Episode Three

Avery tried to still the pounding of her heart as she thought back to that kiss Brant had laid upon her.  She hadn’t been ready for that, nor had she been willing to accept the consequences of what being in his arms could mean.  Rubbing her hands over her arms, she fought to steady herself as his kiss still left her swimming inside herself wanting more of him as much as the thought pained her.  Certainly she couldn’t be falling for him.  She was smarter than that, wasn’t she?  Still with the thought of his body pressed against hers, his desire washing over her, she could feel herself sinking deeper into the spell that Brant Ashford had cast over her.  He’d wanted her to fall and like a fool she was allowing it to happen.
“You just need to clear your head,” Avery reminded herself taking in a slow breath as she tried to focus.  Looking to the photo in the frame upon Bruce’s desk, she leaned over reaching for it as she tried to keep her focus on the image before her, “you belong with Bruce.  You and Bruce are happy together and this is your future.  You aren’t foolish enough to fall for Brant Ashford.  You and Bruce,” she trailed off with a frustrated groan.

Oh who was she trying to kid?  Bruce wasn’t the man for her and while she firmly believed that Brant Ashford was completely wrong for her, the taste of him lingered over her, seducing her senses as she vivid image of his warm and inviting arms wrapped around her danced through her mind.  Oh how she’d wanted to just give in--to show him that she was full of passion and desire, but then logic had stepped in and she’d pulled back.  Now she wondered if she’d made a mistake.  Clearly giving in to need wasn’t the appropriate or responsible thing to do, but then again she’d been responsible for so very long with Bruce and being reckless with Brant had felt oh so right.  How she’d wanted to tear him out of his clothes and lick a hot, wet line over his…
“Stop,” she instructed herself bringing her fingers through her dark hair, “you’re bound to drive yourself mad with this line of thinking,” she cursed herself as she paced around Bruce’s office wondering what was taking him so long.  Why hadn’t he checked in with her?  Why hadn’t he just left her go home to her apartment like she’d requested--to the safety that would’ve enveloped her instead of the danger that beckoned her here in Bruce’s office.  She’d wanted nothing more than to escape Brant Ashford’s teasing and flirtation, yet somehow in this office, she’d given in.  She’d offered him encouragement and hope by caving in.  Damn her for being so foolish--for wanting him and for liking the way he’d made her felt.  How she hated that these thoughts of him consumed her as she wondered what it would’ve been like to ride the wild wave of passion with him.
“No,” Avery blurted out shaking her head as she looked to the desk feeling the eroticism of his kiss, the temptation behind his touch.  Even now she could feel his hands over her body, tracing her curves and wanting so much more from her.  Oh and how she’d wanted to give in to him--to throw caution to the wind and risk it all just for that spark of electricity between them.  At this moment Brant’s touch washed over her, engulfing her as she wanted to wrap herself around him, to dive in to the pleasures he could offer her--to the naughty side that she’d suppressed for so very long.
Sure, Avery Morrison was always responsible and proper these days, but there had been a time when she’d been wild and reckless.  There once was a day when she’d have taken a man like Brant Ashford and showed him a whole new world of passion and then some.  She’d been able to throw caution to the wind, to accept a good night of sex when it came in her direction, but now, well now that had all changed.  She was in a relationship with Bruce and that certainly stood as reason enough for her to purge any of her lingering impulses about living on the edge.  Sure, life with Bruce was simplistic and boring and while he wasn’t the worst lover, he hadn’t been the best either.  He was very traditional in his ways and set on keeping things down that path of the straight and narrow.  He’d never have thought to have spontaneously thrown her down on his desk to make wild, passionate love to her as that was far too messy for Bruce.  He wasn’t into the racier side of romance as that too was far too ’dirty’ for his liking and sure Avery had adjusted to that--at least she thought she’d had until she’d met Brant Ashford.
Okay, that being said it was true that Avery too had noticed Brant the first moment they encountered one another.  She’d thought about what it would’ve been like for them to share a night of passion together time and time again, but alas Brant’s reputation and her attachment to Bruce had hindered any fantasies she might’ve been prompted to live out with him.  Still, she could think of the day she’d stepped into BBK for the first time and she saw Brant in his father’s office, dressed in his white polo shirt and khaki shorts on his way out to a tennis match with a potential investor.  Oh she’d certainly noticed the very lean, muscled lines of his body and when he’d flashed her that sexy smile from afar, it didn’t take long for her heart to flip at the sight of him.  Brant Ashford was clearly the perfect specimen of man and from that first glance Avery was very tempted to get closer to him.  She’d recalled flirting a bit and teasing that followed, but from the moment she learned about Brant’s going through women like toilet paper, the interest tapered off.  She had no need for a man of such careless nature and more so her career dictated her life in a more ‘responsible’ fashion.  Still, tonight in her boyfriend’s office no less, she felt anything but responsible.  She wanted to be wild and wanton and damn her, she wanted Brant Ashford.  No amount of protesting or slinging insults could change that and the worst part was that she’d shown him that there was some sign of hope.  She’d given him the encouragement he’d longed for all this time and now, well now there was no telling where that would lead her.
“That’s it,” she threw her hands up in the air before she moved across the room swiping her purse up from the couch she’d left it on, “I’m not waiting any longer Bruce,” she blurted out needing to clear her thoughts and be anywhere but this office she’d almost lost control with Brant in.  Marching out of the door, she decided it was time to go home before her head got her in any more trouble.
“Avery,” she heard a voice call out to her as she turned to find Russ Denton standing beside her, “I thought that was you.”
“Russ,” she smiled at him politely, “hi.”
“What are you doing here,” he questioned giving her a quick once over, “were you hurt in the quake?”
“No,” Avery shook her head in response, “I was just here with Bruce.”
“And he’s working I take it,” Russ looked to her for a long moment before letting out a knowing chuckle, “of course he is considering this place is a zoo.”
“That it is, which is why I’m getting myself out of here like pronto,” Avery explained taking in a breath as she stepped forward.
“Whoa, hold on a second,” Russell stepped out before her reaching out to stop her mid-movement, “where’s the fire?”
“Russ, look I don’t really have time to explain,” she began desperately turning her attention back to him, “I just want to go home.  It’s been a long night for me that’s all.”
“Avery, if something is wrong,” Russell searched her eyes for a moment, “come on.  What is it?”
“It’s nothing,” she lied after a pause.
“Avery, I know you better than that and even though it’s been a while since we’ve crossed paths, one thing is for certain.”
“What’s that?” she asked with a small frown.
“You’re a horrible liar,” Russell smiled down at her, “you always were, but then again maybe that’s why we got along so well.  I could always call your bluff.”
“That’s exactly why we didn’t get along, remember?” Avery gave him a sideways glance.
“Then tell me nothing’s bothering you,” he challenged eyeing her closely.
“Nothing is wrong,” she lied again seeing the disbelieving stare he was giving her, “well, it isn’t.”
“Right and I’m the pope,” he shook his head before reaching out to take her arm, “come on.  We’re going to go talk for a while.”
“Russell Denton, I already told you that I want to go home,” she frowned deeply, “I don’t see why you…”
“Does Bruce know you’re taking off?”
“No, he doesn’t know but…”
“Avery, come on.  If you’re running out on Bruce, that can only mean one thing,” he paused searching her eyes for a moment, “it’s coffee time.”
“Russ, I don’t have coffee time,” she argued with him, “you know that when I want…”
“There’s always room for coffee time,” he reminded her extending his arm out to her, “come on.  For an old friend?”
“Russ, you know that…” she sighed in frustration.
“It’ll only take ten minutes out of your day--twenty tops,” he promised reaching his hand out to her, “for old time’s sake.”
“Oh alright,” she reluctantly accepted his arm as she allowed him to guide her down to the hospital cafeteria not knowing that her reunion with Russell had captured the attention of one of patients at the hospital.

