The silence was suffocating as Avery looked over to Bruce
waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’d guided her back to his office,
to the place she was determined to avoid after her encounter with Brant Ashford,
but now it seemed that the very idea of the Ashfords would signal big trouble
for her with Bruce. She watched as he crossed the room, clearing his throat
a bit as he adjusted his tie. His palm fanned out over the top of his
chair, and he stood beside his desk as Avery’s heart thudded in her chest thinking
of how she’d been in that very spot a short while ago with Brant Ashford wrapped
around her--urging her to give in to his wicked plans for them. Shaking
the thought she realized Bruce was staring at her expectantly. If he’d
said something, she hadn’t heard him and given the look upon his face, she was
certain that whatever he had said was not something she should’ve missed.
“Bruce look--tonight has just been one big, chaotic evening and if you take a step back…,” Avery began taking in a breath as she prepared herself for this never ending battle.
“Avery, you’re the one who needs to take a good hard look at what working for that family is doing to you--to us,” Bruce sighed running his fingers through his hair, “I know you’ve said time and time again that you enjoy your job, but it’s just a job. You can find something better somewhere else with some other boss who won’t give you so much trouble.”
“Bruce, it’s not as bad as you think it is,” she defended watching him look at her doubtful, “well it’s not.”
“Avery, that man was about to rip apart Grady Denton in my hospital waiting room there. I think that in itself says all there is to say about him.”
“Bruce, this isn’t about Brant’s actions and you know it,” she frowned in response, “you just don’t like the idea of my finding a way on my own without having to lean on you. Admit it, you don’t like me doing something that you can’t control.”
“Avery, I’m not trying to control you and if you think that’s what this is about…”
“Well isn’t it? I mean time and time again I hear you going on and on about how you want me here at the hospital working beside you doing what it is you want me to do, but Bruce, the thing is that I’m not that woman you want me to be. I can’t pretend to be her and I’m not going to give up all I know just so that you can sleep better at night…”
“Avery, you’re missing the point,” he frowned deeply, “but it seems that you do that all the time lately especially now that Brant is running the show.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean,” she snapped back at him.
“Oh come on Avery. I have eyes. I know how the man looks at you and I’m quite aware of his reputation,” Bruce grumbled his face red with anger, “I know for a fact that with his fortune, he could easily hire in about twenty more qualified attorneys than you, but still he keeps you stringing along as the only one because he’d hoping that one day you’ll get your head out of the legal briefs and into his.”
“I don’t believe you just said that,” her jaw dropped upon hearing his words.
“Well it’s true,” Bruce noted stepping towards her as he drew in a tight breath, “Avery, honey you’re a beautiful woman and Brant Ashford is taken in by that…”
“But you just said that he could hire twenty other lawyers far more qualified than me to work for him,” Avery shook her head as anger bubbled over her, “as if you’re implying that I’m not good at what I do. As if the only reason I‘m still employed by BBK is because Brant Ashford wants to sleep with me because you clearly feel I‘m not good enough at what I do to possibly have any other use with the company.”
“Avery, that’s not what I meant and you know it.”
“No, Bruce I don’t know that, but what I do know is that the more you and I talk about this, the more I’m seeing that you doubt my capabilities as a lawyer. I’ll have you know that I graduated top of my class at Harvard and I worked my ass off to get where I’m at. Given that you’re a man who had this all fall into his lap considering that your family was one of the founding families here in Coral Valley, I don’t expect you to understand what I went through.”
“Avery, I’m not saying that you aren’t a good lawyer and if I implied that,” he groaned inwardly, “all I’m saying is that I don’t want you working with him. You said it yourself as you were top of your class and you could work anywhere with anyone, but what I don’t understand is why him.”
“Bruce, I already told you…”
“You keep saying that you have an obligation to that company, but what about your obligations to me? To us?” Bruce challenged approaching her, “Avery, don’t we mean anything to you?”
“Bruce, we haven’t been effected by my work at BBK,” she waved her hand between them, “the only time it proves to be a problem is when you’re ego is bruised by the fact that I’m working for Brant Ashford.”
“I don’t like it and I won’t pretend that I do,” Bruce announced firmly, “and when you’re my wife, I won’t accept you working there.”
“Excuse me?” she blinked back at him.
“You heard me,” Bruce stood firm as a serious Avery had never witnessed before swept over him changing his demeanor completely, “no wife of mine will be working along side of that womanizing, spoiled, reckless….”
“Now hold on one damn minute,” Avery shot back at him, “Bruce, look I respect the fact that you don’t like me working at BBK, but you have to respect the fact that the job is something that is important to me.”
“You’re important to me,” Bruce interrupted reaching out to her, “Avery, I want to be with you. Hell, I was going to ask you to marry me tonight. I was ready for us to take that next step with one another, yet here you are putting work first once again. Avery, when is it ever going to be about us?”
“Bruce, just stop,” she tried to shrug out of his arms.
“No, Avery, I’m not going to stop,” he held her tighter, “tonight was supposed to be for us--for you and I and I had this whole scenario planned out. I was going to tell you how much I love you and how I can’t imagine my life without you because you’re the only woman I want in my life, but I’m starting to feel like you aren’t seeing me as the only man…”
“Why would you say that,” she eased herself out of his arms.
“Avery, let’s face it. Every time Brant asks you to jump, you’re ready and willing wanting to know how high and when. You haven’t let me touch you in weeks,” he sighed retreating to the corner of his desk and taking a seat, “and on top of that every time I even mention you looking for work somewhere else, you’re ready to tear my head off. Avery, this isn’t how we’re supposed to be. This wasn’t what I had planned for us.”
“Bruce, you can’t plan everything down to the very last detail,” she replied softening her tone, “life doesn’t work that way.”
