Happy Birthday to Connie!
Happy New Year to everyone else!
My Facebook followers probably know that it’s been a busy week for me. Although I didn’t put it on my author’s page, it’s on my personal page that one of my sons got married on New Year’s Eve, so it’s been nonstop since the 31st. I’m still recuperating from the activities and the partying, but extremely happy to have a wonderful new daughter in my life. So it truly is a blessed new year for me! On with the goodies!
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. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Chapter 26—Cleaning Up Old Dirt
It’s not long after brunch was done that some guests started to leave, while others began to arrive. Luma is back on Sunday afternoon to see Pops after having spent most of the evening with them the night before. I think Luma might be sweet on my grandfather. There’s a significant age difference there, but hell, she might be good for him. My only concern is that her husband died of prostate cancer and now my grandfather is sick. Okay, change of thought… I can’t even consider right now the prospect of Pops dying.
“Hello, Luma,” Butterfly says, kissing her on the cheek. “It was so late when we got home. I’m sorry we missed you last night.”
“It’s alright,” she says sweetly. “It was late… and I had to get the girls home to bed. They played with little Harry so long…” She waves her hands in the air to emphasize the time.
“Where are they now?” Butterfly asks.
“They are with Marcia right now,” she says. “She was taking Maggie to play and ask if Mariah and Celida could go. So I come to see Burt and Herman.” She smiles in the direction of my grandfather and uncle.
“It’s lovely to see you again, Luma,” Pops holds his hands out to her and she hugs him warmly, but when it comes time to greet Herman, she’s suddenly shy. Son of a gun. It’s Uncle Herman that she’s sweet on! He greets her just as sweetly, but her blush doesn’t get by me. Oh, poor Luma. Uncle Herman is nursing a broken heart several decades in the making. I don’t think that’s an endeavor you’re going to want to undertake.
“Christian?” Butterfly’s voice brings me out of my contemplations. “You’re frowning. What on earth are you thinking about?” I shake my head.
“Too soon about work,” I lie. “There are some unpleasant decisions that I have to make tomorrow.” Not a lie.
“Well, let it wait until tomorrow,” she scolds, putting her arms around me. She’s wearing this royal blue maxi-dress that makes her look so fucking scrumptious. It’s enough to change my thought process.
“Mr. Christian, Ms. Ana, thank you for letting me stay. I had a lot of fun.” Sophie’s little voice sounds very melancholy as she says goodbye. Butterfly releases me and goes to embrace Sophie.
“It was so nice having you, Sophie. I know that twins will just love their bears. We’ll do it again sometime, okay?”
“I hope so,” she says sadly. “Daddy was right. You really are a nice lady.” Butterfly looks fondly at Jason, who refuses to make eye contact with her.
“Don’t tell your dad I said so, but he’s a big softy.” Butterfly winks at her and gives her a final hug before passing her to Gail.
“Bye, Pumpkin,” Gail says softly. “We’ll have our weekend again soon, okay?” Sophie clearly wants to cry as she throws her arms around Gail’s neck and hugs her tightly.
“Bye, Ms. Gail. I’ll see you soon.” She turns to me and doesn’t quite know what to do, so I kneel down to her height.
“You can come over whenever you want,” I tell her. Her eyes grow large.
“Really?” she says in awe.
“Really,” I reply. This is Jason’s home. His daughter should know that she is welcome anytime.
“Your house is really nice… and I want to see the babies after they’re born.” She still seems like she’s asking permission.
“I’m sure they’ll want to see you, too,” I say with a smile. She hugs me tight around my neck. I’m thrown off only for a moment, but then realize that this is a child—one that apparently needs all the love she can get. I wrap my arms around her and return her embrace. My mother gasps and clings to my father. Even Charles and Jason are a bit surprised.
“Thank you, Mr. Christian,” she says into my neck, and I feel a tear fall on my shoulder.
“You’re welcome, Sophie.” She pulls away and quickly wipes her tear. “We’ll see you next time, okay?” I say, intending to give her hope. She smiles and nods hard. Mission accomplished. Clinging to her bear that she built, she takes Jason’s hand and he leads her through the kitchen and down the hallway, no doubt to turn her over to her waiting mother. Butterfly and I just look at each other, no doubt thinking the same thing.
That will never be our children!
“So what’s so important that it needed my immediate attention?” Ros asks when she comes into my office. I summoned her very shortly after I got to Grey House this morning as there are a few issues that require my immediate attention.
“Do we have any deals on the table with Mulhaven?” I ask. “I know we had something cooking a few months back, but I can’t recall if we got them off the ground yet.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t know,” she confirms. “We only have a couple of testers, I think, so you wouldn’t be bothered with them until we finished the marketing research.”
“Kill them. Kill anything we have in the hopper. We won’t be doing business with Mulhaven.” She looks a little shocked.
“Okay, consider it done. May I ask why?”
“It’s personal,” I say, with no explanation.
“Got it. He came on to Ana.” God, am I that predictable?
“Worse than coming on to Ana?” she asks appalled. I explain what happened at the Adopt-a-Family Affair.
“Okay, he’s got balls, but this will put you in a bad light with potential mergers, Christian. It’s an act of bad faith.”
“No, it won’t. A ballroom full of people, most of them business contacts, watched as that man had to be escorted away from our table. Anyone who thinks I’m acting in bad faith after being insulted and possibly humiliated in public and in front of my wife by a collaboration hopeful is someone that I don’t want to do business with anyway.”
“Be certain about this, Christian,” Ros says, taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of my desk. “You’re setting a precedent here. What he said was insulting at best, a blow to your ego at worst. You’re sending a message that if you don’t kiss Christian Grey’s ass, you don’t do business with Christian Grey.” I raise my gaze to her.
