Episode Thirteen

Avery pulled together the strength to lift herself up off of the bathroom floor as bits and pieces of the previous evening flooded over her.  Somehow it was all a great big blur as she couldn’t quite recall much more than spending the early morning hours hovered shamelessly over her toilet spilling what she believed could quite possibly be the last twenty or so meals she’d had over the last couple of weeks.  Her head was aching, her body flushed with nausea as she leaned in against her bathroom counter vowing never to drink anything even remotely close to champagne again.
If Avery ever thought of drinking again, then she’d…a wave of nausea flooded over her as she raced over to her toilet feeling as though she was back in college again as she hated this feeling.  She hated being sick--feeling helpless and most of all hated this time that hangovers gave her to reflect on her stupidity.  How had she let one business trip turn to hell on Earth, she thought as she remembered the encounter with Steven Davies, the nightmare of the party, Russell’s ambush with the blonde bimbo and most of all, she remembered being in the hotel room with Brant and almost making love to him.  The heat of his touch still burned her as she cursed herself for being stupid enough to just cave like she had.  He’d been decent, almost human when he’d torn up the Davies contract, but for her to have jumped into bed with him right after that, what had she been thinking?
Now standing up again as she reached for a washrag, Avery silently cursed herself again and again for allowing Brant to see her lose control--for giving him a glimpse of her desire for him.  Still, the way he’d touched her with his hands, his kisses--he’d scorched her down to the tips of her toes as she thought of his drawn out passion.  How she’d wanted him--how she wanted to just feel the pleasures a man like Brant could give her.  The intensity of him still filled her as she thought to his mouth over her body, learning all her hot spots as he fueled the fire burning deep down inside of her.  Despite the fact she’d hated allowing things to get as far as they had, damn her she craved his touch.  She longed for his body over hers, surrounding her with the erotic force he’d stirred inside of her.  Even now, she couldn’t imagine facing him again without revealing the way he’d excited her.  There was no denying that part any longer as he’d already seen too much.
“How could you be so stupid,” she chastised her appearance in the mirror as she dabbed the washcloth over her features.  Trying to dismiss the memories of the night before, she reached for her toothbrush wanting to forget any of the after effects her night of disaster had caused her.
Once Avery finished with brushing her teeth, she stepped back into her bedroom popping a mint as she tried to forget the morning’s turmoil.  Now she had another disaster waiting for her at BBK once she'd arrived at work ready to face Brant again.  She looked at her wardrobe contemplating something simple when she heard a knock at her apartment door.  Letting out a tiny groan, she pushed any thoughts of her daily attire aside as she stepped into her living room only to find Russell waiting outside her door, a bright smile on his face.
“Good morning sunshine,” Russell greeted her as he held up two cups of coffee and a bag of something that smelled faintly like a bakery.
“Drop dead,” Avery groaned pushing her door to a near close as he pressed his foot within her apartment preventing her from locking him out.
“Avery, come on.  Let’s not go down this road again,” Russell frowned as he leaned in against her door.
“Go away,” she moaned in protest as he slipped his fingers through the gaping space between the door and the doorframe.
Avery looked up to this hand, noting the name of the bakery on the brown bag as she let out a frustrated sigh opening the door.  As she struggled to get rid of him, the faint scent of the pastries he’d brought with him seduced her senses as she instantly recognized his method of temptation.  She frowned as she opened the door attempting to snatch the bag from his hand as he lifted it just out of her reach.
“You’re not playing fair,” she announced with a deep look of disapproval as she crossed her arms in front of her chest watching the triumphant smile building over his features.
“I needed a way to capture your attention,” Russell confessed with a tiny chuckle, “and since I have the distinct feeling that my charm and personality might not be the key to getting what I wanted this morning, I enlisted the help of some old allies.”
“Bear claws and coffee from our bakery was definitely cheating,” Avery objected reaching out to swipe the bag from his hands.  She crossed the room forgetting about the fact she’d been sick most of the morning as she tore into the bag, wanting nothing more than to lose herself in the sinful sweet treat laid out before her.
“Like I said desperate times call for desperate measures,” Russell shrugged his shoulders setting his lightweight jacket aside as he moved in beside her, taking a seat on her sofa next to her.  Seeing her lost in the pleasures he was certain that the bear claw would provide her, he reached out to her touching her shoulder gently, “How are you feeling this morning?”
“I still hate you,” Avery took a bite, feeling an involuntary moan spill over her lips as she savored the tiny slice of heaven Russ had provided her with, “that hasn’t changed.”
“I didn’t imagine it would,” Russell nodded handing over the cup of coffee he’d picked up for her as well, “It has the French Vanilla cream just like you like it.”
“Russ, you’re still in the doghouse completely,” Avery accepted the cup taking a sip as the hot liquid soothed her, “Oh God this is good.”
“I’m glad you enjoy it,” Russell smiled obviously pleased with himself as he touched her cheek, “so tell me, did you have a rough night?  You know I was worried about you when you downed that champagne…”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Avery glared back at him, “you have no right to talk to me about my drinking habits.”
“Drinking habits?” he let out an amused laugh, “Avery, in all the years I’ve known you, you’ve been drunk a whole three times and each time you’d pushed your limits.”
“I have not,” she argued with him, “I just don’t deal well with stress.”
“Avery, you and stress go hand in hand, but when drinking is in the picture,” Russ shook his head as a hearty laugh rumbled from within, “Remember that time when Grady graduated from law school and…”
“Shut up Russ,” she glared at him, “you’re only digging yourself in a deeper hole here.  You do realize that, don’t you?”
“Oh I thought it was kind of cute,” Russ chuckled in amusement, “there we were in the middle of the party in that back room where you’d thought that a strip tease was just what I’d needed to lighten up and then when my grandfather came in half way through the performance…”
“I’m still very eager to kick your ass,” Avery shot back at him with an obvious look of disgust.
“Oh honey, we both know that it’ll take at least twenty four hours until you’re back to top speed with me in that respect,” he leaned in towards her, “and by then I’ll be smart enough not to push your buttons.”
“You’d be well advised to stop while you’re ahead,” she remarked dryly, “I mean after all, given that bruise on your jaw line there, I’d assume I’m pretty good when I’m drunk as well.”
“That hurt like hell,” he raised his hand to his face touching the reminder of her anger as he pointed out, “though I don’t think you were drinking when you gave me this.”
“Well if you and the bimbo hadn’t interrupted my business trip with Brant,” she frowned thinking back to the disaster that took place in the hotel.
“Business trip,” Russell’s eyes widened in surprise, “and what kind of business is that Avery?  The kind that involves getting between the sheets with Brant Ashford?”
“That’s none of your concern,” Avery turned her eyes away from him, “I already told you that I’m…”
“A big girl that doesn’t need my protecting,” he interrupted mimicking her words, “I’ve heard it time and time again and it’s getting rather tiring.”
“It’ll be my own personal mantra until you back off,” Avery grumbled back at him as she took another bite of the pastry he’d brought over for her.
“Nope, I’m not going to do it,” he decided firmly as he reached for his own coffee taking a sip, “as long as you’re hell bent on ruining your life with Brant, I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it from happening.”
“I didn’t ask you to interfere,” she looked up at him once again, “I didn’t ask you to do any of this.”
“Too bad,” he shrugged his shoulders simply, “you’re stuck with me and I’m going to do whatever it takes to prove to you that you’re much better off without a man like Brant Ashford in your life.”
“Russ, I’m not above getting a restraining order,” Avery glared at him finding herself less than amused as he flashed her that sexy, confident smile that was always his way of showing her he felt justified.
“Now Avery, we both know you don’t want to do that,” Russell shook his head in response, “because if you did that, well you’d be missing out on our morning ritual,” he motioned towards the bag of goodies he’d brought for her, “and I intend to keep bringing them over to you each morning until you agree to hear me out.”
“So you’re going to get me fat in your quest to save me from Brant,” Avery raised a skeptic brow, “Now that sounds like a worthy cause.”
“Hey, you and I both know you could eat a million of those and you’d still have the same sexy figure,” he countered pointedly, “My pampering you isn’t going to change that about you.”
“It might when they put me in jail for murdering you,” Avery shrugged her shoulders sipping her coffee, “and given the lengths you’ve gone to irritate me this week alone, I think I’d have a pretty good insanity case working in my favor.”
“You wouldn’t murder me,” he laughed lightly, “You’d miss me too much.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Avery warned, “I’m well aware where the bakery is, so your usefulness could prove to wear thin.”
“Oh Avery honey,” he reached out to her touching her cheek gently as he urged her to meet his amused green eyes, “there are other things you’d miss about me if I was out of this world.”
“The list gets smaller by the day,” she glared at him as his finger curled in under her chin and he leaned forward offering a playful kiss upon her lips.
“You sure about that?” he raised a curious brow as he searched her dark eyes bracing himself for her biting remark.
Avery opened her mouth to speak struggling to find the right insult when she pulled back from him rising from the couch in an abrupt motion.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” she announced racing to her bathroom as Russell sank back into the couch shaking his head.
When was she ever going to learn, Russell thought to himself as he listened to the sounds of her drinking binge coming back to haunt her.  Shaking his head slightly, he looked over to his jacket thinking about the research he’d compiled in his quest to enlighten Avery about Brant’s true nature.  Realizing that now was the perfect time to plant a few ideas in her head, he crossed the room reaching into his pocket and pulling out the array of articles he’d brought with him as he tucked them into her briefcase certain she’d happen upon them sooner or later.  He was hoping sooner rather than later as he made his way over to the couch once more hoping that somehow she‘d just listen to what he was trying to tell her.
Now as Russell looked around Avery’s apartment, he noticed Brant’s tie tucked under the pillow beside him.  A frown touched over his lips as he pulled it out from beneath the cushion and his anger mounted as he wondered if his trip to Grady’s house had been the window of opportunity that Brant needed in order to complete his seduction on Avery.  Hearing the sounds of the sink coming from the bathroom, Russell turned his eyes towards the source of the sound as Avery stepped out of the bathroom holding her stomach.
“Feel better?” he questioned easing his arm over the back of her couch as she glared at him.
“I’ll feel better when you all just leave me alone,” Avery sank back onto the cushion beside him closing her eyes as she tried to still the queasiness in her stomach, “I feel like hell and you’re to blame.”
“How do you figure,” Russell inquired tossing Brant’s tie into her lap, “The way I see it, he’s the culprit.”
“What?” Avery opened her eyes looking down at the tie draped over her legs as sudden flashes of Brant taking her home washed over her, “Oh God.  Don’t remind me.”
“What happened last night when Brant took you home?” Russell questioned simply, “I knew I couldn’t trust him and when I saw him leave…”
“What do you mean saw him leave?” Avery looked over to him in confusion, “Russ, were you spying on me?”
