I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.Chapter 5—Moving Right Along…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I have two huge love bites on my neck. One is just under my ear, slightly pink and a little sensitive. The other is under my shirt in the bend of my neck—dark red and a little purple, and it hurts like hell. I remember her latching onto that spot, sucking and biting and weakening my resolve until I came so hard that I fucking cried. No one has ever fucked me that way—told me not to come and then didn’t stop until I did.
The entire time I got dressed this morning, I kept hearing the words in my head…
You belong to me.
You’re not allowed to take chances…
I belong to Anastasia Grey.
I am not allowed to get hurt.
Follow instructions and stay safe.
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I’m completely distracted as I remember her nails on my chest, her sexy, swollen body rubbing against me, her lips and tongue on my neck…
“Sir.” Jason breaks my chain of thought. “They’ve been texting you, Sir. You’re needed in Data Central.”
Shit! What time is it? How long have I been sitting here?
Jason and I ride in silence down to the hub of discovery. He’s been extra quiet, so I have to ask him.
“How much did you see?”
“Not much, Sir, but enough to tell Gail to stay in our apartment for a while.” I shake my head and chuckle to myself.
“Were we loud?” I ask. He smirks.
“No, Sir, Not at all.” The elevator doors open and I know he’s holding back, but I let him off the hook.
“The worms went live again, about an hour ago,” James starts talking the moment we get into Data Central. “Their initial signal is usually the most reliable because it pops out before they have a chance to scramble it, but only for a few seconds. Not only that, but they think we’re following someone else.”
“I need some good news, James,” I say.
“We’ve got a pretty good hit based on the initial signals and the tower hits from Dodd’s cell phone.”
“Are you telling me that you know where these guys are or…?” I trail off.
“We’ve narrowed it down to cities, which is a lot more than we had before, but we need to get our boy here to keep contacting them so we can tighten those signals.” I sigh. This news is not as encouraging as I would like.
“First, what cities?” I ask.
“Belfair and Spokane,” James responds. I frown.
“That’s two different ends of the state,” I say. “Doesn’t that seem odd?”
“To be honest, we’re lucky we didn’t get New York and San Francisco, or worst yet—Moscow and Tokyo!” I shiver.
“I will be so glad when this is over,” I lament. “Next, how do you suggest we keep Dodd talking?” I ask.
“We have to feed him something worthy enough to take back to his counterparts. Without knowing what their M-O is besides money, I don’t know what they would consider ‘juicy’ information,” he says. I notice that Barney’s head is buried in his laptop and he’s feverishly typing away at something. This is my head of IT—I can’t afford for him to be meek.
“What’s your take on this, Barney?” His head shoots up from the laptop and he looks from me to James and back to me.
“I concur,” he says. Okay, you’re great at what you do. You fucked up last week and made a bad assumption. Get over it! You can’t hide behind James forever. He doesn’t even work here.
“Use your words, Barney,” I say, my voice indicating that I’m a bit perturbed. You’re a talented and highly paid department head. Sensitivity is not a luxury that you get to enjoy. “I need you people to think like these people and tell me what I need to know.”
“Well, I can’t think like a criminal, but as a hacker, I’d want to know if someone else can actually mimic what I did,” Barney says.
“James’ software proves that we can mimic what he did…”
“They don’t know that, but that’s not what I mean,” he interrupts me. I glare at him and he just keeps talking. I think Butterfly was wrong about him shrinking. I think it may have been something else. “I mean is someone else doing something that might cut into my payday. Are they hiding behind what I’m doing and siphoning money or information to another source? This kind of attacker is cocky. When he’s completed his coup, he’ll find some way to flaunt it without giving away his identity. If you manage to discover his identity, he’s just going to disappear into the night and you’re never going to see him again.” That’s why I think it’s Myrick. He’s already disappeared into the night.
“I don’t quite follow. GEH is a very valuable company. There’s plenty for everybody.” I seethe.
“Yes, but if you have a pile of gold sitting in front of you, how much do you take? You take as much as your bag can carry, and electronically, you have a bottomless bag.” Barney’s more profound than I thought, and now I’m certain that Butterfly was wrong about him shrinking. “If someone else is picking off the gold coins, that immediately makes you just another thief. As a hacker, I don’t want to be just another thief. I want you to remember who I am.”
“Okay, so how do we know that this isn’t just another thief?” I ask.
“His style,” Barney retorts. “He started by letting the worms run wild in your system and letting you know that he was there. He could have started taking money immediately. He didn’t need to wait. He was toying with you, taunting you. He’s not just another thief. He wants you to know, and he will make an appearance before this is over.” I nod.
“Okay, so what do we do?” The room is quiet for a while.
“Leak to your source that another hacker has shown up, one that has completely different characteristics than the first. Ask rhetorical questions in his presence that will make him think: Are they working together? Is this a completely different attack? How fast is the new attack moving in comparison to the original attack? He’ll have to contact them because he’ll have the same questions and if not, he’ll want them to know that there’s another player in the game. If you keep talking, you’ll keep him talking.” There’s not a bit of the timid Barney that I’m accustomed to. His voice is strong and a little deeper than usual. He’s precise and he’s not rambling.
“Let’s call another meeting of the department heads. I’m assuming you can make this story convincing… draw it out like the soap opera we need right now?”
“Yes, I can,” he answers and starts typing madly on his laptop again. Of the people currently in the room, James is the only one that is not slightly taken aback by his behavior. I need to talk to Welch about how Myrick could just drop off the face of the earth like this and nobody have a lead on where he is. I’ve been told not to put all my eggs in the Robin basket, but I can’t help it. That fucker almost had me killed and until this shit stops, my money is on him.