“I’m surprised at you, Ros,” I say, clasping my hands on the desk in front of me. “This isn’t your first position in the business world. How many times have you had to kowtow to some asshole to get what you wanted? A raise? A promotion? The deal? The bid?” I await her answer. She sighs.
“More times than I liked,” she replies.
“Well, I’m lucky. I’m not that person anymore. People have to kowtow to me now, and I don’t even make them do that unless I feel like they deserve it. Most of the time, all I ask for is respect—for me as a man, for my station, for my position and when applicable, for my wife. This fucker knows that I’m one of the people that he’s supposed to kowtow to, and he broke all of those rules. It’s that simple. I don’t know if it was the alcohol talking, his age, or the fact that he’s been in business longer than I have, but all of those things should have sent a glaring message to him considering that I’m much more successful than he is in far less time. I don’t belittle other businessmen or make them feel like shit unless they have it coming because the toes you step on today may be connected to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow. No, I’ll be sending a louder message if I continue to do business with him than if I cease.” She nods.
“I see your point and I hope you’re right,” she says.
“You know I’m right, that’s why you stay. How many people and companies have I blackballed for far less offenses than this?”
“Quite a few.”
“And what’s the result? The only people who have succeeded in ‘coming at me’ have been personal attacks and even none of them have succeeded in carrying out their plans.”
“Duly noted,” she says. “Anybody else’s life you want me to ruin?” she adds with a bit of mirth.
“Those issues we discussed… with the subsidiaries. How is that coming along?”
“So far, some good, some bad. The sweat-house and experimental drug things were easily handled. Unfortunately, those things aren’t so uncommon in those areas and certainly aren’t illegal. You just don’t want your name attached to them in the states. The prostitution, though…” Shit, I knew it.
“What?” I ask.
“Those governments want their palms greased,” she says. “In some countries, the government is part of those rings. They get paid to keep their mouths shut, sometimes to facilitate easy trafficking, and that’s what they want from you.” I can’t pay those fuckers. They’ll never go away!
“Find out as much as you can about who we would specifically pay for that,” I tell her. “How much are they talking?”
“Millions,” she answers appalled. Not too much. “Christian, you’re not actually considering…”
“No,” I interrupt her question before she asks it. “Have we met?” Her lips form a thin line.
“Christian, I know that you’re a powerful man, but foreign governments… do you really want to take on that kind of opponent?”
“It’s not like I have a choice, Ros,” I reply. “Had they come to me with charges and accusations, legally telling me what needed to be done and what the consequences were for my business and probably myself, I could’ve gotten my real lawyers involved along with the American Embassy and tried to find a way out of this. Instead, they resort to extortion. I didn’t choose them as an adversary. They chose me. So before I roll over to their demands or consider throwing myself under the bus, I need to know what my options are.”
“You know that I seldom second-guess you on big business decisions, but this—I truly have to say that you should sincerely think about this before you leap.”
“That’s what research is for. Now how about we stop discussing this and you get me the research to make an educated decision? Don’t worry about me, Ros. I have friends in high… and low places.” She sighs.
“Very well, but I still don’t know about this.” She stands and walks to the door. “Just warn me when something really bad is about to happen, okay?” I pick up my desk phone.
“Don’t I always?” I dial out to Andrea as Ros leaves.
“Andrea, see if you can get Fred Wilson on the line for me.”
“Yes, sir.” I turn to my laptop and open the spreadsheet of the miscellaneous subsidiaries. We managed to turn a profit with more than a few of them—the reputable ones. We’ve turned some of the sour ones around and we’ve managed to get rid of all of the corrupt ones. Unfortunately, as I have just seen, they still manage to leave a stench behind. I sort the list and copy the corrupt businesses to a separate spreadsheet. I’ll have to put Allen on the task of seeing what my biggest penalties could be in these countries and if any of them include jail time. Jason and Welch are in a monthly meeting of the security staff, so I’ll just have to wait until they get out to run all of this by them.
“Mr. Wilson, on line one, Mr. Grey,” Andrea tells me through the intercom. I pick up the line.
“Hello, Frederick, how are you?”
“Cut that Frederick crap, Christian. We’ve known each other way too long. Doing great. How about you? How’s Ana? She looked really good at the Affair. Everything okay with her health and the babies?”
“Yes, she’s coming along very well. We’re both very pleased with her ongoing recovery. We have an appointment with the neurologist later and we are expecting a good report.”
“That’s wonderful news, Christian,” he says, sincerely. “We both know how life can take a turn at a moment’s notice and…” He trails off. He lost his first wife and the mother of his children in a car accident. He’s remarried, now, but you can tell that he’s never fully recovered from the loss.
“I know, Fred,” I say, sympathetically. “If anyone can understand the horror that I went through waiting for my wife to wake up for 12 days, I know that it’s you.”
“Yes…” he says, fighting his emotions. “I’m glad that Ana is okay. I really am.” I can hear the smile in his voice.
“Thank you, Fred,” I respond. “She’s actually why I’m calling you today.”
“Oh? Is something wrong?”
“I’m afraid it is. At the Affair, Courtney came on really strong.”
“You’re kidding?” he says. “I thought she knew better than to try that! Everybody in a 300-mile radius and probably beyond knows that your devotion to Ana can’t be shaken. I won’t lie—I want my granddaughter to catch a big fish, but not one that’s already married!” I know that’s why he brings her to these charity events and red carpet affairs, but the way she’s acting, the only thing she’s likely to land is a sugar daddy—or momma. The ridiculous melon display should have been proof enough that the evening wasn’t going to end well.
“I have a bit of a shocker for you,” I tell him. “She wasn’t coming on to me.”
“Well, who, then? Please tell me it wasn’t your father,” he says, his voice filled with dread.