Hearing Russell offer to buy Avery Morrison a cup of coffee and a shoulder was very interesting news indeed as Heather Gibbons stepped further into the hallway wondering just what her knight in shining armor was doing with Brant’s lady lawyer.  Perhaps it was time to find out.


Caitlin escorted Blake to the chairs near the back of the waiting room. They ladies sat down, Blake dabbing tears from her cheeks and Caitlin carefully watching Kenneth and Grady sizing up one another.

Caitlin directed her attention towards Blake after a moment, "This man…Seth? He's really this important to you?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Blake spoke as she looked to her college room mate, "When did you get in town?"

"About a week ago. I'm working for the Coral Courier, and I pitched a story idea to your brother, Kenneth, this morning. It looks like I'll be in Coral Valley for quite a while to come."

"I'm glad you're here. It'll be nice to have a friend in town."

"I really don't understand this, Blake. Why is that woman over there so upset about you wanting to see this man?"

Blake frowned as she glared at Jade who stood beside Grady, "She's a jealous little twit. She'll see that her brother will want to see me when he comes out of surgery."

"I'm sure she's worried about her family just as you would be. Kenneth was quite concerned when he heard you were on this ward. I believe he was frightened that something had happened to you."

"Oh," Blake said as she glanced to her brother, "I didn't think…well I guess I didn't even think about my brother's concern for me."

"Kenneth really cares about you. I told him I had been your roommate at UCLA, and he was interested in hearing about your life in college. I'm surprised you didn't tell him about college."

"Los Angeles gave me a chance to live life without being an Ashford. I got to see how life was outside my own little sphere, and it was a great time for me. I just as soon leave it as mine without bringing it back into my life as an Ashford here."

Caitlin nodded, "I understand that completely, and in fact, that's sort of what I told Kenneth."

"So you two spoke at length, huh?"

"We were trapped in the elevator here for a while just after the quake."

"You what? Are you two okay?"

"We're fine. It was a bit tense for a little while, but we're both okay."

"Good, we don't need any more injuries around here. As it stands, we already have too many."