“Well mine does and the way I see it, I don’t want any woman I’m with working an Ashford.”
“I see,” she took in a breath bracing herself for the moment as she looked to the floor.
“Avery, I don’t want you working there and if you’re not going to leave, then maybe it’s time I do. Maybe it’s time you and I end this,” he watched her waiting for her to open up to him, to fight his suggestion as the silence filled the air surrounding them, “well?”
“Bruce, you know I don’t like ultimatums,” she stated simply folding her arms in front of her chest.
“And I don’t like feeling like I’m always going to be second rate to your job or to the Ashford empire,” he countered offering up the same stubborn look she was giving him.
“Then I guess it would seem we have a problem,” Avery finally decided realizing that neither one of them would budge from the issue.
“So it would seem,” Bruce nodded simply, “Avery, I love you, but I won’t let you keep putting us in jeopardy while you’re out saving Brant’s hide all the time. I can’t do it anymore.”
“Well, if that’s really how you feel and you can’t accept the direction I’ve taken with my life,” she reached for her purse, “then I think we’re done talking here.”
“All you have to do is think about this. Think about what I’m saying Avery,” Bruce offered once again, “just think about what our future could hold in store for us. It could be perfect. We can have it all and if you’re willing to give up the hassles of the Ashford family, we can make the dreams I have for us a reality.”
“That’s just it Bruce,” she stepped towards the door giving him one last look, “they’re your dreams not mine and if you can’t accept who and what I am, then we really have no business being together in the first place,” she finished walking out of the office and closing the door behind her as Bruce was alone.
Bruce remained frozen waiting for her to turn around, but as he sat in the solitude realizing that his ultimatum had driven her out the door, his anger bubbled over him and he looked to his desk. He picked up the photograph of the two of them together trying to memorize her face as his heart sank. Setting the photo down, he closed his eyes thinking to their time together.
“You’ll be back Avery,” Bruce whispered to himself, “as soon as you see I’m right, you’ll be back.”
Kenneth followed Brant out of the hospital to the front steps while Caitlin followed behind them, practically feeling the animosity in the air. She watched closely as Kenneth neared his brother.
"Just what the hell did you think you were doing back there?" Kenneth declared as he approached his brother. When it seemed as if Brant would ignore him, Kenneth grabbed his brother's shoulder and spun him around, "Brant, what is the matter with you?"
"With me?" Brant asked in surprise, "You're the one who didn't do a thing up there to help our sister. You were just going to let them bully her out of there."
"Did it ever occur to you that she didn't belong there? Brant, she lied to get there in the first place. I wasn't about to demand that Seth's family leave just to soothe Blake's ego."
"It wasn't about ego, and you know it. It was about putting Denton and his assistant in their places."
"And what place would that be, Brant?"
"Where they belong. Anywhere but in our way," Brant declared firmly, "It's always been that way, Kenneth, and if you'd open your idealistic eyes for a minute and take a good look at the world, you'd see it. We're the rich ones. We pay them to do what they do and to get out of our way. That's the way it's always been, and I happen to like it."
"You're just being an elitist, and it's getting old. You're an adult, Brant. How about acting like it?"
"What the hell is that suppose to mean?"
"I think you know exactly what it means. You're acting like a spoiled brat who thinks he's entitled to anything he wants. That isn't the way the world works."
"Yes, it is. Being Brant Ashford makes me entitled."
Kenneth shook his head, "You're still the spoiled little rich boy, aren't you? Are you ever going to move into the real world with the rest of us?"
"That's rich coming from you. You think that your moral high ground will get you anything you want in life. All it's going to get you is a whole lot of misery, Ken."
"My life is quite nice, thank you very much," Kenneth said firmly, "I don't need you of all people to look down your nose at me. You like to make a big splash, and embarrass the rest of us with your playboy ways."
"The only person embarrassed by anything I do is you, Ken, and that's only because you're practically a monk. How the hell you've ever stayed so boring all these years is beyond me."
"This isn't about me, Brant. You have to learn that your actions don't just affect you. I don't particularly care for Grady Denton either, but Jade had every right to be upstairs with her brother. You had no right to insult her like that. She's in enough anguish as it is."
"Just whose side are you on, Ken?" Brant asked with a groan, "You're an Ashford. It might be a hardship for you, but learn to live with it."
"I'm not the one hurting everyone in my wake. That honor belongs solely to you."
"Oh this is great. You're going to give me a lecture on ethics, aren't you? Well save it, bro. I don't need it."
"Like hell you don't. You can't just insult people because they happen to be in your way."
"I can, and I will," Brant said firmly, "Back off, Ken. I don't need a father," He declared as he turned and marched away, leaving Kenneth standing alone.
Caitlin slowly approached Kenneth, "Are you okay?"
He turned to face her and shrugged, "I have to be. I'm the only one in this family who seems to know how to hold everything together."
"Why don't we go have a cup of coffee down the street at Irvan's? You can tell me about it if you'd like," She offered softly.
Kenneth nodded, "Maybe there are some things I'd like to get off my chest. I just don't want you to be burdened with being my therapist."
Caitlin grinned, "Who said I'd listen to everything you
had to say? I'll just sip my coffee and pretend to listen," She teased as they
began down the street towards Irvan's Grill.
“Just who the hell do they think they are,” Grady slammed
his fist into the side wall of the hospital as he looked back to the doors he
and Russell had just stepped out of, “where does that man get off thinking he
can push me around and the way he talked to Jade…”
“He was out of line,” Russell agreed with a nod, “his true colors were showing and it’s about time that this town got a good view of them.”