“It’s worse than that, Fred. It was Ana.” There’s momentary silence on the line.
“What!?” He roars into the phone. “You must be mistaken. Christian, there’s just no way.”
“I’m sorry, Fred. I wish I were wrong, but if a man had come on to my wife like Courtney did, I’d be posting bail right now.” I hear him sigh heavily.
“Could this possibly be a misunderstanding?” he asks. He sounds like he’s almost pleading. Fred is very old-fashioned and somewhat narrow-minded. Learning that his granddaughter may be among the homosexual population is the last thing on his agenda.
“It was very clear,” I assure him. “My wife witnessed it, her best friend witnessed it, and I witnessed it. I did my best to distract her because we both thought Courtney’s intentions were towards me at first. I think I realized where here interests were before Ana did. Once Courtney made her desires clear, Ana looked to her best friend for confirmation—who, I might add, was the only one of us who verbally tried to discourage her advances. There’s no mistake, Fred. She was coming on to my wife.”
Fred is an old friend of the family and I’m only telling him this as a courtesy. My initial reaction towards anyone who makes advances at my wife is to squash them like a bug, but I’m trying to remember that I’m dealing with a female here—an unscrupulous, disrespectful, slutty female, but a female nonetheless.
“I’m sorry, Christian,” he says, his voice betraying his defeat. “I don’t even know what to say right now.”
“I just wanted to bring it to your attention. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to tell you how to handle something like this…”
“Oh, I have a few ideas, trust me,” he says, his voice now betraying his anger. “You’re positive there’s no way that you could be mistaken about this?”
“No doubt, whatsoever,” I assure him. “I was remiss to say anything as I’m not one to flippantly toss around accusations.”
“I know you’re not. I just wish with all my heart that there could have been a misunderstanding, but it’s obvious there is not.” Three knocks at my door let me know that Andrea needed my attention.
“Fred, I need you to hold on for just one minute.” Andrea sticks her head in the door. “What is it?”
“The front desk has been trying to call you, but as you know, your line rings to Luma’s desk when you’re on it.” I know what that means. Somebody’s here that I need to know about.
“Okay, give me a minute.” She nods once and leaves. I turn back to the phone call. “I hate to drop this bomb on you and leave, Fred, but I’ve really got to go. There’s something brewing in my lobby.”
“Nothing too serious, I hope,” he says.
“Nothing that I can’t handle. Thanks for hearing me out.”
“Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am that Courtney behaved that way. Please extend my apologies to Ana, for what it’s worth.”
“I’m sure she’ll appreciate that very much.” We say our pleasantries and end the call. I dial the three-digit extension to the lobby.
“Grey Enterprises, how can I help you?”
“Sir, there’s a woman at the front desk demanding to see you. I told her that she needed an appointment, but she started rambling on about possible criminal activity and calling the police and I know how you hate the publicity. Mr. Welch and Mr. Taylor are both in a meeting and they’ll be out shortly, but she demands to see you now. What should I do, sir? Should I call the police?”
“Who is this woman?” I ask.
“Her name is Janice Dodd.” Oh, fucking great. This must be Dodd’s wife. It would look bad if I just sent her away since I’m not supposed to have any idea what happened to her worthless husband.
“How should I know this woman?” I ask to throw her off the scent. “Please ask her.” I hear him ask her the question and she answers with a calm voice.
“She’s says Maurice Dodd is her husband.” I pause for a moment.
“Let her know that her husband doesn’t work here anymore.” I’m trying to stall until Jason and Welch get out of that damn meeting.
“She’s aware of that, sir. She says that she’s here to see you. She has some information that you may want and if you’re not interested, she says that she’ll take it to the police.” I sigh heavily. I can’t afford to let her leave without knowing what she knows.
“Have somebody frisk the bitch and bring her up to my office. Let her know that if she doesn’t want to submit to a search, then she can take the information that she has and get the fuck out of my building. The last unknown bitch that got into my office tried to kill me!” I slam the phone down. Just what I need, Dodd’s nosey wife sniffing around. She has information. I’m dying to know what it is, but not enough to lose my cool. My hands are clean. I have no idea where that fucker is. Highly-trained government operatives took care of that for me, and when the government really doesn’t want you to be found, you’re not found.
What to do? Sit down and act natural. This woman comes marching into my building demanding to see me and acting like she has something to hold over my head, so let her show her cards. I’m not giving her shit. I turn my attention back to my laptop and the spreadsheets I was analyzing before I called Fred. They must have strip-searched her because it was a full twenty minutes before she showed up at my office with one of the security personnel from the front desk.
“Sir, Mrs. Dodd,” he says before he allows her into my office.
“Are Taylor and Welch still in that meeting?” I ask him.
“It just adjourned, sir. Would you like for me to send them in?”
“No. Please tell them to make sure that they’re both at their desks.” I know they can watch me easily from there and Jason can be here in moments if things get hairy.
“Would you like for me to stay, Sir?” he asks.
“I don’t think it’s necessary, but stay close. I don’t know this woman and I don’t know what she wants.” I say it loud enough for her to hear me even though she’s not in the office yet. He nods and gestures her inside. She’s an attractive woman, about my age, well-dressed. Her black hair is pulled back into the tightest bun I’ve ever seen and her lips are a deep burgundy, like dark blood. Women wear those colors to draw men’s attention to their lips. Fuck, I hope she doesn’t intend to come on to me. That’s the last fucking thing I need.
“Mrs. Dodd,” I say with formality as I rise from my chair, “what do you want?”
“Well,” she says, somewhat affronted, “it’s nice to meet you, too, Mr. Grey!”