"You're really concerned about Seth, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am. He saved my life, and if he were to die," Blake shook her head as she looked to the floor, "He can't die. He simply can't. I need to repay him for what he did for me, and I'm not going to let him deprive me of that chance."

Caitlin tried to repress the grin, "So it's all about you, right?"

"Of course," Blake said as she flipped her blond hair off her shoulder and held her head high, "I have a reputation to uphold after all."

Caitlin chuckled softly, turning her attention back to the discussion between the two lawyers across the room.


Grady looked at Kenneth with contempt evident in his eyes. He'd never liked the Ashfords, had plenty of reason to hate them since they were children. There was something about standing here now that made Grady feel accomplished. Being able to rise above his lowly roots to stand toe to toe with an Ashford made him proud.

He allowed his lip to curl in a cool smile, "Since when are you playing clean up crew for your little sister?"

"I have an excuse. She's my sister. What's your excuse for running to your assistant's rescue?" Kenneth retorted with a less than friendly reply.

"We lower classes have to stick together to protect ourselves from the almighty Ashfords," Grady frowned.

"Denton, what is your problem? Why do you harbor so much resentment against me or any of us? We haven't done anything to you."

"Nothing but be Ashfords, and I think you've done a very good job of that."

Kenneth shook his head, "That's a real narrow minded view of the world, Denton."

"So far it's been proven correct, Ashford. My view, although narrow to you, seems to be pretty accurate."

Kenneth groaned as he rolled his eyes, "I don't know why you want to make life so difficult for all of us. You and I could work together to make life easier for the both of us. We don't have to fight one another."

"Yes, we do. We've always had to fight one another. It's the way things work. Lower classes standing in the way of the upper classes," Grady said proudly, "And I must say that I'm quite proud to be the obstacle standing in your way."

"What the hell is going on here? I walk down the hall of this hospital, and a nurse tells me that everyone is up here on the surgical ward. I thought I was going to have a heart attack right there," Brant declared as he approached Kenneth.

"You should talk to Blake," Kenneth advised him as Brant went for the back of the waiting area.

"Oh now the whole gang is here. This should prove even more interesting," Grady grumbled, watching the Ashfords together.

"Right now, I could care less about the Ashfords. I want to know about my brother," Jade declared as she watched for nurses walking down the hallway. She flagged one down, "Please, what can you tell me about Seth Alexander?"

The nurse stepped to the nurse's desk and read over a chart, "He's still in surgery. Someone should be out to speak with you soon."

"When the hell is soon?" Jade replied as she ran her fingers through her long dark hair, "I want to know how my brother is."

"We'll find out," Grady assured her as he placed his hands on her shoulders, "There's usually not a lot of news at first. I'm sure they're doing everything then can for Seth."

"That's not good enough," She said as she turned towards Grady and met his eyes, "I need to know how he is. He's all I have. I can't lose him, but it feels almost like I have. We have to find out something about my brother. We just have to," She said desperately.

"Hold on. I'll see what I can do," Grady said as he stepped out of the waiting room.

Kenneth watched Jade before he approached her, "Grady's really fighting hard for you."

"He fights hard for everyone he thinks he needs to protect," Jade replied tersely.

"And he needs to protect you?" He asked.

"Go to hell, Ashford. I don't need protecting from anyone, least of all you or your family. But I won't be afraid to call in reinforcements when I need to," She declared as Grady returned.

Grady glared at Kenneth for a moment before the other man stepped away. He looked back to Jade before speaking, "Seth is stable, but he still has a way to go in surgery. They said that someone should come in to speak with you in less than an hour."

"An hour? I don't know if I can wait that long," Jade said sadly.

"It'll be okay, Jade. The doctors know what they're doing, and being stubborn seems to run in your family. I think Seth is determined to live and pull through all of this. You just have to have faith," Grady said as he gently pulled Jade into his arms and comforted her with a gentle hug.

Kenneth watched the exchange before he stepped back towards his siblings. For whatever reason Grady was helping Jade, it wasn't as clear cut as he would have it appear.


Blake glanced up as she watched Brant approaching. She stood and met him halfway as she hugged him, "Thanks for coming."

"What exactly is going on?" Brant asked as he took a step back to meet her eyes.

"I went to have my car fixed, and I was at the auto shop when the quake hit. Seth helped me, and then there was an explosion. He was hurt, and they have him in surgery now," She explained as she met her brother's eyes, "I told them I was his fiancée so they would tell me how he was and allow me to stay while they were helping him."

"So…this guy, how bad was he?"

"I don't know, but it looked pretty bad to me," She said with a deep frown, "I had to stay, Brant. I wasn't going to let them keep me from him, and I won't now even though Grady Denton and that little twit he calls an assistant are trying to keep me away from him."

"What the hell have they got to do with it?" He questioned as he looked back towards Grady and Jade.

"Jade is Seth's sister," Kenneth informed Brant as he rejoined the group, "Who wants to know why you're trying to keep her from her brother, I might add."

