So, I got lots of feedback on the last chapter on Ana’s possible condition, her reaction to Chuck’s withholding information, how Christian should react to it, the whole nine yards. I got you thinking, lol!
For those of you who noticed the personalized touch of my last email, thank you. It wasn’t easy to get that in there, but I’m learning some new things. 😉
FYI, I don’t know where I wrote or lead my readers to believe that Christian didn’t know that Ana may have a stalker, but I wrote the chapter with the understanding that he did know. If I did mention that he didn’t know, to be honest, he doesn’t know everything either until it becomes a problem. So, to answer that question, No–Christian is not going to roll anybody’s head on this one.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.
I was ordered to bed for the rest of the evening on Thursday and not allowed out until after noon on Friday. I was having a conniption by then because Mandy and Daddy’s shower would be in a few hours and I had to get to their house to do the decorations and get things started. I am the hostess, after all. I cancelled my session with Ace as Christian ordered me to stay in bed so I didn’t have much time to be skipping off to my therapist for an hour of delving into my feelings.
Marilyn has come with me as well as Valerie and Maxie to help with the decorations and organizing the house for the shower. Gail has agreed to cook the food and won’t allow me anywhere near the kitchen to assist—not even to slice vegetables. I’m beginning to feel like a bit of an invalid here. I just had a stomach ache… well, have a stomach ache, but I dare not tell any of them that I’m feeling the remnants of my bout with the murder burger night before last. I should sue the place that sold me that gastric catastrophe. I mean, seriously, that damn thing should come with a warning sign of some kind—caution: may induce vomiting.
Chuck and I have barely said two words to each other the whole day. It’s strange since we talk to each other all the time, but I just don’t feel like discussing the inevitable right now. I just want to concentrate on my baby brother’s shower. Speaking of which, I really hate that Harry won’t be here. He’s due to come home tomorrow, but the doctors wanted to keep him one more day for observation. He had some breathing complications when he was born, but the hospital gave Mandy steroids the day that she came into the hospital. So that, along with the surfactant after Harry was born, helped to develop his lungs. He was only in the NICU for a short time before he was released to the regular nursery. Now, he is as strong and healthy as a horse. I can’t wait for him to get home so that I can start spoiling him.
Daddy becomes the super proud father all over again every time he talks about Harry. He’s only about nine days old, but Daddy is talking about how much weight he has gained and how big he has gotten already. Mandy has brought the youth back to my father and I have no doubt that Harry will do that as well.
The guys stick around and help with the decorations as Christian is convinced that I’m not back to 100%. Although he’s right about that, I won’t let him know because I don’t want him to haul me out of my baby brother’s shower. My stomach is still cursing that damn burger and although I am not vomiting or cramping like I was before, the memories are still very vivid in my tired abdominals. To that end, I don’t give much argument when he restricts me from doing certain things. I stick to delegating and giving orders.
A couple of hours later, we have transformed Daddy and Mandy’s house into Baby Central. The farthest wall in the living room is covered in white balloons in a honeycomb pattern with a long table in front of it covered with a blue linen tablecloth. Two white vases of flowers flank several of Gail’s blue and white confections. Two helium-filed baby blue heart-shaped Mylar balloons hover over the table holding a banner between them of five small triangular flags that spell out “Harry.” Gail’s delectables consist of several blue, white, and silver cake balls with buttons or bows on top, little cupcakes with fondant babies on top in different poses, and individual dessert cups with some chocolate creation inside. Each dessert cup is a mini-mason jar with a fabric cover in blue and white or green and white stripes or checks or flowers. The fabric is held on by a blue or green ribbon and a large plastic matching diaper pin. These along with several other cookies, candies, chocolates and such, all sit around an adorable two-tiered cake covered in sky-blue fondant with white fondant clouds. The cake topper—also made of fondant—is a stork delivering a tiny little baby.
Speaking of stork, the proud father has actually rented one of those cheesy stork displays and planted it firmly in his front lawn. Not only does it alert arriving guests that they have the right address, but it also announces the birth of baby Harrison Raymond Steele to the world. This is not one of those regular storks with the baby in the blanket hanging out of his mouth. No… not for Master Steele. This stork has his feathers full spread, admiring the elated baby that he holds over his head in his wing-hands. Both are smiling profusely right under a star-spangled blue sign that reads “It’s a boy.” The display, which has to be about eight feet tall, includes Harry’s name and birth statistics. There’s absolutely no doubt that the proud parents can be found at this location.
Along with the extra seating set up by Christian, Daddy, Jason, and Chuck, Daddy has assembled a crib for the gift table. I got the idea from something that I saw online. Since the baby won’t be using his crib until tomorrow, we assembled it without the front railing and put a flat piece of white-painted wood where the mattress would be. We’ve decorated all three sides with baby bedding and beautiful fabric, including a cute little runner in the front. A baby canopy of white mosquito netting hangs from the ceiling with a cream parasol covering the hooks that are holding it up. Blue and white party balls hang inside the canopy and are strewn on the floor around the gift table.
Another table is set up with dinnerware, food, drinks, and hors d’oeuvres and we are ready for the party to begin. The gentlemen excuse themselves from the revelry that is about to become Mandy’s baby shower just as the women begin to arrive. The gift table is quickly covered with gifts for little Harry as well as the floor nearby. Mandy’s coworkers, friends, and several judges, as well as Grace and Mia enjoy the food and the shower games while I watch Mandy bask in the attention of being a new mother. Pictures of Harry are passed around the room and the ladies coo endlessly at my little brother.
I still haven’t gotten completely over the queasiness in my stomach as Mandy begins to open her gifts, so I sneak out the back door to their yard for a few moments of alone time and some fresh air to help ease my discomfort.
