Caitlin held onto the elevator railing tightly as the car jolted again and then once more. She vaguely noticed Kenneth's arm around her waist, securing her even more firmly to the side of the elevator car. She was, however, acutely aware of the darkness in the elevator, and the constantly trembling of the floor beneath her.
"We're going to be just fine," Kenneth whispered to her as the car jolted once again.
They were simple words uttered in comfort as if he has somehow sensed her panic. She hoped she wasn't projecting the feeling, but she could feel herself trembling and knew that he had to notice it as well. Fear had paralyzed her too many times in her past, and she thought she had overcome that particular vulnerability. Apparently, she had been mistaken.
The emergency hatch at the top of the elevator opened, and a fireman shined a flashlight into the car, "Anybody in there?"
"There are two of us," Kenneth replied as the flashlight focused on them.
"Sorry about jarring the elevator like that. Elevators around here aren't outfitted with the kind of gear it takes to withstand an earthquake," The fireman spoke as he slowly repelled into the car, "You two okay?"
"We're fine. A little shaken up, but physically we're okay," Kenneth said as he looked to the fireman.
"Good. When I heard someone was trapped in the elevator, I was a little afraid it would fall before we got here. Luckily, you already had the brakes on which helped secure the car," The fireman spoke before radioing to his team that they had two people to transport to the floor above them.
"Then I suppose I have you to thank," Kenneth said as he redirected his attention to Caitlin. He flashed her a smile, "It's not every day that someone actually does me a favor by trapping me in an elevator."
Caitlin smiled sheepishly, "I guess I should apologize for that, but seeing as it probably saved our lives, I won't," She teased.
"Alright, let's get you two out of here," The fireman spoke as another rope was dropped into the elevator from above. He wrapped a harness around Caitlin's waist before he helped hoist her out of the elevator and to the next floor above them. Afterwards, the fireman returned and did the same favor for Kenneth. Once they were both safely on a sturdy floor, they each shook hands with the rescue team before the team gathered their equipment to respond to another call.
Kenneth looked to Caitlin as they stood near the nurse's station. He extended his hand to her, "Thank you."
"For trapping you in there? You might have been off the elevator by the time the earthquake hit if I hadn't stopped the car," She frowned as she withdrew her hand from his.
"Or we both could have been critically injured if the car had fallen during the earthquake. As I see it, I was lucky that you put the brakes on. The fireman said it himself that the brakes secured the car and made it capable of withstanding the quake. So whether for whatever reason, it was a lifesaving measure."
"Is it a gift with you to rationalize things like this?" She asked as she looked up to him.
"It's not rationalizing. It's just thinking the situation through."
"Is that what makes you such a good attorney?"
"It helps," He admitted, "Do you have any family we need to check on?"
"No, I'm all there is," She said as she watched him withdraw his cell phone from his pocket, "Going to check on your siblings?"
"Yeah," He nodded, "Brant will tell me he can take care of himself and doesn't need me to check up on him, and Blake will probably make some big dramatic scene out of nothing," He said with a grin, "But she'll be cute when she does it. She always makes sure of that."
"Sounds like you really do love your siblings."
"I tolerate Brant, but yeah I do love Blake."
"And it seems I've always heard that twins had the closest bond among siblings."
"We did when we were kids. By the time high school came around, we wanted to be related to anyone but each other," He noted as he dialed Blake's cell phone and listened as he waited for her to answer.
"What caused the rift between you?" Caitlin asked, watching him as he waited for an answer on his phone.
"Personality differences mostly. I like to play things safe, and Brant is a risk taker. I like to follow the rules, and Brant likes to see how many of them he can break. Basically, we're polar opposites. Instead of identical, we should be called dissimilar twins," Kenneth frowned as Blake's voice mail picked up, "Blake, this is Ken. Give me a call as soon as you can. I just want to make sure you're okay," He ended the call and slipped the phone back into his pocket, "I hope she's okay."
"Blake's a trooper," Caitlin assured him, "She's probably sitting somewhere sipping a margarita and wondering what all the commotion is about," She said with a smile as the two of them approached the stairs, opting for a safer way to get downstairs this time around.
A rumbling sound came from overhead as Blake found herself
buried beneath Seth’s muscular torso. She placed her hands up against
his shoulders, in a half hearted attempt to push him away when another sound
above captured her attention. Struggling to see through the thick smoke,
she coughed feeling it driving down into her lungs as a heavy crashing sound
could be heard again. This is the end, Blake told herself as a panic swept
over her. I’m not going to make it out of here, she thought inwardly as
she poked at Seth.
“Seth, get off of me,” she grumbled as her voice rose with terror, “we have to get out of here. Seth. Seth!” she spoke his name over and over again as she found he was unresponsive to her. Placing her hands against his strong neck, she could feel a pulse, but then as she pulled her hand away, she found her long, slender fingers were covered with blood.
“Oh my God,” she cried out realizing something was terribly wrong as the smoke surrounding them began to take on a terrifying force. She wanted to find a way to escape, a way to break free, but as Seth lay over her motionless, she realized she was a prisoner of circumstance.
“Seth,” she nudged him once again, “Seth, listen to me. You have to get up. We have to get out of here,” she began hoping to coax him out of his slumber as she squeezed herself out from beneath him. Seth toppled over onto his back as Blake let out a heaving breath. The fire above them was getting out of hand and soon it would eat them alive if they didn’t get out of there. She looked down to see the bright crimson color soaking through the front of his otherwise white t-shirt as she reached out to touch his face, attempting to rouse him from his accident induced slumber.
“Seth, listen to me,” she pleaded with him, tears stinging in her eyes as the combination of fumes and smoke began to overtake her. She coughed choking on her words as she prodded him again, “Seth, open your eyes. We’re going to die in here if you don’t wake up. Seth please,” she begged of him looking over to the ladder as she thought of making her own escape. The moment soon passed as she turned her attention to the man who’d helped her earlier when the quake began. She couldn’t very well leave him in this state.
