Yes, Ana was a real bitch in the last chapter… but people, when have I ever written anything without a method to my madness? There is always a reason for something I do. Every time there was some serious conflict, it was because something needed to come out. Keep reading…
PLEASE REVIEW HERE, NOT THE OTHER SITE (or both if you like, but at least over here)…
THIS IS PART II OF PAGING DR STEELE. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT READ ALL 70 CHAPTERS OF PAGING DR STEELE OR YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ SEVERAL SPOILERS.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.
Chapter 14—Tying Up Loose Ends
It is nearly 2:00am when we finally get back to the penthouse. James, Al, Valerie and Elliot are spending the night with us and we had to make sure that the other guests were all safely on their way home before we went upstairs. We thought that we would sit around for a little while before turning in but everybody is exhausted, so I show everyone to the guest rooms and get them settled in for the night, agreeing to meet for breakfast whenever we roll out of bed.
I go into our bedroom expecting to find Christian, but he’s not there. I know I saw him come into the apartment and I’m fairly certain that he hasn’t left. I look around the apartment—his study, my office, the piano—no Christian. I finally find him on the balcony… in the cold… nursing another drink. How many has he had tonight? I know I have had more than my share, but I also know that he has had more than me. I put my coat on and go out to the balcony with him. He doesn’t even acknowledge my presence until I speak.
“Hi.” He literally jumps at the sound of my voice.
“Hi.” He watches me as I walk over and sit down next to him on the chaise.
“Long night,” I say. He’s still looking at me.
“Yeah… it was.” He turns back to his drink.
“What were you and Brian talking about?” I ask.
“What do you think we were talking about?” he says with no malice, looking at me again.
“You’re right.” He looks away again. “He wanted me to know his hat was in the ring if I hurt you like David did.” He finishes the last of his drink.
“I know.” He looks at me again. “He told me the same thing, Christian.” He gazes at me for a long time.
“Do you think I would ever hurt you like that?” he asks, appalled.
“No,” I answer, but it sounds more like a question. I’m shivering.
“Come on, you’re cold. Let’s go inside.” He takes my hand and leads me into the apartment. We take off our coats and he fixes himself another drink. I want to say something about the amount that he is drinking tonight, but it’s a fight that I really don’t want to have. He turns on the fireplace and sits in on the sofa in front of it.
“I wanted to kill that guy,” he says. I look over at him. “The things he said to me, the way he was gawking at you… laying claim to you that way… Nobody has ever disrespected me in that way before, especially not where I live! I wanted to put a real hurting on his ass, but I didn’t, because of your father and because of you.” He takes a swallow of his drink. I would never want him to allow someone to disrespect him because of me. We had this conversation with the Scooby Gang Bang. We threw Lexia out of the wedding because of that and she’s “family.”
“Don’t do that again,” I say to him. He looks at me bemused. “Don’t allow anyone to disrespect you because of me, particularly not where you lay your head. I would never expect that of you and you don’t deserve it. If I had known that he was doing that to you, I would have thrown him out myself.” He turns back to his drink again.
“That’s good to know, but he said something to you. You didn’t expect him to say something to me?” He swirls the amber liquid around in his tumbler. “Anyway, it was right before he left. I guess he told me, huh?” He takes another swallow of his drink. There is silence for a long few moments before he says, “You can’t keep doing this, Anastasia.”
Anastasia? I frown, my face asking the question my lips couldn’t.
“You can’t keep shutting me down like this. I get that you are shocked and angry and even hurt that that woman’s lips touched mine, but you can’t keep treating me this way…” Treating him this way? Treating him what way? Again, my face must have asked the question.
“I have stood by you every single step of the way in every single thing that you have endured since we have been together—every single step—but whenever something happens that you don’t like, you don’t even talk to me. You just shut down. And this—this is just unacceptable. You know that I didn’t kiss that woman. You know it. Yet you treated me like the plague for the rest of the night. Even your little admirer noticed it, I’m sure.” He’s right, he did notice. “I know that I have had to deal with these new emotions—and I’ve been doing a damn good job—but Ana, maybe you need to consider seeing another shrink, because you’re not dealing with yours.”
I am dumbfounded. I can’t ask where this came from because I know, but do I really shut him out like that?
“Christian, I tell you everything,” I say, trying to defend myself.
“No you don’t!” His voice is a little louder than it should be, but he notices it and immediately calms himself. “You don’t tell me everything, and that’s okay. I can live with that. What I can’t tolerate is you holding back and shutting down when it’s most important. What I won’t tolerate is you blaming me for something that I didn’t do and punishing me for something that is not my fault.” Punishing him? I wasn’t…
“I wasn’t punishing you, Christian. I just didn’t know how to handle it. All I could see was that filthy woman with her hands on you… her mouth on you…” I visibly shudder at the thought.
“Then you should have talked to me!” He snaps. “Instead, you treated me like I was contagious all night. Do you have any idea how that made me feel? Then to have that asshole come sauntering over to me talking shit after I watched him kiss you. Should I reciprocate now, Ana? Should I treat you the way that you treated me?” He walks away from me over to the fireplace, still holding his drink. He is mad now, or maybe this was hiding all night… for months even… every time I shut him out. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Okay, I’m awake now! Can’t do what? He doesn’t want me anymore? Can’t do what? My heart clenches and I feel the air leaving my body. I want to faint. My knees literally get weak and I fall onto the sofa to keep from falling onto the floor.
Can’t do what?
Can’t do what?
Is he breaking up with me?
Did I really fuck up this time?
I won’t cry. I don’t deserve to cry. I hurt him, badly, and I don’t deserve to cry.
“I love you, Ana. I really do, but I won’t be your punching bag, not like this,” he says his back still to me. I am having an inner panic attack back here and the Bitch is on the floor kicking and screaming and throwing a massive temper tantrum. I remain silent. I don’t know what to say. If he’s breaking up with me, I have to let him have his say.
Does he think I want Brian? Is that it?
What am I going to do?
