Jade poured herself a cup of coffee, listening to the hubbub of office gossip between the secretaries and clerks. She smiled to herself as she shook artificial sweetener into her mug. There was always something going on in Coral Valley, and if you stayed in the break room long enough, you could hear every last detail of the happenings.
She knew it was Grady. Only his voice could reach across a room and caress her in such a way that made her head spin.
She turned slowly and smiled, "Yes?"
"I need your help with something. Could you come down to my office?" Grady asked from the door way, choosing not to join the mumbling chaos of the break room.
"Sure," She replied as she picked up her mug and followed him down the hallway. She followed him into his office and closed the door behind her, "What's up?"
"Last night, a rather wealthy potential client came by. This is the file he left. I've gone over the papers roughly, and it appears he has a legitimate claim. I want you to look over this file, do some research on the contracts filed in this matter, and get back to me as soon as you can."
"Who's the client?" She asked as she glanced at the file.
"Really?" She asked with widening eyes, "Are you serious?"
"I've met him," Jade said then paused for a moment, "Well actually, I more than met him. I'm going to take him around town to show him the sites."
"You're what?" Grady questioned quickly.
"Hmm," She nodded as she picked up the file, "I had drinks with him last night, and he asked me to show him around."
Grady took a deep breath, trying not to let the idea that Jade would be out on the town with another man bother him, "Jade, are you sure you want to do that?"
"Why wouldn't I?" She asked, watching him closely to read any signs which might alert her to his concern for her.
"While I think he's in the right with this legal matter, Cameron Stone doesn't strike me as the kind of man who lives his life by a code of ethics."
"Oh come on," She shook her head lightly, "You can't make up your mind about something like that from only one meeting."
"You can't tell me you trust him from just one meeting either," He countered.
"I've met with him more than once," Jade replied simply, "Besides, Grady, I'm just taking him on a tour of Coral Valley. What's the worst that could happen?"
"I don't even want to think about the worst that could happen," He said firmly, "Jade, I don't trust him."
"You don't have to, Grady," She pointed out.
"Why are you doing this? Is it to play some game with me?"
Jade took a moment before she answered, "I don't want to play games with you. I've told you where I stand, Grady. I want you. I haven't made a secret of that, but what do you want me to do? Do you want me to put my life on hold to wait until you're ready?" She asked as she searched his face, "If you tell me that it'll be worth the wait, I'll do it, Grady."
Grady turned his eyes away from her, feeling the full impact of her words. He took a deep breath, trying to argue with the deepest parts of himself before he spoke, "Jade, I've told you that there can be nothing between us."
"Then what right do you have to tell me about trusting another man?" She asked as she picked up the Cameron Stone file, "I'm going to work on these files now. If you need me, you know where I'm at."
"Jade, wait," He said as he stood from his chair, "Please don't just go out with this guy to spite me. Only do this if you really want to."
"Do I ever do anything when I don't really want to?" Jade asked simply before she left his office.
Grady frowned as he sank back into his chair, wondering now just how
much information he could get on Cameron Stone and if it would reveal that
his concerns were well founded.
Caitlin turned in bed and felt the throbbing in her head move with her. If she had thought the headache last night was bad, this one was equally as mind shattering. Maybe she just needed to move around a bit.
She rolled to the side and slowly sat up on the edge of the bed. A momentary wave of nausea passed over her. She slowly stood and made her way into the bathroom. She turned on the water and looked into the mirror.
She'd been through this before. She'd recovered from worse and survived. She'd thought all of the days of recovering from injuries such as these were behind her. The idea that she had to recover at all made her shudder inside.
She gently removed the tape from her bandage and unwrapped the gauze from her head. She looked into the mirror and examined her wounds for a moment. She scooped luke warm water into her hands and splashed it upon her face. She closed her eyes and waited as she felt the water soak into her pores.
She turned off the water before gently patting her face dry with a towel. She placed the towel upon the counter before leaving the bathroom. She walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs, hearing voices in the den.
"Dave, I know that she's terrified of something, but she's not going to tell you."
"I figured that much out after last night. Her statement was simple and to the point. I got the security video from the parking garage, but this guy knew where the cameras were. He knew when to strike so he couldn't be identified."
Caitlin stepped into the den and glanced at the two men within. Kenneth and another man she vaguely recognized, "What's going on?"
"Caitlin," Kenneth said as he stood from the sofa along with the other man, "This is the Coral Valley chief of police Dave Warner."
"Ms. Vaughn," Dave smiled towards her, "We met last night, but I believe you had already been sedated."
"Yeah, what's this about?" Caitlin asked as she looked between the two men.
"I've informed Dave about the numerous hang ups to your cell phone as well as the message at the hospital," Kenneth explained.
"You what?" She shrieked as she looked to the chief in terror, "Kenneth, I need to speak with you. Now!" She demanded as she stepped out into the foyer.
"Excuse me," Kenneth said as he exited the room and joined Caitlin, "What's the matter?"
"What's the matter?!" Caitlin repeated in disgust, "You had no right to tell the police about my phone calls."
"What?" He asked as he watched her reaction, "You were violently attacked after a dozen hang up calls and a call at the hospital that damn near scared you to death. You can't tell me you think they're unrelated."
"Whether I think they are or aren't related is none of your business," She declared, "You had no right to tell him about that. Now he's going to be asking questions that are going to get us no where."
"What are you so afraid of?" Kenneth asked as he took a step towards her.
Caitlin retreated in response, "I'm…I'm not…afraid."
"Like hell you aren't. Something or someone has you terrified, and the police need to know about it."
"No, they don't. This is my private life, Kenneth. I don't need you to interfere."
"I'm not trying to interfere," He clarified, "I'm trying to help you. Whoever did this is still out there."
"That's my problem, Kenneth, not yours," She said quickly, "Stay out of my business."
"I'm trying to help you."
"I don't want your help!" Caitlin shouted as she backed away once again before grabbing her purse where it had been placed near the door, "I can handle this on my own."
"Can you? Whoever did this could strike again," He warned.
"Well then that's something for me to worry about, not you. Just…" She paused with a sigh, "Just stay out of it," Caitlin ordered as she slammed out of the Ashford mansion.
Dave stood in the doorway of the den and glanced to Kenneth, "I guess this means she's not going to cooperate, huh?"
Kenneth frowned, "Apparently, but that doesn't mean we're not going to keep looking for this bastard. If she doesn't want to be protected, then she doesn't have to know about it," He said as he looked towards the police chief, "But we're going to find the guy who attacked her…even if she doesn't want us to," He said firmly as he glanced back to the doorway, hoping that he could figure out why Caitlin was so scared and convince her that she didn't have to live in fear any more.
Blake sat in the library at the mansion lost in her thoughts about Seth.
Should she call him or shouldn’t she? That seemed to be the question
of the hour as she thought about the way he’d dismissed her the other day.
Thinking to her conversation with Caitlin, she was certain that she wanted
a chance to get closer to Seth. He was all those wonderful things
that she’s spoken of, yet as she thought of calling him she felt her stomach
tied in knots of anticipation. She lifted the phone off the base
finding herself tangled up in nervousness as she thought of how she’d approach
making a phone call, but as she brought the phone up to her ear, she heard
a silence on the other end of the line.