I have a brand new baby brother.
I’ve never liked being an only child. I considered Al my brother since there was no one else. I wonder if things would have been different for me if I hadn’t been an only child. Would Mom and Daddy have stayed together? Maybe for the sake of the kids? Would Mom have dragged us both to Nevada to be with her new husband in that hellhole? Would he have been able to protect me from being raped? Beaten nearly to death? You have such a “what if” legacy, Harry. I won’t hold you responsible for not being born twenty or so years sooner.
It begs to question, though… Mom and Daddy were together for many years. Why did she never get pregnant? Mandy got pregnant within a few months. Did they not want any children? If not, why wasn’t Daddy upset when Mandy announced her pregnancy? I guess these are questions that will never have answers. I have to say that I’m not really interested in the answers as I am sure that if Mom had any other children, she would have ruined their lives, too.
I’m walking around the outside of the house, taking in the wonderful May weather when I get a glimpse of that ridiculous stork on the front lawn in the distance. I was wrong. I think that thing is about 10 feet tall now that I get a better look at it. Who knows? I chuckle to myself as I think about Daddy picking the display and most likely watching with pride as they are planting the hideous thing in his front yard. There will be no stork displays when Christian and I have children… out of the question.
A fast movement past the monstrosity in my father’s front yard catches my attention. I see one of Mandy’s guests nearly run out of the house and towards one of the parked cars on the street. She stops momentarily and it looks like she shaken, like she’s seen a damn ghost. I make my way over to her car.
“Are you okay?” I ask as I approach her in the street. She’s taking deep breaths like she’s trying not to hyperventilate.
“I’m fi—” she begins before she looks up into my eyes. Her face becomes even paler, as if it could. She looks like she might pass out any minute.
“You should probably come back in and sit down,” I say, grasping her arms for fear that she might faceplant on the concrete if I don’t.
“No. No. I’m fine, really. I just have to go,” she says, sounding like a scared rabbit. What the hell happened to this woman?
“Would you please take a moment to catch your breath?” I beseech her. “I don’t want you to have an accident on your way to whatever emergency has called you away from the shower.” She seems to be getting more and more panicked by the second.
“No. Really, I’m okay. I just really need to go,” she says desperately trying to escape.
“Okay,” I say, her anxiety jumping off on me a bit. “Can I at least have someone take you somewhere?” She freezes and her shoulders fall.
“I’m sorry,” she says, defeated. I frown. What is she talking about?
“I had no idea, I swear. I didn’t plan this. I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t make the connection.” She’s babbling. Just as I’m trying to figure out what the problem is…
Okay, so not only is he using my whole name, but he’s using that fucking tone. I turn around and look at over my shoulder at him wondering what brought this on and what brought him out here.
“Christian,” I say, imitating his tone and showing my obvious irritation.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” he says, glaring at this shivering, quacking woman in my hands.
“She’s not my friend, but she’s clearly upset. I was trying to make sure she was okay to drive.” The quaking woman is no longer looking at me, but at Christian now.
“I didn’t know,” she says to him. “I didn’t make the connection.”
“What are you doing here?” he asks her. What?
“She’s here for the same reason that the other twenty women are here,” I say, not getting his questioning at all.
“Anastasia…” he says again in that tone.
“What?” I bark before I have the chance to catch myself. I’m not doing anything wrong and I won’t let him just take that tone with me for no reason. Quaking Girl actually jumps when I snap at Christian, causing me to glare back at her. She is looking at me like I am some kind of alien being. I look back at Christian, then at her, then at Christian, and back at her.
Then it hits me.
“Oh,” I say as I drop my hands from her arms, realization clear in my voice. Petite, a little taller than me, very fit. Although the brown roots are being hidden by a soft auburn color, the collar—though stylish—makes it quite evident.
She’s a sub—one of his past, to be more specific.
“Oh, God,” she says, covering her face with one of her hands. “I tried to leave before you saw me, before she saw me. I tried…”
“Steele,” Christian says, his voice menacing. “She’s all over the news. The trials, our engagement, how could you not know, Shawn?”
“I didn’t make the connection,” she excuses. I’m standing here in the middle of the street in front of my father’s house listening to my fiancé argue with one of his ex-subs about why she came to my brother’s baby shower. What are the odds? “I’m engaged, Sir… Mr. Gre… look!” She thrusts her hand into his face to show the stylish engagement ring on her left hand. “I swear I didn’t come here to cause any trouble, Sir.”
“Stop calling me that!” he barks.
“Then what do you want me to call you?” she says back, her tone frightened and surprised.
“Nothing!” he retorts. I sigh heavily.
“Leave her alone, Christian,” I say. He turns an icy gray glare to me. Oh, if you only knew how much I am not in the fucking mood.
“And knock that shit off, too!” I bark. I think I surprise them both. “She didn’t come to crash the party or to out you or even to see you. She came because she was invited. She obviously has a new interest…” I point at her collar, “…who’s going to marry her.” I point at her engagement ring. “I am certain that she doesn’t want anything to disrupt her life just as much as you don’t want anything to disrupt ours. In fact, she would have left if I hadn’t stopped her. What did you say to her? She was shaking like a leaf before she even got to the car.”
“He didn’t say anything to me, Ms. Steele,” she says, her head down. Oh, fuck. The last thing I need is to see the sub in action.
“I realize that this may be hard, but I’m going to ask you to please refrain from assuming sub position one while I’m standing here. That’s not a visual that I need right now.” She raises her head quickly and stares questioning at me. “He said nothing to you?”
“He didn’t get the chance. I was on my way to the restroom and when I spotted him, I snuck out,” she responds, looking only at me. I nod.
“You should go back to the party,” I say. She shakes her head.
“I… no! I should leave,” she protests.
