I must not have made this clear, although I thought I did, but I’m going to try this again for anyone who may have missed it over the last 153 chapters of the last three books.
I write my story for ME! I appreciate that people follow me and enjoy my story and may one day buy my books. I feed on the fact that people have such varying opinions and reactions to what I write. I understand that I can’t please everyone and that a lot of people may even be angry or negatively affected by what I write. That’s all okay. I had one comment of a long-time follower who kindly said “we agree to disagree.” I’m okay with that. This means that she didn’t agree with what I wrote, but she understood and accepted my right to write what I want.
I won’t say this again–if you don’t like what I write to the degree that you feel the need to become preachy, disrespectful, or abusive, PLEASE LEAVE! No one is forcing you to read this story. Do NOT insult me or my characters or I will delete your comments–just LEAVE!
People change. People’s lives change. That’s what happening to my couple. They’re going through hell, and there’s going to be more hell before this story is over. That’s real life! That’s how it goes. Nobody’s struggle is exactly the same and nobody deals with shit the exact same way. Hate it or love it, this shit really happens–in D/s relationships AND in regular relationships. Just because it doesn’t happen or didn’t happen YET in your relationships, don’t judge me or my fucking characters. Get over it or LEAVE.
This message is NOT for those who didn’t agree with what happened and respectfully–though passionately–voiced the opinion that they disagreed. This message IS to the preachy “people” who judged and disrespected my characters and my story when I have repeatedly asked you not to do that. I’ll admit that my blog is my testing ground for what may or may not work in my published book, but I won’t tell you again not to be vicious with your analysis. If you all notice, I’m responding to very few comments because I’m looking at what I’m reading and I’m just keeping quiet and letting people have their say. But know that when you come at me or my characters with claws, I’m coming back with fangs, hatchets, and Wolverine blades!
That is all.
Same disclaimer applies–not all my characters, most belong to E. L. James, blah blah blah…
Chapter 3—Coming Clean
Sleeping on the floor at the Mercer house was more serious than I thought. My back is in serious pain and nothing seems to be helping it. Christian has procured every combination pregnancy back brace/support belt that he could find. By Friday morning, I finally settle on one that eases my aching bones.
It’s a good thing, too, because Mr. Grey has lifted the ban on Grey House and wants me to come to the office with him. Grace seems a little chilly over the last couple of days and although I’m not sure exactly what happened, I know that she and Christian had some kind of disagreement. Bearing that in mind as well as the damage that I’ve already done, I opt to wait until Monday to go into Helping Hands since there’s really nothing that requires my immediate attention.
I’m wearing a white, long-sleeved button-down coat dress with black trim and buttons. My style of choice has been the barrel curls over my shoulder since it’s easy to do and to maintain. The support belt holds my back straight and pushes my belly up, so even though it’s easier for me to walk, I look very pregnant. I did opt to retire my sky-high stilettos for three and four-inch pumps. I couldn’t lose my high heels completely as I’m clumsier in flats.
“I don’t know if I want to take you to the office today,” Christian says from behind me while retrieving the clasp I’m struggling with.
“I almost killed a deal a while back because some assholes were talking inappropriately about you, and today, you look absolutely amazing. I’m not sure that I want to share you.” He kisses the exposed part of my neck. God, I’ve missed this so much.
“Only if you stay home with me,” I say softly, closing my eyes. I’m relishing any attention he gives me as I have been starving for it for so long. He kisses my neck again.
“Are you ready?” I nod and we leave the bedroom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure that many of you already know, but for those of you that may not, this is my wife—Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.”
I’m introduced to a room full of people, some of whom I know and some of whom I’ve never met. My attention is immediately drawn to the fact that James is here. Why is James here?
“I’m calling this meeting because it is now necessary to take the next step our operation. The people in this room have all been cleared by my security team and your assistance and attention is needed for a very delicate situation. This is a need-to-know basis only. Staff outside of this room is not privy to any of the information that will be discussed here today. Any potential leaks or security breaches will be sealed with immediate termination and possible prosecution of corporate espionage. Is this unclear to anyone within the sound of my voice?”
What the hell is going on? Various “no sirs” can be heard around the room and I must say, he has my full attention now.
“Good. By now you all know Barney, our head of IT. He’s been working closely with an outside consultant, Mr. James Flemings, on an issue very detrimental to the future of GEH and more specifically, myself and my family. I will turn the floor over to them, now. Mr. Flemings.”
I try not to look stunned while James takes the floor while Barney is in front of a laptop at a table next to him. His fingers are moving madly over the keyboard as James begins to speak.
“I realize that this seems all very cloak-and-dagger, and I’m hoping that I can explain to you all what’s going on.” Christian takes the seat next to me and puts his arm protectively around me. I finally get to know what’s been going on at Grey House. “Lights, please.”
The room goes dark and a presentation shows up on the projection screen in the front of the room.
“Yes, I know this is very elementary, but it’s the best way I could explain what’s going on without losing you all in computer jargon.” There are pictures of computers on the screen and James uses electronic pointers to explain to us how an intruder has hacked into GEH’s network and Christian’s personal email and cell phone and is causing all kind of havoc. It started with running around and letting their presence be known and has now graduated to sabotaging business operations and siphoning money from the company. “Christian and Ros have worked endless hours putting out fires and trying to save the deals that are already on the table. Without knowing who could be trusted, they had to handle all of the dealings firsthand, which is why we are happy to say that we have eliminated this group of people from our possible suspects because we need your help now.”
“Everything that is everything is being highly encrypted until we can pin down exactly what we’re dealing with,” Ros interjects. “This means that there will be additional security measures in place to read even the simplest files. I appreciate that this is going to slow down your productivity, but at this time, saving the company is much more important than speed. With the hours that we’re putting in trying to hold this thing together on our own, I don’t know about Christian, but if I don’t find my way home, my wife will be leaving me by the end of the year.” She looks over at a perky blonde who twists her lips back at Ros as if to say “Yeah, right.” That must be her wife.
“Ditto,” Christian coughs in a not-so-inconspicuous manner that causes nervous laughter in the room. I scoff quietly at him and elbow him gently in the side.