“Please Seth,” she begged of him, “I don’t want to die here and neither do you. Wake up. We have to get out of here,” she pleaded with him hoping to get some kind of reaction out of him when a voice rose above the smoke and fumes.
“Is anyone down there?” a man’s voice beckoned her as she looked up realizing that help had arrived.
“Down here,” Blake began desperately looking down at Seth. She touched his cheek momentarily before rising to her feet to alert whomever had arrived, “we’re down here. Please hurry. Seth’s been hurt.”
“We’re on our way,” the voice promised as Blake rushed over to Seth, kneeling down beside him as she turned her attention to the wound over the center of his chest. She noticed that he hadn’t arisen and worry consumed her as instinct guided her. Saying a silent prayer, she placed her hand upon the center of his chest, ignoring the dangers that could come of the movement as she applied pressure to his wound. She glanced back over at him, noticing that his face had lost color as her heart pounded with fear. He couldn’t die, he just couldn’t die.
“Please hold on Seth,” she choked up on emotion as her own fears of dying took a sideline to her worries about this handsome stranger, “please, don’t you dare die on me,” she continued desperately as she looked up to where the voice had come from, “Help is on the way and I swear to you, if you even think of dying before my car is fixed, you’re going to burn in hell you son of a bitch. Do you hear me? You can‘t die on me. I simply won‘t allow it,” she blurted out her voice ragged with emotions as she felt something on her shoulder causing her to nearly jump out of her skin.
“You’re going to be okay miss,” the man clad in the fireman’s uniform explained to her as another moved in beside Seth, “we’re going to get you out of here now.”
“You have to help him,” Blake began desperately as the man pulled her up off of the ground and she looked over her shoulder in Seth’s direction noticing the two firemen who’d come to take a look at him, “you just have to…”
“We’ll do our best,” the man explained taking a hold of Blake and pulling her out of the pit into the auto shop, now destroyed by flames and wreckage as she couldn’t help but worry about the man that still lay beneath the pit. Seth was nothing more than a stranger, an irritating one at that, yet now as she thought of the blood that he’d had all over him… She turned her attention to her hands, seeing the blood--Seth’s blood over them and her heart nearly stopped at the sight before her. This wasn’t supposed to have been happening. She should’ve been lost in her massage, losing herself to the joys that only Sven’s hands could provide her, but now as she was carried out of the auto shop, she thought of Seth, about the way he’d tried to calm her down, the way he’d kissed her, the way he’d looked bleeding on the ground and now suddenly worry consumed her heart and she prayed that things wouldn’t turn out for the worst.
“You’re going to be safe now,” the man who’d carried her out explained setting her down by an ambulance as her gaze continued over the burning building before her. She couldn’t think--couldn’t breathe as worry consumed her. Nothing else mattered but seeing to it that the man trapped outside came out safely.
“Are you hurt?” one of the paramedics questioned as Blake looked up to see the worried eyes upon her.
“I’m fine,” she insisted shaking one of the paramedics away from her as he tried to take a look at her blood soaked hands.
“Miss…” he began reaching out to her again.
“I said I’m fine,” she pushed the man away as she started towards the building needing to see that Seth was alright. Someone tried to draw her back towards the ambulance again, but she refused struggling to find out what happened to the man who’d shared this nightmare with her.
“You can’t go in there,” one of the firefighters informed her point blank as he’d managed to stop her from returning to the shop.
“Seth. I need to make sure he’s alright that he’s…” she trailed off as she watched two firefighters pulling him from the wreckage and taking him towards the ambulance. Wrenching herself out of the arms of the firefighter who’d captured her, she rushed off towards the direction they’d taken Seth.
“Wait,” Blake cried out racing over to join them as they hoisted Seth into the ambulance, “please…”
“Miss, you need to go over there,” one of them explained to her.
“I need to see him. Is he…” Blake trailed off fearing the worst as an overwhelming sense of familiarity washed over her. Tragedy always seemed to follow and in times of earthquakes. No, she tried to shake the thought. It couldn’t be happening again, she thought to herself as worry consumed her.
“He’ll be alright,” the man before her tried to assure her, “we need to take him to the hospital though and you need to be checked out as well.”
“I have to go with him,” Blake insisted firmly, “please…”
“Miss…” he began with a sigh.
“He’s my fiancée,” Blake blurted out desperately using her little lie to get her closer to Seth in order to prove to herself that he was alright, “I’m Blake Ashford and this man is the man I intend to marry. Please, you must let me go with him…”
“Well,” the man sighed before nodding, “alright, get in.”
“Thank you,” Blake replied stepping up into the ambulance as she looked to the paramedics moving in over Seth. “Please God,” she begged biting on her lower lip as worry consumed her and she feared that this night had taken a turn for the worse. She just prayed it wouldn’t be the end for Seth as she looked down at her hands knowing that she couldn’t live through this again.
Heather shifted the pillow behind her before adjusting the blanket covering her legs. She'd been in better rooms before, but for a town like Coral Valley, this private room wasn't half bad. At least she wasn't still in the crowded emergency room listening to wailing children and hysterical parents. One thing was for certain, she hated kids.
She groaned as she leaned back into the pillow once more, trying to find some position which might be comfortable. So far, nothing was working. Her muscles were stiff, her head was pounding, and the bed was nothing short of a torture rack.
The door to her room opened, and Brant rushed in.
Heather immediately sat up, her eyes widening as she saw him, "I knew you'd come."
"You?" Brant frowned in the instant he recognized her, "The nurse said that a family member had been injured. You are not a family member."
"I left you as my emergency contact, Brant. You're the man I love, and I'm so glad you came," She said as she extended her arms to him, "Hold me please. All I need is your arms around me."
He stood steadfast near the door, looking for any chance to make his exit. He folded his arms as he looked back to her, "So…what happened to you?"
"Oh it was awful. The quake hit, and I lost control of my car. It sped off an embankment and hit a tree," She whined softly as she lifted her fingers to the bandage on her forehead, "The doctors say I have a pretty good concussion, but I'll be okay."
"Too bad, I was kind of hoping the blow to your head might knock some sense into you. Obviously, it didn't," He frowned, "What the hell are you thinking having a nurse call me?"
