this kind of torture upon himself as she continued fight his attempts at keeping her safe from the impending disaster upstairs.  Finally after a moment or so, he realized there would be no way to silence her, so opting for what worked best in the past with other irrational women, he squeezed her firmly in his arms seeing her lips part in angry protest of his keeping her down beneath the car.  She opened her mouth to scream out a few more choice words at him as he did the craziest possible thing he could think of and he captured her lips in a forceful, demanding kiss praying that if nothing more, it would just shut her up--not to mention curb his curiosities about what it was Blake was all about.
Blake found the words forming on the tip of her tongue to tell Seth just how much he was going to pay for keeping her locked away like a caged animal when all she’d wanted was to return home and yet as the moment came forth that she’d formed the words to show him she meant business, she realized he’d kissed her.  Seth, the inept auto shop worker whom she’d met only brief moments earlier dared to kiss her--her Blake Ashford.  How dare he kiss her, but more so how dare she enjoy it as much as she was.  Despite the fact she knew nothing about this man, wanted nothing to do with him more than to have him fix the mess they’d made of her car, she now found herself wanting nothing more than to bury herself deep within his kisses, to experience more of the exotic temptation his uninvited kiss had laid out before her.  What had he been thinking, she thought to herself as his mouth covered hers, teasing and tasting her lips with a hint of cinnamon behind his kiss as his tongue dipped between her parted lips dancing and curling with hers, begging her to surrender her protests of leaving as his drugging kiss worked it’s magic over her entire body, reaching down deep into her.

Finally as Blake felt her knees grow weak as Seth pulled away from her breaking the kiss and she was suddenly aware that her arms were wrapped securely around his powerful, tensile shoulders.  His eyes were wide with surprise, in what appeared to be a mirror of the things Blake had running through her as he drew in a shaky breath.  Instantly, her gaze dropped to his mouth again remembering what it was like having it against hers, showing her a hint of what this lowly auto shop guy could offer a wild woman like herself.  She wasn’t sure what it was about him, but she was certain that she wanted more of it, she decided leaning in closer to him expecting him to kiss her again, but much to her dismay, he pulled away from her advances taking in a long, slow breath.

“So you do know how to be quiet,” Seth blurted out turning to look over his shoulder at her as he wiped his lips with his right hand while his left moved through his dark hair nervously.
Blake watched him in silence for a long moment trying to register what had just taken place as her world had spun out of control in a spiraling, reckless moment much like what had happened upstairs, but now as she came back to the reality of the situation, anger burned through her.
“Why you,” she stomped her foot into the ground, “how dare you kiss me?  You have no right to touch me like that and if you ever do it again…”
“Relax,” he raised his hands in the air, “It was just the only way I could think of to shut you up since you were carrying on like that…”
“I didn’t need shutting up,” Blake stated simply.
“You were about to climb the walls into danger,” Seth answered firmly, “I did what was needed to be done.”
“You took advantage of me,” she hissed back at him, “and you’re going to pay dearly for that.”
“I’m already paying dearly for that,” Seth shrugged his shoulders, “it’s not like it was anything worth remembering.”
“Kissing me is the best thing that will ever happen to you,” Blake announced boldly throwing her blonde hair back over her shoulder as she glared at him, “so savor it for what it was worth because once we get out of here, it’s going to cost you big time.”
“I have a feeling it already has,” Seth groaned watching her march over towards the ladder once again.
“To hell with this,” she decided making her way up the ladder when suddenly a strong odor rushed over her followed by a hissing noise.  Pausing in her footsteps, she listened again as the sound continued, “what is that?”
“What is what?” Seth questioned moving in behind her, “why aren’t you moving?”
“I hear something,” she paused listening again, “do you hear that?”
“The only thing I’ve been able to hear is your complaining,” he remarked offhandedly.
“No really, listen,” she began again as she looked above her realizing that something was blocking the clearing on top of the ladder, “something is up there and I hear…no, I smell something.  It smells like gas.”
“Let me see,” he reached out to her pulling her off of the ladder as he headed up, “I’m sure it’s nothing…”
“We’re stuck and I smell gas,” she watched him climb up the ladder a step further, “well?”