“Does Amanda know why you left?” I ask.
“God, no!” she replies, confirming my suspicion that even though she is collared, she still doesn’t want the details of her lifestyle to be common knowledge.
“Does Amanda know you left?” She shakes her head.
“No,” she says. “I was just going to tell her later that I had an emergency call and had to leave.” I sigh.
“Then go back to the party,” I repeat. She frowns. “Amanda invited you because you are her friend. She wants you to celebrate the birth of her first child with her. Go back to the party.”
“What do I say?” she asks.
“Tell her that you had an emergency call that you had to take but it’s all taken care of now. Get the attention off of you and back onto Harry as quickly as possible.” She nods.
“Okay. I’ll do that. I really didn’t want to leave the party, but I didn’t want to cause any trouble. When I saw… Mr. Grey, I just had to leave.” I nod at her explanation.
“Go, now, before she realizes that you’re missing if she hasn’t already.” She nods again.
“I really am sorry, Mr. Grey. Ms. Steele.” She turns around and heads back to the house. As I watch her walk into the front door, I notice Chuck standing over by the stork monstrosity. Great, just what I need.
“Did you have to undermine me like that?” Christian asks. I turn to him.
“You mean the same way that you undermined me with that Anastasia shit?” I ask. “You and I both know what that was.” The argument is extinguished before it begins.
“You’re right,” he says, impassively. “You didn’t feel the urge to scratch her eyes out?”
“I don’t want to talk about it right now,” I say, the queasy feeling coming back to my stomach again. “When I saw her take the position, and I knew that she was…” I shake my head. “I just don’t want to talk about it.” He puts his hand on my cheek.
“Later,” he says softly.
“No, not later. It’s done. I don’t want to talk about it,” I say, finitely.
“Not, it’s not, Baby,” he responds. “We’ll talk about it whenever you’re ready, but it’s not done.” He kisses my cheek and walks back to the house. Good God, this day was supposed to be about Harry. I rub my forehead and walk back towards the house as well.
“Are you going to continue giving me the silent treatment?” Chuck asks as I walk by him. I turn to look at him.
“Are you going to continue to keep things from me about my safety? If you are, I don’t need you. I’ll protect myself.” I don’t have time to beat around the bush with him, nor will I sugarcoat my feelings.
“Ana, can’t you see why we can’t tell you everything that happens?” he protests.
“Fine,” I say with a shrug and begin walking back towards Daddy’s house.
“Don’t ‘Ana, please’ me, Chuck. You keep key information from me about my protection and safety for God only knows what reason, and what you don’t understand is that not knowing about a potential threat that was that close to me is just as bad as me walking around here on my own. If you don’t get that, then I don’t need you. I can take care of myself.”
“You know that’s not true,” he says.
“What’s not true?”
“That you can take care of yourself! You have no idea how many people were beside themselves when that fucker had you chained to that bed! There’s a whole army of people hell-bent on that never happening to you again!” he yells.
“And I’m one of them!” I yell back. “So try not to keep me out of the fucking loop! What’s so goddamn hard to understand about that?”
As if a light has gone of in his head, he stops yelling and folds his arms.
“You’re fucking insufferable, you know that?” he declares.
“And you still love me, so stop fucking keeping shit from me, Davenport!” I bark back.
“Fine!” he snaps.
“Fine!” I shoot and walk back to the house.
That felt good. Even my stomach stopped hurting.
I’m in a field of wild grass. The sun is rising or setting, I don’t know which. I can’t tell where I am or where I am supposed to be. There’s a man walking towards me. I don’t know who he is, but I feel like I should. I walk towards him, but I don’t seem to be getting any closer.
“Where are we?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer. “Who are you?”
“I’m sorry, Baby,” he says. I’m confused. Sorry for what? Then I remember.
I’m supposed to know who he is, but I don’t. I know that I should know him, but I don’t.
“Can you please tell me who you are?” I ask him again.
“You know me. You know who I am.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I don’t know.”
“You know me. I just want you to know how sorry I am.” He keeps apologizing.
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because I broke her, and I can’t fix her. I’m sorry, Baby?” Why does he keep calling me “Baby?”
“Who did you break? Can you tell me that?” and he’s fading again. “No, please. Don’t go yet. Who did you break? Why are you sorry? Please don’t go.”
And he’s gone.
I awake lying on my back and alone. The sun is up but Christian is not in bed with me. Who is this man in my dreams? Why does he keep apologizing to me and why does he keep calling me “Baby?” I don’t know who he is. I’ve never seen him before—well, not that I can remember—but he says that I know him. Who is he?
I sit up slowly and throw my legs over the edge of the bed. Thank God the murder burger has made its way completely out of my system and I no longer feel like I have to stay close to a bathroom. As a matter of fact, I’m as hungry as a horse! Dad and Mandy are going to be bringing Harry home today and I have a few things planned to get to know my little brother. I know that Mandy will want to spend every waking moment with him, but I’m hoping that she will be willing to share one or two of those waking moments with me.
After a long shower and deep conditioning, I take a good look at my wet hair in the mirror. It’s only now that I realize that I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with it for the wedding. It’s getting so long that it’s becoming difficult to style on a daily basis. I can wear it up or down with the dress. Either way will be stunning. I’m giving some thought to cutting it off…
Oh, hell no. Christian will have a coronary.
Oh well, for now I pull out my round brush and dry it so that it has big waves at the ends. After dressing in my black Donna Karan New York draped jersey top and Rag & Bone high-rise skinny jeans, I pull my hair into a loose over-the-shoulder ponytail where the bangs swoop lazily over my forehead and the ends cascade down to my breasts. I do dramatic eyes and some redder lipstick than I normally wear with a pair of plain stud earrings. After sliding into my over-the-knee black Louboutin leather stiletto boots, I’m ready for the day.