“You’ll have to forgive my lack of tact and hospitality,” I say coolly. “I’m not accustomed to unknown women pushing their way into my place of business, bullying my staff, making demands, and tossing threats to call the police for God only knows what reason.” I glare at her for a moment and wait for a rebuttal. “Now, like I said, what do you want? You have to know that your husband hasn’t worked for me for weeks, so why are you here?”
“That’s just it, Mr. Grey, I didn’t know that my husband wasn’t working for you anymore,” she says, flatly. I furrow my eyebrows and feign surprise. “My husband left for work one day—a Thursday or a Friday—and he never came home.” Now I don’t even have to feign surprise. If I came up missing, Butterfly would know the day, the hour, probably the minute, and the color of my underwear that day.
‘You don’t know the last day you saw your husband?” I ask appalled.
“It’s been a trying time, Mr. Grey,” she nearly hisses. “Nobody seems to have any information on him. I didn’t want to come here until I called and discovered that he didn’t work here anymore.”
“Which one is it, Mrs. Dodd?” I ask impatiently. “You told my staff that you did know that he didn’t work here anymore. You came into my office and said that you didn’t know he didn’t work here. Now, you say you called and found out that he didn’t work here, which means you did know that he didn’t work here. I don’t have time for games, so if this is your purpose, you can leave now.”
“I don’t think you want me to leave, Mr. Grey,” she says, taking a seat that I never offered her. “Grey House doesn’t need to be caught up in any kind of scandal.” I shrug.
“Scandal? This isn’t a scandal. Men leave their lives all the time. Why should I care? Why should anybody care, but you?”
“Humor me for a moment,” she says, crossing her legs. “When was the last time you saw my husband?” I fold my arms.
“Probably at one of the department head meetings,” I reply. “He was very inconsequential to me. I only deal with my department heads when I need them to do something for me. Other than that, I don’t speak to them on a daily basis, if that’s what you mean.” She purses her lips.
“How did you discover that my husband didn’t work for you anymore?”
“Are you leading a police investigation? Because if you’re not, I don’t have to answer any of your questions.”
“Do you have something to hide, Mr. Grey?” she accuses. “I’m only trying to find the whereabouts of my husband.” I lean on my desk.
“I don’t have anything to hide, lady, I just don’t like you. You strut into my building like I owe you something, and now you’re in my office interrogating me. Nobody does that to me, not even the goddamn police unless my attorney is present. You didn’t come to me saying ‘Mr. Grey, I need to find some information on my husband; can you help me?’ No, you came in here demanding answers and making threats… I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Get the fuck out of my office. Go to the police. Go to the President. Go wherever the fuck you need to go to find your husband. Good luck.” I sit down in my seat and look at my laptop again.
“You’re getting awfully testy for a man who has nothing to hide,” she says snidely. Lady, I’ve played this game with the best of them, and you can forget it. You want information from me. Whatever you got is worthless. I raise my eyes to her again, still sitting comfortably in the seat across from my desk and making no effort to move.
“I don’t think you heard me,” I say, firmly. “I said ‘get the fuck out of my office’ and you’re still here. That means that I can have you forcibly removed.” I push the intercom button on the phone. “Andrea, is security still out there?”
“Yes, sir,” Andrea’s disembodied voice informs me.
“Mr. Grey, please,” Mrs. Dodd says. “I only want information. I just want to know who the last person was that saw my husband.”
“Would you like for me to send them in, Mr. Grey?” Andrea asks.
“Stand by,” I tell her. I turn my attention back to Mrs. Dodd. “The next time you’re simply trying to get information from someone, you might want to try asking before you start throwing demands and threats. I don’t respond well to that shit and I don’t know anybody who does.” I stand and straighten my suit jacket. “Your husband left here one day and a few days later, our human resources department received an email that he wasn’t coming back… something about finding somewhere that appreciated him more. Now, I’m not of the practice of chasing down employees that leave my employ with no notice, but as he was a department head, I did investigate further to see what may have happened. Replacing a department head is a bit more difficult than replacing your average employee. I have someone standing in for him, but I still haven’t found anyone to replace him.”
“And what did your investigation reveal?” she asks with little interest. Why is she here? Does she know what was going on?
“It appears that he has been submitting ideas for products for the last few years and none of them made it out of the planning stages. I reviewed a few of them, and they were unusable. Many of them have already been in production for decades. Others had no demand or usefulness whatsoever. If this was his issue, I’m not sure who would appreciate that more.” I activate the recording devices in my office to alert Taylor and Welch that we might have a problem. “I couldn’t find anything else. He was the director of planning. There were no problems in the department and the only thing I could find were these ridiculous inventions that fell dead before I even saw them.”
“I see,” she says, crossing her legs again and examining me.
“Is there anything else, Mrs. Dodd?” I ask her. “I’m quickly losing my patience.” She folds her arms.
“I’m an excellent judge of character, Mr. Grey, and you’re hiding something,” she accuses.
“I’m a billionaire with countless enemies. I’m hiding a lot. What’s your point?” I’m not giving you anything.
“I think you know something about my husband’s disappearance.” I glare at her.
“Disappearance?” I repeat. “I didn’t know your husband was missing until you came into my office and informed me. You say that you’re a good judge of character, but you have apparently misjudged me if you think you can walk into my office and start dropping unfounded accusations. If I were you, I’d be very careful with that kind of thing.” My voice is controlled and I’m waiting for her next move.
“I have some information that I think would interest the police quite a bit,” she says confidently.
“Then go tell them,” I respond.
“I think you might want to hear it first,” she taunts.
“Well, I don’t have all fucking day,” I hiss. “Either tell me or get the fuck outta here.” She smiles and she reminds me a lot of the pedophile when she does it. Suddenly, I don’t want to be in the same space with her. She’s making my skin crawl.