“We’ve been chasing this intruder for about three months now and we’ve been able to eliminate insider activity—current insider anyway,” James has the floor again. “We’ve also determined how the intruder gains access to the network. We can see where he’s going, what he’s doing, and how he’s doing it. Today, we’ve had another breakthrough and we’ve narrowed down his location.”
“Excellent!” Christian exclaims. “What’s our next move?”
“Well, we’ve forwarded the information to the necessary authorities and they should be conducting a raid any moment now.”
“Any moment now like days or any moment now like minutes?” Christian asks.
“More like hours. You know they have to coordinate these things.” James says, and Barney never stops typing. Christian nods.
“Good. Good. I’ll finally be able to get some sleep at night,” Christian says.
“Yes, sir, this is finally very close to being over.” James turns back to the display and starts explaining everyone’s role in the coming hours and days. I’m still trying to process all the information I just heard. I’m trying not to frown like I’m completely out of the loop, but the truth is that I’m completely out of the loop!
“Are you okay?” Christian asks me. He’s frowning deeply at me. I haven’t said anything so my face must be a fright.
“Yeah,” I lie. I’m far from okay.
I’ve probably missed some important information as I completely zoned out for the rest of the meeting and the next thing I know, everybody is rising from their seats… well, almost everybody. Ros’ wife and I are both still seated, no doubt awaiting instruction. Certain individuals haven’t moved, yet, and Christian still has his arm protectively around my seat. Barney is still tapping away at his laptop.
“Sir? Ma’am?” Some guy is addressing Christian and Ros. “Data Central?”
“Ten minutes,” Christian says. I’m mute right now. I don’t know what to say or think. Christian and Ros have a bit of a conversation and then Christian and Jason. Chuck is nearby as well, but once we leave the conference room, it’s just Jason.
I follow them to the bank of elevators and, with the turn of a key, one of the main elevators becomes an express elevator down to “S3,” which I think is sublevel three. Ros and her wife, Christian, Jason, and I all walk down this long corridor to yet another conference room somewhere in the bowels of Grey House. Once inside, we are joined by James and Barney, Alex Welch if I remember correctly, and some other guys that I don’t know.
“Okay, so did anything pan out?” Christian asks as he guides me to a seat and takes the chair next to me.
“A few did, sir,” Barney says nervously. I can tell that he’s kind of remiss to share whatever information that they’re talking about, so before this conversation goes “security level alpha,” I need some answers.
“Am I allowed to ask any questions?” I ask, raising my hand.
“Of course you are,” Christian says. I nod and take a deep breath.
“This all moved pretty quickly for me, so I… I just want to recap. Did I correctly hear that someone has been running rampant in the company mainframe sabotaging deals and taking money?”
“Yes,” Christian says.
“And you and Ros have been running all of the deals so that no one else could see what was going on…”
“Yes,” he confirms.
“So this team of masterminds that you have working for you have been completely left in the dark because you couldn’t know who you could trust,” I summarize.
“Exactly.” I turn to Ros’ wife.
“Did you know any of this?” I ask her. She shakes her head.
“I stay out of the business,” she says. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that she wasn’t coming home.” I shake my head. The magnitude of what I’ve just learned hit me in a three-second funnel:
The late nights and early mornings…
The storm-cellar fund…
Me acting like a spoiled brat and flaunting my ass for those donors…
He and Ros having to handle all of the business deals first hand…
There’s a hacker in the network who also hacked into Christian’s personal phone and email—our personal lives, our families, our children…
The ultrasound pictures! Leaked to the press… our children!
“Christian, I… think I… need a drink of water…” I feel lightheaded. I allow my head to loll over my shoulder because I don’t think I have much of a choice. The room is doing this topsy-turvy thing, but I’m not losing consciousness. I see people scrambling around except for Ros’ wife. Does that woman ever lose her cool?
“Baby! Ana! Look at me!” I think I roll my eyes around to him, but I’m not sure. My neck really hurts and I want to raise my head, but Christian won’t let me.
“I… my… my babies!” I’m wheezing, barely speaking, panting. “The ultrasound… and the press… that was this…” I’m panting and waiting for an answer.
“I think so, Butterfly,” he says softly. I feel the air leaving my body.
“The money… the fund… that was this…” Tell me, dammit!
“Yes, it was,” he confesses.
“You… were… wha… huh…” I can’t breathe now, let alone form a coherent sentence. “Oh… God… oh… G… God… oh… God oh God oh God!” There’s water placed in front of me and I still can’t raise my head. Christian finally helps me raise my head and brings the water to my mouth.
“You know I wouldn’t let anything happen to you and the beans, right?” he says earnestly as I swallow some of the water. “I would dismantle this company and let them have anything they wanted before I let any harm come to your or our babies.” I shake my head violently then swallow my water.
“No! No! Don’t say that! We can’t think that way! It can’t come to that!” I’m trembling now. Christian cuddles me in his arms and tries to calm me.
“Give me some fucking good news!” he hisses as whomever.
“Well, that eliminates one,” Barney says.
“What?” James asks. “What are you talking about?”
“The FER software… it’s on point with its analysis, but that was true horror. True horror like that can’t be faked,” Barney says. What? Is he talking about me?
“F… faked?” I’m completely confused. “What? Why?” I look up at Christian and he’s just as confused as I am.
“The facial expression software that we were using during the meeting gave us three hits on people who were suspect in terms of the information that was given. Ana was one of them.”
“Wha… what is he talking about?” I’m nearly screaming. What in the blue hell is going on here?
“Today’s meeting was a trap,” James jumps in. “The attack is originating from the inside—but not the physical attack. I introduced some information into the system and to key individuals that wouldn’t have been easily discovered even by an expert. The moment that information was leaked to our intruder, I got a notification. Each of those key individuals were in the meeting today with the exception of the wives. Barney was using facial expression recognition software to record the reactions of today’s participants to see if we could narrow down who our inside culprit is.”
“So you… don’t really know where this guy is?” Jason asks. “The threat hasn’t been identified?”
“No,” Christian says, “the only other ones who knew that besides James, Barney, and Welch were me and Ros. What I want to know is why was my wife a guinea pig in this experiment?”