“He had no right to say those things to Jade. Seth is her family and just because the Ashford family has decided to start something, doesn’t give them the right to treat her that way,” Grady began tightly, “when I think of what he said to her, I swear I could just rip his head off…”
“But you didn’t and that makes you better than him,” Russell offered simply, “we are better than them you know. We always have been and always will be. If you had slugged him, it would’ve only fueled his pompous, holier than thou attitude and it would’ve only wound up causing Jade more problems than our walking away did.”
“I still don’t like the idea of her alone up there with that viper that has made Seth her prey,” Grady frowned simply, “Jade doesn’t need that right now.”
“Jade can hold her own,” Russell offered thinking to Grady’s spunky, young protégé, “she’s a tough girl and I have no doubt in my mind that she won’t be taking any Ashford garbage. Besides with Brant and Kenneth gone, I think Blake doesn’t stand a chance alone against Jade.”
“Still…” Grady frowned turning his attention to the hospital doors once again, “you didn’t hear her on the phone when she called. If anything happens to Seth, it’ll be the end of her. I know how important he is to her…”
“Seth’s going to pull through,” Russell offered watching his brother closely, “but somehow I think what’s really bothering you has nothing to do with Seth or the Ashfords right now, does it?”
“Of course it does,” Grady gave him a strange look.
“Come on Grady. We both know that right now the only thing on your mind is Jade,” Russell eyed his brother closely, “admit it. She’s gotten under your skin and even if you keep fighting her off, she’s someone you care about.”
“Of course I care about her. She’s my colleague and…”
“And nothing,” Russell shook his head disbelieving, “Grady, I’ve seen you deal with the Ashfords before and not break a sweat and I believe tonight could’ve been one of those very moments…that is until Jade was involved. Once Brant attacked her, you let go of the cool demeanor and you let loose that rage that we both vowed we’d never let the Ashfords pull out of us.”
“I could’ve killed him,” Grady confessed thinking back to the moment in time when Brant lashed out at Jade, “just the things he’d said to her…”
“I know,” Russell nodded in response, “and deep down I think she was glad you were there. You know she’s never held anything back in how she feels about you.”
“Even so, you know that I have a code that I live by…” Grady began to argue with him.
“A code that keeps you alone at night,” Russell frowned simply, “Grady, I know you’ve been burned but maybe it’s time to get back into the game again.”
“The game,” Grady chuckled in response, “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“I think Jade might have a few pointers for you,” Russell teased lightly, “then again with Jade, well I think she’s more than willing to hold the reigns there.”
Grady glared at him for a long moment before looking to his watch, “You know it’s been a while since we left. I wonder if things have calmed down up there.”
“I’m sure they have, but you know, considering that the Ashford mob isn’t up there, maybe you could check on Jade in a bit. I’m sure she could use the shoulder,” Russell offered with a hint of a smile, “after all a coffee couldn’t hurt right about now.”
“Maybe not, but given the way Dr. Mathis was up there, I don’t want to get her in a position where Blake Ashford has the upper hand. Jade needs to see Seth,” Grady sighed running his fingers through his dark hair, “and maybe I just need some time to cool down.”
“Buy you a drink,” Russell offered after a moment.
“I think I’m going to take a rain check on that,” Grady replied with a half hearted smile, “I think a walk would be better for me right about now.”
“Suit yourself,” Russell shrugged his shoulders, “but just know if you need anything…”
“I know who to call,” Grady smiled down at his younger brother, “thanks for the pep talk.”
“Anytime,” Russell replied simply watching Grady head out towards the parking lot. As Russell watched him go, he realized he hadn’t informed Grady of the real reason he’d shown up at the hospital as Avery had proven to be a distraction. Now looking to Grady’s pager in his hands, he contemplated going after him, but then thought twice of it knowing that Jade would probably try the cell phone first should she need Grady’s immediate assistance. To be young and infatuated, Russell smiled thinking to Jade’s attraction to Grady as he wondered if his brother would ever bend to Jade’s advances. He sure hoped his brother would just let things take their course as it had been far too long for Grady. Then again, the more Russell thought about it, it had been a while for him as well.
“Damn, just when this night was looking up,” he frowned simply making his way towards his car when his gaze cast over someone in the shadows. He couldn’t make out much more than a silhouette in the darkness, but what had captured his attention was the soft sobs that rose through the night. Moving forward, his ‘hero’ instincts came into play again as he realized it was a woman before him. Bridging the distance between them, he reached out to her startling her as she leapt away from him.
“Excuse me Miss. I don’t mean to bother you, but is something wrong,” he questioned concerned as she spun around and he found himself face to face with Avery, “Avery?”
“Russell,” she wiped at her face surprise overtaking her, “I didn’t know anyone was out here.”
“It’s a hospital,” he pointed out motioning towards the door, “you’re bound to meet up with someone in the darkness, but just be thankful it was me instead of some whack job.”
“Maybe a whack job is what I deserve right now,” she couldn’t help but let out a tiny sob as her tears overcame her.
“What happened,” he questioned reaching out to her, “Avery.”
“Everything’s a mess,” she sank into his arms sobbing into his chest, “my life is falling apart and I don’t know how to pick up the pieces.”
Blake sat on a plush sofa in the corner of the waiting area, trying to stave off the headache that was attempting to throb in her temples. She closed her eyes and focused on making the pain go away, trying to will her body to release some tension without resorting to medicine.
The clicking of heels upon the floor did nothing to help Blake's headache. It was bad enough she had to sit in the same room with Jade Alexander, but as time wore on, Jade was becoming restless which in turn increased Blake's tension tenfold.
"Do you mind?" Blake snapped, stopping Jade in her tracks.
Jade had been pacing the floor since everyone else had left the room. She didn't want to sit down and attempt to relax. It would mean acting as if the situation was okay with her, and this situation was anything but okay.
