Grady stepped into the waiting room near the ICU and spotted Jade sitting near the window. It was obvious she hadn't gotten any sleep as she appeared restless and jittery, even for her. He crossed the room extended the cup of coffee towards her, "I thought you could probably use this."
Jade looked up, unmasked appreciation lighting up her tired eyes. She accepted the coffee with a soft smile, "Thank you. Both for the coffee and for coming down here again."
"It's the least I could do," He replied as he sat on the sofa beside her and placed his own cup of coffee on the small table before them, "How's Seth?"
"Stable, but apparently that bump on his head did a hell of a lot of damage. He woke up asking for Blake Ashford," She grumbled before taking a sip of the coffee, "A vanilla latte?" She asked with surprised eyes.
"With nonfat milk and just a tad of foam," He replied with a nod, "Contrary to what you may think, I have been paying attention to you," He admitted with a slight grin before he spoke again, "I'm sure Ashford tried to rub Seth's delirium in your face too, didn't she?"
"Of course she did," Jade curled her aching feet under her to warm them, "I just don't understand what he's thinking. For the moment, I'm going to chalk it up to the head wound because otherwise, I may have to kill him."
"So how are you holding up?" Grady asked as he gently touched her shoulder, "You didn't rest at all last night, did you?"
"No," She sighed as she met his eyes, "Seth didn't regain consciousness until this morning early, and I was too anxious about seeing him to really relax. Resting would have been impossible," She frowned.
"Once you get to visit Seth, you should go home and get some sleep. You've more than earned it."
"We need to start cleaning up the office. There's bound to be more papers and things we need to get out of all that water, and we need to call repairmen to see to the sprinklers as well as the carpet and then…"
"Jade," Grady silenced her by placing his forefinger firmly on her lips, "The office is taken care of. You worry about your brother. Let me worry about the pond in our office."
"No buts. The office will be there once you're rested, and Seth is completely out of the woods."
Jade frowned. She hated to think that Grady would be at work without her. She wanted to be there with him every moment of the day, to work along side him, to catch those smiles that kept her awake at night. She tucked her hair behind her ears, "Grady, I really want to be at work."
"Well you're no good to me or anyone else if you're exhausted. See Seth, go home, get some rest. Then I'll lecture you later about getting back to work," He teased.
She caught his grin out of the corner of her eye which caused her to smile, "Fair enough I suppose," She took another sip of her coffee and looked towards the clock.
Grady followed her gaze before he spoke, "How long has she been back there with him?"
"Longer than I think is necessary. I don't know what they could possibly have to say to one another," Jade frowned once again, wondering just what was going on with her brother and if getting hit in the head really had screwed up his brain.
Blake drew in a nervous breath as she headed down the hallway
bracing herself for the moment she saw Seth again. Somehow pretending to be
his fiancée was much easier when he’d been in surgery than now when she
was about to face him again. Thinking back to their less than savory meeting
in the auto shop, her heart pounded in her chest at the memory of him, of the
way his arms felt wrapped around her tightly offering no harm would come her
way. Just the recollection of those brief, intense moments between them
sent shivers racing over her spine as she thought to seeing him wounded before
her. How she’d feared that he’d leave this world without her having a
chance to tell him…she stopped herself at the thought. What was it that
she’d wanted to tell him exactly? Somehow thank you didn’t seem to be
enough, she realized as the nurse stepped aside allowing her access to Seth.
Taking in a deep breath, Blake made her way into the room Seth was in not knowing what to expect as she saw him laying before her bandaged up yet somehow smiling as she walked in the door. His eyes seemed to light up with something other than the sedative he had no doubt been given as his grin widened. Seeing his smile, sent a flood of warmth rushing over Blake down to the tips of her toes as she realized just how handsome her hero had been. Despite her harsh words, there was no forgetting a man like Seth as he was just too good to be true it seemed. Still, the very thought of his kiss, of his daring rescue had kept her at the hospital all night awaiting news on his recovery.
“Well hello beautiful,” Seth greeted her brightly as she stepped in beside him, “I was afraid I’d never see you again after our moment at the auto shop.”
“Are you kidding,” she offered a tiny smile feeling a heat rise over her soft features at the way he was looking up at her--almost as if he too was mesmerized by the connection they‘d made in their few moments alone together, “you can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“Hmm, I guess not,” he nodded towards the empty spot on the bed beside him motioning for her to take a seat, “but then again the truth to the matter is that I don’t believe I’d really want to considering that you seem to be my guardian angel and all--even if you do have a forked tongue.”
“I do not,” she objected as she turned her head offering up a sideways glance down at him as he reached out to touch her golden tresses.
“Forgive me if I didn’t make it clear. I like it that way,” he lazily smiled up at her as his fingers crept in over her face grazing against her cheek gently.
“Well good because you know if you didn’t like me the way I was, then I might have to find another reason to put you back in this hospital again,” she teased lightly leaning into his touch as the warmth behind his eyes sent a shiver racing over her spine. She raised her hand bringing it over his as she held his palm against her, “I was so worried about you.”
“Hey, I’m not going anywhere,” Seth promised fascinated by her blue eyes as his grin widened, “I mean seeing as I would never, ever leave my fiancée without saying a proper goodbye.”
A gasp fell from Blake’s lips as she realized what he was saying, “Seth about that I….”
“Shhh…” he urged tracing her lower lip with his thumb as he smiled up at her, “I wasn’t completely out of it in the ambulance you know…”
“Then you heard me say…” her eyes widened in surprise.
“I heard enough to know that I had reason to fight my way back into this world,” he nodded simply, “I mean what kind of man would I be dying on my fiancée when we haven’t even shared a first date yet.”
“First date,” she repeated with a gulp as her heart pounded in her chest at the way his gaze lingered over her. Something about the way his eyes penetrated her, the way he managed to reach out and touch her with just a look, it seemed to melt her inside as her stomach was suddenly tied in knots. Trying to regain her composure, she cleared her throat, “Who says I’m going to let you have a first date?”