“She wasn’t,” Barney defends. “Her reaction in the meeting made her suspect. Her expressions indicated that she was hiding something.” What the fuck? Christian looks down at me.
“I was hiding the fucking fact that I didn’t know anything!” Now, I’m screaming. “Ros’ wife is cool as a cucumber; everybody else is sitting there like we’re talking about the goddamn weather; and from what I’m understanding, we’re all talking about my husband’s life work crumbling at his feet and I’m the only lucky bitch who didn’t know!” Okay, now I’ve graduated to shrieking.
“Baby, please, calm down.” Christian is holding my hands trying to calm me. Fuck calm down! I want to throw something! How could he not tell me this? How could he not give me some kind of clue?
“This is my life, too!” and the angry tears start—with a vengeance! “This is my life! You’re my life! How could you not tell me!?” He embraces me firmly and I bury my head in his shoulder, weeping profusely.
“Because I didn’t want this!” he says with conviction. “I knew this would happen; that’s why I didn’t tell you. That’s why I tried to wait until the last possible minute—to spare you from this… but it was destroying us, and I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore.”
I can’t stop the tears that keep flowing from my eyes. I’m hurt and I’m angry and I’m ashamed and just about every other bad emotion that can be felt right now and all I can do is cry.
“Barney…” my husband speaks very slowly and through his teeth now. “If you are quite finished traumatizing my wife and accusing her of sabotaging my company, do you have anything useful for me or should I leave now before you destroy my family completely?” He actually sounds like he’s growling.
“Mrs. Grey… I’m sorry,” he says sincerely. “The software… I was only doing my job…”
“Barney…” Christian growls again and I hear Barney sigh.
“You’ve got two other hits, Mr. Grey,” Barney’s voice has changed. He’s all business now. “Research & Development and Planning.”
“Are they as reliable as the first hit?” Christian growls.
“Christian,” it’s James’ voice now, “however inaccurate the conclusions may have been, the results were correct. Ana was hiding something. The facial expression recognition software didn’t tell us what she was hiding, but she confessed that she was hiding something. Had this been anyone else but Ana, you’d want answers—and we still had to get them from her. It’s not personal, you know that.”
“While I appreciate the spirit of your explanation, I cannot empathize with your logic right now. Can you please tell me what the fuck else we found… please.” He’s grinding his teeth and I can hear him.
“Research & Development was Evans. She just went about the business of removing personal information from her computer—Angry Birds, Candy Crush, browsing history, nothing substantial.”
“I want her reprimanded. Make an example of her. Don’t fire her, but make sure her insubordination is publicly known.”
“Is that really necessary?” James asks.
“Yes, it is!” Christian snaps. “Not only is it unauthorized software on my mainframe which most likely caused this problem in the first place, but she’s also doing this shit on company time. My employees know that’s against the rules and in addition to that, she’s one of the assistant department heads. She should have so much work to do that she doesn’t have time to play Angry fucking Birds!” I squeeze him around his waist to remind him that I’m here… and my adrenaline is dwindling. He sighs. “Who’s the other one?”
“Maurice Dodd… and I think he’s your guy.”
“What makes you say so?”
“He’s made three calls on his cell since he left that meeting—one he made the moment he got on the elevator. We’re trying to identify the third number now, but one was made to a burner. He’s sending information right now on the back-up server, the one you use when the mainframe goes down. We find information slower on the backup server because there’s no reason to access it when the mainframe is operational. When you personally want a secure connection, that’s what you use.” James is still talking. I open my eyes to see that Barney is now typing feverishly on another computer, nearly hiding behind the monitor. He has fallen completely silent and is clearly trying to disappear from the room. I know the behavior well.
I squeeze Christian again to get his attention. He looks down, then leans in closer to me.
“What’s a burner?” I ask.
“It’s a cell phone with purchased minutes. When you burn out the minutes, you throw it out.” I nod.
“Barney’s shrinking,” I whisper. He looks over at Barney, then rolls his eyes.
“I’ll take care of Evans. What’s our next step with Dodd short of wringing his scrawny little neck?”
“Now that we have a possible focus, watch his communications and see what pans out. Check his communications for the last six months to a year. See what he’s been doing in the company. He’s very likely to jump the gun now because he thinks we’re going to come down on his guy in a few hours. It would be great if we could.”
“No shit.” Christian rises from his seat, lifting me with him. “Contact me only if you have good news. I’m taking my wife out of here. When I say out of here, I mean out of this building and I don’t intend on coming back today.”
“Christian…” Ros protests.
“Yes, Ros?” he responds curtly.
“You have meetings this afternoon.”
“Then they can be rescheduled, or you can handle them, or you can delegate them. I don’t care. My marriage, my life, my beautiful wife and children are not going to be a casualty of my company. I’m going to take advantage of this unseasonably beautiful day and take my wife to lunch in the park. I suggest you do the same with yours.” Lunch in the park! That sounds divine.
“Yes, sir,” Ros says with a mock salute. The humor is lost on Christian at the moment. We walk to the door and proceed down the corridor with Jason close in tow.
“Jason, call your wife please and have her prepare a picnic lunch for us. I’ll send Charles to get it when she’s done.”
“Yes, sir.” Jason is on the phone with Gail before we get to the elevator. Once the doors open, I hear Jason say “Crash” before the walls come closer.
Well, this turned out just perfectly! My already very fragile wife was basically accused of corporate espionage the first day I let her back into Grey House right on the heels of discovering that my empire may be in danger of crumbling. Yes, this has been a humdinger of a morning.
On top of that, my flawless head of IT has shrinking issues brought to my attention by my wife. How did I not see this over all the years he’s worked for me?
Now, before I can initiate any damage control on my marriage and home life, I have to revive my now unconscious wife who damn near took a header into the elevator.
I’m sitting on the sofa next to my gorgeous sleeping beauty. I’m stroking her hair that has fallen over her forehead. It’s amazing to me how I carried her in here and just laid her on the sofa, and she looks like one of those beautiful fainting women from the movies, like she’s dreaming of clouds or something. Jason convinced me not to rush her to the emergency room, assuring me that it was most likely the adrenaline crash that left her in a vulnerable state and caused her to swoon. She whimpers a bit and I come closer to her face. Those beautiful, unassuming blue eyes focus and rest on mine as I continue to stroke her forehead.