“Hello,” a voice called out from the other end of the line as Blake immediately recognized it as Seth’s voice.
“Seth?” she questioned an eagerness in her tone as a smile touched over her lips.
“Blake, hi,” he spoke smoothly as Blake sank into the chair beside her.
“Seth, hi, how are you,” she curled the phone cord in her finger tips, “I was just thinking about calling you.”
“You don’t say,” Seth’s voice sounded amused, “I guess I beat you to it then, huh?”
“So it would seem,” Blake mused thinking of how in tune with one another they seemed to be, “So how did your doctor’s appointment go the other night?”
“Doctor’s appointment,” he repeated followed by a pause, “Oh that, well it appears everything is still working on this end.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Blake teased gently, “because I was starting to wonder if you were going to try to find a way to get out of the dinner you’d invited me out for.”
“Are you kidding,” his voice rang with a simple laugh, “Blake, I wouldn’t dream of backing out of that. You aren’t having second thoughts about taking a chance on a guy like me, now are you?”
“Hmm, well I had some reservations,” she teased twirling the phone cord nervously as her grin widened, “but then I decided that I could still fit you into my schedule…that is if you’d decided to get in touch with me within the right time frame.”
“I see,” he paused for a brief moment, “and my timing? It works, huh?”
“I’d have to say you just made it,” Blake sank further back into the leather chair placing her feet up on her brother’s desk, “So where are you taking me?”
“Hmm…well I could tell you that, or I was thinking perhaps I’d keep it a secret,” Seth teased over his end of the line, “After all given what I know about you so far, you seem to appreciate the element of surprise.”
“Surprises can be alright,” Blake pondered it for a moment, “but then again, there is something to be said about knowing the course of destiny so that way I could plan for it. You know in order to find something appropriate for the evening to wear…”
“How about that sexy smile of yours,” Seth’s voice dared with hidden innuendos, “Anything else you choose to bring with you is optional.”
“Hmm, well since you put it that way,” Blake drew out her words as she teased him, “then perhaps you aren’t looking to take me out to dinner like we’d agreed upon. Why if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were more interested in seducing me.”
“I’m trying,” Seth admitted playfully, “How am I doing so far?”
“Well, the thought of a nice romantic dinner had been something I was looking forward to. It is after all what I’d agreed to with you,” Blake pointed out matter of fact as her thoughts lingered to the way it felt being wrapped up in Seth’s strong arms.
“Hmm, well if I did promise you a romantic dinner, then a romantic dinner it is as I’m a man of my word,” he answered brightly.
“Are you,” she questioned after a moment.
“Am I what?”
“A man of your word,” Blake insisted, “Granted, I have already formulated some thoughts about you, but I still don’t know very much.”
“You know that I find you irresistible and that I adore your cooking, especially your strawberry shortcake,” Seth offered simply, “and that I’m mesmerized by your kisses.”
“Trying to win me over again with flattery, huh,” Blake laughed lightly, “Try again Seth.”
“Alright, what would you like to know?”
“Tell me what it is you do,” Blake thumbed over her brother’s rolodex in a nonchalant fashion as she waited for Seth to reveal something about himself to her.
“You mean other than spend my time working on classic cars and rescuing damsels in distress?”
“Something along those lines,” she nodded as she plucked a pencil up from the top of Brant’s desk and she began to draw lazily on a piece of paper before her, “Since I know you’re not a mechanic, what is it you do for a living?”
“You really want to know,” Seth’s voice had a hint of mystery to it as Blake tapped the pencil on the desk top looking at the tiny heart she drew.
“Yes, I really want to know,” Blake explained simply, “I think it’s only fair as I’m certain you know far more about me than I do about you.”
“Blake, I know all I need to know,” Seth offered an air of confidence in his voice, “You’re sexy, determined, beautiful and one hell of a kisser. You have a sharp tongue on you and you’re not above working over a nice tale of fiction every now and then, which by the way I was more than happy to be in the role of Prince Charming in your latest fairy tale.”
“What?” Blake blinked back thinking to her conversation with Annie. There was no way Seth could’ve known she’d called him that, but as she dropped her mouth in surprise he finished his words.
“With our surprise engagement and all, well it was quite a tale,” Seth continued as Blake let out a small sigh of relief, “One that I’m quite interested in hearing more about.”
“I thought we’d already explored that story with one another,” Blake teased as she leaned back in the chair once again.
“We started getting into it,” Seth pondered it for a moment, “but if you’re really interested in seeing what it is that I do when I’m not trying to win you over or fix my car, well, then I suppose I don’t see anything wrong in showing you.”
“Showing me?” Blake raised a curious brow, “Are you going to take me to where you work?”
“I’ll bring my work to you,” Seth explained cryptically, “That is if you’re up for company over at your place tonight.”
“Sure,” she answered eagerly realizing her enthusiasm was giving her away as she tried to steady her tone making it more casual, “that is if you want to come over here.”
“I don’t mind. Just as long as I’ll be able to get through security,” Seth teased, “I mean I’m sure it’s not every day that anyone can get in through the castle walls.”
Blake frowned for a moment as his words, “You make it sound like being here is a prison.”
“Blake, that’s not what I meant,” Seth offered noting her tone had shifted, “I just meant…”
“Maybe your coming here isn’t a good idea,” Blake thought it over, “I mean it’s not like your place. It’s well, different…”
“Different why?” Seth heard the hesitance behind her voice, “Because your family is there? Is that it?”
“No, it’s not about my family,” she argued, “it’s just, well I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about me. This place, well, it’s not who I am and I want you to understand that…”
“Blake, I was just teasing before,” Seth could hear the hesitance in her voice, “I know that you’re a wonderful woman.”
“I know,” Blake sighed running her fingers through her golden tresses, “It’s just that when people hear the name Ashford, they tend to form opinions without knowing the facts. I’ve dealt with it my entire life and things seem okay, but then when they get here, well…things change.”
“Blake, I don’t care where you live or what family you’ve come from. Hey, you were here and you saw my place,” Seth offered in a teasing tone, “and I still hadn’t done the laundry. If anyone should be embarrassed, well it should be me.”
“Seth, your place was great. Truly, it was nice and cozy and very inviting,” Blake thought back to their time together, “I just don’t want you to feel strange here.”
“Why would I feel strange?”
“Sometimes things can get a little hectic,” Blake confessed thinking about the situation that had taken place earlier with Kenneth and Caitlin and of Brant’s dramatic affairs from time to time, “I just wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression about me…”
“Blake, the only impression I’ve gotten from you is more than right,” Seth tried to assure her, “Just tell me that we’re on for tonight. I’ll bring something special with me and if you really feel uncomfortable staying at your place then we can go out. I’ll pick you up and we can make a night of it. What do you say?”
“Well…” she hesitated as she pondered the idea of seeing Seth again, of having his arms wrapped around her--his kisses bringing her to a new level of happiness as the world seemed perfect when he was around her, “okay, but if it gets crazy around here, we’re going out.”