I feel like I’m dying.
I literally feel like I’m dying.
“If we are going to make this work, if we have any hope of a life together, you can’t do this to me.” Was that a flicker of light? Do I dare hope? “I don’t know what to tell you, but you can’t shut me out—especially not while I’m feeling every bit of pain that you feel, every bit of fear, and I’m going through all of your trials with you.” He still has his back to me, which is a good thing, because I am a shaking mess right now. I don’t know what to do—I haven’t a clue.
“Christian, I… I’m sorry, I…” my voice sounds like a mouse, but he doesn’t turn around. I believe he knows what he will see if he does and he just won’t. He’s right. I do shut him out. I don’t mean to, but I do it anyway. People, circumstances, things have disappointed me too much. So when I see that disappointment coming, I shut down. I don’t know how to deal with him when he does something that seriously displeases me—or if I have the perception that he has done something that seriously displeases me. The Elliot fiasco, when he returned from Green Valley, on the plane on the way home from Anguilla, Flynngate, and now the Pedo-Kiss—I shut him out every time when all he ever does is love me.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.”
“Ana, how could you not know?” Now he turns around. His face is frozen and his eyes are cold. He is quite upset with me. He’s looking through me, not at me. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “You leave me out in the cold whenever it suits you. I’m not going to do it anymore, Ana. I’m just not.” He walks past me, glass in hand, and disappears down the hall.
I feel like my body is going to collapse in on itself. I’ve gone too far. I’ve really gone too far this time. I don’t want to cry. I want to scream.
No, too close.
Roof! Still close, but not as close.
I grab my coat and gloves and quietly leave the penthouse, taking the stairs to the roof. It’s bitter cold out here and I feel it down to my bones, but I’m sure that I was cold before I got here. I look out over the sleeping city of Seattle. It’s well into the night yet lights are still twinkling all over the city. I take in as deep a breath as the cold will allow me, reach down into my stomach, and let out a blood-curdling scream—long and loud—followed by the cries that I wouldn’t release down in the penthouse. Gut-wrenching, blubbering, snotty tears and cries that are so hard that they reverberate in your chest and make your throat hurt. I’m on my bare knees on the cold concrete of the roof and I can’t even feel it.
I hurt Christian. I really hurt Christian. And now I am hurting. I deserve to hurt, though. If he leaves me, if he breaks up with me, I deserve it.
… but oh God does it hurt.
I cry and cry and cry and cry, hoping to ease some of this pain that I feel, but relief never comes. How could I be so selfish? So stupid? What the fuck it wrong with me? He’s only the most handsome, caring, kind, sensual, loving, protective, considerate, generous man I’ve ever met—besides my father, minus the “sensual” part—and I manage to chase him away.
Every time I think I’m getting the tears under control, they just come back heavier. What if I’ve lost him? What if I’ve pushed him away forever? I swear, I’m joining a convent!
I continue to cry for the love that I may have lost when I see a handkerchief dangling in my face. I look up to see who’s holding it and I immediately know that’s not Christian’s hand.
I take the handkerchief from his hand and clean my face as much as I can.
“How did you know?” I ask him, both relieved and disappointed that it’s not Christian.
“It’s 3:00am, Ana. You set off silent alarms all over the place,” he says squatting down to me. “What did he do now?” I shake my head and take a shuddering breath.
“It wasn’t him. It was me,” I answer mournfully. “I fucked up.” Jason is clearly surprised but just holds his hand out to me.
“Can you please berate yourself inside and not out here on the roof on the cold concrete?” he says. I take his hand and he helps me off the ground. We go back inside, down the stairs, and back into the apartment. I fully expect Christian to be in the great room, pacing and running his hands through his hair.
Good God, I have truly fucked up.
Jason stands there looking at me awaiting my decision. I take off my coat and assure him that I won’t go wandering out in the cold again. When he goes back to the guest quarters, I stand in the middle of the great room, hoping that the answer to that burning question will come floating down to me…
Have I lost him?
I watch the hallway where he earlier disappeared, willing him to walk back out to tell me that he loves me and I am forgiven.
Nope—forget it, Kid.
The fire is still going. I take off my shoes and wrap myself in the faux fur throw. I am freezing down to my soul, so I curl up in the smallest ball that I can and try to warm myself, tucking the throw under and around me everywhere.
No more crying now, Dr. Steele. Tomorrow you will go and find yourself a nice, quiet convent. For now, I curl up on the sofa and, with violently shuddering breaths, I will myself to sleep.
When I open my eyes, I am disoriented. It’s still dark out and I couldn’t have slept more than an hour. I raise my head and realize that I must have been crying in my sleep because there are runny make-up stains on the white sofa. I run my hand over the stain and silently curse myself.
“The furniture cleaners can get that out.”
I nearly jump out of my skin! Christian is sitting on the sofa that is to the left of this one, technically above my head while I was sleeping. I sigh heavily and run my hand over the stain again. Yep, a nice, quiet convent…
“You are such a foolish woman.” Huh? Where did that come from. “I couldn’t stop loving you if I tried. Don’t you get that?” Um… I… um… Oh, forget it. My head feels like lead and I couldn’t form a coherent thought if I tried.
“I slapped her,” he says quietly. What? Who?
“Elena. I slapped her. When she kissed me, I pushed her away and when she came back at me, I slapped her.” Oh, her—I had all but forgotten about her. I was wrapped up in the despair of hurting and losing the man that I love. He slapped Elena? Damn, really? I sit up on the sofa, my bones still cold.
“You did?” I say, and I can hear the awe in my own voice.
“Yes, I did,” he responds. He finally looks up at me. His face falls momentarily, but only momentarily. He’s drinking again, but it looks like orange juice this time. The shuddering breaths come unwelcome but I cried so hard that I have to expect them. “Why do you do this, Ana?” he asks, looking down at his glass.
“Because I’m a selfish asshole,” I say, more to myself than to him. Even with my head down, I can see his head snap up at me.