I go up to what has now morphed into more Harry-Central and less Wedding Central and grab the things I’ve bought for Harry—lots of onesies to come home to, some stuffed toys, the usual things. I have one special toy that I’m going to give him when no one is looking. It will be something that will bond us together as sister and brother and let him know that I will always have his back.
I take the few bags down to the great room and can’t help but notice the lack of activity—no Jason, no Chuck, no Gail, and no Christian. Where is everybody? I head to the kitchen to put something on my stomach. I’ll find them all later.
I’m eating the last of my bagel, bacon and eggs when my iPhone rings.
“Hi, Daddy,” I answer.
“Hey, Annie. I didn’t wake you, did I?” Daddy asks.
“No, Dad. I’m just finishing breakfast. I was going to call you to find out when Harry was coming home.”
“They are discharging him as we speak. I think he knows who I am, Annie!” Daddy sounds so excited.
“Of course he does!” I tell him. “You’re his father. Trust me, he loves you already.”
“You think so?” I can hear him smiling through the phone.
“I know so, Daddy. There’s not a soul in the world who couldn’t love you.”
“Well…” His pause tells me that we are thinking of the same person.
“And even she loved you once, so the saying still holds true.”
“You’re a wonderful daughter, Annie. Please don’t ever forget that.” I can hear one of those rare moments when Daddy is getting emotional. I smile.
“I won’t, Daddy. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Sunflower,” he says softly. “We’ll see you at the house later?”
“Of course,” I say with a smile. We say our goodbyes and end the call. I clear my dishes and put them in the dishwasher. When I turn to leave, there’s Christian on the balcony. I notice his buns of steel first, leaning on the railing and looking delectable. I double-check my make-up to make sure that I haven’t eaten away all of my lipstick before I walk over to the sliding doors. He’s gazing off into the distance, toying with something on his shirt. When I get closer, I see that it’s the key that I gave him last year in Anguilla. I had all but forgotten about that key. I see it when he’s getting dressed, but it’s something that is always there so you never see it.
He’s thinking about me. Should I interrupt him or leave him to his thoughts?
Interrupt him. He’s been out there for a while.
I open the sliding door and step out onto the balcony. It’s late morning going into early afternoon and the sun it out. It feels good. It’s June 1st. I’ll be married in 28 more days. I move next to him on the balcony, but he doesn’t acknowledge my presence. Have I done something wrong?
“Hi,” I say.
“Hi,” he replies. Okay, that wasn’t painful, but what’s going on? “Fifteen.”
Where did that come from?
“Fifteen. There were 15 of them, Ana, and you’ve met two.” He’s talking about his prior subs.
“Um… okay.” Where is this going?
“You could meet the other 13, you know.” Why is he worried about this?
“Yes… and I actually met three.” He turns to look at me and does a double-take. What?
“You’ve only met two,” he says, his voice lower. “Greta was never my sub.” She wasn’t? She was possessive as hell. Why did I think she was actually his sub? Didn’t he tell me before that she was never his sub? I don’t remember. I shrug.
“Okay, so, Cassie was a nightmare. Shawn was an accident. Greta wasn’t even a sub. There’s 13 more. Is something wrong?” I ask. I don’t know what the problem is. “Is this why you’ve been out here all this time?”
“I’m having a hard time reconciling this part of my past with my present,” he says, never taking his eyes from me. “I really don’t know how to act when you meet them.” I frown.
“Because of the Cassie fiasco?” I ask.
“That, and the fact that… I only know to dominate these women. I can’t even talk to them when you’re around because I can’t dominate them when you’re around. I can’t even dominate them when you’re not around unless I’m ordering them out of town.” I can see how that could be a problem. He immediately went into bully mode with Shawn yesterday, and she was clearly trying not to make a scene.
“Are you angry at me for telling you to leave Shawn alone?” I ask. I wanted to ask him yesterday but the opportunity never presented itself. His pupils constrict and I know that no matter what comes out of his mouth, he was angry that I said that.
“I didn’t like being handled, particularly in front of her,” he says, honestly. Yep, he was pissed.
“Then you have to understand that you can’t attempt to handle me in front of your ex-subs either,” I say with no malice. “If I was handling you yesterday, it was because a—I was defending myself and b—I really didn’t think she was doing anything wrong. She was a friend of Mandy’s invited to Mandy’s house to see Mandy’s baby. When she saw you, she tried to leave. I diffused the situation and sent her back to the party. Remember, my dad isn’t aware that I partake in the lifestyle yet.”
“Yes,” he says after a beat, “there is that.”
“I have no intention on making any scenes while your ex-subs are around unless they are disrespectful to me, Christian. You are going to have to learn to deal with the fact that I may run into one of them while we are together. You had this same conversation with me when we ran into Greta in the Marketplace. I truly don’t think that all of them have bad intentions. Do you?” He thinks for a moment.
“Not all of them, no, but some may wonder why I chose you over them and that’s what worries me,” he says, closing the space between us. “It’s not like having an ex-girlfriend and a current girlfriend in the room together… at least, I don’t think it is. The nature of my relationship with these women was purely sexual—primal, based only on physical need and intense because of that fact. I can tell by their reactions that they still feel a spark when I’m near.”
“Well, hell, Cassie was in heat at the mere hope of seeing you so that’s pretty obvious, but I didn’t get that vibe from Shawn at all. She couldn’t wait to get away from you.”
“Well, true…” he hesitates.
“You said ‘they.’ I thought Greta wasn’t your sub.” An unknown emotion flashes briefly across his face. What’s wrong? I’m trying to read him, but he’s protecting himself in that CEO shell. What’s going on?
