Mending Dr. Steele: Chapter 56—Fresh New Beginnings

I really appreciate that so many people related to Ana’s struggle with her relationship with Carla. It is often painful and difficult to let someone go from your life even though you may discover that they are toxic. I also want to thank those of you who shared your personal stories and struggles with me. I have had to release several people from my life. Some of them were very easy to get rid of. Others of them were very difficult and painful and I kept wanting to go back. It’s very, very hard sometimes.

I address the name of Ana’s fatherin the ending author’s note.

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 fanfic in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 56—Fresh New Beginnings

STEELE

My mother has attempted to call me a few times since our dinner on Saturday and I just ignore the calls. After a while, I started getting calls from an unknown number too. She’s persistent, I’ll give her that, but I have truly found the closure that I need. The things that she told me unfortunately made me realize that she was no longer worth my pain, thoughts, or time. I say “unfortunately” because there is a very small part of me that wished she could have said or done something to make me understand that she may have been going through a hard time—maybe even a time of self-discovery—but the painful truth is that she completely shut me out. I truly was nothing. To that aspect, Stephen was right. I was nobody, or at least that’s how they felt and they did everything in their power to try to make me believe it.

That was enough for me.

I’ll hold on to the wonderful memories of my mommy, but I won’t dwell in the past anymore. I’ll deal with my flight reflex and my tendency to shrink, but my mommy issues are being laid to rest.

I’m in the office just about to close up shop and head over to Helping Hands when my cell phone rings.

“Hello?”

“Ana… pleasehelp me…” It’s Mandy. She sounds awful.

“Mandy! Mandy, what’s wrong?” My heart is beating faster than I can think.

“I’m home… alone… I’ve fallen. I can’t find Ray…” Oh my God! “Ana, I’m having contractions. I’m scared!” She’s starting to cry. I run out of my office.

“Call 911! Get them to my father’s house. Amanda fell! She’s in labor! Hurry!” I scream to whomever can dial. “Mandy, I’m on my way. I’ll stay on the phone okay?”

“Ana… pleeeease!” She begs and I know that she is having another contraction.

“Mandy, please breathe with me, please.” Oh God, please don’t let anything happen to Mandy or my little brother or sister. Please, God, please. I’m in the parking lot and I don’t even know how I got there.

“I can’t find Ray! Where’s Ray?” She’s starting to get hysterical. Marilyn has sent the EMS to her house and I am fumbling with the keys to the car.

“I’m driving,” Chuck says, snatching the keys away from me.

“Oh, God, Ana! There’s blood! My baby!” She’s weeping on the phone.

“Please, Mandy. Please try to stay calm. I’m on my way! Please…” I’m crying now. I can’t help it. Please, God, please… I spend ten minutes on the phone during the longest ride of my life trying to calm Mandy down—well, maybe second longest… or third…

“Ana—the paramedics… they‘re at the door. I can’t get to it… Oh, Gooooooooodddd!” and there’s another contraction.

“Chuck! Call 911. Give them my dad’s address. Tell them that the paramedics are at the door and she can’t get to it. They need to break it down!” Chuck is on the phone in moments, something that he usually doesn’t do while driving, but this is an emergency.

“Ana,” Mandy says, her voice soft and weary, “I’m going to lose our baby.”

“No, Mandy, you’re not. You’re not going to lose the baby! The paramedics are right outside the door…”

“Tell them to break the goddamn door down! She’s lying on the floor bleeding for fuck’s sake!” Chuck yells into the phone. He scares the shit out of me until a few moments later, I hear all hell break loose over the phone. There’s commotion and something about hemorrhaging. Mandy’s going batshit screaming about her phone and I hear an unfamiliar voice on the other line. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

Yes that’s my stepmother she’s about to have my daddy’s baby where are you taking her please!?” I scream into the phone all in one breath.

“Valley! Valley, Ma’am! We’re taking her to Valley!” He yells back at me.

“Is she okay?” I cry.

“I don’t know yet. You want to get down there is quickly as possible. Is someone driving you?”

“Yes, we’re on our way now,” I try to calm myself. “I can’t find my daddy!”

“Keep trying, Sweetheart. Keep trying. We’re moving out. She’ll see you there, okay?” I nod until I realize that he can’t see me over the phone.

“Okay,” I say finally and end the call. I try Daddy’s cell phone again. It goes straight to voicemail. “Dammit, Daddy, where are you? Mandy’s in trouble!” I scream into the phone before hanging up. I can’t think of anything else to do, so I call Christian.

“Hey, Baby, what’s up?”

“Christian!” I weep into the phone.

“Butterfly! What’s wrong?” I hear utter panic in his voice.

“Mandy!” I weep. “She fell! She’s having the baby! Something’s wrong! I can’t find Daddy!”

“Okay, baby. Calm down. Where’s Amanda now?”

“Valley… Medical… the paramedics…” I can’t get my words out.

“Okay. I got it. Listen to me. You can’t let Amanda see you like this. You’re going to scare her to death and she needs you to be strong. Listen to me, Baby. Breathe for me. Breathe for me, Butterfly.” He starts to breathe on the phone and I concentrate on following him. In through my nose, out through my mouth… in through my nose, out through my mouth… in through my nose, out through my mouth… Okay, I’ve calmed just enough to stop screaming.

“We’re at Valley,” I say into the phone still crying.

“Amanda needs you, Butterfly. I need you to be my brave girl, okay? I promise I’ll find Ray.” I nod again.

“Okay.”

“Keep your phone with you. Keep me posted and I’ll keep you posted, okay?” he asks. I nod again.

“Okay.”

“Is Davenport with you?”

“Yes. He drove.”

“Good. You can do this, Butterfly. Go help Amanda.”

“Okay. Okay.” I say, trying to find the strength I need from those words.

“I love you. I’ll find Ray.”

“Okay.” I end the call and rush into the medical center to the front desk.

“My… my stepmom… Mandy… Amanda… Steele…” I can barely get the words out of my mouth. The nurse looks at me stunned for just a moment, then types into her computer. She does a double-take then looks up at me again.

“Birthing Center,” she says a little stunned. Yeah, yeah, yeah, my stepmom is having a baby.

“How do I get there?”

“Down this hall, turn left; all the way at the end of the hall is two double doors. That’s the Birthing Center.” I nod and take off in the direction that she pointed. I can only assume Chuck is behind me.

I burst through the double doors when I get there and now I’m floundering. I see a lovely large lounge and a smaller lounge for children, but no nurses’ station. I just start walking until I see a large counter in the middle of an open room.

“May I help you, Ma’am?” A nurse says to me.

“My… stepmom…” is all I can get out.

Anaaaaa!” I hear from somewhere down the hall. I instinctively turn around and yell “Mandy!”

Anaaa!” I hear again. The nurse stands and grabs my arm.

“Come with me,” she says, quickly guiding me down the hallway. Chuck is behind us and the nurse asks, “Who are you?”

“I won’t come into the room with her, but I need to know where she is,” he says. The nurse nods and rushes me down the hall to Mandy’s room. Good God, it huge! Mandy is lying in the bed, red-faced and strapped to several monitors—baby’s heartbeat, oxygen monitors, contractions…

“Where’s Ray?” she weeps.

“Christian’s finding him. Christian’s going to find him,” I tell her. She calms immediately.

“Where could he be?” she says. “What if he’s hurt? He can’t miss the birth of our baby.”

“He won’t miss it, Mandy. He wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I say smiling. The room is filled with the sounds of the monitors, but the most prevalent one that I hear is the super-fast beating of the baby’s heart. “Can you hear that?” I smile. “That’s amazing.” Mandy calms immediately and listens.

“Yes… it is… a little bundle of love from me and my husband.” I sit down next to her and take her hand.

“What happened?” I ask.

“I slipped on some water in the kitchen, but I fell right on my stomach. The bleeding started almost immediately, then the contractions. I’m so scared, Ana.”

“Don’t be. I’m going to be here for you, and Daddy is going to be here soon. The baby will be just fine,” I smile at her.

“Mrs. Steele?” Mandy and I both turn to see a doctor enter the room. “I’m Dr. Beydoun. I want you to relax while I tell you what’s going on, okay?”

“Okay,” Mandy tries to breathe while she’s holding my hand.

“Is this your partner?” the doctor asks Mandy. I glare at him. Mandy almost laughs.

“No, this is my stepdaughter,” she answers.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Young women that come together are often partners. Please forgive my error,” he apologizes profusely.

“No problem. Please tell us what’s going on,” I plead and he nods.

“So far, Mom and baby are fine. We do need to keep you here, though. Your blood pressure is concerning me. Also, although we’ve been able to control the bleeding a bit, it and the contractions are concerning me as well. We’ve given you something to stop them for now. You are three and a half weeks from your due date. The baby has not completely turned yet. As you can tell from the heartbeat, the baby is well. Development looks good. If the baby is born today, we would have to keep it in the NICU to be sure that it is developing everything properly. The baby isn’t currently under any distress, but you do have a slight case of placental abruption,” he tells us.

“What is that?” Mandy asks.

“It’s where the placenta has partially detached from the wall of the uterus. It’s not bad right now, but it could become worse. You know that the placenta provides the baby with the oxygen and nutrients that it needs to survive, so although we want to keep the baby in there as long as possible, it may be necessary to perform an emergency C-section if your condition becomes more severe. This is why we need to keep you here and monitor you. I don’t want you to worry. You are in the right place if such a thing happens. I want you to relax and stay calm. Our nurses will monitor your condition, and I want you to tell me if the baby is not as active as usual or if you feel any sharp pains. Right now, you’re doing fine.”

“Doctor, did I do this with the fall?” she asks.

“It’s very likely that the fall caused the placenta to separate. Again, I don’t want you to worry. You are in the right place. The abruption is not severe at this time, and the moment you or the baby experiences any distress, we will act quickly and perform the C-section. Is that okay with you?” he asks.

“Yes, please. Do whatever you have to do to save my baby,” Mandy begs. Dr. Beydoun smiles.

“I wouldn’t worry, Mrs. Steele. You and the baby are going to be fine.” He nods and leaves the room… and I take the first real breath I’ve been able to take all day.

Mandy and I talk about her shower which is scheduled for the 24th but may have to be rescheduled since she might have to stay in the hospital until the baby’s birth. Chuck brings us lunch and we eat heartily, after which we both fall into a drained-adrenaline nap.

I awake to see Daddy kissing Mandy on the forehead and brushing her hair off her face. “Where have you been?” I scold, my voice a cross between an angry mother and a petulant child. “We called and called and your phone kept going to voicemail.” Daddy and Mandy look over at me. Daddy is a little surprised. “Well?” I ask, waiting for my answer.

“My… battery died. I forgot to charge it last night,” he defends.

“You don’t have a charger in your car?” I continue. Daddy has gone from surprise to shock now.

“I… yes, I do. That’s how I got your message. I plugged in my charger and the phone lit up. I’m sorry, Sunflower…”

“Don’t you ‘Sunflower’ me!” I chastise him. “Your wife had some trauma today! She could have had your baby without you! The paramedics had to break the door down. You need to be more responsible, Ray Steele!” Daddy is now stunned.

“I… know. Christian had one of his guys go over there until Elliot got there to fix the door.” He turns back to Mandy. “I’m really sorry, Baby. I won’t let this happen again, I swear.” I huff and fold my arms. I want to scold him some more, get him to understand how serious this is, but Mandy is so glad to see him and that’s what matters. I’m still angry, though.

“You cursed on my voicemail,” he says, trying to get his “father” role back. I jerk my head over to him.

“And?” I snap. I was scared to death that Mandy was going to lose her baby on the kitchen floor. I don’t give a damn about cursing on Daddy’s voicemail! He smirks a bit.

“I’m not going to win this, am I?” he surrenders.

“No!” I snap. I sound like I’m having a preschool temper tantrum. Daddy shakes his head, leaves Mandy’s side and comes over to me.

“I am so, so sorry that I wasn’t there. I hate that you had to go through this and I will make sure that this never happens again.” He kneels down and takes my hands. “But thank you so much for being there for my wife. It means the world to me, Annie, really.” I want to scold him some more, but I can’t. My heart is heavy.

“You won’t do this again, Daddy?” I say, tears rolling down my face.

“I won’t do it again, Sunflower,” he promises.

“You’re going to have a little baby soon. She has to be able to get in touch with you! What if the baby is sick?” I’m weeping again. I realize that my adrenaline is rising again and I can’t stop these tears.

“I know, Annie. I messed up. I was careless and I won’t do it again,” he says, duly chastised.

“O.. kay,” I say in stuttering breaths before breaking down completely. Daddy wraps his arms around me while I close my eyes and cry. Moments later, I feel someone take his place and I know well who it is… my Christian. I weep uncontrollably in his arms. I really thought Mandy was losing the baby. I didn’t know how I could possibly tell Daddy or what I could do to comfort Mandy. Mostly, I was feeling the ache of losing a brother or sister that I never got the chance to meet. I just cry and cry and cry until I can’t cry anymore.

*-*

I open my eyes and I am sitting in Christian’s lap. We are asleep in one of the large chairs in the birthing suite. Daddy has taken off his shoes and he is lying in bed with Mandy, spooning her and protectively cradling her stomach while they sleep. I take stock of where I am. It’s a beautiful room, but something is different. What is it?

The sound.

One of the monitors… differentwhich one?

The heartbeat. The heartbeat! It’s slower!

Okay, don’t panic, Steele. Move quickly. I gently try to get off Christian’s lap, but he holds me close.

“Christian, I’ve got to go!” I whisper. He stirs sleepily.

“Go where?” he says groggily, louder than I want. I shush him harshly.

“Don’t wake them! I don’t want to startle them. I have to get a doctor. The baby’s heartbeat is slower.” His eyes widen.

“Are you sure?” he questions. I almost lose my temper.

“Do you really want to debate this right now?” I hiss quietly. He holds his hands up in surrender.

“No. No. Go find a doctor.” I rise from his lap and leave the room in my stocking feet, running down the hallway.

“Is Dr. Beydoun here?” I ask the nurse at the station.

“No, he’s gone home.”

“I need you to get the OB on call. Mrs. Steele… the baby’s heartbeat is slowing.”

“Are you sure?” she asks. Why is everybody asking me that? I’ve been listening to it all afternoon!

“Do you want to take any chances?” I nearly yell. She is out of her seat in moments.

“Paging OB checker to the Birthing Center please. OB checker to the Birthing Center.” She hangs up the phone and runs around the nursing station and down the hall with me back to Mandy’s room. When we enter, the baby’s heartbeat sounds even slower. I’m not imagining it. The baby’s in distress.

“Mandy? Daddy?” I walk to the other side of the bed while the nurse checks the monitors. She flips a switch next to Mandy’s bed and I can see a light go on outside of her door.

Hmmm?” Daddy stirs first. Mandy is still sleeping.

“Daddy? Wake her, please.” I say, trying to stay calm. “The baby’s heartbeat is slowing down.” All of the color leaves Daddy’s face.

“Butterfly, you don’t know that for sure yet…” Christian cautions.

“I do know for sure!” I snap, losing patience with my fiancé. “I’ve been listening to it all afternoon! The baby’s heartbeat is slowing down!”

“What!?” Mandy nearly sits up straight when I make the announcement. Nice going, Steele.

“I’m afraid she’s right,” the nurse says. “The baby’s heartbeat is slowing.”

“No! No!” Mandy cries. “Please, God, no!” Ray tries to comfort her.

“Mrs. Steele, don’t panic. The doctor will be here momentarily and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that you and that beautiful baby come out just fine, okay?” Her voice is calming, but Mandy is nearly hysterical. “It is very important for the baby that you don’t let your blood pressure get too high, so I need you to breathe with me.” She is right in Mandy’s face, holding her hands and breathing. “Mr. Steele, please help me,” she instructs Daddy. Daddy is behind Mandy, cradling her in his arms and saying comforting words in her ear. She calms right down in Daddy’s arms.

Seconds later, a young doctor bursts into the room. “What do we have?”

The nurse is reading all kinds of stats to him and I have no idea what she’s talking about. He thumbs quickly through her chart and instructs the nurse to get an OR prepped.

OR? Operating Room? Oh, God…

“Mrs. Steele, I’m Dr. Ramsey. It appears that the baby is not getting enough oxygen and with the situation with your placenta, we don’t want to take any chances. Waiting could be critical for you and the baby. We need to perform an emergency cesarean. I don’t want you to worry. This is more of a safety precaution than anything. Your baby is very healthy and has very good odds, but we need to move quickly. Do you understand?” Mandy nods.

“Yes. Please. Anything… just save my baby, please,” she begs.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Steele,” Dr. Ramsey assures as more nurses come into the room. “You’ll be fine.” Daddy gets out of the bed as the nurses start to unhook certain monitors and prepare Mandy to move. Daddy is getting paler and paler by the second and Mandy can’t stop crying. A few moments later, they are moving her out of the room. A nurse comes over to Christian and smiles widely.

“Mr. Steele, if you’ll follow me, we need to get you prepped for the operating room,” she says a little too sweetly to the man who she thinks may be the expectant father. Christian takes my hand and pulls me to his side.

“No,” he says, pointing to Daddy. “That’s Mr. Steele.” Nurse Syrupy Sweet looks from Christian to Daddy and back to Christian before turning back to Daddy. “Mr. Steele, if you’ll follow me…” Daddy is too stunned to move.

“Annie?” His voice is frail and broken.

“Daddy?”

“Annie… I…” He looks like he’s about to pass out.

“Daddy… she needs you. Don’t let her go through this alone. Please, your wife needs you. Go, Daddy… please.” He’s stunned for a few more seconds, then he screws his courage and nods.

“I’m going to be a father… again,” he says with a weak smile.

“Yes. Go, Daddy… now.” I press him. He nods and allows the nurse to lead him out of the room. I nearly fall back into Christian’s arms. My adrenaline is spent again and I close my eyes.

We wait…

And wait…

And wait…

Finally, an exhausted Ray Steele comes back into the room after I don’t know how long in pale gray scrubs. He just stares at us and I am unable to speak… or breathe… or think…

“I… It’s a boy,” he breathes. I gasp out an involuntary sob. I’ve got a little brother, a little Ray Steele or whatever they are going to call him. “Six pounds, two ounces, 19 inches and healthy as a horse,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Amanda?” Christian asks what I was thinking.

“She… had a little complication, lost a little more blood than she should have, but she’s… fine.” He finally chokes and nearly collapses. I‘m across the room faster than my feet have ever carried me. I’m holding my daddy in my arms as we slide to the floor. I caress his hair as he cries in my arms, huge sobs of fear and relief. The last time I remember my Daddy crying, my mother was taking me away to Nevada. I hold him close to me and kiss his hair, giving him the comfort that I couldn’t give him then.

“You did great, Daddy!” I say, softly. “Really great!”

A few hours later, I am in a sterile gown in the NICU looking at my baby brother in an incubator. He’s a bit fussy, kicking his little feet and sucking on a pacifier. He’s wide awake, eyes open and looking around to see what he can see. He’s not connected to any tubes like the other babies in the room—poor little darlings. They just want to make sure he’s okay before they set him loose on the world.

He’s gorgeous. He looks just like my Dad. I can see black locks peeking out of his blue cap. Our eyes meet briefly and I’m sure that he can’t really see me yet, but I love him already. I’ve got a little brother and my heart is full.

“He looks strong,” Christian says from behind me, “strong and healthy.”

“He is,” I say, smiling at my brother. “He’s a Steele.”


GREY

It was a trying week, but we all seem to have weathered it okay. Harrison Raymond Steele made his debut on May 22, 2013 at 1:19am. Butterfly was shocked at their choice of name, reminding Ray that the baby will be nicknamed Harry—Butterfly’s biological father’s name.

“I know,” Ray had said. “Mandy loves the name and… well, the guy gave me the best gift that a man could give to another man before he left this earthly realm. I think he deserves a bit of recognition.” Butterfly went all to pieces when she heard that. I know she was worried about being shoved aside once little Harry was born, but Ray has done everything possible to prove to her that she is just as important now as she has always been. I have to hand it to the guy. As fathers go, he’s a real class act… second in my eyes only to Carrick, that is.

It’s Friday night and time for the final tux fittings and poker night at the condo. Amanda will be in the hospital for another day or so and has demanded that Ray come to poker night and give her some space to breathe. Butterfly has flown the coup with her group of friends, minus Allen and James that is, who will be at the fitting at Escala with me. Gail has decided to retire with a good book and I had some snacks and food delivered for the poker party. Ethan has joined us for the final fitting, having missed the first fitting, so his tux was made with measurements that he sent to my tailor. Any additional alterations needed will be a bit of a rush job which doesn’t make me happy. John will have a private fitting tomorrow at his house as he had some function to attend this evening.

“So, Bro, have you guys thought about the bachelor party?” Elliot asks while we are trying on the tuxes. I shrug.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I say. “The last bachelor party that I attended, I was pretty much the chaperone. I have no idea how to be the guest of honor.” I finish tying my tie in a Windsor knot before Dad helps me on with my vest.

“Leave it to me, Bro. We’ll have a great time.” Oh shit.

“I’m not trying to get laid, Elliot… and absolutely no strippers,” I warn him.

“Hey, I’m not trying to get laid either, and from what I know, everybody in the groom’s party is spoken for, so we’ll have to find some different entertainment.” He raises an eyebrow. I have a feeling I’m still not going to like what he may have planned. “Okay, so what do you want to do?” he asks.

“Look, I hate to be the party pooper,” I say, examining my finished tux and fit in one of the full-length mirrors set up in the great room, “but I’ll be fine having a regular men’s day. You know, hiking, fishing, practicing my shooting…”

“Shooting?” Carrick asks, and I know he’s appalled.

“Yes, Dad. I have a gun, now… and I’m licensed. What Elena did scared me, and I don’t want to be unprotected ever again,” I confessed.

“But what about all the security staff, Son?” Dad asks. I know he wants to tell me to forget about a gun and let the professionals handle it, but that’s not going to happen.

“Yes, more people to take a bullet for me because I’m not capable of protecting myself. Yes, I’ll keep my security, but I won’t be caught unprepared next time.” I move closer to my father and confess something to him that I haven’t confessed to anyone. “I don’t feel safe anymore, Dad. That woman got past some of the best security measures in the country simply by dressing up as a construction worker. True, I had other measures in place that eventually saved my life and nearly cost my best friend his. Nothing is guaranteed. I thought I knew that already, but now I’m sure.” My chest burns a bit at the thought of being able to lose Butterfly at a moment’s notice, even though that wasn’t what I was referring to. I don’t know what my face said, but Dad smiles at me.

“I know,” he says, taking a sip of his scotch. “I feel the same way about your mother.” I shake my head infinitesimally and pat his shoulder.

“Please don’t worry, Dad. I’ve taken classes with an excellent teacher and I’m learning more about it every day. He says that I’m one of the best students he’s ever had, and that says a lot.” Carrick’s lips form a straight line.

“Okay, Son. I trust you. Just… please, be careful. When your mother and I heard about the shooting at your office…” His words trail off and his glassy eyes tell me everything he could not say.

“I’ll be careful, Dad. I promise.” That seems to be enough for him as he bottoms out his scotch.

“Okay,” Elliot pipes in, trying to break the tension in the room. “Back to the bachelor party. Hiking, fishing, shooting… Jason, any ideas?” Jason shrugs.

“Any outdoor sport sounds great to me,” he says. His arm is getting stronger and stronger with his therapy and we estimate that he will be back on duty the first full week of June—not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned. We still have him traveling with me and the team on restriction, just observing so that he doesn’t get rusty. However, he cant do anything else until the doctor and physical therapist release him. Gail is understandably nervous about him going back to work, but she won’t stop him from doing what he loves.

“What about paintball?” I hear Ethan say and we turn to look at him. “It was just a suggestion.”

“No, I actually like that idea,” I tell him. “I think it would be fun, as long as we don’t show up at the rehearsal dinner looking like Technicolor clowns,” I say. Ethan laughs.

“No, the stuff washes out. Plus, you can go plain clothes or gear up,” he clarifies.

“Hmm, run around like a bunch of hyper, sugar-infused kids with paint ball guns,” Jason says. “It actually sounds like fun.”

“Can we rent the place out?” I ask. Ethan nods.

“Yep, for a few hours or all day.”

Ooo, just a few hours,” James pipes in. “I can’t see getting pelted with those things all day.” We’re all suited now and admiring ourselves in the mirrors. We’re all wearing the same tailored midnight black two-button tuxedo with slitted pockets and the boutonnière buttonhole. My jacket is a bit longer than the groomsmen and I opted to forgo the satin lapels while requiring them on the groomsmen’s tuxes. We are all wearing the same silver-gray vest and tie with woven vertical stripes with standard white dress shirts. Allen has the same vest and tie ensemble in royal blue.

“We get to keep the suits, right?” Ethan asks while watching us admire ourselves.

“What? Do you think I want them back?” I ask almost sarcastically… almost.

“I’m just saying. Mia’s going to go all thermal and sweaty when she sees me in that,” he says.

“Hey!” Elliot yelps from the other side of the room. “That’s my sister, Man!”

“Yeah, TMI, Dude. Stick to paint ball,” I say with a frown. He puts his hands up in surrender.

“Sorry,” he says chastised.

“Oh, lighten up,” Dad says, coming over to me and straightening my tie. “It really is a very nice suit, Christian.”

“Yeah, but you don’t hear me saying things about Ana. Her father is standing there.” I gesture to Ray.

“For which I sincerely thank you,” Ray says, raising his glass of beer to me. I nod in acknowledgement. “My Annie’s a grown woman, but I don’t need a visual of what you two get up to.”

“Nonetheless, it’s all in fun,” Dad chastises. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ll talk about me and your mother.” I am horrified.

“No! Dad! Damn! That’s worse! For fuck’s sake!” I cringe. Elliot is declaring similar protests while removing his suit jacket.

“Okay. Then let off of Ethan. He clearly loves your sister and both of you know what people in love do.”

“Yeah, but like Ray says, we don’t need a visual,” Elliot says.

“So let’s see,” Allen pipes in as the attorney in the room. “As long as Ray is not around, you two call talk shop about Jewel and Val, but if we’re all together having a drink and shooting the shit, Ethan can’t talk about Mia. You know that puts a damper on the mood, right?” I shake my head.

“Look, double-standard or not, that’s my sister. If I hear him talking about sex with my baby sister, it’s going to dry up the conversation really quickly.” I turn to Ethan. “Think about William doing doggie-style with your mom.” Ethan cringes and shivers violently.

“Point taken! Point taken!” he says quickly, eliciting a chuckle from the other men in the room. “No ‘sexual Mia’ talk when we’re together, but that goes for everybody. It’s not fair that you guys get to talk about hiding the sausage and I don’t!” I wave my hands this time.

“Point taken!” I say, getting the visual once more. I think he did that on purpose.

Poker Night actually turned out to be a great idea. Ethan, Elliot, and I were all able to bond a little more, which was much needed after the whole paternity issue. We decide on early morning fishing, midday hiking, and afternoon paintball before the rehearsal dinner, and the standard bar hopping afterwards, just to see how many places we can go before someone recognizes me. We all agree that once the paparazzi show up, the night is over and everyone—except me—will most likely try to go play “hide the sausage.” If I know Butterfly, they will all strike out as she will have the women on lockdown at the castle. It’s a pretty tame night as far as bachelor parties go, but Elliot hit the nail on the head. We are all in committed relationships with no wish to jeopardize them. So it’s no use in doing anything foolish besides throwing back a few too many drinks.

As it turns out, Dad is tonight’s big winner. Luckily, we weren’t playing high stakes and no one lost more than a few hundred on the game, except Elliot, who didn’t know when to quit and dropped about a thousand. Idiot.

Ray and my dad have always gotten along so they bonded a little more tonight as well, deciding to forego the bachelor party celebration and let the “young people” have fun. Young people. Sure, guys. Elliot, Ethan, and I are all in our thirties, but I guess that can be considered young to them. Allen and James are both in their twenties, but I still don’t necessarily consider them young people. I would reserve that term for teenagers. Nonetheless, we’ll let the old fogies do whatever old fogies do the night before the wedding while we get up to our debauchery.

The night has begun to wind down and no one is really in a hurry to go anywhere, except maybe Ray. He’s not scratching at the door or anything, but he does seem a bit anxious. He and my father talked for quite some time while Elliot helped me get rid of some of the evidence of our drinking and merry-making before Butterfly gets home. Jason and James seem to get along well enough. James is a bit of a chameleon. If he likes you, he can fall into any conversation with you. If he’s standoffish, he wants nothing to do with you. He was always standoffish with the Scooby Gang, interacting only with Allen and Butterfly. I should have taken the hint.

I take this moment to steal away to the balcony with my beer. I’m not leaving the apartment tonight, so I have had one or two too many this weekend. I think I may have to go dry with Elliot for a while. Every weekend can’t find me a couple of sheets to the wind.

Sitting in one of the lounge chairs, I think about the many conversations Butterfly and I have had about how we picture our future. She wants a house near the water. I have been looking for one ever since she said that. We both have luxury apartments that overlook Elliot Bay, but I think she wants something much more than that. Should I buy a plot of land and have a house built to her specifications? Or should I try to find something like what she has described so many times… sunken family room, two-story living room, Cantina wall that opens onto the back balcony and Lake Washington? This means that I should look for some place in Bellevue or Kirkland. Maybe Mercer Island or Medina with the Gates’.

I don’t know how Butterfly would feel living so close to my parents. I think Kirkland would be too far away from Ray, now that he has moved closer to Seattle. Mercer Island and Medina would put us closer to my parents than Escala without us having to move to Bellevue if she chose not to, and we would still be close enough to Kent… and Ray and Amanda. I think I’ll start scoping properties in Medina and Mercer Island. Of course, I’ll talk to Butterfly and see how she feels about it, but who wouldn’t want to be neighbors with the Gates’?

“Christian, you got a minute?” I’m roused from my thoughts by Ray’s voice. He looks a little frazzled. I gesture to the seat next to me.

“Sure. Have a seat. Is everything okay?” Ray and I have also gotten pretty close in the last couple of months. We bonded over shooting and it doesn’t hurt that I’m in love with his daughter. He takes a swallow of his beer.