“You know that’s not true as much as I do,” he shoots. “There’s not a selfish bone in your body. That’s a cop-out and you know it, Doctor, but there’s a reason why you do this and you need to figure out what it is.” I raise my head to him and he’s glaring at me. He’s calling me on my bullshit and he refuses to let me hide behind excuses. I guess I’ve got some work to do if I don’t want to move into a convent. I wrap myself in the throw and lay my head on the back of the sofa, curling up again.
“Okay,” I say softly. What else can I say really?
“And that’s another thing,” he says, setting his drink on a coaster and moving over to the sofa next to me. He has one arm on the arm of the sofa and one arm along the back… but not around me. “You need to stop doing that, too.” Doing what? “That shrinking thing—you’re running away. I don’t know what triggers that, but you’re running away. You told me that you didn’t see Flynn helping me. Well, Ana, I don’t see Maxine helping you. You’re a grown woman and you’re still curling up into a ball when the world gets too scary. I know things get rough, I really do. I see it with my own eyes. I completely understand that there may be a need to sneak off into yourself once in a while, but Ana you do it entirely too much. I’m almost remiss to talk to you about anything contrary, because I’m afraid that at any second, you’re going to turn into a woodlouse!”
A woodlouse? What the fuck is a woodlouse!? I jerk my head back at him, clearly confused at what he is trying to say.
“A doodlebug?” he says. Nope, I’m still lost.
“A pill bug?” I got nothing.
“Roly-poly?” Ah! Okay, now I got it. Pretty appropriate—gross, but appropriate. I don’t know what to say to him. Who knew that a great psychologist with a waiting list a mile long was so fucked up herself? Then again, I am only human.
He’s sitting close to me now and I inhale his scent—his musky cologne mixed with his natural body odor and the smell of bourbon—stale and fresh—on his breath. I let the scents comfort me and help release the grip that I feel on my chest. He knows what I’m doing and he looks at me—his eyes questioning, hurting, loving, and bemused all at the same time. I can’t take it anymore. If he rejects me, I’ll accept that, but right now…
I crawl into his lap. He gasps as I bring my body close to his. I close my eyes and brush my lips against his. I’m still slightly inebriated, but the mixture of scents on him seems strangely comforting, almost forbidden, and erotically intoxicating.
He closes his eyes and allows me to brush my lips against his. His shoulders and chest rise and fall hard as he is trying to control his heavy open-mouthed breathing and I know he is lost in this simple contact… but he won’t touch me.
“Kiss me, Christian… please,” I breathe, praying that he won’t reject me like I have rejected him all night. He gently runs his tongue over my lips, then gently bites my bottom lip and sucks it into his mouth. I gasp. I have missed this—even if only for the last few hours. The emotional separation is worse than that physical, and I need him. I need him to know that I need him. He finally wraps his arms around my body, dips me, and kisses me with gentle, deep, sweet abandon so that I am certain that he would never kiss someone else like he kisses me. This kiss is intense and it rocks me to my very core as I grab handfuls of his hair and he dips me over his lap, holding me there and sensually sucking the very life out of me. His lips never leave mine, not even to breathe. I’m whimpering and moaning a lot because the kiss lasts so long that I nearly pass out.
“Christian!” I gasp when I he finally releases my mouth. He is still holding me up, suspended in his arms and in his love.
“I love you,” he breathes between kissing me on any part of my body that he can reach—my chest, my neck, shoulder, my arm… “Only you, Ana, only you. Please don’t ever doubt me again.”
“Christian… please… kiss me again.” One arm keeps me suspended while the other hand cups my face and he is kissing me again. His tongue is caressing mine, claiming my mouth, and making up for all of the kisses that he didn’t get tonight. We are kissing away all of the Brians and the Lexias and the Pedo-Bitches and the roly-polies of the night until there is nothing in our special place but us.
“Baby… you taste so good.” That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. I grab his hair and plunge his mouth into mine, kissing him with everything that I have.
“Make love to me, Christian. I need you… please…” I need that connection that only we make. He effortlessly lifts me from the sofa and carries me to our bedroom.
“I thought I had lost you.”
I awake to Christian’s voice talking to my sleeping body. I’m only semi-conscious after we made love more times than I can remember and I fell into an exhausted sleep just as the sky was turning purple-pink with the first sunrise of the new year.
“I thought you would never want to touch me again… or kiss me again…” I am lying on my stomach hugging my pillow and facing away from him. He is outlining the art on my back—something that normally sends me into an erotic frenzy, but there’s something different in his touch right now.
“Then your little admirer decides to tell me that he will be actively vying for your attention and that just set me off.” He continues to caress my back. I’m coming more into focus now as he continues to speak.
“I normally simply crush people who try to take what’s mine, but last night, I felt like you were slipping away… because of her. I was so angry and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. It’s like he knew, and he came to rub salt in my wounds.” He did know, unfortunately. Nobody had to tell him; he just watched our interaction… and how I treated you.
“I can’t believe I let her get that close to me. I filed the police report, but the damage was already done. Allen and Elliot were right—I should have gotten backup before I went in there. Better yet, I should have called the police the moment I saw her. That woman is the devil. She is hell, evil, tragedy, and misfortune all rolled into one. I don’t know how I let her near me.” I roll over to face him as he is berating himself. “What were you thinking when I tried to kiss you?” he asks. I sigh.
“That all I could see was her lipstick, even after you washed it away. A while back, she made it a point to let me know that she had you first. That’s all that I could see, even though I knew deep down that she had probably orchestrated the whole thing, she marked you. She knew that’s how I would see it. She was counting on it and I fell right into it. I’m sorry,” I respond. He shakes his head.
“I’ll accept your apology for how you treated me—that was unnecessary and cruel—but don’t apologize for something that woman has done. She’s a wicked bitch and a master manipulator who loves to play mind games, and I wish they had kept her ass behind bars. You would think that she wouldn’t want to bring attention to herself, but she has gotten worse since the arrest!”