“What is this? Nearly dying isn’t enough for you,” he teased with a cryptic smile.
“Well, I do have rules and regulations about those near death experiences as means of gaining my attention because hey if I let every man get a chance with me that way, they might take to throwing themselves in front of moving traffic to capture my attention,” she quipped behind a half smile.
“Well if we are engaged,” he winked up at her, “I think I’ve more than earned dinner, wouldn‘t you say?”
“You still haven’t fixed my car,” she gave him a sideways glance as a laugh spilled over his lips.
“Truth be told, while I was more than willing to play your superman during the quake, I’m not an auto mechanic,” he offered up lazily as he watched her response.
“You’re not?” she questioned as he shook his head simply.
“Afraid not,” he confessed with a soft smile, “but I am pretty good with my hands if you ever want me to get in under your hood. You might find that you’d be surprised at the magic I can work down there for you,” he finished with a wink as Blake felt the heat rise over her features.
“Seth, I…” she found herself at a loss as she couldn’t remember what she’d wanted to say to him before she’d come in here to begin with.
“Shh, it’s okay,” he offered with a nod, “apology accepted. Given the time we shared with one another, I’ll excuse your blowing up at me just this once…”
“Well if it was just this one time, then maybe I should find a way to make the most of it,” she teased back seeing the color had returned to his handsome features as she leaned in closer to him.
“I think I might like that,” Seth whispered pulling her down beside him as he collected an impromptu kiss from her surprised mouth.
Blake opened her mouth in surprise feeling him drink the soft gasp that fell from her lips. Granted he may have been near death, but he hadn’t lost his touch, she reasoned as his soft, sensual lips tantalized her offering a hint of the same intensity she’d felt back at the auto shop. Realizing that she truly had been effected by his kiss, she touched his cheek gently opening herself up to the sweet, intoxication that Seth Alexander’s kisses offer her. Her tongue slid moistly between his lips as he reciprocated the gesture stroking her mouth to bittersweet ecstasy with that one kiss. Slowly, breathlessly Blake withdrew from the kiss seeing the fire burning behind his eyes as he smiled up at her.
“Not bad for a guy on the brink of death, huh?” he offered in a low whisper as Blake fought to control the pounding in her heart, to keep herself from melting against his touch as he tenderly caressed the soft skin of her face gazing up into her beautiful, blue eyes, “Have dinner with me, Blake.”
“Seth, I…” she breathed feeling her head swimming at the memory of his kiss, “this is just…”
“Just what?” he questioned curiously.
“Well, when I thought you could die, I just kind of reacted to the situation and I said what came to mind…”
“About being my fiancée?” he eyed her intently.
“Well yes,” she nodded thinking of how unusual it was for her to feel something this fast about someone she knew nothing about, “I mean I was just trying to do some quick thinking and…”
“It lead you to the notion of us together,” he paused as the word rolled over his lips, “in a more intimate fashion and believe me beautiful, I don‘t mind at all.”
“Seth it’s just…I mean in near death experiences, emotions get all jumbled and…” she started again suddenly struck by a panic as her heart longed to learn more about this sexy, stranger before her.
“Just one dinner,” he pleaded with her, “and if after that one night, you feel that the chemistry between us is nothing more than heightened feeling based on a near death experience, then we’ll end it on that, but if for one brief, flickering moment, you find it in you to allow yourself to feel the heat of how good it is between us, to embrace the chance that fate set out before us, then I’d hope you’d consider us giving things a try between us.”
“But I don’t even know you…” she began fluttering her eyelashes down at him.
“You know enough to tell everyone that you wanted to be engaged to me,” he offered with a glimmer of a smile.
“I was afraid for your life. I couldn’t bear the thought of you dying before I could tell you…” she stopped herself.
“Tell me what?”
“Thank you,” she finished with a hint of a smile, “what you did in that shop when I thought we were going to die…the way that you tried to protect me…”
“I would do it again in a heartbeat if it meant that we’d be right here sharing this moment like this,” Seth offered up his brown eyes touching down deep into her as his fingers slid up into her golden tresses, “Blake, I won’t beg you to see me, but I think we both felt something before in that shop and even now, well, the truth is you are by far the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met and I’d like the chance to get to know you better inside and out.”
“Seth,” she felt an overwhelming heat rush over her soft features as she finally nodded, “alright. I’ll have dinner with you.”
“You will?” he questioned watching as the hint of color flushed over her face.
“I will,” she nodded eagerly as the thought of spending a romantic night alone with Seth swept over her, bringing forth a new sense of excitement that Blake Ashford hadn’t felt in a very long time, “I’ll have dinner with you.”
“Good, because as soon as I get out of here, I’m going to show you a night you’ll never forget,” he promised drawing her in closer to him once again, “you won’t regret it.”
“I’d better not,” she answered gazing down into his dark, mysterious brown eyes as she found herself swept up in a feeling that she never imagined could happen to her. Now as she looked down at Seth Alexander thinking about the possible future between them, she found herself hopeful for something that less than twenty four hours ago, she would’ve swore never existed. She was starting to feel something that she wouldn’t dare put a word on just yet, but at the same time, she wouldn’t dare let go of that feeling either as it was too good to be true--except it was and it was finally happening to her. Life seemed to be picking up after all.
Avery stepped out of the elevator, knowing full well that
she was over half an hour late to the office, but she found herself not caring
as she dialed Russ’s home number once again on her cell phone. After having
spent most of the morning trying to connect with him after last night’s disaster,
it broke her heart to see that he wasn’t taking her calls. The machine
picked up once again and a sigh escaped her lips as she slowly made her way
towards her office.