“I’m a father again,” he says, his voice uncertain. “I’m scared shitless. I haven’t held a baby since Annie.”

“And look how good she turned out,” I tell him.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t there for her teenage years… not all of them anyway. Annie is the woman that she is not because of me.” I sit up straight.

“I beg to differ with you on that one, Ray, and I would venture to say that Ana would disagree with you too. You may not have been there for most of those last horrible years, but her strength of character, her sense of right and wrong, her giving spirit and kind heart—she got all of that from you. It’s what got her through her hardest time when she was living with her wretch of a mother and her even more wretched stepfather. She lived with you for most of her childhood years, the formidable ones. She loves you more than anyone else in the world…”

“I don’t think so, Son,” he interrupts me. “She has you now, and the stars in her eyes when you are around… I have never seen those before in her.” Well, that makes me feel good, but I have no doubt that Butterfly loves me, so he’s only confirming what I already know.

“That’s a different kind of love, Ray,” I correct him. “They can’t be compared. No one will ever take your place in her life—ever. The sun rises and sets with you and all she has ever wanted since she was a child was to see you happy.” He looks at me.

“She told you that?” he asks. Now I’m at a crossroads. I don’t want to betray Butterfly’s confidence, but Ray is floundering and needs something to bring him back to solid ground. I’m sure she won’t mind me throwing him a life-preserver.

“Getting back to you is what pushed her to finish high school early. She wanted to leave Vegas and get back to Washington. When she got here, she was still a minor and afraid that any trails that led to you would bring Carla and Stephen to take her back. That’s why she hid in the homeless shelter until she became legal. She didn’t want to relive having them drag her back to Nevada. She wanted to be here with you even though she couldn’t tell you right away.” His eyes grow large and I can tell that this was something that he didn’t know.

“I wish she had told me,” he says, his voice cracking. “I hated it when I found out that she was living in that place. I would have hidden her until she turned 18, anything to keep her away from that witch.”

“You had to know that she couldn’t take the chance,” I tell him. “Look at what she had already been through. She couldn’t risk the slightest possibility that Carla would take her back to Nevada.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “It ripped her apart, Ray, but she knew by being here in Vancouver or Tacoma, she would still be closer to Montesano… and you. She knew that sooner or later, the day would come where she would be able to see her daddy again without having to worry about being taken away.” The tears fall freely from his eyes now.

“I never got over that, you know,” he says, trying to dash away the tears. “She suffered so much.” He gets up from the lounge chair and begins to pace the balcony. “I couldn’t save her… from any of it. I was helpless and useless while my Annie was suffering. That wicked, wicked woman. How could she watch that? How could any human being watch that horror take place with another person, much less your own flesh and blood? Your own child?” He’s weeping now and I don’t dare interrupt him.

“When I got to her hospital room, I was devastated. Not only because my Sunflower was hurt, but because the room was bare… absolutely bare. There were no flowers, no balloons, no get-well cards, nothing!” he says through gritted teeth. “I learned from the doctor that no one came to see her, not even her mother. I made up my mind right then and there that I was taking Annie home. I was not leaving that hospital without her. I didn’t even ask her mother. I didn’t need to. I showed them my driver’s license. My name is Steele. Her name is Steele. When it was time to go home, they released her to me. I knew my beat-up pickup wouldn’t make the trip. It was fine to rumble around Montesano, but not to make a road trip through the mountains to Vegas. So I had rented one of those luxury SUV’s–a Chevy Trailblazer I think it was. It was a luxury SUV to me anyway. I got Annie comfortable and we enjoyed the scenery while we drove back home.”

“She told me… about how they made her call you ‘Ray.'” He flinches at the sound of it. I think Butterfly calling him by that name is actually painful.

“Carla wanted to see me hurt. I don’t know why. I’d never done anything cruel or unkind to her. I loved her. I only wanted her to be happy, but something… changed. I don’t know. She became restless and dissatisfied. The fact that I didn’t have a lot of money and wasn’t concerned with what people thought angered her. So she wanted to hurt me, and she did. She ripped my Sunflower right out of my arms, literally. The first time she did it, I fell into a deep depression. I had lost my love and my daughter. I wanted to die. Sunflower called a few days after they left and her voice pulled me out of it. Then… she called me ‘Ray.’ My heart broke all back over again. I swear I think I would have eaten my gun had she not called me back, Christian. Please don’t ever tell her that.” He drops his head in shame.

“I won’t. You have my word,” I assure him and he nods.

“I was sure that I had lost everything, that I really had nothing else left to live for. Then, she called back and told me that Carla and that walking Moonshine still made her call me ‘Ray.’ I realized that my death would only make Carla happy, especially if I died at my own hand. I did my best to pull myself together, but it wasn’t easy. I lived for Annie’s phone calls, and she called me whenever she got the chance. When weeks went by and I didn’t hear from her, I knew that something was wrong.” I frown.

“Nobody even told you?” I ask, appalled. He shakes his head.

“Not at first. I was nobody, remember? I was just the stepfather who gave her my name.” I shake my head as he continues. “I got in that Trailblazer and drove all night until I got to Morton’s pretentious house. I didn’t even care. I just wanted to see my little girl. Carla came to the door, of course. Then she slammed it right in my face, so I made a scene right there on her front stoop. I screamed and pranced about and banged on that door and let her know that if she didn’t tell me where my daughter was that I would tear Vegas apart until I found her.”

“How did you know where to find them?” I ask.

“Annie sent me letters and cards. I just put the return address in the GPS and went right to them.” He scratches his head. “When the neighbors started coming outside, she opened the door and told me that Annie was at University Medical Center. The hospital was 17 miles away. I couldn’t figure out why they took her to a hospital that was 17 miles away. Anyway, as it turns out, Mrs. Morton was more concerned with getting the ranting lunatic off of her lawn than she was with keeping me from Annie. I swear she is the most selfish woman that I have ever met.” Should I tell him that Butterfly has gotten revenge on her mother without even trying?

“Ana told you that she’s dealing with her past, hasn’t she?” He wiped his tears away as he nods.

“Yeah, she told me. I was more caught up in the birth of my son than what had happened with Carla’s visit to Seattle.”

“I’ll tell you this because I think you need it right now.” I turn to face him as he takes a seat again. “She has told me to help her to never call you ‘Ray’ again.” His eyes grow large again and I think they actually light up. This is truly happy news for him. He sits up a little straighter at that announcement. “Also, Carla came to the apartment before she left Seattle. She came to tearfully beg Ana to forgive her and not to shut her out. You would have been so proud, Ray.” I hear the pride in my voice as I tell the story.

“What did she do?” he asks in anticipation.

“Carla was desperate… truly desperate. Ana had given her $100,000 and told her to go away and never come back. She had put all the anger and hatred to rest and come home and cried her eyes out. Once she had her cry, she was done. She had let everything go. When Carla showed up, Ana called her ‘Mom’ and talked very calmly and softly to her, telling her to leave as there was no place for her in Ana’s life anymore.” Ray’s mouth falls open as I tell him how Butterfly handled her mother. “Carla begged her for forgiveness. She tried to give her back the money and pleaded with Ana not to shut her out.”

“She finally realized what she lost,” Ray says softly and I nod.

“Yes, but it was too late. I have a feeling that if she had showed up the night before, she might have had a chance. I went to her the night before. She was too busy wallowing in her own selfishness, but the Carla that I saw the next day was broken. She was drowning and flailing, begging and praying for help, and Butterfly watched her sink. It was delicate and brutal at the same time. When Carla left that apartment, she wasn’t even a fraction of the woman I had seen the night before. Butterfly brought her to her knees, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was still in mourning right now.” Ray nods as he considers the information I just gave him.

“You will forgive me if I take a moment of joy at this woman’s predicament,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Of course I will. I’ll even join you in that moment of joy.” We sit quietly for a moment before I say. “You’ll be a great father, Ray. You did an outstanding job with Butterfly. Now you have a son!”

“I don’t know, Christian. There’s going to be so many years between us. I’m never going to be able to relate to him. People are going to think I’m the kid’s grandfather if they think I’m his father at all. Look at my beautiful, young wife.”

“What do you really care what people think? That kid is going to love you because you are his father and a good man. What else matters?” Ray nods, unconvinced. “Anyway, I’ll be around to teach him all the things that little boys shouldn’t do, like catcalls, spitting, and looking at girls’ boobs.” This elicits a laugh from Ray.

“I’m glad Annie found you,” he says with a smile.

“It… was more like fate that brought us together,” I tell him. “Did she ever tell you that story?” Ray shakes his head. “I punched out a drunk driver that wrecked my sports car in front of a cop. The judge gave me community service and group counseling sessions. She was the facilitator.” Ray’s eyes get big.

“That was you?” he asks, pointing at me. Now I want to know what Butterfly said.

“Uh…” I’m at a loss for words. Ray starts laughing heartily. That breaks my tension a bit and inwardly, I breathe a huge sign of relief.

“I remember that. She had Brian look you up… well, not specifically you, but it turned out to be you.” Ugh! Brian.

“Uh, yeah,” is all I can really say.

“I think her words were ‘macho,’ ‘conceited,’ and ‘testosterone-driven.’ She said you gave her nightmares.” He’s still laughing while I fidget nervously.

“She said that, huh? Yeah, that was the nice, watered-down version,” I confess. “Anyway, without rehashing that, it was fate.” I nervously toy with my hands while Ray’s laughter dies.

“I loved her, you know,” he says without raising his head. “Carla? I loved her. She was a real looker in her day. She was gorgeous…”

“Like Ana,” I interject. Ray frowns.

“I guess,” he says after he ponders the thought. “Yeah, Annie looks just like Carla did back then, but you never look at your daughter that way. I mean, Annie is… Annie, but Carla, I desired her.” Desiring Carla—I can’t even imagine it except for the fact that she looked like Butterfly once upon a time. “Harry was my friend, you know.” My neck snaps over to him. Okay, now he’s got my attention.

“He was?” I ask, shocked. Ray nods.

“We were very close, in fact. Carla never knew; neither did Annie. I mean Carla knew of me, but she didn’t know how close we were. We met when she came to visit him once. I’ll never forget it. She was wearing a green sundress and she had these big curls in her hair. She took my breath away. I loved Carla the moment I laid eyes on her.” That sounds familiar. “She was beautiful and bubbly… she stole my heart from ‘hello.’ I had known Harry for years, but I met Carla right before they got married. A few months later, he moved into military housing and he brought her on the base to live with him. The whole thing reminded me of that Springfield song.” He drinks more of his beer. “Harry knew how I felt about her. I just tried to stay away as much as possible without it being awkward.”

“He wasn’t angry?” I ask. Ray shakes his head.

“He felt sorry for me. He told me that he understood how any man could fall in love with her and we didn’t speak about it anymore. He was my friend.”

“But you and Carla ended up together. Was she cheating on him?” Ray shakes his head again.

“That didn’t happen until later. You never sleep with another man’s wife, much less another Marine. That just didn’t happen in my day. I mean, I’m sure that it did, but not among honorable men. We just didn’t do that. It was different from how it is today. Take you and Annie, for example. I’ve seen the way that Brian looks at Annie. I know exactly what’s going on, but when a man stakes a claim, another man should have the decency to step back and see where that’s going to go before he starts to piss all over it.” I adjust my collar a bit. Should I tell him that I crashed Butterfly’s date with David and sent over a bottle of wine? I mean, she was breaking up with him—or at least letting him down easy—but I didn’t know that when I sent the wine. No, I think I’ll just leave that out.

“How long did you know about Brian’s feelings for Ana?” I ask him.

“I wasn’t really sure, but the wedding removed all my doubts. You guys did all this cock-strutting waving your feathers around seeing who will end up with the girl. In my time, if a woman was spoken for, you didn’t mess with her.” I nod.

“You saw that, huh?” I say, nervously.

“Everybody saw that,” he says, as if it was so obvious to me. At that moment, I remember Elliot telling me not to “mount” Butterfly on the bar. “Your ‘no-so-subtle’ exchange of words, the way you both took shots at each other’s resources and your final blow of ‘I got the girl…'” He uses the finger quotes with “I got the girl.” “I don’t know what ever came of it and it’s pretty clear that you won the duel, but you two were clearly throwing down gauntlets that night. I would never have done that to Harry, but…”

The pause is what Al would call “pregnant,” very pregnant.

“I still wanted her. I wanted her so much that even seeing Harry reminded me of her, because he got to go home to her every night. I didn’t have a girlfriend from the moment she moved to the base, and then…” He sighs heavily. “I was there the day Harry had his accident.”

“Oh, shit, you were?” I listen attentively.

“Yes,” he nods. “It was right after Annie was born. I saw him when he went down. It was a training bombing exercise and he took the brunt of it. He didn’t have a chance.” His voice is cracking. “I got to him just before the medics got there. ‘Don’t die on me, Lambert! Don’t you dare fucking die!’” His eyes glaze over like he’s right there watching his friend die again. “I could see that he was slipping away and I begged him to hold on. ‘Please, Harry, please hold on. Don’t leave them alone.’ ‘They’re yours now, Steele,’ he said. ‘Promise me you’ll take care of them.’ ‘Not if it means you’ll let go if I do.’ ‘I will. I’m fading fast, Ray. Please, take care of my girls. Please. I can’t do it anymore.’ ‘I will, Harry. I’ll take care of them. I promise.’ And then he was gone.” The tears flow freely down his cheek.

“He didn’t even make it to the infirmary. I play that conversation in my head over and over. My last words with my friend.” His voice is steady, but the tears are still flowing. “I was there when Carla got there to identify him. His body was minced meat, but thank God the bomb didn’t damage his face. Of course, she knew who I was. She broke down in my arms and I had to carry her out of there. Annie was only weeks old and Carla was falling apart. They were going to be homeless for the most part because Carla had to move—not immediately, but they would have had to move. I tell myself that’s why I convinced her to marry me so soon, but I know better. We were married almost immediately, so she didn’t have to move. We slept in separate bedrooms, but I was happy to just be near her, to be able to take care of her and Annie. I know that it was selfish of me, but I didn’t push myself on her in any way… and I was keeping a promise to my friend, one that I was happy to fulfill.

“I knew that she didn’t love me—she was still in love with Harry.” He raises his eyes to the night sky. “She never stopped loving Harry. I never blamed her for that. He really was one of the good ones. Eventually, we became close and fell in love. Then one day, she just… changed. She was angry and discontent. I don’t know what happened.” He drops his head again. “I did my best, Christian. I did what I could to take care of them, but she wouldn’t let me. For 13 years, they were my whole world, and for several years after they left—but for some reason, I wasn’t enough for her.”

When he looks over at me, his eyes are full of pain. “She became someone who I didn’t know. She hated me and I never knew why. After a while, I finally let her go, but not my Annie. She was all I had left of one of the best men that I’ve ever known, and I’m blessed to be able to call her mine. I love her like my own flesh and blood, and I would never let her go.”

“So, that’s why you named your son Harrison?” I ask him. He stares at me for a moment.

“It’s the very least I could do… One of the best men I’ve ever known. Please don’t ever tell Annie.” He drops his head again. I put my hand on his shoulder.

“This conversation never happened, Ray,” I say, firmly. He nods and dashes the tears away from his eyes. “I’m getting married next month,” I say, directing the conversation away from Harry and away we go to another topic.

*-*

I don’t know what time it is when I finally get everyone off and on their way to their homes. The dishwasher hums quietly in the kitchen and Jason has long since joined Gail in their apartment on the other side of the penthouse. There is only the soft lights above the breakfast bar and the hue of the fire gently lighting the great room as I sit on the sofa nursing a glass of wine and playing the evening over in my head. My heart is heavy from my and Ray’s conversation and all I can think about are the events that brought Butterfly to me. The silence is deafening as I think of all the things that could take her away from me—psycho blonds with guns, nutcase ex-boyfriends or angry ex-employees, shunned ex-subs, car accidents, lightening bolts, mystical creatures from alien planets…

I’m losing my mind, now. I’m thinking about Carla and what turned her into the cold bitch that she is today. Could it be that she never got over Harry? She tried to get on with her life, but never got over her one true love… I don’t know. Ray says that they had a happy life for several years and then… no, it wasn’t Harry. It was her own selfishness. She wanted something that she didn’t have and she broke up her happy home in pursuit of it. Ray was blindsided. He didn’t even see it coming. Could Butterfly ever do that to me? Please, God, tell me that she could never do that to me.

I don’t know how long I sit there before I hear her stilettos clicking across the marble floor as she enters the door. I rise from the sofa and head towards the door. In the darkness, I can see her silhouette—black pencil dress and sky-high Louboutins, her hair in a chignon. She jumps when I step out of the shadows to meet her.

“My God! Christian! You scared me. Why are you sitting here in the dark?” I slowly close the space between us as she examines me cautiously. She gasps as I snatch her into my arm pressing her hard against me. I dominate her mouth and tongue with mine, absorbing her essence into me as one hand holds her at the base of her spine while the other roams her back over the thin material of her nearly backless dress. She doesn’t breathe until I release her mouth and move toward her ear.

“Christian!” she breathes. “What’s wrong?” My urgency doesn’t get past her. I’m holding her so close and so tight that I’m nearly lifting her from the floor. I press my nose into her neck and breathe deeply, inhaling her scent.

“I need you… now!” I groan as my hand thrusts into her hair, causing several tendrils to release from the chignon. My tongue trails from her ear, down her neck, around to her throat and back up to her lips before I possess them again. She moans in my mouth as her body melds to mine and I press her against me once more.

Mine.

When I release her lips again, she is panting. “Okay,” she breathes mindlessly, and I scoop her up in my arms, kissing her over and over while I carry her bridal style to our bedroom.


 

A/N: The Springfield song Ray is talking about is “Jessie’s Girl” released in 1981.

So, you’re not crazy. Ana’s father’s name did change, and here’s why. In the trilogy, her father’s name is Franklin Lambert. I discovered that in my writing, the name “Frank” seemed to stick out and find its way into the story more often than I thought. For example, Mr. Frank Wilborne was the other court-ordered attendee in group therapy. Frank was the name of the male officer that showed up at Ana’s condo when she pulled her gun on Edward. The night desk clerk at Escala ended up being named “Frank” (how did that happen?) the day they had F&L and Elena showed up. Most of all, notwithstanding my apparent fascination with the phrase “quite frankly,” Cody’s father is named what? You guessed it—Franklin Whitmore. So instead of changing my obsession to “Frank” through two damn stories, I just decided to name Ana’s father “Harold” which of course shortens to “Harry.” Since I’ll be rewriting the story, I don’t think it matters much what her dad’s name is, but just thought you guys should know.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/mending-dr-steele/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x

Mending Dr. Steele: Chapter 55—Mommy Not So Dearest

So I did answer a couple of the posts for chapter 54, but I ended up going back and changing the posts or deleting them altogether. When I tell you guys that chapter put me in a bad place, I’m not kidding. I don’t know how I’m going to revisit that chapter, but I am going to have to because I feel like it is a necessary evil to the realism of the story. I’m really confused by it, because I don’t understand it. I’ve written about rape, kidnapping, beating, child molestation, abuse… so many more horrible things. Yet, it’s the prenup that has me seeing visions of terrible terrors. What is that about? Anyway, even though I answered a few posts, you should see that I “liked” them all (can you guys see when I “like” a post?), but I didn’t answer many because that chapter just makes me ill.

I’m not going to address Christian putting his family first because everyone has their opinion and I’m just not discussing it.

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 fanfic in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 55—Mommy Not So Dearest

STEELE

The breeze is soft and comforting blowing through my hair. It’s a beautiful Saturday evening… and I feel like I’m headed to the gallows. My destination is a quiet back table at Dahlia Lounge, a restaurant I have frequented many time before today. However, today I am having dinner with my mother. The restaurant is almost just across the street from Escala, so Chuck and I choose to walk. Ben has collected my mother from the Four Seasons, which is only about five minutes away, and they are waiting at the restaurant. They managed to clear the entire back section for us—maybe it was Christian—so that we could talk without interruption or prying eyes and ears.

I see her the moment I walk in the door. She is hideously overdressed, wearing a formal dress and what looks to be a faux fur stole. It’s May in Seattle, Carla, for crying out loud. You look like an idiot. I just shake my head and walk to the table.

“Carla,” I greet when I get there, taking off my jacket before taking the seat across from her.

“Anastasia,” she replies. “I wasn’t sure what to wear, what with you being a billionaire and all. I was sure we were going to end up at some exclusive club.” And it begins.

“I’m not a billionaire. My fiancé is,” I correct her, placing my jacket and my messenger bag on the seat next to me.”

“That’s just a technicality,” she says. “You’ll be marrying a billionaire so that makes you a billionaire.” Oh, good grief. Don’t leave, Ana, I coach myself. You need to see this through, for good or bad.

“So how have you been?” I ask her before I can catch myself. She glares at me.

“Oh, we’re really having that conversation?” she says, sarcastically. I cock my head at her.

“Why did you even get on the plane if you don’t want to talk?” I ask and wait for her response.

“Oh, no, really, I am dying to know why you brought me here, but since we’re pretending to be civil—I’ve been just ducky, Anastasia. My husband died four months ago, my daughter desecrated him at his grave, and no one in Green Valley will come within 50 feet of me since this whole story broke. The DA tried to charge me with conspiracy and evidence tampering, the papers are making up all kinds of wonderfully hideous stories about me and in the meantime, my daughter is living in the lap of luxury watching me suffer. So how have things been with you?”

I want to run. I seriously want to run, but this is one time I’m going to sit here and see this through to the end. I gesture for the waiter and ask for the wine list.

“We’ll have a bottle of the Abeja Cabernet 2007, please,” I say, handing him the wine list.

“I don’t like red wine,” she snaps, and I know she’s being difficult because I’ve seen her drink it plenty of times growing up.

“Tough!” I snap before I know it. The waiter looks from my mother’s shocked face to my angry one, then scurries away quickly.

“Well! Was that necessary?” she says, affronted.

“Yes it was!” I retort, glaring at her. “I called you here to discuss you, us, our relationship, and if there is any hope whatsoever in salvaging it. If that is not a conversation that you wish to have, you can walk out of here right now, get your ass back on the plane and go back to Nevada!” I can feel my nose flaring at her. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let her upset me, but while I have been nothing but civil, she has been rude and cantankerous and we haven’t even been here 10 minutes yet. “And take off that stole, for Christ’s sake. You look ridiculous.”

I don’t think she knows what to do right now, leave or take off the stole. She opts to take off the stole as the waiter returns with the wine. He uncorks it and pours a bit in my glass. After swirling it a bit, I taste it. It’s not liquid silk, but it’s delicious. I nod and he pours some in my glass before gesturing to my mother. She nods slightly and he fills her glass as well before placing our menus before us and leaving the table.

“Shall we try this again, or shall I have Ben take you to the airport?” I ask while checking over the menu.

“We… can try this again,” she says, slightly indignantly but duly chastised.

“I’m glad to hear that,” I say, taking a few moments to make my final choices.

“Have you ladies decided what you would like?” The waiter is back, approaching us cautiously.

“I have,” I say without waiting for my mother. “We’ll have the shrimp potstickers and the Mediterranean mussels. I’ll have the New York strip medium rare as my main course.” I close the menu and hand it to the waiter.

“Hmm,” Carla comments. “How do you keep your figure eating like that?”

“Don’t worry about my figure and order your food,” I say flatly. I realize now that I don’t want a relationship with this woman. She is completely and utterly vile. I just want my answers and then I’ll go. She drops her eyes to the menu again then raises them to the waiter.

“I’ll have the Alaskan halibut, please,” she says sweetly, handing him the menu. He makes his notes on his little pad then leaves.

“It’s amazing to me how you can be so pleasant to a stranger and yet so cold and callous to your own flesh and blood,” I say, sipping my wine.

“Strange. I was just thinking the same thing about you,” she replies.

“Touché,” I say, fingering my wine glass. “What can I say? You taught me well.”

That silences her for a moment.

“I need some answers, Mother. Any time you feel like you can’t or won’t answer my questions, just let me know and I’ll have Ben escort you to SeaTac.”

“You’re making demands?” she asks, laughter in her question.

“Yes, I am. Feel free to refuse them.” It’s almost like I want her to refuse, like I’m hoping that she gets her hideous ass back on one of those big metal birds and get the fuck out of here. “Question #1: When did you stop loving Daddy?” I look her square in the eyes when I ask that question. She’s a bit speechless. “You see, as far as I can tell, that’s when our troubles began—when our hard-working, devoted husband and father who would have shifted the world on its axis to be whatever you wanted all of a sudden wasn’t good enough for you. So I’d like to know, when was the precise moment that you stopped loving my Daddy?” She narrows her eyes at me.

“I never stopped loving your father,” she says. “He went to his grave with me still loving him. If you’re talking about Raymond Steele, however, he became too small,” she hisses.

“Too small?” I exclaim. I want to tell her that she’s the smallest being I have ever seen in my life, second only to her dead husband, but I don’t bother. She wouldn’t even see the irony in her statement.

“Yes, too small,” she reinforces. “I wanted more. I wanted to do things and go places. I wanted to have friends and be somebody. He just wanted to sit in that little house in Montesano and do nothing—grow old while you sat there reading travel books and looking at destination pamphlets. I wanted more out of life. I had to have more.”

“And how is that working out for you?” I ask flatly while sipping my wine, knowing that she has no friends, no money, no life, and now no husband. She glares at me.

“Are you going to sit here and insult me for the entire dinner?” she says, apparently wounded.

“I didn’t insult you, Mother. I asked you an honest question. How did leaving the man who once loved you more than life and breaking up our family work out for you?” She sits there looking at me, and for a brief moment, I see a flash of regret. No need to answer, Carla. I already know.

“Did you ever get that more that you were looking for? Is that what Stephen promised you? Did he give that to you? You got a big, ostentatious house in Green Valley already furnished with the finest things but you could barely afford the lifestyle. You never fit in and with my first hand experience of those assholes, you certainly don’t fit in now. All of the friends that you once had in our simple little lifestyle are now all gone, traded for the hope of being accepted by a bunch of snobs and hypocrites, often faking happiness and hiding behind their money—money that you never had, that is, until you and your husband sold my silence and sanity for a few bucks.”

She gasps when I bring that up, but I don’t care. Be as shocked as you want, you old bat. I hate what you did to me and now, you’re going to sit still and listen because you’re chomping at the bit to see what’s going to happen at the end of this conversation.

“You chastised Daddy because you thought I could never see the world. Well, guess what, Mother? In the last year, I’ve seen more of the world than you have in your whole life. So the joke’s on you.”

“It certainly wasn’t because of anything Raymond did,” she spit.

“It was even less because of anything you did,” I spit back, and she is silenced again. “Daddy did have a hand and bringing me and Christian together, though. So I would have to say that you’re wrong.” Her eyes grow large.

“What did he do to facilitate this relationship?” she asks, a bit horrified. He helped me find out that Christian was the one doing the background check on me, which led me to Grey House and our first kiss, but I’m not telling her that. I smile a little fiendishly knowing this bit of information makes her uncomfortable.

“That’s none of your concern. All you need to know is that if it weren’t for Raymond Steele, Christian and I wouldn’t be together.” Take that, you wretched piece of flesh. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat. That is quite the bitter pill for her to swallow.

“Well, I had no idea,” she says, adjusting her napkin on her lap. I do the same since I assume that the appetizers will be here soon.

“I thought you wouldn’t, but that’s okay. There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” The waiter grants her a brief reprieve by bringing our mussels and potstickers. Setting an empty dish in front of each of us, he tells us that our entrées will be served momentarily before leaving us to our conversation.

“Next question,” I consider when the waiter is out of earshot. “When did you stop caring about me?” I ask without pausing, placing some of the mussels and potstickers on my plate and moving some of the black vinegar and soy sauce to a dipping bowl—casually, like I was asking her about the weather. I only stop to look up at her after I have situated my appetizers and she hasn’t said anything yet. “Well?” I prompt.

“I… I didn’t… I…” Yeah, never expected me to ask you that question, did you? I don’t want to help her here, but I’m tired of listening to her trip over her tongue.

“Let me be a little more specific,” I tell her. “When you left Daddy and ripped me away from everything that I knew and loved and I begged you not to do it, begged you to let me stay in Montesano, what were you thinking when I stood there and cried, holding on to my Daddy and feeling like my life was really ending?” Again, I say the words casually, like we’re talking about the latest fashions, before dipping my potsticker into the sauce and taking a healthy bite. My God, they’re delicious. I chew and wait for whatever answer this woman is prepared to give me.

“You were young,” she answers. “You had no idea what was best for you at the time and I did. I knew that there were more opportunities for you in Green Valley than there were in Montesano.”

“More opportunities!” I say in disbelief. “That’s rich. So, the fact that I was having my heart ripped out had absolutely no effect whatsoever on you, proven by the fact that you allowed that asshole berate me for the entire trip.”

“Do not speak of my husband that way!” she snaps.

“Oh, so quick to defend your dead husband, but never once rose to defend your live daughter!” My words are now dripping with malice, so cold that they silence her once again. “I will speak of him any way I so choose. He was cruel and wicked and evil and heartless to me and you allowed it to happen. That’s all I’ll ever remember, and don’t forget—you are free to leave and get on that plane at any time.”

“I am your mother, Anastasia. How could you be so cold to me?” she seems hurt now.

“I am your daughter, Carla. How could you be so cold to me?” I respond, nearly growling. She’s shaking a bit now.

“I asked you a question. The least you could do is answer it,” she says, her voice cracking.

“I just did,” I reply in the same menacing voice. “You let that man treat me like garbage and you stood by and did nothing. He called me names, he berated me, he treated me like pure and utter shit. You never once asked me how I felt. You never once took me or my feelings into consideration. I wanted to die! I really wanted to die, and you didn’t care. All you cared about was your precious fucking Stephen, and getting into country clubs, and what the neighbors would think. You didn’t care about me at all, even after they beat me damn near to death. I could’ve died and I laid in that bed many nights wishing I had, and you didn’t care!”

I realize that my voice is rising louder than I want and Carla is turning a bit white, quite white in fact. I take a deep breath and sip my wine again, allowing the flavor to quench my throat and calm my nerves. Once I have composed myself a bit, I dig into the mussels, determined not to allow her to ruin my meal. Once I have savored the flavor of two of them, I turned my attention back to her.