"Her brother?" Brant snorted before turning back to Blake, "You really want to see this guy?"

"Yeah, I have to make sure he's okay, Brant. He saved my life by putting his own in danger," Blake said as Caitlin joined them.

"Blake, perhaps you should let his sister see him first. They are family after all," Caitlin offered.

"Who asked for your opinion?" Brant asked as he eyed Caitlin, "Who are you anyway?"

"That's my friend, Brant," Blake replied.

"And she's helping me with a case. So leave her alone," Kenneth said boldly as he met his brother's harsh stares.

"Protective, huh?" Brant asked as he glanced to his brother, "So have you cast any of that protection in the direction of our sister?"

"Of course I have," Kenneth replied curtly.

"Obviously not strongly enough," Brant replied as he turned to glance back at Grady and Jade, "If you'd done the job correctly, they wouldn't still be here."

"We can't very well ask them to leave, Brant. Jade is Seth's family. She should be here when he comes out of surgery."

"Says who? You wouldn't be here if it was me in there."

"The hell I wouldn't. As much as I might despise your actions, you are my brother, and I love you."

"Trying to be compassionate to pick up the girl there?" Brant asked as he nodded to Caitlin, "Don't bother. You don't stand a chance with her."

"Unlike you, Brant, I don't always think with my sex drive," Kenneth rolled his eyes.

"Always playing the good guy," Brant frowned before he turned and looked back to Grady, "Well I'm not a good guy, and I don't pretend to be. They need to leave, and since it's obvious you're not capable of making that happen, I'll just have to do it," He finished as he walked towards Grady.

"Oh boy," Kenneth sighed as he looked to Blake, "Are you happy now?"

"Oh shut up, Ken. I'm not leaving until Seth is out of surgery, and I'm not going to back down for either of them," Blake pointed out as she glared towards Grady and Jade.

Kenneth took a deep breath as he turned to watch Brant approach Grady and Jade. He knew things were about to turn ugly, and he would have to clean up a very big mess.


"Hey, what the hell is your problem?" Brant questioned rather loudly as he tapped on Grady's shoulder, "Can't you see that neither of you are wanted or needed here?"

"Ashford, who the hell do you think you are?" Grady demanded as he reacted to Brant's accusation, "You don't own the world contrary to what you might believe. Jade is Seth's next of kin, not your whacked out sister over there who's weaving some fairy tale about being engaged to Seth."

"Don't you ever insult my sister," Brant ordered as he neared Grady, "You don't have any place here. We don't need you or your little twit girlfriend."

"My client has more right than you'll ever have, Ashford."

"You think you're so smug, but all I have to do is make one phone call to get rid of you," Brant said confidently, "So go ahead. Piss me off. Give me one reason, any reason, and I'll enjoy watching the security guys haul your sorry ass out of here," He said as he eyed Grady with contempt, knowing he had the upper hand.