“I know that my husband was part of a group that was taking money from you. Since that issue hasn’t made the news yet, my theory is that you found out about it and got rid of him. I don’t really care that he’s gone, but I do want my share of what he would have gotten if you hadn’t… made him disappear.”
This woman is insane. Even though she’s right, she’s got the balls of a gorilla. I sit down again, confidently lean forward on my desk and fold my hands.
“What do you think this is, the Godfather?” I ask her incredulously. “We live in the real world, lady. You don’t just make people disappear. However, let me enlighten you on something. You just walked into the office of a multibillionaire and confessed to knowledge that your husband had been stealing from me—mistake number one. In addition to that, you have accused me of being the one that made him ‘disappear’ based on this knowledge—mistake number two. On top of that, you’re trying to blackmail me to get money this man has stolen from me—mistake number three. Let me inform you of the repercussions of all of your mistakes.
“First, if you don’t contact the police about his disappearance, I will, because he’s now a fugitive from justice. In addition, your knowledge of his actions makes you an accomplice, so you should probably contact an attorney. In cases like this, all of his and your assets will be seized, including the house you live in. If you have children, you might want to find other lodging for them.
“Second, if I was that Mafioso that made your husband disappear, what makes you think you would get out of here alive after threatening me? Third, you have the nerve to try to blackmail me after your weasel of a husband was stealing from me? You have again misjudged me. You have added to your offenses, Mrs. Dodd, because every conversation in this office is recorded.” All of the color leaves her face.
“Mr. Grey, of course, this is just a misunderstanding. We can come to some kind of agreement about this. I mean, they’re all just theories.” She is terrified.
“Oh, yes, we can come to an understanding. Prepare to be visited by the FBI.”
“The FB…” she trails off.
“Yes, the FBI. Nobody knew about the embezzlement from my company. We were careful to keep it out of the news. Your knowledge confirms that your husband was involved. The man responsible for stealing from my company has been arrested and apprehended by the FBI. There are many more offenses for which he has to answer and he will not turn over his accomplices. This man is a long-time enemy of mine and has come at me more than once, at one point almost having me killed. I’m not one-hundred percent certain that he’s not responsible for the accident that had my wife in a coma for two weeks!” Mrs. Dodd is now in horror. She’s small-time and had she played her cards right, she could have had me over a barrel, but the tables have turned.
“My guess, Mrs. Dodd, is that your sniveling little husband saw his opportunity to escape, took what he could and ran when it got too hot in the kitchen for him. Judging from your total lack of concern about his alleged disappearance, I can only guess that there’s no love lost on his part for leaving you behind. I would say that he’s probably sitting on a tropical beach somewhere sipping Mai Tais with a young, busty blonde on his lap!” I hiss. She frowns deeply.
“Contrary to what you would believe, Maurice loved me very much. How do you think I knew everything about this little plot? I could give you valuable information, Mr. Grey, information I know that you don’t have right now—plans concerning the future of your company.” I have to admit that I’m curious about what she has to offer.
“What could you possibly tell me that I don’t already know? We have the mastermind in custody.”
“I know that there was someone else,” she says, confidently, ready to bargain her way out of the hot seat. “There was another player. He held all the cards. He was the one who made all of the decisions and Maurice was trying to get close to him. It’s not the one you have in custody. I know who that is. It’s someone else. Maurice wasn’t sure, but he knew that the second in command was answering to someone else.” My lips curl into a smile. I know who she’s talking about. I’ve already figured out that he had something to do with this once I left Detroit. This is no surprise. I just refuse to go on another wild goose chase, not right now.
“Mrs. Dodd, you’re telling me old news, and even if you weren’t, I don’t negotiate with extortionists. Now, I think it’s high time you take your treacherous, greedy, thieving ass out of my office, you wretched bitch. Taylor!”
Jason bursts into my office ready for action.
“Like I said, all conversations are recorded,” I remind her before I turn to Jason. “Get this worthless piece of trash out of my office before I forget I’m a gentleman!” I turn my attention back to the files on my laptop, intending to let Jason handle it from here.
“Ma’am!” Taylor says forcefully, showing as much disdain for her as I have, if not more. She begins to speak and I put my hand up to silence her.
“Mrs. Dodd, don’t say another word as whatever you say could be used against you in court… or just serve to piss me off further!” I raise a hateful glare to her, causing her to shiver and quickly leave my office. Jason comes back in and closes the door after he escorts her to the elevator. I disengage the recording devices.
“What should I do?” I ask him.
“Call the feds,” he says. “As far as they know, you only knew about Myrick from the money transfers. All trails lead to him. He’s the only one who knows that he had accomplices and he’s not giving them up. You just got information from an outside source that the man who left your employ a few weeks ago was part of a plot to embezzle money from you. If you don’t report it, it looks bad.” I nod.
“Get Welch in here. He’s the expert and he’s the one who has had contact with the feds—him and that Brian asshole. It looks even stranger for me to make this call without consulting my head of corporate security.” Jason nods.
“Duly noted,” he says as he dials his cell. “Alex, I need you in the boss’s office.” He pauses for a moment then ends the call. “Five, four, three, two…” There’s a knock at my office door. I frown at Jason.
“Come in,” I call out. Welch opens the door and walks in.
“He was already on his way,” Jason informs me. I look up at Welch.
“I was on the elevator when the recording stopped,” he says. I give him the quick rundown of the impromptu meeting that I just had and Jason’s advice that followed. He rolls his eyes.
“Jason’s right, call the feds. One of them gave you his card, I know it.”
“How about three?” I said, going through my card file and giving him the three cards. He looks them over and hands one back to me.
“Call him. Tell him everything she said. Everything. Try to act surprised, but more angry than surprised, that she showed up.”