“Have you seen the video, Mother?” I ask her. She frowns.

“What video?” she asks.

“The video of the beating, what they did to your daughter,” I say flippantly while indulging in another delicious mussel. I can’t believe my stoicism right now. Maybe it’s because my burning hatred for the woman who now inhabits my mommy’s body is speaking more than anything else.

“Why would I want to see that?”

“Well, if it were my daughter who had been cruelly and unjustly brutalized by a group of vicious little brats, I’d want to see it. I’d want to know who caused that kind of horrible pain and suffering on my one and only child. I would follow every news clipping, every arrest, every single detail of that story to find out what was going to happen to those monsters who terrorized and tortured my baby. Then again, that’s just me, I guess. My mommy, the woman that I knew, she would do that. She would be there demanding answers and justice for me. Hell, she would have done that 10 years ago, but I wouldn’t expect that from you.”

Again, she looks bruised. As I finish my share of the potstickers, I can’t help but wonder if some alien being possessed her body all of those years ago that she doesn’t remember her callous and unfeeling attitude towards me. She drops her head. She hasn’t touched the appetizers and I stop eating them. I don’t want to be too full when the steak comes. She looks down at her empty plate.

“I accept that I haven’t been the best mother, Anastasia, but I have never been deliberately cruel to you,” she says, emotion heavy in her voice.

“Yes, you have, Mother,” I say flatly. “You were deliberately cruel when you ripped me away from my father, not once, but twice. You were deliberately cruel when you made me call the only man that I knew and loved as my dad by his first name just for your own satisfaction. You were deliberately cruel when you repeatedly ignored my pain—after you took me away from my home; while you let a stranger make me feel like nothing; after I was raped; while the women in the neighborhood called me a whore and your husband called me fast; while I lay in the hospital alone and in pain after those same little monsters whose parents you worship beat me and tortured me to the point of killing the child that I was carrying; when you dragged me back to that hellhole so that you and that man that you buried could have a few more pennies to rub together. You may be able to accept that you haven’t been the best mother, but I think you’re giving yourself way too much credit with that statement.”

The tears start to fall, but surprisingly, it’s not me that’s crying. It’s her. I would love to know what’s going through her mind right now, so I ask.

“Why the tears, Mother? What are you thinking?” she doesn’t get a chance to answer before the waiter returns with our main course.

“Should I… come back?” he asks, looking at Carla crying at the table.

“No, it’s fine. You can clear the appetizers,” I tell him. He looks from me to Carla and back to me. I look at him, unassuming, waiting for him to do his job. He slowly clears the table, stealing glances at the crying Carla. I want to tell him to hurry up and clear the damn dishes, but I realize that not too many people can see a woman cry and do nothing—unless that woman/girl happens to be your daughter lying in a hospital bed after she’s been beaten half to death, of course.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” he asks her and she doesn’t respond.

“Carla? He’s talking to you,” I say with no malice and no feeling. “Are you okay?” She sniffs, then nods.

“I’m fine,” she says, softly, but says nothing else. I look back at him and wait for him to finish clearing the dishes. He slowly puts the entrées on the table in front of us and continues eying Carla.

“Will there be anything else?” he says, mainly to Carla and not to me. She still hasn’t raised her head.

“No, that’s all, thank you,” I tell him. He throws a menacing look at me and turns back to Carla.

“Ma’am, are you sure you’re okay?” he asks her. Now, I’m losing my patience. Not only did he have the nerve to roll his eyes at me, but he is clearly butting his nose into something that is none of his business.

“I said I’m fine,” Carla says more firmly, to his surprise. Now, I’m feeling like Christian Grey. I look over my shoulder and make eye contact with Chuck. I tilt my head behind me, and he knows exactly what I want and off he goes. I turn my attention back to the waiter.

“What’s your name?” I ask him after leaning my arms on the table.

“Adrian,” he replies.

“Well, Adrian, you should probably learn to take context clues if you’re going to be working with the public. You see, you made two huge mistakes just now. First, you dawdled here so that you effectively interfere in and interrupt a very personal, private, and—as you can see—delicate conversation. Second, something must be disconnecting somewhere in your brain that you can see that there are five empty tables around us and two very ominous looking gentlemen standing there making sure that no one gets into this area but you. Now I may be wrong, but if I were in your place, Adrian, I would take that as hint that this area might need to be handled with care. Oh, but there’s a third thing. You paid no attention to the fact that I’ve done all the ordering which clearly means that this dinner is on me, and you just pissed me off.”

Adrian glares at me, intent on holding his ground until I hear a voice from behind me.

“Ana, hi. Mr. Davenport says that you need to see me.” Jeff, the night manager, has made his way to the table and is taking in the scene before him. “Is everything okay.”

“Yes, Jeff, everything is fine. Can you please get Adrian out of here?” I ask. He jerks his head a bit.

“I’m sorry?” Jeff asks, clearly taken aback. “What’s wrong, Ana?”

“He can put whatever spin he wants on this story, as long as he doesn’t come back to this table,” I say with no malice. I’ve been in Dahlia many times before and Jeff knows me well. If I’m sending someone away, it’s no small ordeal.

“Adrian,” he says, making the same gesture to Adrian that I made to Chuck a few moments earlier. Adrian walks away silently with his tray under his arm. “Ana, is there… anything I can do?”

“No, Jeff, thank you. Just send someone else when it’s time for the check, please,” I answer with a tight smile. He nods.

“My apologies for whatever he did,” Jeff says. My smile becomes more sincere.

“None needed, but thank you.” He nods tightly and walks away. Carla has composed herself by now.

“At least I’m not the only target of your ire,” she says, she voice cracking.

“No, Mother, you’re not. I let my fury loose on anyone who treats me badly.” Boy, I’ve got them lined up today. Every time she comes at me with a snazzy comment, I just throw them right back at her. I’m proud of myself. “You never answered my question,” I say while cutting a few small pieces of beef. I see her raise her head.

“What question?” she asks.

“What you were thinking… why you were crying,” I say while taking a bite of the New York strip. Oh, it’s heavenly—perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. I try not to take too much pleasure in the flavor as it might show on my face. Carla, once again, hasn’t touched her halibut.

“I was just thinking… that the little girl that I raised would never speak to me the way that you do. She would never say the horrible things to me that you are saying now and that you say to me every time I see you.” I can hear the emotion in her voice, but it’s truly displaced.

“You’ve got that partially right,” I say, a little sadly. “The little girl that was raised would never say any of those things that I’m saying right now to that woman that raised her. Since that woman is not here, I have no problem saying them to you.” I take another bite of my steak and I can literally feel the temperature drop in the room. “Eat your halibut, Mother. I’m told it’s delicious.”

“I’ve suddenly lost my appetite,” she says. I shrug.

“Pity,” I say, munching on broccoli and cheddar cheese. I don’t know why, but this seems to be the best food I’ve ever tasted. I make quick work of my meal while Carla sits there staring at her plate. When mine is clear with the exception of a few Kennebec potatoes, I gesture for the waiter… who is now a waitress.

“Yes, ma’am? Are we all done?” She looks over at Carla’s never-touched plate. “You didn’t like the halibut, ma’am? Did you want something else?”

“No, thank you. I’m just not that hungry,” Carla answers, looking out the window.

“Can you wrap it up, please?” I ask her. “I hate to see food go to waste.” It’s a side effect of being with Christian Grey.

“Sure thing, ma’am. Can I get you anything else? Some coffee?” the waitress asks.

“Coffee would be perfect, and the check please,” I tell her. She nods and smiles before removing our dishes.

“So, Mother, I have one last question for you.” I ask her, folding my hands in front of me on the table. She turns her eyes to me as though she were resigned to her fate. “What—if anything at all—did you think of me?” She looks at me as if she truly doesn’t know how to answer that question.

“Think of you… when?” she asks. I shrug.

“After we left Montesano… once we got to Las Vegas… after the rape… after the beating… anything. Anytime. What did you think of me?” My voice sounds a little desperate even to myself because this is truly the million-dollar question. What exactly did you think of me that you could bring me into this world and then watch me suffer the way that you did?

“I… I…” She sighs and her shoulders drop. “I didn’t.” My eyes grow large.

“What?” I ask, stunned and confused, my voice higher than usual.

“I didn’t,” she repeats, very nonchalantly. “You were a teenager. Your best years were just beginning. Mine were ending. I had to try to grab something for myself, something to hold on to. Housewife in the Washington forests couldn’t be my story. I had to have more.” Her voice is beseeching, willing me to understand her plight, but I can’t. I’m too absorbed in my own.

“Then go and chase your best years. Why ruin mine? I should have been going on dates or going to prom, first dances, first kisses, learning those foolish little lessons that teenage girls learn—not lying in hospital beds for weeks at a time or crying myself to sleep every night wondering why nobody loved me! Why ruin mine?”

“You were a young girl. You needed to be with your mother…” she defends desperately.

“But you didn’t want me,” I whine. “Why not just leave me with my daddy?”

“Because he wasn’t your daddy!” she retorts.

“Neither was Stephen and you tried to get me to call him Daddy. You were going in search of your happiness. I had already found mine. Why not leave me to it? This whole thing could have been prevented.”

“Don’t you dare blame this on me, Anastasia!” she nearly cries, bringing the attention of a few diners to her.

“Why not?” I no longer care who’s looking. I have to get this out. “If you had left me alone with my daddy, this wouldn’t have happened. You may have found that ridiculous life you were looking for with that group of snobby phonies. You would have had one less mouth to feed and more money to spend on your pretend image. How did you even convince Stephen to take me with you? He couldn’t stand me.”

“You were a tax deduction.” Oh, now, she’s just being hurtful… or is she?

“You’re not serious.” It’s a statement, not a question. This is the first time that I have seen true regret on her face.

“Yes, I am. If you stayed with Ray, he could claim you on his taxes. If you stayed with me, Stephen could claim you.”

My heart breaks into a million little pieces. The truth is worse than I ever could have imagined. She didn’t want me. He didn’t want me. The only reason they kept me around was for a tax break. From the very beginning to the very end, it was always about money. I wanted to know the truth and now I got it. I didn’t even notice the waitress had brought the coffee and the check until I looked down and saw the little black portfolio. I mechanically pull out my Visa card and put it inside, handing it to Chuck. I turn back to my coffee and take a sip, the heat on my tongue reminding me that I was truly awake and this was not just a bad dream.

“I really was nothing,” I say, mostly to myself. “He said it every day… every day.” I drop my head in my hands. “‘You’re nothing. Nobody cares about you. You’re nothing.’ He said it every day. For years, he said it every day… like it was a ritual… every day. I thought he was just being hurtful, but I really was nothing… to you, to him, to everybody except Ray…” I think about what I’m saying in front of her. I raise my head and look at her tormented face. “Everybody except Daddy,” I say again and a frisson of sadness shoots across her face, but it’s gone as quickly as it came. I bite my bottom lip and nod as a single tear falls from my eye. I take a deep breath and wipe away the tear.

“I brought you here because I had unfinished business, but I’m finishing it today.” I remove a large manila envelope from my bag. “I’m letting this go. It’s holding my life back in more ways than you will ever know. I don’t know what you were going through and I never will understand why you treated me the way that you did, why you chose to let that man torment me instead of protecting me from him. I’ll never be able to understand the motives behind anything that you did for those years and how you were able to justify it, but it’s not important anymore. I need to be free of this. I need to mend—really mend, so I’m letting you off the hook. I’m releasing you so that I can release me. This ends here and I’m not taking it with me another day after this. So I forgive you, Mom, I really do with all my heart, but I still never want to see you again. There’s no place for you in my life, good or bad, and I just want you to go away.

“I accept that it was never about me and that it never will be, and I’m okay with that now. Even with all of my education, there are still some things in the human mind that I will never be able to explain. Knowing that, I can accept that I’ll never have all the answers. Asking the why for all these years is what got me here in the first place. I’m okay with not knowing the why anymore. I’m just going to move forward.” I slide the envelope over to my mother containing $100,000 in cash. “I know this is really what you want. Use it wisely, because there will be no more after this.”

I stand and put my messenger bag on my shoulder and look at her. Her expression is hard to interpret, but for one fleeting moment, I saw the Mom that baked the cake for my sixth birthday; the Mom that danced with Ray in the living room of our house in Montesano; the Mom that tucked me into my bedroom in the loft of that same house; the Mom that I had for a few years of my life—that’s the Mom that I’ll hold in my heart as I walk away from this woman who has taken over her body. I bend down and place a gentle kiss on her cheek.

“Goodbye, Mommy.” I turn around and walk out of the restaurant.

I step outside and take a deep, cleansing breath and let it out. An unbelievably huge weight appears to have been lifted from my shoulders, so much so that I literally have to stretch my back and neck to adjust to the release of tension.

“Are you okay?” Chuck asks, handing me my credit card and holding the tin foil goose carrying the halibut. I gaze at him for a moment.

“I’ve never felt better,” I say, noting the astonishment in my voice as I begin the leisurely stroll back to Escala.


GREY

I’m typing away at my computer and waiting for Butterfly to come home. I force-fed myself dinner, knowing that she would be pissed as hell at me if I didn’t eat. I can’t help it. I’m worried about her meeting with that woman. I’ve seen what this relationship—for lack of a better word—has done to her and I just want this meeting to be over as quickly as possible. I try to focus on my work as the minutes tick into hours, then into days, then months, then millennia… Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it sure as hell feels that long.

I hear the ping of the elevator and it’s like music to my ears. How I heard it through the walls I’m not entirely sure, but it sounded like a trumpet to me and I am out of my seat and charging through the great room before she even gets into the apartment. The door opens and I see her small frame walk inside. She’s quiet. Has she been crying? It doesn’t look like she’s been crying, but I can’t tell. Did she mend fences with that monster?

I proceed further into the room and approach with caution. She stops when she sees me and I stop on instinct. We eye each other for a moment before I begin to approach her again.

“How did it go?” I ask, softly. She still stands there for a moment, prompting me to stop walking. Suddenly, she walks quickly, then runs toward me, leaping just in time for me to catch her in my arms. She nearly climbs my body and clings to me like boa constrictor. I hold her tight and don’t say a word. I don’t really know what to say. After a while, she starts to cry. I hold her there while she weeps in my arms. I look up at Davenport behind her, hoping for some kind of guidance. His lips form a tight line as he seems just as adrift as I am. After a few more moments and Butterfly hasn’t calmed, he shakes his head and mouths a word at me.

“Brutal.”

I nod short and quick. He holds up the foil goose that I assume are leftovers from the meal. I slightly gesture to my head towards the door signaling that he can leave. He nods and salutes me with his index finger before leaving the apartment and closing the door behind him. I carry Butterfly over to the sofa and sit down, situating her on my lap.

“Baby?” I don’t want to force her to talk, but she’s going to hyperventilate in a minute.

“S-s-s… shshe’s go… g-g-g… gone!” she finally chokes out. I don’t even know what that means.

Has Mini-Morton left Seattle?
Is she hurting about it or so happy that she’s crying hysterical tears?
Did she die?
Is she talking gone symbolically or physically?
Does she not care at all and is just informing me through her tears that Mini-Morton has left the building?

I don’t try to figure it out. There’s nothing I’m going to get from her until she’s ready to tell me and right now, she just needs to cry. I take the remote from the coffee table and turn on the fireplace. With a second remote, I am able to find a soothing saxophone player to calm Butterfly’s nerves. We’ll just sit here for as long as it takes for her to get all of this out.

It took a long time… a very long time… three hours in fact. It’s after 10:00 when her hiccups finally turn into the occasional shuddering breath. She’s calmer now and I would think she was asleep, but I know her body. She’s wide awake. Well, maybe not wide awake after all that crying, but awake. I stroke her hair for a few more moments before she begins talking.

“I’ve had patients—parents of missing children or loved ones of missing family members. They’ve told me stories about how they have printed flyers and gone on television, conducted mass searches. They do this for years with no answers. The pain never dies, but neither does the hope. After a while, they come to a state of sad acceptance. Something in them tells then that they will never see their loved one again. They move on with their lives and the pain becomes less noticeable, more bearable. They don’t think about it everyday, but a painful truth remains, a stabbing reminder or a deep painful ache… if they were alive they would have contacted me by now.

“They move on with their lives. Months, sometimes years go by with no word and they accept it—accept that something horrible has happened to their loved one. Then there’s a knock at the door or a phone call. Their remains have been found. This makes it final and certain. You knew all along, but there’s nothing like bones or a body to drive it home. Then they sit in my office and grieve all back over again. It usually doesn’t last as long as the initial grieving, but they grieve nonetheless. They grieve for the loss of that last shred of hope.” She breathes in deeply and let’s it out. “I’ve just been presented with the body.”

I don’t know what to say. I squeeze her tightly and ask the question that is burning in my head. “Butterfly, did you really think that you would talk to her and it would all be okay?” She shakes her head.

“No… ye… I don’t know what I thought. I may have had that small glimmer of hope, but… no, I didn’t think it would all be okay.” She pauses again. “I thought she ignored me all of those years. Ignoring someone means that you recognize that they are there, but you pay them no attention. My mother didn’t ignore me, Christian. It was worse. I didn’t exist. She completely put me out of her mind. As far as she is concerned, Daddy and I took the best years of her life, and she was going to take them back no matter what. If I ended up face-down in the concrete as a result of it, I was just collateral damage. She saw nothing, Christian. Felt nothing. Anything that happened to me was an interruption of her life. I caused her current plight because I brought undue attention to her—to us and our household and situation.”

“Why didn’t she just leave you in Montesano with Ray?” I ask her, horrified.

“Oh, that was my question, too. That’s the best answer of all… I was tax write-off.” What? I didn’t just hear her correctly. I didn’t. I know I didn’t. The violent shaking of my head must have alerted her to what I was thinking. “My sentiments exactly,” she says. “I think my reaction was ‘you’re not serious.’ She didn’t even apologize. She didn’t even try, and she has the nerve to wonder why I’ve been bitter all these years.”

I shake my head. I have to say that this is even worse that my crack whore mother. She has the excuse that even though it was by her own hand, she was incoherent most of the time. This spiteful bitch was awake and alert for her daughter’s suffering, and after all of these years, she’s still not the slightest bit remorseful.

“How did you all leave it?”

“I gave her the money, told her that I forgive her, and said goodbye.” She lifts her face to look into my eyes. “I’m free.” I look at her skeptically.

“Free?” I ask.

“Free. I’ve got the answers to the questions that I’ve asked all these years. Even though I didn’t like the results, I don’t have to wonder. I’m not under her spell anymore. I don’t have to wish or guess or live in uncertainty. I can face my monsters without hiding. I may still have to work on the running and the shrinking as old habits are hard to break, but Christian, I’m free.”

She means it! She really means it! I can see it in her eyes and in the simplicity of her expression. There’s no stress, no confusion, no pain—only peace and truth. She means it. She’s free. I hold her tight and kiss her hair.

“Oh, Butterfly. This makes me so happy. So, so happy,” I say softly as she sinks into me and sighs.

“I’m thirsty, Christian,” she says. Yes, three hours of crying will do that to you.

“I can imagine. Let’s get you some orange juice and ibuprofen, then bath and bed, okay?” She nods. I place her on her feet and lead her to the kitchen.

*-*

Butterfly is finally asleep after the harrowing experience that was Carla Morton today. I lie there in the bed watching the ceiling. I can’t sleep. I’m not even tired. Butterfly’s head hit the pillow and she was gone in seconds… literally, seconds. She was completely exhausted, but my mind keeps wandering back to that wretched witch at the Four Seasons. A tax deduction… she put my Butterfly through all that suffering for a tax deduction. All of this could have been avoided. She may have never had to experience the horrors she experienced, but Carla and Stephen wanted to get a few bucks off of their tax return.

All of that suffering and pain, and Carla did nothing… for a tax deduction.

My head is going a mile a second and I can’t make it stop. It never ceases to amaze me how people can be so cruel as to hurt a child in any way. I think the worse abuse of all is indifference because the child feels invisible. This indifference, however, came on the heels of something so unthinkably tragic…

I carefully pull my arm from under Butterfly’s sleeping body, although I think an explosion wouldn’t wake her right now. I quickly put on a t-shirt and jeans with sneakers and quietly grab my keys, jacket, wallet and cell phone.

“Going somewhere?” I look up to see Jason at the breakfast bar as I am headed to the front door.

“Yes, and I could really use some backup,” I tell him. He looks at me suspiciously.

“Shoulder’s not 100% yet, Boss,” he says cautiously. I shake my head.

“It’s nothing like that,” I respond. He nods and grabs his sandwich, following me out the front door.

“I need the night manager, please.” I tell the desk clerk at the Four Seasons. She goes into the office and comes out with a gentleman that recognizes me immediately.

“Mr. Grey, good to see you again. How are you?” he greets me.

“Good, thank you. I need access to the room number that was reserved with this card,” I tell him handing him my Amex. He looks on the computer and produces a key for the room. “Would you terribly mind coming with me? I would like the occupant removed immediately if she doesn’t have a credit card of her own for the room. I will pay for the time that she has stayed before now, but she can’t stay any longer.” He looks at me questioning but nods and follows me to the elevators.

“What is this about?” Mini-Morton says groggily as she opens the door to her suite.

“You need to pack up your things and leave this room unless you have a card to put on file for the suite,” the night manager tells her. She looks from him to me. She walks back into the room and comes back with a stack of bills.

“Will this hold the room?” she asks. He counts the bills and it’s way too much, but he nods.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, with a nod. She smirks at me and tries to slam the door, but I stop it by loudly slamming my hand flat to it.

“Would you mind waiting here until I come out? I need to speak with Mrs. Morton. It won’t take long,” I say to the manager.

“Certainly, Mr. Grey,” he says, crossing his hands in front of him with a nod. Jason and I push into the room past a protesting Mini-Morton.

“Have a seat,” I tell her as we walk into her suite.

“You can’t order me around…”

“I said sit down!” I growl in the scariest Dom voice I think I’ve ever heard. I think her legs took her to a seat before her brain had a chance to protest. “How? How could you do this to her?”

“What have I done now?” she nearly squeals.

“It’s not what you did now. It’s what you did then. How could you be so cruel?” She sighs heavily.

“I’ve had this conversation with my daughter. I’m not having it again with you.” Her voice actually sounds defeated.

“You don’t have a daughter, Morton. I thought she wrote you off before, but… the things you told her. She was a tax deduction? You didn’t even think about her while she was suffering? She was miserable. She wanted to die. What would you have done if you had come into the room and she had taken her own life?” A flash of horror comes across her face, but moments later, she has composed herself.

“But she didn’t, so why are we having this conversation?” she says indignantly.

“But she could have,” I hiss back. “It happens all the time, or is your head stuck too far up your ass to even realize that this was a possibility? Knowing you, you would have called her weak and pathetic, then used the situation to garner as much sympathy for yourself as possible.” She sits there in her seat with her legs crossed and her arms folded, looking at me like I’m taking up her precious time. “If you weren’t a female, I’d beat your ass.” She gasps.

“You’d beat my ass anyway if you thought you could get away with it,” she replies. I tilt my head and glare at her.

“You’re right, so handle me very carefully, Lady!” Her shock does not get past me.

“You can’t do it anyway, so it’s a useless discussion.”

“You’re going to get enough of telling me what I can’t do,” I say to her. “You don’t know me, Morton. I’m sitting in your hotel room at 2:00 in the morning, talking to you while you sit there in your nightdress and I know you would rather I not be here. We only knocked because he convinced me that it was proper,” I say gesturing to Jason standing next to me.

“You need coaching on what’s proper?” she smiles. I smile and chuckle.

“You win a lot of disagreements that way, don’t you?” I ask. Her eyebrows furrow. “Diversion. You take one sentence out of the paragraph and you focus only on that, throwing away every other bit.” She shrugs. “Good businesspeople learn early in the game that that’s the worst form of negotiation. You can use it to win a battle—and it’s effective, depending on how important the battle is—but in the long run, you lose the war.”

“Are you trying to school me, Mr. Grey?” she asks sarcastically.

“Only if you choose to listen,” I respond. “You see, while diversion takes your mind away from the entire paragraph, you’re diverting attention away from the important topics. For example, you focused on the one statement that Jason convinced me that it was proper to knock on your door instead of just barging in. While you were trying to use it as a diversion, you didn’t even focus on the meaning of that statement or the paragraph. Luckily for you, I’m very good at the counter-tactic of refocusing the conversation and I’ve got all night, so we can do this as long as you want.”

“I’m really not inter…”

“Shut up!” I interrupt her. “I’m refocusing.” After a pause, I say, “The meaning that you should have garnered from that paragraph is that if I have to prove to you exactly what I can do, you’re going to be a very unhappy and miserable woman… maybe even homeless, jobless, and unemployable. Proof of that is the fact that I am sitting in your room right now, and I could be sitting here watching you sleeping because I have the power to barge into you room without knocking. So while you’re focusing on my knowledge of what’s proper, you’re missing several very important bits of information, you dimwitted old goat!” She doesn’t bother gasping at my name-calling anymore. I think she’s immune to it by now, or at least she should be.

“So you’ve made your point. You can do whatever you want. Big deal, you’re a bully. I still don’t take down to bullies, Mr. Grey, so exactly what is the purpose of this visit because I would really like to get back to bed and if you would like to watch me sleep, then be my guest.”

At that moment, I realize the frustration Butterfly must have felt talking to this woman and trying to get to the heart of the breakdown in their relationship. She has the most nonchalant, flippant but self-righteous attitude I have ever seen. There’s so much that I thought I wanted to say to her, but it all just wafted out of my head when I came to this realization. I take another tactic because, quite frankly, I want to spend the night with Butterfly, not this woman.

“I’m adopted,” I say softly.

“I should care about this because?” she says, snidely.

“Shut up, you worthless, sorry excuse of a human being. I’m talking now!” I growl. She cowers back in her chair. “I have about as much concern and respect for you as you did for my fiancée, so you shut the fuck up.” I glare at her to make sure that she gets my meaning. “I’m adopted. I lived a horrible, wretched life before my parents adopted me. I was beaten, burned, berated, and neglected. Sound familiar?” She just sits there staring at me. “I was four years old when I was rescued.” She gasps. It’s always hard for anyone to hear that those things happened to a child before he could even form full, coherent sentences of any true meaning.

“I’m kind of surprised by your reaction,” I continue. “I mean, I’m not surprised that a person reacts that way, I’m just surprised that you did.” Her eyes narrow and Mini-Morton is back. “That’s not an insult, honestly. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just you had more concern for a four-year-old stranger than you did for your daughter 10 years ago and I just can’t fathom that. She went through the same horrible things that I did. The difference is that the woman that claimed to be my mother—who is now dead, by the way—was too drugged out and high to notice while you just… watched. I just don’t know how a parent does that and the morbid curiosity in me really wants to understand.”

I’m silent while she sits there in her nightdress staring at me. Okay, we can do this as long as you like.

We sit… and sit… and sit…

“Am I entertaining you?” she asks after several minutes.

“Not at all. I asked you a question, and you haven’t answered it yet.” I reply flatly.

“And I don’t have to answer it for you!” she hisses. I shake my head.

“Never mind. You already have.” She looks at me, bemused. “I thought I was the coldest son-of-a-bitch alive… until I met you. You have absolutely no redeeming value, absolutely none. That is so sad because I’m not saying that to hurt your feelings. With everything that I know about you and everything that I’ve heard about you and everything that I’ve seen, I’ve always hated you because of the hand that you played in Butterfly’s pain. Now that I know the truth, I don’t quite know what to think or feel.” My words are spoken with no malice as I examine her like some exotic, foreign creature.

“I’m a bit out of my breadth here because I either handle things with extreme pleasure or intense distaste whereas you… this... is somewhere in that very gray area in between. A wise woman once told me that nothing is ever just black or white, it’s always gray. This is very gray, and if I cared enough I would pick it apart, but I don’t. Instead, I think I can only label my feelings as… pity.”

“I don’t need your pity,” she says, trying to act affronted.

“It’s not so much for you, Carla, it’s just… pity. I can’t explain it and I won’t try, since I promise you that this is the last time I or Butterfly will ever visit this issue again. I just really try to comprehend things that I don’t understand before I walk away from them completely. I guess I just have to accept the fact that I’m not going to understand this one.”

I examine this small woman sitting across from me, both in stature and in character. It’s good to know that she doesn’t have a hold on Butterfly anymore. I realize now that there’s not too much more that I can say to her… not too much, but still…

“I was coming up here to demand that you leave Seattle, but I realize that I don’t have to do that now. You’re truly nothing and not because I dislike you or anything like that, but because she came home and cried you out of her system for three hours and for the first time since I’ve known her, I could look in her eyes and know that she has truly let go. Now we can get on with our lives.

“She has an amazing support system. Her friends are loyal to a fucking fault and her father is strong and valiant, full of character. I’m a better man for knowing him. Her stepmother is a wonderful, beautiful woman and she and Ray are about to be parents any day now.” I can tell by her expression that she didn’t know that. “Yes, Carla, life is going on all over the world—without you.

“I’m going to marry that woman. I’m going to make her rich. I’m going to keep her blissfully happy. We’re going to have beautiful babies—grandchildren that you will never get to meet; birthdays and graduations that you will miss; milestones that you will never hear about. I can’t wait to get her pregnant, Carla, to see her beautiful body swell with the evidence of our love growing inside of her. I can’t wait to see her glow with the light of new life. The anticipation is almost unbearable. She’s stunning now, so I know that she’ll be absolutely breathtaking carrying our child.

“There’s so much that you are going to miss,” I continue. “For that, I do pity you. I’m sorry, Carla.” She frowns.

“Sorry for what?” she asks.

“Sorry that you traded your future for the hope of something you never got,” I say. “You wanted more so badly that you traded your bird in the hand for two that weren’t even in the bush.” I stand and look at her again.