"Brant, please, I know you're upset, but I really need you right now," She said softly as she allowed her lip to become pouty as her eyes became glossy with tears, "Please, can't we just forget what's happened for the time being? I really need you."
His frowned deepened as he watched her display. Despite the way he felt about her, he had to admit that she was a very convincing actress when she believed in the role she was playing. He'd studied her at length during their relationship and learned her every act, but something about the way she was behaving now was new to him. He found that he couldn't resist the urge to hold her.
Brant walked over to the bed, his frown ever deepening
as he wrapped his arms around her and gently comforted her. How he could let
some whining from Heather turn him into a sap was beyond him. This was usually
Kenneth's forte, being the concerned gentleman. He was Brant…he simply didn't
do concern or act like a gentleman.
Heather smiled as she held onto him, inhaling his spicy scent and enveloping herself in his warm embrace. She had missed this, and if she had anything to say about it, she'd be enjoying embraces like these for a long time to come.
She gently eased her palm down his back, "Brant, I know I've made some mistakes, but please, please don't shut me out of your life. I love you, and I think you know that will always be true no matter how I've screwed up. We've both done our fair share of breaking the rules. I just want to forgive one another and move on with our lives."
He rolled his eyes as he eased himself back and met her eyes, "You can't be serious."
"Of course I'm serious. You and I are perfect for one another," She said as he pulled away from her and stepped across the room, "Brant, no one will ever be able to love you the way I could. Do you think any other woman could understand who you are and how you do things? I'm the only woman who understands everything about you and accepts those things."
"You make it sound like I couldn't possibly be happy with anyone else, but I guarantee you, Heather, that I can and will find a woman to be happy with. I can also guarantee you that the woman I choose to be with won't be a damn thing like you," He declared firmly.
"You're fighting yourself so hard, and you don't even realize it. You know that you want me, and you know that you love me. Why can't you just let me soothe your pride," She said with a smile as she slipped out of bed and took a step towards him, "And you can forgive me, and then everything will be just as it should be. You and me together."
"Heather," He raised his voice, "Stop it. I don't want to be with you. Been there, done that. And I learned my lesson, thank you very much. I'm not going to let you use my bed as a launching pad for your career…especially with other men," He pulled away from her once more, "Consider this the end, Heather. I'm through with you," He finished with a curt tone.
Heather watched as Brant left her hospital room and closed
the door behind him. She glared at the door as she crossed her arms, "This isn't
the end, Brant. It's a long, long way from the end," She declared, thinking
ahead to how she could get back on Brant's good side.
“Bruce, I really would rather just go home,” Avery argued
with him as he guided her off of the hospital elevator towards the nurse’s station,
“I already told you that I was fine and I don’t need to be checked out.”
“Just humor me,” Bruce spun around to face her offering up his determined puppy dog eyes, “it’s just so that I know you’re alright.”
“Bruce look,” she sighed taking in a breath as the weight of the evening took it‘s toll on her, “I’ll just go and rest in your office while you’re working. I’m sure that I’ll be just fine and if I’m not, I’ll get myself checked out.”
“Avery, I saw your office,” he began reaching out to her with that same look of discontent that Avery was witnessing more and more lately. How she’d love to tell him not to worry about her, not to look at her that way, but right now, well now wasn’t the time for it. She needed to clear her head and that wouldn’t be happening with Bruce at her side.
“Bruce, please. I promise if something is wrong, I’ll get it checked out,” she offered begrudgingly as his pager sounded off again alerting him that he was needed, “You need to get to your patients. There are other people out there who need you more than I do right now and you can’t leave them hanging.”
“Avery,” Bruce paused, a look building behind his eyes as he let out a long sigh before releasing her, “you know this isn’t how I’d planned on our evening turning out.”
“I know,” she nodded in response thinking of their earlier encounter back at her apartment, “believe me I do.”
“We have a lot to talk about Avery and once this crisis has passed,” Bruce began with a half smile.
“I know,” she replied leaning forward to give him a quick kiss on the cheek before taking a step back, “get to work. You’re needed.”
“I love you,” he offered with the same sheepish grin he always offered when handing out terms of endearment to her.
“I know,” she offered with a quick wave watching him take a step away from her as she let out a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding before now.
“Alone at last,” she whispered as she turned down the long hallway towards Bruce’s office. Somehow she hadn’t been able to have much alone time lately and now as she stood in the center of the hospital after having braved the disaster, she wanted nothing more than to shut the evening behind her. Sure, it had been full of danger and excitement, if one could call it that, but now she wanted nothing more than to catch up on that sleep she’d been lacking.
Avery continued down the hallway towards Bruce’s office stopping to look in one of the rooms as she noticed a couple together, seemingly lost in one another as the woman lay in bed with the man beside her. He spoke softly as he leaned in towards her and the woman smiled indicating that whatever he’d offered her had been worth hearing and as he reached for the woman’s hand, he lifted it to his lips placing a tender kiss upon her hand. With that gesture, her smile widened and Avery found herself mesmerized by this couple as she played voyeur to their moment together. They just looked so happy, so carefree and as she pondered that very thought she’d realized it had been far too long since she’d felt that way herself. Maybe happiness was just an illusion, she thought to herself stepping away from the door she’d spent far too much time standing next to already.
“Love is for fools,” she tried to remind herself as she continued down the hallway towards Bruce’s office. She didn’t have time to get caught up in any romantic hang-ups. That was for certain, Avery reasoned as she opened the door to Bruce’s office. The last thing she needed was to worry about all the joys of falling in love and having to deal with that happily ever after nonsense. She didn’t need any of that because hey, she had Bruce and that was enough to tide her over whenever she was having a moment of need. Okay, so maybe Bruce wasn’t all she was hoping for, but he was good enough for now, but would he be good enough for the rest of her life? Could he be good enough for what she really wanted, really needed? Oh hell, who knew what she really needed anymore? She certainly didn’t have a clue it seemed.