“James, a quick word?” James nods at me and follows me to the hallway. “You’ve spent the most time with Barney, what’s going on?” He frowns.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“That guy has worked for me for years and something’s different about him.”
“How so?” he asks. “He’s the same way he’s always been around me.”
“I don’t know. First he’s quiet, then he pops out of this shell with all this information—commanding authority—then he’s right back in like a turtle,” I observe. James shakes his head.
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but the last thing Barney does is go into a shell,” he says. “I don’t know if he’s different around you, but Barney is a very self-confident man who knows what he’s doing. I would never say that he’s better than me, but he keeps me on my toes and he’s not shy about his skills.” I frown.
“Well, he is the best the industry has to offer. I did my homework before I hired him, so I know that. It’s his demeanor. Butterfly made an observation last week that she thought he may have been shrinking a bit after his erroneous assumption about her possible involvement in all this.” James scoffs a laugh.
“Barney? Shrinking? Not likely. Man, he must really have you fooled. I hate to let the cat out of the bag, but Barney’s one of the cockiest motherfuckers I’ve ever met in my life.” He’s what? He’s got to be kidding me. Barney and cocky don’t even belong in the same sentence. “Yeah, I’m going to stop talking now,” he adds, laughing to himself. “To answer your question, nothing’s wrong with Barney. He’s the same as he’s been since the day I started this project.”
I nod. It appears that I don’t know my head of IT as well as I thought I did.
“Any hits on Myrick?” I ask Welch when Jason and I get to his office.
“Nothing yet, but what the hell did you say to Cholometes?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
“He was a bit… reserved, for lack of a better word, when we talked on Sunday morning. Last night and this morning, he was forthright, accommodating—downright helpful. You know I had no choice but to let him into the loop a bit in order to get the approvals I need. He’s even offered to help weed out some things with me. One of me is phenomenal, I must admit, but two of me—out of this fucking world. We’re going to have this shit locked down in a month or less.”
A month seems like a long time, but it’s better than any other projection I’ve heard so far which has basically been, “Well, I don’t know” and “It’s hard to tell” and “We’re working on it.”
“I have a question for you. You work closely with Barney. What’s your take on him?” He frowns the same frown James did.
“Do you think he has something to do with this?” Welch asks.
“No! No, nothing like that. It’s just… last week at the meeting when he made it appear that Anastasia may have been hiding something about the cyber attack, he shut down and hasn’t said anything since until I made him talk to me today. Ana seems to think he’s shrinking into himself and I want to know what you think.” He does that same laughing scoff that James did.
“I highly doubt that cocky motherfucker was shrinking,” he says matter-of-factly.
“How the fuck is everybody seeing him as cocky and I didn’t?”
“Well, how much time have you spent with him?” Welch asks.
“Quite a lot over the years he’s worked for me–enough to know that I wouldn’t consider him cocky.”
“Well, then your ‘enough to know’ isn’t enough, because that’s one cocky son-of-a-bitch. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean that he’s a cocky son-of-a-bitch. You judged that book by its cover. You let those bow ties and sweater vests make you think that he’s your typical, quiet little computer nerd. Maybe that’s what he wants you to think. Maybe he knows that the quiet nerd gets the least attention until he’s needed. So he can be Wonderboy and fade quietly to black and nobody bothers him. Whatever the case may be, if you see anything else but cocky, he’s got you fooled.”
“So what’s this quiet-shutting-down thing?” I ask.
“He’s thinking… or mad.” I would go with mad right now. He’s giving me answers without the reverence to which I’ve become accustomed. He better not pull that cocky shit on me. He’s worked for me for a few years now and I know there are other Wonderboys out there if he starts feeling his balls. “And that’s why you didn’t see the cocky.” I look up Welch.
“I don’t have to tell you this, sir, but you’re a hell of a lot more cocky than he is, so you wouldn’t have seen it.”
“Oh, on the contrary, that’s exactly why I would have seen it. I’m an alpha male surrounded by alpha males, and you all know that I won’t let anybody out-alpha me. When it comes to security, you’re the experts, so I step back—most of the time, but when it comes to just about everything else, you all step back and let me have the reigns because you know that I’m in charge. Now, whatever his M-O, Barney has never been that cocky person around me, which means that either he’s intimidated or he’s putting on a façade–one that has fooled me for several years, and that doesn’t make me feel comfortable.”
“Well, I’m going to let you handle that with him, but I would still like to know what happened with Cholometes if you care to share. What did you say to him?” Welch asks.
“It wasn’t me,” I confess. “It was Butterfly.” Welch frowns.
“You told her?” he asks, somewhat appalled.
“No, she figured it out. You’re forgetting that Cholometes is a long-time family friend of her and her father. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together when you and he are collaborating, and Dr. Steele hit that nail right on the head.”
“Dr Steele?” he questions. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t like it any more than you do.
“She has to practice under the same name that she was licensed,” I tell him. “Don’t dwell on it. I can’t, so you can’t either.” He waves his hand.
“So how did the little powerhouse get him to be so cooperative?” he asks.
“She yelled at him. Made him swear to keep me safe and told him that she would hold him responsible if anything happens to me. She thinks he may have something to do with this attack and she doesn’t trust him.”
“She told him all that?”
“Not about the attack, but the rest of it, yes. I know that he still loves her and he wants her, so he won’t take any chances on disappointing her.” Welch shakes his head.
“Stay in good health, sir,” Welch says. “If anything happens to you, he’ll be first in line and nobody will get within ten feet of her.”
“Unfortunately, I am aware of this. However, as I plan to never die, he’s out of luck.” Jason and I leave Welch’s office and head back to mine. “Did you know Barney was cocky?” I ask him. He shrugs.