He said “they.”
He said “they.”
Fuck, he said “they.”
“Who else have you seen, Christian?” I ask. The CEO exterior falters for a moment, but only a moment. It’s back before I have a chance to read him.
“I saw a young lady that I contracted a few years back,” he says impassively. My heart sinks. Why, I don’t know. I guess because I want to know why he kept this from me.
“Oh?” I say, maintaining the same demeanor as he.
“Yes. Her name was Ava. Her contract lasted a little over a year.” I don’t think I want to hear this, but something is saying that I must. So I just stand there waiting for him to tell me the rest. “She showed up at Grey House the day that you came back from Montana.” That long ago? “She wanted to offer her… services again. I wasn’t sure why she was there so I invited her up to my office.”
I feel like I’m going to vomit again.
“She was nearly naked under the coat she was wearing. I should have known when I saw her, but… I was in a bit of a state at the time.” His eyes change, like he’s pleading with me to understand. All I can see is this nearly-naked brunette standing in his office while I’m on my way back to “rescue” him. “She started talking about how she liked my new look and could sense that the Dom was still there and… hungry, as she put it. I sent her away, Butterfly. I only wanted you. I only want you.”
I’m fighting to get air into my lungs. I don’t know how to feel about this revelation. Though I’m calm and cool on the outside, the Bitch has taken the liberty to stomp around and throw a full-blown temper tantrum. Why did he keep this from me? Why didn’t he tell me this before?
“Anyone else?” I say, a chill in my voice that I am unable to hide.
“No,” he responds. “No one else.” I look away from him and walk towards the door. He catches my arm before I get far.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Christian?” I say, snatching my arm away from him. “What if I had heard this from someone else?”
“I didn’t want you to think that I would go running back to my old ways as soon as we had a problem,” he says, defensively.
“Because Shawn showed up, now became the time for you to tell me, but not sooner. Would you have ever told me?” He looks down and I have my answer. “Great.” I walk into penthouse and back to the bedroom. I pick up my cell phone and text Chuck to come and get the packages that I have for Harry. Putting my messenger bag on my shoulder, I turn to leave and run right into Christian in the hallway.
“You’re running?” he asks, expectant. I fold my arms.
“No,” I say sarcastically. “I’m going to see my brother, something that I had planned long before your revelation about Ava.”
“I was wondering why you…” he trails off.
“Why I what?” I nearly hiss. He stares at me for a moment.
“You look phenomenal,” he says, his voice deep and husky. “Even mad, you are sexy as fuck.”
What the hell? I think I’m stunned. The Bitch has completely stopped in her tracks and is standing there staring at him like a lion at the zoo at feeding time. I am livid and confused and angry and my libido is betraying me. I’m at a loss for words and he closes the space between us again.
“Only you, Butterfly,” he says softly. My eyes travel down to his neck to avoid making eye contact with him. “I was afraid of what you would think if I told you. I was afraid to lose you. You have to know that it’s only you.” He puts his finger under my chin to lift my face so that he can look into my eyes. “Only you.”
My lips part and I think I’m panting. He does things to me and he knows it. He’s using it against me right now and I can’t fight back.
“You don’t play fair,” I say, weakness, anger, and defeat evident in my voice.
“I know,” he says, kissing the corner of my mouth. “It’s because I love you so much. I can’t stand to lose you.” His lips move over mine and he brushes them together gently. “I would move Heaven and Earth to keep you. I never want to risk losing you.” He licks my lip before using his tongue to part them farther, kissing me softly and briefly massaging my tongue with his. He moans when our lips separate. “Strawberry?”
Huh? Oh! My lipstick. I nod mindlessly.
“Sweet,” he says, taking my lips in another soft kiss. “I’m sorry. I won’t keep this from you again, I swear. I promise,” he breathes, leaning his forehead against mine.
“You promise?” I whisper. I don’t want to fight, especially not about some hot-in-the-ass, ex-submissive that didn’t even get his attention.
“I promise. It was very foolish of me not to tell you sooner. Please forgive me.” Damn him. He’s so hot and beautiful, and so damn irresistible when he’s repentant.
“Remember this, Christian,” I say, trying to be firm and scolding, but sounding more like I’m begging. “I don’t like feeling like this.”
“I don’t like you feeling like this either, Baby,” he says sliding one hand around my waist and the other against my cheek and into my hair. “I won’t forget.” He pulls my face to his and our lips meet again. His kisses are soft, warm, and probing—sensual, but not sexual—still enough to make me weak in the knees. He “apologizes” for about five minutes against the wall outside of our bedroom before we both reluctantly agree that I should fix the lipstick on my face and he should remove the lipstick from his before we go to little Harry’s welcome home party.
“Good God, Ana, you always manage to look like a supermodel,” Mandy says when she opens the door for us. I kiss her on the cheek and go in search of my little brother only to find him nestled in our father’s arms. I kiss Daddy on the cheek.
“Hi, Daddy,” I say with a smile. He looks up at me, beaming like the sun on a bright summer day.
“Hey, Sunflower. Look what I have here,” he says, presenting my brother. I sit down next to him.
“I see,” I say, looking down at the beautiful baby boy in my father’s arms. “Hi, Harry. I’m your sister, Ana. Aren’t you the most handsome little thing I’ve ever seen?” Daddy smiles widely as he gently rocks his son in his arms.
“It all comes back to you, Annie,” he says softly. “The last baby I held in my arms this way was you. It’s like riding a bike. Almost 30 years and it all comes back to you.” He looks up at me with the biggest smile on his face. “The happiest years of my life were the days that I held you in my arms and watched you grow. Now I get to relive them with my boy. I’m the luckiest man in the world to have two of the most perfect children God ever created.” My dad never gets emotional, but I can read all the love in his eyes right now for his children.