Now as Avery looked around Bruce’s office, she felt his presence all around her. It was eerie as she glanced over his desk, towards his filing cabinets, to the photo he had of them together upon his desk at the hospital picnic last fall. He’d had it all planned out and this was his future. One day he would run the hospital and where would that leave her? To play the role of the perfect little wife? She cringed at the thought of having to spend the rest of her life pretending that playing it safe was the way she wanted it to be. Certainly there had to be more to it than what life had dealt her. After all she was Avery Morrison and she wouldn’t lay down and accept the hand she’d been given. She wouldn’t just allow fate to blow her away, would she? Certainly she was a fighter and she wouldn’t stop until she had everything that she wanted…at least that was the theory she’d held with her. So why were things so different with Bruce?
Avery had pondered the thought of why she hadn’t cut things off with Bruce years ago. She had found him at a time in her life when she wasn’t really looking for any emotional attachment and he seemed to understand that, but now, now as she thought of what almost happened in her apartment, it terrified her. Ironic to admit that Avery Morrison, the woman ready to take on the monsters of the world full force was afraid of Bruce Mathis M.D. Just the thought was plain silly and foolish, yet when Bruce looked to her with those eyes so full of admiration and emotion, she’d felt as though she couldn’t be the one to cut him to pieces. He hadn’t done anything wrong as his only fault was loving her, yet the idea of having to commit herself to a life with Bruce, well it left much to be desired. They were just opposites. Bruce was the poster child for boy scouts of America and Avery, well she’d cut a few corners here and there in her quest to the top. Bruce played it safe and Avery threw caution to the wind time and time again…that is until she and Bruce wound up together. At first there weren’t changes, but then, well it seemed as though she was being forced into that picture perfect lifestyle Bruce had in his head for the future. The more and more he came closer to happily ever after, the further away from wedded bliss with him she wanted to be.
Marriage certainly wouldn’t be the answer Avery was searching for as her life was full of complications--especially the one she’d faced tonight with Brant Ashford. Sure, Bruce had teased her about him time and time again always fearing that Avery would succumb to Brant’s suave, sweet liking, but Avery had always been smarter than that. She’d always found a way to dissuade his attention around the office and ignore his playful comments, but lately, well lately Brant had been too much. They’d been spending so much time together with the upcoming patent in the process and with his father’s passing, it put them in more of a position to be near one another. Though Avery could always handle the nearness. She wasn’t one to take things too seriously, but now after tonight, his words haunted her.
“One day you’ll be mine, Avery Morrison and the sooner you stop fighting it, the easier things are going to be on you.”
Just those words were enough to send her head spinning.
Just who did he think he was telling her that she would be his? Where
did he get off saying such things to her and more so, why was she thinking about
them right now alone in Bruce’s office. She shuddered at the thought of
what it could mean should someone find her obsessing over Brant Ashford.
Hell, even the sound of it made her want to cringe. He was nothing, absolutely
nothing that she was looking for in a man, yet as she started to think about
what had happened between them, a strange feeling set over her.
“Okay,” she reasoned to herself as she rubbed her temple gently trying to persuade her lingering headache to go away, “so he’s handsome and he’s rich and he does have a smile that could make any girl melt,” she frowned as the words fell from her lips, “he’s arrogant, spoiled and a pain in the ass. You certainly don’t need that,” she reminded herself as she looked at her reflection in the mirror before her. Certainly her head knew where she stood on the issue with Brant. He was nothing that she wanted and certainly not what she needed, but something about tonight, about the way he looked at her--about the things he’d said, the way he’d said them before Bruce arrived…
“If only you’d send me a sign,” she looked to the heavens feeling an ache rise through her temple as she stepped over towards Bruce’s desk looking to see if he had an aspirin. Realizing that he didn’t, she turned to the door, opting to get some from one of the nurse’s before relaxing in his office for a while as she pondered the state of her life. Shaking the thoughts that had been overwhelming her, she stepped to the door opening it up and finding herself standing beside the one of the man who’d suddenly become bent on turning her world upside down. Taking in a slow breath, she tried to duck out of his line of vision, but as she heard Brant call out her name, she knew she was caught and she stopped dead in her tracks realizing that this was not the sign she was hoping for.
Jade rushed into the emergency room in her search for Seth. No one in the world mattered as much to her as her big brother. She had counted on Seth when everyone else in the world had betrayed her, and he had never let her down. The idea that he could be somewhere injured with no one there to hold his hand and tell him things would be all right terrified her.
"Excuse me," She spoke up at the admissions desk, "Has Seth Alexander been brought in?" She asked, watching the clerk type his name in the computer.
"Yes, Mr. Alexander is down the hall in trauma one," The clerk pointed out.
Jade quickly turned and made her way down the hall, reading signs along the way to find trauma one. She had to get to her brother, and no one would stop her.
"Excuse me, Miss, but you can't be back here," An orderly spoke as he stepped in front of her.
"The hell I can't," She declared as she shoved him out of her way and stepped through the dual doors into trauma one, "Seth…Seth?" She asked as she rushed forward towards the doctors and nurses standing around the gurney.
Bruce looked towards Jade, "Ma'am you can't be back here."
"He's my brother," She replied as she tried to get closer to the gurney.
"Well his fiancée is already in here, and it's getting to be a bit crowded. You'll have to leave."
"Fiancée? He doesn't have a fiancée!"
"I'm afraid he does," Bruce said as he looked to the corner of the room.
Jade followed his gaze and spotted the blonde lady Ashford. She groaned audibly as she glared at Blake, "He wouldn't give that over pampered hooch the time of day much less marry her," She said turning back towards the gurney.
"There's no room to work with the two of you in here," Bruce pointed out, "One of you will have to leave."
"Then hit the road, Ashford," Jade ordered as she looked back to Blake, "No one wants you here."
"I'm not leaving," Blake declared, "You don't know what we've been through today, and I will not have you in here upsetting him."
"Oh that's rich. Like you actually care about someone other than the rich and famous," Jade snapped, "Get out!"