“Not really,” he says. “I don’t spend enough time with the guy to know that about him. I know that you’re the only that calls him ‘Barney.’ People only call him that when you’re around.” We exit the elevator and walk to my office.
“What does everybody call him?”
“Dino,” he says flatly.
“Dino?” I ask surprised. Jason nods. I just shake my head. “Uh, okay.” I sit down at my desk. “In the midst of all of this, I haven’t planned a thing for my wife’s birthday. Considering that we went to wine country and I got a rebuilt piano for my birthday, I think I better come up with something quick.”
“That would be a good idea. What did you have in mind?”
“Well, the party last year was a disaster, so that’s out.”
“Something for just the two of you?” he asks. I twist my lips.
“I would like that, but I have a feeling that she would like something more…” and the wheels start turning. What could I do for my lady on such short notice that she would really like?
“I would say that she definitely needs some time with her friends, wouldn’t you?” Jason asks. I nod.
“She has been a bit of a hermit,” I respond, “and I know that the family would like to see for themselves that she’s okay. Maybe a party is in order—a celebration of close family and friends.”
“The Club?” he suggests. I shake my head.
“No, we always have events at the club—Ray’s wedding, Maxine’s baby shower… I need to come up with something else.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I don’t know—something private… intimate… different.” Jason thinks for a while.
“Something with her friends, right?”
“Of course, with her friends.”
“How about that thing she has—food and libations, but on a bigger scale… at a resort, maybe, and she doesn’t have to do any of the cooking.”
“She likes to do the cooking,” I point out. “Maybe something on the order of that, though. We’ll get people to help her with the cooking since it will be on a bigger scale. She can still enjoy the preparations and not have to work so hard. A resort sounds nice, but I don’t want to have it in the clubhouse of a resort either. A meeting room is even less intimate.
“What about the vacation houses at Suncadia?” Jason suggests. “They’re really nice and even the smallest ones are pretty large. See how many we can get for the weekend?” That sounds like a winner. Suncadia is close by, but pretty exclusive. Even if we can’t get people to stay the night, it’s close enough for a party if they want to go home.
“Now that’s a good idea. I guess we should hash out a quick guest list and see how many cabins we can secure…”
For the next several minutes, Jason and I confer with each other as well as Gail and Marilyn on conference to put together a quick guest list and tentative plans for the weekend. Marilyn has agreed to make the calls to see who will be available for the weekend while Jason will see how many of the vacation homes we can secure at Suncadia. I’ll tell Butterfly about the plans no later than Thursday as I’m sure she will want to work out a menu as I plan to drive up early Friday. While we’re still working on what’s going to happen for the weekend, Andrea announces that Barney is at her desk and wants to see me. I look at Jason, who shrugs and stands to leave.
“I’ll get the houses secured and touch base with you later,” he says with a nod before leaving the office and sending Barney in.
“I think we need to talk, sir… if you have a moment.” His voice is firm and he has removed his glasses. He hasn’t turned away from me. He looks a lot different without his glasses. This is the first time I’ve paid attention to his eyes, and he’s actually taller than me. “I’ll be glad to make an appointment if now is not a good time.” I furrow my brow a bit at him.
“No, now is a good time. Come in.” I sit at my desk and gesture to the seats in front of my desk.
“I would rather stand, sir,” he says. He is cocky, but like Welch said, not as cocky as me.
“Well, Barney, if you stand, then I have to stand, and I would really rather not. So it would make me a lot more comfortable if you sit.” I gesture to the seat again and, after a short pause, he pulls off his tie and takes a seat.
“It appears that you’ve been asking the other members of the team questions about me. Do I need to be concerned for my job, sir? I would rather know these things in advance so that I can be prepared.”
“Why would you think your job was on the line? And what have you done that makes you think you need to be concerned for your job?”
“My job,” he says, “plus the fact that you’ve been asking others about me instead of coming to me.” I don’t like his tone.
“Barney, I haven’t had cause to bring your job into question, but I am going to caution you to watch your tone with me right now. I don’t appreciate being called to task on anything in my company, and I have fired people for less,” I retort.
“I know that. That’s why I’m asking,” he says without taking down. “I’m not calling you to task on anything, sir. I’m questioning my job security. I’m getting married in a year and if my future is looking bleaker than I thought, I need to know that now.” Cocky is right. He leans forward in the seat.
“I respect you, Mr. Grey, but I’m not afraid of you. I ask that you respect me and my skills, that’s all. I may have been wrong about Mrs. Grey and I hope she knows how sorry I am about that, but just like I said before you cut me off—I was just doing my job. And if ever I feel that she’s a threat to the security of the company, I have to let you know. If you don’t want to hear it, then I have to let security know. That’s one of the things you hired me for. We’re dealing with the unknown here, and until we know who we’re dealing with, everybody is suspect…”
“Including you?” I interject.
“Especially me!” he says, surprising me. “I’m the one with my hands on the pulse of this thing. James may be reading one of the maps, but make no mistake—I’m driving!” He is a cocky bastard. “You call everybody else by their last name until you started calling J by his first name and you’ve always called Al Allen…” Lately, I’m calling Charles by his first name, too, “… but you call me Barney. Yes, I was the one who said it was okay to do that, but I think you saw it as a sign of weakness. I mainly told you to call me that because if you tried to say my full name all the time, you’d have to tie your tongue in a knot.” I hired himn=, but I have to admit that I’ve called him “Barney” for so long that I don’t immediately recall his full name. I raise my eyebrow at him and as a challenge, he spits out his first and last name. “Bernardino DiPignano.” Now, how did I not remember he was Italian?
“Do you prefer that I call you DiPignano from now on?” I ask.