“It’s a date,” Seth agreed enthusiasm in his tone.
“How about say…around five?” she suggested.
“Five it is. Oh and Blake?”
“I can’t wait to see you again,” Seth confessed, “I missed you already.”
“I missed you too,” she smiled feeling a warmth spread over her at his words, “Until tonight.”
“Until tonight,” he repeated as she hung up the phone realizing that Seth Alexander was the last thing she was looking for in her life, but now as she thought of everything that had happened over the last couple of years, maybe he was exactly what she needed.
“Avery honey,” Brant reached out to touch her face gently after the
plane had landed in Coral Valley, “Avery wake up.”
“Brant,” she murmured her voice a hoarse whisper as she slowly opened her eyes, “is that you?”
“That’s right,” Brant nodded pressing his finger against her cheek tenderly, “we’re home now and it’s time to get up.”
“Get up,” she repeated lazily as a yawn swept over her lips, “right now?”
“That’s right,” Brant explained with a soft smile, “it’s time to go home.”
“But I don’t want to,” Avery reached out to him throwing her arms around his neck in a pout, “I want to stay here with you. I want to make love again.”
“Avery, honey,” Brant felt a smile teasing over his lips as he took in the soft scent of her remembering how good it felt to hold her when they were alone back at the hotel. Hell, he’d admired her spirit and the more time he spent with her, the more he was seeing she had just enough fire to keep him coming back for more.
“Let me look at her,” Russell interrupted as he stepped in behind Brant pushing him aside, “Avery, wake up. It’s me, Russ. We’re home now.”
“We are,” Avery gave him a strange look as a laugh spilled over her lips. She raised her hand to her face as a blush rose over her features, “Oh my. I thought it was just a dream, but here you both are,” her laugh deepened as she raised her hands over her face hiding her burning cheeks, “aren’t you?”
“That’s right,” Russell knelt down before her, “we’re right here and we’re going to take you home.”
“Oh Russ,” she laughed emphatically, “you silly boy, when I’m done with Brant you can take your turn,” she teased with a snort, “I told you both that you didn’t need to fight over me as there was plenty to go around,” Avery turned her attention up to Brant as a hint of laughter spilled over her features, “but the three of us had a good time last night, didn’t we?”
“A very good time,” Brant and Russ exchanged strange looks as Brant bent over her pulling her out of the seat she’d passed out in.
“I thought so,” Avery sighed dropping her head on Brant’s shoulder as her body sank against him, “I knew we had a good time together.”
“Of course we did,” Brant promised kissing the top of her head as Russell watched him with seething anger.
“But it’s time to end the fun as I’m taking you home so you can sleep,” Russell reached out for her, “Come on sweetheart, I’m going to take you home.”
“To my home or yours,” Avery tipped her head back to look at Russell as she let out another drunken laugh, “Russ, why are you standing on your head? The world is upside down.”
“That’s because you’re upside down silly,” Brant poked at her stomach unable to resist the urge to tease her as she looked up at him with a bright, less than sober smile.
“You’re certainly right, Brant,” Avery agreed, “I’m very upside down right now.”
“Enough for me to know that you’re coming home with me,” Russell reached out to her again, “Now tell Brant to let you go so that I can take you with me.”
“No,” she shook her head defiantly, “I don’t think I want to go home with you. You didn‘t play very nice the last time I did that.”
“Avery, now you know that coming home with me is what’s best,” Russell frowned as she placed her hand in the center of Brant’s chest.
“I want to go home with him,” she poked at Brant before wrinkling her nose at Russell, “because the last time I went home with you, well, you threw me out and that made me feel just awful,” Avery turned her attention to Brant, “I mean can you believe the nerve of him, just tossing me out on my behind because I made a teeny, tiny mistake like I did…”
“Avery, Brant doesn’t need to hear about this,” Russell felt his head grow hot with anger as he watched her lean in against Brant welcoming his arms around her.
“Um hello,” Heather waved her hands in the air looking over at Brant and Russell, “it’s getting late and I’d like to just call it a night and go home. If sleeping beauty doesn’t want to get up, leave her ass here. It’s not like she’ll be missed…”
“Heather,” Brant turned his eyes to her, a frown forming over his features before he shook his head, “just go away.”
“Well gee, I love you too,” Heather stomped her foot, finding herself cranky after the long ride home, “So how about a ride?”
“I can’t do it,” Brant shook his head in response, “I’m taking Avery home.”
“The hell you are,” Russell insisted reaching out to her, “I’m taking Avery home.”
“Only in your dreams, Denton,” Brant hugged her against his body, “She’s coming with me.”
“I’m not letting her go anywhere with you,” Russell growled back at him.
“I’ll go with you,” Heather piped in with a hopeful smile.
“No,” Brant snapped at her, “you’ll go with Denton here since you two crashed on my vacation together. You can just go home together.”
“I’m not leaving Avery with you,” Russell argued with him, “especially since she’s drunk. There’s no telling what you’ll do to her.”
“Given what lengths you’ve gone to in order to piss her off, I wouldn’t dream of leaving her alone with you,” Brant answered flatly, “not just because I’d be worried about what you’d do to her, but more so what she’d do to you. I don’t need my top lawyer in jail for murder.”
“Hey, I say let Russell take her home then,” Heather remarked offhandedly, “that’s one way of getting rid of her.”
“Look Heather I’ve had more than enough of you tonight,” Brant glared at her as he realized he was more than fit to be tied, “You’re going home with Russell and I’m taking Avery. Case closed.”
“No it’s not…” Russell spoke up in protest once again.
“Go home Russ,” Avery groaned as she turned her eyes towards him seeing two of him dancing before her as her head ached, “I’ll be fine. You can call me in the morning.”
“Avery,” Russell began again as she threw him a look.
“Please Russ,” she curled her lip in a pout as she reached out to him touching his face, “I’m a big girl. I’ll be okay.”
“Avery,” Russell sighed as he looked over to Heather.
“I’m going home with Brant and that’s settled,” Avery decided matter of fact before focusing her attention to Brant, “Take me home.”
“With pleasure,” Brant pushed through the interior of the Ashford jet throwing Russell a warning glance before adding, “Oh I expect you two to be off the jet soon. I’m also having security do a sweep in here, so don’t think of taking anything on your way out,” he finished stepping out of the plane as Russell balled his fists up fighting the urge to pounce on Brant beating the life out of him.
“Well Romeo, we’re back to square one,” Heather glared over at Russell, her temperament less than pleased as she folded her arms, “This is your fault you know.”
“My fault,” Russell blinked back at her, “You’re the one who had the bright idea of shooting up the fire escape. That went over really well.”
“If you’d have done your job with Avery, then Brant and I would be back at that hotel living it up and getting reacquainted, but no you weren’t man enough to control her,” Heather accused her anger bubbling inside of her.
“I’m not man enough,” Russell repeated with a chuckle shaking his head in disbelief, “You’re crazy, you know that right?”
“I only call them like I see them,” she shrugged her shoulders, “Maybe I did make a mistake in believing you could help me get what I wanted.”