“You were very wrong about one thing,” I continue. “Those weren’t the best years of your life. They all are. Your childhood and teenage years are the best because they shape who you are. Your young adult years are the best because that’s when you become who you are meant to be. Your adult years are the best because you live, have great experiences, raise your children, and lay your foundations for later in life. These years coming up—these are your golden years. These are the years when you are supposed to be surrounded with family and children and grandchildren; when they play in the grass and run up to you and call you things like ‘grandma’ or ‘nana’ or ‘granny;’ when you tell them stories about the way things used to be when you were a kid; when they run to you because ‘Mom just doesn’t understand me like you do.’ And when the sun finally sets on your days, they hold your hand and kiss you. You are surrounded with love as you make your transition to the afterlife. Those are the best years, Carla, and you’ve already missed a lot of them and you’re going to miss many more.

“Your daughter is a doctor, and she’s brilliant. She’s only 27 and she had a thriving practice when I met her with a waiting list a mile long. She carries a black belt in Krav Magna. She owns a million-dollar condo that she also had when I met her. I think she can shoot anything with a trigger and she has the ability to make a friend out of just about anyone. She took a massive tragedy that left her physically scarred for life and turned it into a triumph. She has the most beautiful art on her back where she has incorporated that horrible scar into it. She showed those people that they were not going to win. Now, she has taken the final step to laying the emotional part of that story to rest. I’m sorry that you won’t see justice for taking a payoff to watch her pain, but I think this is better. I’ll take a perverse thrill in knowing what you lost, but only for a moment because you don’t deserve that much of my time.”

I walk to the door where I find the manager still standing there like I asked. “I just wanted you to look at her and see that she is unharmed before I leave—well, physically unharmed anyway. I can’t speak for emotionally.” I turn around and look at her before leaving. Her eyes are full of remorse and sorrow, and I feel nothing. “Goodbye, Carla,” I say before Jason and I head to the elevator.

*-*

Butterfly’s is as bright as a brand new penny as we sit at the breakfast bar eating Sunday brunch and checking more of the final things off our checklist for the wedding.

“So you all have a tuxedo fitting this week right?” she says, writing in her ledger. I nod.

“Friday. It’s the last one before the wedding, so these fuckers better not gain any weight,” I say. She giggles.

“I’ll probably go out somewhere with the girls for dinner after my session with Ace. You’ll text me when you’re done?” She takes a healthy bite of her omelet. Even her appetite seems to have improved.

“Absolutely, but feel free to make it a night with your friends. Maybe I’ll make it an evening with the guys here. I can invite Ray and my dad over and we can play poker or something.”

“That sounds like a plan,” she says with a smile, making more notes in her ledger and drinking her orange juice.

“Sir,” Jason gets my attention. He’s back to his duties as security around the house and slowly working his way into the rest of his role as my personal detail. “Mrs. Morton is downstairs. She has introduced herself as Ana’s mother and is apparently pretty distraught.” I look over at Butterfly, who is frowning and looking at me. I told her about my visit to Mini-Morton to take my card off of her room at the Four Seasons.

“Are you expecting her?” I ask Butterfly. She shrugs and shakes her head.

“Nope. She can come up though,” she says, her voice light. Okay, now I’m surprised.

“You want to see her?” I ask.

“Not particularly, but I don’t care if she comes up.” She is truly resigned and there is no malice in her voice. I shrug at Jason.

“Send her up,” I tell Jason. He nods and goes back to the study. I know he’ll be back before Mini-Morton gets here.

“So I think we’ll go to Ruzhen’s—you know, the Mongolian Grill in the University district. I haven’t been there for a while. I guess I should invite Gary and Phil and Marilyn, too. Al and James will be here with you. So will Elliot, so I won’t feel like the fifth wheel since Val will be there… why are you looking at me like that?” She just began talking like hell and damnation is not on its way up the elevator and I must be staring at her harder than I thought.

“Oh, I’m sorry. You just threw me for a loop,” I tell her. What could Carla possibly want to say to her at this point?

“You mean Carla?” she asks and I nod. “She no longer affects me, Christian. So she can come up.” I shrug, surprised at her composure and anxious to see what will become of this visit.

Jason comes back out of the study to open the door. Carla stumbles into the room, tear-stained and haggard-looking. She must not have slept for the rest of the night.

“Anastasia! Please, Baby! Please forgive me. I was a fool. Please…” she begs.

“I have forgiven you,” Butterfly says calmly. “I forgave you yesterday when I left the restaurant. I’m not carrying this anymore. There’s just no place for you in my life.”

“Please, please, don’t shut me out. Please… I have no one, nothing. Here.” She reaches into her large purse and pulls out a familiar manila envelope. “You can have this back. I don’t want it. Please, Anastasia, please. I’m so sorry. Please, don’t shut me out.” Butterfly sighs. For a moment, I think she’s weakening.

“I don’t want it either,” she says to her mother. “You need it more than I do, so you keep it. These years, these are my years, Mom.” She called her Mom! “And I’m really not trying to hurt you, but there’s no place for you in my life. I don’t need a constant reminder that when I needed you the most, you simply did not care. Now, I don’t need you at all and I don’t want you around. So take your money and leave. There’s really nothing more for us to say.” Her calm is a bit eerie. She has truly buried this situation.

“Please, Baby. Please, don’t punish me. I’m so sorry. What can I ever do to make it up to you?” Carla weeps.

“Nothing, Mom,” Butterfly says, shaking her head. Carla breaks down into bitter sobs.

“Please, Ana…” she weeps.

“You should go now,” Butterfly says, unmoved.

“Ana…”

“Mom, you need to leave. I would hate to have you thrown out in your current state.” She’s not cold or unfeeling. In fact, she speaks with kindness. She’s just washed her hands of this entire situation. Carla looks up at her daughter one last time and, throwing caution to the wind, she throws her arms around Butterfly and weeps.

Butterfly doesn’t react. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t return her mother’s embrace. Her facial expression only changes slightly when she looks at Jason and mouths “to the mat.” We instantly remember her telling Davenport last year that if Carla got near her, she was taking him to the mat. Jason steps forward.

“Mrs. Morton,” he says. His voice forceful. Carla releases Butterfly and after taking one last look at her, runs out of the apartment weeping bitterly. Jason is close behind her as she heads to the elevator. I come up behind Butterfly and put my hands on her shoulders.

“Are you okay, Baby?” I ask her. She looks at me and nods.

“I’m fine, Christian. I’ve cried my tears already.” She takes my hand in hers. “Now, let’s go make sure that we have the finishing touches on our wedding.” She smiles a wide, genuine smile.

“Lead the way, Ms. Steele,” I say matching her smile and following her to Wedding Central.


A/N: I’ve told you all many times my story comes from research or from personal experience from myself or someone around me. I’ve tweaked it a bit, but unfortunately, the “tax break bombshell” is real.

I realize that people may feel that Ana’s final reaction to her mother was cold. However, I’ve been in that place where you have simply cried your last tears “yesterday.” The tears just stop and you are no longer feeling any malice or sadness—you just want it to end. You don’t want any revenge; you no longer need any answers; you’re just closing the door and locking it, leaving the monsters on the other side while you move forward in the opposite direction. That’s where Ana is. This part of her life is done. This chapter is really closed. I already know what’s going to happen with Carla. She may make a “what ever happened to Carla” appearance in a later book, but for the most part, Carla has “graced” us for the last time.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/mending-dr-steele/

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Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x

Mending Dr. Steele: Chapter 54—A Change for the Better

I’m very happy everyone was so touched by the PSA viewing party. Of course, it was the same commercial that played in the prologue and I didn’t want to repeat the whole thing, but I thought that it was much more powerful at the premiere party.

This is the chapter that I found so hard to write. I don’t know if it will flow as well as my other chapters because believe me, it was really very hard! I didn’t like it. I didn’t like writing it, but I really felt like it was necessary. Know that I did my best and if you see grammatical or story errors, let me know.

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 fanfic in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 54—A Change for the Better

STEELE

“Ana, you were in the commercial. How were you abused?” I turn around. The very last thing that I want to do this morning is talk to the press. Today is the day that I have to meet Christian to sign that dreaded prenuptial agreement and I don’t feel like putting on the pretty face to deal with these people right now. Nonetheless, I always meet the press head on and I have to answer their questions to get them away from my office. I have patients to see.

“It’s been all over the news right after we announced our engagement. Haven’t you seen it by now?” I’m certainly not going to discuss my Mommy issues with the press.

“So not either one of your stepfathers?” Motherfucker…

“Of course not!” I say, appalled—mostly for Ray—glaring so hard at the reporter that he shies back a bit.

“Your mother?” another dares to ask. “Is she the one that hit you?” I turn my glare to her.

“No one in my family has ever hit me,” I say through clenched teeth, my ire rising. I can normally handle these people very well, but today I am feeling like they are just getting under my skin.

“Why aren’t you two speaking, then?” she continues.

“I think I addressed that in an earlier interview and, though quite incorrectly, so have some of you,” I glare at her. When she makes to ask another question and shoves the recorder in my face, I ask, “Are you gunning to be today’s sacrificial lamb?” The others look at her and she gets silent immediately. I don’t keep a tally of them all, but if I’m not mistaken, all the “lambs” have been female. Christian says it’s because the women are desperate to find something wrong with me and they can’t. Strange. I’m a smörgåsbord of issues if they look deep enough.

“So you’re referring to the case in Green Valley in the commercial?” the first reporter jumps in again. I turn back to him.

“Wasn’t that enough?” I ask him, clearly appalled.

“But is that considered abuse in the traditional term, Ana?” Oh, he’s feeling friendly now. I frown.

“What would you call it?”

“Cruel and brutal…” he trails off, trying to save face. “More like battery.” My mouth falls open as I listen to him try to put a label on what happened to me so that he can punch holes in my story.

“And abusive,” I hiss as I feel my body begin to shake. Chuck puts his hand on my arm, but I jerk away from him. “Those people in Green Valley abused me for quite some time before it culminated in that brutal, vicious beating that you all hear about on the news. Bullying is just as abusive as any other physical or emotional abuse that a child can suffer, and I endured both. So when your child comes home from school, tormented and broken and asking you why everybody seems to hate him, you make sure that while you’re trying to comfort him, you tell him loud and clear that what he is suffering is not abuse!”

I managed not to raise my voice, but the angry tears streaming down my face speak volumes. I have never cried in front of the press. I have always handled them with poise and grace and never allowed them to shake my exterior. This time, something is shaken right down to my very core. This guy is smart, though. He’s not going to allow himself to be the sacrificial lamb.

“Ana… I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Thank you for sharing that with us. I shouldn’t have been so insensitive.” I don’t know if he’s sincere or trying to save his ass, but I choose to take the high road.

“Apology accepted. I will make this statement, though. If you encounter any of the people in that public service announcement, please do not badger them. Those people have suffered so much—some of them have lost loved ones, and yet they were brave enough to speak up in an attempt to help others. Those are not actors, and I think I speak correctly for my fiancé, Grey Enterprise Holdings and Helping Hands when I say that we will do everything—and I mean everything—in our power to protect the privacy and the dignity of those brave people. So please feel free to pass that word around to any ambitious journalists who may want to seek them out to make a quick buck. That’s all I have to say about this. Now, please, clear away from my door. I am a doctor, I have patients to see, and they deserve dignity and privacy as well.”

Instead of turning around and walking back into my building, I stand there and wait to see if these morons are going to follow my directions. Slowly but surely, they get into their cars and drive away. It takes about 15 minutes for the last one to realize that I’m not going inside until they are gone. I turn to Chuck.

“I need someone posted outside to see my patients in when they get here. I’ll get you a list. There will be five of them if they all show up today.” He hands me his handkerchief.

“Sure thing, Ana,” he says as we walk into the building. This was the last thing that I needed knowing that I need to meet Christian at GEH this afternoon to sign this fucking prenuptial agreement. What a way to start the day.

“Ana, what would you like to do for lunch?” Marilyn asks me after I’ve seen my last patient.

“I don’t know,” I say wearily. Take a nap, I think. Talking to my patients zapped every bit of what was left of my strength from me and I am exhausted. I can’t even think about food. I just put my head down on my desk and lament the coming events of my afternoon.

I am awakened by gentle kisses on my shoulder and someone brushing my hair away from my face. I smell his scent as his hair brushes against my cheek.

Christian.

I attempt to lift my head, but my neck is in excruciating pain and I wince. His thumbs go to work releasing the kinks in the top of my spine while his hands and finger attack the knots in muscles of my shoulder and neck. It feels heavenly.

“Bad morning, Baby?” he says in his velvety soft voice. And a worse afternoon ahead, I think to myself.

“Yes,” I answer simply as I allow relief and comfort to flood my body through his magic fingers.

“Davenport called. I knew my presence would only stir up the press so I waited for lunch time. I brought you a chicken Caesar pita and a cranberry juice.” Mmmm, suddenly, the idea of food is making my mouth water.

“Thank you, Christian,” I say, finally raising my head and leaning into his massage. He works out the pain for a few more moments, then sits on the edge of my desk. Placing his hand on my cheek, he kisses me gently, then again, and again. His eyes are filled with concern when they meet mine. He kisses me on my forehead, and then proceeds to open my lunch. Once I dig into the food he has set before me, I notice that he’s not eating.

“I’ve already had lunch,” he says softly, answering my unspoken question. I eat in silence for a few more moments. He opens my cranberry juice and hands it to me. I take several healthy swallows.

“You really are hungry,” he acknowledges. “Will this be enough for you?” I nod gratefully at him as he moves from the desk to one of the seats across from it. “We don’t have to do this today if you don’t want to.”

Hmm, the thought is tempting, but I meant what I said. I want to hurry up and visit this issue and get it done because the next time I visit it, my life will be over anyway.

“No,” I say after swallowing the food in my mouth. “I don’t want to put it off. The longer we wait, the worse I feel about it. It’s like the Sword of Damocles ready to fall,” I say shaking my head. He chuckles to himself and I glare at him. Exactly what about this is funny to him?

“I’m sorry, Butterfly. No, it’s not a laughing matter, but I just remember thinking that same thing last year when you were going to submit that report to the court about me. It’s a very obscure reference for someone who is not familiar with its origin. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you know what it means.” He reaches across the table and takes my hand. “Please, trust me.”

“I do,” I say without hesitation. “I just want to get this over and done.” I swallow the last bite of my sandwich and quickly drink down the rest of my cranberry juice. I’m grabbing my purse when Christian comes around the desk to me.

“Slow down, Ana. We have plenty of time,” he says. “Talk to me.” My heart falls into my stomach.

“Oh, please, let’s not talk about it anymore. Let’s just get it signed.” An unknown emotion flashes in his eyes. I put my hand gently on his arm and control my tone of voice. “Let’s just get it signed,” I say again, softer. He looks at me and nods, then leads me out of the office.

“I have an attorney for you,” Christian says as we ride the elevator to the 20th floor of Grey House. I look up at him. “I have ruthless lawyers, Anastasia. Besides Allen, most of them are bitter single or divorced men who know or care nothing about love, trust, or loyalty. I want you to feel free to voice your concerns and ask your questions.” I nod silently and look ahead. When the elevator doors open, we step out onto the 20th floor and head straight for the conference room.

There are five attorneys in the room waiting for us. One of them is Al. Oh, great, now I have to explain to my best friend why I didn’t tell him that my stinking rich fiancé who he works for wanted a prenup. I feel like another business deal, like one of his contracted subs. I’m going to be sick. I pause before proceeding to a seat. Christian turns around and looks at me.

“Trust me,” he mouths to me and I relax a bit, taking the chair he has pulled out for me. “I didn’t realize we needed this many people,” he says, voicing my thoughts.

“This is a very important decision you’re making, Sir,” Attorney #1 says. “We are just making sure everything is in order.”

“Is that so?” Christian responds, and I hear the sarcastic skepticism in his voice. “Would that be why I was bombarded with emails from each of you all weekend long?”

Attorney #2 clears his throat. “We just… thought you may want to revisit the document before you and Ms. Steele signed it, Sir.”

“Have you included everything I requested?” Christian asks. There is a pause. “Well, have you?”

“Yes, Sir, we have,” Attorney #1 says.

“Then why would I want to revisit it? If you’ve done what I’ve asked you, then it’s perfect.”

“It’s far from perfect,” Attorney #3 pipes in. I call him Prune Face.

“Oh, and what do you mean? Please, let’s talk about this now.” Prune Face looks from Christian to me and back at Christian.

“It doesn’t seem prudent, Sir. You’ve taken our advice thus far and you’ve done just fine. Now, I must admit that we feel you are making a grave mistake with this agreement and we hoped you would reconsider.” Grave mistake? Reconsider? What’s going on?

“Well, let’s see. I’ve run a very successful business for nearly 10 years now, built mostly before I had even met any of you. So by all means, please tell me what grave mistakes are in my agreement.”

“It changes the structure of several operations and failsafes that you have had in place for many years.” Oh, now I’m really curious. It’s just a prenup. At its worst, it says I get nothing. What the fuck are they worried about?

“That’s the whole idea,” Christian says firmly. “I am getting married, after all. Some things will undoubtedly have to change.”

“But this, Sir…” Prune Face protests. What exactly is in this agreement? The fourth attorney is sitting there silently. Maybe that’s supposed to be my attorney.

“What do you suggest?” Christian says, his eyes bearing down on the Prune Face. He straightens his collar and clears his throat. He clearly doesn’t want me to see the agreement or know wants in it.

“Well, the percentage needs rethinking,” he says, “and the balance of control…”

“There was no balance before. There is now,” Christian says. Control of what? His money?

“What is the problem with the control?” Al asks. “Is it that the control no longer lies in your hands—that Mr. Grey has opted to take on more of the control and who gets it, which effectively eliminates you?”

“Whose side are you on?” Prune Face barks.

“Oh, I didn’t know we were taking sides here,” Al says. “In this capacity, I thought we all worked for Mr. Grey!” he snaps, silencing Prune Face immediately. “To that end, I’ll answer your question. At the request of Mr. Grey, I’m on Ms. Steele’s side today, but tread carefully; because tomorrow I’ll be right back in that seat that you hate to see me in.” Whoa! I’ve never seen Al in full-on action. He speaks with intense authority and he’s a force to be reckoned with. He doesn’t take down to any of these sour-mouthed bastards and I’m so glad that he’s on my side. Christian opens the agreement. There are two copies, one in front of him and one in front of me. He only looks briefly at the first two pages.

“Who approved the final draft?” Christian asks.

“I did, Sir,” Attorney #2 says begrudgingly. Christian looks up at him.

“Everything?” Christian asks.

“Everything,” he confirms. Christian nods.

“Very well. Anastasia, would you like to read it?” Christian asks me. I look from him to Al who is nodding at me, then around the table to the Four Horsemen of the Fucking Apocalypse. I pick up the pen and begin signing the agreement.

“You should read it, Anastasia,” Christian says firmly.

“I don’t need to read it,” I tell him, not only because I have no idea what I would be reading anyway, but also because I’m not interested in what it says. I continue signing it and push it back over to him.

“You really should read it, Ana,” Al says, and I know now that I probably should have read it before I signed it.

“It’s signed now,” Attorney #1 says. “She’s accepted the agreement.” He nearly can’t contain his underlying glee when a moment ago, he was begging Christian to reconsider the entire thing. This behavior does not slip by my super-shrewd fiancé. He eyes Attorney #1, and then turns to Al.

“Mr. Forsythe, did you go over the agreement like I asked?”

“Yes, I did.” The four attorneys look nervously at one another.

“Did you find anything out of place?” Christian asks.

“Yes, I did.” Attorney #2 points at me.

“She signed it! She agreed to the terms! We’re all witnesses!” He’s frantic for this agreement to be signed.

“But I haven’t!” Christian roars, silencing Attorney #2 and glaring at him. “Allen! What did you find?” he asks, still glaring at Attorney #2. Al opens the agreement.

“Ambiguous writing at the bottom of page three—check paragraph eight.” I don’t bother opening the thing. I still wouldn’t know what I was looking at.

“What the fuck!” Christian yells. He looks at the attorneys with fire in his eyes. “Explain this!”

“It’s…” Attorney #1 takes the document and pretends to read it. We can all tell that he already knows what it says. “It’s an escape clause, Sir, in case you changed your mind.” What? He asked for the prenup. Why would he change his mind? Are they protecting me or him? What is this?

“Is that what I asked for? Did I fucking ask for an escape clause?” He’s nearly screaming now.

“Excuse me,” I say softly. Christian calms right down.

“What is it, Baby?” he asks reassuringly.

“What does ‘ambiguous writing’ mean?” I ask. I need to know exactly what’s going on. Al speaks up.

“Ambiguous writing is unclear wording that can be interpreted more than one way in a court of law. Not only can it lead to a challenge of the document, but it can also render the document invalid,” he says. I shake my head.

“So,” I don’t quite understanding what’s going on, “this…” I wave my hands around, “writing basically means that if the time came where the agreement came into play, then this clause here would make the whole thing void?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Al says. My hands fly to my face. I am thoroughly confused as I shake my head trying to make sense of all this.

“Ana?” Christian’s voice interrupts my confusion.

“I don’t get it! I said I would sign anything you want!” I exclaim.

“But this is not what I want!” he snaps, more at the lawyers and none at me. They begin to murmur amongst themselves.

“Sir, she says she’ll sign anything you want. Why are we going this route?” Prune Face asks.

“Are you deaf? I said this is not what I want! She’s always said she’ll sign anything I wanted. I told you what I wanted and you did something else altogether.”

“That’s not all, Sir,” Al says. Oh shit, there’s more.

“What else is there?” Christian asks.

“Page four, paragraph four,” Al says. Christian turns the page and reads for a few moments. His ears turn read. Oh, fuck.

“Let me see if I get this straight. You were about to have my fiancée, the woman I am about to marry, my soon-to-be wife and hopefully the mother of my children sign an NDA hidden in her prenuptial agreement?” He is talking so low and calm that I don’t whether I should be running or what.

“Again, Sir, you don’t want an ugly divorce splattered all over the tabloids,” Attorney #1 says.

“Neither do I!” I scream, clearly affronted. “I’m lost again! I wouldn’t say anything about our marriage anyway. What’s the need—or the harm—in an NDA?” I’m getting more and more perturbed by the second. I have no idea what the fuck is going on.

“There’s no need for it, but plenty of harm,” Christian says. “If, heaven forbid, we were to find ourselves in divorce court, you wouldn’t be able to tell anyone anything about what happened in our marriage or the cause for the breakup.” Okay, that sounds unreasonable to me, but I could see why he wouldn’t want his business all over the paper. I look at Al.

“Not even an attorney, Ana. You would have to rely solely on these guys or me—if I’m still here—to give you what you should get in your prenup, and they don’t want to give it to you now.” I have to let that sink in for a moment then the light comes on.

“Oh, shit, is that what this is all about?” I nearly scream, rising from my seat and slamming my hands on the table. “This is why I didn’t want a prenup!” I’m nearly shaking. “Because assholes like this are sure that all I want is your fucking money!”

“Ana, it’s not you, I swear,” Christian says, grabbing my arms and trying to still me. “Do you still trust me?” he asks firmly. I’m so angry that I can’t form my answer. “Anastasia, do you still trust me?”

“Yes,” I gasp out. “Yes, I still trust you.” I’m nearly choking the words out.

“Then you have to let me make this right. Please…” I know he has nothing to do with these extra clauses. I am just sick to know what the original prenup said that these tight-ass fuckers felt the need to change it—and what did Al mean by “they don’t want to give it to me now?” That horse’s hair holding that sword is getting weaker and weaker and I swear it’s about to fall on my head. I sit back down in my seat and glare at each one of them. None of them dare return my stare except #4. He hasn’t said a word all day and for some reason, I think he’s going to be my biggest nemesis in all of this.

“What else, Allen?” Christian spits, running his hands through his hair.

“One more, Sir. Page five, paragraph nine and page six, paragraph one.” Christian turns to the last page and I hear him chuckle in disbelief. I don’t even raise my head to see what was going to happen next.

“An indemnity clause,” he states in the same disbelieving tone. “Fucking hell. In a prenuptial agreement. An indemnity clause. Exactly who would be the injured party besides us if our marriage falls apart? And who besides one of us would be expecting a payout from said breakup?”

Ooooooh, you don’t want to know the ambiguity that could be harvested from that clause,” Al says. I still say nothing and stare non-seeing at the document on the table in front of me. Christian reaches for the agreement under my hands. I look up at him.

“May I?” he says. I lift my hands and he takes the document. He turns to the seventh page and writes “VOID” in big letters over my signature. “Allen, have you corrected the document?”

“I have, Mr. Grey,” Allen says.

“May I see it please?” Al reaches into his briefcase and produces two new agreements. These are six pages long, no doubt because those ridiculous clauses have been eliminated. I pick up the pen again. “No. Read it.” Christian holds the hand with the pen in it.

“Christian, this is all going to be Greek to me,” I admit to him.

“Then have your attorney explain it to you,” he says flatly. “Mine are clearly worthless.” He throws hateful glances at the assholes at the end of the table and I don’t look in their direction at all.

“Ana, it’s mostly legal jargon that won’t mean anything to you, but you’ll want to pay attention to page five, paragraphs three and four,” Al says. I turn to page five and read the paragraphs.

“‘Property in Schedule A1 and A2 will remain the property of the owner,'” I read. “Where are these schedules? Al pulls out the schedules. A1 is Christian’s and only lists Escala and Grey House. I know he owns more than that. A2 is mine and lists my condo and the office building where my office is housed.

“I don’t own this,” I protest.

“You will,” he says flatly. I just look at him then go back to the document:

Unless a particular piece of property is explicitly documented as being owned by both parties, the following types of property will not be deemed as shared property:
a. any property owned by a party at the date of execution of this Agreement; and
b. any property acquired by a party through an inheritance.

Fair enough.

Except as otherwise provided in this Agreement, such property as is listed in Schedule “B” attached hereto will be and remain the property of both parties. In the event of the parties separating, or upon the death of a party, any jointly-acquired or jointly held property will be deemed to be owned equally with each party entitled to fifty percent (50%) of the net equity of the property, regardless of the initial or ongoing proportion of each party’s investment, unless the parties otherwise agree in writing.

I look at Christian. “Schedule B?” He looks at Al who pulls out a stack of papers so big that it needs a binder clip. I don’t even need to read it. What the hell?

“Christian! This is not joint property! This is all yours!” I exclaim.

“I’m well aware of that,” he says. “Allen is having the papers drawn up to have everything put in both our names so that no one can do anything without your permission in the event that I am incapacitated.” He looks down at his monstrous attorneys. “Including my business.”

“Your business?” I nearly choke. “I saw Grey House on Schedule A!”

“That’s the building, not the business. The functions, the assets, the net worth…”

“Fifty percent of your business? Everything you’ve built?”

“Well, 65% if I’m ever unfaithful.” Now I’m nearly gagging. “Allen, do you have the codicil to my will?”

“Right here.” Al pulls out another document and hands it to Christian. He signs it immediately and Al signs it as well.

“Okay, what’s that?” I ask, still not completely able to catch my breath.

“That is the amendment to my will that makes you sole beneficiary and executor of my estate.” Everybody except Al gasps. “That’s just in case I walk outside and get hit by a car before we get married.” Now I’m hyperventilating.

“Christian!” I pant. “This is insane! I expected…” I can’t think. What did I expect? I don’t know. “Fifty percent of your assets? Your business? This is crazy!”

“This is what you would have gotten if we didn’t have a prenup,” he points out, trying to calm me, “only you wouldn’t have been in control of it. They would have!” He finally tells me. He finally tells me why we needed the prenup.

But Allen… Christian… 50… sixty-five?” I ask disbelieving.

“Butterfly?” He gets my attention with a gentle shake. “Do you really want them to be in charge of my future? Of our future?” he says softly. My shaking slows. Those fuckers in charge of our future. Hell, no. This is about more than who gets what if we split. This is about protecting his legacy, about safeguarding his assets from a bunch of crooked, greedy lawyers. I straighten up and nod.

Finally, the one attorney who has sat silently on the opposite side of the table stands in a huff. He just can’t stand it anymore.

“Sir, you’re acting like a lovesick fool! You’re throwing your legacy away, handing over control of everything you’ve worked for!” He nearly bellows.

“You’ve got one thing right in that whole statement—my legacy! My company, my money. Make no mistake, Gentlemen, I built this company. You have handled my legal issues, advised me when I needed it, but you did not build this empire. I did. I am by no means remiss to take credit for my hard work and to make the final decisions on what’s going to happen to my fortune. Do not forget that if you want to continue working for my company! Are we clear?” Fucking hell! He has brought this room to total and utter fucking silence. Even I feel myself cowering in my chair a bit.

Christian picks up the pen and quickly signs and initials the six pages of the prenuptial agreement. He takes the second copy and repeats the process before he hands the pen to me, his face firm. Grace’s conversation about her prenup comes to mind. We’re going to be together forever and he knows it. He has no worry whatsoever about his fortune. I smile softly at him and take the pen from his hand, signing and initialing the twelve pages of the two documents. I gently push them back to him and he hands them over to Allen, who leaves the room with the only signed copies of our prenup. Christian helps me from my chair.

“You’re right about something else, too,” he says to the last lawyer who dared to speak. “I am a lovesick fool. You should try it sometimes.” He grabs my hand and leads me out of the conference room and into his office. When we get there, I stand in the middle of his office, the adrenaline beating the blood into my head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask. Christian was pacing the office, but now stops in his tracks and looks at me. “Why didn’t you just tell me what was going on? Was I being tested or something?” I truly feel forlorn. I don’t know why he couldn’t just end my suffering when we first talked about this by just telling me what he was doing.

“It was never a test. I just needed you to trust me and you did. Against everything that you thought and felt, you trusted me. You walked wide-eyed, alert and aware, and jumped off the cliff. If there was any test, the test was for me. I had to earn that trust that you were giving me. I had to show you that I had your—our—best interests at heart. The terms of our prenuptial agreement are sealed, but now the world will know that you are not after my money and I will know that ruthless, heartless attorneys will not be able to take advantage of you if worse comes to worst.”

I fall into the chair in front of his desk and burst into tears, burying my face in my hands and weeping bitterly. Christian is on his knees in front of me in seconds.

“Please! Oh, please, forgive me for ever doubting you!” I cry, unable to control my sobs. Christian puts his arms around me and rubs me soothingly.