“I was making sure that jerk didn’t take advantage of you and clearly I was right about him,” he motioned towards the tie, “because if you have that here, then that means…”
“It means it’s none of your business,” Avery quipped folding the tie up as she struggled to remember the night’s events leading to her awakening at the crack of dawn in her bedroom.  She’d been almost completely dressed and the thought of her and Brant hadn’t slipped into her mind, until…  No, she shook the thought as she looked to Russell.
“Avery, the guy is a jerk,” Russell argued with her, “I’ve seen what he’s done to women who’ve trusted him and if you allow him to hurt you…”
“Russ, I’ll be fine,” Avery sighed preparing herself for the same, tired battle with him, “Brant’s not going to do anything to me that I don’t want him to be doing.”
“Avery, when I saw you at that hotel with him,” he paused remembering the conflicting emotions inside of him, “I didn’t like it.”
“It’s not your call to like it or not,” Avery argued with him, “My life is mine and mine alone.  I don’t need you or your protecting.”
“It sure looked like it at the party,” Russell scoffed back at her, “Tell me where was Brant while that jerk assaulted you?”
“He was getting me a drink and I could’ve handled it without your interference,” she hissed as an ache swelled in her temple, “You know Russ, you don’t always have to be the white knight.”
“You say that now, but when that guy attacked you, you needed me,” Russell challenged, “I could feel it in the way you held onto me.  You were terrified and if I wasn’t there, who knows what would’ve happened.”
“I thought you were Brant,” Avery lied thinking back to the moment they’d had out on the balcony.
“Like hell you did,” he shot her a disapproving look, “oh and that showed a whole lot of tact in what you did to Heather in making her think I was Brant.”
“That was what you were going for, wasn’t it,” she challenged tossing her hair back over her shoulder, “to be Brant Ashford?  And I just figured that since you’re already dipping into the spoils of Brant’s treacherous past, then you’d only more than welcome that bimbo’s attention.”
“Avery, Heather isn’t a bimbo,” Russell argued with her, “She’s just a confused woman who’s been destroyed by the likes of Brant Ashford.”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes as she reached for her coffee again, “and I’m the Easter Bunny.  That woman just oozes of trash in every sense of the word and I can’t even believe that you’d be sleeping with her considering how you loathe Brant so much.”
“Avery I’m not…” he began as she continued ignoring him.
“I mean hey, why not go ahead and make the same mistakes he made when it comes to a low class hoochie mama like that,” Avery groaned inwardly, “I mean who cares about having morals or about having any sense of taste when there is a tramp like Heather to give you what you need, right?”
“Avery, it’s not like that,” Russ watched her for a long moment as a sudden thought sparked in his head, “You’re jealous, aren’t you?”
“What,” she blinked back at him, “Get real, Russell.”
“You are jealous,” he poked at her, “You saw me with Heather and you were upset.  That’s why you and Brant were…”
“Wrong,” she shook her head in protest, “you’ve got it all wrong Romeo.  There is absolutely nothing about you and Heather that I am jealous of.  Of course there is that repulsion factor that does tend to stick with me and the fact that I thought you had some sense of class.  Clearly you lost it all over the years since we parted ways and now that you’re boinking her…”
“There you go again,” he pointed at her his eyes wide with amusement as she rose from the couch, “Back to me ‘boinking’ Heather, huh?  Tell me where in Harvard did they come up with that terminology anyways?”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes as she spun around to face him, “Did they give you a degree in being a jackass or is it just a natural thing with you, Denton?”
“Admit it Avery,” Russ rose from the sofa stepping towards her, “You’re jealous of the time I’m spending with Heather because you don’t think she’s the kind of woman I need in my life.  She’s not up to your standards so you’re not going to hold back in letting me know that.”
“You’re crazy,” she huffed as a sarcastic laugh spilled over her lips, “you’re the one who was stalking me on my trip with Brant and you were the one who found your way to my hotel room interrupting what could’ve quite possibly been the greatest love making experience of my life all because of your jealousy.”
“I sincerely doubt that it would’ve been the greatest, and about my so called jealousy,” Russell chortled shaking his head at her, “Avery, you don’t know the difference between friendship and jealousy.  Clearly I’m trying to save you from yourself and you’re writing it off as something that it isn’t.”
“Russ, you have been in full on caveman mode from the moment I told you about Brant’s interest in me,” Avery reminded him sharply, “Clearly that says something about your feelings--not mine.  I could care less what you do with Heather Gibbons and if I had any inkling of feelings for you--which I don’t other than disgust, then I wouldn’t have paid that waiter to send her out to meet you on the balcony the other night.”
“I knew it,” Russ stated matter of fact as he waved his hands in the air, “I knew you orchestrated it all on the balcony.  I figured you out, Avery.”
“Bravo,” she clapped her hands together in a less than enthused fashion, “are we finished now?”
“Not by a long shot,” he declared as he stood taller, “I think we need to talk about what’s going on here.”
“There’s nothing going on here,” she waved her hand between them, “nothing but you adding to my headache.”
“Avery, you and I both know Brant’s not the guy for you and he’s only going to hurt you,” Russell argued with her.
“Russ, I already have been through this with you over and over and over again.”
“Avery, I’m still not…”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” she grumbled back at him, “I’m perfectly capable of dealing with Brant Ashford.
“You tend to react before you think,” he pointed out firmly as she stepped towards him.
“I’m thinking things through and I don’t need you clouding my mind any more than you already have,” she stated simply as she shot him a glare, “In fact, I think perhaps it’s time for you to leave.”
“No,” he replied shrugging his shoulders, “I don’t want to.”
“Russ, are you deaf?  Leave,” she hissed back at him, “I’m tired of doing this with you over and over again.”
“Tough,” he folded his arms in front of his chest before taking a seat back on her couch.  He looked up at her, a smile spreading over his features as he uncurled his arms patting the cushion beside him, “Care to join me?”
“I’m going to kill you is what I’m going to do,” she stepped forward reaching out to pull him off of her sofa, as he tugged her down into his lap with one swift motion.
A silence fell between them as Avery gazed into his green eyes seeing the hint of mischief burning behind them.  She found herself at a loss as his fingers touched over her cheek gently caressing her skin in a simple gesture as his smile widened.
“Is that right,” his voice teased back, amusement evident in his features as he cupped her face in his hands drawing her in closer to him.
“That’s right,” she nodded simply her tone terse as his lips swept in over hers daring her to defy him with her words as his mouth brushed up against hers coaxing her to sweet surrender.
Russell placed his hand upon her thigh, gently massaging her velvety, soft skin as his touch extended in beneath her robe.  He felt the tension coursing through her body as she shifted on his lap allowing him to hold her more completely.  His fingers curled in over her bottom squeezing her gently as he pressed her body in against him, feeling the intensity escalating between them.
“Have dinner with me,” he whispered against her mouth as he held her.
“No,” she answered collecting another long, drugging kiss from him.
“Come on,” he pleaded reclaiming her mouth provocatively, “just dinner.”
“I can’t,” she murmured as his fingers fanned out over her pert bottom squeezing her gently as he lifted his hips, feeling the electricity build between them.
“Yes you can,” he urged nibbling on her lips as her fingers tangled in his hair, “just a quiet dinner at my place.”
“I can’t stand having a conversation with you,” she reminded him simply feeling the brush of his thumb graze over her inner thigh.
“Who says we have to have a conversation,” he offered suggestively as the pad of his thumb skimmed up against her drawing circles lazily over soft, feminine curves.
“Russ, if we have dinner at your place,” she breathed against him feeling a warmth spilling over her body at his touch, “it won’t be dinner.”
“Of course it will be,” he coaxed further dipping his tongue between her parted lips as he held her, “Just a quiet dinner between two friends.”
“Russ, it won’t be dinner and it won’t be quiet,” she murmured shifting over him, “It’ll be sex--very loud and erotic sex.”
“Sex, dinner, same difference.” he shrugged his shoulders as his lips tapered off over her earlobe teasing her gently, “Both lead to the same satisfying outcome between us.  Besides, we always did find ways to work both into the picture from time to time.”
“Russ, I can’t,” she groaned as his hands caressed her curves.
“Yes you can,” he pleaded with her, “I promise I’ll behave.”
“No you won’t,” she shook her head feeling the rise of anticipation flooding over her as her body warmed up to him once again, “and if I took you up on dinner, I’m sure I wouldn’t want you to either.”
“Avery, we can be so good together,” he murmured against the base of her throat tasting the fire burning inside of her as he held her.
“We’d only kill each other,” she offered up a slow moan rising inside of her at his attentions, “I’m still furious with you.”
“All the more reason to let me make it up to you,” he pleaded with her his voice tight with passion, “just dinner…”
“Russ, we both know better,” she sighed turning her attention to his desperate eyes.
“I swear it’ll be just dinner,” he offered with a smile, “I won’t let anything happen that you don’t want to happen.”
“You won’t even leave my apartment when I ask you to,” Avery reminded him with a stern look.
“I’ll leave if you give me a yes,” he stated simply, a flicker of mischief behind his eyes.
“In that case, sure why not,” she rolled her eyes as she attempted to detangle herself from his arms.
“No, uh uh,” he pulled her in against him again, “I’m not taking a cop out answer.  I’m not accepting a ‘Whatever you say Russ, just get the hell out of my apartment’ acceptance.  I want a true affirmation here so that when I have dinner waiting for you, I won’t be getting a phone call saying that you’re too busy to come over.”
“Russ,” she frowned as she saw the determination sweep over him, “I’m not going to have sex with you if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“Never say never,” he teased with a wink as she scowled at him, “oh alright.  I’ll keep the innuendos to a minimum, but I want to have dinner with you.  We need to talk…”
“Russ…” she frowned slightly.
“Hell, if you’re nervous about it, we can go out in public,” he offered simply, “if that would really make you feel better.”
“Why is this such an issue for you?”
“Avery, look I wouldn’t be asking you to do this if I didn’t feel it was important,” he touched her cheek gently, “please, have dinner with me.”
“Fine,” she sighed in resignation, “but if you even think about…”
“I won’t,” he promised raising his fingers in the air, “Scout’s honor.”
“Russ, we both know you never were a boy scout,” she shook her head disapproving as she pulled herself up off of the couch.
“Even so, I’ll behave,” he decided a smile sweeping over his features as he crossed her living room seeking out his jacket, “and as promised I’ll let you get ready to face your day at BBK.”
“Gee, now that is the best news I’ve heard all morning,” she grumbled folding her arms in front of her chest, “Would you hurry up already?”
“I’m going,” he laughed lightly turning to give her one last look, “but remember, you’re mine for dinner.”
“I’m no man’s property, Russell,” she reminded him opening the door and shoving him out as she let out a sigh wondering how in the world she managed to let him talk her into dinner.  Certainly he’d attempted to skirt around her issues with him, but then again maybe dinner would be the perfect time to show him just what an annoyance he’d been to her.  Yes, dinner sounded like a good time to set Russell Denton straight indeed.
With that thought in mind, Avery returned to her bedroom ready to face the day that was waiting for her at BBK.  She had a feeling that somehow, things weren’t going to be pretty at all.  There was no telling just how out of hand she was in her drunken stupor.  One thing was certain though.  She would avoid Brant at all costs.  There would be no more making a fool of herself after last night.  That much she was certain of.