“That’ll be easy.” I look at my watch. “Butterfly’s appointment is in an hour and a half. Should I do this now?”
“You better call the authorities before she does. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was on her cell right now.” I sigh and sit down at my desk and dial the number.
Forty minutes later, I end the call with the FBI agent after having told him every tiny detail given to me by Mrs. Dodd. This is the first time that I’m hoping this asshole is dead right now. This is one situation that I don’t need to come back and bite me in the butt. There’s still nearly an hour to meet Butterfly at the hospital.
“Mr. Grey, Mr. Mulhaven is on line two. He’s been holding for twenty minutes.”
“Fucking hell! You gotta be kidding me!” I exclaim. It’s been disaster after disaster ever since I walked in this morning, but I have to admit that I created this disaster.
“Put him through, Andrea. If anybody else calls except for my wife, I’m gone for the day.”
“Yes, sir,” she says.
“Mulhaven… that dumpy fucker from the party this weekend?” Jason asks.
“One and the same,” I reply. I see line two blinking and I hit the speaker. “Grey!”
“Grey! What the hell are you trying to do here? We’ve got deals in the making and suddenly I get a call from that bitch under you telling me that all deals are off?” I point at the phone and look at Jason and Welch in shock. I just killed every deal I had with you and you’re calling me talking to me like this? I guess I was too quiet for too long, because that prompted him to shove his foot even further down his throat. “What’s the matter, Grey? Trying to get the wife’s permission to talk to me? Was she that bruised by the harmless ‘man talk’ on Saturday? Is that why you pulled out of our business deals?” Enough of this shit.
“As a matter of fact, no, you pompous, arrogant windbag. Although I am extremely livid that you disrespected my wife, I pulled out of any possible deals with you because you disrespected me—just like you’re doing right now. What the fuck ever gave you the idea that you could speak to me like this? Have you been sniffing glue or something? I’m the most powerful man on the west coast—one of the richest men in America… internationally even, and you thought it’d be a good idea to piss me off?
“Did the fact that I refused to argue with you in public cause you to mistake my kindness for weakness? Is that how you made your laughable fortune, by insulting and intimidating the weak? I don’t intimidate the weak, Mulhaven. I crush them! In this business, the weak don’t get insulted. They get eaten! And I’m the hungriest motherfucker you’ve ever met!
“I’d be an unmitigated fool to go into business with someone who doesn’t respect me and even more of a fool to even entertain the idea with someone that I didn’t respect in return. Neither GEH nor any GEH subsidiaries will be doing any business with you. As I have no reason to discuss anything with you from this point on, please remove this number and any other GEH information from your contacts. Have a good day.”
“Grey, wait!” He suddenly sounds desperate, as he should. He has just become my latest pet project. I was going to turn my focus to what Kavanaugh Media was doing these days, but this will be so much more fun. I almost hang up the phone, but pause for a moment. “You know how it is, Grey. It’s one big cock strut. Who’s the biggest rooster in the yard? I was just trying not to appear weak…”
“So your response was to blatantly make me seem weak? Like I can’t control my wife for lack of a better phrase? Have you seen that woman? If anybody could control me, she could, but she doesn’t—especially when it comes to matters of my business.”
“Grey, please. You’ll ruin me…” I don’t care and quite frankly, I don’t want to talk to this stubby little fat fuck anymore.
“You did fine before you met me, Mulhaven. You’ll do fine without me. Have a good day.” I end the call. His voice irks me and there’s no way that I plan to do business with that asshole anyway. “Let’s go meet my wife.”
My husband makes it to the hospital before Ben and I do. Then again, he was already in the city. I’m hoping that Dr. Hill gives me the “all clear” to go back to work. I’m anxious to get back to Helping Hands.
“Hey, Baby,” I say when I walk into the hospital and see him.
“Hey, Butterfly.” He leans down and kisses me tenderly. He looks a little worn out. “Are you okay?”
“It’s been a long day,” he says, looking at his watch. “I’m not going back into the office after your appointment. Have you had lunch yet?”
“Of course. You know I can’t keep these two waiting,” I say rubbing my stomach.
“Well, we’ll find something to do with our afternoon. Let’s go get some good news.”
“I’m all for that,” I say as we take the elevator to the neurology department.
“Any dizziness? Nausea besides what you’re used to with the pregnancy?” Dr. Hill says as he shines a light into my eyes.
“No,” I reply. “The wound sites bother me though. They hurt… itch sometimes.”
“Throbbing pain?” he asks, examining my wound site. I nod.
“Sometimes. It’s just a little… mostly an irritating little ache, though.”
“That’s normal. Alcohol with help with that,” he says. “When your hair grows back in, I would recommend some kind of vitamin ointment—on your head, not in your hair.” He puts the light in his pocket. “How about your memories? Any episodes? Are they coming back okay?”
“They’re coming back pretty quickly,” I tell him. “I remember the big things. It’s the small details that I’m still trying to fill in.”
“What’s the last thing you remember before you awoke?” he asks. I have to think for a moment.
“I remember Chuck—my bodyguard—coming at me in a haze of light. I think that was right before the other car hit us. I remember asking Christian ‘You’re going where?’” His head turns to me quickly. “I later discovered he went back to Detroit when all of this happened. I remember a really big fight with one of my best friends, but I’m sure that something else happened.”
“What gives you that idea?” Dr. Hill asks.
“We’ve never not been speaking… for over a decade now. Something else must have happened.” Dr. Hill looks over to Christian for guidance. Christian just shakes his head.