“What you need to get yourself is a good psychiatrist…maybe an exorcist,” Russell stomped towards the plane’s exit, “In case you haven’t noticed, you have no chance what so ever with Brant. He’s not interested in taking you back and he’s made that painfully obvious.”
“Brant’s just being stubborn,” she replied her voice full of determination, “This is how he works. He’s angry but then he gets over it and soon enough he’ll be begging me to come back to him again. Why the way I see it, he’ll be pampering me with gifts, with lavish, expensive gifts that will only be a fraction of what it is he’ll want me to see that I mean to him. We are going to be together and live our happily ever after. It’s only a matter of time.”
“You’re delusional, you know that right,” Russell sighed running his fingers through his hair.
“And you’re really grating on my nerves,” Heather placed her hand to her head, “You’re bringing on a migraine with your words.”
“A migraine is nothing,” Russell began a frown touching over his lips, “Lady you’re a royal pain in the…”
“Hush now,” Heather stepped up to him slapping his face gently as a wicked smile curled over her lips, “otherwise I might get the impression that you don’t like me and we wouldn’t want that,” she leaned in towards him, a hint of wicked playfulness behind her eyes before she stepped back turning towards the plane’s exit, “Oh and don’t forget to grab my luggage on the way out. I’d hate for you to have to miss getting that for me,” she finished stepping out of the jet as Russell looked around the empty interior wondering what in the world he was getting into. Somehow saving Avery had turned into a chore--one that he hadn’t been planning on, but as he was reminded of the smugness that Brant carried with him, he grudgingly took Heather’s luggage vowing that he’d find a way to save his friend one way or another.
Grady knocked lightly upon Jade's door before he stepped inside, "Making some progress on that file?" He asked with a friendly smile.
Jade met his eyes and felt the breath catch in her throat the sight of his smile. That damned sexy smile always made her feel as if she were free falling. She recovered quickly and sighed, "Yeah, I have actually."
"What have you found out?" He asked as he closed the door behind him and approached her desk.
"Stone Corp has an impeccable track record with lawsuits. They almost always win."
"Almost always?" Grady questioned as he stepped around the desk to look over her shoulder.
Jade took in a breath as she tried to calm the pattering of her heart caused by his nearness, "They have lost in environmental cases, mostly because of companies they've acquired after the damage was already done."
He glanced at her profile before looking back to the work before them, "What about Cameron Stone's background?"
"Educated at boarding schools in Europe before he attended university at Oxford."
"Oxford? So this guy is even more loaded than the Ashfords, right?"
"It would appear so," She nodded as she shuffled the papers around a bit, "He had his own corporation by the time he was twenty-one named Cam Co. When his father died, he merged his corporation into the Stone Corp conglomerate."
"This guy isn't what he appears to be," Grady said with a frown as he took in all the information before him, "Why would he ask us to take this case? A corporation like Stone Corp has to have an in house counsel."
Jade shrugged, "I asked myself that very same question."
"It's one that I think requires an answer before we take this case," He replied, reaching over her to turn a page in the file, "Do you still think you can trust him even if you're only going on a sight seeing tour?"
"We're not back to this again, are we?" She asked as she turned slightly in her chair to look up at him.
He sat on the edge of her desk as he met her eyes, "I just don't want to see you get hurt."
"It's a sight seeing tour, Grady. It's nothing that involves a commitment."
"But you'll be alone with him."
"So?" She questioned as she stood from her chair so she could meet him eye to eye, "I'm a big girl. I can handle myself."
"I don't doubt that for an instant," He assured her, "But I don't trust Cameron."
"Why? What about this situation makes you so uncomfortable?"
"The idea of you being alone with him," He admitted.
"Why? Because I won't have you there to protect me?"
Grady frowned, "I don't particularly think you need protecting, but I do think that Cameron needs watching. I don't know what he's up to, but I don't like it."
"What could he possibly be up to where I'm concerned?" She asked as she flipped her hair off her shoulder.
"I don't know. Nothing maybe," He studied her delicate features before he spoke again, "I don't want him hurting you in any way."
"You worry too much," She said as she rolled her eyes and began to step around him.
Grady blocked her path as he stood, "Maybe I do, but it only shows that I care about you," He said softly as he touched her cheek, lightly caressing her cheekbone with his thumb.
Jade felt a trembling within her as she felt his touch upon her cheek. She'd wanted this for so long that at first she thought it was only another dream. The simple warmth of his palm upon her cheek sent shivers clear to her toes. She let out a half held breath as she spoke, "Grady…"
"Why do things have to be so complicated?" He asked, his eyes focused upon her lips. He had fought so hard against what he felt, but he'd known it was a losing battle from the very beginning. He'd wanted her from the first moment she'd let him know she was interested, but more than anything he wanted to protect her and perhaps himself from heartbreak.
Grady cupped her cheeks in his hands as he lowered his lips towards hers. His lips whispered over hers, taking one last moment to reconsider his actions. The moment passed, and Grady sealed his lips to hers while wrapping his arms around her and drawing her soft curves against him.
Jade gasped lightly against his lips as she returned his kiss. She felt her head swim, her stomach quiver, and her knees go weak all at the same time. This was her dream come true…at least part of it. She had waited for so long for him to warm to her even to this point, and the reality of his kiss affected her like a luxurious drug, lifting her into a euphoric state beyond anything she'd ever known.
She eased her arms around his neck and savored his mouth working magic over hers. Her lips parted allowing him full access to her soft and willing mouth. His tongue slipped between her lips allowing him a sweet taste of her.
Grady flattened his palms down her back, slowly inching her closer to him. He had fantasized about kissing her this way, about having her body at his disposal, about losing himself within her soft confines. Never had he imagined that he'd give in to her seductive manner, and yet here he was indulging in one sweet kiss after the other.
He eased his fingers up her body and into her hair. He heard her soft moan against his lips before he gently parted from her, keeping his forehead pressed against hers.
"Grady," Jade breathed his name as she held onto him.
"This…oh god," Grady licked his lips as he took a step back from her. He studied her face and focused on her kiss swollen lips, "We…can't," He said as he turned and took a step across the room.
"Grady, wait," She called out after him, watching as he stopped at the door, "Please…please don't walk away now."
He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the intensity of his desire for her throughout every cell of his body. He opened the door and stepped out quickly, afraid that what little control he had been able to maintain would fall away quickly with her urging.
Jade felt tears rising in her eyes. How could she have been so close to having her dream only for him to walk out the door? She didn't understand what was happening. She didn't understand why he would come so close to her, offer her the dream she had wanted for so long, and then walk away. She swept her things together and left the office, knowing now what she had to do for her own sanity if not her future.
Blake drew in a nervous breath standing at the top of the stairs as
one of the grounds people had announced Seth’s arrival. Wanting to
make a grand entrance for him, she heard Annette answer the door greeting
“Hello,” Seth’s voice drifted up the staircase washing over Blake as a smile pressed upon her lips, “Is Blake around?”
“You must be Seth,” Annette smiled giving him a knowing glance as she could see what it was that had given Blake her excitement with this handsome young man before her, “She should be down any moment.”
“Thank you,” Seth nodded politely throwing a sexy smile out at her, “You must be Annie, right?”