“If that’s what you choose, that’s fine. All I’m saying is don’t liken ‘Barney’ with ‘weak little nerd boy’ because you’re sorely mistaken if you do. I respect you, I respect your position, and I respect your level of power. It’s clear to see that you respect Alex for who he is, Jason for who he is, Al for who he is. Respect me for who I am. That’s all I ask. I don’t expect you to fall at my feet or kiss my ass because I know that you’re not going to do that, but I really don’t think I’m asking for too much.” I lean forward on my desk. I’m all for understanding that I’ve underestimated someone, but it’s time to remind this cocky fucker who I am.
“Barney… DiPignano… not once have I ever disrespected you and I don’t intend to start, but make no mistake. I will ask anybody else in this company anything I goddamn well please about anybody else in this company and there’s nothing you can do about that. Do I need to be concerned about you resigning your job because I chose to ask my team about someone else on my team?” He sits up straight when he realizes the tone of the conversation has changed.
“No, sir, you don’t,” he says curtly.
“Good, and by the way, I have every right to be angry at you for causing my very pregnant, very fragile wife to cry by virtually accusing her of corporate espionage. I understand that you have to do your job and I appreciate that you do it well, but don’t ever expect me to respond kindly if the daggers are flying at my Ana. To be honest, what you received on Friday was a very controlled response, and had I not known that you are very thorough and were ‘just doing your job,’ we might be talking severance right now. I don’t speak the language of logic when it comes down to my wife. My entire security team knows this and now, so do you. Multiply that tenfold by the fact that she’s carrying my children and throw in the emotions that you would feel if your fiancée had been in this position.” I feel the beast rising up in me. I can’t afford to lose him in the middle of this investigation, but I will not take down to this fucker.
“Yes, sir, I understand. Again, I apologize for antagonizing Mrs. Grey.” He’s all business now, something I’ve only see once—when he was telling me about “catching our thief” earlier today. That’s fine with me.
“Apology accepted, and congratulations on your upcoming nuptials,” I add to ease the sting a bit.
“Thank you, sir.”
“No, sir,” he says, flatly. I nod once, and he stands to leave, pulling his sweater vest over his head before he gets to the door. He’s wearing a light blue shirt and some dark slacks by the time he leaves my office, and I’m sure that Barney has just left the company and I am now dealing with DiPignano… which is fine by me. I don’t even have time to take a deep breath before Jason comes back into my office.
“Sir, Camilla Johannson is at Ana’s office,” he says with no prelim.
“Camilla Johannson? Who is Ca…” The penny drops. “Oh, shit, what is she doing there?”
“I don’t know, sir. Chuck is in the office with them now. You know Ana… you know she agreed to see her.” I run my hands through my hair. Should I go? Should I stay? Is Ana in danger? I don’t know anything about this woman except that David beat the hell out of her and there’s no reason whatsoever that she should want to talk to my wife. I should go! I should go right now. My feet are moving before the decision is even made and Jason is sprinting to catch up with me. I don’t know if I should call her, but Jason solves the problem for me by calling Charles while were in the elevator.
“Hello…? Who is this…? Where’s Chuck…? Oh… okay… Does everything seem okay…? Well, we’re on our way. Let him know in case they get out before we get there… Okay, bye.” He ends the call as we exit the elevator in the parking garage. “Marilyn has Chuck’s phone.”
“Why in the world does Marilyn have his phone?” I seethe.
“Because he wants to give the ladies his undivided attention. The last uninvited guest we had was Strauss, if I remember correctly—and look how that ended.” Oh… yeah. I guess he should give them his undivided attention.
We’re standing in the lobby in Ana’s building and just as the elevator comes, a young Ana look-a-like steps off the elevator. She goes to the front desk and retrieves her identification. I examine her. She doesn’t look upset or angry. No signs that she’s been in a struggle. I know this has to be Ms. Johannson because of the uncanny resemblance, but she doesn’t look like anything is amiss. No matter, I have to get to Butterfly.
When I get off of the elevator, her front office is empty. What the fuck? Where’s Marilyn? Butterfly? I try not to burst into her office like King Kong, but I don’t know how successful I am. She’s sitting at her desk looking fresh and beautiful as always and Charles and Marilyn are standing close by. She and Charles look at each other and back at me. I have to touch her. I have to touch the babies.
“Baby, are you okay?” I ask reaching for her and my children.
“I’m fine, Christian,” she says, comforting. “You didn’t have to come.”
“Yes, I did. I had to make sure that you were okay.”
“What did you think she was going to do? I had the man that hurt us both imprisoned for twenty-something years.” I shake my head.
“I don’t know, I just…”I drop my head, still shaking it. With everything going on these days, I’m so afraid of losing her. She puts her hand on my cheek.
“I understand perfectly,” she says, sweetly. I raise my eyes to hers—cautious gray to unassuming blue.
“I just love you so much…” I trail off.
“I know… and I love you, too, Mr. Grey.” Her calling me that reminded me of our afternoon on the sofa yesterday.
“I belong to Anastasia Grey,” I say quietly.
“Yes… you do,” she whispers before cupping my face with both of her hands and kissing me passionately. I’m lost in her kiss, her touch, her taste—soothing the beast raging inside of me. I caress her stomach and her back—my whole family, my life, right here in my arms. She’s the reason that I breathe. It seems like there was nothing before her.
Once Christian was sure that Camilla hadn’t come to reap some sort of twisted revenge on me, I try to convince him to go back to Grey House. It’s a futile attempt, because I think in light of recent events, we’re both seeing how much the other means to us and how quickly and easily we could lose everything. I can’t complain that he wants to spend the rest of the day with me, but tell him that it will be at Helping Hands. That’s not what he wanted to hear. Christian and his mother are still a bit at odds over the flirt heard ‘round the world. I would think she would be angrier with me, but it appears that the condition she found me in tilted the scales more in my favor.