Sssshhh,” he hushes me. “It’s a prenup. It’s very purpose is doubt.”

“Why is she crying?” I hear Al say as he enters the office. “She’s going to be wealthier after she says ‘I do’ than she would have been if she hadn’t signed the prenup.”

“Don’t be an asshole, Allen,” Christian says. “It’s been a trying day for her.” That it has! First the reporters, then his lawyers basically begging him not to give me a damn thing in the prenup, then finding out exactly what it says. I am weak and tired and drained and I want to go home. The next announcement doesn’t help much.

“Sir?” Williams comes into the office. “Excuse the intrusion, Sir, but we couldn’t get you on your line.

“What is it?” Christian asks, annoyed.

“At the front desk, there’s a call. It’s from the prison, the women’s prison, Sir.” Elena. Fucking She-Thing, Pedo-Bitch Elena Lincoln.

“Lincoln?” he asks.

“Well, yes and no, Sir. It’s the warden actually. Mrs. Lincoln had some kind of psychotic break this weekend. She’s in the infirmary and they’re not quite sure what’s wrong with her.” Christian stands.

“Why the fuck are they calling me?” he bellows.

“The warden says that Lincoln is asking for you. Your name is the only word she has muttered for two days. They don’t know if she’s crazy or slipping away,” Williams responds.

“The warden should also know that bitch tried to kill me. Tell them to call me when she’s dead,” he says flatly. Williams nods and leaves the office.

“I’m going home now,” I say. I just can’t take anymore. My head hurts and I need a long, long nap before it explodes.

“I’m coming with you,” Christian says, shutting down his laptop and gathering a few things that he needs.

“I’m just going to go to sleep, Christian. I’m so tired…”

“And I’m coming with you,” he repeats and nearly lifts me out of the seat. “Come on, Baby.” Christian drags me out of his office towards the elevator. Seeing that the Awestruck Foursome is still in the conference room with the glass walls having a powwow, he drags me behind him so fast in that direction that I almost have to run to keep up with them.

“Oh, shit!” I hear Al hiss behind me as he quickly catches up with us. Christian slams into the door so hard that I’m surprised it didn’t shatter from the force.

“Mr. Abrahms,” Attorney #2 looks up at him. “You took credit for the presentation so I’m holding you solely responsible for it. You clearly can no longer execute my wishes and you seem extremely comfortable with making decisions over my head that are clearly contrary to my instructions. You’re fired. Everything that you have learned, heard, or seen since you have been an employee of GEH is not only under attorney/client privilege, but also protected by a non-disclosure agreement. Breathe a word about something as simple as what color suit I am wearing and I will have you disbarred. What’s more, I will make your life fucking miserable. Now get your shit and get the fuck out of my building, you bad-faith, treacherous, mutinous asshole!”

He stares at Christian like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Mr. Grey! Please! I’ve been with your company for five years! I was only doing what I thought was best.”

“It doesn’t matter what you thought,” Christian says, calmly. “I gave you specific instructions of what I wanted. You changed that document—a legal document—against my wishes, and then you pushed it in front of my fiancée and almost had us sign it! Me! You almost had me sign a legal document concerning my assets that was completely against my wishes! I could have you disbarred for that alone. I can’t trust you anymore. I’m opening an investigation on every document you have touched in the last five years. If I find something shady, you can kiss your legal career goodbye. Now shut the fuck up and get out of my building before I change my mind and call the bar association now! Lawrence!” Christian yells for Ben who is in the conference room in moments.

“Yes, Sir?” Ben asks, briefly making eye-contact with me.

“Have security pack up Mr. Abrahms’ belongings right now. Escort him to the lobby and have someone sit with him while they bring down whatever personal trinkets he has on his desk. Whitewash all of his accesses immediately including his email. He is not allowed to leave with any hard copies, flash drives, or digital reproductions of any GEH materials. He can’t even leave with the cell phone that he has in his pocket right now.” Christian glares at him. “Your badge, Mr. Abrahms.” Abrahms sourly unclips his badge and hands it to Ben.

“I know that you may have some of GEH’s materials at your home. I suggest that you make sure they are back in GEH possession within the next 24 hours without reproductions because any bit of information that leaks out of GEH from this point on, I’m going to blame it on you. You know how I operate, Abrahms. You know I can find out.” I have never seen this Christian Grey before. He scares me.

Apparently, he scares Abrahms as well.

“Yes, Sir,” he says, ducking is head and leaving the office with Ben in tow.

“Lawrence?” Christian calls out. Ben turns around. “Company car.” Ben nods and follows a cowering Abrahms onto the elevator. Christian pulls out his blackberry.

“Barnie, Abrahms has been fired. You have twenty minutes to strip his home computer. I don’t care if the files say that they are family pictures. We’ll give them back to him when we discover that it’s nothing GEH related.” He ends the call and turns his attention to the other three people in the room.

“I’m certain that bastard took the fall for you all. That means that he has more guts than any of you, which doesn’t fare well for you. I will be watching your every move from now on. I am fucking pissed that you thought you could slide these crooked ass clauses past me on something that affects me personally. And how stupid do you feel that she was willing to sign that agreement without even looking at it?” he asks gesturing towards me. “I don’t think you have any idea what you’ve done. One day, you may very well be answering to her, and you just let her know that she can’t trust any of you.” They look at each other in horrified silence before returning their gaze back to Christian.

“Make no mistake. You are all worthless pieces of shit to me right now, but if you ever try something like this again—anything even close—I’m going to have your fucking asses on a barbecue.” He grabs my hand and leads me out of the office.

“What are you going to do?” I ask.

“I’m going to fire them all, but I’ll have Allen help me build another legal team before I do.”

“How did you know?” I ask.

“Allen suspected. This was the litmus test. I knew what I was going to do all along. I just needed to know if they would support me. I can’t trust them. They have to go.”

We get to the parking garage and once we are in the Audi SUV, we drive through the few remaining reporters outside of Grey House and head back to Escala. Christian starts talking to me once we are on the road for a few minutes.

“Butterfly, second only to my family, you are the most important thing in my life right now. Anybody that can’t accept that has to go. That fact drove Elena absolutely crazy and look where she is. The way my company was set up, my attorneys were my executors. If anything happened to me, they made all the decisions. They held most of the cards, or at least they thought they did. I had to see who was on my side, and I’m sorry that I used you to that end, Baby. I needed your genuine surprise. I needed every reaction you gave today, just like you gave it. It reassured me of what I already knew about you, and smoked out what I suspected about them.”

“Is that your entire legal team?” I ask him.

“No, that’s a little under half,” he says. “They each have a different specialty. That’s why I have to build a new team before I can get rid of them. It’s not going to be easy. I have to find the kind of talent I need without tipping them off.”

“And that’s where Allen comes in.”

“I certainly hope so. I’m getting to the point where I just don’t trust lawyers at all anymore,” he says with a sigh.

“What did you mean when you said they thought they held all the cards?”

“Well, simply put without telling you more than you need to know, did you see Abrahms reaction when I told him that he knows how I operate?” I nod. “They all know. They don’t want to cross me.” I nod again and yawn as we pull into Escala. “This day wore you out, didn’t it?” I nod again. He gets out of the car and comes to my side. Opening the door, he takes my in his arms and carries me bridal style to the elevator.

“I can walk, Baby,” I say sleepily.

“Mm-hmm, and I can carry you, too.” He kisses me gently on my forehead as we ride the elevator up to Escala.


GREY

This has been a long day. I thought the biggest thing that I would be facing was the attention from the PSA. I truly had no idea that I had attorneys on my payroll that would actually try to trick me into signing something. It’s truly unbelievable. I put Butterfly down for a nap and she was asleep before her head hit the pillow—stilettos and all. She is completely worn out. I’ll let her sleep for a couple of hours before I bother waking her for dinner.

I go into my study and sit down at my desk. I don’t even know where to start. I run my hands through my hair and try to resist the urge to have a drink. Fuck it, I’ve been moderate lately. I can have a cocktail. I go over to the cabinet and pour myself a double shot fingers of bourbon. I walk over to the window and ponder my situation for a while.

How many contracts have these assholes put together for me over the years?
How many hidden clauses have been slipped in that I don’t know about?
How would I even begin to find out?

This is not as simple as an internal audit, which is not simple at all. This would involve hiring a separate team of lawyers to interpret ever single contract GEH has drafted over the last—what, sever or eight years?

“Fuck.” I’m about to get married. I don’t have time for this shit. What do I do? Fire these fucks and hope nothing comes back to bite me in the ass? That’s just not the way I operate. These were my lawyers, my trusted advisors—and they bit me in the butt, not even while my back was turned. They tried to do it today while I was looking.

“Hey Boss.” I turn around and Jason is standing in the door. He’s no longer wearing his sling and he is well into his therapy. The doctors say that he’s healing and progressing faster than normal, but they expect that from someone with his metabolism and physique. “Ben told me you fired one of the legals today. Do you think that’s wise?” He takes a seat in one of the chairs while I nurse my drink.

“I didn’t have a choice,” I tell him. “He tried to fuck me over, big time.”

“What did he do?”

“He and three of the others tried to slide some pretty dangerous clauses into my prenup.” He raised his eyebrow at me.

“How did I not know you were doing a prenup?” I take a sip of my bourbon and turn around to face him.

“Because I’m an asshole,” I tell him walking back to my desk and sitting down. “If it weren’t for the fact that Butterfly may have gotten hurt from this shit, I would have deserved anything those fuckers threw at me today.” Jason frowns.

“I don’t follow,” he says, bemused. I lean my head back on my seat.

“I used her as bait, Jason,” I say looking at the ceiling. “She trusted me and I used her as bait.” He falls completely silent as I bottom out my glass. “I knew without a doubt that she wasn’t going to leave that meeting with less than half of my assets. I made it even sweeter. She gets 65% if I cheat on her, half of everything I own if we part ways for any other reason—everything, the business, the properties, the investments, the cash, everything except this apartment and Grey House, the physical building. Those fuckers nearly pissed their pants. They‘ve been pissing for a week now. They didn’t make this much noise when I put her on the K&R insurance.”

“I don’t understand. Why would they care about all of that? It’s not like you were liquidating your assets and selling the company. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that before I had a fiancée, I had no one. My family knew nothing about how my business was run or even what my true net worth is. Who do you think had control of all of that? The accountants? Fuck no, the lawyers. They controlled everything, and if anything happened to me, they were executors, trustees, everything. They sat at the helm and now, I’ll have a wife. By law, she would generally control everything anyway but there are so many ways to get around that in the corporate world and, trust me, that’s exactly what these fuckers wanted. I’ve changed my will, my living will, and my advanced directives all effective immediately and our prenup will, of course, be effective when we marry. She’s legally in charge of everything—even my business—if I become incapacitated or unable to make decisions for any reason. They tried to put an NDA in my prenup, Jason.” He frowns again.

“You have to tell me what the repercussions of that are. Why an NDA in a prenup?” he asks.

“It would prevent her from employing outside counsel if the prenup had to be enforced. She would have had to go to them because she wouldn’t be allowed to tell anyone about the terms of our prenup or the cause for our separation. I’m sure that she could have protested that along with all the other bullshit they tried to slip in there, but hell. By the time she got any justice from it, those fuckers would have divvied up my estate and ran off to some foreign country with no extradition laws.” I run my hands over my face.

“That bad? Seriously, Boss?”

“Seriously. Butterfly was clueless. Hell, even I didn’t know it was this bad until I saw the clauses that they we trying to slip in right in my face. I hate not knowing what’s going on right up under my nose. I fucking hate it.” I rub my eyes. “That whole redo of all the departments that I did last August didn’t mean a damn thing if legal was so fucking cocky to try some shit like this. I know what I need to do, I just don’t know how to go about doing it.”

“Start with the home computers,” I hear a familiar voice say from the doorway. I look up and I see Allen standing in my study door. “The moment you told Barney to wipe Abrahms home computers, assistants upstairs started getting texts. I knew something was up when they started huddling and got quiet when I walked by.” Oh shit, this is worse than I thought.

“Are they all in on this?” I ask, forlorn.

“From what I can see, it’s just those four. They were clustered and working together. I got into some files after I sent their hussies home and it doesn’t look like anything big enough to bring your company down, just enough to make them comfortable in their positions. Most of what they were doing was nullified by the documents we filed today, which is why they were so desperate to talk to you before you signed them.”

“Wait a minute,” Jason says, “Go back. You sent their hussies home?”

“Keep up, Agent T. Every one of those horn dogs is fucking his assistant.”

“What!?” Okay, I didn’t know that. There’s a no fraternization policy at GEH to prevent any claims of sexual harassment. Allen looks over at me.

“You really didn’t know this?” he asks me.

“No! No fraternization? Remember that? Is there any proof?” I ask.

“Well, there’s no documents, but everybody knows.” Allen shrugs.

“Fuck!” I exclaim. “These fuckers are going to bring my company down!”

“Settle down, Chris. This type of thing happens everyday. Even if one of those little sluts did cry sexual harassment, GEH would bury her. There are bigger fish to fry, though these fish aren’t really that big either.” He pulls some files out of his briefcase. “These five guys are going to sweep your legal department, do the internal audit that should have been done in August.” I open the files that he hands me and look at the information for five attorneys that I have never heard of before.

“Why the hell would I allow five attorneys that I don’t know to comb through my records?” I ask. Allen frowns.

“Because I’m trusting you with my Jewel, which is far more valuable to me than your company, so you should probably trust me, too,” he says curtly. I look at the files and sigh.

“I trust you implicitly, Allen,” I say, “and not just because you’re trusting me with your Jewel.”

“Good, because this operation has already begun,” he tells me and I freeze. “While your boys were in the conference room trying to figure out their next move, their girlfriends were busy trying to cover their tracks. That’s when I knew that we had to move. You had already told Barney to lock down Abrahms’ home computer. I took the liberty of locking the rest of them down. I never thought I would see three grown men piss their pants until those three tried to get back into legal and couldn’t.”

“You started all of this without even needing my clearance?” I ask. Allen cocks his head at me.

“When we’re done with all of this, we’re going to go over exactly who can do what. Do you know that any department head in your company has the ability to lock down their department without clearance from you, and that you are the only one that can override it?” Oh, shit, yeah I do vaguely remember something like that. “Consider this, Chris. I knew everything that happened in that conference room before security even got down to the 14th floor to clean out that asshole’s desk. Those idiots were so same cocky that for several minutes after you left, they sat down there still confabbing. It gave me ample time to have Barney wipe their home computers—boy, he’s amazing! And yes, the moment I dismissed their little hoochies for the day, they came barreling down the hall to see what was up. By then, it was too late.”

“Too late for what?” Jason asks.

“For anything. They no longer had access to their offices and neither did their assistants. Two lovely tin soldiers were posted outside of the department until I could get their clearances changed, and they are just about as useful as Abrahms right now until we can get our boys there into their files. I took the liberty of giving them 30 days off with pay because it’s going to take at least that long for my dream team there to uncover the extent of the damage they have done, and before you fall in love with them—because you will—let me tell you now that none of them are looking for employment. However, they may be able to point us in the direction of a few good candidates.”

“What, in the name of God, would I do without you, Allen?” I say, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. “You are never allowed to retire. Ever.” Allen laughs at me.

“Don’t worry. He told me the same thing,” Jason says, “and I took a bullet.” Allen and Jason laugh at his statement but I am laughing out of pure relief! I trusted these men to handle my business and the legal affairs of my company, my baby, and they screwed me. I just don’t know how badly yet, but thanks to my superhero over here, I’ll find out soon enough.

Allen, Jason, and I bang out the particulars of getting Allen’s “Dream Team” into the office as soon as possible. Allen says that they can probably get started as soon as Wednesday and Jason will liaise with Welch to get complete background checks by then as well as the necessary clearances. I have already gotten threatening emails from two of the three assholes about resigning and taking their expertise with them to another company along with the strategies that they have learned from GEH and blah, blah, blah.

This is kind of like the mole situation, only worse. I trusted these men.

We know that we’ve been at it a long time when James shows up at my door to collect his boyfriend. It’s nearly 7pm and I ask if they just want to stay for dinner. They both shrug and accept before I go off to the bedroom to rouse a Butterfly.

She is still dead to the world, in the same position I left her in. Good God, she must have been exhausted. I sit on the edge of the bed and gently brush her hair away from her face. This is the second time today I had to wake her to eat. She is so beautiful, and I get to marry her in less than two months.

“Butterfly, wake up,” I say, gently brushing my fingers over her cheek. “Wake up, Baby.” I see her toes curl and stretch and then her fingers. She’s adorable. Sometime during her nap, she rid herself of her stilettos. She stretches each bone and muscle, one by one, before opening her eyes and smiling sweetly at me.

“Hi,” she says softly, reaching for me. Oh, yes, yes, Butterfly—here I come. I go to her welcoming arms and kiss her gently.

“Did you sleep well?” I ask. She nods.

“I’m famished,” she declares.

“Good, because it’s time for dinner.”

“Thank God! I didn’t want to start snacking but I feel like I could gnaw my arm off right now.”

“Well, come on out. Your best friend and his boyfriend are here and we’re going to just make a night of it with Jason and Gail,” I tell her.

Ooo, sounds like fun. Let me just freshen up a bit and I’ll be right there.” She pecks me again on the lips and swings her legs out of the bed headed for the en suite. I shake my head at her enthusiasm and hang my jacket and tie in the closet, opting for just my shirt and slacks. Butterfly comes out of the en suite moments later in just her bra and panties and my dick goes wild. She’s standing salivating herself and I wonder what she’s looking at.

“You had better put some clothes on or I will have to send our dinner guests away,” I warn.

“Well, you’re…” she clears her throat. “You‘re in uniform.” I look down at myself. White shirt, black slacks. Yeah, I am.

“My shirt is closed, I’m wearing a T-shirt underneath, and my chest isn’t showing. Get a grip, woman.” She twists her lips at me.

“Mmm-hmm, okay.” She walks coolly to the closet to find something to wear. When she emerges, she is wearing this tiny little brown and white skirt with some kind of retro pattern on it with this boat neck lace shirt. She looks like a bite-size morsel of heaven.

“You’re wearing that?” I ask in a tone meant to discourage her choice.

“You’re wearing that,” she states matter-of-factly and walks past me out the door. I just shake my head. My dick is going to be aching by the end of the night.

We are enjoying a delicious chicken pot pie with fresh salad and roasted asparagus while everyone talks about their day. The prenup is no longer a secret and no one who has taken part in it wants to talk about it anymore. Most of the parties from the PSA are only recognized by those who already know them, thank God. Only Butterfly and I as well as the Judge and a couple of other “celebrities” were hounded by the press today. Tomorrow, they’ll find yet another story to focus on.

“I’m bringing Carla to Seattle on Saturday,” Butterfly says, and the statement brings silence to the room… again.

“Who’s Carla?” James asks.

“My mother,” Butterfly replies. James’ mouth makes a silent “O” and he takes another bite of his pot pie.

“So why are you bringing the wicked witch to Seattle?” Allen asks.

“It’s time to confront her,” Butterfly say flatly. “The journals aren’t working and this grudge isn’t moving. I’m getting married in no time and I refuse to bring this baggage with me. I’ve got to let it go. I’m going to hear her side and then I’m laying this thing to rest once and for all.”

“Do you really think it will be that easy, Ana?” Gail asks her.

“Oh, I know it is. Every other time I’ve spoken to my mother, I’ve always told her how horrible a woman and a mother she was. I never gave her a chance to give me her side of the story. That’s what I’m going to do this time. I’m not going to read anything into her words or try to psychoanalyze anything that she says. I’ve done that for years. I’m going to listen to her and I’m going to take what she says at face value. Then I’m going to make my decision about her, say my piece and go my way.”

“Make your decision?” Allen asks. “You make it sound like there’s a possibility that you two could come out of this friends again.”

“There is a possibility,” Butterfly says. Well, that’s news to me. “There’s always the possibility that I could hear her story and bury the hatchet, but let’s face it. That chance is so slim that I wouldn’t bet on it. I just want to lay this baby to rest one way or the other without anymore name-calling and screaming. It’s not doing me any good.”

“Well, I say good for you, Ana,” James says. “It takes a lot to face a painful past head on and say ‘you are not the master of my destiny anymore.'”

“Here, here.” I say raising my glass in salute to my lovely fiancée. She blushes and takes a sip of her wine.

“Some of you know this and some of you don’t, but I’ve done some regression sessions with my therapist,” she begins. “I was able to clearly remember a time when she…” Butterfly pauses. She is getting choked up. I reach over and take her hand and she smiles tightly at me. “I could remember when she was Mommy and Daddy was Daddy and we were a family. We didn’t have much, but we were so happy.” She pushes a stray hair behind her ear. “I’ve needed her for so much. I miss her. I love her…”

Allen looks like he’s seen a ghost.

“So, you want to mend the relationship with your mother.” He says it more like a statement. Butterfly eyes her half-eaten pot pie and shakes her head.

“One can always hope,” she squeaks. “I’d like to believe that my Mommy is still in there somewhere, but if she is, she’s been dormant for years and years and I’m just not holding my breath that she’s coming back… but, yes. I do miss my Mommy and wish more than anything that I could have a relationship with her, especially right now while I’m planning my wedding and combing through the tragedies that have been my life.” She wipes away a tear.

“Do you need backup?” Allen asks, somewhat breaking the tension in the room. “I’d love to see an old-time, tear-filled reunion and if that doesn’t happen, I’ll hold her down and you can kick the shit out of her.” We all laugh, though nervously.

“You can count me in for some of that,” Gail chimes in, and the laughter becomes more genuine.

“Now, Love,” Jason scolds, “haven’t we had this discussion? No street fighting on Mondays or Wednesdays.” Again, the laughter erupts and Butterfly is chuckling sincerely while wiping away her remaining tears.

“I do appreciate the offer,” she says, “but I’ll be fine. Christian, either way, I do want to give her some money.” My head snaps over to her.

“You want to what? You know that all she wants,” I say, fuming.

“Yes, I do, and I plan to acknowledge that, but I’m not heartless like her. She’s a widow now, and I’m going to give her some money. If our relationship is to end, she can’t say that I never gave her anything. I can understand if you don’t approve. I’ll give it to her out of my savings.” I run my hands through my hair.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I ask her. “Once you give them money, they never go away.”

“She will,” I tell him. “If she doesn’t want to be my Mommy, if my Mommy is gone forever, then she will stay away after this conversation. She won’t be able to face me again, I can guarantee it. Either way, it will be worth the money.” She speaks with conviction. I don’t know what she plans to do, but I have to support her.

“Will 100 grand be enough?” I ask, and she raises her eyes to me.

“Yes. Plenty. More than I could come up with,” she says. I squeeze her hand.

“You’ll have it tomorrow then,” I tell her with a smile. I would pay any amount for Butterfly’s piece of mind. If she’s certain that this will work, then I’m all for it.


A/N: Okay, so, I can’t tell you why this chapter was so emotionally difficult for me to write, but I will tell you that I had just finished writing this chapter for the first time right before I had the TIA’s. Last night when I was re-reading it for editing, I started to feel anxious again, but I think I was just bringing it on myself (I won’t wear the dress again that I was wearing when I had the TIA’s either–it’s that OCD in me that links “bad” things together and won’t come near them). I will tell you that there are parts that I didn’t read again, so if you see typos, please be specific about where they are and I will fix them.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/mending-dr-steele/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x

Mending Dr. Steele: Chapter 53—You’re A Good Man

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 fanfic in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 53—You’re A Good Man

GREY

I refused to leave the reverend’s office until Butterfly pulled herself together. It took several minutes, but I silently held her there in my seat until we both felt better about the difficult conversation we had just had. Reverend Martin informed us that he was satisfied that we were headed in the right direction and agreed to marry us without the remaining three sessions. He said that the other sessions focused on past issues, dealing with them and relating them to our future. Since we were adamant that we are already doing that in therapy, he doesn’t see the need to rehash them. Thank God we don’t have to go through any more of that.

We forego dinner out as we both seem distracted with our thoughts and decide to go home instead. Butterfly quickly creates her famous chicken skewers and bruschetta with tomato and basil and it’s enough for both of us this evening. That night in bed, we briefly talk about the other topic that brought Butterfly to tears.

“If I let myself go, you’d be more concerned with what was happening with me, what was wrong with me—than with the fact that I was becoming a fat old woman. It touched me very deeply. You’re a gorgeous man, Christian. Any other man would just go out and find himself a young, gorgeous woman…” I snatch her into my arms and kiss her deeply, passionately. When I feel her sink into me, I know she finally feels it.

“No one moves me like you,” I say, brushing my lips gently against hers. “No one ever has and no one ever will. It’s only you, Anastasia. Only you—there’s no one else for me.” Her large eyes look up into mine and I kiss her again… and again… and again…

*-*

Everything is all set for the premiere party on Friday. I wanted to go to Boys Night tonight, but after dealing with my irritating sister all day, I think I have other plans. I spent most of the day with Mia planning the premiere party for the Faces PSA and convincing her that I’m not going to ostracize her. Apparently, 2013 will not be known as the year I got married or the year I almost got shot or even the year of the Kate Paternity Scare. No, 2013 will go down in infamy with the Grey family as “the year Christian ostracized Elliot.” Good fucking grief.

I want to be with Butterfly. We haven’t made love since Saturday. It’s Wednesday now and I need her in the worst way. I want to show her something that I’ve only shown one other person… one other sub. It’s time for me and Butterfly to take it over. When I get back to Escala, she is nowhere in sight though I know that she’s here. After warning Gail and Jason to stay in their suite lest they see more than they bargain for, I send Butterfly a text to meet me in our bedroom. By the time she arrives, I am wearing my newest uniform of choice. Her mouth falls open when she sees it—she chose it herself… a soft, sheer cotton white button-down shirt–completely unbuttoned–and a pair of black slacks, no belt, no shoes.

“Strip,” I say softly, “everything but the shoes.”

Without a word, she begins to slowly remove her clothes—first her blouse, then her skirt, then her bra and panties, and finally, her stockings. She slides back into her stilettos and drops her head.

“Look at me,” I breathe and she raises her eyes. “This is not a scene, but I am taking you to the Playroom. Before I do…” I reach into the bag I brought in with me and produce a lace stretch strapless bandage bra top and matching micro mini skirt—if you can call it a skirt. I hand to her and she slides the bra on first. It barely covers her breasts, the bottom of her mounds sticking out of the bra and the ribbon holding it together impressively framing the valley in between. So fucking beautiful, my mouth is watering. She slides into the “skirt” equally as effortlessly. Even lying on her hips, her entire ass is exposed and I can see the bottom of her “V” peeking out at me. It’s only a little fury—that should make for a wonderful sensation.

“Take your hair down,” I command. She removes a hair tie and a few pins and her hair goes cascading down her back and over her shoulders. I walk over to her, reach around her and gently cup her ass. “Yes,” I say, admiring how she fits into my hands. “This is what I need.” I pull her hard against me so that she can feel me, feel my erection against her soft flesh. She gasps, never taking her eyes off mine.

“Touch me,” I say, and her hands rise slowly up my arms to my biceps. “Touch my skin,” I growl at her. She brushes my shirt open strokes her fingertips across my chest. “Mmm, yes,” I groan contented as I close my lips over the sweet skin of her neck. She throws her head back giving me full access, moaning her pleasure in sensuous whimpers as I continue to grind into her. “Are you ready for me?”

“Yes,” she breathes.

“Good.” I step back from her and take her hand. “Follow me.”

I lead her out of the bedroom, up the stairs, and to the Playroom. I beckon her inside after I unlock the door, locking it behind us. As she stands in the room expecting, I push a few buttons on a remote and a hidden console opens. I push more buttons inside the console and the room is now illuminated in bright light. Surprise comes over her face as various other panels in the room open, some fairly small and invisible, others pretty large. She’s looking around the room and her brow furrows.

“What’s going on Christian?” she says softly. The first words she has said all night. I press four buttons on the remote and the room comes to life. After a few seconds, a monitor comes alive behind a hidden wall at the head of the bed, one at the foot of the bed, and one in the ceiling above the bed. I press more buttons in the console and the display on each monitor changes to a different view of the room.

“I’ve only used it once,” I confess, “years ago, with a sub. I didn’t like the result, so I never used it again.”

“And… you‘re showing me now because…” she trails off.

Because I want to use them with you,” I finish. “I felt nothing when I used them before. Nothing at all. With you, I think it would be extraordinary.” Her face softens as she looks around.

“Where are the cameras?” she asks. I walk around the room pointing out the cameras, able to capture every act from every position, including the three in the ceiling. She walks over to the one at the end of the room, showing the foot of the bed. She looks down at it, putting her face right into the camera. Though she can’t touch it since it’s buried inside the wall behind plexiglass, she examines it curiously nonetheless. I click the remote and her beautiful curious face shows up on the monitor on the wall above the head of the bed.

“Back up,” I tell her. She looks over at me the stands up and takes a few steps back. I admire the view in the monitor before telling her to turn around. She turns around and gasps when she sees herself standing in the middle of the room, her back to the camera. She walks to the end of the bed and puts her hand on each foot post, admiring herself on the monitor.

Oh, fuck! My dick is twitching like crazy! I use the remote to zoom in on her lovely ass. She puts her hands on the backs of her thighs and slides them slowly up her ass cheeks, pulling them open ever so slightly for the camera. Fucking hell! Why wasn’t I recording this? I press record and quickly grab a few items from the chest while she is entertaining herself for the camera, now bouncing her ass cheeks with her hands. Dammit, I’m going to come on myself if she doesn’t stop. I push a large panel which reveals a secret room.

That got her attention.

No longer shy about how she is going to react to being “watched,” I grab her arm and pull her into the secret room. She is in awe again. This room also has a few cameras, but more importantly, it’s covered in mirrors—seamless dance studio mirrors that cover every wall as well as the ceiling of this 12×12 custom room.

I think she’s in awe as I pull her over to the two stools on the far left wall of the room. I’m almost breathless standing in front of her.

“Undress me,” I pant, eager to feel her skin against mine. She looks up into my eyes and puts her hands on my chest. Sliding them up to my shoulders, she pushes my shirt off and lets it fall to the floor. She looks down at my pants as she unbuttons and unzips them. She follows them all the way down to the floor and I sit on the stool as she removes them from my feet and tosses them off to the side. She is still squatting in front of me waiting for instruction.