"Ladies, I'm afraid it's up to me to make the decision here. Since Ms. Ashford rode in the ambulance with Mr. Alexander and she says she's his fiancée, I'm afraid you'll have to leave, or I'll have security remove you," Bruce intervened.
"Why don't you get back to work and help my brother, Doctor?!" Jade said with accusation heavy in her voice before she turned back to Blake, "I don't know what kind of game you think you're playing, but I swear to you that if anything happens to him because of you, I'll make your life a living hell."
"Just being here is doing that very thing," Blake quipped as she looked to the doctor, "Could you please have security remove her?"
The nurse ducked out of the room and called for security. A security guard stepped into the room and listened as the nurse gave him instructions to remove Jade.
"Ma'am, you'll have to come with me," The guard spoke as he looked at Jade.
"Over my dead body," Jade snapped, glaring at Blake once more, "You rich brats are all the same. You think you can have anything you want just because you say so. Seth is my family, not yours, and he'll never be your fiancé in any lifetime."
"Ma'am, you're not giving me any choice," The guard said as he seized Jade's upper arm and began pulling her out the door.
"This isn't over, Ashford. I won't let you keep me away
from my brother," Jade shouted as the guard led her down the hallway. Once in
the lobby, the guard released her and warned her to behave. As the guard walked
away, Jade tore her cell phone from her purse and dialed furiously, "Behave?
I'll show you how to behave. I won't let any Ashford brat keep me from my brother,"
She said as she waited for the party on the other end of her phone call to answer.
"Russ?" Grady asked as he knocked on the front door of his brother's house. After trying his brother's cell phone with no success, he'd decided that the best way to verify his brother's well being was in person. He knocked once more before he saw a car pulling in the drive way. He walked around the house to the garage and watched his brother emerge from the car, "Just getting home?"
"You would not believe the day I've had," Russell answered as he jostled his keys about before unlocking the back door of his house, "Come on in, Grady. Let's see if my house is still in one piece after this quake."
"Hard to believe there's been a quake in the Valley," Grady spoke as he and his brother walked through the kitchen, noting only a few items disheveled.
"Yeah, I guess I could report on it for the paper, but after the day I've had, I think there are more newsworthy items in town," Russell said as he sank onto his sofa while Grady sat in a recliner.
"That sounds almost ominous."
"I met Brant Ashford's ex," Russell said with a grin, "She's a good looking woman. No wonder he was hot for her, but she's got a hell of a temper on her," He pointed out, "I took her to the hospital after she ran her car into a tree during the quake. As soon as I opened my mouth about her being his ex, she exploded and wanted me gone."
"Well any woman who would want to be with any of the Ashfords is just awful," Grady pointed out, "All of those people are a little screwed up."
"Yeah, I know. So what about you? How did you fair in this quake?"
"My office is trashed," Grady frowned, "The sprinklers tore apart and basically flooded the room. Jade and I had to rush to get my important documents into the dry."
"How is Jade?"
Russell chuckled, "I really don't understand what your problem is. She's hot for you, and you run from her. What is wrong with that picture?"
"I'm supposed to be her mentor. I'm not suppose to be taking advantage of her."
"She's the one trying to take advantage of you," Russell grinned, "You know that you're being a real schmuck about this. Take her to bed, give her what she wants, and have a little fun for yourself. When all is said and done, get back to business. But make it clear that business as usual is what is you expect after you two have your fun."
"What part of mentor don't you understand?" Grady grimaced, "I'm old enough to be her father, and I'm her boss. I can't take advantage of that."
"Trying to convince me or yourself?" Russell smiled.
"Sometimes I really hate you," Grady frowned as his cell phone rang. He dug in his pocket for the phone before answering, "Denton."
"Grady, it's Jade. I know this is after hours and everything, but I really need your help. My brother is in CCR, and they won't tell me anything. Blake Ashford is here saying that she is Seth's fiancée, and they're letting her make decisions for him but won't even let me know how he's doing. Grady, please, could you come down here and see if you can't twist a few arms for me?"
Grady's frown captured his entire face as she spoke of Ashford involvement. He took a deep breath and replied, "I'll be there as soon as I can. In the mean time, keep trying to get information."
"As if I would stop," Jade replied before the phone call ended.
Grady tucked his phone into his jacket as he stood, "I've got to go. There's some emergency with Jade's brother, and they won't let her know anything. Something about Blake Ashford taking charge of things," He shrugged, "Needless to say, I'm about to get myself in a real firestorm."
Russell laughed softly as his brother left his house, "You
wouldn't have it any other way, Grady, and we both know it."
Things were most definitely looking up, Brant Ashford smiled
to himself as he noticed his sexy lawyer tiptoeing around him at the hospital.
Dealing with Heather had been one thing and after that he’d been eager to make
his way home to the mansion, but now, well now he wouldn’t have to waste precious
time trying to find a way to capture Avery’s attention again. So Avery
wasn’t home having a romantic night with Bruce, he thought to himself his grin
widening as fate was clearly giving him an opening--one he certainly would not
refuse. It would seem she was right here for the taking and without her
tiresome sidekick in fact. Suddenly his sense of purpose had kicked in as he
looked to her noting the way she’d tried to slip out of sight.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Brant began approaching her as she reluctantly spun around to face him. Oh, she had that agitated look on her face alright, he mused with a tiny inward laugh. She certainly wasn’t nearly as happy to see him, as he was to see her, but with her sexy scowl reaching down deep into him, he vowed to change that one. She’d soon appreciate his presence and he knew he’d certainly appreciate hers. He watched the corners of her mouth drop as she seemed to contemplate her words.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have the misfortune of having to see you again tonight,” Avery shot back sarcastically.
“Funny how fate keeps offering other plans for us,” Brant stepped in closer to her noting the way her eyes darted back at him, offering a hint of the fiery discontent behind them. Oh she was really full of something tonight, he laughed inwardly as he thanked his lucky stars that he’d somehow be the man to explore just what it was burning inside of Avery Morrison.
“I think it’s more like a very wrong twist of fate,” Avery remarked dryly looking away from him.