“There’s nothing missing, Dr. Hill,” he says. “I completely understand Butterfly’s reluctance to believe that one of her closest friends has just turned on her like this, but there’s nothing more to the story. The truth is that she’s telling you everything. She hasn’t done anything to Valerie. There isn’t anything additional to add to what she’s saying. She can’t remember anything else happening between her and Valerie because nothing else happened between her and Valerie. Valerie just snapped one weekend, and nobody knows why. Everybody saw it and nobody knows why. Valerie is dating my brother, and he almost skipped Thanksgiving with his family. He hasn’t skipped Thanksgiving with his family for as long as I’ve been Christian Grey, yet her irrational behavior almost caused him to skip this year.” Dr. Hill looks at me.
“As your doctor, I have to keep an eye on you and advise you on things that I think may be unhealthy for you. With a traumatic brain injury, I don’t think I need to tell you that stress is a definite no-no. If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you been friends with this woman?”
“About ten years,” I respond. Ten years, just gone down the drain for God only knows what reason.
“Ten years,” he repeats. “You’re not even thirty yet, so that means that you were teenagers when you met. Your life has changed. People change, Ana. That’s the big and the little of it. You’re not the same person that you were before; you can’t and don’t do the same things. You met in college—you’re not the same people anymore. Your life has changed significantly, much more significantly than hers. Even though you are both involved with very well-to-do men, you are an heiress now. I would venture to say that you do very little, if any, of the things that you used to do. Am I right?”
I nod helplessly. I know where this conversation is going, but I refuse to believe it. I just can’t wrap my mind around that concept.
“Everything that you once did requires significant changes for you to still be able to do them, correct?” I nod again. “This means that the person that you use to be to this woman, you’re not that person anymore. Sometimes, there is no explanation for bad behavior. Sometimes, people are just unhappy or jealous because they just can’t deal with the change. This may be what’s going on with your friend.” I simply refuse to believe that Valerie is just jealous. It has to be something else. “Have you considered that it may be something mental?” Is he serious?
“I’m a shrink. Of course, I thought about something mental!” I respond. “I told our mutual friend Maxie to try to talk to Val to see if something is going on with her. Could there be a chemical imbalance of some kind? Could she be falling into depression? Maxie was once my therapist and since Val has not yet turned on her, I thought that maybe she could get some answers and get to the bottom of this. I don’t understand what’s going on with her, but if she has some mental illness that makes it difficult or impossible to control her bad behavior, I wouldn’t want to desert her during this time. Even if she pushed me away, I wouldn’t allow it—but I don’t know what’s going on, so I can’t make a judgement call on the situation.” He shrugs.
“I’m a head doctor, but I’m not a shrink. Hopefully, your friend Maxie can help you all get to the bottom of this in terms of what’s causing her to act so strangely. You know it can be any number of different disorders or issues that could be causing this behavior.” He twists his lips and puts his hand on my shoulder. “It could also be that your friend is just plain jealous of you. These things happen. People’s lives change. What does your therapist say about this?”
“Not much of anything,” I tell him. “Everybody is in a bit of a conundrum about what’s going on with Valerie, so nobody can make any assumptions on what it could be. Ace is simply trying to help me deal with the change in our relationship and how it’s affecting me. Nobody knows what’s going on with Valerie except Valerie and she’s not talking! Valerie is just biting people’s heads off.”
“So it’s not just you.” It’s more of a statement than a question.
“No, but so far it’s people related to me. It’s me and Al because Al is closest to me. I don’t know if she’s said anything to Christian. Elliot’s not immune. I don’t know if she’s had any words with any of the Greys. Our friend Gary won’t engage because he’s afraid he’s going to be next. Maxie and Phil are pretty much Switzerland, so she won’t snap at them.”
“Okay, but Al has been your friend longer than Val, and your relationship hasn’t changed in terms of being close and leaning on each other. You changed, he changed. You guys grew together…”
“Well, it wasn’t an option,” I tell the good doctor. “He’s my best friend. He’s seen me through some of the worst parts of my life. We just knew what had to be done.”
“And apparently, your friend Valerie missed the memo. She’s lashing out at the people who are the closest to her, you in particular.”
Jesus, yes, that’s exactly what she’s doing. She’s got Gary cowering in a corner and she’s biting mine and Al’s head off. I frown. I’m the one that’s closest to her besides maybe Elliot.
“Maybe you should talk to your brother, Mr. Grey,” he says to Christian. “He might be able to shed a little light on the situation.”
“He doesn’t have to,” I interject. “Elliot spoke to me when he came by to tell me that he’s wasn’t going to be at Thanksgiving dinner. He’s getting the same treatment. So she is alienating the people closest to her.” He nods.
“You guys probably want to find out what’s going on with this young lady,” Dr. Hill says. “I can’t tell you what’s wrong, but I’m thinking that maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with being jealous of you or the change in your relationship unless she’s taking that out on everyone else.” I nod. Even on her worst day, Valerie is not that petty. She can’t be. I just can’t figure out what could possibly be the issue with her. “If it is some kind of chemical imbalance, you’re going to want to find out what it is before it gets worse. That’s my opinion.”
I just nod. I don’t know where to begin with trying to find out what’s wrong with Val. I don’t even know if she’s talking to Maxie to try to get some help. Oh, well…
“Now, in terms of you, while I’m concerned about your friend, I’m only concerned to the degree that her condition affects you. You’re my patient. I’m actually recommending that you have at least one professional de-stressing massage per week along with regular meditation. They will help you release the stress of the day and week and focus your energy on your healing, your memory, and your overall recovery. The massages are almost as good as meditation in terms of helping you focus, because different pressure points will draw out different thoughts and assist in your focus. Have those massages anytime you feel stress, but at least once a week. I’m actually prescribing that to you.” He starts to write in my chart.