“Suck it, Baby,” I coax and without hesitation, she swallows my dick pressing her hand against my thighs for leverage. I cry out loudly as I am literally sucked into mindless bliss.

“Oh, fuck, don’t make me come yet!” I have to yell as it seems like I am rising quite quickly. I try to grab her head to slow her assault but she is relentless. I open my eyes to see her in the mirror squatting in front of me in these sky-high stilettos, her beautiful bare ass bouncing slightly as her head bobs up and down on my pelvis with my fingers tangled in her long mahogany hair.

I’m. Going. To come.

“Stop, goddammit, Stop!” I literally have to grab her face and snatch her from my dick, ruining my own orgasm as I don’t want to come this way. I am panting and trying to catch my breath and when I open my eyes, this little minx is smirking at me.

Oh, I’m going to make you pay for that.

I snatch her to her feet and spin her around so that her back is to me. Her hair whips me in the face for my roughness, but her scent just turns me on. I squat to her feet and put a leather cuff on each ankle.

“Cross your ankles,” I command. She pauses.

“I thought you said this wasn’t a scene,” she says, her voice slightly laced a little with ire.

“It’s not. Now cross your fucking ankles,” I growl waiting for her to obey. She tentatively crosses one ankle over the other and I clip the ankle cuffs together in the back so that she can’t uncross them. I put an ample amount of massage oil in my hand and apply it roughly to her ass, her thighs, her pussy. She groans and almost tumbles over as she instinctively tries to open her legs. I catch her and pull her back into position.

Not so cocky now, are you, Anastasia?

“Play with your nipples through the lace. I want to see you make yourself hot,” I tell her. I cover my dick with the oil and begin to pump slowly, gently, watching her delicate hands rise to her nipples. “Yes, like that. Look at yourself.” She examines herself in the mirror. Her lips are parted and her tongue caresses the bottom lip. Yes, Anastasia, just like that.

I pull her back to me and rub my oily dick between her ass cheeks. She groans and throws her head back onto my shoulder.

“Watch!” I command and she brings her head forward and watches her own arousal. She is panting and hot and I fucking love it!

“You like that?” I ask, slipping somewhat into Dom mode, easily able to control my orgasm as I slide between her juicy, oily cheeks.

“Yes!” she breathes, feverishly pinching her nipples through the lace. I shift and my dick slides between her clenched thighs, burning friction against her sex—her outer lips and her clit. She gasps and yelps. “How about that? Do you like that?”

“Yes! Yes!” she coos, leaning her body back into me and clenching her thighs tighter for more friction. Oh yes, Baby. That feels good.

“You know I can make you come this way, don’t you?” I groan in her ear, moving my oily hands around to her abdomen and holding her in place still giving her delicious friction across her sex.

“Yes,” she groans.

“Do you want me to make you come like this?” I ask, moving my hands up to the exposed meat of her breast under her semi-bra. She groans again at the contact.

“Yes! Please!” she moans. I watch my dick peeking in and out, in and out between her legs and I wonder if it feels to her as good as it looks to me.

“Watch,” I whisper, kneading the meat under her breast with my oily hands, moving closer to her nipple. “Do you see it?” I ask her.

“Yes!” she breathes.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Oh, God, yes!” she groans, her orgasm hiding in her voice.

“Arms up… around my neck,” I breathe. She reaches behind her and puts her arms around my neck, not only pushing her breasts info my hands but also making her ass grind into me causing more friction against her sex.

“Christian!” she mewls as she begins to pant.

“Yes, Baby, feel it,” I groan into her neck and my hands replace hers and pull at her nipples, causing her to spike and gasp.

“Christian!” she cries out with her next breath and I feel her hot and pulsing through her climax. She can’t watch anymore as she is clinging to my neck and panting wildly, my dick still massaging her through her lips and drawing her out. “Aaaaaaaahhhh,” she whines as I feel her body shiver slightly and watch her come undone from every angle in the mirrors around us.


STEELE

My pussy is pulsating from a forced orgasm. The way he stroked against my lips and the occasional friction against my clit combined with the clenching of my muscles while my legs were squeezed together—holy cow Batman! I didn’t stand a chance! Then he made me watch! In these freaky, full-length Flashdance mirrors! That magnificent dick popping in and out between my legs… and my nipples… oh, God, I’m going to come again just thinking about this shit!

He only gives me a moment to recuperate before he turns me around to face him, helping my balance on my crossed legs.

“I want to see that fabulous ass,” he says as he inserts his dick between my legs again. My arms fall limply to my sides as his exquisite manhood rubs against me once more. I’ve just come, so there’s no concern for that—yet—but he still feels glorious rubbing against me, chasing his own pleasure.

“Oh, Baby, this looks so good,” he groans, watching the action over my shoulder and thrusting long between my legs so that he gets the friction from the base to the head. I tighten my thighs around him and he moans loudly. “Oh, yes! Yes, Baby, just like that. Fuck, you feel so good.” His thrusts become faster and harder and I do feel the fire begin to build between my legs again, so I moan gently, knowing that his explosion will come long before my kindling even lights.

“Ana, Fuck!” he grunts thrusting harder and I can feel him growing even though he’s not inside me. It makes me feel wonderful… powerful and sexy, that my body can do this to him just as easily as he can do this to me. I gently stroke his arms with my fingertips and suck his earlobe into my mouth. He groans mournfully.

“Kiss me,” he breathes. “Kiss me. I’m gonna come.” I reach up and put my arms around him, taking his mouth in a passionate French kiss and not letting him move his head. He thrusts hard into that oily crevice then grunts into my mouth pressing his fingertips hard into my thigh, hips, and ass-meat as his cum wildly squirts out of him and over the floor, down my thighs, wherever it decides to land. He pulls back just a bit, allowing the head to nestle in the oily warmness as the last of his semen pulses out of him and he groans into my mouth as if he’s in pain. He breathes hard as he envelops me in his arms, returning my mad kiss as he comes down from his climax.

“Fuck, that was intense. I’m going to come all over again when I see it.” He opens his eyes and looks at me. I return his gaze with total, salacious, wanton, lust. He plants a sexy, promising kiss on my lips. “You’ve got another one in there for me, don’t you?” I nod slowly. “Maybe two?” he says after another sexy kiss.

“Maybe,” I reply, unable to control the desire in my voice. He leans down and unclips my ankle cuffs.

“Follow me, you sexy little nymph,” he says taking my hand and leading me into the playroom. He goes into the en suite and comes back with a warm washcloth. I watch him in the monitor above the head of the bed as he cleans the evidence of his orgasm from my thighs and behind. He goes back over to the magical chest and returns with a spreader bar and a wand. Oh, fuck. I asked for it. Now I’m really going to get it.

“All pleasure, Baby,” he says as he turns the lights down again to what I am accustomed in the Playroom. He reaches for the remote and angles some camera somewhere so that it zeros in right on the Chesterfield sofa. After tossing pillows from the bed onto the sofa, he sits down and zooms that sucker right at his dick.

Christian Grey’s dick in live Technicolor on a 40-inch flat screen. Ooo-la-la!

“Come here, Baby,” he says. I walk over to him. “Turn around.” I turn around to see my thighs and knees in the monitor. Um, can we get a better shot please? I hear something fall on the floor and I look down. The spreader bar is in front of me.

“Bend over and attach it to your ankles.” When I bend I feel him playing with my pussy. Oh, fuck. I try to concentrate on attaching the cuffs. I get one of them buckled and when I spread my legs to attach the other one, feel the wand against me before some attachment slides right up into me, vibrating deliciously as Christian moves it around. It’s smooth—about as long as a finger, but thicker… and it’s curved.

“Oh… Christian…” I breathe, unable to concentrate on what I’m doing.

“Buckle the cuff, Anastasia,” he says, his voice calm and lustful at the same time. I miss the buckle several times, the feeling of the vibrating finger-like attachment surging through me and rattling my thoughts. When I finally get the damn thing buckled, I go to stand and he pushes my back down. “Ah, ah, ah. Double check them. Are they secure?” I pant loudly as he pushes me further and further. I stick my finger into each cuff—comfortable but secure.

“Yes,” I croak, “they’re secure.”

“Good, now stand up.” He pulls the wand out as I stand, but he doesn’t turn it off. “Now sit.” I turn around and Mr. Grey is at impressive attention once more. With the spreader bar already perfectly positioning my legs, I just need to lean back and sit on him. Hmm… a little easier said than done. I put my hand on the arm of the sofa and the other one on his knee. I bring my butt down to him and he guides himself inside of my core. Oh, God, he feels so good. I moan as I slide down onto him. I expect to bounce, but he puts his arm around my stomach and holds me while he slides to the edge of the sofa. He pushes the pillows behind him and leans back on the sofa taking me with him—and now I see why he was zooming in.

“Lift your legs, Baby, and hold you knees.” Oh, fucking hell. I lift my legs and look at the monitor on the other side of the room. There is his beautiful throbbing cock going into my core. Oh, this is going to be more than I can stand. I’ve seen porn before, but I’ve never starred in one like this. I’m not going to last a minute.

Sure, enough he starts to stroke and I see and feel him glide slowly in and out of me, in and out… this is way too much. I can’t watch. Even if he commands me to watch.

“You’re missing the show, Baby,” he croons seductively.

“I can’t watch,” I breathe, my head back on his shoulder.

“No? How about now?” and that fucking wand is back, a perfectly round smooth head rubbing back and forth against my clitoris.

“Ah! Ah!” He’s fucking me and rubbing me with this wand and I blow in no time flat. I’m jerking against him as I come, whimpering and cooing. He stops the stimulation of the wand, but keeps stroking.

“Don’t drop your legs, Ana,” he says, his voice melodic and controlled.

“I won’t,” I choke as he thrusts into me. After several minutes, his thrusts become deeper, stronger—not faster, just deeper. I am finally beginning to build again. He notices the change and turns on that damn wand again, higher this time.

“Ah!” I cry at the first contact with my tender clit.

“I know,” he says, his voice hoarse with lust. “Give it a minute.” He strokes into me hard and deep and he’s hitting all the right spots. It’s painful and pleasurable at the same time. My legs are getting tired, my clit is tender, but fuck, my core is burning and rising once more. He clicks that damn button again, and the pain instantly turns to immense pleasure. The end of the attachment is perfectly round and is applying just the right amount of pressure.

“Shit!” I scream, and grab my knees tighter.

“That’s it, Baby,” he growls. “Let it happen.” I try to breathe, try to focus, but his drilling rhythm and the intensity of the wand has my mind scattered aimlessly in different directions. I can do nothing but sit still and let him fuck me, let him use me. He clicks that button once more and I scream something even I don’t understand.

“Oh, Baby, I feel it. Shit, I feel it! You’re going to come so hard.” Yes, yes, I am. I hope I don’t pass out because it feels like every cell in me is shaking right now. He presses the wand hard against me and it snatches my breath away. I feel him thrusting into me, he’s talking to me, I can’t make anything out. All I can feel is this tingle and this power, this heat between my legs.

He’s grunting and moaning. I think he’s kissing my shoulder. I feel his hand go up to my neck and squeeze as he holds me against him, thrusting into me and pressing this magical machine against me. Stars begin to fire behind my eyelids. My breath is being snatched from my body. Pure and utter Euphoria sweeps through me as this indescribable fire and pleasure burst from my midsection and takes over my whole body. I stiffen, but my legs stay bent afraid that if I straighten then, this feeling will end. I am riding a wave, flying, floating, feeling everything, and it’s incredible!

“Yes, yes, Baby… big one, Baby… bi… g… Aw, God!” he grunts quietly as my insides no doubt grab him with the strength of Hercules and squeeze his own orgasm out of him. I literally have to hold my breath as this wand is pressed hard against a muscle or a bone or something down there, causing me tremble wildly and obviously shaking against Christian. His face is contorted like he is in pain and I have no control of anything below my waist at this moment. Very suddenly, he turns off the wand and I don’t bother letting out the breath that I’m holding. Somehow, it eases out through my nose, my eyes… I don’t know—and I lie there feeling my heart beat wildly in my chest… and my ears!

“My God! My God!” He speaks for both of us. I can’t. I can’t say a word. I think I’m dying. I can’t even feel myself breathing. I just lie there on top of him, my heart thumping loudly through my ears. I think I see sunlight and birds flying, though that’s impossible since I’m in the Playroom and it’s nighttime. I feel movement and I think he is laying me down on the sofa. I feel him massaging my legs. I don’t know where the spreader bar went. I turn my head to look at him… at least I think I turn my head to look at him, and he’s smiling at me.

“Still floating, Butterfly?” he asks, a little smugly. Yes, I know you made me pay for almost making you come with that blowjob. I don’t know what I said or did, but he laughs at me and retrieves his clothes. After he dons his shirt and pants, he carries me in my near nakedness back to our bedroom. I hope Gail and Jason are not around, not that I could protest right now. He places me on our bed, and I don’t remember a thing after that.

*-*

I swear, I lost a whole day after that kinky, televised fuck-fest we had. I sincerely lost a whole day! I could have told my patients on Thursday to jump off a bridge for all I know, but the fog lifts on Friday and I know that it’s the day for the Faces of Abuse PSA premiere party. Christian decided that it would be a semi-formal affair instead of black tie since it was just to announce the premiere of the commercial and to thank everyone who had a hand in its production. Just before it’s time to leave, I decide to make a crucial call that I have been avoiding.

“Hello?” She sounds uncertain and for good reason. I sigh heavily.

“Hello, Carla. It’s Anastasia.” She is silent on the line for quite some time. Look, Lady, I’m not pulling any teeth here. Say something!

“Hello Anastasia,” she says, still uncertain. Good grief. This is so much harder than I thought it would be.

“We need to talk,” I say finally. She’s silent again.

“I don’t know how to take this, Anastasia. Every time you talk to me, you’re cruel and terrible. What is it that you want to talk about?” Good God, this woman is unbelievable. I know that I have to do this, but I sure as hell don’t want to.

“I’m bringing you to Seattle, next weekend, Carla. Do you still have access to your email address?”

“How do you know my email address?” she asks.

“Carla, do you still have access to your email?” I ask again. I don’t have time for this. Do what I ask or I’ll write you a letter and carry this resentment to my grave. She sighs heavily.

“Yes, I do, Anastasia,” she says sarcastically.

“Good. I will email you your ticket information and your hotel information. When you get off the plane, one of our security detail will be there to meet you to take you to your hotel. We will meet for dinner and we’ll talk then.”

“What is this all about?” she presses.

“I will email you your ticket information. If you would like to talk to me, be on the plane, but don’t try to contact me before then. Goodbye, Carla.” I end the call. I don’t want to argue with her, but there are some things that I need to get off of my chest and some things that I need to hear from her. I just won’t talk about it over the phone.

I check myself in the mirror one more time. I am wearing a cobalt blue pencil dress with a pleated scoop neck and capped sleeves. My hair is pulled back into a slick bun and I am wearing simple silver hoop earrings and very light makeup. My cobalt blue suede Louboutins and handbag are the exact shade as my dress. It’s early May in Seattle and not chilly at all, but I bring a black wrap with me for the night just in case.

“Wow, you look like a movie star,” Christian teases when I walk out of our bedroom. At least I think he’s teasing.

“Oh, stop,” I say waving him off and handing him my wrap. “You should talk.” He’s wearing a Cifonelli double-breasted slim fit suit in nearly the same cobalt blue as my dress with a white shirt and a slate blue tie. We look like twins.

“You know we’re pretty ‘matchy-matchy’ tonight, don’t you?” I tell him as he drapes my wrap over my shoulders.

“You know I really don’t care, right?” he says, putting his hand in the small of my back and guiding me out the door.

There are more people at this event than I expected. The premiere party is being held in one of the smaller ballrooms at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, the same place where the Adopt-A-Family Affair was held. Christian is a little miffed with Mia for getting the rotating Hollywood movie lights because they draw attention, but there’s not much that he can do about it now. Some of the press who followed the lights to the location to see what the fuss is all about go wild when we get out of the car.

“Christian, what’s the occasion?” someone yells at him.

“Just a private party for family and a few friends,” he responds throwing them a bone.

“Why the Hollywood lights then?” another one barks.

“It’s my sister’s idea of a bad joke. Sorry, guys, nothing to report here tonight.” He waves in a friendly manner and a few flashbulbs go off. With my hand in his, we enter the hall and find the Allen Room.

The room erupts into applause when we arrive. I momentarily feel like a fish out of water, but I am slowly getting accustomed to the attention attached with being on Christian Grey’s arm. I smile pretty as Christian leads me into the room and we shake hands with various people. Mia went all out with the setup. There’s in actual photo booth in the corner with a red carpet backdrop and people are taking full advantage of it. There’s a popcorn popper with the red and white movie boxes of popcorn available. The “bar” is not only set up for champagne and wine—no hard liquor since there are a few children present—but also for movie-style soda and candies like at the concession stand. I can tell that Christian drew the line at hot dogs, because the food is much more high-end. Fancy hors d’oeuvres and chocolate covered strawberries made to look like little tuxedos are served and the room is made to look like a swanky nightclub with posh sofas and ottomans spread out around the room. People are mingling everywhere and having a good time. There’s even a kid-friendly area set up on the far end of the room.

“Christian!” Mia scoots across the room and throws her arms around her brother. “So, what to you think?”

“It’s very nice, Mia. I’m impressed, but I need you to get rid of those rotating lights,” he says. Mia frowns.

“Why?” she whines. “It’s a premiere party.”

“Because I don’t want it leaked before the PSA airs and it’s not that kind of event. It’s drawing attention that I don’t want. The press is outside and I need them gone.”

“It’s all in fun, Christian,” she protest softly. He gently pulls her away from the crowd.

“Mia, you did an incredible job with the party and I thank you for it, but these people in this room are about to go on television telling the world that they’ve been abused. These are not actors looking for their big break and they don’t need reporters shoving cameras in their faces asking them what’s going on in here. Please get rid of the lights. Call who you have to call and get them moved,” he says firmly but as gently as he can. Her face falls.

“I’m sorry, Christian. I didn’t think about it that way,” she says chastised.

“It’s okay, but we do need to get rid of them,” he reinforces. She nods and waves someone over to her. A guy in a black suit walks over and she whispers something to him. He nods and takes off to parts unknown. She turns back to Christian.

“The lights are going off now and they should be removed within the hour,” she says softly. He kisses her on the cheek.

“Thank you, Meelo,” he says sweetly. She smiles a quick smile then turns to leave. Finally seeing me, she says, “Hey, Anakins.”

“Hey, Mia,” I say, softly before she dashes off to handle some other catastrophe. Christian tucks me under his arm and we are off to join the party.

We make our way around the room and I meet everyone that I didn’t meet during the filming of the commercial. I am happy to see Luma and the girls and make a mental note to make sure that she gets an invitation to the wedding. In all of my running around, I’m certain that I have forgotten her. There are a few more children than I expected, but it only adds to the family atmosphere of the party. I’m almost jumping out of my skin with glee when I see my best friend and his boyfriend here. I weave through the crowd and go over to them.

“Boy, Christian doesn’t go anywhere without you these days, does he?” I say to Allen after giving him a big hug. Al looks at me, then at James.

“I wouldn’t say that, but apparently, he can keep a secret,” Al says sipping on his champagne. I frown at him.

“What do you mean?” I ask him. He puts his arm around my shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Jewel Darling. You’ll find out really soon.” We mingle some more, tasting the hors d’oeuvres and giggling like wedding crashers until it is time for the viewing of the commercial. We all sit on the posh sofas and draw our attention to the far wall of the ballroom where Christian is standing.

“Thank you all for coming tonight,” he begins and a hush falls over the room. “As I look around this room tonight, I’m amazed by the diversity that I see. I see the young and the… not so young.” This draws a chuckle from the crowd. “I see the working man, the affluent, the very wealthy. I see the common man and the celebrity; I see mothers and children, students and teachers, I see black, white, Indian, Cuban, Samoan… There are so many walks of life represented in this room, which is both a beautiful thing and a terrible thing. It means that abuse does not discriminate. It affects everyone and is equally devastating whether you are rich or poor, young or old, black or white, gay or straight. It also means that all of these people, all of these victims, have chosen not to be victims anymore. These people have chosen to turn their tragedy into triumph, to speak up and to let others know that the cycle of abuse does not have to continue.”

He drops his head and fights to compose himself. I want to run to him, but I am sure that he will break down if I do. “Some of you know my history, that I have lived a rough life and know the effects of abuse first hand. I have seen some horrific things…” His eyes find mine in the crowd and I can’t help the tear that falls. “But I know from experience that beautiful things can bloom from tragedy.” He never takes his eyes off of me and I have to cover my mouth to choke back a sob. He finally shakes his head and continues. “You all know that this is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart and I want to thank each and every one of you for your part in making this happen. I thank you for taking part in the production of this statement or for loving someone who was brave enough to do so. I especially want to thank my mother and father, Grace and Carrick Grey, for saving me from a life of misery and squalor and for sometimes saving me from myself.”

I locate Grace and Carrick in the crowd. Carrick is holding his wife close to him and she is wiping away a few of her own tears. “I’d also like to thank my sister Mia for saving me from boredom.” More laughs fill the room as Mia waves him off. “My brother Elliot, for saving me from so many other things that if I told you, I’d have to kill you.” Wow, I didn’t know he had it in him to make a crowd laugh. He’s usually so intense. “Last but not least, I’d like to thank my fiancée… the love of my life, Anastasia Steele, for saving me from everything else—including the monsters under my bed.”

That’s it. I cover my mouth and weep quietly. My heart is so full, I feel like it’s going to burst. He says something else about a great production staff and blah blah blah, but I’m busy trying to pull myself together. Al his holding me while I weep a bit. Christian says some final thing, then introduces the commercial before taking his seat next to me.

“Don’t cry, Beautiful Girl,” he says softly. “You’re going to miss you big debut.” I pull myself together and look at the large screen slowly dropping from the ceiling. The room is completely dark before the screen comes alive with the countdown to the commercial. Then there are facesso many faces. Picture after picture after picture, flashing so fast that you can’t even see the faces. I’m certain that I see babies in some of those pictures and my chest clenches. I can’t close my eyes. I have to watch. Babies… my God.

When the statistics of the various kinds of abuse cross the screen, the room is so silent that you can hear a mouse walking on cotton—even behind the soft piano music playing in the background. Piano. Piano! That’s Christian! I’d bet my life on it! I look over at him and he put his finger over his lips to shush me, basically confirming my suspicions. I turn back to the screen and see that the pictures have stopped on a beautiful woman with golden skin and long black curly hair.

“I am the face of abuse.”

I watch as Christian speech comes to life—black and white, young and old, all walks of life proclaim to be the face of abuse. I have to say that I am stunned. My heart breaks every time I see a child on the screen, and now I realize why there are so many children at the event. I nearly suffocated when I see my secret bronze god show up on the screen declaring to also be the face of abuse. I gasp loudly and cover my mouth. James! How did I not know? That was the secret.

All of the Greys gasp when I show up on the screen. Wow. This PSA has to be the world’s best kept secret. My heart finally breaks completely when I see Luma holding a picture of her now deceased daughter, and I along with many other women in the room are reduced to hopeless tears.

Finally, my beloved comes on the screen to anchor the message, declaring that he too is the face of abuse and that no one ever need suffer alone. He’s beautiful, and his message of hope makes him even more beautiful. Somehow, all the “Faces of Abuse,” including me, appear behind him in a crowd as if we were all standing in the room together along with what appears to be hundreds more people. How did they do that? I wasn’t present for that shot! The camera pans out to capture all of us looking into the camera before the screen goes black, leaving the Helping Hands number and the statement “Be a success story, not a statistic.”

The room falls silent, then the sound of weeping and clapping can be heard wall to wall. The noise is thunderous and all decorum is forgotten as the crowd cries and cheers wildly for Christian’s creation. I don’t think he quite knows how to handle it. He grabs my hand tightly and I smile at him through me tears.

“It’s a beautifulwonderful thing you did,” I choke out between sobs. “You’re a good man.”

Remembering my words from his parents’ house this past weekend, his eyes fill with love as he stares at me. He kisses me deeply and quickly before standing to his feet and pulling me with him to the front of the room. The cheers get louder—as if they could—and the cries begin to subside as people rise to their feet and applaud. Christian basks in his moment before he begins to speak.

“Will everyone who spoke in the commercial please join me up here?” There is hesitation throughout the room, but people slowly begin to rise and join Christian near the wall. When James walks up to me, I embrace him warmly.

“I had no idea,” I whisper.

“Neither did I… about you,” he says, returning my embrace. My tragedy is all over the news, but I guess my “abuse” really isn’t… which is why Mommy is coming to Seattle next week. I reach out my hand for Luma who appears to be having a hard time joining the crowd. I clasp her hand tightly and smile at her, giving her an instant boost of confidence. We bring the children to the front of the group, and my heart hurts again. I can’t stand for children to be abused. It makes me physically ill.

“I would like to thank all of you for your bravery, your selflessness, and your courage. Without you, this would not have been possible. I know that some of you are accustomed to speaking in front of people and some of you are not, but it takes incredible guts to stand in front of a camera and do what you just did. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.” Christian walks in front of the crowd and turns around to face us, clapping his hands for us with the rest of the audience and I almost break down again. Seizing the moment, the photographer from the booth moves to the middle of the room and declares that everyone smile. Christian turns around and squats down with the children in front of him, taking one child in each arm and smiling widely. With one arm around James and the other hand holding Luma’s securely, I smile, too—and the camera captures the crowd for posterity.

Christian gets copies of that picture for everyone at the premiere. In fact, he’s feeling so generous that he gives the photographer permission to release the picture to the press, but only at 5:00 on Saturday evening—well after the PSA has aired a few times. The Greys make their way over to me the moment we were able to break from crowd. I’m greeted with silent, sincere hugs from all of them and a hopeful, “We’ll talk… whenever you like” from Grace. I smile warmly at her and nod, saying nothing else about the ordeal that secured me a place in the PSA.

The ride home is spent in silent contemplation, with Christian rubbing gentle circles in my hand. The moment we hit the door of Escala, he scoops me up in his arms, carries me to our bedroom, and makes sweet love to me until we fall asleep tangled in each other’s arms.


GREY

She is magnificent and I love to watch her sleep. She makes me a better “me” and I love her for it. She is sprawled out over our bed, comfortable in sated slumber… and beautiful. I kiss her gently on the lips, careful not to startle her, then rise out of the bed. After donning my pajama pants, I go to the kitchen and prepare a tray with two small plates, bowls and flatware. I fill a medium bowl with fresh fruit salad and put two bagels in the toaster. I grab the cream cheese and the avocado-cilantro spread and put it on the tray with the fruit salad. Before the bagels pop out of the toaster, I make two tall cranberry spritzers and add them to the tray. The bagels pop out just as I am pouring two cups of coffee.

I load everything onto the tray, cover the contents with white napkins, and carefully carry it back to our bedroom to my sleeping fiancée. Placing the tray on the nightstand I climb back in bed with the love of my life.

“Wake up, Baby,” I say softly against her skin. She purrs then whimpers.

“I didn’t miss it, did I?” she coos. Oh God, she is so cute.

“No, baby, we have about another hour,” I assure her. “I brought you some breakfast.” She smiles.

“You did?” she says softly. I know she’s expecting peanut butter and jelly or cold cereal. It’s something just as simple, Butterfly.

“I did. You’ll have to sit up, first, though,” I tell her.

“I have to pee,” she says softly, stretching like a cat.

“I can wait,” I say.

“Tell me what it is,” she says coyly.

“No. Go pee, and then you can eat,” I say with a smile. She tries to look around me, then sticks her tongue out at me when all she sees is white napkins. When she goes to the en suite to relieve herself, I uncover the tray and move one of the spritzers and a coffee to her nightstand before covering it again.

I hear her washing her hands at the sink and I locate the remote for the television in the panel of the wall—that we never watch—and push the button to reveal the hidden mechanism. Butterfly comes out of the bathroom wearing the dress shirt that I left in there last night.

“There’s a television in here?” she says, surprised.

“We’ve never had reason to watch it now, have we?” I say, raising my eyebrow. She smiles at me and climbs back in bed.

“Feed me, Mr. Grey,” she says playfully. I put our tray on the bed and give her one of the napkins, taking the other for myself to reveal our continental breakfast.

“Oh, wonderful!” she says, surprised again. “Mr. Grey, you’re full of surprises.”

“I hope so,” I say filling her bowl with fresh fruit and handing it to her. “Your drinks are on the nightstand.” She smiles and takes the bowl from me. She groans in delight as she digs in to the fresh strawberries, melon, kiwi, and grapes.

“Oh, Christian, this is divine,” she says, shamelessly devouring the fruit. I love to see her eat. I have issues with hunger. She takes a long drag of her cranberry spritzer. “The piano… on the PSA… that was you, wasn’t it?” I nod slowly. “What’s the name of the song?”

“It’s called Child of the Troubles by Roy Todd.” She pauses momentarily.

“You are amazing to me, Christian,” she says. “It was always so personal, I know that, but everything that you have done—you made it… special. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of that.” Oh God, I feel like my heart will burst, I love her so much.

“You and all the others, you were so brave exposing yourselves and relaying your stories in those five little words. The impact was so much more powerful than I expected.” She shakes her head.

“All of those children,” she says sadly. “You pretty much know that the adults were abused as children, but to see the children there…” She shivers. “It really drove it home for me. I know now that I really want to focus more time at Helping Hands and I am so glad that we were able to give that money to Grace for the center.”

“You, Butterfly,” I tell her. “That was all you. You could have taken that money and been halfway to Timbuktu by now, but your heart turned it over to a charity instead of keeping it for yourself. I know of no one who would have been in your position that would have done the same thing… no one.” She smiles shyly and drops her head. I reach for her cheek and lift her face to meet her eyes. “Thank you, Butterfly. I’m going to spend the rest of my life making you happy.” I plant a tender kiss on her lips and she blushes.