“That’s right,” she answered.
“Blake told me all about you,” Seth reached for her hand bringing it to his lips to kiss it politely, “and from what I hear you’re truly amazing.”
“Well I wouldn’t go that far,” a heat fell over Annette’s features as Blake made her way down the stairs.
“Your strawberry shortcake was divine,” Seth smiled as he stood upright again, “You and Blake seem to work magic together.”
“That we do,” Blake agreed stopping on the bottom step flashing Seth a beautiful smile as her blonde hair framed her soft features making her more stunning than ever as she stood before him in a cream colored sundress with a daisy print over it. She shrugged her hair behind her shoulders as Seth felt his breath catch in his throat.
“You look sensational,” Seth blurted out unable to refrain from reaching out to her as he pulled her off of the bottom step into his arms collecting her soft, sensual lips in a barely there kiss.
“I think I’m going to get back to taking for Peanut for the evening walk,” she waved at the two of them watching as Blake wrapped her arms around her handsome young man savoring the delights of newfound of infatuation, “I’ll just lock up after myself when I go,” she finished knowing that her words were falling upon deaf ears as Blake was clearly swept away by the striking man before her.
Blake hugged Seth close to her, feeling the strength of his arms around her slender waist as they slowly parted from their kiss. She looked around the foyer realizing Annette must’ve stepped out of the room as a soft smile touched over her lips.
“I think we scared her away,” Seth teased with a wink.
“No, she’s used to this,” Blake shook her head in response, “She is very intuitive.”
“Cleary,” Seth reached for Blake’s hand lacing their fingers with one another, “so are you ready to show me around?”
“Hmm, well if I must,” Blake teased guiding him through the foyer, “How about if we start with my favorite part of this place?”
“Lead the way,” Seth raised her fingers to his lips once again offering a chaste kiss upon her warm skin, “I’m all yours.”
“Just the way I want it to be,” Blake smiled wider wondering if it was possible to be any more enthusiastic about being this close to Seth as she lead him quickly through the kitchen out into the yard.
“Where are we going?” Seth questioned as he stepped out onto the patio on looking the lavish Ashford estate.
“I told you,” she threw a quick look over her shoulder, “To one of my favorite things here which is right over there,” she pointed to a vast array of flowers off in the distance, “This is one of the places where I spend most of my time, well other than at the stables, but still…right now considering I’m in a sundress, I don’t think the stables is the place for us.”
“Perhaps another time,” Seth agreed as she lead him through the rows of multicolored flowers. The garden was exquisite, unlike any he’d ever encountered as the Ashfords clearly had the best of the best. Everything was remarkable as Seth wondered what it would cost to upkeep something so extraordinary.
“Come here,” Blake urged guiding him through the maze of flowers as she loosely held his hand pulling him along with her, “Hurry up.”
“Where are we going,” Seth questioned with a tiny laugh seeing the enthusiasm race over her as she released his hand making her way into the center of the never ending garden. He watched as she stepped beside a grand fountain marble fountain before them. In the center of the cascade of water there was an angel sculpture holding a harp as the birds on the sides of her showered the pool beneath them with flowing, crystal water--their dramatic water action giving off a visual and aural harmony that seemed to only add to the magic of the Ashford garden.
“Well, what do you think?" Blake questioned turning to face him as she threw her arms out in the air feeling the stray water droplets fall upon her glistening skin as Seth stood before her.
“It’s amazing,” Seth reached into the bag he’d carried on his back as he knelt down before her, “in fact I’ve never seen anything more incredible,” he finished removing the black, leather knapsack he’d carried with him.
“I thought you might like it,” Blake added slipping out of the sandals she’d been wearing as she stepped into the water kicking her feet around splashing weightlessly, “Why don’t you take your shoes off and join me?”
“In just a second,” Seth looked up at her mesmerized by the vision before him as he’d found in that instant the most beautiful image he’d ever been able to capture in his life. Pulling his camera out of his case, he turned it towards her smiling as he spoke out to her, “You asked what I did, and well I’m going to show you,” he finished clicking his camera as he framed her in the shot.
“What?” she questioned with a soft smile spinning around to face him as she recognized the camera and her jaw dropped in surprise, “Seth, what are you doing?”
“Taking your photograph,” Seth explained rising to his feet again as he continued to click away on his camera, “You’re beautiful, Blake.”
“Seth, come on,” she waved her hand at him, “put that thing away.”
“I’m serious,” he vowed unable to get enough of her as his camera was eating her up, loving every irresistible inch of her as her damp blonde hair pressed in against her face, “Do something.”
“Seth,” her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she pushed her hand out in front of her, “seriously, you don’t want to be taking pictures of me.”
“Yes, yes I do,” he explained heatedly, “Blake, this is what I do. I’m always searching for the perfect moment, for that remarkable beauty and you’re it,” he lowered his camera for a moment taking her in completely, “Blake, you’re astonishing.”
“You’re working too hard with the flattery,” she felt her face hot with embarrassment as he reached out to one of the rose bushes plucking a tender, white flower from it as he lifted it to her face, The velvety soft bud brushed against her skin for a brief moment before he tucked the flower behind her ear.
“Blake, this is perfect,” he whispered brushing the pad of his thumb over her lip, watching her tremble at his touch, “Everything about you is begging to be captured on film. Please,” his voice dropped to an impassioned whisper, “pose for me.”
“Right here,” her eyes widened as he kicked off his shoes stepping into the fountain with her.
“Right now,” he nodded raising his camera once again as Blake tossed her damp hair over her shoulder, throwing out a shy smile. He clicked another photo watching as she slowly warmed up to the camera.
After a few moments Blake began to splash around the water once again, kicking it fluently as though she hadn’t had a care in the world as the waves of the water kicked around her ankles. Seth followed her every movement capturing every shift, every smile, every angle of her with his lens wanting nothing more than to devour her with his passion for her beauty. She was truly breathtaking and as his camera consumed her greedily, he found himself wanting more and more of her. She was everything that had haunted his artistic mind and as she spun around to face him, he lowered himself to his knees in the water forgetting about his soaked knees. She leaned forward kissing the spray of water with her parted lips as it flowed from above the angel’s harp. His camera ate up her every movement as the water cascaded over the front of her sundress soaking her completely as she gave in to her free spirited side, her every curve revealed to his hungry eyes as he captured her on film.
“Seth,” she spoke his name, her lips curling into a pout as she splashed at him and he fell back into the water still clicking away at his camera as she stepped towards him. He focused in over her face, seeing the beauty behind her smile as she leaned forward, the lines of her dress revealing soft, womanly curves as she reached out to him grabbing at his camera.
“It’s my turn,” she plucked his camera away from him, clicking away as she took his picture.
“Blake no,” he laughed wildly reaching out to her as she ran around the fountain refusing to stop taking his picture.
“It’s only fair,” she giggled as he chased her, “You’ve been taking my picture and now I want yours.”
“I’m the photographer,” Seth reminded her in a half serious tone.
“Not anymore you aren’t,” she ran around the fountain, her laughter filling the evening air around them as Seth stopped mid-movement changing direction in the fountain as he caught her off guard. He pulled her into his arms letting out a victorious laugh as he squeezed her in against him.