Annette opened the oven door and removed a pan of muffins. She placed the hot pan on a cooling rack before closing the oven door and removing her oven mitt.

"Good morning, Annie," Kenneth smiled as he slipped by her to grab his coffee mug. He kissed her on the cheek before moving to the coffee pot to pour his cup of coffee.

"You're in a mighty good mood this morning," She said with a smile as she watched him step around the bar.

"It's a beautiful day," He said as he sat at the table in the breakfast nook, "Why shouldn't I be happy?"

"Something tells me your date last night had something to do with it," She smiled as she began removing the hot muffins from the pan.

"It wasn't a date," He shook his head as he lifted a newspaper from the table, "I was just out with a friend."

"A lady friend," Annie reminded him, "It was a date."

"It wasn't a date. If it had been a date, there would have at least been a kiss."

"No kiss, huh?" Brant asked as he entered the room. He approached Annette and kissed her cheek, plucking one of the muffins from the tray she had placed them upon.

"I didn't think you were going to be back until at least tomorrow," Kenneth said as he spotted his brother with the pastry.

"I wasn't, but fate had other plans apparently. My trip was rudely interrupted," Brant replied with a frown as he approached the refrigerator. He removed a glass from a cabinet before pouring himself a glass of orange juice. He replaced the juice into the refrigerator before moving to join his brother at the breakfast table, "So you went out last night, huh?"

"Don't start," Kenneth replied as he glanced over the headlines of the paper, "What happened on your trip?"

"Russell Denton and Heather showed up to crash my weekend."

"Russell? What was he doing there?" Kenneth asked as he placed the newspaper aside.

"Protecting Avery…at least that's what he said he was doing. All he really accomplished was pissing me off," Brant shook his head, "Just when Avery and I are making progress, Heather hangs off the balcony and Russell busts into my hotel room."

"Progress? Tell me you're not trying to seduce Avery now," Kenneth said before he shook his head, "Never mind. Why else would Russell think he has to protect Avery?"

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Brant said as if he was offended.

"Avery isn't your typical woman, Brant. You like the women you can outsmart. You can't outsmart, Avery. She's out of your league," Kenneth said simply before sipping his coffee.

"I resent that."

"Resent it all you like, but it's true. Avery's smart, and she's not going to fall for some ploy like throwing a million dollars at her feet. In fact, knowing Avery, she's very likely to throw that million back at you and tell you where to stuff it."

"I'll have you know that Avery and I get along very well," Brant said over the rim of his coffee cup, "At least when we're not interrupted."

"So why Avery? Why not one of the women who wait for you with bated breath?"

"I hate it when you do that," Brant rolled his eyes, "Don't act like they're swooning just to be with me. I mean they are, but hey, don't make it sound like they're stupid for doing it."

"Well, they are," Kenneth said bluntly, "So what is it about Avery that caught your eye?"

Brant gazed into his coffee for a moment before answering, "She's not like any other woman I've met."

"You mean any woman you've ever spent time with," Kenneth corrected with a knowing smile, "It's nice, isn't it?"


"Being with someone who knows more than high fashion and how to spend your millions."

Brant sighed in resignation, "Yeah it is actually, but for some reason, Avery pushes me away every time I try to get closer to her."

Kenneth nodded, "Typical Avery."

"Why do you say that?"

"When we were at Harvard together, I watched dozens of guys try to make time with her, but she always pushed them away. She doesn't know how to just let something happen. If you push back hard enough though, you'll break down her defenses," Kenneth stopped, "Wait, hold it. Don't go taking what I know about Avery and twisting it to your advantage."

"Ken, you act like I'm going to break her or something."

"Brant, you have a reputation for a reason."

Brant grinned, "Yeah, but that's all in my past."

"Why?" Kenneth threw the question back at him.

"Because I'm tired of the meaningless relationships," Brant admitted as he tore a bite off the muffin and looked at the pastry for a moment, "I want more than that."

"Does Avery know that?"

"Do you think she'd believe me?"

"Good point," Kenneth replied with a frown, "You know that you've only got yourself to blame for that. If she hadn't watched you burn through a string women up to this point, she might think you have some sincerity left in you. As it stands, I kind of doubt she's going to give you the time of day."

"How can you be so supportive?" Brant asked sarcastically.

"Brant, you're my brother, and I love you, but I know you. Oh do I know you," Kenneth pointed out, "I know you better than anyone else in the world so don't act like I'm just seeing what the tabloids can throw on a page," He softened his tone before continuing, "If you're genuinely ready for something more intimate than what you've had before, you're going to have to prove yourself."

"Are we about to have another morality speech here?" Brant asked dryly.

"No," Kenneth answered simply, "I'm just saying that no one is going to believe that you want something more than a just a good time if you don't show it. You're going to have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk."

"I feel like I'm in kindergarten here," Brant frowned.

"He's right, you know," Annie joined in from across the room. She shrugged, "I may be hard of hearing occasionally, but this is one conversation I just had to hear. It isn't often you two can sit down without getting into a fight," She explained before speaking again, "Brant, I know your heart hasn't been in your relationships in the past, and it's been obvious to those of us around you. What you have to do is let everyone know that you do have a heart and that it can be won by the right woman."

Brant shook his head before sipping his coffee once again. He placed the mug back upon the table before speaking, "Enough about me. I hate delving into my psyche," He said quickly looking to Kenneth, "What about you? Who's the girl you took out last night?"

"She's a friend. You met her at the hospital when you behaving like a brat," Kenneth replied with a firm reminder of the events of that evening.

"Spare me, Ken. So this girl is Blake's friend, right?"

"Her name is Caitlin Vaughn. She works for the Courier."

"Oh great," Brant rolled his eyes, "She'll be doing stories on us," He frowned, "And probably doing research for her boss."

"She's not like that," Kenneth defended as he sipped his coffee.

"And you know that from one date?"

"She's doing a story about the case I'm working on against Midlands Utilities. She isn't digging for details or anything else of the Ashford kind."

"Good, just see that she doesn't," Brant instructed.

"When did you become the boss of the household here?" Kenneth asked, "You're the one who always stirs up the tabloid stories with your adventures. The rest of us just live here."

"Can I help it if I lead an interesting life?" Brant asked before he stood and placed his mug in the kitchen sink, "You should get some adventure in your life, Ken. It wouldn't hurt, you know."

Kenneth shook his head, "The absolute last thing I need in my life is your kind of adventure, Brant."

"Don't knock it until you try it," Brant said with a grin, "I'm going to work," He said as he left the kitchen.

Kenneth frowned as he looked back to his mug of coffee, wondering if Brant would ever really grow up.


Jade stepped out into the living room noting her brother over in the kitchen seated at the table as she gave him a quick once over.  Shaking her head slightly, she walked over to get herself some juice out of the refrigerator before she turned her eyes to him once again.
“I hope you put gas in my car,” Jade broke the silence as Seth looked up from the magazine he’d been thumbing through.
“There’s a full tank,” Seth offered leaning back in his chair, “so where were you last night?”
“I was out,” Jade answered cryptically as she reached for a glass pouring herself a quick drink.
“I reasoned that much,” Seth noted a frown touching over his features, “but I was more so curious as to know where you went.”
“Why are you keeping tabs on me,” Jade teased with a wink, “because I did let you use my car after all and I’m certain that it was so that you could spend time with Blake,” she wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“Jade, don’t give me that look.  There’s a lot about Blake that you don’t know,” Seth defended thinking of his surprising turn of events with Blake.
“She’s a bitch,” Jade sipped her juice offering a shrug of her shoulders, “and just because she’s laying it thick where you’re concerned, doesn’t mean she’s not evil.”
“Jade, there’s a lot about Blake that no one knows,” Seth continued with a frown, “She’s a very lost little girl at heart.”
“Oh spare me the analysis of Blake Ashford,” she rolled her eyes slightly, “I know all about the pampered types like her.  They aren’t happy sticking with the guys in their country club, so they find a nice, wonderful guy like you and then they do what they can to exploit you all to piss off their snotty family.”
“She’s not like that,” Seth sighed running his fingers through his hair, “and I wish you’d just give her a chance.”
“Seth, if she had her way then she would’ve run me out of that hospital when you were fighting for your life,” Jade argued with him, “That woman is not to be trusted.”
“Jade,” he shook his head as he looked to the magazine again, “never mind.”
“Look Seth, I just don’t want you getting wrapped up in the Ashford garbage.  If this thing with Blake is just her way of stepping on someone’s toes, then I don’t want you anywhere near her.”
“Jade, I know what I’m doing,” he offered thinking about the twisted situation he’d found himself buried in the middle of with Cameron, “but enough about me, let’s talk about where you were last night.”
“I already told you I was out,” Jade tossed her hair over her shoulder, “and I’m home safely, so isn’t that what’s important?”
“Did Grady finally give you the time of day,” Seth eyed her curiously, “because you know Jade I have some reservations about that…”
“I wasn’t with Grady,” Jade’s smile curled into a frown, “so you should be happy about that.  He was the last thing on my mind last night.”
“And who was the new guy then,” Seth inquired.
“His name is Cameron,” Jade shrugged her shoulders as she finished off her juice, “and it wasn’t a date.”
“Cameron,” Seth repeated as he turned his attention to her fully, “Cameron what?”
“What do you mean Cameron what?” she shook her head in response, “his name is Cameron Stone and he’s new in town, why?”
“Jade, don’t ever go out with him again,” Seth demanded anger present in his tone as he rose from his chair, “going out with him even once was a mistake.”
“Seth, he’s new in town and he doesn’t know anyone,” Jade shrugged in response, “I couldn’t very well turn him out on his own.”
“Like hell you couldn’t have,” Seth grumbled at her, “that man is nothing but trouble Jade.”
“So you do know him,” Jade eyed him closely, “I was wondering when he’d mentioned your name.”
“He talked about me,” Seth stopped thinking about it for a moment, “what did he say?”
“Just that you had a great eye for art,” Jade stepped in closer to him, “Seth what’s going on?”
“Look Jade, I don’t’ know a lot about the guy, but what I do know, I can honestly tell you that I have a feeling about him that doesn’t sit well.”
“Could that be because he’s an older man paying me some attention and that seems to a problem for you,” Jade huffed back at him, “Seth, I don’t need you to be my father.”
“I’m not trying to be your father, but I also don’t think you should date men old enough to be your father either…especially not Cameron Stone.”
“Seth, he’s a nice guy.”
“Jade, he’s trouble,” Seth began hating that Cameron was now moving in on his sister.  While Seth had done everything Cameron wanted, he was certain that this was Cameron’s way of toying with him--of keeping him in line.  Trying to control the rage building inside of him, Seth reached out to her, “Jade, you have to promise me you won’t go out with him again.”
“Seth, this is ridiculous,” she shook her head at him, “you and I both know that I can date anyone that I want to and as I told you before it wasn’t even a date…”
“Jade, I don’t want to see you hurt and with the rumors I’ve heard about Cameron,” he offered not wanting to dive deeper into the heart of the deal he’d made with Cameron.  While he’d told Jade of the proposal he’d been given, he had never mentioned the name of the man involved, but now he almost wished he’d never crossed paths with Cameron to begin with, “Just promise me you won’t go out with him again.  Please.”
“Give me a good reason because I know there’s something you’re not telling me,” Jade challenged.
“Jade, look the guy is bad news,” Seth looked to the time, “speaking of which, I have to go, but please just think about what I said.”
“I’ll think about it, but I’ll expect this conversation to be continued later,” she offered with a sigh, “I know there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Jade, just trust me on this one,” he threw one last look in her direction before stepping over to the door, “okay?”
“Okay, I won’t go out with Cameron Stone again…at least not tonight,” she shrugged her shoulders, “happy now?”
“For now,” he threw out one last look hoping that his sister wasn’t in more danger than he ever could’ve imagined.  Things had to come to a stop with Cameron and soon because the deeper Seth got wrapped up in everything, the more he worried about what would happen to those he cared about the most.