“Russ, please…I know you’re there,” she began poignantly, “I know you have to be screening your calls because I’ve tried at least twenty times to reach you. Look about last night…” she trailed off thinking to the way he’d shut her out after her slip of the tongue, “please pick up Russ. I really don’t want to do this over your machine, but you’re not giving me any other alternative here. I feel awful about how things went and I, well, I just need you to know that I’m so sorry. I never, ever meant for things to get out of hand like that. I just…..” she stopped as the machine beeped alerting her that time had run out. Silently she turned her cell phone off realizing that she’d accomplished nothing, but making a connection with his answering machine yet again as she reached out to open the door to her office.
“Why can’t any of this just be easier,” she groaned stepping into her office expecting to find the disaster she’d left the night before, but much to her surprise she found that things had been cleaned up and two installation men were behind her desk replacing her window, “wow, I didn’t expect this,” she blurted out surprised as she looked to the office surrounding her.
“We’ll be done shortly Ms. Morrison,” one of the men explained looking over at her briefly.
“Please take your time,” she offered with a wave making her way over to her desk as she set her briefcase down in her chair, “I’m actually surprised that you’ve gotten this far with the cleanup this fast.”
“When Mr. Ashford wants something,” the other man piped in with a half smile, “well we know not to wait.”
“Of course not,” Avery stated behind gritted teeth as the very thought of Brant Ashford grated on her nerves. Last night his actions at the hospital had wound up causing her more damage than she’d thought possible as she began to think back to the confrontation with Bruce and the nightmare that topped off the end of the evening with Russ. Things were just getting worse by the moment after the quake had torn up her world in ways she hadn’t imagined possible.
Now as Avery made her way over to the tiny closet in the corner of her office, she hung up her jacket vowing to put the past behind her for the next eight hours as she turned her attention back to her desk realizing she‘d paid no attention to the deep, red roses sitting on top of it. Looking over at the repair men curiously, she broke her silence.
“What is this?” she questioned a bit uncertain as she stepped in closer to her desk.
“Those arrived about half an hour ago,” one man explained simply, “there’s a card with them,” he took a step back from the window looking at it proudly, “well I think we’re all set in here.”
“Thank you,” Avery smiled at him as the other man picked up a toolbox and turned around to face her.
“We’ll finish up with the ceiling after lunch,” he promised with a nod as he headed towards the door.
“That’ll be perfectly fine,” Avery agreed watching the two workers leave as her gaze cast over the flowers once again. A breath caught in her throat as she thought back to her argument with Bruce. Could he have decided to take back his angry words and in turn disregard the ultimatum he’d given her or maybe they were from Russell. Perhaps he’d been ignoring her calls because he’d thought that the flowers would be more than enough to explain how he was feeling. Either way, Avery decided she didn’t have the patience to wait any longer to see what was inside the card as she reached for it tearing it open eagerly.
“Avery,” she read aloud, “the flowers suffer in comparison to the sweetness of your lips, to the memory of your touch, to the taste of your kiss, but for now this will have to do. Thank you for the beautiful dreams you gave me last night. Love Brant…..” she nearly dropped the card as she blinked again wondering if she’d still been at home dreaming. There was certainly no way that Brant was sending her flowers--no way that he would be doing such a bold and unwelcome move as she looked over at the roses thinking of the way in which kissing Brant had landed her in far more trouble than she’d ever imagined, but now as she looked down at the card, she realized that the card didn’t lie. He’d actually sent her flowers. He had the nerve to remind her of the mistake she’d made with him in Bruce’s office no less and now as her anger boiled, she lifted the flowers from her desk tossing them into the trash can before spinning on her heel headed to his office ready to tear into him for invading her life.
“Good morning Miss Morrison,” Diane greeted her with her usual, perky smile. Avery didn’t take the time to bother with pleasantries as she marched towards the door to Brant’s office.
“Is he in there?” Avery questioned gruffly as she kept her gaze focused on the door before her.
“He is, but he’s in the middle of…”
Diane’s words were lost as Avery thrust open the door to
Brant’s office anger fueling her as she stomped into the room not giving a damn
about what he’d been occupied with as she spoke out in a firm, accusatory tone,
“How dare you!”
“Avery,” Brant looked up from the table he’d been laying on as two very buxom blondes were working their hands over the muscles on his back, giving him a very thorough massage, “well good morning to you.”
“The hell it is,” her eyes narrowed in anger as she looked to the women beside him, “I strongly suggest you two take five right now because things are about to get very ugly.”
“Ms. Morrison,” one of them began as Brant raised his hand to silence her.
“Later Kimberly,” he dismissed her, “Ms. Morrison and I need to be alone.”
“Alright Mr. Ashford,” she nodded as she and her companion stepped out of the room and Brant turned his eyes towards Avery offering a sexy, sly grin.
“Now, how about we start this over again,” he suggested watching her closely as he noticed the way in which her nostrils were flaring with anger, “what if we start out with good morning?”
“I’ll give you good morning,” she snapped at him as she clenched her fists at her side, “just where the hell do you think you get off doing what you do?”
“Avery, I wasn’t sure you’d be coming in today or not,” he confessed repositioning himself on the table top as Avery was suddenly aware of the fact he was damn near naked before her except for the tiny white towel that was draped over his bottom, “otherwise I would’ve scheduled you for a massage as well as clearly you more than need one with the tension you’ve got coursing through your veins.”
“I don’t need a damned massage,” she hissed back at him, her dark eyes fueled with anger as the brief glimpse of his chest became a sudden distraction to her, “damn it Brant. Can’t you get some clothes on,” she questioned turning away from him as she fought the rage building inside of her.
“Avery, you interrupted my massage,” he pointed out, picking himself up off of the table as he wrapped the towel around his waist loosely before he stepped towards her, “and really, there’s nothing to be bothered with. I mean we’re both adults here and I’m sure seeing me like this shouldn’t be an issue unless of course there’s something you’ve been withholding about wanting to see me naked.”
“Brant, believe me, the very thought of seeing you naked repulses me,” she bit on her lower lip refusing to turn around and look at him as her breath caught in her throat.
“Avery, come on. After last night, you and I both know that there’s no need to play these games between us,” he sat on the corner of the table watching her closely as he raised his hand to his mouth locking in the memory of her, “I mean after that kiss, well, I think that is self explanatory.”