“So what’s really going on,” Russell questioned watching Avery stewing over her steaming mug of coffee.
“Well hello to you,” Avery shot back sarcastically, “I haven’t seen you in lord knows how long and this is the kind of reception I get from you?”
“Hey I’m just trying to be a pal,” he waved his hands in the air defensively, “but we can play this your way if you like.  So how are things on the dark side?”
“Russ, it’s not the dark side,” a scowl touched over her lips, “just because you don’t like the Ashfords doesn’t mean that they’re evil incarnate.”
“Avery, I told you before you even applied for that position that the family was nothing but trouble,” he reminded her simply, “and you can’t argue that point.”
“And I don’t tell you how to run your newspaper, now do I?” Avery challenged sipping her cappuccino.
“Well, maybe if you were busy getting up in my face, it would motivate you to find a place far away from that twisted family,” Russell shrugged his shoulder simply, “working for them is going to be your downfall you know.”
“Now you’re sounding just like Bruce,” she scowled in response.
“Hey, at least the guy and I agree on one thing,” he sipped his coffee before continuing, “maybe he’s not as bad as I thought.”
“There’s nothing bad about Bruce,” Avery shot him a glare, “and you know that.”
“No there isn’t other than the fact that you aren’t in love with him,” Russell sipped his coffee again, “I mean other than that I think the guy’s a great catch.”
“What is with all of you people in this town,” Avery sighed tucking a strand of her dark hair behind her ear, “why are you all saying that I can’t possibly be in love with Bruce?”
“Because it’s painfully obvious when you two are in a room together,” Russell shook his head, “even tonight is a shining example of your running away from him.”
“I wasn’t running away from Bruce,” she defended with a huff.
“Then what were you running away from?”
“I wasn’t running away from anything,” she stated matter of fact, “I just wanted to go home.  You know that I don’t like being in the heart of chaos.”
“Avery, who are you trying to kid?  Chaos is your middle name,” Russell gave her a pointed look.
“That was a long time ago,” she argued with him before flashing him a bright smile, “I’m a changed woman as you can clearly see.”
“Working for the stuffed shirts and spending your time with Mr. Boy scout doesn’t change the woman you are,” Russell shook his head poignantly, “I know you better than that for you to let this situation you’re in break your spirit.”
“Russell, we haven’t talked in what?  Almost a year and here you are telling me what I am?” she raised a curious brow, “I think it’s safe to say that things have changed.”
“Not that much they haven’t,” he argued with her, “you’re still the same woman who likes to sleep in on the weekend, who appreciates a hot cup of coffee when stress is weighing her down--the same woman who likes to throw caution to the wind and let loose by making love in the rain…”
“Russell,” her face grew hot at his words as she looked around the crowed cafeteria.
“Are you blushing,” Russell gave her a long perusal, “Oh my.  I never thought I’d live to see the day that would happen when I’d embarrass you.”
“Russ, I was just a kid when we were together and that was a lifetime ago,” Avery looked around the cafeteria for a moment before lowering her voice, “things are just different now.”
“Different because why?  Because Bruce isn’t the kind of man who gives you what you crave?” Russell leaned forward across the table, “I mean that’s what it boils down to.”
“Why is everyone trying to tell me what I need,” she shook her head in frustration, “first Brant and now you…”
“Whoa, back up,” Russell put the brakes on her words as he watched her closely, “Brant?  As in Brant Ashford?”
“None other,” she reluctantly offered with a sigh, “he was just giving me the same lecture on Bruce tonight and if I have to rehash it one more time with anyone else…”
“Why was Brant lecturing you on Bruce,” Russell inquired watching her closely, “I thought that you two were just working together…”
“That’s all there is between us,” Avery shifted uncomfortably on her seat, “I’m his lawyer.”
“Yet he’s offering you love advice?” he arched a curious brow, “Somehow that doesn’t seem right.”
“You said it yourself time and time again that the Ashford family is full of nosy, pain in the ass people,” she shot back at him avoiding the look he was giving her.
“Even so, with that being said there’s only one reason why a man like Brant Ashford would be offering advice to you about your love life,” Russell watched her closely, “Avery, you and he aren’t…”
“Heavens no,” she answered quickly, perhaps too quickly as she looked up at him.  Tapping her finger nails nervously on the table top, she looked around the cafeteria once again, “it’s not like that.”
“No?  Then care to enlighten me on what it’s like,” he leaned back in his seat watching her closely.
“Look it’s just that we’ve been working one on one a lot together and in being that close to him,” Avery found herself at a loss as her cappuccino suddenly became the most interesting object in the room.
“Russ, I’m with Bruce and I don’t have time for a man like Brant in my life,” Avery blurted out after a moment’s hesitation, “I mean for me to even consider the thought of spending any time with him on anything other than a professional level would be completely preposterous there.  He’s arrogant, pompous and a womanizer that clearly is anything but what I am looking for in a man…”
“Yet you’re drawn in by it, aren’t you,” Russell questioned watching her shift uneasily before him, “Avery, don’t tell me that you feel something for the guy.”
“I didn’t say that,” she snapped back at him meeting his disapproving gaze at long last, “Russ, it’s just…I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  I mean one minute I think I know where I’m going and then tonight, well I think that Bruce was getting ready to propose and it threw me.”
“Bruce wants to get married?” Russell’s eyes widened in surprise.
She nodded with a sigh, “I think he’s ready for me to become the good doctor’s wife and the truth is I don’t think I’m ready for that step--at least not now.”
“Avery, why don’t you tell him?  Why string the guy along when you aren’t looking for a future with him,” Russell frowned back at her, “don’t you think that’s a bit unfair to him?”
“Russ, it’s not that I don’t care about him,” she began searching for the right words, “because I do, but it’s just not…”
“Not love,” he finished for her as he extended his hand across the table, “and knowing you when the moment arrived when he was going to propose, you ran far from him.”