“Caught you,” he announced proudly as he held her in against his soaked chest.
“So you have,” Blake smiled up at him, her eyes full of innocence and beauty as her lower lip quivered as a chill rose above the evening air, “so the question is now, what are you going to do with me?”
“That does pose an interesting question, now doesn’t it,” his voice suddenly serious as she hugged his camera against her chest and he touched her cheek gently reaching out to cup her face in his hands as he lifted her lips up towards his. He leisurely descended towards her, his mouth just a whisper away from hers as Blake’s heart pounded in her chest and she closed her eyes anticipating the unspoken moment between them.
“Senorita Ashford,” a voice chastised breaking Blake’s thoughts as she turned to find Raul the gardener glaring at her and the fine mess she and Seth had stirred up in the fountain, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Entertaining,” Blake offered with a tiny laugh as she buried her head in Seth’s chest imagining the fury Raul would be feeling as she looked over the soaked patio surrounding the fountain, “I think we’ve been busted,” she whispered curling her fingers into Seth’s damp shirt as she slowly raised her eyes up to him again.
“So it would seem,” Seth motioned to his camera, “But it’s just as well as I’m in need of a film change.”
“Hmm, well maybe we could do that back at the house,” Blake ran her fingers down the center of his chest, “After all we can’t go out to dinner like this, now can we?”
“No I don’t suppose we could,” he replied shaking his head as beads of water poured down upon her.
“Hey,” she swatted at him as a laugh spilled over her lips.
“What,” he winked at her as he squeezed her in his arms hearing Raul’s curses in Spanish rising above the setting sun.
“Maybe we should get dried off,” Blake finally decided as Raul waved his arms in the air at her.
“Well, I’m all for it, but I didn’t bring a change of clothes,” Seth answered casually, “so that might pose a small problem.”
“It’s no problem at all,” Blake shook her head simply, “I’m sure Kenny has something you can borrow for now and I know he won’t mind.”
“Are you sure,” Seth questioned softening his tone as she reached for his hand.
“Positive,” she turned her attention to the furious gardener as she stepped out of the fountain, “Come on. We’d better get going before he decides he’s truly out for blood.”
“After you,” Seth stepped aside helping her out of the fountain as he realized that his time with Blake was drawing him in more and more with each passing moment. Being with her made him feel wild and free…alive in his own way and as he watched her collect her sandals he wondered how he’d been able to find such a perfect woman at a time when his life was giving him the greatest challenge he’d ever faced. It seemed so unfair.
Caitlin moved about her apartment with determination. With Metallica blaring through her stereo speakers, she had cleaned since she'd arrived home. What right did Kenneth have to interfere in her life? Was it a man thing or was it an Ashford thing?
She groaned as she thought about what he had done. Men, they were all the same. They all thought they could control every aspect of their lives and the lives of those around them. They usually failed, but they still thought they were capable of control.
The knock on the door interrupted her cleaning. She quickly turned down her stereo before opening the door, "I'm sorry about the noise. I'll keep it down now," She said in a hurry, before she noticed the large bundle of flowers in front of her, "Whoa."
Slowly Kenneth peaked over the top of the flowers with an apologetic look, "I'm sorry."
Caitlin stood speechless as she looked at the large bundle of the most beautiful red roses she'd ever seen. She blinked in surprise before she met Kenneth's eyes.
"I over stepped my bounds. I shouldn't have. Sometimes, the Ashford part of my personality does tend to take over. It was a very Brant like thing to do, and I'm sorry that I let that part of myself take over," He apologized as he lowered the flowers to look directly into her eyes.
She looked into his eyes and stammered in response, "I…I don't know what to say."
"Say you'll let me make it up to you. Let me take you to dinner," He offered, "Then you can decide if you want to forgive me."
Caitlin lowered her eyes as an involuntary smile sprung across her features, "You are unbelievable."
"I wouldn't think I'm quite that far gone," He said with a smile, "Let me take you to dinner."
She looked back to his eyes and smiled, "Okay. Dinner."
"Now that's what I wanted to hear," He smiled, "I'll pick you up at seven."
"How should I dress?" She asked as she took the flowers from him.
"Your best," He said with a sparkling smile, "When I make it up to you, I get serious," He said with a grin.
"I can tell," She said as she walked across the room to place the roses in a vase, "These are beautiful."
"I'm glad you like them. I didn't know how you felt about roses, but when in doubt," He shrugged, "Seven o'clock."
"Where are you taking me?"
"Pavilion," Kenneth replied, "I think an apology deserves the very best."
"Is that also a very Brant like thing to do?" She questioned as she finished placing the flowers in the vase.
"It could be," He replied simply, "But it's also from the best side of myself. I want to make this up to you."
"I'm not going to forget, but forgiveness is an option," She smiled.
"Good," He smiled, "I'll see you at seven," He said as he left her apartment.
Caitlin smiled as she looked to the flowers. Maybe there was hope for the world after all.
“We’re home,” Brant announced slowly setting Avery to her feet again
as they stood at the door outside her apartment. She leaned up against
the wall, tipping her head back as a slow moan spilled over her lips.
“Already,” she groaned in protest, “I was just starting to have a good time.”
“There will be plenty of time for a good time,” Brant assured her as she started to slide down the wall. He reached out to her stopping her from her fall as he held her in his arms, “Avery, honey where are your keys?”
“What keys?” she asked fluttering her eyelashes at him.
“The ones to your apartment, silly,” he patted her nose in a teasing gesture.
“You want to get into my apartment,” her eyes widened in surprise as she looked up at him, “Nope, I’m afraid you can’t do that.”
“Not without the keys I can’t no,” Brant agreed with her, “but if you give me the keys, then I can get you inside so that you can go to bed…”
“Bed,” her eyes perked up as a smile touched over her lips. She reached out to place her finger in the center of Brant’s chest poking him roughly, “oh you Tiger. Brant, I had no idea…” she fell forward her mouth crushing over his in a sloppy kiss as she threw her arms around him, “You’re a naughty boy, but I like naughty boys.”
“Avery, sweetie, you’re drunk,” Brant whispered against her lips as she let out a hissing laugh.
“Just a little bit,” she pinched her fingers together as another laugh erupted from inside of her.
“More than a little bit,” Brant added watching her smile fade as she glared up at him.
“You’re being a party pooper, Brant,” she frowned at him, “I don’t want to go home just yet and if I wanted a party pooper, then I’d have had Russ take me home. He’s not fun anymore you know.”
“Avery, I’m not trying to be a party pooper,” he answered in mock amusement as he watched the transformation that had overtaken her with the champagne she’d drank on the plane, “In fact, I only want to take you inside so that we can get you changed for the next party.”
“Really?” her eyes widened in surprised delight, “Do you mean it?”
“Of course I do,” Brant nodded, “but first we have to get inside the apartment so we can get you ready and to do that, I‘m going to need your keys.”
“Well, I guess I could give them to you,” she thought it over for a moment, “but only under one condition.”
“What’s that?” he asked as she tipped her head back to look up at him again.