“You scare me, Mrs. Grey,” I say softly, because she scares me often—twice this week already.
“I’m sorry,” she says sweetly.
“No,” I kiss her lips softly. “No more apologizing. This was quite a bit to take on at once.”
“Yes,” she whispers. “I understand why you didn’t want to tell me.”
“I do… but don’t do it again. It was horrible finding out this way.” I nod.
“I’ll do better,” I promise.
“That’s all I ask.” She gazes into my eyes. “Kiss me, Christian.” Gladly! I gather her in my arms and kiss her deeply. She tangles her hands in my hair and returns my kiss. This feels so good. When our lips part, I breathe in her essence and I’m sure she’s doing the same thing to me.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
“I love you,” I breathe.
“I love you more,” she responds.
“Impossible,” I protest and bury my nose in her neck, holding her close to me.
Lunch in the park was enchanting. We encountered more than one double-take, probably for various reasons:
A gorgeous couple in business attire having lunch on a blanket in the park.
My beautiful, swollen wife having a terrible time getting to the blanket and rising back up when we left.
The fact that I carried her shoes so that the heels wouldn’t get ruined in the grass.
The way we look at each other.
The way I touched her belly every time I looked at her, held her or kissed her.
The fact that I fed her every bite of her lunch to make sure she’s getting all of her fresh fruits.
The fact that AnaChris is out in public, for those who may have recognized us—who knows?
I’ve made it my mission to make love to my wife as often as possible and never let her be left yearning again. I felt like shit when she said she was masturbating in the bathtub. Her body is her own and she can touch it whenever she likes, but this was out of necessity instead of desire. That’s unacceptable. Last night, after giving her a back rub and massaging her stomach with belly balm, I indulged in that sweet fruit and gently licked her to two orgasms before losing myself in her core and bringing us both to one final thunderous release.
The alarm rings at five A.M. and I realize that I forgot to turn if off. I get to it before it wakes Butterfly this early on a Saturday morning. I’m awake now, so I go to the bathroom to relieve myself. Just as I’m finishing, my phone vibrates on the night stand. The house is so quiet that it sounds like thunder! I pick it up before it wakes Butterfly. It’s Welch.
“We need to meet somewhere,” he says.
“Now?” I ask. It’s five in the morning.
“Soon,” he confirms.
“Not at Grey House?”
“Out in the open.” Oh, shit.
“I’m bringing Jason,” I inform him.
“I wouldn’t expect you not to,” he says.
“We run in about an hour. Meet us at Freeway Park, by the picnic tables.”
“See you in an hour.” I end the call and look over at Butterfly. She’s still blissfully sleeping. I change into my running clothes and sneak quietly out of the room. I go into my study and call back to Jason and Gail’s suite.
“Yes, sir.” He’s groggy. I woke him.
“I need to see you in my study. We may have a situation. You’ll need your running clothes.”
“Yes, sir.” He ends the call and I look at my email. After the hacking, I feel like someone is looking over my shoulders every time I open one. There are several meetings next week and I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to handle them. GEH is still making money hand over fist, so this asshole can take about $60 million before he really starts to cause us problems. Of course, I don’t want this fucker to get away with anything, but the experts tell me that we have to let him keep going until we are sure that the trap is set.
“Sir, what’s up?” Jason is in my study in twenty minutes.
“Welch called. He wants to see me as soon as possible, but not in the office…”
“Because it may be compromised,” he finishes my sentence. I nod.
“I figured as much. We need to meet him in Freeway Park in about half-an-hour.” He nods.
“Let’s go, then.”
Jason and I begin our run in silence. It doesn’t take long for us to get to Freeway Park, so we do a few laps until Welch shows up.
“Forgive the circumstances, sir. Anyone tracking us as five AM on a Saturday would be easily spotted in Freeway Park,” Welch begins.
“Any hits?” He shakes his head.
“No one has reported seeing anybody yet.”
“Good deal.” I drink some of my water while Welch is typing information into a tablet.
“We couldn’t meet in the office and you’re typing in a tablet?” I ask him.
“There’s no internet connection on this tablet, sir. Everything is manual. This is simply an electronic pen and paper. This one is for you.” He hands me a tablet—pretty basic. “Until we have these assholes on lockdown… Don’t ever allow it onto any wireless connection and you’ll be okay. Any information that we need to remember and transmit, we remember on these, we transmit in person or to and from one of these.” He hands me a cell phone.
“A burner—limited minutes. Not very hard to trace, but almost impossible to tap. Once you figure out who’s calling from what number, they use it and you get rid of it.”
“Good Lord, I feel like I’m living in the 19th Century,” I grunt.
“For a little while longer, you are.” He looks at the tablet. “As you already know, we kept an eye on Dodd. He made calls to three phones. One is still pretty well scrambled, but the other two hit towers in Spokane and Portland. Even though they’re burners, that gives a radius to work with. Any other time, I would say that they would be smart enough to move to a different location before making or taking a call, but they answered the moment Dodd called. So I would say these locations are at least 80% reliable.”
“Well, that’s something,” I say.
“It’s more than something, sir,” he says. “By using the towers as a starting point, we now have a point of reference for the scrambled signals from the computers. We’ll start with any locations hit within that radius. In the meantime, we’ve gotten Dodd’s cell records and now we’re tracking his habits—who he’s been talking to, where he’s been and what he’s been doing. He’s pretty predictable, so we’re proceeding with caution. He could be a decoy.”
“Well, that would be just fucking dandy!” I hiss. “Why would we think he’s a decoy?”
“He’s an easy mark,” he responds. “Either he’s the decoy or he’s the fall guy. If he’s either, he won’t have too much clearance in this little project, but that remains to be seen.” He goes through his tablet again. “You should know that shortly after you left Grey House today, the worms stopped.” I frown.
“Yes. This means that Dodd talked directly to the person who is responsible for invading the network or directly to someone else who could get to that person. He’s most likely told them that we’re onto them, so they cut the signal.” I sigh.
“Isn’t that what we didn’t want?” I lament.