We finish our breakfast talking about non-consequential matters and turn our focus to the television while we sip our coffee. We don’t care what’s on, we’re looking for our commercial. At 9:57am sharp, I hear the familiar chords of Child of the Troubles, and we watch our commercial in the comfort of our bed. When the screen goes black, she looks up at me.

“James, huh?” she says, lying on my chest as I mute the television.

“Yes,” I respond. “He will have to tell you the story, though.” I nod.

“I know. So that’s what they were talking about last night.” I frown. “Last night, I made a comment about Al following you everywhere these days. They commented back by saying something about you being able to keep a secret.” The realization comes over her face and she nods. “James wasn’t there with Al. Al was there with James.” She looks up into my eyes.

“You never know what horrible secrets hide behind beautiful smiles,” I tell her. She shakes her head.

“You bring something out in people, Christian,” she tells me. “True, not everyone sees it, but those who count, we see the good in you and we love you for it.” I smile at her and try hard to believe what she is telling me.

“Butterfly, as long as you see the good in me, that’s all I need right now.” I kiss her deeply and roll her over onto her back. “I could spend the rest of my life just nestled between your legs, do you know that?”

“We wouldn’t get much done if you did that,” she coos seductively.

“Well, we don’t need to get much done today, so excuse me while I partake of a fruit of a different flavor,” I say while sliding down the bed, nestling between her legs, and bringing my lips down to taste her perfect, sweet peach.

*-*

I let Butterfly relax in a nice hot bubble bath after hungrily devouring her through three orgasms. I didn’t need to fuck—I just wanted to taste her. I am in my study now, going through my emails. There are several from my team of attorneys reminding me about the meeting to sign the prenup on Monday. Shit. I have put off telling Butterfly as long as I can. I don’t want to ambush her, but the whole thing leaves such a bad taste in her mouth. The team keeps asking me if there is anything that I want to change and I am tired of telling them that I want no changes, so I just stopped answering their emails and their calls. If there is anything of real importance that needs my attention, I have directed them all to Allen.

They are none too happy about my decision to make him the head of the legal department, especially since the department didn’t really have a head to speak of before now. They were all just a bunch of hard-headed attorneys that did what I said. Once I realized how difficult it was to get them to just follow instruction, I decided that they needed a department head. Marshall, the honorary head of the department, left shortly after I named Allen as the official department head. Not only is Allen younger than every other attorney that I employ, but he also hasn’t even been in my employment for a year yet. Nonetheless, he is one of the most shrewd, intelligent, talented legal minds that I have ever seen. He rivals my father, and that says a lot. I’d be insane not to take complete advantage of his skills.

What I find most useful is the fact that he’s a speed-reader. I have seen him read a 20-page legal contract in about 10 minutes and be able to tell you what secret clauses and loopholes there are in the document. There is no dollar value that you can put on an outstanding lawyer who knows how to speed-read.

Arien calls while I’m combing through my emails and tells me that for the cost of small island, I can have that Bentley that Butterfly asked for. I told him to secure it with my Amex Black and be ready to have it at the castle on the 29th of next month.

The 29th of next month.

I’m getting married. Next month. Shit.

To the most remarkable and beautiful woman in the world. Double shit.

Will I make her happy?
Will I keep her satisfied?
Am I worth all the drama she has had to sustain?

“Hey.” Her voice breaks me from my lament. I hold my arms out to her, beckoning her to me. I need to feel her. She walks slowly over to me. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I pull her into my lap and hold her close to me. I inhale deeply and take in the scent of her hair.

Please, God, let me make her happy.
Please let me make her happy…

“I need to tell you something,” I say tentatively. She pulls back a looks at my face.

“Okay.”

“The prenuptial agreement is ready. We need to sign it Monday afternoon.” I feel her sink into my lap.

“Oh. Yeah. Okay. I knew it was coming soon.” She’s amiable, but still disappointed. She’s doing this for me. Please, let me make her happy.

“I got the Bentley,” I say, trying to soothe the blow of the prenup. She raises her eyes to mine again.

“You… you did?” She is utterly shocked and amazed.

“I did.”

“We looked everywhere! We… tried everywhere!”

“Well, we’ve got it secured for our wedding day,” I assure her.

“What did it cost?” she asks. I know her curiosity is killing her.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care,” I tell her honestly. She throws her arms around my neck.

“Thank you, Christian. I don’t know how you did it, but thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Butterfly,” I say embracing her warmly. “Trust me.” She pulls her face back to look at mine, and she knows that I am back on the prenup.

“I don’t understand it, but I trust you, Christian. I trust you completely,” she says softly. I envelop her in my arms again and kiss her deeply.

“Strauss is gone… back to Germany,” I say when she settles on my chest again.

“I thought she had already left,” she says.

“No, she wanted to see if you were going to leave me since you cashed in that 20 mil. When I started digging into her finances, she decided to let sleeping dogs lie. So did I, to be honest, I really started finding some shit that I don’t want to fuck with. Nonetheless, she was doing what she could to get Lincoln out of jail. Sources tell me that she even told her loony niece that you took the bribe.” She looks up at me.

“Oh my God, seriously? Imagine her horror when she finds out about the wedding!”

“She’ll find out sooner than that. We’ve got a PSA that just aired. You don’t think she’s going to see that shit? She’s going to lose her fucking mind. I know for sure that she’s going to know that I’m not just talking about Myrick when I say that I’m the face of abuse. She’s going to be bouncing off the walls in that joint.”

“Okay, so, Edda Strauss?” she asks, getting me back on topic.

“Oh yeah, so anyway, she has connections in the U.S. but none of them will back or help her because they don’t want to be associated with what Lincoln did. Since she couldn’t do anything else, she took her ass back to Germany because with all of her old money, connections abroad are only so strong if you can’t get U.S. connections to cooperate. The only other thing that she could do is put a hit out on us and Intel says that she’s not that bold. Welch has put a tracker on her passport so that we can keep an eye on her, but there’s really nothing much else that she can do here. That not-so-priceless book collection is locked up in police evidence and she’s not getting it back anytime soon.”

“So… no more Strauss,” she says matter-of-factly.

“No more Strauss.” I confirm. She snuggles in to me, purring comfortably, and I cannot resist taking a kind of perverse thrill in the conniption fit that the Pedophile is probably having right now after seeing our commercial. Karma is a bitch and right now, I would bet that Lincoln is choking on it.

*-*

Monday comes around and I’ll be the first to admit that I am none too excited about having to sign this prenup. Butterfly was less than enthusiastic when she awoke this morning though she is really putting on the brave face so that I won’t feel guilty about asking her to do this. I know this is tearing her up inside, but it’s something that has to be done.

I’m already not feeling very pleased by the amount of press that have gathered outside Grey House. I know that they are curious about the PSA, but we have already issued a statement about it and we really don’t want to drag it out. The commercial says it all, but a few reporters are still looking for something juicy. We’ve taken the wind out of the Kavanaugh Baby Scandal and now there’s something else that they need to latch onto. The cluster is not too big, so we are easily able to get into the parking garage.

The moment that I get to my office, two of the attorneys that worked on the prenup are standing at my office door.

“Mr. Grey, we really need to talk about this prenuptial agreement…”

“Not now, I don’t have time,” I say, walking into my office.

“I took the liberty of checking with Andrea, Sir. You don’t have any appointments until this afternoon.” I turn around slowly so that my ire seeps out of my pores and drenches this asshole.

“Oh, you took the liberty, did you?” I nearly growl at him. “That’s a bold career move, don’t you think?” I spit. His partner-in-crime wisely sees that this asshole is headed down the wrong path and quietly leaves him standing in my office alone. “It seems that you’re taking quite a few liberties, Abrahms, the first of which is thinking that you’re going to be able to force me to discuss this with you when I have already given you explicit instructions and have clearly ignored all of your attempts to contact me; the second of which is coming into my office uninvited.” I glare at him and wait for him to understand that his employment here is hanging by a very thin thread at this moment. He clears his throat and swallows hard.

“I’ll just… wait outside… for when you have a moment, Sir,” he stutters.

“I won’t have a moment, Abrahms!” I snap. “I’ve given you instructions. Now make sure the document is prepared to my specifications and I will see you at the meeting this afternoon. Do not contact me again before that time unless you are tendering your resignation. I won’t say it again.” Abrahms is itching to talk to me, desperate to get me to reconsider the terms of this prenup, but the concept of losing his job is a bit less appealing at this moment, so he leaves with a nod.

It doesn’t take long for my day to head further south. Lawrence notifies me that Davenport informs him that the press outside of Butterfly’s building has just brought her to tears.

Oh, fuck.


A/N: Although I have read a few fanfics where Ana and Christian televised their sexual play, my idea for the cameras came from the movie “Sliver.” I felt like with Christian Grey’s money, if he decided to televise playtime, he was going to go all out—we’re talking every angle, telephoto lenses, motion sensors, light-sensitive, high-end sound quality, the whole nine yards. What’s the use in doing something if you can’t do it right? The mirror room is an add-on that he wanted to use for short scenes, but never did after he did the first televised performance with the sub. No worries, they will be using the Playroom cameras later.

If you want to know what that wonderful wand attachment looks like, Google “Bird of Paradise Wand Attachment.” I swear by it!

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/mending-dr-steele/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x

Mending Dr. Steele: Chapter 52–Blood and Water

A BIT OF A SPOILER ALERT–As I was editing this chapter (which turned out to be a bitch because my formatting is fucked up, which I’m sure you’ll be able to see) I had to laugh to myself because I just typed a response to “Why is CG always made out to be the bad guy. Then there is an entire section in the chapter about it that I had completely forgotten about until I came back to edit this chapter. Truly ROTFLMAO!

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 fanfic in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 52—Blood and Water

STEELE

My initial fitting went as well as can be expected. Three very temperamental designers had to sit and listen to my vision and then hear where each of their designs came into play. I realize that a creation is one’s baby and no one wants to see their baby desecrated, but I know that what I want can be done with a few simple alterations and a whole lot of compromise. I let them hash it out for a while, arguing about how a certain stitch defines their design and that the lace that worked with one dress will be completely wrong for another and on and on and on…

Gentlemen,” I finally break in with my soft voice. “Please, if none of you want to destroy your designs with the ideas of another, I completely understand. I’ll just have to find someone else that can do it for me. It will be nothing like the originals, but I understand how each of you must feel about compromising on your idea of perfection.”

No, no, Miss!” Neal pipes in. He’s the least well-known of the three. “I am sure that we can come to a… compromise on what you want.”

I certainly hope so. I mean, I really didn’t think it would be so hard to take one person’s lace, overlay it on another person’s design and pull it all together with the third person’s sash. I mean, isn’t that all we’re really doing here, or will my idea truly destroy your designs? I really don’t want to do that and I’ll be more than happy to rethink the idea before I dare insult any of you brilliant gentlemen.” My voice is dripping with sincerity and contrition. “Maybe I was being a bit too ambitious in my vision…”

Absolutely not, Ms. Steele!” Demetrio exclaims. “Your vision is exquisite. We just have to… confer to see what is the best way to bring it to life for your big day. I can assure you, we will have you the envy of brides across the world! Won’t be, boys?”

Oh yes! Yes! Your vision is breathtaking, Ma’am!” Jesse chimes in. Of the three, he would be number two and Demetrio is the most well-known. “You will forgive our bickering. This is simply how designers… work things out, yes?” He nods to the others for back-up.

Oh yes, yes, Miss. We will have many more spats before your gorgeous creation is complete, but don’t you worry. It will be exactly to your specifications.” I jump up and down and clap my hands like a foolish schoolgirl.

Oh, good!” I gush. “I was so worried that I would have to go with that Vera Wang dress after all.” That did it. Tammy covers her mouth to hide her smirk as these three animated men spring to life grabbing tape-measure, muslin, chalk, and straight-pins.

Oh, that will never do!” Demetrio declares. “This frame is way too petite and delicate for a Vera Wang. Though she has splendid creations, you are more of a one of a kind lady—a beautiful doll that deserves to be revealed on her wedding day rather than showcasing a wedding dress, yes?” That is exactly what I thought when I saw Wang’s dresses. They are outstanding, but I felt more like I would be modeling the dress on my day than wearing a beautiful dress that complimented me and made me feel beautiful.

I think you understand now,” I say, my voice cracking just a bit. The men fall silent and Neal takes my hand.

Yes, Miss. We understand. We can do it, can’t we, Boys?” He turns to the others and they both nod, agreeing with him with enthusiasm. Crisis averted.

Al, Tammy, and I spend the rest of the afternoon picking up the bridesmaid’s gifts and something for Mandy and Grace. I couldn’t get Al’s gift while he was with me so it will just have to wait. I suddenly feel a but melancholy because most of these things are things that a girl would do with her mother. I guess I will have to divert to Mandy’s knowledge when it’s time for me to have my baby.

That night, I write in my Carla Journal for hours. It doesn’t make me feel any better.

*-*

The week was pretty uneventful. We went to the Reverend on Monday and told him about the prenuptial agreement and that we had come to a compromise when it came down to corporeal punishment. He noted my obvious discomfort when talking about the prenup and he wanted to delve, but I refused. I told him that I wasn’t convinced that we needed the prenup and that it made me uncomfortable, but that Christian told me to trust him and I do, so that’s that. He still insisted that we talk about it some more so that there would be no ill feelings. I told him that we will approach the topic again when it’s time to sign the agreement, but not before and only to the degree that there needed to be discussion.

Christian was concerned that I was harboring some ill feelings when we left counseling on Monday. I admitted to him that I still don’t understand the need for us to sign an agreement concerning who gets what when we split. It feels like a bad omen to me and I don’t like thinking about, so I won’t. We have told the good reverend all that he needs to know and the only other time that we need to discuss it is when we sign it. If the need ever comes up again after that, it means that we are splitting up and my life will be over anyway, so the money won’t mean a damn thing to me either way at that point.

He made love to me all night.

I took my journal to Ace on Friday and admitted to him that it wasn’t working. He helped me come to the decision that it was time to confront my mother. I wouldn’t want to see her too close to my wedding and he agrees that it’s time to have it out once and for all without the animosity. I have never really heard her side of why she is the way that she is, not that it would matter, but I do need some closure. I tell him that I will call her and arrange to bring her to Seattle as there is no way in hell that I’m going to Green Valley, speaking of which…

She was cleared of any wrongdoing in terms of tampering with evidence or hindering an investigation, mainly because her two accomplices are dead and there is no one to accuse her. So with the lack of evidence, she’s in the clear. The damage is pretty much done now, though. The media don’t really believe a thing that she’s says now that there is proof that she and Stephen took money from Whitshit. You can’t really explain away taking several hundred thousand dollars from the father of the man currently in jail for beating your teenage daughter damn near to death, now can you?

Saturday turns out to be a great day. Christian said he was going with Dad to watch some game until I reminded him that we were doing the final menu tasting at Thornewood. He seemed so disappointed, so I suggested that Dad and Mandy come with us. Dad was surprisingly excited to join us and Mandy was equally as enthusiastic. Normally, you have to provide your own caterer to come to Thornewood. However, Tammy worked with the innkeeper to have all of that sorted for us and all we had to do was choose the menu. Christian has one Audi SUV custom fit with middle-row backward facing seats for just such an occasion. The long ride gave me and Mandy plenty of time to talk about her baby shower in three weeks while Dad and Christian bonded over sports without either of us having to talk over our shoulder.

Daddy,” I say with trepidation, “I’m inviting Carla to Seattle in a couple of weeks.”

The SUV falls silent. Even Chuck and Ben go quiet in the front seat.

What brought this on?” Daddy asks, a little chilly. I clear my throat.

I realize that I need closure on a few things before I can move on with my life,” I tell him. I hold my head down. “It hurt so much that she wasn’t there for me when I needed her the most. You know that I always loved Mom. I just want to know what happened to her.”

You haven’t called her ‘Mom’ for years,” he says bemused.

I’m not calling her ‘Mom’ now, either,” I tell him. “I said that I always loved Mom. I want to ask Carla what happened to her.” He examines me for a moment.

I’ve asked that question many times myself, Sunflower,” he says finally, before taking Mandy’s hand. “I didn’t need the answer to move on with my life, but I can see why you would.” I choke back tears that I don’t want to cry. “Hey, Sunflower, don’t cry. This is supposed to be a happy time. You’re planning your wedding.” I nod feverishly, but lose the fight to hold back my tears.

Other girls pick out their dresses with their moms and talk about special things like the wedding night,” I sob. “Why did she have to turn out to be such a bitch?” Christian cuddles me in his arms as much as the individual seats will allow him and everyone is silent again for a few moments.

I didn’t have my mom,” Mandy says softly. I raise my head and look at her. She’s right. She didn’t have her mom. She didn’t even have her bitchy sister. “We do the best we can with what we have. I didn’t have my mom, but I have a wonderful husband, a baby on the way… and I had you.” She smiles warmly at me. “Remember when you put that decorator in her place—the one who insisted that I needed dead trees in my wedding?” she laughs and I burst into laughter through my tears.

She… still threw a… few branches in, you know,” I say, sniffling.

I know. I didn’t miss it. It was beautiful anyway, and I have you to thank for that. So I had you, Ana… and you have me.” Okay, now I’m a bawling mess. I cover my face, weeping while Mandy squeezes my knee.

Will you… please… come with me… to my… next… dress fitting?” I blubber out through my tears.

I’d be honored,” I hear her say and I nod, my face still covered.

Thank you,” I blubber. I feel Christian shove his handkerchief into my hand and I use it to clean up as much as I can before removing my hands.

There, there, now, Annie. No more tears. You don’t want to go to your tasting with puffy eyes, do you?” Daddy comforts me. I sniff and try to clean my face and stop crying.

Uuugh!” Mandy groans an exhausted sounding groan. “I’m carrying a football player!” she says, rubbing her stomach.

Does the baby move a lot?” I ask, forgetting my prior sadness.

Oh, God, yes. I think it’s getting to be cramped quarters in there,” she says. “It moves almost all night long and I don’t get any sleep lately. I have to nap during the day whenever I get a chance.”

He or she is preparing you for their arrival,” I say. “You won’t get much sleep, then either.”

Oh, I know, but I’m looking forward to it…” and just like that, my sadness is forgotten.

We get to Thornewood and Snuffin’s Catering has set up a tasting for us in the great hall. The food is magnificent! We had the hardest time choosing what dishes were best, but we finally decided on a variety so that people could choose what they want–marinated flank steak, grilled on site, carved & topped with warm parmesan-basil butter sauce; breast of chicken Marsala with mushrooms & artichoke hearts; sesame ginger northwest king salmon filets; caprese salad on a bamboo skewer; rice pilaf with toasted almonds; orange ginger glazed Julienne carrots; bow tie pasta with smoked chicken & sautéed mushrooms in a delicious pesto cream sauce; sautéed green beans almondine; sliced fresh, seasonal melons, Hawaiian pineapple, red flame grapes and red, ripe strawberries; romaine & iceberg lettuce salad with scallions, sliced cucumbers, black olives and creamy Italian dressing; and an array of domestic & imported cheeses served with baguettesand crackers , french scissor rolls, multigrain rolls and diamond rolls and whipped sweet butter. We have truly covered something for every taste.

Once we had tasted just about every delicious thing on the menu, Thornewood treated us to an exquisite bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate finalizing our wedding plans. Besides making sure everyone is sober and present on the wedding day, we only have little things left to do for our big day. Christian and I are going home and plan our honeymoon and get a good night’s sleep before joining the Greys for brunch tomorrow.

We walk into Escala to a big box on the breakfast bar. Christian always approaches boxes with caution. He calls Jason’s cell before coming completely into the apartment and once Jason assures him that the contents are safe, he opens the box and removes a bottle of wine—a stylish black bottle corked under a red wax seal.

He found 12 bottles,” he says with wonder. “I can’t believe he found 12 bottles.”

Twelve bottles of what, Christian?” I ask. He turns the bottle around so that I can see the white label with an eagle spread full winged. Screaming Eagle, the bottle says. Should this mean something to me? I look at Christian and shrug.

Liquid silk?” he reminds me. “Better than Canlis?” I gasp loudly.

You mean that delicious creation from Napa Valley that tasted like grapes crushed by angels?” I say breathy. He laughs heartily at my expression.

Yes, that would be it,” he chuckles.

Oh please, let’s open a bottle while we decide where we are going on our honeymoon,” I ask with my hands clasped like I am praying. His smile widens.

By all means,” he says, going to retrieve wine glasses.

The bottle is nearly empty and I am quite giggly by the time we put our five remaining choices in a paper bag and shake it up.

My Butterfly, reach in and tell me where I am taking you for our first days as man and wife.” I get all giggly again and reach into the bag to pull out our location. I would have loved going anywhere with Christian, but I am bubbling over with excitement at the final random choice.

Athens, Greece,” I say with a huge smile.

Mmmm,” Christian purrs. “Romance on the Greek Islands.” He sips his Cabernet. “Maybe we’ll conceive our first child there.” His voice is so full of lust that I feel my skin flush from head to toe.

Maybe,” I say softly, gazing at him on the other side of the sofa while shakily finishing my wine and placing my glass on the coffee table, trying to calm my horny nerves. It’s of no use. It’s like he can smell it. I might as well have a marching band burst through the door and a banner pop out of my head that read, “She’s gotta have it!” He slides seductively over the sofa to my side.

I secretly wished you would pick Athens. I so want to show you the Parthenon…” he places a gentle kiss on my lips, “amongst other things.”

You do?” I ask, breathy, tilting my head slightly to give him better access to my mouth. Oh, he tastes so good.

Mm-hmm,” he says, kissing the corner of my mouth. “The Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill, Zeus Temple…” He continues naming places as his lips gently travel across my cheek, back to my ear and down my neck. I close my eyes, luxuriating in his soft, seductive kisses. I slowly reach up and caress his hair willing him not to stop. The wine has me a little tipsy and a lot in the mood.

Tell me more,” I whisper, throwing my head back and exposing myself to him completely. He closes his mouth over my throat, licking and sucking gently and eliciting a small moan from me.

Troy, Delphi, Sparta…” Each location results in another kiss as he lays me down on the sofa and begins to travel down my chest to the valley between my breast. His hand moves to the hem of my skirt, pushing it up slowly.

I’ve always wanted to see Troy,” I breathe, almost unable to control my passion any further.

Now, you’ll get your chance,” he says as he simultaneously finds my wet spot and thrusts his fingers inside while biting my aching nipple through my blouse.

Ah! Christian…!”

*-*

It’s a beautiful May Sunday in Seattle as we speed down I-90 in Christian’s RS7. The top is down and I am wearing a scarf and my signature Jackie-O glasses like a 50’s fashion queen while the wind whips Christian’s hair wildly, making him look as sexy as ever in his Aviator glasses. He’s wearing a linen shirt and casual tan slacks and I complete my retro look with a white above-the-knee tea dress covered in butterflies and a pair of black suede Love 100 embellished Louboutin towering heels pumps. Security is following us in one of the Audi SUVs.

Christian, so many?” Carrick asks when we arrive at their Bellevue estate. “Is someone after you, Son?” Christian looks back at the SUV.

No, Dad. Lawrence is one of my personal security and Davenport is Ana’s. Jason is just doing more ride-alongs so that he’s not completely rusty when he comes back to work,” Christian clarifies.

Oh,” Carrick nods. “Will that be soon?”

He’s looking to be released from therapy at the end of this month, beginning of next month at the latest.”

Well, good. I’m sure you’ll be happy to have things back to normal,” Carrick says with a smile leading us into the house. “Elliot and Valerie are already here.” Christian frowns.

Elliot’s early? He’s never early.” Carrick shrugs.

He says that he has something to share, but he wants to wait until the entire family is here.”

Oh, wow. Did he propose to Valerie? I wouldn’t be surprised. With all the wedding stuff going on and that spiteful bitch showing up trying to ruin everything, he might have been bitten by the “settle down” bug. Of course, if they had gotten engaged, Valerie would have told me. Then again, maybe not. I’ve been kind of standoffish with details about my relationship. Why would she want to confide in me right now?

I make a bee-line for her the moment we enter the house.

Is everything okay?” I ask, looking inconspicuously at her left hand and seeing no ring there.

Everything’s fine. Why do you ask?” she frowns.

Carrick says Elliot wants to share something with the family. I thought maybe… you’re not pregnant, are you?” Valerie laughs.

No, Steele, I’m not pregnant, and stop pumping me for information. You’ll have to wait until Mia and Ethan gets here.” She smiles. I elbow her in the side.

Oh, you’re no fun,” I tease before we chuckle together.

Ana, you look darling!” Grace says coming from the kitchen with a coffee service.

Thank you, Grace,” I reply, hugging her after she sets the tray on the coffee table. “Did the table deliveries ever show up? I swear someone needs to be fired if they didn’t…”

Yes, they did and they were correct and no work today. I just want to spend time with my family today,” she replies with a smile. She and I serve the coffee as Mia and Ethan make a muted entrance.

We’re here,” Mia says, her voice somber. The room falls silent and Grace moves quickly to her daughter.

Oh, good,” Grace says. “Hello, Sweetheart,” she says, giving Mia a tight hug.

Hi, Mom,” Mia says, returning her mother’s embrace. She releases Mia and moves to Ethan.

Hello, Ethan,” she says, hugging him as well. “Did you bring your appetite?”

Yes Ma’am,” he says, stiffly returning her hug. “Thank you, I’m quite hungry.”

Good, good, well come in, you two,” she says, gesturing them to the great room. Christian releases my hand and stands.

Hey, Ethan, how are you?” Christian extends his hand to Ethan, who acts a bit stunned at the gesture.

Hi, Christian. I’m fine,” he replies, accepting Christian’s hand and shaking firmly.

Did everything work out okay? With your transaction?” he asks Ethan. He sounds genuinely concerned. Ethan frowns, then his face lightens.

Oh. Yes, it went fine for the most part. We’ll talk more later,” he answers. Mia is looking from her brother to her fiancé, bemused. Christian doesn’t offer any information and neither does Ethan. “Meelo,” he says greeting his sister.

Cwis,” she responds, still looking skeptical.

Well, come in and sit down. I have something to tell you all,” Elliot says while rising from his seat.

Yes, what is this secret that had to wait until everyone was here?” Grace asks, handing coffee to Carrick while Mia and Ethan take a seat. Elliot takes a breath.

I got the results of the paternity test back yesterday.”

All movement stops. You can’t even hear anyone breathing.

Well?” Carrick says impatiently after a long silence.

I haven’t opened them yet,” he says. “I wanted my family around me while I opened them. That includes you, Ethan. You’re going to be marrying my baby sister, so like it or not, you’re part of this family.” Ethan’s lips form a tight line and it’s clear to see that he’s fighting back a smile. I don’t think he knows whose side to be on right now. I can honestly say that I’m glad I’m not him.

Well, don’t make us wait any longer, Elliot. Open the letter,” Grace insists. Elliot nods and turns to Valerie, who rises and stands next to him. He takes the official-looking envelope out of his pocket and rips it open.

Date, paternity analysis, biological mother, come on come on come on!” He skims nervously through the jargon and mumbo-jumbo while we all wait anxiously for the test results. Finally, he reads aloud:

Based on the results from the 15 genetic systems (loci) shown below, Elliot Trevelyan Grey is excluded from being the biological father of Kevin William Kavanaugh because they only share alleles at 6 of the 15 loci analyzed. A CPI greater than 100, representing a Probability of Paternity greater than 99%, is required in order to not exclude the alleged father from being the biological father. The CPI is approximately 0 for this case, resulting in an approximate 0.0% Probability of Paternity for this case.”

We are all quiet for a moment, waiting for Elliot’s reaction. He turns to Valerie and envelops her in the tightest embrace I think I have ever seen. Christian reaches over and grabs my hand. I look over and smile at him.

“Well, what’s all the silence for?” Elliot says, releasing Valerie. “Let’s break out the champagne! I’m done with that bitch forever. No offense, Ethan. Sorry, Mom.”

Ethan says “None taken,” and Grace says “Don’t worry about it” at the same time. Now we really feel like celebrating.

“I’m sure I have some Bollinger or Moet that we can chill quickly,” Carrick says.

“No need, Cary. I have bottles chilling for Mimosas. We can use those,” Grace says happily.

“Breaking your ‘no drinking’ rule, Elliot?” Christian says playfully.

“Aw, hell, I forgot about that. No champagne for me, Dad,” Elliot says. Carrick’s face falls. Elliot is really serious about controlling his drinking. I have to say that I’m proud of him.

“Elliot,” Carrick says, “this is a special occasion. I’m sure one glass won’t hurt.” Elliot considers the offer.

“I’m driving, though, Dad,” Elliot protests. “You’ll be here for hours, Son. One glass of champagne will have worn off by then.” Elliot smiles at the gentle coaxing from his father.

“Okay, Dad,” he relents, “one glass.”

The room actually erupts in cheers as champagne is served. Once everyone has a glass, Elliot clears his throat to get our attention.

“I want to thank you all for standing by me during this trying time. I know that if Kevin had turned out to be mine, you would have shown him all of the love and affection that you have shown me. Hopefully, I and this beautiful woman,” he pulls Valerie close to him, “will make you two grandparents one day… but not yet, Mom.” He raises his glass and we all laugh again at his lightheartedness. “Valerie, thank you for staying by my side throughout this ordeal. I knew from the beginning that you were one of a kind. Now I’m sure of it… not that I needed further convincing.” She laughs softly. “I love you, Val.”

“I love you, too, El,” she says gazing lovingly into his eyes before they share a tender kiss.

“Okay, let’s eat! I’m starving,” Elliot announces.

“Here, here!” Carrick says as we move the celebration to the dining room for brunch.

We are all happily digging into a delicious brunch, talking about wedding plans and work and whatever comes up when Mia asks Ethan, “so what is this transaction you two were talking about? I was afraid to bring you around my family again and here you two have been chatting it up behind my back.” I take another bite of my delicious eggs Florentine and wait for them to answer the question.

“Well, I’ve collected my trust fund from my father and… I’ve cut him off.” The table falls silent again.

“Cut him off? What do you mean by ‘cut him off?’” Valerie asks.

“I mean that I don’t want anything else to do with him. I’ve watched him for years. I know the man that he is and I don’t want to be anything like him. I don’t even want his name.”