While I’m sitting as cuddled into him as the seatbelts with allow, Christian reveals to me that Gail and Marilyn are coordinating with our family and friends for a weekend getaway for my birthday. He admits that he wanted to wait until Thursday to tell me, but since it will be F&L he wanted me to have time to plan the menu and coordinate the help that will be available. He knows that I like cooking for F&L myself, but also know that this is going to be a larger group of people than just the Scooby Gang. I try to convince him that I can handle it, but he implores me to please take advantage of the help that will be with us as well as the help we will most likely get from the resort as this is, after all, my birthday. I can’t argue with his logic and agree to take it easy most of the time.
I check in on my projects when I get to the center as well as the families in the dorms and the classes in session in the learning rooms. Christian doesn’t come to Helping Hands that often, so I get a kick out of not only showing him the renovations that hag’s money paid for, but also seeing the poor women at the center swoon and breathe, “Hi, Mr. Grey,” as he passes. He clasps my hand tightly throughout the entire “tour” as it were, trying to let the ladies know that he’s not interested, even though his ingrained manners drive him to speak and be polite. I smile a bit at his calamity and continue with the tour.
Driven to let Grace know that we’re here, we go to her office. It’s been remodeled as she insisted on staying in her office as opposed to moving to one of the bigger ones. At least there’s more room with my and John’s stuff moved to our own offices, and it looks nicer with the new furniture, paint, flooring, and window treatments. When we enter, she’s sitting at her desk working on something. She raises her head and removes her glasses when she sees us, clasping her hands on the desk in front of her.
“Good afternoon, Grace,” I say politely. “I was just looking in on some of my projects and showing Christian around the new facility.” She nods once.
“Ana, Christian,” she says by means of a greeting, more formal than I would like. Christian sighs heavily.
“Mother, how long are you going to give me the cold shoulder?”
“I’m not giving you the cold shoulder, Christian. I’m just very disappointed and I have to get over it, and you have to let me.”
“It was as much my fault as his, Grace,” I chime in, trying to defuse the situation. “I grossly misunderstood what was going on between us and acted very selfishly. Please don’t place all the blame on him.”
“Oh, I don’t. That’s why I’m so disappointed. It’s like I told him. I can’t believe the way you young people hurt each other so badly. It’s like you do and say things without any consideration for the feelings of the other person or for the consequences your actions can bring. Although my son is very strong, he’s also very sensitive. Even though he doesn’t let people see that, I know Christian Grey. I raised Christian Grey. I know that behind that massive physique and that unbreakable façade that there’s still a very scared, scarred, and sensitive little boy in there. What would you have done if he couldn’t forgive you for how you behaved in that restaurant with those men?”
She’s right. I could have lost everything because I wanted a little attention. I maintain that I needed my husband—that I needed his love and support and I felt like he was ignoring me—but that wasn’t the way to get it. Quite frankly, he needed my love and support, too, probably more at that time than I needed his. I drop my head and fight the tears I feel burning my eyes.
“Do you have to be so hard on her?” Christian scolds.
“Oh! This from the man who nearly allowed her to starve to death for several weeks and didn’t even know that it was happening! You couldn’t even be bothered to look at her let alone be concerned about her and the babies. So what’s the thrust here—that you can treat her that way, but nobody else can, right?” Grace is wearing no gloves. Her claws are sharpened and her filter is non-existent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so raw—except maybe once, at her house when she found out Elena had molested Christian. I’m going to be sick. I’m truly going to be sick.
“Excuse me,” I say before dashing out of the door and sprinting down the hall away from Grace’s office.
“Ana, don’t run!” Christian calls after me. “Charles, don’t let her fall… Mom! Really!?” That’s all I hear before I make it to the restroom.
This is one time I thank God for this ridiculously long hair, because it doesn’t fall into my face or the toilet while I vomit violently. I’m cry bitterly in the toilet. I’m not sure why I’m crying—because Grace was right or because Grace was so harsh. I don’t know, but I cry and cry until I feel like I can fall asleep on the floor.
“Ana! Are you alright?” I hear Chuck call from outside. I try to raise my head, but it hurts too much. Before I can respond that I need help, I hear his voice.
“Butterfly, I’m coming in there,” and I hear the door open. “If anybody’s in here besides my wife, please hide your intimates.” There’s no one else in here, thank God. He finds me in the stall on the floor and immediately goes to the sink. He wets some paper towels and wipes my face and neck. I look up at him and my heart breaks again.
“I’m sorry,” I say through my tears.
“No! No!” he says firmly. “We’ve been through this. We’ve hashed this out. We’re passed it and we’re moving on. Now put your arms around my neck.” I gladly oblige, thankful that he knows I need his help without having to tell him. I enjoy his scent and his strong arms as he carries me to my office. He lays me down on one of the sofas there while sending Chuck off to get me water. He’s kneeling on the floor next to me stroking my hair and looking at me lovingly.
“Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to come and see Grace,” I lament.
“I don’t think she’ll be speaking to me for a while, which is honestly fine by me because I don’t want to speak to her for a while either,” he responds.
“Christian…” I protest lightly.
“Baby, I’m not perfect. I know that. You aren’t either. We accept each other. We understand that. We made some stupid mistakes. We’ve accepted the consequences of them, made amends and moved on. My mother is taking all of the bad that she sees in all of the couples of this generation and she’s putting it on our shoulders because of our mistake. How could she feel that berating us and making us feel any worse than we already do is going to be any more productive than what we did to each other? What’s more, she’s angrier at me for comparing us to her and Carrick than she is about anything else. I’m sure of it. You and I—we love hard, and we’re gonna fight hard. I accept that now. My mother can’t, and I don’t have time to hold her hand through this. I need to be holding yours.”