Blake sat in her favorite booth at Irvan's looking over the blueberry pancakes in front of her. They were sinful, but she'd find some way to work off the calories later. Right now, all she wanted to do was lose herself in how incredibly sweet and delicious the pancakes were.

"If you keep making love to those pancakes like that, your fiancée is going to be jealous," Caitlin teased as she slid into the booth across from her friend.

"Good morning," Blake smiled, "Did my brother keep you out late last night? Is that why you're late this morning?" She teased.

"Oh boy, is this what I'm going to be in for?" Caitlin chuckled as she placed her purse on the seat beside her and removed her cardigan to get more comfortable. She glanced over a menu until the tapping fork across the table interrupted her. She looked back to Blake who questioned her with smiling eyes, "No, I'm late because I'm horrible with time. So you don't get to have any fancy ideas about your brother keeping me out all night."

"Too bad. I was spinning quite a tale in my head," Blake grinned, "So how did you two get along?"

"Just fine, thank you very much," Caitlin said with a smile before the waitress approached their table. After ordering, the waitress brought Caitlin a cup of hot tea before departing from the table. She smiled as she emptied a packet of artificial sweetener into her tea, "I had a great time last night to be quite honest with you."

"See, I told you there were good guys left," Blake said happily, "And we got lucky with ours."

"Does that mean Seth still qualifies as a good guy?"

"So far so good," Blake's smile illuminated her face, "Last night was just amazing. He took me out to Lake Cardinal, and we had dinner by the lake. I kind of put a damper on things for a while by remembering my mother's death," She frowned.

"Oh Blake," Caitlin said softly, "How did he react?"

"He took me in his arms and held me," Blake replied as she thought about Seth's warm embrace, "He just held me and comforted me. I don't think I've ever been more at peace in my entire life than I was in his arms."

"Careful, this is getting closer and closer to the definition of fairy tale romance, Blake," Caitlin chuckled before she sipped her tea, "And here we thought we'd end up as spinsters together with a house full of cats. You're putting that idea to shame with this Seth guy."

"Oh pooh," Blake shook her head with a grin, "And here I thought you were going to run away with my brother…the good one no less."

"It was just dinner, Blake. It really wasn't that big a deal."

"Yes it was. You two went to the Pavilion. That is something right there."

"Why? Because it's ritzy?"

"Because Ken doesn't particularly love going there. He only does so on special occasions."

"Well, he was trying to earn my forgiveness there," Caitlin pointed out.

"Hmm," Blake frowned as she remembered Caitlin's hasty exit from the house the morning before, "So how did that go? Did he ask anymore questions?"

"No, he didn't actually. He apologized to me for prying into my life. I thought that was a very sweet gesture."

"So did you forgive him yet?"

"No formally," Caitlin laughed softly, "But I don't think he's going to give me much of a choice."


"Because he said he wants to get to know me better. I warned him that I hadn't forgiven him yet, and he said that I would," Caitlin smiled despite herself as she thought about the conversation, "Kenneth is definitely one of a kind."

Blake smiled, "Yes he is, and it's a great sign that he wants to get to know you better. Who knows? You could be part of my family one day."

"Blake," Caitlin rolled her eyes, "We're just friends. It's not like that."

"Not yet," Blake said boldly, "But you two would be good together," She said definitively.

"I can't believe we're even having this conversation," Caitlin said as her French toast arrived. She thanked the waitress before speaking to Blake again, "Speaking of family, when am I going to actually meet this Seth? I mean any man this fine I may just have to snatch up for myself."

"Caitlin, you and I both know that our taste in men differs like night and day," Blake said blandly then smiled, "Which is good for me because I want Seth all to myself."

"You are just too cute, you know. I haven't seen you starry eyed like this over a guy since that football jock in college. What was his name?" Caitlin pondered openly.

"Oh no, don't remind me. That was temporary insanity or something," Blake snorted.

"Yeah, but you were just as dreamy about him as you are Seth. So I want to meet this guy. You know you can't get serious about a guy until he has the best friend seal of approval."

"In that case, you can get serious about Ken. He's already got my seal of approval," Blake smiled as she shifted the focus back upon Caitlin.

"Blake," Caitlin chuckled, "We're working together, and I'm really not ready for anything serious."

"Well then you and Ken should have some fun together. You both deserve it," Blake said softly, "Besides, I wouldn't mind having you for a sister in law."

"Would you stop with that already?" Caitlin shook her head.

Blake grinned, "I just know something that works when I see it. You two should make a good team."

"I have too much going on right now, Blake. Really, Kenneth is nice, but I just want to be friends for now."

"For now," Blake repeated, "That could always change."


"It will," Blake declared, "And I have a feeling that we'll all finally have the happiness we deserve," She said with a smile as she thought about Seth and how happy he made her. If only Caitlin could find the same happiness, their lives would be as close to perfect as humanly possible.


Grady entered the new offices of Stone Corp and quickly surveyed the lobby. The lighting was sophisticated, reflecting softly off of the black wall surface while the open air entrance allowed the visitor to look up onto the towering four stories above. It was an impressive entryway. Now if only their business proved to be as impressive.

He greeted the receptionist with a warm smile, "Grady Denton to see Cameron Stone."

"Ah yes," She smiled brightly, "Ms. Valentine will be down to escort you shortly."

"Thank you," He said as he looked at some of the sculptures within the lobby area.

"Mr. Denton, I presume," Thea spoke as she sashayed towards him. She extended her hand to him and shook his hand firmly, "I'm Thea Valentine."

"Ms. Valentine," Grady nodded as he shook her hand, "I've been told you're my escort."

"So I am," She smiled, "Please come with me," She said as he led him to the elevator. She pressed the call button before turning to him, "Are you from Coral Valley?"

"Yes, I am actually," He replied, studying her with the hopes of learning more about Cameron Stone and his company, "Why do you ask?"

"Just curious," She said as the elevator doors opened, "I didn't know they raised men as sexy as you around here," She said slyly before she stepped on board the elevator.

Grady took the compliment numbly as he stepped on the elevator behind her, "What about you? Where are you from?"

"New York," She replied as she pressed a button for the fourth floor, "Ever been to the Big Apple?"

"Yes," He said simply as he looked out of the glass elevator at the lobby below as they rose to the fourth floor.

Thea stepped off the elevator and led Grady down to the office at the end of the hallway. She opened a door, stepped inside and widened the area to allow him entrance, "Grady Denton."

"Grady," Cameron smiled as he stood from his desk and crossed the room. He shook Grady's hand before offering him a seat, "I was hoping you'd be able to make this morning's meeting. My assistant says that you had some questions for me."

"Yes, I do," Grady admitted as he unbuttoned his suit jacket and sat down.

"Can I get you anything?" Thea asked openly.

"I'm good," Cameron said as he looked to his visitor, "Would you like some coffee?"

"No, thank you," Grady answered.

"If you need anything, all you have to do is call," Thea smiled brightly before she left the office.

"So, what questions do you have for me?" Cameron asked as he took his seat behind his desk.

"My people have done some research, and I'm wondering why your in house counsel isn't representing you in this matter. Kipp Mahoney is more than capable of handling this sort of lawsuit."

"Your research is apparently very good. Let me guess…Jade?" Cameron asked with a smile, "The answer is yes, Kipp could handle this case, but he's dealing with other matters at the moment which I feel demand his full attention."

"I see," Grady nodded, "And your…whatever it is with Jade?"

"What about it?"

"I don't condone my employees having affairs with clients, and I always make them drop a case if they are involved. I can't do that with Jade. She's my most trusted aide, and I wouldn't be able to do my very best for you if I had to force her off this case."

"Are you asking me to stop seeing Jade?"

Grady paused as he thought about the question and how he should answer, "I'm asking you not to see her if you want me working on this case."

"So it's you as my lawyer or Jade as my lover, and I have to decide, right?" Cameron asked bluntly as his expression darkened.

Grady tried to ignore the lover comment, "I think I was very clear."

"And Jade? Will you have this conversation with her as well if I tell you I want you as an attorney then still see her?"

"No," Grady replied simply, "I'll quit this case in the blink of an eye."

"Is this really about employees and clients having affairs? Or is it more about you being territorial where Jade is concerned?" Cameron asked pointedly.

"I do feel the need to protect Jade if that's what you're asking."

"That isn't what I'm asking at all, and you know it."

Grady stood, "You know what, Mr. Stone, I don't need your business this badly, and Jade doesn't need you in her life."

"Okay," Cameron said as he stood, "Okay, if it means having you as my attorney, I won't see Jade again," He said before softening his tone, "I just don't like ultimatums."

"I'm serious about this. I don't want any conflict of interests to arise in this case. If that comes about, I'll quit and I reserve the right to do so at any time," Grady warned firmly.

Cameron studied Grady's stance for a moment before nodding, "Fair enough. I respect a man who has a code of ethics and stands by it," He extended his hand, "So you'll take the case?"

Grady looked at Cameron's hand for a moment before shaking, "I will. I'll need to do further research before I'm ready to file any papers."

"Of course," Cameron said with a smile, "I have a feeling we'll both be profiting from this venture."

Grady nodded before he left the office. Thea stepped inside after Grady had departed.

"Will he take the case?" Thea asked as she walked to his desk and sat on the corner of Cameron's desk.

"He'll take the case, and he'll win for us. He's got determination, and he's stubborn as hell," Cameron smiled as she sat back in his chair, "But no one is as determined as I am," He said with a grin, thinking ahead to his plans for the future and his next move involving Jade.