“She’s desperate,” I point out. “She’s losing everything and refusing to go down quietly. Is she capable of violence, Christian? I mean, serious violence?” He knows what I mean. I’m not talking about Domme whipping and caning. I mean homicidal-type violence, because she is very quickly becoming a woman scorned.
“I would say ‘no,’ not that I’ve seen anyway, but I don’t know. Until a few months ago, I thought she was my friend and look how that turned out.” He frowns deeply and starts to stroke my back some more. “I don’t usually drink that much. I never drink that much, not for a long time anyway.”
“I’m surprised you’re not hung over,” I respond. He chuckles a bit.
“Make no mistake, I paid for it. That vigorous workout helped to burn off some of the alcohol, but I’ve been awake for several hours suffering.”
“You were quite the sex machine this morning, even more so than I am accustomed to. Alcohol makes you quite amorous, Mr. Grey.” He leans down and plants a gentle kiss on my lips.
“I never want to feel that way again,” he whispers, “like you don’t want me. I love you too much and I can’t take it. I’ll admit it. I can put up with other fuckers wanting you, but I can’t put up with you not wanting me.” His eyes lock onto mine, searching and beseeching. I scoot over close to him, tangle my fingers in his hair, and pull his lips down to mine. I kiss him deeply and passionately, until he is moaning into my mouth. When I release him, his lips are slightly swollen and his eyes are hooded, dazed.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I’ll do better, I promise.” He looks at me for a moment and then closes his eyes and nods.
“Okay,” he whispers. I bring his head down to lay on my breast and run my fingers through his hair. I run through the events of last night in my head. At least Daddy and Mandy didn’t see anything amiss—except for that bitch Lexia. My God! If I were lucky enough to have a sister, I sure wouldn’t be that shitty to her… at least I hope that I wouldn’t. If she were in cahoots with Carla, I probably wouldn’t speak to her at all. For all I know, I could have a little sister on the way. That would be so cool. I would spoil her rotten!
My ringing iPhone broke me from my thoughts. I try to move to answer it only to find that Christian has me in a death grip and has fallen asleep on my breast. He needs his rest, but I need to get up. Not only do I need to answer my phone, but I also have to pee.
I wiggle out of his grip and he looks at me with sleepy gray eyes. “Go back to sleep, Baby, I have to pee,” I say stroking his hair again. He nods and wraps his arms around a pillow, bunching it under his head. It only takes a few seconds and he’s softly snoring again. I pick up my iPhone and what I see makes me glad that I didn’t answer it.
It was Carla.
Speak of the fucking devil. I have no idea how she got my number. She has called several times in the last few months. The first time I answered her call, I felt like my ears were going to explode. I didn’t recognize the number, but the 702 area code had given me immediate flashbacks of Sullivan’s call. I never answered her calls again after that, but the masochist in me saved her number so that I know who it is when they call. I always listen to her messages because I want to be warned in some way if she is within close proximity of me at all! I decide that her message can wait until later.
A shower, a pair of yoga pants and an oversized U-Dub sweatshirt later, I am listening to Carla’s message. It appears that Stephen is very ill and is in the hospital now. He has been ill for quite some time, but wouldn’t go to the hospital and now he has slipped into a coma.
His liver is failing and he is dying.
He wanted to be put on the transplant list, but he’s an active alcoholic and they have rules and wah wah wah wah wah wah…
Stephen is dying and I guess she thinks that my rich boyfriend and I can stop it. I would never wish death on anyone—I’m not that cold—but I hate to say that I still don’t care. I hate saying it because someone is dying, and I don’t care. That’s cold. He was horrible to me and he never changed. He used my tragedy for personal gain and still treated me like a nobody, all the way up to the very last time that I saw him alive. I won’t miss him, but for reasons of my own, I will go to his funeral. I know she’ll inform me when he has passed away. She won’t miss the opportunity for that bit of attention.
From what she says, it won’t be long now.
It looks like I will be planning a trip to Green Valley soon. I might as well kill two birds with one stone and turn over that video to the proper authorities.
Val and I are supposed to make brunch for the guys while they watch Oregon and Stanford play in the Rose Bowl. When I leave our bedroom, the apartment is as quiet as a library. Time is ticking into the future, so I might as well get started on brunch. I made my cheesy ham and hash brown casserole in advance, so I put it in the oven to reheat. It’s just like the cheesy potatoes that Gail and I now have to make at least once a week for Jason and Christian, only it’s made with cubed hash brown potatoes and cubed ham, then topped with fresh Parmesan cheese. I slice some strawberries and put them in a bowl with blueberries for the Belgian waffles, which will be made last with the eggs Benedict. I start to fry an ample amount of link sausage by the time Valerie arises from her slumber. It’s nearly 1pm by now.
“Ana, why didn’t you wake me?” she asks. I shrug.
“I’ve been alone with my thoughts,” I tell her as she pulls her beignet dough from the refrigerator. “I’ve been getting more texts and calls from St. John about Melanie and I even got a call this morning from Carla.”
“Carla!?” she asks aghast. “What did she want—to wish you a Happy New Year?” She puts flour on the counter and starts to roll out portions of her dough.
“No, she called me to tell me that Stephen is dying.” Val stops rolling her dough.
“He’s dying?” she asks. I nod. “How do you feel about that?” She has started rolling her dough again.
“I don’t,” I reply flatly. “She wants Christian’s money to find him a liver. That’s the only reason that she can be calling me. Those people had absolutely no compassion or consideration for me when I lay in the hospital damn near dead. They can’t think I care about his ass!” I mean, I may feel some kind of inkling of a twinge for Carla… maybe. She did birth me after all—but Stephen? Nothing. Nothing but contempt and anger and hatred that I have been trying to overcome for years! Nope, no tears to be shed there.
“Is there anything that can be done for him?” Val asks as she fills a large pot with oil.
“Short of a black market liver? No. It’s pretty much a done deal for him. I’m pretty certain that his insides are all pickled anyway and his organs will soon go into complete failure, so…” I shrug again. Val goes back to her dough and starts cutting the beignets.