“It is gas.  Get down,” Seth answered leaping down into the pit and bringing her down with him before a loud thunderous roar ripped through the auto body shop followed by a sudden, popping explosion.


Avery felt a breath escape from her lips as she became suddenly aware of the weight of Brant’s body over hers.  The way the lines of his muscular torso crashed into her leaving her winded as he took her down to the ground.  That swift movement on his part had surprised and stunned her, but more so now as she had her fingers wrapped around his shoulder in a panic, her heart thudded in her chest as she realized that she’d rather welcomed the impromptu embrace.  Her dark eyes widened as his labored breath spilled over the curve of her neck and his lips grazed against her skin for the faintest flicker of a moment before he lifted his head up to meet her eyes.

“Are you alright,” he questioned his voice the same cool and confident tone that it always had been as she found herself unable to utter a word leaving her to answer with only a nod.
Looking over Brant’s shoulder, Avery noticed the tree branch that had been the source of the sound that accompanied the crashing window.  Now as the branch filled the office, skewering just a fraction of an inch over them, her pulse quickened as she turned her attention to Brant again wondering what would prove to be the greatest threat to her safety--the fallen tree limb or the man who’s arms were securely wrapped around her.  Saying nothing, her inner voice seemingly already knew the answer as she saw the hint of desire running through his dark eyes.
“Are you sure,” Brant questioned easing his palm over her left cheekbone in a tender, gentle gesture.
“I’m fine,” she finally managed to spit out as she noticed the first flicker of crimson over the center of his otherwise flawless skin just above his lower lip, “but you’re not.”
“I’ve never been better,” he answered lazily as she reached out to him, moving to wipe away the drop of blood before she withdrew her hand, rethinking the gesture.  As if sensing her uneasiness in the situation, Brant rolled to his side, releasing her from the position she’d been in beneath him.  While he’d have gladly stayed lingering in that position for much longer, well that and many others that he’d thought about exploring with her, she seemed shaken as he pulled away.
“Hey,” he withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at his face, “I’m fine.  See.”
“I..I know,” she nodded closing her eyes as she took in a slow, and shallow breath, “I realize that we’re both okay, but the tree…” she trailed off taking in a moment to process what had just happened.
“It felt like some kind of earth tremor,” Brant decided as he looked around the disheveled office.
“An earth tremor in Coral Valley,” she shook her head doubtful as her usual demeanor slowly overtook her, “I don’t think so.”
“Then what else would you explain it as being,” he challenged raising an amused brow as he propped himself up on his elbow suggestively, “my way of getting you into my arms at long last?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you,” she huffed sliding out of harm’s way as she found an opening beneath the fallen tree limb.  Rising to her feet once again, she started to dust herself off wondering what in the world had prompted this natural disaster as the silence surrounded and filled the room leaving the remains of the brief tremor.
“Gee,” Brant grumbled rising to his feet as well as he shot her an emotionless look, “I don’t know whether to be flattered that you feel I’m capable of such power to control the weather or insulted that you think so little of me.”
“If I were you I’d take it as the latter,” she huffed turning towards the door, which was now blocked by one of her filing cabinets that had poured out in the tremor, “I don’t believe this.  Of all nights, why did this have to happen?  Why am I here stuck with you working on a case when I should be home relaxing and just enjoying life?  And furthermore,” she turned to look at him briefly before turning her attention to pushing some of the discarded papers out of her pathway towards the office door, “why is it that disaster just seems to follow you where ever you go?”
“What I don’t believe is that you’re actually trying to blame me for this one,” he shook his head as he slid out of his jacket while watching her struggle to lift the fallen filing cabinet, “I mean really Avery, you aren’t that damned special.”
“Of course I’m not because you wouldn’t know a special woman if she bit you in the ass,” she cursed back at him, “then again, I don’t think any of the women you’ve been with would even know how to spell ‘ass’ if it was required of them.  Then again in your case, I suppose that‘s fine as long as they give that to you, right?”
“Gee, keeping a count now, are you?” he stepped in closer to her, his eyes penetrating hers as she tossed a few papers over towards her tree covered desk, “and here I thought you didn’t care.”