"Actually, yeah I do," Jade replied as she began pacing once again. She tapped from one end of the waiting room to the other.
Blake groaned as she sank further into the plush cushions surrounding her. If she didn't feel the need within her to see Seth so badly, she'd have already left to get as far away as possible from Jade. She wasn't going to let Jade deter her from seeing to Seth's well being. Despite the growing urge to strangle Jade, Blake was keeping her anger in check with remarkable patience.
Jade turned towards Blake, flipping her hair from her shoulders, "I don't know why you're wasting your time here. When Seth wakes up, the absolute last person he's going to want to see is you."
Blake looked up to Jade and sighed, "You're really getting on my nerves, Jade. I don't need you telling me how I can spend my time."
"Hey, if you want to waste your precious beauty sleep here at the hospital be my guest, but from the look of those bags under your eyes, you should probably go home and get some rest," Jade shrugged.
"As if I would take any beauty tips from a…" Blake paused, rethinking her tact as she tried to do her best to keep things calm, "Thank you for your concern, but I'm just fine."
"That's a matter of opinion," Jade frowned, "Why do you think that Seth would want anything to do with a spoiled little rich girl like you? You are so not his type."
"And what's his type exactly?"
"None of your business."
Blake chuckled, "If you knew your brother half as well as you think you do, you'd know that he's quite attracted to me. It's not his fault really. All men seem to react the same way around me."
"Astounded that anything with that much air in its head can stand up right I would guess," Jade quipped as she sank into a sofa on the opposite side of the room.
"What is your problem really? Are you so attached to your brother that I threaten you? Is that what this is about?"
"This is about a woman who has absolutely no connection to my brother acting as if she should be given the royal treatment in order to see him. Seth is a good man, and he doesn't need anyone even remotely like you near him. He deserves a million times better than you."
Blake studied Jade closely before she replied, "You really do care about your brother, don't you?"
"Of course I do. I know that would be a foreign concept to someone like you, but family is all we have."
"I understand exactly where you're coming from," Blake said softly, "My brothers are very important to me as well."
"Your brothers leave a lot to be desired if you ask me. How would you feel if some twit claimed to be engaged to one of them only to keep you away from them?" Jade countered, "Save it. You wouldn't give a damn. All you Ashfords would care about is where the injured party's wallet was."
"We're not like that at all," Blake declared as she stood to make her point, "I care about my brothers."
"If you cared about your brothers at all, we wouldn't be having this conversation because you wouldn't be trying to keep me from my brother. You'd know that nothing is more important to me right now than seeing to his well being," Jade asserted, standing to meet Blake's stance.
"I'm only doing what I have to do."
"You're only doing what you think you have to do," Jade rolled her eyes before stepping across the room away from Blake, "My brother isn't going to want to see you at all."
"We'll see," Blake assured her as she took her seat back upon the sofa, "You'll see that you were wrong about me and wrong about your brother as well," She said confidently, knowing that her patience would pay off just as soon as Seth came to.
Heather finished signing herself out of the hospital realizing
that her night certainly wasn’t going as planned. By now she’d been hoping
to have found herself in Brant’s arms once again, wrapped up in his bed backing
in the aftermath of their love making, but instead she was alone in the middle
of this stupid town, wanting nothing more than to get herself a good manicure
to forget the horrible evening behind her. Sure, she’d change things around
in time, but patience was never a virtue of Heather’s. Neither was waiting
for things to happen. She learned early on that if she wanted something,
she had to make it come her way. She wasn’t going to sit back and wait
for such fairy tale notions such as fate and destiny. She’d make her own
destiny and now as she headed out into the dimly lit parking lot, she vowed
that her destiny would be with Brant Ashford. That much she was certain
“Where is that cab,” she cursed under her breath hating that she’d lost her car in the quake. The last thing she needed was to be getting around by such meager means of transportation, but soon she’d wind up back in the Ashford mansion and she’d have free reign of the family limousine. That much she was sure of, she smiled to herself as the cab pulled into the hospital’s circular drive stopping a few feet beyond her.
Stalking over to the cab, Heather stood impatiently outside the door waiting for the driver to step out and open the door for her, but as he sat there with a blank expression on his face, she threw the door open with a huff and got inside. Now seated in the back of the cab, she could smell the faint aroma of cigars as her angry eyes darted up at him.
“Where to,” he questioned in a thick, Russian accent as she noted the fat cigar between his yellowed teeth.
“The Lake Pointe Hotel and be quick about it,” Heather hissed back at him as she sat back in the seat attempting to relax as he turned out of the drive.
“You from around here,” he questioned curiously as he looked back at her in his rear view mirror.
“Do I look like I’m in the mood to have a conversation,” she snapped back at him opening her mouth to toss out a few fighting words when her cell phone rang in her purse.
“Feisty,” he chuckled as she rummaged through her purse searching for her phone, “I like ‘em that way.”
“You wish,” she rolled her eyes at his remark before answering her phone with a hiss, “what?”
“Heather baby, where are you,” her agent, William Steed, questioned on the other end of the line, “the land of beautiful people hasn’t been as beautiful without you around.”
“I’ve been busy,” she answered tightly as she noted the way the cab driver was still looking at her, “could you keep your eyes on the road please?” she snapped bitterly.
“So where exactly are you,” William questioned curiously, “I have this audition lined up for you and I think this would be the perfect role as it’s everything you’ve been looking for.”
“That’s what you said the last time,” Heather frowned thinking back to the less than savory audition for an adult film her agent had lined up for her.
“Oh Heather, don’t tell me you’re still upset about that little skin flick mix-up,” he began noting her silence on the other end of the line, “I had so hoped that all was forgiven for that.”