“Won’t you feel a little guilty just letting him die without trying to help him, Ana?” she questions. I pause for just a moment to ponder that.
“Nope.” I say as I continue with the sausage and then add pieces of Canadian bacon to another frying pan. She comes over to the stove with her dough.
“You really won’t, will you?” she asks as she puts the first beignets in the hot oil. I shake my head. “I can tell. You didn’t even bother with an explanation,” she adds. I sigh.
“Is there really anything to explain?” I ask.
“I guess not,” she says removing the first batch of beignets and setting them aside to drain while starting on another. Damn, those little things cook fast, but I never got the hang of them. That’s why I always ask Val to make them.
“I am going to the funeral,” I say as I remove the last of the sausage and concentrate on the Canadian bacon and poaching the eggs. Now, she’s shocked.
“What the hell for!?”
“To make sure that he’s dead. I don’t put anything pass Carla and Stephen Morton. This could be another one of their ploys to get money or get into my good graces—a scheme or a sad cry for sympathy, especially since they are most like under investigation for that $750,000.” I start another batch of Canadian bacon.
“And when you go to Green Valley and he’s really dead, then what?” Val asks.
“Then I will turn that video over to the Nevada Attorney General and come back home until and if they need me to testify.”
“And if you go to Green Valley and it’s all a hoax and he’s not dead?”
“Then I will turn that video over to the Nevada Attorney General and come back home until and if they need me to testify.” I repeat.
“Is it really that simple, Ana?”
“Yep.” I respond. “I’m not looking for any closure when it comes down to them. I just want to make sure that he’s dead… and I may have a few words for my mother.”
“Really? What would you have to say to her?” Val covers her beignets in cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar.
“I don’t know, Val. Stephen—I have nothing for him, but my mother… there’s something that I need to say to her. I just don’t know what it is, yet.”
Val and I finish brunch of eggs Benedict, maple sausage, cheesy ham and hash brown casserole, Belgian waffles with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream, French beignets, fresh fruit salad, orange juice, coffee, and champagne. As we were finishing cooking, the zombie men rise from their various rooms—everyone, that is, except Christian.
“Well, just in time,” I say. “You gentlemen can set the table. I will go see what is keeping the master of the manor.” Various grumblings come from the men and I throw a death glare at them. “If you ever want me to cook another thing for you ever again in life, set the table.”
The men all scramble to the kitchen and Valerie jumps out of the way.
I open the door to the bedroom and Christian is just as I left him—hugging the pillow and snoring quietly. I climb on the bed and sit up next to him, running my hands through his hair again. His eyes flutter open and he looks up at me.
“Hey,” he says, his voice raspy.
“Hey,” I respond.
“What time is it?”
“Nearly 2:30.” He looks up at me.
“It can’t be,” he protests.
“Did I miss brunch?”
“No, we’re setting the table now, but all of the hungry men are out there, so you better hurry,” I warn.
“Tell those bastards that if they eat my food out of my house and don’t leave any for me…”
“I’ll tell them, now get up.” I brush his hair back and kiss his forehead before I climb out of the bed.
“I’m glad that sweatshirt is long,” he says. I turn around and look at him over my shoulder.
“Huh?” I say, bemused.
“I don’t have to worry about Allen and James, but you are wearing those damn yoga pants again and I would hate to have to bounce my brother out of here on his ass. So like I said, I’m glad that sweatshirt is long.” I twist my lips and wave him off.
“Get your ass out of bed, Grey,” I say while closing the door.
I am watching Anastasia interact with her friends and my brother and she is, as always, the social Butterfly. She is laughing and joyful, commanding the room with her explanation of her first meeting with Amanda’s sister, Lexia. Her legs are crossed and she’s sitting at one end of my dining table, the seat to her immediate right is empty. Her friends are laughing with her and if I didn’t know better, I would swear that James was hanging on her every word. I’m sure that my possessiveness is just getting the best of me since I am certain that he is more than smitten with Allen. If they get engaged before we do, there will be hell to pay.
“I have to say that I am very glad that Christian has forgiven us for our behavior,” Valerie begins. “That has to be one of the biggest faux pas any of us has ever engineered!” Butterfly takes a sip of her drink.
“Well, not all of you,” she says. “He’s having a harder time releasing what Maxine did. I’m torn on it. Part of me wants him to let it go so that we can all get back to normal. Maxine feels the tension every time she’s in the same room with him. Pretty soon, I think she’s going to limit their interactions. The other part of me completely understands how he feels. You guys wanted answers even though you all admit that you went about it the wrong way. Maxie was completely out of line. We’ve been going through a lot and I haven’t been making things any better with my tendency to shut down…”
“Do you forgive her, Jewel? You know, the people that we love feed off of what we feel.”
“I forgive her,” Butterfly says. “I love her, but that doesn’t expunge the fact that she was very wrong. I’m upset and hurt for how she treated Christian and livid for how she treated my father. I forgive the act, but the hurt is going to take a little longer to get over.” I read Butterfly’s face and I can see the turmoil playing in her head, no doubt reliving last night’s discussion between her and me. Hmm… Allen’s words from a moment ago play back in my head:
The people that we love feed off of what we feel.
She’s dealing with her own feelings for Maxine. She doesn’t need to deal with mine, too. It’s time that I handle that situation. I stroll out of the hallway and into the dining area.
“Did you start without me?” I ask acting affronted.
“I told you to get your ass out here, Grey. People are hungry!” she says as she stands and picks up a plate. “What would you like?”
“No, sit. You cooked. I’ll can feed myself.” I smile at her. Her look goes from confusion to a soft smile.
“Whatever you say, Mr. Grey,” she replies as she sinks sultrily back into her seat. I impulsively lick my lips.
“Oh, good Lord, could you two please stop eye-fucking each other over the food!” Allen exclaims, and the table breaks out in laughter.