“Yes and no,” he says. “We expected them to cut the signal. Either they’re going to tuck tail and run or they’re going incognito for a little while. If it’s the latter, it gives us a little bit of time for a game plan.”
“And if it’s the former?”
“We work with the evidence that we have and hope for the best. Either way, Dodd’s future involves a serious shakedown.”
“Really?” I twist my lips. “I want to be present for that.” Welch frowns and Jason clears his throat.
“Sir, that’s not a good idea,” Jason says.
“Duly noted.” I turn back to Welch. “I want to be present when you question this fucker. Are we clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Welch says with a sigh. “We’ve leaked into the network that we picked up the possible culprit at about midnight. Nothing has come from it, yet, but the moment Dodd sees that someone is in custody, he’s going to let the others know.”
“What happens next?”
“Either their operation is over or they’re going to lay low until they hear that we’ve got the wrong guy. The police have to release a suspect in 24 hours if they aren’t charged with a crime—in this case, we can probably stretch it to 36 or 48, but by Monday morning, we’re going to have to release our pretend suspect. In the meantime, we are referencing and cross-referencing every piece of information we have. I’m sure we’ll have something soon, but sir… once we get any solid information that needs further investigation, we’re going to have to apprehend Dodd. It’s going to get slippery at that point.” I nod.
“We won’t be able to let him go until we’ve caught the others. He could tip them off.”
“Exactly. So at this point, I need to know how far outside of the law we’re willing to go, because it could get pretty far, which is why I would rather you don’t meet with Dodd once we apprehend him.”
“This fucker may be responsible for threatening everything I hold dear. I will be present when you meet with him. As for legality, I trust that you know how to keep me and GEH out of trouble.”
“Only if you follow my instructions, sir,” he reinforces.
“Well, this is one that you’re going to have to work around. You’re a resourceful man and I know that you can do it. Now do what you do best.” He rolls his eyes and looks at his tablet again.
“We were able to trace the money, believe it or not.”
“Now, that’s good news,” I say. I know that no matter where the money ends up, there’s some kind of paper trail.
“It’s almost impossible to see where the money ends up, but our super-team discovered that its final resting place is an account from a Texas-based bank—Comerica.”
“Why not use an offshore account? Aren’t they harder to trace?” I ask.
“More predictable, and not as hard as you think,” he says. “That’s what we were initially looking for. Weren’t you expecting to find an offshore account?” I nod. “Yeah, they counted on that. Once they get the money, one of the officers of the company shuts down the account, takes the money, and runs.”
“Company? There’s a company involved in this?”
“It’s a front. You know how easy it is to get a federal identification number. That’s all you need to set up a bank account.”
“Any hits from the company name? The officers?” Welch shakes his head.
“Not yet. The company name is Daggers, Inc and we’re certain that the officers are aliases—no hits whatsoever.”
“This doesn’t sound encouraging,” I tell him.
“From the money standpoint, no, but from the information standpoint, we’re doing pretty well. We’re a lot further than we were yesterday.”
“So what now?”
“You need to relax, sir.”
“You know me better than that.”
“No, sir, you really need to relax,” he reinforces. “Be seen publicly kicking back and having a good time. This is a good start.” He hands me a local gossip rag with a big picture of me and Butterfly from our picnic yesterday. “It makes them think you’re letting your guard down—getting comfortable because you don’t have anything to worry about anymore. We can’t keep running around like rats in a cage if we want to catch these guys. Go look at baby furniture or something.”
Shit! I’ve been so preoccupied with this shit that I don’t even know if Butterfly has already picked furniture for our children. That’s actually a good idea. Focus on my family for the day…
“One last instruction,” Welch says. “Always answer your burner. Your code name is Henry Walsh. Answer the phone ‘this is Henry Walsh.’ Communicate with us as usual on your regular cell. Classified info on the burners only.” He tosses one at Jason. “You’re Richard Maverick. I’m Oscar Fields. James is Theodore Houston. Nobody else should be calling you on that burner. We will all answer and respond with ‘this is Oscar Fields,’ or whatever your name is. Any other response means something’s wrong.” I shake my head.
“Any other bad news?” I ask.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Welch says. “There’s good news and there’s bad news.”
“Give me the bad news.”
“Once we get past Dodd—and we will get past Dodd—we’re going to need some heavy hands to deal with the other parties involved. These are not going to be your average computer geeks. We’re playing with the big boys now, but even the big boys are pawns, because they are doing the dirty work from somebody else.”
“Why do you know this?” I ask him.
“It’s the nature of the beast. The HMIC won’t get his hands dirty, I can guarantee it. He’s going to put his players on the front lines while he sits comfortably on the throne. We’re going to have to go in and dig him out.”
“So what’s the good news?” I ask.
“I haven’t finished the bad news, yet,” he responds. There’s more? “The kind of resources that we need are going to require a two-man approval—both with my level of clearance. None of my contacts have my level of clearance. We only know one other person that can help me get who I need for this particular job.” Well who the fuck is it?
“What are you waiting for? Who is it?” Welch just looks at me like it should be obvious, and I’m getting more and more perturbed by the moment. Then, suddenly, it hits me like a damn wrecking ball. “No! No! There’s got to be another way.”
“Sir, if you want to get the information we need out of these people once we locate them, this is what I need.”
“No! Absolutely not! You’ve got to be kidding me! Do you realize what I’m exposing us to—my company, my family—if I do this?”
“Sir, you’ll be protected, but I need another approval on my level or we’re going to have to deal with amateurs, and we’re most likely not going to get what we need.” This is fucking great, just fucking great.
“What am I missing?” Jason asks looking from Welch to me.
“He wants me to call Cholometes,” I tell Jason. “He wants me to ask that asshole for his help in saving my company and my family, the man who is just waiting for an opportunity to come in and lay claim to everything that’s mine.” I turn to Welch. “Do you have any idea how badly our last conversation went?”
“Yes, sir, I do. That’s my job,” he says flatly.
“Then you know that there’s no fucking way I can ask him for help right now!” I bark.
“We don’t have a choice. It’s either this, or leave it to the amateurs and risk letting the king get away. Checkmate.” I sigh. This can’t be happening.