Avery leaned forward motioning for him to move closer towards her. She curled her finger at him a hint of seriousness over her features as he inched in towards her.
“You can’t have the keys unless you say the secret word,” she explained matter of fact in a low whisper as Brant saw the mischief burning behind her eyes.
“What’s the secret word,” he asked mimicking her quiet tone as she curled her finger again motioning for him to get closer still.
“You really want to know?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “I really want to know Avery.”
“Okay,” she leaned forward pressing her lips just above his ear, “you really want to know?”
“Yes, I really want to know,” he nodded taking in her seductive scent as she lingered over him, teasing him with the warmth of her breath against his skin.
“The magic word is,” she began in a low throaty whisper, “Make love to me.”
“Make love to me,” Brant repeated in shock as he pulled back seeing the laughter bubbling over behind her eyes.
“Well if you insist,” Avery threw her arms around him capturing his mouth in a sloppy kiss as she curled her leg around him hugging his body against hers.
Brant felt her curl around him, her body sweeping up against all the right places as his pulse quickened and his desire for her surfaced once again. She rubbed up against him bucking her hips into him as a tight breath caught in his throat and he withdrew from her kiss.
“Avery,” he gulped as her fingers threaded through his hair tightly coaxing his mouth to hers again.
“Shh…it’s okay,” Avery murmured in between kisses as she clung to him, “I’ll make this very easy for you.”
“Avery,” he spoke out again wanting nothing more than to bury himself inside of her as she tempted him on so many levels, but as he thought of the champagne she’d drowned herself in on the jet, he fought his reflexes and he tore his mouth away from her once again, “let’s get you inside first.”
“Then we can make love,” she questioned eagerly as her brown eyes penetrated him.
Brant drew in a slow and steady breath--at least the best he could manage as he nodded, “Then we’ll make love, but I need the keys first.”
“Okay,” she agreed detangling herself from his body as she moved to the ground once again leaning up against the wall as she smiled up at him seductively, “If you want the keys, well then you’re going to have to frisk me for them.”
“Avery, you really don’t want me to do that,” Brant watched as her fingers plucked open the buttons on her blouse revealing her soft curves to him.
“Brant, don’t be shy now,” she shook her head at him making a tsking sound as she dropped her blouse to the floor, “Come on. I’ll even help you with this one.”
“Avery,” Brant knelt down picking up her blouse as one of her neighbors stepped out into the hallway taking in the scene before her. He quickly held the blouse up over her body to shield her from her neighbor’s curious eyes.
“Hi Mrs. Miller,” she waved at him as the woman remained motionless staring at her with a gaping mouth. She pointed towards Brant as a laugh spilled over her, “I’m about to have some sex, so it’s okay. Really, we’re doing just fine,” she laughed as the woman quickly turned on her heel closing the apartment door behind her. Avery’s laugh deepened as she looked to Brant, “I think she’s jealous.”
“I’m sure she is,” Brant replied reaching for her purse as she threw her arms around his neck enthusiastically.
“You know Brant, I think you’re so damned sexy,” Avery placed tempting kisses over his neck as the heat of her breath scorched him, “Have I told you that before because if I haven’t, I should’ve.”
“I appreciate you saying that,” Brant replied hoarsely as his fingers collected her keys from her purse and he hoisted her over his shoulder in one quick motion. Struggling to get her door opened, he felt her hand squeeze his bottom before she offered a light slap catching him off guard as the door to her apartment popped open.
“Brant, you have a perfect butt. Do you know that,” Avery pinched at him again as he rushed into her apartment quickly closing the door behind him.
“You need to get to bed young lady,” Brant set her down on her feet again as she curled her lip in a pout.
“Only if you’re joining me,” she unknotted his tie as she flashed him a sexy smile, “You are joining me, aren’t you?”
“Avery,” he placed his hands over hers attempting to stop her as she smacked his hand continuing to remove his tie.
“Brant, relax,” she frowned as she tossed his tie across her living room and her fingers played over the buttons on his shirt, “You’re too uptight and the only thing that’s going to lead you to is an early grave. You should live a little,” she gazed up at him her eyes full of something Brant couldn’t quite place as she popped open a button on his shirt, “You know I used to tell Russ that all the time, but he was always so wound up.”
“I can see that,” Brant placed his hands over hers as he thought about Russell Denton for a moment, “He seems to have a way of putting his nose where it doesn’t belong, doesn’t he?”
“He sure does,” she agreed ceasing movement as she looked up at him again, “I mean you’d think he’d see that I’m a grown woman clearly capable of making her own choices about what she wants, but nope, he just won’t do that. He refuses to see that I’m doing what’s right for me.”
“So Russell tries to tell you what to do, huh,” Brant questioned lifting her fingers to his lips and kissing them gently in an attempt to persuade her from ripping his clothes off of him.
She nodded, her brown eyes wide with a sudden seriousness as she continued, “I don’t know what it is about him. I mean he’s really great and all, but he’s too protective of me. I mean you’d think that he’d get over that whole macho thing associated with being my first and all, but he’s still got it in his system that…”
“Your first?” Brant raised a curious brow, “Your first what?”
“Lover silly,” she swatted at him as if his words were the funniest thing she’d ever heard. She kicked her shoes off as she continued to explain, “Russ was my first ever and even though we were just kids well, I think he’s got it in his mind that he’s bound to me forever for taking my virginity…”
“So Russell Denton was your first ever,” Brant’s jaw dropped at the revelation she’d just threw on him.
“Yes, but that was a long time ago,” she threw her arms around him, “A very long time ago.”
“So you two were involved as kids,” Brant probed as her fingers slipped in beneath his jacket.
“I said I had sex with him when we were kids,” Avery moved her mouth in over his neck, “We weren’t involved in a relationship until years later. By then we‘d both grown up a bit and we thought we could handle a relationship,” she let out an ironic laugh, “boy were we wrong. I mean you’d think after all those years of being friends, well…you’d just think it would click, but well…I guess we weren’t that great together,” Avery paused as she raised her hand to her face touching her cheek, “I mean we were great in bed together…more than great, but outside of bed…” she shook her head, “forget about it. Still, he was conceivably one of the best…”
“Avery,” Brant’s face grew hot with anger as she spoke about Russell Denton. Never before had he wanted to tear a man apart as much as he did Russell Denton in these moments as she spilled her drunken secrets to him.
“Russ is just so intense,” Avery continued oblivious to his growing fury as Brant reached out to her seizing her in his arms as he captured her mouth in a powerful, demanding kiss wanting to show her that Russell Denton would be nothing but a pathetic memory compared to the passion he’d show her.
“Oh Brant,” she murmured against his mouth as she wrapped her arms around him and he picked her up off the ground carrying her across her apartment into her bedroom. He flung her onto the bed, before moving in over her lavishing her with kiss after hungry kiss.
“I’ll show you intense, Avery,” Brant vowed as his hands pressed in over her curves, wanting to erase any memory of Russell Denton as he kissed her.
“You are intense,” Avery reached out to him touching his face as a smile touched over her sexy mouth. She leaned up to kiss him again, thrusting her tongue between his parted lips as her hands moved over his body devouring him.