Brunch went very smoothly. I am experiencing quite a few new things with Butterfly. New Years Day brunch is normally hosted at my parents’ house. Mom was only too happy to relent this time to allow the “young people” to have some time to themselves. Ethan and Mia agreed to stay with Grace and Carrick as I knew that we would not be able to get over there for brunch after hosting the wedding last night and then company thereafter, not to mention the impromptu hours of making love to Butterfly in the very early morning.
I’m rolling over thoughts of this guy Brian once everyone has left and I am in my study getting ready for work. I need more information on him. Hell, he has already looked into my background and has thrown down the gauntlet when it comes to my woman. Had I been sober last night, I might have decked him. However, I have to remember that I am a businessman and things must be handled in a more diplomatic manner—forceful, but diplomatic. I send an email to Welch that he will get in the morning.
To: Alexander Welch
Date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 20:18
From: Christian Grey
I had a competitor tell me at a social gathering last night that my team left “breadcrumbs” all over the place when they were doing what should have been a covert background check. This doesn’t please me at all since he is now aspiring to acquire one of my most prized possessions. Can you please be sure that this doesn’t happen again while you are doing a background check on Brian Cholometes of Montesano? You may face some roadblocks getting information on him. I have a feeling that he’s not a civilian.
Christian Grey, CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
I press send and start to review the assets of some of our Green Valley targets when my email pings.
To: Christian Grey
Date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 20:25
From: Alexander Welch
To which investigation are you referring?
Alexander Welch, Director of Corporate Security, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
I guess that little but of information might have been useful.
To: Alexander Welch
Re: Are you working?
Date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 20:33
From: Christian Grey
The background check on Anastasia. Cholometes is the one who told her that GEH was looking into her background. He was also able to run a background check on me. Put a lockdown on that if you can.
Christian Grey, CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
I didn’t expect him to respond. It’s nearly 9pm on New Years Day.
To: Christian Grey
Re: I’m Always Working, Sir
Date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 20:39
From: Alexander Welch
I see. I’ll look into it and get back to you ASAP. No, he can’t be a civilian. Getting information on Ms. Steele’s alias was like a top secret mission. Either he has friends in high places or he is in high places.
Alexander Welch, Director of Corporate Security, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
Great! Now I’ve got James Bond gunning to take my girl away from me. Not going to happen, Colostomy!
To: Alexander Welch
Re: The Higher They Are…
Date: Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 20:46
From: Christian Grey
The further they fall. You and I both know that no one is untouchable. Get me the information that I need on this guy. It is imperative and failure is not an option.
Christian Grey, CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
I may need some covert information that Welch can’t give me. As if a little birdie whispered in his ear, Jason comes into my office.
“All’s quiet, Sir. I’m about to retire.”
“Before you do, I need to pick your brain a bit.” I gesture to the seat in front of my desk and Jason takes a seat. “You were at the wedding. Ray’s best man, did you get a good look at him?” Jason frowns.
“About my age, ex-Marine?” he asks.
“How did you know that he was ex-Marines?”
“Besides the fact that he and Ray told me, he’s got Special Ops written all over him.” Jason says.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I can just spot those things. That’s what you pay me for. What’s this about?” I sigh.
“He’s got his sights set on Ana,” I say. “He has told me in no uncertain terms that he is waiting for me to trip and fall so that he can slide in and take my place. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m out of my comfort zone here. I don’t know how to protect myself from an attack from a Special Ops ex-Marine.” Jason frowns as me.
“What do you think he’s going to do?” he asks.
“I don’t know. Right now, he’s giving me the impression that he just watching and waiting, but he’s the person who led Ana to me as the one that was looking into her past. He told me at the party that my team left breadcrumbs that led him straight to me.” I run my hands through my hair.
“So… I would say that if he was going to do anything, he would do it through information,” Jason says. Shit, there’s a lot that you can do through information.
“Would you get with Barney and make sure that all of my firewalls and encryptions are secure—personal and professional? Ana’s too?” Jason nods.
“No problem, Sir. Any idea when you expect him to do something?”
“None whatsoever,” I lament.
“Why the extra electronic security precautions?” Her voice brings me out of my lament, but also puts me on alert. I look up and she is standing just inside my office with her hands on her hips… The no-nonsense stance.
“I’m preventing an electronic attack,” I say.
“My systems are not related or connected to yours, so why would you be concerned about my firewalls or encryptions?” Oh, boy. I guess I better come clean with this.
“I’m not feeling comfortable about Cholometes. Jason says he looks like Special Ops, most likely information systems. I know that he was the one that gave you the information concerning my background and my search for you. He looked me in the eyes last night and told me that Welch left breadcrumbs while investigating you and I know that Welch doesn’t leave breadcrumbs. He’s too careful. So this is someone who has the ability to dig in places that no one else has,” I say to Butterfly. Jason nods at me and leaves the study.
“Christian, I think you may be overreacting just a bit,” she cautions.
“How so?” I ask. “This man stood in my building at a party that I was hosting and boldly stated that he would willingly take one of the most important things to my heart away from me while I was looking if given the chance. I don’t know what tactics he may employ to strengthen his position. He threatened me to my face. I don’t think I’m overreacting at all.” Butterfly walks over to me and pushes her hand into my hair.
“You are if you think there’s anything that he can ever do to take me away from you,” she says softly. Oh, God, it’s so hard exercising patience with this woman. I want her to be mine forever, right now, but I know that timing is everything. I pull her down into my lap.
“I don’t want him to be able to do anything that could jeopardize what we have or our safety,” I tell her.
“He won’t, Christian. I’ve known Brian for a long time. I believe him as much as you do when he says that he will try to win me over if you screw up, make no mistake, but I truly think that’s as far as it goes. He’s watching you and waiting for his chance to come in and ‘save’ me… from you. As long as you don’t give him that chance, we’ll be fine, okay?” she says, looking into my eyes. I won’t argue with her that I think Cholometes’ hand reaches farther than she thinks it does and that I don’t trust him or his intentions when it comes to her, but I won’t argue about it right now.