“What’s self explanatory is the fact that I’m not interested,” Avery finally found the courage to spin around to face him again vowing that she wouldn’t allow his state of undress to distract her as she continued her verbal assault on him, “I’m tired of being dragged into your games Brant.”
“Avery, I’m not playing games with you,” Brant shrugged simply, “I told you last night what I wanted from you and I think if anyone has been playing games, it’s been you.”
“Me?” she blinked back at him, “have you lost your mind? Brant, I’ve told you time and time again that you don’t have a chance with me--that our relationship is strictly professional, yet time and time again, you don’t take a hint. What do I have to do in order to get you to just back off?”
“Avery, we both know you don’t want that,” he smiled up at her as he rose from the table top taking a step towards her, “admit it, you liked kissing me last night just as much as I enjoyed kissing you.”
“I did not,” Avery argued shaking her head as her gaze lingered down over the muscular planes of his torso dropping shamelessly towards the top of the towel as her train of thoughts began to drift with her eyes. No, she shook the thought as she stood firm hoping he hadn’t noticed her moment’s lapse of temporary insanity as she remembered what had brought her into his office to begin with, “Brant, you had absolutely no right to send me flowers this morning.”
“Avery, you deserved them,” he shrugged simply offering a sexy grin as she realized despite her efforts to hide the path her gaze had taken over him, he’d certainly noticed. He stood taller puffing out his chest a bit as he began to stride casually over in her direction, “it was the least I could do.”
“Brant, the least you could do is leave me alone,” Avery sighed bringing her fingers through her dark hair, “that’s all I’m asking of you.”
“I’m afraid that’s going to be impossible,” he explained matter of fact bringing his hands out over his hips as he met her dark eyes, “considering that you and I have travel plans for this upcoming week.”
“Excuse me,” she blinked back at him before shaking her head, “oh no. I’m not going anywhere for you and if you think for one second that our kiss, if you can even call it that entitles you to some time alone with me, then you’ve got another think coming…”
“Avery, would you relax,” he shook his head giving her a disapproving glance, “it’s just business with no hidden agendas this time.”
“Brant, with you there are always hidden agendas,” she remarked bitterly as she crossed his large office reaching for a file folder that lay on top of his desk.
“This time it’s fate stepping in,” he spun around to face her holding out the file as she looked down at it wearily, “go on. It won’t bite.”
“What is this?” she questioned reluctantly accepting the file he extended towards her.
“It’s Steven Davies. It seems that Coral Valley’s newfound geological situation has made him less than eager to follow through with our plans to hold a meeting with him out here, so after I spoke with him on the phone and assured him that BBK is quite interested in his business, we agreed that during the aftermath of the quake, it would be in our best interest if we made a trip out to see him.”
“Brant, you know we can’t just pick up and go out there,” Avery frowned as she looked down at the file in front of her as she thought of how long they’d worked on winning over Mr. Davies.
“Avery, if we don’t go out there and meet with him, he’s going to walk away from the deal,” Brant explained his voice suddenly serious without the playful flirtatious tone that was present moments earlier, “I’ve worked too hard to make this happen, just to have him back out at the last minute because he’s uncomfortable with the idea of an earthquake.”
“I understand that Brant,” she handed the file back over to him, “but you don’t need me there to win him over. I’m sure you can charm him on your own and then I’ll do the paper work when it’s a done deal.”
“That’s just it Avery,” Brant frowned deeply, “without you it’s not going to be a done deal. You and I both know that Davies is uneasy about leaping into this venture with me considering the bad press that has been directed our way lately and I’m not going to lose the millions I have invested in this. Avery, you’re the deal closer and I know that if you’re not there, he’s going to walk.”
“Brant,” she began with a sigh thinking about the time and energy she’d put into winning over Steven Davies’ trust. Despite her many protests about the change of plans considering that being with Brant was the last place she’d wanted to spend her free time, he was right. Davies had been very specific about wanting to work with her on things and if she left Brant to deal with it on his own, he’d bury himself for sure. There was no doubt in her mind about that as she spoke up again, “fine. I’ll do this for you, but after we close this deal, you and I are going to have to have a talk about things because I can’t go on like this Brant.”
“Avery, you’re the best thing I have here at BBK and despite how you might feel about me on a personal level, well I’d be lost without you,” Brant offered a hint of sincerity in his tone as she met his dark eyes once again, “you’re the best lawyer we’ve ever had working here and I need you.”
“Brant, your needing me is turning my life upside down and it’s beginning to be too much. After the stunt you pulled last night at the hospital….”
“Avery, I’m sorry,” he interrupted surprising her with his words, “truly, I never meant to put that kind of pressure on you, but well, I tend to get carried away when Blake is involved. You know how it is when she needs something…”
“Still, you’re arrogant nature is going to be your undoing,” Avery sighed feeling her anger slowly melt away as she spoke with him, “and this relentless side you have in your wanting to win me over…”
“Avery, I’m not going to lie to you,” Brant blurted out after a moment’s hesitation, “I might be a lot of things, but determination is one of my finer points and when I want something…”
“You just go for it,” Avery interrupted, “I know this. I really do, but with me, I’m not a game. I’m not some trophy to be won over by your not so subtle tactics or your manipulations…”
“I’ve always been up front with you,” he stepped in towards her seeing the doubt behind her eyes as his tone softened, “and the truth is that I want you Avery. I want you as my lawyer and maybe eventually as my lover as well,” he watched as she opened her mouth in protest, but before she could say a word, he placed his index finger over her lips, “but right now, closing this deal is my main focus and until that’s finished, nothing else matters.”
“Brant,” she began muffled by his finger as his other hand slid up to cup her cheek in his hand.
“Avery, you’re breathtaking,” Brant continued keeping his
eyes fixed on hers, “and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want you, because
lord knows I do, but right now, after you walk out of this office, it’s going
to be business as usual at least until we win over the reluctant Mr. Davies.”