“What the fuck is the motherfucking good fucking news?”
“We’ve cleared Cholometes. We know that he’s not the one tapping into your network.”
“Well, that’s just dandy. He’s not the one trying to ruin me this way, but he can certainly swoop in for the kill and take my wife and family if I’m on my ass! I can’t possible see why he would ever decline helping the one who stole the woman that he wanted right out from under his nose!” Welch sighs heavily.
“Sir, people with clearances like mine are few and far between, and there’s a reason for that. You can be guaranteed that when two people like this collaborate on something, shit gets done, because I don’t know two people with this kind of power that are friends.”
“What exactly do you need him for? What are you trying to do?” I demand.
“Sir, I can’t tell you that…”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” I interrupt him. “You tell me everything! You tell me every aboveboard and every low-down, dirty, illegal thing you have to do to find these fuckers. You tell me every little thing or I pull the plug on the whole fucking operation, take my wife and kids and billions, move to a third world country somewhere, build a city called Greyland and keep my money in a goddamn mattress. The only fucking thing I don’t need to know is where you dump the goddamn bodies. Are we perfectly clear?”
Welch’s eyes widen. I don’t think he’s ever heard me talk about illegal activity because I need everything to be above board as so many lives depend on me. However, if I’m done, then the lives that depend on me don’t really matter, do they?
“Did you know what you’re saying?” he asks.
“I know exactly what I’m saying,” I tell him calmly. “I don’t want to see all the blood and gore, but I will talk to these motherfuckers when you catch them. I know that many people are willing to die for a cause, yet very few are willing to die for a dollar. I may not be a trained killer like many of the people who work for me, but I do own a firearm, I have a damn good aim and I don’t have a problem pulling the trigger. If that becomes necessary, I know that I have staff that can make that shit go away. So yes, Mr. Welch, I do know what I’m saying. This is my life we’re talking about. Not just my company, my life. I will be informed of every step taken with this operation.” Welch shakes his head.
“This could get very bad, sir,” he says as a means to try to discourage me.
“Yes, it could, and we’re wasting time, so tell me why you need this and what we plan to do so that we can get on with it.” I’m not taking down. If I lose my company and my family, I have nothing else. So I might as well be proactive. I’m not going down a sitting duck.
“For the information that we need to get from these people, we don’t know how deep they are. If they’re a couple of punks, we can scare them really good. If they’re professionals, we can’t take the chance on just going in there with our men and trying to get information from them. If it’s a sophisticated operation, they’re going to lock down, especially since we now know that there’s more than one of them in this operation. I need Black Ops, sir. I need professionals to get the information I need. I need skills that even the President isn’t aware of because I don’t know what we’re up against. It may be unnecessary, but I can’t take that chance. That’s all I can tell you without having to kill you… and I mean that.” And I know that he does.
“I’ll call the fucker, but I’m not kissing his ass. If he turns us down, I’ll torture these fuckers myself when we find them. If we fail to get the top gun, we’ll send him one fucking loud ass message. And by the way, what the fuck is HMIC?”
“It could mean a lot of things, but it this case, it means ‘head motherfucker in charge,’” Jason says. I look at Jason, then back at Welch.
“Don’t call him that again,” I tell him. “I’m the head motherfucker in charge. He’s trying to be me. Now if there’s nothing else, I think I need to buy cribs or something.”
“Talk to him today, Sir. When they go live again, and they will, we need to be ready to move.” I roll my eyes.
“Fine, I’ll talk to him today,” I say begrudgingly. “Everything, Welch. If there’s an avalanche coming, I need to get my family out of the way and I can’t do it if you’re playing cops and robbers and keeping me in the dark, am I clear?”
“You’re clear, sir,” he answers. He hands me another phone. “Call him on this and then get rid of it.” I nod before turning around and starting my run back home. I need Butterfly.
She’s still sound asleep when we return. It’s just after eight. I strip and get ready for a shower, but her swollen body is calling to me. Maybe if I just hold her…
I slide into bed behind her and spoon her. She snuggles into me and her ass rubs against my erection. I groan at the sensation and try to rub the beans to get my mind off her juicy, round ass against my quickly stiffening dick. While I’m rubbing the beans, my hands brush across her breast and she whimpers in her sleep.
Well, that didn’t help.
I kiss her back and shoulder and resolve to get up before I wake her, but she stretches like a cat, rubbing her whole body against me.
“Fuck, Baby,” I whisper.
“Mmmm… Christian, I couldn’t possibly come again right now,” she protests… but I need to be inside you!
“Okay,” I sigh, trying to pull myself away from her. She looks over her shoulder at me. God, I want her so bad. She reaches behind my head and caresses my hair, bringing her lips to mine. I try not to devour her, but it’s so hard. She shifts a bit, and I feel her leg drape over my hip. In moments I’m inside of her.
“Baby…! Fuck!” I hiss. Oh hell. She’s tight and hot and I’m having problems. She’s grinding against me and she feels so good. “Slow down, Baby,” I warn. I can hardly get my words out.
“You’re so hard inside of me, Christian,” she breathes, still looking at me with “fuck me” eyes. I thought she said she couldn’t come again. “Do I feel good?”
“Oh yes… yes, Baby, you feel so good.” Fuck, I’m going to blow if she doesn’t stop.
“You like that, Baby?” she croons. “Do you like how I feel wrapped around you?” I grab her body and pull her against me. I’m going to come. I can’t control it.
“God, yes!” I groan into her neck as she grinds into me, working my dick to climax.
“Then come for me, Baby. Give it to me!” That’s it. I erupt inside of her and she keeps right on grinding.
“Oh! Oh, shit!” I groan, Euphoria flushing through my body as I pump my seed into her.
“That’s it,” she coaches. “Yes, Baby. Give it all to me. You’re so sexy when you come.”
Greystone is jumping and thumping and throbbing—ecstatic and relieved. She did it for me… just for me.
“You’re incredible,” I breathe.
“Do you feel better?” she says with a coy smile. All I can do is nod. “Then, I’m happy. Now kiss me.” I kiss her deeply, pulling her closer to me and thanking God that she still loves me after what we’ve been through these last weeks. “Now tell me what’s wrong,” she says softly. Shit, I can’t tell her, but I have to tell her something—and it can’t be a lie.