“I went to work,” she confessed with a nod, “Brant called me and I came running back to the office.”
“And that’s where Brant fits into this,” Russell noted, “he’s your escape from Bruce and in running to him, you can avoid the commitment that Bruce is demanding from you.”
“I’m not running to Brant,” Avery argued with him, “I can’t help it if Brant’s sudden interest in me is overwhelming.  He’s fixated on the idea of being with me and he’s convinced that he’s going to win me over--that he’s going to break me down if you will.”
“But you’ve made it painfully obvious that there’s no chance in hell, right?” he watched her look away as a frown touched over his lips, “right Avery?”
“Russ, I…”
“What?” she questioned harshly as the memory of kissing Brant flooded over her, “look I don’t have to answer to you about my personal life.  It’s not like we’re together anymore…”
“No we aren’t and I realize that, but I’d like to think that since we’re friends, you could at least open up to me and be honest.  Hell, if you’re not going to be honest with me, at least do it for you.  I can see that something is happening here that’s effected you and I have the sinking feeling that Brant Ashford is a part of it,” he paused as she withdrew her hand from his, “Avery, talk to me.”
“Oh alright,” she blurted out lowering her voice, “he kissed me tonight.”
“He kissed you,” Russell gulped in response, “and?”
“And what,” she shrugged her shoulders trying to hide the warmth building inside of her at the thought of Brant’s sensual mouth.
“What then?”
“Nothing,” she answered simply, “he tried to convince me that we belonged together and he kissed me.  I pushed him away and told him to get lost.  That was the end of it.  Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Avery,” he gave her a sideways glance.
“Russ, that’s the truth,” she bit on her lower lip vowing not to offer up the bit she’d omitted from that truth.
“So Brant Ashford has officially made you his next target then, huh?” Russell leaned back pondering the thought.
“I made it quite clear where I stand on the issue,” Avery remarked taking another drink of her cappuccino, “he knows I’m not interested.”
“Good,” Russell decided firmly, “and you should keep it that way too because he’s the kind of heartache that you don’t need.”
“I’m a big girl Russell and I can take care of myself,” Avery snapped back at him.
“I’m well aware of that, but at the same time men like Brant Ashford don’t take no for an answer,” he crumpled up the napkin in his hand, “In fact, I ran into his ex-fiancée earlier today during the quake and she’s got it in her head that he’s going to be taking her back soon and they’re going to have a happily ever after with one another.”
“In her dreams,” Avery let out a tiny chuckle, “Even I am no where near that delusional about life.  Heather doesn’t stand a chance from what I saw earlier.”
“Even so, the point is that you don’t want to get tangled up with the likes of Brant Ashford.  He’s no good Avery and if I were you, I’d do all that I could to get out of that situation you’re in with him.”
“Russ, I’m not leaving my job,” she explained simply, “I love it far too much to do that.”
“But what about Brant?  If he’s set on having you like you say he is…”
“He can try all he wants, but it’s not going to get him anywhere,” Avery tried to assure him, “I’m a smart woman and he has no experience in dealing with someone like me.  He won’t break me.”
“I’ve seen many a women say that very thing and he’s taken them down in flames,” Russell sighed thinking of the situation his friend was in, “you can do so much better.”
“Russ, I’m still with Bruce, remember?” she waved her hand in front of him, “he and I are a couple and who knows, maybe this time when he proposes I’ll say yes.”
“Avery, anytime a man proposes you go running in the opposite direction,” Russell offered with a sigh, “I mean at least I knew you cared about me, but it didn’t stop you from running away after I asked you to marry me.”
“Russ, if we’d gotten married, we would’ve hated one another,” Avery added reaching across the table to take his hand, “we were both very young at the time and we wanted different things.  We still do and I know in my heart that had I taken you up on that marriage proposal, then you and I would’ve probably been to divorce court ten times over already.”
“We could’ve made it work,” Russell offered after a moment’s hesitation.
“No we couldn’t have,” she shook her head poignantly, “and if you think about it--really think about it, you’ll see that too.”
“Avery, I just want you to find some happiness,” Russell laced their fingers in one another, “and Bruce, well the poor guy doesn’t see it coming as the sad truth is that no man can tame you.  Then again, I don‘t think I‘d ever want them to.”
“What fun would there be in that,” she winked at him offering a tiny smile.
“Still,” Russell shook his head, “I just don’t want to see you run to Brant Ashford as your escape because that would be a big mistake.”
“Russell, I’m not going to do anything that I’m not ready for and when the moment arrives for Bruce and I, it might be different than it was in the past,” Avery offered with a shrug, “I mean hey stranger things have happened.”
“So they have,” he agreed with a half smile, “but still if you’re ever in doubt…”
“Always trying to play my knight in shining armor,” she winked back at him, “see, there’s where you and I are on two different playing fields yet again.  You’re ready to play hero and I’m not in need of being saved.”
“I think you are fighting the fact that perhaps the one person you’ll need saving from is yourself,” Russell offered as his gaze lingered over her, “if you play with fire, you’re bound to get burned.”
“Not this time,” she shook her head optimistically, “in fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m glad we had this time to talk.  I think it helped me see things clearer.”
“Somehow I doubt that.”
“Russ, would you just trust me for once,” she smiled back at him, “I’m really doing the right thing and I’m not going to fall down that path of recklessness again.”
“You say that now…”
“Russ, I don’t want a lecture,” she held up her mug towards him, “it’s coffee time, remember?  Coffee time was always unwinding time, not time to get wired up again.”
“Still…” he paused watching her for a long moment.
“Enough about me,” she blurted out wanting nothing more than to turn the conversation off of herself, “what about you?  How are things going at the paper?”
“You know Avery, I realize what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to work,” he frowned back at her.