“Oh, Daddy, please stop,” I say fighting back my tears. “We love you too, Daddy.” I kiss him gently on the cheek, leaving my strawberry lipstick stain behind. He smiles lovingly at me and looks back down at Harry. I am so happy for my father and Mandy. Daddy has had some really rough years, dealing with Mom and having his family ripped away from him not once but twice. It must have been hard being in love with a selfish, wicked harpy. Then to find out that I was living in a battered women’s shelter to hide from her must have ripped his heart out. I don’t even want to think about what he went through when I was kidnapped, or even hearing about the whole story behind Green Valley. Daddy has loved me like his own since as far back as I can remember. The fact that she tried to take that away from us makes me that much happier that I was present for the birth of my brother and Daddy’s first—maybe only—son. I never asked if they had planned to have more children, but that would be a conversation for another time.
Harry is a little angel as he sleeps and stares most of the time at his family and extended family. Christian holds him like a little china doll, his large hands nearly swallowing poor Harry whole. He barely breathes the entire time he’s holding the baby. I finally put him out of his misery and relieve him of carrying my brother. He actually breathes a heavy sigh when I take the baby from his hands. I’m holding Harry for about five minutes when he starts to protest announcing that it’s feeding time. Christian is ready to make a fast getaway when Mandy proceeds to open her shirt to feed my brother. Daddy takes pity on him and they escape to the den, leaving Mandy and me to chat while Harry eats.
“Did you think we would be here when you threatened me at lunch the first day we met?” Mandy asks as she covers Harry and her exposed breast with a receiving blanket. I gasp and cover my mouth.
“Oh my God, I did do that, didn’t I?” I say, recalling the warning I gave her about hurting my Daddy.
“Yes, you did. I kind of knew that we would be friends because you didn’t mince words. You were very serious and protective of Ray. You didn’t look at me like a lioness trying to infiltrate the pride, but more like a growing cub who would rip my throat out if I threatened the king.” I nod.
“That sounds about right,” I agree. “I didn’t like you at all at first. No… let me rephrase that. I didn’t like the idea of you—a young, pretty girl chasing after my Daddy who hadn’t dated in more than a decade that I knew of. I was very suspicious of your motives.” Mandy laughs at my description.
“It never ceases to amazing me that you describe me as ‘young.’ I mean, I’m not old, but I’m 36. You father is only 49. True, he’s no spring chicken, but I think he’s proven that he’s far from ‘used up.'”
“Yes, I would say that he has,” I say, looking at the little wiggly blue bundle in her arms. We both laugh before she continues.
“I didn’t set out to fall in love with Ray,” she says, wistfully. “I wasn’t even looking for love at all. I’ve dated my fair share of losers—nothing particularly serious. Then along comes this handsome, older man. He was a gentleman, and he had a kind face. You don’t see many gentlemen anymore. Everyone wants to be flashy or macho or what have you. Not Ray, no, he’s sweet and caring. He had me from the moment he spoke. He smiled at me and those gorgeous green eyes had me hooked.” She looks down at Harry. “If he grows up to be half the man his father is, he’ll be better than most of the men on the planet.”
Wow. She is really in love with my daddy.
“How did you feel when he told you that he had an adult daughter?” I ask. She snickers.
“He was 48. I thought he had more,” she says with a laugh. “It… wasn’t what I expected. He told me just a bit about Carla and how she took you away when you were young. He told me how you two hadn’t talked for a few months and, to be honest, I thought you were a bit estranged. Then I met you and found out just how wrong I was.”
“I hated that she took me away,” I confide. “I tried to understand her—tried to give her a chance to explain herself. She was miserably unhappy and nothing else mattered, not even me. I didn’t ask to be born. If she didn’t want me, she should have left me with Daddy, but that’s a whole different tragedy.” I drop my head, suddenly wishing that we hadn’t introduced my mother into the conversation. Harry starts to fuss on cue, alerting Mandy that it’s time for a burp and a switch. She’s a natural with him. She immediately puts his tiny body over her shoulder, rubbing his back gently to coax the gas out. When Harry complies with a generous burp, she situates him onto her other breast and lets him latch on, which he does almost immediately.
“How do you know what to do?” I ask, in awe. “I mean, you make it look so easy.” She shrugs.
“I don’t know,” she answers honestly. “I’ve read all the books, took all the classes… I’ve loved him for nine months, Ana. From the moment that I knew that he was growing inside of me, I’ve loved him. There was no hope for me when he began to move. I spent several hours of every day talking to him and promising him that I would be the best mom in the world. I never knew that you could love someone who you never met so much until the day that he was born. I can’t explain it. I just need to be everything he needs. I’m even… thinking about not going back to work.” Wow, that’s news.
“Really?” I ask. “Does Daddy know.”
“I don’t even know yet,” she says, softly. “I just don’t want to leave him—after the close call and the hospital stay, I just want to stay by his side. I don’t know how I could possibly leave him to go back to work. Who would take care of him?”
“Would you guys be okay on one income?” I ask. I never knew how much Daddy brought in, but I know that he got a new contract about a year ago.
“We would be okay, and if it became a problem, I could always return to work later…”
“I could help out if you guys need it,” I add. She smiles.
“That’s sweet, but I know that Ray wouldn’t have it. He’s a proud man and he would need to know that he was able to take care of his family. Besides, we’re doing very well right now. We’ve got some money saved and our expenses are quite small since we don’t live outside of our means.”
“You’ve got a baby, now, though. Baby’s are quite expensive,” I remind her.
“I know. That’s why I say I will go back if I have to,” she says, her voice a bit maudlin.