“I’d told you first hand what I would and wouldn’t do,” Heather snapped back at him, “you knew my terms and when I stepped into that audition…”
“Heather I had no idea,” he feigned innocence, “I was told it was a reputable production and had I known what you were walking into…”
“Right,” she rolled her eyes at his attempts of winning her over, “so what is it this time?”
“It’s a national spot for a toothpaste,” he began simply, “and while it isn’t much…”
“Whoa, back up. You want me to come back for a spot in a toothpaste commercial? That’s the role you think I’m meant for?” she frowned deeply, “you have to be kidding, right?”
“Well Heather, it’s a recurring spot and the recognition you could get from the part…”
“I’m not interested,” she interrupted him, “I already told you that I was taking a vacation.”
“Heather, baby, you know that Hollywood doesn’t wait for you to straighten out your personal life. If this Ben guy isn’t going to give you what you want, well let someone else have a shot at it. You know I’ve always thought that you were prime material and if you’re interested…”
“I’m not,” Heather cut him off abruptly, “and I already told you once. I am not returning back to Hollywood as I have plans to become Mrs. Brant Ashford and nothing is going to stop that from happening. Absolutely nothing,” she finished hanging up on him as she looked out the window of the cab vowing that she would get exactly what she came to this dumpy little town for. Sooner or later, Brant would come back to her and when he did, she would have everything she always wanted and then some.
Caitlin gently stirred sweetener into her coffee before she looked across the table to Kenneth. She could see the tension radiating through him, practically feel it across the table from him. She had offered this chance to talk to give him a chance to vent, but somehow she felt that he would need to be prodded to even begin.
"So I guess all the rumors about you and Brant not getting along were true," She began as she looked into her coffee, "Is that a recent thing or has it always been that way?"
"It began when we were teenagers and gradually got worse," Kenneth replied as he looked out the window beside the booth they sat in. He watched the headlights of a car travel down the road before leaving his line of sight, "Brant was groomed to take over the family business when my father died. I never had any interest in the company, and that kind of alienated me from my father. Brant took that opportunity to take over some of the seedier aspects of my father's behavior as well."
"Sounds like you don't approve."
"I don't," He admitted as he met Caitlin's eyes, "My father was a successful business man, but it wasn't because he was good at anything. The only talent my father has was finding the best way to backstab and betray any and everyone. Most of the company's holdings were gained through less than ethical business practices. Brant picked up on our father's business savvy and has used it to his advantage on numerous occasions."
"Why weren't you interested in the family business?"
"I grew up watching my father forsake time with his family in order to build his business. When Dad decided that we should begin learning the ropes of the business, I opted out. I knew that I didn't want to leave behind the people I cared about just to have a big business to leave for my children when I was dead. I want to enjoy life."
"Brant loved the attention Dad gave him because of the business. Besides, Brant was better suited for BBK than I was. He didn't have the honest streak in him that I do. He can wheel and deal with any business man out there and have him believe he's getting a deal even when he isn't. He's good at what he does even if I don't approve of the way he does it."
"So how does Blake fit into all of this?"
"I don't think Dad ever really considered her for the business. He was proud of her in his own way. He was thrilled that he could have a debutante in the family, but I don't think he ever intended to let her have any control in BBK."
"How does Blake get along with the two of you?"
Kenneth sipped his coffee before replying, "Blake is our little sister. We both love her and would do anything for her. Although, Brant would do a lot more than I'd be willing to do because he has no moral threshold."
"Do you and Brant ever get along?"
"There are rare occasions when we agree on something," He admitted, "But those are few and far between. I wish things were different though. I'd love it if Brant and I could be friends as well as brothers, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards for us."
"Do I hear some regret in that statement?" She asked before sipping her coffee.
"I regret times we were never allowed to have because of the void between us, but I don't regret taking my stand and being firm about it. Brant has done things that one day he'll regret. At least I hope he will."
"You're a good man, Kenneth Ashford. I'm glad I met you tonight. I'm not exactly happy about the way it happened, but I'm glad I met you. You're the kind of guy that everyone wants on their side, and I can see why you're so successful in your law practice. You're out to help the good guys win, and I think that's a very noble trait."
"Thank you," He half smiled, "I don't do it for nobility. I do it to try to right some of the wrongs that my family has done to people. I want people to know that not all of my family is out for blood."
"I think you prove that point quite well," Caitlin smiled, "You have a lot of people cheering you on even if you don't know it."
"I appreciate that, but sometimes I wonder if I'm doing enough for people. It seems no matter how hard I try, the Ashfords are always going to be hated in this town."
"Give people time. From what you've said, they've had to deal with a lot of dirty dealing by your father and Brant over the years. Betrayal like that takes a long time to heal, but it will heal. And I think you're just the man to do it."
Kenneth smiled as he met her eyes, "And why do you have so much confidence in me?"
"Because I'm going to help you do it," Caitlin declared boldly, "I like to help good causes, and I think yours is a pretty good one," She said as she extended her hand to him, "Partners?"
"You're crazy for even thinking about it, you know," He warned.
"I've been told I get a little wild and crazy at times. It doesn't happen often, but we'll just chalk this one up to that aspect of my personality," She teased as he finally took her hand.
"Partners," Kenneth affirmed, shaking her hand gently as
he wondered if their partnership could truly change the tide of the hatred against
the Ashfords or if they were fighting a futile battle that could never be won.
Brant stepped into the Ashford mansion and slammed the door behind him. He tore his tie off from around his neck as he stomped through the house.
"What's all the commotion about?" Annette, the Ashford's housekeeper and one time nanny, entered the foyer as she wrapped her robe securely around her, "Brant, where's the fire?"
"Ken isn't here, is he?" Brant asked with a rumble in his voice, "I don't think I could stand to see him right now."