“And after,” she questioned lightly as he lifted his finger from her lips.
“After is something we’ll just have to take one step at a time,” he breathed against her lips leaning in towards her as he cupped her face in his hands waiting for her to knock him into next week as he bridged the distance between them.
“Brant,” she spoke his name in a faint whisper as she began to close her eyes allowing him a chance to get closer to her as the door to his office opened and Diane stepped into the room.
“Mr. Ashford,” she blurted out with a gulp.
“Diane,” Avery leapt back turning to face Brant’s secretary unaware that in Brant’s attempt to get closer to her, his towel latched on to her belt and it came along with her in one swift, motion revealing all to the unsuspecting secretary.
“Oh my God. I didn’t realize…” Diane trailed off her eyes widening as she took in the scene before her.
“Diane, it’s not what it looks like,” Avery began wanting to crawl under a rock as she tugged on the towel trying to unlatch it from her belt hurriedly.
“It’s quite alright Diane,” Brant offered casually waving his hand at her as Avery’s face grew red with embarrassment.
“I’ll….um, I’ll just tell your ten ‘o’ clock that you’re running behind,” Diane blurted out with a tiny chuckle giving him one last look before spinning out of the office and closing the door behind her.
“Can things possibly get any worse,” Avery groaned struggling to untangle Brant’s towel from her belt as her embarrassment filled her.
“Avery, hey it’s okay,” Brant touched her shoulder, “things like this happen all the time around here.”
“Not for me they don’t,” she tugged on the towel once again as her urgent need to remove herself from the situation took over.
“Avery,” he spoke her name again watching her fighting with the towel as he slid his arms around her waist stepping in behind her as his fingers covered hers, “let me try.”
“Brant,” she began feeling the heat of his hard, male form pressed in against her as his fingers worked to detangle his towel from her belt. She lowered her hands, giving him the opportunity to correct the situation as she closed her eyes struggling desperately to focus on anything, but the swell of his groin pressed into the curve of her spine.
Brant wrenched at the towel once again feeling himself distracted by her soft curves as she involuntarily pressed in further against him giving him a whiff of her tantalizing perfume. God, she smelled good, he thought to himself as his fingers drifted away from the difficult towel over to the dip of her slender waist. She tilted her head back slightly as he caught a glimpse of her closed eyelids and his heart thudded in his chest as his eyes lingered to her lips wanting nothing more than to take her right then and there. Unable to resist the urge building inside of him, he gave up on the towel all together as his left hand traveled up her body, underneath her chin as he tilted her head upward as he held her. She shifted again in his arms as his fingers fanned out over her hip holding her closer against him. He leaned forward wanting nothing more than to capture her savory mouth in his and have a repeat performance of last night as he gently turned her in his arms, feeling her caving in to his advances as he leaned forward brushing his lips against hers in a barely there kiss when a sudden buzzing filled his office.
“Are you two almost um….finished in there,” Diane questioned her voice clouded with amusement as her voice was a sudden jolt of reality causing Avery to take a quick step away from him.
Avery blinked back at him silently cursing herself for not using her head as her gaze involuntarily dropped down to the root of his masculinity and her eyes widened in surprise. Seeing him standing before her, she felt her throat go dry as she forced herself to turn away from him and she quickly tore the towel from her belt.
“Here you are,” she tossed the towel over her shoulder not bothering to look back at him as she exited the room almost as fast as she’d made her way into it earlier.
“Everything okay in there,” Diane questioned leaning back in seat as she eyed Avery intently.
“Everything is just fine,” Avery lied looking down to the piece of towel fragment still caught on her belt as she swiftly placed her hand over her side. She offered Diane a quick nod as she hurried back to her office knowing that as long as Brant Ashford insisted upon spending time alone with her, that things would be anything but fine.
The elevator doors opened as Caitlin arrived in the newsroom of the Coral Courier. She glanced around the bustling area, feeling a smile tugging at her lips. There was no excitement quite like the kind to be felt in the commotion of a newsroom. Reporters shouting, telephones ringing, office machines whirring with their work. To the untrained eye, it was something akin to unbridled chaos. To a reporter, it was home.
Caitlin smiled as she proceeded through the room towards her desk. She sat down and opened her laptop computer, quickly making notes about her first meeting with Kenneth Ashford. She omitted all details about his family but instead noted his protective nature towards those he seemed to care about.
Mindy, the newsroom's catch all receptionist, sat on the edge of Caitlin's desk with a smile, "Word around the water cooler is that you spent last night with Kenneth Ashford."
"Did that water cooler report include the fact that we were trapped in an elevator as a result of the earthquake?" Caitlin asked with a smile.
Mindy's curiosity was unmatched, and she fit in perfectly with the newsroom's insatiable thirst for details about every happenstance. She was taking college courses at night, and everyone knew they had their next star reporter taking their messages at the moment.
Mindy tapped the desk with a pencil, "So, how'd that go?"
"Just ask what you want to ask, Mindy," Caitlin chuckled.
"What's he like? Is he a snob like people say all the Ashfords are?" Mindy fired off the questions one right behind the other.
"He's not a snob, not at all. He's very warm, but I get the feeling that the tabloids have really turned him sour on the idea of reporters at all. I intend to change that," Caitlin said as she finished typing a few notes on her computer. She closed the lid before looking to Mindy, "Is Russell in his office?"
"Yeah, and he's in a strange mood today. I don't know what happened with him last night, but whatever it was, the earth apparently did not move," Mindy paused, "Well, the quake did, but oh you know what I mean," She groaned before she continued back towards her desk.
Caitlin shook her head as she chuckled to herself. She knew what it was like to be young and excited about life, but times had changed and she was no longer the innocent little girl she had once been. She knew about the dangers of the world, and she knew all too well what it was to be a victim of someone else's power trip. Perhaps it was that reason she wanted to help Kenneth's clients so badly. She knew just how hard it was to fight against something ten times more powerful than yourself, but she also knew just how good it felt to succeed in such a fight.