“But baby, she’s your mother.”
“I understand and appreciate that, but this is our marriage. Until she can understand that and stop wallowing in her own anger, I don’t know what to tell her. I know we fucked up… big! Both of us! I can take her letting me have it. I’ve got a strong chest and broad shoulders. I can’t take her doing that to you—especially after she knew what I had already put you through! No! It’s unacceptable!” He’s getting angry and I don’t like it.
“Okay,” I say, stroking his cheek. “Okay.”
“I want to take you home. I want to plan our wonderful weekend and not think about anything else that’s causing us grief.”
“I’d like that very much,” I whisper. He stands and helps me to my feet, but the moment I try to stand on my own, the room spins.
“That’s it!” He scoops me up in his arms bridal style and I don’t bother to protest. I wrap my arms around his neck and allow him the comfort of carrying me. “Where’s the nearest exit?” He says sharply to Chuck. He starts to lead us towards the back door where I know the car is parked anyway. Over his shoulder, I get a glimpse of Grace sorrowfully watching him carry me away. I can’t be concerned about her right now. I need to be concerned about my husband. I lay my head on his shoulder, caressing his nape with one hand and his chest with the other, silently thanking him for being my knight in shining armor ready to rescue me from all attacks, both foreign and domestic.
“Oh, Christian, this is beautiful!” I exclaim when he shows me the pictures of the vacation houses at the Suncadia Resort. It’s only about an hour and a half from Seattle and the homes are spectacular—quaintly decorated like my Montana escape, but on a much larger scale. The house we’re staying in has five bedrooms, a large kitchen with an island and granite countertops, a huge great room with glass doors and floor to ceiling windows, an indoor/outdoor fireplace that opens into a huge back porch and deck that spans the back of the house and houses the hot tub. The backyard and fire pit open right into the lush and beautiful pastures and forests. Like I said, it’s just like my Montana cabin, only on a much, much grander scale. Also, there is a connected guest house with full accommodations
“Look at this great room. It’ll be perfect!” I croon. “Will we all be staying in this house? It says that it sleeps 15.”
“It sleeps 15, yes, but not comfortably, so I reserved two more houses almost just like it. Everyone who decides to stay will be comfortable.”
“Did you invite Grace and Carrick?” I ask cautiously.
“I informed my father that they were invited, but it’s completely up to her if they want to come.” I nod. I won’t press the issue.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea, Christian,” I say, curling into his lap and kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“So, we’ve got the planning out of the way and the invites. It’s still a little early. What would you like to do?”
“Hmm, I want to watch TV,” I tell him.
“TV?” he says, surprised. “We never watch TV.”
“Well, tonight we are. I’ve even managed to procure some popcorn from Gail, you know—the yellow stuff with the butter and you eat it at the movies…”
“I know what popcorn is, Butterfly,” I respond, mocking irritation at her teasing.
“Good. I’ll make the popcorn. You go push whatever magic buttons you have to push to make the television appear and I’ll be in to choose our movie.”
“You’re choosing the movie, too?” he asks.
“Yes, I’m choosing the movie, too. Now, scoot.” He leaves his study and wanders off to the bedroom while I go to the kitchen. Gail has revealed to me where the never-used air popper is and I plug it in. I load it with oil and popcorn and just as I retrieve the bowl from the cabinet, I feel it.
Something’s wrong. I don’t know what, but something’s wrong.
I drop the bowl and it shatters on the floor. I grab my stomach, attempting to hold my babies. God… oh, God… please don’t let anything be wrong with my babies.
The shattering glass brought people from all directions—Christian, Jason, and Gail are all hovering over me in the kitchen.
“Baby, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?” Christian is frantic.
“I don’t know!” I wail, holding my stomach. There it goes again. Oh, God, I’m going to die if I lose my babies!
“Ana, listen to me,” Gail’s voice is calm. “Are you in pain?” I shake my head.
“No. No.” I’m scared. What the hell is happening?
“Listen to me, Ana. I need you to calm down. Are you feeling any cramping or discomfort? Any pressure, pulling?” I shake my head frantically. “None of that?” I’m still shaking my head. “What are you feeling?” I point at my stomach. I don’t know what this is and I’m scared shitless. “Okay, okay, where are you feeling whatever it is you’re feeling?”
“H-here… and he-here… and here…” I’m trying to tell her where the feelings are, but I can’t concentrate.
“May I?” she asks and I nod. What can she tell me? I need to go to the hospital, don’t I? She puts her hands on my stomach and we wait. It seems like forever, but we wait… and it happens again… and again. I jump and start crying again. What it is? Tell me what it is.
“Is that what you felt?” Gail asks and I nod, crying while Christian holds my hand. “Oh, Child,” Gail says, smiling while reaching for Christian’s free hand. She puts it on my stomach and covers it with her own. And there it is again—blam!
“There’s nothing wrong. Your babies are moving!” she says with a wide smile. Christian gasps and falls to his knees, placing both hands on my belly… and they move again.
“That’s what this is?” I ask, still a little horrified.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Gail confirms. “They’re healthy, most likely hungry, and saying ‘hello.’”
“They feel like they’re playing soccer in there,” I whine, trying to calm down. “Why didn’t Mandy tell me about this? Or Dr. Culley?”
“They probably thought you already knew! Nobody told you the babies would move?” Gail questions. Christian is still in his own world with the babies.