She frowned, "Come into the kitchen and join me in having a hot chocolate. Then you can tell me what bee is under your bonnet," She said as she turned and went to the kitchen, taking it for granted that he would follow.
He did, in fact, follow her into the kitchen where a sauce pan full of milk sat warming upon the stove. He sat on a stool at the bar and watched her as she took two mugs from a cupboard.
"So what's got you in such a state?" She asked as she moved beside the stove and gently stirred through the milk in the pan.
"Kenneth tried pulling his morality speech on me. Just who the hell does he think he is anyway?"
Annette shook her head as she placed a teaspoon of cocoa in each mug, "And let me guess. You were completely innocent, right?"
"You're going to side with him, aren't you?"
"I'm not siding with anyone, Brant," She said as she placed the spoon upon the countertop, "Why don't you tell me what happened?"
"Blake was having a hard time getting to see a guy at the hospital she wanted to see, and Ken didn't even bother trying to help her at all. I stepped in and made my point clear that no one would keep an Ashford from seeing whoever they wanted to see."
"Why do I get the feeling you were less than courteous when you did this?" She asked as she filled each mug with steaming milk.
"Am I about to get yet another lecture tonight?" He groaned as she pushed his mug towards him.
"Brant, you always were a bit too blunt when you begin demanding something. As much as I love you, kid, you have no tact whatsoever."
"Annie," Brant used the name he'd called her since he was a small child, "I've had just about all the honesty I can handle for one night."
"So what exactly did you say to put your foot in your mouth this time, Brant?"
"Why do you automatically assume that I did anything of the kind?"
"Because I've known you since you were just a baby. Now tell me."
"I just declared that the Ashfords weren't going to take any of their lower class crap."
"Brant," Annette shook her head in dismay, "Son, you're headed down the same path your father took."
"What? Because I told the truth?" He asked with a frown.
"You're getting too far ahead of yourself, Brant. That was always your father's downfall."
"Just how am I getting ahead of myself?"
"You're forgetting that the Ashfords are self made riches. Your father wasn't born rich, but you had that luxury. You can't just take all the money and privilege for granted," She lectured, "You have to remember that it could just as easily be you and your siblings in the lower classes."
"Annie, I think you're forgetting who you're talking to. I'm the one making the money for the family now, remember? I know the value of a dollar."
"Obviously not," She warned him, "Brant, don't make the same mistakes your father did. Don't get so caught up in the money that you forget what is really important in life."
"And just what is that?" Brant asked with a sigh.
"Family, friends, and love," She said with a simple shrug, "If you don't have those three things, then you don't have a damn thing. You just remember that the next time you make one of those million dollar deals," Annette advised him as she gently patted him on the shoulder. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek, "Good night, my boy."
"Night," Brant said as he watched her leave the room. Annette
just didn't understand that the entire reason he lived his life in the manner
he did was to keep his family in the life to which they had become accustomed.
Some people just didn't understand that some things had to be done for the greater
good, especially for the greater good of the Ashford family.
Russell returned to his living room with a tray in his
hands as he looked to Avery, who was now standing in front of the window looking
down at the world below. He watched her for a long moment thinking about
how time had somehow brought them full circle as they were back at his home
again, working through a problem she was going through. How some things
would never change, he thought to himself as he cleared his throat alerting
her to his return.
“Coffee’s ready,” he announced as she turned around to face him, her eyes red as her tear stained cheeks were a sight for sore eyes.
“You really didn’t have to do this,” she smiled weakly as she circled around his sofa.
“Of course I didn’t,” he winked at her, “but hey, I wanted to since it’s not every day I get to spend time with one of my favorite gal pals.”
“I don’t know why I’m your favorite anything,” she sighed slumping down onto the sofa, “or anyone’s favorite for that matter.”
“Avery, you’re being too hard on yourself,” he sank upon the sofa beside her, “I’m sure whatever happened with Bruce isn’t nearly as bad as you make it out to be.”
“You have no idea,” she sniffled as he handed her the mug of coffee he’d prepared for her, “you didn’t see his face when I left his office.”
“Why did you leave exactly,” Russell questioned sipping his coffee as he looked to her.
“I don’t like ultimatums,” she answered matter of fact, “you know that.”
“Yes, I do,” he sighed watching her lost inside herself, “but I also know that you tend to react before you think things through.”
“Russ, he was asking me to give up my career,” she snapped back at him, “he told me flat out that the only reason I was still working at BBK was because Brant wanted a piece of me. He has absolutely no faith in my abilities as a lawyer and I’m tired of having to defend myself to him.”
“Avery, you said it yourself that Brant’s interested in you,” Russell pointed out giving her a sideways glance, “maybe Bruce is finally picking up on that.”
“I haven’t done anything to encourage his advances,” she paused seeing the look on his face, “at least not before tonight.”
“You mean not before the pressure was on,” Russell added simply, “Avery, let’s face it. You run any time there is any type of conflict in your life. Sure, you’re a monster in the boardroom and you know how to take down any opposition when it comes to the legal side of things, but when it comes to relationships, you leave the sinking ship before it takes you down with it.”
“Bruce wants me to be someone I’m not,” she explained simply, “He doesn’t see me as me, but more so as his future Mrs. Chief of Staff once he’s running the show at the hospital. He wants me to be that perfect little wife that does what her husband asks of her and what he feels is right. He doesn’t care about where I see myself in ten years or about what it is my career means to me. All that’s on his mind is what he’s been dreaming about…”
“Avery, maybe you should cut the guy some slack. I mean clearly he’s feeling insecure about your working environment and you said it yourself that Brant hasn’t made things easy for you and Bruce…”
“Even so, I don’t think I should have to give up my job just because Bruce doesn’t feel that he’s man enough to keep up with someone like Brant Ashford in keeping my attention,” Avery muttered sarcastically.