“At least you admit it’s fate. That‘s something,” Brant offered flashing her his million dollar smile as he placed his arm out beside her on the wall and he casually leaned forward bridging the distance between them, “Admit it, the stars are telling us that we’re destined to be together tonight,” he inched in towards her, a playful expression washing over his features as her dark eyes narrowed at him.
“No Brant, the stars are telling me that I should’ve forgotten about the aspirin and just stayed in Bruce’s office like I’d planned on,” she slipped in underneath his arm making her way back to Bruce’s office in an attempt to walk away from him--to somehow push him out of her mind for a while.
“Where is the good old boy,” Brant questioned spinning around to follow her as he refused to let her get away this time.
“Working,” she tossed back over her shoulder at him, “in case you haven’t noticed there has been a disaster and since he is a doctor…”
“Ah yes, Bruce must attend to those in need--though I must confess if I were in his shoes, the only person‘s needs I‘d be concerned about would be yours,” Brant’s gaze cascaded over her approvingly as he admired her curves. Sure, she’d always been professional at the office, but just the thought of getting her out of those pantsuits she wore…oh how he’d enjoy relishing in exploring all the aspects of the curves Avery’s body had to offer.
“Bruce is a very dedicated doctor,” Avery started feeling her face burning with heat at the way his eyes brushed over her curves. She could see the lust behind his eyes and as she watched him, she could only imagine the things he was thinking about.
“So he’s a saint,” Brant shrugged his shoulders as he watched her shift on her feet, clearly unnerved by his presence. He leaned in closer towards her, “I much more prefer sinners, don’t you?”
“Not in this lifetime,” Avery shook her head firmly, “Sinners bring with them too much baggage.”
“But they’re oh so fun,” Brant inched in towards her his lips just a whisper away from hers as he lazily reached out to tuck a strand of dark hair from her eyes. He half expected her to draw back, to retreat, but she merely looked up at him in surprise and he took that as a very positive sign. Lowering his voice just a bit, he inched in closer to her, “tell me Avery, do you really expect me to believe you enjoy living life with a saint--to go through the motions without ever experiencing any true passion in your life?”
“I have passion,” Avery answered her eyes lingering down to his lips as she silently cursed herself for that stupid move on her part. She could see the proud smile curling over his lips as Brant felt he’d accomplished something with her. Damn her for being so stupid to let him think that way.
“I’m sure you do,” Brant leaned up against the office door, his eyes wild with desire as he brushed his index finger against her cheekbone in a tender sweep, “and that’s something I’d love to experience with you first hand.”
“You’re not my type,” Avery answered suddenly feeling as though she was ready to leap out of her skin as his gaze penetrated her.
“Is that right?” Brant inquired sliding his hand in towards her once again, thinking of all the excuses he could find to touch her as she leaned up against the office door.
“That’s right,” she nodded matter of fact despite the way his nearness had set her head swimming. Trying to shake the thought, she wondered why Brant Ashford was making any kind of impact on her considering she couldn’t even stand the man. It had to be his cologne or perhaps it was some kind of aftershocks from the quake. Certainly that had to be it.
“So a boring loser like Bruce does it for you,” Brant wrinkled
his nose in disgust, “I find that hard to believe.”
“Bruce is not a loser,” she challenged with a huff, “he’s a good man.”
“Good and boring,” he insisted, “he wouldn’t know how to give you what you need even if he had an instruction manual on how to please a woman.”
“Oh and you think you’re just the man to give me what I’m looking for,” Avery’s eyes widened a bit as he nodded eagerly.
“Honey, I’m all the man you need and then some,” Brant reached out to capture a lock of her darkened tresses with his finger, “I can show you things you’ve only dreamed of. Dr. Do Gooder can‘t do that for you since he‘s off saving the world.”
“Some people are dedicated to their jobs and to the people that depend on them,” Avery cut back sharply opening the door to Bruce‘s office in her attempt to get Brant to take a hint and leave, “they feel there’s more involved than just the millions that falls into their lap. I realize it‘s a foreign concept and all, but there are those who are out to help those in need.”
“Hey, you weren’t complaining about your share of those millions I make falling into your lap,” Brant remarked placing his hand on the office door and following her inside, “in fact, the more I think about it, the more you seem to enjoy the money we’re making together.”
“Brant, I don’t want to discuss business right now,” Avery sighed watching him cross the office as he took a seat on Bruce’s sofa and he made himself comfortable.
“Funny thing,” he grinned up at her as he stretched his arms out over the back of the sofa patting it in an attempt to get her to join him, “neither do I.”
“Good, then with that thought in mind, perhaps you should be on your way,” Avery suggested running her fingers through her dark hair.
“Did I say I was finished speaking with you,” Brant challenged throwing out a sexy smile before motioning for her to take a seat beside him once again.
“If it’s not business related, then I’m really not up for it tonight. We can discuss it in the office,” she replied simply folding her arms in front of her chest.
“We could do that, but then again this is business that I feel we simply cannot avoid,” Brant explained matter of fact, “in fact, the more I think about it, it won’t be able to be put on hold.”
“Brant, I already told you…”
“Just hear me out,” he raised his hands defensively, “please.”
“If this is another one of your games…” she threw him a
“Avery, just take a seat and let’s talk,” he urged again, “I think after the experience we’ve been through together tonight, it would give you more reason to trust me and my motivations.”
“Brant, I might’ve been shaken up earlier, but I’m not stupid,” Avery reluctantly closed the door to Bruce’s office before crossing the room and heading over towards his desk, “I know what you’re all about.”
“No, I don’t think you do,” he shook his head pondering her words for a moment, “I don’t think you really, truly have the first idea what it is that I’m all about, but I’d like to change that starting now.”
“Brant, if you haven’t noticed, now is not the time…”
“What better time than the present,” he shrugged his shoulders as he gave her a casual perusal, “besides, considering the experience we shared earlier, with us nearly dying in one another’s arms, I would say that in itself entitles us to this time together.”
“Is that so,” she arched a disapproving brow.