“We’re getting really close to finding out who’s doing the hacking,” I tell her.
“Isn’t that good news?” she asks.
“Yes, but it’s really nerve-wracking because we don’t know what we’re going to find. Is it one jerk? Is it an operation? Is this bigger than me? Do they just want money? Will you guys get hurt?” I shake my head. “It’s a lot to carry, and I’ve been ordered to relax while the trap is set.” She leans up and kisses me.
“I couldn’t have been making this easy for you,” she says.
“No,” I admit, “but I handled it all wrong, and I take responsibility for that.” I sigh heavily. “Let’s take a shower. Then I want to go to our children’s room and see your vision.” She smiles widely.
“What a wonderful idea.”
This is proof positive that I’ve been spending way too much time at work. I don’t recognize the Mercer house when we get inside. Most of the foreboding columns are gone and the house almost doesn’t look the same. The open space is magnificent; I like it so much better than all that clutter from those pretentious beams. Some of them had to stay as they were supporting beams, but the decorative ones have all been removed.
Our bedroom has been painted a slate gray, but the carpeting hasn’t been installed yet. I don’t bother going to the other bedrooms, because I want to see the babies’ room. Part of me wants to see where my wife spent the night a few evenings ago where she emerged looking like hell.
“Oh. Aaron must have been here,” she says when she opens the door. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would. In fact, it looks remarkable. The walls are tan, and there are silhouettes on the far wall of two tall brown trees with just a few green leaves on them. One of the trees has a little girl swinging from a swing and the other has a little boy hanging from his knees. A few woodland creatures run around the other three walls. The ceiling is blue with a light dusting of clouds to make it look like a realistic sky.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she says in awe. This isn’t her first time seeing the room, I thought. “What do you think of this carpet?” she asks. “I liked it on the website, but now that it’s down, I’m not so sure.”
“Didn’t you see this the other day?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“No, none of this was done.” Well, that explains it. I look at the carpet.
“I don’t like this carpet,” I say. “It needs to be brighter—cream or white, maybe…”
“I thought with the whole woodland creatures theme, the taupe carpet might work, but it seems to be clashing with the walls,” she says. I nod.
“In theory, it should go with the color scheme, but… it doesn’t.”
“White… in the babies’ room?” she asks with uncertainty.
“Well, off-white or something… you know, one of those not-so-white whites,” I shrug. “We’ll, scotch-guard it. It’ll be fine.” She kind of nods and twists her face. “Why is there a skunk in the room? Couldn’t we pick some less—affronting creatures?”
“That’s Flower,” she says. Okay, so she named it. What’s that’s supposed to mean?
“I don’t care what you call it, it’s still a skunk,” I say shrugging. She looks at me like I just missed something really obvious. “What?”
“You don’t know who Flower is?” she asks. I look around the room, oblivious. She does this little gasp, then realization comes across her face and she looks sort of sad.
“Would you like for me to introduce you to the… people in your children’s room?” Okay, my wife is going a little overboard with this decorating thing, but I’ll let her have it. So, I humor her.
“Um, okay.” She points to each character and starts “introducing” me.
“This is Flower. This is Friend Owl. The rabbit is Thumper, and this adorable creature is Bambi.” She looks at me waiting for realization to dawn, I think, but I’ve got nothing.
“Christian,” she speaks softly like she’s talking to a wounded child, “they’re Disney characters. They’re from the classics.” And now I see why she was looking at me so strangely. These are people—people that most children probably know, except me. I didn’t watch cartoons, even after Mom and Dad adopted me.
“Oh,” I say softly. “I… think I’m going to have some homework.” I don’t know what else to say. She takes a deep breath and her expression changes drastically. She looks like she’s going to cry, and then she surprises me by doing just that. What—does not knowing the Disney characters mean that I’m going to be a bad father?
“I’m sorry, Ana. I’ll learn the characters.”
“No, it’s…” She tries to compose herself. “I’ve… There’s so much implication behind the fact that you don’t know who the Disney characters are. I don’t know an adult our age who doesn’t know who the Disney characters are.” Oh. She’s crying because she feels sorry for me. “It’s the pregnancy hormones. Ignore it,” she says, trying to wave it off. I wipe her tears with my thumbs and kiss her lips gently.
“I’ll learn them with our children,” I tell her. She nods and I kiss her again. “I’ll start now. Tell me the rest.” She nods again and I take her hand as she tells me bedtime stories in the middle of the day.
“This is Dumbo. He was a misfit because of his ears until everybody discovered that he could fly.”
“Fly?” My eyes grow wide. I know it’s a cartoon, but an elephant that flies? I nod. “A flying elephant?” She laughs heartily and I feel better because she’s forgetting her tears.
“Yes,” she laughs as she wipes away the rest of the moisture on her face. “There are crows in the story that had the same reaction you did, but I decided to leave them out of our children’s room.”
“Is this a book or a movie?” I ask.
“I’ve got to see this movie.” I look at the little elephant with ears as big as his body. “I thought elephants were afraid of mice.”
“They are, but Timothy Q. Mouse—or more affectionately, Tim—is Dumbo’s best friend. They’re inseparable, that’s why he’s always in Dumbo’s hat.”
“And these?” I point to a bunch of mice in the next picture all grouped together. “Are these Dumbo’s friends, too?”
“No, those are Cinderella’s friends,” she says.
“Okay! I’ve heard of Cinderella!” I make the announcement like it’s a big accomplishment, and it makes her smile again.
“These are the mice that made her dress for the ball out of scraps. This is Jaq, Gus, Bert, Mert, Luke, Suzy, and Perla. Luke is a baby and Bert and Mert are twins. They were just kind of hanging around.” Now, I’m confused.
“Okay, I don’t know this story very well, but I was sure that there was a fairy godmother and a pumpkin involved…”
“There is, but the mice made this dress first and then the evil stepsisters destroyed it.” I nod.
“Yep, a lot of homework… what’s next?”
“This,” she says, pointing to another group of animals—an owl, a squirrel, a cardinal, a bluebird, and two rabbits, “is the group of animals that present themselves to Sleeping Beauty.”