“Well, is that the case?” Russell raised a curious brow, “I mean is that really how you’re making him feel?”
“Of course not,” she shook her head, “you know me better than that.”
“I’d like to think so, but Avery, I can see what Bruce is finally picking up on,” Russell sighed seeing that impossible look behind her eyes, “the man is about to ask you to become his wife. He wants to share his life with you and suddenly you’re ready to run…”
“I’m not running because he is going to propose,” Avery argued with him, “this is a difference of opinion about where he and I feel I should be right now.”
“And where is it you feel you should be,” Russell challenged leaning back against the sofa as he watched her closely.
“Well obviously I was meant to be here talking to you otherwise I wouldn’t be here, right,” Avery questioned looking to him with sad brown eyes, “I mean when no one else wants to, you’re willing to put up with listening to me.”
“It’s my charity work for the week,” he teased gently as he saw the sadness wash over her features again, “hey I was kidding, you know.”
“Still, maybe you’re right. Maybe I am too impossible to live with and maybe that’s what this all amounts to,” she sighed laying her head back on his sofa.
“Hey,” he reached out to her nudging her gently, “I never said that you were impossible to live with. Challenging maybe, but never impossible.”
“Oh admit it,” Avery looked up at him, “your life has been so much better without me in it.”
“Not really,” he shook his head as he gazed down at her, “I mean my sex life has turned into a painfully solo affair since you walked out the door. Saturday mornings just aren‘t the same anymore you know.”
“Oh come on,” she swatted at him lightly fighting the laugh that built up in her throat, “you can’t be serious.”
“Avery, I’m very serious,” he looked down at her, “things haven’t been nearly as entertaining for me since you’ve been gone.”
“Russ, that was ages ago,” she turned in towards him, “and I know that someone like you wouldn’t still be on the market for this long unless of course he was taking his time weighing out his options. I’m sure it’s a different girl each night here. Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes.”
“Okay,” he shrugged with a tiny amused laugh as he slinked his arm around her, “you caught me. I have a buffet of women coming in around here day in and day out and you’re majorly cramping my style tonight lady.”
“Hmm, well I think you’re just going to have to tell the hottie du jour that you’re otherwise engaged tonight,” she teased back poking him in the ribs playfully as she leaned in closer to him.
“Is that so,” he returned the gesture tickling her lightly as a laugh spilled over her lips.
“That’s right,” she nodded eagerly tickling his sides as laughter swept over the both of them as she slid her fingers in beneath his sweater grazing her nails against his rib cage as his laugh deepened.
“Oh no you didn’t,” he wrapped his arms around her pinning her beneath him as he toppled forward on the sofa over her stopping her tickle assault on him, “ha, looks like you lost again Ms. Morrison.”
“I never lose at anything I set out to win,” she answered simply a smile pressing over her features as her dark eyes fell upon his.
“And what is it you’re out to win tonight,” he questioned lowering his voice as he inched in towards her remembering the times they’d shared with one another in the past. It had always felt like a lifetime ago, but now as he held her in his arms it was all coming back to him in vivid color.
“What was the game we were playing,” she asked lazily as her eyes dropped down to his lips thinking about how long it had been since they’d been this close to one another.
“I think it’s called fire,” Russell answered feeling her breath strike against his mouth as he slid one of his arms out from beneath her gliding it over the side of her body as the warmth of her filled his palm. God, she felt so good, he reasoned throwing caution to the wind as her arm slinked around his body holding him against her.
“Remember, it’s only fun as long as you don’t get burned,” she spoke in a low, throaty whisper closing her eyes as he leaned forward his mouth hovering over hers as a sexy smile touched over his lips.
“I happen to like getting burned,” Russell confessed in a faint murmur as he bridged the distance between them capturing her full, luscious lips in a slow, savory kiss as all the old feelings he’d had for her came rushing forward once again.
Feeling her wrap her arms around him, Russell continued to kiss her thinking of all the places he’d longed to pick up at with her once she’d walked out of his life and now as he held her, she felt so warm, so inviting and so very good beneath him. Her fingers threaded through his hair gently pulling as his lips tapered off over the curve of her neck remembering all the places that excited her over the years. Her hands had already robbed him of all logic as he began to shrug out of his sweater, allowing her to take him anywhere she wanted to go as the ghosts of the past began to breathe life again before him. He pulled back momentarily to look down at her seeing the smile that captured his heart so long ago as he leaned forward once again capturing her mouth again with hungry urgency.
“Avery, I’ve missed you so much,” he confessed his kisses tapering off over her collar bone as her nails scratched over his flesh gently, drawing out his hidden ache for her with each passing moment as he began to pull open her blouse wanting nothing more than to lose himself in the magic of the woman he’d once loved. Just holding her again, being with her--knowing that fate had offered them a second chance again was all the encouragement he needed to finally allow his barriers to break away as he tasted her sweet skin. Her fingers threaded through his hair again as she curled her leg around him holding him against her with desire raging over her body.
“I want you,” she breathed in a low, throaty tone as their mouths met in another hungry union.
“Oh yes,” Russell murmured against her lips wanting nothing more than to bury himself in the magic of the woman he’d once given his heart to, but almost as soon as the promise and anticipation had become too much to bear, the moment came to a screeching halt as she breathed the words he never dreamed of hearing.
“Oh Brant,” spilled from her lips as Russell stopped dead in his tracks unable to believe what he’d heard.
“What did you just say?” he questioned pulling away from her as he looked down at her unable to believe what he’d just heard.
“Nothing,” she shook her head, her face a flushed color as it dawned in on her what she’d done, “Russell…look…I…”
“I don’t believe this,” he tore himself away from her, getting up off of the sofa as though he’d been scalded by her touch. Silently cursing himself, he looked around his living room seeking out his sweater that she’d discarded in their moment of insanity.