“Of course it is,” she smiled sweetly back at him, “you know you’re dying to tell me all about the paper and I’ve forced you to listen to me far too long already, so why not make this easy on both of us?”
“Avery,” he gave her a firm look.
“Russell,” she winked back at him before reaching out to squeeze his hand gently, “come on.  You know you want to tell me what’s been happening in your life, so please don’t hold back.  I want to hear everything.”
“I’m sure you do,” he offered a sideways glance before letting out a reluctant sigh, “okay, things are good.”
“Just good?” she raised a curious brow, “Russ, this is the news business we’re talking about.  I’ve caught the paper a few times here and there so I know things are better than good.”
“You’re still reading my paper,” he leaned back eyeing her closely.
“Every day,” she confessed brightly, “you know I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“See now I didn’t think that the Coral Courier was allowed within the walls of the Ashford fortress there,” he remarked sarcastically.
“Russ, it’s not as bad as you make it out to be,” she defended, “in fact there are a lot of things about the Ashfords that would shock and surprise you…”
“There’s no doubt in my mind about that,” he quipped.
“In a good way,” she added simply, “you know they aren’t all that bad.  In fact, just look at Kenneth.  Look at all he’s done for the world around him.”
“Kenneth does prove to be an interesting subject indeed,” Russell noted after a moment’s contemplation, “but he’s still an Ashford.”
“Just like you’re a Denton,” Avery frowned in response, “we are born who we are and that doesn’t define us entirely.”
“Avery, what dream world are you living in,” Russell shook his head disapproving, “the way I see it is there are always going to be people like the Ashfords controlling things--manipulating them if you will and then there are the rest of us,” he paused eyeing her intently, “unless of course the lines have suddenly become blurred for you now that you’re the next lady in waiting on Brant Ashford’s arm.”
“You know what Russ, you can just go to hell,” she pushed away from her chair standing up as anger boiled over her, “and you can quote me on that if you like.”
“Gee Avery, when exactly was it that you decided to sell your soul completely?” he countered rising from his chair, “because I’m sure that might be important in the upcoming expose about the Ashfords and how they’re out to rule the world by turning those of us masses against one another.”
“Russ, the only person I see out to turn anybody is the man I see before me,” she shook her head before letting out a huff, “you know this is exactly why you and I couldn’t have lasted together.  Here you are ready to save the world and fight against the almighty oppressors, but only when they fit into your terms of what is bad.  You speak about freedom of speech and the rights of the people to fight against discrimination, but here you are one of the biggest hypocrites I know.  You don’t now anything about the Ashford family other than you’ve been raised not to like them and now you stand here judging me because of my ties to them…”
“I only call them like I see them Avery,” he remarked offhandedly as he watched her anger boil, “and it’s clear that Ashford has bought your loyalty because a few years ago we never, ever would be standing here having this conversation.”
“A few years ago you would’ve trusted my judgment and it wouldn’t be like this,” Avery sneered at him.
“That’s because back then you weren’t trying to spoon feed me the praise of our greatest enemy,” he reminded her point blank.
“Your greatest enemy is yourself Russell,” she shook her head in frustration, “and you wonder why we could never see eye to eye on things.”
“You’re just blinded by the glamour and glory of the Ashfords and all it can give you,” Russell snapped back at her, “it seduces and it destroys, Avery.”
“Nothing destroys a person faster than hatred and prejudice Russell,” she folded her arms in front of her chest, “and if you take a long, hard look in the mirror you’ll see that you’re just destroying yourself with this foolish quest to take down the Ashfords.”
“Avery, look…” he raised his hand out to touch her, but withdrew a moment later bringing his fingers through his hair, “I don’t want to fight about this.  Really I don’t.  It’s clear we’re never going to see eye to eye on this subject.”
“No, we aren’t,” she softened her tone as she expelled a breath she’d been holding.
“But we can agree that you and I are better than resorting to this, right,” he paused searching her eyes, “I mean we can still keep a conversation going and have coffee time without it turning into a war zone, right?”
“I’d like to think so,” she offered in response, “just don’t knock my career and I won’t tell you how to run yours.”
“Fair enough,” he nodded in agreement extending his arms out in an embrace, “come here,” he whispered pulling her into his arms offering a hug, “you know I could never stay mad at you.”
“And I you,” she hugged him tighter, “even if you’re more pig headed than ever.”
“Oh admit it, you love me and all of my strong views,” he teased with a playful wink looking down at her.
“It’s my downfall in life,” she smiled up at him feeling the tension lifted between them as one of the nurse’s approached them.
“There you are,” she interrupted as Avery stepped out of Russell’s embrace, “Ms. Morrison, Mr. Denton, I’ve been looking for the both of you.”
“Is something wrong?” Avery questioned concerned.
“There seems to be a dispute taking place over in the surgical ward between your client and his brother,” she explained simply motioning towards Russell, “they’re getting rather vocal and I just thought…”
“Thank you,” Avery frowned in response realizing that once again she would get sucked back into dealing with Brant once more before this night was over.
“And you said that they weren’t giving off that holier than thou complex,” Russell quipped sarcastically, “right…”
“Knowing your brother, he’s not an innocent party either as Grady never did know when to keep his mouth shut,” Avery frowned looking over her shoulder at him, “but none of that matters at the moment.  The last thing the company needs at a time like this is bad press and that’s exactly what it’ll get if I don’t stop things before they get out of hand.”
“Hmm, well I told you one way or another the Ashfords were going to bury themselves,” Russell noted matter of fact, “and if my brother is going to be the man to do it, then power to him.”
“Will you never learn,” Avery glared at him before heading off in the direction of the commotion as Russell watched her wondering how she could be so blinded by the family that set out to hurt so many others.