“I don’t care,” she insisted placing her hands on her hips as she looked around the remains of her office, “and I trust you’ll get this cleaned up as soon as we get out of here.”
“Avery, your office should be the least of your concerns right now,” he snapped back at her as he took a step closer towards her, “while I’m going to pretend that your sour demeanor tonight is due to the weather, the fact remains that I’m your boss and I think that entitles me to some respect here.  I’m not here for you to sling insults at when the mood suits you.”
“You wanted my honest opinion,” she reminded him standing her ground as he moved in closer to her, “and that’s what I’m giving you--brutal honesty and if you can’t deal with it, then tough,” she finished with a huff before looking to the filing cabinet before her, “now if you won’t help me move this, then get out of my way.”
“Avery,” he reached out to her pulling her swiftly from where she’d been standing as a piece of the ceiling tumbled down next to where she’d been.  She let out a gasp as he held her in his arms drawing her away from the wreckage and towards a somewhat empty area of the room, “when are you going to learn?”
“I’ve learned plenty,” she snapped back at him harshly tugging to tear her arms away from him, “now let go of me.”
“I just saved your life,” he reminded her as he clenched her arms drawing her in against him once again, “I think I deserve a little gratitude for that.”
“What you deserve is a good, swift kick in the…” her words were interrupted by the sound of the crumbling ceiling as Brant lifted her from the floor carrying her further into the far corner of the room ignoring any possible protest out of her.
“A thank you Brant will be sufficient enough,” he remarked sarcastically as soon as they were out of harm’s way.  Still holding her in his arms, he watched the anger ignite behind her eyes before she drew in a reluctant breath as if contemplating what insult would flow from her sexy mouth this time.
“Thank you Brant,” she breathed tightly as he slowly released her from his iron grip.
“You’re welcome,” he smiled that same cocky expression returning that Avery had spent day after day wanting to slap from his face.
Drawing in a breath, Avery tried to still the raging emotions within as she looked to the mess before them.  This certainly would put a damper in things, and it might even keep her away from the office a few days.  Well Bruce might be happy about that, she reasoned as a frown fell over her features at the thought of all the things Bruce might consider doing with her out of work for a couple days.  An involuntary shudder spilled over her as she turned her attention back to Brant.
“Can I ask you a question,” he began loosening his tie as he watched her closely.
“That all depends,” she offered unwilling to get into another debate with him when all she wanted was to go home to her apartment and spend the night alone.
“Avery, why do you pride yourself on hating me,” Brant questioned ignoring her words as he leaned against the remaining wall, “I mean honestly if you can’t stand me, then why are you working for me and this company?”
“I love what I do and I have an obligation to your father,” she answered matter of fact.
“I understand that you were essential to what he was doing and believe me I’d be lost without you as you always seem to have the right answers,” he conceded with a shrug of his shoulders, “but what I don’t understand is why you waste so much energy on hating me.  The way I see it, we’re alike in so many ways and the best possible thing would be for us to explore that and see where it takes us…”
“Brant, I’m fully aware of your methods of exploration and I’m not interested in playing those games with you,” she stated simply, “it’s too much of a risky venture for someone like myself to even get tangled up with someone like you.”
“Yet, you’ll tie yourself down with an old bore like Bruce Mathis?” he shook his head disapproving yet again, “Why do that to yourself when the world is open to you?”
“My relationship with Bruce is none of your business,” she frowned deeply, “Bruce is a good guy.”
“Avery, he’s boring and he doesn’t get the same rush out of things like we do,” he pointed out with a half grin, “you’re ruthless and you like to devour the competition while they’re kicking and screaming and on top of that you’re a fighter.  You don’t take anything from anyone and you’re always on top,” a hint of a smile lingered over his features as he perused her over finding his thoughts drifting once again to all the ways in which he’d gladly let Avery Morrison be on ‘top’ with him over and over again.  Shaking the thought, he continued, “Avery, you’re hungry for blood and you aren’t going to lay down for anyone, so why Bruce?”
“Why waste your time with the likes of Heather Gibbons,” she challenged shifting the conversation back on him, “she’s clearly not up to your level.”