“I will listen to what you say and I will heed your words, but I’m still going to keep my eye on him. I don’t trust him and I won’t let down as long as I know that he will take you away from me given the chance.” I tell her.
“Well, that’s a compromise. I can’t ask for more than that.” She kisses me gently on the cheek. That little gesture does something to me and I point at my cheek again. She kisses me gently in the same spot and smiles. “I need to talk to you.”
“Oh, this sounds like something that I don’t want to hear,” I sigh heavily.
“Well, I don’t know. I got a call from Carla today.”
“Carla?” The shock that registered on my face must have been monumental. “What the hell did she want? Did you actually talk to her?”
“No, I didn’t. It went to voice mail like it normally does. It appears that Stephen is dying.” I nod.
“Cirrhosis finally caught up with him?” I ask and she nods.
“It looks that way. He’s actually in a coma and they don’t expect him to wake up. He can’t get a transplant since he’s an alcoholic, so I’d say he’s pretty much a goner.” I look questioning at her.
“So, what now? Is there something you want me to do?” I ask.
“Be prepared to come with me to Green Valley once he’s dead.” I actually breathe a sigh of relief at those words. “What did you think I wanted?”
“I thought your big heart might have felt some sympathy for him and you were expecting me to do something to help him.” I admit.
“Yeah, view his body when he’s dead,” she replies flatly. “I think Carla had the same hope when she left the message.”
“Just curious… Why do you want to go to his funeral?”
“One of the many steps of closure that I need. I want to see his body, Christian. I am absolutely positive that things may have gone a lot differently if he had believed me over Whitshit’s money when I told him about the rape. If we had gotten the authorities involved—even if they didn’t believe me and I couldn’t press charges—I think things would be different.” She stood up and started to pace. “When Cody raped me, I just knew that he was accustomed to getting what he wanted. Nobody said ‘no’ to him, and if they did, Daddy just fixed it. I said ‘no,’ and I got raped, but I was sure that I wasn’t the only one. Even then, I was sure. Madison confirmed it for me…” My eyes get large.
“She told you? She knew?” I ask, horrified.
“I don’t think she knew at the time. I think she suspected, though. When I told her that her life was about to be over because of a rapist, she knew that I was telling the truth. I could see it in her eyes. I don’t know if I was the first or if I was the last or somewhere in the middle, but I wasn’t the only. If that bastard had listened to me, those who may have come before me may have spoken up once I went to the authorities. Those who may have come after me may not have suffered at his hand.”
“That’s a lot of ‘may have’s’ Baby,” I tell her. I have learned from all of my therapists that “what if’s” are a bad way to analyze things.
“You’re right, and I know this, but there’s one ‘may have’ that is not a ‘may have.’ I am certain that if my stepfather had believed me, stood by me, I wouldn’t have been beaten. Steps would have been taken so that he would have had to stay away from me. Ridicule I could have taken—I wouldn’t have cared, but I feel in my heart that Stephen’s lack of action only served to confirm for those bastards that I was lying which directly led to that beating. I feel like that asshole could have done something to save me and he didn’t. To top it all off, he took money to keep me quiet and a lot of it. So yes, I want to see his body. I want to make sure he’s dead. That will be part of my closure… and I want to turn this video over to the authorities.” Okay, now you’re speaking my language.
“Are you sure that you are ready for that?” I ask her. I don’t want her to slip into another catatonic state.
“I am more than ready, Christian. These bastards have gotten away with this long enough. The only reason why I’m not turning it in this very second is because I don’t want to have to travel to that God-forsaken place more than I have to.” I stand and take her hand.
“Just let me know when you’re ready go,” I tell her.
“As soon as I have funeral arrangements for that bastard, which I am sure won’t be too long,” she says. I grab her hand to stop her pacing. When she stops, I pull her back down into my lap and hold her there for a while. Life’s just too short to make bad decisions and hold on to grudges that can easily be buried.
“Maxine Saunders speaking. How can I help you?” I’m sitting in my office looking out of the window on a rainy Thursday afternoon when I finally decide to call Maxine. I don’t really know what to say to her right now, but I think this conversation is long overdue.
“Maxine, it’s Christian. Is this a bad time?” The line is silent for a moment.
“Um… no. No, not at all. Is Ana okay?” she asks, her voice laced with concern.
“Yes, she’s fine,” except I think she should see another therapist since she keeps shutting down and shrinking, but that’s a different conversation. “I’m a little out of my depth here, but I think we should talk about… our relationship or… whatever it is.” I’m not usually one to trip over my tongue, but I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. She sighs.
“Okay. Well, I know that you are hurt and upset and I recognize that, but I don’t know what else I can say. I’ve apologized profusely and I know that I was completely out of line in everything that I did that day, but I can’t say more than that. I don’t know what else to say, Christian. I want this to go away as much as you do, but I don’t know what else I can say to you.” I hear the sincerity in her voice and I’m trying to get past what I’m feeling.
“This is what I need you to understand,” I begin. “I don’t know how much Anastasia has told you about me, but I don’t trust easily. I had a really fucked-up life and a screwed-up childhood. I’m adopted, and I have the best parents that anyone could have hoped for, but I’ve encountered some real fucking nut-cases along the way. They did some real numbers on me before and after I became legal. I don’t have time or desire to review my chaotic life with you, but I will tell you that my experiences have made it difficult for me to trust people. I was basically a recluse when Ana and I met. All of my relationships fit into a specific pattern and I had no room or desire for outside friendships. People are too unpredictable and untrustworthy and I had no desire to have that in my life.”
“You know that’s not healthy, don’t you?” she says. Oh, no the fuck she didn’t…
“I’m not telling you this so that you can analyze me, Maxine. I’m telling you this so that you can understand our situation. I’ve been to every type of specialist known to man; I don’t need another one.” My voice is sharp when I make this point. Learn where to draw the line, Lady!