“I’ve heard of her, too!” I exclaim, and she laughs heartily again.
“There’s hope for you yet, Mr. Grey,” she says happily. “This lively group steals the prince’s cape, hat, and boots. The owl acts as the mouthpiece while the clothes and boots just kind of dance around.” I nod and move to the next one.
“Who’s this scruffy looking fellow?” I ask.
“That’s Scuttle. He came later. He’s the ‘human expert’ from The Little Mermaid except that his information was nonsense.”
“Sounds like a few people I know,” I say. We’ve gotten back to the door and there’s another tree there… with a face. “Um, Baby, that’s creepy.” She releases my hand and closes the door. It’s a weeping willow tree. The tree is on the wall next to the door and the branches fall gracefully over the door. There’s a blue raccoon on the ground looking up at the tree and a hummingbird fluttering over its head. The tree is smiling down at the raccoon—an older, friendly face, but it still looks creepy.
“We’ll make sure that you and the beans see Pocahontas so that you’re not creeped out by Grandmother Willow,” she says gently. I roll my eyes.
“I know Winnie the Pooh,” I say, pointing to the adjacent wall. “Mia had a pooh bear when she was a kid. I didn’t know he was a Disney character, though.” Butterfly nods.
“Yes, and these are his woodland friends—Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga and Roo, Eeyore, Mr. Owl, and Gopher.”
“There are a lot of owls in Disney,” I point out.
“Yes, because they are considered wise and are used to impart wisdom. Most likely when the characters were talking to one of the owls, there was some type of message or lesson to be learned.”
“That’s good marketing,” I say. She laughs.
“Always the businessman.”
“So who are these?” I say, pointing to clusters of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, birds, and various other creatures.
“These are extras,” she says. “There are always extras in Disney movies. They don’t speak, they don’t have names, but they scurry about and fill in the scenery, except for these two.” She points to the two chipmunks who almost look like twins. “This is Chip ‘n Dale.”
“Chippendales!?” I ask appalled and she frowns at me. What’s with the reference to strippers? Again, she laughs heartily and has to hold her belly for a moment.
“No, no, not Chippendales—Chip ‘n Dale. That’s Chip and that Dale,” she says, pointing to each chipmunk. “They’re just a couple of chipmunks that often find themselves in some kind of mischief.”
“I just bet they do, they’re named after strippers!” I observe.
“No, they’re not,” she corrects me. “Chip ‘n Dale were around about 30 years before Chippendales were. I would hope there’s no correlation between the two since they represent entertainment on totally different ends of the spectrum.”
“I would hope not either. Boy, that’s going to take some major deprogramming,” I say shaking my head. “So, what did you have in mind for furniture?”
“We… hadn’t gotten that far…” She trails off. I was sure that she and the amazing Aaron would have already picked out the baby furniture by the time… My thought is interrupted immediately when the penny drops and rattles all around my empty head.
“You were waiting for me,” I lament. She sighs quietly and nods. I purse my lips and then push my face into a smile.
“Well, let’s go, Mrs. Grey,” I say extending my elbow to her. Her eyes sparkle and she smiles widely as she takes my arm and we leave the room.
We couldn’t decide on the same thing to save our lives. She wants light furniture and I want dark furniture. She wants a rocking chair and I want a rocking horse. She wants a hope chest and a changing table and I want a chest of drawers and stylish footlocker. We finally compromised that each baby will have what is necessary for their comfort and care, but I get to pick the boy bean’s baby furniture while she picks the girl bean’s furniture. The room is huge, so two themes will work out just fine without the room being cluttered. The trip went much smoother after we made that decision.
We’re in some baby boutique downtown looking at accessories for the beans when I notice a sales clerk and what I think is another couple pointing at us and whispering. So much for a quiet afternoon of shopping.
“Butterfly, I think we have to cut it short,” I tell her.
“Why?” she says, her voice full of disappointment. I sigh. We haven’t been out just being us for weeks and now this.
“At my 10… we’ve been spotted.” She inconspicuously looks over my shoulder and sighs heavily.
“I just want to shop for my babies,” she says, disheartened, putting the items she’s gathered back on the racks.
“No, Baby, we can get those things, but you know how this works. The paparazzi will be here any minute hoping to get a shot of the Greys doing ‘normal things.’ We just want to head them off before it starts.” I try to soften the blow.
“Okay. I get it, I just don’t like it. Does this mean we have to cut our whole afternoon short?” she asks, crestfallen.
“We’ll figure something out, Baby. I promise.” I kiss her hand and remove her selections from the rack.
“Excuse me.” The sales clerk has approached us. Butterfly is trying not to glare, but I can tell that she is fairly annoyed. “You’re so much prettier in person,” the clerk says to Butterfly, and she thaws immediately.
“Um, thank you,” she responds, a bit stunned.
“Will you please sign this for me?” she says, handing Butterfly a tabloid.
“Mine, too?” The customer that was talking to her moments before hands me the same tabloid. Butterfly and I look at each other and then at the tabloid:
Rumors of struggles in paradise appear to be false as father- and mother-to-be, Christian and Anastasia Grey—Seattle’s own power couple AnaChris—are captured here walking hand-in-hand into Grey Enterprises on Friday morning. In a real-life Pretty Woman moment, the billionaire and his wife are also captured later that day having lunch on a blanket in the park. Although Christian looks every bit the stuffy Edward Lewis in his gray Giovanni suit, Anastasia looks stunning in a simple white coat dress and could easily give the beautiful Julia Roberts a run for her money. Several tender moments are exchanged between the two as Christian can be seen feeding his wife fresh fruit, kissing her, brushing the hair from her face, and tenderly rubbing her baby bump. It’s very clear that he dotes on the beautiful Anastasia and from the starry-eyed look she’s sporting, the feeling is definitely mutual.
Butterfly bursts out laughing and I’m assuming she’s read the entire article.
“How did we not see this?” she says, amused.
A/N: Don’t really know what to add here as I have probably said everything that I need to say in the beginning author’s note. I hope everybody read it. If not, don’t be surprised when you see your comments come up missing.
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