She took a deep breath as she knocked on the door marked Editor In Chief. She heard a muffled enter from within the room before she turned the door knob and stepped inside.
Russell looked up from the floor where he sat with large stacks of papers, "Hey, my front page dream, will you have the story?"
"I'll have the story," Caitlin nodded as she sat on the sofa, gently crossing her legs and smoothing the pleat of her skirt, "If you don't mind my asking, what exactly are you doing?"
"Research," He replied as he sorted through more papers, "So one of the Ashfords is actually going to let the masses in on their work, huh?"
"I already know about your bias towards the Ashfords," She stopped him as she spoke boldly, "But from what I've learned of Kenneth, he's not like the others."
"Uh oh, already using that damnable Ashford charm on you, huh?" He frowned, "I don't know if this was such a good idea or not."
"Russell, I'm doing the story. Kenneth's fight against Midlands is just the kind of story this paper is all about."
He shifted a stack of papers in front of him before he stood from the floor and moved behind his desk to sink into his plush desk chair, "So how will you begin?"
"I want to introduce the players. I'm suppose to meet with Kenneth this afternoon after he speaks with his clients. If they agree to tell their story in the Courier, I'll meet with them afterward and we'll have the beginning of a series of stories."
"Midlands isn't going to like our putting them in a bad light. I hope you're prepared for the backlash," Russell warned.
"I can handle any backlash there might be. I just hope you are," She replied.
"Don't you worry about me," He grinned, "There's this little thing called the First Amendment. You might have heard of it."
"Yeah yeah yeah, I'll remember you said that if they take you to court," Caitlin rolled her eyes with a smile, "So what was your experience with the quake?"
"Not nearly as adventurous as yours," Russell smiled, "So how did you convince Ashford to do the story while in that elevator?"
"Get your sordid little head out of the gutter," She groaned, "I stopped the elevator and inadvertently saved us from dying a horrible death in the earthquake. He had already agreed to let me tell the story after he admired my idealism."
"Yeah, I'm sure that's what he told you he was admiring," He took a deep breath.
"Russell, he's not like that. Well, he might have looked, but he didn't just blatantly say it. He really was impressed with my take on the story."
"I'll believe that when I actually see the story in print," Russell stated as he looked to the date book in front of him. He tapped the desk absently for a moment.
"Russell…hey boss," Caitlin waved her hand, "Are you still with me?"
"Sorry, I'm just distracted that's all," He said as he focused his attention back on her, "Is that all?"
"Yeah, are you sure you're okay?"
"No," Russell admitted, "But it's early in the day. Things
could always improve," He said with a slight smile, watching as Caitlin left
his office. He glanced from the date book back to the pile of research upon
the floor. He would have to move quickly if he was going to prove to Avery just
how wrong she was about the Ashfords and her potential role in their schemes.
Kenneth whistled a soft tune as he moved about the kitchen. He used the knife in his hand to slide some chopped peppers aside as he began chopping thick ham slices into small chunks. He paused to take a sip of his coffee before returning to the chopping in front of him.
"I hear happiness in here," Annette announced as she stepped in from the back door. She unhooked the leash from the collar of her spaniel's neck before she focused on Kenneth, "I just took Peanut out for a walk, and I'm surprised to find anyone in here when I get back. Brant's already gone, Blake never came home, and I must have already been in bed when you got in. Where were you?"
"I was out for a while. Hey, I'm making one of my famous omelets. Want me to make you one too?" He asked as he shredded some cheese.
"No, I already had breakfast, but you go right ahead," She spoke as she sat on a stool at the bar, "What's going on with you and Brant?"
"That's it, Annie. Don't beat around the bush. Just dive right in," He teased as he broke two eggs into a bowl before disposing of the shells. He began vigorously whisking the eggs before he replied, "We got into a fight."
"I figured that much. Brant came in here with a huge chip on his shoulder. So why don't you give me your side of the argument?"
"You know the story, Annie. I try to be the voice of reason, but as usual I'm ignored," He shrugged as he began adding ingredients and stirring the mixture, "Blake had created a situation by pretending to be an injured man's fiancée just because she wanted information about his condition, and Brant made it worse by continuously insulting the man's family."
She frowned, "So you tried to reason with them."
"Yeah, I did. Stupid, I know," He shrugged as he prepared the griddle.
"Kenny, you know you can't change the way they behave."
"I know, but it doesn't mean I can't try," He pointed out as he poured the mixture onto the griddle, adjusting the temperature as the omelet began to sizzle.
"You know that Blake and Brant both inherited your father's love of reckless behavior. On the plus side, Blake did get the same heart you inherited from your mother. Brant, on the other hand, is his own man."
"That's just it. He isn't his own man. He's like Dad, and he's becoming more and more like him every day. I just don't want to see him miserable like Dad was much less to make everyone around him equally as miserable."
"He really got to you, didn't he?"
"Yeah he did. I love him, Annie. He's my twin brother, for pete's sake, but I hate to see him traveling the same path that destroyed Dad. He thinks he can insult any and everyone and remain unscathed. What's worse he thinks that no matter what he does, money can fix it. He doesn't have the first clue about emotions whether they're those of others or his own."
"Brant's traveling a long hard road, Kenny, but it's his road to travel. You learned from the mistakes of your father, but Brant didn't. It'll take his own mistakes to teach him anything. You can't always bear the burden of his troubles."
"I know," He sighed in defeat as he served the omelet onto a plate and switched off the griddle, "He's my brother, and I can't help but worry about him."
"So what about Blake and this guy she just had to see?" She asked, switching the topic of conversation.
"He was injured while protecting her, and she decided that she needed to tell the world she was his fiancée in order to stay with him during his treatment," Kenneth rolled his eyes as he moved towards the dining table with Annette following him, "I don't know why she thought that was a good idea, but she did. Then Bruce Mathis kicked out the man's sister to make room for all the personnel, and a battle ensued. Everything was peaceful enough until Brant showed up, and then all hell broke loose."