“Well, Yeah, but… I thought ‘quiver, shiver, shake,’ I didn’t think ‘bam!’” I sound like a toddler. I look down at Christian and he has laid his head on my belly. His eyes are closed and his hands are still on either side. He looks like he’s floating in ecstasy. The soccer players are still kicking away and his copper curls respond to every jolt. I cup his head on my belly, gently running my fingers through his feather-soft tresses and completely forgetting about my earlier angst. Jason holds Gail close to him as I stroke my husband’s hair and he bonds with our children while kneeling on the kitchen floor.
It took a while, but our two little soccer players finally calmed long enough for Christian to get off the floor and release my stomach. Gail has cleaned the glass for me and made a large bowl of buttered popcorn for us to take to our room and watch the movie. She even suggested two large glasses of cola to make it authentic. I carry the popcorn while Christian carries the sodas back to our room.
After getting comfortable on the bed, I begin searching through the on-demand choices through our satellite provider. Christian has one arm around my waist and the other on our babies while he’s kissing my shoulder.
“You’re remarkable,” he says softly. “You’re growing life inside of you. It’s amazing. Healthy children alive and moving inside of you… inside my wife… my beautiful wife. It’s amazing!” I don’t know how to respond…
“You had a part in this miracle, too,” I say. “These are your children, too.”
“I had the easy part,” he tells me. “I got to make love to the most beautiful woman in the world, and we created life.” He kisses me gently on the lips. “Thank you, Anastasia. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too, Christian,” I breathe. Again, I feel the conviction of what I could have lost with that stunt I pulled with those possible donors. I’m going to feel that burn in my heart for quite some time. It’s good that I am. It will be a constant reminder not to be so careless and selfish in the future. “I want you to know that no matter what happens I will always be with you. Whoever this guy is, whatever he’s after, we’ll catch him—and if we don’t… I will always be with you.” I close my eyes and put my forehead on his.
“Thank you, baby,” he says. “I won’t let you down, and I will always be by your side. Don’t ever forget that.” We kiss again and seal our promise to one another. “Now, what do you have in store for me?” I search the menu and, finding what I am looking for, I choose my movie.
“Pocahontas!” he laughs. I smile and nod. “Grandmother Willow?”
“Grandmother Willow,” I confirm as I reach for the popcorn.
The beans have now decided that they like to wake Mommy up in the middle of the night with a rousing game of soccer for their adoring fans. Like clockwork, somewhere around two or three in the morning, they’re taking off down the field headed for the goal… and I’m wide awake. The first two nights, Christian slept through it and I sat up until they calmed down and then crawled back into bed with Christian. By Wednesday night, they were having none of it.
“Please, Beans, please settle down. Mommy is so tired,” I whine quietly. I’m lying on the chaise in our bedroom, rubbing my stomach and trying not to wake Christian. They calm down for a moment and I feel myself slipping back into slumber, too tired to move back to the bed. Just when it feels like I’m going to fall asleep, one of them starts kicking again, which causes the other to kick since they’re in such close quarters.
“Oooohhhh, the game is on,” I lament rubbing my face and feeling completely forlorn.
“Well, that answers my question.” I’m too tired to lift my head to confirm that my husband is now awake and standing behind me. “I was going to ask what you were doing over here until I saw that you were asleep, or I thought you were asleep. The beans are busy, I take it.”
“Every night this week,” I say, and I almost want to cry because I’m so tired.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks concerned.
“Because the first two nights, they were just a little restless and then they calmed down and I could go right back to sleep. Tonight, they just won’t settle.”
“Maybe they’re getting you prepared for the 2am feedings,” he says, before sitting behind me. “Listen, baby. When they wake you up in the middle of the night, you need to wake me up, too. There’s going to be two of them and you’re going to need help… okay?” I nod, but what about tonight? He stands and holds his hand out to me. “Let’s see if we can get these babies back to sleep.”
I take his hand and he leads me back to bed. After tucking me in, he slides down the bed so that his face is right next to the two little soccer players.
“Hello in there,” he says sweetly in his cool, baritone voice. The beans respond immediately. “This is your dad. You may not have heard a lot from me before, but you’re going to hear a lot from me now. This is not a good time to keep your mom awake, so I really need the two of you to settle down so that she can get some sleep.” He rubs my belly sweetly and they appear to be settling. The little traitors! I’ve been rubbing them for what seems like hours!
“Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago. There was this guy and his name was John Smith. He was about to get on a big ship and sail across the ocean to the new world. Now, to us, it ain’t so new, because it’s America, but back then, it hadn’t been discovered by the English, yet, so it was called he New World.” John Smith… he’s telling the beans the story of Pocahontas. I listen as he recites the cartoon to the best of his ability, his recitation as incorrect from the cartoon as the cartoon is from actual history. I fall asleep that night just as he is giving a detailed description of Grandmother Willow.
“A beautiful flowing willow tree placed on the edge of the river so that her roots planted firmly in the soil, but her branches flowed over the river’s edge creating a cocoon. She has a kind face melded into the tree’s sturdy bark and a sweet and comforting voice that bestows wisdom upon those fortunate enough to seek her counsel. Today’s lucky pupil is a young native called Pocahontas. She is a petite thing with lovely eyes and long, dark hair—very energetic and strong-willed, beautiful and freethinking, just like your mother…”
Gail and I had a wonderful time Thursday planning the menu for the party. Christian has secured two more cooks and a couple of servers to help out with the party as he’s certain that I will overdo it if he doesn’t insist that I have help. He’s right, of course.
We load up the SUV’s on Friday morning and head to Roslyn, Washington. Christian, Gail and I ride with Jason and Chuck while Ben and Chance drive the SUV loaded with our luggage and food. During the ride, Christian tells me about the progress in Operation Wonder Asshole, as he calls it and lets me know that Barney is now DiPignano at his own request. He corrected me on Barney’s shrinking and informed me that DiPignano has shed his glasses and now wears suits and ties to work. According to Christian, he now looks more like a GQ model and, as it turns out, is “one cocky son-of-a-bitch.”