Watching curiously as Russell followed Avery down the hallway, Heather looked up from the booth she’d been seated at behind them wondering if any of what she’d heard could be at all true.  Had Brant moved on to his lady lawyer seeking out the attentions that Heather was so willing to provide him?  Well, if that was in fact true, it would be a cold day in hell before she allowed that woman to replace her.  Brant would realize soon enough that they were meant to be together and she’d do whatever it takes in order to get him to see that.
“Brant and I will be together,” she whispered to herself watching as Russell chased off after Avery.  So her new hero would prove to be very useful indeed, she mused with a smile.  Following Avery and Russell had been a good idea and now as she headed back towards the room she’d been in earlier, she realized that things were about to chance for her and soon, very soon, with Russell’s help, she was about to get everything she always dreamed of.  It was only a matter of time.


Grady glared at Brant, taking a step towards him, "So try it, Ashford. Try to get security to do your bidding, and I'll have this hospital and your family sued so fast it will make your head spin. If you think you've had business troubles in the past, I'll make them all look like walks in the park."

"Oh I'm terrified now," Brant rolled his eyes, "You couldn't legitimately bother me if you tried. I don't deal with piss ants like you. I step on them, and I could have a lot of fun stepping on the likes of you."

"You don't own me or this hospital," Grady declared firmly, "You Ashfords always think you can boss anyone around and we'll just gladly do your bidding. Well guess again, pretty boy, because neither my client nor myself are going anywhere."

"Your client? Is that what you're calling her? She looks more like a prostitute. In fact, what does she charge?" Brant asked as he pulled some bills from his pocket, "What do you say I pay for your troubles and you can get back to work?"

"You son of a bitch," Grady said as he lunged forward.

"Whoa, hold it," Russell shouted as he jumped in between his brother and Brant. He held his brother back as he spoke in a calming tone, "Don't let him push your buttons, Grady. He's just trying to get you into a fight. Don't give him the pleasure."

"He's pushing his luck," Grady bit out.

"Yeah, he is. Don't let him have his way. Show the brat that not everything he wants goes his way," Russell urged.

Avery approached Brant, watching his smug smile cross his handsome features. It was these very moments that she despised, but she was hired to take care of any moments which might put BBK in a bad light. This definitely was one such moment.

"Brant, what are you trying to accomplish?" Avery asked incredulously as she closed the distance between them.

"I'm trying to make these people understand that they aren't wanted here," Brant raised his voice so there would be no way Grady couldn't hear him.

"I don't know the entire story, but insulting them isn't the way to accomplish your goals," Avery declared as she turned to Russell, "Can you get Grady out of here for a moment?"

"I'm not leaving. That's just what that troll wants," Grady snapped as he pushed at Russell, "They want us gone, but we're not going anywhere. Seth is Jade's brother, and she deserves to be here. The Ashfords have no place here."

"It's you who have no place here," Brant retorted.

"Gentlemen!" Bruce shouted above the commotion as he stepped into the room, "There are patients on this ward who need peace and quiet to heal. You're not doing anyone any good with this incessant arguing."

"Do you have news?" Jade asked as she approached him quickly, "Please, tell me my brother is okay."

"Seth is in recovery. He had pressure on his brain which was increasing at a rapid rate. We relieved that pressure, and the swelling around the brain seems to be receding already. He'll be in the ICU shortly. Then it'll be only close family allowed to visit him," Bruce explained.

"I want to know the exact moment he gets into the ICU," Jade declared.

"Of course," Bruce said as he looked amongst the crowd in the waiting area, "Now, I'm not going to allow you to keep arguing in here. You're disturbing patients, and I won't have it. Anyone who isn't absolutely close family needs to leave. Now."

Avery looked to Brant, "I think that means you."

"I'll only leave if Grady there agrees to leave as well," Brant said as he glared at Grady.

Grady looked to Jade, "Will you be okay by yourself?"

"I'll hold my own against the blond brat over there," Jade said firmly, "But hang around in case I need you?"

Grady nodded, "Well, Ashford, time to go."

Brant narrowed his gaze as he snorted. He turned and kissed Blake on the cheek, "If you need me, all you have to do is call."

Blake nodded before Kenneth also kissed her cheek and left along with Caitlin. Russell and Grady stepped out of the room as well. Brant left afterwards, glaring towards the people in front of him.

Avery looked to Bruce and sighed, "I'm sorry it got so out of hand."

"So am I, Avery, and I think it's time we had a long talk about your involvement with the Ashfords," Bruce said as he escorted her from the room.

Avery knew then that somehow she'd have to distract Bruce, or they would be doing some arguing of their own.


...to be continued...