"How's Blake? She's okay, isn't she?"
"She's fine. I think she was terrified after her ordeal, but physically she was fine," He replied as he began to eat his breakfast, "She stayed at the hospital last night to wait for her rescuer to awake."
"Maybe she'll come home and get some rest. She seems like a real toughie on the outside, but she's more vulnerable than she appears."
"I realize that, but she'd never let me coddle her. She'd take my head off in an instant if she knew I even thought about it," He swirled his coffee around in his mug as he looked into the dark liquid, "I only hope that she's not making a huge mistake by taking a stand for this guy. I don't want her to get hurt."
Annette smiled, "You're such a good big brother," She smiled, "Both of your siblings are lucky to have you, and even though they would never tell you, they appreciate you."
Kenneth frowned, "If they're lucky to have me, what does that say about my luck in having them?" He sighed as he took a sip of his coffee to move on with the day.
Russell read over the article before him and rubbed his temple. He knew he was on the verge of being obsessed, but some things were worth being obsessive over. Protecting Avery was one of those things. She might not know she needed protecting from Brant Ashford, but Russell did and he would do everything in his power to keep her safe.
A knock at the door drew his attention, "Yeah?"
Mindy peaked her head into the office, "Boss, you have a visitor."
"Who is it?" He asked as he pushed his file on Brant aside.
"It's a woman, and she's…well…out of your league," She stated bluntly.
"No woman is out of my league. Send her in here," Russell spoke as he sat up.
Heather stepped into the office with a smile as Mindy closed the door behind her exit. Heather's smile grew as she studied his handsome features, "She's right. I am out of your league."
His eyes slowly glided over the length of perfect shapely legs which led to a short skirt which left plenty of room for his imagination to pick up the slack. Her tank top clung to her soft curves baring her lightly tanned skin. All of which led to the perfection of her face.
She smiled as she sat in a chair across from him having noticed his inspection of her, "Now that you've looked your fill, I actually came by to thank you for your help yesterday."
"To thank me? After the way you dismissed me, I didn't think you had it in you to be grateful for anything," He frowned as he adjusted his chair and leaned back slightly.
"I'm sorry about that. It's just…well, Brant is a very touchy subject with me lately."
"I figured that one out," He replied as he observed her closely.
"I need to apologize for my behavior. I wasn't at my best when we met. Maybe we could start over?" She offered as she lowered her lashes slightly.
"That might be the smart thing to do," He agreed, "How shall we begin?"
"Last night, I was restless so I took a walk around the hospital. I saw you speaking with Avery Morrison, and I must admit I heard you warning her against Brant."
"You were eavesdropping," Russell pointed out.
"That's all a matter of how you look at it. Nonetheless," She said with slight irritation, "I can help you remove her from Brant's radar."
"And how would that be?"
"I can tell you absolutely everything I know about Brant and his track record with women. A career woman like Avery isn't going to want anything to do with a man who demands that his women devote their every waking hour to him. She's not going to want to be ruled by any man."
"And you would?"
"Brant and I understand one another."
"So much so that it led to the end of your relationship."
"Not the end. This is only a hiatus. Brant will be mine again, and the sooner he is, the sooner you can stop worrying about Avery."
"Avery can take care of herself."
"And yet you feel the need to protect her. Something tells me that while you might have faith in Avery, you do not have faith in Brant. You know that when Brant wants something he gets it, and as of now, he has his sights set on your precious Avery. If you really want that threat to be over, I can give you the information to make sure that Avery stays as far away from Brant as she can get."
Russell considered her proposal for a moment, "And just what do you expect to get out of this?"
"The chance to repay you for helping me," She said with a bit of a smile, "And a chance to recapture Brant's attention."
"Lady, I think we both need our heads examined. Me for even considering this plan and you for wanting Brant."
"We all have our cross to bear," She commented as she rolled her eyes, "So are you in or are you out?"
Russell took one last deep breath as he wondered what was coming over him before he spoke, "Sure, I'm in. Just make sure I don't regret this."
Heather grinned, "Oh don't worry. I promise you won't regret
it," She smiled brightly as she thought about how no one would stop her from
having Brant back very soon.
“I really should get going,” Blake began sliding off of
the hospital bed as she realized she could’ve easily spent the rest of the day
with Seth, relaxing in his arms and forgetting the world around her.
“Are you sure about that,” Seth questioned raising a curious brow as he reached out to her tugging on her arm gently, “I mean it’s still early and I’m sure there are plenty of ways your keeping me company would be much nicer than my having to stay here all by my lonesome.”
“As tempting as that sounds,” Blake smiled down at him, “I do have a confession to make…”
“What might that be,” Seth mused with a tiny grin.
“Your sister is here wanting to see you,” Blake answered softening her voice a bit as she braced herself for his reaction.
“Jade’s here?” he looked surprised for a moment before his cool, confidence returned, “oh well, you can send her in if you’re sure you really need to be going. I’m sure she’s got a few words to throw at me for giving her a scare.”
“She was very worried about you,” Blake nodded in response, “though I don’t think she’s too fond of me.”
“Good thing I’m the one asking you out to dinner instead of Jade then, huh?” he winked playfully at her.
“That would probably be harder to explain to my family than you and I would be,” Blake confessed after a moment’s hesitation.
“Ah I take it your family is very in tune with what you do and who you’re dating, huh?” Seth questioned his eyes lit up with curiosity.
“I do what I want to do,” Blake answered matter of fact, “and if they don’t like it, too bad…”
“There’s that spirit I so enjoy about you,” Seth winked up at her, “you’re going to be one hell of an adventure Blake Ashford.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” she offered a teasing wink before lowing a kiss in his direction and finally, though somewhat reluctantly stepping out of his hospital room.