I never would have pegged him for cocky. He’s always been so sweet and polite. I mean, sure, he almost accused me of sabotaging Christian’s company, but that’s only because he was reading a computer program that was reading everyone’s faces in the room and he didn’t have all the information. I took it personally at first, but only because I was so sensitive about the whole thing. Once I realized what was going on, I completely understood his conclusions. He did clear me after all. I would like to think this whole thing doesn’t have anything to do with me, but I know better.
About an hour and a half east of Seattle in the beautiful hilly terrain is the Suncadia Resort. The vacation houses that Christian rented are actually beautiful luxury homes on a private cul-de-sac just outside of the resort. The three homes we rented are all together and the only homes on this cul-de-sac. Gail and I explore the house and the grounds while the men empty the SUV’s.
It’s even more beautiful than it was in the pictures. The great room has plenty of space to host our little party and there are so many rooms that everyone could have stayed here if they wanted. Christian was right on comfort issue as some of them would have had to sleep in bunk beds hidden in the trestle between the main house and the guest house. The backyards of all three houses open into the forest and the golf course. It’s really very beautiful and peaceful here and for one weekend, I get to forget about hackers and people looking to destroy my husband’s legacy and tear our family apart.
The two soccer players are extremely busy today with Mommy running to and fro setting things up for the party and preparing all of my favorite dishes—well, supervising the preparation of all my favorite dishes, anyway, in a beautiful gourmet kitchen. Mr. Grey has scolded me several times not to overdo it, so I’m forced to take it easy and delegate a lot of the duties. I can do that as long as these bimbos keep their eye on the food and off my husband. One of them ruined the bruschetta for staring at Christian. How do you ruin bruschetta? When the second tray of baguettes comes out overly browned and too hard to use, I just lose it.
“Baby, it’s okay. I’ll send Jason or Charles for more bread,” Christian says trying to appease me. She’s standing there with her head down and her hands clasped in front of her, looking all bruised like I’m some pampered wife abusing her over French bread.
“That’s not it, Christian,” I tell him while she’s standing there. “I can make my own bruschetta without a problem. It takes a minute or two to slice the baguettes, five minutes to brown and brush the bread, a few minutes to put the tomato and basil topping on and they’re done. She burned two loaves of French bread because she’s busy looking at you.”
Christian looks over at the blonde hussy who has the nerve to flutter her eyelashes at him while I’m standing there. Without another word, he pulls out his phone, calls up to the resort and asks if there’s someone else that can come to the house and help with the party preparations as the person they sent is so busy flirting with the host that she’s burning the food. She looks utterly crestfallen when Christian has Ben sit in the great room with her while we wait for her replacement to come. When her replacement arrives, a manager arrives with him.
Him… Christian is not pleased.
“I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Grey,” the manager says. “I’ve provided four fresh loaves of French bread to replace the loaves Henrietta ruined.”
“Thank you,” I say, taking the French bread and going right to the kitchen. I don’t even want to be a part of the discussion. I don’t care if Henrietta leaves, the guy leaves, or they both leave. Christian is the one that wanted to hire help for today and I can’t even get someone to help me cook that won’t flirt with my husband. I’m just finishing slicing the first batch of baguettes when the young man comes into the kitchen. I guess it’s decided that he’s staying.
“Where do you need me, Ma’am?” he asks. I sigh.
“Please brush the oil onto these slices and put the in the oven for five minutes.” I stress the five so that I don’t get more burned bruschetta!
“Baby, you can let them handle it from here…” Christian tries to get me out of the kitchen.
“I’ll leave when my baguettes are browned,” I tell him firmly. “I agreed not to overdo it, Christian, but this is part of the fun of Food and Libations for me, and she almost ruined it. Burned French bread…” I say the last part with disgust under my breath. After a few minutes, Gail breaks the tension with her announcement.
“Well, you’ll be happy to know that the potatoes are finished and they are perfect!” Gail presents a large tray of our signature cheesy garlic smashed potatoes and they look utterly divine. My heart is a little lighter seeing her beautiful crusted creation and I smile widely.
“Thank you, Gail,” I say, actually getting a little misty. Am I really going to cry over potatoes?
“Okay, that’s it. I want you out of here, now. Gail, I trust you to make sure that everything is prepared to Ana’s specifications. I’m taking her to the deck for some not-so-public displays of affection,” Christian is dragging me from the kitchen.
“My baguettes!” I protest.
“Are browned perfectly, ma’am,” the young man shows me a tray of beautifully browned French bread. “I’ll make sure the other batch is exactly the same.” A tear falls from my eye.
“Thank you,” I whimper. He frowns.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Did I do something wrong?”
“It’s not you,” Christian says. “It’s the babies.” He tucks me under his arm and leads me to a large chair on the back deck. Sitting down in the seat, he guides me to his lap and places a large Afghan over both of us. I weep a bit on his shoulder and when the sniffling is done, he places tender kisses on my cheek and neck that soon become more intimate and passionate. Before I know it, we’re necking like two teenagers. He can kiss so well. He’s rubbing my back and my thighs, my hips while I’m caressing his chest and his face. We kiss until our lips are numb and I feel much better about letting Gail carry on with the cooking.
I don’t know how much time has passed with me and my husband on the deck lost in each other’s kiss, but we soon decide that we should get ready for the party. I haven’t spent any real time with my friends for a while and I’ll be glad to see them all and catch up on what’s been going on in their lives.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/
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