“Mr. Grey, you’re going to be tempted to give her these massages. When the mood hits you, by all means, give your wife a massage—it’s going to assist in her overall relaxation. However, the de-stressing massage is a specific therapeutic massage and has to be done by a professional.” Christian nods.
“Duly noted,” he says.
“In terms of regaining your memory,” he begins, “your recollection is better than most. Let it flow. Things will come back as they come back. You are recalling things pretty quickly and I’m glad to see that you haven’t lost so much of your memory that you feel alienated from your primary support system—your family and friends. As you well know, that can be quite traumatizing and you’ve had enough trauma already. I realize that what you have already experienced is quite traumatizing, so imagine also having to deal with not knowing what your life is at all. You have a great support system even though one of your friends is acting strangely. When you were unconscious, this room was never empty. Having said all of this, I want you to take it easy with work…”
“Well, I’ve closed my practice and there’s basically only Helping Hands left.” He nods.
“In that case, I don’t see any reason why you can’t pick up your charity work at Helping Hands, but I still want you to take it easy.” I nod. That makes me feel a lot better.
“Thank you, Dr. Hill. I’ll be sure to take it easy, but I’m really anxious to get back to my work at the Center.”
“Keep me posted. I’m going to want to do a CT scan, but it can wait until after the babies are born. Other than that, it looks like we’re all settled.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Christian says as I stand and he helps me into my coat.
“My pleasure. So, Mr. Grey, have I won you over yet?” he asks Christian.
“Not quite, but you seem competent enough, so I won’t fire you yet,” Christian says, only half-serious. Don’t push it, Doc. You’re not that friendly.
Dr. Hill’s finally instructions involved taking pain pills as needed that are approved by my OB/GYN and to watch out for nausea and dizziness that seem outside of the norm. He told me not to be worried or get too frustrated with short-term memory loss and it’s to be expected in my condition. I just need to watch for anything particularly unusual during the course of time, but for the most part, I’m on the mend.
Christian tells me about his day on our way home from the hospital. I knew that little curmudgeon from the Adopt-A-Family Affair was going to end up blacklisted or something, so that doesn’t surprise me. What I didn’t know was that Christian was paying attention to the little kumquat that came on to me. I feel a bit embarrassed by the whole thing, but somewhat vindicated by the fact that Christian knew who she was and called her grandfather to alert him of her behavior.
He also told me the bad news about today—about the wife of the traitor that showed up in his office today and about his possible head-butt with some corrupt overseas officials. Neither of these situations sit well with me, but I tell him to keep me posted on them as I don’t like being kept out of the loop. The thing is that when it comes down to the traitor’s wife, I’m out of the loop anyway and always have been. There are some things I would just rather not know.
The house is quiet when we get back, more quiet than I’m accustomed to. Gail isn’t puttering around and neither is any of the staff. It’s late afternoon now, and Christian hasn’t had any lunch. I go into the kitchen to fix something for him and I swear, it’s like alarm bells go off somewhere in my house each time I cross the threshold into my kitchen. Like clockwork, someone always shows up seconds after I put my hands on the refrigerator handle and asks me what they can get for me. I understand that no one has to stand guard in the kitchen, but it never fails—if I touch that handle, someone appears. By the time I’ve opened the refrigerator, I really don’t need you anymore, do I? I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a hard-nosed or ball-busting bitch, but honestly, what’s the purpose of coming up behind me after I’m bending over in the refrigerator? If I’m looking for a snack, I can most likely get it myself now, right?
I must have thrown some look of death at this poor girl, because when I stand upright, she takes three steps back when she sees me, prompting Christian to come around the island and pull me from the refrigerator.
“Mrs. Grey was looking for something for me for lunch,” he says, holding me around my waist.
“Would you… like for me to fix you something?” she asks, cautiously, and I feel a little chastised for being so nonverbally aggressive.
“Yes, please,” Christian says, still gently guiding me away from the refrigerator. “Anything we have will be fine.” She turns a careful gaze to me.
“Mrs. Grey,” I’ve scared the pants off this poor girl. “Would you like something, too?” Why the hell am I suddenly so crabby? There was no need to glare at the girl like that when she was only trying to do her job.
“No,” I begin, still a bit bemused by my behavior. “No. Thank you, no… I’ve eaten already,” I say, trying not to sound bitter. I need to get out of the kitchen and let her work. I turn back to Christian. “I’m going to my office.” He doesn’t release me. Instead, he looks into my eyes and waits for a moment.
“Are you okay?” he asks, concerned. I sigh.
“I don’t know,” I respond honestly. “Suddenly, I just feel so irritated and I have no idea why. I must’ve given that poor girl the ice glare.”
“That, you did, baby,” he says, softly, and I see her stiffen. “Was it the subject of Valerie? Or the conversation that we had in the car?” I shrug.
“I don’t know. I think I just need to get this bug out of my butt,” I say with a shrug. “I’m anxious to get back into the swing of things. Maybe that’s all it is. I’m going downstairs for a bit. I’ll give Mare a call and let her know that our schedule starts tomorrow and we need to start getting some ducks in a row.” Maybe I’ll feel like my old self again if I just start doing the things I’m used to doing. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been in any resemblance of my old routine.
“Remember, the doctor said take it easy. Baby steps, okay?” he chides, gently. I nod.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Grey. I won’t overdo it.” He kisses me on the cheek and I head towards the elevator. As I’m passing the kitchen island, I see a perfectly prepared cranberry spritzer on ice in a tall glass with three fresh cranberries and garnished with a lemon shaving. I look at the peace offering—totally unnecessary, since I was the one being the arse—and smile. I gratefully take the glass.
“Thank you,” I say sweetly, trying to portray my apologies for acting so cold earlier. She turns around and greets me with a warm smile.
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Grey.”
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/
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Love and handcuffs 🙂