“That is so indeed,” he nodded curling his finger towards her in an attempt to beckon her closer to him, “in fact, the way I see it, I was hoping we could get back into that part about being in one another’s arms without the whole pesky dying thing hanging over our heads.”
“Brant, what part of no don’t you understand,” she frowned deeply as she refused to move an inch closer towards him, “I realize that you feel that you are some kind of aphrodisiac to all women, but the harsh reality is that some women are immune to your charms and I happen to be one of them.”
“Avery, you don’t believe that,” he smiled up at her confidently, “because if you did, we wouldn’t be here right now like this in this moment.”
“Brant, the only reason we’re in this moment is because you won’t leave me the hell alone,” she glared at him, “I asked you to leave, practically begged it of you and you still are bent on annoying me.”
“You didn’t beg,” he rose from the sofa as an amused expression touched over his features, “but that might prove to be something worthwhile to witness.”
“Brant, I have a headache and I’m not in the mood for any of your mind games tonight,” Avery shot back simply, “why don’t you call Heather up and see if she’s in the mood because from what I saw earlier in your office, she seems willing to play with you?”
“Ah, so therein lies the heart of this problem,” Brant stepped in towards her, “Avery, honey, if this is about Heather…”
“First off I’m not your honey and second I could care less about Heather,” she snapped back at him, “what you do with her isn’t of my concern.”
“Then why did you bring her up?”
“Why won’t you just leave me alone,” she groaned shaking her head in frustration, “Brant, please…”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he crossed the room carefully rearranging a few things on Bruce’s desk before taking a seat.
“Brant, look, I don’t know why you suddenly feel compelled to chase me around,” Avery shot back sarcastically, “I’m sure there are other women in Coral Valley that you haven’t slept with besides me.”
“None as interesting as you seem to be,” Brant confessed with a sexy smile, “and right now you’re all that I can think about.”
“Brant, look, I understand that you’ve had a major life altering experience with the loss of your father and you’re seeking out some kind of refuge, but it’s not with me,” she stepped towards him, “I’m not at all what you’re looking for in a woman. As a lawyer, yes I’ll be there for you with whatever it takes, but beyond that, well, there just isn’t room for you in my personal life.”
“I’d say you’re open for my company right about now,” he looked around the empty office, “it’s just the two of us and what better time than the present to dive into the heart of the matter.”
“The heart of the matter is that you don’t get a clue,” Avery hissed back at him, “I don’t know how to spell it out for you Brant. I’m not interested in you.”
“Of course you are,” he nodded determined as he rose from the top of the desk, “and the sooner that you accept that, the easier all of this will be.”
“Brant, look okay I realize that something is seriously wrong up there,” she pointed to his head, “but listen to me. I’m with Bruce.”
“A formality we can work through,” Brant tossed back at her.
“Bruce is a part of my life and even if he wasn’t, well the last thing I’d want is to have you in it,” Avery shook her head as her frustrations overwhelmed her, “in fact, if this is how it’s going to be from now on, let me make this simple. Brant, I quit.”
“You can’t,” he answered matter of fact, “I simply won’t allow it.”
“Brant, you don’t have a choice,” Avery decided watching him closely, “either you back off with this obsession of yours or I will leave the company and not think twice about it.”
“Avery, you can’t possibly mean that,” Brant stated simply, “you love your job far too much to walk away from it.”
“Not if it means giving me a piece of mind again,” she answered with a sigh, “Brant, I’m in a relationship with Bruce…”
“A one sided relationship,” Brant challenged as she turned her eyes back to him once again.
“That’s not true,” she argued.
“Oh come on. Avery, any fool can see that while the guy is hooked on you, you’re ready to bolt at any opportunity you get. He doesn’t even see it coming, but you’re already one foot out the door. You’re just waiting for that push in the right direction and that’ll be all it takes.”
“And you believe that you’re the push I need?” she questioned folding her arms in front of her chest.
“I know I am and I’m sure if you stop fighting me, I can convince you of that,” he answered confidently, “Avery, I have no doubt in my mind that you and I are destined to be together and if you look deep inside yourself you’ll see it too that we belong together.”
“Brant,” she sighed throwing her hands in the air, “you’ve clearly lost your mind. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“No, I haven’t,” he watched her pacing around the office turning her back to him, “I haven’t lost my mind, just my heart and I lost it to you a long time ago.”
“Oh please,” she rolled her eyes spinning around to face him, “you have to have a heart to lose it.”
“Avery, from the moment I first laid my eyes upon you, I knew that I wanted you,” Brant announced matter of fact, “from the day you applied for the job at my father’s company, I knew that we’d be standing here together sharing a moment like this. I knew that one way or another you’d be with me and that this chemistry between us wouldn’t be ignored.”
“Brant, there is no chemistry,” she waved her hand between the two of them, “this is just…well, insanity.”
“Call it what you want, but the sooner you embrace it, the sooner you’ll find that this is exactly where we’re meant to be,” Brant stepped forward his eyes full of determination as he approached her.
“Brant, no,” she shook her head unable to believe what she was hearing from him as he moved around the desk reaching out to her.
“Avery, just listen to your heart for once and not your sense of duty,” Brant encouraged her, “you want me just as much as I want you and it’s time we both stop fighting the feeling,” he announced cupping her face in his hands as he leaned forward, taking a chance as he captured her mouth in a hungry, desperate kiss wanting to prove to her that she was fighting the inevitable between them.
Avery’s mouth opened in protest as she felt Brant’s hands upon her. She’d been ready to lay into him one moment, but the next, she found herself somehow wrapped up in his arms, lavishing the kiss he’d initiated between them. His desire washed over her, bringing forth a sudden heat as his lips coaxed her to surrender, his palm fanning over her back as he crushed her against him offering up the fiery intensity that could only exist behind Brant Ashford. Avery balled her fist up, wanting to strike him as his tongue dipped within her parted lips, tasting and teasing her as she struggled to find a way to refuse this moment between them. Her body betrayed her as her leg curled around him, needing to feel him against her as his palm dropped over her hip, sliding over her pert bottom to squeeze her gently. She moaned against his kiss as their mouths collided with a fierce intensity and Avery felt Brant’s hands sliding in beneath her jacket, as his fingers crazed over the curves of her body, scintillating her every synapse as he eased her back against Bruce’s desk, his intentions quite clear as warning bells went off in Avery’s head and she broke away from the kiss suddenly.