“I’m sorry, Christian. It’s the shrink in me. It’s what gets me into trouble. Please accept my apology,” she says.
“It’s good that you understand that, but you really need to stop apologizing and put a leash on that, Maxine. I’m certain that Ana would have never chosen between us if it had come to that, but you inability to separate the shrink from the woman is going to cause you a lot more problems than you think.” It’s surprising to me that she’s not a better shrink to Butterfly since she seems to be more shrink than woman half the time. I wonder how Phillip even deals with that.
“Getting back to my point, the only way for me to be able to get past what I’m feeling right now towards you is to tell you exactly what I’m feeling right now towards you. My question is, do you want to hear it?” I ask. The line is quiet again and I am certain that the wheels are turning. I can tell that Maxine is a “take no prisoners” type of person and she won’t take being berated, but she’s going to sit still for this one, or she can wash this relationship down the drain.
“I don’t know how to answer that, Christian,” she says, cautiously.
“Carefully,” I suggest. “Think of it this way. You came into my home and you made your feelings very clear without any consideration for mine. I’m trying to have consideration for yours right now.”
“Christian, I did not ignore your feelings…” she begins.
“No? You told me that you would make an enemy of me, Maxine. I’m pretty certain that you weren’t considering my feelings at that moment!” I’m getting angry because it seems like she’s still making excuses. I’m not going to try to make her listen to me. I’m only doing this because I was listening to Butterfly talk about burying old grudges.
“Yes,” she says softly, “yes, I did say that. Go ahead Christian, I’m ready to hear it.” She sounds defeated and I’m a little stunned! I don’t let that deter me, though.
“I let you in, Maxine. I don’t do that easily. When I let somebody in and they betray me, that’s huge. We may not have ever been the best of friends, but I take your relationship with my girl very seriously. For that reason, I let you in, and not only did you betray me, but you also threatened me. When you threaten me, demand that I make a decision or take a stance that you think I should take, that’s a fucking deal-breaker. I have ruined—and I mean ruined—people who have done things like that to me, people who were certain that they had the upper hand only to discover that you don’t fuck with Christian Grey. I can’t very well handle this situation that way, now can I?” I pause for a moment so that the statement can sink in.
“I am not hurt, Maxine. I am angry. In fact, I’m pissed. I’m pissed that you had the audacity to say the things you said and take the liberties that you took with me at all, much less in my own home. I am beyond livid that you felt like my feelings, concerns, and wishes had absolutely no impact whatever on what was going to happen to the woman that I love. Make no mistake—I can leave this conversation and never speak to you again and I wouldn’t bat an eye. It would be absolutely no sweat off my back, but you are important to Ana, and she’s important to me. She has advanced directives now, so you and I don’t ever have to be concerned about being in that particular situation again, but I plan on being with that woman for the rest of my life. That means that somewhere down the line, you and I are most likely not going to see eye-to-eye… again. You don’t have to agree with me, Maxine, but if you ever cross me again the way that you did while I helplessly stood by watching my girlfriend in a catatonic state, all bets are off and you will be the enemy. If you ever try to strong-arm or bully me again, I’m coming at you with both barrels and I don’t care who’s standing behind you.”
“Christian, I think that’s a little uncalled for,” she tries to scold me.
“Do you really? Because that’s how you made me feel. You made me feel like your word was law, no matter what I or Ray or anybody had to say. So you don’t think I should feel the need to protect myself against you now?”
No. Please. Let’s not do this,” she replies calmly. “I was way out of line, I know that I was. I didn’t know that it affected you this strongly.”
“I don’t see how you couldn’t know. You came back with a court order. It’s one thing to think that I hurt her… that I could hurt her. It’s something else entirely to get the law to come into my home and take her away from me, like she needed to be rescued. How could you not know?” Surely, she jests…
“Ugh!” she gasps in frustration. “This is so much bigger than I thought it was.”
“That’s because you only thought about how it affected you. I don’t know what blinded you, but Ray doesn’t have to see you nearly as much as I do, nor does he have any kind of acquaintance with you. So he doesn’t feel like I feel, but even he wouldn’t lose any sleep about not ever seeing you again after this situation. Do you understand at all how we are feeling? That’s his daughter, and you disparaged that relationship with that whole blood relative bullshit, but you basically made me feel like nobody—like nothing. Then you march out telling Gary to keep you posted like someone needed to keep an eye on me? Can you see why I might be just a tad bit perturbed?” I spit the last part at the phone.
“Yes,” she breathes into the phone. “Yes, I can.” She says nothing else. I don’t know if she’s crying or just tired of fighting, but she is completely silent now. I know that I couldn’t let this go without her knowing how she made me feel that day. This way, if she ever does this again, she will know that all bridges are burned with me and there is no turning back. I sigh heavily. I actually feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.
“I don’t want to have this conversation with you again, Maxine. I’ve told you how this made me feel, and I don’t like repeating myself. Most of all, I don’t want to repeat this situation. So, are we all clear on our feelings about this?” I ask. I have had my fill of this whole thing, quite frankly, and I am very ready for things to get back to normal.
“Quite clear. Does… Ana know we’re having this conversation?”
“No, she doesn’t, but you can feel free to tell her if you like.” I have nothing to hide and I meant every word that I said.
“No. I think… this is a conversation best left between the two of us.”
“As you wish,” I say noncommittal.
“I’ll talk to you soon?” she asks, her voice sounding hopeful.
“I’ll talk to you soon,” I confirm before ending the call.
Like I told you, everything I do has a purpose. Do you think Christian could have possibly had that conversation with Ana if she didn’t do something extremely shitty to him? Don’t expect her to wave the magic wand and she’s not shrinking or shutting down, but at least it has been thoroughly brought to her attention now. Also, I couldn’t take Christian through the proverbial wringer and not take Ana through it. There are some more hurdles to jump, but I am more than ready for bad-ass Ana to come back myself. We got a taste of her with Cody. I think I need to see her some more…
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Love and Handcuffs!