“Busy day huh,” a voice called out as Ben Walters looked up from his desk finding Diane standing before him her eyes wide with curiosity as she leaned in over his desk casually offering up the file in her hand.

“Something like that,” Ben smiled at her leaning back in his chair, “it would seem that today wasn’t the play day you’d anticipated it to be.”
“I didn’t expect those two to be back so soon,” Diane’s eyes widened as a cryptic smile swept over her features, “so got any good gossip?”
“From her?” Ben motioned to Avery’s office door before shaking his head, “Nothing.  What about you?”
“Brant’s been unusually quiet today,” Diane noted lowering her voice as her eyes lit up at the prospect of getting some good gossip about the trip that Brant and Avery had taken together, “but something tells me that there’s trouble in paradise because it isn’t like him to be stuck in his office all morning.  Usually by now they’re going at each other’s throats.”
“I noticed that things were different this morning,” Ben confessed looking around the corridor, “you don’t think that something happened with the Davies deal they were working on, do you?”
“Rumor has it that there was no Davies deal to begin with,” Diane blurted out in a scandalous tone, “from the things I’ve heard, it was just their excuse to get away on a romantic weekend.”
“No way, I don’t buy it,” Ben shook his head, “if that was the case, then I don’t believe they’d be here right now.”
“That’s where things get mysterious,” Diane noted, “I heard from Sheryl, who heard from Alex, who spoke with Tony, who knows Marcia, who’s cousin Tammy was staying at the same hotel as Brant and Avery were and she said that she heard from one of the bellhops that there were a lot of suspicious things happening in their suite.  Even tales of strange room service requests like whipped cream, chocolate sauce, cherries and the works, but no ice cream.  Makes you wonder just what they were trying to dress up with each other…”
“Diane, I think you spend far too much time in the break room,” Ben couldn’t help but laugh, “I mean seriously it doesn’t make any sense considering that they’re here right now.”
“Maybe they wore each other out on their trip, or worse I heard that,” she leaned in closer to him, “Marie in billing informed me that Avery has this ring on her finger and it’s like huge.  Something that looks like an engagement ring that clearly has Brant’s name all over it.  Someone speculated that they came home early to get things together for their impromptu wedding next weekend…”
“I don’t buy it for a second,” Ben shook his head simply, “it just doesn’t feel like it’s their kind of thing.”
“Ben, trust me.  I know about these things and I’m telling you…” she stopped as she heard the sounds of someone standing in behind her.  Looking up Diane noticed Brant towering over her, a disapproving look on his face.
“Don’t you have work to do,” he grumbled at her.
“I’m working on it,” she motioned to the file she’d been carrying.
“Good then get on it because I don’t pay you to flirt,” he replied dismissively turning his attention to Ben.  “Is she in her office?”
“Yeah, she’s in there, but she doesn’t want to be disturbed,” Ben confessed after a moment’s hesitation.
“I’m sure she doesn’t,” Brant stepped towards the doors to Avery’s office deciding to pay her a visit, “and make sure that no one disturbs the two of us while I’m in there,” he finished giving Diane one last look, “get back to work.”
“I’m working on it,” she groaned watching as Brant made his way into Avery’s office closing the door behind him.
“So you going to get back to things,” Ben questioned as Diane took a seat on the edge of his desk.
“Hell no,” she shook her head as a wide grin spread over her features, “not when the fireworks are about to happen.  I get the distinct feeling this one is going to be good,” she laughed lightly circling around his desk as she stepped in towards the door to Avery’s office deciding a little listen wouldn’t hurt anything.