“Russ,” she watched him seeing the pain behind his movement as she sat up from where he’d left her on the sofa, “I didn’t mean to say…It’s just that….”
“Just don’t,” he raised his hand in the air to stop her as he turned around to look at her unable to believe what he’d almost done as he looked down at her seeing her half dressed on his sofa.
“Avery, please,” he closed his eyes willing himself to turn away from her as her slip of the tongue haunted him, “this was a mistake.”
“No, Russ, it wasn’t. I was just…” she glanced down at her open blouse suddenly feeling on edge as she quickly buttoned herself up, “I mean I was…”
“You were looking for means of escaping and I was giving you what you needed to do just that. It‘s how you and Bruce got together in the first place and maybe on some level I thought that if I made love to you, it would be my way of getting you back--of showing him what I went through when you ran from my arms to his,” he answered tightly wanting to kick himself for letting things get so out of hand with her.
“Russ, I never, ever intended….” she started flustered as she felt the rigidity in his stance.
“Avery, that’s just it. You never intend with these things,” he sighed remembering when he’d lost her, “you ran from me as soon as I offered you a commitment and Bruce was the fall guy and hey, maybe I might’ve been okay with that tonight had things gone differently, but the problem is neither Bruce nor I stand a chance seeing as,” he lowered his head wanting to kick himself for ever bringing her home to begin with, “you’ve already found the next man on your list and it’s not Bruce and it‘s certainly not me.”
“No, Russ, please look at me,” she began feeling tears sting at her eyes as she thought of how things had escalated between them, “I don’t want you to hate me. Please…”
“Avery,” he took in a sharp breath trying to control the anger that mounted inside of him, “I think you should just leave.”
“Russ please,” she rose from the sofa hating the turn of events.
“Just go,” he ordered refusing to look at her.
“Russ,” she extended her arm out to touch his shoulder as he shrugged out of her touch and tears filled her eyes as she choked on the words, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I know Avery,” he lowered his head refusing to look back at her as he heard her walk out of his house and out of his life again. Damn him for ever allowing her back in. What had he been thinking?
Blake looked across the waiting room where Jade had
finally settled in at the far end of the chairs away from her. At least
she’d stopped her damned pacing, Blake reasoned as she looked to the window
seeing the morning coming to life outside the walls of the hospital. Somehow
she’d hoped to have heard something by now as her thoughts returned to Seth.
He had to be alright, she thought to herself remembering his heroic attempt
at rescuing her. He’d risked his life in the quake and now, well, she
just prayed that it wasn’t too late, that he’d be okay when everything was said
“What is taking so long,” Jade questioned rising from her chair as she began pacing around the waiting room once again, “we should’ve heard something by now.”
“You’re right on that,” Blake agreed standing up as well to stretch out her legs as she realized that she’d been sitting for far too long, “there should’ve been word by now.”
“Yeah well obviously someone isn’t willing to give it,” Jade frowned in response, “in fact, I think I’m going to go find someone to give me answers.”
“Wait,” Blake reached out to stop her before she left the waiting room, “let me try. I mean despite the fact you hate me because of who I am, maybe my name can get us answers faster than you could.”
“Oh right,” Jade rolled her eyes before shaking her head in disgust, “your name hasn’t given either one of us anything other than giving me an enormous pain in the…” her words were interrupted who’d checked in with them hours earlier nurse stepped out into the waiting room looking to the both of them.
Jade’s eyes cast over to the woman as hope glimmered inside of her. Suddenly bickering with Blake Ashford seemed trivial as she approached the woman before her eagerly hoping that something had come about with her brother.
“Please tell me that he’s okay,” Jade began fighting the sinking feeling that had plagued her all night as she thought of her only brother laying in the hospital wounded in ways she couldn’t even begin to imagine.
“He’s awake,” the nurse explained simply.
“Oh thank God,” Blake blurted out feeling a relieved gasp fall from her lips as her heart nearly leapt from her chest, “and he’s going to be okay?”
“I’d say he’s well on the road to recovery,” the nurse nodded with a bright smile as Jade reached out to her.
“I have to see him,” Jade pleaded with her, “I have to let him know that I’m here that….”
“You can see him,” the nurse promised her politely, “very soon you can go in there, but first,” she looked over at Blake, “he’s asking for Miss Ashford.”
“What?” Jade questioned as her jaw nearly dropped, “no, that can’t be possible.”
“I told you that you didn’t know your brother nearly as well as you thought you did,” Blake answered smugly watching as Jade looked to her in disbelief.
“I don’t believe this,” she shook her head turning to the nurse, “there must be a mistake.”
“I’m afraid not,” the nurse explained simply, “he’s asking for Miss Ashford and he’s very adamant about wanting her back there.”
“I don’t understand. I mean I just…” Jade’s gaze darted back over towards Blake, “what did you do to him?”
“I told you he couldn’t resist me,” Blake smiled sweetly throwing her a quick wave, “but don’t worry. I’ll tell him you’re out here waiting to see him,” she took a step towards the nurse heading in the direction of where Seth was as a proud smile swept over her beautiful features, “ta!” Blake threw out one last wave as Jade watched Blake following the nurse back to see Seth.
It was in that moment that Jade vowed to find out whatever tie her brother had to this wicked Ashford woman and soon she would be certain she’d find a way to sever it as no Ashford would ever be allowed to come between her and her family. Not now, not ever.
Next Time In Coral Valley...
Brant and Avery have a very 'heated' exchange; Blake and Seth discuss her 'white lie',Russell makes a firm decision about the Ashfords; and much more!!!
...to be continued...