“Well, you don’t have to think about it now,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. “Right now, I want to show you what I got for my baby brother! I went a little overboard, but he’s the only brother that I have so please don’t be mad…”
I begin to open package after package of baby clothes and toys, diapers, miscellaneous items for my baby brother. Daddy returns to the room and is smiling brightly while Mandy coos over each outfit and toy that appears from another bag. I inform them both that once I got to any baby department, I was a goner and beg them both to forgive me. The excitement means that Harry has been bright-eyed and bushy-tailed all this time, but now, he’s starting to show signs of weariness.
“Come here, little man,” Mandy says to her son as she gathers him in her arms. “It’s time for a diaper change and then you need to go down for your nap.”
“Can I do it, Mandy… please?” I ask. She smiles widely at me and places my little brother in my arms. The world around me seems to melt away and I look into his beautiful eyes and coo at him while we walk to the nursery. I’ve saved one special gift for him that I wanted to give him when we were alone. A quick diaper change later, and I am sitting in the window seat inside the hidden nook the nursery talking to Harry.
“Well, it’s just us now, Harry. There’s a few things that I want to tell you. I’m your big sister, but I’m a little screwed up. I’m working on not being so screwed up. Hopefully by the time you’re old enough to know just how screwed up I really am, I won’t be so screwed up anymore. It’s partially because of my screwed-up mom and my screwed-up past, but you don’t really need to hear about that.”
I look out the window and see fluffy clouds billowing through the Washington sky. It’s usually kind of overcast and often rainy, but today is one of those rare, sunny days that we get. I feel a little melancholy thinking about Harry’s life starting out all fresh. The happinesses and horrors he has ahead of him makes me shiver a bit.
“Your mom is a really good lady, Harry. She’ll take good care of you and love you to pieces. Our dad is the best man that I’ve ever known—the most wonderful father in the world. He and your brother-in-law Christian will teach you how to be a good man. They’ll teach you to be strong, honest, and valiant. They’ll teach you how to treat a lady and make her feel like the sun rises and sets at her feet.” Harry responds with a big yawn and I know he’s fading fast.
“We’re all new at this, Harry. So if we mess up, don’t be too hard on us. We’ll get it right after some practice, I promise. Just know that we all love you very much. Oh!” I reach behind me and pull my last gift out of a small bag. “This is a friend of mine.” I show him the patchwork bunny that I’ve had since I was a child. “This is Mr. Fuzzlewuzzers. Our father gave him to me when I was three years old. You put him on your pillow at night and he keeps the Boogie Man away. Hopefully, you’ll never know who the Boogie Man is. Unfortunately, I’ve met him often.” I slip into another melancholy and suddenly feel the need to protect Harry from anything and everything that could possibly bring him harm.
“Harry, as long as I’m alive, you can come to me for anything. I’ll always be there for you. You have the most wonderful father in the universe, and your mom’s pretty cool, too. But I just want you to know that you’ll always have me, no matter what happens. I love you, Harry Bear.”
Harry has long since slipped off to sleep and I kiss him gently on his forehead. I lay him in his crib and he settles in without waking. I put the bunny in the corner near his head.
“Keep him safe, Fuzzy,” I say before turning to leave the room. I look up into the face of my father just as he’s wiping a tear from his cheek. His eyes say so much and I almost break down with him.
“I love you so much, Annie,” he says, his voice cracking. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Of course, I do, Daddy,” I say, my voice soft but high-pitched with conviction. “You’re my daddy… the best daddy in the world. I don’t mind sharing you with Harry,” I say, getting to the heart of what I know he’s feeling. I turn back and look into the crib. “He’s beautiful, Daddy.” Daddy comes over to the crib and looks down at his son.
“I know,” he says putting one arm around me. “That’s Fuzzlewuzzers,” he says, matter-of-factly. “You kept him all these years?” I nod.
“I was going to give him to my child when he or she was born, but I think he should stay with the Steele children for now.” I look up at Daddy. “I kept him hidden for a few years. I knew she would throw him away if she found him. Those were the nightmare years.” I look back down at Fuzzy. “Those days are over, and now, he’ll protect Harry.”
“You really believe in that little thing, don’t you?” I look up at Daddy.
“Yes, I do,” I tell him honestly. “He came from you, he’s full of love, and he kept me safe while I slept. Unfortunately, he can’t keep the adult monsters away, but I always slept better when he was around.” Daddy sighs and kisses me on the forehead.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.” His voice is cracking again.
“And God hasn’t yet created a better Daddy.” I put my arms around his waist and sink into his chest.
Ana is a natural with her little brother. She spent so much time in the nursery yesterday that Ray went in to make sure she hadn’t fallen asleep in there. She’s really taken with Harry. I have to say that he is a cute little guy, but he’s so small. I thought I would crush him in my fingers when I held him. It’s probably too early to say that he’s the spitting image of his father, but you can see a lot of Ray’s characteristics in him. He furrows his brow and gets that same taciturn look that Ray has sometimes. He obviously has Ray’s dark hair. I can’t tell about the eyes yet, but he’s a real looker, even at just a couple of weeks old.
Allen and his team have finally finished reviewing the mish–mosh that I labeled “miscellaneous subsidiaries.” He presented his findings on Monday morning and I spent the week shutting many of them down and performing major damage control. Some of the things that have transpired hidden in the name of “Grey” will make you cringe. I had one company involved in human trafficking in Bosnia, another involved in experimental drug testing in Africa, and a few that used sweatshop practices in third-world countries. I even had a few brothels and bathhouses under my name.