Avery stepped out of the private bathroom connected to her office as she vowed never to drink again.  This morning’s turn of events only left her feeling like hell as she wondered why she even bothered to come into work.  Seeing Brant was the last thing she wanted to do, yet as she’d spent the last few hours stewing over the pages before her, not really absorbing any of it, she wondered what the point in showing up had been.  Still, she reminded herself, she had a job to do even if she wasn’t feeling up to par.
“Good morning Avery,” Brant’s voice beckoned her as she turned her attention to the small couch set up in her office.  She found him seated comfortably as though he’d been waiting for her while she’d been losing her breakfast that Russell had provided her with, “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” she frowned stepping over towards her desk as she took a seat, “I thought I told Ben I specifically wasn’t up to any visitors this morning.”
“I’m sure you did,” Brant rose up from the couch, “but I’m not just anyone you know.”
“Brant, what do you want,” Avery groaned as she looked up at him trying to ignore the images that had haunted her since she’d discovered his tie in her apartment.  Suddenly feeling on edge, she shifted in her seat not really sure how to approach him.
“I was worried about you,” Brant confessed as he took a slow, casual stride towards her, “After I dropped you off at the apartment last night, well I just thought maybe you wouldn’t be coming in today.”
“Surprise, I’m here,” Avery tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, “and if you don’t mind, I have some major damage control to work on now that the Davies deal is no more.”
“Actually I wanted to talk to you about that,” Brant hesitated seeing the way she was avoiding his eyes as she fumbled with the papers before her.
“Look Brant I know it’s a major set back and if you’ve changed your mind about Davies,” she drew in a nervous breath remembering the way he’d torn up the contract at the hotel.
“I’m not concerned about Davies,” Brant shook his head simply, “the way I see it, he can go bark up someone else’s tree because his business isn’t welcome here at BBK.”
“You’re really sure about that,” Avery questioned uneasy as she forced herself to meet his dark, curious eyes.  A surge of heat rushed over her as she remembered his mouth over her, kissing her in places he never should’ve seen.
“I’m positive,” he nodded simply adjusting his tie, “as sure as I’m standing here, I mean that.  I don’t want Davies or his money touching anything at BBK.”
“Well then I think we’re going to have to look towards some new investors for the project at hand as…” Avery started refocusing her attention on the pages before her as Brant stepped forward placing his hand down in the center of the page she was holding.
“Avery, would you just put work aside for a moment?  I’d like to talk,” Brant confessed as she slowly lifted her eyes up over his body.
“About what?” she questioned hoping he wouldn’t bring up their almost making love.
“Last night,” he began patiently watching as her body grew tense at the very mention of their time together.
“About last night,” she hesitated drawing in a breath as she fought for the right words, “I don’t normally drink like that…”
“I’m well aware of that,” Brant nodded seeing the color rise over her features, “I mean clearly it’s not every day that you’re telling me how sexy you think I am--not that I don’t appreciate the compliment since the feeling is mutual…”
“Brant, obviously I was very intoxicated because I’m certain that I wouldn’t have said such things in a state of sobriety,” Avery feigned a shudder as she closed the folder in front of her.  Forcing herself to keep her emotions from showing, she took in a slow, calming breath as she kept her eyes on him, “Brant, despite what might or might not have happened last night, the fact remains that you and I are coworkers.  That’s it.”
“Avery, you and I both know better than that,” Brant frowned deeply watching her attempts at pushing him away, “we crossed over that line months ago.”
“The only line we crossed was the one of harassment,” she snapped back at him, “You won’t leave me alone and when you do things, it clouds my thinking…”
“When I do things?” Brant blinked back at her, “Avery, correct me if I’m wrong, but we never got to that martini at Davies’s estate.  You were clear headed when you were at the hotel with me when we almost…”
“Don’t you say it,” she rose from her chair, anger rushing over her, “Don’t you dare say it.”
“Say what?” Brant offered a smug smile seeing the displeasure that rushed over her, “That we almost made love?”
“Don’t!” she squealed back at him, “We did not.”
“Avery, now who’s in denial about things,” Brant shook his head at her, “you know if I didn’t have half a mind to be decent about this right now, I’d take you over my…”
“Over your what?” Avery demanded pushing out of her chair as she rose to meet his angry eyes, “What is your problem, Brant?  I was drunk and I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
“Avery, we both know that the champagne had nothing to do with what was happening at the hotel,” Brant argued with her, “that happened all on it’s own and it felt right.”
“No, it felt wrong.  It felt very wrong and it’s never, ever happening again,” Avery explained simply folding her arms in front of her chest, “I don’t know why I let things get out of hand, but it stops here.”
“Avery, don’t even try to deny how good it felt,” he stepped towards her, “we were more than eager to lose ourselves in one another and you enjoyed that feeling.”
“Brant, I was upset about what happened with Davies and then with Russell following me…” she argued with him.
“You didn’t know about Russell until Heather bust in on us making love I might add,” Brant stated matter of fact.
“No, that’s not true,” Avery shook her head in denial, “Russell stepped out onto the balcony pretending to be you.  He was the one who hit Davies and I knew that he and Heather had followed us.”
“Avery, I know that what happened back in the hotel room had absolutely nothing to do with Russell Denton despite the strange history the two of you have, which by the way I could’ve skipped over last night when you were trying to seduce me.”
“I did no such thing,” she argued with him as a desperate laugh spilled over her lips, “I would never…”
“You did and you enjoyed every minute of it,” he stepped in closer towards her, “You wanted me just as much as I want you and if I wasn’t a gentleman…”
“Oh that’ll be the day,” she rolled her eyes in response, “that’s almost funny considering that you are the furthest from being a gentleman I’ve had the displeasure of encountering.”
“Hmm, well then maybe we could talk about the secret password to your apartment,” Brant offered with a cryptic smile, “or maybe about my perfect butt?”
“Oh please, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she shook her head disbelieving as the faint image of her kissing him flooded her mind.  She circled around her chair, standing behind it as she tried to keep it between her and Brant.
“That’s not what you were saying when you were feeling me up last night,” Brant spoke with a teasing grin, “of course if you don’t believe me about any of this, you could always ask Mrs. Miller about it since you wanted me to frisk you in front of her.  Given the way you ripped off your blouse and told her that we were about to have some amazing sex, I think she’d not be easy to forget that moment.”
“I didn’t do that,” Avery shook her head in denial, “I would never…”
“You did and you liked it,” Brant placed his hand on top of hers teasing her finger tips as his dark eyes gazed down deep into hers, “Last night when we were in your room, which by the way I might add you have a great apartment…”
“Brant, I so did not do any of that,” she shook her head simply, “You couldn’t get me drunk enough to…”
“You told me all about Bruce,” Brant continued casually, “how you told him to hit the road when he issued you an ultimatum and you were worried that I’d lost interest in you.  You were worried that I’d forget all about you and that I’d race on to my next conquest.”
“I wish you would,” Avery lied as her pulse quickened at the nearness of him, “I wish you would just leave me alone.”
“Liar,” Brant pulled the chair away from her shoving it aside as he stepped in closer to her, “you wanted me last night and you still want me this morning just like I want you.”
“Brant, if you touch me, I’ll scream,” Avery warned him as she took a step back into the filing cabinets behind her.
“You will not,” Brant casually stepped forward, determination burning behind his eyes, “not after last night.  Not after everything that happened…”
“Nothing happened, Brant,” Avery reasoned praying that she hadn’t done something stupid in her drunken state as he approached her.  The heat of his body, so close to hers set her head swimming as he was closing in on her.  He was suddenly overwhelming her as she struggled to remain firm in her quest to keep him at a distance.  Somehow the scent of his cologne, the warmth of his confidence and the way he looked at her, sent a shot of electricity racing through her skin as he reached out to her cupping her cheek in his hand.
“That’s only because I told you when we made love I wanted you to be completely sober,” Brant whispered tightly as his fingers slid into her hair, “and that’s a promise I fully intend to keep,” he leaned forward capturing her lips in a daring kiss.
Avery threw her arms out in the air, too stunned to do much else as Brant’s mouth claimed hers with the same hungry desire she’d felt back in the hotel room.  The way he tasted her, his fiery kisses as his tongue invaded her longing mouth with a searching sweep.  He was daring her to refuse him, daring her to deny that she’d felt something but as her arms came crashing down around him, she felt her body giving in to the warmth of his embrace as he pressed her up against the filing cabinets in one firm, solid motion stealing her breath away.  She felt her fingers curling over his shoulders, his palm sliding over her hip, nudging her leg against his thigh as she pushed her fingers into his shoulders putting a distance between them.
“Brant no,” she murmured as he lifted her leg off the floor, pushing her into the filing cabinet once again.
“Avery, don’t deny this,” he urged her leg around his torso as he pressed up against her leaving no mystery to the imagination about his desire for her.  His mouth bit down upon her neck nibbling on her soft skin as his fingers tugged on her dark hair, urging her head back slightly as he showered her with heated kisses.
“Brant stop,” she gasped for air, feeling his body press in against her, rubbing over her as his aching need filled the void she’d been seemingly oblivious of as his body ground up against hers offering temptations to come as she sank her fingers into his shoulders.
“You don’t want me to stop,” Brant encouraged capturing her lips in an outrageous kiss as he lifted her leg higher up his body placing himself between her thighs as he rubbed up against her, offering a taste of things to come between them without the barriers between them should she give in to his temptations.
“Brant…” she spoke his name tightly, pleading with herself to just ignore the way he’d teased her--the way she wanted him as a breath spilled over her lips.
“Shh…” he raised his fingers over her mouth, tracing her kiss swelled lips as he silenced her protests.
“Brant, please,” she spoke in a low whisper hating the ways in which his touch had effected her.  Oh why hadn’t she been stronger about things with him?  Why had she let him touch her to begin with?  Why couldn’t she just tell him to go to hell?  To leave her alone and stop this bothersome pursuit of her?
“Avery, I want you,” Brant whispered harshly against her lips as he leaned forward kissing her once again, “I want you more than you can imagine.”
“Brant, I…” she began seeing the desire burning behind his eyes as he touched her.
“Just tell me that you feel it too, that we do have a connection, that you want me,” he begged of her as she held onto him.
“Wanting you and being with you are two very different things,” Avery cut back sharply, “what we have is obvious physical chemistry, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about you…”
“And how do you feel about me?” Brant lifted a curious brow.
“You infuriate me,” Avery confessed as his lips beckoned her once again.
“It’s a good start,” Brant shrugged his shoulders as his fingers plucked open the buttons on her jacket, “what else?”
“You’re stubborn and clearly pig headed,” Avery continued as he eased open the material of her jacket and his palms pressed over her blouse.
“And sexy,” Brant dipped his lips down over the curve of her neck as his fingers teased over the buttons of her blouse, “not to mention I have a perfect butt.”
“Brant, you’re really pushing it,” she shot him a scathing look as their eyes connected and his arms encircled her waist drawing her up off of the floor as he carried her towards her desk.
“That was my intention,” Brant answered kissing her greedily as he placed her on top of her desk, giving in to the feeling of her body pressed against his.
“Brant,” she reached out to him as he hovered over her, his lips daring her to refuse him as she fell back onto the stack of papers on her desk.  He leaned over her, his eyes full of mischief and desire as he touched her cheek gently.
“Avery, you’re so beautiful,” he whispered mesmerized by the way she looked before him, her features flushed with the moment as he reached out to touch her dark hair.  As he reached towards her, he felt something brush up against his finger tips.  Withdrawing his hand, he realized it was some kind of newspaper clipping as he tried to dislodge it from his hand.
“Let me get it,” Avery urged reaching for the page as Brant’s face was before her along with the images of three bikini clad women hung on his arms, with the headline, “Ashford Bachelor Says There is Plenty of Him To Go Around”.
“I’ve got it…” Brant frowned taking a step back as Avery plucked the page off of his finger.
“No, I do,” she skimmed the article as one of Brant’s less than noble exploits was revealed to her once again as a painful reminder of Brant’s true nature.  Suddenly wanting to kick herself as she sat up shifting to the floor once again, she turned away from Brant.
“Avery,” he began as he looked down at her desk seeing the various articles about him spread out on her desk top, “where did you get all of these?”
“I…I don’t know,” Avery began as she turned her attention to the collage of Brant’s exploits that had somehow spilled out of her briefcase.  Suddenly caught up in a wave of embarrassment, she turned to him, unable to believe the way she’d carried herself with him as she’d almost become one of the tabloid tales herself.
“Avery about these…” he started a confused look upon his face as he took a step back.
“Brant, you should go,” Avery drew in a breath wanting to kick herself for even thinking about giving in to Brant’s advances.  He had a reputation for being a player and her giving in to him on her desk certainly would add to the shady tales of his bachelor life.  Now feeling ashamed of her behavior, she pulled her jacket to a close as she looked down to the floor.
“Avery, I think we should talk about this,” Brant sighed as he scooped up the articles from her desk top, “this isn’t me.  I mean it was me, but it was a lifetime ago.  I’m not like this anymore.  You have to believe that…”
“Brant, what I believe is that we shouldn’t be together in anything other than a professional level,” Avery confessed fighting the tears building behind her eyes as she wanted to kick herself for falling into one of Brant’s impromptu seductions.
“Avery, I don’t believe that,” Brant began as he turned his attention to her desk, “and neither do you.  This proves that.”
“This proves that I need my head examined,” Avery turned her eyes up towards him again unable to contain the tears that threatened to overwhelm her, “I shouldn’t have come in today,” she blurted out starting to turn away from him.
“Avery wait,” he reached out for her taking her arm, “Avery please.”
“Brant, just don’t,” she looked up at him seeing something unfamiliar cross over his features as he reached out to her touching a tear.
“Please don’t cry,” he begged of her, “Don’t walk away from me like this--not like this.  I don’t want to be the cause of any pain for you.  I told you last night that I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Brant, if we got involved we’d be hurting each other,” Avery confessed simply, “I’m not ready for this…I’m not ready to take our relationship to this level.”
“Fine, then let’s start slowly,” he pleaded with her, “I’ll do whatever it takes to prove to you that the man in those articles isn’t the man that I am.  I’ll give you whatever you need.”
“Brant, if you’re constantly trying to seduce me, it tends to make me think that….” her words were interrupted as he tipped down to kiss her desperately.  He cupped her face in his hands as he offered a long, drugging kiss before he pulled away from her breathless.
“Avery, I want you.  I want you in so many ways that I’m scaring myself,” Brant admitted drawing in a breath of confusion, “I don’t want to make love to you like this on your desk top.  That was just impulsive and stupid and I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have pressured you, but the thought of you walking away--of your shutting me out of your life when we have this thing between us…”
“Brant,” she began again as he wiped at her face collecting a tear on the pad of his thumb.
“Avery, I want to know you--to know what it is that you’re afraid of, what it is that you feel inside,” Brant confessed lowering his voice as he held her, “I want to know everything there is to know and I want us to build on that.  I want you to see me--to really see what’s inside of me and not what those papers tell you.  I want you to know what’s in here,” he lifted her hand to his chest as he placed her palm over his heart, “I know that it sounds crazy and you have absolutely no reason to believe a word of what I’m telling you, but Avery this time I mean it.  This time I want something more…”
“Brant, I don’t know if we can do that.  Considering what I know about you…”
“Just give me a chance,” he pleaded with her, “that’s all I’m asking for.”
“Brant, I…” she began at a loss as he kissed her forehead gently.
“Avery, I’ll do whatever it takes to prove to you that I’m in it for more than just sex,” Brant took a step back drawing in a breath, “I know that sounds next to impossible, but I’ll change.  I’ll prove myself to you if that’s what it takes.”
“Brant, you can’t change who you are,” she sighed running her fingers through her dark hair as she saw the sadness behind his eyes.
“Maybe the truth is that I don’t know what I am, but I know that when I’m with you, I want to be a better man,” Brant confessed after a moment’s hesitation, “and when I’m with you, I feel like maybe there is some good in me--like maybe there’s a chance for me to become something more.”
“Brant, I don’t know what to say,” she took in a slow, nervous breath, “after this…”
“This wasn’t how I wanted us to be,” he reached for her hand drawing it up to his lips in a soft kiss, “Let me prove that to you tonight.  Have dinner with me.”
“Brant, I can’t,” Avery frowned in response.
“Of course you can,” Brant urged gently, “If you just give me a chance…”
“Brant, I really can’t.  I have plans tonight,” Avery began thinking back to her reluctant dinner date with Russell.
“Then tomorrow night,” Brant offered simply, “We can go anywhere you want or hell we can go back to my place,” he saw the look of protest behind her eyes, “I swear this time, no funny business.”
“You said that last time,” she remained him simply.
“Last time I was being a jackass, but this time,” he kissed the top of her hand, “there’s more at risk.  I don’t want to screw things up.”
“I really shouldn’t,” Avery sucked in a nervous breath as she thought over his proposal, “and even considering the offer makes me crazy.”
“Avery, I promise you won’t regret it.  I’ll be on my best behavior,” he swore to her lifting her hand to his heart once again, “What do you say?”
Avery looked to him for one long contemplative moment, “If you do anything to upset me--anything at all…”
“I won’t,” Brant insisted with a light smile, “I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”
“That would be something completely different,” she teased gently.
“Then you’ll go,” he searched her eyes hoping to get acceptance from her.
“I’ll have dinner with you,” she sighed in resignation, “but I swear to you if you do anything at all…”
“I won’t,” he offered one last kiss over her hand before taking a step back, “you won’t regret this.”
“Famous last words,” Avery spoke gently watching as he adjusted his tie and he stood straighter attempting to be casual as he made his way to her office door.  He threw one last look in her direction before leaving her office and she was suddenly alone wondering what the world she was getting herself into with him.  Somehow the complication level in her life was compiling on her more and more by the moment and soon she feared she wouldn’t be able to handle it.  Oh who was she kidding, she sighed as she sank back into her chair once again.  She didn’t have a grip on any of it now and with this emotional tug of war going on between the men in her life, she realized that life was not looking as thought it was going to get easier anytime soon.