“Heather’s for sport,” Brant shrugged his shoulders, “she fits in well enough for a party and she’s good for that eye candy when necessary, but yes, I’ll concede to the fact that Heather is seriously lacking the quality that I find most inspiring in you.”
“And what quality is that?” she questioned struggling to contain her amusement as she watched him.  As his eyes swept over her once again, she felt a bit uneasy as she shifted on her feet, “the fact that I keep saying no to you every chance I get?”
“Oh you say no alright,” Brant stepped forward watching her mirror his movement with a backward step of her own right into one of the filing cabinets.  He saw a look of something wild behind her eyes as he placed his arms out around her bringing his hands flat against her sides, “but that’s only because I haven’t given you real reason to say yes just yet because when I want it to happen, believe me Avery it will,” his grin widened with confidence, “and then you’ll be saying yes along with a few other choice phrases when I ‘reveal’ myself to you.”
“Only in your dreams,” she let out a nervous laugh as his arms caged around her body, closing in on her more and more by the moment as her dark eyelashes fluttered with apprehension.
“And maybe yours too,” Brant shrugged his shoulders as he inched in towards her, placing his hand leisurely against her hip, enjoying the contact between them, “and believe me when I say that I know things about indulging in pleasure that I’m sure Bruce can’t come close to with you.”
“Does your ego know no limits,” she feigned a confident laugh, while struggling to keep the pounding of her heart from overtaking her as his mouth moved in over hers, a mere breath away from her.
“When I want something, I always get it,” Brant explained simply as he lifted his palm to lazily collect a lock of her darkened tresses between his fingers, “that’s something you should take note of starting now.”
“Well, since we’re on the subject,” she breathed heavily, “then you should know when my mind is made up, there isn’t any changing it.  I’m very firm in my beliefs you know.”
“Then believe this,” he dropped the strand of hair as his palm cupped her cheek feeling the warmth flood over her now rose colored features, “one day you’ll be mine, Avery Morrison and the sooner you stop fighting it, the easier things are going to be on you.  Once you stop denying the possibilities of pleasure, you’ll find that heaven is closer than you ever imagined it to be.  In fact,” he whispered closing the distance between them as he urged her face up towards his.  Tilting her chin gently, his lips hovered over hers anticipating the promise and passion that her mouth had teased him with time and time again in the past.  However, he’d made the decision that the waiting was over as he was going to explore that sexy mouth of hers and show her exactly what she was missing as he leaned in towards her.  Her lower lip curled in anticipation as Brant barely brushed his mouth against hers--that is until she jerked away from him with a sudden gasp.
“Avery,” a voice called out as Brant turned his attention to the other side of the room, “Avery, are you in there?”
“Bruce.” she gasped again rushing as far away from Brant as she could get as the door came crashing open and Bruce rushed into the room along with two security officers that had accompanied him upstairs.
“Thank God you’re alright,” Bruce pulled her into his arms with a breath of relief, “I was so worried about you when I’d heard the quake hit.”
“It was really a quake?” she looked up at him relieved to see him for the first time in a long time as she thought of the moment she’d almost shared with Brant.  What had she been thinking to let him get that close to her? Surely she wouldn’t have let him kiss her like that, would she?  No, no most certainly not, she decided as she looked to Bruce again, “thank heavens you’re here.”
“I’m just glad you’re alright,” Bruce hugged her tightly in his arms as he glared over her shoulder at Brant throwing out a warning glance, “come on.  Let’s get you out of here and get you home.”
“Okay,” she nodded unable to look back at Brant for fear of giving herself away as Bruce lead her out of the room and away from the danger that had threatened to overtake her within the crumbling walls.
“Are you alright Mr. Ashford,” a security officer questioned looking around the disheveled office.
“I’m just fine,” Brant announced adjusting his tie as his gaze traveled out into the other room as Bruce lead Avery away from him and it was then away that he’d made his final decision.  Avery deserved better.  She deserved so much more and he’d be sure to find a way to prove to her that Bruce Mathis wasn’t the man of her dreams.  He’d make damn sure she realized that because what Brant Ashford wanted, he always got and this time would be no exception.