“Stop,” she mouthed breathlessly as she looked up at him, confused by the sudden turn of events between them.
“You don’t mean that,” he offered a sly smile as he leaned in towards her collecting her lips again in a tender kiss.
“The hell I don’t,” she replied shoving him away as her body surged with anger, with raw hatred at herself for letting things get out of hand between them. She took a step back trying to rationalize the situation, to calm herself down as he stepped forward reaching out towards her, “don’t,” she warned simply, “don’t touch me.”
“Avery,” he extended his arm out once again before letting out a long sigh, “fine you stay in your corner if that’s what you feel you need to do, but now I know I was right about us. You do feel it too,” Brant adjusted his tie standing taller as he looked at her, a smile pressing over his lips, “and I won’t stop until you admit it to yourself. You want me Avery and it’s only a matter of time before you give in.”
“You repulse me,” Avery shot back at him, wanting to kick herself as her gaze dropped to his mouth, to the lips that had tasted so very satisfying against hers.
“It shows,” Brant brushed his thumb over his bottom lip tasting her sweetness over his mouth as his desire for her mounted.
“Just get out,” Avery pointed towards the door, “just leave.”
“Now,” she snapped at him, “go.”
“Fine,” he dusted off the sleeve on his jacket, “I’ll leave with that kiss fresh on my mind, but know that this is far from over between us. You can only put me off so long Avery and soon, well soon you’ll see that we’re meant to be together. That’s just the way it is,” he shrugged his shoulders simply as she marched over towards the office door throwing it open in an attempt to get him out of the room so she could clear her thoughts. Anything to clear her head as her heart pounded furiously in her chest.
“This isn’t over,” Brant threw her one last confident smile as he stepped towards her, “the way I see it, this is only the beginning for us Avery and a sweet beginning at that,” his gaze dropped over her lips as her anger boiled.
“Just go,” she urged throwing him outside the office door and slamming it shut as her whole world was left spinning with the aftershocks of what had just happened between her and Brant. Somehow her life had just taken on a whole new level of complication--one she was certain she was anything but ready for.
Kenneth held the door while Caitlin stepped out of the stairway and into the main lobby. He smiled as they continued across the lobby.
"Oh Ken, you're here," Barbara, a emergency room nurse, waved to him, "If you're looking for Blake, she's upstairs on the surgical ward."
"She's what? What happened?" Kenneth asked quickly.
"Some sort of accident, explosion or something related to the quake," Barbara replied.
Kenneth quickly spun on his heel and raced back to the stairs. Caitlin followed behind him as he bounded up the stairs towards his sister. They stepped onto the surgical ward and proceeded directly to the nurse's station.
"Blake Ashford, where is she?" Kenneth asked desperately as he searched the faces of each of the nurses at the desk. One pointed towards the waiting room where long blond hair shimmered through the glass partition. He walked around the corner and stepped into the waiting room, "Blake?"
"Ken," Blake said tearfully as she turned and raced into her brother's embrace. She hugged him tightly, "I'm so glad to see you."
"What's happened?" He asked quickly as he hugged her in return.
"I went to get my car worked on again, but then the quake hit and," She sniffled, "It was awful. Seth protected me, and he kept me safe. But then…there was an explosion, and he's hurt," She said as she broke into tears once again.
"An explosion, are you okay?" He asked as he looked her over, easing her hands over her shoulders, "Have you been checked out?"
"I'm fine, but Seth…he's in surgery, and I'm so worried that he's not going to make it," She sobbed.
"Blake, who is Seth?" Kenneth asked as he searched his sister's face.
"He's my brother," Jade said boldly as she stepped into the waiting room with Grady at her side, "And this is my attorney."
Grady glared at Kenneth before slowly surveying everyone in the room, "You are all going to leave since you have no business here."
"I'm not going anywhere," Blake declared firmly as she touched Kenneth's forearm, "You have to stop them from making me leave, Ken. I'm not leaving until Seth is safe and sound."
"Excuse me," Kenneth said towards Grady and Jade before pulling Blake aside and lowering his voice, "Who the hell is Seth and how do you know him?"
"Seth was at the auto shop, and he saved me. They weren't going to tell me what his condition was," She winced slightly before continuing, "So I told them that I was his fiancée."
"You what?" He asked in astonishment, "Blake, that is Seth's sister, and I'm sure she wants to be here for her brother. Wouldn't you want the same thing if it was one of us in surgery?"
"She wouldn't just butt out," She declared, "So Dr. Mathis kicked her out of the room. Don't blame that on me."
"They wouldn't have done that if you hadn't interfered," Kenneth rubbed the bridge of his nose before sighing, "I cannot believe you've done this."
"Please, Kenny, I'm begging you. Please don't let them throw me out. I really need to be here when Seth comes out of surgery," Blake pled with him as she held onto his arm.
Kenneth frowned as he looked at her, "Do you realize what you're asking me to do?"
"Please," She begged with pouty eyes.
He groaned as he turned back to Grady and Jade, "Blake isn't going anywhere. She's staying here until Seth is out of surgery."
"I don't want her anywhere near my brother," Jade declared as she glared at Blake, "She's not his fiancée, and I'm not going to let her pretend that she is."
"I think that makes our position fairly clear," Grady said with a smile as he crossed his arms.
"We're not leaving until Seth comes out of surgery," Kenneth declared firmly.
Caitlin moved in beside Blake, "Hi, long time no see," She exhaled as she nibbled her bottom lip, "Are things always this intense?"
Blake glanced at Caitlin and nodded, "Welcome to
Coral Valley," She said as she was thankful for her brother's presence but growing
more nervous about Seth's condition as time went on. One thing was for certain,
she wasn't leaving until she knew for certain that the man who had saved her
would fully recover.
...to be continued...