Russell whistled a tune as he stepped into the newsroom, his day picking up by the moment as he looked forward to the day ahead of him.  By this time Avery certainly would’ve seen the news articles he’d planted in her briefcase and it would inspire some thinking on her part.  It was such a shame that she’d been so stubborn thus far, but still, he was certain she’d see the light soon enough.
“Good morning Mindy,” Russell greeted her with a bright smile, “how are you?”
“Clearly not as good as you are this morning,” she noted with a tiny laugh, “Have a good trip?”
“You could say it worked out in more ways than I’d imagined,” Russell quipped looking around the busy newsroom, “I’d have to say things are picking up around here, aren’t they?”
“You haven’t heard have you,” Mindy frowned in response to her boss and his unusual cheerfulness.
“What haven’t I heard?”
“Caitlin was attacked in the parking garage the other night,” Mindy replied worried about her co-worker.  “She was just minding her own business calling it a night when some guy jumped her out of the blue.  If I hadn’t arrived when I did, well there’s no telling what might’ve happened to her…”
“Did they catch the guy,” Russell’s smile faded as concerns for Caitlin washed over him.
“I don’t think so,” she shook her head, “but I did call and get the police involved.  It could’ve been some random mugging I suppose, but still…” she lowered her voice as Caitlin entered the newsroom.
“Thanks Mindy,” Russell nodded turning his attention to his would be star reporter as his worries about her consumed him.  Seeing as she set her things at her desk to start her workload, Russell cleared his throat making his presence known.
“Hi Russell,” Caitlin looked up at him surprised to see him standing before her, “I thought you were out of town.”
“I was, but I’m back,” Russell confessed simply, “Can we have a word in my office?”
“I something wrong,” Caitlin gave him a sideways glance as her eyes swept over him curiously.
“No, not really,” he answered simply, “I just thought maybe we’d take the time to touch base on things.”
“Alright,” she nodded setting the things she’d brought with her aside as she followed him into his office closing the door behind her, “what’s on your mind?”
“How are you doing,” he questioned, his voice full of concern as he directed his attention to her.
“I’m fine,” Caitlin offered a polite smile.
“Caitlin, I’ll cut to the chase, I heard about what happened in the garage,” Russell blurted out with a frown, “Care to tell me about it?”
“I’m sure you heard all there is to hear on the subject,” she shrugged her shoulders, “the police think it’s a random attack and…”
“And you don’t think this could be related to the story you’re working on,” Russell sighed after a moment’s contemplation, “I’ve had my reservations about this story from it’s inception--”
“It’s not the story that’s the problem,” Caitlin defended thinking of her work with Kenneth, “what we have in front of us is a very good story that should be told and what happened the other night, well I don’t believe it was tied into the story.”
“Caitlin I know you say that now, but the thought of you being hurt…”
“Russell, I told you that I’m fine,” Caitlin defended her position, “There was no major damage done and all is well.”
“Still…” Russell thought it over for a moment, “if we need to pull the plug…”
“We most certainly don’t need to pull the plug on this,” she argued with him as a loud squeal came from the outer office.
“I don’t care who he’s in there with, I want to see him now,” Heather shrieked as there was a crashing sound coming from outside the door.
“What in the--” Caitlin began in surprise as Heather burst into Russell’s office.
“There you are,” Heather’s eyes narrowed at him, “I have been looking for you all morning.  We need to talk like pronto.”
“I’m in a meeting,” Russell motioned towards Caitlin.
“Great, it’s over, so get lost,” she waved her hand dismissively at Caitlin.
“I don’t think so,” Caitlin frowned looking to the woman before her as she wondered what in the world Russell was doing with someone like her.
“Look Missy, I don’t know what your problem is, but he and I have some important business to attend to, so scram,” Heather spat back at her.
“We were in the middle of a meeting Heather,” Russell frowned as Heather shooed at Caitlin.
“It’s okay Russell,” Caitlin began realizing that perhaps this disturbance was for the best.
“No, it’s not okay,” Russell shook his head as a scowl pressed over his features, “I’m not finished speaking with you and Heather can wait.”
“Like hell I can,” Heather grumbled back at him, “the way I see it, the more time you spend here with Blondie, the less time it gives us to work on our next strategic move.”
“Heather as I said…” Russell began as Caitlin stepped forward.
“Blondie?” Caitlin repeated with a frown, “Just who do you think you are?”
“Someone who’s in a hurry,” Heather shot back at her simply, “so get lost.  Beat it!  Buh-bye,” she waved her hand in Caitlin’s face, “Adios!”
“That’s it,” Caitlin frowned in response, “I don’t know who you are, but we were in a meeting and you aren’t a part of it.”
“I don’t care if you were talking to God himself,” Heather barked back at her, “I’m here to see Russell and you can wait in line.  I had dibs on him first.”
“Why you…” Caitlin’s eyes narrowed at her comments.
“It’s alright,” Russell stepped forward looking to Heather.
“I need to talk to you now,” Heather demanded with a huff, “I don’t want to let another precious moment slip by here while you’re wasting your time with this,” Heather wrinkled her nose, “woman.”
“Heather,” Russell reached out to her pulling her aside, “I’ll talk to you when I’m finished here.”
“No, you’ll talk to me now,” Heather insisted, “I don’t care what you have to do in order to make it happen, but get rid of her because we need to discuss our next strategy.”
“Heather, I’m working.”
“And I’m working on saving my relationship with Brant,” Heather grumbled back at him, “We need to take things to the next level and…”
“Heather none of your ideas were working for us,” Russell reminded her, “and I’m fairly certain that whatever one you have in your head right now will be a flop as well.”
“You’re wrong about that because this time,” Heather started once again.
“This time I’m in a meeting,” Russell announced firmly as he reached for her arm scooting her towards the door, “and you’ll just have to talk to me later.”
“No I’m not going to talk to you later,” Heather hissed back at him, “I’m going to talk to you now and…” her words were interrupted as he opened his office door gently scooting her out of the room.
“Good-bye Heather,” he threw out a tiny wave before adding, “I’ll call you later.”
“Why I never,” Heather frowned deeply as Russell shut the door in her face causing Mindy to let out a tiny chuckle of amusement.
“I told you he was busy,” Mindy quipped seeing the anger rush over Heather’s features.
“Oh you,” Heather gave her a glare as she straightened out her own appearance deciding that it was time to take matters into her own hands as she looked to Mindy once again, “Make sure that he calls me as soon as his ridiculous meeting is done.  You got it?”
“You’ll be on the top of my list,” Mindy nodded watching as Heather stomped out of the newsroom in a hasty retreat.  Letting out a tiny laugh, Mindy shook her head wondering what on Earth was wrong with Russell Denton for allowing that thing into his life.  Either way it didn’t really matter as she would be sure that Heather would be back for another round with him.  She always was.


Grady knocked lightly upon the door before entering Jade's office, "Have you got a minute?"

"Sure," Jade replied with a smile as she shifted papers about on her desk, "I need a good break anyway."

He smiled as he made his way to sit across from her, "I spoke with Cameron Stone this morning, and I agreed to take his case."

"You did?" She asked with mild surprise.

"Yeah, why does that surprise you?"

"I don't know. I guess I just figured that you didn't like him," She shrugged.

"I still don't like him," He admitted, "But his case is sound, his money is good, and any chance to give the Ashfords a black eye is a good one," Grady smiled, "Russ came by my house last night. He said he'd seen you with Cameron."

"Yeah, I took him out for the tour last night," Jade replied simply.

"How'd that go?"

"I'm in one piece, aren't I?" She asked as she met his concerned eyes, "So your concern was misplaced."

"I don't know," Grady shook his head, "I don't trust the guy at all."

"You don't have to, Grady. You're his attorney, not his best friend."

"Jade, I have a favor to ask of you."

She paused for a moment as she watched him carefully, "And what would that be?"

He met her eyes as he spoke, "Please don't see Cameron again personally."

She rolled her eyes, "What is the big deal with this guy? First Seth and now you."

"Seth expressed concerns?"

"Yes, he did, but I don't understand what it is. Are you guys just trying to be big territorial males or what?"

"Jade, if the both of us have reservations where Stone is concerned, doesn't that tell you something?"

"Yes, there's too much testosterone in my vicinity," She frowned.

"I don't trust the guy for a second."

"Is that really it? Or is it just that you don't want me but you don't want anyone else to have me either?" She asked bluntly.

"I never said that," He defended quickly.

"No, but I can read the signs, Grady. You come in here and kiss me yesterday then tell me that nothing's between us. Okay, that broken heart you heard crashing to Earth was mine," She declared before continuing, "So I went out with someone who makes me feel wanted. And now you're asking me not to see him? You have no right," She said firmly as she stood from her chair and moved to her window, glancing out at the city streets below, "You have no right to break my heart and then tell me who I can and cannot see."

Grady closed his eyes in shame as he felt guilt wash over him. He sighed softly, "I'm sorry, Jade. I never should have done that."

"Damn right you shouldn't have. Do you have any idea how it feels to want someone so badly that your heart aches?" She questioned, afraid to turn her gaze towards him, "Do you have any idea what it's like to have that person give you a glimmer of hope just to wrench it away? Do you have any idea what it's like to have someone you care about break your heart in the most dreadful way?"

She hadn't heard him approach her, but now she felt his presence behind her before he ever touched her. Grady lightly placed his hands upon her shoulders as he stood close behind her.

He gently caressed her shoulders as he spoke in a soft voice, "I'm sorry, Jade. That was never my intention at all."

She slowly turned to meet his hypnotic green eyes. She tried to reign in her feelings as she gazed into their mesmerizing depths, "Then what was your intention?"

"I'm not sure really," He admitted as he touched her cheek in the most tender caress possible, "But it was never to hurt you."

"Why can't you let yourself want me? What is about me that drives you away?" She asked desperately as she searched his eyes.

"You don't drive me away," He replied as he swept his thumb gently over her cheekbone, "I push myself away because I've been hurt before. I don't know if I ever want to put myself on the line again."

"And you see me as some huge risk?" She asked, feeling tears threatening to pool within her eyes.

"You're the biggest risk of all," He informed her as his eyes caressed her face in slow motion before he focused on her eyes, "Because I'm afraid I could lose myself in you."

Jade reached out to him tentatively, afraid that her touch might send him running, "I would always find you, Grady, and bring you back," She promised softly.

"What if I wouldn't want to be found?" He asked as he lowered his lips towards hers.

"Jade, oh…I'm sorry," Dorothy said softly as she entered the office.

Grady released Jade as she turned to face the secretary.

"Dorothy," Jade said her name, "What is it?" She asked as she hoped that Grady wouldn't take the chance to flee.

"These came for you," Dorothy said as she placed a vase of oriental lilies upon Jade's desk. Dorothy gave them both a smile before she left the office.

"Grady," Jade said his name, hoping to garner his attention before he fled the scene.

"Aren't you going to see who they're from?" He asked as he looked at the flowers.