“You’re changing your name?” Elliot asks and Ethan nods. “Why?”

“I don’t want to be associated with him. At first, he was all for it. Now he’s asking me to reconsider.”

“You truly may want to reconsider, Ethan,” Carrick interjects. Ethan turns a questioning eye to him. “Hear me out, Son. You’ve made a name for yourself—your own name. No matter how much of that may have been due to the fact that you are a Kavanaugh, the fact that anyone in the financial world knows who Ethan Kavanaugh is has very little to do with William Kavanaugh or Kavanaugh Media. If you want to distance yourself from your father and his bad reputation, that’s fine, but don’t throw all of your hard work and goodwill away because he’s a philandering fool.” Carrick takes another sip of his mimosa after nodding once to Ethan.

“But how do I do that? Everybody who is anybody knows that I’m William Kavanaugh’s son, and with this crazy crap that Kate just pulled, ‘Kavanaugh’ will be synonymous with ‘trash.’ I don’t see that I have a choice.”

“Actually, you do,” Christian says. “You can continue being good at what you do and riding on your good name and not your father’s name. It’s no secret what your father gets up to, but no one blames Eliza for his indiscretions. They won’t blame you either. Katherine has her own cross to bear. That cross is not yours either. Changing your name is not going to prevent people from knowing who you are—or were. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot to get back at your dad and don’t be afraid to capitalize on being Ethan Kavanaugh. I say it’s the least you can get out of the ordeal you have been through being that man’s son.” Christian leans forward before continuing.

“I won’t tell you that being Ethan Kavanaugh is going to easy. You are still going to have to deal with some of the stigma of being William Kavanaugh’s son whether you change your name or not. It’s all in how you handle it. I don’t think you should change your name, Ethan. Distance yourself from your father, but calling yourself Ethan James or Ethan Mitchell or Ethan Whatever is not going to change who you are, and neither is calling yourself Ethan Kavanaugh.”

Ethan is clearly mulling the idea around a bit and Mia is looking at Christian like she doesn’t know who he is.

“No offense, Christian, but when did you become so pro-Ethan?” Mia asks quizzically.

“When was I ever anti-Ethan, Mia?” he answers sharply. She looks chastised.

“Well, you weren’t very warm the last time he was here. I just thought…”

“Yes, Mia, you thought, and you’ve hurt my feelings once with what you thought, so please, don’t make the mistake again.” He is curt with his words and Mia looks crestfallen. I actually feel a bit sorry for her.

“Christian!” Grace chides gently. He glances to his mother, then back to Mia. Everyone is silent for a moment and Mia looks like she might cry. Christian stands from the table and, without excusing himself, goes off in the direction of the great room. I sit there for a moment, absorbing the silence, before I excuse myself and take off behind him. When I get to the great room, he’s not there. I feel a little like the day he went off to be alone in the Tree-house and I couldn’t find him. I head towards the French doors thinking to head in that direction first when I hear the melancholy chords of a piano.

There he is.

I follow the music to his mother’s library and find him churning out a tune that sounds like it should be upbeat, but the undertones indicate that it’s something quite sad. The song turns out to be a bit short and by the time I join him at the piano, he is playing the last bars of it. When he finishes his tune, he rests his hands in his lap.

“Why am I always the bad guy?” he asks softly. I’m taken aback by the question.

“Christian, what do you mean by that?” I ask confused. He brushes his hands wildly over his face.

“Cops treat me like shit. When you were kidnapped, the first thing they wanted to know was if I had something to do with it. My car was rear-ended by a drunk driver and they treated me like shit. I go to Green Valley to support you while you gave your statement, and the DA treated me like shit. I was almost murdered in my own office, and they treated me like shit. I try to protect a boy from his psychotic father and they want to arrest me.”

“Christian, just because some cops are assholes doesn’t mean you’re the bad guy…”

“It’s not just them, Anastasia,” he cuts me off. Anastasia. This is serious. “Your friends have treated me like scum twice now without paying any attention to my side of the story. I’m made out to be the villain every time I buy a company or close down an unprofitable business. Kavanaugh has pens and claws out ready to stab me at a moment’s notice, and I’m not even the one who fucked his daughter. Even that Pedophile’s aunt has blamed me for her misfortune when this was all Elena’s doing to begin with.”

“Surely, you’re not using her as an example!” I exclaim.

“Don’t you see? She’s one of many! Any one of my ex-subs will tell you that I ruined their lives by not giving them what they wanted. My sister thinks I would batter her boyfriend because of something that his sister did, even you…”

Me?! I glare at him horrified. What did I do?

“You thought that I wanted to use corporeal punishment on our children as an extension of the lifestyle. I’m not using that against you, but Baby, it’s the first thing that you thought about me. That says more about me than it ever says about you.” He covers his face again. “And the prenup…” He doesn’t say anything else. I climb into his lap and force him to look at me—which is hard to do on a piano bench, by the way.

“Christian, you know why I felt that way. We talked about this. You can’t keep carrying that around with you. And the prenup, you told me to trust you, so I do. If I had anything to do with you feeling this way, please forgive me. You’re not the bad guy. You’re actually a very good guy. I’ve seen you help so many people since I’ve known you—our Adopt-A-Family, The Whiteheads, Luma and the girls. You have a very kind heart. It’s just that you are so intense and people don’t know how to take that sometimes. That doesn’t make you the bad guy.” He chuckles in a disbelieving tone.

“Tell that to Mia,” he says softly. He wraps his arms around me and holds me close, burying his face in my neck. I hold him there for a moment, gently stroking his hair while he takes several deep breaths. It’s not until I feel the moisture on my neck that I realize that he’s crying. I’m a little horrified.

“Christian, please… Don’t cry,” I say, cradling his head close to my breast.

“I’m fine,” he says, his voice a little shaky before he raises his head and fishes into his pocket for a handkerchief. He dries his eyes and wipes his nose before shoving the handkerchief back into his pocket. “Go on, I’ll be along in a minute.” I look at him curiously. “I just need a few moments.”

I rise from his lap and he is still holding my hand. He brings my hand to his lips and presses a gentle kiss to my fingers.

“I’ll be there in just a moment,” he says again. I look at him uncertain, then leave him in his mother’s library closing the door behind me. I hear the piano begin to play again. The chords are soft, slow, simple…

and very painful.

I can’t place the song until I listen for a moment. Then, I realize that he’s playing Mad World. It’s a short song, so I listen for a while and he starts it again. I look at the door for a moment, then walk away and leave him with his thoughts.

My feet guide me back to the dining room with the rest of the family where I hear Mia defending herself and Ethan against the presumed attack she thought Ethan would get from Christian. Ethan tells her that he and Christian had spoken earlier last week and although they weren’t the best of friends, they had pretty much talked very civilly and discussed some very important matters. Mia continues to defend her suspicions and I just sip my mimosa. My spirit is back in the library with my fiancé who just sent me away so that he could be alone with his melancholy.

My mind drifts back to wine country. We were so into each other and none of this stuff even mattered. We weren’t worried about babies with questionable paternity or whether Ethan would be a Kavanaugh or a Johnson. We certainly weren’t concerned about who thought Christian was a bad guy. My mind always seems to drift back to wine country lately when I need to escape. My fiancé is a magnificent lover and he makes me feel so special. Even though the trip was my surprise, he made me feel like the most beautiful and special woman alive the entire weekend. I hope I’m never able to shake that feeling of love and closeness that we shared.

Suddenly, I want to go home. It’s not the running thing—it’s the wanting to be alone with Christian thing, wanting to show him how wonderful he is and how much he means to me, even though he feels like nothing right now. I can’t leave him like this. I have to go back to him.

“Ana, is Christian coming back?” Grace’s voice breaks into my thoughts and it takes me a moment to register her words. Is Christian coming back? I don’t answer her. I just stare at her for a moment, then at Mia before dropping my head. I don’t know what to say to any of them. I need to go back to Christian. He needs me.

Before anyone has a chance to ask, I walk quickly out of the dining room again and back to the library. He’s still there, still playing Mad World. I go inside and close the door behind me. I walk over to the piano seat and sit next to him again. He finishes the song, then drops his hands into his lap. I take his face in my hands and force him to look at me.

“You a good man,” I say softly. “You’re one of the best men that I know. Please, please, believe me.” I gaze into his eyes and pray that he feels what I’m saying. He envelops me in his arms again and I hold him close to me, cradling his head. “Please believe me,” I beg again.

“I’m trying,” he whispers. “It’s hard.”

“I know. You have to stop paying attention to the bad all the time, Baby. Try to focus on the good. You do so much good for so many people. Please try to remember that.”

“I will,” he breathes. “I was hoping that you would come back.”

“I couldn’t leave you alone. You needed me, and I need you.” I pull his head back and look in his eyes. “I want to go home.” He examines me, reserved.

“I wanted to announce that the Faces of Abuse PSA is being released on Friday,” he says sadly. I smile warmly at him.

“You just did,” I say before hugging him hard to me again. “Oh, Christian, I’m so proud of you.”

“You helped,” he says with a soft chuckle.

“You pulled it all together.” I release him and take his face in my hands. “You’re a good man.” He looks at me and nods.

“I’m a good man,” he repeats, lacking the conviction of his words, but trying nonetheless. I nod and kiss his lips. “My good man,” I say, leaning my forehead against his. “We’ll tell everyone tomorrow. Let’s go home.”

“I don’t want to leave without saying ‘goodbye.’” He drops his head. I don’t want him exposed to even a small bit of the conversation that I walked in on a moment ago.

“You go out to the SUV. I’ll say our goodbyes. Let one of the detail drive the convertible.” He looks at me, then nods. He’s taken all that he can take for one day. He walks out of the library and turns in the direction of the foyer instead of the dining room. When I hear the front door open and close, I go to the great room and gather our things before going to the dining room.

“I had every right to say what I said, Mom. I wasn’t trying to offend him, but the world does not revolve around Christian Grey!”

“Mia, no one is arguing with you, but you shouldn’t have said that to him. You really didn’t have a reason to say that,” Carrick says. “I’m sorry, Grace, but she didn’t.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy, but I won’t be afraid to defend Ethan….”

“Against what? Christian was only encouraging him to keep his name. Last week, you ran out of the dining room like you thought Ethan was being choked on the lawn only to find them having a civil conversation. You jump to conclusions, Mia–and the fact that you scolded him for speaking his mind didn’t make it any better, Grace.” Mia scoffs at the chiding while Grace simple fidgets with her napkin. No, Christian definitely didn’t need to see this.

“Christian and I are leaving now,” I say, finally making my presence known. Grace raises her head and looks at me.

“So soon?” she asks. “We haven’t even had dessert, yet.”

“He’s… not in the mood for dessert and to be honest, neither am I,” I say, my voice chillier than I intended.

“Ana, what’s going on? Where’s Christian?” Elliot asks. I point to the door briefly with my thumb.

“He’s already gone,” I say looking at no one in particular.

“Gone?” Grace says, rising from her chair. “He left without saying anything?”

“I told him that I would say our goodbyes,” I reply.

“Oh, this is just ridiculous!” Mia stands up and starts walking towards the door. I text Chuck as fast as I can.

**Get Christian out of here now. Leave the RS7. I’ll catch up with you. **

Seconds after I hit send, I hear the Audi SUV roaring past the house and out of the driveway. Carrick now stands from his seat and looks at me.

“What is going on here?” Mia says, storming back into the room. I’m torn between my respect for this family and what I had to witness from my usually hard-as-a-rock fiancé. My feelings for Christian wins I take a deep breath.

“Do any of you have any idea how much that man is dealing with right now?” I exclaim, my fists shaking. The room falls silent. That got their attention. “There’s always somebody out to get him!” I continue. “He doesn’t announce it on billboards, but he’s fighting some old or new adversary every day! Somebody wants something from him or accuses him of something or is trying to bring him down. He’s trying so hard to help so many people and himself, and he’s met with suspicion everywhere he goes. In light of what has happened, he’s not allowed to feel the slightest bit of caution when it comes down to someone hurting his family?” I look directly at Mia when I ask that question. She’s just staring at me, dumbfounded, and no one else has a word to say either.

“Crazy bitches shooting at him, cops treating him like shit, psycho butlers coming out of the woodwork claiming to be his brother…” I drop my head and cover my mouth to choke down the tears that are bubbling up, but it’s of no use. They start falling and I can’t stop them.

“Ana…” Carrick begins and I just hold up my hand to silence him. I don’t want to say anything else.

“Good night,” I choke, though it’s barely early evening, and scurry out of the dining room and out the front door. The RS7 is right there at the front door and Ben is in the driver’s seat. I scramble into the car.

“Catch them,” I say, sharply. He looks over at me, starts the car, drops a gear and goes speeding off down the road. I don’t know if anyone followed me out of the house because I am texting Christian.

**Are you okay? **

His response comes back quickly.

**Yes. Are you okay? **

No, I’m not, but I won’t tell him that. I dry my eyes quickly and respond.

**I just need you. Where are you all now?**

**We’re crossing the bridge. **

Fuck, how fast is Chuck driving?

**Tell Chuck to slow down. I want you in one piece. **

**I will if you tell Lawrence to slow down. **

Damn, he’s good.

**How did you know? **

**I know you. **

“Slow down, Ben,” I tell him. Ben looks over at me again and drops to the speed limit, but it doesn’t matter because we are almost caught up to the SUV and will probably be home in no time. I send one more text.

**I’ll see you when we get home. **

**Good girl. **

Several minutes later, we pull up to the parking garage at Escala and I am nearly running to the elevator. I punch in the code for the penthouse and the damn thing seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. When the doors open, Chuck meets me in the foyer. It’s only now that I realize I have left Ben in the parking structure.

“He’s fine. Go on in. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Chuck says, stepping into the elevator as I step off. I rush the front doors and he’s standing near the wall of glass, looking out over the city. He turns to look at me and starts to walk slowly over to me. When he reaches me, he puts his hand on my cheek.

“You’ve been crying,” he says softly. I lean into his hand.

“I’m fine,” I tell him. “We just… need to be alone.” He examines my face then nods. I take his hand and lead him to the sofa. I start the fire, then take a bottle of Kistler’s Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from the wine cooler. Grabbing two wine glasses from the kitchen, I join him in the great room. I select a jazz playlist from the new Bose sound system he had installed and pour us each a glass of the golden elixir. I get on my knees on the sofa next to him and hand him a glass.

“Mmm, delicious,” he says, looking over at me. “How do you know just what I need?” I shrug coyly.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I try to read you and… I don’t want anyone to hurt you.” He sets his wine glass on the coffee table and takes my face in both of his hands. He kisses me softly again and again.

“You’ll protect me even from my family,” he says, his gray eyes piercing right through me as he gazes into mine. My breath catches in my throat and I can only nod at him. He takes my glass from my hand and sets it on the coffee table next to his. “Can I kiss you?” he breathes, his hands on either side of me holding my waist.

“Yes,” I squeak, barely able to get my voice out. The electricity between us is so powerful, I can hardly breathe. He brings his lips to mine and brushes my mouth gently.

“No,” he whispers, “can I kiss you… like I kissed you in Anguilla at the pool?” Oh! He’s talking about that breathless, hot, sexy…

“Yes!” I pant. He slides his arms around me. One hand slides to my nape while the other roams possessively to my back as he takes me over his knees and kisses me with the passion of 1000 souls.


GREY

I wanted to make love to her, I really did, but it just wasn’t the time. I needed her close to me—to feel her, kiss her, and absorb her—not to fuck her. I’m watching her sleep and dreading that it’s Monday because that means that we have a meeting with the good Reverend this afternoon. That usually means that we’re going to delve into something that needs examining and that my Butterfly is going to leave feeling upset about something.

I kiss her on the temples, caressing her cheeks and her chest. I’ve been awake most of the night just watching her and taking comfort in the fact that she has been lying next to me. She sent me away from my family when she knew that talking to them was not the best idea. I love her so much for that. I know of no one that would take on the Family Grey to protect me, and she did. I will have to face them soon enough, but she made sure that I didn’t have to do it while I was falling apart.

I can’t wait to call her my wife.

“Baby, wake up,” I tell her, kissing her on her temples and her cheeks. “It’s morning, Beautiful. It’s time to wake up.” She slowly uncoils her body and I try to remember that I want to cherish her and not fuck her.

“How are you feeling?” she asks sleepily.

“I feel wonderful,” I tell her. “Every day that I wake up next to you is a good day.” She looks up at me, her eyes filled with love.

“Then it will be a good day every day for the rest of your life, Mr. Grey,” she says softly.

“I look forward to it, Mrs. Grey,” I reply, my voice husky. She gasps, then sighs.

“I love the sound of that,” she says.

“Soon, Mrs. Grey. Very soon.” I kiss her deeply until I feel it in my soul and I know that she feels it, too. “We have to get up, Baby.”

“I know,” she says reluctantly before kissing me again.

*-*

I’m sitting at my desk going over the particulars of a deal I have been working on when my cell phone rings. I answer it without looking at it.

“Grey.”

Christian, hello. How are you feeling this morning?” I sigh heavily. It’s too early in the morning for this conversation.

“Fine, Dad, and how are you?”

A little curious. Would you like to tell me what was the purpose of your leaving yesterday?”

“No, Dad, I wouldn’t,” I reply, and that’s all I have to say about it.

Hmm, okay. Well, your mother was very upset and Mia wasn’t too happy either.”

“Really?” I answer, not feigning the slightest bit of interest.

Yes, really. I think they deserve some kind of explanation, Son.”

“Well, I don’t have one for them, at least not right now. Was that the only reason you called, because I’ve got a busy day ahead of me.” I’m not having this conversation right now and certainly not on the phone.

Mia is concerned that you’re going to treat her like you treated Elliot.”

“Oh, for the love of God!” I exclaim. “Do you know that she was just as cold to me when Ana left as Elliot was, if not colder? Does she think of anyone but herself, ever?” I feel myself getting angrier and angrier.

Yes, Christian, she does. She thought of you when we had to pry her fingers from the crazy woman’s hair last year,” he says curtly. I sigh.

“Dad, if you’re calling me to sing Mia’s attributes and to chastise me once again for being a horrible son and a terrible brother, I’m hanging up now.”

Christian!” Dad’s voice is higher than normal. “I never said anything like that.” He sounds surprised. I forgot, I had that conversation with Butterfly, not my father. I’m quiet now. I don’t quite know how to clean this up, so I just remain silent. Noting my obvious discomfort, he changes the subject. “Speaking of that crazy woman, I was also calling to tell you that she accepted the plea—25 years on all counts.”

“She did?” Holy fuck!

Yes, she did. So there will be no trial in that case, but she is still pleading some kind of mental compromise on the attempted murder charges.”

“Yes, I am aware of that,” I say flatly. I’ve been keeping an eye on her “defense” and she has none except for some quack that says that she has some made-up disorder. No witnesses for the defense, no character witnesses, nothing—just her and her quack.

I thought I would tell you since this particular thing may or may not make the news. Her murder trial is much more sensational than this.”

“I would agree.” Anything else, Father?

Morgan and Shane are both doing very well in school now. I thought you might like to know.” Yes, I would like to know that.

“Thank you. That is definitely good news.” Butterfly’s words come back to me at this moment: You’re not the bad guy. You’re actually a very good guy. I’ve seen you help so many people since I’ve known you… You have a very kind heart.

“The Faces PSA will drop on Saturday morning. I’m having a release party on Friday night. I’ll get you the details,” I tell him. I don’t want to talk anymore.

Okay, I’ll tell your mother and your sister and brother.”

“Okay. I have to go now, Dad.”

Christian?” He pauses to make sure that I’m listening. “I’ve never thought you were a horrible son or brother. I’m sure Mia doesn’t think that either.”

“Okay, Dad. I really have to go. I’ve got a meeting,” I lie.

I love you, Son,” he says as a last ditch effort.

“I love you, too, Dad,” I reply, something that is much easier to do since I’ve met Butterfly. I end the call and take a deep breath. Morgan and Shane are back in school. That is really good news. Morgan was really a sinking mess when I met him and I didn’t know what was going to become of Shane. Now, they are out of that woman’s clutches and they are thriving.

Yes, Dad, Mia does think I’m a horrible brother. She doesn’t think of anyone else except Mia and as much as I love her, she’s self-centered and thinks that the world revolves around her. Even though I was speaking civilly to her fiancé, she still thought I was going to beat him up and was still sarcastic towards me. So excuse me if I don’t buy your bid that she doesn’t think I’m a horrible brother. I call McIntyre to set up the publicity schedule for after the PSA drops.

*-*

“Welcome back, Ana, Christian.” The good reverend seems to be a bit too chipper to see us this evening. “Let’s get to it. There are some extremely crucial questions remaining that I’d like to cover tonight.”

I can tell from Butterfly’s face that she has come to dread these meetings as much as I have. Her spirits take a nosedive and it looks like she’s just not in the mood.

“Reverend Martin, may I have a moment alone with my fiancée?” I ask him. He looks at me, then at Ana, then nods and leaves the office. I turn to her and take her hand.

“Baby, I know that these have been some rough sessions, some things that we haven’t covered at all in our relationship. Let’s make a promise right now, just for tonight, that whatever comes out—whatever we have to discuss or discover—we won’t jump to any conclusions and we won’t leave here angry. We’ll be open and honest and discuss our feelings and we won’t let anything drag on. We’ll work out whatever we are discussing right here and then I want to take you out to dinner and wash away whatever bad feelings may remain when we are done. Can we agree on that? One hour of hashing away at what we need to cover and then no more beating around the topic—does that sound good to you?”

She looks up at me and her beautiful blue eyes are filled with some unnamed emotion.

“Yes, Christian. That sounds very good to me,” she says, her voice small. I bring her hands to my lips and kiss them softly.

“I’ll go get the reverend and we’ll get on with it,” I say and she nods.

I go to the door and let Reverend Martin know that we are ready. True to his word, he sits down and goes right into the meat of things. We first discussed what each of us expected from each other in terms of emotional support during times of change—like exciting times, depressed times, periods of illness or job loss. We both said pretty much the same thing, that we are very supportive of each other during these times, except when one of us were the cause of those feelings. It’s those times that we need to work on and we are well aware of that issue. It’s something that won’t be fixed overnight, but we are dealing with it. The good reverend seemed very satisfied with that answer.

“I would have been very worried if either of you had said that you were completely supportive of each other,” he admitted. “No couple is completely supportive because, as you pointed out, there are times when one of you is responsible for the other’s feelings of depression. I’ve been married for 13 years and my wife and I are still working on that one. So, I’d say you have a very healthy view of this particular issue. Now, I’d like to know how the two of you plan to cope with the need for drastic change. There will come a time in your lives where one or both of will reach a point where you may want to change careers or buy another house or even move to a different location. Many times, it’s called a midlife crisis. What are your plans for handling this?”

I look at Butterfly and she looks at me. We both shake our heads at each other as this is something I don’t think either of us have thought about.

“Well, I’m going through something like that now,” Butterfly admits. I raise my eyebrows at her. What is she talking about? She looks back at me. “Lightening my workload, changing my schedule, doing more at the center…” she clarifies. I raise my eyes in realization.

“Oh! Yeah. Is that what he means?” I turn to the Reverend. “Is that what you mean?”

“Well, I don’t know. Exactly what’s going on?” he asks. Butterfly explains her life change to him and all of the reasons that she’s doing it. He nods. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. There’s a couple of things I want to address here, though. Christian, how did you take Ana’s decision to cut down her hours and focus on other things?”

“Well, I’ll be honest and say that I was happy that she was making the changes to focus more on our relationship and on her treatment and mending, but also because it was something that she wanted to do,” I reply. “She made this decision all by herself and she chose how she wanted to handle things. She didn’t have any prompting from me, but she completely has my support.  She doesn’t have to work at all if she doesn’t want to. I can walk away from my work right now and we would still live out our lives in the lap of luxury. However, if she wants to work, I don’t have a problem with it. She’s a damn good therapist with a heart of gold. I wouldn’t dare request that she doesn’t do what she loves. I just want her to be happy. That makes me happy.” She squeezes my hand and doesn’t raise her head.

“Well, you’ve touched on my concerns with that answer. Money brings with it other types of problems. For example, what if she decided to stay home and do nothing—just let herself go?” I sigh heavily and look over at Butterfly.

“I would do everything in my power not to let that happen,” I say softly. She looks up at me and I can tell that she’s a bit hurt.

“You would have a problem with me if I let myself go?” she asks softly. I squeeze her hand.

“Butterfly, do you remember the question in our first session about spending too much time on your appearance?” I ask and she nods. “That’s how you look everyday, even when you don’t try. If you began to let yourself go, I would know that something was wrong. That’s not you, and that’s not what you want. That would mean that you are unhappy about something and I would have to find out what it was and help you through it. I fully understand that a woman may gain weight upon having children, but that doesn’t have to lead to letting yourself go. You would not be happy and we both know that.” She drops her head again.

“You’re right,” she breathes, “but…”

“No ‘buts,’” I interrupt her. “It wouldn’t change how I feel for you. It wouldn’t make me love you any less, but I would know that something is terribly wrong.” I think I’m going to squeeze her fingers off as I’ve squeezed her hands so many times this evening.

“Ana?” the reverend asks. She nods feverishly.

“That’s good for me,” she whispers, taking my one hand in both of hers and fighting back obvious tears.

“Do you want to stop?” he asks. She shakes her head.

“No, I’m fine,” she says, her voice shaky. I’m concerned about her now.

“Butterfly, did I say something wrong?” I ask cautiously.

“No,” she says. “I’m fine. Please, let’s keep going,” she coaxes.

The reverend continues asking questions about how we planned to spend the holidays; who we would confide in about problems with our relationship; if we expected our parents to live with us when they grew old; what our thoughts were in terms of spirituality and religion; and if our children will take part in rituals like baptisms or christenings. These were pretty mundane questions until he got to the questions about extramarital affairs. I could feel Butterfly freeze instantly. This, I know, is a deal-breaker for her. I would be crushed and destroyed if she had an affair, but I don’t know that I could leave her for it. She, on the other hand, has been through that humiliation before and simply could not endure it again.

“What would you consider an affair?” the reverend asks. “Would it be the act of actually having sex, anything physical at all, or does an emotional connection constitute an affair as well?” I can see the tears welling up in her eyes and I want to stop this line of questioning, but I know it’s as important as if not more important than anything we have discussed these past weeks.

“Any affair is a deal-breaker,” she says, confirming my suspicions. “Sexual affairs are tragic and crushing and I have no idea how I would ever recover knowing that he was with another woman. Affairs of the heart are much, much worse. That means that he can see himself with someone else besides me and that means that there’s no place for me anymore. If he allows someone else into his heart, in the place where I should be, then he has allowed someone else into our home and I can’t live with that. If he has to let her go because of me, even though he still loves me, he will resent me for it and he can’t live with that. So cheating is an instant divorce in my book.”

“That’s it? No compromise? No ’till death do us part?’” the reverend says accusingly. Butterfly looks up at him.

“I’m afraid not, Reverend,” she says, definitely. “I’ve been through that before—with someone who didn’t promise to love and honor me in front of God and family. It almost killed me. It changed me forever. I won’t stay with someone who will do that to me.” Her tears are flowing freely, now. Her voice is unwavering, but her tears drop off of her face in a constant stream.

“Christian?” he says, “how do you feel?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I could never do that to Butterfly, but if she did it to me, I’m not so sure that I could walk away so easily.” She chokes back a sob, and I continue. “I’ve never suffered from infidelity like she has. From what she explains to me, it was mental torture. It was more than just this guy having another girlfriend. He flaunted his affairs and he made her feel like shit. When it was all said and done, she basically had to lock him out of her home and her life and she still wanted him back. I can’t see putting her through something like that. It’s inhumane.” She’s silently weeping now. “I would hope that she would never want to do that to me, but I don’t know how I would handle it if she did.”

“I… wouldn’t…” she chokes out from her tears.

“It’s very easy to say that now, Ana, because you two are so much in love. However, you never know what the future will hold 10 years down the line when one of you is feeling neglected or restless. This is what I suggest. You need to commit to taking some time to talk about how you will handle feelings that may open the door to infidelity. Talk about that now, while the thought seems so abhorrent. This way, you will be able to refer back to this conversation when and if those feelings arise. Talk to your partner when you feel drawn to someone else—if you feel a connection with someone as a colleague or erotically. This will build the bond between the two of you instead of allowing you to build the bond with someone outside of your relationship. Can the two of you commit to that?”

“Yes,” I say as Butterfly nods. I understand that this is a real possibility for any couple somewhere down the line, but I just didn’t want to discuss this now. We will discuss it later, though. It is necessary. I am aching to hold Butterfly in my arms. I hate to see her cry.

“Don’t forget and don’t brush this off,” he warns. “This conversation could make or break your marriage down the line. Christian, did you know that infidelity was intolerable for Anastasia?”

“I did,” I say with a nod.

“And Ana, were you aware of Christian’s feeling about the topic?” She shrugs.

“It never occurred to me,” she says, her voice laden with her tears. “I can’t imagine wanting anyone but him, so I never thought about it.” That makes my heart leap. She can’t imagine wanting anyone but me. What if I become an asshole? Will she still feel that way about me?

“Why do you have these chairs so far apart?” I ask, although I think I was verbalizing my thoughts and not really asking the question. I look up and the reverend is smirking at me.

“Each party needs to be able to express their own thoughts and feelings, and not feed off of the feelings or emotions of the other. As you see, I never use the sofa because one person may be feeling a massive connection while the other needs to have some distance. When both parties need distance, it’s a sad sight to see them escape to either end of the sofa. Chairs allow for each person to be in their own space. The distance can be broken by just reaching out to touch each other, like the two of you have ever since I’ve been counseling you. You’ve made the best use of the space I have seen from my best couples. I commend you for that.” Shit, I can’t stand it anymore.

“Ana?” I say, bringing her attention to me. She looks up at me with red puffy eyes and, in a moment, she is curled up in my lap in my chair. I embrace her as she buries her face in my neck, breathing deeply and settling in.

No, Reverend, this is making the best use of the space.


 A/N: Yes, I know the font changed, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it without going straight HTML, and I just didn’t have time for that in my life…

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Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x