“Avery,” Brant reluctantly pulled away from her as he silently cursed himself for letting his jealousy of Russell Denton cloud his thinking. He looked down at her seeing her so willing and ready to be his, but as he stood on the threshold of the moment, his body begging him to just go for it, he pulled back, “stop.”
“What’s wrong,” she frowned up at him, “Brant, I already told you that I think you’re sexy.”
“I think you’re sexy too,” he touched her cheek gently, “but I also promised you that when I made love to you for the first time you were going to be completely sober.”
“I’m completely sober,” she argued with him, “well almost…”
“Almost isn’t good enough,” he leaned forward placing a tender kiss over her full throbbing lips, “I want it all from you, Avery.”
“Brant, I want it all from you too,” she reached out to him puling him in closer to her, “I want you…”
“I want you too baby,” he traced her lips, “God, do I want you, but I can’t do it this way…not now…not knowing that you could be hurt…”
“Brant, you’re not going to hurt me,” Avery frowned as he placed a distance between them, “if you’re worried about Bruce, well it’s over. I broke up with him.”
“You what,” he blinked back at her in astonishment, “when?”
“He gave me an ultimatum,” she sighed laying back against her pillows, “It was either his way or the highway, so I left.”
“You and Bruce are over,” Brant watched her closely, “just like that?”
“Just like that,” she nodded turning to look up at him, “so let me guess, since the heat is off, so is your interest in me.”
“Avery, I didn’t say that,” Brant shook his head as he reached out to her, “I have never wanted any woman more than I’ve wanted you. Never in my life and now that you’re free…” his thumb skimmed over her lower lip, “well it only makes me want you more.”
“Really?” she questioned her eyes swirling with tears as he caressed her soft skin.
“Yes really,” he leaned forward kissing her tenderly, “Avery, I’ve wanted you this long and now that I know we’re one step closer to having a chance, well I want that for us. I want you to be mine,” he softened his tone as he lay beside her brushing a strand of her dark hair from her face, “I want our first time together to be perfect, with nothing else in the way.”
“I want that too,” Avery smiled at him, exhaustion weighing over her as she turned towards him, curling her arm over him as he reached out to her involuntarily wrapping her up in his arms.
Feeling her snuggle into his chest, Brant looked up at the ceiling taking in the moment of holding her--just being this close to her as she began to relax. Something about having her with him, leaning into him, it felt, well absolutely foreign to him, but somehow absolutely amazing. He kissed the top of her head gently massaging her spine as he held her realizing that something had changed, something about Avery Morrison had made him want to do things, want to feel things that he refused to feel before. Holding her just felt right--as if there was no other place in the world he meant to be in this moment as she drifted off to sleep in his arms. As his eyes fell upon her, he felt a panic sweep over him as it suddenly dawned in on him that Avery wasn’t like anyone else. When he’d decided he was going to have her, to take her to bed, he vowed to make it a worthwhile adventure, but now as she lay sleeping in his arms, her angel face lost in her dreams, a fear rushed over him and a harsh realization hit him. This wasn’t about making Avery Morrison his lover anymore. It wasn’t about her sinfully wicked lips or the way his fantasies played out about having her in his bed, this was about wanting her--all of her and as she snuggled into Brant, he found himself terrified for the first time in his life as everything he’d pushed for in his world was now crumbling before his very eyes with the warmth of a woman wrapped up in his arms. The question was, would he be able to face what was happening between them or would fear drive him away? As his gaze traveled over Avery once again, he realized that she’d given him something that he’d run away from for most of his adult life. He’d never wanted this, never wanted anything more than a thrill, but Avery, she was just so…well, Avery.
Now as Avery was completely lost in her dream world, Brant eased himself away from her taking in a slow breath as he hated the idea of leaving her alone. Still if he stayed, there would be a lot of explaining in the morning and neither one of them were ready to face that. He wasn’t sure how he was even going to approach the way he felt about things as he reached for her blanket covering her up gently. He leaned forward giving her a quick kiss on her forehead before taking a step back watching her.
“Good night beautiful,” he whispered giving her one last look before he reached for his jacket leaving Avery and her apartment behind as he knew that his life would somehow never be the same after tonight. After Avery, everything had changed and now it was time to deal with what was happening before it caught him completely off guard. He had to face this somehow and deal with it before it changed his life entirely--before he gave in to the undeniable truth that he was falling for Avery Morrison in every way imaginable.
“These look like they might fit you,” Blake announced handing over a
neatly folded pile of clothing to Seth as they stood upstairs outside her
brother’s bedroom, “As I said before I know Kenny won’t mind you borrowing
them. I would’ve offered you something from Brant’s closet,” she
wrinkled her nose slightly, “but Brant’s definition of style is far too
stuffy for your liking. That much I’m sure of.”
“These will be more than fine,” Seth flashed her an appreciative smile, “now if you can show me were I can get changed…”
“Oh right,” she gulped rubbing the palms of her hands against the damp fabric of her dress as images of Seth’s naked body flashed before her. Trying to banish the thoughts, she pointed towards the bathroom beside Kenneth’s room, “In there should be okay.”
“Alright then,” Seth smiled back at her, “I guess I should get dressed.”
“Of course,” she nodded stepping aside to allow him access into the bathroom as she remained motionless watching him brush past her.
“Oh and Blake?” he questioned as she spun around to face him once again.
“Yes?” she replied eagerly as she found him standing behind her.
“I’m having a great time so far,” Seth confessed leaning down to kiss her gently before he took a step back closing the bathroom door behind him.
“So am I Seth,” she let out a tiny sigh, “so am I,” she finished heading towards her room ready to get changed for the rest of her evening with Seth Alexander anticipating what was next.
Hearing Blake walk away from the door, Seth drew in a breath as he looked to his camera case. He’d been enjoying his time with her and now was no exception, he reasoned as he pulled his water logged shirt off of his body. Now stepping out of his pants, his thoughts began to linger as he thought to the task Cameron had set out for him. Somehow he’d hoped he wouldn’t have to take the job, but knowing what Cameron and his psychotic associate were capable of, he realized there was no other choice.
Reaching for a towel and draping it around his waist, Seth quickly reached for his camera pulling out the roll of film he’d had inside of it. Swiftly, he changed rolls as he noticed the other door at the end of the bathroom. Taking in a breath as he hated what he had to do, he reached for the knob finding it unlocked at he stepped into Kenneth Ashford’s bedroom. Looking around the room, he sought out the target wanting to get this over as soon as possible before Blake returned.
Quickly scanning the room, Seth noticed the painting on the wall as he turned away from the door listening to hear if Blake was returning. Realizing that he was clear, he drew in a nervous breath as he raised the camera to his face clicking the shot that Cameron wanted. He took one after the other wanting to hurry this along and once he was certain Cameron would be satisfied with what he’d collected for him. Lowering his camera, Seth turned towards the bathroom ready to get dressed, when he noticed Blake standing in the doorway looking at him with surprised eyes.
“Seth, what are you doing in here?” Blake questioned as Seth realized that things didn’t go the way he’d hoped as her eyes demanded answers he was certain he wasn’t able to give.