"Unless they're from you, I really don't give a damn," She said bluntly as she reached out to him.

Grady shook his head, "You know who they're from. They're from Cameron."

"He can have them back for all I care," Jade said firmly as she seized the lapels of Grady's jacket to get his attention. Once his eyes met hers, "All I care about is you."

He swept his fingers through her hair gently, tucking wayward strands behind her ear, "We should get back to work. We'll talk later."

"Do you promise?" She questioned, knowing that without his word of honor he would avoid a conversation about them at all costs.

"I promise," Grady replied with a gentle smile before he parted from her and left her office.

Jade felt like crying, screaming, and laughing all at the same time. She never knew that falling for a guy could mean she would go insane at the same time. She crossed the room and plucked the card from the flowers to read the note.

"Jade, Have dinner with me, Cameron"

"Oh boy," Jade frowned as she picked up the phone and dialed the number beneath Cameron's name.

"Cameron Stone," His voice carried smoothly over the phone like an invitation to sin.

"Cameron, this is Jade," She said as she sank into her chair.

"Jade, do you like the flowers?"

"They're beautiful," She smiled as she glanced at them, "And I appreciate your invitation but…"

"No buts…I don't take no for an answer," He said, a smile in his voice.

"Cameron, really, I can't. I have about a million things to do around the office and…"

"Is Denton a slave driver? Come on, you have to eat, don't you?" He asked softly, "I'll take you out for a bite to eat, and then if you absolutely have to, you can return to work. Fair enough?"

"You're really not going to take no for an answer, are you?" She asked in amazement.

"No," He said with a grin.

"Well then, it appears I have no choice," She replied simply.

"I'll pick you up at your office…around six thirty?"

"Fair enough," She said simply.

"I can't wait to see you. Until then," He said before he ended the call.

Jade hung up the phone and sighed. Cameron was truly a piece of work, and she was still trying to figure him out. She didn't want to have dinner with him, especially when she appeared to be making progress with Grady. Maybe dinner would be the chance she needed to make it perfectly clear to Cameron that she wasn't available and never would be as long as Grady Denton was alive.


Seth stalked up the front steps of Stone Corp determined to have it out with Cameron Stone once and for all.  Taking the elevators up to the executive offices, Seth vowed that he’d do anything and everything in his power to just be done with this association.  Thinking back to the night he’d shared with Blake and to the morning’s conversation with Jade, he was determined to sever all ties with the man completely.  Nothing would change the fact that Seth wanted out.
As the elevator doors opened revealing the executive suites to him, Seth took in a breath and stepped forward unwavering in his decision to end this once and for all as he took a look around.  Seeing the receptionist at the desk before him, he marched forward confidence in his step.
“Where is Cameron Stone’s office,” Seth questioned gruffly.
“Do you have an appointment,” she looked up at him casually.
“He’s expecting me,” Seth answered tightly, “now where’s his office.”
“I’m sorry, but if you don’t have an appointment, then I’m afraid I can’t get in to see him right now,” the apologized simply as she motioned to the book before her, “However if you’d like to make an appointment…”
“Forget it.  I’ll find him myself,” Seth huffed turning away from her as he headed down the long, narrow hallway vowing to find Cameron.
“Hey hold on a second,” a voice rose after him as he ignored the receptionist’s protests and he continued his march down the hallway.
“What’s going on here,” another voice questioned as Seth spotted Cameron’s office in the distance.  He reached out to touch the door to open Cameron’s office as a hand pressed in on his shoulder.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing,” a man snapped at him as Seth turned to look down at the man standing beside him.
“Just who the hell do you think you are,” the man challenged.
“I’m here to see Mr. Stone,” Seth answered tightly, “and I strongly suggest you get out of my way.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” the man shook his head in refusal, “Mr. Stone is in an important business meeting and if you don’t have an appointment, then you aren’t going in there.”
“Look buddy, I don’t know who you are, but Cameron is expecting me and I will go in there, now get out of my way,” Seth reached for the door knob once again as the shorter man shoved him away.
“No, I won’t let you do that,” the man explained adjusting his tie as Seth glared at him, “I’ll call security if I have to.”
“What’s going on out here,” Cameron appeared on the other side of the closed door as he looked down at the man beside Seth, “Kipp, what are you doing?  I thought you were working on those papers for me.”
“I was, but this bozo bust in here and…” Kipp began to apologize taking a step back as Cameron’s gaze swept over Seth.
“Well, Mr. Alexander,” Cameron offered an icy smile, “I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.”
“We have business to attend to,” Seth glared down at Kipp, “and if you’d call your dogs out, then we could get on it.”
“Kipp,” Cameron turned his attention to his young lawyer, “it’s alright.  The situation is under control.”
“Well alright, but if this guy gives you problems,” Kipp began giving Seth a frown, “let me know.”
“What are you going to do,” Seth challenged as his dark eyes filled with the caged rage he was feeling towards Cameron.
“He’ll be on his way,” Cameron stepped in between the two men, “now Seth, why don’t you step into my office?”
“Fine,” Seth stalked into his office as Kipp turned to Cameron giving him a strange glance.
Cameron raised his hand in the air, “We’ll discuss this later,” he warned Kipp sharply before his lawyer offered a knowing nod and turned back to the job at hand.  Cameron forced yet another icy smile as he stepped into his office closing the door behind him to offer up some privacy in his meeting with Seth.
“You should’ve waited for me to call you,” Cameron offered in a cool, detached tone, “those were after all the terms of our arrangement.”
“The terms of our arrangement were that I take the pictures for you and you stay the hell away from my sister,” Seth spun around to face him, rage surging over his body as he held up the envelope he’d brought with him, “Here are the pictures, now stay away from Jade.”
“Excuse me,” Cameron let out a sarcastic laugh, “Are you trying to tell me what to do?  Do you really feel you’re in a position to do that?”
“My sister is off limits,” Seth seethed with anger as he motioned to the pictures, “I’m finished with the job you asked me to do and now I expect we won’t be seeing one another again.”
“The job is over when I say it’s over,” Cameron growled back at him as he reached for the envelope taking a peek at the photos within, “Very nice.  Very good indeed.  I knew you’d be perfect for this job.”
“You have what you want, and that’s it…” Seth snipped as he drew in a breath, “I don’t want your money or your kind of work.  I’m out.”
“You’re out when I say you’re out,” Cameron answered smoothly, “and this is only the beginning.  You are in no position to push my buttons and if you even think about it,” Cameron circled around his desk taking a seat in his high backed leather chair as he opened the top drawer of his desk pulling out an envelope, “Perhaps you should take a look at these.”
“What is it,” Seth questioned cautiously as Cameron motioned to the envelope.
“Why don’t you take a look,” Cameron suggested with a cryptic smile, “they might influence your decision about wanting to walk away from our arrangement.”
“I’ve made up my mind,” Seth stated firmly shaking his head in refusal.
“Take a look at that,” Cameron warned, his voice dark and menacing as Seth reluctantly reached for the envelope pulling it up from the desk top.
Opening up the envelope, Seth found a collection of black and white photos before him.  Unable to believe the images flashed before him as Blake’s soft features were revealed to him, he saw the moment of her in his arms at the beach last night when they’d been talking about her mother’s death.  As he flipped through the photos, he realized there were also pictures of him and Blake together at the Ashford mansion.
“Where did you get these,” Seth questioned in surprise as he looked over to Cameron.
“You didn’t think you were the only one I had working with me, did you,” Cameron quipped with a smug expression as he adjusted his tie, “I tend to keep my options open and I like to know what exactly is going on in the lives of my employees,” A wicked smirk spread over Cameron’s features, “and she’s quite remarkable, though I must confess the other photos are more so my favorite.  Keep looking.”
Seth reluctantly turned his attention to the photos once again as the images changed and Jade was on the photograph from another time--from days gone by.  Clenching the photos tightly, Seth felt his anger rise as Cameron had clearly been spying on him for quite some time and doing his research.
“Your sister is a beautiful woman,” Cameron noted with a predatory grin, “and it’s a shame that something such as those pictures would prove to be damaging to how far she’s come…wouldn’t you say?”
“You leave her out of this,” Seth warned sharply.
“Only if you accept there’s no way out until I say it so,” Cameron shrugged his shoulders, “You do what I expect out of you and Jade will go untouched, but if you cross me…”
“Cameron,” Seth opened his mouth to speak, but as he looked to the photos, he quickly tossed them back into the envelope, “I’ll do what you want of me, but leave Jade alone.”
“She’s a remarkable woman,” Cameron noted as his grin widened, “and I’ll behave as long as you continue to keep producing like you do,” he leaned back further in his chair, “I trust we’re finished here.”
“For now,” Seth grumbled realizing that this meeting with Cameron had turned out to be nothing but a horrible disaster.
“Oh and Seth,” Cameron called out as Seth turned away from him, “you can keep those pictures as I have other copies,” he finished as Seth shot him one last look of pure hatred before leaving his office.
Cameron chuckled leaning back in his chair as he reached for one of the photos of Seth and Blake together.  He touched the black and white picture as a hearty laugh built up in his throat.
“Seth, I have to give you credit,” Cameron mused as he traced Blake’s image before him, “you do have exquisite taste.”
There was a knock at the door as Cameron looked up to find his lawyer Kipp Mahoney peering in.
“Is he gone,” Kipp questioned curiously.
“For now,” Cameron motioned for Kipp to join him, “but I was thinking that it was time you and I had a talk Kipp.”
“Certainly,” Kipp agreed brightly making his way into Cameron’s office, “what can I do for you?”
“You’re always saying that you’d like to do great things at Stone, yes?” Cameron inquired simply.
“I’d like to think that I’ve made a worthwhile contribution and if there’s anything you need, anything at all…” Kipp offered pointing to himself, “I’m your man.”
“I was hoping you might say that,” Cameron tossed the photo across his desk towards Kipp, “tell me what you make of this.”
“Of what,” Kipp’s gaze traveled down over the photograph, “Hey that’s the jerk that was here…” he paused as he noticed the woman beside him, “who’s the blonde?”
“She’s someone I have an eye on,” Cameron explained simply.
“You’ve got great taste,” Kipp held up the photo, “She’s a knock out.”
“Oh no, I’m not interested in her in that way,” Cameron confessed, “though it is a tempting though.  However, given the prospect of the plans I’m working on with her family, perhaps you might see to it that you get acquainted with her.”
“Who is she?” Kipp lifted his gaze towards Cameron once again.
“Blake Ashford.”
“She’s Blake Ashford,” Kipp turned his attention to the photo once again, “really?”
“Yes really,” Cameron nodded, “and judging by the look on your face, I’d have to say that my calling you in here was an excellent idea.  The more I think about it, the more I realize you’re the absolute perfect man for the job,” Cameron finished realizing that perhaps it was time to turn up the heat in Coral Valley.

...to be continued...