“I can’t wait to watch it unfold,” he murmured under his breath, unable to contain the smile that hung over his features as she left his line of vision. Damn, there was something to be said about the sexy blonde he’d rescued earlier. She was well worth waking up to and now he couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital so that he could find a chance to run into Blake all over again. Leaning further back into the pillow, he sank back imagining his night of dinner and romancing Blake Ashford as his smile widened, but alas his thoughts were cut short as Jade’s voice rumbled out at him in an accusatory tone.
“What the hell is wrong with you,” she questioned rushing over to his side, throwing her arms around her brother in a tight embrace, “I thought I was going to lose you last night.”
“Jade,” Seth hugged her in response feeling her tears upon his shoulder as he squeezed her in his arms, “Jade, look at me. I’m fine.”
“I thought I was going to lose you,” Jade sobbed unable to maintain her strong front she’d put on all night long as she waited for word on Seth’s condition, “You promised me that you’d never do anything stupid that would cause me to worry about losing you, but then when you acted like a fool and rescued that dreadful woman…”
“You mean Blake,” Seth couldn’t help but smile, “she’s quite charming, isn’t she?”
“Charming,” Jade repeated choking on the words, “only if you find a shallow, self absorbed twit like that even remotely interesting, which you don’t, do you?” she pulled back from the embrace searching his eyes, “Seth tell me that you don’t think that way about her.”
“Jade, come on. She’s not so bad,” Seth began after a moment’s hesitation.
“Not that bad? Seth, she got her entire family in here trying to force me out of the hospital because she didn’t want me to be by you. She told them all that she was your fiancée which I know is an outright lie because you wouldn’t dare give any of those Ashford brats the time of day.”
“Jade, about that…” Seth drew in a breath bracing himself for his sister’s reaction to what he was about to say, “about Blake...”
“Just answer me one thing. Tell me why you wanted to see her before you wanted to see me. What reason could you possibly have for wanting to spend any time with someone as shallow and useless as her?” she challenged searching his eyes, “Seth, if it’s the head injury, then I promise I’ll work on getting you the best specialists out there if that’s what it takes…”
“Jade, you and I both know that we couldn’t afford the worst specialists out there even if we tried,” he sighed seeing the confusion behind his sister’s eyes, “besides, if you take a moment to get to know Blake…”
“I know all there is to know. She’s an Ashford and Ashfords mean trouble. That’s what she is and if you even think about associating with her…” Jade began again as her frustration mounted.
“Jade, listen to me. I know what I’m doing. While Blake wasn’t what I had in mind, it’s going to work out for all of us,” Seth promised offering a reassuring hug.
“How can your being around her work out for us? She’s everything you despised growing up and after all the destruction the likes of her family has caused upon people like us…”
“Jade, you know better than I do that we’re in a no win situation and remember that job I told you about,” Seth hesitated thinking back to the proposition that had been laid out before him.
“Seth, please don’t tell me that you’re seriously considering taking it,” her jaw dropped as she shook her head adamantly, “no, Seth, you can’t do that.”
“Jade, it’s a hundred thousand dollars we’re talking about,” Seth reminded her simply, “you and I both know that kind of cash doesn’t fall into our hands often.”
“Seth, you know what going against the Ashford family could do to you. I love you and I couldn’t bear the thought of my big brother getting swept up in their manipulations…”
“Jade, I’ll be dating the youngest Ashford of the bunch,” Seth explained with a shrug of his shoulders, “clearly they aren’t going to suspect anything shady is going on at my end. They’ll just see me as the man who rescued the beautiful Blake and they’ll be more than willing to accept me in over there.”
“Seth, what dream world are you living in? I know that the pressure on your brain was supposed to have some side effects, but stupidity isn’t supposed to be one of them,” Jade frowned deeply, “if Blake thought for one minute that you were using her to spy on her family, then she’d expose you in two seconds flat and Brant would tear you apart limb from limb. He tried to do it to Grady and to me last night…”
“Brant threatened you,” Seth questioned his eyes igniting with a flicker of anger.
“I can hold my own against that jerk,” Jade brushed the topic aside, “but the point is that you’re the only one I have left and I don’t want to lose you just because you’re being paid to work a number over on the Ashfords. It’s too risky.”
“Jade, it’ll be fine,” Seth promised hoping to alleviate his sister’s concerns, “I mean I wasn’t expecting to encounter Blake as I’d thought working my way in with Kenneth was a better idea, but Blake,” a smile touched over his lips, “well she leaves something to be desired there. In fact, the more I look at this situation, the better it is becoming.”
“Seth, you can’t spend time with that woman,” Jade argued with him yet again, “she’s bound to figure you out and you’re going to be burned in ways that not even a hundred thousand dollars could fix.”
“Blake’s a pussy cat,” Seth shook his head refusing to listen to her concerns, “and besides, maybe there’s more in it for me than the money,” he finished thinking of the way it felt to kiss Blake’s sweet lips.
“Such as?” Jade arched a doubtful brow.
“Such as you don’t need to worry about it,” Seth stated simply, “right now I just want to get out of here and get home as soon as possible. Think we can work on making it happen?”
“Seth, you almost died. I don’t think getting you out of here so soon is a good idea,” Jade began again.
“Jade, all I want to do is go home and relax. I need time to figure things out,” Seth insisted firmly.
“What you need is another kick in the head for even considering what you’re considering,” Jade stated firmly giving him her best disapproving look.
“Jade, hey I’m the older brother here. It’s my job to worry about you, not vice versa,” he teased up at her.
“Seth, with what you’re contemplating, I can’t help but worry.”
“Jade, let me worry about what I’m getting into,” Seth pleaded with her, “I won’t be in over my head. If it’s too much, I’ll back out of it.”
“Seth, still you didn’t see Blake last night…”
“Jade, just trust me,” Seth interrupted reaching out to embrace her, “Everything is going to be okay from now on. I promise you that,” he finished thinking of his plans for the future as he realized meeting Blake Ashford had been something that would certainly turn his life around in more ways than he’d ever imagined.
...to be continued...