There were a few small companies looking for “investments” and running off with the money. Although they never used the Grey name as backing, it still had the potential to blow up in my face. I think these people either never knew that they were owned by GEH or just flew under the radar to keep from getting caught. The problem is that they have been caught now. I have arranged for the “investors” to get a settlement for the monies that they lost while my watchdog Welch tracks down the petty thieves and have them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Speaking of law…
Allen’s dream team of lawyers have sniffed out so many underhanded dealings by those Armani-clad crooks disguised as my legal team, it’s a wonder I’m still in business. This is yet another example of me being too cocky in my believed omnipotence that I almost put myself in a position to lose everything. Had it not been for the prenup, I may have never known what these assholes were doing. In my demise or should I have been deemed incompetent, most of my company would have gone to them. This is why they couldn’t afford for Butterfly to be in charge of anything. It took away all of their power. I notice that none of them have even bothered to contact me since their “vacation” after the signing of the prenup. No doubt they knew what I would find. Once again, Butterfly has inadvertently rescued me without even knowing.
Needless to say, I let them go along with their assistants. There’s no way that the attorneys did this without the assistants knowing what was happening. Allen and I along with two members of human resources made special trips to each on of them informing them that their services were no longer needed at GEH. Those who balked about contracts were informed that blatant acts against the interests of the company’s owner are a clear breach of contract. They were then invited to take their evidence to court and be prepared to pay my legal fees when they lost. The personal assistants were released on the grounds that the attorneys that hired them no longer worked for the company. Hence, there was no longer a place for them at GEH. In addition, there is a clear conflict of interest involved. With that, they were paid for their remaining unused leave and reminded of their non-disclosure agreements.
This left me with no legal team to speak of. I mean, I still had attorneys, but many of the key players have now been fired due to conspiracy. This, of course, made the rest of the team fall right in line, but I knew I needed more sharks. Allen is the biggest fish in the pond right now and he’s a pretty big fucking fish. I didn’t really know how big he was in the legal arena until he started working for me. Several downtown corporations tried and failed to land him. This man could write his own ticket. Apparently, not only did I have the right amount of zeroes in my offer, but I also had the magic Jewel to seal the deal. I became the envy of CEO’s everywhere. One of his dream team has agreed to stay on with him after seeing what kind of disaster my trusted legal team left behind. Now, I just need a couple more key players and I’ll feel secure. Our newest member gave me a couple of really good prospects who can be persuaded to join me for the right compensation package. I asked Al if he thought anyone was good enough to be promoted from within. He gave me a few suggestions, so I’ll give that some thought in the days to come.
Jason is back to work this week and I couldn’t be happier. I thought I would eventually have to fire Williams and Lawrence because they just weren’t Jason. He knows my moves before I make them, my thoughts before I speak them, and my mood without me having to tell him. I’ve become accustomed to someone knowing what I plan to do without me having to give them play-by-play instructions. Williams and Lawrence were good substitutes, but they were just that—substitutes. Even two of them couldn’t make one Jason Taylor.
I did a lot of traveling this week… an overnight to New York on Tuesday and another one to Tampa on Friday. There was a day trip to Dallas on Thursday and several visits to several companies in the greater Seattle area and surrounding suburbs. Jason loved it. He was thrilled to be back in the saddle again. He slid so easily back into his role, it’s almost like he never left.
Butterfly is as insatiable as ever, barely letting me get into the apartment each time I returned to town before she’s ripping my clothes off and having her way with me. I was so tired when I came back from Tampa on Saturday that she just jumped on top of me and rode like the wind. Even though I was exhausted, she brought me to two explosive orgasms before I fell off into a comatose slumber. I actually woke the next morning calling her “Mrs. Grey” and have referred to her as such ever since.
Things were going very well in terms of cleaning up my messes when I got word on Monday that the bottom was about to fall out of one of the biggest deals that I have been working on all year.
“Someone on your ex-legal team has been talking,” Allen says to me when he comes into my office with the bad news. “They’ve gone over the Henderson and Speig insinuating that the team is jumping ship… a sinking ship, that is.” Fuck. This is not good.
“Who’s talking?” I ask him.
“It could be any one of them, Chris. It could be all of them. The bad news is that H&S does legal for the Feinstein Group.” Double fuck. I‘ve had a collaboration in the works Feinstein for at least the last seven months and those fuckers knew it.
“Can we prove that they’ve done anything wrong? They had an NDA, you know.” Allen shakes his head.
“It’s all hearsay and conjecture, Chris. Every employee talks shit about their previous employer. That’s basically all this is. The difference is that these fuckers are talking to people who have your balls in their hands in terms of this deal.” I am not accustomed to being the man with the lower hand. Now a group of disgruntled fuckers who tried to bring my company down may have the last laugh after all. I walk to my desk and sit down, contemplating my next move. I don’t want to play my biggest cards now in case I need them in the future and they know that, but if I don’t do something, they could nickel and dime me or throw a wrench in every deal I have my hand in. My first instinct is to call Thomas over at Feinstein, but I know that’s groveling and it means they have me on the ropes. If I don’t nip this thing in the bud, though, it has the potential to fall apart right in front of me.
“The wheels are turning,” Allen says. “I can see the smoke coming out of your ears.” I raise my eyes to him.
“Put together those care packages we discussed. I’ll decide which ones to send once I see exactly where this is going. I don’t want to show my hand too quickly. It’s not Abrahms, I know it. That asshole knows I can fuck him over dry, so he won’t cross me. Those other three haven’t seen the worst of me yet. It might be time that they did.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I always start with the bank accounts, but they’ll be expecting that. I don’t think any of them are too concerned about losing their reputations either. I think their biggest loss would be their freedom, and I’ve got shit on them that even they don’t know I have. You start with the information that we discussed. I want to wait to see what their next move will be…”
I didn’t have to wait long.
Tuesday morning, I get a call from Thomas that the board is not too sure they want to continue with the collaboration.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/mending-dr-steele/
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